Today on The Daily Interview, we’re featuring Crystal Stemberger, blogger at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff.
Crystal has been blogging for four years, covering all kinds of personal finance topics with her own personal spin.
Having left their “regular” jobs behind, she and her husband now both work full time with their online business, earning more than they ever had before.
Let’s take a closer look at Crystal’s journey…
(As always, questions from The Daily Interview are in bold.)
Crystal, I love the personality and flavor you add to personal finance and budgeting on your blog Budgeting in the Fun Stuff (BFS). Tell us about yourself and your journey.
How did you get into blogging, and what impact has it had on your life? I can also see you’re involved with a variety of different projects within your business – what projects/services are you most focused on right now?
In late 2009, I was working a dead-end cubicle position for a car dealership software company. It was not a good year for car dealerships, so work was very light. They told us to “look busy” during the dead hours of the day. That’s when I found personal finance blogs – a whole world of people that like talking about managing their own money. I found my own little slice of heaven!
By February 2010, I took the leap and started my own site, BFS. My entire world has changed.
Thanks to blogging and my blog ad management business, I’ve been self-employed for 2.5 years, we moved into our forever home, paid off our first home/rental property, and have different hobbies that include more travel.
I finally even have the time to volunteer consistently – I’m a Big Sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and love hanging out with my Little Bro’ every week. 🙂
What has been your greatest success so far with your online business?
Honestly, I consider it my greatest success that I can still afford to be self-employed 2.5 years later. And that my husband has been able to join me full time since January 2012.
I always worried that I would take the leap and fail majestically. Instead, I was able to grow my business by leaps and bounds in its very first year and expand from there. I had 10 clients in April 2011, 100 by December 2011, and have more than 400+ blog sites in my client ranks now.
My husband and I went from bringing in about $80,000 a year before taxes combined to more than $120,000 annually. Our taxes and expenses have increased, but I would take self-employment over a commute any day. 🙂
Even the most successful people stumble along the way. What do you consider to be your biggest failure with respect to your blog or other aspects of your online business, and what did you learn from it?
I freaked out a little in April 2012 when Google smacked down a ton of bloggers and blog advertisers. Business got cut in half overnight.
But it wasn’t the end of my business or my blog.
My husband and I just kept doing what we do the best way we could and everything has worked out so far. We learned that we love having a well-padded emergency fund. We also learned that staying on top of our business kept our reputation solid and that keeps our business alive.
My second issue has been that my blog’s traffic got hit pretty bad in late 2013. I’m in the midst of trying to build it back up through guest posting like crazy. As long as I have my regulars and my awesome commenters though, I’ll keep blogging whether I get back my search engine traffic or not. 🙂
As I look through BFS, I can see you have LOTS of different ways that you’ve monetized the site, including eBooks, advertising, affiliate links, services you provide, and more.
I’m sure you’ve tested and optimized different forms of monetization – what has worked the best for you? What’s been the most disappointing?
My ad management business has been the greatest success – it’s a solid 75% of our income. Based on the other self-employed bloggers that I know, online services simply seem to offer the best return.
Direct ads on BFS have been the second most successful – that brings in about 10% of my income from just my main site and another 5-10% from some co-owned sites.
Freelance writing comes in third. My eBooks come in fourth.
And affiliate advertising comes in dead last. I just don’t have the magic touch with affiliates…I envy Pat Flynn but know that he works his butt off to create the passive income sources that he ends up having.
It sounds like you have a nice variety of income sources, even if one does make up a substantial amount of your income. Can you tell us a bit more about your ad management business? What type of service is it that you offer, and how did you get into doing it?
I started managing the advertising for others in April 2011 when one of my blogging buddies pointed out that I loved negotiating and she hated it. So she suggested that I do it for her for a nice commission. After a week or two, other bloggers signed up too. Within a month, I had 10 bloggers as clients. Now my husband and I have more than 400 blogs signed up.
We offer a full service business for bloggers looking to accept direct ads that are paid for on a set term basis. We answer all of their advertising emails, we handle the emails back and forth for negotiations, we manage group deals and try to get as many of our clients included as possible, and then we simply send our bloggers the deals for placement.
We operate 100% on commission, so we only get paid when our clients do…that seems to be exactly what everyone is looking for. They know we are truly motivated, and we know that we can do well as long as we keep negotiating solid deals from the perspectives of our bloggers and our advertising contacts. 🙂
Let’s take a step back and look more generally at blogging. If you had to take your best advice and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
The trick to being a successful blogger is to simply keep blogging. [Click here to tweet this]
Seriously, only 10% of bloggers continue after the first 6-12 months…that means that simply blogging for longer than a year already makes you special.
What are your favorite online resources?
E-Junkie has made selling my first eBook way easier than I could have hoped. It’s $5 a month and more than worth it if you ever have a product or service to sell yourself.
For someone who is just starting out creating a blog, what advice would you offer? What do you wish someone told you about when you first started?
Start on WordPress with your own self-hosted site, not on free services like Blogspot. That was my biggest mistake.
I thankfully figured that out in the first 2 months, so I didn’t waste too much growing time. In short, you want to fully own your site and your posts. You can’t monetize otherwise, and who wants to be able to lose their baby with a flip of someone else’s switch?
Finally, where can people find you online?
Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @bitfs or Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/BITFS.
You can also email me anytime at budgetingfunstuff *at* gmail *dot* com if you are looking for a blog ad manager, blog post commenter, or writer.
Thanks Crystal! It was a pleasure getting to learn more about your online business.
If you have any questions or comments on today’s interview, please leave them below! As always, I will answer ALL comments. 🙂