Freelancing is a skill that takes some honing. While someone who has a knack for networking will find it easier than others, there are still challenges that you just have to work through. Much of it, in fact, is a matter of learning the hard way, and we all have our horror stories.
Of course, the risks and difficulties become more pronounced when working with people from countries other than our own. All communication is done via email or instant messenger, though some might occasionally ask for Skype. There is no real legal recourse when things go wrong. All in all, you have to rely on clients’ integrity, and they face the same problem with having to count on yours.
But despite that, the risk usually pays off. Working with a client from another country – or even continent – can be a rewarding and positive experience that you won’t want to miss. To make things a little less choppy, try following these guidelines for working with international prospects.
Accept the Limitations of Freelancing
You have to go into things knowing that you have a certain set of limitations from the beginning. First, you have the issue of communication. While most clients will be good about emailing you back, and, of course, there is the instant-messaging option for one-on-one chats in real time, there will be a time zone difference. As a freelancer, it is your responsibility to work around that, which might mean a schedule change here and there, when necessary.
Second, you can’t rely on the law to help you when things fall through. Services like PayPal may offer you some protection, but the bias usually leans toward the buyer rather than the seller. That can be a problem, and you might get ripped off once or twice. There are ways around it, such as requiring a deposit up front and being clear about the terms of your project before starting.
Know the Requirements
You are the freelancer, so you should know what you need to have and why. The client will usually follow your procedure when it comes to things like payment, rate, schedule, communication and large orders. You have to have your own regulations in order before you can tell them, such as:
Payment Options – As I said before, PayPal is a popular option for freelancers. But there are others, like Xoom, Moneybookers, and, of course, wire or bank transfers. However, make sure you are careful about whom you accept payments from before you give them any checking account info.
Email and IM – You should have an email dedicated purely to business, which will make it easier to keep up with client or inquiry messages. Google, Hotmail, Yahoo, Lycos – those are all options. You can also use an account associated with your ISP, though keep in mind it is often easier to use the same email for your payment service to avoid confusion. As for instant messengers, having both Yahoo and MSN comes in handy, and Gchat if you have a Gmail account will be used a lot. Skype is also good for those who prefer a real chat before hiring.
Online Portfolio – Having a collection of links to samples to send is all right, but many clients prefer an actual portfolio to look at instead. A simple website or blog featuring your work or links to your work is a great idea and makes it easier to share at a moment’s notice. You never know when an opportunity for work might arise.
Have a Reasonable Going Rate
Have a price set and then stick with it. There will always be clients who will try to stiff you out of money, and they are not worth working with. Have an hourly or per-word/project rate and then quote them before starting the work. If they refuse that rate then direct them to another freelancer. If your work is high quality, they should be prepared to pay a good wage. However, be realistic and make sure you follow the market average.
Create a Communication Blueprint
Know how often you are going to update and communicate with your client and then stick with it. It is imperative that you keep a client up to date on what is happening on your end so he or she can remain a part of the process.
I try to write a few times a week with any comments and questions or to provide an estimated time of completion. It saves the client the stress of wondering if I am doing what I said I would.
Be Aware of the Time Zone
As we touched on before, it is important that you keep the time zone in mind, especially when your client is thousands of miles away.
If you are expecting a payment and it isn’t there when you wake up, keep in mind the client is in a different time zone. The same goes for any unanswered communication. You may also have to remind the client of this fact a few times.
Be Confident and Professional
Being a freelancer can be nerve wracking, because you are out there on your own without a safety net. But you should always appear calm, collected and professional as well as confident in your abilities.
You will occasionally have people who say your rates are too high or are unhappy with a piece of work. Keep in mind that you are running a business and don’t let it shake you.
Be Honest, No Matter What
To be trusted you have to earn it. So you have to dedicate yourself to being as open and clear as possible with everyone you work with. If you are struggling to maintain a deadline, tell them. If you have too much work and can’t take another project, tell them. If you received a double payment, tell them.
The only way to fight the mistrust by most working with international freelancers is by showing them they have nothing to worry about.
Remember That Cultural Differences Happen
Different countries have different customs, ideals and beliefs. You have to take this into account when working internationally, as it can be easy for misunderstandings to occur, especially when there is a language barrier. I once had a client make a comment I thought was highly sexist and offensive, but upon hashing it out I discovered it had been an unfortunate mistranslation. We have been working together for three years now. It is possible to work through it.
Know how to Protect Yourself
I, like all freelancers, have been ripped off a handful of times, and it is maddening. That is why I now require a 25 percent deposit that is only refundable if I find myself unable to fulfill the order, unless I have written enough to cover that amount already. If a client doesn’t pay me for work, I use it myself, sell it to someone else, or put it up so that it cannot be used without being flagged as stolen.
But I make sure that they are absolutely not paying before I do this, and if they put up work they haven’t paid for, I contact their website provider to have it taken down.
What About You?
What are your requirements for freelancing? Let us know in the comments.
Sonia Tracy is the content editor for PsPrint and editor of PsPrint Design Blog. PsPrint is an online commercial printing company specializing in brochure printing. You can follow PsPrint on Twitter @PsPrint.