What I’ve Learned in My First Four Months of Blogging

Photo - Computer Keyboard - copyright Marcie Casas This post may contain affiliate links.  Learn more by reading my disclosure.

Photo - Computer Keyboard - copyright Marcie Casas

This post may contain affiliate links.  Learn more by reading my disclosure.

Until now, I’ve been hesitant to write about my blogging experience.  This is for a couple reasons.

First, I’m new to this genre.  My blog went live on February 19th, 2017 with Let’s Start Talking About Real Estate, a post that essentially said nothing more than “Hey, here’s my blog.”  So, it’s been a little over four months that I’ve been at this.

Second, it feels like I’m pulling back the curtain.  I’m going to reveal some things that I haven’t talked about with anyone.  I’m not sure why that feels weirder than talking about my personal finances, or my business failures, or anything else I feel rather free to address on this site.  I guess I want the site to present a certain image of success and professionalism. 

Discussing this subject is a bit humbling, sort of like opening the books on a new business.  Hopefully, these revelations will benefit others in their blogging experience as well as continue to point me in the direction of further success.  

So without further ado, let’s get rolling …

Before You Start Blogging, Read Other Blogs.  A Lot of Them.

I will admit that I didn’t read a lot of blogs before I started my own.  I basically read Mr. Money Mustache and J.D. Roth’s Money Boss.  I read every single article on MMM’s site and then flipped to Money Boss when I read a guest post from him.  Then I went crazy with his articles.

Then I discovered Coach Carson and sort of checked out a handful of others.

Now, I wasn’t thinking I was on the level of MMM, J.D. or Coach.  Not even close.  I just thought I had an interesting story to tell. 

I’ve struggled with a way to share my real estate and personal finance stories.  When I realized a blog might be a good vehicle for these stories, I jumped in.  I followed the advice I found in The 4-Hour Workweek.

If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually,’ just do it and correct course along the way. – Tim Ferriss

What I didn’t realize was how many things I would have to learn to get the blog to a point where it was “interesting.”

I didn’t even understand the concept of a landing page for the first three months.  My original landing page was basically an image and a link to the blog.  There was no call to action, nor anything really of interest.  It was boring.  Why would anyone go deeper into the site?

After You Start Blogging, Keep Reading

I read more personal finance and real estate blogs now than I’ve ever read before.  Some I read for information and others I read purely for the writer’s voice and take on life.  However, there are a couple that I study with a critical eye.  I’m watching the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of things.

It’s like being aware of how a real estate deal was put together and being more impressed with the numbers than the brick and mortar.

I didn’t get to that level of awareness until the last month or so, but when I did it changed a lot of things.  It led to an updating of my site which included the new landing page and a renewed focus on the email list.

Hosting – Squarespace vs. Blue Host 

Out of the gate, I choose Squarespace for my host provider.  I chose them completely from their awesome Super Bowl video with John Malkovich.  Score one for big time advertising.

I dig Squarespace so far, though.  The platform is easy to work with and I’ve gotten more adept with it over time.  It’s essentially a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) system so a technologically challenged guy like me can get more proficient over time.  Especially watching their videos which are very helpful.

It also allows me to focus on what I want to which is content, or in other words, writing. 

However, I didn’t know anything about the difference between Squarespace vs Blue Host.  After spending some time researching, its seems that most personal finance bloggers are using Blue Host.  They seem pretty comparable to a layman such as myself.

The only real difference I’ve noted is that if you want to do affiliate marketing Blue Host is the leader in the game.  Squarespace doesn’t offer any program for it.  I did some quick research and it looks like they had a program prior, but pulled it for some reason. 

I’m not to the point where monetizing a blog platform is going to make or break my decision, but it might be something a new blogger would want to take into consideration.

Define Your Audience

One of the lessons that took me a while to learn as a budding crime fiction writer was who my audience was.  I always thought, “I’m writing for me.  If others like it, that’s great.”  Except it’s not. 

When you don’t know who you’re writing for, you’re writing for no one.  They aren’t going to get your story or message.

In my case, I knew I wanted to reach two audiences:  those who want to aggressively save (their focus being on debt and/or retirement) as well as those who are interested in investing in real estate, especially commercial. 

Initially, splitting my audience put me at a disadvantage.  The frugal types see the commercial real estate message and think, “Bah! This isn’t what I want.”  The real estate types see the message of savings and think, “Bah!  I don’t want this.”

However, my message is that the normal person can buy commercial real estate but they’ll need to control their expenses while they do it.  In my life, real estate investing and frugality are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, I couldn’t have one without the other. 

Wanting to buy commercial real estate forced me to correct my poor financial decisions.  The desire to get out of the rat race continues to help me to make those frugal choices.  That message outside of my own world was slow to catch on. 

