Note: This guide was written by Michael Alexis; it is based on an interview with Ramit Sethi and includes the strategies he used to grow I Will Teach You To Be Rich to 1,000,000+ monthly readers (and multiple million dollar product launches).
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Table of Contents
- Ramit Sethi & I Will Teach You To Be Rich
- I Will Teach You To Focus
- Send Readers To That Other Blog
- Create The Right Kind Of Customer
- It’s Okay To Offend Someone
- I Will Teach You To Write Better
- Read A Lot And Take Notes
- Have An Editorial Calendar
- Post Your Best, Draft Everything Else
- Reflect And Improve
- Be The Best In The World
- I Will Teach You To Guest Post
- The Importance of Small Steps Like Cutting Back on Lattes
- Build Relationships Through Comments
- Get Personal With an Email
- Pitch Your Post
- Make Your Guest Post Absolutely Incredible
- I Will Teach You To Monetize
- Don’t Try To Monetize Too Quickly
- Offer Value, Then Offer More Value
- Don’t Be Afraid To Sell
- Sell Your Readers What They Want
- Make Your Product So Good That It Pays For Itself
- Don’t Sell Out
- Are You Starting a Blog?
- Recommended Hosting: DreamHost
- Warning: Never Google “Free WordPress Themes”
- Full Disclosure: Affiliate Links
- Want to Interview Me for Your Site?
Ramit Sethi & 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 hosts over 1,000,000 monthly readers, and has 800,000+ newsletter subscribers. Prices of IWTYTBR products range from $4.95 to $12,000. But most importantly, Ramit’s strategies get his readers results. See this post, where over 500 readers wrote 54,818 words that say so. That’s as long as a novel!
Ramit is building a sister site, GrowthLab, where he teaches you how to start and grow your online business.
I Will Teach You To Focus
There are plenty of other sites for people that want to save on their laundry detergent. This is not one of them.
– Ramit Sethi
Okay, so you probably like getting traffic right? Of course, it’s nice to know that somebody, anybody, is reading our work. Well here’s a little secret I learned from Ramit: you’re better off turning traffic away. Read that again. Ramit Sethi says turning people away isn’t just good – it’s essential, and he has the credibility to back that up.
Ramit’s personal finance blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich (IWTYTBR) welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every month. Some visitors stay and become regular readers, while others go after just a few minutes. Here’s the kicker, Ramit’s greatest pleasure is the traffic that leaves. Why? Because the people that stay are engaged, committed and ready to take action.
When I interviewed Ramit, I wanted to find out how he segments his audience. I wanted to find out why he makes fun of people. I wanted to find out how he manages the fine line between cocky and confident. After all, with a name like I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Ramit has a lot to live up too. Here’s what he had to say about it.
Send Readers To That Other Blog
Some people would say “that’s so offensive, don’t you know not everyone makes $50,000 right out of college?” and I’d tell them to go to some other site.
– Ramit Sethi
IWTYTBR isn’t like other personal finance blogs, and Ramit knows it. That’s why when people ask him to post more about saving money he directs them to visit one of the many alternative frugality sites. What? Really? If your readers want you to write about something, shouldn’t you just do it? No. Ramit doesn’t write about frugality, because that’s not the type of reader he wants. Instead, his writing focuses on topics like the psychology of money, earning more money, and entrepreneurship – to attract people interested in these topics.
A high level of interest is important because a successful blog doesn’t happen overnight – it takes commitment. You need to be interested in what you’re writing about, and so do your readers. By defining what that interest is and being consistent, you’ll develop a stronger following.
Create The Right Kind Of Customer
People that want to save money don’t necessarily want to spend money to save it.
— Ramit Sethi
But aren’t all visitors the same? Maybe if you’re using AdSense. Ramit doesn’t use display ads on his site, instead he monetizes through subscriptions, courses and his best selling book. There are some people that are ready to invest in these products, and others that aren’t. Here’s an example:
Frugal Fred visits IWTYTBR. He reads a couple of posts, and makes a comment about how he’d like to see more frugality tips: like saving money by skipping on lattes. Then he hears about Ramit’s Earn 1-k course, and his first thought is, “how much does this cost?”.
Compare that to Vicky Value who visits, reads a post about freelancing and gets her first gig that same day. She’s hooked, and when Vicky sees the Earn 1-K course her first question is, “can you show me others who have had success with your course?”
What’s the difference between Fred and Vicky? Fred is obsessed with cost, and Vicky is obsessed with value. Who would you rather have as a customer?
