49: Blogging to a $1 Million and Staying Sexy

J. MoneyBudgetsAreSexy.com is one of the most popular personal finance blogs in the world, and surprise surprise, it started as a side hustle.

In today’s show (Episode 49 of The Side Hustle Show), I’m joined by J. Money, the mysterious author of the aforementioned blog. We talk blogging as a business model, monetization strategies, the Side Hustle Series, and how to stand out in the crowded online world.

I’ve been a BudgetsAreSexy reader off and on for several years, and one thing that J. does an excellent job of is injecting his personality into the posts each and every day. The topic of money is nearly universal, but he does an awesome job of keeping it fresh and relate-able.

I was really surprised to hear him say he doesn’t like to write that much, after pumping out hundreds of thousands of words over the last 6 years! And as a blogger myself, lots to learn from this call.

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Learn:

  • Why J. decided to start a blog as a side hustle.
  • How he built up an initial readership and community. (By being genuinely interested in the subject matter!)
  • How the site earned it’s first dollars.
  • The routine publishing schedule he keeps and how he keeps coming up with new topics to write about.
  • The various ways the site earns money.
  • Why he considers the blog his platform or business card, more than a business in itself.
  • The popular Side Hustle series and the most heavily-trafficked side hustle of all.
  • A few ways he could earn extra money but why he has chosen (so far) not to.
  • J’s #1 tip for Side Hustle Nation.

Links:

What do you think? Is a blog part of your side hustle plans? Personally I think there are definitely some faster ways to earn money, so you’d have to have some other reasons for starting a blog.

For me, it’s a fun creative outlet, and like J, I feel like it’s becoming my online homebase or “business card.” What say you?

Transcript:

New! I’m running a little experiment in getting the show transcribed because several people have asked for it. It’s not perfect but should get the point across.

Here you go!

Click here to download the transcript.

Nick: This is the Side Hustle Show with Nick Loper, Episode 49. Blogging to $1,000,000 and Staying Sexy.

(Intro)

Nick: Hey everybody, Nick Loper here. Welcome to the Side Hustle Show, this is episode 49, Blogging to $1 million, my guest J.Money from BudgetsAreSexy.com.

J is on a public mission to make $1 million net worth. He runs one of the most popular finance sites on the internet. Now I have been a Budgets Are Sexy reader on and off for several years, and one thing that J. does an excellent job of is really injecting his personality into each and every post, and keeping up with the publishing schedule of publishing nearly each and every day. So the topic of money is pretty universal, but he does a really great job of keeping it personable.

Now one thing I was really surprised to hear him say in this call is that he doesn’t like to write that much, after just pumping out thousands and thousands and thousands of words over the last 6 years on the site. As a blogger myself, lots to learn on this call.

Now before we get into it, a couple of news and updates. First, a couple of people how the Side Hustle Nation inner circle mastermind is going and the short answer is that it is going well. From what I can tell, the feedback has been good, we are making good progress in sharing resources together and making sure everyone is accountable for what they want to accomplish. I am definitely learning some things as the host so it has been really valuable.

In fact, I am thinking of opening a second group either for a Thursday night engagement or even a lunch time power hour. So if you are interested in either of those hit me up at [email protected] or fill out an application at sidehustlenation.com/join.

In other news, been working on a monster post that I can’t wait to share with everybody, and am trying to think of what to do for next week’s big episode 5-0 in the one year podcast-versarry of Side Hustle Show, so stay tuned for that once I figure it out.

One quick 5 star iTunes review, this one is coming in from ThornFish08 all the way from Australia. He says, “Inspirational entrepreneur’s podcast jam packed with golden information on how to take action to start a side project that makes you money.” Well that is the perfect Segway into this show with J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy. Let’s get him on the line. Hey J, welcome to the Side Hustle Show.

J: Hello good sir, thanks for having me man.

Nick: Now J. Money is a pro blogger over at BudgetsAreSexy.com and RockstarSexy.com. He is a family man, a mentor and a real life side hustle hero. So thanks for coming on the show; let’s kind of go back in time to the early days of BudgetsAreSexy.com, what sparked the idea to start a blog or a personal finance blog?

