7 tips on working with international clients

by Rachel Smith
24 July 2015

Something I love about the digital world is the opportunities it opens up to writers. Think news websites who need subs on the other side of the world to work on copy that’ll be ready when their audience wakes. International companies who need editors to whip their communications into shape, because English isn’t their first language. Travel mags or websites who’d be lost without local writers on the ground. The possibilities are endless.

Recently, I did a copywriting project for a Boston-based firm. They contacted me out of the blue (through LinkedIn, I think – another reason to keep that LinkedIn profile updated, people!) and offered me an okay rate to do some travel writing on Sydney. I agreed, although in my usual fashion tried to bargain them up. I wasn’t successful, but it was relatively easy work and the rate wasn’t so bad, so I reasoned that it was worth my time. However, some things to consider when working for an overseas client:

1. A Paypal account can be handy.

Aside from this Boston company, I’ve done bits and pieces as a blogger for digital firms based in London and Europe and all have paid me via PayPal. I know many people aren’t a fan of PayPal but I have always found it a quick way to get overseas payments.

2. Confirm first how you’ll be paid.

Will it be in Australian dollars? US dollars? Euros? Sometimes it’s not always clear and you need to be aware that if your fee is going through Paypal, it takes a cut. If it goes to your bank account, you also can lose out substantially with international transfer fees and charges, so that might be something to factor in if you’re negotiating a fee.

3. Make sure you have CMS skills.

The job I just did was ALL done via a content management system, from the pitching of my ideas to filing the copy, uploading pix, adding metadata. The system even detected the SEO score of my copy and suggested grammar and spelling replacements before I was able to submit each piece. I also worked with the editor on tracking changes within the CMS system. All in all quite a streamlined process once you got the hang of it. If you’re not familiar with content management systems create a basic WordPress.org site and have a play – WordPress is the most well-known CMS in the world and will give you an idea of what’s involved. You can also do basic CMS online courses.

4. Read the fine print.

Much as I hate to admit it my eyes glaze over when it comes to long, detailed, billion-page contracts, but so much can go wrong when you’re in different time zones and can’t easily pick up the phone, so focus or send it to a lawyer to look over. It’s crucial to know the nitty gritty of what you’re in for. Plus, miss an instruction in the contract and you can waste oodles of time. The contract attached to my recent project was very specific on the tone of the copy; get it wrong and you were doing rewrites to get it right. (I had to do a couple which was a real pain.)

5. Ask lots of questions.

My project managers probably got sick of me, because I clarified a lot of stuff, but again – you can’t take chances with offshore work. Little red flags on some of my articles like, ‘You will be paid UP TO $XX’ make me question whether I was on a pay-for-click deal that I’d missed on the contract. (I wasn’t, thank goodness, but there are a lot of dodgy operators out there and you need to ask before you start the work.)

6. Suss out just what the job entails.

Is it just research/writing, or the whole shebang and your first born child? Sometimes with digital work, you’re not just a writer. You’re also plugging in SEO keywords and doing pic research and cross-referencing client websites and special deals and adding metadata to your copy. If you don’t factor these things (and the time they take) in at the start of the job, an okay fee can suddenly seem much less worth it. Again, another reason to read the fine print carefully, or it all just ends up feeling like project creep.

7. Work out tax and GST implications.

All the offshore payments I’ve received have been exempt from GST so I didn’t charge it. You do of course have to declare foreign earnings as part of your income, and figure out the tax implications – if you’ve paid foreign income tax on your earnings, you may be exempt from paying it in Australia, but check with the ATO or your accountant.

What are your tips for working with international clients? What particular challenges have you faced? How have you found your overseas clients – or have they found you?

Rachel Smith
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4 responses on "7 tips on working with international clients"

  1. Kevin Casey says:

    Hi Rachel – all very good points! I write for clients all over the world as a freelance copywriter, and I think it’s also important to let clients know if you can write in either UK English or American English (having lived half my life in the US and half in Australia means I can write in either).

    With PayPal, a bank account to connect it to, a laptop, decent Wi-Fi and a sense of adventure, a decent freelance writer can work from anywhere in the world….

    Kevin Casey

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Thanks for that Kevin. Great point about the different types of English, I should’ve mentioned that as it was all over my recent contract as well!

  2. Great points Rachel. I’ve found most of my clients (mostly Australian, but also UK, US, Canadian and French) via Elance (soon to become Upwork). It’s a shock to begin with as most of the jobs listed for journalists/copywriters/content writers etc are so unbelievably lowly paid. However, if you persist and build a good reputation you can steadily gain a great client base via the site. Best of all, the escrow system means your payment is released as soon as the job is completed so it’s also good for quick cash flow. For anyone considering trying the site and speeding up the learning curve, visit http://www.freelancetowin.com and sign up to copywriter Danny Margulies’ free Elance hacks. They’ll save you a heap of time and frustration! His full course is also highly recommended and includes access to the member’s forum which is a great place to hang out with fellow freelancers from around the world,
    Penny Barker

  3. John says:

    My daughter lives in Australia and has picked up some freelance work in the USA. The company she is working for withholds 30% for Tax and they pay her via Zoom. Is there anything she has to do as far as with the IRS in the USA like lodge forms or Tax Returns and does she have to declare that income in Australia?

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