Michelle Schroeder-Gardner runs a personal finance blog that helps people save money and get their finances under control. After quitting her job, she now travels and lives a digital nomad life.
Revenue of $100,000/mo
Email list size of 65,128
Founded in 2011
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
Hello! My name is Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I run the personal finance blog Making Sense of Cents. I have three finance-related college degrees and I used to be a financial analyst before I left that to become a full-time blogger.
On my blog Making Sense of Cents, I teach a lot about the different ways to learn how to make extra money, the best ways to save money, achieving your dream life, traveling and being a digital nomad (me and my husband RV full-time), and more. I love running Making Sense of Cents and I am very happy that this is now my full-time career, my business, and pretty much my life.
I currently earn over $100,000 a month from my blog.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
Around August of 2011, I started Making Sense of Cents with the hope of helping people learn how to save money as well as openly talking about my personal finance journey after reading a magazine that featured a personal finance website in one of their articles. I became extremely interested in that website and my interest in blogging just grew from there. This is interesting and hilarious because before that same summer, I had no idea about what blogs were, that they could even make money, or anything along those lines.
I did not create Making Sense of Cents with the goal of earning money blogging or even online. It was all just a hobby and an outlet. I then realized how much I loved running my blog, and knew it was for me, so now I am a full-time blogger! I went full-time in October of 2013 and I haven’t looked back once. Blogging has completely changed my life for the better and it’s something that I recommend everyone try if they are interested.
After I started to earn a good income from Making Sense of Cents, I became motivated to eventually leave my day job as a financial analyst and to start blogging full-time. After all, I loved blogging much more than my day job. It was a passion that I didn’t realize I had until after I had started it.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
I earn an income through my blogging business in many different ways, as you can see in my business income reports. The various income areas include affiliate marketing (discussed more below), course sales of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, sponsored partnerships, and display advertising.
I’m currently regularly earning over $100,000 a month through Making Sense of Cents and Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. In 2016, I earned around $979,000 through my blogging business and for 2017 I am on track to earn around $1,500,000.
My favorite way of earning income through my blogging business is through affiliate marketing.
I’ve always been interested in affiliate marketing since I started blogging, but I never thought it was possible before. I always thought that you had to have a huge following and a ton of page views in order to be successful with affiliate marketing.
Well, one day I decided to give myself a goal of earning affiliate income, and I worked towards achieving that goal. I started by making a little bit each month, and then it just continued to grow month after month. mI now know that you don’t need a ton of page views or a huge following in order to make a great income through affiliate marketing.
I love affiliate income because it can feel quite passive. You can create just one blog post or social media post, and potentially earn money from it years down the line, as long as you maintain it and keep generating traffic to it. With affiliate marketing, I can enjoy life more and know that I am still able to earn a great living promoting products that I use and enjoy.'My favorite way of earning income through my blogging business is through affiliate marketing.'Click To Tweet
Think about it this way: If you already enjoy a product, why not get paid to promote it?
Walk us through some strategies you have used to build up the traffic?
I really don’t spend that much time on promotion, even though I know that I should. There are some things that I do though that include:
- Accepting all interviews. If someone wants to interview me, I use it as practice to get outside of my “box,” to reach a new audience, and more. I accept all interviews (like this one!), podcasts, webinars, roundups, and more. There have only been a handful of interviews that I have turned down in the past 6+ years of blogging, and that has almost always been due to me not being an expert in whatever the person wants to interview me on, so instead of wasting anyone’s time by trying to pretend I am something that I am not, I just turn them down. For example, I recently turned down an interview that was full of tax questions, and that’s because I’m not a tax expert so I am not sure why someone would want to interview me on that subject, haha!
- Creating social media graphics for every piece of content on Making Sense of Cents. I always make sure to include a Facebook-friendly image and a Pinterest-friendly image within each article. Pinterest is very important when it comes to social media, and is applicable for almost every single blog niche out there, whether you are male or female. Many people like to disregard Pinterest because they are male or they don’t think their niche is a good fit – I am primarily a finance blogger and I used to always hear that finance topics would not do well on Pinterest. That is completely incorrect and Pinterest has regularly been a top referral for a few years now for Making Sense of Cents.
- Creating high-quality content. Content is king! I always make sure my content is personable, includes actionable tips, is interesting, and more. The content on Making Sense of Cents is always at least 1,000 words, and usually anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 words.
