Nomadic copywriting – travels to the Far East

Aeroplane in flightI’m not one for staying in the same place too long. There’s definitely something of the nomad in me, and it’s not something I can shake off. Nor do I want to.

I had previously worked and lived in Asia for 11 years. But, within just a couple of years of setting up as freelance copywriter back in the UK, my mind, body and soul drifted back to the exotic climes of the Far East.

I’m guessing the majority of freelance copywriters working in the UK have mainly British clients. Some may have a few foreigners in their portfolio – people who found the service via a website or a contact. Others may make a more concerted effort to find work overseas.

My journey outside the comforts of the British Isles began in 2013. A chance meeting with someone at UK Trade & Investment ushered me in the direction of a trade mission to Japan. Two weeks and a few glasses of saki later, I had my first Japanese client.

As a pat on the back, UK Trade & Investment offered me training and funding to go out and flog my services further afield. So I went back to Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

What follows are a few observations based on two years’ worth of jetting around, meetings over dim sum and picking up a range of writing-related work.

It may sound like a jolly adventure, and much of it has been for sure. But it has also been a mix of trials and tribulations, euphoria and frustration. A book will probably follow. For now, the salient points…

Is there a market overseas for British copywriters in Asia?

In short, yes. The internet has naturally boosted demand for good quality content, written in English. Does this mean jobs here are like low hanging fruit? Not really. Just like back home, clients want to know and trust you before they’ll let you loose on their global website. Know that there are plenty of people who offer the service at bargain basement prices, so there’s competition. Nonetheless, if you offer a good quality service and know how to network, then there’s gold in them thar hills.

Which services are most in demand?

Content marketing is all the rage in Asia right now. Blogs and websites are the biggest money-spinners, and there’s also call for help with bid writing. Consultancy and training are also on the up. But, again, competition within the local market is intense. Quality varies, though, so if you take time to garner a good reputation, you’re off to a promising start.

How do you break into the market?

Get on a plane. Seriously. No amount of clever emails and long-distance calls are going to get you a decent amount of work. The clients worth working for want to see you in person. Luckily, they are often quite generous and I’ve enjoyed plenty of delicious ‘free’ meals ‘talking turkey’. Then the work comes in and the majority of clients offer interesting and rewarding projects.

Pleasures and pitfalls

You don’t really need me to harp on about the pleasures of doing business here. Take it as read that the exotic surroundings, amazing food and warm climate make for an interesting life.

Working with foreign clients, of course, has its fair share of challenges. Cultural differences are at once delicate and fascinating to navigate. In Asia, respect is in abundance, but so is saving face…and money. Expect to be bartered down to your lowest level, and try to leave with your dignity intact.

You also need to do your homework. A continent the size of Asia is hugely diverse, and different cultures do business in different ways. Learn the etiquette and you’ll be respected. Make mistakes and you’ll be forgiven. Behave like a bolshy Brit and you’ll be shown the door (albeit with a smile).

If you really want to make it overseas, you have to be prepared to travel a lot. I’m looking at a permanent presence now. It’s a sacrifice for sure. But, for me, it will be worth spending the endless hours breaking through the red tape to set up a business in a foreign land.

And that’s a whole new story…

Neil Stoneham runs Voxtree – a copywriting and training consultancy specialising in the Asian market.

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