For independent professionals, building an international clientele is a great way to expand your business and broaden your expertise. However, there are several basic things to consider before beginning work with an international client that will help prevent minor glitches from turning into major problems.
Working across time zones can pose challenges when trying to schedule meetings or reviews. Depending on where your client is based, you may be on completely opposite schedules. This can impact deadlines, response speed, and even holidays.
Be prepared and willing to conduct meetings during what would normally be your off-hours. When scheduling meetings, be sure to clearly specify time zones so there is no confusion on either end. For example, you may say: “We’ve scheduled a meeting for Tuesday at 5:00p.m. your time, which is 9:00a.m. my time.”
One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re communicating with your client is that the language you speak may not be their first language. And even if you do both speak the same language, there may be significant differences in dialect and usage. To manage these differences, it’s a good idea to establish a comfort level that allows you to ask each other to repeat something or ask for clarification. It’s also a good practice to ask your client what language they prefer to receive written communication.
In order to avoid misunderstandings, familiarize yourself with the culture of your client. Knowing whether or not it’s typical to speak directly, cut out small talk, and get right down to business, or if they are more likely to indirectly talk around an issue can help you avoid confusion down the road. Finding out in advance if they have a customary greeting or salutation when beginning and ending meetings is another welcome courtesy.
Having a written agreement or contract in place before you begin work is a good standard procedure. However, contracts with international clients may not follow the laws you are used to. Before doing business in the country where your client is based, do some legal research or consult an attorney. For example, tax laws differ from country to country. In the U.S., any company you do more than $600 worth of work for is required by law to send you a 1099 form from your income tax return. Foreign clients may not send out 1099 forms, but you will still need to document and file income.
It’s also important to research and understand any currency differences ahead of time. In your contract, specify the currency you want to be paid in and how you will accept payment. Online payment services may help to simplify this process with currency converters.
With international clients, most of your meetings will be virtual. Before you start work, discuss which meeting tools will work best for you and for your client. Also consider how not meeting in person may impact your work. If you provide training or coaching, can it be done online, or will you need to make travel arrangements? If you typically conduct site visits as part of your consulting services, consider whether or not this step can be eliminated, or if you will still need to travel.