6 things to consider before taking on international clients

The world is becoming a smaller place. Social media is making it even smaller. We meet people from all over the world and from many walks of life.

Like Robert Dempsey, I feel there is no better time to go global than now. But, it’s easy to think that if you have an online presence you should open up your services to a global market.

As Jim Connolly states there are very few industries that need to “set geographical boundaries“. Tools such as Skype, Gtalk and various other solutions make the world your oyster!

Just because you could take on international clients doesn’t mean you should.

Here are 6 things to consider:

1 – Time Zones

So you live in London and you take on a client in New Zealand. You wake up as they go to bed. Are you prepared to stay up late or wake up before the break of dawn to make sure you can service their needs?

2- Different work weeks

Some countries have different weekends. If you take on clients in the Middle East they won’t want to deal with you on a Friday. Clients in Israel won’t talk to you on a Saturday.

How do you deal with clients who’s work week starts on a Sunday? Are you prepared to work on Sundays?

3 – Cultural Differences and Language Barriers

Cultural differences are always challenging. Do your homework on different cultures in order to avoid making any errors and if you don’t know ask your client. They will appreciate your interest.

Dealing with client issues can be a challenge across borders, what may work in the US may not work in China as Jacob Yount found.

Language is often interesting. If you can only speak English then stick to working with Anglophone clients. However, certain things like sarcasm and colloquialisms don’t travel well. Make sure you keep your language simple.

4 – Legal and financial issues

If a client decides not to pay you will probably find that you have little legal recourse in their country. Agreements and contracts may not apply across borders. To avoid issues like these always ensure you are paid in advance.

5. Focus on your core competencies

Boasting a huge portfolio of services and clients is great but it’s not everything. One common mistake entrepreneurs make is not defining their core competency and identifying a niche.

Choosing your niche will help you ensure you only work with clients you can bring value to.

What makes you really different from other providers? It’s your core competency that what makes you different.

Know what you want to offer and only sell it to your ideal clients.

Identifying your niche will NOT reduce your chance at getting business – on the contrary.

Shakira Dawud has some great tips on overcoming the fear of defining your niche.

6 – Lack of face-to-face meeting

Some clients (and entrepreneurs) feel that in order to give value to their services they need to physically meet the client.

If this is the case opening up your services to a global market will require significant funds to fly around the world to meet your clients which, will in turn be passed on to the client. You will quickly price yourself out of the market.

Some clients may just need educating on the value of online vs. face-to-face meetings.

Do you have international clients? What advice would you give to someone thinking of going global?

23 Responses to 6 things to consider before taking on international clients

  1. Fantastic post Ameena. I’ve been working remotely with clients for more than 8 years and there are definitely challenges. Now living in Thailand the biggest two are:

    1. Lack of face-to-face meetings (in person meetings that is), and

    2. Timezones – less sleep 🙂

    The first can be handled using video sessions, however not everyone is equipped with a webcam (silly people). However phone calls are the next best thing though lower down on the communication totem pole for me.

    The second can be handled by not sleeping much, or setting the tone of the relationship in the beginning. I’ve chosen to do both as sleep is so overrated. My daughter apparently agrees with me on that one.

    • @RobertDempsey Thanks for sharing the secret of your success! I am still shocked when I encounter people who don’t have webcams. Lack of sleep is a challenge – I have always kept odd hours since I started working with international clients and I rarely take weekends either.

  2. Hi, Ameena; these were all great points and thanks so much for the link love–such a sweet surprise to wake up to. I just wanted to also point out for Americans that we do live in a culturally diverse place, but the simple fact is that all those cultures have to play by our cultural rules, so we don’t see the huge differences among groups of people that we would were we to visit each of their places of origin. I read the article about Chinese differences and was sort of squinting as if that would help me understand better the gulf between Western and Chinese mindsets by the end of the first paragraph! I’ve met lots of Chinese immigrants here in school and at work, and never found myself so lost in communication with them.

    • @ShakirahDawud You are welcome! Thanks for coming over and sharing.

      There are lots of cultural differences – I personally found Jacob’s story interesting because I’ve rarely dealt with anyone in the Far East for business. Cultural differences can be a non issue for some and for others they can be terrifying. For me, coming from 2 cultural backgrounds, being born in a third and now living in a totally different one, cultural differences are just like differences in character – I don’t notice them.

