It used to be that freelancers were limited to the cities we live in for clients. On occasion, some freelancers could land clients and handle projects through mail, but most companies preferred to work with someone based nearby. Technology has improved since then, letting most freelancers take on clients no matter whether they’re around the corner or on the other side of the globe. It’s a good thing: we get access to more work and, quite often, higher pay rates than we could get locally.
But there are a few considerations to look at before freelance contracting for international clients. These considerations don’t mean that you shouldn’t take on clients outside of your own country, of course — it’s a matter of making sure that working with those overseas clients (and getting paid) is as easy as when you can just walk down the block and knock on the client’s door.
Keep Communications In Order
When working with overseas clients, communications can be the hardest part. Few of us want to spend the price necessary to make international phone calls even now, preferring to rely on Skype and email. That’s fine, but considering how easily ambiguity can creep into written communication, it’s important to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that everyone’s on the same page. Language difficulties can also come up: even if both you and your client are native speakers of the same language, differences in idiom or slang can create communication problems.
Even if it means repeating yourself, a freelancer working with international clients absolutely must communicate as clearly as possible. If you don’t think that you can make yourself clear to a client, it may be better to pass on a project than disappoint the client. Even a small communication problem can result in you investing time in something that you will wind up not getting paid for.
Keep Worst Case Scenarios in Mind
The worst case scenario, when it comes to working with international clients, is usually a situation where you complete a whole project and don’t get paid. You can reduce the risk of the situation, just as you would with a local client, by asking for half of your payment up front. However, with international clients, you have far fewer options to deal with a client who hasn’t paid you.
With a local client, you can start legal proceedings fairly easily. But when you’re dealing with someone who lives in another country, legal proceedings are extremely difficult. Even if you have a contract that says legal matters should be decided in your local courts, there’s no reason that a client would feel the need to participate in those proceedings — decisions made where you live won’t be enforceable where they live.
It shouldn’t be a problem with most of your clients, no matter where they’re based, but it’s especially important to make sure that you have some protection in place. The specifics can vary based on the type of freelancing you typically do, but they could include steps such as not turning over final files until you’ve been paid in full. It’s not that you shouldn’t trust your clients, but when you have limited recourse, it’s important to protect yourself, especially if this is the first time you’ve worked with someone.
Seeking Out International Clients
For certain freelancers, it makes sense to specifically seek out international clients, even to the extent of ignoring prospective clients in your own area. The simple difference in pay rates between certain parts of the world makes such decisions practical. But it’s important to do a little research beyond looking at typical pay rates. Expectations — ranging from what clauses should be included in your contract or style considerations for setting text in different languages — can be very different. If you want to succeed with international clients, you need to know what those clients will be expecting.