Money DOES grow on trees.

I didn’t come to Japan for the money. No, really! I’d love to say I came to experience the culture, learn the language and teach English, but if truth be told, I came for a girl… but that’s another story.

So, although I wasn’t here for the money at first, it has become a big reason for me to stay. Contrary to popular belief, I find the cost of living in Japan far cheaper than back in the U.K, and my teaching salary is enough to live on. Having enough to live on though isn’t much fun though, is it? For me, there’s always something new I want to splash cash on, whether it’s a plasma TV, a DVD camcorder or a new computer. I must admit that since I turned 30 and got married, I’ve been more concerned with saving for a house and having enough left over to pay exuberant health insurance fees.

Trying to earn some extra green has always been on my mind. When I was in secondary school (J.H), I would spend my lunch money on candy and snacks in the convenience store before school, then sell them for a profit from my locker. That was working great until a school bully broke into it and stole the lot. Among a plethora of part-time and temporary jobs while in college (H.S) and university, I tried selling double-glazed windows door-to-door. The commission was good but I only made two sales in two weeks!  

Then I came to Japan. The most obvious source of additional income as an ESL teacher is to teach students privately, cutting out the middle man and earning anything from 20 to 100 dollars an hour. The legality of teaching on the side while employed by a school is questionable though. An alternative which I tried and failed miserably at was network marketing, or perhaps more commonly known as multi-level, or pyramid, marketing. There are a lot of MLM companies trying to break into the Japanese market, and they tend to target foreigners because they speak English. Very few are then able to market the products to their Japanese friends because of both the language barrier and cultural differences.

Another common part-time job for foreigners is working in a bar, but that never really got my interest. Instead, I would look out for one off opportunities to make some extra money. The most memorable are: Clapping my hands and chanting “One potato, two potato” etc. as part of a musical experiment at a university to compare how westerners and Japanese clap; and the other being part of a blood-clotting medical experiment in which I had to give blood, urine and a stool sample! Don’t worry, it was all above board and I think I’ll save that story for another day. The first of those little jobs earned me about $100 for ten minutes clapping, while the second got me $800 for two trips to the clinic.

After a few years in Japan, the internet really took off, and the day I switched to a broadband connection was when I really started looking at making money on the web. I failed at selling Pokemon cards on eBay, and my attempt at recording a “101 Ways to Learn English” audio CD for sale on Yahoo auctions and from a website also bombed. I couldn’t earn anything with the Amazon affiliate program, and although I sold loads of “I am not American” t-shirts through Cafepress, I had to end that little adventure after receiving numerous complaints and eventually a ‘cease and desist’ order for breach of copyright!

I had a brief stint writing language-learning software to help with my Japanese studies, and even got one of my programs listed on a Monash University professor’s website, but nothing to earn me that extra income stream.

In 2005, I started on a program to rival StartWrite – a popular piece of shareware for teachers wanting to make handwriting worksheets for their students. To grab market share, I decided to offer it for free on the net. Getting my new website listed on Google was a long, slow process and I was becoming increasingly frustrated. I had worked really hard on it and nobody knew the website even existed! So, not really wanting to spend any money, I figured I’d advertise using Google Adwords, a cheap way to get seen at the top of Google’s search results. I probably only spent $20 in that first month, but it was enough to get some visitors to the site…. and then they kept coming, and I started getting emails thanking me for it. Then, I guess those teachers told their co-workers and they told their friends and it all started snowballing.

It’s funny when I think back because the frustration that led me to Google Adwords set me on a path of discovery. I learned about Google Adsense, affiliate programs, search engine optimization, and a whole host of technical tricks and marketing techniques.

One year on and I’m pulling in a very nice monthly bonus from Google. Okay, it hasn’t replaced my teaching salary, but it has continued to grow every month since I started. I probably spend less than two hours a week checking things are all running smoothly, but other than that I just leave it alone while it works it’s magic, and every morning I wake up to see how much money I made while I was sleeping!

They say money doesn’t grow on trees. I say it does. You just have to plant those trees yourself.

If you have a comment, find me on Twitter at @longcountdown. I'd love to hear from you!