Inspiring Expats: Model & Writer Cynthia Popper in Tokyo. Proving you can make money outside of teaching in Japan.

American Expat living in Tokyo, model and writer, Cynthia Popper.

American Expat living in Tokyo, model and writer, Cynthia Popper.

There are lots of great things about working as an expat marketing consultant. One of the best is having a legitimate reason for getting in touch with other expats doing cool things. I'm not overly shy but some might consider my guest Cynthia Popper to be kind of intimidating, after all she is a model.  As you'll learn in my interview, she's completely down to earth and very open about her success. But most importantly she wants you to succeed as well.

Cynthia has accrued a huge amount of knowledge in her area of expertise - the modelling and beauty industry. Living and working in Tokyo for the past two years has been an amazing experience. She shares her insider tips on her fabulous website. You can check out this dark-haired beauty's portfolio here. She's also a contributor to several well-known blogs, magazines and has recently published a book, The Model Start-Up. She was kind enough to answer some questions about these achievements. Thanks Cynthia!

A Model with a Head for Business

JMC: I think it's fantastic that you have written a book.  How did you come up with the idea?

CP: Thanks! Modelling professionally and consistently isn't as easy as I originally thought. I wrote the book to hopefully help aspiring models make smart choices about their businesses. In the book I cover my story of getting scouted by Playboy. There was a lot I didn't know about contracts and usage at the time.  I was inexperienced and didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I chose the title "The Model Start-Up," because a model's career really is an individual business.  It requires some real choices in terms of branding, finance, and management.

JMC: Can you tell us about the writing process?

CP: I work as a writer as well as a model so the process was similar to how I approach any large project. I outlined a table of contents with a brief description of what I wanted each chapter to cover. Then scheduled a few hours every week to develop the writing. It took a long time but it was really satisfying to put it out into the world. 

Self-Publishing a Book

Cynthia's book is self-published. I asked if she wouldn't mind sharing some insights about working with publishers versus doing it yourself.

CP: I do have a lit agent but because this book is a lightweight, "how-to" guide, I put it out myself. Self publishing versus traditional agency pitching is such a personal decision. I chose the former because I wanted to get the book out fast-- traditional book deals (if you're lucky enough to get one!) take at least a year to get a book out, and many people have a say in the final product. With self publishing, you have total creative control. So it depends on the person and the project.

JMC: You worked with an editor, an illustrator and a photographer.  Were those connections you had before you wrote the book?

CP: The photographer was someone I had done a test shoot with... it was a great shoot! The editor, Carlos, really just formatted the book for e-publication and acted as a second set of eyes. I hired him and Tatianna to bring my manuscript into book form. I'm happy with how it turned out!

There's more to it than just looking pretty

JMC: It's a great book Cynthia. You make it look so easy. You do talk a lot about 'hustle' though and I know you have worked hard to get to where you are today. Tell us more about the strategy behind building a successful career.

CP: As I mentioned earlier a model's career should be treated like a business. I think the most important "start-up" elements are professionalism, time management, and marketing. You can't model if you're low energy, or a whiner, or perpetually late. The photographer doesn't care if your boyfriend sucks or you have a sore throat. You have to be on point and look great doing it. 

JMC: You're well-versed in the use of social media and have pages / profiles everywhere.  How important is that to your strategy for promoting your work? 

CP: Social media is huge in joining the conversation of your place of interest, or in my case, creating the conversation. If you Google, "modelling in Japan" right now my articles come up. It's a very niche market so I'm fortunate to have a small, engaged audience. 

JMC: How do you stay on top of it all?

CP: For managing different platforms, I really don't spend a lot of time on it, but it might look like I do. I answer every question, but as far as content, I schedule posts in advance using Buffer App and Klout, and link accounts as often as possible. 

JMC:  How does all this fit into the big picture for you?

CP: Social media is  a huge component to my brand. My readers come from about 90 different countries. Being able to connect with people everywhere is so key to book and blog promotion. I'm super lucky but I'm also pretty consistent with social content.

JMC: Have you studied business and marketing somewhere along the way? And if so can you tell us who has been a source of inspiration and mentoring for you? Have you learned by doing? reading? observing?

CP: I've worked in marketing for over a decade, and have spent a lot of time listening to thought leaders who know a lot more about growing business than I do. My degree also really honed my research skills, so I'm self-taught in Wordpress and HTML, and am learning CSS.

Opportunities for Expats

JMC: You and I connected because we share a common situation - being expats. I think you mentioned somewhere that being an expat has given you a lot of opportunities, can you elaborate on that? 

CP: Being in Japan gives me a great vantage point for people living in their native countries who are curious about Japan--especially Japanese beauty products, which I love to write about because I'm totally obsessed. My on-camera experience in California landed me a great contract with GPlus Media, hosting several videos for GaijinPot. It was an awesome experience and I wouldn't have gotten it had I not moved to Japan. Same with being featured in NYLON Singapore. I pitched an article for Japanese skincare, and the editor-in-chief asked me to write about modelling in Japan! 

JMC: I am sure there have also been struggles. Any bad experiences you want to share?

CP: With writing and modeling I have zero complaints as an expat, but teaching in Japan was a little challenging. I taught part-time for Visa purposes, and we had some union negotiations that caused some friendships to deteriorate. I swear it was like a scene out of "Mean Girls." Soon after we finished the deal-- I was like, "whew guys, glad that's over," but I basically got the "you can't sit with us anymore" treatment from a couple of people who worked at headquarters. Kind of a drag, but I knew from a foreigner-rights perspective, I was doing the right thing. So it's cool. I left that job peacefully and we all wished each other well.

JMC: Ouch! You strike me as being an incredibly multi-talented person.  You make a living doing a variety of things aside from modeling. Would you say that's by necessity or you just enjoy being creative in the pursuit of financial freedom and happiness? Your life seems exceptional. Is it a path you see others being able to follow? Any advice on being a multi-talented business person?

CP: "Incredibly multi-talented" is super generous-- wow thank you! I think it's more that I like to be hyper-busy with a lot of creative projects on my plate-- multi-tasking is kind of my jam and keeps me from getting bored. I do agree with you in that I think I lead a pretty exceptional life, which isn't without it's price, but I really wouldn't have it any other way.

As far as advice, I think creatives need to find the things that really engage them and run with them. That said-- you need to have a framework: a writing schedule, deadlines, a limit to how many auditions and shoots you'll do in a month-- otherwise you'll overload and freak out. Being organized financially and professionally helps too. So basically, find your passion, set your course, and go go go!

What's Next? 

JMC: Awesome advice! So speaking of go go go, are you working on anything new that you'd like to share? What's next? How can we best support and help you achieve the success you're after?

CP: Always. I have a couple projects I can't talk about (due to contract limits) but I am working on another book--this time for lady travelers, and hope to open an e-store later this year. As far as support-- please check out THE MODEL START-UP, and subscribe to the blog. Promise not to spam you. :)

Jacqui Miyabayashi