The challenges of dealing with international clients

Posted on Oct 27th, 2011 | Running a business

One of the most attractive aspects of freelancing is that despite working from home, working online offers you many opportunities to land projects from clients across the globe.

With English serving as the global business language of choice, for the native English speaking freelancer there should be no barriers to attracting a diverse and international clientèle. Nevertheless, working with clients from all four corners of the globe can represent its own unique challenges and thus there are some key points to consider when seeking to expand your international client base.

Different Time Zones

There are fundamental aspects to working with international clients that every freelancer should be aware of before taking on these far-flung clients. The first such aspect that you’ll have to address is the physical difference between you and the client, and the time zone differences that you will need to subsequently cater for. Whilst it is common for freelancers to offer a clear line of communication at all times, either through social media platforms, email or Skype, with an international clientèle this is obviously made more difficult. Therefore you will have to restrict yourself to email and twitter contact with your international clients, however if a phone call is absolutely necessary then of course schedule a call that is suitable to both you and the client.

To keep a good overview of the time zones in which your clients live, keep an eye on the world clock, or better yet, download a time zones app for your Smartphone. What is absolutely vital however is that despite the limitations placed on client management by time zones, the quality of contact should not suffer.

Different currencies

Working with clients from different currency zones has two important effects on your work. Firstly, you will need to make a note of currency exchanges when charging a price for your work, otherwise after an unfair exchange rate or even deductions through international bank transfers (see our guide to the best banks for dealing with international clients), you could find yourself out of pocket. This is particularly important when calculating the amount of money that you need for any resources and materials that you need for the project.

The second factor that you must consider with different currencies centers on charging acceptable rates to your international clients. For example, if you intend to work with clients from emerging economies then keep it in mind that many clients will baulk at the prices you would typically charge more economically prosperous clients.

Method of payment

Bear in mind that whilst the Internet has brought freelancers and collaborators closer together than ever before, banks have not quite caught up yet with this development. If your client chooses to pay you via an international bank transfer then of course budget your finances to cater for the standard 3-5 working day duration for a transfer to be successful. A solution to these troubles may be to convince your international clients to pay via Paypal or Moneybookers, which sometimes charge lower fees and guarantee a faster deliverance of money.

Cultural differences

Working with an international client base brings diversity and depth to your freelance portfolio and profile, however working with individuals from cultural backgrounds other than your own carries its own unique aspects. Remember at all times, unless you are a multi-lingual freelancer, or can afford to hire a translator to mediate on your behalf, it is highly likely that the majority of your communication will be done in English. However, if the client does not possess a high level of English ability then make your communication easily understandable and to the point. Do not be a poet, talk in plain English.

Moreover, we all know that cultural differences express themselves in many ways, and one such way is during negotiation. From my personal experience, using small-talk with clients may go down well in Anglophone circles, but with for example, German clients, they will prefer direct negotiation and getting down to business right away over the need to get to know the personal details of the freelancer with whom they wish to work.

Working with a diverse and international client base can be financially and spiritually rewarding, even if the challenges you’ll need to overcome in order to make your international freelancing career a success will be tough. But learn from your clients and be open to feedback about all aspects of your client and project management, after all the best way to build fruitful business relationships is through honesty and a down-to-earth attitude.

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Written by David Sumner

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