Next on our list of success stories is Robert Farrington, who owns The College Investor, among other sites. He knows how to start a blog, how to build community, and how to monetize. Unlike some of our past interviews, he's making some money online. He hasn't yet left his day job to venture into the wild world of blogging full time, which makes his story that much more powerful. He's proof that you can do this in your spare time, and turn a profit!
What's your elevator pitch?
I help young adults and millennials figure out their finances – from getting out of student loan debt to starting to invest in their futures.
When did you start blogging? What made you start?
I started The College Investor in September 2009. I started the site because, frankly, I was bored. I was looking for a hobby and I had a few passions – money, investing, and computers. Through my boredom, I discovered a guy who was talking about building websites and blogs and how easy it was. Late one night, I decided to give it a shot, and I built the first version of The College Investor. Looking back, it was pretty sad, but hey, I was online and writing about things I cared about. You can read more about this story here.
How long before you made your first dollar? Do you remember what it felt like when that first payment went through?
I didn't make my first dollar until 2011 – about a year and half after I started the site. My first dollar came from putting AdSense and some affiliate links on the site and my first month I made a whopping $25.71. So, as for that first payment, it took about 6 more months because you had to reach a $100 minimum before you could actually get paid. But it felt amazing when the check finally came!
How many blogs do you have? Did your first idea “stick” or is your current site some different version of your original idea?
I now have six different blogs and websites. However, my main ones are The College Investor and Beat The Nine To Five. I consider The College Investor my main business now and Beat The Nine To Five more a personal site. The College Investor is very much based on my original idea, except that it's much more polished and I have a much better sense of what content resonates with my audience.
When I first started, I was all over the place. I would write a little about saving money, some about spending, another article about a random site, etc. Now I stick to a very clear content calendar that is planned out quarterly and big themes that are planned for the entire year. I try to make sure that all articles relate back to the key theme: Helping millennials get out of student loan debt and start investing in their future.
What are you working on now?
I'm continuing to take the business of blogging to the next level. Last year I launched my first course, which started with a bang and then died out a bit. I'm working on relaunching the next version of that initial course, and I'm also developing a second program that I think will target my audience a bit better. I'm also working on converting some of my content into different forms, and possibly publishing them as eBooks or other courses.
Do you make a part-time living online? A full-time living?
Right now I'm making a part-time living online. If I wanted to make different life choices, I could probably go full time online, but I'm really using my online income to help take my own financial situation to the next level. So, it's still a supplement to the day job income.
Can you break down your income into categories? What percentage do you make on your site?
I want to be as transparent as possible with my online ventures, so you can see a full breakdown of everything I do online here.
My main income categories are advertising sales, affiliate sales, product sales, and freelance writing.
If you look at my last income report, you'll see I made about 50% of my income from my websites, 30% from investments (which I write about), and 20% from freelance writing.
What other ways have you made money? Writing for others, organizing for others, etc?
Right now, beyond my sites, I make a good sum of money freelance writing for some major publications like Forbes. I also write for a major corporation for their blog.
In the past, I ran a writing service where I turned out short blog articles for other bloggers. This was earning me upwards of $1,000 per month, but the time needed became too much and I dropped it for other ventures.
How long before you started taking “this whole blogging thing” seriously?
I didn't really start taking this whole blogging thing seriously until about mid-2012. It was at that point when I started having some really good months online and I was realizing that this could become a viable business. However, one of the things that is really important to me is that my business becomes sustainable from income from products and services versus advertising. I really don't want to always be dependent on others for income. By selling my own stuff, I have more control.
I also started going to conferences, like FinCon, where I was able to network with other amazing people who motivated and inspired me. That was really an important moment for me.
If you had it all to do over again, what would you change? Anything?
If I had to do it over again, I would do a couple things differently. First, I would create a launch strategy for my website. I didn't do this for The College Investor, and it took years for me to get traffic. With my latest site, I developed a clear launch strategy and had 1,000 visitors to the site on the first day it went live. I would also focus more on clear content that was meaty and helpful for my audience.
For a long time, I was writing for myself. It wasn't until 2012 or so when I realized that I needed to write for my audience and really help them. That's one of the key things that made a difference.
Finally, I would network with more people sooner. The Internet could be a lonely place, but there are so many people out there willing to talk to you and help if you just ask. Don't go it alone, build some relationships!
Do you have any advice for someone just getting started?
Develop a clear launch strategy. Build relationships with others online. Write useful content for your audience.
There are a variety of ways bloggers can monetize. Which do you recommend? Which would you advise beginners to stay away from?
There's no right or wrong answer for this one. Each blogger should monetize in a way they feel comfortable, and it's really based on your site, your purpose, and how you're doing things.
For example, on The College Investor, I consider it more of a business and magazine. So, sponsored articles, sidebar advertising, and affiliate links all work. It's not surprising to readers (in fact, most expect it). For other sites, I stick to just affiliate ads – and only on products I recommend.
The big thing is to feel comfortable with whatever you choose. With that, though, don't be afraid to make money. You're putting in work – writing, paying for hosting, etc – and you should be compensated for it.
Name one thing bloggers do when they're beginners that you feel they shouldn't do.
They go it alone too long and don't build relationships. Just like business is build on relationships, online blogs are built on relationships. Look at every “big name” blogger – they all have relationships with other big name bloggers. Why is that? Because it makes sense for their business, but they also help each other along the way.
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