  3. Excellent advice! I think your point in #3, on sarcasm and colloquialisms, is applicable to any online communication. I’m always very careful to make it clear when I’m joking, and always restate any requests to be sure I understand.

    Thanks for the tips- I didn’t know that about different work days =)

    • @dreaming_iris Glad you liked it. Yes, I am naturally quite sarcastic and do find myself having to tone it down on calls and omitting it entirely from emails.

      Days of the week … yes that’s fun. Getting calls at 7am on a Sunday morning because it’s 9am in Dubai takes a bit of getting used to!

  4. I look at different time zones as advantage with what I am doing. As when they are sleeping I am working, and when I am sleeping the opposite happens. So its great to check my emails in the morning to see how things have moved along.

    • @shanghaihunter That is a plus for sure, you can get the work done whilst they sleep but if they need something urgent and want it NOW you do run the risk of being up all night. Hopefully that doesn’t happen but I’d be lying if I said I’d never been on the phone to the US at 3am fixing some issue that needed urgent attention.

  5. As I work with the majority of my 1:1 clients by phone – international clients haven’t been an issue. I’ve worked with clients in the US, Europe, Australia and Asia and we can usually find a time that suits us at either end of the day without having to work too early or late. Skype, audio and video conferencing are great for providing ease of communication across countries.

    Use online payment systems like Paypal, Worldpay or Google Checkout for easier and more reliable payment and get at least a deposit if not full payment upfront.

    Timezones can be a great benefit to maximise your working day. As @shanghaihunger mentioned, someone can be working on/for your business when you’re sleeping.

  6. Hey Ameena,

    A friend of mine works with international clients (he build websites and the sorts) and he has such a tough time dealing with time differences, drives him crazy at times; becuase he sorts of lives according to their schedules. He is actually trying to drop some because of this issue!

    • @Hajra Hey! Yes, time zones can be a huge issue. I remember having to stay up until 2am some nights just to be able to get the right person on the phone in the US. It is hard and something people don’t consider. Then again, some refuse to work nights and weekends – depends on your idea of client servicing.

  7. I have one, the Vulkan Corp in Germany but most of my dealings are with their US based subsidiary. Probably not a severe as some, but there definitely is a different culture and the time difference is something I have to keep in mind when planning calls. Fortunately, everyone I deal with speaks fluent English. I might get correspondence in German at times, but we can usually figure it out.

    But I agree, it’s not as easy as just flipping the light switch. However, the world is truly flat so don’t let ‘international’ keep you from pursuing your dreams.

    • @bdorman264 Thanks Bill – having a buffer like an in-country subsidiary is helpful but as you say you can feel it at times when things move at a different pace or at a different time.

      It’s definitely an important issue to consider before going global!

  8. Adding to the comments about timezones and working hours – create boundaries around your time in the same way as you would do normally(!?), so you don’t end up working silly hours because your clients/customers are in a different timezone.

    Shift your working day if you need to, so you can cover more of your international clients working hours without feeling you have to just work longer hours in order to accommodate them. There are usually a couple of hours at the beginning and end of the day when you’re both in ‘work’ time.

    Set boundaries and expectations upfront, so you don’t have them calling you at all times of the day and night just because it’s their ‘work day’ and it’s early morning or late evening your time.

    If it’s really early or really late – unless you’re naturally an early bird or night owl, you’re not going to be functioning at your best.

    http://www.timeanddate.com/ is great for working out timezones for current and future times around the world.

  9. Hi Ameena. Much obliged for the mention on this post! Yes, living and working in China since ’01 turned my world upside down from what I thought I once knew to what I am still learning. Not only dealing with Chinese manufacturers but also with clients from all over the world. The differences in a buyer from Colombia, Australia or the Singapore – different approach in keeping them please while balancing Chinese vendors. If you approach buyers (or suppliers) from different parts of the globe in the same kind of attitude you use in your own hometown, it may not be considered rude, but can result in high levels of inefficiency. Stay fluid in dealing with people, keep it simple and remain humble.

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  11. Excellent points, Ameena! I just took on a new client from Bangladesh and we definitely had to work out the timezone kinks.

    In terms of the legal issues, I agree on getting paid up front. And, of course, I recommend having an engagement agreement where you designate an international dispute resolution body, such as the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, as the recourse for any disputes. You can choose mediation or arbitration as the method of resolution. For small contracts this process may not be worth it but for large contracts, it definitely will be. And often just having a well-written contract to begin with is enough to deter parties from breaking the agreements made.

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