“Be yourself” is pretty common advice for entrepreneurs, but it’s often helpful to see it in action.
Shannon McLay, blogger at Financially Blonde and founder of Financial Gym, has taken this advice to heart. As a professional financial advisor, Shannon has used her personality as a key differentiator and a way to connect with her audience and clients.
In this interview, Shannon talks about how she has been able to stand out in the personal finance niche, why she doesn’t feel comfortable pushing products on her blog, and why she doesn’t really believe she makes money from ads or affiliate links. However, she reveals how her blog does help her earn an income.
Shannon, you have a lot of interesting content on Financially Blonde. What gave you the idea to start that blog? Is this a full-time job for you now?
Before founding the Financial Gym (previously NextGen Financial), I worked as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch, and I was one of 10 women in an office of a little over 100. As a minority, I took it upon myself to bring as much femininity to the office as possible, so I always wore dresses, carried a pink computer bag, and left a pink calculator on my desk at all times.
This led my peers to nickname me “the Elle Woods of financial services.”
I also wanted to distribute a monthly newsletter to my clients that I would call “Financially Blonde,” as a play on the Legally Blonde name. Because of compliance issues regarding client newsletters, this was not approved. However, I vowed that if I left, I would start a blog and this would be its name. Thus Financially Blonde was launched in late 2013.
My full-time job is now running my company and helping people in their 20s and 30s with their personal finances with the goal being to keep them financially fit. I use the blog as a way to communicate with my clients and others about financial health and how it can be achieved.
Usually if I write a blog post, it has been inspired by a client or my own journey to financial health, and I share it in the hopes of helping others who are on the road or beginning their journey.
What do you consider to be your greatest success so far with your blog?
I wrote “Are You Financially Sexy?”, a blog post based on the fact that financial measurements of attractiveness are not as clear cut as physical measurements, and I provided a guideline. The post was featured on Rockstar Finance, and then J Money blogged about his financial sexiness at Budgets Are Sexy. Then both of our blogs were featured on Two Cents.
It is funny to me that one post has driven thousands of visitors to my blog. The day it was featured on Two Cents, I had my first 2,000-plus-views day.
Meanwhile, a personal success has been the growth in popularity of my “Music Mondays” posts. Music is a large part of my life, and I often use music to inspire my clients. I’m sure that for the first few months, people had no idea what to think about a personal finance blogger with blog titles starting with “Music Mondays.” But as my readers have grown, it has become a highlight of people’s Monday reading. I like that I can mix it up every week and, whether or not you like my song choice, it will be a different reading experience each time.
Even the most successful people stumble along the way. What has been your greatest failure you’ve encountered on your journey, and what did you learn from it?
I have had so many failures, but one of my favorite quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
I view every failure or stumble in my life as a learning opportunity that will help me down the road. And with blogging or anything else I have worked on, I have found that the harder I work, the more success I find.
The personal finance niche is competitive. What have been the primary ways you’ve been able to stand out and grow your blog’s traffic?
I think the primary reason my blog stands out is that I make a conscious effort to be honest and authentic in my writing.
I am a social person by nature, and I want my blog to feel like a place where people can hang out and chat, learn something new or think about something new, and have fun along the way. I usually write my posts as if I am talking to friends and sharing something that happened to me or someone I know.
Most of the bloggers I follow closely are the same way. We can all write about saving and making money, but it’s the people who insert their personality into those posts that stand out to me.
You’ve tried several forms of monetization with your blog — ads, affiliate links, and perhaps some other things that I missed. What’s the most effective way that you’ve been able to monetize the site? What hasn’t worked well?
I will be honest, I don’t think I make any money off the ads or affiliate links. Before owning my own company, I sold financial products for 13 years, and was very successful at this primarily because I was not a “product pusher.” I could never sell a product I didn’t believe in or that I wouldn’t buy myself. I am the same way with the blog.
I created an AdSense account because it seemed like a necessity for every blog. I signed up for a few affiliate programs, but they are only for programs that I feel comfortable recommending. I do not feel comfortable pushing products on my blog, though. I know that many bloggers are successful at it, and I support their endeavors, but it just is not a focus for me.
That being said, I have made money because of my blog, and that is through freelance writing.
I never thought of my blog as representing an open resume for me, but it has. I have people reach out to me all the time requesting that I write for them, and as my time allows I have taken on various freelance writing projects as side hustles, which has been nice. I have done enough to pay for my trip to FinCon this year, which I am excited about attending.
Looking generally at becoming a successful blogger, if you had to take your best advice and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” —Oscar Wilde
With thousands of blogs out there, the only way you can grow and find success is to be uniquely you. If you write about things you would want to read about, then there’s bound to be others who feel the same way. As long as you continue to do that, people will find you and connect with you.
In addition to being yourself, though, you have to be prepared for hard work before you start to get results.
Like most bloggers, when I first started, I was pretty much writing for my friends and family. Now I am shocked that people actually come to my blog because they are looking for it. I get emails all the time from blog stalkers who thank me for helping them. It’s so nice to get that feedback, but it was not an overnight process.