On Starting A Personal Finance Blog
Hello, my name is Marc and I’m the founder of the personal finance blog Vital Dollar. The site is a little over two years old, but I’ve been working as a full-time blogger since 2008. Some of my past projects include web design and photography blogs. Last year, Forbes published a story about how I made more than $1 million with my photography blogs as an amateur photographer.
One of the reasons I love blogging is because you can start a blog on any topic that interests you, which means you can incorporate your hobbies into your work (which is exactly what I did with my photography blogs). I recently released a course called Hobby to Pro that covers the process of turning your hobby into a profitable online business.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I was a reluctant entrepreneur. Growing up, I never saw myself as a business owner. I wound up starting my business out of frustration with the jobs that I had after college.
Life is so much more enjoyable when working on something that you like. Don’t pursue something just because you think it might be profitable if you won’t enjoy working on it.
In my 20’s, I had a few different jobs and each one left me disappointed and feeling like I had no future there. Eventually, I started a side hustle designing websites for small businesses and I launched a web design blog. I started to get some traction with the blog pretty quickly and I loved working on it, so I decided to see if I could turn it into a full-time business. It took about 1.5 years of work before I was able to safely leave my full-time job.
I’ve now been self-employed for more than 11 years and I consider it to be one of the best decisions of my life.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
After leaving my job in 2008, I continued to focus on growing my web design blog. I monetized the blog with banner ads, affiliate programs, and downloadable products web/graphic designers. That blog peaked at more than 1 million visitors per month and I sold it in 2013 for $500,000.
My next project was a photography blog and I monetized it by selling downloadable products to photographers. The products were things that you would use in Photoshop or Lightroom to edit photos. I wound up starting a second and third photography blog and I sold the first two of them together for $500,000 in 2016. I sold the third photography blog in 2018 for $216,000.
Before selling the last photography blog, I launched VitalDollar.com, and that has been my primary project since then.
I also ran an Amazon-based business with my wife from 2015-2017. We sold private label products and although the business did pretty well, we didn’t really enjoy it or see ourselves doing it long-term, so we sold that business as well (it sold for $225,000).
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I manage Vital Dollar mostly on my own, but I do have two freelance writers that I hire to write some of the content for me. Throughout 2019, the site grew nicely. In 2020, so far I’ve seen a decrease in traffic after the Google algorithm updates in January and May but I’m hopeful that it will be a small bump in the road when I look back a few years from now.
Despite losing some traffic, the revenue and profit for the site are up. In 2019, affiliate marketing accounted for the vast majority of income for the site. This year I launched the Hobby to Pro course, I’ve worked with a few brands on sponsored content, and I recently ads on the site.
My long-term plans include creating another course or two (the next one will probably be related to selling websites or online businesses). I’ve also been doing a little bit of consulting work with other online entrepreneurs and I’d like to do more of that in the future. Most of my clients are fairly new to the world of online business and looking for some direction.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Although I’ve been blogging for 13 years already, I feel like running a personal finance blog has helped me to improve my skills in a lot of different ways. There are literally thousands of personal finance blogs and there’s a lot of competition for search engine rankings and exposure. I think that competition has forced me to improve in some areas that I didn’t pay as much attention to in the past. One example would be keyword research. I did a little bit of keyword research with my blogs in the past to find keywords and phrases that people are searching for, but I’ve improved in that area and I think I could have done a much better job with my past blogs.
One of the reasons I started a personal finance blog is because I wanted to learn more about topics like investing and managing money. I think I’ve learned a lot about pursuing financial independence and specifically what I need to do to achieve it.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Vital Dollar, like all of my blogs from the past, is powered by WordPress. I use ConvertKit for email marketing.
Other tools that I use in my daily work with the blog include Zoho (managing email), Google Drive and Google Docs, Hootsuite (free version), Tailwind, and Slack.
I’ve used both Upwork and Fiverr for hiring freelancers to do anything from designing graphics to writing blog content.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
It’s not a business book, but I consider the biggest influence to have come from a book called The Hole in Our Gospel. The book challenged me to be more aware of ways that I can help people in need around the world. Part of my motivation for trying to grow Vital Dollar is to be able to do more in terms of giving.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I would encourage other entrepreneurs to find ways to incorporate their hobbies within their work. I’ve been blessed to be able to earn a living working on things that I enjoy and my interests are always the biggest factor when I am trying to decide what project I should pursue next. Life is so much more enjoyable when working on something that you like. Don’t pursue something just because you think it might be profitable if you won’t enjoy working on it.
I’d also encourage others to get started with their own business on the side, if possible. If you already have a full-time job, run your business as a side hustle while you can. It takes away a lot of the pressure and allows you to make decisions based on the long-term prospects of your business rather than being forced into trying to earn a living immediately.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can find me at VitalDollar.com. As far as social networks are concerned, I’m probably most active at Twitter. For anyone who is interested in starting a blog, I have a free course called Blog Launch Breakthrough, and my course Hobby to Pro is great for anyone who wants to learn how to start making money with their hobby.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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