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Ramit Sethi: I Will Teach You To Monetize (In 6 Steps)

This guest post is by Michael Alexis, producer of WriterViews.com.

They thought that I cared about making $300 or $500 a month. Honestly, I didn’t give a damn about that.
– Ramit Sethi, iwillteachyoutoberich.com

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 blogger Ramit Sethi 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 personal finance blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich (IWTYTBR), you have a lot to live up to.

Ramit Sethi

Ramit Sethi, used with permission

Since then, Ramit has leveraged his blog’s popularity to display ads, run profitable courses, and launch a best-selling book. I invited Ramit to do this audio interview to find out exactly how he grew his blog, inspired the kind of readers that begged him to sell to them, and monetized in a way that creates lasting value.

Here, I wanted to explain the specific strategies Ramit used to monetize IWTYTBR, and spans from his earliest trials with display ads, to his recent success with video courses.

Don’t try to monetize too quickly

If it’s not going to cover my rent, then why do I care?
– Ramit Sethi, on why he doesn’t use display ads any more

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, on building relationships with your readers

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, on how it felt to launch his first product

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 A**. They sold it for $4.95. Sounds okay, right? A few vocal readers didn’t think so, and said things like “Ramit’s jumped the shark” and called him a sell out. Some of those readers even said they’d never come back to his site.

For $5.

Ramit expected to sell 100 copies in the first year. What do you think happened? 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, on why he created a subscription product for money saving tips

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 Douglass 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, on how he developed a course about earning more money

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 IWTYTR, 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 straight out 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, on tempting offers

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. 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 price 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.”

Michael Alexis is the co-founder and producer of WriterViews, a daily video series where accomplished writers share their tips, strategies and stories. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @writerviews.

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Comments

  1. Vago Damitio says:

    Wow. Great post. Great advice. Funny, I just got rid of all the things most monetizers say to put on…my blog looks sort of bare, but much better…

    • Thanks Vago! What kind of things did you get rid of? Popups? Sign up forms?


      Michael

      • Vago Damitio says:

        Yes. I got rid of the sign up forms, most of the affiliate advertising, my newsletter, and commenting. I’m also getting rid of my ebooks. I feel like the monetization strategies I was pursuing were holding me hostage and I had to just break free from them even though I was enjoying some success with them. The internet is changing and if we can’t break out of the mold, we end up just like everyone else with lead caputres, newsletters, e-books, and even the same titles. I’m looking for a unique formula and hopefully, I’ll find it. Any suggestions beyond your article are definitely appreciated!!!! ~Vago

        • That’s a lot of change! Nice job on taking action, and sounds like you’ve freed up time to focus on what really matters. i.e, producing great content.

          Daniel Scocco has a super comprehensive post, re: monetization on DailyBlogTips, called “28 Ways to Make Money with Your Website”.

          Consider a “certification program” too, i.e, if you stay at a hostel/hotel/campground/whatever – Review it on like the six most important factors, then give it a score out of 10 “vagos”. Do it free at first, then for the cost of the room, then charge. I remember reading about a couple that went around the USA with a measuring tape to make a database/certification for hotel room sizes – they made a tonne of money.

          Unrelated: my friend Josh Gordon runs a site called The Nonconformist Family – might be of interest to yours (congratulations).

          Also – I just graduated (Vancouver, Canada) and then jumped on a plane to China – you’ve got a new reader! (even if I do have to hang my computer out the window to catch a signal or two)

          • I think the “tours” idea is a good one too.

            I had an idea awhile back for goal oriented tours, i.e, “lose 10 pounds in South East Asia” (schedule yoga, healthy cooking lessons, etc.), or “learn to freelance from Chiro”, or “Improve your soccer game in Brazil”, or whatever.

            In an old Mixergy interview, the founder of ClickBank says the secret of selling online is to “go one niche deeper”. i.e, don’t just sell to vagabonds, sell to vagabonds that want to learn kickboxing in Thailand.


            Michael

  2. strawhatjp says:

    A great post. At least a break from all the technical stuffs, I really have to learn more.