It’s Okay To Offend Someone
I want to attract the right people, while intentionally repelling the wrong people. I don’t want them, they don’t want me.
– Ramit Sethi
Have you ever held back from posting because you didn’t want to offend a reader? Did you go back and edit a line or two? Is the post still sitting as a draft? Next time consider posting it. At IWTYTBR, some mockery has become part of Ramit’s brand. For example, he often makes fun of people that are excessively frugal. He’s not malicious. It’s funny. And in a way he has a point: skipping lattes and restarting a budget for the 5th time doesn’t work.
Here’s something to keep in mind – Ramit says, “I’m not trying to offend unnecessarily, not at all, it’s not a shtick or anything. This is how I talk in real life. In fact, I tone it down for my blog”. By writing like you speak and like you think, your blog takes on your personality. This is something unique and remarkable, especially in a world full of “me-too” blogs. So, the next time you find yourself hesitating to press that publish button, take a deep breath and take the plunge.
While talking about audience segmentation, Ramit made a statement that really stuck with me. He said, “the number one thing that’s really important to building something of value, is that you’re not going to appeal to everyone. If you do, you’re probably really boring”.
I Will Teach You To Write Better
Over time I’ve been able to build a system that helps me create a higher quality and quantity of material, with the same amount of time on any given day.
– Ramit Sethi
Ramit is obsessed with systems and processes. In college he used systems to win over $100,000 in scholarships, and he still uses them when writing for IWTYTBR. So, I asked Ramit how he continuously optimizes his writing process to create better content. Want to know his process? Read on.
Read A Lot And Take Notes
I have over 10,000 bookmarks, and hundreds of different tags.
– Ramit Sethi
The first step in Ramit’s system is to read voraciously. Every day, he spends several hours browsing the internet for interesting and relevant content. Reading does three things: it keeps your idea muscle working, gives you perspective on what styles and topics resonate with people and provides a breadth of knowledge that you can draw on later.
Don’t be a passive reader.
When Ramit comes across an article he likes, or information that may be useful for a post, he adds it to Delicious. Do your future-self a favour: get really specific with your tags. Among Ramit’s top 10 tags are topics he writes about often: finance, psychology, and marketing, but there are 777 tags in total. By getting specific, you make it really easy to find content when you need it. Want to be even more efficient? Ramit saves the most important part in an annotation, so he can grab it without having to reread the entire article. If you follow these two tips, writing quality posts becomes a breeze because you always have quick access to three our four relevant articles.
Have An Editorial Calendar
I’ve gotten a little more rigorous and sophisticated, and I use an editorial calendar.
– Ramit Sethi
How do you decide what to write about? Do you think about topics while driving to work? Does your thesis come to you while watching TV? When Ramit started blogging, he would just wake up and decide what to write about. In eight years, his process has evolved and become more sophisticated. Now he uses an editorial calendar to stay organized. Setting up your own calendar is easy.
- Jot down the main categories or themes you write about, i.e. SEO, conversion rates, web design.
- Mark a weekly calendar with each theme, give more weight to topics that resonate well with readers.
- Stick to your plan! Just like making a financial or career plan, you reap much greater rewards by acting consistently.
Ramit says having a calendar keeps his posting regular, which works well with his readers. This regularity also allows his assistant to add testimonials and get the HTML just right. By having an editorial calendar, Ramit and his assistant can coordinate their efforts and gain the benefits of specialization. How would a calendar improve your workflow?
Post Your Best, Draft Everything Else
Every time I write something I want it to be timeless. I want someone to come back in 25 years and go, “oh yeah, that’s a really good point. That’s something interesting.”
– Ramit Sethi
When I asked Ramit whether he holds back from publishing certain posts, he told me he has over 100 drafts saved in WordPress. The number one reason is that these posts aren’t complete. Others just aren’t good. Ramit says he gets a lot of ideas from talking with people, and during a conversation he might find a friend’s ideas interesting and email himself a note to write about it. The problem isn’t coming up with ideas. The problem is making every post remarkable.
Ramit has written hundreds of posts for IWTYTBR, and says he may have posted about 20 articles that he’s not really proud of. He adds, “if it doesn’t have that quality of timelessness, or if it doesn’t have something interesting, I’m not really interested in posting it. I’d rather just post nothing”. You have a very thin thread of credibility with your readers, and Ramit warns that after just two or three bad posts you can lose them. Are you posting only your best work?
Reflect And Improve
When I started in 2004, I tried to make every post really, really good. They could have been better.