Just recently, the site picked up steam.  I think folks are getting the memo.

I believe that the narrower the message, the quicker the response to it.  I’m hoping that a slightly wider message will mean a longer-term audience, even if it is slower growth.

Have Content Ready When You Launch

I came out slowly, one article a week, believing that’s what I was supposed to do.  I initially had a list of over fifty different articles that I wanted to write, thinking it would take me through most of the year.

Then I read a post about a blogger who recommended having thirty articles ready when you launch.  I wish I had marked that article as I would link it here.  I think that’s awesome advice.   

Why is this important? 

Because you want people to stay on your sight and browse awhile.  It’s like a shopping center.  You want customers to see a movie, then have dinner, maybe do a little shopping and then get a coffee before going home.  The longer people stay at the shopping center, the more they will spend.  The same thing goes for a blog.  The longer someone stays engaged on your blog, they more likely they will be to read another article or become a loyal subscriber.

If you have only one or two articles (like I did), their options are limited.  Imagine going to a shopping mall with only two retailers open.  The others may get open soon, but that doesn’t help a shopper visiting today.  Opportunity lost.  Who knows if they will come back?

If you haven’t gone live with your blog, stop and take a deep breath.  Create a good solid library of articles before even turning the switch on. 

I’m trying to push out multiple articles a week to build a larger library.  I’m at roughly fifty articles now and going to keep the three articles per week pace until I get to seventy-five.  I will then reassess if I still need to kick out that many per week. 

Get a Logo

I started off with text as my logo.  I didn’t look bad, but it sure as hell wasn’t great. 

Then I played around making my own logo, but it always ended up rinky-dink.  If you’re not an expert, creating something that looks half-assed is worse than just going with text.  It screams rookie and, worse, temporary.  How many blogs flame out in their first six months?  A lot.  I’ve seen several fizzle out in the four months I’ve been working on mine.  Looking makeshift is the kiss of death.  Why would someone want to think about revisiting your site if they’re afraid you’re not going to be around?

Take the time to hire someone to design a logo for you.  I spent a couple hundred bucks and had the guys at BroGoLogo do mine.  The process was simple and easy.  Best of all, it looks professional and I have a brand that I can use on my website, social media platforms, and when commenting on other blog sites.

It’s worth the time and money to look like you’re in the game.

Focus on One Social Media Platform

This was something I learned from taking Millennial Money Man’s blogging course.  If you're thinking about starting a blog, do this!  Even if you have just started your blog, take the course.  It’s free and is loaded with great advice.

Initially, I tried to handle all the various social media platforms which I was doing poorly.  Finally, after heeding M$M’s advice, I focused on Twitter which I now love.  I’m tied to 140 characters and I work to get a concise message across.

The other platforms are sitting out there and I’ll get back to them at some point. 

Don’t Fall in Love with a Blog Post

I wrote an article, Why I Quit Golf, that I thought was going to kill it.  It was truthful, funny and had a little splash of personal finance perspective to boot.

I posted it, notified the Twitterverse of my new work and absolutely no one came to read it.  Well, not exactly no one – one person read it.  That’s it.  One darn person.  I won’t say I was crushed, but I was bemused (word of the day, FYI).  This was in the earlier days of my blog, but still – one reader?

I thought it was an interesting story and golfers would jump at it, thinking, “Why’d this guy stop playing?”  I was disappointed and second guessed myself.  It led to a lot of thinking about scrapping article ideas, where the blog was going, and if I was doing the right thing by even having a blog.

To say I had high expectations for this article would be fair.  When it under-performed my expectations, I was disillusioned.  I essentially created my own stress.

Don’t Give Up on a Blog Post

The same post, Why I Quit Golf, suddenly took off a couple weeks later.  Why?  Because a couple influential bloggers saw it on Twitter, read it and Tweeted about it.  Then others read it.

Just because a post fell flat on day one, doesn’t mean it will stay flat forever.

That’s the beauty of a blog.  Once the content is created, it’s out there.  If an audience misses it today, it doesn’t mean they will miss it tomorrow.  Keep sending out your old articles.  They will catch a reader. 

Blog Post Titles Matter

I wrote a review for It’s Called Work for a Reason, a book that has been out for more than a decade.  It’s been one of my most read articles.  I titled the post, I’m Going to Tell You Some Things That Might Hurt Your Feelings, a play on how rough the book was on my own feelings.  That post did fantastic. 

Another very popular blog post was Winning Through Intimidation, a review of a book with the same title.     

In looking back, I think I missed the mark with Why I Quit Golf.  The post title was very tame.  I should have punched it up.

I’ve read several articles recently that suggest adding “How” or “Why” to your post titles.  These suggest answers to questions that readers might be looking for.  Most of my posts have a “lessons learned” section, but you wouldn’t realize that by reading the title.  I’m starting to play with the titles more and will let you know how that comes out. 

