BIJ’s Jason Ball Discusses the Value of an Online Community and Much More
You’ve been waiting for this one—we all have.
Jason Ball, Business in Japan (BIJ) group owner and community leader, talked with us about…
Ball’s early life, professional career, and his current role at Pactera Japan
BIJ’s origin story (for the greenest among us), plus currently popular BIJ events
Aspects of community leadership: moments that bring happiness and pride and moments that are a challenge
A common action that can damage your brand in a LinkedIn Group
5 best-practice tips for a good experience in BIJ
And much, much more!
A side note for the newest of newbies, Business in Japan is the world’s largest networking group for anyone interested in doing business in or with Japan. If you aren’t a member yet, it’s free to join, and the community is 68,000+ and growing daily.
Enjoy this candid conversation on growing and leading the BIJ online community!
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your personal background and what brought you to Japan?
JASON BALL: I’m Australian from a small town in South Australia, though after a working holiday in the UK & travelling Europe, I ended up living on the Gold Coast in Queensland for many years leading up to when I came to Japan. My career up until then didn’t exactly prepare me for coming to Japan, not in a traditional sense at least.
I was in Sales for an IT training college and through that, both got into IT and met some friends who were Japanese-speaking tour guides, ex-guides, and/or had lived in Japan for a year or more. We had a ‘fight-club’. Not one where you went home bruised & bleeding (well, not often!), but one where we spent every Sunday training on an apartment rooftop until dark. Through these friends and relationships, I ended up in Japan. It’s a long and atypical story!
Wow! Definitely not your usual story. So now you work at Pactera Japan. Can you tell us about your role there? What’s a day like for you?
BALL: At Pactera, primarily my role is 100% assigned to a client, a global Japanese apparel brand bringing in-house, or rolling-out new Call Centers and Ecommerce across the globe. It’s been multiple years now. However, I also work in Sales or Business Development. Pactera is a Chinese HQ’d global company with 30,000+ staff worldwide, most of those in China.
A typical day, for the last 19 months at least, has been working from home. I put a home office together; I have both a Pactera and a Client computer and so with my phone I’m moving from device to device and spend a lot of time on Zoom and GoogleMeet calls. I make time for morning and evening walks or jogs. I aim for at least twice a day.
Pactera has been in Japan since 2001, has 500+ staff here today, and about 2,500 staff working on Japan-based engagements and projects across China. Most staff in Japan are Japanese however, and we offer, perhaps rare for a foreign IT services company with offshore services, a focus on supporting Japanese companies and foreign companies with a Japanese workforce, with Japanese or Japanese fluent onsite/in-country resources first, offshore second.
We’re also restructuring and positioning our services to offer cutting-edge technology and digital transformation solutions, including human-centered AI, ethical and aligned with ‘SDG’s. It’s a good time to be in the industry.
We’ve been hiring people almost every month throughout the Pandemic, so if you’re in IT in a technical role, consulting, project management, or sales and are looking for something new, feel free to reach out to me!
What is one thing that might surprise people about what you do in your Pactera role?
BALL: At the client I work with, we grew the team from myself and one other, to 6 in-country and 6 offshore, doing not only deployment but post-deployment support of multiple cloud-based call center systems and infrastructure. Recently on a rotating schedule, our team works weekends, offering 7-day-a-week support. Having worked remotely for so long, this hasn’t been as disruptive as you might expect, and ‘daikyu’, or days off in lieu, can be quite welcome!
Shifting topics slightly: So, most everyone knows about BIJ as the largest English-speaking community for foreign professionals looking to do business in or with Japan. Can you share with our readers a little about BIJ’s origin story?
BALL: Well, long-term Business In Japan members may remember Rob Pereda started BIJ, not me in February 2008. It was one of the earliest groups on LinkedIn: group number 54,168. I just created a group to see how many Groups have ever been made today as of October 2nd, 2021 and it’s [now at] 14,010,140.
So sure I was an early member and was the main manager and moderator from about a year after it was formed, doing my best to answer questions people had, shared very specific and helpful information about Japan, AND business, and I always looked to introduce people to each other, and especially to answer questions and help people with enquiries about Japan, but BIJ was started by Rob.
I wrote a post about this on the BIJ Blog actually, ‘Where we came from & how events fit in’.
When Rob left Japan in 2015, I took over ownership, bought the domain and after a false start trying to build a community-based website, launched instead a simple blog for contributors from the BIJ community to blog about Japan, business, and whatever they were involved with and wanted to write about. I’m now, in between busy work and family, again looking at launching a new website, a rebrand with the goal being to make it clear Business In Japan, the community of BIJ Partners and myself, can help with anything related to doing business in, with or related to Japan and our professional lives here.
Was there any specific action that prompted a significant increase in community numbers? Any tips or advice you’d like to share for other community leaders on building and growing a community?
BALL: The two significant periods of growth that come to mind were:
When LinkedIn allowed groups to become ‘Open groups’ meaning posts in them were able to be shared outside the group and posts’ activity showed up in members' own feeds and were visible to non-BIJ members. LinkedIn did away with this idea again after a number of years, and Groups became harder to discover all around. It has been a hard slog to recover from that with some positive signs from LinkedIn that they will invest in improving groups again in 2018—3 years ago, [but] not much has happened of any consequence.