– Ramit Sethi
Ramit’s early posts were simple – he’d just lay out the facts. Over time his writing has become more nuanced, which means longer posts with a narrative element. By telling stories, readers can relate to your writing. By telling stories, readers can remember your writing. By telling stories, you give your readers something to tell their friends about. Tell stories!
Your writing may gradually improve on it’s own, but with effort you will see greater gains. Ramit uses his email newsletter as a laboratory for testing writing techniques. Since email marketing platforms like MailChimp or Aweber allow you to segment your list, experimenting there is a low cost way to see what resonates with readers. Looking back on your past writing, how can you improve it?
Be The Best In The World
As Ramit and I ended the segment of our interview on his writing process, he said something that resonated so deeply with me that it’s changed how I think about writing. He said, “if you’re just going to start another me-too blog, what’s the point? My motto has always been, figure out a way to be the best in the world on that small piece of real estate you have on the internet. You don’t have to write long posts. Yours could be short, full of pictures, whatever it might be. Just try to be the best, and you’ll find you get disproportionate rewards”.
I Will Teach You To Guest Post
I just felt that I had material the world needed to hear.
– Ramit Sethi
In our interview, Ramit told me, “guest posts have been one of my best strategies for growing my blog,… and I continue to do guest posts today”. So, Ramit, how do you write blog posts that not only are going to be featured on other blogs but are also going to bring you traffic?
The Importance of Small Steps Like Cutting Back on Lattes
Just the other day, Ramit got an email from a guy wanting to guest post about cutting back on lattes. Sounds pretty typical for a personal finance blog, right? Not IWTYTBR, as Ramit points out, “anyone who has ever read my site knows that I ridicule people who cut back on lattes because it’s a totally pointless task”.
Spend a lot of time doing research. Ramit remembers when he launched his site, “there were about 12 big personal finance blogs… and I basically studied them carefully, I learned what each of them stood for”. Part of your research is also finding out whether a blog’s audience is totally different than yours. Ramit learned this from making the mistake of spending 15-20 hours writing posts for blogs that just seem similar, and says “you don’t want to be putting yourself in front of even a million people, who are just not like you”.
Take Away: Once you’ve spent the time to learn about a site, its style, topics and voice, then you can contribute to them and make friends with the owners. Better yet, you will be able to write articles that resonate with readers, and drive more traffic to your site.
Build Relationships Through Comments
If you send Tim Ferriss an email, you’ll get this instant and automatic response: “Thank you for your email, sadly it will be deleted”. So, how do you get through to Tim? Ramit remembers being at a conference where Tim told someone: “Honestly the best way to get in touch with me is to leave a comment on my blog. I read every one of those”.
The Blog of Tim Ferriss gets 100+ comments on every post, so to get noticed you need to make comments that are on topic and add value to the conversation. Apply that same thoughtfulness when commenting on every blog you read, and you can build a rapport with the writer. When you eventually pitch your guest post topics, you won’t be just another anonymous person filling up their inbox.
Example: “Hey Michael, this is the best interview with Ramit I’ve ever seen. I noticed you asked a lot of questions about monetization. One suggestion I have is to always price your products with the magic-eight-ball test. Here’s an article about it”.
Get Personal With an Email
Ramit’s next step is to send this quick little email:
Flattery works, and with an email like this “you’ve acknowledged that they’re great, you’ve taken the time to read their stuff, and then you’ve also added value to them”. Ramit says the key to the relationship building power of this email is that “everyone’s really looking for someone who is looking out for them”. So, who are you looking out for?
Take Away: Helping busy people is an awfully good way to get to know them. The next time you can add value to one of your favorite writers, send them a quick email and let them know about it!
Pitch Your Post
Four steps in and we are finally ready to start talking guest posts. Ramit says a good way to follow up on your helpful emails is to send a note saying: “Curious if I might be able to send some guest posts your way. Would you be open to that?”. When the blogger says yes, Ramit has a draft email ready to fire off. There are four parts to this email:
- Why: I am writing to submit guest post ideas to Problogger.net.
- Who: I’m Michael, and I interview top bloggers for WriterViews. I’ve written for XYZ, here’s an example.
- What: Here are three bullet-pointed ideas I thought might be really interesting. Of course I’d be open to doing any other ideas if you have them.
- How: If this is cool, I will send over the entire post, fully written and ready to be dropped into WordPress.
Ramit says “a lot of people come to me with one idea, they’re married to this idea, and the idea either it’s just not good, or it’s not good for my audience. I would much rather they come with three ideas”. It is also important to pitch ideas before sending your full post. It’s “just like publishers don’t want you to write a book before you go to them, they want you to have a book proposal”.
