Lessons I've Learnt From My First Year Writing A Personal Finance Blog

On August 13th 2020 - exactly one year ago - I published my first ever article for this blog. Fifty-five articles later I'm still here writing, and there's been a bunch of lessons along the way. The personal finance space has plenty of content creators, with everyone writing about how you can achieve financial independence. There's a select few with a bit of fame to their name, and it's their standard and influence that we want to emulate. But what does it take, and how do you keep yourself going in a space where so many fall away after just a couple of months?

The basics of achieving financial independence is already well known and a content creator isn't adding that much to the world by repeating the same old advice of creating a budget, having an emergency fund, and investing into an index fund. One will quickly run out of things to say if that's all they have to offer and, since the money you make from content creation isn't as easy or lucrative as you may imagine, motivation to keep going will soon follow. To stick around for the long term you will need to find a deeper purpose for your personal finance content - you have to know why you're sharing in the first place.

It's a long road and what lays ahead is always going to be unclear. But that doesn't matter because when I look back I'm always surprised at how far along I've come.
It's a long road and what lays ahead is always going to be unclear. But that doesn't matter because when I look back I'm always surprised at how far along I've come.

What Started This Off

When it comes to investing I think I'm luckier than most since I had the chance to work for two years as a proprietary trader before ever making my first personal investment.

What this basically means is I had two years of experience losing to the market, but with someone else's money.

So - by the time I got to making my own investments I already knew I needed a strategy that was lower effort yet had higher consistency in the results. Thus I discovered index investing.

It would take another year or so before I discovered the financial independence movement but once I did I was more than prepared to join in. With the investing strategy already being used, being debt free (besides student loan), and being frugal by nature there couldn't have been a better group for me to take part in.

A few more years went by where I simply kept plugging away, getting my savings rate up and controlling my spending. Then, towards the start of 2020, a group of my friends started getting more and more interested in building their financial wealth.

Some of them had also worked as proprietary traders at the same firm as me, and were also disillusioned with their chances of beating the market.

In other words - perfect targets for me to start preaching to.

And so I did - in the form of 6 simple wealth building pillars that they could follow.

Even though the things I said were mostly common sense advice - have a budget, build an emergency fund, get out of debt, invest in the index over the long term, and so forth - it triggered many long discussions that all of us found deeply interesting.

Ego somewhat inflated I decided that maybe I could put my 6 pillars plus extended thoughts into an eBook which would - as far as I was convinced at the time - become a bestseller and, more importantly, a source of income for me.

I wrote the book - in fact I wrote three drafts. Almost 200 pages in length.

It sucked - dry, monotonous, and nothing new - so I never published it.

I wasn't upset however - it was an interesting little side project for a couple of months and I didn't feel like my time spent writing was entirely wasted. If anything I was able to refine my thoughts on the subject a little over that time.

But what I didn't expect was the urge to keep writing, even though I wasn't going to publish the book.

So the obvious answer came to me - just start a blog.

A blog article is far easier to get out there than a book.
A blog article is far easier to get out there than a book.

Finding Content To Talk About

Starting a blog is easy - especially if you've actually already written a whole bunch of content.

With 6 key financial pillars in 200 pages all I simply needed to do was a bit of reworking on the text so that it fit the style of a blog. I probably got about 16 articles out of it all.

But the thing is this...

When it comes to the basics of personal finance or financial independence there isn't really that much to talk about - because loads of other people out there have already covered it.

There's only so many debt repayment plans, budgeting tips, rental property advice, or index investing calculations that assume an average annual return of around 7%, that you can consume before you're no longer gaining anything out of it.

Honestly - does it really matter what the difference is between VTSAX, VTI, and VFIAX?

And do we really need yet another walkthrough of how compound interest works?

Dropping the assumption down to 5% returns annually isn't exactly "ground-breaking"...

Now I don't want to be too cynical about all of this because I'm certain I'll have future articles that somehow touch on these areas, but the point is this - if I had simply kept to the mindset of sharing the same old information as everyone else then I very much doubt this blog would've made it past 20 articles.

How many content creators in this space do you see pop up with a new channel or a blog, only to fall away into obscurity after they've spent a few months covering the same things that everyone else already has?

It might be very easy to start, but it's certainly not as easy as it looks to build up and maintain.

My solution - so far - is to use my own real life experiences in order to give another flavour in terms of perspective and go a bit deeper into my personal philosophy on the subject.

Really this just makes my articles into an opinion piece rather than a set of facts and figures but hey, this is post #55 at the end of the day.

It's better than me simply giving a weekly update on my net worth at least.

Getting An Audience

Even though I've seen steady growth in terms of my traffic - my first ever article got something like 30 views whereas nowadays it's quite normal to get around 1,000 - I find it quite tough to spread my content.

It helps that I can share my content to certain social media groups but it seems I have trouble getting a big following. I do sometimes wonder how certain peers in the space got to something like 10,000 followers or get hundreds of interactions on a simple tweet.

Maybe it's a time thing and I simply need to give it another year or two in order to slowly build momentum - but I certainly am facing a few hurdles in gaining the desired traction.

Simply writing content is, for sure, not enough - which is something I wrongly assumed at the start.

Spending time and effort on getting people to subscribe to the blog, posting regularly, utilising SEO, and taking part in groups or lists that help spread content is probably something that requires almost as much time as the writing itself.

Something I'll need to pay more attention to in the future.

I guess becoming an overnight success through a viral piece of content isn't as easy as it looks after all.

