Inspirational Business Lessons From Historic Japan

Normally business stories are shared for one of two reasons. Either it’s a new company showing fast growth, or an establish company dominating the market place. But when expansion is unsustainable it can lead to problems or even bankruptcy. And there can only be a small number of massively dominant companies in a single niche. Which is why I think there are some inspirational business lessons from historic Japan. Because they’re about different ambitions entirely.

Of the oldest companies in the world still operating, the majority are all from Japan. And the oldest trio that have not been absorbed into another country re the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, Koman and Hoshi Ryokan hotels. The first was founded in 705AD, with the others in 717AD and 718AD respectively.

Which means the Nishiyama Onsen Kieukan has been open for 1,313 years. And has been operated by 52 generations of the founder Fujiawara Mahito. It’s not particularly expensive compared to a spa hotel in most countries around the world, costing around £300 per night. And with 37 rooms, it’s not particularly big.

Inspirational Business Lessons From Historic Japan

There are two elements of Japanese business and tradition that stand out. Other countries have businesses running from similar dates, Sean’s Bar, the oldest pub in Ireland dating back to 900 AD, and The Bingley Arms in England (905-953AD).

The first is that the Japanese hotels are still managed by the families of the founders. Which means they’ve been sustainably owned and cared for throughout the 1,300 years. Rather than the current trend to build quickly, sell and move on.

It’s why we’re seeing more people come to respect businesses like Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals), who aimed for sustainable growth. Or why the recent decision of the founders of Wistia to take on $17 million in debt to regain control and continue building their company is so interesting.

There’s nothing wrong with aiming high, or wanting to build something and sell it. But it’s not the only way. As anyone who has run any type of business will probably share, a worthwhile aim will help you enjoy the journey, especially as it’s inevitably harder than you might have expected.

Business Climbing

The second point is the idea of evolution and rebuilding. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Ise Jingu grand shrine in Mie Prefecture. Even if you don’t know it by name. Every 20 years local people will tear it down and rebuild it anew. And have done so for at least 1,300 years. The actual rebuilding takes eight years to prepare, including four years for the timber. So why do people willing go through it?

The act of taking apart the temple and rebuilding helps to preserve the original design, but also keeps the traditional skills alive. And at the same time it reinvigorates the spiritual and communal bonds.


Using This Inspiration For Yourself:

Hopefully you can take a couple of things from the oldest businesses in the world. The first thing it’s reminded me is that I can work hard to create and achieve something other than the next Google or Facebook. And that it’s not important whether I’ve achieved the fastest ever growth for 12 months or 24. Part of my inspiration for continuing to run my own business is the idea that perhaps my son, or one day, maybe his children might take it on.

Doing that necessitates strong foundations, philosophies and things other people can carry with them. Which also means I’m better prepared if exponential growth did occur.

It can also mean something that goes outside your immediate family. For example the philanthropy of people like Andrew Carnegie or Rockefeller in the past. And the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet today.

The second is a little less literal. I’m not proposing every business tears down their shop or factory every 20 years. I suspect most business leases actively discourage it! But what you can do is regularly tear down your strategy, plans and business philosophy, and then rebuild it to ensure you’re working in the right way, and still pursuing the right goals.

It’s easy to stick to an aging plan, or drift from your original strategy, and not even realise in the daily grind. Then it stretches to weeks, months and years. And you don’t take a step back and see that you’re potentially doing the wrong things to achieve your ambition.

The value of doing that can be seen in a number of companies. For instance, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard explains eloquently in his book ‘Let My People Go Surfing‘ how at times the company slipped and had to refocus. It’s a great book, by the way, and is one of a number that are helping me refocus what I’m working on.

We’ve seen a lot of upheaval in the UK, and in the U.S in recent months and years. And I definitely wonder how differently in might have been if politics, business and personal ambitions were more about how decisions would matter for the next 500 or 1,000 years.

2013 Reviews of the Year

As 2013 draws to an end, almost everyone is busy either compiling their reviews of the past 12 months, or publishing predictions and trends for 2014.