The second was perhaps unsurprisingly, COVID, and people staying home more and spending more time online.
What’s important is to recognize these trends and take actions that leverage them to help more people discover that your community exists and is of value.
At present, where are BIJ members the most active? What are some lesser-known BIJ community channels that readers should know about?
BALL: Before COVID we had monthly in-person events, and throughout 2020 we moved these online with webinars. Since January 2021, when someone invited me to Clubhouse, we have been running twice-weekly Clubhouse ‘rooms’ as they call them, events or ‘shows’ even, on Mondays. Clubhouse is an Audio-only, smartphone app, relatively new Social Media platform. We will stream the audio from Clubhouse into Zoom (but Clubhouse app experience is the best).
[Weekly 𝐁𝐮𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐈𝐧 𝐉𝐚𝐩𝐚𝐧 Clubhouse Rooms]
𝐌𝐨𝐧𝐝𝐚𝐲’𝐬 𝟏𝟐𝐩𝐦~ 𝐉𝐒𝐓 Business In Japan - focuses on changing Japan and Business topics
𝐌𝐨𝐧𝐝𝐚𝐲’𝐬 𝟗:𝟑𝟎𝐩𝐦~ 𝐉𝐒𝐓 Founded In Japan: uncommon knowledge about starting up - which I co-host with friend and fellow Australian Paul Chapman, CEO of MoneyTree. Going until 11pm JST, we, along with two regular panel members Nalin Advani (Entrepreneur, Investor, Board Member) and Ilya Kulyatin (Tech Startup founder), have guests, panels, and Q&A’s or AMA’s discussing changing subjects relevant to the startup ecosystem here in Japan.
We also have 𝐖𝐞𝐞𝐤𝐝𝐚𝐲’𝐬 𝐚𝐝𝐡𝐨𝐜 ‘events’ themed rooms featuring interesting speakers & subjects.
[Editor’s note: Check out BIJ on Doorkeeper for upcoming events!]
You recently ran a survey within the BIJ group. Were there any interesting findings from there that you were not expecting?
BALL: Yes, [from] a sample of over 100 people responding, it’s clear members are looking for opportunities in or related to Japan.
Two main categories, fairly obviously, are individuals often wanting to work in or related to Japan or perhaps start a business here, many looking for a way to begin, to meet people and a chance to network, get in contact with others, and businesses owners or staff looking for sales, potential client introductions, local partners, Japan business trends, possibly investors and also staff & other people resources.
There was also a strong desire to be part of a community to share into it and to receive value from others in it. To meet people, build a network specifically related to Japan in a professional sense.
As the group owner of such a strong and growing community, there must be moments that bring you happiness and pride and moments that are a challenge. Any tidbits about either of these 2 aspects of community leadership?
BALL: For happiness, I enjoy discussions that evolve, especially without my comment or initiation—that pop up and grow [and are] obviously of interest and value to many people. The growth of the community over the last couple of years, the launch and success of Clubhouse Events have been enjoyable and gratifying.
The challenging part that never seems to go away is people who don’t understand that just sharing a promotional link into the group (without even needing to go into the group itself), promoting their business, trying to recruit people with a ‘post & hope’ strategy, is not where the value is and is in many cases counterproductive—potentially personal and business brand damaging.
BIJ, LinkedIn, the Social Web offers so much more.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about leading a community like BIJ that you’d like to share with anyone else in a similar role?
BALL: It’s probably a good idea, everyone says it’s a good idea to know what it is you want to achieve from starting a group and growing it. What I want to achieve has evolved, changed over the last decade or so. [Although primarily] it remains bringing GoodPeople together around the subject of Japan and Business.
Finding out how to offer increasing value though is harder than it looks. Just asking is a good start, but only a certain set of people go in for [Linkedin] online surveys at all. Getting out and about, meeting people and gut feel, and testing your conclusions is probably a good strategy.
For anyone new to BIJ, what are some best-practice tips for getting the most out of this community?
Contribute first – Bring value to the group. This builds trust and offers greater value to you long-term as well. Jumping in with an off-topic post or link to your own content is a great way to get banned or panned/ignored.
Introduce yourself, show some personality, why your interest, what you do, how you can help others and they help you.
Listen and engage – Remember that you're joining an ongoing conversation. Feel out the group and discussions for a while. Things also ebb and flow.
Encourage discussion – Ask questions. Then listen and respond, seeking to further the conversation.
Think before you link – Especially before forwarding a link into a group; it's 99% of the time the wrong move. It damages your personal and the company brand.
Those are such fantastic points. Thank you! Before we close here, what’s next for Business In Japan?
BALL: To that, stay tuned. As mentioned, I will rebrand and relaunch soon with the Business In Japan partner network able to offer services to anyone interested in doing business in, with, or related to Japan.
Connect with the Business in Japan community on Linkedin here!
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