6 Tips for Dealing with International Clients

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on May 24, 2011
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When you’re trying to expand your customer base, there’s no reason to stop at geographic boundaries. These days, with the prevalence of high-speed Internet service and low-cost communication services, it’s as easy to connect with a client in Lyons as in Louisiana. There can be strong financial motives for working with international clients, too: If they have a stronger currency, they won’t bat an eyelid at paying your top rates.

However, there can be considerable challenges involved in dealing with foreign clients — here are some tips for getting through the culture clash.

  1. Pay attention to time zones. Don’t just pick up the phone to call your client in London, or you might wake him up in the middle of a good night’s sleep. Keep track of your customers’ time zones by checking an online tool like the World Clock, which tells you the current time in countries around the world. You’ll likely want to do most of your correspondence via email, but if you need to talk by phone, pre-arrange a time that works for both of you — even if you need to wait until 10 p.m.
  2. Work out a payment plan in advance. International clients who don’t have a U.S. bank account can’t send you a check without incurring huge processing fees on your end. Instead, come up with standard policies for receiving foreign payments: Your best options may be Paypal transfers or wire transfers; just make sure you know what processing fees are involved, and adjust your pricing accordingly. If you frequently transfer payments to or from a particular country, you may want to set up a foreign currency balance in your bank account so you won’t need to pay currency conversion fees.
  3. Take extra care when interpreting emails and other communications. Whether or not your client is from an English-speaking country, you’re likely to notice differences in language and local slang. If you’re not certain exactly what your client is telling you or asking for, be sure to ask for further clarification via email, stating what you think the client is saying, and then asking whether your interpretation is correct.
  4. Specify your currency request. When you quote for a project, be sure to tell your clients specifically what currency you want to be paid in — the client may automatically assume they should pay you in their own local currency otherwise. You may consider asking for U.S. dollars only; however, you could also customize your rates according to your clients’ currency.
  5. Look out for legal issues. Your standard contract may not be enforceable when it comes to foreign clients. Talk with an attorney before signing a contract with a foreign client so you know you’ll be legally protected if anything goes wrong.
  6. Pay attention to cultural differences. Before working with an international client, do some research on their local customs and etiquette. You may find that some cultures don’t like to talk about pricing upfront, so you might need to customize the way you discuss your estimate for a project. Likewise, in some countries the “hard sell” is considered a turn-off: In Australia, for example, you’re likely to receive a better reception if you make a self-deprecating introduction than a self-promotional one.

What other tips do you have for dealing with international clients? Share them in the comments.

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