How I built that blog: Doug Nordman of The Military Guide

Doug Nordman looks like he’s living the life that everyone whoever starts a blog dreams of. Nordman lives in Hawaii and only writes for his site, The Military Guide, when he feels like it. He also handed off a lot of the boring aspects of running the blog — like fixing broken links and negotiating ad rates — to Curtez Riggs in 2013. Nordman sold the site to Riggs because he promised the largest donation to the Wounded Warrior Project. Nordman is not in the blogging business for the money but rather for the cause of helping his fellow veterans. The Military Guide has a particular niche — it is for veterans who are figuring out their retirement plans. A former submariner in the Navy, Nordman started the site in 2010 and he has managed to save enough for a comfortable retirement. Nordman spoke with us recently about the genesis of The Military Guide. Below is an edited version of that conversation:

 

Doug Nordman for USAA Magazine

 

 

The Blog Blog: As mentioned, the idea behind this blog is to kind of reconstruct how people create successful blogs and I know in your case, it’s a little bit complicated because you’ve been worked with, you’ve been working with Curtez Riggs and he’s took over. I think he said from 2013-2016, right?

Doug Nordman:  Yeah. He’s taken over as of 2013. And we had a three year earn out on that and since that left in 2016, I’ve continued to do the majority of the content.

TBB: Can you take me back to, how do you first started the blog?

DN: I started the blog to market the book manuscript I just sold. And I sold it to a traditional publisher. We had to wait the usual eight months between the selling the manuscript and actually seeing the book available for sale on Amazon or shipped to book stores, so I started the blog to market that while we’re waiting for the book to be available. Today, of course, I do it completely backwards. I do it the other way around. I start a blog and create content on the blog, and after a while I use that content to write a book. But back then that’s what we did, and that market of the book, and I just kept on going from there.

The advantage of the website is that you can go into great detail about a number of niche topics that just would never stand on their own, nor add any value to a book. That helps a lot. I’ve just kept on writing and kept on marketing the book and just about every post has an ad in it for the book, either at your library, or through Amazon’s Kindle ebook sales. I donate all the revenue, all the regular revenue, I donate all of that to military friendly charities, so that helps people feel comfortable spending the money on the book.

TBB: What year did you sell the book?

DN: I sold the manuscript in 2010. We started talking about the book in 2004, 2005, right around that area. I spent a lot of time leisurely writing a book. It was published in 2011. It’s been selling ever since.

TBB: That’s when you started the blog, 2011?

DN: 2010 actually. The day after I sold the manuscript and shipped that off I started the blog cause I knew I would have to get this blogging thing figure out. And get ready for the book launch.

TBB: Did you know much about blogging at the time? How did you get into that?

DN: I didn’t have any blogs of my own up until that point. I, of course, been reading a lot of websites and online stuff and started reading blogs, probably 2005, 2006. Before then, I spent the majority of my time on Usenet or internet forums over the years. I got computer experience. I’ve got a computer science degree and I was pretty comfortable with figuring it all out.

TBB: Did you go to like WordPress, or work with one of those companies?

DN: Oh yeah. First thing we did was start with WordPress.com, the posted version of WordPress that they host there. That way I could do that max marketing for the minimum amount of money. And in 2012, when I was ready to start using the site to earn money, I took that out to WordPress.org with Bluehost. It just ran from there.

TBB:  What was the traffic like in the beginning? Did you have a following in the beginning or did you have to build it up over time?

DN:  It was a stereotype where your mom is the only person who reads your blog and she leaves a spam comment. But, the site, the traffic grew over time. And part of that was because I was already doing a lot of posting to internet forums and as we talked about that, I would put up a blog post and say, “hey, tell your friends, go read this blog post”, that sort of thing. I had written a book with the help, with contributions of over 50 different service members and veterans and family members and I sort of had that group of people who either helped write part of the book or edit, or whatever they contributed with their stories. That word kind of spread as the blog got started. I started ranking, I think the first time I started hitting the first page of search results was probably around 2011, late 2011. After I had been writing for a year.

