Freelancer Tips

The engineering and technology industry used to be mostly permanent full-time employees, but a survey by Lancers shows that the freelancer population for engineering grew by 5 million between 2018 and 2021. As we’ve previously shared five steps to start working as a freelancer as well as five benefits to work as a freelancer, becoming a freelancer offers numerous advantages which are not necessarily available when working as a permanent company employee, including an increase in annual income or an increase in discretion and freedom.

However, it is also true that people often express their disapproval of turning into a freelancer, saying that "it is difficult to succeed as a freelancer" or "there is no right direction”. In this article, we will introduce the secrets to become a successful freelancer in Japan.


What is the difference between a freelancer and a permanent employee?

Freelance is a form of work that does not belong to a specific company, group, or organisation, and in Japan it applies to self-employment or sole proprietorships. The work of freelancers are generally no different from that of permanent employees belonging to a company, whether it’s design, development, or operation of IT systems. In fact, companies in Japan often recruit members for each phase (defining requirements, design, development, operation, and maintenance) of a system development project. The main difference between a freelancer and a regular employee is that a freelancer is contracted only for the duration of the project, and there is no guarantee of continuous availability of work.


Which is right for you – freelancer or permanent employee?

There are many considerations when it comes to your job in Japan. Even if you are interested in working as an independent freelancer, there are risks involved in giving up the life as a company employee, and as such, job seekers will need to carefully consider your career plan based on your own aptitude. Below is a brief summary of the characteristics of those who skew towards being a company employee versus those for freelance work in Japan.

  • Job seekers suitable to be company employees:
  • Job seekers who are interested or have a flair for management and leadership roles
  • Job seekers who want to master a specific technical area while utilising the company's resources such as those who specialise as researchers
  • Job seekers who want to keep their status quo and seek stability in terms of going through lesser changes


  • Job seekers suitable to be freelancers
  • Job seekers who want to manage their own time and develop their own business
  • Job seekers who possess a lifelong learning attitude and want to improve themselves by diversifying while adopting and exposing themselves to the latest trends in technology
  • Job seekers who are willing to work hard to increase their income

After gaining experience as a full-time company employee for a number of years, there are three main paths to take when considering a career advancement from your current position by utilising the skills you have cultivated so far – aiming for a management job in Japan, continuing hands-on development work and becoming a specialist in Japan, or becoming an independent freelancer in Japan. It is best to make your choice based on your own aptitude and the direction of your career you wish to pursue.

One important point to note is the attractive factor about freelance work in Japan. You get the freedom of a freelancer and the ability to work at your own pace but the job itself is often not very different from that of a company employee in terms of difficulty and job scope. Although in many cases, especially for freelancers who are relatively new, they will usually be stationed at the client company.


Freelancer (1)

While there is no right timing for when to go independent as a freelancer from a full-time employee, there are a few decision points to consider when deciding to make the switch. For more information, please see our article on five steps to start working as a freelancer.

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What are some of the concerns about switching to a freelancer in Japan?

When considering about a switch to freelance work in Japan, you may be concerned about the rumor that a freelancer career is tough. As with any other type of work, there are benefits and considerations to take into account. But negative opinions about freelancers are mainly:

  • There are imitations due to age
  • You can become more vulnerable to economic fluctuations and may have a higher chance of losing your job
  • Career advancement is difficult to achieve
  • Income is low or you have to take a pay-cut
  • Not being able to find someone to talk to within the company in times of crisis
  • Physical illness or depression due to overwork, or loss of boundaries between work and private life where loneliness had been observed

However, not all of the above are true and are only the worst-case scenarios. It is possible to prevent these consequences from occurring by taking various measures. Below are some points to keep in mind in order to succeed as a freelancer in Japan.


Six points to consider for a successful freelancer

  1. Consider the different types of jobs you can take on in your 50s and beyond

Although there is no retirement age for freelancers, the number of projects available to freelancers in their 50s and beyond will certainly decrease. This is largely because the younger generation is given priority in terms of physical strength, energy, and knowledge of the latest technologies. But this does not mean you won’t be able to find any freelance work in Japan. You can still compete by bringing your own unique added value. One way is to play an active role that the younger generation cannot compete is to become an advisor or lecturer in training and developing new talent by passing on your knowledge and skills. You have a good foundation and understand the fundamentals in the technology industry and can put this to good use. Another way is to look for maintenance projects for older technologies that the younger generation do not know about or do not have the relevant experience in.


  1. Diversify your risk

Although it seems like the possibility of losing your job is much higher for freelancers than for full-time employees, many freelancers counter this risk by taking on multiple projects – whether it’s for just one company but multiple projects or various companies at the same time. The advantage for freelancers is the ability to look for your next project and start almost immediately because you don’t have a long notice period or your exposure to various projects are highly valued. This is why many freelancers can look for their next project even if they are working on a long-term project which helps them to get the best deal for themselves.


  1. Try to branch out into new things and keep learning new knowledge

Freelancers have the advantage of being able to choose their own work content. By choosing projects that deal with new technologies, you can learn the latest technologies on the job. While there may be some concern that you will only be able to take on projects that you have experience with, employers often want to work with people who are willing to learn and have multiple skills. You can even try to take on other simpler projects at the same time as your main job.

To remain active and relevant in the constantly evolving IT industry, it is very important to develop the habit of constantly learning new knowledge and skills. This will also broaden the range of projects you can take on in your 50s and beyond. Try to have a mindset of acquiring and improving not only technical skills such as programming languages, but also a wide range of other intangible knowledge and skills such as project management and system development techniques.


  1. Increase your value

Freelancers can easily increase their income by increasing the volume of projects you handle. This is however not recommended as it can lead to overworking. Instead, you may want to focus on increasing your value. You can take on projects that you know are more relevant, or have something in it for you to learn and improve. In this way, you can show your skills to employers by having a portfolio of your past work and your willingness to learn which can increase the value you bring to them.


  1. Make connections

For independent freelancers, personal connections are extremely important. Although you are basically on your own to solve challenges, having connections with peers you can talk to when problems arise or companies you can seek help from, can serve as a safety net. Cherish the contacts you make with people and companies through your work and continue to expand those connections, as they will come in handy at some point. To this end, it is important not to be dishonest in your work and to always be sincere in your dealings with others.


  1. Utilise project search sites and freelance agents

One of the most challenging tasks for freelancers is sales activities. As such, we recommend the use of project search sites and freelance agents. By using a service that matches freelancers with jobs and projects, you can reduce your search time or any costs associated with it. This frees up your time for other tasks or even your personal life. In particular, using a service that has specialised freelance agents can help fill in the negotiation skills that you may not have as they are able to use their experience and knowledge to get a better job offer for you.


Interested to find out more about available freelance jobs in Japan or want to speak to a specialised freelance agent?

Computer Futures has a team of specialised freelance agents who can help you to make the switch from a permanent employee to a freelancer to reap the benefits such as a higher income. Feel free to contact us using the form below and a dedicated agent will be in touch. If you want to have a look at some of the available openings for freelancers, please click on the button below.

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Whether you’re a professional looking for a job or a business seeking highly skilled talent, the team at Computer Futures are here for you. By combining our local expertise and specialist market knowledge, we can provide expert recruitment and employment solutions across a range of IT markets.