For independent consultants, 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.
Get the "time" right
Working across time zones can pose challenges when trying to schedule time with your clients. Depending on where that client is based, they may be sleeping while you're awake working. This can impact deadlines and meeting times. You should be prepared to conduct meetings during what would normally be off times. It's also important to clearly set meeting times by specifying the time zones, and stating: "We've scheduled a meeting for Tuesday at 5 p.m. your time, that is 9 a.m. my time.
Talk the talk
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 both speak the same language, there can be significant differences in dialect and usage. To manage these differences, it's a good idea to establish a comfort level with your clients that allows you to ask each other to repeat something that wasn't understood or to ask for clarification. Also, be sure to ask in what language they prefer to receive any written communication.
Familiarize yourself with the culture of your client. To avoid misunderstandings, have a sense of whether or not it's typical of their culture to speak directly, cutting out small talk and getting right down to business, or if they're more likely to "suggest", or "talk around" an issue. Also, find out in advance if they have a customary greeting or salutation when beginning and ending meetings.
Having a written agreement or contract in place before you begin work is fairly standard procedure with most independent consultants. However, contracts with international clients may not be bound by the same laws. It's best to research beforehand any legal information about doing business in the country where your client is based. Additionally, tax laws are not the same in all countries. If you are a U.S. based independent consultant and you earn over $600 worth of work for U.S. based company, by law that company should send you a 1099 form for your income tax return. Foreign client may not send out 1099 forms, but you will still need to document and file any income from foreign clients.
How will you be paid?
It's also important to get an understanding of any currency differences ahead of time. Specify in your contract how you will accept payment. Online payment services like PayPal simplify this process with currency converters that take care of it for you.
Where shall we meet?
Also, keep in mind that international clients may mean you'll never be able to meet face-to-face so all meetings will have to be by phone or through online technology like Skype. Be sure to consider how not meeting in person will 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, you'll need to consider whether or not this step can be eliminated or if you will still need to travel.