A growing lifestyle
Digital-savvy, self-employed professionals on the rise
Freelance work has acquired a whole new dimension in the digital age, becoming a chosen lifestyle for a growing number of Chinese professionals.
Software programming, online sales, digital marketing, webpage design, video production and translation are just some of the fields where freelancers are thriving.
The proliferation of mobile internet, instant messengers and e-payment tools has led to a surge in the number of the self-employed, according to PayPal, an online payment service provider.
PayPal has discovered that in the Chinese market, the number of freelancers specializing in cross-border trade has seen robust double-digit growth in recent years.
Reasons are not far to seek. First of all, freelancing offers the freedom to choose the work location. Second of all, freelancing allows a professional to focus on the job he/ she loves. Third, combined with an organized way of working, strategy and discipline, freelancing boosts income big time.
So, more and more Chinese employees are thinking nothing of giving up full-time jobs to turn freelancers.
The trend is part of a global pattern. The freelancer job market globally has grown increasingly mature on the back of some major job opportunity platforms.
The UK Office for National Statistics reported in May 2016 that about 15.2 percent of the country’s workforce is self-employed.
A 2015 study commissioned by the Freelance Union in the United States showed that freelancers made up 34 percent of the country’s workforce. This figure is expected to reach 40 percent in 2020.
Such growth is coming from online labels such as Freelancer.com, the world’s largest freelancing platform. It has attracted more than 20 million employers and freelancers from across the world.
Similarly, Upwork, which is quite popular in Europe and the US, boasts a user base comprising more than 12 million freelancers and more than 5 million enterprises. Using the platform, freelancers earned over $1.1 billion last year.
99Designs, which is different from the above two in that it focuses only on graphic design, has attracted over 250,000 designers from 192 countries who are willing to work as freelancers.
“The growth in innovationdriven, flexible access to key skills is behind the global rise of freelancing,” said Andrew Burke, chairman of tne Center for Research on Self-Employment, a London-based think tank devoted to research into freelancing.
In China, the younger generation tend to work as freelancers. According to PayPal, a majority 56 percent of freelancers work in cross-border trade, and are aged between 25 and 34. A LinkedIn survey released at the end of 2015 showed that nearly 70 percent of freelancers in China were under the age of 30.
Fan Wenqu is one such freelancer. Although just 23, he has already gathered more than five years of experience as a freelance automotive parts dealer.
Fan’s hometown Taizhou in Zhejiang province is well known for its automotive parts industry. He started working as a freelancer on online marketplaces such as Taobao and Tmall when he was still at high school.
Fan now earns a monthly salary that is twice that of his peers. But, seeing the Chinese automotive industry’s slower growth and the rapid rise of the health industry, Fan is toying with the idea of floating a new business related to people’s health.
More so because at college, Fan had majored in food safety and health. To broaden his ken and gain expertise, Fan is planning to pursue higher studies in Italy.
Real-life stories such as Fan’s can be found in many fields.
After working as a server developer at a leading domestic gaming company in Shanghai for one-and-a-half years, Chen Shenghan, 25, quit his cushy job even though it brought him a decent 15,000 yuan ($2,158) in monthly salary and promised a decent career.
Instead, two years ago, Chen returned to his hometown Kunming, Yunnan province, to work as a freelancer. “I don’t want to manage other people or be managed by others.”
Chen is currently working for two major long-term clients (a domestic company and a Malaysian firm). Chen’s freelance income is not less than his full-time job salary.
Chen said a clear career goal is a must for a freelancer to be successful. For Fan, the key is to be a keen observer of the latest market trends.
Chen said: “The job responsibilities which used to be shouldered by colleagues are now all mine. But the good thing is, I can choose my own technology roadmap. The long-term goal for me now is to develop products of my own. Only in this way can I make sustained profits.”
Top: Ma Qirui, a freelance lenswoman, shoots underwater images for her client in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Clockwise from left: A woman serves as a part-time teahouse staffer in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province; an undergraduate student works as a part-time model for e-stores in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province; and a freelance singer records songs at an internet karaoke bar in Chengdu, Sichuan province.