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8 Ways to Make Dealing with Foreign Clients Easier by Paul Strikwerda

Edge Studio

Whether you realize it or not, if you have an online presence, your business has gone global. That means you’ll be dealing with people who are different. You’ll encounter time differences and language barriers along with a few other challenges you should be prepared for. Here are some guidelines.

1. Don’t expect people to meet your expectations.
Your assumptions are often colored by cultural stereotypes that reveal a lot about you. In a business relationship, it’s your job to meet your client’s expectations. Not the other way around. Do your homework, so you’ll understand before you start communicating.

2. Timing is crucial.
Be aware of the time difference when contacting a client and when committing to deadlines. Right now, my day on the East Coast just started, but it’s nearly over in Canberra. Half an hour ago, my agent in Paris finished her lunch. Respect business hours (and beware of lunch hours), wherever your contact may be.

3. Never assume. Always ask.
Misunderstandings, especially between people from different countries and cultures, often happen when one or both parties believe something to be a given. What’s common sense in one country may not be taken for granted in another. When in doubt, check it out.

4. The devil is in the details.
Be clear on the details of the job and create a working agreement before you begin, especially with new foreign clients. Imagine this. You just recorded a huge e-Learning project and you’re ready to email an invoice. Now your client is asking why you didn’t record in WAVE-format, and why you forgot to edit and separate the files. Because the MP3 file you sent cannot be upgraded to WAVE, you have to start from scratch. Editing and file separation is going to take hours, which you did not build into your fee. “If only I had known,” you mutter in frustration. Don’t blame the client. It’s your responsibility to know (see point 3).

5. Language is a bridge and a barrier.
If English is your mother tongue and you’re dealing with clients for whom English is a second or third language, appreciate the fact that they’re reaching out to you in your language. What they’re saying might not always be clear. Never agree to something you do not understand. In your communication, be to the point. Use short sentences. Avoid colloquialisms and humor. When I talked to a client from Belgium about a rain check, he said there was no need for me to go outside and see if it was pouring.

6. Be culturally sensitive.
Don’t bother clients on national or religious holidays, unless they have told you it is okay to contact them. Also realize that they may not anticipate your holidays, or might celebrate them on different days. Never bring up or discuss politics or religion. G*d only knows how much trouble you could get yourself in.

7. Manners matter.
The words “please” and “thank you” may be disappearing in your part of the world, but they still open doors on other continents. Informality can be highly inappropriate. It’s not okay to address a client by his or her first name at the initial contact. Let the client take the lead.

8. Money.
You decide how much you want to get paid, how and when. Your rate is based on what’s reasonable in your part of the world. But foreign clients want to pay you based on what’s reasonable in their country. In any case, go for the highest number! Trust needs to be earned. Ask first-time foreign clients to pay up-front. Release the audio only after the invoice has been paid in full. It’s the only leverage you have.