    • Thanks Straw Hat ~ the conversation with Ramit was REALLY refreshing – focused on the “bigger questions” of blogging instead of hyper managing minute details!


      Michael

  3. Tatiana says:

    I really love Ramit’s blog, and the advice that he gives is really detailed. Which I like. How can you get anyone advice in 1,000 words or less? I love to read the testimonials he publishes, and how honest and up front he is about his practices. Also, since I don’t follow any other personal finance blogs (at least right now) I’m glad that I can use his as a reference because I thoroughly enjoy his style.

    And what I enjoyed about this blog post is that his advice also works not just for blogs, but other other endeavors as well. Knowing who you are before you start something and what your price is is really important. If you have no standards, you’ll fall for anything. And chasing money will never lead to any kind of sustainable happiness.

    Great post, I definitely enjoyed this. I love Ramit’s stuff.

    • Thanks, Tatiana. It’s funny how that 1000 word count seems to be a natural limit for a lot of us. Depending on the writer/theme I think you can be effective in less (i.e, Seth Godin), but Ramit’s articles definitely need to be longer – so he can provide that step-by-step and actionable goodness that you (and I!) both love.


      Michael

  4. Rory Mullen says:

    Ramit, Thanks for showing me that Ads are just not the way to make money. I have been to amazing pages and saw no adds, and with your analysis on monetizing and adds it showed me that if I want to succeed it will be though hard work and perseverance.

  5. I love the emphasis on providing value. I’m so sick of the over-hyped, over-priced products and cheesy internet marketing strategies. When you provide value and charge a fair price, you create loyal fans AND you can still sleep at night. Well done!

    • Tom Mannis says:

      Good point, Stephanie, about sleeping at night — then looking at yourself in the mirror the next morning. There’s a lot of cheese and sleaze on the Internet these days.

    • Hi Stephanie. Before chatting with Ramit I understood that you need to provide a tonne of value – but I don’t think I really “got it”. After the convo I seriously assess posts before pushing that publish button!


      Michael

  6. Tom Mannis says:

    Ramit has some great insights here. Thanks for the link to his blog, too, where I saw that today is his birthday! Happy BDay to Ramit, and thanks to ProBlogger as always for high quality content! It reminds me of the old axiom, “How do we do it? Volume! Volume! Volume!” Well, that’s only true as long as you also give “Value! Value! Value!”

    • Very true, Tom!

      I think people decide quickly whether or not they’ll be revisiting a site, and the value they perceive in the content is a major part of that assessment.

  7. In all honesty, one of the best posts I’ve seen on ProBlogger so far.. Just preaching the right way to go about things, rather then the sleazy way of making a few bucks (a trap I’ve fallen into a few times before).

    • Really appreciate that, Rob! Ramit’s funny. With a title like “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” his work sounds like some get rich quick scheme… but when you see his work (and even more so when you chat with him) there’s none of that. It’s all “these are the exact systems you can put in place today, so that over time you can achieve your goal”.


      Michael

  8. Michael Long says:

    “If it’s not going to cover my rent, then why do I care?”

    Well… if it’s not actively harming your site or blog, and not taking up a significant amount of your time, then why not? Multiple streams of income and all that.

    Besides, it may not pay the rent all on it’s own, but it might make a car or insurance payment, or simply be dropped into a retirement or college fund.

    • I think the those “ifs” are the key. Ramit told me he was worried flashing ads would leave a negative impression on his readers. i.e, they would just think, “I know how I’ll get rich, I’ll start a blog and put a lot of ads on it”. That’s not (necessarily) what he’s trying to teach – so it didn’t fit with his brand.


      Michael

  9. Michelle says:

    Great article – I got into Ramit’s 30 day (free) program at the start of the year and then into his Earn 1Kprogram. I love his angle on the psychology and “getting into your clients head”.

    I have just launch my own products after nurturing my community for 18 months, so thanks for the reminders about there always being a few complainers and customers you don’t want.

    • Congratulations, Michelle!

