Wanna become your own boss? Freelancing in Hong Kong might be the answer to your prayers.
The pandemic has redefined the way we work and, increasingly, people are looking for flexibility and ownership over their time and resources. So, enter – freelancing! Whether you’re looking for some extra cash on the side, or are sick of the nine-to-five and want to be your own boss, freelancing can give you exactly that. To prepare you for this journey, we’ve found you the best cafes to work from, put together a list of tips for working from home, plus provided you with an invaluable support network – Launchpad. And now, here’s a guide to help you freelance in Hong Kong, with advice from leading freelancers across their respective fields. Happy freelancing!
How to start freelancing in Hong Kong
1. Sign up to different networking and freelancing platforms
One of the most popular freelancing platforms in Hong Kong is freelancing.hk, and you can also often find freelance work on LinkedIn. In addition, you can use international platforms like Upwork or Toptal, and we recommend you to find ones in your field specifically, for example: Textbroker for writers, and Coroflot for designers.
2. Build your own brand and portfolio
Depending on your specialty, this may require building a website to host your work. You can also create your portfolio on Instagram, Medium, or Github – just make it easy for potential clients to find you! Furthermore, you should memorise (or at least be crystal clear about) your past projects, existing experiences, references, and why people might want to hire you to freelance in Hong Kong.
3. Maintain your finances
If you’re looking to freelance full-time in Hong Kong, you’ll need to set up a sole proprietorship in order to pay your taxes (yeah, groan…). You can find out more information about taxes on the Government website.
Top tips from freelancers in Hong Kong
If you’ve seen the incredible The Hong Konger collection, which has been exhibited at Soho House, Eaton Hong Kong, and across the city, you would’ve seen the work of Sophia Hotung. Originally a tech analyst and product manager, she pivoted to writing and illustrating in 2021 when her autoimmune diseases made it impossible to continue her corporate career. She is now a freelance writer and illustrator who uses her work to advocate for and represent the intersectionality of gender and chronic illness. She also offers courses and coaching on getting creative projects off the ground.
Sophia, how do you freelance in Hong Kong?
1. Carve out time for self-study
Diving into a relatively new field, I’m always looking to up-skill. So, I designate times during the week to watch YouTube videos, read articles, or take courses related to anything from email marketing and Google ads, to NFTs and drawing techniques – urgent things, whimsical things, practical things… I focus on one topic every month – that’s enough time for me to get some level of understanding without getting bogged down in one discipline. Self-study is great not only because it levels up your industry-specific skills, but also because you indirectly become very good at researching and synthesising information.
2. Cultivate a phrasebook for work and negotiations
My biggest pain-point starting out was advocating for myself, especially when it came to negotiating compensation. I felt that saying “no” or sticking to my guns would cost me relationships and opportunities. Fortunately, after speaking with more experienced female freelancers, I was able to curate sentences that felt natural to say and help me assert myself. The key is to keep them short, not to justify yourself, and to be honest. A common one I use in cases where I need to manage my workload is: “I’m at capacity right now, so won’t be able to take this on.” It’s polite, doesn’t go into excuses, and doesn’t promise anything that can’t be delivered.
3. Pinpoint your main goals and don’t get distracted by irrelevant opportunities
I call myself a writer and illustrator, but I often get approached for graphic design work. Initially, eager to take on as many opportunities as possible, I designed logos, marketing materials, and branding guides. I was neither great at it nor interested in it, and soon I found that it was leeching my time and resources to foreground my priorities. Now I’m clearer with myself about what I do, clearer with prospective clients about what I can offer, and therefore able to execute things more effectively.
Sophia Hotung will be publishing her first chapter book under K11 Artus as its artist-in-residence, as well as co-creating her first NFT drop with Sophia the Robot from Hanson Robotics in support of The Women’s Foundation Hong Kong. Catch her debuting The Hong Konger at the Affordable Art Fair with Young Soy Gallery, too!
Check out how Sophia Hotung gets it done.
Simon Kwan of Simon Kwan Media Production is a freelance photographer and videographer based in Hong Kong. He has extensive experience across commercial, product, portrait, events, wedding, and aerial photography. In addition to working with local entities and global brands, Simon’s photos have been featured on National Geographic, as well as in exhibitions and billboards across the world.
Simon, what’s your advice to those interested in freelancing in Hong Kong?
1. Know your clients
Freelancing, especially in the media industry, is more than knowing about how to create outstanding images or videos – you have to be extremely business-savvy, too. To better understand your client’s needs, you should always arrange a consultation before the project. Personally, I offer at least one face-to-face or phone conversation in order to get a clearer picture about the ideas and direction, confirm the details of the production, and to build trust. Setting the expectations during this meeting can ensure both parties are on the same page.
2. Try part-timing first
Freelancing may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The process of marketing yourself, selling your services, and dealing with clients can be overwhelming for many. If you’re not sure whether freelancing is the right career path for you, try doing it part-time first. Spend a couple of hours everyday working on smaller freelance gigs and learn the ways of freelancing. When you feel ready to handle bigger projects, then you can decide whether you should freelance full-time or leave your day job.
3. Avoid payment risks
With freelancing, it’s essential to have payment terms agreed upon before you start the project. The standard payment term is 30 days, but you can negotiate it depending on your needs. Remember to send the invoice to your clients as soon as possible, and track when the payment comes in. Sometimes, you might need to chase people for late payments. As there are fewer ways to seek legal action against international clients, the best way to avoid payment issues is to have 50% deposit before the job, plus the balance payment before the final output.
4. Work with international clients
While there are a tonne of great opportunities to freelance in Hong Kong, I’ve been lucky to work with clients worldwide and have found that these projects have helped me grow both personally and professionally. Working with international clients provides fascinating insight into different cultures. Also, you can learn new ways of working, new communication methods, and you might even get the chance to make new friends – without even having to leave your house! Many international companies and clients may also have bigger budgets, so there could be better pay, potentially.
Find out more about Simon Kwan Media Production.
From France to Hong Kong, Jade has worked with SMEs across continents, and is now a freelance marketing consultant under her own company, J Consulting. Collaborating with entrepreneurs who don’t have time or don’t like to deal with marketing, Jade helps them develop their marketing strategies and align them with their business objectives. She specialises in content strategy, social media and website management, as well as online and offline advertising.
Jade, what are your tricks to gaining and managing clients as a freelancer in Hong Kong?
1. Be patient
Freelancing requires a lot of preparation and hard work before it lifts off, and even then, there are ebbs and flows in the amount of work. But don’t you worry – even I am still struggling with it to this day, as this isn’t my greatest strength! Creating a network, developing leads, and winning projects all take time and practice. So, use each experience to learn and grow, because you never know when and how things will come back around; someone who said “no” in January can call you back in July to discuss another project.
2. Get things done
At the beginning, you might not have all the answers to your business, but it’s important to get started and move forward. You’ll figure it out at some point, and you can always modify things in the future. That said, don’t be afraid to start a website or an Instagram page, write content on your blog, create a business card… It’s all about iteration. Keep going with what works for you and your business, and change what doesn’t.
3. Get yourself a cheerleader team!
As a freelancer in Hong Kong, there are many ups and downs – it’s a rollercoaster. This is why I surround myself with friends who support me in this freelancing adventure. They celebrate my successes with me; they’re proud of my achievements when I’ve forgotten to be proud; they help me get back on my feet, and help me get better when I fail. Also, it’s been incredible to join the Launchpad community. Meeting like-minded entrepreneurs, independent consultants, and freelancers on a similar journey has allowed me to further my skills, build networks, and just have a great set of people to bounce ideas off of!
Find out more about J Consulting.