J: Oh man, we have got to go back 6 years when Myspace was popular. Back in the day, yeah. Around that time I had bought a house, right at the peak of the market, before the crash and all of that. Probably I shouldn’t have, I didn’t put any money down and all that kind of good stuff. I bought this house and I was at work. I worked for a startup and we would have long, busy times and we would have times where we just did nothing, and during those times where we would do nothing, I would just play on Facebook and Myspace and all that kind of stuff. I started to think I should get all my financial stuff in order since I just bought a house. Didn’t really know what I was doing; I have never been really bad with money but had never been really good. So I started researching all these things online, like how it works, and I kept coming across these personal stories about money and one side would say, “Hey, here’s my net worth” and you could see all their savings and credit card debt, and it just blew my mind. I didn’t know people talked about that stuff out loud and I was really fascinated by that. I have always been fascinated by money in general, but to read about it, I don’t even know what the blog was, was kind of cool, and after a couple months of reading it, I went, “Crap, I could do this too. I could just spew my own thoughts and just be fun. It’s better than wasting time on the internet.” So I started BudgetsAreSexy and yeah, that was about 6 years and a month ago, and I have been blogging one post every single day, Monday through Friday, the entire time. It’s been a lot of fun.

Nick: How do you keep coming up with content? Especially on the personal finance side, where somebody joked that we only really have 6 topics we talk about and we hash them over and over again.

J: Yeah and it’s funny when you see that. So I bought a book at an old bookstore and it’s called Thrift from 1875. 150 years old and I wanted to see what it was like to save money back in the day, and you’re right! It was the exact same thing as today, just in different words and characters. But yeah, my blogging style is very diary-like. Like I pretty much just talk about my life that relates to money. And luckily, every day there is something we do, good or bad, and regardless or not, I will just find something and stretch it if I really feel like talking about it that day. It’s kind of like a half-hobby, half-business for me, whereas I see a lot of sites that are super business oriented or super hobbling, and men is kind of like in the middle;  I kind of do both on purpose.

Nick: Yeah, you have a good balance there. There is a lot of personality that shines through in the post. I didn’t realize it was an everyday commitment. That is one of the testimonies to the commitment of the site is to keep publishing content day in and day out. When you were getting started, what was the initial traffic like?  Were there any particular tactics that accelerated the site’s growth and audience?

J: I think blogging every day helped and then reading other people’s sites and commenting on theirs. Because I really and still genuinely am interested in this stuff, so I think by being around network of other bloggers really helped get the word out on my site. And back in the day, like I didn’t do any spell check or grammar stuff, I cursed all the time. I go back and like 99% of my articles are still up, and I look back and I go, “Oh my God! I would never every do that today.” But back when I didn’t know anything, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get a message out; I just did it. I would start a post and like half an hour through it, I would change the subject and end it completely different from where I started. But I didn’t care- it was a hobby. But I think being kind of crazy and my voice stand out on purpose. Because me, I am this tall dude with a Mohawk and I listen to hip hop, I mean I am not our average person and with finances that is usually what you get. So I think that definitely helped I stand out and then over time, I really love people and love talking and networking and stuff, so I think that definitely helped push it. In the beginning I was getting like 100 hits a day for a couple months, and then it went to like 3-400 and then a thousand. And now it’s anywhere between like 5,000 and 7,000, given or take. Ad again it is the halfway hobby and halfway business, so I don’t push any of those strategies to real push it even higher, but I don’t like do nothing where it just stagnates.

Nick: So we picked a topic that is pretty universal, like everyone is interested in money. We published with crazy consistency every day, we reach out and built relationships with other bloggers in the same vertical, and we had a unique voice. Where the traditional finance blogger is some dude in a suit talking about compound interest and mutual funds over the next 30 years. So you bring a unique angle to the topic, which I think was really fresh and kind of helped grow the site. Now at what point, so you have been doing this full time now for like 3 or 4 years?

J: Full time for 3, part time for 3. So yeah, about 3 years into it full time, yeah.

Nick: Congratulations, that is awesome.

