Become a Successful Trader

September 7, 2011

Developing a Profitable Trading Strategy Step by Step: Part 1

Your current trading strategy blows; it’s time to search for a new one. That’s what a lot of traders think when they are not seeing consistently profitable results. What you probably don’t realize is that you have all the tools; it’s just a matter of fine tuning.

In this article I will share with you a step by step approach for creating and fine tuning a custom trading strategy fit to your personality. If you have developed a plan or are currently working on one, this process can help you uncover the specific areas that need fine tuning.

Let’s get started!

Chess Board

The Pieces of a Winning Trading Plan

Your trading strategy should fit with your trading plan like a baseball fits in a catcher’s glove, comfortably. You might be wondering what the difference between a trading plan and a trading strategy is in the first place.

Your trading plan is your business plan and your trading strategy is a piece of your trading plan. I break down the trading plan into two parts.

Section 1: Market Ideology

Included in this plan should be your specific goals, perhaps a motivating quote which acts as your inspiration, and your ideology towards the markets.

This section of your plan is important because it gives your direction and guidance, which is especially helpful through the hard times (as there will be some).

Section 2: Trading Strategy

This is the section we will be addressing today. If you haven’t completed section 1 you can read about developing trading goals and their importance in my Getting Started post.

A winning trading strategy should be incredibly detailed. Every possible outcome must be thought out and accounted for in order to succeed. Often times, once a trader places a trade their plan and objectivity go out the window. As the saying goes, luck favors the prepared. So take the time to develop your strategy before making that first live trade.

Outline of a Winning Trading Strategy

A trading plan may contain multiple strategies, but I recommend first going through the process of fully developing and fine tuning one strategy before moving on to a second. Once you have your first strategy to the point where you can visualize the setups in your sleep and enter your trades without hesitation you are ready to build additional strategies.

Set your risk limits at the time you open your trading account:
  • Max Daily Loss:     How much are you willing to lose in a day before you stop trading?

(Rule of Thumb: No more than 5% of your trading capital)

  • Max Loss per Trade:     How much are you comfortable risking on each trade?

(Rule of Thumb: 1% of your total trading capital)

Specify the markets and times of the day you will trade:
Trading Hours Map
  • Pick a Market:     What market and trading vehicle fits your goals and personality?

While there is always a market open somewhere, the best traders focus on a select few and specific times to trade them. There are other vehicles out there besides the common Stocks, Options, Futures, and Forex. What works for one trader may not work for you and vice versa.

  • Pick a Time:     What does your schedule allow for trading time?

Integrating trading into your already hectic schedule probably means incorporating work, family, and recreation. When first starting out I recommend sticking to the larger time frame of a daily chart rather than jumping into day trading. This is because the moves take longer to develop. You can build a strategy and your patience at the same time. Remember, speed does not necessarily equate to more profits. In most cases it’s the larger time frames that pay the biggest rewards.

Choose a Methodology

Trading Strategy Indicators

Your methodology is only a small piece of a winning trading system. Success results from perfect execution. When searching through various indicators, technical analysis studies and fundamental analysis criteria remember to K.I.S.S – keep it simple stupid.

  • Picking an Indicator:     Begin with price and volume

Open up your trading platform and remove all the indicators from your screen. In fact, remove everything except a candlestick or bar chart of the market in which you have selected to trade. Watch the price action and study the volume patterns for two weeks.

Print out daily charts and identify the inflection points. That is, points when the market starts moving. Go back and look for trends in volume and similar candlestick or bar formations that happen repeatedly. Once you’ve identified a number of similar patterns you can then introduce and indicator to help filter out the false moves and help pinpoint the best entries.

My Own Trading Strategy

Fibonacci retracements, market internals, and candlestick charts are the three tools that make up the basis of my own methodology.

Develop a Structure of Trading Rules

Here are some examples of general trading rules that I use:

1. Plan your trade and trade your plan.
2. Keep things simple.
3. Only place trades when you are in a calm, cool, and collected state.
4. Be selective with your trades!
5. Don’t chase trades.
6. Don’t buy highs, don’t sell lows.
7. Never let a big winner turn into a loser.
8. Never add to a losing position.
9. Understanding human behavior is more important than understanding economics.
10. You alone are held accountable for every trade.
11. Attitude influences behavior so keep a positive attitude.
12. Hold opinions loosely.
13. Don’t dwell on past trades.
14. If the market doesn’t act as initially anticipated, get out.
15. Be prepared to adapt as market conditions vary.

Establish Your Position Size

If trading contract markets such as options and futures, begin with one contract. However, once you develop a feel for the markets it will be more beneficial to move to two. This is because you now have the ability to scale out which can dramatically improve your returns.

If trading stock, use the following equation to determine how many shares to buy.

  • Stock Position Calculation:           $ risk per trade / $ stop

For example if your risk per trade is set to $100, and you plan to place a $5 stop on the trade you are allowed to purchase 20 shares ($100 / $5 = 20).

Things to account for before you place EVERY trade:
  • Defined Entry
  • Defined Stop
  • Defined Profit Target(s)

Hands down this is the most important part of your strategy, defining your entry, stop, and target before you place the trade will keep you objective and thinking clearly as the trade starts to unfold.

If you’d like to read more you can download my Guide to Creating a Trading Plan.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Fine Tuning and Calculations

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About Tim Racette
Tim Racette is a day trader of 15+ years in the E-mini futures and swing trader of stocks. Mountain biker, lover of the outdoors, and explorer. Tim is an ASU Sun Devil and a Chicagoland Native now living in sunny Scottsdale, AZ.
  1. I developed this article from a presentation I gave a few years back at the Las Vegas Traders Expo. If you have questions leave them below.

    Thanks for reading,

  2. Thanks Tim!

    I like and Agree with “speed does not necessarily equate to more profits. In most cases it’s the larger time frames that pay the biggest rewards”

    It is more rewarding to Trade only Once off 15 min chart set-up than 5 times in 1 min chart set up. More Exposure to Market will lead you to More Risk.

  3. ALL good. #7 and #12 hit home for me.

    I’m learning how far you can and can’t expect the ES to run on any given trade.

    Not really all that far. There are some 10+ point runs but they are infrequent and typically they will test you several times.

    Also another one I’m learning the hard way is to not let your current daily wins be an excuse to expand your SL to some ridiculous amount with the “house money” mentality.

    The ES doesn’t work that way. Just because you may be willing to have some ridiculous 8 point SL, it does not mean you are any more likely to win on that trade. In fact, it probably makes you way more likely to lose, and big.

    I’ve been trading stocks and options on and off for 15+ years and must say that this ES is a beast of it’s own!

    • Frank Sinatra is famous for saying, If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere, referring to his stardom in New York city. I feel if you can trade the ES with consistency you can trade any market with consistency by adapting your methods.

      Some ideas I have for not turning a winner into a loser and holding your opinions loosely are to move your stop to break even after you reach a certain profit level in the trade and don’t tune into CNBC. I find that limiting my risk to break even on the trade early on allows for me to manage the trade in the most objective way. I will also trail my stop as the trade works out in my favor.

  4. best approach. need more clarifications for bigners

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