Become an undisputed expert in your field, and then charge people to access the different tiers of your knowledge.

Daniel Cardona
Mar 26 · 7 min read

Hey there, welcome to another book review.

Today we’re talking about Chris Anderson’s book, “FREE: How today’s smartest business profit by giving something for nothing”.

As a Product Manager, I found this to be a tremendous piece of knowledge for product discovery and online marketing.

Published in 2009, the book might strike you as a little bit old, (especially since technology progresses in accelerated dog years), but its message has aged absolutely well and that’s what I found to be the most fascinating aspect about it.

The author does a magnificent job explaining in plain English dozens of different ways in which ‘Free’ is being put to remarkable use in today’s business setting, plus a couple of sections dedicated to studying business models in detail, where the core product is given away for free. That is, without any sort of monetary exchange at any point in time.

That being said, while reflecting on the read, I got a feeling that simply summarizing on the most compelling points explored by the book would not truly make it shine. I’ve always tried to keep these reviews actionable as exercises not limited to report about the book’s content.

That’s why today I’m not going to give you just a review, today I’m putting the learning into action.

Excited? Let’s get started then:

How to make money with ‘Free’: Helping Foreigners Succeed Professionally in Japan

Just to keep you interested, let’s start with the conclusion:

Become an undisputed expert in your field, and then charge people to access the different tiers of your knowledge.

“Uhhmm…. Undisputed expert in your field? Tiers of knowledge?”

Fair enough. Let’s take one step back.

We live in the internet era. The attention economy is the largest social experiment in the history of humanity and the demons are not going back to Pandora’s box. We’ve talked about this in our review of Daniel Pink’s Drive, when we mentioned that intrinsic motivators have pushed the system into establishing one’s reputation as the ultimate form of currency.

“Yeah, that sounds nice, but how do we make money with ‘Free’?”

Well, it turns out that to become an undisputed expert in your field, you need to amass as much reputation currency as you can, so that you have the social and professional validation to charge people to access the different tiers of your knowledge.

In other words:

You need to dominate social media so that your followers, subscribers, likes, shares, claps, retweets, views, comments, stars, replies and points become the social validation to establish you as an expert in your own domain. Once you’ve got that, you make yourself available for consulting services, advertising deals of products that are relevant to your audience, and other kinds of monetization mechanisms.

“Wait, but you said we were going to look at an example about foreign professionals in Japan?”

And we are.

Meet Yuri Sato

Yuri is a Japanese entrepreneur who is building a service to support foreigners pursuing a professional career in her home country. She has over 15 years of experience working in Japanese corporations, including the Embassy of the Philippines in Japan. During her career, she has witnessed first hand how countless foreigners struggle with Japanese business culture and manners, making it remarkably difficult for them to successfully land better jobs and grow in their organizations once they’re already in.

She envisions a world where we foreigners have a smoother transition into the Japanese business setting, regardless of our cultural background.

Enter, Online Career Support

Yuri has been working relentlessly to build a network of experienced professionals who can support foreign professionals across the several aspects of successful career development in Japan.

In my particular case, I’ve found many of the answers the hard way as I navigate the day to day life in a Japanese corporation. But it does not necessarily have to be this way. You could perfectly be coached and receive guidance from a mentor.

So today, we’re applying the lessons learned from ‘Free’ to Yuri’s business.

As of today, you can visit Yuri’s business website and book a lesson with one of the mentors in her network. The business model here is pretty straight forward: aspiring professionals book a session on her site, they agree on a date and contacting method with a mentor in her network, they pay for the time, and the money is split between Yuri’s company and the individual mentor who facilitated the session. Nothing fancy here.

But that model has a critical problem:

How on earth do we get people to come to the website to begin with? And what’s worse: even if they happen to land there, how will they know in advance the quality of the mentorship that they will receive in exchange for their valuable money?

This is where Chris Anderson’s book comes to the rescue.

Let’s take a quick look at this oversimplified conversion funnel for our business model based on ‘Free’:

Part one of the two staged monetization plan based on ‘Free’. Diagram made with ❤️ by me.

