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Mixing Business with Pleasure (January 19, 2004)

Participants attend a forum on entrepreneurship. (Weekend Entrepreneur)
Among the many new trends associated with recent advances in information technology is the proliferation of "weekend entrepreneurs." These are people with regular salaried jobs who manage to turn their hobbies or talents into profitable sidelines or even full-fledged businesses. Although their enterprises vary widely in substance, the vast majority of them are made possible by the Internet, thanks to which an ordinary individual can now launch a commercial venture without risking large sums of money. And while most weekend entrepreneurs continue to wear two hats, some become successful enough to quit their "day job" and devote themselves full-time to their own business.

Book Reviews to Bike Repairs
Evidence of the large number of actual and aspiring weekend entrepreneurs includes the response to a series of seminars on the subject offered by 37-year-old business consultant Fujii Koichi, the author of Shumatsu Kigyo (The Weekend Enterprise). In just one year, membership in the Weekend Entrepreneurship Forum, formed by seminar participants, has grown to 1,500.

A typical success story is that of S, a 48-year-old employee of a major airline. An avid reader of business books, S had made a hobby of writing reviews and sending them to interested readers in the form of an e-zine. Eventually he was publishing a review a day, his readership had grown to 10,000, and he was able to collect advertising revenue. As word of the e-zine spread, S was asked to appear on a radio show and now has his own program.

M, a 40-year-old former editor at a large publishing house, had previously self-published some books of his own, including one about night views of Tokyo. Then two years ago he put together a website that recommended hotels based on their views of the city after dark, collecting a fee from the hotels for each reservation made through the site. Last year 2,000 reservations were booked this way, including 400 for Christmas Eve (viewed by many Japanese as an evening for romance).

Of course, successes on this scale are the exception, not the rule. Those in the know advise against thinking in grandiose terms or even worrying about making money at the outset. "First you need to hone your skill or your interest until you're preeminent in that area and have something special to offer others. If you do that, then you have a good chance of making a paying proposition out of it," says Fukui. Examples of people who followed this path are an avid cyclist who launched a school of bicycle repair and a man who found a way to capitalize on his flair for acting as master of ceremonies at weddings. Those with no special skills or knowledge to offer - just a desire to make money - are unlikely to succeed in the world of weekend entrepreneurship.

The Changing Corporate Environment
Needless to say, weekend entrepreneurship is riskiest for those who quit their regular jobs. By last March, M's income from his hotel website roughly matched his salary at the publishing house, and he decided it was time to leave the company. On the other hand, S, the reviewer of business books, still works in the office during the week. Of these two paths, Fujii advocates the latter. "Don't quit your job; just use your time off work to nurture your own business. That's the new thing: low-risk entrepreneurship."

Fujii has sound advice to offer. "The three decisive factors are whether you like doing it, whether you have the ability to do it, and whether it's in tune with what people want. But another key to success is the use of Internet-based management tools, such as the publication of an email newsletter to get a sense of the market for your product."

Weekend entrepreneurs face very real obstacles, including the attitudes of their regular employers. A 1995 survey indicated that 80% of Japanese companies had rules prohibiting moonlighting; employees violating such rules run the risk of being fired. Companies are especially likely to come down hard if the employee's outside work has interfered with his or her regular job or competes with the employer's business in any way. And of course, making use of the company's client list is a serious offense.

That said, times are changing. Few Japanese companies today can guarantee lifetime employment with regular promotions and raises in exchange for absolute loyalty. In today's changing environment, many employers have begun to adopt more liberal policies on moonlighting, turning a blind eye if the employee makes the case that the activity in question is basically volunteer work or a matter of helping the wife out with her home business. The fact is that the genie of weekend entrepreneurship is out of the bottle, and it is unlikely that anyone can put it back.

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Weekend Entrepreneurs (Japanese only)

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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