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While teaching English is a great way to become an expat in Asia, what if you don’t like teaching? What if you want to move around? What if you want to work from the couch in your underwear??
Well, I have a ton of friends in Asia who work online as freelance writers. There’s a pretty a good reason for the rising popularity of this profession among digital nomads. A laptop and wifi are all you need to make money from literally any part of the world.
For those of us who prefer English to Python, working as a freelance writer can be an awesome gig. However, in the parts of the world where the rent is low, the competition is high.
How do you actually find freelance writing jobs? How do you differentiate yourself from local writers who are willing to create copy for pennies?
Today I’ve asked my freelance writing friends to share their tips on how to get started (and feed yourself) as a freelance writer in Asia!
How To Find Freelance Writing Gigs
If you value flexibility, freelance writing projects are there for you. No two orders are similar, and the project depends massively on where you got the job from.
The most common sources of freelance gigs are web platforms, job boards, and good old-fashioned networking!
Register On the Right Platforms
First, you’ll want to register for several job platforms and get the word out there. Upwork is the most common place to look for a job, but there are plenty of others. Personally, I use TravMedia, which emails me anytime someone is looking for a freelancer with Asia expertise.
It can be really hard to know where to start when you’re competing with people from India and the Philippines who are willing to write thousands of words for a few dollars. How do you differentiate yourself?
First, use your expat knowledge and unique voice to your advantage. If you have any relevant knowledge (a bachelor’s in business, a nursing degree, a brief foray into finance…), apply for jobs in those topic ranges to find less competition. Travel is a lot easier to write about than taxes.
Work on getting those five-star reviews and keep upping your price from there. A few high-paying repeat gigs are far better than a ton of lower-paying ones.
If you’re one of those people who loved English class in high school, you might want to help people write essays as well. I had a friend who literally wrote people’s dissertations for them (and made bank doing it), but you could always go the more ethical route and just help people outline and edit their essays instead.
Job bulletin boards and classifieds
Expat forums and bulletin boards always have tons of jobs available. Asia is booming with small businesses, run by locals and foreigners alike. Businesses always need content, leaflets, selling proposals, and social updates written.
Check all of the local expat job boards, and join all of the expat and job seeking Facebook communities. If you’re a travel blogger in addition to writing, you can also always check the job forums on Travel Blog Success, or any of the other major blogging course communities.
Personally, I’ve been writing for Go Overseas for the last few years. I used my experiences abroad to land a position as their Teach Abroad and Asia Expert. However, there are a ton of different websites in varying niches to choose from.
Network! Network! Network!
As you stay in one place for an extended period of time, you inevitably get some connections. If you’re a writer, nothing is easier than to build your network within the writing/ publishing/ travel/ creative content industry.
Ran into a marketer or creative director at a party? Take their card! With a bit of messaging and few shared coffees, you’ll become their go-to writer. Be sure to also sign up for your local Travel Massive chapter, which will have meetups for travel industry professionals. Tell everyone you’re a travel freelance writer, bring some business cards and network to your heart’s content.
My friend Luhai is the perfect example of a freelance writer who networked his heart out while living in China. Not only did he write articles about China for news outlets back home in the UK, he also attended networking events and got his name out there in the Beijing community. His ability to name-drop his previous writing gigs landed him some great positions in China.
Active Outreach in the Local Community
Collect business cards wherever you go. If a particular shop, bar or restaurant appeals to you, glance through their materials to see if you can contribute your writing to their promotion.
Ask local nonprofits if they need your help with proofreading, editing and drafting their informational kits in English. You probably won’t make a lot of money, but these clients are often the ones providing a stable income you can rely on.
As you stroll around the city, look for the companies who could benefit from native English writer. These would be translation agencies, tourism offices, marketers, bookstores, hotels and other businesses that work with foreigners. Get their contacts and send a polite email with a pitch.
How To Find A Full-Time Writing Job in Asia
While freelance writing is awesome, it’s also a bit unpredictable. Wouldn’t it be nice to just have ONE job that pays the bills?
Writing full-time for one place is awesome, but also be aware that when it comes to these positions, you might need to actually be living in a specific city, or even come into the office. They may not be quite as flexible with deadlines and may expect you to write multiple blog posts or portions of copy a day.
Just be sure to pick a job that fits your lifestyle, and has deadlines flexible enough for your needs.
Content Writing Positions
Every small, big, or multinational company in Asia has to fill its social channels with quality content daily. Hence, a content writing position is available in nearly every office now.
Many brands in Asia, or around the world, are looking for a content writer to fill their channels and website with content in flawless English. You may be writing copy to fill out an existing website, manage social media channels, or write lengthy blog posts once or twice a week.
My fiance Chris is a perfect example of this. Not only does he do sales for his safari company Shadows of Africa, he also creates all of their content. He writes all of their blog posts, guides, and pretty much anything else that needs writing. For a talented blogger, cranking out a 2,000-word blog post on the best parks in Tanzania is a no-brainer, especially since he already works in the industry.
Newspapers, Magazines, and Online Publishers
If you’re an expat in an area with a decent-sized foreign population, be sure to check for local magazines, English-newspapers, and expat outlets.
In Beijing, we had The Beijinger, That’s Beijing, City Weekend Beijing, Time Out Beijing, and more! Most of these were magazines with websites that constantly produced content, meaning they always needed people to write something.
My friend Justine from Travel Lush actually specializes in this. She used to work for a newspaper in Jakarta, and when she moved to Beijing she found a job writing for That’s Beijing’s website. Even though she moved to Vietnam, she’s still working for them!
Some lessons are learned the hard way, especially when it involves cultural differences. The business environment in Asia is slightly different from the Western world, so be ready to…
Always have business cards with you
Swapping business cards is an extremely important ritual throughout Asian countries. Design and print a batch beforehand, and make sure to always have several with you. You never know when an opportunity to network will arise.
In East Asia, be sure to also give and receive your business cards with two hands. I actually scored an internship in China because I was the only applicant who did this!
Bring your papers
Your diploma and certificates, given that you have them, are must-haves. Bringing a criminal record check from your country is also a very good idea. Find out beforehand if they need to be translated and notarized. Having your papers neat and ready makes you look great and might be the decisive factor for your hire.
Look sharp and professional.
While it is the dream of many freelancers to work from your house in sweatpants, be sure to look professional if you’re going to be meeting with any potential employers in person or over Skype. Jeans might work back in Seattle, but in Asia, you’ll want to look nice.
Invest in a nice button down or professional-looking dress for any meetings you might have. You will need them more often than you expect in the land of pools and palm trees.
There’s Plenty For Everyone
It’s no surprise why Asia has become a mecca for writers from all over the world. It’s affordable, beautiful, and bursting with opportunities.
Looking around at all the drop shippers, English teachers, and freelance writers, the market may feel a bit too saturated. However, with new businesses emerging every day, writers can easily get enough gigs to pay the bills.
So if you’re thinking about becoming a freelance writer abroad, give it a try! As long as you can actually make yourself work from the couch, it could be the answer to that work-life balance you’ve been dreaming of.
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