7 Things to Do Before Working With International Clients

working international clients

This post is from contributor Kayla, who owns the blog Shoeaholic NoMore. Over the next six months she’s documenting her journey to quitting her job and taking the leap into self-employment.

One of the greatest things I’ve discovered about my freelance business is that I can work anytime and anywhere — as long as I have an internet connection, which is pretty much everywhere. Literally.

That’s one big benefit of having an online freelancing business rather than an in-person store-front type of business: you can become location independent and have more freedom over your routine.

I try to have a work schedule so I can meet my deadlines, and spread out my work, so I don’t end up pulling all-nighters like I did in college (procrastination anyone?). But one of the nice things is, that when life gets crazy or you have an emergency, you can always move deadlines and rearrange your schedule since you can work anytime of the day.

1. Ask these important questions

Likewise, the clients you serve with your freelance business can be anyone, in any location, all around the world. Although most of my current and past clients are based in the United States, or Canada, I have worked with a few clients overseas too.

When I got my first international client, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I wondered things like:

  • Are there special tax considerations or forms that need to be filled out?
  • How do you deal with currency exchanges?
  • Do you quote a rate in your currency or theirs?
  • What about different cultural norms for freelancers and businesses?

Some of these questions took me quite a bit of research to find the answers, and they are definitely things I should’ve considered prior to taking on my first international client last year.

If you’re considering taking on work from an international client in the future, here are some financial implications you need to know.

2. Understand the currency exchange rate

One of the biggest considerations when working with your first international client has to do with finances and getting paid. Getting paid is key to running your business! If you can’t get paid, you can’t keep your business open or pay your bills.

Currency exchange rates seem confusing at first, so they were at the top of my research list. With a simple internet search I came across a site that has updated currency exchange rates posted every day.

When invoicing international clients PayPal is still the most popular and well-known payment service, so it’s smart to use PayPal’s invoice templates, or a service like FreshBooks that accepts PayPal payments.

You could also request to set up your international client with a recurring invoicing/payment option like a wire transfer, or direct deposit into your bank account. Take a few minutes to figure out the best option, and consider what works best for your client.

3. Quote rates in USD

Now that I understood the currency exchange rate, and what the best invoicing service was, I then wondered about how much I should charge for my services to international clients. I was also curious if I should be billing them in USD or in their currency.

Pricing your services as a freelancer is hard enough without having to consider the worth of your services across different countries and cultures.

Luckily, the United States Dollar has a pretty universal worth in many countries so quoting rates in USD is usually a safe bet. You just need to tell your clients up-front that your rates are quoted in USD. Additionally, I make it easy on myself by telling my clients I prefer to be paid in USD as well. It’s all about communication!

4. Know how it affects your taxes

Another huge concern that crossed my mind when I got my first international client had to do with taxes and legal ramifications. Because I use an online payment system that tracks my income and reports it to the IRS automatically, I didn’t have as much to worry about as some businesses that deal with international clients might have to.

You can do your own research about the tax implications of having international clients via the IRS website, or ask your accountant or tax professional. Seeking advice from your accountant may cost you a little money up-front, but it can certainly save you a headache down the road if you can avoid any tax or legal issues with accepting international payments.

5. Consider cultural norms and expectations

Besides all of the financial implications, you should also think about the cultural norms and customs when dealing with international clients. This situation hasn’t been an issue for me, as my international clients have been from Canada or English-Speaking Europe. But I can see where it might be a concern if you have a client who’s not familiar with English as their first language, or if they don’t grasp the meaning of commonly used slang or industry terms.

One issue I did come across with my first international client was our differing expectations. Part of our miscommunication might have been due to a lack of clear definitions on both our parts, but it could also be due to our cultural expectations.

Sometimes even within your home country, but in a different online niche, there can be different expectations when roles are named the same thing. For instance, to you a blog manager might mean one thing, but to your client it might mean something completely different.

This is a great reason to have a contract, or written record (of emails or phone call exchanges), of what duties you are expected to perform, when you do the work, etc.

6. Give allowance for time zones

The most annoying issue I’ve faced with my first international client was with the different time zones. I live in Central Standard Time (CST), because I’m in the middle of the United States, but my first international client in Europe was 6 hours ahead of my time zone.

This made it difficult to accurately schedule video calls, phone calls, and more. It also made time-sensitive projects more harder to complete on time, because we were hardly ever working on our online businesses at the same time of day.

This meant we’d often send each other email communications and not hear back until the next time we were working which could be 24 hours or more in our timezone.

One way to solve this problem, is to work with a project management system, like Asana or Trello, that will keep the communication going between both of you. Simply leave instructions, notes, and links to documents you’re working on together. That way you’ll each know where each other left off the last time you worked on the project.

Another way to easily schedule calls is to use a program, like TimeTrade or Calendly, that automatically  updates your time zone for you, as well as the personal who’s making the appointment. Google Calendar will also do this, and it’s free!

7. Make international clients worth it

Even with all of the challenges I outlined above, having the ability to take on clients from all over the world is still a great benefit of virtual freelancing. Taking on international work allows you to market your business everywhere and not be restricted to a small pool of clients.

It can also diversify your workload and offer you the opportunity to learn about business in different cultures. But before you take on an international client, you need to be sure you consider these pros and cons ahead of time.

The business relationship with my first international client didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean that yours won’t be a success. If nothing else, I still learned a lot and am more prepared for my next international client.

Have you worked with international clients before? What are some other considerations freelancers should know?

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  1. Kirsten says:

    Great article, because I had honestly never considered this as a hurdle I might have to jump!

    Having said that, it’s obvious I have never worked for an international client, but I do have quite a bit of experience in my “real” job. After all, at NASA, we had partners in Europe, Canada, Japan, and Russia. Phone calls were at unusual hours, but not necessarily super difficult hours. I presented many-a-time from home, in my pajamas, with my daughter and husband still asleep in our bedroom. As an early bird, that totally never bothered me!

    • Kayla says:

      It’s cool that you got to do the presentation in your jammies! I don’t think I could ever do that, haha. Was there video or just phone/audio? If it was just audio it’d be ok to be in my jammies, but if there was even video of waist up I’d have to do my hair, makeup and at least put on a cute shirt.

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