The beauty of working with international clients or customers is that you open yourself up to new opportunities. Instead of hemming yourself into just people in your locale, you have a wider pool to choose from. You’ll be able to find the professionals and customers you truly want to work with and serve.

There’s an art to conducting international business, though. The “rules” are different from what you’re used to when you only deal with people in your own backyard. From understanding and respecting traditions to getting super clear on time zone-related expectations, here’s how to conduct international business like the pro you are.

Educate yourself on the culture

In order to successfully handle international business relationships, you have to be educated about the cultural norms and traditions. This is especially important if you’re traveling to another country to conduct business, as opposed to inviting professionals to your country or meeting them on your own turf. When you’re in another country, you may stick out like a sore thumb. You have to know about the laws, customs, and business traditions, as well as the possibility of needing to know the language if your business contact doesn’t speak your native language. Here are some other things to consider:

  • Is there a gift-giving custom? Are you expected to bring a gift, and if so, what should the gift be? Will you receive a gift, and if so, what should you say in return? Would it be considered rude if you do bring a gift?
  • How do professionals in the country negotiate? What’s accepted and/or expected?
  • What is the attitude toward punctuality? Are you expected to be on time or even early, or are people more relaxed about punctuality (meaning you can expect them to be late, even if you’re on time)?
  • How should you address female and male professionals? Which titles should you use?

All of this can be intimidating. However, something wonderful happens when you learn about another country’s culture – you get a new perspective that you can bring back home to influence your own business. This can help you stand out from your competitors and offer a totally unique experience. You may also realize that you love how business is conducted abroad and that you’d prefer to work there, which could set you on a new career path.

Be open, friendly and presentable

When you’re at a conference, meeting, or presentation, don’t be shy about being the first one to introduce yourself. People are often nervous about meeting new people, and whoever you introduce yourself to will feel relieved that you made the first move. The goal of attending business events like these is to network – that’s what everyone is there for, even if many of them are hesitant to strike up a conversation.

Make sure you’re attending events that you’re passionate about. If you’re not interested in the topics being discussed, it’s going to be hard to think of anything to say. When you and everyone else in attendance are amped up about the subjects being covered, you won’t have to think of clever ice breakers or stumble through conversations – your passion will guide you.

Collaborate as personally as possible

One of the difficulties about conducting business internationally is that you’ll rarely be in the same room as the other person. The more personal you can make your communication, the better. Use technology that puts you face-to-face with your client, co-worker or customer, like video calling software. You may also want to use messaging services that make it easy to speak with the entire team or one-on-one in real time, like Slack.

You may not have the opportunity to communicate in person, so make sure your digital conversations aren’t 100 percent work-focused. If you were in an office together, you’d ask one another about the weekend or wish someone a happy birthday. Do the same online. Adding friendly, personal touches can make remote teams feel closer to one another.

Establish clear expectations

Working with professionals or customers in another country can make it difficult to sync up when it comes to deliverables and meetings. Set clear expectations and boundaries from the beginning so both sides know what to expect and what’s expected from them. Clarify your availability so the other party knows when you can and cannot be reached. It’s also important to discuss deadlines and turn-around time, accounting for time zone differences. You should have plenty of notice for projects so that you can deliver them based on when the other person needs to receive them.

Whether you see the value in doing business abroad or you chose your career because you want to travel internationally, preparing for the experience will serve you well. When everyone is respectful of each other’s customs, time constraints, and boundaries, it becomes easier to manage and coordinate dispersed teams. When handled correctly, international business can mean a wealth of interesting and successful opportunities.


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