We have come to perhaps the most challenging part of becoming a freelancer in Japan: how to find freelance clients. So far we have looked at straightforward logistical problems that include universals. Everyone has to get visas, everyone has to deal with the language barrier, and so on. Finding clients, though, is very tricky. It can depend on so many tiny variables: your field, your location, even your luck. So, I must begin with a warning: everything here must be taken with a grain of salt. I will give the best advice I can, but everyone’s experiences here will vary.
So, let’s get started.
Staring Out From Zero
Starting out is pretty much the only time to use aggregate websites. The problem with these is that they tend to gather lower paying jobs, since higher paying jobs can be filled through other means (word of mouth – see below!), and there is heavy competition for every good spot. That being said, when looking for your first client, there isn’t much room to be picky. Some specifically Japanese ones for various fields include:
translator.jp – Obviously, this is for translation. It’s a free site that lets you post a profile and also browse companies offering translation work. It’s primarily in Japanese, but it does offer a simplified English interface. Many of the best job postings will be on the Japanese side, though, so check both.
Zehitomo – This is a general job-matching website. It helps people needing services (lessons, home repair, photography) find people offering them. This is a very eclectic site that offers a wide range of less-often considered fields (ukulele lessons?!) but does have categories for business consulting and related fields. It could be useful for: photographers, event planners, interpreters, designers, etc. It’s all in Japanese.
Lancers – This is another general freelance website with a wide range of fields, but it does have categories specifically for web designers, engineers, and consultants. The registration process is short, but again this is all in Japanese so either get studying, or find a translator to help you.
One avenue that could be useful for those with good Japanese is to connect with the local chapter of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI, 日本商工会議所 Nihon Shoukou Kaigisho). As with similar organizations in other countries, the JCCI connects small and medium businesses with each other and offers services to help them succeed. This includes advertisement opportunities, networking, and educational opportunities. Check the central website here (English link): The Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Who You Know
I am a freelance translator and writer. I am friends with freelance web developers, subtitlers, copywriters, consultants, and more. All of us, through our varied careers, have found that the most reliable way of finding work is through introductions and word of mouth. I have discussed this before, but it bears repeating: your connections to others in your field, and in related fields, will be your best way to find work in Japan.
In a previous article, I wrote about trade shows and such as networking opportunities. Above, I mentioned that the JCCI can offer networking opportunities. Those are definitely true. But I also want to recommend some less conventional ways of professional networking: social media. I don’t mean LinkedIn (although that can’t hurt), I mean actual social networks where you interact with people directly as yourself. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and so on can all help you establish connections with people that result in trust and familiarity, and that can help you get work.
Tweeting or posting about yourself and your work creates a natural sense of who you are and what you do. By connecting to people that way, they remember you, and when work comes along, they think of you. I speak from personal experience: being yourself, as a professional, on Twitter and Facebook can get you good work. I recommend finding professional groups on Facebook and joining them, seek out colleagues in the field you already know and see if any of their friends are in the same field, use Twitter lists to create professional networks and more. Become a part of those communities, and they will help you.
If there is one takeaway from this, it is that knowing people is the clearest way to get work as a freelancer. This is as true in Japan as it is anywhere. So, get to networking!