Derek Sall runs a blog where he helps people get their finances under control. In this interview, he’ll explain the importance of choosing a niche that you really care about.
Revenue of $1,000/mo
Email list size of 3,200
Founded in 2014
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
Hey all! My name is Derek Sall and I own the blog, Life And My Finances. Mainly, I write about how to get out of debt, how to save money, and how to become rich.
I’m humbled to say that roughly 25,000 readers visit my blog each month. Some come regularly and read every single post that I publish, while others simply come for a single article that they found through Google or they hit me up for some of my free tools (debt snowball calculator, early mortgage payoff calculator, college investment calculator, etc.)
Today, I feel like my blog is at a pivotal point. I earn between $800 and $1,500 a month, and the affiliate earnings are really starting to take off. I wouldn’t be surprised if I consistently earned $2,000 a month (or more) over the next couple of years.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
Great question! Most people start a personal finance blog to help them stay motivated to pay off their own debt. This isn’t my story at all…
I graduated from college in 2008 with a degree in Finance and had visions of becoming a high-powered banker… and then I realized we were in a heavy recession and banks were closing all around me and certainly NOT hiring.
Unfortunately, I had to settle when it came to my first job. Instead of becoming a banker or getting a job in finance, I became a merchandising analyst for one of the big office supply companies.
To stay sharp in finance, I decided to start a blog to challenge myself to learn more, continue to study, and it would just be a bonus if someone found it and read it along the way.
Oddly enough, MANY people started to read and the money just came pouring in. Crazy how that happens, huh?
What is the revenue model for the blog?
I asked myself this question about a year ago, and it inspired me to start changing my model. At the time, I accepted many direct links, many of which I really didn’t believe in and they really distracted my readers from the true message I was trying to communicate.
Basically, I was going for the quick money, and it was crippling my site. It looked spammy, it hurt my visitor numbers, and it kept me from making sales on products that I actually believed in.
Today, I only accept direct posts from products I truly believe in, and I limit the number of advertising posts that I put on my site each month. I aspire to have a blog that earns much more money in affiliate sales than I do from direct ads.
It’s happening, and it’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to be earning $2,000 a month just a short time from now.
For the new bloggers out there. I’d stress the importance of writing high quality articles and building strong relationships with each one of your readers. If your readers trust you and start to become enamored with your story, they’ll be much more likely to buy what you recommend.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
- Submit guest posts to as many like-blogs as you can (I probably wrote 200+ guest posts when I first started out). This will get your name out there and drive traffic to your site).
- Read other blogs and leave comments. People get lost in the internet. They go from link to link to link. Leave a great comment and people will be driven to read more about you and what you believe surrounding that topic.
Then, once you get that traffic, you’ve got to keep it – which means you’d better have something good on your site for them to read about. Make your site look crisp and make it easy to navigate. Your goal is to make a lifetime reader out of that one-time encounter.
Today, I focus more on solid articles and SEO more than anything. I’ve discovered that if I write something great that my daily readers love and comment on, it could get thousands of new readers 6 months from now when it’s at the top of Google’s search page.
If your article leaves your readers with questions or has them searching out other sites for more answers and products, then your article wasn’t good enough. Pack your article with helpful links, products, and advice, and it’ll be a winner – and likely a money-maker for your blog.
How have you grown the email list?
To be completely honest, I’ve been slacking in this area for the past couple years. In the early days, I created a free tool, “101 Ways to Make More Money”. New subscribers got it once they submitted their email information.
Embarrassingly…I’m still using this tool and method today.
In the next year or so, here’s what I intend to do – and what you should do too.
I’m going to write up a new free course. It will help my readers and it will make them excited about signing up and subscribing to my site to get it.
This free resource will only be the beginning. There will be a next step in the free course – another product that I would then charge for. So, not only will I be getting the new subscriber, I might be receiving a new source of income if they love the initial product and are left hungry for more.
This is gold, my friends. If you can use this advice on your site, do it. You won’t regret it.
How do you write great content that performs well?
It’s pretty easy actually. Make it interesting, and make it personal.
Whenever I write a guest post today, I usually write about one of two things:
- How (and why) I became completely debt free (including my house) by age 29
- Why my wife and I are buying up rental houses with cash instead of financing
Both of these areas are very personal since we’ve done them both, and the topic is highly interesting since you don’t see it all that often.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Back in 2012, I was making between $3,000 and $4,000 with my blog. I was selling direct posts, loading up my sidebar with ads, and putting links everywhere I could cram them…all for the sake of a quick dollar (or you know…thousands of dollars).
I was riding high on the horse…and that’s when Google changed their algorithm and penalized my blog heavily for all the spammy links. My income went from thousands to a couple hundred bucks.
No matter if they caught me or not, my revenue model wasn’t sustainable. The more ads I threw on my site, the fewer readers stuck around. Ultimately, the whole thing would have imploded on me anyway.'Don’t choose a blog topic just because it’s a supposed money maker. Choose something you love instead.'Click To Tweet
If I had the chance to do it over again, I would do what I advised earlier in this interview. I’d build relationships with my readers, write quality articles, and make money via affiliate products that I actually believed in
If I would have done that from the beginning, my site would probably be earning $10,000 a month instead of $1,000 like it is today.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In the beginning, I was a sponge and I absorbed any bit of information I could get about making money. Pat Flynn was a huge help back then and he’s still helping a ton of people with their sites today.
More recently, I stumbled upon Michelle from Making Sense of Cents. She’s a master of affiliate marketing and earns far more than I could even dream of. Soon, I’ll be taking her affiliate course, and I recommend that you do the same. She’s wonderful.
Beyond these resources, it’s really just about putting in the time. If you think you’re going to be successful in the first 2-3 months, don’t even start. Commit to blogging for at least a year. At that point, you’ll know if it’s for you for the long term.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
Don’t choose a blog topic just because it’s a supposed money maker. Choose something you love instead. You’ll want to write constantly, you’ll love interacting with people on the topic, and they’ll enjoy reading your stuff because your passion will just flow right onto the page!
Secondly, be transparent. Nobody wants to read blog posts from a no-it-all. They want a real person…just like them. Someone that is searching for answers, makes mistakes, but is getting closer to the prize that everyone wants.
Be a guide, not the king of the castle.
Where can we go to learn more?
Check out my site at LifeAndMyFinances.com! If you’ve been inspired to start your own blog, check out the “Start Your Own Blog” tab at the top of the page. If you need help (with blogging or personal finance) shoot me an email at derek [at] lifeandmyfinances (dot) com!