Stage 1: Single Monetization

The funnel starts with a layer of free content on YouTube. This content is composed mainly by videos that suggest ways in which foreigners in Japan can address certain problems faced in a business setting. The videos have to be self-inclusive, in the sense that each video is an independent piece of content that offers a specific piece of value.

We HAVE TO RESIST THE TEMPTATION of breaking up the content in the middle, and then ask users to go to your website to buy the full version. THIS DOES NOT WORK IN THE WORLD OF ‘FREE’.

Every video MUST answer the question it promises to solve IN FULL.

Think stuff like “5 things not to do on an interview for a Japanese company” or, “the 4 things I wish I knew before coming for an internship in Japan”. The objective of this outer section of the funnel is to build a community around doubts that people actually have.

There are several strategies to make our videos more interesting but that actually falls out of the scope of this post.

This is the list of our best friends at this stage:

  • Keyword tools like this one or this one.
  • Our videos’ comment sections in YouTube
  • The analytics section of our YouTube Channel
  • The Google Analytics dashboard of our conversion site (in this case, Online Career Support’s site)
  • Our Slack community (we have to create a channel and enable a mechanism to invite people in so we can talk with them one on one)
  • Our Facebook page (same thing as the Slack channel)
  • Our Instagram profile (we’re going to use it to distribute the links to every new video we upload to Youtube)

In here, monetization comes from Online Career Support, our conversion site which we have to make available on the description of every YouTube video we publish.

The premise is:

If our audience finds value in the video content we create and distribute for free on YouTube, they will have a positive reference of what to expect when they decide to purchase a 1-on-1 mentorship session with a coach on our conversion site.

Stage 2: Double Monetization

Assuming we have worked our ass out and we now have some sort of audience that regularly watches our videos and engages in conversation with us on our various community sites (Slack, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram), we’re now ready to graduate into double monetization.

Using the feedback from our community and the backlog of content we’re planning to do for future videos, we now can start designing a long course for one (or several) Online Learning Platforms. I’m talking about an actual class with a syllabus and chapters and additional resources and workbooks and homework and I think you get the idea. Some of the most popular and robust alternatives include LinkedIn Learning, Podia, Skillshare, Teachable, Udemy, just to name a few. It actually falls out of the scope of this post to go into the details of which one to pick, but you can take a look at this great post to get an idea of what to expect when publishing content on each.

Now, we need to come to grips with the fact that this stage configures itself as a major milestone in our business. Remember we said, “become an undisputed expert in your field” as one of the preconditions to make money wif ‘Free’? Well, becoming an instructor on an Online Learning Platform not only provides us with an additional revenue stream, but it also gives us tons of extra reputation currency that we can monetize on our conversion site. Hence the “tiers” on the sentence “and then charge people to access the different tiers of your knowledge”.

Tier one is 1-on-1 coaching on our conversion site, which is fully customized knowledge sharing.

Tier two is the long course that we introduced in Stage 2.

Wrapping Up

‘Free’ is so much more than a price point.

‘Free’ is a business enabling mechanism that gives feasibility to entire ecosystems of value generation that leverage the power of community building and reputation currency.

Smart businesses are embracing ‘Free’not only as a marketing tool, but also as the core of their value proposition, so what are you waiting for? Do yourself a favor and read Chris Anderson’s “FREE”.

You’ll thank yourself for it.

Thank you for reading and if you found this interesting, don’t hesitate to comment or reach out. I’ve found that a healthy discussion about a topic of our interest is the best way to digest the content.

I’m a Product Manager with a proclivity for web design and programming. I live in Japan and currently help a startup in AgTech and other in EdTech get off the ground. Happy to connect on LinkedIn or Instagram. And while you’re at it, here’s my website and YouTube channel as well.

Reading as a habit

Let’ fight back those fast reading”1-book-a-day” people on the internet! Enjoy a book? Read it and share about it and discuss. That’s how you make the most of it!

Daniel Cardona

Written by

Product Manager @ Rakuten Express, trying to disrupt transportation | Reading as a habit and putting it to practice |

Reading as a habit

Let’ fight back those fast reading”1-book-a-day” people on the internet! Enjoy a book? Read it and share about it and discuss. That’s how you make the most of it!

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