We tend to feature a lot of personal finance bloggers on The Daily Interview, and there are a few reasons why.
First, it’s a super competitive niche. I like to learn from those who are successful in competitive niches, so looking at successful personal finance bloggers is a natural fit. Second, personal finance blogs are versatile in how they attract traffic and monetize that traffic. Traffic and monetization are perhaps the two most important and challenge aspects of running any website/blog, so again, personal finance blogs make great case studies.
With all of this said, today’s interview with Stephanie Halligan from The Empowered Dollar brings us an interesting example of a personal finance blog that has been successful (from an earning perspective) without the use of ads. Stephanie tell us the story about how her blog began, and what she’s done to make it a success today.
Stephanie, I really like what you’ve done with The Empowered Dollar. In a world where there are literally thousands of personal finance blogs, I like that you have a unique voice, and even better (and perhaps selfishly), I like that you focus on younger adults. Tell us a bit about your background and journey. How did you go about quitting your job to pursue your passion? What do you spend most of your time on these days?
(By the way, I also really enjoy the doodles on your blog – it adds a very unique touch!)
My story began where (unfortunately) a lot of college grads begin: leaving college with tons of student loan debt and not a lot of job options. I was working minimum wage with over $30K in debt to my name and just wondering what the heck went wrong. I knew I hit rock bottom when I had to choose between buying my prescription at the pharmacy or buying my monthly bus pass… and I chose the bus pass. At that point, I knew something had to change.
So I made a commitment to myself to fix my own finances and help others do the same. I started teaching financial education classes to refugees in Boston, and that let me to Washington, DC and a career setting up programs and writing materials to help students and low-income families save money.
Fast forward four years, and I had nearly paid off all of my student loans and launched The Empowered Dollar to chronicle my get-out-of-debt story. It was after a year of blogging and nearing the end of my student loan payments that I wanted to share my passion story and bit of artistic flair with the world even more than I already was, and on my own terms.
So I made the decision to quit my job and venture out on my own. I saved like my life depended on it, paid off the rest of my loans and hustled on the side to make it happen. Finally in October 2013, I launched my own Financial Empowerment Consulting business – and I haven’t looked back since!
What has been your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog/business?
My biggest success came when I won the award for Best New Blog at the Personal Finance Bloggers Conference (affectionately known as FinCon). To have the personal finance community, my peers and my blogging idols recognize and honor The Empowered Dollar like that was incredible. It was hugely validating for me and opened up the door to some very cool collaborations.
The road to success is often filled with obstacles and failure. What has been your biggest failure to date with your blog or business, and what have you learned from it?
Today, my blog is dedicated to the audience I love connecting with: twenty-somethings who want to live an awesomely wealthy life without being a slave to debt (or their job). But for the first six months, The Empowered Dollar was dedicated to moms and how to raise money-savvy kids. I was essentially a mommy blogger without being a mom myself 🙂
I thought I would make more money with that audience, but it turns out that I absolutely struggled writing content that connected with people. So I pivoted and wrote what I knew best.
As a Financial Empowerment Consultant, you’ve no doubt helped many people with their own financial situations. What have you seen as the most common problem when it comes to personal finance, and what’s been your strategy to help people that have that particular problem?
The most common problem is a simple one – and one that anyone can fix – and that’s awareness of your own personal situation. Sitting down with your numbers, laying out all the debt, savings, interest rates and cash you have on hand is a really REALLY powerful exercise.
But understandably, it’s not one a lot of us want to face, especially with massive student loan debt. The best strategy is to sit down and create a simple money map: first, check the pulse on what you have right in this moment. Then, do a quick cash flow map: what’s coming in each month, what’s going out in regular expenses (rent, bills, etc) and what’s left. You’d be surprised what clarity comes from just writing it out!
For a blog in the personal finance niche, your blog is remarkably clean. What I mean by that is, it’s not littered with ads (in fact, I’m not sure I see any – at least not at first glance). One of the areas I like to focus on (and I know many of my readers are interested in), is monetization. If you don’t mind me asking, how do you monetize The Empowered Dollar? Is it mostly a platform for you to pick up new clients?
I made a deliberate choice to take down ads and let my content shine. It’s been a platform for attracting new clients, and it gave me the credibility and authority to quit my job. I do accept sponsored posts and giveaway collaborations every now and again, but only if it serves my readers and I feel like I can promote something with integrity.
I have some product ideas in the works, but for now it’s a vehicle for helping others through writing – and a great place to doodle and post comics.
What are your favorite online resources?
I love SmartyPig. It’s my absolute favorite goal-setting online savings platform. I used it to save up in my Freedom Fund over the last few years – a special savings account I used to give me the financial confidence to quit full-time work.
I also love Songza. I don’t know where I’d be without my music to help me focus in my new entrepreneurial lifestyle!
And of course, Mint.com. It’s one of the easiest places to get a snapshot of your financial picture by syncing your accounts to a single platform.
Finally, where can people find you online?
I also send out comics over email, which you can sign up for here! Because who doesn’t love advice about money in doodle form?