Personal / 秘密, Taipei Brief / 來台北玩
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Living as a Freelancer in Taiwan

I recently read this post by a travel blogger/digital nomad that I follow and I found it so interesting. I always love to hear how people make their living other than out of the 9-5pm office grind; I’m actually thinking about doing a series on it soon. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people with “flexible” work hours – more than just being freelancers, these people are entrepreneurs, usually work on several different projects at a time, and in general depend on several streams of revenue to get by – hustlers, essentially.

That got me to thinking about how currently make my income – and how that’s going to change when I graduate from university at the end of this year. I’ve been agonising whether to transition to a full 9-5 job, but the truth is that generally speaking, work conditions aren’t optimal in Taiwan. Average graduates from my university [and it’s hardly a bad one] make 30-40k NT per month, which averages out to around 1000 USD. And so the question always is – so, what do you actually do? Contrary to popular opinion [that I drink tequila and go away on vacation all the time – although I do love those activities] I do occasionally do some things. Here’s the break-down, as of end-of-year 2015:

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Some wonderful brands I’ve worked with this past year

BLOGGING [0-5%]: The funny thing is that since I’m often introduced as a “blogger”, people are naturally very curious as to whether I can make a living off my blog. The truth is – hell no. Blogging in Taiwan has seemed to take a back burner to Facebook fan pages, and since my blog primary focuses on Taiwan, I’ve only had one or two instances where companies paid me to post. I haven’t tried to increase my stats beyond what organically comes, so it’s not really profitable for me to pitch to advertisers. I’m fine with that, though: I mostly do partnerships with brands that I genuinely enjoy and would support regardless of sponsorship – I essentially exchange posts for products that I would have to purchase otherwise.

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Writing a Taipei guide for VSCO and the Marriott Hotels, with photographer Sean Marc Lee

FREELANCE WRITING [35%]: I usually get two or three big projects every month – this is where my blog rankings come in handy; as editors reach out to my through my site. Writing isn’t the most lucrative of ventures, but the pay is decent, especially when commissions come from HK, Singapore or the United States – they pay rates that are quite high compared to the relatively low cost of living in Taiwan.

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Did some press release and catalogue work for fun accessories brand JumpFromPaper

COPY-WRITING [25%]: This is the part of my business that I’m looking to develop most in my next year, as it is quite lucrative and relatively mindless. I’ve never minded writing copy – it isn’t the most stimulating of exercises but a girl’s gotta eat. I’ve worked with a few brands writing press releases and catalogue copy – hoping to do that more in the next year; especially for Taiwanese businesses that are looking to break out into the global market.

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Love managing social media for athletic-wear brand viaSWEAT

Digital Marketing & Social Media Management: [25%]: Another area that I’m looking to develop in the next year. Taiwan is so dependent on Facebook as the main form of advertising – and thankfully, I love Facebook and working with Facebook Pages [whereas I hate Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter.] Of course, it’s not just thinking of captions and posting – management involves strategy and actually producing the content itself: a lot of photography and flatlays involved.

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Photo by black-buddha.com

•  NIGHTLIFE [15%]: Right now, my breakdown probably sounds very similar to most digital nomads or travel writers – I work mainly in the digital sphere; I write a bit and work with brands.   I took up working in nightlife frankly because I was already partying a lot, and figured that I might as well be paid for it. It hasn’t been the easiest half-year but I’ve learned a lot in terms of keeping cool under pressure and understanding how people think. And not gonna lie, it’s been a lot of fun. Sometimes I feel I spend a lot of my time typing on the computer, alone in my own digital world in a cafe – so it’s a chance for me to actually interact with humans in real life – [as obstinate and obnoxious as they can be]. However, this all may soon change – I’m taking it day by day.

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Photos taken at Indulge Private, a private kitchen & bar in Da’an

• PHOTOGRAPHY [TBD]: This is a really new area of my freelance life, but I’m really enjoying it. I especially enjoy F&B photography, so we’ll see where that develops. Working on developing a portfolio at the moment.

