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I never thought I’d say it, but blogging has legitimately changed my life. I started this site almost two years ago, and it’s crazy to look back on the incredible impact blogging has had on my life already.
FinanceSuperhero was originally started as a hobby and outlet for me to write about money in my spare time. When I first started blogging, I had very little idea how bloggers could actually earn money or build a following. A small part of me had the itch to see if I could one day make blogging profitable, but it was a pretty distant thought.
Two years later, I’ve managed to carve out a little section of the vast world wide web and make FinanceSuperhero a business that has helped hundreds of thousands of readers (I’m still in awe every time I write those words) improve the way they manage money. In the second half of 2017, my business earned nearly $9,000. And through the first two months of 2018, it has generated over $6,000.
If clicked here from Pinterest and are now considering starting a blog of your own and wondering if this is rare, I have to tell you that my story is not unique. In fact, I’ve made friends with many bloggers –some in the personal finance niche –who are earning far more with their blogs than I am. They put down a few dollars per month for web hosting just like I did, and the rest is history.
I recently interviewed one of those bloggers, Jeff Proctor, who along with his friend and business partner, Ben Huber, is absolutely crushing it. Jeff and Ben are the founders of VTX Capital, LLC, a business umbrella which controls three blogs: VTX Capital, Breaking the One Percent, and most recently, DollarSprout. Collectively, they are on pace to earn in the neighborhood of $150,000 in gross revenue in 2018 –and that’s being modest.
If you’re on the fence about blogging, a new blogger wondering how to start making money, or an established blogger looking for insight into how to grow your business, you need this interview. Jeff gets right down to the strategies that he and Ben are implementing to turn their growing business into a blogging empire.
Without further delay, here is the interview – enjoy!
Hey Jeff! Tell us a bit about VTX Capital, LLC and your three brands: VTX Capital, Breaking the One Percent, and DollarSprout. How did each blog come to fruition?
Of course! Thanks for having me on the blog today.
So, our first website, VTXCapital.com, started out as a membership site for investing oriented content. Basically, the plan was to write articles about different investment opportunities we liked, and then sell membership packages where customers would get trade recommendations straight to their inbox.
Well, after about a year of trying to make that business model work, Ben and I realized we were in way over our heads. We just couldn’t compete with the major banks and investments sites (with million dollar marketing budgets).
That’s when we decided to broaden our audience and expand our appeal. Instead of writing investing-only content that catered to a small few, we started writing about general personal finance topics. Saving money, getting out of debt, that sort of stuff.
Once we switched gears and started creating more content with a mass-appeal, things started to change quickly for us. We also decided to implement affiliate marketing as a way to monetize our blog, which ended up being a game changer for our business.
Related: Five Keys to Success for New Affiliate Marketers
When we consistently started bringing in a few thousand dollars a month from our blog, we had the itch to do what so many other personal finance bloggers end up doing: blogging about blogging.
The problem was (in our minds, at least), blogging and personal finance are two totally different topics! We didn’t feel comfortable writing about social media strategies and SEO on a blog that was meant to teach people about money.
So that’s when we started BreakingTheOnePercent.com. Its original purpose was to not be just blogging related, but cover many types of entrepreneurship. As time has gone on, Ben and I have accepted that BTOP is mainly going to be a blog about blogging.
At that point, we had two sites, VTX and BTOP.
But there was still a big problem…
We were having a major identity crisis with VTX. Our content had completely shifted from what we had originally set out to create, and the domain name vtxcapital.com honestly just didn’t make sense any more
We needed something more in line with what our blog had become. Something more brandable.
So, in October 2017, we launched DollarSprout.com. It is effectively a rebrand of VTXCapital.com, and it’s the main focus of our business going forward.
Articles like this one about making extra money just make way more sense on a site called DollarSprout than they do on a site called VTX Capital.
Using what we have learned from building up VTX and BTOP, we’ve been able to hit the ground running with DollarSprout!
