The counter-intuitive way you can monetize content.
Write a blog post. Make money from a blog post.
That’s how a lot of us writers think about the business of writing. What if we’ve got it completely wrong?
One of my favorite writers of all time, James Clear, continuously helps me reinvent my approach to writing. He made a super-niche topic like habits into a New York Times Best Seller, that Elon’s future robots will still be reading on Mars in a hundred years.
Blogger and ConvertKit founder Nathan Barry gives us a behind the scenes look at his interactions with James Clear, which provides an alternative path for content creators.
The problem for content creators
Content creators simply want to produce content. The trouble is creating content takes a lot of time and we have bills to pay. This leads to a problem: how do you spend most of your time creating content, and a smaller amount of time doing tasks that allow you to earn a living? Enter James Clear.
Build without money in mind at first
I’ve said it many times. In the beginning, be proud to make $0. James Clear did the same. His focus at the start of his journey, according to Nathan Barry, was to build his newsletter.
Writing content and solving problems became the foundation of all of the success that followed. Trying to make money too soon can accidentally feel like desperation to an audience.
Writing helps uncover the value you can offer before you charge any money.
James Clears’ First Income Stream
I am surprised to learn the first way James made money from writing is by running “habit workshops.” This is not the traditional path for writers. Most writers are desperate to get paid the big bucks for their words. The challenge is most writers are taking this path so it’s crowded.
The first workshop James ran with Nathan Barry made about $25,000. It quickly got to the point where once a quarter they were making $250,000 per workshop.
After the workshop James could go right back to writing and growing his online audience, and not have to focus on making money again for another 90 days. That means you can try and make money off every single member of your audience and exhaust them. Or you could decide to do what James did and make a decent living off a tiny fraction of your online audience.
I’ve chosen to take James’ path. I want most of what I do to be free so it’s accessible. My goal is to get as far away from getting paid per word to earning a living and taking a different path. Why? Writing to get paid per word is exhausting. It’s like running on a treadmill. The publication paying you keeps turning up the speed of the treadmill and you have to keep writing faster.
This is how writers accidentally become content farms, shilling low-quality blog posts on the street corner for a few packets worth of 2-minute noodles.
You can choose to keep writing separate from how you earn a living.
Non-Fiction Articles > Teaching
Writer Nat Eliason tells Nathan Barry in the same interview about his strategy. Like James, Nat has a different approach.
He is part of the “Everything Bundle” of newsletters with a few other writers (a new way of collaborating). They began on Substack and then notably left to own their platform again. Nat publishes a lot of his best content for free on his personal website that is built on Webflow rather than Wordpress.
The free non-fiction content leads a small segment of his audience to the online courses he sells via Teachable.
One of his courses teaches people to use the Roam Research app in a short amount of time. The initial approach was a short course for a small amount of money to help writers do better research. Nat’s course was the only course on the subject, so anybody googling Roam Research went straight to his landing page. He had credibility because he’d written plenty of articles on his blog about his experiences using the tool.
Writing led to credibility.
Credibility turned into teaching.
Teaching gave him a non-writing income.
Just like James Clear, Nat writes a lot of content and takes off his writing hat roughly every quarter to run a cohort of students through his Teachable courses. This allows Nat to spend a lot of his time writing, and a small part of his time making money.
What if you’ve been thinking about writing all wrong?
Nat and James Clear have shown us that you can spend most of your time writing and a smaller fraction of your time earning a living when you think about the process differently.
Rather than charge every member of your audience — charge a small amount of your audience money to help them solve a problem through a format other than written articles.
More time spent writing and selling once every 90 days is better than the constant struggle of the content treadmill.