The world is your oyster, so the saying goes. And this is no less the case when it comes to freelancing, especially if you work predominantly online. There’s potentially a whole world of clients willing to pay for your skills and expertise. Yet is working with freelance clients internationally something you should consider or something to avoid?
According to a recent U.S. Freelancer Insights Report from PayPal, 58% of freelancers have at least one international client. With more and more people entering the freelancing sector, and the world growing ever smaller, this percentage will probably rise over the coming years. For many online freelancers, working with foreign clients – and colleagues – is just standard practice.
But what about for you?
International freelance clients: The pros and the cons
When developing your freelancing business, it’s important to define your target audience. Doing so helps you better market your services. And one of the questions you might need to ask yourself is just how far, geographically and culturally, you want to go when attracting your ideal clients.
To help your decision, here are some pros and cons of working with international clients.
Exciting projects – The larger your web, the more chance of landing some very exciting projects. Depending on your freelance niche focus, there might be foreign countries more at the forefront in your particular industry, or with greater need for skilled pros in your field.
New cultural insights – Working with international clients provides new and fascinating insights into different cultures. You learn new ways of doing things in your work, new communication methods, and you might even get the chance to make new foreign friends, all without leaving your home country.
Bigger market – In the US, as of 2019, there are 329 million people. The world population is 7.7 billion. Whether you target private individuals or businesses, it’s safe to say there will never be a lack of clients when you open yourself to the world market. This can be especially beneficial if you target a narrow lucrative niche focus, perhaps in a B2B industry.
Potentially better pay – Depending on where you live, working internationally can certainly result in better pay. You can enjoy a very good livelihood in some countries charging just a fraction of what freelancers in many Western nations need to earn. Plus, in some specialist industries, you might find companies in another country or region willing to pay handsomely for your native expertise and insights.
Good collaboration tools – In this day and age technology allows us to communicate and collaborate with ease. There are numerous apps and tools which make it feel like a person on the other side of the world is sitting next to us in the same room. Distance is irrelevant when it comes to sharing data, information, and skills.
It’s equally irrelevant when it comes to payments as well, especially with free invoicing software like Invoice Ninja which offers more than 40 international payment gateway integrations and multiple languages and currency options.
Now let’s weigh the pros with the cons.
Time zones – One of the best ways to destroy any attempts to keep a 9-to-5 schedule is to work with clients in vastly different time zones. For example, if you’re based on the West Coast of the United States and you have clients dotted across Europe and the Middle East, you might need to plan for some very early morning Skype calls.
You can still work with overseas clients but you might want to target clients in just a few favorable time zones.
Language barriers – When working with clients whose first language is not English, there’s a lot of potential for misunderstandings and inaccurate data sharing. This in turn can lead to errors which can delay a project schedule and create tension. If you find it difficult to understand a prospect and their requirements, because of language issues, it’s sometimes better to say no.
Cultural differences – Like with language issues, cultural differences can sometimes lead to mixed messages and misunderstandings. Some cultures have work ethics which are highly demanding, while others are the opposite and can leave you exasperated. Unfamiliar social norms can also lead to accidental insult, which can tarnish an intercontinental freelancer-client relationship.
Currency differences – It can be difficult enough pricing your services in your national currency. When you’re confronted with multiple currencies from different parts of the world, creating estimates, proposals, and invoices can make things somewhat more confusing. Many overseas clients will be happy to pay in the dollar but others will prefer their own currency.
(Read more about cross-currency billing with international clients.)
Payment risks – There’s not a lot you can do if an international client in another country refuses to pay your invoice. You can catch an airplane and fly half way across the world to chase your payment but that is not really a desirable option. Foreign clients are no more or less likely to avoid payment than your fellow citizens but you just have fewer legal rights when it comes to getting paid.
That’s why, and regardless of your client’s location, it’s sensible to ask for upfront payments before every new project.
Choosing your ideal clients
Whether you choose to work with international clients is entirely up to you. As a freelancer, you’re in full control of who you work with and the types of projects you accept. Some services will apply to individuals and businesses the world over while others will be specific just to a local market.
Generally, it’s easier and smoother to work with people in your own country but that’s not always true. If you have an open mind and love to mix with people from many different cultures and countries, then offering your services to the world might offer a new level of joy and excitement.
It’s important, however, that before you decide, to be aware of both the pros and cons of working with freelance clients internationally.