Some Thoughts on “How to Make Money in Six Easy Steps”

A few days ago, I read Jason Fried’s wonderful article How to Make Money in Six Easy Steps. The article details Fried’s growth as an entrepreneur from a young child to running the successful software firm 37signals.

Fried’s “six easy steps” are as follows:

1. Understanding the buyer is the key to being a strong seller
2. It’s all about passion
3. Charge real money for real products
4. There are different pathways to the same dollar
5. Bootstrapping
6. Practice

This actually turned out to be one of the few articles from the ‘net that I actually print out, because I wanted to jot down some of my own notes on the margins. I realized, after I was finished, that these notes actually made for the backbone of a pretty compelling article in its own right.

So, without further ado, here’s my own “five easy steps for making money.”

1. Practice
This underlines everything that a person can do to make money. The greater your skill, the more money you’ll make by plying that skill. How do you improve your skills? Practice, preferably in a deliberate fashion. Break down what you’re doing into little pieces, and practice those pieces.

For me, that often means doing writing drills. Yep, I do writing drills pretty often. I’ll do little drills like “write a complete story in fifty words or less” or “compress this document as much as possible without losing any meaning” all the time, just for the sake of practice. It’s a skill builder.

I usually don’t find actual writing tasks to be that strong in terms of practicing. Many people assume that if they do the task professionally, they must be good at it. That’s akin to a professional basketball player believing they’ll stay on top if all they do is play games of basketball. The truth is that the best basketball players are constantly doing drills and never leave the gym.

So how do you practice things like selling? The article offers a good suggestion:

Go buy something on Craigslist or eBay. Find something that’s a bit of a commodity, so you know there’s always plenty of supply and demand. An iPod is a good test. Buy it, and then immediately resell it. Then buy it again. Each time, try selling it for more than you paid for it. See how far you can push it. See how much profit you can make off 10 transactions.

Start tweaking the headline. Then start fiddling with the product description. Vary the photographs. Take some pictures of the thing for sale; use other photos with other items, or people, in them. Shoot really high-quality shots, and also post crappy ones from your cell-phone camera. Try every variation you can think of.

I think it’s useful for almost everyone to practice transferable skills – like selling. Written communication is one type of transferable skill, as is public speaking.

If you want to be great, practice.

2. Care
What do I mean by care? You have to want to do the things you’re doing – and want to do them well. If you don’t care about it, you won’t be able to go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd.

This goes hand-in-hand with practice, of course. If you don’t care about the field you’re in, you’re not going to practice and you’re not going to rise to the top. Caring about your performance and what you’re doing is what will bring you to the top, and practice is a key component of that.

Quite often, this is intermingled with the idea of passion. In the end, they both point to the same thing. If you don’t have an emotional involvement and a drive to always move forward in this field, you’re not going to succeed.

3. Know what people want (or need)
You might think that the particular skill you have or the particular item you want to sell is a great thing. The question really is whether or not anyone else thinks that item or skill is a great thing (and thus worth paying for).

Something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it with their time, money, or effort. In my case, what I sell is generally paid for with the reader’s time (through ad space sold to banks and financial institutions on my website), though I do sell other items as well (such as my books).

How does it “sell”? People find value in reading what I write, whether it’s because they find it useful for their own personal growth or because they find it entertaining. There’s enough value there that people are willing to pay for it with their time (and occasionally their money).

People want to have a sense of control over their lives. My site attempts to fulfill that want, at least in part.

4. Make something distinctive that people will want (or need)
In order for that “sale” to continue, I have to continue writing worthwhile stuff that’s useful enough or entertaining enough for it to stand out from the crowd of sites that talk about personal finance and other topics. How do I do that? I talk about my own story in depth. I post very regularly so that there’s always fresh content to read. I use conversational language in my writing rather than the drier tones often found in financial writing.

It is those factors that make up the “special sauce” – the distinctive element – of The Simple Dollar. If I didn’t do those things, my site would be one of many personal finance blogs looking for an audience. It’s the distinctive things that makes The Simple Dollar stand out a bit, and I keep them in mind with everything that I do.

What do you have that’s distinctive? Don’t just look at your advantages – quite often, your disadvantages make you distinctive. I’ve seen the work of a blind painter. It’s stunning, but part of that overall picture comes from the disadvantage of the artist. Because he has overcome that disadvantage, it contributes something more to the finished product.

5. Create multiple revenue streams
Regardless of what you’re doing in life, there’s a big benefit to creating multiple income streams. Many people make their life more difficult by focusing only on one income stream – their primary job – and avoid creating more. Then, when that primary stream falls apart through a job loss, they’re in dire straits.

The solution is to find ways to create more than one revenue stream in your life. This requires some sort of investment on your part – money, time, energy, ideas, or some combination of them. The proceeds come in a fairly regular income. Sometimes, this income can be active (like a side business), which requires continuous work for more proceeds. At other times, it’s passive (like an investment), which does not require additional work.

This is going to be a significant theme of The Simple Dollar moving forward. As I write this, I’m working on developing a few additional income streams for the future, and I plan on writing about them once they’re in place.

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