“I could never work for someone I’ve never met.”
My friend was discussing my freelancing career with me and she couldn’t imagine working for clients she’d never met in person. But freelance web designers and other freelancers do it all the time.
Many freelancers connect with their clients primarily through the Internet. Their clients might be located across town, or across the world. It’s simply not practical or cost-effective to personally visit every web design client.
Working with remote clients has some unique challenges. But it’s quite possible (and probably even necessary in today’s competitive market) to successfully include remote clients into your business strategy.
In this post, I’ll provide some key strategies for dealing with web design clients that you never meet face-to-face. You’re also invited to share any tips you have for dealing with remote clients.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like 6 Common Freelancing Problems That Using a Contract May Solve.
Do Your Due Diligence
It’s always important to learn as much about a prospective client as you can before you commit to doing business with them. It’s especially important if that client is located in another state or country.
Here are some methods you can use to learn more about a prospective client:
- Read their website. Their current website is a good place to start. Of course, you’ll be redesigning it when they become a client, but look at their About page and learn their goals and vision.
- Use the search engine. Try searching on the company’s name. Type in “Review of X Company” or “Problems with X Company” to find out what others are saying about the company.
- Look at social profiles. Check the major social media sites to see if the company has an active social media presence. Review past tweets. Look at their shares on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+.
- Study an employee rating site. Glassdoor.com is an example of a site where employees rate their employer. A company that treats its own employees badly is likely to also treat freelancers badly.
- Study a consumer review site. If applicable, look for consumer reviews on the company to find out how they treat their own customers. Consumer review sites include ConsumerReports.org or even Yelp.
- Check their Better Business Bureau rating. Businesses and charities in the United States or Canada may be listed with the Better Business Bureau.
You can probably think of other sites to review as well. As you learn about the prospective client, look for red flags that show that the prospect doesn’t treat others fairly–these are companies you’ll want to avoid doing business with.
Always Use Written Agreements
I recommend the use of written agreements, preferably contracts, for every freelancing project. It’s especially important to get the agreement in writing if you are dealing with a remote client. A detailed email outlining the project terms is better than nothing.
While a contract from your country may or may not stand up in a court of law in another country, at least you have a document that states the scope and terms of the project. If a disagreement arises, both you and the client can refer to the document to help resolve the difference.
Be Aware of Time Zone Differences
Picture this. Your project is due at 5:00 p.m. today. You wake up knowing the web design project is nearly complete. It will just take a few hours to carefully finish it off, and then you can send it to the client.
Unfortunately, the client is located overseas and you forgot about the nine-hour time difference. For your client, 5:00 p.m. has come and gone. Your email is already filled with angry notes from the client asking where the project is.
The whole ugly scenario could have been avoided if you had remembered to specify a time zone in your written agreement.
If for some reason you forget to specify a time zone, assume that you are going by the client’s time zone because that’s what the client will assume.
Beware Monetary Differences
Another major difference you need to remember is monetary in nature. When dealing with international clients, always specify the monetary unit in which you will be paid.
Also, if you use a payment services such as PayPal or Skrill (formerly MoneyBookers), be aware that there may be some small transaction fees involved. If you accept credit cards, there may also be transaction fees. Decide in advance whether you or your client will cover those fees and add that into your written agreement so there will be no surprises later on.
Allow for Cultural Differences
Learning to deal with cultural differences is one of the biggest challenges freelancers face when dealing with remote clients located in other countries. Different cultures tend to conduct business transactions differently. When you add in the innate communication challenges of dealing through email and possibly language barriers, it should come as no surprise that miscommunication is a real threat.
When you’re dealing with a client from a different cultural background, don’t automatically assume that he or she has the same background as you. Instead, take time to learn about the cultural differences between your respective countries. However, be careful not to fall into the trap of stereotypes.
An example of a cultural difference that impacts freelance web designers is that in some cultures negotiation is always expected. If you quote a price expecting that to be the bottom line to someone from one of these cultures, they may not understand why you won’t negotiate with them and you may not understand why they won’t accept your quote.
Here are a couple of posts on cultural differences to help you learn more:
- From Gwen Moran on Entrepreneur.com, How to Avoid Cultural Missteps When Doing Business With Other Countries
- From Vanessa Merit Nornberg on Inc., 3 Rules for Doing Business Overseas
If you do freelancing internationally, make sure that you know which countries you are allowed to do business with. Tarrifs and other sanctions may place limitations on how you do business with organizations in certain countries.