Interview with Mark Bailey

A former government speechwriter, comedian, and program director/radio DJ from the U.S, Mark moved to Japan in the 1990s and started off his entrepreneurial experience by writing, publishing, and selling his own textbook to English students and by teaching Japanese to foreigners in Japan. After he re-started his radio career in Japan, he started taking note of the needs of Japanese and foreign residents and founded businesses to cater to these needs. These businesses and those of other successful foreign entrepreneurs now employ thousands of successful foreign residents in Japan. Mark lives with his family in central Japan. He continues to write comedy, host and produce radio programs, and run his businesses, which support, consult and mentor budding entrepreneurs online and in the community.

When did you decide that you wanted to become an entrepreneur?

I decided this when I was a teenager. I had lots of experience working in bad part-time jobs (fast food, sales training, supermarkets) working for ‘bosses’ who had little to no management skill or sometimes not even what I considered to be common sense and I didn’t like feeling powerless to affect their decisions when I disagreed. I knew that if this was the type of person who was likely to be my boss at a job, the only alternative would be for me to be my own boss. Many bosses in these fields get into that position by just being in the right place or because they are someone’s relative, so I knew that if I used my common sense and were my own boss, I would like work better if I were in control of it.

How did you know your business idea was the right idea?

I spent a long time looking for the right idea to pursue as my first venture, but by keeping my eyes open, the first idea came to me from potential clients who asked me to fulfill a demand that I was 90% sure I could handle by hiring just one or two other people as the demand increased. I had been at a personnel training agency when I was approached by several new business owners who wanted me to send myself or others to train workers. Since the demand for this service was high at the time, I was able to start my own agency doing it and stay on friendly terms with my former employer by helping him fill his orders as I filled my own orders. That former employer is now a valued client of mine.

What was the most difficult part in getting started?

The most difficult part was learning how to manage time effectively via phone and email use, which can take up an inordinate amount of a beginning entrepreneur’s time. It was also a challenge to resist the urge to set up an office, secretary, and furnishings before profits warranted it. I strongly urge start-up entrepreneurs to avoid these huge expenses until after they have made enough money in orders and contract commitments to pay for most of it from profit. Operate out of your home or hotel lobbies until your profit pays for the office.

What is the top skill (or skills) needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

If we could read the minds of applicants, clients, customers and your competition, that would be the most valuable skill, but since we can’t, reading someone’s behavior and learning to predict with good accuracy what they will do before they do it, will help you anticipate employees quitting on you, dissatisfied clients, or competitors trying to get a jump on you. Once you have been burned a few times, you start to learn to listen to your gut feelings and trust them more than when you start out. This ability will allow you to anticipate the future and develop contingency plans for potential problems. A lot of unforeseen events that I have witnessed were with hindsight, fairly predictable.

What motivates you and/or keeps you motivated?

My motivation is to improve and tweak the systems I have in place that allow residual income to flow from the businesses. The key to this is pleasing clients and multiplying our base of satisfied clients, because a business with a large satisfied-client base can run like a well-oiled machine, and this means a constant, steady stream of profits for us in return for keeping the machine oiled (with client service and maintenance). It sounds like we are running a factory, but this philosophy works especially well in the service sectors.

What do you think is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

Entrepreneurs need to have a lot more self-motivation and confidence than other workers need. It’s absolutely necessary as an entrepreneur whereas it isn’t essential for a company worker. People who work for someone else often have a hunch that they could do something as well or better than their manager(s) can. Entrepreneurs have some incentive that forces or leads them to follow up on that hunch. You’ll never know if you could have done it unless you try it (after doing prudent research). However, my hard rule is to make sure not to build it assuming customers will come. As in the movie Field of Dreams, my rule is the reverse of that film’s motto: If they come, build it (a bit at a time). Use your profit from the first orders to re-invest into your start-up, so that in case things don’t go as well as you hoped, you have put a minimum of your own savings into it.

What has been one of your failures, and what have you learned from it?

I assumed there was a demand for something when there wasn’t, and neglected to properly research the field. If I had done some preliminary and inexpensive research, I would have quickly found that there was not sufficient demand to warrant a business in this field (music promotion) at that time. In this same endeavor, I also decided on a business partner first instead of letting the business demands naturally select a more suitable partner, and filter out unqualified partners or partners with vastly different philosophies than mine. Had I done these things properly, I would have saved a lot of time and money. I eventually followed my intuition and closed down the time-consuming proposition, but had I followed my gut feeling at the start, I would have never started down this particular road.

Henry Ford once said that "A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one." What are your thoughts on that quote?

I agree with that because I think that if you as an entrepreneur can solve someone else’s problem, there will always be a market for you, and a steady stream of clients knocking on your door. Every service and product that succeeds follows this rule.

Walt Disney once said that "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." What are your thoughts on that quote?

Absolutely true, one of the things I quickly learned in using time effectively is to avoid the talkers and surround myself with the doers. The talkers will take all of your time and energy and you will end up with no time and no results. Unfortunately, I have met a preponderance of talkers like this when I recruit for my businesses. I have several assistants now whose sole duty is to filter out the all hat no cattle applicants so that I don’t waste time meeting with people who won’t be able to add value to our businesses. An example of this in my experience is the number of people who exaggerate or lie about their foreign language ability. This is something that you can’t fake because when I put you in a room with a Japanese client and ask you to interpret, it will be clear in a few seconds that you have no credibility in that skill. I guess some people get away with faking accounting or management skills, but foreign language skills are not something you should lie about as it puts every other fact on your CV in question and it ends up wasting a recruiter/employer’s time, which is a cardinal sin to those of us who have little time to start with.

Zig Ziglar once said "If you don't see yourself as a winner, then you cannot perform as a winner." What are your thoughts on that quote?

I think it’s absolutely valuable advice. I usually put it in terms of people that you associate with. I have a negative friend and I have mostly positive friends. With my negative friend, we have fun complaining about annoyances but I never mention my ideas, dreams or marketing ideas for fear of having them shot down where they will die before being tried. It’s important to tell yourself what you’ve done right and what you have learned so that you can duplicate the process multiple times.

What was the most crucial thing you have done to grow your business?

We try not to say no to a client until we have tried out all scenarios of filling their need, even if that means changing company policy. I think the fact that we learned how to be flexible in filling client requests and demands, has distinguished us from our competition. There are a lot of businesses set in their ways that aren’t willing to change a long-standing rule in order to secure a client contract. That creates an opening, which we call an opportunity, and an opportunity is a chance to secure a new client. Learning to try and fill the client’s request instead of refusing to do it on principle has gained us clients that our competition practically gave to us by being inflexible. I’m not talking about blindly agreeing to anything a client says, but for example if they want a recruit to be available at 3am on Sundays and your competitors say no, you can say yes and charge a premium because the client will be happy that you are there for them.

What advice would you give an entrepreneur who is just starting out?

You have to protect your dream from negative voices, whether it be your own, or that of your family and friends. Identify those who could squash your dream before it has a chance to be tried out, and protect your dream from those people until you can decide what to do about it based on the merits of the idea and solid market research, not on what someone close to you thinks about a product or service that they know very little about. The other piece of advice is to practice learning how to always try to solve someone’s problem. Do that repeatedly and you will have yourself a viable business and clients knocking on your door.

Company Description:

We run a recruiting and talent agency for Japanese media, education, and service sectors, and also provide Japanese language support and tutoring for students of the Japanese and English languages. We also provide support, logistics, and development tools for tourists and foreign residents in Japan and on the web, such as bicycle rental, translation, job placement, and language tutorials.



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