In this post, I’m going to show you the exact steps Ramit Sethi used to earn over $10 million.
Not long ago, I did a series of private interviews with Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich and Growth Lab. In these interviews, Ramit revealed his step by step processes for:
- Building a massive online audience
- Creating multiple $1 million+ product launches
I’ve included Ramit’s advice below…
But a heads-up: this post is long and extremely detailed. It took me 40+ hours to write. It will take you about 30 minutes to read. If you like, you can download a PDF of the the section on building an online audience or download a PDF of the section on building a profitable online business here.
I know you may be skeptical about the $10 million, so let’s start by looking at the facts.
Ramit Sethi and I Will Teach You To Be Rich
Ramit’s advice on personal finances and building profitable online businesses has been featured on CNN, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, FOX Business, PBS, The New York Times, CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, npr, REUTERS, and a major feature in Fortune Magazine.
His personal finance book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, is a New York Times bestseller, and a Wall Street Journal bestseller.
The IWTYTBR site hosts over 1,000,000 monthly readers, and has 800,000+ newsletter subscribers. Prices of IWTYTBR products range from $4.95 to $12,000. But most importantly, Ramit’s strategies get his readers results. See this post, where over 500 readers wrote 54,818 words that say so.
Now, let’s break down Ramit’s system for creating and earning immense value.
Table of Contents
- How to Attract Millions of Readers
- Developing Expertise
- Send Readers To That Other Blog
- Create The Right Kind Of Customer
- It’s Okay To Offend Someone
- How to Write Like Ramit
- Read A Lot And Take Notes
- Have An Editorial Calendar
- Post Your Best, Draft Everything Else
- Reflect And Improve
- Be The Best In The World
- The Importance of Small Steps Like Cutting Back on Lattes
- Build Relationships Through Comments
- Get Personal With an Email
- Pitch Your Post
- Make Your Guest Post Absolutely Incredible
- Don’t Try To Monetize Too Quickly
- Offer Value, Then Offer More Value
- Don’t Be Afraid To Sell
- Sell Your Readers What They Want
- Make Your Product So Good That It Pays For Itself
- Don’t Sell Out
- Do Research That Gets Inside Your Readers Head
- Examples of research insights for IWTYTBR
- Use surveys to uncover the words readers use
- Collect words from your email subscribers
- When to ignore your readers
- Don’t refer to comments on other blogs
- Collect all the testimonials you will ever need
- It’s your birthday: ask for feedback
- Target your customers closely
- Write a sales page that makes your fortune
- Naming your product
- Answer objections before your customers even have them
- Don’t waste time A/B testing: it’s about the offer
- Understand the taxonomy of pricing
- Write Super Specific Headlines
- Give Your Product An Unbeatable Guarantee
- What to do right after the customer buys
- Using ethical persuasion
How to Attract Millions of Readers
There are plenty of other sites for people that want to save on their laundry detergent. This is not one of them.
– Ramit Sethi
Okay, so you probably like getting traffic right? Of course, it’s nice to know that somebody, anybody, is reading our work. Well here’s a little secret I learned from Ramit: you’re better off turning traffic away. Ramit says turning people away isn’t just good, it’s essential, and he has the credibility to back that up.
Ramit’s personal finance blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich (IWTYTBR) welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every month. Some visitors stay and become regular readers, while others go after just a few minutes. Here’s the kicker, Ramit’s greatest pleasure is the traffic that leaves. Why? Because the people that stay are engaged, committed and ready to take action.
When I interviewed Ramit, I wanted to find out how he segments his audience. I wanted to find out why he makes fun of people. I wanted to find out how he manages the fine line between cocky and confident. After all, with a name like I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Ramit has a lot to live up too. Here’s what he had to say about it.
Change the world and make it a better place, and so the motivation for becoming an expert isn’t just so you’re an expert, it’s so you can have an impact on the world; and so that’s why I talk about becoming an expert. And the steps really aren’t that complicated. — BJ Fogg
Ramit Sethi is an expert on personal finance and online business. The proof? What better way to prove you are an expert then get people results on a mass scale?
Following are the key points of that conversation.
Step 1: The Beach Test
That really helped me get into the area. So I was an English Major, I was Pre-Med, I did all the chemistry, all the calculus, all the physics, but I wasn’t reading medical books on the beach. — BJ Fogg, on the genesis of expertise
Not surprisingly, the first step on your journey is picking an area of expertise. You may have heard of the book store test – where you imagine which section of books you naturally gravitate toward – as a way of determining your passion.
Well, let me introduce BJ Fogg’s beach test. It’s pretty simple: the last time you went to the beach with a book, what was it about? Or if you haven’t been in awhile, which one would you bring? If the book wasn’t related to your major in college or your current career – that’s okay!
Fogg realized he was spending his vacations and free time reading psychology – and eventually went on to become the father of Captology (Computers as Persuasive Technologies).
So, if you are a…
- water resource engineer that can’t get enough of creative writing
- economics major obsessed with shooting hoops
- marketing student hooked on World of Warcraft
- plumber who just loves linguistics
… then, yeah, you can change!
Action Step: Write down the subject(s) that you read about in your free time.
Step 2: Niche it down
Pick an area that’s very, very focused and an area that you love. The more focused the area the better. In fact, I tell my students, in 20 hours of study, you should know more about that thing… that focus point than anybody else in the world. That’s how focused it needs to be. — BJ Fogg, on getting focused.