My early posts were titled like essays or short stories.  They weren’t titled like blog posts, which is an entirely different art.  My mind has often been geared to picking the cool sounding title which is very crime fiction oriented.  However, “10 Ways to Save Money” will get more views than “Money Shadow” (which I have no idea what that means, but I thought it had a certain noir feel to it.)

It’s fair to say that I’m not a big fan of the “how” or “why” titles.  At a moment like this, though, I need to remind myself of the previous section on writing for your audience.

Guest Posts

Two of the more popular posts over the past four months weren’t written by me.  One was written by my girlfriend and the other was written by crime fiction author Frank Zafiro.

First, my girlfriend’s article was a review of a new book, How to be a Badass at Making Money.  The title of the post was Release Your Inner Badass to Make More Money which was provocative.  Also, I promoted the post on Twitter with book’s title and the author’s name.  For a while that post was the most popular article on my site, more than anything I’d written.  That was a bit humbling.

Frank’s post, Twenty and a Day, also took off.  His topic dealt with retirement and chasing your passion.  I believe part of that success was his subject, but there was also the opportunity for double promotion.  Frank was promoting his article on his social media accounts where he already has a loyal following.  On those days, I saw a notable spike in visits to the site and his article was the most read over that full week.  I didn’t see any new “crime fiction” followers jump on the Building-Income wagon, though.  Not to say they don’t check out the site but I didn’t notice them as Twitter followers or subscribers to the email account.

Guest posts are a great source for additional traffic and something I want to focus on more off.  I want to meet bloggers as well as writers outside the personal finance / real estate blogosphere and see if they’d be interested in writing for the site.  That’s a new goal for me moving forward. 

Email List

Okay, I’ve totally missed on this aspect.  I need to be more proactive developing an email list.

I’m sending updates every time I write a new article, but I haven’t really pursued this.  It is an area I need to spend more time on in the coming weeks and months.

I believe this is where the real power in the site will lie, so I need to start making this a focal point of the mission.

The Power of a Recommendation

On June 26th, I woke up to an email from J Money at Budgets are Sexy and Rockstar Finance.  The email alerted me that an article of mine was being featured on Rockstar Finance.  I jumped over immediately and checked it out.  Listed right after Mr. Money Mustache’s Great News:  Another Recession is Coming was my article, How Driving for Dollars Can Improve Your Wallet and Your Soul.

On that day alone, there were 1,799 page views at my site.  There had been 1,177 page views month to date.  With that one recommendation, the site traffic more than doubled for the month.

Since mid-February, the growth of the website has been slow but steady.  I’ve been working on the content of the blog trying to hone my writing and my message.  I figured each month’s growth was in the right direction so things were going well.

-        Feb – 181 page views
-        Mar – 622 page views
-        Apr – 1,120 page views
-        May – 1,804 page views
-        June – 4,401 page views

As you can see, there was a huge spike in June.

I never realized how powerful a single shout-out from a site like Rockstar Finance could be.  For the first time, I think I understand what an “influencer” is.

Money, Money, No Money?

I haven’t focused on monetizing the blog at this point.  I have joined the Amazon Associates program so I can highlight the books that I review.  There have been a couple book sales out of that process, but that’s it.  I’m not sweating it as monetizing hasn’t been my focus.

My entire concentration now has been on creating valuable and interesting content.  I think that’s more important. (07/28/17 - update - as you can see below - some advertising is now on the site

Looking Ahead

Okay, so that’s what I’ve learned so far.

What am I going to work on going forward?  One of the things I’ve enjoyed from The Savvy Couple is the fact that they list their goals when they provide a blogging update.  Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’m going to do just that.

Below are my goals for July … 

                                                     Goal                                       

Page Views                            5,000 / month           

Email Subscribers                  100

Twitter Subscribers               3,000

Guest Post on my site             1                     

Guest Post on other                1

Articles for July                      13

Okay, that’s not a lot of goals for the next month, but I’m still new to the process and want to make sure I’m not overwhelming myself. 

The page views for next month seems like a big stretch goal as this month's wild result was due to the shout out form Rockstar Finance.  However, I don’t want to step backward in my goals.  I’d rather stretch for the next goal than see it decrease.

Also, I am going to continue to provide a blogging update each month as I see a value in this process now.  It’s similar to writing the monthly property reports to my partners.  It’s a score card for how I’m doing and a way to track my progress.

There you go.   That’s a lot learned in four months and a few goals for my fifth month.

If you’re a fellow blogger and you have some advice for me, please feel free to chime in.  I'd really welcome the feedback.

If you’re a reader of the site who made your way through this article on blogging, I really appreciate it.  Let me know how I can make the site better for you moving forward.  Any feedback would be appreciated.