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Everything I Know

This article started it’s life as a “30 things in 30 years” post.

But then two things happened…

  1. The number of things I want to share ballooned past 30; and
  2. I turned 31

So instead this is a running list of “everything I know”; fundamental lessons that have proven true for me. I’ve written it specifically for growth minded people that would prefer to learn from my mistakes then stumble through years of barriers on their own. As my friend Carolynn put it, “I wish I’d gotten this when I turned 21. Would have saved me some headaches later.”

I’ve categorized the items for easier reading and I ruthlessly cut out fluff — it’s still 3521 words. I recommend you read this article carefully, like you would read a book.

Quick about me, so you know where this is coming from. A few points are philosophy that grew from a thousand tiny experiences: traveling, relationships, etc. Others are based on some major life events, most of which happened in my 20s:

  • Becoming a lawyer in Canada. I worked for a big firm and after had my own practice;
  • I’m a part owner of four restaurants in China. I speak Chinese and spend a lot of time there;
  • I’ve been lucky to be part of some very fast growing businesses, including Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Pavlok, Museum Hack and others;
  • I work as a freelance marketing/growth consultant. I’m able to work from anywhere and on my own schedule, which provides opportunity for new experiences;
  • I’m on a mission to end child slavery.

Here’s the list:

Finances

  1. There is a compounding effect of missed opportunities. If two years ago you missed an opportunity to earn an extra $200K per year, that’s fine, you will have more opportunities to earn that. Even after 5 years, total $1 million, it’s easy to think “I can earn that”, but what you will never catch up with is the compounding effect of missed opportunities. That $200,000 re-invested every year yields another amount significant enough to be re-invested, and so on. Einstein is quoted as saying that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe, and he was almost right. Actually it is the compounding effect of missed opportunities.
  2. Pay back every dollar you borrow from family and friends. Anything less is stealing. If you are past due, your own spending should be absolute bare minimum until you’ve paid back 100%. This is specifically about borrowing from individuals and not institutions which have their own rules.
  3. When you have a bad experience, it’s okay to ask for a refund. Refunds are a great and IMO under used aspect of customer service. It doesn’t have to be explicitly offered. If Chipotle serves you burnt food, ask for a refund. If the guy in front of you talks through the whole movie, ask for a refund.
  4. You don’t need a cellphone. You don’t need a car. You don’t need to buy a house. You can choose to have these things, but they are a luxury not a necessity. There are some exceptions where it’s actually a necessity, e.g., a doctor without a cellphone would be irresponsible. If you “need” a car to get to work, evaluate whether you could change jobs, live closer or take public transit.
  5. The quantity of things you actually need to live well fit in a small backpack.
  6. Nobody else’s first priority is to make you rich. Even if you are employee of the year. Even if you are the biggest investor in a project. They will always have another priority that comes first. Exception: moms, but even then your health, happiness and safety probably come first.
  7. Your ego is making you poor.
  8. Every dollar you waste is a dollar that won’t go to helping people. I work with the assumption that after modest life expenses all excess funds will go to helping people. That means that money that is truly wasted, e.g., paying for a subscription I don’t use, is actually money that I can’t use to help people.
  9. You can negotiate way more than you do. Even though negotiating is somewhat taboo in North America, it’s very common in other parts of the world. You can negotiate your salary, rent, buying a computer from a small shop, buying a bed from craigslist, etc.
  10. Its really hard to get rich off an income. Because expenses and taxes can use up a lot of that income. But income can also contribute to buying assets, and a mix of the two can make you rich.
  11. Often 90% of top quality for 30% of the price is enough. I like to buy high quality and durable items when it’s a good investment, i.e., it saves money in the long run or there are benefits like productivity or health boosts. Often the highest quality item’s price is inflated because of the brand name, so I skip that. I’d rather buy an $80 shirt that is 9/10 than a $200 shirt that is 10/10.
  12. Other people’s money can be your money. “It takes money to make money” said everyone ever. And sometimes it’s true, but it doesn’t have to be your money. You can borrow funds or take investment. Famous people that use other people’s money: Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett & Steve Jobs.
  13. The basics of personal finance are Earn, Save, Grow. Which is a very simple way of thinking about money. If you increase your earnings and decrease your spending than you can invest more to grow your wealth.
  14. It’s better to make aggressive, risky investments while you are young. Even if it doesn’t work out, you have time to recover.
  15. Frugality is a short term wealth building strategy. But after that allow some budget for convenience and comfort.
  16. Don’t put all your money eggs in one basket. Unless you control that basket. You have definitely heard this before, but it’s tempting to ignore when you see a great opportunity. Ignore your gut and follow this like a strict rule.
  17. If you can’t find a great promo code try “subway.” In NYC a tonne of internet companies advertise on the trains, many of them use the code “subway” to save $200, get 20% off, receive a free xyz, etc. If you don’t have another code, try “subway”.
  18. You don’t have to fear debt. But you should use it strategically. Debt with a positive ROI is a way to build wealth faster.

Career

  1. You don’t need special skills to freelance. When I started freelancing I was a better than average writer, but that’s it. 40% is the relationship, 40% is being reliable, hardworking, etc., 10% is price, and 10% is skill — which you can learn as you go.
  2. Provide more value than you expect to receive in return. My first goal with every client is to help them earn back the entire cost of my fees. After that, I aim to deliver 10x to 100x in ROI.
  3. You can earn $300 per hour. It’s not that hard and you don’t have to be a lawyer. Just provide a valuable service and do it better than everyone else. 90% of people doing anything aren’t doing it that well, so if you work your way into the 10% you can charge premium rates for your time.
  4. $300 per hour won’t make you happy. And neither will $600. I’ve charged both, but been way happier with less.
  5. Relationships get your foot in the door and results get you high pay. All of my best clients came from months or even years of building relationships. But if you want ongoing work at premium rates, you still have to produce exceptional results.
  6. You don’t charge your opportunity cost, you charge your clients opportunity cost. Maybe you are an awesome graphic designer and charge $250 per hour to design logos. If a client wants you to do lower value work, like some Instagram images, you probably can’t charge your logo rate. It’s easy to think, “well my time is worth $250 per hour so every client should pay that”, but it’s wrong. You can charge the same as an equally qualified competitor for that specific task, plus a small buffer for your client not having to go out and find that competitor.
  7. When they say “do a good job and there will be more” you are actually getting a shit deal. This person is not willing to pay market rate for your work. Often these clients are a pain to work with and get payment from. Instead, find clients that say, “there is potential for us to do a lot together, but first I want to make sure we’re a great fit.” I’ve done free work and small projects to land great clients, but I will never contract with a client that promises that the good work will come later.
  8. To increase sales, assume people are well intentioned but lazy. Almost nobody wants to spend extra time and effort making a decision about you. Make it really easy for them and you will make more sales.
  9. People that say revenue doesn’t matter, only profit, are mistaken. I’ve heard a lot of people say something like “I could spend a million dollars on ads and earn a million in revenue”, but actually you probably couldn’t. Revenue does matter. It’s also possible to have a business with $1 million revenue and zero profit because all the excess was reinvested in the business with an aim of earning $2 million next year.
  10. It’s hard to hire good people. Because even the good people aren’t operating at 100% all the time. You may be getting them during a slump.
  11. Bartering is an easy way to start a business. Other people want what you have but aren’t in a good position to pay for it. You want what other people have but aren’t in a good position to pay for it. You can trade.

Productivity & Growth

  1. You will finish everything you start. If you are starting a new business, your day one version of “finishing” may be a million dollar exit, but the true finish is whenever you stop working on it. I’ve benefited from every project I worked on. If you think of a project as 100 units of time and 100 units of value, they are never distributed evenly. You may get 90% of the value in the first 50% of project time.
  2. Your biggest breaks will come from serendipity. Your infinitely complex life exists in an infinitely complex world. Patterns can give you some certainty about the future, and careful planning + hustle = a powerful force, but your biggest opportunities for change and growth will come from serendipity.
  3. Your biggest breaks will come after doing massive work upfront.
  4. You will never regret getting better at reading and writing. Some day you will probably regret binge watching shows. But if you spend that time reading and writing, you can accelerate every area of your life.
  5. One hour of focus can get a lot done. Between refreshing email and staring at your phone, it’s easy to get nothing done all day. One hour of uninterrupted effort can get a lot done. Really even 20 minutes.
  6. 20 minutes after a movie starts, pause it and decide if you want to keep watching. Sometimes I finish movies, shows, books, etc. because of a need for completion. But if you are consuming something that isn’t great then it’s actually a waste of time.
  7. Front load your learning. This is a way to learn complex skills. Start by doing an intensive dive into a subject and then give yourself permission to learn the rest over time. Examples: you can learn the basics of building a website in a couple of weeks, and then get incrementally better over time. Same with languages, cooking, sports and other skills.
  8. Start by optimizing for the 80% not the 1%.

Health, Wellness & Fitness

  1. If you eat healthy always, and walk around sometimes, you probably won’t be worried about your weight. Cook with whole foods at home. Don’t eat refined sugar. Only drink water. Walk 30 minutes per day.
  2. Your body can feel healthy. I’ve had twelve years of neck pain. At one point I had a parasite and lost 50 pounds. When you have chronic pain or illness it’s easy to think that it’s normal, but it’s not. The worse you feel, the more you need to make healing your first priority.
  3. Every health advice from everyone, everywhere is pretty much wrong. Everyone’s body is different. But what I do know is that it’s all interconnected. If you want robust health, you have to optimize your sleep, nutrition, exercise, rest, stress, detox, etc. and when you do your mind will be sharper, you will have way more energy, your senses will heighten.
  4. Exercising for 3 minutes per day is better than nothing. My go-to exercise is pushups. You can do pushups anywhere and IMO it’s a pretty comprehensive body exercise. Try to do as many as you can in 3 minutes, with a goal of 100 pushups.
  5. When you are lonely you are vulnerable. This means you are an easier target for manipulative people, so you REALLY need to spend time with good friends and trust their insights.
  6. You can never have too many house plants. If you are reading this then you don’t have enough house plants. Your next step should be to buy an Areca Palm, a Rubber Tree and several Sansevieria plants. Healthy Lungs, healthy life.
  7. Many soaps, shampoos, deodorants and other things you put on your body are terrible for you. In most cases there is a natural alternative that is actually more effective. Also, many of these things are optional. Water and scrubbing go a long way.

General Philosophy

  1. The secret of an empty sink is to only have two of everything. Two cups, two plates, two sets of chopsticks. If there isn’t enough to fill your sink then your sink will never be full. This is not just about sinks.
  2. Start now, because as soon as you stop thinking “I’m too young”, you will start thinking “I’m too old”. There are variations of this, e.g., “I need more experience to start that project” becomes “I have too much experience to start that project.” This is the Goldilocks Equation.
  3. In two generations you will be a memory, in three generations you will be a concept. Your grandchildren will watch you die and then you will only exist in their memories. Their children will know you existed, but won’t even have the brain-chemical reactions to conjure the real you.
  4. Getting married and having your own kids is optional. There are many different family dynamics, including common law partnerships and adoption. This is not saying that marriage or kids are bad, just that they are one of the options.
  5. Traffic isn’t a real problem and neither is slow internet. Many of the things people stress about are actually just inconveniences, with a broad exception for emergencies.
  6. Most truths have an equal and opposite truth. Do good things come to those who wait or does the early bird get the worm? Are you better safe than sorry, or should you ask forgiveness instead of permission? If you rely on rote platitudes to make decisions then sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t.
  7. We invented money, politics and international borders.
  8. That one proverb is bullshit. There is a quote that goes something like this, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” But actually you are already behind. The second best time was the day after 20 years ago. And all that is only if you accept as an absolute truth that earlier equals better — because sometimes timing is a huge factor.
  9. Everything will end. In a trillion years, all the stars will blink out and everything we know will be over.
  10. Sometimes whatever you do, you will regret it. But there are a range of successful outcomes. You don’t always have to optimize for the perfect result, but instead pursue a path that can bring one of those results.
  11. Mountains look high until you reach the top. This is a metaphor for goals. If you set a big ambitious goal and achieve it then it won’t look so big at all.
  12. From the stars view, everything we do looks so small. Humanity is still a footnote in cosmic existence.
  13. Pretty much everything is “we will see”. Things masquerading as good fortune can become worse, and bad fortune can get better. In most cases the most realistic way to think about the future is “we will see”.
  14. It’s your fault. Not always, but if you accept that it is then you can just move on. Sometimes it’s actually someone else’s fault. but its not, its your fault.
  15. The Great Wall of China wasn’t for keeping out people — it was for keeping out horses. Raiders without their mounts aren’t terribly effective. The point: sometimes there are indirect means of achieving a result.
  16. Once something is entrenched, it may not matter if it’s wrong. We calculate the current year based on the birth of Christ, but even amongst people that believe this happened it’s generally accepted as earlier than what we call year zero. It doesn’t matter, it’s still 2016.
  17. The best ideas can take time. India invented “zero” and it took the West 2000 years to adopt its use.
  18. People have wanted to quit working to become nomads ever since they quit nomadding to become workers.

