I’m really excited for today’s interview with Philip Taylor.
This guy started out like many personal finance bloggers, but he really took it to the next level when he created FinCon, one of the largest (or the largest?) financial blogger conferences in the world. A truly impressive accomplishment. Phil also blogs at PT Money, a personal finance blog that ultimately became a full-time business, allowing him to quit his regular job in corporate finance. The blog was a huge success, earning upwards of $50,000 in its best months.
In this interview, we not only talk about Phil’s success stories, but we also learn about how he built up his blog’s traffic, and the most effective way he found to monetize it.
This is a good one – enjoy, and leave a comment when you’re done!
Phil, I’m a big fan of PT Money – Not only do you write a lot of great content related to personal finance, but I like that you have a background as a CPA, which I think lends some additional credibility to what you write. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey. How did you get the idea to start PT Money, and do you still work as a CPA? In addition to your blog, what other projects (if any) are you involved with?
Thanks. I was born and raised in North Louisiana….think Duck Dynasty. My Dad is a CPA and my Mom is a teacher/writer. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but fell naturally into the world of accounting and business due to my Dad’s influence. So I rode that train as far as it would take me. I got my Master’s degree in Accounting, worked for several public accounting firms, and eventually passed my CPA. I was proud of my success and career, but not necessarily happy with it.
Transitioning to corporate finance / internal auditing helped me stick it out a bit longer. I got married when I was 30 (2006) and quickly developed an unstoppable obsession with fixing our financial situation. Personal finance blogs like Consumerism Commentary helped my get my fix. I loved everything about these blogs: they helped me learn about personal finance (something my accounting career hadn’t), they were “real” and personal, and they gave the blogger an entrepreneurial endeavor.
Attracted to this platform, I eventually started my own blog at PT Money (initially called Prime Time Money) where my focus was sharing my personal finance story and advice. It was fun. I started getting readers and traffic and connecting with other bloggers. I spent my nights and weekends blogging and within a year or so, the blog income was paying my mortgage. In 2010, I decided to leave my corporate career and focus on my blog full-time.
Because I was the sole breadwinner and I’m just a conservative guy, I took a part-time job with my Dad’s firm doing tax returns, and another part-time job with Perkstreet Bank (now defunct) as their blog editor/coordinator. By the fall of 2010, my blog was making enough money (between $5-10K per month) that I could give up those part-time hustles. Since that time I’ve added a side-hustle: FinCon, an annual conference for the money media community. It’s like a New Media Expo for personal finance geeks. I run both businesses from my home and get to spend lots of extra time with my wife and three kiddos.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog/online business?
The greatest success for PT Money was the run up of traffic and income from February 2010 to October 2012. Income, using a combination of Adsense, affiliate marketing, and CPM ads, went from roughly $3,000 a month to as high as $50,000 in some months. Traffic went from roughly 1,000 visits a day to as high as 10,000 visits. Raw traffic wasn’t as important as the types of pages traffic was coming to.
Hiring an affiliate marketing consultant, Michael, was a big part of this success. He helped me turn my blog into a business. Specifically, we built out financial product and service comparisons (i.e. best online savings accounts) and individual review pages. Then we did a ton of (legit) guest posts building links back to these pages. In the middle of this run, I was hit by Google’s Panda update and for six months (April 2011 to September 2011) my traffic and income flatlined. It was a trying time (but one of many to come). My next business idea, which was already in the works, helped save PT Money.
My other big success came from starting FinCon. When I started FinCon (at the time the Financial Blogger Conference) I was expecting a small 100-person meetup. But that first conference had 225 folks and put me at the center of our little growing industry. We’ve since grown FinCon to a 700 person event with major sponsors like Chase and major publications like MONEY magazine attending.
Now that my blog business isn’t growing as much, it’s nice to have another successful business opportunity to sink my teeth into. We haven’t made a lot of money from FinCon yet. You can see the 2011 and 2012 financial reports here. But this conference has been huge for my personal brand and the PT Money brand – all because I created something valuable for people who were in need. I credit that first conference in 2011 for getting me out of that initial Google Panda trap.