So maybe you read (or do) yoga on the beach. That’s your area of passion and so you are going to become THE go-to expert on yoga.
But you need to start somewhere. That’s why Sethi and Fogg say to find a very specific focus. In their recording, Fogg shared this example for the future yoga guru:
- you live in California, so you are the California yoga expert
- you are involved with the Girl Scouts, so you are the California Girl Scouts yoga expert
- there are many Asian-American girls in the group, so you are the California Asian-American Girl Scouts yoga expert
Focused, right? Of course you want the bigger market, i.e, yoga expert for girls – but you need to start somewhere. By beginning with a micro-focus, you can develop your expertise step by step and reach your goal.
Action Step: Take your answer for the beach test and start niching it down. Combine the passion with other area’s of interest and find an intersection that appeals to you.
Step 3: Define your goals
You don’t have to be an expert that goes on CNN every week, you can be an expert in your own company. — Ramit Sethi, on your goals as an expert
Expertise is a pretty broad term. You don’t have to do it to get rich and famous. You might become an expert in kayaking so you can take your kids on a weekend trip, or a bee-guru so you can harvest your own honey – whatever your goal: define it.
Action Step: Define your goal. Write it down. Stick to it.
Step 4: Learn everything there is to know
“The way you get to be an expert, of course, is to read everything that’s ever been written or studied on it, and then you create new value. You do your own research. You learn things that nobody knows, and then you share it, sharing is vital. — Ramit Sethi, on the process of becoming an expert
When you’re starting out with your micro-focus, you should be able to thoroughly read the subject in about twenty hours. As you expand to a wider focus, additional study is needed. Make it your goal to ready everything ever written on the topic – and as you progress, you will naturally develop expertise.
Here’s an example. You may know that Ramit promotes several major products on his site: his book, Earn1K and a newer course on finding your dream job. How do you become an expert on finding dream jobs?
Ramit spent years dissecting interviews with his college classmates, collecting data, buying all the existing books/movies/courses/whatever and truly understanding the market. That’s the kind of dedication it takes to develop expertise on a subject.
Action Step: Make a list of resources related to your niche. Find them and start reading.
Step 5: Add your own value and share it
A step that people forget is they have to share the expertise with the world. I always believe that: what’s the point of becoming an expert if you don’t share it with other people.— Ramit Sethi, on a critical step on your path to becoming an expert
Of course becoming an expert doesn’t mean you can just read everything in existence and start regurgitating it. To be a true expert you need to offer unique insight.
Add value to the conversation.
And you can do that by sharing your insight with others. Try one of these methods: start a blog, write a book, offer a seminar, volunteer at a summer camp, speak at Toastmasters – anything – just get your word out there.
Action Step: Start making your knowledge public.
Final Thoughts on Becoming an Expert
I was at an affordable school, and I just wasn’t in any hurry, so seven years as an undergrad, two years as a Master’s, and then I did another Master’s in my PhD, so I did a lot of schooling, and slower than most. But ended up in an area that I was… in the kind of work I do, it’s fun and I’ll do it on vacation. — BJ Fogg, on his path to becoming an expert
Take your time. Developing expertise doesn’t happen overnight and the world will wait. Give yourself a solid foundation and grow it step by step.
Send Readers To That Other Blog
Some people would say “that’s so offensive, don’t you know not everyone makes $50,000 right out of college?” and I’d tell them to go to some other site.
– Ramit Sethi
IWTYTBR isn’t like other personal finance blogs, and Ramit knows it. That’s why when people ask him to post more about saving money he directs them to visit one of the many alternative frugality sites. Really? If your readers want you to write about something, shouldn’t you just do it? No. Ramit doesn’t write about frugality, because that’s not the type of reader he wants. Instead, his writing focuses on topics like the psychology of money, earning more money, and entrepreneurship so that he attracts people interested in these topics.
Key takeaway: You need to be interested in what you’re writing about, and so do your readers. By defining what that interest is and being consistent, you’ll develop a stronger following.
Create The Right Kind Of Customer
People that want to save money don’t necessarily want to spend money to save it.
But aren’t all visitors the same? Maybe if you’re using AdSense. Ramit doesn’t use display ads on his site, instead he monetizes through subscriptions, courses and his best selling book. There are some people that are ready to invest in these products, and others that aren’t. Here’s an example:
Frugal Fred visits IWTYTBR. He reads a couple of posts, and makes a comment about how he’d like to see more frugality tips: like saving money by skipping on lattes. Then he hears about Ramit’s Earn 1-k course, and his first thought is, “how much does this cost?”.
Compare that to Vicky Value who visits, reads a post about freelancing and gets her first gig that same day. She’s hooked, and when Vicky sees the Earn 1-K course her first question is, “can you show me others who have had success with your course?”
What’s the difference between Fred and Vicky? Fred is obsessed with cost, and Vicky is obsessed with value. Who would you rather have as a customer?
It’s Okay To Offend Someone
I want to attract the right people, while intentionally repelling the wrong people. I don’t want them, they don’t want me.
– Ramit Sethi
Have you ever held back from posting an article because you didn’t want to offend readers? Did you go back and edit a line or two? Is the post still sitting as a draft? Next time consider posting it.