Interacting With Other Humans

  1. The #1 Rule of the Internet is don’t engage with people that have more time than you. You will know they have more time than you because they will lie, write in all caps, threaten to sue you, etc.
  2. Every person you pass in the street has a life as infinitely complex as yours. It’s important to remember this when you interact with them.
  3. Ask for advice not decisions. It’s tempting to ask other people to make decisions for you, but they don’t have all the information. The best your network can do is add perspective, so ask for that and make your own decisions. Exception: you can pay an expert to make decisions for you. Bonus if they are insured.
  4. It’s okay to be an introvert. In North America there is a bias towards being an extrovert, but actually one isn’t better than the other.
  5. You don’t have to identify as an extrovert OR as an introvert. The reality is there are more distinct options and many people are really close to the middle.
  6. How people influence you is not evenly distributed. You may know that wisdom and research say you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. But even one person can have a major influence on you, both good and bad.
  7. Pursue groups that are mathematically impossible. That average of 5 people thing is usually held out by gurus as a tactic for improving your life. But averages exist because some numbers are higher than the average and some numbers are lower. Instead, pursue groups that are mathematically impossible, i.e., every member brings the average up.
  8. Podcasts are a great way to get to know people. You can host one or be a guest. An hour of conversation is a strong foundation to an ongoing relationship.
  9. Answer “How are you?” with at least two sentences. If you just respond “good, and you?” you move nothing forward. Instead answer with some context, “I’m good, but kind of jet lagged. I’m experimenting with a new sleep schedule to…” This gives your conversation partner way more to latch onto for a follow up question.
  10. The phrase, “I’m not racist, but…” is always followed by something racist. There is no threshold. If you say, think or do racist shit, you are racist.
  11. Wish the people you care about happy birthday one day early. Facebook has ruined birthday wishes by making them a commodity. One way to show friends you care is to remember their birthday and send them a real message the day before, aiming for connection not completion.
  12. You will say dumb things and make mistakes. But if you generally do good by people, that’s what they will remember.
  13. If someone takes advantage of everyone around them, eventually they will get to you.
  14. Get a penpal. It’s great practice writing and gives you new perspective on the world. I remember having penpals in grade school, and then when I was ~18 I started writing letters to some that I met on a Geocities site. Most of those connections faded over time, but one is still a good friend.

Finished, sort of. This is a living document and I plan to add it to it later. If you’d like to see the updated version press ctrl+d or enter your email below.

Thank you to Julia, Marc & Carolynn for reviewing drafts of this post.

10 Life Lessons From the Guy That Lost $100 Million on Facebook

noah-kagan-guestpost-blog

This article originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Navid Moazzez.

Noah Kagan is an entrepreneurial machine.

  • his “deals on products” site, AppSumo hit 500,000 customers in less than 18 months;
  • his company Kickflip Inc. was the #1 largest Facebook App developer;
  • his payment company Gambit reached $150,000/day in revenue with clients like Zynga, Tagged, Gaia Online, and Disney;
  • his new business, SumoMe, free tools to grow your website traffic, is already reaching 965,720,950 visitors – damn!;
  • and yes, he worked at Intel, was #4 at Mint, and #30 at Facebook (where he got fired and missed out on $100 million+).

This article is about the man behind the machine and how he operates day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year to get results like these.

These are 10 Life Lessons From the Guy That Lost $100 Million on Facebook

#1: Use Positive Triggers to Conquer Will Power

Willpower is a limited resource.

That means if you rely on willpower to go to the gym, eat healthier, get more work done, whatever, it actually becomes more difficult throughout the day.

Instead, Noah uses positive triggers — tiny little enablers that facilitate massive action.

Here are some examples:

  • Put your running shoes in the hallway at night, so in the morning you can’t get around them and will go running.
  • Don’t bring a power cord to the coffee shop, so your time is limited and you have to work instead of procrastinating.
  • Hang a pull-up bar on your closet door so you do pull-ups each time you get dressed.

These positive triggers work because they make it easier to take action than to not take action.

#2: Build the Business You Actually Want

Noah’s AppSumo did $5 million in sales in the second year.

He had 20 employees and a philosophy of “if it makes money, we will sell it”, even if the products were junk.

Then his friend Ramit Sethi joked, “AppSumo reminds me of Ross, you guys have a lot of shit, and once in a while there is something good at the bottom of the bin.”

Ouch. Noah realized “Your business is a reflection of you”. He was embarrassed — he didn’t want to be thought of as Ross — so he fired excess employees and revamped the entire business. Revenues were set back an entire year but he was happy with his business again.

#3 Find the Anomalies of Success

“We evolved a lot, we got sidetracked, I got greedy. But the original premise was always to promote cool stuff… and a lot of it to entrepreneurs and startups.” — Noah Kagan

When Noah started AppSumo he sold bundles of software. It took months to get a bundle together, and when he promoted it he would make maybe $5,000 in sales.

Then someone said, “why don’t you sell one at a time?” Noah says it wasn’t obvious before that. But when he looked at the numbers, most people were buying on the first day of promotion. So they broke up the bundles and did more frequent launches. The result? More sales. Also, Noah found that people didn’t want to buy a whole bundle just to get the one app they really wanted. Again, sales went up.

Now Noah recommends people look for Anomalies of Success by asking “what’s the part that is actually working?”

Here’s an example: Twitter is taking Facebook status updates and making it the whole thing.

Whatever your project, get laser focussed on the parts that are working and put other efforts aside.

#4: Pursue Exactly 1 Data Point

When you launch a project, it’s easy to get lost in data. How many visitors? How many subscribers? How many sales? What happens if we A/B test a different title?

Noah has a different approach. “At AppSumo, we only care about 1 data point. Same at Facebook. Ask, ‘What is the #1 data point that matters for the business? What’s the objective? For OkDork it’s ‘I want to get 50,000 email subscribers.’” Anything that helps get subscribers Noah does and everything else he doesn’t do.

Here are some more examples:

AppSumo — 500,000 email addresses
Monthly1K — 3300 customers (“that’s our whole dashboard”)
SumoMe — reach 1 billion people

Again, what is the #1 data point that matters for your business?

#5: Do Absolutely Nothing for 1 Hour

Ok, so Noah and I may be the only dudes here that hang out in float rooms.

A float room is a tub of salt water inside a chamber that blocks all outside sound and light. You effortlessly float on the water because it is so heavily saturated with salt. 60 minutes in a float tank reduces muscle tension and is perfect for meditation.

I usually follow it with a steam…

But many of us never take the time to relax. Instead we grind forward, settling for “time spent” instead of meaningful progress. If you spend 3 hours working on your project but aren’t mentally/physically fit, then you are at best moving slowly (and maybe making mistakes that will equate to negative-progress in the long run).

Instead, give yourself 1 hour to reboot. It doesn’t have to be a weird floating thing, you can go for a massage, acupuncture, sauna, whatever. Experiment. By doing nothing for 1 hour, you will actually be more productive with the rest of your time.

P.S: Don’t substitute exercise for this relaxation time. Throughout university I ran 50km per week — I know it’s great for clearing the head, decreasing stress, etc., but just focus on relaxing in a quiet environment.

#6: Processes Not Resolutions

This one is particularly relevant with New Year’s coming up fast. Most people set resolutions/goals like this, “I’m going to lose 20lbs” or “make $1 million this year”. They fail by February.

Instead, Noah gets more specific with his goals and breaks them down into specific to-dos (“processes”) that will get him there. One of his goals for 2014 was, “Weigh less than 160 lbs and have more defined arms.” This allows for fat loss/muscle gain and the do list includes long distance bike rides and hand stands.

Another one was “look for a life partner”, not FIND one, just look — with specific processes for getting away from the office and into more social situations.

Hitting your target goals is fun, but building processes means you focus on the in-between time where the real work gets done.

#7: Build a Launch Pad

Noah was employee #4 at Mint.com, where he built a pre-launch list of 20,000 people interested in the product (click here to learn how).

They had users from day 1 and Mint was eventually acquired for $170 million.

Build a launch pad.

#8: Ask the Question You Actually Want an Answer to

Sometimes we ask questions out of habit or because we haven’t really thought it through.

“How are you?”

Pretty much everyone answers this the same way, fine, good, not bad, whatever.

BTW: In my mind, I convert “how are you?” to “what have you been up to lately?”, so the answer becomes, “I’m good, I had a new client today with an interesting project about XYZ, and I’ve been working on ABC, and I finally booked my trip to China.” Now the person you are chatting with has dozens of easy follow up questions.

But back to Noah.

Noah realized that just by tweaking his questions, he gets much better responses.

Compare, “What do you want to eat?” with “How do you feel about eating at that Japanese place for lunch.”

Of course the second one is easier to answer, and here’s why: “People are already going through 1000s of decisions everyday. What’s for breakfast, what am I going to wear today, why isn’t the heater working, etc.”

If you can ask questions that reduce thinking then you’ll get better responses to what you ask.

I love it.

#9: Focus on the “Why”

“People focus on tactics and looking for the answer, but not on the why, which is where they can really improve themselves.” — Noah Kagan

This one is a thread I’ve noticed between high performing people — instead of looking for a quick fix tactic that solves a problem short term, they try to understand the deeper reasoning of why it is happening.

It reminds me of a short story I read awhile back.

One day a man observes his wife cutting the wings off a chicken, laying it on a pan, and putting it in the oven.

So he asks her, “why do you cut the wings off?”

And his wife replies, “well, that’s the way my mother does it.”

The man asks his wife’s mother, and it’s the same thing.

So he asks his wife’s grandmother, and again “that’s the way my mother does it.”

Finally, he asks the great grandmother, “why do you cut the wings off a chicken before you roast it?”

And she replies, “I don’t know what the heck they are doing, but my old pot is too small for the whole chicken.”

The point is, you can save yourself time and effort by understanding the why.

#10: Choose Yourself (stop doing things that don’t make you happy)

A few months back Noah was a guest on the James Altucher Show (#43, the one with the “explicit” tag)

Here’s a quote from the interview on prioritizing yourself:

I’ve noticed myself doing things for others that don’t make me happy. I was supposed to go to Bali in June for a workcation with one of my closest friends. I was noticing I was trying to add a trip to Thailand after Bali. And I was doing it because I was like ‘Bali is going to be okay, but it will make the full experience fun if I go to Thailand.’ So my therapist asked me ‘do you really want to go to Bali?’ And I didn’t. I didn’t want to travel that long, I didn’t want to work from there. I know it’s Bali, that’s great for some people, but I like to work from home and the office… So I told my friend, I love you and I always want to support you, but if you aren’t going to be doing this event in Bali then I’m not going to go. And that was really powerful. Holy shit, I’m choosing myself, choosing what I really want to do.

We all face distractions. It’s totally okay to go on vacation, or out for dinner with a friend. But if you aren’t enjoying the time (or working toward an outcome that overrides that), then skip it.

100+ More Lessons from Noah Kagan

Want more Noah? He published a Virgin Guide of his best content (stretching back years). I recommend “Make it Easy to Say Yes” — which is a philosophy/strategy on making busy people WANT to help you.

