Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, and I run Making Sense of Cents, a personal finance and lifestyle website that helps readers earn more, save more, and live more.
Me, my husband, and our two dogs currently travel and live full-time on a sailboat. We first bought an RV in 2015 and started traveling full-time that way, and about 1.5 years ago we decided to start sailing.
I started Making Sense of Cents back in 2011, completely as a hobby. I did not know that blogs could make money, how they made money, or even really what a blog was. I started it just for myself so that I could talk about my finance journey and talk to others who were interested in personal finance as well.
Shortly after I started, I was always talking about how I needed to find a part-time job and find ways to make extra money, as my full-time job as an analyst still wasn’t allowing me to stop living paycheck to paycheck - not with my student loan debt that needed to be paid off! Readers eventually told me that I should look into making money from my blog, and it all took off from there.
Two years after I started my blog, I decided to leave my job as an analyst to blog full-time. It was hard for me to leap, as I had a very stable job with good benefits. BUT, I was not happy there.
I am so happy that I leaped. I cannot even imagine still working that job!
My finance blog is completely free for readers. I enjoy writing and I am glad to talk about personal finance as much as I can. Instead, I charge advertisers and companies for the products that I sell through Making Sense of Cents. I also have two courses, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts, which are targeted to bloggers.
If you are interested in starting a blog, I also have a free course that you can find here.
I earn around $100,000 a month from Making Sense of Cents and have made over $5,000,000 from it over the years. Much of it is profit, as my expenses are extremely low. I am the only full-time employee of my business, but I do outsource some work. I have a virtual assistant, an editor, and a technical manager.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was forced to learn about money at a young age. I have been working full-time since around the age of 14 (I was a full-time nanny for a job I had found on a bulletin board), and once that job was over I worked in retail for many years before I became an analyst. My dad passed away when I was a teenager, and there was no inheritance or anything like that, so I only had myself to rely on.
While I haven’t always been good with money, and I have made mistakes in the past, I have learned a lot and enjoy talking about it. I also enjoy helping others learn how to improve their financial situation too!
Learn how to separate work and life. Being a blogger can mean that your work-life balance can get out of whack, and this is because it is so easy in today’s world to constantly be connected.
In the summer of 2011, I started my blog to teach people how to save money as well as journaling my finance journey after reading a magazine that featured a personal finance website in one of their articles. I became extremely interested in that website and my interest in blogging just grew from there. This is interesting and hilarious because, before that same summer, I had no idea about what blogs were, that they could even make money or anything along those lines.
In the beginning, before I became a full-time blogger, I talked a lot about my student loan debt payoff progress. I was able to pay off my $40,000 student loan debt in just 7 months, by doing many different things. Yes, I was blogging (and making money from my blog), but I was also staff writing on other websites, managing social media for others, selling on eBay, mystery shopping, taking part in market research studies, and more.
You can read all about this here - My Student Loans Are Fully Paid Off!
Once my student loans were paid off, I felt a lot of freedom. I no longer had this huge debt hanging over my head and felt more freedom to pursue a job that I loved. So, I decided to make the leap and quit my day job as an analyst.
I went full-time in October of 2013 and I haven't looked back once. Learning how to start a blog has completely changed my life for the better and it still feels so crazy to this day because my beginning was completely random.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Creating Making Sense of Cents, in the beginning, was a learning experience, but since I had no plans of making money from it (nor did I know that was even possible), it was fun and I enjoyed it. I learned a lot of things through trial and error, as well as by reading other blogs.
Startup costs were extremely low, and that’s one reason why I love blogging as a business. You can start for super cheap - less than $100. Of course, you can pay much more than that too, if you decide to.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Since I started with no idea of what I was doing, I simply created a blog and learned as I went. There was no formal launch process. I simply wrote blog posts and published them. I don't think I even had social media accounts for my blog in the beginning.
Oh yeah, I should probably mention that I was anonymous too. I didn’t use my real name, and no one in my real life (except for my husband and my sister) even knew I had a blog, haha!
I don’t think I even spent $100 in my first year of blogging.
Eventually, I switched things up to become more professional and take my blog more seriously such as:
- Switched to self-hosted WordPress.
- Bought my domain name (I didn’t even have that in the beginning!)
- Created social media accounts for my blogs, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
- Started an email list.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Informative and fun articles - hands down!
