The blogging business is booming and the financial space is no exception. Personal finance bloggers often start by documenting their own personal financial journeys and sharing money-saving advice. For some, those journeys lead to a successful business.
For the past decade, the Plutus Awards has been recognizing these creators with an annual ceremony and award season that puts the focus on excellence in financial media. The awards recognize independent financial media voices as well as favorite products and services in the financial industry.
According to Harlan Landes, founder of The Plutus Awards, “It’s been really interesting to see how the community of bloggers and podcasters has changed. Many blogs and podcasts have become a lot more sophisticated and marketable.” He adds, “People are a lot more concerned with building their businesses and brands, more so than 10 years ago.”
Here, twenty of the 2019 Plutus Awards finalists share what they have learned while building their blogging businesses. As with any small business, their paths to success are diverse. Some of the blogs nominated are young, while others have passed the decade mark; some of these entrepreneurs make a full-time living from their blogs while others use theirs to attract clients for other types of services, such as freelance writing or financial planning services.
All have a passion, though, for helping others navigate the often confusing world of personal and small business finances. Here’s how they do it:
1. Jackie Beck, founder of JackieBeck.com
“I help people get out of debt without putting their life on hold.”
Year founded: 2011
How her blog makes money: Sales of her smartphone app, “Pay Off Debt by Jackie Beck,” and advertising are Beck’s top revenue sources. Others include affiliate marketing (getting paid for recommending other products), courses, and some speaking.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “For me, being part of a community of fellow business owners has been key. This was true way back when I started a wedding photography business, and it’s been true ever since I started helping people get out of debt. Viewing other small business owners as community members with similar goals versus seeing them as competition means you approach the world a different way.
“Sharing knowledge and being there for one another benefits everyone involved, especially since our businesses are similar. We know what each other are going through to a certain extent, and can share pitfalls, resources, and successes. There’s room for everyone to succeed.”
2. Kelan and Brittany Kline, co-founders of The Savvy Couple
“We help families learn how to budget their money, organize their life, and unlock the freedom to do more of the things they love!”
Year founded: 2016
How their blog makes money: Sponsorships (45%), ads (23%), affiliate marketing (22%), product/course sales (10%).
Biggest lesson/challenge: “To become a successful business owner you need to have excellent time management skills. Over the last three years, we have really put a lot of time and effort into being as efficient as possible in everything we do. Things like using the Eisenhower Matrix, utilizing a project management software, setting up systems for everything we do, outsourcing, and tracking our work hours has been instrumental to our success.”
3. Eric Roberge, founder of Beyond Your Hammock
A blog dedicated to helping people use their money as a tool to live a life they love.
Year founded: 2015
How his blog makes money: Roberge runs a fee-only financial planning firm and the blog supports that business while also helping people who are not clients.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “One major factor in our success is the fact that I was extremely cognizant of our profit margin for a long, long time. Most independent advisors have profit margins around 30%, but until last year we were consistently at 80% or 90%. Staying lean has allowed me to be really flexible and forced me to be innovative. It also has allowed me to build a solid foundation for my personal finances, so that now, as we look to reinvest more in the business and know that our profit margin will start dropping (at least to some degree) as we hire and scale, I feel confident that we can truly afford to take those risks that are necessary to get the business to the next level. It’s much more of a calculated risk because we’re not putting ourselves in a do-or-die situation, and that allows for clearer thinking and less emotional/irrational decision-making.
4. Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor
A blog offering investing and personal finance advice for millennials.
Year founded: 2009
How his blog makes money: Affiliate marketing, display advertising, brand partnerships, sales of his own products
Biggest lesson/challenge: “For anyone just starting out, I believe there are three keys to online success: 1. Consistency; 2. Creating the best [insert your product/service]; and 3. Time. For an online business, like a blog, creating the best is about creating the best content: written, audio, video. Then, you need to do it consistently—this means multiple times per week, every week. And finally, you need to do it over a long period of time—this means at least one year. If you do all three, you have a high likelihood of success.
