No one can doubt Wechat's place as an integral part of daily life in China.
After being released in 2011 as a simple messaging app, Wechat has evolved into so much more. It is now the backbone of many social interactions, business transactions, and news and entertainment publications.
Chatting with friends, paying for goods, hailing taxis, and paying for tickets are all done with Wechat. Even friendships are not sealed until that QR code scanning ceremony is finished.
To put it simply: Without Wechat, you are invisible in China.
Wechat recently reached 1 billion monthly users worldwide.
The ubiquitous role Wechat plays in Chinese life makes it the perfect platform for launching a new business. Wechat is simple to use, customers are easily accessible, and the start-up costs are relatively low. For these reasons, many China expats are starting Wechat businesses to make a living.
Levi Webb, the founder of Elite Supplements is one such expat. He moved to Guangzhou in 2015, soon after leaving the British Army. He said he wanted a fresh start, a challenge, and an adventure.
Like many China expats, Levi started off teaching English. While teaching, he began personal training and soon met another expat who worked in the supplements business.
"I saw he was making a decent living so I decided to give it a try!" says Levi. "After a month selling supplements on WeChat I decided that the income was enough to quit my teaching job, so that’s what I did."
With Elite Supplements, Webb has built a team of sellers to supply quality nutritional supplements across China.
Levi shows off his guns with his girlfriend.
Unlike Levi, Chris Butt did not come to China as a teacher. Chris came here after selling his UK property company in the midst of the global recession. "I decided to try my hand in a different country," he says. "China sounded promising for an entrepreneur such as myself."
Chris founded ShenzhenEat in 2013. This website allows people in Shenzhen to conveniently order food in Shenzhen, using English or Mandarin. Since its establishment, ShenzhenEat has grown to include a mini-program, allowing users to order via Wechat. The company also manages an official Wechat account that keeps Shenzheners up-to-date on the latest restaurant openings and deals.
ShenzhenEat.com logo. The company has started expanding into Wechat.
Initially, ShenzhenEat was not a Wechat-based company, explains Chris. "ShenzhenEat has been in business since June 2013, at this time WeChat was little more than a messaging app," says Chris. "Since [Wechat became more popular] we have tried to incorporate WeChat more and more into our business."
On their official Wechat account, ShenzhenEat creates unique Wechat articles, offers competitions, and hosts events in order to engage customers and promote their brand.
Recently, ShenzhenEat launched their WeChat mini-program. Chris tells us, "This took us longer than we hoped but we are delighted with the results." The mini program enables customers to order from a selection of restaurants and pay directly with Wechat. This lets them avoid awkward conversations with delivery drivers and difficult language barriers, explains Chris.
Like many expats, Dane Smith came to China to explore, experience a new culture, and travel around Asia. While teaching, Dane started selling whisky for a Scotch company with an office in Shanghai. This experience led him deeper into the food and drink industry, which eventually culminated in him starting his own Wechat store.
Crafty Store sells an array of alcoholic beverages while promoting events alongside his other business, Crafty Marketing.
Dane Smith came to China in 2012 and has since then established successful business providing marketing service and selling quality liquors.
Dane says that the best part of building a Wechat business is the simplicity. "It's just a little time consuming," warns Dane. "Simplicity makes things easier."
Greig Charlton is the co-founder and CEO of 247tickets.com, an online platform for events and experiences in China. A huge amount of 247tickets’ business is done through WeChat.
Greig first came to China from the UK after his wife was offered a fantastic teaching job. "We figured, why not go for it? We loved the idea of an adventure, and China was somewhere we'd both always wanted to explore."
Greig says he left his job in banking, packed up their house and hopped on a plane. He and his wife have been here for over eight years, and he says every day is still exciting. "There’s so much opportunity here, and I’ve learned an incredible amount about business and innovation since setting up 247tickets."
Greig Charlton, co-founder and CEO of 247tickets.com
Greig says Wechat's accessible nature makes it a powerful business tool. "It’s essentially found in everyone’s pocket," says Greig. "WeChat has become most people’s key source of information, entertainment, and communication."
Greig also praises the responsive and connective nature of Wechat. "You can test out a variety of different methods for marketing and sales and get instant results, meaning you stay current, relevant, and reach people faster," he tells GuideinChina. "The level of connection between people on WeChat is very different than other media...The reach is pretty much beyond anything else in the world."
Naturally, starting a Wechat business comes with a host of challenges. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. But like anything, these challenges can be overcome through persistence and determination.
"Initially the most challenging part was building trust," says Levi from Elite Supplements. "There’re a lot of fake supplements in China and foreigners know that!"
Levi places a strong emphasis on building trust in business. "Honesty goes a long way in your business dealings," he says. "Take time getting to know your customers by building good quality relationships and create a sense of realness when talking to them."
For Greig from 247tickets, the hardest part comes from remaining visible in a Wechat market flooded with official accounts. "There are more and more official accounts being created, and the amount of information that appears on everyone’s moments every day is huge," he says. "The only way to get heard is to actually make a difference in the audience’s life."
Similar to Levi, Greig places importance on developing a genuine connection with customers. "Our aim is for our WeChat account to be the go-to when people are making plans, whether they want to party, have guests in town, or they’re a parent looking for kid-friendly activities," explains Greig. "We’re not just promoting events – we’re sparking discussion, interest and creating communities."
Dane from Crafty also points out the difficulty of setting yourself apart from a sea of competition. "It's still a challenge getting people to know about the store. There is a lot of competition," he tells us. However, he remains confident in Crafty's ability to stay ahead of the competition. "In time, with the events we do, I'm sure people will enjoy what we have to offer."
For Chris from ShenzhenEat, the most challenging aspect of Wechat business derives from Wechat being a closed network. "Only your personal friends and contacts can see your personal posts so it can be difficult to gather a following to begin with for your company posts," explains Chris. "Companies have to come up with unique and creative articles that interest their targeted demographic and articles that followers want to share with their friends."
With over 1 billion accounts, 902 million daily users, and 14 million corporate accounts, Wechat is the perfect platform for doing business.
Image: Passkit Blog
Despite some of the difficulties of running a Wechat business, these entrepreneurial expats prove that success is on the horizon for those with business acumen, adaptibilty, and perseverance. They give GuideinChina readers these final words of advice:
Greg from 247tickets tells us, "Don’t follow the crowd; be innovative! Create your own tone of voice to make sure you’re different. The biggest part of the job is to understand who your target audience is, as well as who you’re talking to, before creating the voice and the vision of your WeChat business."
Levi from Elite Supplements gives expats wanting to start businesses great advice. "Start small, don’t be afraid of starting when 'it’s not perfect'. Just get things rolling and everything will gradually fall into place."
In addition to this advice, Levi tells us some great advice that's relevant to any business person. "Ask anyone if they like salespeople, the answer will always be NO!" states Levi. "So don’t speak like a salesperson, don’t push, do ask relevant questions."
Dane from Crafty recommends that Wechat entrepreneurs ensure authenticity. "Make sure everything is legitimate - license, products etc. China is a good place for business but at the same time, people need to trust the business before buying anything."
Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, once said, " Entrepreneurship is about turning what excites you in life into capital, so that you can do more of it and move forward with it."
Wechat presents a fantastic platform for entrepreneurs to do just that - turn what excites them into capital. The expats GuideinChina features in this article did just that, and you can do it too. We encourage all of our followers to chase their passions and pursue their dreams!