Take Away: Once you’ve built a relationship with a blogger, pitch them three interesting ideas for their blog. By sending three ideas, the blogger will have a harder time turning you down.
Make Your Guest Post Absolutely Incredible
So, your favorite blogger wants you to write a guest post, congratulations! Ramit’s says “your number one goal is to make it absolutely incredible. Make it so good that the site owner is like ‘I love it. You can guest post here any time you want'”. Incredible posts take a ton of time, and Ramit spends “12 to 15 hours writing each guest post… they are more comprehensive than even most of the posts you will find on the host’s site”. Ramit adds that for your first guest post self-promotion is a secondary goal.
Want to write a guest post that is stellar? Ramit says if someone is writing a guest post for IWTYTBR, “when they link to a book they would actually do the research to include my Amazon affiliate code. What does that do? Number one, it shows me that they are thinking of me not themselves, and number two, it’s just that level of detail. That shows me that this person is probably going to be terrific to work with”. FYI, Ramit’s Amazon affiliate code is IWTYTBR-20.
Take Away: Write guest posts that are so good you get an open invitation to write again. This is an opportunity to build a relationship with not just the blogger, but also with their readers.
See Ramit’s guide to writing high traffic guest posts for more details.
I Will Teach You To Monetize
They thought that I cared about making $300 or $500 a month. Honestly, I didn’t give a damn about that.
– Ramit Sethi
How many of your readers tell you that you have to monetize your blog? Do they call you crazy when you don’t? After three years of giving away free content, these are the exact comments Ramit was getting from his readers. So, he surveyed his audience and from the results started developing systems and processes to monetize. After all, when you call your blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich you have a lot to live up to. Since then, Ramit has leveraged his blog’s popularity to display ads, run profitable courses and launch his best selling book. I wanted to know how Ramit inspired the kind of readers that begged him to sell to them, and monetized in a way that creates lasting value. So, from his earliest trials with display ads to his recent success with video courses, here’s how he does it.
Don’t Try To Monetize Too Quickly
If it’s not going to cover my rent, then why do I care?
– Ramit Sethi
Ramit suggests a wholesome approach to making money from blogging, and that means starting by truly understanding the world of monetization. Research the options, try out a few of them, and realize that your first three or four attempts are probably not going to be the level of success you want.
Your options include ads, products, speaking, consulting or coaching, and they each have both direct and indirect costs. For example, despite Ramit’s friends at Google saying all his traffic was going to waste, he didn’t want the negative perception that comes with display ads. When his friends persisted, Ramit decided to survey over 1000 readers and asked if they minded him testing some unobtrusive ads. With 81% of responses being yes, he experimented and found ads only brought in a few hundred dollars every month. So he stopped using them – it just wasn’t interesting money. In Ramit’s words, “if it’s not going to cover my rent, then why do I care?”.
Offer Value, Then Offer More Value
I’ve always been a big fan of building value. Giving people 100 times before you even ask them for anything.
– Ramit Sethi
You know how some people are obsessed with SEO? Or getting the design of their subscription box just right? Or making their “buy now” button orange? Ramit’s obsession is providing so much value to his readers that they keep coming back for more. How do you create value with that kind of gravity?
On a personal finance site, value means getting visitors to a post detailing step by step how to call their credit card company (with scripts and everything) that make their fees just melt away. Ramit says when you show people how to get big results in a short amount of time, they become readers for life. How can you create that kind of value for your readers?
Don’t Be Afraid To Sell
Honestly, that was one of my biggest fear moments in my entire blog career, because I was petrified of charging for content. I thought that people would not pay, and they would think I was selling out, I was legitimately afraid.
– Ramit Sethi
Maybe your first go at monetization will be a course, or an email subscription list, or affiliate links. Ramit did a collaborative ebook with a bunch of other bloggers, got it professionally designed, and called it Ramit’s Guide To Kicking Ass. They sold it for $4.95. Sounds okay, right? A few vocal readers didn’t think so, and said things like “Ramit jumped the shark” and called him a sell out. Some of those readers even said they’d never come back to his site.
Ramit expected to sell 100 copies in the first year. What do you think happened? Instead he sold over 1000. That’s when he realized that people are willing to pay for value, despite the few outliers complaining about everything not being free. Ramit thinks of this as his turning point, “I realized there will always be people that complain and freeload”. Focus on providing great value for your real target audience. The readers who are engaged, willing to invest in themselves, and actively looking for solutions.
Sell Your Readers What They Want
When the economy tanked in late 2008, nobody cared about investing. All they wanted to read about was how to save money.
