Globalization. Good news and bad news for freelance copywriters. Bad news first: Global work trends intensify competition and push copywriting pricing downward in some sectors. The good news: For skilled, savvy copywriters, globalization—and the tech that supports it—creates a wide array of professional opportunities.
Overseas clients need quality copywriting
Multinational companies with lean overseas staff often depend on international consultants to fill in gaps. Markets that matured in the US and Europe are opening in the Middle East and Asia. As they expand, overseas businesses—from growing local concerns to huge multinational corporations—need quality content. These clients want clear, persuasive, typo-free content in perfect English, the language of business worldwide.
In addition to marketing and advertising materials, a competent copywriter can stay busy—and lucratively paid—with training tools and internal corporate communications.
But working internationally also presents challenges. To make a success of global freelancing, you need to be prepared.
7 suggestions for international copywriting success
Working with busy international clients requires professionalism, patience and empathy: Try to put yourself in your clients shoes and see the work process through her eyes and cultural lens. Here are some practical suggestions that help:
1. Use a professional-looking website or blog. Global clients need more than tweets and status updates to feel confident about hiring you. Personality and personal brand aren’t enough: When wooing international clients, you need a professional online platform that telegraphs reliability, expertise and experience. Remember, your client can’t make eye contact, read body language or judge character from subtle cues. A solid website or blog reassures with a portfolio or online work samples, testimonials and any badges and awards you’ve earned. If you work with other multinational companies, list or mention them on your site as well.
2. Set up your workplace for global clients. When dealing with the stress and strain of international freelancing, little things—a glitchy copier, unreliable phone—can drive your around the bend. Case in point: Once when working with a client in the Far East, my email hiccupped and deleted two days worth of correspondence—including important client attachments. That kind of debacle raises red flags and weakens your credibility. So invest in reliable equipment and systems you can depend on 24/7. Key office hardware and software include:
• A reliable Mac or PC
• Dependable server with 24/7 support
• Easy-to-use email interface
• Dedicated work phone
• Fast Internet connection
• Solid data back up system—both local and in the cloud
• Good copier, with scan-and-attach feature: Your client will likely need you to sign and return contracts, Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and bank information for electronic funds transfers.
• Fax machine, if your copier doesn’t scan and attach
• Plenty of ink cartridges, printing paper and other basic office supplies. When juggling deadlines across multiple time zones, you don’t want to be roaming the aisles at Staples at 10pm.
• An audio recorder and recording peripherals that attach to your phone—great for recording conference calls and interviews
• Skype for one-on-one conferences and catch-ups
• Any special software you need for your project, e.g.: Acrobat Pro, Fleish-Kinkaid readability software.
3. Manage time differences. To avoid hassles and misunderstandings, be vigilant about noting your clients’ time zones. (If you’re in the US, be sure to factor in Daylight Saving Time changes.) Before scheduling phone conferences, deadlines, etc., I always double-check time using an online time zone converter. And when emailing, be sure to state dates and times specifically. For example, don’t write: Are you free to speak with me on Tuesday at 10 my time? Do write: Are you free to speak with me on Tuesday, 4/10/11 at 10 am US EST?
4. Be sensitive to cultural differences and try to be flexible with your clients’ habits, routines and schedules. In Islamic countries for example, weekends fall on Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday. In India, many businesses work a half-day on Saturday. Your Middle Eastern, Indian and South East Asian clients also celebrate a number of religious holidays—Eid Al-Fitr, Edi Al-Adha, Diwali and local festivals. Unlike workaholic Americans, many international clients are not available past business hours, at home or on holiday. So adjust your workdays and hours—as well as emails needing timely reply—accordingly. On another cultural note: In traditional cultures, informality can be construed as disrespect. When in doubt, err on the side of formality. Begin an email with “Dear Mr. Al-Mosri, “ not “Hi Ahmed.” Naturally, you’ll never include profanity in email, but you also need to watch your potty mouth on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. While some bloggers think nothing of dropping the F-bomb, cursing is out-of-line in many traditional cultures and can cost you work.
5. Be ready to educate. Even if you’re working for a huge multinational company, you may be the first professional copywriter your overseas manager has worked with. She may need you to explain your work process, copy choices and review methods. Case in point: A client set up a phone meeting to “review” copy I edited. I expected him to run through cuts, new edits and suggestions. Instead, I learned he hadn’t read my copy—for him, a “review” meant me walking him through the text, page by page, explaining revisions. To help projects run as smoothly as possible, I draft an Assignment Sheet—like a creative brief—that explains my understanding of the project in detail. I ask clients to sign off on the Assignment Sheet before I begin work.
6. Manage projects. Time-pressed international clients don’t want to hold your hand through a project. Try to get all the information you need via email and conference calls before you start drafting copy. As you work, see if you can problem solve little issues yourself instead of pestering your client. You’ve heard if before, but its never more true than when working internationally: try to think of yourself as a problem solver, not just a copywriter. Your client may also need graphic design work, website coding or other services. You add value when you manage these services for clients—through designers, developers and other vendors in your network—rather than shrugging your shoulders and saying “It’s not my job.”
7. Nurture yourself. Show yourself the same sensitivity and courtesy you show your clients. Odd hours, cross-time zone conferences and cultural adjustments add stress. As a freelancer, you’re probably used to managing several projects at once, along with family and community responsibilities. A demanding overseas project may require you to juggle fewer balls. If your project requires you to work on Saturday or Sunday, try to take a weekday off to manage your traditional weekend tasks: grocery shopping, housework, recreation and time with family. You can’t burn your candle at both ends indefinitely.
“Our country is the world—our countrymen are all mankind,” wrote William Lloyd Garrison more than a century ago. With a little curiosity and flexibility, you can make the world your country—and your workplace.
Et vous? وأنت؟? And you?
Do you work internationally? Did I forget anything? Please share your tips on working globally.