This guest post is by Michael Alexis.
They thought that I cared about making $300 or $500 a month. Honestly, I didn’t give a damn about that.
— Ramit Sethi, iwillteachyoutoberich.com
How many of your readers tell you that you have to monetize your blog? Do they call you crazy when you don’t? After three years of giving away free content, these are the exact comments blogger Ramit Sethi was getting from his readers. So, he surveyed his audience and from the results started developing systems and processes to monetize. After all, when you call your personal finance blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich (IWTYTBR), you have a lot to live up to.
Since then, Ramit has leveraged his blog’s popularity to display ads, run profitable courses, and launch a best-selling book. I invited Ramit to do this audio interview to find out exactly how he grew his blog, inspired the kind of readers that begged him to sell to them, and monetized in a way that creates lasting value.
Here, I wanted to explain the specific strategies Ramit used to monetize IWTYTBR, and spans from his earliest trials with display ads, to his recent success with video courses.
Don’t try to monetize too quickly
If it’s not going to cover my rent, then why do I care?
— Ramit Sethi, on why he doesn’t use display ads any more
Ramit suggests a wholesome approach to making money from blogging, and that means starting by truly understanding the world of monetization. Research the options, try out a few of them, and realize that your first three or four attempts are probably not going to be the level of success you want. Your options include ads, products, speaking, consulting or coaching, and they each have both direct and indirect costs.
For example, despite Ramit’s friends at Google saying all his traffic was going to waste, he didn’t want the negative perception that comes with display ads. When his friends persisted, Ramit decided to survey over 1000 readers and asked if they minded him testing some unobtrusive ads. With 81% of responses being yes, he experimented and found ads only brought in a few hundred dollars every month. So he stopped using them—it just wasn’t interesting money. In Ramit’s words, “If it’s not going to cover my rent, then why do I care?”
Offer value, then offer more value
I’ve always been a big fan of building value. Giving people 100 times before you even ask them for anything.
— Ramit Sethi, on building relationships with your readers
You know how some people are obsessed with SEO? Or getting the design of their subscription box just right? Or making their “buy now” button orange? Ramit’s obsession is providing so much value to his readers that they keep coming back for more. How do you create value with that kind of gravity? On a personal finance site, value means getting visitors to a post detailing step by step how to call their credit card company (with scripts and everything) that make their fees just melt away.
Ramit says when you show people how to get big results in a short amount of time, they become readers for life. How can you create that kind of value for your readers?
Don’t be afraid to sell
Honestly, that was one of my biggest fear moments in my entire blog career, because I was petrified of charging for content. I thought that people would not pay, and they would think I was selling out. I was legitimately afraid.
— Ramit Sethi, on how it felt to launch his first product
Maybe your first go at monetization will be a course, or an email subscription list, or affiliate links. Ramit did a collaborative ebook with a bunch of other bloggers, got it professionally designed, and called it Ramit’s Guide To Kicking A**. They sold it for $4.95. Sounds okay, right? A few vocal readers didn’t think so, and said things like “Ramit’s jumped the shark” and called him a sell out. Some of those readers even said they’d never come back to his site.
Ramit expected to sell 100 copies in the first year. What do you think happened? He sold over 1000. That’s when he realized that people are willing to pay for value, despite the few outliers complaining about everything not being free. Ramit thinks of this as his turning point, “I realized there will always be people that complain and freeload”. Focus on providing great value for your real target audience. The readers who are engaged, willing to invest in themselves, and actively looking for solutions.
Sell your readers what they want
When the economy tanked in late 2008, nobody cared about investing. All they wanted to read about was how to save money.
— Ramit Sethi, on why he created a subscription product for money saving tips
Sometimes the information your readers are looking for isn’t what you usually write. Be flexible. Knowing that the world had recession on the mind, Ramit created a 30-day plan to save $1000. On day two the Wall Street Journal and MSN started writing about and linking to his series. With a huge influx of traffic, it was time to monetize.
Ramit’s friend Erica Douglass told him, “just make a subscription program, put it in an email, and have people sign up for one tip a week”. He called it The Scrooge Strategy and sold it for $8 per month. Hundreds of people signed up. What could you be writing about that your audience will pay for?
Make your product so good that it pays for itself
We collected 50,000 data points. So we know precisely what is holding people back, what is really helping them earn money on the side, and we used some very sophisticated psychological techniques to build a product that’s a leader in its space.
— Ramit Sethi, on how he developed a course about earning more money
Should you price your ebook at $9.99 or $14.99. It doesn’t matter. Make your products extremely detailed, and don’t show them to anybody. Visitors to Ramit’s site can’t even buy a product until they go through an extensive funnel – over twenty five pages. During those pages readers learn to identify a freelancing opportunity and find paying clients. Ramit says “I try to get them to make the cost of the course back before they even see the sales page.”
Another key is being really clear about who you want and don’t want as a customer. That’s right—there can be customers you don’t want. On IWTYTR, those people are the ones whose first question is “how much does this cost?” because they are obsessed with cost and not value. There are even people that Ramit refuses to sell to. He tells potential buyers straight out that if he finds out they have credit card debt he will refund their money, and they won’t be allowed to buy anything else.
Ramit’s ideal customer? Someone who says “show me three others like me who used your techniques to earn more money on the side”. Who is your ideal customer? How can you make your product pay for itself?
Don’t sell out
If someone came to me and said, ‘here is a really sleazy way to make $25,000’, I would turn it down in a second. If someone came and said, ‘send one email and I will give you $10 million’, I’d think about it. Everyone’s got a number where it gets really difficult.
— Ramit Sethi, on tempting offers
When you run a popular personal finance blog, all kinds of people want to pitch your audience. People selling investment products. People selling income opportunities. Don’t sell out. With IWTYTBR, Ramit isn’t building something that will just make money today, but that will be of incredible value tomorrow, next year, and 10 years from now. When you’ve worked so hard to build a relationship with your readers, there is no price you can put on their trust. Don’t sell out. It’s not worth it.
As we finished the “how to make money” part of our interview, Ramit shared one last thought. He told me “it’s important to think really long term, and think about your values. Do the right thing with your readers. Offer incredible value to your readers, and you will make more money than you can ever imagine.”
Michael Alexis is the co-founder and producer of WriterViews, a daily video series where accomplished writers share their tips, strategies and stories. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @writerviews.