Part of that was the keywords military, personal finance, and part of that is because the Department of Defense keeps scrapping all their URL’s and building new websites and starting all over again. They don’t have to care about search engine ranking or anything else. Over the years, longevity has paid off for me.

It was a stereotype where your mom is the only person who reads your blog and she leaves a spam comment.

TBB: Was there a moment like one blog post really broke through, or was it just a slow build up over time?

DN: It was a slow build up. Sometimes one post would get a little bit of traffic. Some other blogger would link to something that I had written like, one comment that military retirees always worry about is, “What am I gonna do all day?” Every once in a while, someone would discover that and link to it. A post that’s taken over and become the most popular post, consistently, every month for the last five years, is a post about the Reserve and National Guard retirement calculation. It’s horribly complication and poorly understood and everybody sits down one day and says, “Jeez, I’m gonna retire from the Reserves and the Guard, and I have no idea what I’m doing. Let me search for National Guard Retirement.” And when they do, usually, they’ll find military guide within the first page of results.

TBB:  Do you have any competitors on this topic? Or do you pretty much own it yourself?

DN: Oh, no. I don’t see that so much as competitors as I see them as friends. I got probably another dozen people I know of that are full time military personal finance bloggers. The difference, I guess, between me and many others, is that I’m doing this for, mainly paying it forward, and for charity, and I’m donating all my money. Some of them are doing it for profit. It is probably, at least a dozen of us that are longevity of five years or more that are really big in the space and then there’s a whole bunch of newcomers in the last couple of years. That’s part of the growth of the whole general financial independence movement. Also, part of it is it’s just become easier and easier to blog every year and more and more people are starting a site.

 

Doug Nordman for USAA Magazine

TBB: What about social media? Is that a big part of your out-reach as well? Like Facebook, Twitter?

DN: Yeah. Again, back when social media used to be, Usenet, I started back then, in forums, and kept on going with whatever’s available. Things that have worked best for me have been the big three. Facebook, and LinkedIn, and Twitter. I have a Pinterest account. I’ve pinned some posts on some of the boards on my Pinterest account. I’ve paid no attention to it. I do not do Instagram or any of the other 300 different splinter social media pieces of accounts. If LinkedIn, or Twitter, or Facebook shutdown overnight, I’d probably find something else to move to. But, there’s really no need to.

TBB: It sounds like SEO is a big part of your, you’re on the first page of Google results, probably accounts for a lot of your visibility.

DN: We talk about that at financial conferences and blogging conferences. The biggest part of search engine optimization, is you gotta write stuff that people want to read. And the posts that I write tend to be fairly long. It takes me 200, 300 words just to warm up. My typical post is 2,000 words. Short posts are 1,500. Detailed posts go to 3-4,000 words, so I will end up with a post that’s got, I don’t deliberately sit there and say, “Gosh I need to use a keyword now.” Instead, I write a post and then when I’m done I make sure that it does have the keywords that I’m looking for. I also make sure that I link back and forth to other posts in my site or link to the references. It’s pretty straightforward to figure out where you’re going with references from the Department of Defense or Federal Law. I’ve grown more familiar with those over the years since I’ve hung up my uniform. I’m able to quote references to people that are on active duty or reserves, they’ve never heard of.

The blogs got authority in there and it’s a big function too of longevity. We estimated once that, at a financial conference, that attrition rate of personal finance blogs might be as high as 70% per year, if that’s the case then that means that in two years you’re in top the 10%. Give it a couple more years and you’re in the top 1%.

TBB: That’s a good way to look at it. I know you’ve said, I think in the email, that Curtez would be the person to talk to about traffic and what kind of income it pulls in at this point. Do you know, in 2018, what kind of traffic you’re getting right now?

DN: Yeah. We’re getting about 2,500 visits a day. That translates to about 800-1,000 uniques. I usually have somebody that visits the site either finds exactly the post they’re looking for or, then goes and clicks through to a few more posts. Average two to three pages are viewed by one visitor, and I’d say the time on site is probably two or three minutes.

