Expand your client-base overseas

Our 10 top tips for gaining clients overseas, and how to keep them once you have them

1. Milk your contacts
Peer-to-peer recommendations will invariably help you to make inroads overseas. "An old colleague who'd moved to Libya contacted us for advice about a branding project for a large leisure and tourism company," recalls Mark Janson at Manchester based Eskimo Creative. "We submitted a proposal and won the work. Always keep in contact with people - you never know where they'll end up."

2. Research your market
"Listen to your client. Understand their vision and their target market," advises Molly Morris at The Neon Hive in Chichester. "What works in your country may not apply in others. Speak to friends or family overseas to get the lowdown, and if you're required to travel overseas, try to arrive a few days early to research at ground level. Your client will thank you, and you'll be thankful your concepts don't get dismissed."

3. Widen clients' horizons
Broadband has made location more or less irrelevant - and Mark Janson believes that many countries respond well to British design sensibilities: "Our client contact is UK-educated, and is back and forth from Tripoli to London regularly," he reveals. "He values and respects modern Western design, and is keen to bring this influence to Libya. Local companies were not even considered for this work."

4. Check out the competition
Clients will compare your proposal to what's available in their own countries, so check what local freelancers or agencies charge. "Be clued up before you put your offer on the table, or you may find yourself either priced out of the job or out of pocket," advises Molly Morris. "But don't worry if your rates are higher: experience, skill and specialist knowledge may be the reason the client is looking overseas in the first place."

5. Adapt your working methods
It's important to modify your process when necessary. "All clients will be on email, but in Libya they're not as obsessed with it as we are," says Janson. "You can't guarantee that they'll check every few minutes, so you have to follow up correspondence by phone."

6. Work across time zones
Not being at the end of a phone or email at the critical stages of a project isn't an option, but be realistic: "Committing to a tight deadline when your client's eight hours ahead may cause you to come unstuck," warns Morris. "Time zones can work in your favour, but other times you may lose a day."

7. Stay on top of exchange rates
Dealing with clients from abroad can have financial implications if exchange rates vary during the course of a project. "Fluctuations can be detrimental or advantageous," reflects Matt Clugston at Clusta. "If you can afford it, you can wait for preferential rates."

8. Travel when necessary
Sometimes there's no substitute for a bit of face-time. "We always face-to-face on larger projects, or at the beginnings of relationships with bigger clients," reveals Clugston. Morris agrees: "Complex campaigns will often require you to collect the brief in person, or present the initial concept," she points out.

9. It's no holiday
It may seem glamorous at first to be jet-setting across the globe, but as a small studio it can be a tiring, time-consuming part of the job. "Don't be fooled into thinking that gaining overseas clients is a license for extra holidays," smiles Morris. "Time and expense for travelling all need to be factored into the cost of the job.

10. Respect cultural differences
Variations in language, tradition and sense of humour can all pose hurdles - and making the effort to at least exchange pleasantries in a client's native language can go a long way. "Knowing when holidays fall can help avoid deadline mishaps too," reasons Morris. "Likewise, don't assume that overseas clients will know when we're sleeping off a long weekend on Bank Holiday Monday. You have to communicate whether you'll be contactable or not."