In the history of business, it has never been easier to service international customers than it is right now.
Geography is not the difficult limitation it once was, at least in most cases. Shipping is easier and more affordable and communication options are broader and more dependable. High-speed Internet makes striking a deal expeditious and helps keep billing simple.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges in doing business overseas! There are just fewer of them and overall they’re a bit easier to overcome these days. The following list covers the most basic of basics when doing business overseas:
- Time Zones
This is a big-time basic. We know you know common courtesy in business, but this is one of those details that can easily slip the mind, especially when you’re busy, productive and on-a-roll. Before you dial the phone, check the clock.
Chances are you won’t be waking anyone if you call in the wee hours. It’s a business line you’re dialing so it’s unlikely sitting on someone’s bedside table. None-the-less, you want to present yourself and your company as efficient, courteous and professional. Phone calls at 2am don’t come off as any of those things.
- Payment methods.
Not every international customer will have an account with U.S. bank therefore you may be hit with large processing fees if they send you a check. You can avoid big expenses using wire transfers or PayPal. While there are processing fees, they’re not outrageously high.
- Talk currency.
Customers may assume they can pay you using their currency. Talk about the options you’re open to up-front, way before the first bill is due.
Colloquialisms and idioms can be confusing, and sometimes, the meaning of a word or phrase here in the U.S. is slightly different, even with English speaking customers. If you’re unsure what your customer is trying to communicate, ask for clarification. Repeat your understanding of what they are saying back to them.
- Put everything in writing.
This rule is solid in any situation even if your foreign customers are unaccustomed to it. You may be using a standard contract that won’t hold legal weight in another country, so before you use it or create new official documents or sign anything, include a domestic lawyer in the process.
- Foreign Etiquette.
Research the culture and customs. A simple, basic knowledge of regional business customs will serve you well. There are numerous things we do here that are unique to business in America. For instance, here, a ‘hard-sell’ is as natural as rain. But in some areas of the world, it’s considered rude.
Cultural differences play a significant role in all forms of communication, but it becomes especially important if you are meeting with your customer in person. Handshakes, personal space, when and how you talk business can all be very different from what you’re accustomed to.
- Do A Credit Check.
Just as you would any U.S. customer, do a credit check on those abroad. A credit report from Coface or other reputable provider is the starting place as International credit checks are very revealing. Just like any new customer, you need to know names of investors and directors, addresses, revenue, assets, etc.
Risk is risk no matter where it comes from. You can’t make an informed decision based on no information at all.
- Build rapport.
Good personal relationships help to ensure smooth transactions. This is true everywhere. And just like home, top-to-top, accountant-to-accountant and salesperson-to-buyer relationships can prove invaluable when bills are due or disputes arise.
- Waste no time.
Just like home, make a phone call when a payment is missed. Do what you would do at home before you call: Double check the numbers and dates and have that information in front of you. Check the time zone before you dial the business number and then use your rapport to solve the issue. While we always advise listening carefully to the customer’s reasons for non-payment, use special care when there are language or cultural barriers. “Late” in the U.S. can have different meanings in other cultures.
- Take action.
If payment slippage has you bugged, it’s time to take action. You are learning your customer’s culture, and they should be doing the same. Are you satisfied that you’ve communicated your payment expectations clearly? If so, then cease providing service, hold shipments, or switch to a pre-payment method of doing business.
- Seek third-party intervention.
International Commercial Collection Agencies like C2C can take over collection efforts when you’ve reached your limit. Keep in mind: time is not on your side. Act earlier than later and once you turn over the account, let your collection specialists handle it from there.
Doing business internationally can be hugely lucrative. Weigh the risks, learn the cultural differences and document your business communications.
For even more about doing business internationally, read our post: Considering Doing Business Internationally?