Information from an International Businessman
Guest post courtesy of Lam Woon Cherk
A Little About My Business
I run a small Malaysia-based web design firm which creates website for small and medium businesses (SMBs). Although based in Malaysia, more than 90% of my clients are international clients coming from countries such as United States, Australia, Norway, United Kingdom, Turkey, Nigeria and etc. The current main focus of my business is creating e-commerce websites for SMBs. Other than that, my company also creates portfolio websites for SMBs and help them run Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaigns.
How do You Communicate with your International Clients?
As with many international businesses, the main form of communication between my clients and myself is e-mail. Once in a while we schedule meetings on Skype, but e-mail is still the main tool because of the convenience. Because I have Asian accent with my spoken English, e-mail is also a more suitable method in my case. Another thing I like about e-mail, which is also an essential part in international business, is the conversation records. I always make sure I e-mail my clients important short summaries after our Skype chats to make sure we don’t end up with disputes.
To further strengthen the relationships with my clients, I always added them on my LinkedIn account. I am using Microsoft Outlook 2013 which has this incredible feature of social media integration. Outlook 2013 automatically finds my clients’ e-mails on LinkedIn (and other Social Media), and allow me to add them to my connection in a few simple clicks!
How do You Accept Payments?
PayPal is the payment method of my choice. PayPal makes it so convenient to receive money from all over the world. So far, I’ve only come across one instances where PayPal is not useable, that’s when the client is from Nigeria; other than that, PayPal is always the answer!
Although PayPal does take a little bit of commission, I am able to live with that for the convenience PayPal provides! The Invoice feature of PayPal also helps me save a lot of time!
Do You Notice Differences in Cultures in Different Parts of the World?
Yes I do! The main differences I’ve noticed is in terms of their attention to levels of details, aesthetical preferences and personal characteristics.
For example, European clients (limited to those countries that I’ve dealt with) usually pay a lot of attention to the details, and until those little bits are sorted out, they won’t launch the project. Clients from the United States and Australia have better tolerance over the details; or at least they are willing to leave the details for the time being in favor of a quicker launch – they prefer incremental improvements.
Also, while both Europeans and Americans are generally open-minded, Americans are usually more willing to accept suggestions. On the other hand, Europeans usually have their own ideas in mind, and although they are willing to listen to suggestions, they eventually will stick to their ideas.
Another difference I’ve noticed is the working styles. I noticed a very relaxed working style in Americans than other parts of the world. Relax in this sense doesn’t mean that Americans doesn’t get jobs done, but they are usually more tolerant over deadlines. Westerners also have a lot of respects over off-times and holidays. Comparing Westerners to Asians, I noticed Westerners have better respects over ones’ work-life-balance.
How to Promote Your Business at International Level?
Have an incredibly persuasive website. When the main way an international client can know about you is through your website, you have to make sure your website is able to attract them! Lay out clearly what is the services you provide, and how they can get to you! If you have the time and budget, please also invest in SEO.
Also, choose one or two core focuses in your business and go after them in full power. If possible, try to find a relatively uncompetitive specialization. Remember that we are small businesses, and we have very little strength to fight head-to-head with big players. You have to find a niche that is special and focused enough to set you apart from the competitors but general and popular enough to keep your business coming!
Last but not least, give before you ask. I first learnt this idea in a book I read – The 100$ Startup. The idea is that to gain any trust (and thus ask for businesses), please show that you know something by giving away your knowledge. Be it through blogs (remember that you have a website?), white papers, forums, social media or any other online platforms, do not be stingy to share your knowledge. The more you share, the more people (most importantly your clients) will view you as authoritative, and they will naturally give you business!
Any Other Tips?
If you are providing services, always accept upfront payments before you start a project with a new client. While I do not have much bad experiences with clients running away (only 1 encounter to date), it is always safe to have your clients paid a reasonable amount of fee before you start. If any client is not keen on doing this, forget about him! Anyway, this point also relates back to our previous point: to have a persuasive website. If your website makes you look so trustworthy, I don’t find why your clients would want to decline the upfront payments!
Also discussed in previous point when we talked about mode of communication, always have black & white for your conversations with the clients. This will save you a lot of time when dealing with disputes!
Lam Woon Cherk bio: I am the owner of panoRazzi, a small Malaysia-based web design firm that focuses in creating portfolio and e-commerce websites for SMBs and building online presence for them. Other than my own profession, I am also extremely interested in entrepreneurship!