How to Learn Useful Skills & Get High Paying Clients So You Can Travel The World

Karen Woodin Rodriguez interviewed me to learn more about freelancing. We ended up doing a deep dive into a tonne of topics. This video interview includes, step-by-step guides on:

  • learning ANY complex skill, with specific examples: Chinese, programming, cooking, etc.
  • getting your first freelance clients, pricing, etc.
  • how to get paid for what you are already doing for free
  • connecting w/ anyone (including the story of how I connected w/ Ramit)
  • finding your direction in life, seeing 5 years into the future, overcoming insecurities
  • getting better grades by doing less work
  • making lots of money, savings lots of money, and living abroad for 1+ year at a time

Getting Your First 10,000 Email Subscribers [Social Triggers Master Guide]

Social-Triggers-Derek-Halpern

This article originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Navid Moazzez.

This is not a blog post. It is a 5016 word Master Guide that will show you step by step how to get your first 10,000 email subscribers.

It is based on:

  • proven strategies from Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers;
  • proprietary techniques developed by Derek and his network of experts; and
  • academic research from the world’s top scholars

In case you are skeptical about the whole 10,000 subscribers thing, let’s start with the credentials…

Derek Halpern & Social Triggers

Derek’s business advice has been featured on Fast Company, Huffington Post, CreativeLIVE, and most recently in a 52 minute 27 second video series on entrepreneur.com.

His blog, Social Triggers, is ranked 6,474 on Alexa worldwide, 2,294 in the US, and in the top 8,000 most visited sites in 8+ other countries. It is read by over 300,000 people each month, has 125,000 subscribers, and 33,556 Twitter followers. Derek also has a raving fan base on Facebook, with his average post getting hundreds of shares, likes, and comments. In a blog post, a Forbes writer called him an “expert on consumer psychology.”

The Social Trigger’s podcast recently hit #1 in the business section on iTunes (ahead of Motley Fool, Oprah, Ted Talks, Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal).

Derek’s premium training course, Blog That Converts, has 1000+ students. The most impressive part? He started Social Triggers just 2.5 years ago.

Before founding ST, Derek built up his expertise bringing millions of visitors to a variety of websites – one site attracted more than 67 million visits. He is also the former marketing guy for DIYthemes Thesis.

Okay, dude is an expert, let’s take a closer look at his master strategies for getting tonnes of email subscribers.

Table of Contents: Derek Halpern’s Guide to Getting 10,000 Email Subscribers

    • The Foundation
      • a surprisingly simple formula for getting 10,000 subscribers
      • the critical truth about expertise
      • 6 ways to position yourself as an expert
      • specific examples of what to do (and what not to do!)
    • The Preparation
      • optimization tips to turn you into a list-building powerhouse
      • the 7 spots you should have a sign-up form
      • “resource pages” & 8 experts that use them
    • The Tactics
      • 10 list boosting tactics from top experts: Derek, Ramit Sethi, Neil Patel, Jim Wang, etc.
    • The Promotion
      • do you know this 80/20 rule?
      • 3 detailed techniques for creating traffic “landslides”
      • 23 tactics from 7 well-known experts
  • The Conclusion

Foundation: a simple formula for getting 10,000 subscribers

The formula for getting 10,000 subscribers is:

[conversion rate] x [# of visitors] = 10,000

That’s it!

The first variable, conversion rate is the # of subscribers to your blog per 100 visitors to your site.

# of visitors is obvious.

Here are a couple of examples that show how powerful it is to increase both of these numbers…

Example 1: Beginner Bob gets 50 visitors per day, and has a 1% conversion rate:

Currently he gets 50 * 0.01 = 0.5 subscribers per day (1 every 2 days, 15 per month, 183 per year)

If he just focuses on traffic generation and doubles his visitors, this becomes 100 * 0.01 = 1 subscriber per day (1 per day, 30 per month, 365 per year)

If he doubles his traffic and optimizes his website for conversions (double), this becomes 100 * 0.02 = 2 subscribers per day (60 per month, 730 per year)

These numbers aren’t super impressive, but they are actually high for beginners — most blogs get less than 1,000 visitors per month.

Here’s an example for someone already performing a little better.

Example 2: Intermediate Ian’s blog gets 500 visitors per day, and has a 1% conversion rate:

Currently he gets 500 * 0.01 = 5 subscribers per day (150 per month, 1825 per year)

When he doubles traffic, 1000 * 0.01 = 10 subscribers per day (300 per month, 3,650 per year)

And when he optimizes for conversions, 1000, * 0.02 = 20 per day (600 per month, 7,300 per year)

Doable!

And you can even calculate how long it will take to reach 10,000 — approx. 1.5 years.

The first half of this article focuses on doubling your conversion rate, and the second half on increasing visitors through hard-hitting promotion strategies.

Let’s get started…

Positioning yourself as an expert

Before you become a highly-paid expert, you must first BE an expert.
— Derek Halpern, on the simple truth of expertise

Scammy internet gurus love to shout out random tactics for upping your subscription numbers.

But the truth is that it doesn’t matter how many subscribers you get if you can’t keep them.

So it’s not the button text, the arrows, or even the popup (though, these might help).

Instead there is one strategy that is the foundation for 99% of successful blogs — positioning yourself as an expert (this is where Derek excels).

Expertise is so important because of what Derek calls the content credibility crisis. Basically, now that anyone can offer up their opinion online, readers need an easy mechanism for filtering the junk from the good stuff. You can provide that mechanism by positioning yourself as an expert.

Here are 6 ways to position yourself as an expert:

  1. “You have to be at least somewhat good at what you do.” Derek says this kind of tongue-in-cheek. But his point is that expertise is about both actual and perceived knowledge. A common mental barrier is “I’m not expert enough”, but if you niche down you may actually be the leading authority.
  2. Demonstrate proof. Instead of just giving your opinion or sharing someone else’s, provide proof of a statement’s truth. You can use academic research, your own tests (even if they aren’t perfect), personal case studies, etc.
  3. Quote experts. Similar to #2, Derek recommends quoting experts. “Make sure you’re not quoting them specifically, but instead something they worked on and the results they had.”
  4. Stop rounding your numbers. Getting really specific with your numbers shows people they are real — and that you care enough to provide them.
  5. Become omnipresent. Search out websites where you can post content, like video or slideshows, and upload relevant material. When readers Google you they will see you are everywhere.
  6. Actually be an expert. Derek says, “There’s one shortcut to becoming an expert that works. Read books, and lots of ‘em. When you consume, and digest the teachings from a book, you’re essentially spending 3-6 hours learning information that took MONTHS to compile. And in some cases, YEARS to experience.”

re: demonstrating proof, here is a simple example. Instead of saying, “write articles that resonate with your customers”, try something like this:

Write articles that resonate with your customers. One way to do that is to think about their problems and solve them. For example, [insert name] here developed a strategy for [insert company name]. Here’s what they did, here’s why it worked, and here’s how you can apply that same strategy to your business.

Note: the expanded version isn’t just “more complete”. It actually provides specific examples, and backs those examples into an action plan.

Expertise: Summing it up

Establishing expertise isn’t an overnight thing, and it isn’t simply tactical. It takes time and a whole lot of effort. But it’s supposed to be hard! Once you establish your expertise, you separate yourself from the legions of bloggers who struggle to get ANYONE to read their stuff.

But in addition to the “expert foundation” that will draw people to you, you also need to get your website ready to maximize email sign-ups. Learn Derek’s optimization techniques in the next section.

Preparation: Optimizing your website for more email sign-ups

This section includes the results of 5 statistical experiments Derek did on website optimization.

Quick tip: If you don’t know how to modify a website, hire someone. Investing $25 in your business shouldn’t be a roadblock to success. You can get good help on Craigslist or Fiverr.

Optimizer #1: Add a Halpern Header

Derek has a test he calls the Header Removal Test. If you removed your logo/headline/slogan/etc., would anybody know what your site is about?

Since most of us would fail this test, he suggests a simple solution — the Halpern Header.

The above subscription box is one of Derek’s most powerful tools for absorbing subscribers. There are a few reasons it works:

  • The sign-up is front-row center — you can’t miss it!
  • If the copy is compelling, people will sign up right away. So you capture swaths of readers that might not otherwise stick around.
  • Your value proposition is obvious. “This is what you will get here.”

There are 4 key elements to a successful Halpern Header. These are:

  1. First line hook. Derek’s is “Do You Know What Makes People “Tick” Online? By asking a question you engage the visitor and put them in “seek for the answer mode”.
  2. List of results your readers want and you can provide. Subscribers, sales, shares, lose weight, get more dates, etc.
  3. Credibility indicators. Use social proof like # of subscribers, or a “testimonial” from a well known authority in your niche. Social proof is one of the most powerful methods of persuasion.
  4. Distinctive image. This is for branding and guiding the visitor’s eyesight.

I scoured the web for a few more examples to inspire you (P.S: It’s one of those things — now that you know about these headers, you are going to start seeing them EVERYWHERE).

This one is from Gregory Ciotti’s Sparring Mind:

From Deacon Bradley, over at LifeStoked:

And Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA:

Optimizer #2: 6 More High Converting Places to Include Sign-up Forms

After you’ve installed your Halpern Header, there are 6 other places to include signup forms.

Note: Not all of these will be high converting for you. Instead, use a testing approach to find what works for your niche and audience. Also, the goal here is converting visitors to email subscribers. If you have another goal, e.g., getting people to download an app, you may choose to use these high profile locations for that instead.

  • Spot One: Put a signup form at the very top of your sidebar. Above your most popular content/ads/etc.
  • Spot Two: Below single posts. Once a visitor finishes reading your article, they should be feeling pretty great about your content. This is the perfect time to give them the option to opt-in. Derek: “The people who get to the bottom of your post may not convert a ton of people, but the people it did convert, would be high quality.”
  • Spot Three: In the footer. Similar to #2. The assumption is that someone that bothered to make it to the bottom of your site cares enough to want more. “
  • Spot Four: Put a sign-up box on your about page. The “About” page is actually a pretty high traffic place — and by including an email opt-in you can convert some of this traffic. Derek provides a template to maximize your about page conversions.
  • Spot Five: In a little bar at the top of your site. Use a tool like HelloBar.
  • Spot Six: Use a lightbox popup. Warning from Derek: test this one carefully — in some industries it will actually kill your conversions by annoying visitors. But it can work. Tip: hire a programmer to code you the popup instead of using a standard plugin. And don’t tell readers to sign up for a “newsletter”, instead promise them specific things like “an article that shows you how to save $250 per year on 6 common household items.”

re: popups, YOU might think they are spammy, but like Derek says, “you are not your audience, so it doesn’t matter if you care for them. It matters if your audience does.”

And once you have sign-up boxes in all the right places, there are a few other ways to optimize your site.

Optimizer #3: Apply the “Search Box Rule”

Search boxes are something that can either help or hurt your blog.

If the reader finds what they are looking for — it helps.

If they don’t find what they want — it hurts.

So whether or not you should use a search box depends on the type of content you provide.

Derek has a simple rule:

If you have less than 200 articles, don’t use a search box.

After 200+, test.

Once you have a database of that size, chances are better that the searcher will find what they are looking for.

BTW: one of the common complaints about this rule is, “I read X on your site and now I can’t find it”. Google it! I’m pretty sure your WordPress search plugin is going to be inferior to Google anyways.

Optimizer #4: Keep readers around with your best font

It’s fun to get creative with fonts, but “fun” isn’t the goal — readers (and subscribers) are.

There is one overwhelming characteristic of what makes a font “the best”.

READABILITY

So use a simple font, and try size 14 or 16.

Optimizer #5: Build resource pages

Once a new visitor finishes the first article, they are looking for what to read next.

A natural place might be your blog feed — which will show your most recent work.

In a perfect world your recent work would also be your best, but that’s not always the case.

By building a “resource page”, you can hijack a visitors attention and show them your best stuff.

A good resource page will:

  • focus on a specific topic/solution, e.g, a collection of your articles about overcoming the psychological barriers to becoming a vegetarian
  • include your best content, and provide narrative between each link (i.e., don’t just slam out a long list of headlines, by providing 1 or 2 sentence introductions you can tell people why they are worth reading.
  • be featured clearly in header or sidebar navigation (tip: try using a simple link, a banner can look like an ad/product for sale, and be ignored)
  • include an email sign-up form :- )

Here are some great examples from around the web:

  • Derek has a proven template for resource pages, intro + narrative, check out List Building 101.
  • On James Clear’s Passive Panda, he uses sales copy to sell FREE resources. Like this one on getting started Freelancing.
  • Marie Forleo uses a very similar format as Derek. e.g. How to Overcome Fear and Self Doubt. Also, notice that many of these bloggers remove navigation, etc. from the resource pages — this focuses readers on the content and gives them one logical next step, “subscribe”.

