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Conducting International Research: Working from Abroad

My family and I are living in the south of France for a year. It’s been a really incredible experience, and one of the things that has made it possible is this fantastic job doing market research with technology professionals.

This is truly a profession that can be done from almost anywhere in the world – “location independent living” at it’s best. Phone and web survey work can be done effectively from anywhere with reliable internet and phone connections. And you have to travel for focus groups anyway so a few more hours on a plane isn’t much of a difference. I wondered at first if my clients would be concerned that I was farther away, but that simply has not been an issue.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned in the past few months that anyone working overseas temporarily can leverage, but especially market researchers:

1) Vonage is your friend: When you’re doing recruiting or in-depth interview calls, it is a disaster to have a strange foreign number – or worse “Caller Unknown” – show up on CallerID. We brought our Vonage box to France and plugged it into the internet, and now it’s my name and number that shows up when I make calls, so the participants feel comfortable picking up the phone. Of course it’s also great that calls to North America and many other countries in the world are free, and being able to dial 1-800 numbers is a big plus.

2) Try Euro Saver: Finding a reliable calling card with local toll free access was much harder than it should have been. Many of the cards listed toll free numbers that were out of service. The Euro Saver from Cloncom has been great. Good prices and reliable toll-free access across every country I’ve been to in Europe so far.

3) Keep your US Smart Phone: It was important to me to keep my US cell phone number for incoming calls and business consistency. I was surprised that my cell phone bill is actually lower in France then it was in the US – mostly because I use the phone less of course. I cut my plan down to the minimum number of local minutes, and added the global plan for data, which was not expensive. The calling plan is exorbitant at over $1/minute, but I just don’t use it that often. Outbound calls I make from the Vonage line and long inbound calls I ask if I can call back from a land-line that is more reliable.

4) Invest in a monitor and an all-in-one printer: I’m finding that I can live temporarily without most of the things I have in my California office, but I did go ahead and buy a printer/scanner/copier which has been invaluable. You must be able to sign documents and email them if you’re running a business. I also bought an external monitor. When doing analysis and writing reports – especially for quantitative projects – I must have that extra screen real estate.

5) Bring your favorite headset: The Vonage line requires a US phone, so I brought my favorite phone with my favorite headset. It’s the same setup for calls that I had in my office in California.

With that, you’re all set. The one other adjustment I needed to make was my working hours. Researchers almost always have crazy hours. Even if you work just with North America you have four different time zones you have to cover, and most of us also do work with Europe and Asia as well. But when you’re abroad, you have your client calls at crazy hours in addition to your participant calls, and you need to adjust your mindset for this. It’s been fairly easy though. I do more calls in the evening, but on the flip side I really appreciate the interruption-free mornings that let me focus on analysis and writing.

I strongly recommend working overseas to all researchers who have international business. It’s not that difficult, and it gives a great perspective.