5 Biggest Lessons Learned in 5 Years of Personal Finance Blogging
20somethingfinance hits a landmark birthday this Thursday: 5 years!
What started out as a twinkle in my eye during the start of my Christmas vacation 5 years ago has blossomed into a behemoth financial publishing empire.
Yeah, OK, maybe not quite.
But considering that something like 99.99999999% of all blogs fail within the first year, I do take a bit of pride in still being left standing, producing a giant archive of personal finance articles for readers to consume, and being one of the most visited personal finance blogs around that isn’t owned by a media conglomerate.
Along the way, 6,000 subscribers, 40,000+ monthly returning unique visitors, and a few “best of” personal finance blog accolades have joined the bandwagon as well.
But before this post turns in to one giant, nauseating, back-patting, ego stroke, I’ve certainly had my share of failures and embarrassments as well. Going back and reading some of my earlier stuff is kind of like seeing yourself on video for the first time – you don’t know who the hell that person is and you feel kind of uncomfortable. And anyone remember the failed second blog, microfrugality.com, that I started and stuck with for about a month? <cringe>
The reality is I’ve learned a lot about blogging, personal finance, writing, and human interaction over these last 5 years – both good and bad – and wanted to share a bit of my biggest takeaways with you. In the coming week, I’ll be sharing a few of my and your favorite articles over the years, but I also wanted to get a little nostalgically reflective by highlighting a few of my biggest life, finance, and blogging takeaways from this entire experience to kick it off.
1. Money is Both Dividing & Unifying all at the Same Time
For better or worse, money touches just about everything in our lives. It impacts us all. But we all have a slightly different relationship with it.
Of the millions of people who have stopped by to read an article, every single one of them is starting off from a different point financially. Whether it’s our amount of debt, income, tax situation, varying level of financial independence, or otherwise – we are all unique.
I think that’s why personal finance is a bit of a taboo subject. We don’t know what kind of a relationship the person we are engaging has with money and we don’t want to offend them or make them feel uncomfortable if it’s not a positive one.
Blogging about personal finance can be challenging because of this. On one hand, I want everyone to gain some value from everything I write. On the other hand, I know that’s an impossible thing to do. It can make deciding what to write about a bit of a guessing game at times.
Despite those challenges, the great thing about blogging and the internet is that it gives a format for people to learn, engage, and discuss topics that they are interested in. We can get fired up in a positive way. And many of us want to share what we’ve learned and help others. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that happen here and engaging in it elsewhere in the blogosphere.
2. Be Yourself in Whatever you do
In the early days of this blog, I really struggled with how much of myself I wanted to divulge to the world. I don’t think I had a profile image of myself until the third year and rarely talked about myself. In effect, I was taking the “personal” out of “personal finance”. My “about” page probably read more like a company bio than a blog.
While some readers may have still found the information presented helpful, I believe the message would have carried more weight and certainly been more entertaining if I had divulged more of the personal story right from the beginning and written with more of my personality attached.
Lesson learned. I’ve gone back and re-edited some older articles, added a detailed page on my personal story, and try to add entertainment value, when appropriate. Readers have responded positively.
A few readers may even argue that I’ve brought too much personal opinion at times – particularly when personal finance intersects with the political world. In all cases, I try to focus on the issue vs. any political affiliation, but I’ve learned that even then some people are going to make assumptions and if their views don’t agree with mine, they throw a fit and then disappear.
To them I say – this is a blog, it is opinionated at times, and if I don’t write with a personal touch and focus on only articles that I know won’t offend anyone, I might as well go write for USAToday or Reuters (see, I just can’t stop offending people!).
This viewpoint intersects with my take on life. One personal characteristic that I’ve come to appreciate immensely is genuineness. Whether it’s with friends, neighbors, or at work, JUST BE YOURSELF.
3. Personal Responsibility Goes A LONG Way
There’s a lot of bad stuff that can happen to us (self or externally-inflicted): recessions, housing bubbles, consumer debt, skyrocketing inflation, job loss, scams, and just about everything else the media tries to scare us with on a daily basis.
You have one of two choices on how you react to it. You could be pessimistic, cry foul, give up, and play victim.
Or – you could be optimistic, motivated, and take responsibility for what you make of that situation.
One knocks you down. The other can raise you up. The choice is almost always yours.
4. You CAN Make Money at Blogging, but it Ain’t Easy & Shouldn’t be the End Goal
One thing I haven’t touched on much here is making money blogging. I’ve discussed how it’s done, but can it be done well? Yes. Is it easy? Definitely not.
After my first six months blogging and over 50 posts, I hadn’t even cracked the $75 earnings mark. You know I’m all about return on investment, and that’s a pretty pathetic one. Things have improved considerably since then, but not to the level that I’d want to walk away from my day job. And I’ve put YEARS of man-hours in to the site.
I’ve had some friends ask me about starting a blog and making money and my advice to them is to not even bother putting ads on your site for the first two years.
Here’s the thing – if you start blogging to make money right away, you’re going to fail at it. Both monetarily and spiritually. There’s got to be some other bigger purpose for your writing.
5. We’d All be Better Off De-Connecting Once in a While
Blogging is addictive.
There’s a constant stream of comments, research, writing, stat-checking, social media. If you’re not careful, it can completely consume you.
And when spammers, grammar police, hackers, or trolls come around, you can let it completely ruin your day.
When I get frustrated, the best thing I can do for myself is to walk away. I don’t do it nearly enough.
The reality is that blogging is a bit of a microcosm for the rest of society these days.
Whether it’s checking our phones when we are out with friends or family, stuck in our inbox at work, or constantly checking social media profiles, by constantly being plugged in we lose something.
When I stay logged off I notice stress levels go down, I sleep better, I’m more engaged, and generally happier.
Give it a try. You’ll thank yourself.
Thank you all for a great 5 years!