Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
Have you come across stories of bloggers who are making 5 or 6 figures a month? On the other hand, you may have heard me say that if you need to make extra money fast, blogging is not a great way to do it.
My guest this week is Michael Dinich, from Your Money Geek. Michael shares his experience as a new blogger, entering a business where bloggers in every niche will tell you how much money they’re making, then sell you a course on how you can be just like them.
Michael dispels the myth that blogging offers a quick way to make money. Unfortunately, too many bloggers are enticing readers with traffic and income reports, without telling the full story. In fact, these reports are often nothing more than thinly veiled sales copy.
Michael explains why a long term approach is best. And for most, he advises not to spend a lot of money to start your blog. It’s simply not necessary, with so many free resources available online.
Watch your money grow in a low maintenance, low fee portfolio with Wealthsimple. Maple Money listeners get their first $10,000 managed for free, for the first year. For more on Wealthsimple, check them out here.
- How the career path of a blogger is similar to that of a musician or actor.
- How blogging has changed in the past 10 years.
- Don’t turn to blogging to solve short term financial problems.
- Why blogger income reports are too often thinly veiled sales pitches.
- With blogging, it’s important to keep track of ongoing changes.
- Trends in blogging and social media.
- Why Michael is not a big fan of Facebook.
- Why there’s no need to spend a lot of money to get started blogging.
Have you come across stories of bloggers who are making five or six figures a month? If you’re a regular listener you’ve probably also heard me say how blogging isn’t a great plan if you want to make some extra money in the next couple months. Michael Dinich, from Your Money Geek shares his perspective as a new blogger coming into a business that sees bloggers in any niche willing to tell you how much they are making and sell you a course on how to make money by blogging. I’ve been a blogger for nearly a decade now and while I’ve tried to avoid too many back-in-my-day references in this episode, it’s hard not to contrast the difference now, where blogging looks like the fast-track to internet riches.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Put your money to work in a low-maintenance, low-fee portfolio and watch it grow with our sponsor, Wealthsimple. Maple Money listeners get their first $10,000 managed for free for the first year. For more on Wealthsimple, check them out at maplemoney.com/wealthsimple. Now, let’s chat with Michael…
Tom: Michael, welcome to The Maple Money Show.
Michael: Oh, thank you. Thanks for having me.
Tom: In recently talking to you and one of the things that came up was how people have this idea they can make a lot of money blogging. I’ve mentioned this before on the show. Even though blogging has worked out well for me, I wouldn’t tell people that they shouldn’t start a blog. I wouldn’t suggest it as something that people do to make money immediately. I’ve always said you’d be better off getting another part-time job or working for Uber or something like that. Blogging is this long grind that you almost have to be willing to start as a hobby, and then see where it takes you. What are your thoughts on this?
Michael: I view it a little bit differently. If the goal is to eventually make money with the blog, I think it follows a career path that’s actually much more like becoming a celebrity. You have to do so much work. If you think about a comedian or a singer or anyone that became famous, unless they got lucky and got signed on a subway someplace, every weekend they went out and played dirty, sleazy, clubs late at night. They rode the bus. They did every single interview, every little radio AM station that they could it on, they did. That’s really what blogging is like. I don’t think it’s really like, “Okay, I’m just going to go and put one post out there a week and then eventually I’m going to turn that into a business.” I think if you want to make money blogging, in the future it’s really much more like trying to become a musician, an actor or somebody where you’ve got to go and put in those glorious hours every single week on every little, rinky-dink, greasy spoon restaurant that will let you in, and put the work in.
Tom: Yeah, unfortunately though, if you are that musician, a lot of them are never going to make it which is a bit of a problem. You can spend decades—
Michael: Well, let’s be entirely honest. Most bloggers are not going to make big money either. And that’s one thing that nobody really warned me about when I first started blogging. They said, “Hey, you’ve just got to get into a media vine and you’ll be cool.” So I work really hard and I think I got my first media vine in July. It was during that summer traffic slump. It was something like $300. And I thought, 70 some-odd thousand people came to my page all summer long and I only made $300? Any business—like a shoe store even. If they had 70 thousand people come through the shoe store, they’re definitely going to make more than $300. You’ve got to move a lot of people to make a small amount of money.