At IWTYTBR, some mockery has become part of Ramit’s brand. For example, he often makes fun of people that are excessively frugal. He’s not malicious. It’s funny. And in a way he has a point: skipping lattes and restarting a budget for the fifth time doesn’t work.
Here’s something to keep in mind, Ramit says, “I’m not trying to offend unnecessarily, not at all, it’s not a shtick or anything. This is how I talk in real life. In fact, I tone it down for my blog.” By writing like you speak and like you think, your blog takes on your personality. This is something unique and remarkable, especially in a world full of “me-too” blogs. So, the next time you find yourself hesitating to press that publish button, take a deep breath and take the plunge.
While talking about audience segmentation, Ramit made a statement that really stuck with me. He said, “the number one thing that’s really important to building something of value, is that you’re not going to appeal to everyone. If you do, you’re probably really boring”.
Don’t be boring.
How to Write Like Ramit
Over time I’ve been able to build a system that helps me create a higher quality and quantity of material, with the same amount of time on any given day.
– Ramit Sethi
Ramit is obsessed with systems and processes. In college he used systems to win over $100,000 in scholarships, and he still uses systems when writing for IWTYTBR. So, I asked Ramit how he continuously optimizes his writing process to create better content. The following sections include these processes.
Read A Lot And Take Notes
I have over 10,000 bookmarks, and hundreds of different tags.
– Ramit Sethi
The first step in Ramit’s system is to read voraciously. Every day, he spends several hours browsing the internet for interesting and relevant content. Reading does three things: it keeps your idea muscle working, gives you perspective on what styles and topics resonate with people and provides a breadth of knowledge that you can draw on later.
Don’t be a passive reader.
When Ramit comes across an article he likes, or information that may be useful for a post, he adds it to Delicious. Do your future-self a favour: get really specific with your tags. Among Ramit’s top 10 tags are topics he writes about often: finance, psychology, and marketing, but there are 777 tags in total. By getting specific, you make it really easy to find content when you need it. Want to be even more efficient? Ramit saves the most important part in an annotation, so he can grab it without having to reread the entire article. If you follow these two tips, writing quality posts becomes a breeze because you always have quick access to three our four relevant articles.
Have An Editorial Calendar
I’ve gotten a little more rigorous and sophisticated, and I use an editorial calendar.
– Ramit Sethi
How do you decide what to write about? Do you think about topics while driving to work? Does your thesis come to you while watching TV? When Ramit started blogging, he would just wake up and decide what to write about. In eight years, his process has evolved and become more sophisticated. Now he uses an editorial calendar to stay organized. Setting up your own calendar is easy.
- Jot down the main categories or themes you write about, example: SEO, conversion rates, web design.
- Mark a weekly calendar with each theme, give more weight to topics that resonate well with readers.
- Stick to your plan! Just like making a financial or career plan, you reap much greater rewards by acting consistently.
Ramit says having a calendar keeps his posting regular, which works well with his readers. This regularity also allows his assistant to add testimonials and get the HTML just right. By having an editorial calendar, Ramit and his assistant can coordinate their efforts and gain the benefits of specialization. How would a calendar improve your workflow?
Post Your Best, Draft Everything Else
Every time I write something I want it to be timeless. I want someone to come back in 25 years and go, “oh yeah, that’s a really good point. That’s something interesting.”
– Ramit Sethi
When I asked Ramit whether he holds back from publishing certain posts, he told me he has over 100 drafts saved in WordPress. The number one reason is that these posts aren’t complete. Others just aren’t good. Ramit says he gets a lot of ideas from talking with people, and during a conversation he might find a friend’s ideas interesting and email himself a note to write about it. The problem isn’t coming up with ideas. The problem is making every post remarkable.
Ramit has written hundreds of posts for IWTYTBR, and says he may have posted about 20 articles that he’s not really proud of. He adds, “if it doesn’t have that quality of timelessness, or if it doesn’t have something interesting, I’m not really interested in posting it. I’d rather just post nothing”. You have a very thin thread of credibility with your readers, and Ramit warns that after just two or three bad posts you can lose them. Are you posting only your best work?
Reflect And Improve
When I started in 2004, I tried to make every post really, really good. They could have been better.
– Ramit Sethi
Ramit’s early posts were simple; he’d just lay out the facts. Over time his writing has become more nuanced, which means longer posts with a narrative element. By telling stories, readers can relate to your writing. By telling stories, readers can remember your writing. By telling stories, you give your readers something to tell their friends about. Tell stories!
Your writing may gradually improve on it’s own, but with effort you will see greater gains. Ramit uses his email newsletter as a laboratory for testing writing techniques. Since email marketing platforms allow you to segment your list, experimenting there is a low cost way to see what resonates with readers. Looking back on your past writing, how can you improve it?
Be The Best In The World
As Ramit and I ended the segment of our interview on his writing process, he said something that resonated so deeply with me that it’s changed how I think about writing. He said, “if you’re just going to start another me-too blog, what’s the point? My motto has always been, figure out a way to be the best in the world on that small piece of real estate you have on the internet. You don’t have to write long posts. Yours could be short, full of pictures, whatever it might be. Just try to be the best, and you’ll find you get disproportionate rewards”.
Writing Guest Posts that Generate Massive Traffic to Your Site
I just felt that I had material the world needed to hear.
