Freelance Sourcing Agents in China: A Complete Guide

Sourcing freelancer woman

Tired of endless Skype conversations with pig headed suppliers at 4AM in the morning? You’re not alone. Luckily, someone else can manage the more tiresome parts of your Ecommerce business for you – leaving you with more time to spend on making money.

In this article, you will learn how a sourcing freelancer can free up hours from daily schedule – for a price that anyone can afford. That said, things will go wrong, if you don’t manage your sourcing freelancer the right way.

What can a freelance sourcing agent do for my business?

A sourcing freelancer can act as your extended hand in China. They can do background checks on suppliers, gather quotations and other time consuming tasks that you rather leave to someone else.

They can also break down language barriers, and deal with suppliers in their own time zone.

Managed the right way, a sourcing freelancer can help you save countless hours on a weekly basis, for a fairly low cost.

However, sourcing freelancers are ‘everything experts’ that can help you with everything from product safety, to NDAs or patents. Yet, that is exactly what many Importers assume.

Should I work with a Sourcing Freelancer or an Agency?

Sourcing agencies tend to follow, to a varying degree, certain processes and standards. They are self managed service providers.

Sourcing freelancers may operate based on valuable experience, but don’t expect them to strictly follow written procedures.

Procedures matter. To avoid scams, quality issues and countless other problems you need procedure – or it’s only a matter of time before something goes horribly wrong.

While sourcing agencies can take on a project right away, freelancers require training before they are ready to go. In other words, hiring a freelancer is a much bigger commitment compared to an agency.

If you only need support for a one off project, go to an agency. But, if you need a long term assistant, or if you’re already spending too much time dealing with suppliers, a freelancer is more likely the way to go.

There are 3 reasons for this:

1. Sourcing freelancers are cheaper. You normally pay by the hour, so you don’t need to pay big commissions.

2. Sourcing freelancers don’t act as middlemen. You will buy directly from the supplier.

3. Training a freelancer to become an expert in your product is an invaluable asset.

What should I look for when hiring a freelance sourcing agent?

Most freelancer platforms provide extensive information about freelancers. However, I suggest that you look at the following:

  • Language: Mandarin Chinese and English
  • Location: Mainland China or Hong Kong S.A.R
  • Resume: Do they have previous experience in manufacturing?

Experience, reported hours and rating also matter, but I’ve found that many great freelancers (not specifically in sourcing) don’t always have 1,000+ reported hours and a 5 star rating.

What matters more is that you invest in training, once they join your company.

How do I train the freelancer?

You need to prepare written guidelines, that the freelancer can follow. Such guidelines could, for example, include the following:

  • Step by step guidance
  • Video tutorials (i.e., screen capture)
  • Checklist (to help them make sure they handled the task correctly)
  • Completion requirements (what exactly should they do to ‘close the task’)

I suggest that you start with basic tasks, such as the following:

You also need to set clear expectations, in terms of working hours and holidays. On one hand, you must accept that a freelancer is a human being that cannot be expected to reply emails 24 hours per day.

On the other hand, they need to understand that it’s not acceptable to disappear for a week or two – something that is all too common when working with freelancers.

Follow these guidelines

  • Schedule at least one weekly phone call
  • The freelancer shall not work during weekends and national holidays
  • The freelancer shall send a daily status update

How much should I expect to pay?

Although you can negotiate a fixed cost, on a project basis, it’s far more flexible to pay on an hourly basis. Novice sourcing freelancers, who often have limited or no experience in manufacturing, can charge as little as $7 per hour.

More experienced freelancers can charge anything from $20 to $40 per hour, which is quite decent in China.

Most likely, you’ll end up paying somewhere in between – around $12 to $15 per hour.

In addition, I also suggest that you pay a bonus. However, bonus payment shall only be done if certain, very well defined criteria, are met. The bonus should not be a lump sum that’s taken for granted.

Communication Rules

Suppliers

You must monitor communications between the freelancer, and suppliers they are in contact with. I suggest that you set up both email and Skype accounts for the freelancer – that you can access when needed.

If you leave it to the freelancer, communication goes into a black box and it’s only a matter of time before kickbacks are paid.

Reporting

As mentioned, your training documentation must clearly outline how each task is to be completed – including ‘completion requirements’. Further, you got to keep track of quotations, test reports, contracts and other documents.

Leaving the file storage to the freelancer is not an option, as he or she can disappear without a trace at any moment.

Using a cloud platform is generally the best solution for uploading documents and reporting status updates.

However, keep in mind that both Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are blocked in China, and will remain so for a long time to come. These services can be accessed from China, but only via a VPN.

WeChat

WeChat is ideal for day to day communication, phone calls and minor status updates. Avoid Whatsapp, as it’s also blocked in Mainland China.

Is it legal to hire freelancers in Mainland China?

As explained in this article by Renaud Anjoran, China does not recognize independent contractors. However, such laws cannot be enforced outside of Mainland China.

That said, Upwork.com and other freelancer platforms are still open in Mainland China.

It’s quite likely that the Chinese government has a rather open minded approach to online freelancing – as it’s likely to become a major source of income for many Chinese nationals in the not so distant future.

Freelance Sourcing Agents Platforms

Freeeup.com

While this platform is not as big as Upwork.com or Freelancer.com, it’s unique in the sense that they pre-vet freelancers. They also have sourcing freelancers in their roster, so it’s definitely worth checking out.

Upwork.com

Created by the merger between Elance and Odesk, Upwork.com is today the largest freelance platform worldwide. Here, you’ll find thousands of Chinese sourcing freelancers, starting from only $7 per hour.

Guru.com

This freelancer platform has a decent number of China sourcing freelancers and agencies. Worth a look if you don’t find the right freelancer on Freeeup.com or Upwork.

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    2 Responses to “Freelance Sourcing Agents in China: A Complete Guide”

    1. Renaud Anjoran September 7, 2018 at 3:50 am #

      These are good tips. I would add 2 more:
      – One person can’t be good at everything. Maybe you pay one for project management, pushing suppliers, etc. (could be anywhere in China) and another one for checklist definition, QC on site, troubleshooting when something goes wrong in the factory, etc.
      – As much as possible, initiate the contacts with potential suppliers yourself. If you do it through a B2B platform like Alibaba, the supplier will see you are outside of China and will give a higher priority to your inquiries. And the risk of your freelancer getting kickbacks is lower, if it’s clear they are not the decision maker and they just follow up on a list of potential suppliers you give them.

      • Fredrik Gronkvist September 7, 2018 at 4:53 am #

        Totally agree. I keep telling our clients all the time that they must be in charge and not only initiate that first contact on Alibaba or Globalsources – but also stay in touch with their suppliers all the time. Everyday if needed.

        The freelancer can offload 80% of that work, which is extremely valuable for busy ecommerce owners… but a product focused business must know how to deal with its suppliers.

        Honestly I am not aware of any successful company, at least in recent years, that became so by just outsourcing everything to a “man on the ground”.

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