I’ve followed you and Ben since the earlier days of VTX Capital, and the growth and transformation of your business model has been eye-opening. What were some of the biggest lessons you and Ben learned during the early days of running VTX Capital?
The biggest lesson we’ve learned is to consistently audit what’s working and what isn’t working.
I think early on, we had a romantic vision of what we wanted VTX to be, and we were ignoring what the market was telling us, which was essentially:
“Hey, no one is reading your stuff. And the ones that are, they’re never going to buy your product.”
Harsh, but true.
Our business didn’t start to finally take off until took an objective look at how things actually were, rather than how we wanted them to be. To be honest, that mistake cost us a year of wasted time.
To an outsider looking in like me, it appeared that Breaking the One Percent took off at a meteoric rate shortly after you launched it. Talk a bit about the strategies you implemented to grow this blog.
Well, when we started BTOP, we had plenty of knowledge that we wouldn’t have had without previous blogging experience. In a sense, it felt like we had a head start.
We had a pretty good understanding of how Pinterest works (which was a huge traffic driver for VTX), and we had fair amount of connections in the blogging world. We also had a much better idea of what kinds of content would work well for the “blogging about blogging” niche, which cut down on our trial and error time quite a bit.
Fast forward to the DollarSprout launch, and we’ve grown traffic there even faster than we did when we launched BTOP (despite a more difficult Pinterest environment compared to earlier times).
In a nutshell, gaining traffic quickly comes down to how 3 things:
- How good your content is (no shortcuts here)
- How big your potential audience is
- How effectively you can network and market yourself
Most bloggers start like this, with subpar content:
With the DollarSprout launch (and to an extent, the BTOP launch), we did something closer to this:
Add an aggressive group board strategy to this, and you will quickly get your name out there.
Many DollarSprout readers probably don’t realize that you walked away from a full-time career to focus on building your trio of blogs. What kind of response did you receive from friends and family when you made this decision? And what advice would you have for someone in a similar situation who may be looking to ditch their 9-5 to pursue entrepreneurial dreams?
I don’t think my parents will ever admit it, but I don’t think they were thrilled when I told them I quit my job. Even though I had saved up a year’s worth of living expenses, it still looked like a very risky move to them. And to be fair, it was.
In fact, I burned through that year of savings in about 9 months and had to go back and get a full time job! Not good.
For anyone in a similar situation looking to leave a full time job to pursue entrepreneurship, I would offer two pieces of advice (both of which, to my own peril, I ignored:
- Wait until you are at least making some income from your side hustle before you make the jump. As long as you can bear it, try to juggle both entrepreneurship and full time work.
- You’re going to spend money faster than you think you will.
In most circles, blogging is still a very misunderstood business. It’s not taught in schools, and you can’t major in blogging. Yet you obviously believe very much in blogging as a business model, as you’ve devoted significant time and business assets to teaching people how to blog for profit. Why is blogging so misunderstood and what do you wish average blog readers knew about blogging as a business?
Blogging is still so new and changing so rapidly that I don’t think we will see formal education programs for blogging anytime soon. By the time you get through a two or a four year program, everything you learned at the beginning would be old and outdated!
I think the biggest misconception about blogging as a business is just how competitive it is. It’s crazy, in a way; the barrier to entry is virtually non-existent (just a few bucks a month on hosting), but anyone who chooses to start is now competing on a global level.
You’re no longer just competing with the coffee shop on the street corner or the car wash around the block — you’re competing with every website on planet earth that does what you do. I really don’t think people get that.
That being said, you also have the opportunity to create a much larger impact (and income) than you might have with a local business, since now you have the entire world at your fingertips.
I also think people underestimate the amount of work that goes into blogging. If you want to start a blog that eventually replaces your full time income, you have to treat your blog as you would any other business.
