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How to Become more Popular (and Grow your Income) by Making your Topic Stupidly Easy

This guest post is by Johnny B Truant from Learn to Be Your Own V.A. and The Economy Isn’t Happening.

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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. ya ur right at every point, I won’t spend more the $50 to hire someone to do something I don’t know, I would rather figure it out, and when I figure it out it seems to me, is worth more then the $50

  2. Bill Masson says:

    Some excellent points to take away from this post, I know there are quite a few things i could do to hep others. For me personally I research and study if i want to learn a new skill. I definitely want simplicity, It was surprising that video came lower down for learning choices. Some useful indicators to take away in terms of what people are prepared to pay.

    Thanks for the read

  3. Great post, just reading through it, I got a lot of stupidly easy ideas for posts and maybe more. I do a lot of reviews, but this gave me some ideas for how-to posts. It makes a lot of sense because when I’m looking for instructions online, I always pick the stupidly easy with pictures and words.

  4. I agree with you Johnny.

    People are willing to spend if we make their life easier.

    Though they can learn how to do it on their own, they are willing to pay a small sum for others to do it for them.

    Generally people are lazy to learn…

  5. This is a very important post for people who want to make money, especially from blogging.

    You’ve certainly hit the nail on the head. This is just what I needed to hear – the right information at the right time in my ‘blogging career’. It is nice to get stats and it is very nice to see money amounts (it’s very brave of you – I’ve noticed that many blogs about making money don’t like to state specific amounts.)

    Thank you very much. I look forward to more posts from you.

  6. ooops – I forgot to add – when I’m writing instructional posts I pretend it is for my Grandma…lol. That centres me on the ‘KISS’ method.

    (Keep it simple, stupid)

  7. Very informative. I guess the idea is to target laymen rather than sounding too techie, making your post make a flyby rather than easily getting the point across.

  8. People are willing to spend if we make their life easier…

  9. Dan Miranda says:

    You are the same guy who responded to my topic “Holy shit.” on the PM forums so this is what I’m going to say to you:

    Holy shit.

  10. I think a lot of this goes back to web usability, too, honestly. I forget the stats, but you have like three seconds or something to answer a visitor’s question or they leave. Even if it’s right there but not obvious, you lose them. (Someone call Jakob Nielsen!)

    It’s especially applicable in buying behavior. Don’t tell someone to go somewhere; give them a link. Don’t ask them to do something if it’s minor enough and if you doing it for them will get them to buy.

    For my $39 blog setups, I’ve made it really easy by just taking the “actually setting up the blog” part out of their hands, but they still need to get the hosting… so for extra zing, I made the process to get hosting stupidly easy by giving them a ridiculously obvious 10-step process to follow, including screenshots with big red arrows on them:

    “CLICK THIS. Okay, go to step 2. SELECT THIS. Okay, go to step 3.”

    The commercials with “so easy a caveman could do it?” That’s sort of what I’m going for.

  11. Good advice. I find the hardest thing for me sometimes is making things “stupidly easy” without making them “insultingly simplistic”. Simplicity and simplistic are different things. Interestingly, when I’m reading something to learn something myself, I want simple. When I’m writing for someone else, I’m always afraid simple will be insulting.

    I think I need to go for more of the simplicity.

  12. I just love your insight. This gave me a whole new passion for CEO and keyword placement within my articles to promote my services. Visiting your blog is like being a kid in a candy store, there are so many “treats” I have access to.

    Until the next post, much love, peace, and medicated hair grease.

    - Thierry

  13. Meant to write SEO in that first comment… LOL

    Until the next post, much love, peace, and medicated hair grease.

    - Thierry

  14. mike says:

    I like keeping it simple also. The same when I read other blogs.

  15. Joe Gilder says:

    Here’s a question for you. I do a lot of quick “how-to” videos on my blog. Does anyone have advice for how you draw the line between free information (blog content, which brings traffic) and paid-for information?

  16. Exactly! My site is now a full-fledged community because I took my previous computer training skills and made step-by-step instructions to teach newbies how to enter sweepstakes and win prizes.

    Although there are tons of sweepstakes sites out there and they have been there for 10 years or more my site is now on the 2nd page of Google after only 7 months because I have been willing to teach people what I know.

    Many people also do not want to give their knowledge away freely and I am the opposite. I love giving away my knowledge and I do not see it as a threat at all. No one will ever know exactly what I know anyhow because they haven’t been through the experiences in life that gained me that knowledge.

    I have yet to put all of my knowledge about this particular topic in an eBook to sell but maybe that is something I should consider.

  17. Kayla says:

    Excellent post. I’ve slowly been learning this as I write tutorials, but have also been trying to implement the idea into my regular blog posts.

    I think the idea is a mix between providing the correct hierarchy when creating a step-by-step article, and providing an ample amount of detail. Each step should be written at the most simple level, but below each should be more detail per each step. A balance to get things easy and detailed is important.