Before filling up an entire stadium, I guess I have to master the art of telling my story from a park bench.
Before filling up an entire stadium, I guess I have to master the art of telling my story from a park bench.

Advertising Revenue and Sponsorships

I bet you were looking for this section from the start - how much money can be made from writing a blog.

Truth be told, you shouldn't take just one or two examples to form a decisive opinion - I'm sure there'll be many factors at play.

But for this small blog there's certainly not enough earnings from advertising revenue to write home about. It maybe covers a couple of months' costs in terms of hosting.

Yup, 55 articles later and I've not even made enough to cover the costs to run the blog - and it probably takes me about 8 hours on average to produce each article.

Obviously I could pepper my blog with more adverts but I've seen how it looks on other people's content and it really gets on my nerves. Literally at the end of every 5 sentence paragraph is another advert, and then there's the overlays and sidebars.

I can't be too critical since my own blog was sort of like this towards the start - we're all trying to make some coin at the end of the day - but I'd rather my readers enjoy my writing rather than fight the adverts.

Plus, it doesn't seem to make that much of a difference anyway. Double the amount of adverts doesn't equate to double the revenue.

As for sponsorships... I have none to talk about.

Any dreams I (or you) have of becoming a huge online influencer who generates hundreds, or thousands, for each piece of content will simply need to be put on hold for now.

The lesson being - don't do this just for the money, you'll get demoralised and probably quit.

Personal Benefits

So if I'm not actually making that much money from writing this blog, and it seems to need a tonne more effort to get it into a profitable place, why bother doing it at all?

Well - it's because I've managed to find ways to benefit from this blog that aren't strictly financial.

By continuing to write articles and putting my thoughts down "on paper" it has really helped me develop and refine my thinking when it comes to what I actually want out of financial independence.

Towards the start, everything was purely about raising my savings rate and investing as much as possible. Then I moved towards finding a better balance to keep myself from being burned out.

Now my thoughts are around how my control over my own decisions and actions can lead to the same benefits that I would've wanted by reaching financial independence. It's not just about the money anymore - which sounds strange but makes sense fundamentally.

Writing the blog has very much been a way for me to give myself advice, as much as it has been for whoever out there might be reading.

And honestly it's led to me having more and more things to write about - which helps me keep this whole thing going.

It has also served as a creative outlet for me, which helps counter-balance the logical and numbers-based nature of my job. I feel this has benefitted me both mentally and professionally.

On the mental front I feel the progress and personal growth in myself - which gives me motivation and a sense of purpose in life.

On the professional front I am able to take the skills I've learnt and bring it back into how I work - expanding my approaches and discovering new methods that yield better results.

The cool thing about all of this is that even though the blog itself doesn't make much money (yet), the personal benefits I've gained certainly have led to better financial opportunities in my life.

The more I write, the more I learn, and the more ideas I get.
The more I write, the more I learn, and the more ideas I get.

The Future

By all accounts, a year of blogging isn't really that long if you want to make it into a more serious thing - meaning you intend to try and turn it into a proper source of income.

It apparently takes over 18 months before an article gets ranked well by major search engines, which generally means there simply isn't going to be much traction from people naturally browsing around.

So it looks like I've still got a ways to go.

But that's alright - source of income aside I still feel passionate about writing articles and I seem to have settled on a nice rhythm of a post per week that's generally between 2,000 to 2,500 words long.

If you're a regular reader you may have noticed the slight shift in the things I write about.

It's all still related to financial independence but the focus is much more on why I think people want to achieve it rather than what it is.

When focusing on the what, I can only talk about numbers and facts.

When focusing on the why, I get the what and I have a whole world of philosophy and deeper thought that I can dive into.

For example, if you were told there are ways to achieve the benefits of financial independence without actually becoming financially independent, would you be interested in learning a little more?

Whatever your answer - such ways certainly exist and it's the direction I think I'll continue towards, at least for the time being.

At the end of the day this blog only really has one purpose - helping you and I to understand why we truly want to reach financial independence.

The what always sounds good - but it's the why that will keep us moving forward towards it.

Celebrations (Final Scribbles)

To finish up, I thought it would be nice to mention some of the cool things that have happened for this blog - things I certainly never expected at the very start:

I made it through the first year while maintaining a consistent posting schedule. It sounds simple and easy but once again, you needn't look far to find the content creators who have lost motivation and given up after just a few months.

I made my first penny from the blog. While there's still a long way to go, this in itself is a milestone as it signifies the birth of a new source of income.

I got criticised. You may find this a strange thing to celebrate but a quote by Elbert Hubbard (or Aristotle depending on the source) says: "To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing".

Over 9,000 unique visitors have read my blog. The 10,000 mark would've been nice but I'm somewhat pleased to be able to make this numeric reference (Dragon Ball Z fans will get it).

I got various awards and shout outs. It's nice to get recognition so whenever I managed to win the post of the day on a curation site, or get a share on social media by someone other than myself, or receive a direct message of thanks for how an article helped someone, I get a little boost of motivation that keeps me going.

Last but not least - yourself. The simple fact that you're even reading this article is amazing to me. Imposter syndrome aside, one never really knows if the things they put other there will actually ever get noticed.

Thanks for reading so far - Here's to another year of blog writing!


Don't wait for some magical number before you start "living". Life is full of surprises and you'll never be able to plan it perfectly. If you're doing sensible things with your money you'll eventually reach your goal. So start living now. The longer you wait, the less time you'll have. Money can be made, but time cannot. You are the barrier to the life you want to live, not a 4% safe withdrawal rate.

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