Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

The Freelancer’s Puzzle

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I want to make more money, so I can do more things. But how can I do that?

As a freelancer I have a lot of time to think.

And with that time I often think about things I could do with that time. For example: travel, both near and far, to visit friends, or just to go somewhere.

I would also like to save as I can foresee myself needing money sometime in the future, for some new adventure.

More money gives you more options. As freelance I already generate a stable income where I am not tied down to location. I can do the work I do any place — all I need is a laptop. In fact I can even do the work on my smartphone.

This makes me feel like I can go. Go where? Doesn’t matter so much.

I’ve been hustling a little bit for new work, to make more money. But something crucial about freelance and the work opportunities in Beijing is that a lot of it comes down to contacts and networks, suggestions, offers, and recommendations. Those lines of contact generate chance offers.

I’ve been waiting for a few of them to finally produce results. But it’s not certain. While other opportunities have occurred without any input from me. That’s the beauty of recommendations and professional networks — a cloud that floats around you, basically invisible, supported by people you barely know but who also have clouds barely tangible to them.

It actually makes me feel a little powerless because it isn’t always clear how to move forward. How to actively and consciously get more work for yourself.

I guess I could just get myself out there. Make inquiries. Meet more people. Send more emails and pitches. That is something I definitely don’t do enough of. And yet it seems that the more powerful way of getting work is via recommendation and personal suggestions.

In China, there is an all-encompassing word for this. It’s “guanxi”, which roughly translates as “connections”. But it’s much more than that. Much more than the western idea of “networking”.

In China people will do favours for you without an immediate expectation of a favour back, because they know doing favours for others improves their own social standing. It’s not a back-and-forth exchange, it’s about creating a social web of influence for yourself.

In China, the real movers and shakers are the ones who can create golden webs of influence which they can leverage and jostle, pulling strands and moving yourself around this web. It’s beautiful almost.

Anyway, that’s a tangent. I’m just aware that I want more income and I’m not fully sure, on a day to day basis, how to go about trying to secure that. It’s a puzzle for me to figure out.

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