There is a pervasive myth among Israel-based expat freelancers that the only place to go hunting for clients is right here on our doorstep — in Tel Aviv and the merkaz.
Alternatively, people think that freelancing internationally is possible but they imagine that it is far too complicated to even bother trying.
Both myths are precisely that — myths! — and I wanted to write this short post to help freelancers understand that if you’re an Israel-based atzmai (independent) that the world is virtually your buri (because, you know, oyster ain’t kosher).
Note: I am originally from Ireland and so am not subject to the US’s extraordinary extraterritorial tax laws. At least not for the moment. I am also neither an accountant nor a tax planner, although I retain one of the latter. However, I have been living in Israel and freelancing for a mixture of local and international companies for the past four years. So I can tell you what has worked for me. And, more importantly, what’s possible.
Why work internationally, you might be wondering?
- It’s fun and a learning experience! If you need to visit your clients, you have an excuse to travel to another country (during normal times, of course)
- You diversify your business by having clients in other world markets. Think: reduced risk.
- There are a lot more potential clients in the world than there are in Israel. For example: US population: 382 million. Israel population: 9 million (rounded). The US market alone is more than 40 times the size!
- More companies that are passed the startup phase. While Israel is deservedly known as the Startup Nation, if you want to work with larger organizations and multinational corporations (useful to boost your own brand recognition) then the picking is a little thinner.
- International clients often pay better rates. This depends very much what you freelance in, of course, but in some ‘niches’ the disparity can be large.
And the downsides:
- It’s harder to visit clients than it is in Israel
- Time zone differences can be a pain to work around. Particularly if you’re working with clients on the west coast of the US. See my run-through of which time zones are workable, and which are very difficult, here.
- International clients usually need to be educated on the Sunday to Thursday workweek (unless they have worked with Israel-based teams before)
- When you set rates in foreign currency, you assume some risk that the foreign exchange rate between that currency and the Israeli shekel will move against you. But remember: you can renegotiate rates periodically.
So here’s what’s required. And what I recommend.
1. Target Your Website Internationally. Be Mindful About Perceptions
I’ve written a post here before about mistakes that Israelis typically make when speaking English. Well guess what? Many long-term olim actually begin to suffer the effects of language attrition: the gradual loss of one’s mother tongue while in a non-Anglophone environment.
I’ve seen some freelancers that even drop a few words of Hebrew into their website copy in order to try endear themselves to local clients. There’s nothing wrong with this per se. It’s just that, of course, international clients are not going to understand what these words mean. Hevanta?
Think, also, about what brands and companies you might want to highlight having worked for or which portfolio samples you send to non-Israeli clients— some big local names might not resonate internationally but you may have worked with some smaller international clients that might make a bigger splash to an overseas prospect. It’s easy to forget that Israel is a bubble (this goes for any local market, of course).
It’s also, I believe, impossible to avoid politics completely when it comes to Israel.
My policy is to be completely transparent about where I am based and to try mention that at the very outset of the conversation with a prospective client.
My personal website has an Israeli domain (.co.il) for this very reason and I cringe whenever I see Israeli companies try to downplay their Israel footprint because they are ashamed to state where they are from (yes, this happens).
Politics and business are better not mixed, in my opinion. However, I think it’s still good to be mindful that your clients’ perceptions of Israel and your own might differ very markedly. If you did what you regard as great work for a biometrics company whose facial recognition software is deployed to monitor people at checkpoints in the West Bank, be aware that that might create an ethical problem for your client.
A little tactfulness is called for in certain circumstances. But I believe that most clients either react neutrally or positively to Israel-based service providers — and when dealing with technology companies Israel’s reputation as a world leader in technology and cybersecurity can even confer a competitive advantage.
Where that is not the case, you will hopefully still be able to put your political differences to one side and enjoy a fruitful professional collaboration in spite of those gaps.
Finally, if you own a website, then you should certainly be using Google Analytics to track your traffic and see where it’s coming from.
Keep an eye, in particular, on the geography view to see which which countries, outside of Israel, your website is resonating with.
Monitor trends and consider new geographies to prospect to that you may have neglected for no good reason.