But there is more to life than just website optimization. I wanted to include something really special in this article. So instead of just a pile of examples that anyone can find on Google — I reached out to 10 experts for their “secret tactics” on list building. Check out the tips below…

10 Tactics for increasing email subscribers

Derek Halpern
Social Triggers
When you’re building your audience you have to stop looking at blogs that
write about the same thing as you do.You need to start looking at “What types of people do I want to read my
site?”Then GO GET THOSE PEOPLE.Going to related blogs is lazy. Figure out exactly who’s reading your blog
and find more people JUST LIKE THAT.
Pamela Wilson
Big Brand System
My most-successful strategy for growing my list so far has been to offer a targeted monthly webinar.

Brown Bag Webinars are educational events that happen on the same date and at the same time each month. They’re free, and I promote them in blog posts the week before and the day of the event; in my weekly email newsletter; and on social media.

These events cost me many hours of preparation, but are well worth it because they attract hundreds of new subscribers and build my relationship with existing ones.

Ramit Sethi
I Will Teach You To Be Rich
Instead of a generic give away, like a PDF book, you can earn a massive increase in conversions by matching the opt-in to your article. Here are some examples: when I write about The Pay Certainty Technique (a two-step framework for finding a profitable business idea), I’ll give away a 10 minute video on how to price your offering. Pricing is the logical next step. Or if a case study focuses on how my student earned 5 clients in 30 days with a tested email script, I give away that script. By getting inside your reader’s head you can 2x, 5x or even 10x conversions.
Neil Patel
Quick Sprout
What most people don’t know is that Quick Sprout actually costs me $250,000+ per year to run. If you want your blog to be a business, you should invest in it like a business. You can hire a consultant for $200 or $300. If it doubles your conversions that’s a pretty good deal!
Andrew Warner
Mixergy
I ask new users who come to my homepage to give me their email addresses or they can’t get access to anything. Yes, some people think I’m a jerk. I’m fine with that. I don’t want people who hit my site and run. I want to have a chance to build a long term relationship with readers or I don’t want them at all. Right now 1 in 5 people give me their email addresses, 20%. I can lose the other 80% if I have a chance to build a real relationship with the other 20% and introduce them to my work over time.
Jim Wang
Microblogger
Guest posting is a great way to get more publicity but instead of just linking back to your homepage, link back to a squeeze page with a specific call to action (“subscribe to my newsletter”). Then, do all the usual things you’d do to entice them to sign up but tailor the squeeze page to that audience like a big headline “Welcome [Sitename] Readers.” Think of the guest post as an advertisement and the page as your landing page.
Michael Alexis
My Homepage
I use a two step approach to building my email list. Step 1: I write extraordinarily detailed articles (like this one you are reading), so readers expect quality from me. Step 2: My homepage is super simple: just a promise of more great content, testimonials from well known people about my work, and exactly one call to action — the only options are sign up or leave. This page converts around 43%.
Gregory Ciotti
Help Scout
Obviously, the fundamentals of getting more email subscribers is to have a newsletter worth signing up for, and that starts with differentiating yourself and providing a valuable, consistent experience over email. As for specific strategies, the most effective tactic I’ve ever used is simply collaboration. Whenever I’ve contributed to a multiple person project, the return has always been exceptional. Here’s an example: I contributed research and a script to two animators for a collaborative video on The Science of Productivity. It currently sits as 1.2+ million views on YouTube, and brought in 7,000 new email subscribers for my blog Sparring Mind in the first 30 days, aided by features on Lifehacker, Brain Pickings, and even the Discovery Channel blog. I’ve pursued similar strategies for my startup with co-launches, distributed content, and collaborative newsletter projects. It seems in blogging, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” or in other words, attaching yourself to exceptional group projects brings in multiple audiences, instead of simply relying on your own. The key is finding the right people who already have your ideal audience, and crafting a situation that is clearly beneficial to them as well as you. For the video mentioned above, I told the animators that I would heavily promote the video, let them keep all ad revenue from YouTube, and allow them to retain full rights to the video on their channel. I basically offered to shoulder a huge amount of work for them, in return for an exceptionally animated video, which had returns far higher than a guest post, because of it’s creative nature (how many bloggers do you know creating animated videos?).
Selena Soo
S2 Groupe
In my guest post for Ramit Sethi called “How to Get the Attention of Your Favorite Expert,” I share stories about specific business experts that I know the people on his list love (i.e. Derek Halpern, Lewis Howes, Marie Forleo). Then in my opt-in page, I included testimonials about me from those same individuals. This helped establish my credibility to Ramit’s audience and led to higher conversions. An additional benefit was that some of these experts promoted the article to their audiences, in part because they were featured in it.
Laura Roeder
LKR Social Media
Bonus Tip: How to convert your subscribers to readers
Your email can have the most amazing, compelling sales copy but who cares if no one bothers to open it? You need a compelling subject line that will cut through the inbox noise. We write 10+ versions of a single subject line, focusing on intrigue, psychology and a whole lot of emotion.What’s the mathematical reason we spend so much time on subject lines? It’s simple: your email open rate determines the number of people who will click through to your offering. A small bump in your email rate can easily net thousands of dollars. If you’re getting a 3% conversion rate on a $2,000 product, an increase from 20% open rate to 25% open rate would raise your sales by $7,500 on a 50,000 person list.The formula is simple: write better subject lines, improve your open rates, make more money.

 

Now onward to promotion…

Promotion: Getting visitors to your blog in the first place!

It’s on you to create [your best content], leverage proven psychological principles to make sure it spreads, and then PROMOTE THE HECK OUT OF IT.
-– Derek Halpern, on the 80/20 rule for building a blog audience

Promotion is the second part of the 10,000 subscriber equation — increasing the # of visitors to your blog.

And the key is to remember Derek’s 80/20 rule, i.e., you should spend just 20% of your efforts on content creation, and the other 80% on promotion. This is the secret of Social Trigger’s rocket fueled growth.

Here is Derek’s logic:

  • A lot of content (even great content) hardly gets read. If you write something that is useful for 10 people or 100 people, then chances are it is useful for 10,000 or even 1 million others.
  • It’s a better use of your time/effort to find more people to read your existing work instead of just creating more.

The 80/20 rule is important to keep in mind, but the question becomes “how do I spend that 80% of my time?”

Specific promotional techniques from Derek (and other experts) is up next.

Technique #1: Talk about your best material everywhere you go

I know for me I have this psychological quirk that goes something like this: “I’ve already said this before, so I need to say something new…”, but it’s not true — what matters is that the info is new for your audience.

Derek says if you’ve created something that resonates with a lot of people, keep talking about it!

Check this out:

  • Derek has spoken at 27 conferences since 2011 — he always mentions his 80/20 rule and the Drafting Technique.
  • Comedians like Chris Rock, Louis C.K., and Russell Peters reuse their best jokes — OF COURSE THEY DO!

Technique #2: The Drafting Technique

One of Derek’s most powerful promotion strategies is the Drafting Technique. It’s a 4-step process to get major press (local, national, even international) without connections or a PR Firm.

Drafting is about hopping into your competitor’s slipstream. If they get featured somewhere, you try to get featured there too.
— Derek Halpern, summing up the Drafting Technique

Getting major media attention can be difficult, but with the Drafting Technique you only target outlets that have already covered your competitor/theme. This means you are contributing to an existing conversation instead of trying to start a new one.

Here are the 4 steps:

Step 1: Make a list of competitors in your space. These can be direct competitors (e.g., another massage therapist in town), or indirect competitors (the acupuncture guy that offers an alternative to massage). A list of 10 or 15 is enough.

Step 2: Use Google for some preliminary research. If you write link:www.derekhalpern.com you can see all the websites that link to it. Do the same for each competitor on your list.

Step 3: Find the contact info for the blogger/reporter/journalist who wrote the article. Insider tip: in larger media outlets it might be two different people who generate leads/actually do the writing.

Step 4: Reach out to that person with a “value focused pitch” — an incentive to actually cover you. With media outlets this means giving them a story/angle that they haven’t had before. To find your angle, you can analyze the information provided by your competitor, identify any gaps or errors, and do a quick bullet list to send over.

re: the email, this is Derek’s template:

Hey Name,

I saw you wrote about [insert topic]. Well, I’ve got some [insert unique story angle] that answers the concerns you raised in your original article. Here’s the article:

[insert link to article here].

You’re busy but you’ll find this as the perfect answer to [insert the concern they raised].

– Derek

Do this multiple times and track your results. Once you start landing coverage it gives you traffic spikes and momentum to keep going.

Drafting Tip #1: “Doesn’t matter who’s first. The trick is to find someone who was already covered, and draft behind them.” Remember, the fact that your competitor was already covered isn’t a barrier — it’s an enabler.

Drafting Tip #2: “With Drafting, you don’t have to write about what’s hot right now. Instead, you write about what reporters or bloggers have a history of writing about.” Instead of getting lost in the fast pace of the daily news, you can find more stable topics and contribute to the conversation.

Technique #3: Use Sound Bites

A sound bite is a short message (10 words or less) that includes a useful message.

Because it’s easy to remember and quote — bloggers and journalists quote (and link) to these all the time.

And the results can be pretty impressive. In one test, Derek used a sound bite to generate over 300 shares and 9,000 hits to a single post.

Examples:

  • “size 14 is the new size 12” — Derek Halpern
  • “Write Epic Shit” — Corbett Barr
  • “If you try to sound smart, you’ll look stupid.” — Marcus Sheridan
  • “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” — Marshall Goldsmith
  • “I’ll be back.” — Schwarzenegger
  • “The public responds to precedents and superlatives.” — Elon Musk
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” — JFK
  • “To be, or not to be?” — Hamlet/Shakespeare
  • “Keep calm and carry on.” — the British government
  • “I have a dream.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are 3 ways you can craft sound bites:

  1. Contrast. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By juxtaposing two different things you make your sound bite easy to remember.
  2. Rule of 3. “Veni, vidi, vici.” Our brain is hardwired to remember three items. “The first item creates tension, the second builds it up, and the third releases it.”
  3. Violate expectations. “Size 14 is the new size 12.” When you contradict a deeply held belief, “size 12 is the right font”, you give something to think about. Thinking = remembering.

23 more ways to promote your blog

A couple years back I interviewed a bunch of top bloggers about how they built their audience.

Here’s what they said:

Derek Halpern | Social Triggers

  1. do things nobody else is doing
  2. give your readers a result with every post
  3. take inspiration from real life events, e.g., Derek saw crowds of people gathering around SEO site reviews at a conference so he created videos doing SEO site reviews of popular sites

Neil Patel | Quicksprout

  1. help everybody, all the time, with everything
  2. make friends with power users on services like DIGG
  3. write when others are sleeping (on the plane, etc.)
  4. tell your story, be authentic

Ana Hoffman | Traffic Generation Cafe

  1. tweet in blocks of 3 or 4 to make your content “stand out” in twitter streams (I’ve experimented with this on other services, it works)
  2. lead people from Twitter to your site with bait (e.g., Ana has a page on her site where people can advertise their own websites for free)
  3. work to become an authority blogger

Ramit Sethi |I Will Teach You To Be Rich

  1. be persistent and use strategic guest posts (target an audience, make friends with the host blogger, offer incredible value)
  2. get coverage from major media (e.g., Ramit has written for the NYT, and was featured in Forbes)
  3. have a writing system & schedule
  4. focus on growth, not making money

David Cain | Raptitude

  1. overcome procrastination by getting on a writing schedule that fits your natural rhythm
  2. mix in intentionally viral content with your regular stuff
  3. write super-clickable headlines
  4. have a blogging group be your starter community (help share/promote/comment on each others work)

Marcus Sheridan | The Sales Lion

  1. don’t be afraid to be controversial, call people out, etc., but be authentic and respectful
  2. master inbound marketing, e.g., write a post answering the questions your readers have even if they seem really basic, write posts comparing things

Danny Iny | Firepole Marketing

  1. develop a system for writing quality content in less time
  2. write 80+ guest posts in a year
  3. target a “micro-network” of related sites with similar audience, so it seems like you are everywhere

Conclusion: Summing it all up

Building a big email list has two factors: driving traffic to your website and converting visitors into subscribers.