Running VTX Capital, LLC, and your three blogs is more than a full-time endeavor. In fact, you and Ben recently brought on board a full-time team member, Megan, to handle the expanded workload. Describe that transition and the impact it has had on your business.
Having Megan around has been a huge asset to Ben and I, and I can’t wait until we are able bring on more people like her. One of our biggest goals when we first started our business was that we wanted to actually create jobs one day. We have never wanted to stay as just a two-man operation, so it’s been really neat to finally be able to expand a little.
It also helps that Megan had previous experience both in finance and blogging, so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time teaching her how our business works. She’s taken the lead on a lot of the content on DollarSprout (turns out, neither Ben nor I really enjoy writing or think we’re particularly good at it. Go figure), and she’s been a huge help in upping our email marketing game with BTOP.
Time management is a crucial element for bloggers to master, especially bloggers who run multiple blogs. What does a typical day/week look like behind the scenes at VTX Capital, LLC? How much time do you spend on writing, marketing, networking, team meetings, etc.? And how do you know when to delegate tasks vs. managing them yourself?
So, this is an area I really want to improve in. Right now I have zero work-life balance… outside of going to the gym a few times a week or the occasional family visit, all I do is work on the blog. Literally 7 days a week, as many hours as I can handle, I’m working.
(To be fair, if Tiger Woods is playing well in a golf tournament, you can count me out for getting anything done while he’s on TV.)
Other than that, I would estimate I take about 1 day off a month.
It’s probably not that healthy, and I don’t necessarily recommend it, but it is what it is. I really want to turn this business into something big, and the best time to do that is before real world obligations come into the picture for me (wife, family, etc).
Since my priorities fluctuate week to week, I’ll outline my best estimate of the time breakdown for the business as a whole:
- Writing: 18%
- Editing: 12%
- Networking: 9%
- Marketing (pin making, ad campaign building, etc): 15%
- Research/Studying: 12%
- Optimization (CRO, SEO, etc): 20%
- Community management: 3%
- Growth planning/brainstorming: 11%
As far as delegation, that is still something I am trying to figure out. I never want anyone, either Megan or a VA or any future employees, to feel like I am pawning tasks off on them. Obviously there is a lot of grunt work that needs to be done though, so it’s a balance.
One thing that has worked well so far is to keep a running list of tasks/projects/ideas I want to tackle that week and share that list with Megan on Monday mornings. From there, she can take on what she is most excited to work on, and we can be grown ups and decide together on who gets which grunt tasks that week.
In my small sample size (of 1, haha), I’ve found that this is a good way of keeping people engaged while at the same time reducing my own workload.
You are very transparent about the impact that Pinterest has had on the growth of your business, and your story is a great case study on the power of Pinterest marketing. You divulge many of the biggest lessons you learned about Pinterest in your course, “The Perfect Pin: How to Create Viral Pinterest Images.” What are most bloggers doing wrong today when it comes to pin design?
So, I’ll be the first one to admit that starting out on Pinterest today versus starting 5, or even 2, years ago is immensely more difficult. The landscape there has changed a lot and it’s much harder to build a following from scratch.
That being said, Pinterest is still the by far best traffic opportunity out there for many new (and experienced) bloggers. I would even argue that the vast majority of bloggers currently on Pinterest are leaving a substantial amount of free traffic on the table by having a few critical leaks in their strategy:
- Not being on enough high quality group boards
- Not having well designed, attention grabbing pins
The first issue can be solved through a few dozen hours of relentless effort to get on group boards, but the second problem is a bit harder to intuitively “fix”. So, as a (straight) guy who got pretty dang good at making pins, I decided to put together a short course on my process.
It’s $47, but we usually offer a sale every couple of months to our email list. The course walks though our general Pinterest strategy, but then I go into all the ins and outs on pin design, and what’s worked best for bringing us consistent blog traffic.
I would say, if you are getting less than 1,000 page views a day from Pinterest, you can really benefit from the course.
