People often like to play up the importance of “luck” or being in the “right place at the right time,” when in reality, we all know what drives success: work ethic. Hard work may not guarantee success, but it virtually eliminates the chances that you will fail forever (assuming you don’t give up).
Today’s guest, Catherine Alford (Cat), is a prime example of this. She does what a lot of people do (freelance writing and blogging) in a niche that is saturated with writers (personal finance), yet she recognized early on that she could push through these barriers simply by working harder than other people (and not being afraid of rejection).
In this interview, Cat talks about how she got into blogging, the challenges she overcame, and how she managed to get published by The Huffington Post. As you’ll find out, there was no magic at work here: she was persistent, worked extremely hard, and it ultimately paid off.
If you’ve been feeling like you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, this interview will give you the much needed motivation to put in some hard work.
Cat, I really enjoy what I’ve read on your site, Budget Blonde. I’m always interested in good budgeting and personal finance tips, but I also like how you mix in some personal stories on topics like parenthood and entrepreneurship. Tell us a bit about your background and journey. How did you get started as a blogger? In addition to your blog, what other activities contribute to your online income?
Thanks so much! I started blogging more than 4 years ago. I was in graduate school and on a pretty extreme budget. I was only making around $15K a year with my graduate school stipend and so I was always online reading blogs, mostly DIY blogs because I enjoy decorating and crafts.
After graduate school and working for a year, my husband and I had the opportunity to move out of the country to the Caribbean. That brought on a whole new challenge, and that was when I really started making an income from my online ventures. I have multiple streams of income from the blog. A large portion of it comes from freelance writing, and I’m comfortable with that because it’s steady and always there.
Seriously, the opportunities are endless. I also make a big chunk from affiliate advertising. I’m careful with what I choose to promote but I always make sure it’s awesome stuff. I also make some other advertising money here and there. All in all, it’s enough to sustain my lifestyle, and I’m so grateful for that!
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog?
I just consider things to be a success when I get e-mails from people that something I wrote helped them or changed their mindset. I felt really great when I got published on the Huffington Post. That was probably my best moment as a blogger the past 4 years and just last week something I wrote went insanely viral with something like 205,000+ likes and almost 40,000 shares.
I just sat at my computer watching the numbers double and triple on the post feeling all bashful and grateful and such. Those are the moments that make blogging worth it – not the money it generates but the people it helps, although when I was finally able to go full time with my blogging in January, that was probably one of my biggest successful moments too.
When you first started as a blogger, what did you struggle with most? How did you overcome it?
That’s a good question, and it’s been a long time since the early days. Most people might not believe me but I did struggle with being in the wrong online community at first. I was trying to interact with more DIY/design/mommy bloggers at first who I thought were like me because they were frugal and grabbed furniture out the trash, etc. But, I went to a conference for that and I felt really awkward and out of place — like went back to my hotel room and cried out of place.
There was a whole session at the conference on how to decorate a mantle and I just kind of looked around and realized I was not fitting in. It took a while, but once I moved over to more frugal/personal finance blogging vs. frugal/DIY blogging, things started to fall into place, everything clicked naturally with the community, and I finally started making money.
In general, I know that the personal finance niche is incredibly competitive. What have been the primary ways you’ve been able to stand out and grow your blog’s traffic?
Honestly, everyone always says that about the PF niche but I hardly think about it! I just enjoy what I do. I know there are bloggers who check their traffic every single day and that’s just not me. I’ve become successful purely by doing my own thing, being honest, and even sharing how I make money.
I’ve written post after post about how other people can become freelance writers like me. I’m very appreciative of good writing and am a firm believer that lots and lots of people are great writers and have great things to say. I point my clients to other writers if I think they are a better fit, and I don’t view other bloggers as “competitors” but more as colleagues and friends.
The PF niche is a great family if only you allow it to be. Be friendly and others will be friendly back and don’t worry about the numbers. Even blogs with small traffic footprints can make money with the right approach.
As a freelance writer, I know you’ve been featured on some incredibly popular blogs such as The Huffington Post. How have you been able to land these opportunities? You’re obviously a great writer, but what advice can you offer to others who write well yet don’t know how to get themselves “out there”?
I land these opportunities first by working incredibly hard and by that I mean that I’ve sent out hundreds and hundreds of e-mails to try to land these types of opportunities and jobs. I tell people all the time you’ve just got to be willing to put in the time. I enjoy writing and it’s my passion, but there are plenty of writers out there who are better than I am. They just might not have the same work ethic.
You can be a literary genius, but if you just sit on your computer writing to yourself, no one will ever read it. Make a list of places you want to be published and go crazy sending pitches. People are going to ignore you. I get ignored all the time. Sometimes they write back and say no thanks and sometimes they write back and say hey, guess what, we just published you on the Huffington Post.
In 4 years, no one has ever e-mailed me and said, “Are you insane? Your writing sucks! We would never publish that!” and so since I’m mostly being ignored and not insulted, I just keep at it until something finally clicks. If anyone wants some tips, I wrote a huge post on how to get published on the Huffington Post on my friend Carrie’s blog here. I also wrote about the truth about side hustling namely rejection, pushing through, and how I organize my writing clients here.
Looking generally at becoming a successful blogger: If you had to take your best advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
Be kind and generous to other bloggers and you’ll be surprised at how successful you can be. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources as a blogger?
I use Idpinthat.com for pictures because you don’t have to link back, which is great. I use Bloglovin’ to keep track of comments, which I always need to improve on. I use FreshBooks for my invoicing. It’s expensive, but it’s so pretty and intuitive and makes my invoices hot pink so I keep them. 😉
I go pretty old school with my editorial calendars and use Excel but it’s possible I will explore other options in the future. I am also obsessed with Instagram and think it’s a very underutilized tool in the blogging world but I mostly use it to show the world my adorable twins: http://instagram.com/budgetblonde
Finally, where can people find you online?
You can find me at all of these places:
Thanks a lot Cat!
What did you think of this interview with Cat? Have you been able to overcome obstacles (such as competitive niche) simply by working hard and not giving up? Leave a comment below!
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