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Five tips for managing international clients

The biblical origin of the confusion of languages: The Tower of Babel.

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Just like a brick and mortar business, freelancers find their initial clients through personal referrals and by advertising in their area. However, sometimes the best paying or most exciting client is located halfway around the world, rather than next door. Using the internet to find new projects, communicate with clients and employers, and complete work means freelancers cater to a global industry. If you’re thinking about taking on an international client, there are challenges you might not be aware of.

The online marketplace is vast, and provides freelancers with an open playing field on which to compete with both larger and smaller companies. Supported by an international coworking community, freelancers no longer have to limit their growth to what’s available in their local area. Every day independent professionals are presented with opportunities to work for clients outside their city, and possibly even the country.

If you’re interested in expanding your business to serve international clients, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Time Zones:

Being a freelancer means deciding how to manage your time. Before you take on an international client, be sure to make a plan for how you’ll manage the difference in time zones. If they’ll be waking up right as you’re ending work for the day, it could cause stress and conflict with your other obligations. Agree on call and deliverable times that work for everyone, or use a project management tool that provides 24 hour a day access so they can monitor progress.

Currency and Payment:

Sometimes the exchange rate may work in your favor, and sometimes it may not. Include details about payment currency in your contract. Also clarify the method that will be used for payment, whether mailing a paper check or electronic. Be aware that sometimes wire transfers and Paypal can be expensive, and account for that cost in your project rate.

Language:

Chances are, your native language will not be the same as your client. Be prepared for garbled emails and repeating yourself…often. Even in dealings between British and UK clients, dialect and spelling can become an issue. Agree upon a translation tool or interpreter that can help before you begin the project. (A quick tool such as Google Translate can be helpful but it is far from being a fully adequate replacement.)

Taxes:

No matter where you live, taxes are a difficult and time consuming problem when working as a freelancer. Foreign clients are not necessarily required to provide proof of your annual earnings. Make sure to speak with your accountant about how best to report international income on your taxes.

Contracts:

It’s always a good idea to enter into a contract agreement before beginning work for a new client. An international client is no exception to this rule, but the rules about what constitutes a binding agreement often vary from country to country. Seek legal counsel to make sure your contract protects both you and the client, no matter what country they’re from.

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Beth Buczynski has been blogging about coworking since 2010. Follow her on Twitter as @gonecoworking or learn more about her coworking adventures on Facebook.

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