  18. SeoProfy says:

    easy things it’s alway better for the people, i think to write easy posts to the blog need some time and expirience, but it is always working. Not only in the blogs, anywhere.

    thanks for great post, i like keeping it simple.

  19. There are many reasons why a person would prefer to pay someone else to do all the “easy” stuff for them. And it does not mean that they are lazy for doing that.

    1. It is a choice- some people just want to follow their passion and simply refuse to do things that they do no enjoy. So instead of sitting and figuring out how to do a boring task, they have someone to do it for them. That way they can concentrate on doing what they really enjoy- writing.

    2. They don’t have the time to figure it out- they are on a deadline, or they make more than $50 an hour with their work. This way, sitting down and figuring out unfamiliar task actually costs them money and paying someone else to do it for them saves their money.

    3. Common wisdom says that if there is a difficult way of doing things, and a simple way of doing them, which leads to the same outcome, one must choose the easy one. Some people enjoy to supervise and delegate things rather than actually do them.

    4. They are just too distracted or too stressed out to learn. When people are under stress, the part of their brain responsible for learnig shuts down and they can only access what they already know. Easy explanations is the only things they can handle at a particular moment or a period of time.

    I personally have paid to have things easier for me when I was on a tight deadline for a project. Sometimes it is the only thing you can handle because no one’s life is perfect.

  20. Frank Gantz says:

    I agree. My frustration point was in finding steps to perform and task and discovering that one of the steps assumed I knew how to do something that I did not know.

    Here’s to people applying the “making things stupidly easy” principle.

  21. still learning from your blog, very good ideas to add to my social network bookmarks, thanks Darren!

  22. Denise says:

    I was truly glad to see this post; good timing for me. I plan on heading over and checking out the site. One of the big reasons why the varying methods of learning is due to the fact that there are basically 7 different types of learners. Often and moreover, depending on the subject matter at hand, I find I am a combo type; written along with visuals in still picture form. If its in video format, I end up having to watch it numerous times plus writing it. It can be a real pain sometimes, but I’ve found this is what works for me to learn. You do what you gotta do.

  23. With over 12 years of teaching new technologies to adults who are of average intelligence and previously clueless, I absolutely agree.

    My students have convinced me that no missed detail, not even the smallest, will ever fail to stall a student’s learning. You literally cannot make it too simple.

  24. Turning technical to simple has been my trademark now ever since I started teaching online. The easier you can make it for people…definitely, the better. Great article!

    Barbara

  25. You know what? I think we all think our area of expertise is easy!

    So I think that Johnny’s Article hit the nail on the head – that is, we must “dumb down” our area of expertise. We cannot assume that even though we understand our business really well that others will too.

    Darren, thank you for getting such a good “guest poster boy”!

  26. I believe what I do each day is simple.

    But that is because i do it, ALL DAY EVERY DAY, where as my website visitors do not.

    They come to me to share my knowledge, including my assumed knowledge. and to do it in simple step-by-step methods.

    Thank you for reminding me again that I can be seen by others as a source of knowledge and learning.

  27. B Simple says:

    Really enjoyed your post. Your exact right many people what to see how its done the quickest and easiest way and some people prefer to just have someone else do it for them. That’s exact what I am trying to do with my blog. Many people find personal finances to be complex topic but it can be very easy if you take it one step at a time.

  28. Nice post. Most people are under the impression the more complicated it is the better. That’s where they trip up the most.

  29. To the few of you who commented about giving stuff away, my thoughts are that the more you give away, the more you build trust. I’m a huge believer in helping people for the hell of it, just to be cool. And as a bonus, the people who come to me for free info are about a zillion times* more likely to buy from me later than the are to buy from someone who’s never given them anything at all.

    * “Zillion times” may not be statistically accurate.

    I’m also funnier and more irreverent on my own turf like my buddy Naomi Dunford, which helps keep things interesting.

    Thanks to everyone who’s said they enjoyed my post, and a big thanks to Darren for running it!

  30. Ruhul Amin says:

    This is very true… I have a wordpress plugin that I sell and I had a conversion ratio of around 5% (make about 5 sales every 100 traffic). I didn’t have a lot of documentation for this plugin so last week I created a new documentation site with lots of easy to follow instructions for this plugin and the conversion ratio have gone up to about 10% (make 10 sales per 100 traffic)!

  31. Joan Schramm says:

    Excellent post, and certainly something to mull over and incorporate in my business.

    I think many peole who know how to do something think it isn’t any big deal…I mean, I can do it, so how hard can it be? Or, they think, there’s so much free information out there, why would anyone pay me to teach it to them?

    It’s helpful for me to remember that there are always people who know less than me and people who know way more. I’m learning what I need or want to learn, and sharing my own particular knowledge with people who have different wants and needs. Everybody wins!

    Thanks!

  32. Maple says:

    Some very nice ideas here. One way backlinks is one of the best ( to Become more Popular ) and most effective ways to get high positions in search engines and milk these positions for targeted traffic. But getting quality one way links is a big job.

