One of the biggest challenges that international businesses face is dealing with different time zones. Accommodating the time-based needs of clients and customers is a mindset that is crucial to ensure that your business appeals to the widest audience and doesn’t unintentionally exclude target markets.
In this article, we’ll look at a number of tips for doing business across multiple time zones in an effective manner.
Before you officially begin doing business with a new client, it’s necessary to have the “time zone talk”. This includes setting deadlines, permissible times for meetings, and any other time-sensitive communication—ultimately, both parties have to be clear about which times and dates are to be used (yours or theirs). Considering that you should try to make things as easy for your client, try to see it from their point of view and how they comport their business activities, as well as personal life.
In other words, be “time considerate”. It may seem silly, but most business owners who’ve dealt non-local clientele will be familiar with the confusion of setting meetings by phone or online, only to be extremely early or miss the meeting altogether.
This is important for international business but should be taken into consideration for countries that may only have a few hours difference. For instance, if you are working with customers in California and you are based in the Eastern time zone, try to avoid scheduling anything before the early afternoon (unless they prefer meetings in the early morning). Similarly, for clients in London, your East Coast-based business should schedule things for early morning your time because the UK is 5 hours ahead. (Also, bear in mind that texting—while more passive—should be held to these same standards so that your interactions aren’t held while someone is trying to sleep.)
Because you’re most likely not going to be in the same geographic area, it’s important to remember that there is a real live human on the other end of your communications. Because of the age of technology that we live in and the many virtual elements that we embrace, it’s easy to be effective in business without being in person—but it’s just as easy to forget that the human element that makes your business interaction possible. Therefore, to do business across a different time zone, make sure to touch base via phone calls and confirm important meetings the day before just so that all parties are on the same page. Overlapping time periods can be a good starting point to suggest when finding common times that work for both parties.
Thanks to automation and advancements in e-commerce, your business can run without any staff. For online businesses selling products, your global reach makes you available 24-hours a day. Therefore, you’ll need staff that are ready to answer customer service calls whenever the need arises. For some important decisions, however, you may want to leave them open-ended until normal business hours to handle them correctly—otherwise, you may find that your business runs amok before starting the next workday.
One way to outsource your inbound and outbound phone call needs is by using virtual phone numbers. Virtual phone numbers, available from service providers like , allow your business to use , where a call can be rerouted to another call center when your primary business hours have elapsed. One particularly effective add-on for a virtual phone number is “time of day routing,” which is exactly as it sounds: Based on your time-based preferences, you can have calls automatically routed to another call center (or voice mail with extensions and directory) that can handle it in the way you see fit. For example, you can use time of day routing to send calls outside of your operating hours of 9 am – 6 pm to another destination phone number during the hours of 6 pm – 9 am.
Many companies solve time zone issues by outsourcing to other countries around the world. For tasks like handling calls, processing manufacturing orders, developing software, administrative tests, outsourcing may be the solution that your business need.
Dinner in one time zone is break time in another. Sundays, where you work, is someone else’s Monday somewhere else. There’s no sense in overextending yourself to accommodate clients in an unreasonable manner. After all, if you’re bending over backward to not upset your customers, you may want to reevaluate your business model and begin to set boundaries. After all, if your business has an international reach, you could literally work all day, every day—and some business owners nearly come close to doing that. Instead, set boundaries so you can establish a healthy work-life balance, which will benefit your business more in the long-run.
BIO: Tom Senkus is an international entrepreneur and writer that shares his knowledge of how to properly conduct commerce across borders. His work has been featured in more than fifty publications. For more information on his list of services, visit tomsenkuswriter.com