      It’s a message of Ramit’s and one that others we’ve interviewed have been sharing this week as well: Don’t try to be everything to everyone.

      Knowing your target market and focusing your efforts on providing something of value to them (with a little help and know-how from those who’ve already succeeded) will get you where you want to go.

  10. I always think its good advice to produce quality content above anything else. The truly best sites offer content that is timeless, that really helps people to succeed or do what they would like to.

    I’m always trying to produce articles that someone would want to read, whether or not it is trendy at the moment.

    Thanks for the article!

    • My pleasure, thanks for the feedback!

      Do you think consistently creating timeless posts means you could go ahead and remove the “date and time” from all your posts?


      Michael

  11. As an up and coming personal finance/debt reduction/frugality site I can attest to the fact that your audience will only react to the right product and you have to turn down all sorts of things left and right that could potentially make you money. I would never have though two years ago that I would be turning down financial opportunities, but I do it every day.

    Right now I offer affiliate products and will phase them out in July. I am also phasing out Adsense as I am developing my own products. My goal is to redesign and add significant value and entertainment for my readers. Our niche basically requires that of you – if you have any scruples.

    Thanks for interviewing Ramit. I have his book under my bed. Don’t judge.

    • Thanks for the comment! You make a good point- it takes a lot of time and effort to get to know just what your readers are looking for.

      And about Ramit’s book under your bed– no worries, we at WriterViews don’t judge ;).

  12. Great post. Really enjoyed reading it.

    Ramit’s case is a classic example of why you dont have to moneytise too quickly on the net. Build your audience, deliver value and then figure out what to sell.

    • Good point, Aman.

      That part of Ramit’s advice reminds me of what a lot of writers have been sharing on our site, and what you hear a lot in career advice in general: it’s important not to be in it for the money, but to be sure your site’s purpose is one you genuinely care about.

      If your motivation doesn’t go beyond that, you won’t have the drive to pursue it long enough to monetize, or see it through repeated attempts at monetization, as Ramit points out most sites will endure before seeing success.

  13. Awesome. I love Ramit’s viewpoints.

    He is so right about not selling out. My first blog was an advice one, and people were always asking how to “get rich quick”. You have to be strong and care for your readers. Of course, when you interact with them and people email you, it gets easier.

    I think Ramit has done a great job with his blog, something that all wannabe-professional bloggers can aspire to.

    • Exactly!

      It’s a lot easier to care about an audience with whom you’ve interacted, and it also helps you to fine tune your communication with them, when you’re hearing their point of view directly.

      • albüm dinle says:

        It’s a lot easier to care about an audience with whom you’ve interacted, and it also helps you to fine tune your communication with them, when you’re hearing their point of view directly.

  14. Jhelo Cruz says:

    Thanks for sharing this method. I strongly agree with the first one. Everything takes time, especially making money online. One should work hard first in able to be success in his/her chosen field.

    • Thanks, Jhelo. I think thats one of the most valuable lessons here. i.e, for most of us, get rich quick isn’t very likely… but have a plan and work really hard at it and we can all do well.


      Michael

  15. Louie Hale says:

    Really great post! I really need to monetize my site better as I am making no money from my traffic!

  16. Ramit really got a unique style I admire. I think among giving a tone of value to readers and asking far less, it’s also important to understand the primary goal for your blog. Another honest blogger would comfortable go well with a few hundred bucks a month from ads and hope to introduce other income streams in time, while it’s not a good fit for Ramit. It’s a good thing he experimented and was clear on his initial decisions.

    I read your recent guest post on weblogbetter. I thought it was amazing but this one… Dumbfounding.

    • Thanks, Ikenna. It’s easy to write a good post when you start with a source as insightful as Ramit!

      That’s definitely the core lesson: give a huge amount of value before you ask for anything. It builds up trust, it let’s people become familiar with your work… and maybe more than anything, shows them you ARE ABLE to produce valuable content for them. If all readers see is blog posts that you didn’t really think about, and didn’t really work on… then how can they know the paid for content will be any good?