- Engaging with readers on all social media accounts, such as replying to comments on Facebook, replying to comments on blog posts, and more. Engaging with your readers is very important, yet so many people skip this step and that is a huge mistake. Your readers want to hear from YOU!
- Emailing my newsletter subscribers whenever a new article is live on Making Sense of Cents.
Eventually, I plan on getting more into advertising on social media. That is next on my to-do list. Social media is becoming more and more of a “pay to play” game, and it is an area that I definitely need to start investing more in if I want to see an increased return out of my social media efforts.
As you may see from my list, I don’t really spend a ton of time promoting my content. It’s an area that I need to improve, but it also goes to show that a little bit of effort can go a long way, especially if you make sure to focus on great content first.
How have you grown your email list?
I didn’t start focusing on my email list until around the spring of 2016, and that was a huge mistake of mine. When I was getting ready to launch Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, I decided to start focusing on growing my email list, creating sequences, regularly emailing my readers, and more.
I currently have over 60,000 email subscribers and it grows by a few hundred, very passively, every single day.
I email my subscribers whenever a new article goes live on Making Sense of Cents, when I have some news to tell them, and so on. This usually means that I email my list around 2-3 times a week. If a subscriber is signed up for one of my free email courses, such as How To Start a Blog or Master Your Money, then they will receive more emails. For the most part, my subscribers are used to seeing a lot of emails from me – I’m quite talkative! 🙂
My very top tip for anyone who has a platform, website, etc, is to start your email list immediately.
My biggest blogging mistake is that I waited years to start an email list, and then wasted more time before I started to take my email list seriously.
Your email list is extremely valuable: Unlike with social media websites like Pinterest and Facebook, your newsletter and email subscribers are all yours, and you have their undivided attention. You don’t have to worry about some social media algorithm not showing your content to your readers, as they are your email subscribers so you aren’t fighting with anyone else to have them see your content.
Plus, if someone is allowing you to show up in their email inbox whenever you want, then they probably trust what you have to say and enjoy listening to you. This is a great way to grow an audience and to grow a loyal audience at that.
And, I believe that email/newsletter is the best way to promote an affiliate product and to earn a living through a platform. Your email subscribers signed up specifically to hear what you have to say, so you definitely have their attention. Your email list, over any other strategy, will almost always lead to more sales.'My very top tip for anyone who has a platform, website, etc, is to start your email list immediately.'Click To Tweet
How do you write great content that performs well?
I work on content usually about 1-3 months ahead of time. I always like to be ahead in content so that I don’t have to rush to complete an article. This way, everything is always top quality.
I have a list of topics to write about for Making Sense of Cents. This list is probably a few hundred ideas long currently, and is constantly growing. I choose what to write about by thinking about things that are currently happening in my life, inspiration from topics that are trending in the world, financial problems that readers ask me to write about, financial situations that I think need to be discussed, and more.
When I’m ready to write, I like to sit down, take a topic idea from above, and write a full article in one sitting. Then, I hand it off to my editor and she makes sure everything is correct, flows well, and has no spelling errors. She saves my life regularly, haha!
After I receive the article back from my editors, I then add images (for Facebook and Pinterest each), make sure it is formatted correctly, and, lastly, I schedule it for a future date.
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?
I’ve made tons of blogging mistakes! These mistakes include:
- Managing a bad work-life balance. If I had to start over, I would outsource as much as I can, instead of trying to do everything myself. I wasted a lot of time doing this because I spent time that I should have left to the experts (such as when dealing with tech problems on my blog).
- Spending too much time creating content instead of promoting it. As I discussed above, I need to spend more time promoting my content instead of spending an almost equal amount of time creating it.
- Not starting an email list. This was discussed above. I wish I would have started my email list right from the very beginning.
- Starting my blog on Blogger. Sadly, I started my blog on Blogger and this led to Google deleting my blog for absolutely no reason (I eventually got it back after a lot of begging), lack of control, it not being professional, and more. I should have started on WordPress right from the very beginning!
These are all mistakes that I have learned a lot from. Best to live and learn, right?
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My best piece of advice that I’d give a new blogger is that I recommend networking as much as you can. One big blogging mistake that I’ve noticed many other bloggers make is not making the effort to network. Networking is so important as a blogger. You should see others in the blogging world as your colleagues and friends, not your enemies or competition.
You may want to attend blogger meet-ups, conferences (my favorite is FinCon), interact with bloggers on social media, help other bloggers out as much as you can, and mostly – always give more than you take.
Where can we go to learn more?