[conversion rate] x [# of visitors] = 10,000

When you use Derek’s 80/20 guide, you focus your time and energies on promotion. Use the Drafting Technique and sound bites to drive new visitors, and talk about your best material everywhere you go.

And make sure your site is optimized for conversions. Provide value with resource pages, make your site more readable, and maybe most important — put signup boxes in all the right places.

Thanks for reading!

P.S: What have you tried to promote your site? What worked? What didn’t? Tell us a story.

The Ultimate Guide to Building a Recurring Revenue Business From Scratch

mixergy_feature

This article originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Hack the System.

This is a guide on how to build an online audience, sell them the exact product they want and generate recurring revenue for years to come.

It’s over 7500 words and took me nearly 30 hours to write. It will take you about 20 minutes to read. If you like, you can download a PDF of the entire guide here.

The content is based on Mixergy interviews with successful entrepreneurs. These experts continue to use these strategies to earn six and seven figure incomes.

Here’s the table of contents:

  1. Grow Your Audience By Creating Fame
    1. Expert: Laura Roeder
    2. Make Your Website Perfect. Yeah, Perfect.
    3. Add Many Faces
    4. Join the Conversation
    5. Be Omnipresent [or at least as close to it as you can get on Google]
    6. Get Featured on Media
    7. Show Off Your Logos [hint: you don’t have to be featured in the WSJ]
    8. Additional Resources For Creating Fame
    9. Not Interested in Creating Fame?
    10. End of Creating Fame Section
  2. Build The Exact Product Your Audience Wants With Co-Creation
    1. Expert: Clay Collins
    2. Phase One: Generate Interaction
    3. Hook Them With Your Welcome Email
    4. What To Do When Subscribers Respond To Your Welcome Email
    5. Phase Two: Co-Create a Free Product
    6. Dos and Do Nots For Co-Creating Products
    7. Use Surveys To Find Out What Your Market Wants
    8. What To Do After The Survey
    9. Delivering Your Free Product
    10. Phase Three: Co-Create the Premium Product
    11. Run a Contest to Gauge Interest And Increase Conversions
    12. Additional Resources For Co-Creating a Product
    13. End of Co-Creating Product Section
  3. Maximize Recurring Revenue Through Customer Retention
    1. Expert: Noah Fleming
    2. Get In The Mindset
    3. The Three C’s of Retention
    4. C1: Character
    5. The Framework For Bringing Character Out
    6. Two Ways To Build Character
    7. C2: Community
    8. C3: Content
    9. Write Stick Letters
    10. Build a Ladder of Ascension
    11. Build in Pain of Disconnect
    12. Follow Up With Cancellations
    13. C4: Care Your Face Off
    14. Additional Resources On Customer Retention
    15. End of Customer Retention Section
  4. Summing It All Up


Ready? Let’s get started.

Grow Your Audience By Creating Fame

So I launched this blog. And I wrote it for a long time with virtually no traffic because I knew I had a message that needed to be heard.
— Ramit Sethi, on persistence

In this section I explain in detail a strategy for building an audience online: creating fame.

Many of the key points are from Andrew Warner’s Mixergy interview with Laura Roeder.


If you are satisfied with your existing audience, you can skip to product creation.

Expert: Laura Roeder

Laura is the creator of an online program called Creating Fame. She teaches entrepreneurs and business owners to become the number one person in their field. She’s done that herself by becoming a go-to expert for social media marketing for small businesses (and building a million dollar per year business around it).

So, Laura, how do we go about creating fame?

Make Your Website Perfect. Yeah, Perfect.

Your site is all you have in marketing. People are going by your site and your Google results.
— Laura Roeder, on the first step to creating fame

Laura says there are two types of people online, the optimizers and the wait-listers.

Optimizers obsess over the details of their site, continuously A-B test to notch up their conversions and would never let a typo go unchanged.

Wait-listers stay busy by compiling lists of things they should change on their sites.

Be an optimizer.

Making your site perfect creates trust and increases conversions. Our goal is to create a paid subscription product. If visitors have to search out your about page, spot typos in your header, click on broken links, or your CSS is out of whack in their old-school Internet Explorer – then how are you going to create the trust for them to buy from you?

Here’s the fix. Take that list you’ve got and start working on it. Laura says the first item will probably only take five minutes, then you get in a groove to fixing more. Another way is to hire a developer/designer for an hour. An hour is long enough for a good techie to make a lot of improvements for you and should only cost about $50.

Another part of making your website perfect is building a brand that targets your market. Here’s a video interview about website branding. In it, Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System talks about the broad concepts of what matters for a brand and the specifics of how to build a good one.

Add Many Faces

People want to know who they are doing business with. Small businesses have a huge opportunity to be better than competitors just by being more real and being more personal.
— Laura Roeder, on why you should include a photo of yourself on your site

Your website should have a picture of your face on it.

You’ve heard this advice before.

However, I click through to a lot of sites from the comments. So, I’ve noticed a lot of you shy away from a personal introduction on your site.

I like to see a face to go with the words, and I like to see a name, and I like to see “welcome, this is what my site is all about”. I’m not alone – people build connections with people, not with websites.

And the press? If they are writing a story they need a person to latch onto. So why not make it easy for them?

WordPress users can put a photo in the sidebar by creating a text widget and writing this:

<img src=”PUT THE URL TO THE IMAGE HERE” alt=”” />

The URL will look something like this: http://www.yourblog.com/wpcontent/uploads/2011/12/headshot.png

Another good place to put your picture is your site’s about page. This tip is just as important for businesses as it is for bloggers. Laura recommends taking the personalization a step further by putting up pictures of all team members. She says, “people love it, and they feel like they have a relationship with everyone on the team”.

Here’s a fun example: TeamBuy team page

Once your website is done, you are ready for promotion outside of your domain.

Join the Conversation

He had one about Paris Hilton’s shoes, and how they were hurting her feet… he wasn’t afraid to go there.
— Laura Roeder, on how one podiatrist joined mainstream conversation

It turns out you don’t have to feel guilty about your Britney Spears gossip. No, instead you harness it as a marketing tool for your business.

Laura told the story of a podiatrist from the Houston suburbs who did just that. When Paris Hilton’s shoes hurt her feet, he wrote about that. When Britney Spears went barefoot to the bathroom, he wrote about that.

Instead of trying to start a new conversation, join an existing one so you get in the prospects head. The key is to bring people in, and then tie it into your own topic.

Another benefit of talking about current events is being quoted. When something is going on, people in the media are looking for quotes, and your writing about it means they can reference your work.

Be Omnipresent [or at least as close to it as you can get on Google]

Start looking through Mixergy and a lot of these startups have like, a way to post your video, or a way to post your slides, or a way to post your documents. If you do 10 of those sites… all of that stuff comes up when people search for you, and it looks very impressive.
— Laura Roeder, on dominating Google search results

Alright, so your domain is www.how-to-cross-stitch-superheroes.com, and you are ranking for those keywords – sweet. Now, what really happens when someone searches for your terms is that your site comes up with about nine other results. These include videos, images and other media.

You can dominate that first page of results (and push your competitors out) by becoming omnipresent.

Join video sites like YouTube or Blip and title your videos with your keywords. Join sites that allow you to make slideshows. Join picture sites. Join any site that lets you express your message through media – and then upload relevant content.

When you search for Creating Fame on Google, the results include Laura’s site, YouTube videos she produced and interviews on other websites.

Using this strategy you will take more of the top spots. And, as Laura points out in the interview: who would you choose to do business with? The person who is published all over the web, or the person who just runs their own site?

So, become omnipresent. It increases your credibility and conversions.

Get Featured on Media

Honestly, getting interviewed anywhere is better than getting featured nowhere. Even if just because of the Google factor.
— Laura Roeder, on going out and getting interviewed

Do you know the number one tactic for getting interviewed?

Pitch yourself.

Laura was interviewed on Mixergy (a top 10,000 Alexa site) because she pitched her story. It’s easy. Just send the interviewer a quick email saying “Hey, I love your show. I think your audience would be interested in this story/tip I have to share”.

The key is to align your site with the producer’s work and introduce how you can offer value to their audience.

Laura got onto FOX News by hiring a publicist, but she recommends doing the legwork yourself. Find 10 places: interview shows, podcasts, blogtalk radio, iTunes podcasts and pitch them your story.

If possible, find sources that your own market is tuned into, but Laura says it is even okay to do an interview no-one watches. Remember becoming omnipresent? Even an unwatched interview will show up on Google.

Another example is when Laura had a panel at South By Southwest. She remembers people kept coming up to her and saying, “wow, it’s my dream to be on a panel here”. You know what Laura asked them? Did you submit a proposal? You know what they hadn’t done?

So put your fear of becoming an expert aside and pitch a story.

Show Off Your Logos [hint: you don’t have to be featured in the WSJ]

People have an instant recognition thing where we see logos and we go, “oh, logos!”…
— Laura Roeder, on including logos on your site

Including logos on your site builds credibility via association, and you don’t have to wait for super-fame to get started. Laura says just the presence of logos is enough.

So, you can use logos from local press or websites that you’ve been featured on. If nobody is writing or linking to you yet, then seek out the opportunities. If you shied away from pitching stories in the Get Featured On Media section, then guest post on other blogs and include their logos on your site.

Additional Resources For Creating Fame

Not Interested in Creating Fame?

By interviewing our world’s top bloggers, I’ve learned there are countless ways to build a following online.

Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich was built on persistence, strategic guest posts, and major media coverage.

Neil Patel builds relationships by helping everybody. More at ProBlogger.

Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing wrote 80+ quality guest posts in less than a year.

David Cain of Raptitude writes viral content, like this list post which has earned over a million views.

Lori Deschene tweeted one inspirational quote a day and built a following of 40,000 before launching the tiny buddha blog.

Derek Halpern saw how SEO reviews draw a crowd at a conference, so used them to draw a crowd to Social Triggers.

All of these strategies (combined with persistence) can work for you.

End of Creating Fame Section

Have you tried creating fame? What happened? Scroll down and leave a comment.

Otherwise, let’s talk about making money.

Co-create a Product

Basically, he co-created a product with his list of clients, at least his market, they weren’t current clients yet. He sold a $50,000 commercial refrigeration unit to them. He brought in $110,000 in profits, not revenue, but profits. This was two months in advance of the product being available.
— Clay Collins, on the kind of results possible when you co-create a product

This section is about how to get your audience to tell you the exact product they want you to create and then pay you before you create it.

The real magic is if you don’t have money to fund a business, you can use this strategy to earn the revenue needed to ship your product.

An appliance dealer used this strategy to fund a commercial refrigeration unit that cost $50,000, and net him a profit of $110,000 two months before shipment.

A sleep therapist with a prospect list of 750 co-created a training program that netted $71,000 in profit.

The corresponding Mixergy interview is here.

Expert: Clay Collins

Clay is the creator of an online program called The Interactive Offer. Clay teaches entrepreneurs a step by step process of working with their audience to create the exact product they will buy.

Let’s look at how he does it.

Phase One: Generate Interaction

What most people do when they create a product is it’s nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, they hear nothing from the company. Then they go in for a kiss and the customer’s like, “Why are you all the sudden hammering me with all this stuff?”
— Clay Collins, on why you need to flirt with your prospects

Want your market to participate in product creation?

Then you need to build a relationship with them.

Clay recommends to start small and build momentum overtime.

Here’s how that might look:

  1. email subscribers receive a welcome email inviting them to reply
  2. you or your team reply to every email personally
  3. write blog posts and respond to comments
  4. tell readers your story and encourage their stories
  5. surveys

Doing audience engagement justice isn’t my intention with this guide, see Danny Iny’s Engagement From Scratch instead.

Here’s the high level overview:

You’re slowly raising the bar for interaction and getting people comfortable with and used to interacting with you and being responded to after they interact with you.

Do that and the rest will take care of itself.

Hook Them With Your Welcome Email

Your welcome email to new email subscribers is a powerful chance to engage your audience.

