As a college educated person (I have both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Accounting), I’m a big proponent for higher education. I realize it’s not for everyone though.
I think it’s somewhat common for entrepreneurial minded people (or those who may actually have a functioning business of their own) to think that college is a waste of time/money, especially when they ultimately won’t need a degree for whatever they need to do. That’s why I was pretty excited to interview Justin from My University Money to get his thoughts on the topic.
In addition, we also discuss how and why he started his blog, some of his successes, and some advice for people who may just be starting out in the world of blogging. Justin has a pretty interesting story about how he created and now runs a blog with a partner (vs. doing it alone like many people do).
Check it out, and leave a comment to let us know what you think!
Justin, I really like what you’ve done with your site, My University Money. While there are a lot of personal finance blogs out there, I like that you focus on college/university students (or those who have recently graduated). Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey. What is your professional background like, and what gave you the idea to start My University Money? Are there any other online projects or businesses you’re involved with?
Well it all started back in 2010. I graduated from university and moved to a small town in Saskatchewan working in the Agriculture industry. I really didn’t have much to do out there and I was looking to fill my time while making a few bucks doing it. The only problem was I wasn’t sure what I could do.
During this time my friend Kyle Prevost was in a similar situation (graduated and was teaching in a small town). One day I drove the 4 hours to go and see him. We were brainstorming ideas for ways to make a buck or two but ended up reminiscing about the fun times spent in school. We discovered that we both managed to graduate debt free, which was no small feat considering we spent a lot of time “networking” at the campus watering hole.
We thought that getting out of school debt free was pretty incredible all things considered, and that if anyone knew all of the tips and tricks of accomplishing that, it was us. I was tinkering around with some online freelancing at the time so we decided to create a website and share some of our experiences.
We both are still tied to the educational field. I’m a Dean of Residence at St. Johns College at the University of Manitoba. I manage a small residence that can house 100 students. Kyle teaches humanitarian classes at a senior level in a small town in rural Manitoba. Between the two of us we talk to students every day from ages 16-22 and we get to the opportunity to help them through any challenges they face in today.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog?
To be honest. I’m just happy its still online. Between Kyle and myself, I was the tech guy and I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning. I don’t know what pushed me in the direction of WordPress but I was glad to start with it. I didn’t know what a plugin or theme was, or how to find a good host.
10 free themes, 4 professional themes, 5 hosting companies, and about 100 plugins later…I think I finally have a good handle on things. We are fortunate to find a mastermind group of our own and are able to bounce ideas off of other bloggers. Without them we would be in deep trouble.
Another success would be the launch of our book “More Money for Beer and Textbooks.” We had to learn all of the steps of self-publishing and market our very own product. Luckily by then we discovered Pat Flynn over at The Smart Passive Income Blog. Between his site and brainstorming with our mastermind group, we were able to promote our book enough to sell over 1,000 copies in our first year.
A lot of students today go through college (or university – sorry, I mean to use these words interchangeably) with the idea that they’re just satisfying their parents’ or society’s requirement or expectation of earning a degree. Many of these people have bigger dreams of starting their own businesses, freelancing, or in some way being self-employed. (And for the record, I personally believe college is a good path for most people, even if you do plan to start your own business.)
What advice would you offer someone like this? How can someone, who knows they want to be self-employed, make college a worthwhile experience?
I think it depends on everyone’s situation. Personally, I benefited from going to university from all of the connections I made while I was there. I picked up skills that you can’t really learn in the classroom and it rounded me out as an individual (and I’m not talking about the freshman 15…).
If you want to start your own business then getting an education is a good place to start because it teaches you how to set yourself apart. You can meet your professors who could give you valuable information and leads in the area where you want to go as well.
Getting a degree or diploma also gives you something to fall back on if your start-up doesn’t work out. Most importantly, it gives you something to use in case you change your mind.
Lots of students change their minds when they get to university because they change as a person. When you move out from home, go to different schools, and live on your own or with others you gain some perspective. I went from planning to get a major in computer science (really disliked the program) to getting a Bachelor of Science majoring in Agribusiness. Those two programs are not similar in any way and I’m glad I made the switch.
If you change your mind with your academic plans during your first year it’s usually okay to do so without any penalty.
Getting back to blogging – In general, what advice do you have for someone who is starting a blog today, or what advice do you wish someone would have given you when you first started blogging?
Do your research. There are a pile of guides out there on how to get started. Pat over at SPI has a nice 4 minute video showing you how to start a blog. Since it’s inexpensive to start a website, I would spend the extra money and get a premium theme from a company that has a good support system. I used WooThemes in the past and now I’m using Headway themes.
Another piece of advice would be to hold off on downloading a pile of different plugins to try them out. Use tools that are proven to work well because it saves you a lot of headaches down the road. Keep the number of plugins small to keep your site loading fast. Simple is often better.
Lastly – Find a partner to work with. Every time I am slacking off I have Kyle there to give me a kick and I do the same to him. Together we are able to stay motivated and start new projects to keep things exciting.
I bring this up with many of my personal finance blogger guests, because I think it’s something that everyone wants to know: Given how challenging it can be to gain traction when blogging in a competitive niche such as personal finance, what have been your primary strategies for growing the traffic on your blog?
I think the big thing is to stick with it. There were times where it seemed like traffic plateau for months on end, but with two of us it spreads out the workload and some of our frustrations. Our book helped establish our credibility and we now have a podcast to help reach new audiences. It helps to think outside the box and to be diverse in all aspects of traffic generation.
Networking has helped us out a lot too. A guest post here and there helps in the long run. I also make an effort to link to another blog in my articles to generate exposure to their sites as well as give our audience another avenue to collect information from. Other bloggers usually return the favor and the traffic snowballs from there.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote?
I’ll live up to the Canadian stereotype and use one from the Great One…
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources as a blogger?
My favorite online resource would be The Smart Passive Income Blog. Whenever I am on the fence about a particular product for our blog, Pat has probably tested it and wrote an extensive review on it that I can trust.
Finally, where can people find you online?
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us today, Justin.
What did you think about this interview with Justin? Do you think a college education is worthwhile for someone who knows they will be an entrepreneur? Leave a comment below!
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