– Ramit Sethi
In our interview, Ramit told me, “guest posts have been one of my best strategies for growing my blog,… and I continue to do guest posts today”. So, Ramit, how do you write blog posts that not only are going to be featured on other blogs but are also going to bring you traffic?
The Importance of Small Steps Like Cutting Back on Lattes
Just the other day, Ramit got an email from a guy wanting to guest post about cutting back on lattes. Sounds pretty typical for a personal finance blog, right? Not IWTYTBR, as Ramit points out, “anyone who has ever read my site knows that I ridicule people who cut back on lattes because it’s a totally pointless task”.
Spend a lot of time doing research. Ramit remembers when he launched his site, “there were about 12 big personal finance blogs… and I basically studied them carefully, I learned what each of them stood for”. Part of your research is also finding out whether a blog’s audience is totally different than yours. Ramit learned this from making the mistake of spending 15-20 hours writing posts for blogs that just seem similar, and says “you don’t want to be putting yourself in front of even a million people, who are just not like you”.
Once you’ve spent the time to learn about a site, its style, topics and voice, then you can contribute to them and make friends with the owners. Better yet, you will be able to write articles that resonate with readers, and drive more traffic to your site.
Build Relationships Through Comments
If you send Tim Ferriss an email, you’ll get this instant and automatic response: “Thank you for your email, sadly it will be deleted”. So, how do you get through to Tim? Ramit remembers being at a conference where Tim told someone: “Honestly the best way to get in touch with me is to leave a comment on my blog. I read every one of those”.
The Blog of Tim Ferriss gets 100+ comments on every post, so to get noticed you need to make comments that are on topic and add value to the conversation. Apply that same thoughtfulness when commenting on every blog you read, and you can build a rapport with the writer. When you eventually pitch your guest post topics, you won’t be just another anonymous person filling up their inbox.
Example: “Hey Michael, this is the best interview with Ramit I’ve ever seen. I noticed you asked a lot of questions about monetization. One suggestion I have is to always price your products with the magic-eight-ball test. Here’s an article about it”.
Get Personal With an Email
Ramit’s next step is to send this quick little email:
Flattery works, and with an email like this “you’ve acknowledged that they’re great, you’ve taken the time to read their stuff, and then you’ve also added value to them”. Ramit says the key to the relationship building power of this email is that “everyone’s really looking for someone who is looking out for them”. So, who are you looking out for?
Take Away: Helping busy people is an awfully good way to get to know them. The next time you can add value to one of your favorite writers, send them a quick email and let them know about it!
Pitch Your Post
Four steps in and we are finally ready to start talking guest posts. Ramit says a good way to follow up on your helpful emails is to send a note saying: “Curious if I might be able to send some guest posts your way. Would you be open to that?”. When the blogger says yes, Ramit has a draft email ready to fire off. There are four parts to this email:
- Why: I am writing to submit guest post ideas to Problogger.net.
- Who: I’m Michael, and I interview top bloggers for WriterViews. I’ve written for XYZ, here’s an example.
- What: Here are three bullet-pointed ideas I thought might be really interesting. Of course I’d be open to doing any other ideas if you have them.
- How: If this is cool, I will send over the entire post, fully written and ready to be dropped into WordPress.
Ramit says “a lot of people come to me with one idea, they’re married to this idea, and the idea either it’s just not good, or it’s not good for my audience. I would much rather they come with three ideas”. It is also important to pitch ideas before sending your full post. It’s “just like publishers don’t want you to write a book before you go to them, they want you to have a book proposal”.
Take Away: Once you’ve built a relationship with a blogger, pitch them three interesting ideas for their blog. By sending three ideas, the blogger will have a harder time turning you down.
Make Your Guest Post Absolutely Incredible
So, your favorite blogger wants you to write a guest post, congratulations! Ramit’s says “your number one goal is to make it absolutely incredible. Make it so good that the site owner is like ‘I love it. You can guest post here any time you want'”. Incredible posts take a ton of time, and Ramit spends “12 to 15 hours writing each guest post… they are more comprehensive than even most of the posts you will find on the host’s site”. Ramit adds that for your first guest post self-promotion is a secondary goal.
Want to write a guest post that is stellar? Ramit says if someone is writing a guest post for IWTYTBR, “when they link to a book they would actually do the research to include my Amazon affiliate code. What does that do? Number one, it shows me that they are thinking of me not themselves, and number two, it’s just that level of detail. That shows me that this person is probably going to be terrific to work with”. FYI, Ramit’s Amazon affiliate code is IWTYTBR-20.
Take Away: Write guest posts that are so good you get an open invitation to write again. This is an opportunity to build a relationship with not just the blogger, but also with their readers.
See Ramit’s guide to writing high traffic guest posts for more details.
Start Making Money From Your Site
They thought that I cared about making $300 or $500 a month. Honestly, I didn’t give a damn about that.
– Ramit Sethi
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 Ramit 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 blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich 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 his best selling book. I wanted to know how Ramit inspired the kind of readers that begged him to sell to them, and monetized in a way that creates lasting value. So, from his earliest trials with display ads to his recent success with video courses, here’s how he does it.
Don’t Try To Monetize Too Quickly
If it’s not going to cover my rent, then why do I care?
