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The worst mistake when trying to earn more…

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This week I have an example of the worst mistake I see people making when trying to earn money on the side.

This is subtle, but profoundly important. You could have the greatest idea, and if you fail to pay attention to this (I’ll show you below), you will never make money.

Ok, check this email back-and-forth out. This is from a real email I recently received.

[Enter Beth]

I got a 1,231-word email the other day. 99% of it was irrelevant (which is already a red flag), but here’s the main paragraph:

I’d actually be very proud to work for and with you on your newsletter and web content, proofreading your work. NYC is very competitive and with no degree as of yet…I have no way to enter the bustling magazine industry. I’m highly intelligent and learn things immediately, often intuiting them for myself, even coding and mathematical principles taught to me on dates (say, for example, the bare bones of the power of 72!). If you’re interested in someone motivated, perceptive, honest, usually able to rewrite sentences or concepts that are intrinsically flawed…I’d love to heighten the impact of your messages. What prompted me to take this leap?

Ok, so this is already very odd. Why do I care about your power of 72 or math principles? IWT readers will be sighing out loud at how convoluted and confusing this pitch email is. Anyway, my response:

Hey Beth,

Thanks for the kind words.

I appreciate it but I’m going to pass. And here’s why: Editing typos is just not that important to me.

I’ve been teaching my E1k students that a lot. Many of them go in with ideas about stuff that seems important to them…but is just not important to their potential clients. I write a LOT. And once in awhile, I have a typo. If this hurt my business or reputation, I would care.

But even when I send out an email to 50,000+ people, hardly anyone notices. And hardly anyone cares. It’s just not important to me.

So my advice (and this is stuff I cover in much greater detail in Earn1k) is to find out what you are good at…that your prospects have the ABILITY and WILLINGNESS to pay for. THAT is what will help you get hired.

Thanks again.

She responded:

so you think no one would ever hire me as a proofreader?

And I said:

i dont know about “no one” but it would be difficult

This was her final response:

doubt it…once i have the proper degrees =D or the business acumen to start the writing services biz my friends have been asking me to start for deaf people since 2003.

anyway, sorry to take up your time =D

am actually an amazingly talented poet, jewelry designer and illustrator. just zero business know-how!

have a great weekmainder…no worries, the tor(m)rent ends now.

She then went onto Twitter and accused me of audism (discrimination against deaf people) for suggesting that getting paid for proofreading might be difficult.



Not only did she ask me for my opinion, then reject it and insult me, but she genuinely believes that a “degree” or mysterious “business acumen” will help her make money as a proofreader.

Here’s the thing that Beth missed:

If your service isn’t important to your target market, you could be the best in the world and you will still get zero clients.

I just don’t care that much about proofreading. I catch 99% of my own errors, and even when I publish something that has mistakes, nobody cares.

Why would I spend money on a proofreader? Or time? It is simply not a problem for me. I JUST DON’T CARE.

Unfortunately, Beth displays one of the classic mistakes that first-time entrepreneurs do: She’s obsessed with her idea instead of what the market actually cares about.

I see this a lot.

For those of you who have graduated from Earn1k, you know how hard we drill this concept into you, using case studies, exercises, examples, and simple examples like the STHU Technique to listen to your market.

For those of you who haven’t joined Earn1k yet, be very careful when you start thinking that you’re looking for a “magical idea” that will help you earn money. Your idea matters, but what matters far more is the techniques you use to validate your idea. In other words, you want to figure out if your idea will ever make money before you invest tons of time in it.

This is what distinguishes some of my extremely successful Earn1k graduates, who are earning thousands/month on the side, versus people like Beth, who are unfortunately obsessed with a futile idea that will never pay.

Use customer-research techniques you’ve learned to validate your idea and test for profitability before you spend hundreds of hours on it. Doing this work up front is counter-intuitive, but that’s how you can earn significant amounts of money.

P.S. I’m gearing up for a massive writing spree. What do you want to know more about? Just leave a comment — I read every one.