5. Kristen Edens, founder of Managing Midlife
A blog that covers “family, finances, and entrepreneurship for the Sandwich Generation.”
Year founded: 2015
How her blog makes money: Eden’s primary income comes from her content writing services, and she says her blog has “definitely helped me attract business.”
Biggest lesson/challenge: “My biggest challenge as an entrepreneur is patience—with myself, with the process, and with building a business. Nothing happens overnight and all those “overnight successes” I admire have had their struggles too. I need to remember that, especially when I get down on myself. Last year while at FinCon18 (a conference for financial bloggers and podcasters), I was mesmerized by all the successful bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, freelancers, and everyone else who, to me, had the success I craved and needed. It isn’t an easy task as a solopreneur (at any age), and I felt tremendously outclassed.
“Then, while mentoring a first-timer to FinCon, my mentee admitted to studying me online, and right off the bat said, ‘I’m impressed with all that you have accomplished in your life and want to be as successful as you!’ That changed my view moving forward! That statement helped me understand that what we see is not the reality. Entrepreneurship is a lot of hard work, no matter what level you are at.”
6. Tori Dunlap, founder of Her First 100K
“Money guidance from the opposite of an old, rich dude.”
Year founded: 2016
How her blog makes money: Speaking and coaching.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “To be a successful entrepreneur, you must serve before you sell. I spent over two years running my business without selling anything—growing my following, gaining credibility, and building relationships. People trusted me, my guidance, and my business, so when I launched, I immediately had sales. I’ve never spent a dime on paid marketing, and 90% of my business comes from Instagram. I’ve focused on providing value and relatable guidance first, and then focusing on making the sale.
7. Ryan Inman, founder of Financial Residency
A blog that “helps physicians conquer their finances.”
Year founded: 2018
How his blog makes money: It generates leads to his financial planning business.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “The toughest part is managing the growth and bringing on team members. I’ve had to really understand search engine optimization (SEO)—still working on it!—and I never thought I’d have to try and be an expert in all the ‘other stuff’ other than financial planning. The key is being authentic, not worrying about your ‘numbers,’ and just putting out the best content as possible.”
8. Brian Brandow, founder of Debt Discipline
Blog documents Brandow’s family’s journey paying off $109,000 in debt, and offers help for others in similar situations.
Year founded: 2013
How his blog makes money: Sponsored content, affiliate marketing, and ads.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “The biggest mistake I made when starting my small business was trying to do everything myself. It took me some time to realize I needed help. By delegating or outsourcing tasks, it freed me up to focus on the top priority items and grow the business.
“I also believe anyone starting a business would benefit from some type of accountability partner. This keeps them honest and prevents them from digging too deep in every little detail and becoming overwhelmed. A trusted friend, mentor, or mastermind group are excellent sources of this type of help.”
9. Pete McPherson, founder of Do You Even Blog
“DYEB” is a podcast and blog that helps content creators grow their impact and income.
Year founded: 2017
How his blog makes money: McPherson runs a membership site for bloggers and podcasters called Online Impact and it is his primary business model. He also earns income from affiliate marketing, and has been a freelance writer and marketer.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “It’s taken me a decade to learn this, but there are two vital skills every business owner needs: Learn how to communicate clearly and sell. Whether you’re monetizing a blog, starting a pizza place, or selling used farm equipment, you will need to communicate exactly what you’re offering. In a digital age littered with ads, if you confuse, you lose. Take classes on speaking and read books on copywriting. The more clearly you can communicate about your product/company, the easier your marketing and sales will be!”
10. Julien and Kiersten Saunders, co-founders of rich and REGULAR
“We document our journey of wealth creation from a black millennial perspective.”
