Robert Farrigton started The College Investor in 2009 as a side hustle and worked on it during nights and weekends. Thanks to the blog, he was able to get out of his student loan debt in 3 years, buy a house, and eventually quit his day job at 33.
Revenue of $50,000/mo
Email list size of 30,000
Founded in 2009
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
My name is Robert Farrington and I’m the founder of The College Investor. I started this blog in college, sitting in the back row of my college class. That was in 2009 and that blog has grown tremendously today.
Before I started my blog, throughout college, and after I graduated, I worked at Target as a store manager. After I graduated college, the blog was a side hustle that I worked on during nights and weekends while my wife would watch “Real Housewives”.
The site is targeted at anyone who wants to get out of student loan debt and start building wealth. We cover every topic on student loans you can image, as well as investing topics. I’m a firm believer in side hustling, so we discuss that a lot as well (just like I did through college).
Today, the site gets a 1,000,000 page views per month, and earns over $50,000 per month.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
I have always been passionate about money and investing. In middle school, I was selling candy bars out of my backpack during lunch. I started selling stuff on eBay in high school. Growing up, I would watch my dad use Quicken to track his investments, and I was hooked on it.
I originally started the blog because I wanted to simply share my thoughts about investing, the stock market, and trades. My friends were like, “That’s great, but we don’t have money to invest and we’re saddled with these student loans.”
That really gave me focus, and I started writing on money topics that others would like to read. It became the turning point of my site. Plus, I was looking at graduating with $43,000 in student loans, so it was easy to relate.
However, through the blog and other side hustles (like selling on eBay), I was able to get out of student loan debt in 3 years. Then, I was able to buy a house, and eventually quit my day job at 33.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
It honestly took about 2 years before I started making any money on the blog. The blog started in September 2009, and it earned its first dollars in January 2011. In that first money making month, I earned a whopping $25.71. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep me motivated.
I had no idea what I was doing up front. It took me a while to start connecting with other bloggers and learning how to make money online. I started with the basics – Amazon and AdSense. I also had some direct buy sponsored posts.
In that first “money making” year of 2011 – I made a total of $7,700 on the site.
Today, we make money through various ways:
- Affiliate Marketing
- Display Advertising
- Sponsored Content
- Direct Product Sales
- Brand Consulting
My goal is to not let one way dominate, as it’s nice to have revenue stream diversity.
Today we’re making over $50,000 per month on the site – a long way from the beginning.
If you’re looking to make money on your blog, the best thing you can do is think about the readers and identify they product/tool/shortcut that they are looking for.
Really focus on understanding what the reader came to your website for, and see if you can connect them with that answer.
Many times there’s a product or tool available that you could potentially be an affiliate for. Sometimes it might make sense to create a product and sell.
Either way, the money will come when you can solve your readers problems quickly.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
Building traffic and getting eyes on your content is the biggest challenge bloggers face. I know I struggled with it and still do.
The best thing I ever did to build traffic to my website was network with other bloggers in the personal finance space. Connecting with others – first via their blogs and social media – enabled me to start building reciprocal relationships. Suddenly they would share my content and link to my site. That was a huge turning point for my blog.
Next, building strong relationships on social media has also proven successful. Focus on just 1-2 platforms, and really engage with your readers. Right now I’m loving both YouTube and Facebook Groups. These platforms are awesome from an engagement perspective, and can drive great traffic if done right.
However, you have to give a lot more than you promote, and I think too many people forget that. You can’t just set your blog to auto-post to social – it’s not going to generate you much traffic.
Once you start to understand your audience, it becomes easier to get traffic and readers. Your readers themselves will start telling you what they want to know – then give it to them. They will come, read, and share if it answers their questions and is awesome on the topic.
If you’re looking to build your traffic, really think about spending 80% of your time promoting your content. If it means slowing down your publishing schedule, do it. Look at who you can connect with that would share you content. Email people you’ve mentioned. Use hashtags to find relevant influencers. Just promote your content. Get creative!
How have you grown the email list?
Email is a good tool for getting repeat readers, but in my space, it’s not this “magic charm” that some marketers promote it as. Our list is almost 30,000 subscribers, which we consistently prune if readers don’t engage.
We use free courses to get readers to opt-in, during which we segment readers, promote relevant affiliates and products, and maintain engagement.
