People often 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, is a prime example of this. Cat, as she likes to be called, 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 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, she 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.
Thanks so much!
How did you get started as a blogger? What other activities contribute to your online income?
I started blogging more than four years ago. I was in graduate school and on a pretty extreme budget. I was making only around $15,000 a year with my graduate school stipend, so I was always reading blogs, mostly DIY blogs because I enjoy decorating and crafts.
After I finished graduate school and worked for a year, my husband and I had the opportunity to move 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.
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 has been your greatest success so far with your blog?
I just consider things to be a success when I get emails from people for whom something I wrote helped or changed their mindset. I felt great when I got published on The Huffington Post. That was probably my best moment as a blogger the past few years, and just last week something I wrote went 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. 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. 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. I thought they 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 mantel, 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 versus frugal/DIY blogging, things started to fall into place. Everything clicked naturally with the community, and I finally started making money.
In general, the personal finance niche is incredibly competitive. What have been the primary ways you’ve been able to stand out and grow your traffic?
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 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.
You’ve been featured on popular sites such as The Huffington Post. How have you landed those 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 hard — by that I mean I’ve sent out hundreds of emails to try to land those types of opportunities and jobs. I tell people all the time you’ve 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 four years, no one has ever emailed 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. I also wrote about the truth about side hustling — namely rejection, pushing through, and how I organize my writing clients.
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.
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.
- Bloglovin’ helps me keep track of comments.
- 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’m also obsessed with Instagram and think it’s a very underused tool in the blogging world — but I mostly use it to show the world my adorable twins.