J: Thank you man, it has been fun. Oh and real quick to you, just to point out- there is a lot of people also who don’t like my site. When you have your personality objective and it is so much, especially when you are on the crazier side, you alienate a lot of people too. So on one side it helps to connect the people who like my style, but on the other hand, it is universal because it is money, but you do get a lot of people who just don’t get it or don’t like it. Like for example, yesterday I got two emails within an hour of each other. The first, I don’t know if I am allowed to curse on here, am I allowed to curse on here?

Nick: Yeah, go ahead.  Especially if it is a testimonial from a reader.

J: Okay, it said something like, Unsubscribe from the RSS emails, I guess it was. And I had talked about Billy Joel and how he danced with my son, and it was like a song related to money, so I just put it out there. So it was interesting to me I guess, entertaining. So he says something like, “I don’t give a shit about Bill Joel. I came here for money saving tips. Unsubscribe.” And I was like, “All right, I get it.” I wrote back and said “Fair enough, I get it.” And then I get an email an hour later from someone who says, “You changed my life. I just paid off my last credit card bill. I have been reading your site for like 3 years and I love your site. Thank you so much for what you do.” Completely different! So you get these like weird kinds of things, but it is time and I think that’s important. I do consulting for bloggers and website owners and I think you have to stick to what our like and what you are good at. And everyone has their unique ability; it’s just a matter of pulling it out of them and getting it on their site. So continue, I just had to get that out…

Nick: No that’s pretty good,  think you have to be a little bit polarizing to create some fans. Because if you are not generate some sort of emotional response, either positive or negative, you are just the plain vanilla in the middle, which doesn’t do a lot for anybody. When I was working in my car business and a new car would come out and the design would be, you would aim for that polarizing design, to either love it or hate it. Because the people who love it, will run out and buy it. But if people are kind of like “eh” in the middle that is not going to move any units. And so then cutting edge and stuff like that, so. At what point does the site start making money? What kind of traffic levels are you looking at? What kind of monetization strategy are you starting to put in place to earn some dollars from it?

J: That’s a good question. From the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing and it was just a hobby. Then about after 3 months I had some companies email me and say, “Hey, I have this product. Can you put an ad up and I will give you $50 per month. Or if someone buys it, I will give you $10 for every sale” and I was like, “Sure, you are going to pay me?!” I mean I was just blogging nonsense, you know? So that started happening and maybe after 3 months I made like $50. And my traffic, I don’t know, as probable like around 100 or 200 readers a day, not too much. And then I would say as the months progressed that first year, the money was pretty much doubling. I think I made $700 after 8 months and my traffic was at maybe 500 page reads a day, and then it was all direct advertising. That’s all it was in the beginning and I just did it and did it over and over again and then I started learning about affiliated stuff and AdSense and other kinds of monetization and eventually it became a big chunk of money. And then what I did, not to go off subject much, is I said, “Hey, if I have this site and it is making money, what if I own other sites that do the same thing?” And I had some friends who were selling sites. So the things about blogging is, if it is making money, technically t s a business and people get tired of their business. So there were some of my friends who were like, “I am done; I am going to shut the site down.” And I am like “Wait, hold on a second. There’s other ways you can ty to get rid of your site like selling it, and all this kind of stuff” and I just eventually got into the business of buying sites and doing marketing stuff that has helped me grow my portfolio and money overtime. But it all just started from blogging every day and growing the traffic, right? Cruz there’s a billion  ways you can make money, but you can’t if there is no one going there. So that’s what the key is to figure out; how to get as much traffic to your site as possible.

Nick: Did you ever do any advertising for the site or was it all kind of organic growth?

J: It has all been organic. I think, you know how when AdSense or Google sends one of those $50 credits every now and then? Like, “Hey, start a campaign and get $50 free” or whatever it is, I tried that once and I think one person clicked over and I didn’t know how to do it. Because I didn’t have a product to sell or anything, it was just like, “Hey, here’s some free content about money.” My job is to motivate you and get you thinking about money; that’s the whole purpose of the site. So for me, to pay for traffic and hope that they click on ads, that is going to make me more than what I paid for the traffic. And I never really tried to do that so I don’t know how successful that is but obviously AdSense is pretty big so it must work for a lot of people.

