Staff writer

OSAKA — While working at home for oneself with computers may look attractive, the reality can be harsh.

Many self-employed people who work out of their homes or small offices feel they suffer a lack of respect, have difficulty getting loans from financial institutions and are denied various social benefits.

To enhance the status of small-office or home-office workers — so-called SOHO workers — as well as to strengthen cooperation between them, SOHO West, a loose network of such workers based in western Japan, was created in May 1997.

Based on their experiences, a suborganization was launched in January to strengthen collaboration among entrepreneurs who create Web pages, CD-ROMs and videos, and those who work as business consultants and market researchers.

Osaka SOHO Digital Contents, Japan’s first cooperative of SOHO entrepreneurs, currently has 23 members.

The representative director of Osaka SOHO Digital Contents, Masaharu Shiomi, 36, said it aims, through collaboration, to duplicate some of the benefits of scale that companies have.

The cooperative takes joint orders to create CD-ROMs and home pages on the Net, purchases supplies and provides information and training to members on marketing.

By creating a wide network of professionals, the cooperative can offer better products, Shiomi said. “Depending on the type and nature of a project, we can form a group of people best suited for the project,” he said.

He believes their method of using human resources provides a key to success in the competitive business world. “It is vital for SOHO people to do work by creating and using a large network of people and also with companies,” he said.

However, Shiomi said life can be difficult for the self-employed.

Shiomi was shocked when his application for a credit card was rejected. He has also learned that he cannot get public housing loans. “Our society protects people working at companies, but not those who are self-employed,” he said.

In spite of the difficulty, Shiomi finds his work exciting because he feels it gives him a front row seat on the cutting edge. Working with different people is also interesting, he said.

“If you work at a company, you sometimes fall in a situation where you have to obey your boss even if you disagree. I think it’s a loss of human resources,” Shiomi said. “In this world, you can express your opinions clearly, and it is you who loses when your knowledge and abilities fall short.”

After graduating from a university, he moved through a series of jobs, quitting his last company in March 1996 at age 33.

“I did not want to leave my life in the hands of company management,” he said.

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