– Ramit Sethi
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
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
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 Ass. They sold it for $4.95. Sounds okay, right? A few vocal readers didn’t think so, and said things like “Ramit 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? Instead 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
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 Douglas 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
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 IWTYTBR, 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 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
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. People selling everything. 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 value 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”.
The following sections are about how to turn your popular website into a profitable online business.
How to Build a Profitable Online Business
1. Do research that gets inside your reader’s head
When you can truly deeply understand people, even in fact better than they understand themselves, then your sales skyrocket.—Ramit Sethi
There are two reasons getting inside a readers head will skyrocket your sales.
First, you will use the information to create a product or service that matches their wants and needs.
Second, you can use their exact language in your copywriting to reach them at a deeper level.
A big part of selling a product is being able to understand your reader’s barriers. What’s holding them back from their goals? In terms of money, people already know they need to manage and invest it. In terms of weight loss, people already know they need to lose weight and eat better. And in blogging, you know it’s offering immense value to your readers that will make you a problogger.
But they aren’t doing it. There is something much deeper than this goal, which is the barrier to achieving it. You’ll only discover that by doing enough research.
Maybe you’ll find out that in finance, nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “I really need to study a compound interest chart and start investing!” Nobody. They say, “this year I am going to try harder,” or “yeah, I should probably do that, but first I need to figure it out.”
When you know that language, you are inside your reader’s head.
Imagine you are a weight loss blogger. I want you to write a headline for a coaching session on losing weight. Go!
Wait. You don’t have enough information to write an effective headline. The best you can do is generic stuff like, “Lose 10 pounds in 10 days with our experienced coach!”
“Weight loss” is too broad a topic. Maybe your reader wants to lose fat from a specific area. Or perhaps they want to lose weight for a specific reason. A 50-year-old mother of two will have different reasons than a 28-year-old guy living in Manhattan.
So, you do some research and find out your target customer is a single woman who wants to lose weight from her thighs. You could write a killer headline pretty quick, right?
Soon, you’ll be able to truly understand your reader’s hopes, fears and dreams—and articulate them even better than they can. That’s the power of research.
Examples of research insights for IWTYTBR
During our interview, I asked Ramit to share some of the specific insights he has applied from his research. Here’s a big one.
A couple of years ago Ramit was doing a book tour, and he’d ask readers what they really want to learn. Everywhere he went, people were telling him they want to earn more money. That’s why he decided to create his flagship course, Earn 1k On The Side.
But just like “I want to lose weight” is too generic, so is “I want to earn more money.” Here’s what Ramit thought: “I’m so smart. I know my audience so well! They want to live a better lifestyle—fly to Vegas for the weekend and drop a couple grand.”
Then he did his research.
It turned out the real reason his readers wanted to earn more money was so they’d have the option of quitting their jobs. Yeah, just the option. This insight profoundly changed how Ramit created and positioned his course.
By the way, take a look at the signup page for Earn 1k. How much do you want to bet “I can’t freelance … I don’t even have an idea” was one of the objections Ramit was hearing over and over?
So, how do you go about doing research that gets you inside your reader’s head?
Use surveys to uncover the words readers use
The beautiful part is that because so few people are doing this, if you do even a small amount—you completely stand out. You don’t need 25,000 data points. That’s ridiculous. It took me years to be able to get to that. If you have 20 qualitative responses to one survey question, that’s pretty informative.—Ramit Sethi
Before launching Earn1k, Ramit collected 25,000 data points, and then over 50,000 for version 2.0. He calls this his “secret sauce,” which allows him to be the “wife who knows her husband better than he knows himself.” Most of that data came from surveys.
He says that a lot of people don’t use surveys at all, so they come up with useless advice like “keep a budget.” So if you survey even a little bit, you’ll be way ahead of the competition.
Ramit starts with really broad surveys, and narrows the questions down over time. He asks the questions four or five times until he really gets at the truth. Sometimes it takes Ramit four months and 6,000 answers to get at a single nugget of truth. You don’t need that many responses, though: even 20 qualitative responses to one survey question can be extremely informative.
Preparing your survey
- Sign up for a free or $20 account at Survey Monkey.
- Ask open-ended essay-style questions. You aren’t aiming for statistical validity here.
- Ask five questions. Keep them short and specific.
- Include examples of the kinds of answers you want: really long, detailed responses, not one-liners.
- The two most important questions are “What is it you’ve tried and failed at?” and “What do you want?”
Here’s an example of a question from one of Ramit’s surveys:
“In your own words, what skill would you use to earn more $ on the side? (For example, “I’m good at writing, but I just don’t know how to earn $1,000 using my writing skills…”)”
Download copies of Ramit’s surveys—and an audio case study that walks through an example step by step—here.
Never do this on your survey
I asked Ramit if there was anything we shouldn’t ask on a survey. Here’s what he said.
Don’t ask them what they would be willing to pay. They don’t know. They will tell you an untruthful answer, and it’s pointless to ask them. Okay. People don’t know how to do pricing, so they get lazy and they are like “hey, what would you pay for this special mastermind ebook bootcamp” and you get the worst answers in the world. By the way they are total lies. People aren’t intentionally lying, they just don’t actually know what they would pay for something.—Ramit Sethi
Another thing you shouldn’t do is try to sell. You are doing research. How do these two research questions make you feel?