I enjoy writing on Making Sense of Cents, and I only write on topics that I am personally interested in and enjoy. I also like to write as though I am talking to a friend. Readers have always told me that they enjoy my style of writing as it makes the usually boring topic of finance more enjoyable for them. I also like to shake things up in the personal finance area, by bringing up topics that may be taboo, as to get more people talking about personal finance.
I publish content around one to three times a week on Making Sense of Cents. I have a list of over 100 possible article topics (it’s probably more like several hundred ideas) that I keep on my laptop and my phone. The topics you read about on Making Sense of Cents come from life experiences, reader questions, research, articles that I've come across that spark an interest (like if I see a crazy statistic that I find interesting, I'll then turn it into a long article), and so on. I mainly just go with my gut - I write about topics that interest me as that is what makes writing fun!
I also network a ton, and this is something that I recommend more bloggers do. So many bloggers see other bloggers as competition, and I think that is just an awful way to look at blogging. There is room for everyone, as everyone has their own story to share.
So, when I say “network,” this means many different things. I attend blogging conferences (my favorite is FinCon!), have many friends in the blogging community, interact on social media and through phone calls, and more.
I also am constantly learning more and more about blogging. I don’t think that ever ends. I am always looking to learn about how to improve my presence on social media, improve my page views, learn about SEO, and more.
I receive anywhere from around 400,000 to 700,000+ page views a month. Some months are better than others, due to seasonal content, an article going viral, etc. Making Sense of Cents is very diversified when it comes to traffic. It’s pretty even amongst all of the areas, such as Google, Pinterest, Facebook, and those coming from my email list.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Making Sense of Cents and my whole blogging business is doing well! I am working less than usual, but thankfully I have built a somewhat passive business over the years that has allowed me to focus more of my time towards my travels lately. Now, I'm not saying that the business is easy. It took many years of 100+ hour weeks to get to this point. I am extremely grateful for the life that I get to live.
I receive around 400,000 to 500,000 page views a month. Sometimes much more than that (such as in the first quarter of each year as this is when personal finance is most popular due to new year's resolutions).
If you are worried about leaving your job to start a business, start your business on the side if you can because this way you can build up your business while still having the comfort of a regular paycheck from your day job.
Making Sense of Cents earns money blogging in many ways such as:
- Affiliate marketing - this is when I earn a commission for products that I promote when a reader either clicks on a link or purchases a product through my referral link.
- Sponsored partnerships - This is when I partner with brands and sort of becoming a brand ambassador for them.
- Display advertising - This is usually what you see when there are image ads within a blog post. I make sure not to have too many of these in a blog post as to not distract readers from the content that they are reading.
- Course sales - Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts
You can learn more about each way here - How To Earn Money Blogging: Your Top Questions Answered.
I have no plans to change how I run Making Sense of Cents. I prefer to keep it small and super flexible. I earn a great income and have saved enough to retire whenever I would like, so I am happy to run my business in a way that keeps me happy.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned so many things:
- Be self-hosted. I started on Blogger and didn’t even own my domain name! I eventually switched to being self-hosted and bought a domain name - the best decision ever.
- Attend blogging meetups - This is a great way to connect with others in the blogging world.
- Learn how to separate work and life. Being a blogger can mean that your work-life balance can get out of whack, and this is because it is so easy in today’s world to constantly be connected.
- Start an email list NOW. So many people wait on this and I did as well. I think it’s best to start right away as it is a great way to engage with your audience.
And so much more. I learn something new pretty much every single day.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use a lot of tools for my website. In no particular order:
- WordPress - Making Sense of Cents is on the WordPress platform.
- Convertkit - This is for my email list.
- BigScoots - I am self-hosted on BigScoots.
- Social Pug - This is for social media sharing of my blog posts.
- Teachable - My two courses are on Teachable.
- Tailwind - This is for scheduling on Pinterest.
- PicMonkey - I use Picmonkey to create images for Making Sense of Cents.
- PrettyLinks - I use this tool for affiliate links.
- Google Docs - This is how my editor and I go through the articles that I write and she fixes, haha!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My top piece of advice is to just start!
It doesn't have to be super complicated, and you should realize that 99% of bloggers who start a blog are brand new. While the beginning can seem super difficult, remember that it does get easier as you go on.
And, if you are worried about leaving your job to start a business or starting an online job, then here is my top tip. Start your business on the side if you can, because this way you can build up your business while still having the comfort of a regular paycheck from your day job. Plus, you’ll be able to see if your business is even something that you want to do full-time, or if it’s even possible to earn a living from it.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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