Freelancing in Japan: Imposter Syndrome and Lowballing



You quit your corporate job in Japan and started your own business, good for you! You finally get to use your God-given talents to help society. As you become independent, you notice that the comfort of your monthly salary fades away, and uncertainty clouds your mind. You power through the uncertainty and go to networking events to look for clients. When you connect with these potential clients, they love your personality and are quite impressed with your portfolio. However, since you are a new business and have no street-cred in Japan, they are adamant about doing business with a newbie. You return home and lock yourself up in your room to think about how you can become an "expert" even though you are a newbie who only has a couple of college credits, mediocre Japanese, and a dream. 

The next morning, you contact a bunch of random professionals in Japan to offer your free services. Let's say you are a graphic designer looking for medium to small business owners in the Tokyo area. You send them a message with a link to your portfolio that took years to build. The vast majority of them either ignore your message or block you thinking you are trying to spam them since it is easier to ignore someone online because you do not have to see their face. A couple of them reply to your message; you schedule zoom meetings and manage to get a couple of "clients." Because you have no street-cred, you start making free content for both of your clients, and they love your style and vision. 

Because of your rebranding efforts, both companies start getting more attention, and therefore, profits start coming in. As a result, you go to client A and ask them to please start paying for your services since they have benefited from your hard work. They say your rate is too high (even though it is industry standard) and that they would instead do everything in-house and hire an intern who they will lowball like crazy. You shake their hands with a smile and say, "bye, Felicia." On the other hand, client B loves your work and is willing to pay you to tackle a more significant project, you happily agree, go back home and tell your parents that they no longer have to send you money since you finally found a paying client. As you take a bath before going to bed, thoughts start popping out in your head saying things like "You are not an expert," "you are too much of a beginner to be charging this amount of money," "other graphic designers are better than me," and "I don't think I can do it." This is the life of a starting freelancer in Japan. 

The Myth of The Expert 

According to Wikipedia, Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their accomplishments or talents and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve all they have achieved. In other words, no matter how much people achieve or obtain, they will feel like frauds because they are not "experts." The real question is, what exactly makes you an expert? Who is an expert? You could say that people like Gary Vee or Chris Do are great professionals in their fields and that because you are not them, you can't change $70 an hour for a consulting session. 

My fellow freelancers, you can charge whatever you want for your services. Of course, if your fee is high, you must show that the quality of your work matches your price but do not settle. Many potential "clients" will try to take advantage of you if you don't know your worth. When you freelance, you spend hours studying, reading, perfecting your craft, and that should reflect on your invoice. The ability to walk away is crucial when doing your own thing. If a client is being shady and tries to lowball you, just walk away, is that simple. People will often take advantage of people with low self-esteem, which is what causes impostor syndrome in the first place. 

Lowballing

Once you know your self-worth, people will not be able to lowball you. Perfecting your craft is crucial, the more you read, study, create, and develop, the more you will enhance your art. In Japan, a lot of clients expect free designs, logos, and services before hiring you. I understand where they are coming from, but do not let others abuse your talent. Even though you are not Chris Do, you have your own voice as a designer, and you should exploit that your ability is inherently unique to you. No other human being on this Earth has the same essence that you have, capitalize on that. 

Lowballing in Japan is common, so please know your self-worth. If you enter the market with a scarcity mindset and believe when other people tell you that you are not an expert, you will fail. Japan has an infinite number of possibilities, and it is up to you to go out there and get what you are worth. Fail as much as possible since this will help you develop your craft faster. 

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Sources

Wikipedia - Impostor Syndrome

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