- If I told you I had an eight-week course that was guaranteed to make you 1k a month on the side, would that interest you?
- Have you ever tried earning money on the side? What happened?
Aim for the second option. It’s like my mom always said: “treat people how you want to be treated.”
Getting people to take your survey
You write great material, you are adding value for your readers. They love you. They wake up in the morning and see you in their reader, or come to your website or see you on Twitter. They like you.—Ramit Sethi
The key to getting readers to take your surveys is that they have to like you.
If you don’t have a good relationship with your readers, then none of this stuff matters. You can stop reading this post and go read How To Build The Relationship With Your Readers instead.
But if your readers like you, you are set. You don’t need thousands of them either.
Step two is to reach out to your readers via email and social media, saying something like this: “Hey guys, I’m looking for some help here. I’m trying to figure out how I can help you best. Would you mind taking like 5 minutes to give me your thoughts?”
That’s enough. You are set to start getting in your readers’ heads via surveys. But there’s another way you can do it.
Collect words from your email subscribers
You can also use email to better understand your readers.
Here’s what Ramit does.
- He writes a big, detailed email with a story about something that happened to himself or to a friend.
- He finishes it with a call to action, “Hey, I’d love to hear your story. Please email me back, I read every one.”
- He responds to some of the replies. The recipients of those personal responses think, “Wow, this dude actually reads his emails and he cares”.
That last point is pretty good for relationship building, too. These are the little things you can do that will bring you disproportionate results.
When to ignore your readers
Sometimes you’ll get reader feedback that you disagree with. Over time, you will develop a filter for what to listen to and what to discard.
Here’s a way to start developing your filter. When you get a good response, try to find out a little more about the person who wrote it. If everyone who buys from you is a 26-year-old man living in the USA, then listen to them. Ignore the 72-year-old grandma who’s complaining your font size is too small.
If you haven’t made sales yet, focus on getting to know your target audience. As Ramit advised in a previous interview, The worst career advice in the world. It received over 200 long comments and was very well regarded. The article was syndicated by another site where the audience didn’t know him at all. On that site, the article got 24 comments, most of which were super-negative.
Your audience is unique and special—that’s why they are your audience.
Collect all the testimonials you will ever need
Another part of your research and development should involve collecting testimonials. We’ve all seen those generic testimonials that are totally contrived: “Oh wow, this is the best product I ever bought and it changed my life forever!”
You need real testimonials, and the best source is people that have bought your products. Send them an email that says, “Hey, hope things are going well. So happy to see how everyone is doing.” Then tell them to click the appropriate link: “If you accomplished x in 5 hours a week, click here. If you did y, but you were skeptical, click here.” This gives you testimonials for all those options.
Here’s another tip for getting rock-solid testimonials. As readers are going through you course, get them to fill out progress reports. That way, feedback is part of the funnel. Believe it or not, Ramit gets so much feedback this way he hired a guy whose sole job is to manage them.
And if you’re developing your first product, Ramit suggests two ways to get testimonials.
First, you may have some respondents you’ve never engaged with before. In your survey, include a comment like, “Hey, if you’ve used any of my free material for x/y/z, I’d love to hear your story. Please be specific”. All of a sudden you have 20 testimonials!
Another way is to offer free trials for your product. So, find five to ten friends or readers. Tell them “Guys, I’m planning to release this thing. It will be about $100. I’m looking for ten people to go through it and give me feedback. If you agree to fill out three surveys, you get this trial for free—and the final product as well.”
It’s your birthday: ask for feedback
During our interview, I asked Ramit about one other way I’ve seen him get people to leave feedback at IWTYTBR.
On his birthday this year, Ramit wrote a post and included this call to action at the bottom: “Nothing could be better than hearing how my material has helped you. Just leave a comment on this post. Or, upload a video to YouTube and tag it “iwillteachyoutoberich.”
“The more specific, the better Share a story. Tell us how IWT helped you hit a goal, pay off debt, earn more, get a better job — whatever. Provide specific, concrete #’s. Tell me what it meant to you. It would make my day.”
You know how many responses he got? Over 500. Check the post out at It’s my birthday today. Will you do me a favor?
The comments are people saying things like “I’m earning $70k more than I was before”, “I was able to quit my job and move across the country” and “I was earning $10 an hour, now I’m earning $40”.
These comments weren’t destined to be testimonials, but here’s one way Ramit uses them. When he makes a post about how he’s able to charge 100x what others do, and why his students are delighted to pay it, he includes the link. It proves that he’s not just providing information, but is also delivering actual results.
Target your customers closely
We saw earlier that Ramit targets his customers closely. He targets people who take action. He says it’s better to have a small core audience that takes action, respects what you have to say and gets results from your material, than a massive audience that doesn’t open your emails.
Here is a way to filter them out. Don’t sell via a squeeze page. Ramit sends subscribers through weeks of free material before giving them a chance to buy. If people complain, he unsubscribes them.
Then he tells the subscribers who can and can’t buy the course. For example, people with credit card debt are prohibited from buying his courses. If he finds out they bought it, he will ban them for life. Why? For one, Ramit doesn’t believe it’s right to take that money when he knows it will end up costing the customer twice as much. Second: it sends a message to the other readers.