Tom: When did you start blogging? It was earlier this year, right?
Michael: Yes, I started in February.
Tom: We have a good set of different views. When you hit one year, I’ll hit 10 years. Back then, AdSense was the thing. But one thing that’s probably different with your perspective too is you’re seeing all these people posting income numbers and selling courses and everything. That didn’t exist when I started. When I started, people that made money were on the down-low. People didn’t really talk about it. Some people were making six figures a month but they still didn’t talk about it. I was not that person. So, to anyone looking at it publicly and just coming into blogging, it was just like a small little hobby thing, “Oh, look! We can make a couple hundred dollars,” so that $300 you mentioned would have been awesome to me in my first six months. It was just a different thing where it wasn’t quite ‘shouted out’ like it is now.
Michael: I feel like there’s this whole cottage industry. I feel like the business model has shifted. And, of course, I am really new to it so I’m just reverse-engineering and learning. But I feel the difference with the business model of blogging today is that you generate traffic, and the traffic you generate is used as proof of concept to sell products to other aspiring bloggers. I think most blog traffic reports are income reports that really just thinly veil sales copy to convert people to buy their affiliate link, the tail wind, or their affiliate link to some blogger university course or to buy some sort of product. Those products might be good but I don’t think the people that are being pitched to those products are being pitched to in a super ethical way.
Tom: If you’re just getting into blogging to buy a course, I guess in a way it probably gives you a bit of a head start. But also, now you’re really putting out your own money. I’ve certainly bought my share of courses but it’s always been with money that I’ve made from the business. That made it a little easier. For someone that just really needs to make money, it’s probably not the best time to be buying a course anyway.
Michael: Well, that’s really one thing I think is really important to me that people know; if you have the discretionary income and the time to spare where you can invest in blogging, you can do it as a hobby and you can commit to it long-term as a hobby and eventually turn it into a business, that’s awesome. If you’re thinking that blogging is going to solve any type of short-term financial problems for you, it would be extremely rare in the case that it does. People shouldn’t turn to blogging to solve short-term financial problems. They should consider another side-hustle or consider working on their own career. If you’re so unhappy at your job that you have to blog because you feel like that’s what you have to do to get away from your job, then you really need to maybe go back to college and put the time into getting another skill or getting more advanced training or moving to a different community or something. Blogging is not the short-term answer for the vast majority of people.
Tom: Yeah, that makes sense. As I said at the beginning, certainly there are better ways if you want to actually be able to do work and get paid within that same month. Blogging is obviously not it. For me, the first time I saw any money on my blog was six months in and that was actually the accumulation of six months of AdSense in order to get that first $100 payment. It probably took about three years before it started to look like something that could be considered an income. That’s three years—three years of almost full-time effort in the evenings and on weekends. When you’re someone with a day job, it’s a whole second full-time job. You can’t spend just one hour a week writing a post and that’s it.
Michael: I think a lot of people are misled by that from the industry because they see these people who tell them they’ve only had the blog open for a year or so and they’re making all this money. Then you find out they’ve had the blog for the year but they had some other privilege going into it. Like, maybe they had a different website before that they switched over to another. Or, maybe they have enough capital that they’re tossing tons of money into it doing Facebook advertising and everything. One of the challenges is, particularly with Facebook advertising is that it’s constantly evolving. What worked on Facebook a year and a half ago—and even though I’m relatively new to blogging, I’m not new to social media or marketing. I have my own financial planning firm so I understand that industry a little bit as far as advertising and everything. Yes, Facebook ads work but they’re nowhere near the old days’ Facebook ads where you could go and put up $25 and get people beating down your door looking to do business with you. Everyone’s a lot more conscious of ads so I think that’s shifting a little bit. If people are looking at these bloggers and e-courses and stuff thinking they’re going to make all this money off Facebook ads… Maybe you can make money but I just always like to temper people’s expectations. That might be a holdover from my financial planning career. If I had a client that made a 23 percent return and comes into my office saying, “Michael, you’re such a genius, ” I don’t say, “Yeah, I sure am. You should buy me a Lexus because you’re going to make 23 percent next year.” I normally say, ” Look, you had a good year but remember, good years subsidize the lean years.” Over-performance in one year means we may have a reversion to the “mean” and you might perform less down the road. My nature is always to temper people’s expectations. When I see people leading others to believe they can get astronomical results, I want people to know that might be successful for you but you’ve got to understand that there’s a lot of stuff that’s left out of that sales copy.
