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John Findley Blog

John Findley is a China specialist having lived, off and on, in China for around 30 years. He now lives in Newcastle. He is a highly experienced senior executive and now runs his own migration business (a genuine independent contractor) supporting high-end executives to work in Australia.

Doing business in China as a ‘nano-business’ (an independent contractor))

Thursday, May 28, 2015

(Note: John is currently in China on a two-month work trip, travelling widely across China. This is his latest update from ‘on the ground’ in China)

The Chinese 7 per cent growth is outstanding, but it is likely that it will be resourced internally. There are indications that the mega construction boom is tapering. The China growth will be in tourism, domestic consumption, etc. The local market can supply the demands of those industries. That will reduce the need to import resources such as Australian iron ore. Reduce, not eliminate.

I hear spruikers saying Australia will export services to China. Rubbish. That is too easy and assumes the Chinese have no skill at delivering services. But they do, and the market is accustomed to receiving services delivered in Chinese language. And the foreign companies will struggle to meet the low cost structures of China. 

The business model that I have adopted for many years is to contract my services to Chinese companies. They do not need me for most of their business, just for the difficult bits. So I eke out a living in the "too hard" space. I doubt that many Australian service companies would accept that subordinate role. And I am of no fixed abode. I contract my services to as many as 100 companies. Despite the absolute necessity of internet communications for my business, I find there remains a strong need to keep traveling to meet with clients and provide training, and other assistance as they need it. At any one time, I have only a dozen cases going, so I don't have a huge customer management issue.

What sort of ICs do I see having a future in SE Asia?

  • Staff Training: some of my friends are in this area, in particular, hotel management training. There is no reason to restrict the field, it's just that is where my friends have carved a niche for themselves.
  • Quality Assurance: all Aussie importers will have a disaster story of products sourced in Asia. This has as much to do with amateurish procurement by Australians businesses as with poor quality management in Asia. Everything must be checked but it is too expensive for a small volume Australian importer to run around doing the checking; thus opening an opportunity for QA specialists. The field can be garments, manufactured items, furniture, food, you name it.
  • IT Outsourcing: I know only a few IT companies in Australia, they complain about the difficulty in managing the coding work they source offshore. An IC with appropriate IT skills could take on a few Australian clients supervising their contracts and handling the local headaches. That might make efficiencies for Australian companies, allowing them to make competitive bids.
  • Keep re-inventing yourself: my background is engineering, but through a series of events and opportunities, I took on recruitment agencies for schools and universities (too hard to get those agencies these days). Those businesses required skills in visa applications, so I qualified myself as a migration agent. The student visa business has morphed into business migration visas and provided opportunities for conveyancing of businesses and for legal representation of immigrants, so now I'm admitted as an Australian lawyer.

How to get the in-country experience and contacts?

At first glance that seems impossible, but for an enterprising and ambitious IC, one way is to initially take a position as an English language teacher. Estimates are that there are 90 million people learning English in SE Asia, so opportunity abounds.

I met an Aussie on the flight to HCMC, an older guy, but taking the plunge and heading to the provinces in Vietnam to teach English. He did a short Teaching English as a Second Language course in Australia, that's highly regarded by local language schools. He will get a living wage (enough, but not great) for 25 hours per week and is able to take on other work. He will put himself to the task of learning the local language. Depending on how quick and determined he is, he will have a background in about six months. As I often say, he will have good enough language skills to get himself into trouble, but not good enough to get out of trouble. But he will be able to tick the language box. He is an engineer with the right background for the QA contracting.

I acquired my background the other way, into the China deep end for a HK construction company in 1989. In those days there was only a handful of expat project managers in China but a huge demand from foreign investment companies. I was able to parlay each small contract and achievement into a reasonable resume. I think those days are gone in China, but there may be some scope in other SE Asian countries. Surprisingly, the Philippines would not be one of them. They have a large number of engineers who were labour hired-out and picked up for their considerable skills in the oil and gas industries in Middle East. I think Malaysia and Indonesia would be similarly well endowed with construction types.

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