Nick: Yeah, they are not too big on the old garage thing anymore, so that might be tough. (Laughter)

J: I didn’t even think of that! Yeah our pay Google  to send you traffic and then they click on Google ads and leave.

Nick: So today, are you 100% supported on ads or you say you got some consulting business on the side or is that sort of separate from the main blog?

J: Everything I do is kind of interconnected to some degree, but yeah, the bulk of my income comes from advertising direct, whether it’s affiliates, display ads, AdSense kind of stuff, then yeah, I do some blog consulting, a few clients there every week.  I own another site that brings some money in and then I also, over the years have kind of collected an advertiser list, so I have a group of people who adversity across some of my sites. Some relevant ones, and so I help some people manage their ads for them and I take a commission for doing that. So it is kind of like, any way that I think about making money, I do more of it and unless it annoys me over time or it is like shady kind of stuff. But right now, I am on the up and up and the bulk of it is from advertising.

Nick: That is pretty impressive because a lot of times you hear that the blog itself is not a very good business model. Because people are out there and reading your free content and it is not necessarily a business in itself but it can feed a coaching business or a consulting business or some sort of product sales. Like if you came out with like the Budgets Are Sexy 2014 Budget Plan or something of course to go along with it. At least that is the direction that blogging seems to be going, but it is cool to hear that if you have enough traffic, you can just make money off ads.

J: No, but you bring up a good point because there are a ton of ways. I think of Budgets Are Sexy as my launching pad. Like I got pitched a couple of months ago if I wanted to write a book. And I don’t. I actually don’t like to write in general, which is odd, because I blog. And then a month later I got asked if I wanted to pitch for this TV show and I was like “Well it sounds good, but probably not.” So you get all of these opportunities for having your brand out there and our nee dike a resume or portfolio and Budgets Are Sexy is mine. So all of my friends, business partners, everything I have done in 6 ears have all come from that site and other sites I have launched on the side. And some of my clients say, “Hey I want to start a blog to make money” and the first thing I say is, “Don’t start the blog!” It is very rare that you make enough money to survive off a blog unless you happen to be super good and super talented and have a lot of time. But if you like to write, some of my friends freelance and make $10,000 a month writing for other blogs. And they say, “All I want to do is getting paid to write,” and that’s what their goal is. So if that’s the case, you can go around and write. I know someone who gives presentations, uses the site to get leads, and he just speaks for like $7,000 a pop at conferences. And then there are just people who want leads because of the financial service they offer. And so, you can pretty much, if you have the platform and the traffic, you have plenty of people to market to who trust you, and so it’s cool. And unfortunately, going back to half-business half-pleasure kind of thing, the idea of making products just bores me to death and so I don’t do it and so I don’t make as much as I could if I tried that hard.

Nick: For somebody who doesn’t really like to write, how did you build this up in your spare time, writing every single day?

J: I don’t know man. I n the beginning I just put it out there; I didn’t care. I think the problem I have is that you write the article but then you have to edit it, then you have to find links for it, then it’s like, okay should I monetize? How do I make it catchier so people click? And there are all these 10 additional steps after you have actually written it that add on an extra hour, so it becomes this whole big thing. And it only matters if you are trying to grow your site and it’s a business, because if I didn’t care about growth, then I would just write whatever the heck I wanted to and stop doing all that stuff. But it doesn’t help you grow!

Nick: So one of my favorite parts of the site is the series of posts called the Side Hustle Series, obviously near and dear to my heart. And there are some pretty interesting stories in there; but out of all of them that are up there, I am curious if you have any that really stood out as outrageous or lucrative, like “Dang, maybe I should try that.”

