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What to know before becoming an international freelancer

Taking your freelance business international is easier and less expensive now than ever before. With the pandemic putting a stop to many companies’ travel plans and forcing employees to work from home, business networking is increasingly happening online. This means that expensive business trips are out of the equation. It is the perfect time to attend a digital networking meetup in France from the comfort of your living room in Texas or bolster your international marketing efforts on social media. When doing business internationally online, however, there is a bit more to overcome than distance alone. In this article, I will share with you my top five things to consider before taking your freelance business international.

1. Local Language

Communication is key, so it is important to be aware of the linguistic landscape in the country where you will be doing business. You don’t necessarily have to learn a foreign language at first. Start by finding out what the official language of your target country is. Then do some detective work on the local education system to see if it is common for people to learn English there. In many countries, English is commonly used for international business transactions and you will be able to get around without another language.

The deeper you venture into business relations in a country, however, the more important the local language will become to your enterprise. People are always most at ease using their native language, and consumers are much more likely to buy something marketed in their native tongue. Learning a bit of the local language will definitely give you an edge. It can take many years to develop complete fluency in a language, however, so don’t expect to be proficient after a few classes. A bit of basic linguistic knowledge can go a long way. For tasks requiring more advanced linguistic abilities, you can hire a professional translator fluent in English and the local language. A good translator should be able to advise you on cultural matters and effectively write compelling texts in English or the local language.

2. Local Culture

Cultural awareness is important, because it helps you better understand people’s motivations and preferences in a foreign country. There is no need to learn every cultural feature of the country by heart. Learning a few aspects of the country’s culture is a good start. Cultural misunderstandings often manifest as inexplicable annoyances seemingly purposefully perpetrated by the other person. Developing your own cultural awareness can help you recognize when conflicts stem from cultural differences and then resolve them. Tactfully engaging in a dialog with the other person about any differences that arise can also help you develop a deeper understanding of the local culture over time.

3. Time Difference

There is a lot of truth to the saying “It's always five o’clock somewhere.” It literally is always five o’clock somewhere. On the international stage, time means nothing without a specified time zone. Always include a time zone when writing a date and time. Figure out how many hours ahead or behind your local time the time zone in the foreign country is and remember it. You may even want to reset your computer’s internal clock to that time as a reminder. Clients will also appreciate seeing time zone specified on marketing materials. One way you can do this is to write the time zone of your business hours on your website. If you translate your website into the local language, consider listing your office hours in the local time zone to make them more readily understandable to the locals.

4. Preferred Method of Payment

Method of payment may seem obvious if you have never done business outside of your home country. The most popular payment method differs from country to country though. In the United States, for example, the most popular forms of payment in many industries are credit card and check. In contrast, German customers strongly prefer electronic bank transfers. Make sure your bank can easily handle international bank transfers. The simpler the transfer, the better. Any bank that uses an intermediary financial institution to send and receive international bank transfers is an absolute no-go. Clients should be able to make transfers directly to your bank. Digital payment services can also be very helpful. Research the payment service that is most popular where you are doing business. PayPal, for example, is quite popular in Europe. Payoneer tends to be popular in Asia. Convenience is key. Allow customers to pay using their favorite method and simplify the process as much as possible.

5. Nothing Is Obvious

Doing business abroad will quickly teach you not to take anything for granted. Context contributes a lot to the meaning of everyday communication and can easily be misunderstood in foreign countries. Be very clear about everything and provide as many details as possible. Is your academic degree from an institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, listed on your website? There is no telling how many Cambridges the world possesses, so be sure to specify Cambridge, MA, United States. Are you male or female? Although your name is probably associated with a specific gender in your own country, foreign consumers may lack the cultural information to make an accurate assumption about this. Try including your preferred salutation in correspondence to give readers a hint (Ms. Jane Doe, Mr. John Doe). Want customers to call your American phone? Add the country code to the beginning of your phone number to help clients dial successfully.

Doing business internationally can be a challenge and there will be bumps in the road. It is also very rewarding. Collaborating with people from foreign countries tends to open up a world of fresh new perspectives for all involved and stoke creativity. Knowing these five things before you go will help you start your journey as an international freelancer off on the right foot.

Carlie Sitzman Carlie Sitzman is a bilingual SEO copywriter and ATA-certified German translator with over 10 years of experience freelancing.

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