Write a sales page that makes your fortune
We’ve had pages that convert at 68.7%, which in the online world is unheard of.—Ramit Sethi
Ramit spends months (or even years) doing research and development. He spends a lot of time crafting his product and offer, and he has converted as high as 68.7%. In our industry the average is 2-4%.
Realistically, you won’t get conversions that high. But could you improve your sales? Of course. If you don’t you are leaving a ton of value on the table—not just money—but value that users aren’t receiving because you aren’t messaging correctly.
Your blog doesn’t need as big a following as IWTYTBR to implement this. The basic patterns Ramit uses are modeled by people in businesses much larger and smaller. To succeed, you need to deeply understand your readers, then spend time on stuff that matters, and avoid what doesn’t.
Naming your product
Naming your product is some of the most important language on your sales page. If you want inspiration, check out Chris Guillebeau’s work at The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris names products like The Travel Hacking Cartel, Empire Building Kit and A Brief Guide To World Domination.
Let’s look more closely at how Ramit names his products. Why did he call his earning money course Earn 1k on the side? Because $1000 is an achievable figure. A lot of students go on to earn much more. But Ramit says if you tell them they will earn $10,000 they go “I don’t believe you, I’m not the kind of person”. Earning an extra $1,000 a month is life changing for most people. And it’s “on the side” because to become richer, people tend to think that they have to quit their job and start the next Google. The vast majority will not and cannot. But anyone can do five to ten hours a week on the side.
For Ramit’s new Find Your Dream Job course the naming process was similar. Even though the long-term goal is to help people find their dream career, he is using their language. If you are sitting around with your buddies, what you actually say is “I wish I could find a new…” What?
And “dream job” is what people are thinking.
Answer objections before customers even have them
Remember all those testimonials you collected? Now it is time to use them, and they are very strategic.
Imagine you find in your research that people don’t believe they have enough time to implement your advice. Great. Now you go to customers who are really happy and say “Hey, I’m looking for anyone who thought they wouldn’t have time to complete this program, but now you’ve achieved x results.”
Add that testimonial to your sales page, and when the reader’s there, they’ll find an answer to their objection before they even had it.
Don’t waste your time A/B testing: it’s about the offer
So few of us are even spending time on language. We are spending time on things that give us a shiny pop. You know you might be able to measure an increase in conversion by 1.6%. But when you do can things like this you can increase every other conceivable measure. Revenues up 500%. Engagement up 750%. Because you are actually speaking to people in the language that works with them, and not at them.—Ramit Sethi
Ramit really emphasizes how you should spend your time on the things that matter. “My point is, focus on the stuff that matters and is going to make the biggest most valuable gain for you… don’t get caught up in this microtesting world. It’s sexy. It’s fun. We see a 1.3% increase in open rates because we tweaked our subject lines. Or, you can get a 500% increase in revenue because you came up with a better offer,” he says.
Why all the hate? Two reasons. One is that even if you change the color of your button and improve opt-ins by 24%, it doesn’t mean you are going to convert any more sales. Second, even if you do increase the conversions to opt-in, they will eventually regress to the mean. You know who actually gets results from testing button color? Amazon.com.
Ramit says one area to test that can skyrocket your sales is your offers. Do your research and find out what people want. Do they want a standalone ebook? Maybe, and they’ll be happy to pay $97 for it. Or if someone doesn’t want a full video course, maybe they do want transcripts at a lower price. Others want accountability, like live calls every week or even a one-on-one call. Ramit warns that people might say they want an ebook but they may really need someone to check in.
One way to craft your offers is to study people you admire in both the online and offline worlds. What do they offer and how do they offer it?
McDonald’s created the kids’ meal. That’s an offer. They packaged up certain things in a certain way. Offered bonuses. Changed pricing. And the kids’ meal is one of the most successful packages ever created in the history of business.
When I interviewed Neil Patel of Quicksprout he told me about a $199 traffic generation system he offered. He also gave buyers a 30-minute phone call, and after hundreds of sales, is buried in scheduled calls. Ramit says Neil learned two things: that he will never do it again, and that people want his time. That’s very valuable.
Understand the taxonomy of pricing
There is a taxonomy of pricing that is well understood in the information product world.
It goes like this:
- blog post: no one will pay for
- PDF/ebook: $27-$97
- audio/video course: $497-$997
- must have video or live component: $997+
- in person, one-on-one: the most
If you are putting out a book, and all the others in the store sell for $10 or $15, it’s going to be awfully difficult to roll in and get $200 for yours. Stick to the taxonomy.
Write super-specific headlines
There are plenty of great posts on writing headlines, so I won’t dwell on it here. Check out Copyblogger’s How to Write Headlines That Work instead.
I will note that Ramit says headlines matter profoundly. So spend 50% of your time on them and get super-specific. Doing this, you might decrease conversions, but the people that come through are worth so much more—not just in terms of money, but also in terms of the value you offer them.
Then you want to start thinking about your guarantee.
Give your product an unbeatable guarantee
Offering a money-back guarantee forces you to step up your game, because if your product isn’t good, you don’t get food on the table. I think all of us in this market need that, because there have been so many sleazy people that released substandard products. So I’d like all those people to go out of business, and I’d like the best people, the ones who say “look, my product is so good you try the entire thing and if you don’t like it I’ll send all your money back, even the credit card processing fees.” I want more people like that, because that is a product with integrity versus a fly by night product.—Ramit Sethi.