Lastly, know that I plan on making this business a bigger part of my income portfolio for 2014, and not just a side project. The major success for FinCon is still to come.
Finding a way to stand out and build an audience in the personal finance niche isn’t easy. What was one of the biggest challenges you faced along the way, and how did you overcome it?
Yes, it was certainly a challenge to “grab market-share” in an already crowded niche. Some of the things I did to overcome this obstacle:
1. Stick around – being insanely consistent is something we all can do, no matter when we enter the market. No matter when you get started, you’ll eventually be one of the older players. There were many times I considered quitting. But I just kept at it.
2. Find a band of brothers – within a year of starting my blog I joined a blog network with five other personal finance bloggers. We traded best practices, promoted each other’s best work, and generally cheered each other along. Having friends online that were holding me accountable was huge.
3. Build authority by serving – probably the biggest thing I did to stand out from the crowd was to become the group’s ambassador for real world meetups. In 2009, I built the map of personal finance bloggers. I invited all of the other bloggers to add their blog and encouraged them to meetup with other bloggers near by. And finally, FinCon, the ultimate personal finance blogger meetup was huge in helping me to stand out in our community.
I’m always very interested in how people monetize their blogs. Sometimes it’s very apparent (with banner ads and whatnot), but other times it can be surprising. What have you found to be the most effective way to monetize your blog?
The most money I’ve ever made is with affiliate marketing and financial product comparison pages. For instance, my post on Free Online Checking Accounts (http://ptmoney.com/free-online-checking-accounts/) ranks well for that search term and naturally gets a lot of traffic. I’ve affiliated myself with most of these online banks (using an affiliate network like CJ.com) and they give me a commission for every person I send their way. This can be up to $50 or more.
If you’re converting one of these a day then you can see how this would quickly add up. The key is to build pages that are the natural last line in a customers sales funnel. No doubt the people who land on that page have heard of online checking accounts. They may have even visited some of the bank’s site. But their just not quite ready to seal the deal. That’s when they search for “best free online checking account” or some derivative. When my piece of content shows up and closes the deal.
Classic content marketing.
I have a bunch of pages like this on my site for every type of financial product: banks, brokers, credit cards, etc. If two or three of these pages are #1 in popular search results, you can make some serious money. It’s getting harder and harder to do this though because many bloggers/publishers have figured this out and Google right now is favoring bigger brands in its results.
Getting into blogging today, in order to build an income, is probably more difficult than it was 5-7 years ago, but it’s certainly still very doable. What advice do you have for bloggers who are just starting out today? What do you wish someone told you when you first started?
If you want to make income, build a real business: sell a real product or service. This can be anything – a book, a class, a membership, speaking or consulting services, brand rep, etc. A blog, i.e. content marketing, can be a part of your marketing strategy for the business. But a blog alone isn’t a guarantee of traffic or income.
Even the best content sites eventually figure out that they need a real business. Look at CollegeHumor.com and the success they’ve seen with Busted Tees. I’ve done this a little with my financial comparison pages. But they aren’t unique or special enough to warrant enough attention anymore. And I actually stumbled upon a real business with FinCon. While I don’t sell FinCon directly using PT Money, it is indirectly related and my PT Money connections and reach help to make the conference a success.
Bottom line: build a business and then use a blog to help build an audience that’s attracted to that business idea.
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?
Fix your finances so that you can build the business (and life) of your dreams. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources?
I like Google Docs/Drive. I also like The Old Reader to check out blogs each day. I use Picmonkey for photo edits. And I use Eventbrite to run my conference.
Finally, where can people find you online?
FinCon Passes are currently on-sale (early bird) for $249.
Thanks so much for your time, Phil!
What did you think about this interview? Have you ever been to FinCon? Leave a comment below!
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