I came to China from Kazakhstan, where I was working as a marketing manager for a key product portfolio in L’Oreal, the world leader of the cosmetics industry. I have a background in Economics and Business from the University of London, LSE International Programs. At one point in time, I understood that I want a new challenge, and China, with its economy size, rapid growth, and mystery appearance felt challenging enough, so I moved here in 2017 to complete my Master’s Degree.
My first stop was Hangzhou and it was “love at first sight”, rapid-growing, tech-oriented vibrant city, what else to dream of.
I came here already with extensive experience in marketing, and while I was in academics, I helped businesses and friends with their marketing and creative process. That alone left me feeling like freelance/self-employment is a viable option. And I have to admit, Hangzhou, being called a new silicon valley of china, is really inspiring to start something on your own. I had my decision made in December and we set up in April, just after the whole lockdown/epidemic episode.
There are few economies like China, where you can enjoy plentiful opportunities, while you know that you will always find a backup plan if you need to. It gives you the freedom to make bolder choices. If I was at home, I would probably be developing my corporate career.
You set up a marketing agency, what is the focus of your business?
During my freelance time, I noticed that there is a strong cultural difference in how marketing is done here and overseas, hence, sometimes local teams cannot provide authentic content, as well as foreign teams cannot provide good Chinese content. I saw potential in this asymmetric information situation and decided to aim there. Our goal is to create meaningful marketing strategies to help businesses grow in desired markets (Chinese or foreign). In terms of services, we do consulting, social media management, and activations for businesses.
You just said that it is important for the team to be local, how do you solve this being a foreigner?
I learn a lot from my Chinese team, we brainstorm content and general direction together. Besides, I had an experience with Chinese social media myself as part of other projects.
Is knowledge of Chinese important if you want to land a job in the marketing field?
It depends. With China being a global e-commerce hub, you can pretty successfully land a job that is oriented towards foreign countries, then English, or your native language (if it’s not English) will be enough. If you want to do Chinese social media marketing or a more complex brand management job, I recommend learning Chinese. I, myself, try to devote as much time as I can to advance in it, although it’s still far from perfect.
How did COVID-19 influence the marketing industry? Do you notice more or fewer companies that need marketing services?
There is no easy answer to this question. We cannot deny the dreadful effect COVID-19 had on all countries, including China. Many companies had to cut off their marketing budgets, dismiss people, and even terminate the business. At the same time, companies that were operating in a conservative way and mainly offline model or wholesalers had to adapt too and find new ways of promoting themselves - and online is a channel that they are very interested in.
What is your advice for companies that are working on their marketing strategies?
Quality over quantity, it’s best to be honest with what resources you have, as in content, people, time, and not to spread yourself too thin. Try to combine offline and online, if it’s applicable to your business. Generate word of mouth - it’s one of the best marketing channels humanity ever had.
You started yours in pandemic yourself, how did it affect your launch?
I like to say when you start it doesn’t really matter what conditions surround you because you start from zero anyway. I expect it to be a lot harder for companies who already had a pool of clients, and established work processes. Just imagine what happens if your main client says he has no budget for your services.
What are other projects that you participate in?
Besides business, I am a part of SheUp Community Leadership Team. SheUp is a women-empowering, career and business-oriented community. It started in Hangzhou at the end of 2018, we organize events, support girls, through social media, and help them find their place and achieve goals that they want. We currently unite more than 2000 women around the world and always welcome new participants. The Leadership Team consists of 10 people, who are responsible for different activities within the community. I’m responsible for social media strategy and sometimes organize/host events.
Do you think that women struggle more than men when building a career and starting a business in China?
While I haven’t met many barriers in the Chinese work or business environment, we are aware of the way our cultures have been working for a long time: men were considered bread-winners, they had more opportunities to find business connections, etc. At the same time, as more empathetic human beings naturally and due to cultural constraints, we girls have many prejudices, more self-control, and doubts. We feel it and want to help.
What kinds of events do you organize? Did you stop during the pandemic?
We invite speakers, experts of the industry to present at our events, we also do events on Leadership development, life purpose, and soft skills that help excel in your career. During COVID-19, the amazing member of our team Thauana – she is currently in Brazil, led the online conferences in Zoom and IG Live – invited the most amazing people to participate in it, we had a variety of topics you can still watch some of them on our Instagram page @sheupcommunity.
What is your advice to those starting a business in China?
Be true to yourself. Don’t do it, because everybody is doing it. Don’t do it if you are not confident about your idea. Don’t do it if you think it will be easy. Creating your own business usually means that you will work even harder, than on a regular job.
Learn ALL the nuances and ask ALL the stupid questions you have. There is no such thing as “too much knowledge” about the tax, banking, and legal side of entrepreneurship. Be thoughtful; ask your advisors many questions.
Prepare yourself to work hard
What is your advice to those starting a career in China?
It’s true that China is full of opportunities, it’s easy to find “a job”, but to find “THE JOB” you need to put an extra effort. Don’t be afraid to do that, it will pay off!
I know you are on the so-called “entrepreneurship visa”, can you please give advice on that to recent graduates?
Let’s say that “entrepreneurship visa” is a hyped name for it, the boring one is a residence permit for private affairs with a mark of entrepreneurship or startup business.
To my knowledge, it’s available in major innovation cities for Master graduates of Chinese unis or renowned Foreign unis. It gives a chance for students to start their own business, find a job, see more of the opportunities they have in China after graduation. Normally, the time span between graduation and residence permit expiration is very short - not enough to go through the recruitment process. This particular residence permit allows you to stay a little bit (or a lot) longer. You can receive it for a period of 1 to 5 years, I got it for 2.
What are the document requirements?
List documents with a disclaimer to consult with EEB/agency.
One piece of advice for flexpats?
Challenge yourself, only this way you can grow.