It’s extremely common for bloggers to select a popular niche and dig right into it. The good bloggers will find a way to bring out their unique voices and perspectives, but there typically isn’t a lot of real innovation.
But to take a very popular and saturated niche – like personal finance – and carve out your own sub-niche that you can dominate (almost completely), is a completely different story. It also serves as a great lesson that even something like blogging can still be open to innovation.
Today’s interview features James M. Dahle, MD, an emergency physician. As a CPA who has worked with doctors before (as clients), I’ve seen how many people in the medical profession often don’t understand (or don’t care to understand) personal finance, which leaves them open to less-than-noble individuals who can take advantage of them. And that’s why James created his blog – to help other doctors better understand personal finance.
As you’ll read in this interview, James has found a way to really make a name for himself (and his blog) by providing information that generally wasn’t available before (to doctors) – or at least, not with the same depth that James offers. He also explains what types of monetization work well for his blog, and gives some advice on how other bloggers may be able to find similar success.
Enough from me – let’s get to the interview.
Jim, I’m honestly blown away by the depth of information that you’ve written/published on your blog, The White Coat Investor. As a CPA, soon to be married to a pharmacist, I can definitely understand the knowledge gap that often exists with medical professionals and their personal finances. You’re doing a great a service to your industry, as well as many others who aren’t in medicine – but I’m sure you know that.
Tell us a bit about your background and the origins of The White Coat Investor. How did an emergency physician become interested in blogging about personal finance?
The short answer is that I got ripped off one time too many. The long answer is that my story is pretty typical of most doctors. First I was ripped off by a “friend” who sold me a tiny whole life policy instead of the big 30 year level term policy I needed. Then I was ripped off by a realtor (also a “friend”) who not only encouraged us to spend too much on a house she knew we’d have trouble selling, but encouraged us to buy a house when we should have rented.
Then, a mortgage refinancer tried to rip me off by sneaking in a prepayment penalty when he knew we would be selling the house we never should have bought within a year or two. Finally, a financial adviser put me into loaded mutual funds after telling me I would be paying him via a flat fee for his advice.
At that point, I was so mad that I decided I either needed to learn about personal finance and investing myself, or my life would be one long story of being the sucker for financial professionals. I started reading like mad and eventually met many of the few “good guys” in the industry. After a few years, I realized that nobody was teaching any of this to doctors, either formally in school, or informally via a blog or website. Voila, The White Coat Investor (http://whitecoatinvestor.com) was born.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog?
The blog serves two functions for me. First, and most importantly, it fulfills its mission of educating medical and other high-income professionals about personal finance and investing, helping them get a “fair shake” on Wall Street.
Second, it feeds my entrepreneurial spirit. It’s been for-profit from the beginning (although like most bloggers, I blogged for free that first year.) So I measure success in two ways – how many people am I reaching and how much money am I making. So the big successes are when my readership spikes and when my income spikes.
My readership has grown gradually over 3 years, with occasional spikes when the blog is mentioned on CNN or other websites with higher traffic than mine. Financially, the biggest success for me was when I really started selling privately placed ads instead of relying on Google Adsense and affiliate agreements like Amazon. It turns out that doctors’ eyeballs are worth a lot more to a few limited businesses than they are to Google – primarily financial advisors, mortgage lenders, and insurance agents.
The best thing about selling ads to these guys is it furthers my mission by getting docs in touch with financial professionals who are actually good for them. That’s a win-win in my book. So every time I bring on a new advertiser, I see that as a big success. The biggest success, however, was publishing my first book. Not only am I reaching lots more docs, but I’m making more money.
While quality content speaks for itself, it usually isn’t enough to stand out online, especially in such a crowded niche like personal finance. You’ve obviously carved out a sub-niche (in that you focus on those in medicine), but how did you go about building your audience, at least, initially?
A blogger has two options – he can be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond. I went for the second option. Doctors blogging about finance for other doctors is a tiny niche, but I own it. I basically know everyone in the field, both on and off-line, via email, phone, or personal meetings.
There were a few others in my niche when I first started (and an occasional competitor starts up), but I ran them all out of business mostly because I work harder. It wasn’t malicious, in fact I usually sent my readers to their blog to help them out. But after a while they just realized they were way behind me and weren’t likely to catch up. It’s tricky to find a niche where you’re an expert, that monetizes well, AND that is relatively empty. Perhaps I just got lucky.
Monetization is something I like to focus on, because I think it’s in an interesting aspect of any blog, and something that most bloggers will eventually pay attention to (assuming they can build a large enough audience). What has been the most and least effective types of monetization for The White Coat Investor (between private ads, Google AdSense, affiliate links, and anything else you may be using)?
As mentioned above, Private Ads happen to work very well in my niche. I keep charging more each time I renew, and the advertisers keep paying it. I’ve got a waiting list (which means I’m still not charging enough.) I still get some income from Adsense and Amazon, but most of my advertising revenue is from Private Ads.
The last few months since I published my book, The White Coat Investor, my royalties have been larger than my advertising, speaking, and writing income combined however. That’s probably where I ought to be focusing my efforts at this point (i.e. writing a second book.)
For someone who is just starting out creating a blog (or even more challenging, a blog in the personal finance niche), what advice would you offer? What do you wish someone told you about when you first started?
I received lots of advice both directly and indirectly. I think the most important advice I got was to realize that the hardest part of blogging is sticking with it since almost no one gets much success in their first year. You have to be writing about something you feel very passionate about or you’ll run out of stuff to say in a lot less than a year.
Another thing it took me years to learn was that blogging is 10% writing and 90% marketing. Most bloggers have that reversed. Finally, the time commitment required to do this well should not be underestimated. I surely did.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote (either from someone else or one that you came up with)?
I don’t know that I have a favorite. I like this one from William Bernstein:
You are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the financial services industry….If you act on the assumption that every broker, insurance salesman…and financial advisor you encounter is a hardened criminal, you will do just fine.
But that’s a little long for a tweet. Perhaps a better one to tweet will be this expression of my own-
If you’re having trouble living on $200,000 you have a spending problem not an earning problem. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources as a blogger?
For personal finance writing, I like Mike Piper’s blog at
and Harry Sit’s blog at:
The Bogleheads forum should also be well-known by every personal finance blogger:
Finally, where can people find you online?
The easiest way to find me is on my website at http://whitecoatinvestor.com. I read every comment. I can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet from @WCInvestor. I also have a Facebook page, but I confess I’m not a very good Facebooker either professionally or personally.
You can find my book on Amazon and Kindle (still #1 in its category after 4 months) here: The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing.
Thanks so much for your time today, James.
What do you think about the sub-niche that James was able to carve out and dominate? Have you done something similar? Leave a comment below!
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