Predicting the future is always difficult, even when you spend your life watching an industry closely – it’s easy to get caught up in enthusiasm and shorten the timeline that you might have logically thought, and there are always external factors and events which we don’t know about yet which could mix things up a bit more…

Annual reviews can also lead to an overwhelming amount of information and data, but there’s often inspiration to be found, so we’ve compiled some of the 2013 reviews from the big internet names to share:


Tumblr 2013 Year in Review:


Tumblr has released a big categorised review, including everything from New and Top blogs, to the most popular in Movies, Music, and even Sponsored Posts. Plenty of inspiration and enjoyment to be had, particularly if you’re a fan on animated Gifs.


Pinterest: Top Pins of 2013:


Staying with categorised imagery, Pinterest has also released a ‘top pins’ for 2013, separated in categories such as Home Decor, Art, Design and by country ( UK, France, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland).


Google: Zeitgeist 2013:


As always, Google has produced a range of videos and data to cover the top searches in 2013. Exploring the data via Google Trends is a bit more useful from a business perspective.


Bing: Review of the Year 2013:


Bing has released the 2013 top searches etc in a more traditional article style via MSN news. Strangely they released the url which redirects to MSN news for the UK. Either way, the information is there.


Facebook: Stories 2013


Facebook Stories 2013 includes video and the Most Talked About Topics etc near you, as well as personal Year in Review features. Also available in text format for global and US information.


Reddit Top Posts and Stats of 2013:


When you start a look back at 2013 with 56 billion pageviews, 731 million unique visitors and 404,603,286 comments, it’s not been a bad 2013 for Reddit. Also includes top countries, top posts, and highlights from the End of Year awards.


Slideshare Zeitgeist:



Instagram has released blog posts covering 2013 Top Moments, and 2013 Top Locations.

And with a day to go, the most popular articles on in 2013 were:

A Movember warning for our clients…

We’re sure you’re probably already aware of Movember, the annual moustache-based fundraising event which raises funds and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer and mental health.

It requires volunteers to sport facial hair for the month of November, in return for donations prompted by the attempts to model a “Tom Selleck”, “Burt Reynolds” or for the UK, a “Des Lynam”.

If you’re a client or prospective client, we wanted to warn you that Dan is taking part this year for the first time in a while. And so far it appears his moustache growing and grooming talents have not improved


So if you have any face-to-face meetings or Skype calls etc with us this month, please do not be alarmed.

But please do feel free to be amused, suggest facial hair styling techniques, and donate to a good cause.

A big week for celebrations…

There are a few different reasons for us to be celebrating this week.


  • (Not us): The GNU system celebrated 30 years at the weekend, and has resulted in tens of millions of free software users worldwide, with free software also powering more than 95% of the world’s supercomputers and the majority of web servers.
  • (Us): This week marks the 3 years since I started freelancing. Despite some big ups and downs, within a short space of time I’d decided working for myself was what I wanted to do for the foreseeable future, and that hasn’t changed.
  • (Us): It’s also 6 months since TheWayoftheWeb Ltd was formerly established as a business, and my fellow Director and business partner Sean Ible joined the company, which has led to major improvements in everything we do.
  • (Not Us): Family is extremely important to both Sean and myself, so as my parents have reasons to celebrate at the moment, I wanted to publicly mention how vital they’ve been in everything I’ve ever achieved.
  • (Not Us): Google turned 15 last week – and unveiled various changes and projects, some of which are good for everyone, and some of which have changed the way SEO will need to be implemented. Proof that our work is a journey of constant evolution and change, which keeps us enthusiastic and learning all the time!

It seems like a good moment to thank friends, family, clients, contacts and our networks of specialists for all their help, support, hard work and encouragement so far, and hopefully we’ll continue to pay back their faith in us by delivering even better work in the future….

If you’re seeing this…

It means our recent hosting migration has been successful.

You may also have noticed the site looks a little different – unfortunately the need to move hosting providers occurred during a period in which we have been looking at some design changes for the whole site, which haven’t been ready to publish in time for the move…

So in the meantime, enjoy the focus on articles for a little bit while we finish with the crayons and paper to push out a new layout.

Marketing and business books in Amazon’s Kindle Spring Sale

I’m a firm believer that you should always be learning, and I’ve always been an avid reader. Since the Kindle was launched, it’s never been quicker and easier to access a wide variety of writing, particularly niche books which previously may have been expensive and hard to find.