2. Set Up Payment Options
Although Payoneer was founded in Israel, I much, much prefer Transferwise for its ease of use — and I unreservedly recommend it to freelancers looking to do business with the world.
Although Transferwise’s debit card hasn’t yet rolled out in Israel (alongside Revolut!), you can simply set up Borderless accounts to receive foreign currency payments locally.
For those unfamiliar: these are basically virtual bank accounts. You get payment details in the country in which they are based and can give these to your clients. They then simply pay you by making a local bank transfer. For you this means no long waiting times for international wires to process. For your client’s A&P people it often makes things a little bit more convenient too.
Local bank accounts are available in several countries worldwide including the US — so you can give your clients American virtual account details and they can make a transfer over the ACH system.
After your clients pay in to your local accounts you receive a notification from Transferwise and can either choose to hold the money in the virtual account until the exchange rate is most favorable (this is what the financially savvy people do, I hear) or convert it immediately in to NIS and then move it into your local account.
Transferwise also provides you with a very favorable exchange rate that is relatively close to the mid-market and, after connecting your Israeli bank account, you can move the money seamlessly through their system in a matter of days.
To make it as easy as possible to get paid I recommend setting up a few more payments gateways.
Paypal is a no-brainer for moving money quickly around the world (and please note, although their fees might seem expensive to some, you cannot charge your clients the fees under their terms of service).
But you can also look into setting up accounts with Payoneer, Skrill and others.
Give your client plenty of options and don’t try to charge them the fees your payments processing gateway or solution levies. Other than that it’s proper credit control with a small bit of FX risk on the side.
3. Buy A Good (720P / 1080P HD) Webcam and Microphone
Showing face virtually is just about the best that many of us can do these days with international travel restrictions and locked down airports. So this is actually a great time to get comfortable with videoconferencing in lieu of in-person meetings. Remote working is currently surging in popularity. So if you haven’t thought about approaching clients beyond Israel this might even be a particularly opportune time to consider doing so.
In terms of technology: I use Calendly and Zoom, integrated, to allow prospective clients, wherever they are in the world, to quickly and easily book a meeting on my calendar. I carefully control the settings to give myself enough time to prepare for meetings (I set a 24 hour minimum booking period). And I mark off my calendar when I am on vacation.
I recommend setting up separate accounts for your business with both. If you’re doing a lot of Zoom calls then it’s also worth upgrading to the paid tier to get rid of the 40 minute restriction. Upgrading Calendly gets rid of the “Powered by Calendly” branding (among other things). Finally, a backdrop can be useful if your home office is a cluttered mess.
To create a strong professional impression I also recommend investing in a good quality webcam and microphone / headset.
A webcam that can deliver video in 720P or 1080P HD will make a better professional impression than a cheap one that is only capable of delivering a slightly blurry image and laggy audio.
KSP and Ivory both have a good selection and you can buy others online.
4. Send Tax Documents in English
It should go without saying, but make sure that your invoicing program is equipped to send out invoices and receipts in English. And make sure that you’re using the setting when billing international clients.
Also, be mindful that other countries may have different bookkeeping conventions than Israel and that things like an אישור בעלות חשבון בנק are clearly not going to mean anything to a client based in Brooklyn.
Whether you’re an osek patur or an osek murshe work with an accountant if you have any specific questions about how to bill and invoice international clients as compared to Israeli cones.
You Can (And I Believe That You Should) Work With The World
Unless I’ve been missing something (in which case sorry for the misinformation!), there is really nothing difficult about working with international clients.
The same commonsense rules of freelancing apply, of course: if it’s a large project get an upfront deposit, try to be courteous and professional, and deliver your work on time, on spec, and on budget.
While there are undoubted downsides to not having local clients, I believe that the upsides outweigh them: in terms of having a client base that is diversified both geographically and by industry. You also get to contribute to Israel’s export market in a small way. And — if you make a positive impression! — help put Israel on the map as an emerging labor market with plenty of well-educated Western talent for service providers. That, in my opinion, is a benefit not to be sniffed at.
Clients can be found both in English-speaking countries and in other markets in which companies wish to communicate or work through English.
Besides Israel, I’ve personally worked with clients in the US, the UK, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Singapore — to name but a few.
Good luck in your journey!