There are three elements: introduce yourself, set their expectations, and solicit feedback.

Introduce yourself to personify the email.

Set their expectations to reduce unsubscribes.

Solicit feedback to get that critical first interaction.

Here’s the exact welcome email Clay’s Interactive Offer subscribers receive. He welcomes you to adapt it for your own use.

Subject: WELCOME to the family (please read)

Body:

First of all, you’re in. Welcome to the family :-).

Anyway, there are three or four websites that you could have found me on . . .

. . . but my main site is located here: Clay Collins (click this to confirm your email and check it out). That’s probably my least ugly website, and most useful one as well, so if you have a chance, click to confirm your email and to head over to the site:
Click this to check it out

Anyway, since we’ve found each other, I’ll be hooking you up with all sorts of cool stuff in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

In fact, watch your inbox because TOMORROW I’ll be sending you something amazing:

————————
WHAT I’M SENDING YOU TOMORROW
————————

Tomorrow I’ll be sending you the “Internet Business Toolkit.”

This thing contains every website, software, service, platform, etc. (i.e., EVERYTHING) I use to run my online businesses (I hold nothing back).

It’s a virtual encyclopedia of the tools you need to run every aspect of your online business. And, in the right hands, it’s worth at least $300.

I hope you enjoy it.

————————
If You Can Do Just ONE Thing For Me Today
————————

If you can do just one thing for me today, I’d REALLY REALLY appreciate it if you’d just hit reply to this message and drop a quick note to say “hi.” If you have a moment, I’d love for you to quickly tell me where you’re from (AND . . . if you’ve got an extra 30 seconds, I’d also like to know what ideal outcome you’d like me to help bring into your life).

Anyway, since we’ve found each other, I’ll be hooking you up with all sorts of cool stuff in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Take Care,
Clay Collins
http://TheMarketingProgram.com

It’s kind of a long email right?

If that’s not your style, Derek Halpern uses a simpler model over at Social Triggers.

In Clay’s email, notice the second last paragraph where he A: asks the subscriber to hit reply, and b. tells them how to reply. This encourages the type of feedback you want.

Clay says “the most important thing is just that they hit respond. I don’t care if they only tell me where they’re from. That’s enough. I just want them to get used to doing this. It’s a very low barrier to entry. Literally hit reply, tell me where you’re from. That’s all we need to start this off”.

When you are first getting started you can handle the feedback yourself – but make sure to reply to every single one. If it’s taking too much of your time then hire someone. It’s worth the investment.

On the other hand, if you have plenty of time then consider customizing a welcome email for every new subscriber. Here’s how Ana Hoffman customizes her welcome emails in fifteen minutes a day.

Then what do you do when they respond?

What To Do When Subscribers Respond To Your Welcome Email

Here’s a hypothetical response.

Hi, I’m Joe. I’m from North Carolina. I create software and I would really like to double the number of people who buy my product in the upcoming year.

The first step is to log the response.

A good place to keep track of the information is Google Docs since you can access them from anywhere and share them with your team as it grows.

Next, respond to Joe and find a way to connect. If you have a connection with North Carolina, mention it. Otherwise even a reference to the weather can suffice.

In response to Joe’s problem, that he wants to double sales, you might send him some helpful links to your content or that of others. Clay usually sends links to a program he produces called the Marketing Show.

Finally, if Joe has a website, visit it and leave a few comments. Clay says, “yeah, this is an investment but it’s also something that we believe in very strongly”.

Now that you have the relationships in place, go on to co-create a free product.

Phase Two: Co-Create a Free Product

I like this quote.

People support what they create. When you do this properly, they actually feel like your product was their idea. You need to put all ego aside because that’s really what it’s about. It’s about them, and it’s about them feeling so good about their product that they buy from you.
— Clay Collins, summing up the idea of co-creation

This subsection is about how to co-create a free product. The purpose of doing so is to gather information about what your audience wants and show them the quality you produce.

But first some tips.

Dos and Do Nots For Co-Creating Products

DO NOT read this section and say “I could just throw up a survey, ask people what they want, then sell it to them and make some income” – that can be a dangerous business move. You can prematurely kill all interest or momentum that you would otherwise get for your product.

DO involve your audience and make them part of the story about how your product came to be. That way they will be much more emotionally involved and likely to buy.

DO NOT try and fool people into thinking you already have a product.

DO be super upfront about the fact that you are going to make a product, and that it does not exist. You’ll maximize conversions.

AND DO create a digital product – that way you avoid costly shipping fees.

Use Surveys To Find Out What Your Market Wants

Don’t just send your subscribers a survey out of the blue.

Instead embed it in a narrative. Clay has three emails that lead up the one where he sends the survey. You want to talk about why you are doing it, and how you are in a position to do something at a higher level.

Then, you can use Survey Monkey or Google Docs to survey your audience.

Here are the three questions to ask:

  1. What free information product would you love for me to create for you?
  2. What’s your biggest fear and frustration?
  3. What’s your ideal, perfect outcome?

Collect free-form answers not drop-down, it will require qualitative analysis but provide much deeper insight.

What To Do After The Survey

A heads up about the survey responses: people will tell you what frustrates them, they will seldom tell you the solution you need to provide.

It’s your job to come up with that.

    1. This is not easy. Print out the responses and spend a week highlighting them. Clay warns that “trends don’t usually emerge on the first read”. What you need to do is read between the lines and find one or two main frustrations then identify a need that comes with them.
    2. Also, pay special attention to the language responders use to describe their problem – it might be different than your own. You’ll use this later in your sales copy and within the product itself.
    3. After you’ve collected the survey responses, go back and confirm what they are looking for. Say “we think we understand what you want, but we’re not sure and we don’t want to create this unless we know this is what you want”. Then ask people to respond in the comments.
    4. The next contact with your audience is to confirm demand. Say, “okay, we’re going to make it, but we’re only going to make it if this many people sign up on the list to receive it when it comes out, because I’m not going to spend all this time making it and then nobody wants it”.

Delivering Your Free Product

Though later on you are going to build a subscription program, start with a one-off info product like an ebook. This must be a viable product that stands on its own. That way you will build trust with your audience, and they will be grateful and share it, increasing exposure for the next product you create.

Collect all the feedback in a Google Doc and use it to inform your future product creation.

Bonus tip: only release your free product for a few days. A time limitation creates urgency and increases the perceived value of your product.

Then go and co-create the paid product.

Phase Three: Co-Create the Premium Product

And usually people are like, “hell yeah”. People love being involved at a deeper level. People love Beta testing software. People love being one of these ground level people who saw it from the very beginning.
— Clay Collins, on the genuine excitement for your product

Now that you’ve tested the market with your free product, it’s time to sell one.

This can be either a brand new product based on the survey feedback, or the repositioning of an existing one based on the language responders used.

Then go back to your audience and tell them:

  1. there has been a tonne of interest in the free report
  2. people are asking for a lot of things that I’m not able to deliver in this free report
  3. I’m thinking about creating a premium course
  4. I have no idea how much it’s going to be
  5. I’m thinking about letting an initial group of people in at some kind of discount, but I want your feedback

Then run a contest.

Run a Contest to Gauge Interest And Increase Conversions

One pre-sale tactic Clay recommends is running a contest. Ask people to tell you why the course you are coming out with is the perfect one for them. If they win, give them a membership for free.

This contest does several things:

  • generates social proof, so people can see all the others that want to join
  • gives you language to use in your sales letter
  • creates consistency and commitment

That third one is pretty neat. Basically, if someone needs to write this type of comment, they also need to go through the logic and think about why your product is good for them. Then they are more likely to buy it.

They sold themselves.

At this point, it’s up to you to build the product your audience asked for. Our goal is to create a recurring revenue product, so keep that in mind when considering format. A popular membership system for WordPress is WishList Member.

Additional Resources For Co-Creating a Product

Eric Reis says to start with a minimum viable product then improve it. The way you know you have a minimum viable product is “you are very uncomfortable putting your name on it and putting it out there”.

Find the inspiration to get your business started over at Passive Panda.

Here’s how Ramit Sethi develops products he sells for more than 10x the price of the competition.

And here’s Ramit’s guide on how to write a $100,000 survey.

End of Co-Creating Product Section

Have a question about how co-creation can work for your market? Let us know in the comments.

Maximize Recurring Revenue Through Customer Retention

I’m interested in talking to people who are running membership sites or people that are thinking about running membership sites. What I want to show them is that you can keep your members long enough to do things like pay off your mortgage, pay cash for cars, live a really good life and run a really great business and I was able to do that. I was able to pay off my mortgage by running one single membership site.
— Noah Fleming, on the results possible when you lock in recurring revenue

This section is the final key for profiting from your efforts. It’s about how to increase your subscriber retention so you can earn recurring revenue for months and years to come.

It’s based on premium Mixergy content that costs hundreds per year. Available here for free.

The course on recurring revenue was led by Noah Fleming.

Expert: Noah Fleming

Noah is a strategic marketing consultant specializing in client loyalty and retention strategies. He’s worked with over 500 online marketers, and built several online businesses of his own, including The Brewers Market, a business that has received extensive national coverage.

Alright Noah, let’s get to it.

Get In The Mindset

So here’s the thing, they say that most people who sign up for a membership site will stick for about three months. So for me the big thing when I got these people was there was no way I was letting them go. I became literally militant about keeping them.
— Noah Fleming, on grim determination

As with much of the “make money online” world, subscription programs are surrounded by myths. The biggest one? That you can build a site, forget about it, and have a pile of money coming in while you drink mojitos on the beach.

I know you’ll be able to relate to what actually works: working hard and doing everything you can to serve your customers. As Noah says, “literally caring for these people, being there for them, connecting with them, engaging with them”.

Another myth is that if you deliver a certain amount of material people will stick around. Don’t get caught in the mindset that “if I give X amount of material every month there’s no way they are going to leave”. If you overwhelm people they will leave.

Instead focus on producing incredible quality content that your members can’t get anywhere else. While the rest of this article covers best practices and retention strategies, unique quality content is the best way to ensure your members stick around.

The point is that instead of acting re-actively, you need to be proactive about member retention. From the very first day be thinking about how you can keep people for the long term.

Now let’s look at some strategies.

The Three C’s of Retention

I believe they come for the content but they stay for the character, they come for the content but they stay for the community and they come for the content and they stay for the content and sometimes they come for the character but they end up staying for the community.
— Noah Fleming, on how your character, content and community work together

The three C’s of retention: character, community and content ARE NOT a step by step system. They are meta strategies that if implemented will make a big difference in the way you run your business and maximize retention.

So don’t get overwhelmed. This is not an all or nothing approach. Start implementing and gradually work towards your goal.

C1: Character

Everyone’s a kid that noone cares about – that’s why you gotta keep screaming ‘til they hear you out.
— Tinie Tempah, lyrics from Written In The Stars

The most important element of your business is of course you.

But it’s not your charm, talent and good looks that will determine success.

It’s your character – your story, your values and how people can relate to you.

Character helps sell Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel. Who better to show you how to save thousands traveling than someone who’s visited almost every country in the world?

And character is why if Eminem had a course on rap, every aspiring rapper would sign up.

Chris and the Real Slim Shady didn’t start out as strong characters. Their stories evolved over time. Yours can too.

If you followed the Creating Fame section of this article, you are likely all set. Otherwise, let’s get started.

The Framework For Bringing Character Out

Like I said, I don’t want to be creating characters. I want us to be who we really are. But we’ve got to have a story, because we need to give our customers something to connect to.
— Noah Fleming, on the importance of character

You don’t create a character, you discover it within yourself.

But we aren’t going to leave this to spirit quests and inward reflection.

Instead, there’s a framework that will get you 90% of the way there.

There are four steps to the framework:

    1. Develop your backstory – your reason for doing what you’re doing
    2. What did you learn along the way? What are the stories, parables, lessons that helped create your story?
    3. What did you overcome?
    4. What do you stand for?

Now let’s look at great examples of each.

Develop your backstory – your reason for doing what you’re doing

You can read one of my favourite examples of backstory at Steve Kamb’s Nerd Fitness.

Basically when Steve didn’t make the high school basketball team, he started working out. For six years he didn’t make much progress. Then he moved to California and in just 30 days started to see significant gains. Nerd Fitness is a way for him to help people skip the six years of mistakes and get started leveling up their life.