And the frequent sales and offers on Amazon means that it’s also possible to pick up some great practical and inspirational material for ridiculously low prices.

For instance, the current Spring Kindle Sale running until April 4 includes some great books relevant to marketing and business ownership. All the below were purchased by me this week, or I already own and recommend.

Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do by Euan Semple – £2.19. We’re pleased to say Euan is a friend of TheWayoftheWeb and we’ve kept in contact since meeting many years ago. There are few businesses which wouldn’t benefit from his well-written and readable book on how to approach introducing and integrating social media into a company.

Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation by James McQuivey – £0.99. For less than a pound you get the insight of a Principal Analyst at Forrester into disruptive companies across a range of industries.

Finance for Non-Financial Managers: In a Week: Teach Yourself by Roger Mason – £1.99. Running a business means striking a balance between bringing in specialist help where it makes sense, and knowing enough to understand what you need and why. I haven’t started this book yet, but anything that helps me improve my understanding of managing the finances of my business is a good thing, so £2 seemed a reasonable amount to gamble!

The Liberation of Loch Fyne Oysters by David Erdal – £0.99. As my business has grown, I’ve been looking for examples of how other businesses have coped, and been able to build an engaged and enthusiastic workforce. One concept I’ve been interested in is employee ownership, and this book has provided a great introduction, using the very human example of Loch Fine Oysters as a central story around which the concept, context, successes and pitfalls of a range of employee-owned businesses are shared.


I’d love to know whether or not you’ve read any of these books, and whether you’d also recommend them. And let me know if there are any marketing, business or technology gems going cheap which I haven’t covered – I’ve found my impulse purchase price to be around the £3 mark, so try and keep recommendations around that price range!

I’ve also written about these books in more detail, alongside more general technology and science fiction reading on my personal blog if you want to see everything I managed to buy for less than £10!


Quick appearances elsewhere

Client work has kept us all really busy at the moment, along with some work on our own projects – some live, such as OnlineRaceDriver, and some still at the ‘skunkworks’ stage.

In the meantime, the business development experts at the Future Agency have published a comprehensive interview with me on the future of PR/Marketing and Content, mainly focusing on how running TheWayoftheWeb has continually evolved over time and how I want it to be run in the future.

And at the same time, freelance social media and digital PR consultant Ben Matthews has written a good blog post on starting out freelancing, which includes advice from a number of wise and successful freelancers. And me.

Coverage for TheWayoftheWeb

I’ve often published constructive criticism on the media industry, but I also have a lot of respect for the people working in it, and Im always proud when journalists I respect choose to quote anything I’ve written.

So it’s an honour that the Peterborough Telegraph asked to re-publish my last post ‘Why your business must own its content‘ on the Peterborough Today website.

Add that to being quoted in an article on Search Engine Watch, and it’s been a rather nice week!

Celebrating two years of business

Tomorrow it will be two years to the day since TheWayoftheWeb became a business as well as a blog. It’s slightly surreal to think how fast that time has gone. Despite the fact I seem to have a habit of projects coinciding with family events which should help me remember anniversaries, it was only in a conversation on Monday that I realised 24 months has passed.

In that time I’ve gone from sole trader to Limited Company, worked on a large number of diverse client projects, partnered with some other great small businesses and freelancers to grow the available resource, survived some big changes in my personal life, and learned an amazing amount about how to work, how to run a business, and most importantly, about myself.

It’s a reminder to thank a huge number of people for their continued support – whether that’s my parents for always being there, the former employer who gave me the first piece of freelance work that kicked things off, all the clients who have invested in my services, and the friends and contacts who have offered invaluable support, encouragement and advice. Naming every single one of them would probably turn this into the longest article ever written, but I really and truly value the input of everyone.

That also includes a large number of people who I have never met in the flesh, but have supported, advised or helped with a huge variety of things via Twitter, Facebook, email, Skype etc.


How did I get here? What did I learn?

When I initially became self-employed, I’d always thought about running my own business. I’d dabbled with my own websites in some spare time and dreamed about doing it for real, but also had a family and home to support from what had been a regular wage for large media companies.

