Back in early April, partially at the suggestion of Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz, I wrote a free e-book intended to make launching a standalone blog easy, fast, and cheap. It was a short book, comprised of screenshots and simple written instructions. All anyone had to do was read, point, and click.
Nearly four hundred people downloaded the e-book in the first few days, but in the following month, only three actually completed the process. People said that sure, it was easy, but there were still too many steps. So I announced that if they’d just get the hosting, I’d do the rest of the process for them for $39.
That did it.
I launched 40 blogs the following week, and was flooded with emails thanking me for making this complicated subject easy — and that brought me to an interesting realization. If I could be the guy who made things simple, people would love it and even pay me for it. Psychologists call this “Removing barriers to action.” I think of it as “making things stupidly easy.”
Know your topic. Make it simple. Profit.
What this means for you
Most blogs — especially those that try to make a profit — are about something. They’re about meditation, or custom window framing, or knitting, or blogging itself. They have a lesson to impart. Readers are there because they want to understand a topic they don’t know as well as the blog’s author does. The extent to which you are able to teach them will, in large part, determine whether they continue to read, tell their friends, link to you, and so on.
Sounds obvious, right? The sticking point is that not all teaching is created equal. It’s not always in line with what readers actually want and need.
How readers learn best
In early May, I conducted a survey among IttyBiz readers to see how they preferred to learn online. Throughout the survey, I asked participants to pretend that they were trying to learn a skill online that 1) they were not already an expert at, 2) didn’t involve a lot of creativity and hence was amenable to step-by-step explanation, and 3) was a sort of “middle of the road” skill — i.e., closer to “changing spark plugs” than “rebuilding an engine from scratch.”
Here’s what I found:
1. Readers really do want simplicity.
Only six percent of respondents said that “a vague sketch of how to do it” would be sufficient. Two thirds said that simple instructions were “important,” and thirty percent said it was “essential.” Nearly a third of the audience said that “Ideally, I’d like someone to show me exactly what to do each step of the way.” What’s more, 79% said that on a scale of 1-10, “simplicity and easy-to-follow instructions” are at least an eight when learning a new skill online. 23% of respondents ranked it as a ten.
2. Detailed tutorials and detailed text descriptions with photos are the best learning tools.
The learning tool that respondents thought would be most helpful when learning a new skill online was “Doing detailed step-by-step tutorials (Step one: Do this (with photo). Step two: Do this (with photo). Etc.).” 83% chose this option, following it at 79% with “Reading text, like blog posts, with accompanying photos” (Text without photos ranked at half that.) Surprisingly, the third-ranking medium — video — ranked at only 51%, followed by detailed e-books, Q&A, wikis, and interactive phone calls or web meetings.
3. People are willing to pay for easy-to-follow instruction.
50% of respondents said they’d be willing to pay for instructions that could make the process easier and faster than the alternatives, even if those more complicated alternatives were free. Another 20% said “Maybe.” (Caveat: Some respondents felt that their answers to this one would depend highly on the skill at hand.)
4. People are willing to pay up to $50 for info products that could make the process simpler.
Of the people who said they’d pay to make learning a skill easier, 44% said the maximum they’d pay for an info product would be $20, and another 32% said they’d pay up to $50. Only 5% were willing to pay more.
5. “Simple-making” is worth up to $50 per hour.
For bloggers who run a service business teaching people how to do things, your skills seem to be worth between $25 and $50 per hour. 40% indicated they would pay this much, with 37% indicating they’d only pay up to $25/hr, and 17% willing to go as high as $75/hr. (And again, respondents indicated what they’d pay would depend on the skill being taught.)
6. More than half of the respondents would pay someone to just do it for them.
I asked people to consider a “middle of the road” skill that they didn’t know well, that could be outsourced, and that had to be done (as opposed to a hobby they wanted to learn how to do themselves) and asked if they would pay someone to just do it for them. 52% said they would, with another 18% responding with “Maybe.” Of the “Yes” responses, 44% said they would pay up to $100 total. Another 16% said they’d go up to $200, and 9% would pay up to $500.
What this means to the average blogger
Assuming your blog centers on a specific topic (rather than being a personal journal) this all means that there is money in being the person who makes your topic simple. Do you write about construction? If you made a simple, step-by-step online tutorial with plenty of pictures about how to install recessed lighting, readers might pay $20-$50 to access it. Do you blog about computer networking? That’s an insanely complex topic. If you could boil some of your best tips down into really, really easy step-by-step instructions (as video, e-books, or just an informative blog), you could likely sell that information. Or for local readers, you could easily charge $50/hr to teach them personally, or even more to set up networks for them.
Now: You may think you already make your topic easy, but keep in mind just how highly simplicity ranked in the survey. A third of people wanted to see every little step along the way. 23% said simplicity was important to the tune of 10 out of 10. Detailed step-by-step tutorials ranked at the very top of the methods readers prefer to use when learning. Sure, you’re explaining your topic. But are you making it stupidly easy?
The Net is a complicated place, full of free instruction that is often still confusing and hard to follow. Try being the person who can explain your topic to the layman in very, very, very easy-to-follow ways. If you can use your knowledge to distill the essence of what you know and put it across in a “stupidly easy” way, you may discover a huge market right at your fingertips.
In addition to being a weekly contributor to IttyBiz, Johnny writes Learn to Be Your Own V.A. (which is informative but not funny) and The Economy Isn’t Happening (which is funny but not at all informative). You can pick up his free blog launch e-book at the former.