J: Yeah, the one that comes to my mind the most because it is one of the most, if not the most, traffic gaming on my site, is some girl who wrote about how she is a phone sex operator. And obviously I don’t have to go into detail about what that is, but she makes a ton of money and the interesting thing is, right around the time that people in the news were talking about professionals going on. When it was like hey a lot of stay at home moms are trying to find a way to make money, and there was this whole spectacle about them turning to phone sex, and it was on like ABC news, and so any time it comes up in the news, my post that I didn’t even write, is like number 1 or 2 for that keyword or whatever. So that one is like the most lucrative and craziest.

Nick: For phone sex operator, you out-rate everybody?

J: Yeah, that’s crazy! I guess the part that helps to have sexy in the blog title. Because I get tons of searches for sexy, and in the beginning I thought that was the point, you know? Man  need to have sexy in there because it’s cool ad fun, but also I bet a lot of people will search for it and love my site.

Nick: Or will be sorely disappointed.

J: Yeah, I know, I like piss everyone off! So there are a ton of those. Someone wrote about how they sell sneakers, like sought after Nike Air Jordan’s or Kanye West shoes, someone that flips watches, I had one going up tomorrow, I can’t remember but it’s a really good one. But the whole series started with someone that raises chickens and sells chickens. There’s one that counts worms. She gets like $0.02 for every worm she counts so she counts like 100 worms in the bucket that they buy or whatever. All kinds of stuff that I never thought about, and people read the site from all over the world, so they all offer stuff and it is all written by the people and formatted by the Side Hustle Series. So t is really interesting; oh tomorrow is someone in a band and they make money playing gigs, that’s what it is. So yeah, really cool stuff going and really, I tell people to figure out what they like to do and what they are good at and figure out if there’s a way to make money off of it. It doesn’t have to be some crazy thing you create; it’s not that complicated really. It takes work and effort but there’s nothing wrong with trying something out and seeing if someone will pay you for it.

Nick: That’s right. So, I am curious, you are one mason for $1 million net worth. What is the cache about that target and what happens when you get there?

J: I started that because I needed a goal and I just thought it would be cool to say you were a millionaire you know? So originally I thought that if I had $1 million, I could retire and all that good stuff, and come to find out, it is probably not enough but it is a fun goal to shoot for. And it’s not all cash, so whether its real estate or stock or investments, businesses, whatever the case, my goal is it hit it and then say how do I grow this more. And even, I have been into a lot of early retirement blogs and I love them; they are great and there are people retiring in their 20’s, 30’s, crazy passive income coming in from real estate and things. But at the end of the day, even if you are retired, you are still going to be doing stuff, so for me, I am just going to keep doing my online stuff and I enjoy it. If I make $1 million great, $10 million even better. But I am still going to be doing the same thing, whether I am a millionaire or not.

Nick: I think my favorite on the early retirement bandwagon has got to be Mr. Money Mustache. That guy cracks me up. He brings up the good point of I can live off my savings and investment income and now I have 40 years and an extra 40 to 50 hours a week to do whatever I want. You think I could do something that could make $1 during that time? And that’s the takeaway, that it is retirement from your first career and now you free up the time to do whatever you want, so that is  pretty cool.

J: Yeah, and really, I like it too. It just gives you freedom. For example, there is some stuff that I want to do but even like Budgets Are Sexy, in my perfect world, I would love to have it without any ads; they are kind of annoying, you know? But I need money to survive so if I was super wealthy, could I just do my thing and step the ads and not do it for money? Yeah. And will I still have my projects take off more because I am not worried about money? Yeah definitely. I mean, even Mr. Money Mustache is perfect because he had no ads or nothing on his site when he started. He is huge right? Now he has some ads and some affiliate stuff and it is smart because he is advertising stuff he was already talking about, that he loves. So there is nothing wrong with making money but he doesn’t have to. It is all extra, which I thin kiss key. Having the freedom to do whatever you want without worrying about money, it’s pretty cool.

Nick: Living the dream, baby. So J, f Yehuda an hour a day to work on your side hustle, to work on your blog and boost your income, how are you going to spend your time?