  33. Salman says:

    WOW ! Nice topic I too want to become a pro blogger
    Still I am trying to become advanced.See the position of my blog @
    http://www.tips4blogging.co.cc

  34. dofus kamas says:

    I agree. My frustration point was in finding steps to perform and task and discovering that one of the steps assumed I knew how to do something that I did not know.

    Here’s to people applying the “making things stupidly easy” principle.

  35. Really inspirational post Johnny. The concept of keeping it simple really triumphs in all aspects of life. Even a website with a simple and minimalist design will enable users to focus on content and in overall improves usability like you mentioned.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and also thanks to Darren.

  36. Robby G says:

    Lol sounds great. So my blog’s motto should basically be something like. “Dating Advice for Kindergarteners Without the Lame ‘Will You Go Out With Me?’ Notes”. How does that sound?

  37. “Readers really do want simplicity” yes, using regular words within the article body is also great! Pretending like you are having a face to face conversation with your reader ie writing like you talk.

  38. Bibokz says:

    You explain the details on the simplest way… even stupid lad can learn from this.

  39. Christopher says:

    Thanks for that, it was a very good piece of article enjoyed reading it. I am surprised that people actually paid you money to make them a simple blog. You must have some very good skills.

  40. Dean Saliba says:

    Very good article. I use the “simplicity is best” mantra through all of my life not just with my blogs.

  41. Lee says:

    You are right. People are willing to pay if it is easier for people to get the results they want. :) ArticlePinger.com

  42. Allen Resha says:

    Easy to follow…you took your own advice in this blog entry and made it easy to understand and apply the techniques you taught. I love your blog because for me I am still learning about blogging…

    Thanks for all the good insights and ideas…

    TheWildJoker :D

  43. ricky says:

    nice post.Thanks

  44. PraShawn says:

    I rather have step by step instructions, because I can learn more efficiently. When the step by step instructions do not work I know where it went wrong.

  45. Not an easy task to do. You need to be expert and you need to have made your customers and readers convinced you are trustworthy.

  46. @Christopher – See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about, though. We’re ensconced in the blogging world, so we think it’s easy. But have you looked at the WordPress “Easy Install” lately? They don’t make it look easy. And a lot of people don’t know about fast-installs… and those that do (I explain it in the free e-book) are still sometimes overwhelmed because the concept of monkeying with anything inside of a hosting control panel is new to them. The concept of FTP (to upload the theme and plug-ins) is new to them, and they don’t understand why those two things have separate passwords.

    A lot of people say, “To hell with it… you just do it for me.”

    I’ve talked about something similar with Naomi, and she’s written about it – you can actually sell a product full of information that people could get for free. What you’re adding is:

    1. Aggregation and organization (You’re putting all of the relevant info in one place/book for people and organizing it in an understandable way),

    2. Buy-it-now simplicity (The info is here, now, in front of them at this very minute. Yes, they could spend more time finding it free, but it’s here right now!)

    3. Your own personal seal of approval (If you have regular readers, your aggregation of the info into a book BY YOU lends it validity. Free info may be accurate — or even the same — but your reader doesn’t get the security of knowing you agree with it and endorse it.)

    My favorite example of this is IttyBiz’s SEO School ( http://tinyurl.com/ohhqvh ). I mean, the internet is FLOODED with SEO advice. You can find it for free by just taking a few minutes to look around, but the sheer overwhelming volume works against it. SEO School says, “Here’s the core of what you need to know, here, now, with the IttyBiz seal of approval.” And you know what? It delivers. I recommend it to everyone who is overwhelmed by SEO… because there is TOO MUCH out there for free on the topic.

  47. Prince Sioni says:

    This is highly informative. Thanks

  48. Jade Craven says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I have nothing to add to the post except to say that I loved it. I hope you post again on here further, because you are my inspiration right now. I have been procrastinating so bad because I’m scared of failure and thanks to you, I’ve decided to just go for it. xx

    I do want to expand on the giving away stuff for free. i’m always doing stuff for my blogging friends – stuff no-one really sees. Some of these guys are high profile and they’ve said I should really draw the line between giving away so much help and advice for free, and charging.

    The way I see it is that thanks to being extremely useful, I now have a bunch of friends that are willing to help me out should I ask for it. These guys know what they are doing and have saved me from making so many mistakes.

    Your a classy, funny guy

    - Jade

  49. Lucho says:

    Hi Darren,

    Thank you for this very interesting post, you give me some ideas in “how to” write my own posts, and more….

    Best Regards,

    Lucho.

  50. Thanks for the post.
    I was approached by someone to write 5 blogs per day and needless to say it was for about 5.00 per hour. I am happy to say that I said, “No.” especially after he said he would not negotiate.

    I am a new blogger and only have been doing it for non personal reasons since about January. So I am always open to learning new things.