      Michael

  17. James Greg says:

    I liked the part “Don’t monetize too quickly” that’s the part where many face depression. They want instant income and when their expectations receive a blow it becomes a bad idea. Quality is always praised no matter how much it costs. A very fine example is the Rolls Royce, it doesn’t come cheap and people are dying to own one.

    “Don’t be afraid to sell” well that’s the scariest part. How can a first timer know what price to demand? The fear of rejection kills the urge to sell.

    Great points elaborated in this interview, surely will teach us a lot.

    • Agreed. I remember in one of Andrew Warner’s (Mixergy) interviews, he said “you have to be able to stand up and sell, and don’t be afraid to stink. That’s the only way your going to find out if someone wants to buy, and if not, you can ask them why, so you can come back with a better product.”

      Any ideas for overcoming that fear of rejection?


      Michael

      • omegle says:

        Agreed. I remember in one of Andrew Warner’s (Mixergy) interviews, he said “you have to be able to stand up and sell, and don’t be afraid to stink. That’s the only way your going to find out if someone wants to buy, and if not, you can ask them why, so you can come back with a better product.”

        Any ideas for overcoming that fear of rejection?

  18. Awesome post with some funny pointers as well regarding the ads. I was always under the impression that the PPC ads were the biggest source of revenue for a blogger, but then came to realise that they werent even 10% of what a blog could earn. The way you have put forth the same thought in this neatly polished manner is commendable. The emphasis on the value and content goes well with my line of thought as well. Thanks for the post.

    • My pleasure – thanks for reading it! When I interviewed Trent Hamm (The Simple Dollar) – it seemed he monetized via ads, affiliate links, and his book. So definitely varies from blogger to blogger.

      How are you planning to monetize now?


      Michael

      • Thanks Michael for the personal reply to my comment. I admire your effort of keeping your comments moderated.
        I just started my website as you can see for yourself that it is in it’s initial stage, I am concentrating on building more quality content and getting good “organic” traffic.
        I have started reading about some affiliate programs, and it interests me to some extent, I am not sure which direction I would be taking, unless some professional bloggers can brainwash me into something. Any thoughts??

        • Thanks, Praveen – one thing I’m going to improve on is commenting on others’ work.

          I can’t load your site right now. I’m visiting China, so maybe it’s because of the super slow internet.

          Higher up in the comments I responded to Vago w/ an article from DailyBlogTips. It’s a great overview of the options, and comes from years of experience/success.

          I really do think you can get creative though w/ how you go about delivering value / monetizing. Like you said the most important thing right now is to get and grow traffic. When you’ve built out a little more I’d live to chat with you about ideas/opportunities to earn from it.


          Michael

          • Michael – There are some downtimes to my website, need to clarify that with the hosting provider.
            I have been reading the articles on DailyBlogTips, and the 28 steps listed by Daniel is a comprehensive list of options available to us bloggers. Thanks for recommending that, and I hope atleast couple of them will work out for me in the coming days.
            It would be my pleasure to chat with you and get some personal insights about your experience. Thanks once again.

  19. 3rddesign says:

    Great insight about this post. I admit I was one of the bloggers who are aiming for monetizing my blog. Good value is what we can offer to our readers.

  20. Nice… blogging has been one of the promising employment for any generation and admit it or not but a lot of people are depending and living a better life because of blogging.

    • Pretty cool, isn’t it? Key take away here is that you can have that – but have to work for it. Just because blogging is easy to get started at, doesn’t mean it’s easy to build that dream life.


      Michael

  21. patrick says:

    Great post! For some it can be hard to focus on blog monetization because it can feel like selling out at first, but then you realize that the products/services you are offering can help others grow so much more than if you didn’t offer them to your readers. In the end you are helping them become better and earning an income while you’re at it.

    • Thanks, Patrick! I like your ideas on it – and I think that’s exactly right. There’s nothing wrong with charging for value – because if you really are producing something that helps people, you deserve to make a living from it.