Tom: Yeah, true. And I’ve always found that it’s not good to look at someone in anything probably that’s too far ahead of you. You’re always better looking at someone that’s just a step ahead of you because then you can see where they’re at right now. Even starting this podcast. Actually, I knew I had to not look at some of these really polished podcasts as they’re being published right now. I needed to look at how they started. That took a little bit the pressure off. Things do take time with any of these kinds of businesses. You can build up over time and not compare yourself to that person that’s making a six figure a month income. Look at them when they started. Look at one of these bloggers when they started in their first year. That would probably be a better goal for you.
Michael: The irony is, sometimes I look back and I would love to have known what I know now, when I started out. I have found all these resources and stuff now that I just didn’t have because I didn’t even know what a blog was back then. By the same token, what my blog is today, I would have never envisioned that a year ago. I would never have thought that some of my best performing posts would be about zombies and Star Wars and money. I never thought that that would go together or happen. And maybe this is where the hobby element of it comes from. I think there’s a lot to just doing something and getting something out there and kind of letting the path unfold in front of you and see where that takes you. Because I think if you do a survey of most bloggers where they are today—even their content and what they’re about and their branding is probably a lot different than what they started out with.
Tom: Yep, true. I’m a good example of that. Originally, I was Canadian Finance blog for about eight years. Then a year and a half ago I changed to Maple Money. It’s a constant evolution. You had brought up Facebook ads and how things have changed. I’ve seen a lot of change over time and it’s kind of like being a technology company. Things are constantly changing in a business like blogging. You almost have to keep this whole second hat on, keeping track of all the changes between social media and search engines and everything else.
Michael: Do you listen to Gary Vee’s podcast?
Tom: I have. Not often, but I have listened to it.
Michael: Tuesday he published a really awesome podcast. He had a young girl who is part of this slime movement. I forget how much money she makes but she’s like big in slime and did a YouTube video where she got something like 20 million views. Amazing. Gary Vee is really big if you follow him. He’s all about social media and thinks social media is going to change the world. He asks her, “Where are people at? What are they using? Are they using Facebook or using Instagram?” And she says, “Well, they’re using Instagram and Snapchat.” I’ve done a lot of celebrity interviews and I talk to all the celebrities and I ask them where they are on social media. I ask them about their social media strategy. And they tell me the same thing. They’re ditching Facebook—it’s politics and everything. I know a lot of bloggers who like Facebook so I’m expecting a lot of hate mail now because I’m criticizing Facebook. You can still make some money on Facebook. It’s always going to be there. But let’s be honest, the demographic has shifted and young people are now moving from Facebook into Instagram. They’re moving into Snapchat. Bloggers need to start considering—they’ve got to skate to where the puck is going as Wayne Gretzky would say. That’s one of the things with blogging is it requires you to really be constantly reinventing yourself and thinking ahead. You can’t just think, “This is what worked for these other people,” because the environment was different a year or two ago.
Tom: It seems like once your parents and stuff start showing up on a social media platform, it’s probably time for young people to move onto the next one. I wouldn’t even know what to do on Snapchat.
Michael: Facebook’s going to be around just because it’s so big and so entrenched and it has so much economies of scale that it’s probably not going anywhere. But I think what happened with the election and everything, I think people got a peek behind the data mining Facebook did and found they didn’t like that. They know if they did this or that survey on Facebook or play a game on Facebook it’s really mining all our data. So I think people are going to go in and see what people are doing on Facebook but they’re not going to click on the ads. Anecdotally, I think that everyone kind of knows that Facebook has a problem because Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t have been on TV saying they had screwed up if everything was fine.
