One of the most commonly asked questions new traders have is how long they should stay on demo trading and what to do when they demo trade. My view on demo trading stands in contrast to what you usually read about demo trading on most other websites, but I am a strong believer that if you want to make it in this business, you can’t listen to the common advice. 99% of all traders read the same stuff, get the same advice and follow the same path – and they all end up losing money. It’s time to think differently and approach trading from a different perspective, at least that’s how I did it and it has worked for me.
Extra: Here is how you install MetaTrader4, one of the most popular trading platforms.
No question, demo first!
No doubt, every trader should start on demo first and he should stay on demo trading for at least the first 2-3 months. The biggest mistake I see people make is that they can’t make the transition from demo to live trading and they are stuck with their demo trading WAY too long. Staying on demo too long will ruin your way of trading as we will see later.
Purpose of demo trading
When it comes to demo trading, you have to ask yourself what your goals are with demo trading and what you want to achieve so that you can objectively judge when you reached those goals and can move on to live trading. There are 3 main things that demo trading is for:
1) Understand the platform
Especially for new traders, it is important that you get to know your trading platform very intimately. You should try every button and test every feature of your platform. Thinking about how to use your platform while you are making live trades is a clear sign that you transitioned too fast.
2) Order dynamics
Depending on the market you trade, you have to make sure that you understand the different order types and also how to execute your trades. Demo is the ideal place for that because your actions don’t have any consequences.
Try to understand what the difference between a market and a pending order is. How does a stop vs. a limit order work. How can you place stop loss and take profit orders for your trades and what happens when price reaches those orders?
Just try out all different order types and observe what happens. You’ll very quickly understand what the different orders do and it’s surprising how many people don’t do this simple step.
3) Get a feel for market dynamics
Especially if you are a new trader, this part is key to avoid large losses and unnecessary trading mistakes. During your 3 months on demo trading, pay close attention to market dynamics, how price moves and note down everything that catches your attention.
Here is my checklist for things to look for when getting to know price and market dynamics:
- When does price move the fastest and when doesn’t it move?
- How do price movements differ across different markets, forex pairs, timeframes?
- Which timeframe works best for your daily schedule?
- How do news impact price movements? Which news are the biggest movers?
- What type of price behavior do you feel most comfortable with?
- Do you see lots of gaps and how can you deal with them?
- Are you OK with overnight positions?
What demo trading can’t do
It’s so important to understand the limitations of demo trading and what demo trading can’t do for you and what you should not expect from it. The majority of traders will, however, look at the points below and still try to make them work with their demo trading – big mistake.
Further reading: How to survive your first year(s) as a trader
1) Validating your system
This is probably the cardinal sin of demo trading, yet so many do it. You can’t validate your trading method and the profitability of your trading strategy on a demo account. It does not matter how good your results are on a demo account, they mean NOTHING when you change to a live trading account.
Demo trading is like riding a bike with training wheels on; you won’t crash and hurt yourself too much but once you take the training wheels off you are not going to be a good cyclist.
As I said above, demo trading should only be used to get to know your platform, the way you execute orders and how price dynamics work; it can’t be used to confirm your method.
You might build a little confidence and also understand how to execute your trades within the scope of your trading method, but good demo results never translate to good live trading results.
2) Preparing you for live trading
Demo and live trading are two very different things and from a pure trading perspective they have nothing to do with each other. Once you have some live trading experience under your belt, you’ll know that the greatest challenges a trader faces are NOT related to following price and identifying a trade, but they are purely emotional nature and only exists because of the money involved. Here a short checklist of the things demo trading can’t prepare you for:
- The discipline of waiting for days for the right moment to enter a trade
- Dealing with the pressure once you are in a trade and the uncertainty
- The emotions that make you stay in a loss longer and let you cut profits too early
- FOMO and entering too early because you want to make more money
- Not wanting to lose money and passing on valid trading opportunities
- Being too greedy on the exit and not closing your profitable trade
Many traders will argue that you just have to treat your demo trading as if it was real money to get the best results. The problem with that is that it’s not possible. You will ALWAYS know that it’s just demo trading – you can’t fool yourself that easily.
The greatest danger of demo trading
The biggest problem traders who stay on demo too long have is that their undisciplined trading behavior becomes a part of their general approach to trading. A trader who isn’t punished for his bad behavior and who doesn’t feel the pain is more likely to adopt a sloppy and unprofessional attitude and once he transitions to live trading, he will inevitably lose his money.
You won’t hear this too often but staying on demo too long actually does more harm than good.
How to transition from demo to live
Now that you know what to do and expect in demo trading, here are some tips that will help you make a smooth transition from demo to live trading:
1) Start small
You’ll inevitably lose your first (few) trading account(s) so it’s important that you trade with money you can afford to lose.
At the same time, you HAVE TO MAKE SURE that the money you are losing is worth it. This means that you know WHY you are losing and what you can do to stop it. Losing money without learning your lessons is a waste of your money and your time and it will keep you in this loop for a very long time ever.
2) Protect your emotional capital
We said it already, but it’s so important that you really get this point: you’ll inevitably lose money the first year(s), but protecting your emotional capital is even more important. A trader who loses his motivation, the fun and the excitement for trading becomes overly negative and frustrated is very likely to give up on trading completely.
Make sure that you understand your motives, don’t set yourself unrealistic expectations and don’t be too hard on yourself. Enjoy the process.
3) Don’t focus on the money
You are not going to make money so it’s important that you focus on the right things during your early stages as a trader. Your top priorities should be developing discipline, trust in your rules and your system, building a strong trading routine and developing a passion for trading.
Those things, along with a strong and conservative money management approach, will make sure that you lay a solid foundation at the beginning which you then can leverage later on.
Further reading: If you want to make a million Dollars, start here