Meet Jess Brown, founder of the global Japanese language community Nihongo Connection. Jess shared the story of how the conversation clubs began. We talked about how you can change and improve on your offerings while still serving your customers. Key to her success has been her focus on finding ways to help and teach her audience instead of constantly promoting paid for services. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Today’s episode is sponsored by the Instagram masterclass. It’s a full day workshop in Edinburgh for business owners and social media managers, it covers everything you need to know to run an effective Instagram account for your business. Tickets are on sale now, click the big yellow button below for all the details.

Jess has been running her Japanese conversation community online and offline since 2014. It became her business around the end of 2017. Her community was born when Jess came back from Japan and sought out Japanese lessons wherever she could find them. Frustrated that they were just teaching from textbooks and speaking English the rest of the time, she suggested to her fellow classmates they meet up in between classes and help each other learn. When a Japanese friend found out she wanted to come along to chat and help people practice. She invited another friend, six months down the line Jess had a Facebook group set up telling people about the conversation events and around 30 people were showing up, including native speakers.

It’s developed from there into two groups. One is a conversation group, for people that speak a little bit of Japanese, and want to develop. The second group is where people can come and actually learn Japanese.

Turning a community group into a business 

I was fascinated to learn how it transitioned from a community of people coming together to have a chat into a business. Jess won a session with a business coach who she thought was going to help her launch an entirely different kind of business. But during the call, the coach discovered Jess ran a language group in Edinburgh, 30 people a week were coming to events and the Facebook group had around 400 members, She suggested monetizing the group and growing it. Jess was reluctant at first because she wasn’t sure how to monetize a free group, especially a community group. The coach opened her eyes that group members could be online customers and she could help people from all over the world with their Japanese.

Now the group has around 800 people. Jess makes sure they are the right fit for the group. People that are encouraging to the rest of the community, take part and want to make progress. She runs online conversation clubs via Zoom, people from all over the world turn up to take part. There was increasing demand and she had to find a balance that met the needs of the online community. She started an online membership plan and gets to know her members really well. The idea is the same as the Edinburgh group, they only speak in Japanese when online.

As well as online and in-person conversation, Jess also runs Japanese Language boot camps in Edinburgh. Perfect for people that are studying Japanese because they want to work in Japan! Or, people that want to feel more comfortable when they travel to Japan. The boot camps are aimed at people taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). These too have developed over time in response to feedback. They used to be fully residential but now there are more flexible options. Additionally, they’ve grown to cover every level of the JLPT and a beginner boot camp. As your business grows over time, make sure you’re always paying attention to what your customers are asking for – it’s far easier to market something when you know there’s a demand.

“I decided okay, I think I want to go out on my own be self employed. You know, become an online business owner of some description, but I didn’t know what it was going to look like.”

Using social media platforms to provide value and resources

Jess uses Twitter as there’s a lot of Japanese language accounts where she shares vocabulary and tips to help her audience. She also has Pinterest and pins things in there. She has boards for her own blog posts and for other interesting blog post. She has images labelled with Japanese words. She recommends Pinterest if you want to learn vocabulary quickly because it’s fantastic for that.

She runs a Japanese conversation challenge on Instagram. Every month she invites people to come and chat in Japanese for a whole week. They complete a little 10 minute task every day. It helps people recognise where they can go for resources or for conversation and it also introduces the membership.

Each platform has it’s own unique features, and Jess has done a great job of finding the ones she can use to help and connect with her community. Think about how you could do the same in your business.

Marketing a language school

Jess told me that a lot of her customers find her, and she doesn’t feel the need to work hard at converting people into customers. So I asked how she decides what’s working and what to post on Instagram, for example. She concentrates on just trying to get people using Japanese. She does this by posting things that will make them ask questions or by encouraging them to answer questions. She uses her Instagram Stories to play games, people can continue the game by direct messaging her. She then shares it on her feed. It’s a really fun way of getting to know people and creating a loyal following, people end up playing against each other in the posts. It’s been effective for engagement, gets her community involved and encourages them to talk.

Jess also shared her best tip for marketing her business. “Don’t chase all the things.” She kept finding so many ways of doing things and tried to do them all, but just wore herself out. There are loads of Japanese language teachers on Instagram and Jess looked at the way that they were doing things “I looked at what worked, but then it needed to be done with my stamp on it.” She likes playing games and having fun. Incorporating this into her posts and marketing has worked for her.

“I’m just trying to get people using Japanese, you’ve got to use it or lose it”

Get connected

I loved talking to Jess and finding out more about Nihongo Connection. Improve or start learning Japanese by connecting with Jess on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.