Tom: I think people still don’t even realize though just how creepy Facebook tracking can be with pixels on different websites and stuff. They’re compiling data on you even if you’d rarely actually go to your Facebook account. As long as you’re logged and connected as that user—
Michael: Facebook can predict with an unbelievable—I forget the statistics on it but they can predict with unbelievable accuracy when you’re going to purchase your next car. It is really amazing what Facebook knows. That’s what makes it great for advertisers because they can say, “Hey, I want people that are fans of this, this, and this. And are between this age…” And you can target those people. That’s why it’s so popular for advertisers. But I think the consumer, the users of Facebook are a little more wise to it than they were even just even just six months ago. I think people are more wise to it. There are going to be ways to make money on Facebook. In fact, the harder it gets means some people are going to make more money and the little people that really didn’t know how to innovate and compete are going to get squashed out. So you’re always going have those people that are able to thrive in any market environment. But it is changing.
Tom: Speaking of ads and changes. I remember earlier in my blogging career, you could put banner ads up in a sidebar that could bring in a decent income. But like you said, with
Facebook, it was the same there. People became blind to the sidebar. They don’t look at ads which is fine. It’s not like I need everybody to be clicking ads. But yeah, you start getting used to these setups where you don’t look at the sidebar on a blog. You don’t look at the sidebar on Facebook too if you’re on a desktop either. It’s all full of ads too.
Michael: Yeah, and on Facebook particularly, their traffic tends to be really bouncy because you get distracted. You go on Facebook and you’re messaging one person and the next thing you know, you’re wife sees that you’re on Facebook and she’s says, “Can you pick up cat litter?” I tell her I’m trying to work and she says, “You’re not working, you’re on Facebook.” And I tell her all these money dudes are on Facebook and that I’m actually talking to my VA. That’s the thing with Facebook. When you’re on there, there are so many distractions.
Tom: Yeah, that’s tough as a blogger. I see this plug-ins that will block social media for you, like a Pomodoro timer or something like that. You can have 25 minutes without being able to get on social media. But what if social media is part of your business and you have to go on there? You get sucked into that vortex. One thing I’ve been meaning to try but haven’t is a Chrome extension that will allow you to block your Facebook feed so you can go on Facebook and do what you need to. But, to see anybody’s updates, you’d have to actually go over to their page to see it. But you don’t just get this steady stream. It allows you to go Facebook page, by Facebook page and just do what you’re there to do. So I might do that once to avoid some of that. I’m equally as bad with YouTube as well.
Michael: Twitter is my distraction. I love Twitter. Twitter is probably my favorite. You can probably tell I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. I just wish everyone would quit Facebook and go to Reddit because it’s so much better. But people are ingrained. That’ the thing with Facebook, people are used to it at this point. They’re in groups. Their network is there so they’re going to stay there. Facebook is not going anywhere despite my opinions about it but, it’s definitely shifting.
Tom: So we both have had our time to rant a bit about what is wrong with getting into blogging and how that works. Can you give us some solid steps? Say someone still, despite what we said, really wants to start a blog, is there something you would suggest where they could do it with reasonable expectations?
Michael: Yeah. They just need to be honest about the amount of work it takes to get into it. Don’t spend a bunch of money initially. There are a lot of low-cost or no-cost resources they can use. And that’s what’s so great about blogging. You can set it up for virtually nothing. You can go and sign up for a website, hosting. You can sign up for some free e-courses on ESI Money. He has titles like, How to Make a Blog that Produces $25,000 a Year. That’s a free guide. People can go there, click on it and just read through that. And that will walk them through the steps of making a blog that will get them started up and running. Then there are so many great online forums and groups they can join. The FINCON forum on Facebook. That’s what keeps me on Facebook is because of the FINCON people. They are awesome. You can go on there and ask a question and you’ll get the answer. If somebody doesn’t know the answer they’ll tell you who has the answer to your problem and they will fix it. Then there is the Rockstar Finance forums. They have the blogger lounge. You can go on there and get all your questions answered. The vast majority of knowledge and information out there, to get you up and running reasonably, is available online for free.