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  1. After I read 50 proven email scripts, that email exchange made me cringe a bit.

  2. My landscape is littered with things I tested and no one really wanted. In the past I felt bad, thinking I had failed. However I have learned from each attempt and want to get to the point where I test ideas in a smart and faster way.

    This is why I keep reading what Ramit says…

  3. I want to know about how you test. Although I’m more interested in testing the market or testing lines without unintentionally provoking people, I’d like to know the principles that apply for all your testing strategies.

  4. Thanks Ramit. Great article.

    I’m very interested in you writing about psychology and mental barriers, like you’ve done in the past.
    Just to give a little backstory about myself- I have a liberal arts degree (total BS major) but for the past 2.5 years I’ve been working as a bartender. I got into bartending after I lost my job as an account coordinator back in 2010. Bartending was meant to be temporary, but I made good money doing it (while having a lot of fun). BUT at the same time I know I can’t do this forever and I WANT to find a good career, but my barriers are holding me back. Ive been researching new careers (ex entry level project management position) but my fear is that with my experience as a bartender no company will hire me.

    PS – I started my own bartending business on the side (thanks to you)

  5. I think you should write about getting your first sale/client

    • Did you mean how we can get our first client, or how Ramit got his actual first client? Either one would probably be great to know.

      I second this request.

  6. 1200 words in an intro email, wow, that is super crazy.

    Not only does she not understand what your require, she doesn’t understand that time is money, so get to the point quickly.

  7. Hi Ramit,

    I just recently read your book and started reading your blog. Both have been immensely helpful, many times because of the reminders that its not enough just to learn about these things but you actually have to take the steps to put them into practice. I’ve definitely been doing that!

    I’d love to learn about things to consider when getting married. Not the wedding part, but more on the myriad of financial decisions that have to be made. Things like joint or separate bank accounts, filing taxes jointly or separately and the impact of that on things like student loan repayments and contribution limits to retirement accounts. I feel like every time I figure something out, I find out a new piece of information that changes things.

    For example, my significant other and I were planning to file out taxes separately after we are married because of my student loans that are on IBR and because my career is project-based and my income can vary wildly year to year. But then I found out that you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA if you file married filing separately. Perhaps the solution is to contribute to a traditional IRA and roll it over into a Roth, but I feel like there are probably a ton of other things to consider that we haven’t thought of yet. For people who believe in learning and doing it themselves instead of hiring someone to take care of it, I think even a list of all the things to consider would be extremely helpful.

  8. Right, here’s a very specific one:
    I’m currently an international student. With another six months until my studies finish (and another six months after that on my student visa, though I’d rather risk that as I can’t come back into this country at that point) I’d like to try moving to another country rather than this one or my homeland once I finish. I’d like to try another country as this one is too cold and dark and I have no ties anywhere. However, common wisdom is that I need to move somewhere and try and get work. How are there ways to get companies to help me move?
    More info: I’m in the tech and design sector, and a good all-rounder (though I understand that startups don’t really have capacity to deal with visas etc).

    • I don’t know which country you live in, or which countries you are considering living in, but I might be able to help you with some advice on different ways to do that. Are you currently living in one of the Nordic countries? (You said “cold and dark”, and I have lived in both Denmark and Sweden, and it could fit either place.) If you are living in Sweden, you can try going to the arbetsformedlingen, and they will help you get jobs in neighboring countries (or anywhere else in Europe). Are you currently an Erasmus student? I have lived/spent a good amount of time in: Sweden, Denmark, and Mexico, and some time in France. I am American. If you need advice, let me know. I don’t know if there is a way to private message here, but I will send public links or do anything else that I can, if not.

  9. Hi Ramit,

    Enjoy all the information you offer to people.

    I woudl like to see you write about how to start a business venture. What and how someone needs to setup or structure the business to deal with local, state, and federal tax issues and other obstacles in starting a part time business.

  10. Productizing service businesses. Do you do it? How custom do you recommend leaving things? When do you do it?