Another example is Robert King of lean definition, who overcame a World of Warcraft addiction and built a beach body. Now he’s on a mission of inspiring others to change their lives too.

Rebecca Tracey over at The Uncaged Life was a nutritionist until she realized kale & quinoa won’t save the world.

Everyone has a story.

What did you learn along the way? What are the stories, parables, lessons that helped create your story?

Two words: Gary Vaynerchuk

Here’s an excerpt, and you can read his full story here.

At 8 years old he was operating 7 lemonade stands in his neighborhood and by 10 he had moved onto selling baseball cards at local malls.

Heard of Derek Sivers? Ever since Steve Jobs dissed him in a keynote, Derek says, “I never again promised a customer that I could do something beyond my full control”.

What did you overcome?

Is this article the first time you heard of Mixergy? Many of Andrew’s viewers know that building one of the most popular interview shows online took massive failure (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars).

Marcus Sheridan, “The Sales Lion”, overcame the down economy and propelled his pool company to be one of the largest of its kind in the world using inbound marketing.

What do you stand for?

Awhile back I found The Nate Green Experience, and I’ve never forgotten how he summarized his values.

Be honest. Stand for something. Have integrity. Do things that scare you. Keep your mind sharp. Nourish your body. Pay it forward. Do your best work every time, no matter what that work is. Set goals. Nurture relationships. Enjoy every day. Listen. Don’t take shit from anyone. Be passionate about something. Master your emotions. Speak with purpose.

Oh, and drink bourbon.
— Nate Green, on his values

Noah says the character important for his membership program was that, “I’m standing for these ethical, honest, internet marketers that want an environment where we can learn to do this stuff without this idea of being bullied or, any question being too beginner-ish, so to speak”.

Once you’ve worked through the character framework, go on and let the world know.

Two Ways To Build Character

“Calvin, go do something you hate! Being miserable builds character!”
— Calvin (& Hobbes) Dad, on building character

The first way to be a character is to show an extreme version of yourself. This doesn’t mean making up characteristics or being someone you are not. Instead focus on amplifying characteristics you have.

Jim Cramer of The Street is the perfect example, watch this YouTube video of Jim getting angry (starting at 2:10 it gets really good).

Another part of being an extreme character is to have legends, stories and parables that people can tell about you. Encourage this by telling your own stories over and over and over.

Here’s some examples.

Scott Dinsmore regularly reminds Live Your Legend readers that he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

James Altucher seems to have an endless number of unbelievable stories, like the time he screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2 million.

Lewis Howes was a super-jock until he crushed his wrist playing football. Then he went from sleeping on his sister’s couch to building a million-dollar business in just four years.

Ramit Sethi tells the story of how he systematized scholarship applications to pay for his entire Stanford education.

Now that you have a character people can relate to, you’ve got ⅓ of retention covered. Next is community.

C2: Community

It’s a group of people that have a shared interest, we want to connect together, we want to be able to share our knowledge together and so this is an important part of intentions, having these different community aspects in your site.
— Noah Fleming, on the importance of community

If you’ve read Seth Godin’s Tribes you know all about the power of community. Let’s look at some specific tactics for building one.

      • Spotlight members. Have an area of your website (preferably public) where you show off member accomplishments. This makes your members feel very special, and shows to others that your content gets results.
      • Welcome new members. Noah shared the example of WishList Insider, where at the beginning of weekly videos they welcome new members.
      • Provide a forum. Nobody wants to join an empty forum. Steve Kamb (Nerd Fitness) overcame that by inviting a small group to join the beta for 30 days and seed the forum with content.
      • Group projects. Noah separated members into groups of five to seven people and organized them in Basecamp projects. The groups were completing tasks and taking action together. For internet marketing, one person might write sales copy while another sets up site design. What is important is they are getting results and working together. Noah would also jump into the projects and offer tips to the individual groups.
      • Reward participation. Stars, badges and fancy titles. Your members will love it and participate to earn recognition.
      • Run contests. A very simple contest to increase participation might be something like, “leave a comment here and you could win a one hour phone consultation with me”.
      • Run these tactics on a regular basis and you will be well on the way to building a community.Now let’s talk about content.

        C3: Content

        We’ve got this idea that value is more and more and more. It’s how much stuff we can give them. When really value is the quality of the content you can give them. It’s the way that your content makes people feel.
        — Noah Fleming, on the importance of content

        Awhile back, Caleb Wojcik asked Think Traffic readers: What’s the most tired advice online?. Not surprisingly, many people are tired of hearing things like “write great content”, or “content is king”.

        I don’t want to waste your time regurgitating the same old stuff, so let’s talk about maximizing retention by optimizing what’s going on AROUND your epic content.

        Write Stick Letters

        Once a member has paid, the very first content they should receive (by email or when they login) is a stick letter. You can also use a stick video, or stick audio recording. The principles are the same. You are doing this to overcome buyers remorse – the attrition that comes from people who regret a purchase right after making it.

        In the stick letter:

        1. Congratulate them for taking action
        2. Thank them for signing up
        3. Tell them why the system is going to work
        4. Set expectations for how and when content will be received
        5. Restate all the benefits that sold them in the first place
        6. Give them some first actions to do

        Bonus tip: send another stick letter just before the first billing period is over. Remind members of the value they are getting. Neil Patel once gave me the tip to include in this letter something like, “I have some really special content coming for you in a few days, It’s going to help you do x”. This entices members to stay past the money back guarantee period.

        A few more details on the stick letter.

        For taking action, you can ask members to do things like upload a profile picture and introduce themselves. This has the added bonus of creating commitment of consistency. Since the member took the time to introduce themselves, they are now a little more committed to staying.

        Build a Ladder of Ascension

        A ladder of ascension is different membership levels: bronze, silver, gold, whatever. Each with access to different material.

        Bronze might be written content only.

        Silver might include recorded video interviews.

        Gold might include live interactive webinars.

        Noah says, “ladders of ascension are important to give people somewhere to go because if there’s only one spot for them there’s nowhere for them to go. They’ll stay put or it’s out the door”.

        Build in Pain of Disconnect

        If you’ve seen any of the SAW movies, you know that a common element is the killer makes it very painful for participants to leave.

        You want to give your members reasons not to leave too.

        A web host locks in customers by making it easier to just keep paying $15 per month then transferring all your websites somewhere else.

        An online photo album doesn’t usually have a way to mass download all your photos.

        Weight loss sites use tools like diet and fitness trackers to keep members from leaving.

        An analytics package is hard to leave because all of your old data is in there.

        A loyalty card program has the contact information for all your members and there is no way to export it.

        How can you build pain of disconnect into your business?

        Follow Up With Cancellations

        There are many reasons people don’t renew their subscription. Perhaps their credit card expired. Or maybe they just forgot. Or your renewal emails got buried in their inbox.

        So follow up.

        When a member doesn’t renew their membership, send them a short email saying: “Hey, I noticed your membership was cancelled today. I just wanted to see if this was an error, or it was intentional, why?”. Then give them a link where they can go and restart their membership.

        C4: Care Your Face Off

        “If you care your face off and work real hard to show them that, they’re going to stick around.”
        — Noah Fleming, on the importance of caring your face off

        Additional Resources On Customer Retention

        Here’s a Social Triggers article about increasing customer loyalty online.

        Chris Brogan on the difference between audience and community.

        Noah’s blog covers customer retention and other useful topics.

        End of Customer Retention Section

        Was there anything in this section that surprised you? Let us know in the comments.

        Summing It All Up

        Wow. 7500+ words later you are probably a little tired, right?

        Writing all those words was pretty tiring too :- )

        Here’s what will make it all worth it.

        Right now. This minute. Take action on exactly one tip from this article.

        Focus for 10 minutes on getting it done.

        It will make all the difference.

        Then leave a comment sharing the most important insight you got from this article. Be specific—tell us a story, please.

        We’ll respond to every one.

How to Write a Landing Page With a 500% Conversion Lift

andrew-ramit-feature

This article originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Unbounce.

Do you have a landing page?

If so, today’s comic might help you increase conversions by 500%.

The lesson features highly actionable advice from Ramit Sethi (one of the best salesmen online).

It is based on this Mixergy interview: Why The Loooooong Sales Letter Works And Other Surprising Sales Hacks.
ramit-andrew-comic

Additional Resources:

What have you learned about landing pages?

What have you tried in the past? What worked? What didn’t? Please share your story.

The Highly Profitable Traffic Strategy You Aren’t Using Yet

This article originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Traffic Generation Cafe.

You like free, right?paidtraffic

Ana is an expert on free traffic sources, but doesn’t write about paid traffic.

She wouldn’t even know how.

And here’s the thing – why would Ana pay?

Traditional paid traffic sources aren’t designed for her.

Google ads are for big brands. They are a waste of time and money for bloggers and entrepreneurs.

AND YET, Ana sells banner advertising space on her blog.

Clearly paid traffic works for somebody.

There is a paid traffic strategy that will work for you.

Master this strategy and you’ll get enormous amounts of targeted traffic fast and cheap.

What’s the strategy?

Direct media buys.

Why direct media buys will work for you

Direct response marketers have known this for decades.

The right offer to a targeted audience is HIGHLY profitable.

Best of all, this strategy allows you to control your business — for example, you’ll know that if you spend $1, you can make $1.45 (or whatever) back.

— Ramit Sethi, on the advantages of paying for traffic

A direct media buy is when you buy ad space directly from a publisher instead of going through an ad network like Google AdWords.

Here is why you should consider them for your marketing mix.

Direct media buys…

  1. uncover new traffic sources
  2. get massive traffic without worrying about keywords or quality score
  3. bring in passive traffic
  4. don’t compete with 8 other advertisers for the same ad slot
  5. earn high ROI by targeting the exact right audience you know will convert
  6. scale easily
  7. can start on a small budget and see results immediately

There’s another big advantage direct buys have over ad networks.

You cut out the middleman.

You save 50% and get the same traffic for a much lower price.

Here’s how to do it.

How to do direct media buys

This guide is from a course Ilya Lichtenstein taught on Mixergy: How to buy traffic profitably.

Ilya, a successful affiliate marketer and founder of MixRank, lays out a 4-step process for mastering this strategy.

Step 1: Build a list of sites to advertise on

The first step is to build a list of target sites to advertise on.

Here’s how to find them.

1. Go to social bookmarking sites like Delicious and XMarks.

These sites help you build a list that is highly relevant, but not obvious.

They also favor higher quality sites that people bookmark and return to. You don’t want sites that rank with SEO spam and provide no value.

2. Search for a keyword related to your industry or audience.

It doesn’t have to be long-tail or niche.

3. Look at related topics to expand your list.

Try alternate keywords or enter specific websites within your industry.

If you have a popular site, search for your own to find related sites.

4. Click-thru and scan sites for quality.

The ideal site is relatively small, where you don’t have to spend a lot of money testing or time negotiating.

Here’s a checklist of what to look for:

  • Aim for medium sized blogs, forums, discussion groups and content sites.
  • Best targets aren’t huge, but have some core audience.
  • Sites with an email opt-in list are ideal because they can be reached quickly. Also, these people are most likely to convert.
  • Look for active forums, message boards, classifieds and comments.
  • Have ad space available “above the fold”.
  • Have empty ad spaces, or spaces occupied by the hosts’ own ads.

Here’s a checklist of what to avoid:

  • Don’t deal with anyone who has an ad sales team.
  • Sites stuffed with ads.
  • Sites with media-kits or that already sell direct to brands. These are hard to negotiate because brands consistently overpay for traffic. You’ll know if an ad is direct if you hover over it and the browser shows a link to the ad’s site instead of an ad network.
  • Expensive ad sites or sites with no ads. Instead, find out where else their audience hangs out and buy ads there.

Expert tip: Use a free SEO plugin like Mozbar to estimate site traffic, and find out how many backlinks a site has.

It’s not always accurate, but gives you some sense of a site’s traffic volume.

You want people who spend a long time on the page, who have read through the article, and are looking for, OK, what am I going to do next?

What’s my next step?

Ilya Lichtenstein, on your ideal target

Keep track of your list in a spreadsheet, then get ready to refine it.