– Ramit Sethi
Sometimes the information your readers are looking for isn’t what you usually write. Be flexible. Knowing that the world had recession on the mind, Ramit created a 30 day plan to save $1000.
On day two the Wall Street Journal and MSN started writing about and linking to his series. With a huge influx of traffic, it was time to monetize. Ramit’s friend Erica Douglas told him, “just make a subscription program, put it in an email, and have people sign up for one tip a week”. He called it The Scrooge Strategy and sold it for $8 per month. Hundreds of people signed up. What could you be writing about that your audience will pay for?
Make Your Product So Good That It Pays For Itself
We collected 50,000 data points. So we know precisely what is holding people back, what is really helping them earn money on the side, and we used some very sophisticated psychological techniques to build a product that’s a leader in its space.
– Ramit Sethi
Should you price your ebook at $9.99 or $14.99. It doesn’t matter. Make your products extremely detailed, and don’t show them to anybody. Visitors to Ramit’s site can’t even buy a product until they go through an extensive funnel – over twenty-five pages. During those pages readers learn to identify a freelancing opportunity and find paying clients. Ramit says “I try to get them to make the cost of the course back before they even see the sales page”.
Another key is being really clear about who you want and don’t want as a customer. That’s right – there can be customers you don’t want. On IWTYTBR, those people are the ones whose first question is “how much does this cost?” because they are obsessed with cost and not value. There are even people that Ramit refuses to sell to. He tells potential buyers that if he finds out they have credit card debt he will refund their money, and they won’t be allowed to buy anything else. Ramit’s ideal customer? Someone who says “show me three others like me who used your techniques to earn more money on the side” Who is your ideal customer? How can you make your product pay for itself?
Don’t Sell Out
If someone came to me and said, “here is a really sleazy way to make $25,000”, I would turn it down in a second. If someone came and said, “send one email and I will give you $10 million”, I’d think about it. Everyone’s got a number where it gets really difficult.
– Ramit Sethi
When you run a popular personal finance blog, all kinds of people want to pitch your audience. People selling investment products. People selling income opportunities. People selling everything. Don’t sell out. With IWTYTBR, Ramit isn’t building something that will just make money today, but that will be of incredible value tomorrow, next year, and 10 years from now. When you’ve worked so hard to build a relationship with your readers, there is no value you can put on their trust. Don’t sell out. It’s not worth it.
As we finished the “how to make money” part of our interview, Ramit shared one last thought. He told me “it’s important to think really long term, and think about your values. Do the right thing with your readers. Offer incredible value to your readers, and you will make more money than you can ever imagine”.
Are You Starting a Blog?
Below are some recommendations based on 17+ years of writing online.
Recommended Hosting Provider: DreamHost
You will need to register a domain and get hosting. I recommend DreamHost for both, because they have good customer service and simple tools like a “one-click install” for WordPress. You can get everything setup in less than 30 minutes.
I’ve been a DreamHost customer for years, and recommend it to clients, friends and family. Seriously, my mom is on DreamHost. If you want to splurge for premium hosting, WPengine is arguably better: for simplicity, security and amazing customer service, but it is more expensive so not a great option for everybody. DreamHost is a cost effective solution and is enough for most people just getting started.
Warning: Never Google “Free WordPress Themes”
Never use free WordPress themes you find via Google search; they can be infected with malware that is a pain to clean up. Instead, try a free theme from the database within WordPress or buy a premium theme from a site like ThemeForest.
I also recommend you ignore theme frameworks (which is something that many bloggers recommend because they are paid to). Theme frameworks may seem like a good way to “optimize your SEO” or do design customization, but my professional webmaster friends say they are a huge pain to work with.
Full Disclosure: Affiliate Links
Full Disclosure: The links for DreamHost, WPengine and ThemeForest are “affiliate links”, which means if you use them to make a purchase then these services will credit my account. The credit from WPengine is 4x that of DreamHost, but I still recommend DreamHost for most new bloggers because this isn’t about the money; it’s about recommending the best web host for your current needs. I don’t know how ThemeForest credit works.
Want to Interview Me for Your Site?
I love connecting with readers, and interviews are a great way to build those relationships. Check out this example interview I did about finding high paying clients so you can travel the world.
If you want to interview me, reach out via my contact page. Please suggest timeslots for the interview, a general topic and a few specific questions you will ask.
We can do a video call via Skype. I’ll record the interview, and my team will do the editing and upload it to YouTube. All I ask is that when the video is ready, you embed it on your site and link back to this page.