Editor’s note: It’s no secret that I ignored Pinterest for the first year after launching FinanceSuperhero. Once I got started and truly learned Pinterest –mostly through trial and error, by the way –my traffic skyrocketed. There are lots of Pinterest courses out there, and most of them are really good. But The Perfect Pin is an incredible course at a price that can’t be beaten. If you follow Jeff’s advice, you’ll earn back your $47 in a month or less. Get it here.
You’ve written in the past about your vision for expanding your brand into a larger media company, similar to the path taken by Kyle Taylor with The Penny Hoarder. How do you balance your ambition with the knowledge that building an online media business requires you to focus on the long game?
I think having a long term vision for the business has been a huge determining factor in our success so far. If I didn’t have that vision, I think I would given up after running out of savings on my first try.
I also think that just remembering how big the internet really is, is very motivating for me.
In the world of Pinterest bloggers, it seems to be that the pinnacle for “traffic success” is somewhere around 100,000 page views a month. So many bloggers who blog about blogging (us included) tout 100,000 – 300,000 page views as a benchmark of sorts for success. And it’s definitely a big accomplishment to get to that point.
Yet, when you start studying people outside of the Pinterest universe, you realize just how high the ceiling goes. For instance, you mention Kyle Taylor and The Penny Hoarder. Right now they get between 15 and 20 MILLION page views a month.
Yes, they started early. Yes, they have a huge staff. Yes, they have a massive marketing budget.
But at the end of the day, they’re a team of people just like us. They wake up and go to work, just like we do.
To me, seeing the mega superstars, studying them, and understanding the true scale of the internet helps me focus on the long term more than anything else does.
Talk about your plans for DollarSprout, VTX Capital, and Breaking the One Percent over the next 6-12 months. What can readers and followers expect from your team?
SEO, SEO, SEO 🙂
Editor’s Note: That’s search-engine optimization, in case you didn’t know. 🙂
Even though I can solely credit Pinterest with the reason I didn’t give up on this business, the reality is that Pinterest is becoming more crowded and more competitive than ever. As we’ve seen with Facebook, I suspect organic reach will slowly start to decline as Pinterest transitions to more of a “pay to play” model. It might not happen right away, but I am sure that it’s coming.
Google is unique though, in two ways:
- People are actively searching for what you’re writing about. That attention is much more valuable than capturing someone as they mindlessly scroll through a social feed.
- As far as anyone knows, there will always be 10 search results on Page 1. They’ve never throttled that number down. Although the competition on Google is far greater than social, I think it’s smart for us to focus there, rather than on a social platform that limits organic reach more and more every day.
We’ve been doing a lot of work (both on-site and off-site) to give DollarSprout the best shot at ranking well in Google once the domain is more established. It’s a long, slow process, but it will pay off eventually. That’s the hope, at least.
For BTOP, there will be a stronger focus on email marketing and course creation going forward. We aren’t as focused on SEO there.
As for the final fate of VTXCapital.com, that is still to be determined! The site still brings in consistent traffic with minimal effort, so we are in no rush to throw that away just yet. I think at some point we may repurpose it into more of a regular website (rather than a pure blog) that features the different websites we own or eventually acquire.
Thanks, Jeff. This has been unbelievably informative. Where can we go to learn more about your business?
If you want personal finance stuff, go here:
DollarSprout.com: Facebook Pinterest Twitter
If you want blogging stuff, go here:
BreakingTheOnePercent.com Facebook Group Pinterest
Well folks, there you have it: 3,300+ words of straight-up golden advice for bloggers of all levels.
I hope this interview helps you in your own blogging journey –-in fact, I challenge you to pause now before you close your browser, scroll back through the interview one time, and write down three takeaways that can help you build your blog this week.
And if you’re looking for more tips to take your blog to the next level, check out these posts:
Five Keys to Affiliate Marketing Success
How to Start a Blog and Actually Get Traffic