A big barrier for business people who want to offer guarantees is that they are afraid people will rip them off. Guess what? Some people probably will. But the ability to get a refund will drive more revenue and expose you to many more great people than the few bad apples acting illegitimately.
People expect the opportunity to get 100% of their money back. If your product is good enough, why not let people try the whole thing and get their money back? You have nothing to worry about.
But you should monitor your percentages. On a $97 product you can expect a return rate of about 10%. If you are getting 40% of sales returned, your product is not good. If you are getting 2% returned, that’s a problem too. Why? You probably aren’t selling to enough people. Generally the higher the price, the more refunds are requested.
Ramit offered some tips on creating an unbeatable guarantee. First, the more powerful you can make your guarantee, the better. In The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss talks about offering a 110% money back guarantee.
Second, the best guarantees are very specific. So don’t just write, “if you are not satisfied for any reason, we’ll give your money back.” Instead try something like, “if you don’t get three paying clients within 60 days, then write me and I’ll send all your money back.”
Third, take as much risk as possible onto yourself. That means offering refunds greater than 100%, paying for shipping, whatever—as much as is economically feasible.
Neil Patel says you can reduce refunds by sending people free stuff you didn’t tell them about during the sale. Just before the refund period is up, send them an email that says, “Hey, next week I’ll be sending you a document that breaks all this down.” Or, “I’ve got a special bonus for you that I’ll be sending along next week,” for example.
So you’ve created a sales page that converts like crazy. But what do you do after your reader buys?
What to do right after the customer buys
When they buy, think through their experience. What are they feeling? Nervous. Don’t want to have gotten ripped off. Don’t want to have been taken advantage of. Don’t want their friends to think they bought a weird internet course.—Ramit Sethi
If you told your friends you bought a $2000 video course, they would probably say you got scammed. Normal people don’t buy stuff online, right?
So your newly acquired purchaser is nervous. And after you ease those nerves, they’ll be excited. They can’t wait. Where do they start?
Welcome your customers with a video—Ramit recorded his first one with his MacBook. Tell them something like, “You made a great decision. This is what you are going to get. If you ever have problems, contact us at…” Then give them the material.
It’s important to curate the material your customers see. If you ask people do they want all the information up front, they say “yes.” But if you give it all at once they will be overwhelmed and more likely to cancel or ask for a refund. So tell them, “Here’s why I’m not giving you everything—trust me, and take these action steps.”
I recently watched a Mixergy Master Class called Grow Your Recurring Revenue. It was about how to keep customers that signup for your membership site or courses.
Noah Fleming led the course and said there are three essential Cs: Character, Content, and Community.
In the case of IWTYTBR, the character is Ramit. He’s the personality that readers buy from. The content is what you offer—Noah also emphasized not dumping it all on new buyers all at once.
Community is the elements of your product that let buyers interact with each other. Noah says this is a great way to keep people around, and suggested the idea of forming small groups and giving them tasks: like creating a product together, or developing a landing page.
Ramit tried community by including a forum for Earn1K buyers. He took it down when he found people were spending more time on that than doing work. People still ask him for a forum. It’s what people want—but not what they need.
Using ethical persuasion
Life is not just about more conversions. You want to be classy. You want to be respectful. Yeah, you could make more money, but that’s not the goal—the goal is to help them make an informed decision.—Ramit Sethi
Why is ethical persuasion so important? Because now that you know Ramit’s techniques and frameworks for sales, you’d find it just as easy to implement them on the dark side. There are many ways you can use persuasion nefariously, like to convince people to buy things they don’t really need. Ramit says he knows of hucksters who find out how much money their leads have available on their credit cards, then charge that.
Here’s Ramit’s framework for knowing who to sell to.
rational (information + motivation) = decision?
- Rational requires that the potential buyer is in a sound state of mind and able to make their decision. Someone in desperate financial circumstances might not be.
- Information assumes the potential buyer has all the information in the world about Ramit’s product.
- And motivation means it is something they want.
If those three criteria are met, and the lead would buy the product, then Ramit has the privilege to persuade them to buy.
For example, take someone who’s earning $60,000, has $25,000 in the bank and works 9-5 but really wants to earn more. The person has the time, energy, and no credit card debt. If they took the time to go through Ramit’s program, and they trust him, would they buy it? If the answer’s “yes,” it’s a sale.
If someone makes $30,000, has $20,000 in debt, and is looking for a magic bullet, Ramit won’t let the person make the decision to buy.
So, I asked Ramit about those guys who run sites like www.SuperInstantMoneyMakingMachine.com. You know the kind—the ones where they tell you about their life on the beach, drinking margaritas, and chasing women. And there’s a picture of the guy in front of a jet. There is always a jet shot.
Ramit says if that guy has a product that would genuinely change a customer’s life, and gives them an out in the form of a full refund period, then it’s ethical to aggressively pursue the sale. He warns that many pages of long copy, flashing icons, the jet shot, and highlights are scams. Those guys do it because it works, and there are deep psychological reasons for it.
Some folks want to build website traffic and sell them products vs. Ramit helped hundreds of thousands of people improve their personal finances and thousands more build profitable online businesses. In some ways, Ramit’s success is a side effect of that focus. Think more about the value you want to provide to the world, and less about the value you want it to provide to you.
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