      Michael

  22. Annie Andre says:

    It was refreshing to see that Ramit faced some of the same fears i fear right now and despite the outliers of naysayers that he forged ahead. I’ve been struggling with an inner voice telling me no one will want to buy an information product about how to travel easily and make it less stressful with your kids but because i know how to do it i fear other people will already know it too and think it’s not useful.

    Stories like this, transparent ones are the ones that really inspire and motivate me. It’s hard to make a move when i see so many successful people and think how can i do that. I forget that they all started out at the beginning at one point in their lives right? RIGHT!!!!!!..

    • Right!

      Check out the “gigs” section on Craigslist sometime. It’s amazing what people don’t know, and don’t want to learn with a quick Google search. i.e, setting up WordPress, facebook page setup, excel.

      If you’re worried about putting all the work in and nobody buying it – try doing a presale. You don’t even have to charge in advance, just put out a sign up form that says sth like “which of these three topical guides is worth $19 to you?” and encourage feedback by including their names/websites in the ebook credits. You could also do sth like “The One Page Checklist for Easier Travel With Children”. Offer it for free, or “pay with a tweet” – and see how many people are interested in a given topic.


      Michael

  23. Navneet says:

    Nice article searching Ramit on Internet and also learning hist Strategies :)

    • Good thinking. I find you can learn a lot just from analyzing how he writes posts / sends emails / sells!

      Please let us know when you find something good.


      Michael

  24. I totally agree!. If you can be patient and watch your website presence grow over 3 years, then you can leverage that and do very well.

    I’m so glad I held out, it’s the patience part that I found the most difficult,

    It was worth it though!,

    Thanks Ramit!.

    • Thanks, David. Patience is definitely important – but it can be done in shorter time. I believe Chris Guillabeau monetized in his first year.

      Glad it worked for you!


      Michael

  25. I like your article. I am brand new to blogging. Started a little late I am 76 years old. I am in the learning process of Internet and trying to understand how all this works. I see what you say when most sites are full of advertising and wanting you to buy this and buy that. I can not find any helpful information on any of them. I feel like I have come to a sell fast shop that does not care about me only my money.

    I have started a home cooking blog site and wanted to be different. I wanted to give people the recipes that were handed down in my family for generations. Even when I do get a few subscribers I wanted to be different. I created an email that looked like a restaurant menu outlining the new recipes I had put up for the week. Just asking them or showing them some to see if they were interested to come and copy them and try them.

    I have signed up for a few sites only to cancel my subscription. I am tired of only receiving their email pointing me to another site to sell me something else. I feel like they are not caring about me as a person only the money they can gain from me.

    I am happy to see that some people value their content more than money. This is so wonderful to see some sites that do not have sell ads all over them. Thank you so much for your article and it was such a pleasure to read this.

    • Thanks so much Sarah, I’m glad you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it!

      Your ideas for your blog sounds very creative – stick with it and more and more people will come to visit. I’d recommend putting items like email lists, etc. on hold until you get more traffic to your site. In my conversation with Ramit, we also talked about how to do guest posts that get lots of traffic. Writing posts on others’ blogs exposes your work to a new audience, and gives them a reason to visit your site. Also, remember to include the “s” in grandmasimpson[S]kitchen.com so people can find your new site!

      If you’d like to talk more about the guest posts, or anything else – send me a quick email (from the contact form on WriterViews).


      Michael

  26. Dan says:

    I am in the process of monetizing a new blog but really don’t want to do anything that’ll upset my readers. Cause as we all know it takes years to build a strong audience base but you can loose a huge chunk of that with a few silly decisions.

    From the other side of the fence (as a consumer), I’m happy to pay for anything online so long as the value matches the price point.

    I also get the impression that some bloggers think it’s ok to charge a premium price for a mediocre product because of all the great free stuff they’ve given away in the past. This isn’t cool. I believe that the price of a product must always stand independently of everything you’ve written, done and said up until that point.

    Ramit makes some fantastic points in this article. Thanks so much for the great read!

    Dan

  27. My pleasure – thanks for reading it!

    Sounds like you would get along well with Ramit, re: value.

    How are you monetizing?


    Michael