For some people, entrepreneurship is really about getting paid to do what you love. It’s about taking a passion and running with it.
For my guest today, Luke Landes, that’s exactly how he approached his blog and business, and it paid off very well. Luke started the website Consumerism Commentary over 10 years ago, so he’s a true veteran in the blogging community. His blog started as a hobby, and eventually turned into a valuable resource that allowed him to quit his regular job (when the site was earning three times what he earned at his job).
Some of the things we discussed in this interview include how Luke manages to still come up with topics to write about after 10+ years of blogging, and how someone can start a blog today in a competitive niche, and STILL be a big success.
Check it out (and remember to leave a comment at the end)!
Luke, I’m a big fan of Consumerism Commentary – not only do you have a massive amount of content related to personal finance, but it’s always nice to see a blog or website that has stood the test of time (in your case, over 10 years – a very long time on the internet).
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey. What’s your background like, and what led you to start Consumerism Commentary? Is this your full-time focus, or do have other businesses/projects that you work with?
After graduating college and living in the “real world” for some time, I started to notice my life wasn’t going well. I wasn’t earning much money in my job at a nonprofit organization, and what I was earning was going mostly to commuting costs and basic living expenses. I was getting deeper into debt as time went on, not because I was spending extravagantly, but because I was just trying to exist in that job without making other sacrifices. I was ignoring the warning signs of impending financial doom.
And then it got worse. I lost my job, girlfriend, and apartment, all within the span of a month or so. I needed to get myself on track. I started reading the discussion boards on The Motley Fool, learning about living within my means. I always knew that I had to be smart about money, but never put that into practice until this point.
As a long-time personal blogger, I decided to start a new blog to publicly track my finances, hold myself accountable for the decisions I was making on a daily basis, and learn more about managing my money like a responsible adult.
Consumerism Commentary is a full-time business. It has been almost since I started developing the site. For a long time, it was a full-time endeavor alongside a full-time day job, but I was able to quit my day job to focus solely on Consumerism Commentary and other related projects.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) with Consumerism Commentary?
I look at my success with Consumerism Commentary specifically through a few milestones. First, there was the moment at which I determined that the site could be much more than just a hobby. I enjoyed every minute of writing for and operating the site. The fact that I could do something I love and be paid for it — and possibly make a living — was a great revelation and a great vindication that people were actually interested in what I had to say and share.
When I saw that there was a business potential to the site — it did NOT begin as a business — I thought that once the site was generating more revenue than I was earning from my day job, I’d quit and build the business aspect of Consumerism Commentary full-time. That moment, when revenue was consistently more than my salary, was the biggest success.
But I didn’t quit yet.
I moved the goal — I decided to quit when the revenue from the blog was twice my day job revenue. I didn’t end up quitting my job to work on Consumerism Commentary full-time until it was earning three times my day job income. But I regret not making that change sooner.
My biggest success from a business perspective came later — when I sold the website. This was complete vindication that I had built something of significant value … more than just a website, more than just a hobby.
Success isn’t just about business, though. These days, I am most proud of The Plutus Awards, which have been a project alongside Consumerism Commentary. I am proud and passionate about working on projects that raise the profile of financial bloggers as a community. Each year, The Plutus Awards grows and improves. It may not be a business, but I think it can be influential in the financial community, even beyond people who consider themselves “bloggers.”
Even the most successful people stumble along the way. What do you consider to be your biggest failure in your journey as an entrepreneur, and what did you learn from it?
I haven’t always chosen the right partners. In the past, I’ve been very open and trusting when working with other people, and letting them into my “inner business sanctum.” I’ve been burned a few times by people I’ve trusted.
I’ve learned to take a more business-like approach to business relationships and I’m still learning to stop trying to please everyone I work with. It’s still important to me to be open and trusting, but when it comes to business relationships, I’m much more guarded now.
