The Rockstar Finance community encompasses two distinct audiences, and today, we are debuting a new interview series designed for both.
On one hand, we have thousands of personal finance readers who love to read great money content from all over the web. On the other hand, we have over 1,500 awesome money bloggers who are writing to help others, for the love of the topic, and often to make a bit of money.
This series is meant to provide a little insight into some of the best money blogs, including the author’s background and what makes them tick. We will dive into business-related questions about blog growth and strategy and also take a peek at why blogging is such a passion.
We hope you find this interesting and beneficial. Our questions are in bold italics and the interviewee’s responses follow in black.
With that said, let’s get started…
Determining Strategy and Overview
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your site.
My name is Derek Sall and I launched the site Life and My Finances back in August of 2010. At the time, I was married to my ex who wanted to move back to West Michigan from Florida. The purpose for the site then was two-fold.
- It would be an avenue for me to get my passion (personal finance) out of my system so I wouldn’t talk about it 24/7
- The plan was to earn about $1,000 a month with it, which would be just enough money if only one of us could find a job after the move.
…And from that came the humble beginnings of my site.
What is your Unique Selling Proposition?
I’m helping readers get out of debt, save money, and become wealthy (which has been my motto for over 7 years), not by blazing a new path, but by using the tried and true methods that allowed me to do exactly those things in just a few years.
In addition to the 3 articles a week on the site, I have also developed an array of helpful tools for the readers.
The most popular so far is the debt snowball tool. It allows the readers to input all of their debts from smallest to largest AND input how much more they’d like to pay on their debts each month. Then the tool will show them exactly how many months it will take to pay those suckers off.
What is your elevator pitch?
Life And My Finances is a website that’s devoted to helping readers get out of debt, save money, and invest for their future. It’s not a get rich quick scheme and it’s not a sales pitch from your broke Uncle Mike looking to make a buck. It’s pure, it’s unadulterated, and it’s actually pretty entertaining. If you want to keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket (instead of shelling it out to everyone else), it’s definitely worth checking out.
Who is your target reader?
My target reader is age 27-40, male and female. They’re educated, earning a decent wage, but they just can’t seem to make any headwind on their finances. It’s time for them to make a change and figure out this whole money game once and for all.
What special skills, experiences, knowledge, etc. do you bring to your blog?
Ha, the more I think about, the more surprised how qualified for this gig I really am. Here’s the quick list:
- Solid writer – always in the top five in my class. Never the greatest, but good.
- I’ve been in debt…twice. Once due to my student debt and the other due to divorce. My life experiences help me relate to my readers.
- My degree is in Finance – so, I’ve heard all the crap that universities teach and can call B.S. on most of it. ;)
- Excel skills – I’ve worked with Excel in engineering classes, finance classes, and in the real world for the past 15 years. With these skills, I can create helpful tools for my readers like the debt snowball tool, the spend comparison tool, the budgeting tool, the college investment tool….and so many others.
- Simplification – The higher I get in my finance career, the more I realize how important simplification is. Executives don’t want to know all the detail behind the answer, they just want the high-level bullet points that back up my story – oh, and a pretty graph that helps them understand it in 2 seconds. My readers are the same.
- I’ve been there done that, and now I’m building wealth. I can be trusted because I’m living proof of what I preach.
What are your general goals and strategies for the next couple of years?
In the next two years, I would love for my website to steadily grow and reach hundreds of thousands of people. First, this would just make me smile because so many people would be changing their financial lives for the better, and second, this could give me a chance to pursue my dream of teaching personal finance full-time.
To be honest, the strategy is still a bit hazy, partially because I do enjoy my work as a financial analyst (and it provides amazing benefits). But the course for now is to continue writing amazing content, learn how to promote the site and its products a little better (actually, a LOT better…I suck at marketing), and build up more passive income (ie. rental properties) to make my life flexible for the great things to come.
Designing a Great Site
How did you come up with the name of your site?
I wanted something that was easy to remember, and I wanted a name that told the story of the site. To be honest, I was really trying to get the name LifeAndFinances.com, but it was taken…so I threw the word “my” in there. But you know what? I think it works. It gives it that extra touch of personality. :)
Do you have a site summary statement/tagline? If so, what is it?
I do, and surprisingly, it’s never changed.
“Get out of debt, save money, and be rich”
It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s exactly what I’ve been doing myself for the past 7 years.
What do you like about the design of your site?
My site design is simple, easy to read, and it doesn’t distract the reader from learning what they sought out to learn when they arrived.
I don’t do pop-ups and I don’t have sidebars full of crappy ads.
Are you active on social media? If so, please give us details on how you use your main selections.
Of course I am! I’m on:
Facebook and Twitter are used to update my readers on either a recent post, or one that I think is fitting for the day. I also send out posts from others that I enjoy myself and learn from (ie. from Rockstar Finance of course ;)).
I’m still figuring out Pinterest…which basically means that I failed miserably on my first pass. Instead of sending out daily content with a decent image, I now understand that I need to send out content in image form, which will drive traffic, clicks, and shares. Wish me luck as I figure it out!
Developing Awesome Sharable Content
What are the main topics you cover and why?
