International Client Challenges
Recently, Video One has had the pleasure of providing international video production services for clients from London, India and the Netherlands. While we certainly value their business, there are some challenges and considerations that I’d like to share. Why share them? Well, I know that many of the people who read this blog are business people, and since this world is getting smaller and smaller on a rapidly increasing basis, it would serve you well to be aware of some matters.
This is obvious, but definitely a hurdle to overcome when working with people in a time zone that’s 6-12 hours different than yours. Email is generally the best way to work around this. Another approach is to communicate at the beginning of one person’s day and the end of the other’s day.
I have found that international folks are used to the different time zones and don’t have a problem communicating after normal working hours. Perhaps we need to develop this work ethic too!
English is the international language for business, and most business clients have some level of proficiency with our language. However, accents, vocabulary and not knowing the true meaning of the words can be an issue. While conducting a business transaction and understanding your clients needs is no time to be shy. If you don’t understand what they’re saying, ask them to repeat it. Better yet, paraphrase what you think they said and repeat it back to them, just to make sure you’re both talking about the same thing.
After the call, an email stating the assignment or understanding is definitely a good idea! If they acknowledge that what you restated is correct, then you can write up your letter of agreement, contract or however you do business. This avoids problems due to not getting something understood.
For us, a virtual handshake from thousands of miles away isn’t going to cut it. We definitely need a signed letter of agreement and a deposit. To paraphrase another truism, ‘nothing clears the mind like a contract that needs to be signed and a request for a deposit’. If your client is unclear about anything you send them, they’ll find someone who can interpret or will ask you for clarification.
I have found PayPal to be the best way to collect money. Yes, there’s a fee involved, but there’s nothing like having the security that your money will be there when the job is done.
The contract may not be enforceable on an international basis. However it is a great way to come to an understanding of what will be done, how much it will cost, timelines, etc. Since the contact isn’t really enforceable, at least on the level in which most of us operate, the deposit and payment in advance of getting the final product are the safest ways to know that you’ll get paid.
We always ask for a 50% deposit and the other 50% when the job is completed. Generally, they understand and will follow this protocol. Other companies simply don’t work that way. For instance, we recently completed a project for ABN AMRO. It was a small job, especially for them, but they just don’t do deposits. Since it was the largest bank in the world, getting a PO was definitely sufficient! Lots of red tape involved in getting paid, but I’m confident that my bank transfer will arrive soon!
That’s another issue. It may take a while to get money from a huge corporation. The larger the company the more people that are needed to sign off.
The bottom line for us is that if it’s a huge client, a PO is sufficient. But if it’s an independent company needing a crew to shoot a video, we definitely ask for half the money out front and the rest before they get their material. Sometimes they doubt that we have done the shoot or want to see the quality of the work before paying. In that case, we’ll upload a low resolution version to Vimeo.com so they can see what it looks like before they make their final payment.
I understand that in some cultures it’s rude to discuss price too soon. However, I have found that my clients want to know what it will cost as quickly as possible. It seems as though the more direct way of doing business ‘American style’ is becoming the norm. People have less and less time to pussyfoot around. They want to know that we can do a great job at a fair price as soon as is possible.
That being said, you should rely on your intuition and consider what you are hearing from the client. If they want to get to know something about you before talking business, go along with it. What’s the big deal? This won’t last long, as they have work to do too! Besides, who knows? You may get into a very interesting and enjoyable conversation by going along with the other person’s way of doing business!