A huge draw to running a business online is the idea that it can, when orchestrated properly, create location independence. And who doesn’t love the idea of leveraging that location independence to move to an exotic location abroad or spend your time moving from country to country, sampling the cultural wonders of the world?
One of the challenges of doing so, however, is that it can be a bit harder to gain the trust of customers when your have a foreign address or no address at all. Even though people have become more comfortable dealing with strictly online businesses, having a physical presence in your country of choice can lend a lot of credibility.
You don’t have to actually be in America (or whatever country you’re doing business in) to create the illusion of a physical presence though. Here are some tips on being back home without actually being there.
Note: While this article mostly mentions America, the tips can be applied to whatever country you do business in.
1. Maintain a US Address
Listing an address on your site is always a good idea for establishing credibility on a website, and if you’re abroad, this address can give the impression you’re still back home when you’re not. Simple address ideas are to use a friend or family member’s home or business address.
There are also companies that allow you to rent a mailbox that has an address much like a street address. In the worst case scenario, just use a P.O. Box – most people will assume when they see this that your street address is in the states too. Unless you give them some reason not to.
2. Maintain a US Phone Number
Even if abroad you can have a US number in the states. One easy way to do this is to buy an online number through Skype with the area code of your choice, and this can be set up to go directly to a voicemail account. When you call out from Skype, this US number will be what shows up on caller ID, and if you really want to be available, you can have the number forward to your cell in the new country so you can answer when not on your computer.
Also check out MagicJack and Vonage.
Other phone and messaging options to consider are buying a 1-800 number or hiring an answering service or virtual secretary to field your calls.
3. Maintain US Hours
Do you have to deal with clients directly or do meetings over the phone? If you’re a night owl, you might consider keeping the same hours as your home country.
It’s indeed a sacrifice to make, but it’s always best if you absorb all the discomfort of your physical location rather than letting it affect clients – if you want to reap the same profits anyways.
Another option is to just work half of the night and set up phone meetings within that window, so it still looks like you’re back home. You can even list those as your phone hours on your website, as not all businesses maintain phone hours throughout the entire workday.
4. Open Accounts Using US Bank Account
If you’re a freelancer, for instance, it’s best to open all your accounts while back home so that you don’t have to send in proof that you’re a U.S. Citizen. Having an Elance or PayPal account in another country is a red flag to many would-be clients, especially if it doesn’t match the country on your address or listed on your website. Foreign locations can be problematic with eBay and other accounts associated with your business as well.
Being a US provider lends a lot of credibility no matter what industry you’re in.
5. Mask Your IP
Pertaining to the above about online accounts, you might also consider masking your IP because this can also get online accounts flagged as belonging to a foreigner. In the case that an account does end up designated to another country, contact the company and ask what it’ll take to get it changed. Sometimes all it may take is faxing a copy of your passport, though in some cases further action will be necessary.
Just to make one thing clear, I’m not advocating that you lie to your customer. If they ever ask you where you are at, you should tell them the truth – it’s always important to maintain honesty with customers as even slight compromises in integrity can become a slippery slope.
Creating an illusion is a bit different than outright lying because it keeps the question from coming up in the first place and aids in your marketing. If you’re at the point where you’re customer or client is already in contact with you and you explain that you’re an American citizen but spend a lot of time abroad, it won’t typically make much of a difference at that point.