- Get out of debt – This is where most people are in their financial journey
- Live frugally – This is a major component in getting out of debt AND creating wealth – spending far less than you make
- Making more money – Some don’t earn enough to get ahead financially, so I like to touch base on side hustles that can get them there as well as full-on business ventures that could earn them more than their day job
- Wealth building – It’s the stage I’m in now and that many of my long-time readers are getting into as well. After all, what’s the point of getting out of debt if you have no intention of becoming wealthy??
What topics don’t you cover and why?
- Stock market tips – I’m not passionate about it and it’s not the best way to wealth anyway! Index Funds all the way, baby!!
- Bankruptcy – I’ve never been through it and it seems like there’s almost always a better alternative anyway!
That’s pretty much it. I cover a lot of great stuff!!
What guidelines do you use for length and frequency of posts and why?
My readers want just enough to keep them interested, involved, and knowledgeable, but not so much that they feel spammed every day. Based on my experience, this lands me at 3 posts per week at roughly 1,500 words a post.
Can you give us three posts of yours that you would you say are Rockstar content?
- “Your House is a Terrible Investment” – It’s catchy, eye-opening, and helpful to the readers that think only, “buying is better than renting” instead of taking their thoughts one or two more steps.
- “9 Things the Rich Do That the Poor Do Not” – Being rich isn’t just about money, it’s a state of mind that allows doors, windows, and skylights to open!
- “5 Reasons Your High Credit Score Doesn’t Impress Me” – So many people out there think their credit score is the way to financial security. Totally false. This post opens people’s eyes to the fact that a credit score is merely a convenience in a society that’s completely sold on it.
What have been your past sources of traffic? How did you develop them and how successful has each been?
My main consistent sources of traffic are:
- Subscriber traffic
- Organic traffic
Then occasionally I’ll get the spikes in traffic from referrals either directly or via social media (most often Facebook).
I developed my subscriber traffic by offering a free eBook from Day 1 (or, I guess, day 30 or so ;)). I consistently get email sign-ups, they get my post updates, and BOOM, consistent traffic on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Organic traffic has come with filling out my SEO Yoast plug-in details and by writing over 2,000 articles.
These have come with moderate success – much better lately since I’ve been more focused on it. And this will be much better in the future with my upcoming plans! :)
What are you doing to grow traffic now and in the future?
For the past two years, my focus has been to:
- Write content that will help the readers arrive at an answer and not leave them hanging (I’ll even have additional resources to other blogs when it’s necessary)
- Get the green-light on the keyword I select for SEO (via Yoast) – for ALL my articles
- Network with other sites to get my stuff noticed
This has worked amazingly well. It has grown my monthly traffic from about 8,000 readers a month to 30,000. But now, it’s time to step it up a notch.
In the future, I intend to develop a new free course that aligns better with the mission of the site and helps my readers out more than they could have ever imagined. This will improve my subscriber numbers, and therefore, my readership numbers.
Beyond this, I intend to better build my network and work more closely with those that actually know something about marketing… To take this blog to the next level, I’ll have to get the word out and shout about it from the rooftops!
Deliver Revenue and Profit
Does your blog make money?
If so, how does it make money?
LifeAndMyFinances.com earns money via three mediums currently:
- Pay-per-click and Pay-per-view advertisements (similar to Google ads)
- Affiliate income – I get paid when I make a sale for an affiliate partner. Currently, I have about 6-7 affiliate partners.
- Direct Ads – either via posts or sidebar ads
Are you trying to have the blog make more and if so, what are you doing in that effort?
Heck yes, I am! ….But not at the expense of my readers. I plan to earn more by helping my readers more!
In other words, when I partner with great companies and encourage my readers to win by purchasing their products, everyone’s a winner. It took me way too long to learn this…but better late than never I guess!
The first goal is to improve my traffic because with more traffic comes more sales potential.
Beyond this, I’ll start creating those new products I’ve been talking about throughout this interview. I think the interest is there, and I could really put together some kick-butt stuff at this point!
What are your future plans for the blog?
I want this blog to become a household name and allow me the opportunity to make a difference with my writing AND by speaking. To do this, I plan to create more free product (e-courses and Excel tools) and continue with the over-the-top helpful articles.
If I make teaching personal finance into a career, I want my blog to be an easy-to-navigate hub for anyone that wants to change their financial future.
Tell us something about yourself that you haven’t mentioned on your blog.
I just realized the other day that with my blog income, my wife and I have reached financial independence. We could live forever and support our family without me stepping foot into the office again. It’s a pretty surreal feeling that I haven’t told anyone yet…not even my wife.
What is one bit of advice you would give to someone who is just starting a blog?
Blogging is difficult. There are tons of them out there and what you’re doing probably isn’t unique. Plan on it being a challenge, but also plan to have fun with it.
If you never make a dollar and have a reader base of two (your mom and your grandma), but still have a blast writing and learning about a topic you’re passionate about, then you’ll never regret it, even it if goes nowhere.
But, if you expect to make a thousand bucks a month within the first 3 months and that’s the only reason you’re writing. You will fail. There’s no doubt about it.
Name your favorite blog, other than your own, that you read the most.
Michelle at Making Sense of Cents. I’m always so amazed by her income and her ability to develop loyal. I just can’t help but check out her page and read her stuff ALL. THE. TIME.
What is your best piece of money advice?
Stop caring what your friends think about your situation. They’re more broke and clueless than you are. Instead, seek wise counsel (ie. the wealthy) and actually do what they tell you to do.