:Ten Tips For Working With Overseas Clients

A few years ago (okay it was 17), the ad agency I was working at belonged to a formal international network of agencies that would rely on one another if a client wanted work doing in more than one country. Well, that was the plan at least.

Perhaps the Chairman got a nice weekend break out of it, but otherwise it was impossible to maintain much of a relationship with 20-odd other overseas businesses, and as far as we could tell, the things we had in common, other than belonging to the same network, were nil.

Being able to produce consistently good work was tough, especially when the international work was like a French steak, pretty rare.

When one of our largest clients did indeed want European representation, we trundled off to Belgium to introduce / re-acquaint ourselves with our Brussels brethren, only to find we had no common ground, no faith in their abilities and not much we could offer by way of incentive to do much about it.

Sure enough, our international accord failed to make much of an impact.

Fast forward to today, and technology allows our small, motley crew, to deal with clients in Spain, Switzerland and South Korea, as well as produce work in other languages for their partners in France, Germany and Italy, plus a few other exotic locations (Estonia is nice!). We’ve even done quite a bit of work in Belgium (they’re still strange).

85% of respondents who work for overseas markets said most or all of this work is done in the UK

Design work is probably the most common, although newsletters, e-casts, surveys, ads, press releases and case studies are pretty popular too.

In 2007, about half of the design businesses that took part in a survey by the Design Council had carried out work for use in overseas markets.

Some have an overseas office, but 85% of respondents who work for overseas markets said most or all of this work is done in the UK.

Of those that did encounter problems, those most commonly encountered were the same as the perceived barriers, namely language and translation issues (24%), cultural differences (17%) and practical communications problems (14%).

Let’s face it, we Brits are pretty lucky that much of the rest of the world spend their time learning our language, whilst we struggle getting past ‘Gracias’. Fortunately, there are plenty of other things at our disposal that can help us in our quest with Johnny Foreigner, I mean, respected overseas client…

  1. Cloud storage is your friend

    Man alive, where have you been all my life!? Uploading and sharing files via Dropbox, Google Drive and the inappropriately entitled Webhard, is helping us win the battle over the ‘unaware they just emailed us a 50meg file’ middle manager.

  2. Avoid perpetual motion

    Time zones, sometimes, are your enemy. Whilst being an hour or two behind much of Western Europe could seem like a good idea, by the time you’re getting your brain booted up after that first morning coffee, you’re already on the back foot. Likewise, send something to Asia at 5pm and there’s probably an amend waiting for you first thing the next day. It’s not easy, but here’s where planning your work day and being careful not to fall into the trap of constantly working on that one project helps.

  3. Google Translate isn’t perfect

    Not yet anyway. Still, it’s a fantastic starting point, as my overseas friend said this morning “Google interpretation is not so good but it can make us to communicate”.

  4. Make it good in French and German by making it good in English

    Translation companies are essential, but some clients have a natural aversion to outside help, thinking their own in-house Polyglot is just as good. Occasionally this is because the translators are working from rubbish source material. Polish it up in English, and the translation will be much better.Of course, having a native speaker on the client side helps avoid any obvious faux pas for industry terms or local idioms, but it also runs the risk of dumbing down your awesome prose, or worse, accidental amends! The ‘Out of office’ Welsh road sign is a fantastic example  – but my own favourite is a UK manager adding ‘whatever that means’ to copy amends on a badly translated Korean brochure, only to find it added in to the final draft!

  5. Corporate guidelines help

    Corporate guidelines give you a clue and a starting point where overseas clients may fail in putting across what they want, it prevents you from going in the complete wrong direction with a piece of design work and lets you exactly what colours, logos etc to use. It can also hinder creativity if overly strict or mis-understood, but that applies to any client, many of which set strict rules, then break them.

  6. Overseas visits help more

    Trade shows especially.

  7. Say “no” more

    Strangely, I find it easier to say no more to overseas clients. Maybe there’s no risk of them turning up and pounding the door in. Trying to set realistic expectations and give an understanding of your timescales can be easier when you’re forced to discuss work in a more straightforward way. By the same token, it’s also easier to find yourself working your proverbials off, just because it’s easier than trying to get your point across!

  8. Online meeting beats video conferencing

    What is it about travelling salesmen and their need to sit in traffic?! Online meetings may not be ideal for everyone, but they make international work much easier. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of video conferencing, as that just seems like a televised meeting, whereas screen sharing, via Screenleap, JoinMe or GotoMeeting helps to get things done.

  9. Being open (sharing files) helps

    It’s taken a monumental leap of faith to start sharing original artwork files. It didn’t seem like good business sense to be giving the family silverware away, but it’s just a fact of life now that some clients prefer to make those mind-numbing tweaks themselves.

  10. Be patient

    Clients can be hard to understand in any language.