Year founded: 2017
How their blog makes money: Affiliate marketing, speaking, and product sales.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “To us, blogging is a form of digital real estate. The greater value we provide our readers, the more visitors we attract and the more lucrative it becomes. We enjoy writing and telling stories, so blogging came naturally to us. However, to do it well is very time consuming and requires absorption of several costs upfront. The best advice we can give anyone looking to launch a blog is to make sure they have 100 topics of discussion they can cover. Otherwise, you may not be able to justify the time, investment, and energy required to keep it consistent.”
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11. Eric Nisall, founder of EricNisall.com
A blog that “talks about the complete picture regarding entrepreneurship and personal finance, not just the sexy side most focus on.”
Year founded: 2008
How his blog makes money: Nisall’s blog primarily drives traffic to his accounting and tax business, though he says he makes some income from ads.
Biggest lesson: “The most important thing I figured out and impress upon others is to go to the right people— attorneys for incorporating/LLC questions, accountants for tax questions, etc., and not random online people in Facebook groups or websites. I also think a big key is to not look at what others are doing or making because each person and business is unique. What works for one person/business isn’t always going to work for another and oftentimes people only talk about the sunshine and rainbows without mentioning the negatives like self-employment taxes, time investment, etc.”
12. Amy Blacklock and Vicki Cook, co-founders of Women Who Money
A blog dedicated to helping women (and men) take control of their finances.
Year founded: 2018
How their blog makes money: Partnerships with brands (sponsoring our website or individual content, attending events in-person or virtually), services such as content writing and virtual assistant (VA) services, and affiliate marketing.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “Being a successful business owner requires you to take care of yourself and your relationships as well as your business. We’ve both been guilty of spending a crazy amount of hours at the computer, neglecting family, friends, and our health. When you don’t have enough off time and too little sleep, you’ll get run down, you won’t be as effective in your business, and you may even find yourself snapping at loved ones. While spending lots of hours on your business may help you prosper in the beginning, it will eventually take its toll. Taking breaks, eating well, exercising, and spending time with loved ones will help you stay healthy and to thrive for your business and family.”
13. Bethany McCamish, founder of His and Her FI
“Couple money redefined for those who want to live life differently.”
How her blog makes money: McCamish is a freelance writer and her blog helps her land clients. She makes a small amount of money from affiliate marketing.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “Relationships have been key to becoming successful in what I do. No matter what industry you’re in, it matters who you know. Be genuine and authentic. Admit to what you don’t know. I’ve found being vulnerable about skills I wanted to work on allowed me to make even more connections. In general, people were willing to help me out, give me a chance, and still pay me for my work. I grew slowly over time, and I didn’t quit my day job until I could make the numbers work for me.”
14. Jim Wang, founder of Wallet Hacks
A personal finance blog offering strategies and tactics to get ahead financially and in life.
Year founded: 2015
How his blog makes money: Affiliates marketing and display ads.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “You don’t have to have a fully formed, ‘perfect’ business idea when you start. Whatever you start must fulfill a need in the market (or what you perceive as a need) and has to be developed, but what ultimately succeeds may be something different. It’s better to start a business that you think fulfills a need and then tweak and tailor it to the actual need. Don’t wait to perfect something on paper; just get it to a point where it’s ‘good enough’ and launch. Too many aspiring entrepreneurs do too much planning on paper, and opportunity passes them by.”
15. Deacon Hayes, founder of Well Kept Wallet
A personal finance site that helps people make money, save money, and pay off debt.
Year founded: 2010
How his blog makes money: Affiliate marketing, then display ads; sponsored campaigns are a distant third.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “The biggest challenge running a website is keeping up with the constant changes on the internet. At one point Pinterest drove the majority of my traffic. Then their algorithm changed and I had to adapt. I started doing Facebook ads, but then the cost went up and they were not as effective. The key to being successful is being ready (and willing) to pivot when necessary. If I didn’t pivot quickly, it is likely I would have given up years ago.”
16. Kevin Panitch, founder of Just Start Investing
“We make investing easy.”
