1. Can you tell our readers what your background is and what you blog about?
Ben and I are both Virginia Tech grads (I graduated in 2013 and Ben in 2011) with no online business or marketing experience whatsoever, haha! My degree is in biochemistry, and Ben has degrees in biology and nursing.
Our main blog right now is DollarSprout.com, which is a personal finance blog with nearly 100,000 monthly readers. We also blog about blogging over at BreakingTheOnePercent.com.
The picture below is Ben (right) and I’s (left) first known photo together, circa 2010
8 years later and we are only slightly more professional (Megan on the left is our newest addition)
2. Describe how you both got introduced to blogging and what made you start your own?
It happened a bit by accident, actually. Our original attempt at online business was creating a membership website that offered stock market investing research. My first job out of college was at a wealth management firm, but I found myself quickly becoming jaded to the industry and wanted to try building a business of my own. So in August of 2015, I did.
After trying that for about a year with little success, we stumbled upon Pinterest and the world of “bloggers.” That’s when we decided to give traditional blogging a try (as opposed to creating a paid membership site). It was totally foreign to us, but we had nothing to lose.
With a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, we eventually started to see consistent income for our online business. This month (April 2018) we are on pace to earn approximately $17,000.
3) What is your revenue model for your blog? What short and long term goals do you have?
Each month fluctuates a bit, but in general, affiliate marketing is our main focus.
We do have a course that teaches other bloggers how to get more traffic from Pinterest, which will account for about 1.5% of revenue. About 9% of our revenue comes from display advertising, and the rest is from affiliate marketing. We primarily promote products and services that help our readers make or save extra money.
Here’s an example of a post that generates affiliate income, while at the same time giving readers plenty of ideas to build passive income.
Short term goals: Create more epic pieces of cornerstone content for DollarSprout. Earn $200,000 in blog revenue in 2018.
Long term goals: Continue to bring more people onto our team and grow to 1,000,000 monthly readers by the end of 2019. Ambitious? Yes. Possible? Also yes 🙂
4) What are some strategies you have used to build your traffic?
Pinterest is the sole reason why our blogging business initially survived. Although a lot has changed since we started a couple years ago (as is always the case with social media), a few things still hold true for driving traffic from Pinterest:
You need pins that look good. Mom bloggers like the term “pretty pins”, and it’s true. Your pins have to be pretty to get clicked on.
Stay true to your niche. If you blog about money, don’t start pinning bikini workouts. It won’t help you (we’ve tried, haha).
Join lots of group boards. They aren’t as valuable as they used to be, but you still need them.
As you’ll hear a lot of bloggers profess, it’s absolutely necessary to diversify your traffic sources. A few months ago we began investing time and effort into improving our SEO. That work is slowly beginning to pay off, but we still have a long way to go.
5) What have you found is the most important aspect of growing your email list?
Having something better than “pls join our newsletter”. Opt ins are harder to get now than they used to be, so you have to be willing to provide a lot of upfront value in exchange for an email address.
Some things that have worked well for us:
Free e-courses (this can be easily set up with Seva).
Content upgrades in the body of your articles. Bonus points if the upgrade is hyper relevant to the article it’s in.
To be fair, email marketing is one of our weaker areas, and I would hardly consider us experts!
The Savvy Couple highly recommends using Seva as your email marketing software as a blogger. Using our exclusive link you can ConvertKit.
It’s hard to manufacture virality, but in general, we try to create content that delivers the most practical value to our readers. If we can sprinkle in a spritz of entertainment so people don’t fall asleep while reading, even better.
When assessing whether our content provides enough practical value, I like to research the content on page 1 of Google and think of ways we can create something better. There’s a reason they are there — their content is good!
7) What is the BEST advice you have ever received at running a successful blog?
I think this is part of the reason why it took so long for us to make any progress with our business — we didn’t really listen to anyone’s advice.
So my best piece of advice is to actually listen to peoples’ advice, if that makes sense. There are two very big caveats to this: make sure you are listening to someone who has already done what you are trying to do, and make sure they don’t earn all of their income by selling you the secrets to how they made their income.
Also: quality is more important than quantity. In every aspect of blogging, always.
8) What have been your biggest struggles running your blog? How have you overcome them?
My biggest struggle has always been productivity and the ability to stay focused throughout the day. In fact, I was diagnosed with ADHD in October 2017 (lots of family history, and I’ve always thought there was a chance I had it). I’m not a big believer in popping pills to “fix” yourself, but the difference I have seen since having medication to help me focus is night and day. I definitely think it’s an over-diagnosed condition in American society, but regardless, I have experienced tremendous changes in my ability to get sh*t done since getting diagnosed (just ask Ben, haha).
A practical tip for “normal” people reading this: make a to do list for each day. Working from home has its perks, but the distraction potential is very real. Having a list of tangible stuff you need to get done each day is very beneficial. Don’t let yourself go down too many rabbit holes in one day!
9) What do you think blogging will look like 5 to 10 years from now?
If you think it’s competitive now, this is just the beginning. There will be a lot more players in the game, and a lot more really good players in the game. Really good players with big budgets.
Source: The Internet Live Stats
Quality is going to continue being the most important factor in getting your content seen, no matter what medium you are operating on.
10) What benefits has running a blog provided in your life? Would you recommend it to others?
Blogging has changed my life. And not in a “it’s so magical, all you need is my special Bluehost affiliate link!” kind of way.
But yes, there are some really good parts about blogging.
Because of blogging, I:
- Make more money than I did at my 9 to 5
- Have a bigger impact than I did at my 9 to 5
- Can grocery shop at 10am on a Tuesday if I want to
- I don’t have a soul-sucking boss that makes me feel like a slave
- I can work whenever I want to
Do I recommend blogging for everyone? No. Here’s why:
- To realistically get life changing results, it’s a multi-year commitment
- Most people don’t want to put in the amount of work required.
That being said, blogging is perfect for people who:
- Are genuinely interested in entrepreneurship (all parts of it)
- Are not afraid to fail for a while
- Have an innate desire to create something that is THEIRS
11) What is your favorite thing to do outside of blogging? How do you maintain a good work life balance as a business owner?
Right now I don’t do a lot outside of blogging! I still consider Ben and I in startup mode, even though we are approaching our third year of blogging.
To be honest, work life balance has been another area where I have struggled a bit as a business owner. It’s not unusual for me and Ben to work 15-20 days in a row, but I do think (hope) at some point that we will scale that back.
I will say, though, that making health and fitness a priority is incredibly important as an entrepreneur. It’s easy to tell yourself you don’t “have time” to work out and eat healthy, but that’s simply not true.
A couple years ago I joined a local boxing gym and fell in love with it. Having that outlet to get my blood pumping and let out some stress has been huge for me!
What the social media highlight reel shows of my life:
But in reality, I spend most of my time like this:
Is having a different life worth the work involved to make it happen?
What other questions do you have about starting a successful blog?
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