Hey blogging family! Today we have an awesome interview from Jim Wang the blogger and business owner behind WalletHacks.
Jim is one of the OG’s of the blogging world (starting before 2008) and has some incredible insight into the entire industry.
In his interview, you are going to learn things like how to set yourself apart, marketing strategies that work, and even how to have an exit plan to someday possibly sell your blog.
Be sure to read the entire interview so you don’t miss any blogging resources or golden nuggets of information!
1. Can you tell our readers what your background is in and how you got started blogging?
I studied Computer Science in college and worked in the defense industry as a software engineer. I started my first blog, Bargaineering, on the side as a journal to help me understand my own finances. Back then, and this was around 2005, I didn’t know blogging was even a thing people did. I would soon learn about other personal finance blogs, and there were about a dozen of them, and we all became internet friends.
The site grew, as did the internet as a whole, and I was able to quit my job in 2008 to pursue it full time. It was a scary transition but one that I don’t regret in the least. Now I work on Wallet Hacks, which is a continuation of my journey to understand my finances.
2. You have had multiple blogs in the past. One that you have actually sold. Can you tell us about your experience of actually selling a blog for profit? What made you want to sell? What was the process like? What would you have done differently?
The experience was a little surreal. The site was my baby and also my full-time job, so parting with it was tough but something that changed the trajectory of my and my family’s life.
I started talking with the same investment bankers that sold Get Rich Slowly and Five Cent Nickel because I wanted to know if it was an option for me. I’d gotten emails from random people on the internet in the past, including some bigger names, but I never took them seriously. JD and Nickel had told me their experiences and I knew I could trust these folks to help me through the process.
I wanted to sell because I saw the industry consolidating and I figured a sale would de-risk my finances. There are so many factors that go into the success of a business and those factors can change at a moment’s notice. Google adjusts its algorithm and poof, your search traffic disappears… that’s a painful experience.
The process was a lot easier than I expected. The bankers put together a package, shopped it to suitors they knew, and I was presented with some offers and I chose one. It’s not that much different than selling a house, though the numbers were a lot bigger.
The only thing I would’ve done differently had nothing to do with the sale but with the operation of the blog. I’d gotten freelance writers and it was a pain getting copyright releases for their work after the fact!
3) What did you do with the windfall? Buy a sports car? Go on a lavish trip?
The site had been earning a pretty decent sum before I sold it so if I wanted to do any of those things, I already did it. No car (not a car guy) but we do go on trips but they’re hardly lavish – we like to go on longer trips with the kids where we can enjoy a place without feeling rushed.
The irony of travel is that if you can stay in a place for a long period of time, it’s actually much cheaper. Renting an apartment for a week is relatively cheap and not even close to seven times the price of a hotel. The flexibility of working for yourself is the real luxury here.
I took most of the money and invested it. Most of it went into the stock market into some low-cost index funds at Vanguard. Some of it went into some passive investments like real estate while the rest went into cash as a reserve. I dabbled a little in angel investing but quickly realized that was NOT for me.
4) What is your BEST piece of advice for other bloggers that want to have an exit plan and eventually sell their blog?
Most bloggers get into blogging because they enjoy writing, journaling, sharing their stories, and they don’t view their blog as a business. It’s a little like the fable of the boiling frog. The frog is in a pot that’s slowly boiling and before you know it, he’s dead.
Well you start a blog, it makes a little money, then it makes more, and before you know it you are earning a nice living… except you haven’t treated your blog like a business. It’s because the water is heating up slowly and you don’t even notice it.
Always have an exit plan and treat your blog as a business. If it makes any money, it’s worth something to someone and one day you will be able to sell it to a suitor.
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5) You are currently focused on growing your personal finance blog WalletHacks. What is your marketing strategy and revenue model for your blog? What short and long term goals do you have?
I don’t really have a marketing strategy with Wallet Hacks other than to try to be everywhere so it can be discovered. Whether that’s doing interviews in text or podcast, syndicating content, or just writing on the blog itself – the more content you produce, the better.
Since this is my second go at it, I don’t feel the pressure to optimize everything and have a clear plan. This is more like gardening than it is skyscraper construction if that analogy makes sense.
6) What are your favorite marketing strategies you have used to build your traffic and audience?
