What I Learned About Being A Business Owner On A Solo Trip To China

Tishana-GreatWallChina.jpg
Great-Wall-China.jpg

I had just left my contract job at Google. To be honest I left a few months shy of my 2-year contract end date. Now, this isn’t going to be a, “I left my corporate job to travel the world” post, because that is not what happened. But I feel like a teeny bit of backstory is helpful for context. 

Now, this isn’t going to be a, “I left my corporate job to travel the world” post, because that is not what happened.

I was working as an instructor on self-driving car technology. It was my job to train the new hires on a 3 week paid training on the systems that keep track of the autonomous vehicles “health”. I spent the majority of the last year of my two year contract in Austin, Texas living out of hotels in what I would consider a cute part of town. But things grew rather stagnant for me and as my contract was nearing to an end. Not only that, but my work became very limited as a contractor when the end of training for the year ceased a few months prior…it was finally time for me to leave. The work itself was the opposite of what I needed. Limited to no creative input, it was just as automated as the robot cars. Naturally, that can zap most out of the kind of people that want to create.

So just before Christmas I left my job. On Christmas day I randomly booked a solo Groupon ticket for a 9 day, 4 city tour of China.

So just before Christmas I left my job. On Christmas day I randomly booked a solo Groupon ticket for a 9 day, 4 city tour of China. On the list of places to visit were Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou and Hangzhou. But the trip wouldn’t happen until early March. This gave me a lot of time to start my business back up. A big reason for starting this blog was to talk about being a small business owner, tips and tricks, etc, and I closed down my shop. I closed it down for other day job opportunities, and it was time to get back into making things again. (I’m happy to be back to blogging, I missed you guys!). How could I talk about having a shop if I didn’t have one?! So I started getting back into work. Into research and development, aka trial and error and spending more money than I would have liked.

Fast forward to early March. With my suitcase half packed, and a backpack, I was off on this trip! I went by myself but was part of a tour group. So skipping through all the things I did, let’s get to what I learned about business.

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What I learned

Shopping works very differently in China than the US. It’s almost like a game, or even gambling. You are basically calling people’s bluff. The way it works is like this. The store owner will try and sell you something at an exaggerated rate. Your job is to lower this rate as much as possible. Now, if you’re not used to haggling then this would be uncomfortable for you. It was for me. Because, as a shop owner myself, and I’m sure you have seen this too, where people may want to get a “good deal”. While you may see it as rude, that’s totally understandable, but in China, it’s just the way things run. Especially if it’s a handmade item that has taken you years/time and skill to perfect, it comes off as offensive. You hear about this sort of thing happening all the time at craft fairs. So if you think about this the same way you may feel obligated to give them the full amount when they ask. Um, don’t do it!

But here’s the thing, someone may get a much better, or worse deal than you did immediately before or after you. What you’re not supposed to do is ask what someone else paid. Because ultimately, it’s the value you perceive the item to be, is what you pay. Some people are really good at this and can buy a nice suitcase for $10 US dollars, or a fake Louis Vuitton purse for the same amount. Meanwhile, I purchased knock off headphones for $60US dollars and looked like an idiot. But the thing is this…If it was worth it to you then that’s all that matters. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else because the way they got there will be different than you. That’s the cliche lesson learned right? 

But the thing is this…If it was worth it to you then that’s all that matters. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else because the way they got there will be different than you.

I consider myself a realist, so let’s look at this from another perspective. What I ultimately saw was hustle. I saw numerous vendors doing whatever they could to get your attention and keep you until they made a sale. It was pretty hardcore. Simply put, they were people who wanted to make money. So here’s the balance: If you love what you do, proud of what you make, then don’t be afraid to show people what you have. Teach them. But don’t settle, don’t haggle, instead, price your item to the perceived value of what your target audience will buy something for. If your audience will buy $60 headphones then don’t market to people that want Bose quality for $10. 

If you love what you do, proud of what you make, then don’t be afraid to show people what you have. Teach them. But don’t settle, don’t haggle, instead, price your item to the perceived value of what your target audience will buy something for.

I hope this post was helpful in some way. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email if you have any questions :)

Shamless Plug:

My shop is called Coco and Seed. I will be using it as a reference for things that I make and learn so feel free to follow along! I’m taking you on my journey on things that I fail at, learn, etc so you can skip the headaches or even offer advice!

I’m going to work on editing the video (I’ve been saying this for awhile now), but will add it below once it’s done!

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Update June 11th: The video is finally done! It’s not perfect by any means, but I hope it shows a bit of what my trip was like.