A grow­ing life­style

Dig­i­tal-savvy, self-em­ployed pro­fes­sion­als on the rise

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By SHI JING in Shang­hai shi­jing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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