Step 2: Refine your list

This step is about reaching a very specific audience.

You consider demographic and psychographic factors to determine where your target market is hanging out online.

By targeting a specific type of person you’ll increase your return on advertising dollars.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Go to Quantcast.com and enter your website in the search box.

If you don’t have a website yet or want to reach a new audience, input one that you think has your desired audience.

2. Examine the data.

You’ll have access to information like gender, education, income and location.

paid traffic research

Decide on your ideal target, for example: college educated American men who earn over $60,000.

(Tip: you can also use this information to find sites to guest post on)

3. Use Quantcast’s free ad planner to find sites who have similar audiences.

Filter for desired demographics, sites with 10k to 100k views, and affinity to desired keywords.

4. Determine if there is a community by looking at traffic frequency.

Some regulars are good.

Too many might mean your ad is continuously seen by the same group, and should be rotated.

5. Find sites with a desirable page-view ratio.

The average number of page views per visit is six.

You want to find sites with a number lower than six, otherwise, you waste impressions showing the ad to the same person over and over.

The most valuable impression is the first time they see the site.

Once you’ve completed this step, you will have a highly targeted list of sites.

Step 3: Decide on your technology platform

There are three ways to serve your ads.

  1. hosted on your own server
  2. from a free ad server
  3. from a paid ad server

Don’t host ads on your own server.

Once you scale to advertising on several sites, the traffic will slow down your server and slow down the loading time of the site the ad appears on.

The publisher won’t be happy.

Instead, use a reliable ad server.

That’s it. You just give them the code. It’s ready to go. It’s being monitored. You know exactly how well it’s doing.

— Andrew Warner, on the simplicity of ad servers

Ad servers work like this:

  1. upload creatives/images;
  2. input the URL you want to link to;
  3. system generates code;
  4. it’s pasted into site to replace existing ads or in rotation.

There is also a free method of serving ads called doubleclick for publishers.

Ask your target publisher to sign up, and follow the steps for displaying ads on their site.

The advantage of using a paid ad server is you have full control of the process.

Use a tool like AdShuffle and you’ll be able to set up the ads yourself and just send the display code to the publisher.

With paid ad servers there is usually a minimum spend (i.e, $50) based on a charge per impression (i.e, $0.01 to $0.05 for 1000 impressions).

Using an ad server also provides accountability.

Since you will likely be buying ads on a CPM (cost per 1000 views) basis, the ad server provides a neutral third party reference for the number of views.

The publisher can’t con you – you just pay whatever amount the ad server says.

Next, you want to track your ad performance.

Use Google URL builder to create trackable links for your ads. Build a separate URL for each ad.

Note the amount of click-thrus you get, but this isn’t the metric that matters.

You want to combine this with Google analytics to find the traffic that converts best – whether that means subscriptions or sales.

For a good start optimizing your ads, use MixRank.

Input a competitor’s website to find out where they are displaying ads and what designs have the best position.

A higher position means that it is working for them.

For example, if you see that “free coupons – print now” is performing better than “free grocery coupons”, you can use that kind of copy in your own ads.

The final step is reaching out to the publishers.

Step 4: Reach out to the publishers

You want to basically send a few emails, do a buy and then move on to somewhere else because you want to be able to do this quickly and you want to be able to do it at scale.

— Ilya Lichenstein, on reaching out

The first thing you need to know is whether or not a site accepts advertising.

Some will have a page dedicated to advertising information.

It should tell you exactly who to reach the publisher and may even have prices.

Otherwise, email the publisher and ask.

If you can find their email address or a contact box on the site, use it.

You can also use a WHOis lookup to find contact information.

However Ilya warns that a publisher that doesn’t provide contact information on their site likely doesn’t want to be contacted.

Here’s a simple email you can send.

I’m an entrepreneur, just like you.

I’m trying to get more attention for my site and would love to negotiate a buy with you.

How much are you selling your cheapest inventory for right now?

By asking how much they are getting for their cheapest inventory (nothing, in the case of leftover space), you anchor the negotiations at a lower starting price.

Warning: Publishers who have not sold ads before, or who have only gone through ad networks may have very unreasonable expectations about what their traffic is worth.

In this case say something like this:

I know how much this traffic is worth to me.

I know what my CPA (cost per acquisition) target is.

I know what I’m looking for.

Let’s start with a $5 CPM test for two weeks.

You will have more leverage if you reach out to more people.

If you have lots of responses that say $5, you can use that against the guy that says $30.

The key is that you don’t want to seem like someone wasting their time.

You want to be legit and credible, but also don’t want to be seen as someone willing to spend a ton of money on testing.

You may also have resistance from publishers who have only ever used ad networks.

They’ll say (or at least think), why take the risk?

Your ideal publisher is the one who has sold a few ads directly and can run things smoothly.

For the publisher, stability and predictability of revenue are major selling points for doing direct media buys – especially if you can lock in for several months.

By using ad networks, their payment can be adjusted or they might even be blacklisted.

It changes day to day.

Here’s the email you can send to most publishers.

I represent mywebsite.com and we’re interested in advertising.

We would like to buy ad space, both in the U.S. and internationally.

We have this budget for this test or we can launch a campaign immediately.

Please put me in touch with the right person to discuss this further.

This works because you:

  • make it clear you want to buy ads directly;
  • suggest a budget, which shows you are serious;
  • say you want to start immediately, the money is waiting for them;
  • it is generic enough to work for small blogs and bigger sites that do ad sales;
  • you say where you are from – publishers don’t want spammy ads.

And you’re done.

Now that you’ve mastered direct media buys, sit back and enjoy the influx of highly targeted traffic.

Have you tried a paid traffic source?

Have you tried paying for traffic before? What happened?

Let us know in the comments – we will respond to every one.

An Easy Way to Decrease Your Unsubscribe Rate

This article originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Problogger

Frustrated with unsubscribes on your newsletter?

You aren’t alone. Most of the metrics associated with our newsletters are fun to watch.

  • Subscribe rate going up? Cool.
  • Open rate rising? Awesome.
  • Clickthrough rate skyrocketing? Yahoo!

So, what is it about unsubscribe rates that is so darn frustrating? Maybe it’s the feeling of rejection that the reader no longer finds enough value in our work. Perhaps it’s the wondering whether they only ever signed up to get our download-bait. Or it could even just be the dissatisfaction of not knowing why all these people are unsubscribing.

Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just put a stop to unsubscribes for good?

Ana Hoffman of Traffic Generation Cafe is pretty transparent about her blogging strategies. So, when earlier this year, I interviewed Ana, I wanted to find out how she builds and maintains her email list. This post is about the specific tactic Ana uses to drastically cut unsubscribe rates to her newsletter.

The problem isn’t what you are doing

Since you’re active in the world of blogging about blogging, you already know:

So you know all about how to get subscribers and engage your readers. And it’s a lot of work, right? But you are doing it. That’s why we have to look elsewhere for the underlying cause of email unsubscribes.

The problem isn’t what you are doing.

Read that again.

No. The problem is what you aren’t doing.

The problem is what you aren’t doing

The underlying cause of newsletter unsubscribes is that you aren’t building relationships with your readers. Sure, you’re writing content that is useful for them. Sure, you write with the voice you speak in. Sure, you share your strong opinions. Sure, you drop little snippets about your personal life. All of those things can help build relationships, but in the end they suffer from one fatal flaw: you’re broadcasting a message from one to many.

So, how often do you reach out to your subscribers, one by one?

Cut your unsubscribe rate

Hey, wow! Nobody ever did that, you are actually real and respond to your emails.
—Ana Hoffman

You will cut your newsletter unsubscribe rate by building relationships with your subscribers. You do that be reaching out to them one by one. By engaging subscribers in personal dialog, you show them you are a real person sitting behind a computer writing live emails. You show them that you aren’t just looking to flood their inbox with a series of canned autoresponses. And you show them that you actually care and appreciate having them around.

The key here is to change the perception of a one-to-many broadcast into a one-to-one conversation.

Sounds like the right approach doesn’t it?

How Ana does it

Ana uses a simple strategy to engage one-on-one with every subscriber to her newsletter.

She writes them an email.

Here’s her process. First, she sets aside 15 minutes at the end of the day to email her new subscribers.

Second, she opens up each of the “new subscriber notification” emails she gets from Aweber.

Third, she responds to that email (which goes to the subscriber) and changes the subject line to something like “good morning!” or “good afternoon!” Ana says this step gets her a lot of feedback like “Wow, either your responder is so good it knows the time, or you are actually there!”

Fourth, she writes the content of the email. Something like “Hello. Thanks for joining my list. Welcome. I’m here if you need help.”

Fifth, she customizes the email. If she notices someone’s email ends with “.au”, she’ll say “It’s evening my time, but afternoon in Australia, so good afternoon!” There is a free add-on to Gmail called Rapportive that shows you details of the person you are emailing, including their location.

Sixth, she presses send. And bam! With just a little bit of daily effort like this, you’ve built a relationship with every subscriber on your list!

How do you build relationships with your email subscribers?

Ramit Sethi Exposed: How He Earns Millions Blogging

This article originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Problogger.

In this post, I’m going to show you the exact steps one blogger used to earn over $1 million.

Not long ago, I interviewed Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. If you’re serious about making money blogging, then you need to read this interview.

But a heads-up: this post is long and extremely detailed. It took me over 20 hours to write. It will take you about 15 minutes to read. If you like, you can download a PDF of the entire article here.

I know you may be skeptical about the $1 million, so let’s start by looking at the facts.

Ramit Sethi and I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Ramit’s advice on money has been featured on CNN, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, FOX Business, PBS, The New York Times, CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, npr, REUTERS, and most recently in 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.

IWTYTBR is ranked 19,466 on Alexa. It hosts over 250,000 monthly readers, and has 100,000+ newsletter subscribers. Prices of IWTYTBR products range from $4.95 to $12,000. But most importantly, Ramit’s tactics get his readers results. See this post, where over 500 readers wrote 54,818 words that say so. That’s as long as a novel!

Impressive, right?

Now, let’s break down Ramit’s five-step system for creating and earning immense value.

  1. 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

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

  1. Sign up for a free or $20 account at Survey Monkey.
  2. Ask open-ended essay-style questions. You aren’t aiming for statistical validity here.
  3. Ask five questions. Keep them short and specific.
  4. Include examples of the kinds of answers you want: really long, detailed responses, not one-liners.
  5. 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?

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

  1. He writes a big, detailed email with a story about something that happened to himself or to a friend.
  2. He finishes it with a call to action, “Hey, I’d love to hear your story. Please email me back, I read every one.”
  3. 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, don’t write for everybody. For Ramit, IWTYTBR isn’t just another blog, so he isn’t interested in people reading just for intellectual entertainment. He wants people who will take action.

Don’t refer to comments on other blogs

You’ve probably heard this advice before: look at comments on other blogs in your niche, then blog about the questions they ask. Ramit says there is no value in this kind of research.

Why? Because audiences on different sites are so profoundly different.

Ramit recently wrote a post called 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?

“Job”.

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.

Click here to listen to Ramit’s final thoughts from our interview. Thanks so much for reading through. I know this article was long and I hope you got a ton of value from it.

Can you do me a favor and leave a comment sharing the most important insight you got from hearing what Ramit has to say? Be specific—tell us a story, please.

5 Simple Steps to Becoming an Expert

This article originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Expert Enough.

Why does the world need you to become an expert?

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.

He’s got the credentials – that’s for sure. Ramit’s a New York Times best selling author and has been featured on CNN, CNBC, NPR, FOX, the Wall Street Journal and other major media outlets.

But what really matters is that every month Ramit helps thousands of people live a richer life via his personal finance blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

After all, what better way to prove you are an expert then get people results on a mass scale?

I’ve been researching Ramit to figure out his assent, and to understand how he became such a trusted expert in his field. In my searching, I found a recorded interview he did with his former Stanford professor, BJ Fogg, about becoming an expert.

This post covers 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.

Cool.

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

Since you hangout at Expert Enough, you know 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 three major products on his site: his book, Earn1K and a new 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

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.

***

You can get the full interview and more from Ramit’s site I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Learn more about BJ Fogg and what he calls “Behavior Design” over at his website.

Have you ever done the beach (or bookstore) test? What did it reveal to you?