Since it’s about to be a new year and all, here’s some goals I have for the upcoming year:

Graduate from university [happening in January, finally]. That took long enough. The parentals will be relieved.

Get my very first real adult office job, whether it’s part- time or full-time. I know many people wouldn’t agree with this, but I just feel that the discipline of going into an office everyday and reporting to some sort of bigger company hierarchy than just, well, myself – is something I could benefit from. Not that it would be a forever thing, but give me a sense of routine [and hopefully some mentorship/learning experience] as I build up my freelance business even more. On that note –

• Standardise and streamline my social media management process. For the goal of taking on more clients and delivering better results for each one.

• Pitch more copy-writing jobs vs. freelance writing jobs. At this point, I don’t really enjoy freelance writing as much as I used to, and they don’t pay as well as copy-writing.

• Pitch a guide-book. Even though I struggle with traditional journalistic pieces, I realised that I love writing guides. I have my eye on a huge opportunity and I’m praying that it comes through soon, fingers crossed.

• Move into F&B photography. Build my portfolio and take on at least 2-3 clients. The more I think about it, I think F&B could be something I could stay in long term. It involves social media, semi-frequent human interaction, photography, marketing, and – lest we forget – great food and drink. Something to think about.

Apologies for this long personal post. Thanks for listening, thanks for not listening and scrolling, whatever.

The feature photo doesn’t even really have anything to do with freelancing, but it has some nice food in it and a computer and book so I figured, hey. Close enough. Photo by the darling @amandawbanana.

8 Comments

  1. Mike Dean says

    Hi Stephanie,

    I’m a Graphic/Motion Designer by trade, but have been a Creative Director for the last 10 years. I threw it all in a year ago, and have been travelling the World since and have decided to give the freelancing/remote thing a try. Right now i’m home in NZ but i’m based in Chiang Mai.
    First, i think you have a great effortless writing style, so keep it up!
    About getting a 9-5 job – i think the major benefit is that you get to be around other people, and more than anything it’s these interactions where you learn so much. Harvesting skill sets from the people around you is super beneficial, from emotional intelligence, client facing to support while learning more specific work skills. So i definitely recommend it, as long as you are actually learning!
    However the security it offers can be a trap, but it’s great you’ve already dipped your toes in the technomad lifestyle so you know the benefits and this will give you perspective.
    Anyway, good luck whatever you decide 🙂 I’m definitely interested in spending some time in Taiwan at some point so i’ll keep an eye on your blog!
    Peace
    Mike.

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Mike – thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂 I hear so many great things about Chiang Mai and the digital nomad lifestyle there, dying to go check it out soon. I totally agree about what you’re saying about 9-5: I’ve interned in NYC before and I would say that, especially if you’re an extrovert like me, it’s important to be around other people. I’m thinking about an arrangement where I go into a client’s office part-time during the week, and still have freedom to do what I want on my own schedule the other half of the week. We’ll see – I’ll definitely update on how my job search goes!

  2. Awesome! We’re in Tainan most of the time, and most foreigners in Taiwan are English teachers. It’s hard to get that “entrepreneurial” mindset or likeminded friends (so we travel… this month our apartment in Taiwan was empty for about 10 months).

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Yeah – I can imagine! Even in Taipei, a ton of foreigners here are also English teachers, but I’ve met so many (more and more with each passing year) entrepreneurs, artists, etc doing cool stuff. Hopefully more and more come and live in TW full-time!

  3. Hi! Would you be willing to share the rates (or even a range) you’re getting for copywriting vs freelancing writing? I’m an ABC moving from the U.S. to Taiwan soon for my boyfriend so I also have the advantage of understanding both English and Mandarin (can’t write in Chinese though). Thanks!

  4. Hey Stephanie, so glad you found my post useful! I love hearing how others make their own employment. It’s always so interesting to hear how diverse income streams can be.

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      EEEE – thanks for stopping in to look at my post – major fangirl moment! haha. Looking forward to what you get up to in 2016 x

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