Time and time again, we read advice about how “being unique” and finding a way to stand out is the path to success as an entrepreneur, especially online. Today we have another story that underscores this point further.
Ashley Barnett does a mix of things: She runs a personal finance blog, manages a landscaping company remotely, and has written and published a Kindle ebook.
In this interview, she talks about some of the challenges she’s overcome, and explains how she manages to stand out with her blog by being unique (and explains what that means to her).
Ashley, I really enjoy the content you’ve written on your blog, Money Talks Coaching, and I’d like to learn more about what you do. How did you get into blogging?
Personal finance is something I’ve been interested in since I was a teenager. As a teen, I was surprised at how difficult it was to get good financial information. It didn’t seem like the adults in my life knew any more than I did. “How much should I be saving?” “How do I make a budget?” “What’s the best way to save for retirement?” No one could even tell me where to start.
So, I went down to the library and read every book they had on personal finance. Which pretty much made me an expert in my little circle. I liked that; I felt like I had some secret knowledge. It’s not secret, but you just have to go out of your way to find it.
I started blogging in 2008, about 10 minutes after I realized that people were out there writing about personal finance. I stumbled across a personal finance blog and was so excited I quickly jumped in with both feet. I’ve learned so much. If my blog has given the world half of what it’s given me I’d consider it a success. Blogging has really changed my life.
Right now my main job is doing office management for a landscaping company. Bookkeeping, marketing, customer service, etc. I get to work from home, which gives me a ton of freedom. I also do the bookkeeping for another small business in my area.
What do you consider to be your greatest success so far with your blog?
Getting picked up by major media is always fun and sure does make you feel like a success. But really I think the true success is when you can make a difference in someone’s life.
Unfortunately those moments aren’t flashy, and quite often you don’t even know they happened. I’m most touched, and most inspired to keep going, when someone says they started a budget or started paying off debt because of something I wrote.
I have a friend who has been struggling with finances for years. It was a chaotic mess. She’s been working for over a year now to get it straightened out and says I’ve helped her a lot to get things organized. It was her hard work and sacrifice, for sure, but to think that I played a part in her transformation is amazing. That’s where the real successes are in life.
What has been your greatest challenge that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today, and what did you learn from it?
From a blogging standpoint, my greatest challenge has been confidence. I was so nervous and shy for the first year. I didn’t promote my stuff. If someone linked to me, I felt like they were just doing it to be nice. I couldn’t take a compliment and was quick to assume an insult.
I’ve gotten over it. I’ve realized that people don’t care what you do. Just do your thing. The world will not implode. There isn’t anyone looking over your shoulder making notes on a clipboard. It’s hard to remember that when you are first starting out. You feel like every word you write is going to be on the news the next day. It’s not.
On a personal level, the most challenging time was last summer after my dad died. His estate was a mess. To make a long story short, he had a lot of debt that no one knew about. It ended up being about $2 million. He had a nice lifestyle and no one, not even his wife, knew the whole story.
I ended up running his landscaping company from 1,000 miles away with no training.
I had a lot of people depending on me, yet I had no clue what I was doing. I learned to trust myself and my decision-making abilities. My financial background came in handy as I was trying to figure out what to do with his estate and businesses. I didn’t have time to overthink any decisions. I just had to go with that I felt was right and deal with the results. I didn’t do everything perfectly, but I think I pulled it off as best as humanly possible.
That experience pushed me more into business finances than I had been in before. I’ve always focused on personal finances, but after seeing how messy my dad’s books were and having the experience of cleaning them up, I now feel confident that I can help others. His business wasn’t able to reach its full potential because he wasn’t able to make good, numbers-based decisions.
Now with clean books, we can look up a department, or advertising source, or even a particular customer, and see if we are making money. It helps us make better decisions and therefore make more money.
What was your experience like with writing a Kindle ebook? Do you plan to write any more?
I had fun writing The “B” Word (affiliate link). It’s basically a really long blog post. I wrote it slowly over time with no rush. I think the most important part is just staying organized.
I don’t plan to write any more books. I would like to add more to The “B” Word and have it go beyond budgeting to include debt reduction and saving for retirement. But I don’t know when I’ll get to that.
Blogging in the personal finance niche can be difficult, given how competitive and saturated the niche is. What have you done to help your blog stand out and build an audience?
I’ve had friends start blogs both in and out of the personal finance niche, and I always tell them the same thing:
You aren’t going to write anything that’s not already online somewhere. But your readers don’t come because you have facts that no one else has; they come because they want those facts from you. So be yourself. Tell personal stories. Be vulnerable and admit when you make mistakes. Have fun!
That’s what I try to do. Let’s be honest: I’m not going to give you a budgeting tip that hasn’t been said 1,000 times before. No one is. It has all been said. But maybe I’ll say it in a way that makes you laugh. Or my personal story will speak a truth to you that makes you think of your money in a different way. Maybe our kids are the same age, and you can relate to the lessons they are learning — and perhaps they spark a conversation with your own kids.
I guess to simply answer your question … I just be myself. It’s the only unique thing about me.