Today’s interview features a blogger in the personal development niche who really seems to “get it.”
It’s barely been a year since Vincent Nguyen launched his blog, Self Stairway, and he’s already seen massive growth. In February 2014 alone, he saw over 21,000 unique visits from the search engines (i.e. organic traffic).
That’s incredible growth for such a young site.
He’s also been involved with some other really cool stuff, such as being hired to work with Empire Flippers, which he considers to be dream job. (Side note: Empire Flippers was our very first interview!)
There’s a lot of great information in this interview – Vincent not only walks us through his journey, but he discusses why his popular blog is not currently monetized, and goes into how he creates content that seems to be very “shareable.”
I’ll let Vincent take it from here…
Vincent, you have a really interesting site at Self Stairway. I know the personal development niche can be a tough one to tackle, but I’m impressed at what you’ve been able to accomplish in under two years. Tell us a bit about your background and journey, and give us a brief overview of your blog. What led you to start Self Stairway, and what’s it all about?
Just a year and a half before I started college, my best friend was always talking about entrepreneurship and some of his favorite blogs that he followed. Although we never had a conversation about “converting” me onto the world of entrepreneurship, I did my own reading of the blogs he always talked about.
It was like a whole new world. People like James Altucher were talking about how college isn’t the only path to success in life and even making arguments about how it could be a waste of your time and resources. This was a far cry from the old golden rule we’re all brought up on: “go to a good college, get a degree, 100% guaranteed a high-paying job.”
I started to realize that college wasn’t for me either, but I knew getting my family to see my side of things would be difficult. Traditional Asian family? You can guess how easy it was when I told my dad I didn’t want to go to college. So I attended anyway.
During a family breakfast I told some of them about how I wanted to start a website that would eventually lead to a steady source of revenue for myself. None of them paid much attention to the idea and just sort of dismissed it as rambling. I never got over the desire to start something of my own. I’d be showering and just daydream about running my own website.
Then of course, the time came in late January 2013 when I opened the blog that started everything, Self Stairway.
You’re right, personal development is a tough area because there are just so many of them out there. The most popular ones are incredibly huge as well, with some getting millions of visitors a month.
My issue with a lot of personal development resources was that a lot of material out there are either one or a combination of the following: cliche, overly optimistic, and cheesy. It also was almost always articles on theory with nothing to back them up.
When I started Self Stairway, I took a note from James Altucher by always telling a story that people can relate to that shows why I think the way I do. James told me to “always bleed honesty,” something I never forget to do when I write. “Self-Improvement through Self-Reflection” has been my site’s model from day one and it shows through in my writing.
I try to be transparent and avoid that overly-optimistic tone. Sometimes the topic will be cheerful because I do have some positive mindsets, but I also cover topics such as disillusionment and guilt.
I understand you dropped out of college and moved to the Philippines to pursue a dream job – tell us more about that!
It was during my summer break after I had just completed my first year of college. I was doing my own thing with Self Stairway while working as an intern for three different companies when I came across a tweet by Sean Ogle.
His tweet led me to a post about an apprenticeship position with Justin and Joe’s Empire Flippers, business brokers with a Marketplace that lists websites for sale. Reading through the job listing made my eyes widen and my heart beat a bit faster.
Benefits? I’d get to move to the Philippines and live in a nice house while they paid all the bills (water, food, etc.) I’d have my own maid cook three meals for me every day. I’d get to work alongside the founders of an already established company that is one of the most influential in the website building, buying, and selling space.
It’s one of those “too good to be true” offers that almost sort of sounds like a scam. Move abroad, get paid, and do awesome stuff? Sounded like the typical Internet Marketing kind of lure, but something was different about these guys. Their tone, the people in their comments, and their online presence made me feel more relaxed as I did my own due diligence on the company.
Anyway, I wanted the gig and so I had to plan my route of attack. Reading through their post over and over for clues, I finally came up with an idea. Part of the job’s task was to be an outreacher who made connections for guest posting, interviews, etc. I already was doing that with Self Stairway, but I needed something more attention-grabbing.
What I did was make a list of about 40 influential entrepreneurs both in and out of their niche and asked them to record a video for me. Not “Look at how awesome Vincent is!” but just a casual “Vincent reached out and asked for my help” on tape. The point I was trying to get across was that I reached out and connected.
Here’s the video I made. (For added fun: count how many times I stumble and say the word “opportunist.”)
