Confession: I founded a personal finance website that went absolutely, totally nowhere.
Some backstory: One blog isn’t good enough for me. There’s too much at stake. I can’t entrust a full-time income to a single blog that could be wrecked by an unbridled algorithm or bled dry by a slashed commission rate.
So I started a money website.
Why I Wanted a Finance Website In the First Place
As part of my website portfolio, I want a website in the personal finance niche. Here are three reasons why:
- Personal finance blogs are evergreen. The content you write today has a long, long shelf life.
- Personal finance blogs are easy to monetize. You can sell info products, advertising inventory, affiliate products (e.g. credit cards, insurance policies, financial planning services, etc.)
- Personal finance blogs hedge against market risk. Most of my websites are in the outdoors/travel niches. A bad recession could halve their income. But in a personal finance blog, you can pivot your content strategy for bull or bear markets.
So it’s not a question of if – just when.
Anyone who’s interested in building a six-figure website portfolio should consider a similar strategy, I think. Are you willing to stake your income on a single website? If not, what kind of secondary site would complement your primary site? Look for the teeter-totter effect; if one goes up, the other should go down. Finance gurus call this diversification, aka, don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
The Totally Unepic Story of a Failed Website
Actually, I did start a personal finance website.
Scout’s honor. It was my very first website – my first domain name, even. I bought the domain off Bluehost less than a week after deciding I would give the online world a go. And I worked on it for six weeks straight. I designed a logo on Canva, customized a WordPress theme, wrote four content articles, developed an Excel budget spreadsheet, programmed a compound interest calculator, wrote a manifesto, “comped” similar sites, assembled a 20-headline publishing schedule, authored an About Me page, and started a Facebook page.
Here’s an excerpt from my About page:
I’m ashamed to admit it, but this website was conceived as just another “I-got-out-of-debt-so-can-you” financial blog.
“After all,” I said to myself, “I paid off almost $100,000 in debt on an average income. With a little help, so can my readers!”
So I put pen to paper started typing at 65 WPM and pounded out content on managing your debt, budgeting your income, and building an emergency fund.
Then I realized I had just reinvented daveramsey.com.
So I trashed the whole thing. Back to the drawing board.
“After all,” I said to myself, “I knew all that stuff, and I still fell into the debt trap. So that can’t be the ultimate answer.”
So I wrote about how to raise your FICO score, leverage credit cards for reward points and smartly invest in your retirement.
Then I realized I had just reinvented thebalance.com.
“No good,” I said to myself. “After all, who’s ever changed their financial life because of a 1% rewards policy?”
I found myself swirling into an identity crisis black hole.
See, a few years earlier, I was almost $100,000 in debt, driving a 1978 Dodge rustbucket that got 7 mpg. I ran a busy but unprofitable small business, and I was paying my bank overdraft fees like they were a regular subscription.
I could rattle off financial terminology like pop lyrics, but I still sometimes made awful financial decisions. I didn’t lack knowledge – just an IQ.
(And that’s the end of my excerpt. Now you’re curious, aren’t you?)
Why Did I Kill Off the Website?
Haven’t touched the site in a year now.
Sure, it’s live. It’s on the web. You could visit the site today.
But no one has (thank God). Those four articles are over a year old and have exactly zero organic Google search traffic.
I didn’t kill off my personal finance website. But I did encase it in carbonite, as it were. It’s in suspended animation. One day, I’ll thaw it out and begin anew.
In Jim Collin’s book, “Good to Great,” he introduces this idea called the Hedgehog Concept that distinguishes truly great companies from only “good” companies. Here’s what he says:
A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.
Every company would like to be the best at something, but few actually understand—with piercing insight and egoless clarity—what they actually have the potential to be the best at and, just as important, what they cannot be the best at. And it is this distinction that stands as one of the primary contrasts between the good-to-great companies and the comparison companies.
Ooof, Jim. Take it easy!
I paused my personal finance website because I realized I didn’t have something great to say. Something halfway decent? Sure. Something interesting? Probably.
But something … great? No. Not yet, anyway.
Building An Inimitable Blog
I really do believe that in order to weather the storm of algorithm updates and WordPress releases and commission restructurings, I need to have something great to say.
That doesn’t mean I need to be the next George Soros or Warren Buffet. It just means that I need – to borrow a phrase from the business world – a unique selling proposition. I need something worth saying in a way that only I can say it.
Just look at some of the best personal finance websites:
- Bitches Get Riches: Sassy, impudent and ingenious, Bitches Get Riches breaks down work-life money matters by giving the finger to the Man (and the patriarchy).
- Mr. Money Mustache: Mr. Mustache retired early through thrifty non-mechanized living – and he’s loving (almost) every minute of it!
- Financial Samurai: The Samurai writes for rich-but-not-super-rich individuals looking to build general wealth and passive income through investing.
- Dave Ramsey: A favorite budgeteer for Christian couples, Ramsey offers a simple step-by-step plan called “Financial Peace” for swearing off credit and building wealth for retirement.
I dare you to copy one of these websites. I dare you!
… You can’t!
Each of these authors has created a unique message. They are inimitable.
That’s the great and terrible thing about blogging. You don’t have to be all things to all people. You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. But everyone does need to notice you.
For instance, I don’t need to create the next NerdWallet or MoneyUnder30. But whatever I build needs a trademark, a signature flair, a unique voice. I need more than just facts, figures and statistics; I need a laser focus on A) what I’m preaching and B) who I’m preaching to.
Otherwise, I’m just another guy writing about money, how to pay off debt, how to keep a budget, et cetera, ad nauseum. I’m an anchovy swimming amongst anchovies. No one will notice me.
There’s no point swimming faster. An anchovy is still an anchovy. Go shark or go home! (And now that I’ve drowned this analogy, so I’ll take my leave).
* * *
I like to use FLUB as an example in most posts. So, does FLUB pass the Hedgehog Concept test?
Ehh … it’s a work in progress. FLUB is not just another SEO chicanery blog (which I’m very proud of). It’s a blogging mindset + blogging writing mechanicals website. And I haven’t ever read anyone quite like … well, like me.
But right now, I’m still throwing content at the cyber wall and seeing what sticks. There’s no point in pretending I’m the Guru of Gurus because (as you know) I’m still building my portfolio!
But I do intend for FLUB to grow into a one-of-a-kind resource for bloggers, particularly full-time info bloggers looking to improve their written content creation strategies. That’s what I’m best at, and there’s no amount of SEO hacks or WordPress development that can teach you how to do it.
So my personal finance website waits in the wings …
… which, perhaps, isn’t just a lesson on hedging your market risk, and diversifying your income streams, and selling through unique messaging. Maybe it’s also a demonstration of that time-tested writing adage:
You must murder your darlings.