Initially, I told myself I was doing it in the short term to pay the bills, and that I’d probably go back to working for someone else fairly soon. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid having to sign on for unemployment benefits even when I went through a long period of applying for entry level media jobs (Instead I enjoyed myself delivering washing machines, packing fruit, cleaning supermarkets etc), and so preferred to keep my skills sharp by taking the first few projects I was able to get.

And for the first few months it was very tight. Any savings vanished, some bills had to wait a while, and my earnings were negligible, but with the support of some very key people I was able to scrape by and slowly work started to come in at a higher pace.

But that didn’t mean it became easy. Every new client and new piece of work provided a new challenge, whether it was getting things done and achieving success, or just managing a growing client list. But after being interviewed and even offered some amazing full-time roles, I realised that I was turning them down for valid reasons, but also because I was becoming more and more in love with running my own business.

Since then TheWayoftheWeb has gone from bloke at dining room table on an aging laptop, to a virtual agency with a core group of regular freelance staff. The dining room table has become an office, and the aging laptop has been replaced and supplemented with monitors, printers, etc. I’ve learned which tools and software to invest in to make life more manageable, and I’ve become more fired up and determined than ever to continue to grow things in the right way in the future.

At some point I’ll delve into more detail, but seven of the main things I’ve learned:

  1. Plan and invest in the right support at the start in terms of Accounts, Legal and Project Management. The longer you leave it, the more work and expense you’ll face to fix it. Especially at tax time.
  2. Do the hardest stuff first each day and don’t put it off. It’s easy to convince yourself you’ll get around to something you hate, but running your own business means ‘the boss’ has the opportunity to ignore it indefinitely. See the first advice on the time and expense that’ll involve eventually.
  3. Use the right tools. For me, that includes Freshbooks for invoicing, and Trello, Basecamp and LiquidPlanner for project management. I also use a range of tools for SEO analysis, social media monitoring, web hosting etc. It’s worth investing the money for the right tool, and the time to learn how to use them properly.
  4. Plan a large amount of your time for managing and communicating with clients, paying bills, general business admin and working with anyone you sub-contract. You’ll never get to spend all your time just on the work itself.
  5. Also plan on investing in your office, whether remotely or at home. The 4 Hour Work Week is a nice idea, but doesn’t happen for most of us, especially early on. Things like a decent chair, desk, second monitor, etc are all worthwhile investments. As is making your office more enjoyable with pictures and plants. Don’t overlook things like Spotify for music etc when you’re at home, and decent headphones for the coffee shop/client office.
  6. Get focused – it’s easy to get caught up in social networks and email. In my case, it’s often part of my work, and so I can’t even turn it off to avoid distraction. That means becoming more and more disciplined about what you’re doing and why. It doesn’t mean you can’t tweet during the day, or comment on a picture, but invest in a timer or time management programme and let yourself have fun for 5-10 minutes as a break between work. Not a replacement for it.
  7. And finally, when you run your own business it can completely dominate your life and every waking thought. Make a conscious decision and effort to dedicate time to non-work activity, particularly if you have a family. Working for yourself doesn’t have to mean financial insecurity for ever, or for you to miss out on the rest of your life, but it will expand like a gas to fill every available minute if you let it.

Who knows what the next two years will bring. I’m still learning, facing new challenges and enjoying myself on the whole more than ever before. I’ve become used to the rollercoaster each day between elation and despair which I think everyone experiences, even when things are going smoothly!

Hopefully I’ll be running a bigger business, which enables more people to build their own careers in the location and way they want, whilst working with me to provide solutions in the way clients need. But even if I decide that I need a change, or I fall in love with a particular company and become employed again, I’ll always be proud to know I made it this far.

Due to work, any proper celebrations involving beer will have to wait till the weekend. But that’s fine, because I really do enjoy what I do, even the achievement of completing the bits I hate like tax returns. And to paraphrase Seth Godin, why do a job that you hate so much you spend all your time looking to escape it?

P.S. I know that I said I wouldn’t name people, I really do have to thank Tim for his amazing help during some difficult times, and Oscar for always being the ultimate in inspiration.