Jon Dulin started his blog my mistake. Today, he helps a massive audience get out of debt, start investing and reach their financial dreams. Find out how it all got started.
Revenue of $5,000/mo
Email list size of 1,350
Founded in 2010
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
My name is Jon Dulin and my blog is MoneySmartGuides. Through my blog, I help people get out of debt, start investing and reach their financial dreams.
I’ve been interested in the personal finance space since high school and have worked in the financial services industry for close to 15 years. I got myself into and out of over $10,000 worth of credit card debt and grew my net worth to close to $1 million dollars.
My readers are early in their careers, with college educations and are making the median income. They come to my site to learn how to finally break the debt cycle and how to actually make money in the stock market.
As of December 2017, my earns close to $5,000 per month.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
I started my blog by mistake. Originally when I began, I was going to use my website to sell guides to people looking for help with their finances. I slowly started to “blog” and quickly fell in love with it.
At the time, I was working a job that I really didn’t enjoy and writing about personal finance excited me. This was ironic to me as I didn’t like writing at all through high school and college.
I had zero intention with my blog becoming my full time job, but as I immersed myself in the world of blogging, I realized that it was possible to make a full time income from a website.
I continued to work a full time job until 2013 when I went full time with my blog. It was a little scary not having a paycheck to rely on, but I was excited to take the challenge.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
I first made money on my site about 6 months after I launched it. I made $0.01 from Google Adsense. While many might laugh at this small amount, it showed me that income was possible and I dove in.
As time passed and my site slowly grew, I was approached by marketers offering posts in exchange for links. This quickly became my main revenue source.
However, over time I realized these posts never provided any value to my readers and they were a violation of Google’s TOS so I stopped accepting them.
Now my main revenue sources include the following:
- Advertising: both Google Adsense and a few private ads
- Affiliate income: promoting other products and services that would benefit my readers
- Book sales: I authored a book and published it on Amazon
Through these sources, I average between $4,000 and $5,000 per month in income from my site.
Through it all, there are some lessons I learned along the way.
First, while sponsored posts are easy money, they don’t add value to your site and drive readers away. You are better off not accepting these.
Second, you have to be smart about affiliate income. Not all products or services are a fit for your readers. If you don’t know who your readers are, you will get discouraged offering them things and not seeing any results.
The bottom line is if you put in the work, it will eventually pay off.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
Initially, to drive some traffic to my site I found other bloggers through online searches. I networked with them and we helped each other out by sharing posts and commenting. Slowly the network grew and so did the traffic. Now you can easily go to Facebook and find groups for your niche.
From there I began to guest post on other sites. While I wasn’t getting a lot of traffic from this, I was getting to know other bloggers in my niche which helped me later on.
Next, I began to learn about SEO. It took a while to really find some worthwhile keywords but I found a couple and wrote posts on this topic. I then focused my guest posting on linking back to these posts and I quickly rose in Google rankings for many of these posts.
Fast forward to today and I leverage Pinterest a lot. There are a lot of strategies out there that work, you just have to find what works for you. Sadly, what works for one person might not work for you. You have to play around with what you are pinning, when you are pinning, and how often you are pinning.
If I were starting a site today, I would start with SEO. Find good, low competition keywords and write great content around them. Then I would write some guest posts that link back to these pages.
Then I would look into Pinterest or Facebook as another medium for driving traffic. I don’t list these first as they change their algorithms all the time. So you could put in a ton of work and have it work and then one day the algorithm changes and your traffic plummets.
How have you grown the email list?
My email list currently sits at around 1,350. I really haven’t put much effort into building my list until recently.
I had some widgets in my sidebar and at the end of posts encouraging readers to sign up. Unfortunately this doesn’t work very well any longer as people don’t want a lot of email.
I turned to offering small freebies, like PDFs, infographics, and cheat sheets to encourage reader sign up. Since this is such a recent change, it’s hard to compute long term numbers but so far it is going well. Of course, as with affiliate income, you have to know what your readers need first.
As for how much content I send out, it used to be every post I wrote was emailed out. Now I send newsletters bi-weekly with recaps of the posts I’ve written.
How do you write great content that performs well?
I first find keywords that people are searching for. From there I Google the search term to see what sites are ranking for that keyword and I read their posts. I make notes of things to include or ways I can make a point they make better.
Then I look at the related searches at the bottom of the page and make note of any ones that I could include in my post.
Finally, I click through some of these and check out those posts and repeat the process above.
When it is time to write, I create an outline and write a section at a time. After I complete a post, I leave it for a few days before reading it. As I read, I try to think if there is a better way to explain things or to include a personal example.
Once I have completed this, I take 10 minutes to come up with a catchy title. I want to make it emotional so people want to click on it, but try to stay away from clickbait.'The biggest advantage of my success is that I love what I write about. It never feels like work.'Click To Tweet
Of course, I’ve also learned what does well tends to be random. I can write a post that I think is amazing and it never takes off like I think it should. But then I write another post that I think is good, but not my best, and it takes off and is linked to from major online sites.
But while there i the randomness to it, I always write my best as I never know what will go viral.
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?
The biggest obstacle was getting out of my own head. I would see others in the space get picked up by a big news outlet or report their monthly income numbers and get jealous and wonder what I was doing wrong.
I really feel that this held me back. Instead of wondering what I wasn’t doing, I needed to focus on what was working for me. As I began to do this, my traffic improved and I started to get picked up by large news outlets.
Related to the point above is avoiding trying every new fad. It seemed every month someone else had a new tool or trick they used to skyrocket their traffic. I wasted a lot of time learning new things that turned out to be flashes in the pan.
When I look back now, I see that those things spiked my traffic for a day or two but I spent days learning how to make it work. Instead, I could have used that time for keyword research and created posts that would still be driving me traffic today.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest advantage of my success is that I love what I write about. It never feels like work. Even when I am up and working by 6am or if I am working late at night or on the weekend. I love every minute of it. If I was solely in it for the money, I would have quit a long, long time ago.
Also, I have found attending conferences to be immensely beneficial. When you are surrounded by others with the same interests and goals, you feed off the energy of everyone and come away with lots of great ideas.
Another area of benefit is courses. For example, I didn’t know much about Pinterest, so I took an online course and learned what I needed to get me started.
Unfortunately, it seems everyone is now offering courses and it is tough to decide on what to buy and what not to. You really need to have a plan first and not get sucked into trying everything at once.
Lastly, knowing your audience is huge. You don’t need 1 million website visitors to make money blogging. Even if you have a small number of site visits, if you write for and attract the right people, you can make substantial money from affiliate income.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
The number one tip for anyone just starting out is to pick a niche that really interests you. If you aren’t in love with the topic, it is going to be hard to sit down on a regular basis over the long term and keep doing it.
In addition to that, don’t focus on the money. If your goal is to make money, know that most bloggers don’t make any money for the first 6 months. At least that is the average in my niche.
And even then, the money isn’t a lot. You can easily find new blogs that disappear a few months later because they thought blogging was a way to make easy money fast. It isn’t. It takes a lot of work.
Finally, don’t focus on how to get 1 million Facebook fans overnight or have 10,000 people visit your site from day one. The internet is huge and no one knows you are out there.
Begin by doing keyword research and writing great posts. Once you have a foundation, then you can begin to market and promote yourself to gain followers and traffic. In other words, make sure you have some content to keep people on your site.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can visit my blog at MoneySmartGuides.com. My about me page details many of my financial wins and losses and how I’ve made it through it all. As for social media, I am on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.