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

This guest post is by Michael Alexis, producer of

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 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.

Who Else Wants to Sell More Ebooks?

This morning I was doing some reports on eBbook sales over the last few years and it struck me how much difference there can be in terms of numbers of sales from one ebook to the next—even ebooks sold on the same blog.

On dPS we have now launched six photography ebooks (and have another about to launch) and the variation in sales numbers is quite amazing.

Transcending Travel

Of course there are many factors that come into play that could determine an ebook’s success, including:

  • marketing
  • timing of release
  • price
  • cover design
  • author’s profile
  • and many, many other factors

However there’s one factor that I’m coming to see is extremely important (at least in my experience)—topic.

Of course that’s a pretty obvious thing, but not all topics are equal and even those that you think might be most appealing to people are not always going to succeed.

One illustration of this point are two great ebooks that we’ve launched in the last year or so. They were both written by the same author, and released to the same audience, at the same price, with much the same marketing strategy, and even similar sales copy—yet the results were quite different.

The ebooks were:

Which one do you think sold more?

I’ll tell you in a moment.

Both ebooks were written by Mitchell Kanashkevich and their quality was fantastic. Both were beautifully designed, very practical, and full of useful information.

The travel one launched first and we were a little unsure whether it was too niche-focused or not. While most people do travel and take trips, it’s something that most people only do occasionally.

On the other hand, color was a topic we identified as something every photographer really, really needed to know about and understand. It impacts every image a photographer takes, and understanding it can make a massive difference to the outcome of a shot.

Comparing the topics in this way we fully expected the color ebook to outsell the travel one, however, as you may have guessed, this was not to be.

Both ebooks performed well and were profitable but the travel photography one saw almost double the sales of the color ebook during its launch.

Now there could be a number of factors at play here, but as we’ve analyzed the results, one of the things we’ve realized is that while we thought that the color ebook should have been more useful to more photographers, it was somehow less tangible than the travel ebook.

While important, the topic of color was perhaps too wide and general in its focus to actually drive as many sales as we’d expected.

On the other hand, the travel ebook was narrower in focus, but it was going to lead those who bought it to see results in a specific area of their life. It would solve a specific problem that they faced—disappointing travel images.

We have since tweaked the marketing on the color ebook and have seen a rise in sales, but the two launches reminded us that not all topics are created equal.

That’s not to say that we won’t do more ebooks on topics like color, but we’re certainly looking for topics that solve specific, felt needs, too.

The other thing that this has taught us is to think more about marketing our ebooks even before they’ve been written. While we don’t want our marketing team to determine the content of a resource or to compromise the integrity of the authorship process, we’ve realized that if the author has been involved in talking about marketing even before they start writing, they’re more likely to produce something that is not only helpful but will also be easier to sell.