The Swipe Files Strategy for Part Time Creators
What if I told you there was a simple strategy that can help you slow-cook a $300,000 a year side project and kickstart your indie hacker career, on a few hours a week?
If you didn’t care about money, how about >100k Twitter follows over 2 years?
Or email subscribers?
Build a swipe file
A “swipe file” is a collection of examples to copy for inspiration. The above screenshots are all real life examples from ReallyGoodEmails and MarketingExamples, both (extraordinarily well executed) swipe files.
I think it is one of the most underrated ways for Part Time Creators to build a newsletter, build a brand, and get good at their craft, without reputation, expertise, or large upfront expenditure in time or money.
Here is a Swipe File Swipe File for creators getting started.
- Start a Swipe File
- Collect examples
- Offer newsletter signup
- Offer login + faving
- Build a Community
- Hit the Media Circuit
- Make Generators
- Sell Sponsor ads
- Do a live workshop
- Write a book
- Build a course
I add some more details below but that’s the essence of the progression.
I recorded everything below as a 14 minute video if that’s your thing.
A Simple Directory
Good swipe files focus in on a niche but important problem, that nobody specializes in. Here is a site that only features og:image inspiration:
It is pretty simple; the design comes from others, but the categorization comes from you. Clicking on each just sends you to the site it came from; no commentary or analysis needed.
Swipe files are usually static snapshots of public marketing design and copywriting, but there’s no reason why you can’t document the logged-in experience as well. Here’s DesignVault:
Swipe files lend themselves to marketing and design, because by their very nature they are visual and public. Here is swipefile.com, with just a couple paragraphs of commentary on each example:
Use a Tool
The work gets a lot simpler and faster when you use a tool that is designed for capturing swipe files. Here’s Klart:
Build up Teardowns
Corey Haines’ SwipeFiles.com (note the plural, different from SwipeFile.com) adds step by step commentary with generalizable lessons (scroll through this to understand):
Compelling How Tos
Switch the focus from a random assortment of “What I like about X” to a more directed “How X does IMPORTANT_THING_EVERYONE_WANTS”. Title game is everything. Can you generate the “instant click impulse?”
Offer a Newsletter
Yes, people hate popups. Yes, they work. Yes, you can blanket it with social proof, like Harry Dry does on MarketingExamples.com.
Build an Auth & Storage layer
Since you have people’s emails, you might as well give them a way to log in. As your examples pile up, people are going to want to save them to their collections, and you will want to use their faves to indicate popularity. See ReallyGoodEmails.
Build a Community
Since people log in and heart stuff, it’d be nice if they could chat. Circle is the best platform for that. Here’s the one I maintain for Learning in Public: https://codingcareer.circle.so/c/learn-in-public
Borrow a Platform
Wow, look at you! Email newsletter, Auth, Storage, Community… you’re starting to need some serious software now around your swipe file, and you STILL need to figure out your social media distribution. You don’t HAVE to have a separate platform — I often use my own Twitter as a flexible social Swipe File, and Little Big Details is a Swipe File hosted on Tumblr with distribution, storage, and social features built in.
Just keep in mind that you’re borrowing that platform; if you didn’t build it, it’s not yours, and can be taken away at any time.
Make Generators and Prompts
If you CAN code though, you can level up your swipe file by letting people play mad libs with it (aka templatize your swipe file). Here’s What To Tweet from Josh Spector:
Or the Blog Post Idea Generator:
And if you get really, really lucky, you can turn these templates into a 7 figure business.
Hit the Media Circuit
With some initial success, it’s time to hit the media circuit to get the attention up for the work you’ve already done. Conferences, Podcasts, Contributed articles.
Time to Monetize
Rob Hope turned One Page Love into a book:
And a workshop:
Or a recurring membership or SaaS, as ReallyGoodEmail have done:
But I Don’t Do Marketing Or Design
Don’t be so literal about what a swipe file is — pay attention to the spirit of the thing. Mental Models are swipe files of perspectives to analyze given situations. A tweet thread of frameworks is a swipe file of playbooks. My Cheatsheets are swipe files of code, as is useHooks:
All enormously useful, passively compounding sources of personal leverage for your creator journey.