The first person I opened up with was John Lee Dumas and funny enough, Justin had just been listening to John’s podcast several hours before he saw my video.
I went through two rounds of interview with Justin and Joe and learned that their biggest concern was the fact that I was already an intern for three other companies. They were worried that Empire Flippers would just be “another notch on my belt,” as Justin likes to recount.
I assured them that they’d be my only focus and that I was 100% dedicated to the team. Now here I am! I’ve been working with Empire Flippers since early November 2013. My main goals as their marketing apprentice is to increase opt-ins, brokered website sales, and product/services sales.
I’ve got to say, I absolutely love being out here.
What has been your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog?
A lot of what I consider as successes came from what the blog has done for me. First, the amount of influential people I have been able to connect with, befriend, and even meet offline has easily been the most rewarding part of my journey.
Second, as mentioned above, it landed me my dream job with Empire Flippers!
As far as my own blog goes, my greatest success is the fact that it’s been maintaining and even growing consistent organic search engine traffic even though I stopped targeting keywords and guest posting, to focus on Empire Flippers.
For example, February 1 – March 1 saw 21,055 organic visits from search engines. Here’s a screenshot that shows my website’s search traffic from October all the way to March.
I don’t currently monetize Self Stairway so I don’t have any income numbers to report. However, a recent podcast episode Justin and Joe did that explored six different website profit models made me start thinking about deploying ads for the first time.
My email list is almost at the 2,000 mark after a little over a year after starting my website. I hit the four-figure mark back in September, eight months after starting my site.
You can see the higher peaks are when I was actively guest posting on major sites. It’s really tapered off in November, but I’m still getting an average of at least six new subscribers a day.
Guest posting has by far been the most effective for growing my social media accounts and email list. If you’re looking to become an influencer in a specific niche while simultaneously building your own brand then guest posting is a must.
One thing I noticed on your site is a lack of monetization – no ads, no visible use of affiliate links or sponsored posts, etc. What’s your strategy or plan for using Self Stairway to build an income, or is that not what you’re focused on with this site?
I mentioned this earlier, but I only recently began thinking about monetization. The more I think about it the more it makes sense to begin using it to create supplemental income. My main concerns would be how intrusive these ads end up being for my readers and how rarely they will be clicked.
Truthfully, I think at this point I’m only holding off because I’m afraid the ads won’t make as much as I expect them to. I understand CTR for ads are generally about 1%, which with my current traffic would mean about $300/mo, but I think it’d be disappointing if it brings in less. Really, I’m leaving money on the table because it’s something I haven’t done before and I’m a bit intimidated.
If I were to create a detailed plan then it’d be relatively simple as I experiment for the first time. The first course of action would be to set up ads on the site and split-test to see where they convert best along with different ad sizes.
Second, I’d create a product or service that I could start pushing to my audience via the blog, my email list, or through some of my contacts.
After I exhaust those two options I’d make more adjustments and try to determine if there were other things I could try.
With the posts on your blog and other guest posts you’ve written, I see you have a knack for writing content that tends to get shared a lot. What are some good strategies you’ve found for making content more “shareable?”
The most important part of any article is the headline. That’s something that Jon Morrow hammers to his readers all the time and Jon definitely was a huge influence when I first started out. Spend more time on your headline.
Aside from that I think practicing to develop a solid writing style helps people get into your writing. Something that has tremendously improved my writing was this passage from Gary Provost that I think anyone writing any sort of content should read:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
Just remember that when creating content you should always be looking to avoid regurgitating advice you read everywhere else. “Content is king,” for example, is something you hear over and over in the online space. People will write clickbaiting articles that promise you “How to Rank on the First Page in Less Than a Month,” or something similar. You then read the article and it’s basically rephrasing “write good content.”
Remember how I talked about the personal development niche having a lot of the same regurgitations? You want to avoid having readers think they’ve read this 10 times before this week. People will share things that are new to them. Why write if you have nothing new to say?
Let’s take a step back and look more generally at blogging: If you had to take your best advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
Blogging is hard. Isn’t that a good reason to keep practicing so it becomes easier later? [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources?
Buffer – I use it to schedule my tweets and Facebook statuses.
ToutApp – You can see whether or not someone opened your email, clicked on a link you provided in the email, and tons of other cool things. Great for guest posting so you can follow up or make adjustments as needed to your approach.
Finally, where can people find you online?
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Vincent! I really enjoyed it!
What do you think about Vincent’s journey and the blog he’s been able to grow so quickly? Leave a comment below!
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