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Habits with James Clear

James Clear is one of the most popular bloggers in the world.

He’s a delightful bald-headed man who writes articles about habits and self-improvement on his blog

With over 1 million blog readers per month, and 400,000 email subscribers, James knows how to build a blog.

In today’s blog and podcast, you’ll learn 3 key things:

  1. How James blew $5,000 on a failed iPhone idea — and the lessons he learned from this failure
  2. Tips and strategies to stand out and be successful in a crowded space
  3. Specific ways James makes money from his blog (that you can use too)

Let’s dive in…

1. How a failure led James Clear to start his blog

Success isn’t a straightforward path.

People look at entrepreneurs who run a successful business, rock it with their podcast, or get a ton of subscribers on YouTube… and think it’s simple.

But that’s not how it actually works!

Success is a long road. It takes time. And that rarely gets talked about.

For example, people see our business AppSumo and think it was always successful.

What they DON’T know is it took years to build. And years when we weren’t making very much money.

James Clear’s story is no different.

When most people see James, they see success right now. Maybe they think he “got lucky”, or his blog magically grew overnight.

What most people don’t see…

James Clear, the failed iPhone app developer.

A few years ago, when it was extra cool to be developing iPhone apps, James won $10,000 for an essay competition in grad school.

With his entrepreneurial spirit, James wanted to use that $10k to build his own business.

He spent $5,500 hiring a development firm on L.A. to build this iPhone app, and the rest covered his living costs for a few months while it was in development.

After months of hard work, launch day came and James released his app to the world…


Aka no one cared.

The app James had spent $5,500+ building got just a few downloads — and only made about $19 in revenue.

That lesson SUCKED for James. And it meant he started researching how to actually build a business.

After reading about how email marketing can help grow a business, he launched his personal site and focused on writing content and building his email list.

It worked. Today, his email list is over 400,000 subscribers. And it became such a valuable part of James’ business he still say it’s his best marketing channel today.

2. How to standout in a crowded space

Every business has competition.

And if you’re a blogger today, you have MILLIONS of competitors.

James’ approach to stand out focused on one question:

“What is one level above this?”

In other words, What are other people missing that I can do to be successful?

At that time, guest posting was one of the top content marketing tactics around. EVERYONE was doing it.

In marketing, you need to always look for opportunities. Where can you get more out than you put in?

For example, when we first launched Sumo, we spent over $2 million dollars when Facebook launched ads in the News Feed because no one else was doing it yet.

And with, I gave small finance bloggers $500 to put ads on their site. This was before affiliate marketing was big and blogs had tons of ads, so no one else was doing this.

James also wanted to find those opportunities.

Instead of reaching out to well-known blogs and asking about guest posting, James skipped ahead and asked for partnerships with publishers.

Here’s the approach James used:

  1. Went to big brands like Entrepreneur and Lifehacker
  2. Noticed they were pulling and reposting full articles from sites like Men’s Health
  3. Convinced these big brands to re-publish his stuff, and treat him like they did Men’s Health

James was one of the first individuals to push for content syndication, and he stood out.

So the next time you think about marketing, take inspiration from James and ask yourself:

“What is one level above this?”

  • Rather than using Facebook Ads, just like everyone else, try out ads on some other platforms like Reddit or niche websites
  • As an alternative to growing an email list, try creating a  list on Facebook Messenger
  • Instead of launching your own podcast and fighting for listeners, maybe aim to guest on three popular shows each month

The way I like to think about is this…

At the grocery store, everyone always goes to the shortest line because when you join a short line, you can pay and leave the store quicker.

If you go to the long line, where everyone else is, you get stuck. The same applies to marketing, the opportunity is to go where no-one else is.

3. How James Clear makes money online

Today, James has a big audience:

  • His blog gets millions of visits each year
  • Over 400,000 people subscribe to his weekly newsletter on how to build better habits
  • He has over 80,000 followers on Twitter

James takes inspiration from Craig Newmark (the founder of Craigslist). HIs philosophy is there are two ways you can make an impact on the world:

  1. Off the back of success: The way that Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have done it — you make your money and then give back when you’ve made a lot
  2. Ahead of success: You provide something of value and give it away for free

James prefers the second method, so he gives away his content for free on the front end — and his goal is to have 250-500 high-quality pieces of content on his site.

It’s impressive…

But how does this audience translate into revenue? 💰

James Clear monetizes his content in four different ways:

  1. Book deal: Because he’s been so successful building an audience, James has landed a book deal with a publisher, which will bring in revenue through royalties and sales
  2. Courses: James offers a course to his most engaged members of his mailing list
  3. Amazon affiliate sales: Where it makes sense to, James will include an Amazon affiliate link to any products mentioned on his site
  4. Speaking gigs: James is often invited to speak at conferences and events

And here’s how James estimates his revenue breaks down over those four areas:

If you want to hear more from James on how to grow make money online, check out the full podcast below.

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4 responses to “Habits with James Clear”

Belynda Wilson Thomas
December 5, 2018 at 8:20 pm

As a new blogger it is encouraging to hear what someone else did to be successful.

Lauren Jade Martin
October 29, 2018 at 10:13 am

So timely and perfectly content to close out 2018. Thanks for sharing!

Noah Swanson
October 26, 2018 at 9:58 am

As always, great content, Noah! I especially appreciate hearing his approach to standing apart in a crowded market. Thanks for sharing this. And happy Friday!

Maxwell Ogagifo
October 26, 2018 at 7:44 am

Very inspiring. Yes, this is not as easy and straight forward as it reads, but reading it makes you feel motivated that you can do it- which makes this a very good write up. Thanks for sharing.

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