TBB: You have advertising on the site. Is it, can you say what kind of revenue that brings in?

DN: Yeah. I haven’t checked with Curtez on that, and he’s either very busy with the conference he’s planning or just hasn’t gotten around to looking at it lately. Neither of us lately. Several years about, I’d say two or three years ago he was pulling in $2,000-$3,000 a month. It was certainly a living wage at that income level. It’s probably just gone up since then. I’ll be honest. One of the reasons I sold the site in 2013 was because I thought this blogging thing had turned into a great big bubble and was gonna implode any day now, so I decided to cash out while I could. The biggest reason I sold is because I was spending an hour or two a day maintaining a website and I’d rather write. I didn’t have any fun or fulfillment from just maintaining the blog.

One of the reasons I sold the site in 2013 was because I thought this blogging thing had turned into a great big bubble and was gonna implode any day now, so I decided to cash out while I could

TBB: When you say maintaining the blog, what do you mean by that? What took more than two hours a day?

DN: You always have the latest plug-in to look at and decide if you want to use that. You’re always looking at the site to fix broken links, or cleaning up the spam. You’re looking at the site to see if you need to add blue theme, or you’re negotiating with somebody over an advertising rate. Or figuring out how they want to do something. Those are things that I know how to do, and I’m proficient at it, but on the other hand, I’d rather write. And it was the kind of thing that I found myself spending more and more time doing things I enjoyed less and less, and when that happens, I’m smart enough to know that I need to find a different way to do it. It worked out very conveniently.

The other thing is that military veterans, we, some military veterans, and I’m one of them, has a reputation of being control freaks who have a difficult time letting go. For me to see the site and not turn it into some kind of profit or some kind of revenue sharing thing, for me it was an exercise in letting go that I wasn’t really very good at. I learned a little bit from that. It’s actually been kind of liberating. I don’t have to sit there and look at revenues or visits or figure out what kind of revenue split Curtez and I were gonna have. It’s just, “Hey Curtez, make a large donation to Wounded Warrior Project,” which he did. And once he donated that money to Wounded Warrior Project, I turned over all the passwords, and he keeps all the revenue. He’s totally motivated to keep the site up and running because it’s all his money. He’s getting 100% of the revenue share. I get to advertise the book in every post that I write, put up there, and he’s thrilled to have the content. It works pretty good.

We’re slowly moving toward a portal, really, for military personal finance that has multiple authors. I tell service members and veterans that if they want to write a guest post and tell their story, and give some advice and lessons learned, do it anytime. They’re welcome to write a guest post any time they want. We’ve, over the years, had more and more people drop by and some of them write one or two posts for us and move on. Others stick around and contribute two or three posts a year.

TBB: What motivates you to keep writing? What do you like about it?

DN: I can’t stop. You probably have heard of Erma Bombeck, she used to tell people, that if you have to ask whether you’re a writer, you’re not a write. It would never occur to you to ask if you’re a writer. You just can’t shut up. That’s pretty much the way I am. I’m always writing about something. And, so now I found my niche where I can focus on one topic and dig down pretty deep and learn a lot about it and share that knowledge.

TBB: Final question: What do you attribute your success to at this point?

DN:  In blogging, I contribute the success mainly to persistence. And by persistence I mean I sit my butt down in that chair every morning and write for at least 20 minutes a day. There are some morning where I’m less motivated than others. I’ve learned that if I sit down and write one paragraph that it’s probably good enough. If I write and enjoy what I’m writing, I’ll probably spit out 5,000 words before I settle down. I don’t try to put up a post every week. I try to put up a post when I have something to say. I’ll probably end up putting two to three posts up a month but they’re a product of writing every day and having that habit and having that persistence, that’s what really makes a blogger successful in the long run.

 

 

How I Built That Blog: Mr. 1500 Days

Not many blogs have a built-in dramatic device, but when Carl (he declines to offer his last name) started 1500 Days blog on Jan. 1, 2013, it offered some suspense. Would Carl reach his goal of retirement within that time span? (Spoiler alert: yes.) Then, would he continue afterwards (also yes).

