7 Challenges of International Freelancing & How to Overcome Them

international-clientsWhere do your clients live?

With the prevalence of social media, it’s easy to connect with businesses all over the world. If you haven’t already dealt with an international client (a client outside of your own country), it is likely that you will eventually. This is especially true if you have a significant online presence.

However, there are a few challenges that every freelancer should consider before they accept an international project. In this post, we’ll list seven of those challenges and provide some advice on how you can overcome them.

Tips for Dealing with International Clients

If you deal with international clients, you are likely to face the following challenges:

  1. Time zone differences–Working with a client in another time zone can be a huge challenge. Your client may be awake when you normally sleep, and vice versa. Time zone differences can also affect deadlines. For example if you agree to turn a project in at 4:00 p.m. on Friday that may actually be a different time for your client than it is for you. When crafting client agreements, remember to specify the time zone. (I always specify that I work in central daylight time, but Australia also has a central daylight time zone so it is also important for me to mention that I am in North America.) If there is any doubt, it is also helpful to say something like, “4:00 p.m. on Friday your time, I believe that would be 8:00 a.m. for me where I am.”
  2. Currency differences–Different countries also use different currencies. Don’t assume that a client will pay you in your own currency. Rather, spell out the currency type that you prefer in your proposal to remove any doubt. Fortunately, many online payment services such as PayPal already have built-in currency converters.
  3. Language differences–It’s also important to remember that your client may be communicating with you in a language that is not their native tongue. Even within the same language there can be variations and dialects. For example, I recently had to ask a client whether they preferred that their copy be written in American English or British English. If something your client says sounds odd to you, it may be due to a language difference. Ask for a clarification so that you are sure what the client means.
  4. Legal differences–While I believe it’s always a good business practice to have a written agreement with your client and I feel that a contract can meet that need, a contract with an international client may not have the same legal status in their country as a contract you make with a client in your own country. There may also be country-specific business practices that you are not aware of. A little research about your potential client and the country where their business is located can be very helpful.
  5. Cultural issues–When dealing with international clients you should take into consideration cultural differences that may exist. For example, some cultures are very direct and to the point in their communications. Others are more circumspect. Some cultures love to negotiate and bargain, others… well, you get the point. If you’re not sure about culture differences, do a little research. Cindy King’s blog is a great resource for international freelancers.
  6. No face-to-face meetings–If your client is located outside of the country where your business is located (or even hundreds of miles away in the same country), then it’s likely that you will not get a chance to meet them face-to-face. Fortunately, with today’s technology you don’t need to be located in the same town as your clients. You can use applications like Skype, GoToMeeting, and DimDim to schedule conferences and share information.
  7. Tax law challenges–The tax laws in all countries are not the same. For example, if you are a U.S. based freelancer and you do over $600 worth of work for U.S. based company, by law that U.S. based company is supposed to send you a 1099 form for your income tax return. Foreign clients, on the other hand, usually do not send out 1099 forms. However, if you are in the U.S. you still need to remember to track any income from foreign clients and include it on your tax return.

Of course, there are other challenges that you may face as well. Depending on the part of the world and your own background, you will need to evaluate each difference you encounter and determine how it will affect the project and your business.

Clients All Over the World

My years of freelancing have given me the opportunity to meet clients and prospects from all over the world. I’ve done projects for clients in Canada, Europe, and even the Philippines. Since my website and blogs posts can be viewed from nearly anywhere that there is an Internet connection, I don’t expect the globalization of my business to slow down any time soon.

Share Your Thoughts and Tips

Are you an international freelancer? Have you faced any particular challenges or tips?

Share your stories and ideas in the comments.

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