BCCJ Event July 2016

Tips from a digital nomad

Working smart—remotely

  • Online services provide work freedom, business opportunities
  • Rising number of software tools to help nomadic work style
  • Pushing out of comfort zone key to entrepreneurial success
Helen Iwata spoke at a BCCJ event.

Helen Iwata spoke at a BCCJ event.

Over recent decades, technology has overhauled the way we work—and the ongoing transformation shows no signs of slowing down.

One clear example is the rise of digital nomads who use telecommunications to remotely do tasks that traditionally have taken place in a single, stationary workplace.

While this style seems to run counter to Japan’s traditional work culture, digital nomads or those taking inspiration from their approach are beginning to appear.

One example is Helen Iwata, president of business communications consultancy Sasuga Communications K.K. and author of Eigo no Shigoto-jutsu (Work Techniques in English). On 7 June, she spoke about digital nomads at the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s ninth Small is Great event.

Building a business
Iwata typically works from her home or a coworking space. She has used online services to build a business where a large portion of work could be done from almost anywhere. In addition to a training room in Ginza where she holds classes in person, the firm’s offerings include webinars, a newsletter, a blog and an online course that can be done remotely.

But, more than simply offering work freedom, these online services have transformed Iwata’s business, which she founded after having worked for 10 years as communications manager at McKinsey & Company. Iwata aims to help 2,020 people create successful communication habits by 2020.

“I’m a digital nomad who’s going nowhere, because I’m mostly in Japan, apart from the occasional business trip overseas or going back to the UK and visiting family, but I’m going everywhere because my business has been doing great”, said Iwata.

Sasuga! Communications wasn’t always an online-focused business, however. Initially, training was delivered face-to-face. “I really was not a tech person at all”, she explained.

Iwata started to deliver courses online when she realised the Internet’s potential for her business. That came after she discovered The Freedom Plan by Natalie Sisson, a digital nomad and entrepreneur. Iwata then took one of her courses. “It was a great learning experience”, she said. “That’s how I got into this idea [of doing an online business]”.

For Iwata, online courses are an option with potential in Japan. They offer the chance to earn residual or passive income: money that continues to be generated even after the initial work has been completed.

“You’ve got to do something to make sure that income is coming in”, said Iwata, pointing out that the courses generate other income streams rather than those solely from the income of delivering training, for example.

Iwata’s course is automated; course materials are sent to students who work at their own pace. She oversees a Facebook group for course participants, on which they can ask questions and receive help, both from Iwata and classmates. The level of attention, however, is greatly reduced compared with that required were she delivering the course in person.

Tools of the trade
Underpinning this work is a range of software and online tools that allows Iwata to run the firm remotely. Some items, such as Google Calendar and PayPal, are already fixtures in many people’s lives; more specialised programmes and tools, such as GoToWebinar (web conferencing), WordPress (web content management), Buffer (social media scheduling), Trello (project management) and MailChimp (email marketing campaigns) help with the creation, facilitation, promotion and management of products.

Iwata’s story shows that the rise of digital nomads in one place can assist nomads elsewhere. She outsources work worldwide, from the Philippines to Portugal to South Korea. “Some people really struggle to get their head round this—that my assistant is not sitting next to me”, she said.

Some event attendees asked what being a digital nomad involves and suggested other tools that could be used in this work. TripIt (travel itinerary), SoundCloud (audio platform), Fiverr (digital services marketplace), Upwork (freelance sourcing), Slack (messaging app) and Insightly (project management) were among those identified.

When asked how she has managed the transition to an online business, Iwata said, “It’s just on-going—always pushing out of your comfort zone and doing something new. That’s what I’m always telling people to do as well”.