As Carl, a.k.a. Mr. 1500 Days, tells TBB, he never viewed his blog as a moneymaker. And now that the 43 year-old has made enough money to retire on, the blog is more a hobby that he turns to to find fulfillment in his early retirement. Like other bloggers in the category, including Mr. Money Mustache (who lives in Mr. 1500’s hometown of Longmont, Colorado), the point of the blog is now lifestyle design rather than generating cash, but happily it does that too.

Carl recently discussed the rise of 1500 Days, how he managed to carve a niche for himself in the crowded personal finance blogging category and how he changed the blog after he reached his self-imposed milestone. Below is an edited version of our conversation:

 

1500+Days

 

The Blog Blog: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the creation story for your blog? How did you come about this idea and so forth?

Carl:  Yeah, so, let’s see, this is back in October of 2012. I had a really bad day at work, and my thought was, “I can’t continue this job.” By the way, I was 37 at that time. My thought was, “I can’t continue this job for the next 25 years,” which I had planned to. I Googled something like, “How do I retire early?” And I found J.D. Roth and Mr. Money Mustache.

At that time I had two thoughts. My first one was, “Hey, I can retire early, too. It’s just a simple math problem.” That was one thought. My second thought was, “Hey, I’ve always loved to write.” I thought about being a journalism major in college, which I quickly abandoned because they don’t make a lot of money. So I’m like, “But here’s my chance. I want to write about and document my journey online, to hold myself accountable, and just to kind of” … I thought it would be fun to show the world what I was doing.

So, on Jan. 1, 2013, I started the blog. It was kind of just on a whim. It was just like that. I wanted to write, and there really wasn’t much more to it.

TBB: So, did you use WordPress, or how did you go about actually creating the blog?

Carl: Yeah, it was WordPress. I think I, I found a tutorial on a site, and it’s pretty easy to stand up a WordPress blog, even if you’ve never done anything before. Within an hour you can be up and going. It takes longer to figure out a domain name. That I had severe paralysis analysis over that, like two months of, “What should I name it?” Of course, everything you want is taken, so by the time you’re at like number 810 on your list you find a domain that’s not taken. Yeah, so it was WordPress, and I think that’s by far the best one, what everyone uses now.

TBB: Which domain names were you considering that didn’t make the cut?

Carl: That’s a good question. I don’t … That was a long time ago. I don’t think I remember any of them. It was probably more common names like, “I want to retire early,” and stuff like that. The other thing I didn’t realize at the time was, even back then there was a lot of early retirement blogs, and I had no idea that now there’s infinitely more. Yeah. So, I’m sorry, I don’t remember any specific names.

TBB: So, when you started blogging, did you have any audience? Were people actually reading it, or were you just doing it for yourself and hoping for an audience at some point?

Carl:  I mostly did it for myself, but I saw that other bloggers would comment on people like Mr. Money Mustache, and JD Roth who wrote for, “Get Rich Slowly,” at the time, and he’s back doing that now, so I would leave comments on those blogs and that’s one traffic acquisition trick. You leave a good comment on there and people see your comment if it’s interesting and start reading your blog. It was very organic. I built up very slowly over time.

Guest posting was the other thing. Early on we had a guest post on, Budgets are Sexy. I learned that that’s a good strategy as well. A lot of people will say to save your best stuff for someone else’s blog, which sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. If you can get a guest post on a bigger blog than yourself, Google will like you better, and then you’ll get traffic that way, too.

The thing I hear from people all the time is blogging is like 80% or 90% marketing, and 10% or 20% writing. I hate the marketing part of it, and I’m kind of uncomfortable with the self-promotion, so for me it’s always been the opposite. I’ve always focused on my writing. For me it was different, too, I never set out to make money from it, so I didn’t really care about that. I just liked to write, and so that’s what I did.

 

A lot of people will say to save your best stuff for someone else’s blog, which sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.

 

TBB: What was the, was there a post in particular where you suddenly got a big jump in traffic? Was it for, “Budgets Are Sexy?”