Tom: Yeah, and you mentioned some that were personal finance focused. But if someone’s blogging in a different niche there is always a Facebook group. There’s always a conference and there are certainly websites around, so there’s no shortage of information whether it’s a conference completely just about blogging—or maybe you’re a food blogger. I’m sure there’s hundreds of Facebook groups on that.
Michael: Yeah, on Facebook. I must be a member—I’m not active in all of them but I’m probably an active member of 20 blog groups that are just generic blog groups. There is a blogging sub-Reddit on Reddit which is a great sub-Reddit which is about blogging in general. Also too, a lot of the foundational work is the same no matter what your niche is. Choosing a host, choosing a domain name, going out and getting your logo, that process is really the same no matter what you’re going to end up actually blogging about.
Tom: Yeah, and like you said, you can start for next to nothing. When I started the only expense I had was buying a domain name. I think I probably only bought it for the first year. WordPress is free. On any good host it’s just a couple clicks to install. It’s not some hard-core, developer thing. Some hosting will even throw the domain in, I believe, for the first year or something like that. I paid for hosting too when I started but I was only paying about $3 a month or something like. It was pretty simple. If someone does want to get into this, it’s not a huge expense. It’s roughly $10 for a domain and a few dollars a month for hosting.
Michael: I think you could probably get it all set up and everything with a pretty nice little logo—and not just stealing images off the internet. But, with a really nice theme and stuff, I think you can get set up for maybe $100, $200.
Tom: There can be a low-barrier in entry, and I like that you mentioned John’s post because just the title alone of $25,000 a year sounds much more reasonable in a couple of years than the idea of making six figures a month. As you said earlier, tempering expectations.
Michael: Yeah, I think that’s one of the posts I wish I had when I started out. I didn’t use his system until I got into my third or fourth month. Then he sent it to me saying, “This is what you need to do…” and I just went through it. Even though I had already been blogging for a little bit, I went back and it just went through all the steps—I needed a logo. I didn’t even have a logo so I went through the steps and got a logo. Then I found I had to capture emails so I put the email thing on the website and went through the process.
Tom: And the gap you had there I think is probably actually good. If someone just wants to see if blogging is for them, you can get by with a text title. You don’t need a logo and you don’t need to collect those first emails because maybe you’re only getting 50 people to your site anyways. And if they’re all your family members, they know about your posts.
Michael: Well, actually, if you want to make it at the bare minimum, you don’t have to go crazy and put a real fancy pop-up or anything. But definitely, you should put the email collection thing in there. I was so reluctant to capture emails because I hate getting email requests when I sign up for things. I hate doing things that I don’t personally like myself. I get annoyed by email pop-ups. I don’t want to sign up for emails. And I literally had a celebrity I interviewed who asked to sign up for my news letter. And I said, “I don’t have a newsletter because I don’t like emails…” I guess there’s people out there that actually like signing up for newsletters. I think that’s the one thing people should do early on though, collecting email. You’ll regret wasting that time not collecting the emails when you do make it.
Tom: Yep, fair enough. This has been great. We had a chance to temper our expectations that this idea of blogging can work but you’ve just got to think about what you’re really expecting. I think it’s been a nice way to warn people a little bit but also convince them that it can work. Can you let people know where they can find you?
Michael: Yes, they can find my website at, yourmoneygeek.com and they can follow me on Twitter @Michael Dinich.
Tom: Great. Thanks for being on the show.
Michael: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
Thanks Michael, for helping me expose some of the problems with blogging as a way to make money. You can find shows notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/michaeldinich. Or check out all the episodes at maplemoney.com/show. And Happy New Year to all of you. We have a lot of great episodes coming this month and a huge list of people I plan to talk to throughout 2019. Make sure you subscribe to The Maple Money Show in your favorite podcast player and I’ll see you next week.