J: Good question.  I would ask people that I know how to make more money but I don’t like doing it because it bores me or it annoys me. So if I just had an extra hour period, and the goal is to build something that generates money over time, like no rush, I would probably start like a coin blog. Because that’s a hobby, so I would just start the site and grow it over time. But if you are like “No you need to make money and that’s the point of my question” then I would probably just find the products that I love and use, like let’s say USAA Bank, which I do love and use, and I would go through the content that I have and other sites that I own, and I would find every single time I mention USAA Bank and I would go and fill it with affiliate links.  I am already linking to USAA anyways, it’s just the link to there I actually get aid if you sign up. So I would do all that kind of stuff. I would look at my analytics and say “Okay there are my top 10 articles most people go to, how I can find a way to get paid on these articles that people like already and are already written?” Yeah, it’s annoying because you have to go in and figure it out, but technically, that is how you would make more money faster in an hour. And I have done some of that stuff and some I don’t do, but there is a lot of ways to make money but I kind of focus on the fun stuff and to making as much money, but yeah there are a toe of options.

Nick: Well one thing you could do on the affiliate side, do you run Skim Links or VigLink on your site?

J: I don’t even know what that is, no.

Nick: It’s like a little Java Script plugin that will kind of affiliate your outbound links that are unaffiliated right now,, and so if you are linking out to Amazon, it will automatically affiliate that for you. And so if they buy something and you get credit, they take 25% of the commission I think, but it is a super easy, like your paste in one line of JavaScript and you never have to worry about it.

J: That’s kind of cool because my feeling with this stuff is we are already linking to something, without thinking about money that makes sense. The stuff I don’t like is when you go to a site and there are tons of links that are just random, or there are the double green underline links and some word that you did not link to turns into a product link, which is weird. But what you are saying makes sense because it is already natural and organic because you have already done it. I never heard of that before; that’s cool.

Nick: I will shoot you a link after the call.

J: See if the next times you go to Budgets are Sexy, if all of that is on there.

Nick: Thanks so much for being on the show; people can check him out at BudgetsAreSexy.com, and the new RockStarFinance.com site. J we will wrap up with your number one tip for Side Hustle Nation.

J: My number one tip would be, and I am thinking of just side hustle if you are not making money or doing anything right now. Figure out what you like or what you are good at, ask people to pay you money for it. Pitch it and market it around. I have done this before but a lot of my friends are always talking about making money, “Oh I am going to do this, I am going to cut yards, I am going to build this or sell tis product, whatever the case.” They spend so much time thinking, and researching, and building fancy websites and letterheads, that they actually never sold anything yet. So that line of thought where you are doing all the work and then you try and sell it, from the other way which I kind of like, and which I heard from someone else really smart. Sell it first, and then if you have people that buy it or want it, like a cool budget, “let me buy it!” Awesome, then you go back and you make it because you already have a client. So t is kind of like the opposite, and I am in the line of thought of “Hey, if there is something you want to make money, start getting clients because that is the point of the business.” You need clients to make money; if you have clients, go ahead and build it. Say, “Hey great, you are on the list” or whatever the case, I will give it to you in X and then hit Go, because you have already proven that the concept works.

Nick: Exactly, go out there and make that first dollar, I love it. Thanks so much and we will talk to you soon.

J: Thanks Nick, I appreciate it.

Nick: One of my favorite pages on BudgetsAreSexy is when J lists out all 37 jobs he has ever had, with the most recent being blogger/entrepreneur and he draws the conclusion that no job is ever permanent. I think that one is really apt for side hustle nation, because it is so true. You cannot rely on job security; that’s why we are hustling and trying to create a bit of financial independence in our lives. I will link to that in the show notes of SideHustleNaton.com/episode49. If you are interested in round 2 of the Side Hustle Mastermind, hit me up at sidehustlenation.com/join to learn more. I am thinking either a Thursday night group or a mid-day lunchtime power hour type group. So that’s it for me, I will be back in your ear buds next week with a special 50th edition of the side hustle show.  I still need to figure out what that is going to be, but  promise it will be a good one. Until then, go out there and make something good happen. Thanks so much!

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4 thoughts on “49: Blogging to a $1 Million and Staying Sexy

  1. I think it’s your live resume. People visit to see what you’re doing and what you’re about. It’s like a background check. I’d like to make it into an income stream in the near future…

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