Carl: Let’s see, there was one early on that went viral. It was called, “Death By Retirement.” A Canadian news outlet picked it up, and back then I think I was getting probably around 1,000 page views a day. I remember when that happened, all of a sudden I got like 15,000 page views in a day. Usually that traffic doesn’t stay. You’ll go viral, but it bumps up a little bit. Anytime something goes viral, you’re always a little bit bigger after that, even though 95% of those people are never going to come back again. Some will.

TBB: Yeah. When you left comments, like on Mr. Money Mustache, did you leave your website URL there, or did you hope that people would just look you up?

Carl: I did. Most bloggers have a plugin that when you leave a comment there it allows you to enter your URL and then it automatically provides a backlink back to your own work. I think people do that because it encourages people to leave comments as well. There’s a whole art form to that.

TBB: You said the first three years you made like $100 on the blog. Was there a decision at some point to start monetizing it, or is it still something you just mostly do for enjoyment of it?

Carl: Yeah, well, my thinking on that was … So, I made $100 because we had a couple AdWords things on there. They weren’t really in the right place, and I wasn’t that serious about it. Then I went to a conference called ThinkOn, and I started talking to some people that were like, “Oh, do you use Personal Capital?” I’m like, “Yeah, I do.” And they’re like, “Well, you know, if you have an affiliate link you can get $100 per sign up, and if you use a different advertising network you can make this money, too.”

I kind of back and forth on that, because I don’t want to throw too many ads in people’s faces, but on the other hand, if I can make money for doing what I’ve been doing all along, I’m going to take that, too. It’s definitely a balance. I’ve never wanted to be too obnoxious with pop up ads, and pop ups in people’s faces, and video and audio, but if I can do a little bit to help pay for the blog, and that kind of thing, I’ll do it.

TBB: So, which networks do you use now?

Carl:  It’s called AdThrive.

TBB:  AdThrive, okay.

Carl:  Yeah, the other popular one seems to be Mediavine. I’ve never actually tried that one. My main two sources of income are AdThrive and the Personal Capital affiliate links.

TBB: How often do you blog?

Carl: Two to three times a week.

TBB: You mentioned J.D. Roth, Mr. Money Mustache. Were those your big influences for blogging?

Carl:  Yeah, they were. Those were the two guys I first discovered. When I had that bad day at work and did that Google search, those were the two blogs that came up. At first I’m like, “Oh, these guys are full of it. This is nonsense.” I thought they were trying to sell some pyramid scheme, but then you read, and earlier retirement is just a matter of numbers, and there’s not much else to it. So, yeah, those guys were definitely my two big influences. I live in the same town as Mr. Money Mustache, actually.

TBB: I was going to ask you about that. Longmont? Is it Longmont, Colorado?

Carl: Yeah, that’s it.

TBB: Yeah. Do you know him? Do you run into him, and stuff?

Carl: Yeah, I do. He’s a pretty busy guy, so I don’t see him daily, but yeah, he’s having a meetup on Wednesday, actually, so I’ll see him then.

TBB: That’s funny. Cool. Do you do a podcast? Is that something you’ve considered as well?

Carl:  I’ve never considered that. I’m just too busy. It sounds like fun. I don’t mind appearing on podcasts, but the thought of adding something else to my life now would be crazy. It’s amazing how busy your life gets when you don’t have a full time job. We’ve got kids, too, which consumes a lot of time.

TBB: The purpose of your blog, you kind of set up this timeline and then you reached it. Did you find after you did that that it was difficult to keep up that momentum, and did setting up that deadline for yourself make it hard to follow through afterwards?

Carl:  Are you talking about the blogging, or with other stuff?

TBB: Yeah, for the blog. The premise is 1,500 days-

Carl:  Yeah.

TBB: You retire, then you got to that point. Was it difficult to find the content after that?

Carl:  Yeah, not really. If you look at my posts, they’ve changed a lot. They used to be more about money, and now they’re more about lifestyle stuff-

TBB: Yeah, I see that.

