At what point are you giving away too much for FREE?

I am starting a site that aims to help military personnel stationed in Japan get off-base and enjoy Japan while they’re here. It’s aiming to solve 2 primary problems for them:

  1. When they first arrive, they have no idea what businesses and services off-base are available.
  2. Once they know what’s available, they don’t know how to actually travel to the business location

Here’s my biz plan:
The service will build a map around their military base, showing markers where businesses have registered with the site. Military members click the markers to see more info about the biz, and get directions.

The registered businesses have full control over the content of their page. They can describe their services, upload photos, provide contact details, etc…

In turn, the site builds maps automatically… literally drawing a line from the base to the business location - to make sure the military member can actually arrive at their selected businesses.

Businesses pay a monthly fee to “advertise” their business on the site. However, as I am just starting this, there aren’t many businesses on the map yet. Which makes it hard to advertise how awesome the service is to the military members.

So I propose this. What if I added a placeholder for the businesses?
Essentially FREE, but instead of having the full capabilities - it only has a marker on the map. No info, no directions. Instead, users would have to figure out how to get there on their own, but at least they’d know the business exists.

This would fill the site with more businesses very quickly, making it useful for the military members ASAP. Though, there’s no revenue from it… :frowning:

On the page that loads when clicked, it would ask if they’re the owner. Then give them instructions to register ownership for the business listing. After registration, the business would receive the full feature set of the site.

Phwew, if you read this far THANK YOU! I’m having a gut check right now… because:

[FONT=Garamond][SIZE=5][COLOR=DarkRed][B]At what point are you giving away too much for FREE?

[FONT=Arial][SIZE=3][COLOR=Black]Do you think business owners would be enticed enough by automatic maps w/directions, 24/7 control of their info, photo uploads, contact info, etc… ??

[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT][/B][FONT=Arial][SIZE=2][COLOR=Black]I know thousands of military members in Japan will enjoy this very much.

Would YOU bring your business to the site?[/COLOR][/SIZE][/FONT]

Some of the business owners around the base are native English speakers. Most, however, are 100% Japanese. Luckily, I can speak Japanese and my wife is Japanese.

That’s the plan. Once I’ve got the site available in both English and Japanese, there will be a great deal more marketing materials in Japanese to hand out.

Excellent idea. I bet I could make an online view like this, that would easily be printable… no money in it for me, but if I’m charging a monthly fee to local businesses, this sort of functionality would be just another reason why it would be wise to take ownership of their business page. Thanks!

There may be some… but nothing really easy to use. And, the iPhone isn’t crazy popular here like in the U.S. Though it is catching on more and more.

I am just curious - what will your site have that Google Maps doesn’t?

First, businesses have control to manage their content. As most business owners will be Japanese, they are shown the tools in Japanese and the content is translated to English for the military community.

While users could use Google maps to find businesses around the bases, the maps are (mostly) in Japanese. Plus, finding something when you don’t know what you’re looking for isn’t easy.

My site centers on the base the user is stationed at, putting markers around it to show the various businesses. Making it much easier to learn what’s out there, and where it’s located.

But my question was primarily focused on whether or not I was offering too much for free. But thinking about it, I suppose your question was right on the mark. Because, if I only offered what Google maps can already do for free… I’m not exactly giving away too much am I? :slight_smile:


Hmmm - actually after reading your first post, I think I’d say you weren’t giving ENOUGH away for free. :slight_smile:

Most business directory sites I’ve seen provide the basic info that a user would get by going to a yellow pages type site (do they have those in Japan?) like the name, address phone - but would charge extra for listing photos, urls, menus and that sort of thing.

I think you should also consider giving a free package with all the bells and whistles to at least a few business owners to get you started. Doing that not only gives the guys on base reason to visit your site, but it also encourages other business owners to want in if they see their competitors taking advantage of the site (if they’re anything like business owners in the states!).

It’s tough with anything new like this because no business owner wants to pay when there’s no traffic - and you won’t get much traffic with no businesses listed.

I think you could do really well with something like this, but like yasha78 mentioned, you also need to consider your competition and what they’re giving away for free.



Thanks for the comment. As far as I’ve found, there isn’t much competition. At least, not specifically trying to break the language barrier between the Japanese and Americans in Japan - tailored to the military community here.

I know it’s not a lot yet, but since the original post, I’m getting up to a few thousand views a week. And your idea of giving some free packages away, I’m working on that now. ;D

One problem is, while I can find the GPS location and name of a business, I don’t have a good way to gather basic data on it (in English).

It’s probably not a huge problem because even if the address, phone #, etc… were there for free - the military members probably wouldn’t use it.

Driving around here is more of a visual thing. Imagine being in a location where you’re basically illiterate. Can’t read road signs so well, etc… The maps are more important, with visual queues.

So on the free page at the moment, it asks the owner to take ownership of the page and shows a static map with a marker showing the businesses location.

Here’s what a free page looks like.

Here’s a demo of a “full version” page (though, atm the demo is missing the photo gallery).

Always open to ideas to improve the site. It will be a tremendous value for the military community in Japan as well.

Thank you!

I like the way things look on your site and think you’re moving in the right direction on this, but of course now a few more questions come to mind.

Do these local businesses speak or read english? If they get to one of your pages - will they understand what’s being asked of them?

How do the businesses find out about your site initially? Are you actively marketing to them or just hoping they’re going online and will find you somehow?

I really think a business directory like this can do well in just about any community - but especially in your case, I think you’ll need to be proactive and go out to visit with the business owners in order to get them signed up. Even if it’s just handing out a flyer to get them to the site or making a phone call to offer them a free basic listing.

I have no idea how local business works over there so I’ll leave it to you to figure out what marketing methods are acceptable - but I really think you’ll need to be more proactive to get some of these business owners on board with your idea.

Just a thought - while I love the web idea of course - what about putting together a small guide book the guys on base could take with them when they go out to explore the town? It could be as simple as a folded map with ads for english speaking business located around the perimeter - or a more detailed guide book with a page for each business including photos, menus, coupons etc…

Sure something like that’ll cost more because of printing costs, but you could make money in a few ways including selling ads to businesses, selling the book to the guys on base for a few $$, or even doing both to make it affordable for everyone.

Are there any tour books apps for iphone/ipod in the area available? I know those are some of the more popular apps going and an app displaying english friendly businesses or one that would help those on base communicate with Japanese businesses may work.


P.S. Just a thought, but you could get away with offering everything for free, as long as you have other services you could sell to business owners like email marketing, web design etc…if you have the time/desire to get into that sort of thing or can find someone to outsource the work to.

I also meant to say that the site will be bilingual soon. My wife is translating the English to native Japanese. She’s not simply translating it… she’s changing the wording based on how the Japanese prefer to use the internet as well.

It adds a ton of work, but I feel it’s the best way to make the site friendly and easy for the Japanese to use.

Then I’ll tap into the Google Translate API to let English speaking visitors automatically translate any Japanese to English and vice versa for the Japanese visitors.

At the moment I am giving away lots of info and content for free on my blog until I reach 2000 readers. This is to build up trust and get a good name until I have a decent following. Then I will start to release my own paid products and start selling adspace on my blog.