Year founded: 2019
How his blog makes money: Ads, affiliate marketing, and sponsored posts.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “The biggest challenge also happens to be the piece I like most about running Just Start Investing—everything is on you. I own every decision, which is both empowering and stressful. Over the past few months, I’ve found it useful to type up a simple one-line mission statement: Make investing (and personal finance) easy. If my answer or solution to a problem helps drive that mission, then I know I am on the right track. It helps keep the stress down with all these daily decisions!
“If you’re running your own business, my other piece of advice would be to just keep going! Just Start Investing is nowhere close to where I want it to be, and sometimes the amount of work that needs to get done can be daunting. But I just keep chipping away, every day, because it’s fun and I want to see where I can take it.”
17. Andy Hill, founder of Marriage, Kids and Money
A podcast and blog dedicated to helping young families build wealth and thrive.
Year founded: 2016
How his podcast and blog make money: Podcast sponsorships, freelance content development (video; writing), and affiliate marketing.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “As an employee for the majority of my life, I didn’t realize how difficult it was to run your own business. All of a sudden you are managing sales, PR, payroll, IT, and most importantly, accounts receivables. There’s no magic biweekly paycheck waiting for you with a small business!
“I quickly realized that I needed to either slow down or ask for help. Three years later, I decided I would do both. My goal to grow my small business into a full-time career has now transitioned into developing an enjoyable (and profitable) side hustle. Additionally, I’ve connected with some excellent freelancers who can help me with the work that takes me longer or don’t enjoy as much. The slow and steady path feels more comfortable, and lately, I’ve been enjoying small business life a lot more.”
18. Chelsea Brennan, founder of Smart Money Mamas
“A place for women to talk about money without shame or blame.”
Year founded: 2017
How her blog makes money: Digital products, online events, advertising, affiliate marketing, and sponsored posts.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “My biggest struggle as a business owner has been learning when to dig in on an idea until it works, when to pivot, and when to pick up a new concept completely. As an entrepreneur, you have so many options, and the roller coaster of ‘This is going to be awesome’ and ‘What was I thinking?’ can sometimes give you whiplash. It’s been important to learn how to step back, ignore what other businesses are doing, and evaluate our progress. What is working? What isn’t? What does the audience think? Then I make choices based on what I’m actively seeing, without letting emotion or ‘shiny object syndrome’ take over.”
19. Robin Rose, founder of Mastering the Side Jam
“A personal journey of paying off debt, making money on the side, following dreams, and aging gracefully.”
Year founded: 2017
How her blog makes money: Affiliate marketing and display advertising.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “It’s never too late to learn a new skill, and you’re never too old to make positive changes in your life. I’ve worked in the corporate world for over 20 years (and still do), and two years ago, I decided to start a blog on a whim. It has been the most surprising, interesting, and motivational endeavor of my life. (I know that sounds super hokey, but it really has allowed me to build up confidence and sort of come into my own).
“I still have my structured nine-to-five life, and then in my free time, I have this amazing creative outlet that gives me the opportunity to connect with others. And the fact that I can actually make some money on the side by doing this is the absolute icing on the cake. But I guess the main thing I’d say is: Never discount yourself as being too set in your ways, too far along in years, or too committed to one single thing. If you’re interested in learning a new skill, give it a try and see how it goes. You don’t need to go ‘all in’ at the get-go. Just be open to trying something new.”
20. A Purple Life
A blog that documents the blogger’s journey to retirement by age 30; blogger is anonymous since she has a full-time job.
Year founded: 2015
How her blog makes money: Affiliate marketing, a partnership with a financial services company, and crowdfunding membership platform Patreon.
Biggest lesson/challenge: “There is a strange paradox that seems to exist when starting a business. If money is your main driver—instead of passion—that can often taint your product and content. This is counterintuitive since the main purpose of most businesses is to make money.
“I would suggest that, if possible, don’t place pressure on yourself to be profitable immediately since some types of business, such as blogging, are a long game. Overall, my advice is to do your best, respond to feedback from your audience, and pivot your content or product accordingly.”
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