Carl: And life after. Yeah, life after I left my job. If anything, it’s actually easier now, and I’m more prolific than most. The thing I think is amusing when I talk to a lot of other personal finance bloggers is they always say they hate writing, or a lot of them say that, and I enjoy it. I like it a lot. But, yeah, it wasn’t hard at all, but the nature of the blog changed. It’s because I don’t care. If I were to continue to write about money more often, there’s money in writing about money, but I just do whatever I want and it’s more natural that way, so I’ve never had an issue. If not, it’s easier now than it ever was.

TBB: Is social media a big part of your outreach as well? 

Carl: Yeah, you have to do Twitter and Facebook. Every time I post I put a link up on Twitter and Facebook, and that’s a nice way to connect with people. What it does, what it really does is it allows others to share your work. If they like it they’ll retweet it, and then you get more traction that way.

TBB: What about Google News? Do you ever break through on that? Does that help at all?

Carl: We’ve appeared on some news sites. Google News is more of an aggregator, right? I don’t-

TBB: I was wondering if you wrote about Mr. Money Mustache and you search on Google News, would your blog show up?

Carl: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve never really done that. I know I show up for some terms, just with Google search. I’ve never done a lot of research with Google News, though.

TBB: What kind of traffic is your blog getting?

Carl: It gets between 3,000 and 5,000 page views a day.

TBB:  Is it a big source of income, or it’s more like supplementary and nice to have kind of income? Obviously you don’t need the money at this point.

Carl: Yeah, it’s about $2,000 a month, and I used to make more because I did more freelance writing, and that was pretty lucrative. I’ve become so busy, and since I don’t really need the money I’ve stopped doing that. It was about double that when I was doing freelance work.

TBB: I had another question, maybe a little off topic, but I’ve heard that sometimes when people do retire, when they reach these goals, that afterwards, and I think Tim Ferriss wrote about this, you get a bit depressed. You’re like, “Oh, what do I do now?” Did you have that kind of moment yourself? How did you address it if you did?

Carl:  Yeah, that’s a good question, and that terrified me. I met my number long before I actually quit working, and it was for that very same reason I was so terrified of jumping off the edge. I’d worked at my job for almost two decades, 40 hours a week. I never had more than one week off that whole time, which is kind of pathetic on my part, I guess. No, that hasn’t happened, which I’m thankful for, but part of it is because of the blog, that gives me a meaningful activity to fill some of the time in my day. But it’s enough time where it doesn’t consume it. It’s not 40 hours a week, it’s 20 hours a week.

The other thing I found, and what I always tell people, because people will frequently ask, “Hey, how do I know if I should retire?” I’m like, “Well, think of what you do on your weekends now when you do have free time, because your retirement will be an expansion of that.” When I thought about my weekends, I never had enough time to do everything I wanted to do, so now all these other activities like exercise, and building stuff, and projects around the home have just expanded to consume my time. Just like before when I had a job, I find that I still have no time now.

The thing that I thought, though, along those same, or the thing that … Another way to look at your question is what I realized is I’m not any happier, so happiness is something that has to come more internally and less externally. I thought, hey, I’d suddenly be a lot happier after I left my job. I wasn’t. It was just the same. I thought having this 40 hours a week would be, “Yay! I can do whatever I want.” But that part hasn’t worked out.

 

I realized is I’m not any happier, so happiness is something that has to come more internally and less externally.

 

TBB: Monday morning must be nicer, though, right?

Carl: Yes.

TBB: Final question; What advice would you give to people who want to start their own successful blog?

Carl: I would say to be in it for the right reasons. If you’re just in it for money, it’s fine, you could do that and make money from it, but it’s going to be harder. You’re going to have to force yourself to do it. If you’re doing it because you truly love it, it’s going to be easier for you. It’s not to say you can’t do something like this if you hate writing. You can always start the blog and work on other aspects of it. You could work on the advertising or the affiliate stuff, and freelance writers you can get for pretty cheap, so maybe you want to outsource some of that. Just try to focus on the parts of it that you enjoy, because if you don’t enjoy the writing you’re not going to do it and you’re going to give up.