Writing on one blog for over 10 years is an impressive feat (and I know you’ve contributed to other sites as well during that time). How do you think you’ve been able to maintain such consistency? Don’t you ever run out of things to write about? (I’m sure the answer is no, but I’m curious to see what your approach to content generation is.)
Although I’ve been writing on Consumerism Commentary over ten years, I wouldn’t say that I’ve always been consistent. Being passionate about the topic is important. I didn’t start writing about personal finance because it seemed like a good way to make money. I didn’t start because I was an entrepreneur. I started because I was genuinely curious about personal finance and I had stories to share.
Passion waxes and wanes, though, and my writing has changed over the years. Mostly, it has changed in the same way a lot of blogging has changed — from short posts and links to outside sites with an internal (personal) focus, to longer articles, more or less helpful to the audience, with an external (audience) focus. And staying on top of writing (and technology) trends has kept it fresh for me.
I do run out of topics to write about. I go through periods where I don’t feel as inspired. But I find that reading a lot keeps the inspiration flowing and can kick-start something when I’m feeling stuck. “Content generation” sounds like articles that are churned out of a factory. I consider it “writing,” not “content generation.” And maybe that type of framing helps.
Things have certainly changed since you got into blogging, but what advice would you have for someone who just starting out creating a blog in a competitive niche (such as personal finance)? What do you wish someone would’ve told you about when you first started?
It’s no secret that there weren’t many — if any — “personal finance blogs” when I started writing Consumerism Commentary. As an early starter, I had some advantages. The tone I and some of my early colleagues set for “independent” online writing about money issues exists to this day.
These days, there are blogs for just about everything, but if you can etch your own niche, and communicate your passion about said niche, you can be an early leader. Otherwise, in an existing, competitive, niche, you have a mountain to climb. And if that’s what you want to do, you have to be prepared. You have to be more passionate, more dedicated, more talented, and more willing to work hard.
I’m talking about what it takes to be excellent. These days, you can be mediocre and still generate some limited success in a crowded niche like personal finance. But every year, new leaders emerge in the personal finance blogging scene, so it can be done without the advantage of an early start. You have to have something unique to offer and be able to communicate that almost perfectly.
I wish I received some more encouragement early on and had been told to trust my instincts. Today, new bloggers can find mentors and coaches who offer guidance. If I had taken advantage of help like that more than I did, I might have made some better decisions. Today, I’m a coach to bloggers who want to take their sites to the next level of success, so I’m trying to give back to the community as much as possible.
Taking a step back and looking generally at becoming an entrepreneur: If you had to take your best advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
I’m not a big fan of inspirational thoughts, even a less of a fan when they’re condensed. (grin)
That being said, here’s something you can use:
Combine a market need (invent it if you have to) with talent, passion, and hard work, and you’ll find success. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources?
I’m old-fashioned, as much as I can be for someone who came of age during the birth of the World Wide Web. My resources are Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Intuit Quicken, WordPress, Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Audition (for podcasts), and Google. I use Gmail for managing my communications, contacts, and calendars.
My philosophy when it comes to organization is Keep it Simple, so I don’t have a lot of tools outside of the basics. I’m not a big fan of the productivity movement in general, so I don’t buy into a lot of productivity-related products.
I read the news almost every day — online — by just visiting some of my favorite news sites. I gave up on news and blog aggregators like Google Reader a long time ago.
Finally, where can people find you online?
As I mentioned above, I’m currently offering coaching services for bloggers and other online entrepreneurs looking to become leaders. After creating and selling a multi-million dollar business, I’m in a great place to share my expertise and help guide people along a good path even if their goals aren’t quite as lofty. More info here: http://lukelandes.com/blog-coaching/
I continue to write for Consumerism Commentary.
I will be organizing the Fifth Annual Plutus Awards at this year’s FinCon Expo.
I can also be found on Twitter at @luke_landes and Facebook at http://facebook.com/flexo
Thanks for your time today, Luke!
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