Our email list probably gets 2-3 emails per week. If you stop sending the emails, your readers will tune you out. I’d rather have people unsubscribe if that isn’t their preferred medium than keep around people not interested in the emails.
I’m not an email expert, but once again – give, give, give. We don’t upset in our email courses because we have nothing more to offer except awesome free value.
How do you write great content that performs well?
I am all about writing and creating great content. I’m a quick writer, and people are typically surprised that I can knock out a 2,000-3,000 word blog post in about 20-30 minutes. I know that’s not typical, but I’ve been writing all my life.
I leverage Asana as a content calendar, and I add in blog post ideas all the time. Right now, we probably have a queue of about 90 blog post ideas ready to be written. I then plan out my content calendar for 3-6 months – with daily posts M-F.
Currently (in January), we’re planned out into April. I actually write the blog post about a week in advance, sometimes a little earlier. I also have a team of writers that assist me. I write about 1-2x per week, with my writers filling in the other articles.
To create the best content, length does matter, but it’s not everything. We typically write 2,000 word posts, but sometimes it’s less. Most blog posts have multiple sub-headings, with a table of contents up top.
Reviews have a quick summary, and M-F we publish a daily audio show (podcast), where we convert the blog post into audio format for readers to listen to if they prefer.
One blog post per week typically gets a video as well. Almost every review we write gets a video, and then we also create unique video content for some article as well to compliment the article.
So, our “top content” has been:
- In-depth written format
- Images (including screenshots, custom images)
All of this works to create a piece of content that’s in-depth and hopefully “the best” on the subject. We also provide the audio and visual mediums so that people can consume the content in whatever format they prefer.
Finally, you have to promote this content. We create different campaigns for every social platform (with unique images and copy) and promote accordingly.
This strategy has worked well to deliver content that gets read and sticks around.
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?
My biggest challenge early on was not writing content that was focused on my readers – it was focused on me. When I switched my mindset to creating content that my readers cared about, I really started seeing growth.
I’ve also struggled with trying to do too much myself, even as my blog has grown. It’s taken me too long to find and hire a great team that can help support the vision I have for the blog going into the future.
If I had to start over, I would focus on what we’re doing now, with more engagement from other bloggers. I’d create awesome in-depth content, and tie in more other bloggers to share their thoughts (and hopefully share the content). I’d also focus on telling stories that readers can relate to.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Creating a project management and content calendar in Asana really helped me streamline things. I actually took a course – Asana For Bloggers – which really helped me implement a system that works well for me to create the content we’re talking about.
If you read my content creation strategy above, it can see overwhelming. But putting it into organized to-do lists that can be delegated out to team members makes things so much easier.
I also like writing about more obscure topics. Too many people “chase keywords”. I’ve never once done keyword research or looked at what search volume is. I write for what I think my readers would find valuable, and try to answer their questions.'You have to be consistent. If you want to be a successful blogger, you need to write at least 2x per week for a year.'Click To Tweet
Many times, this doesn’t get very far – maybe an article that ends up getting 10 visitors a month. But I answer those 10 reader’s questions, and I get a loyal 10 readers. Then multiply that out by 1,000 blog posts, and you build traction.
Also, I have been lucky because sometimes my obscure topics end up becoming mainstream popular topics – just a year or two later. Since it was the best content out there on the subject, it naturally rises to the top of the pack.
The bottom line is, be helpful to your audience and it will all work out.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
My best advice to bloggers starting out is to simply connect with other bloggers in your space. Read their blogs and comment. Follow them on social and interact. Be helpful and courteous – don’t just self-promote.
Look at attending conferences in your niche and connect with those bloggers in person. In person relationships go a long way to building stronger online relationships.
The big thing is connection! Connect with other, and you’ll start to see success.
Second, always take care of your readers. Answer their questions. Respond to their comments. Thank them on social media. The better the relationship you readers think they have with you, the stronger and faster your brand will grow.
Finally, you have to be consistent. If you want to be a successful blogger, you need to write at least 2x per week for a year. If you can successfully do that, I guarantee you that you’ll be earning some money on your blog and have a small audience.
Too many bloggers start but fizzle out after a few months. It takes time and consistency. If you’re consistent for a year, you’re already going to be ahead of 99% of other bloggers.
Where can we go to learn more?