I guess the other suggestion I’d give is be in it for the long term. For me it was like a gap three years. I think it took three years for the blog to really sort of catch on and get consistent traffic, but I didn’t care because I was in it for myself.

 

How I Built That Blog: Jessica Moorhouse

As the old saying has it, there’s riches in niches. For Jessica Moorhouse, that niche is being a female Millennial Canadian personal finance blogger. Though she started her blog in 2012 as a hobby, for the past three years, Moorhouse has taken it seriously and it is now her livelihood. For Moorhouse, her eponymous blog is part of a media ecosystem including a podcast and presence on YouTube and Facebook. Moorhouse said of all those properties, the most effective is her podcast, which averages some 30,000 downloads. Moorhouse recently discussed the genesis of her blog and how it allowed her to quit her full-time job. Below is an edited version of that conversation:

jessica-moorhouse-regular-headshot

TBB: Why did you start the blog?

Jessica Moorhouse: Honestly, I started the blog back then just to be creative. I graduated film school and realized — this was during the recession — that there were no jobs and so I was unemployed for a while and during that time feeling broke and had a student loan to figure out how to pay off. My older sister started reading blogs about personal finance and honestly at that point I didn’t even know blogs were still a thing. When I thought about blogs, I thought they were still like the LIveJournal days when people just talk about themselves in an open diary. I didn’t know there were blogs that were more like articles and news and stuff like that.

For me, money has always been pretty interesting just because we didn’t have a lot growing up so I wanted to do better for myself. I got deep into the world of personal finance blogs and I thought that I could start a blog if these people could start a blog. It’s also a way for me while I was working a sales/advertising role at a newspaper, which isn’t exactly my career trajectory that I wanted to go down. It gave me an outlet to be creative and actually write on the side and just have something to look forward and create basically after coming out of an artsy film school where I was creating all the time. It opened this whole other world to me.

But for like three to four years it was something on the side. I made a little bit of money on year three or four but not a lot because I didn’t have a purpose or direction for my blog. But when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I went back to school but once I got a job in digital marketing, I realized that wow this is still just a job and not as exciting as I’d hoped. What was exciting though was that my blog was kind of taking off.

So I rebranded. I didn’t want to be just a blogger anymore, my dream was to be a go-to personal finance expert that you’d see on the news and had a book deal and all that. I thought maybe I should try to do that. So I rebranded and positioned myself as that. That was about two or two and a half years go and it worked out in my favor, because I do that full time.

TBB: Does the blog make enough money on its own to support you?

JM: Whenever I see bloggers saying “I made this much from my blog,” I’m always so curious about what do they actually mean. There’s not a lot of clarity on that. For me, I’ll be very transparent. I started with the blog and branched out to other kinds of avenues because whenever I would talk to a potential advertiser or brand partner they’d always be like “How can we work together?” and my answer was never “Well, I have a blog and we could do a sponsored post or I could write for you on your blog.” Now I have the blog, I work with brand sponsors or social media promotions but I also have the podcast sponsorship so I get advertisers for that and I also do more YouTube stuff so I get sponsors for that. Or I’ll work with them on the blog and then offer a video review at a discounted rate or for free. I also now host my own events — Millennial Money Meetup that runs in Toronto and Vancouver. I’ve been doing that for a year and a half now. That was a way to take the conversation offline and differentiate myself from other bloggers.

So I’ve got a lot of different streams, but it all started with the blog.

Whenever I see bloggers saying “I made this much from my blog,” I’m always so curious about what do they actually mean. There’s not a lot of clarity on that.

TBB: What kind of traffic does the blog get?

JM: I don’t want to say but I will say that I’ve been able to quit my job and get a larger salary than I got at my last job and that was a fairly decent salary in Toronto. It’s not because my blog gets the most traffic. There are bigger blogs out there that get way more traffic than I do that are making way less money. I think a lot of it has to do with I position myself not as a blogger, but as an influencer or an expert. In general, partners don’t want to work with someone who has some silly blog name. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional go-to person. Because I position myself as the go-to money Millennial person in Canada whenever a brand wants to have a spokesperson or book me for public speaking, they’ll book me instead of a random blogger who is anonymous.