Initially, I leaned on other bloggers’ audiences and I traded consulting for a mention in their newsletter. So I’d give an hour of my time on a phone call and the bloggers would agree to mention Wallet Hacks in their newsletter to their subscribers. It was a pretty good deal since it gave me a chance to reconnect with some friends, share insights that can help them, and it got me a few subscribers to a brand new blog.
We all have skills and experiences we can leverage for different things. I chose to lend out my experience for a shout out in email!
7) With so many bloggers on the internet (specifically personal finance bloggers) how does someone set themselves apart from the rest?
Too many bloggers try to be everything to everyone and it fails to connect. The internet is huge and the goal is to reach people who connect to your message, your voice, your personality, and perhaps your background. I’ve always tried to focus on writing about the things that interest me, which tends to attract folks who are facing the same challenges.
I also find being transparent and honest is extremely helpful. I’ve seen a lot of blogs where you don’t even see a photo of the author. I get that some people need to be anonymous, but not having a face is difficult. If you need to be anonymous, I recommend getting a cartoon or caricature version of yourself just so people can connect with something.
8) Do you find that email marketing is the greatest asset us online marketers have? What have you found is the most important and effective way to grow your email list?
I think email is important and valuable but I’m not the strongest at it. I use it to communicate with my readers and strengthen the relationship I have with them. Sometimes I will promote products or services, but it’s primarily used to drive traffic back to the site.
The most effective way to grow your email list is to increase the traffic to the site. 🙂
9) What is the BEST advice you have ever been given at running a successful online business?
Outsource cost centers. A cost center is an area of the business that doesn’t generate profit but is necessary to function. So areas like accounting and IT are cost centers for a business that isn’t an accounting firm or IT services firm.
When you, as an entrepreneur, spend time in those areas, you’re not spending them in profit centers where you make your money. Those areas are still important but you should be outsourcing them as soon as possible so you can focus on growth and cash flow.
10) What have been your biggest struggles running your blog? Your biggest failure? How have you overcome them?
Unless you are in a partnership, blogging can be lonely. You may have blogging friends, you may interact with other entrepreneurs, but the blog is just you.
When things go well, there’s no one to celebrate with.
When things go south, there’s no one to commiserate with.
The best thing you can do is join a mastermind group or have a blogging buddy you can talk to on a regular basis about your respective blogs. I’ve always found these relationships to be really good at helping me moderate my emotions when it comes to the business.
I haven’t experienced a big failure related to the blogs but when it happens, I bet my relationships with other bloggers will feature prominently in helping me overcome and manage them.
I have, however, failed in other areas. One of the most cathartic things I did was share them in a failure resume on the blog.
Failure is a good thing because it strengthens that muscle and there’s often something you can learn from your failures. It’s easy to say after the fact and when you have a few successes under your belt, but our live experiences mold us into the person we are.
11) What do you think blogging will look like 5 to 10 years from now?
I believe that most people will still want to read financial content. Video and audio, like podcasts, are great for learning but when someone is researching they still go to the library. They still want to see and read text, re-read it, and make sure they understand it fully before they make a decision.
Blogging will be valuable, personal finance blogging will continue to be valuable, today, in five, and in ten years.
12) What benefits has running a blog provided in your life? Would you recommend it to others?
When I was applying for colleges, I needed a tutor to help me get a passable score on the SAT II Writing exam. Blogging has helped me become a better conversational writer through practice and repetition. I’m still not the best, I doubt I ever will be, but the practice as been very good to me.
I’ve also become a better business owner, negotiator, and decision maker when it comes to the business. The years of practices, making mistakes, making good and bad bets, they’ve all helped form a pretty good process I can use to make future decisions.
I definitely recommend it. There’s something magical about creating something out of thin air.
13) What is your favorite thing to do outside of blogging? How do you maintain a good work life balance as a business owner, husband, and father?
I enjoy spending time with my family. So much of blogging involves creating something, waiting, and seeing if it resonates. There’s a bit of “living in the moment” but it’s very much always looking to what’s next. Spending time with my wife and kids is great because it forces you to live here and now. Kids don’t care about tomorrow, they care about now and what they’re doing right now. It’s quite refreshing.
I don’t try to maintain a work-life balance because I feel that’s a red herring. I’m either 100% working, 100% not working, and I don’t really focus on the mix of time spent where. I know it sounds weird but it’s just not something I focus on and so far the mix appears to be a healthy one, whatever it is!
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