TBB: You said that blog took off three or four years ago. Was there one post that really made it take off or was there a link somewhere else that did it?

JM: It’s really when I started to rebrand. Originally my blog was called “Mo Money, Mo Houses.” It was a funny name I thought it was cute, but whenever I went to a networking event, everyone would be like “What is that about? Is that real estate or something?” No one would get that it’s a play on my name and a rap song. So I said well OK, I need to do something about that. So I rebranded with just my name and did a really nice refresh of the website so it didn’t just look like the blog it was a full website with a lot of different offerings. Then I started doing all the things that digital marketers say to do so, like have build your email list and focus on your key social network to grow that audience. So I did a lot of different things to grow it.

TBB: How did you start the podcast? What equipment did you buy?

JM: I’m lucky because my husband is an audio engineer so he helped me buy the equipment I needed. We spent a little bit of money, but basically I have two condenser or dynamic mikes — one of those — they’re basically the microphones you see people use on TV. I also have a scarlet, it’s this red box where you could plug in those two mikes. Originally I wanted to be able to interview people at my house. That just connects to my computer and then I record my interviews now using Zoom. I used to use Skype and I record video so I have that extra component. When I edit I use Garage Band.

TBB: Was it difficult to get traction on iTunes?

JM: It took a while. When I started, podcasts were just getting popular — in June 2015. That was six months after Serial came out. I looked on the charts and in Canada there was no woman who was talking about personal finance — certainly not a Millennial. So there was an opportunity there. I was kind of the first one in that space and I’ve been doing it consistently since then. I put out an episode every week, so that’s 52 episodes in one year. I think because I’m so consistent with putting out content, people then start subscribing. And that’s how now I get 30,000 downloads a month, which isn’t the biggest podcast in the world, but my fans are dedicated and I know that because I go to events and they tell me that they listened to all 150 episodes I have. For me, it really was about being consistent and being patient really. I mean, I didn’t have anyone listen for the first couple of months and it just kind ramped up as I proved to people listening that I’m not going to stop.

TBB: Are you on a schedule for blogging and podcasting?

JM: I try. The podcasting is something I’ve been very diligent with. I basically put out a new episode every Wednesday and sometimes there’s this other part of my podcast called the listener series where I interview listeners of my podcast to share their money stories and I post those on Thursday. But it’s generally every Wednesday and I only take a break in December and then July and August.

TBB: You don’t have advertising on your site. Why?

JM: I only make money through paid sponsorships. I don’t do any ads just because there’s no ROI on that. No one makes money off of ads and they’re ugly. They detract from all the good stuff I have on my site.

TBB: Do you use WordPress?

JM: Yeah. When I first started I used Tumblr because I was so cheap I didn’t want to pay anything. That was OK for a while when it was a hobby but I had to move over to WordPress and I would never go back. Whenever I see people choose SquareSpace or whatever else is out there I always think you’re going to eventually switch to WordPress.

I don’t do any ads just because there’s no ROI on that. No one makes money off of ads and they’re ugly.

TBB: Did you ever consider Medium?

JM: That’s for a different thing. If I ever wanted to write something that was maybe a bit off-brand or a bit more personal I would do Medium. But I generally don’t have enough time.

TBB: Of all your outlets — YouTube, the blog, Facebook, the podcast — which is most effective?

JM: For me, podcasting isn’t as saturared as the blogging world. When people listen to me for 30 minutes a week, you develop a very strong relationship besides just writing stuff that they read.

TBB: What would you attribute your success to?

JM: Just not quitting. The only reason I was able to get some sort of success is because I didn’t stop and believe me there are a million times that I want to stop. I want to do it on a weekly basis because this is not an easy thing to do — I’m completely responsible for earning all my money to pay my bills and save for retirement.