Ben Aston chats with Robert Farrington, the Millenial Money Expert and Founder of College Investor about how to build and scale a successful online side hustle so you can quit your day job.
- Apply to join the Indie Media Club
- Check out The College Investor
- Connect with Robert on LinkedIn
- Follow Robert on Twitter
Related articles and podcasts:
- Podcast: How To Build Thriving Online Communities (with Richard Millington from FeverBee)
- Podcast: How To Develop A Content Strategy That Actually Works (with Jeff Coyle from Market Muse)
- Podcast: How To Diversify Revenue And Monetization Models (with Deacon Hayes from Well Kept Wallet)
- Podcast: How To Develop A Content Strategy That Actually Works (with Jeff Coyle from Market Muse)
- Podcast: How To Drive More Organic Traffic To Your Website (with Bernard Huang from Clearscope)
- Podcast: How To Acquire Websites & Build A Successful Paid Newsletter Subscription Model (with Richard Patey from Website Investing)
- Podcast: How To Build Niche Affiliate Websites (with Doug Cunnington from Niche Site Project)
- Intro Episode: Welcome to the Indie Media Club
- About the Indie Media Club podcast
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
So today I’m joined by Robert Farrington and Robert is the founder of the College Investor. He’s also a partner and loan buddy. And an investor in college backer he’s America’s millennial money expert, and his blog, thecollegeinvestor.com reaches over 3 million visitors every month. Thanks to his expertise and student loan and debt.
So keep listening to today’s podcast to learn how to build a successful online side hustle to leave your day job. Hey Robert, thank you so much for joining us today.
Hey, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here. This is going to be fun.
Yeah. And I want to start by just going back kind of right to the beginning of your, your path, maybe where that the college investor all began.
What was the reason that you started it in the first place?
Yeah. So, I mean, it’s called the college investor cause I actually started it when I was finishing up college and I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I’ve always, always been a fan of the side hustle, making extra money and I’ve been doing it since middle school, honestly.
And then in high school, I was buying stuff and reselling it on eBay, and all along, I was taking this extra money and investing it. And so I was really a big fan of like trying to pick stocks and figure out investments. And I’d also been reading a lot of personal finance blogs, uh, how to invest, what to invest in things like that.
And I stumbled across a, Hey, you can start a personal finance blog too. Follow these steps, open a hosting account, you know, get a logo, get a theme. And I was like, you know what? I could do that. And so if you really want to go back to the origins, that’s where we started is I read a site about how to start a blog.
And I did it. I took action. I started a blog and it really was about me sharing my random investment tips. I don’t know who would want to actually hear them, but Hey, I got it started and put some content out there.
Nice. And so when you did that, it was with the express intention that this could be a side hustle than this was going to be a way that you could generate some income.
You know? Yes and no, it was something I was very passionate about. I kind of understood a little bit that you could make money online. I didn’t really understand a lot of it. Um, and honestly I didn’t make any money for like the first 18 months or so. I didn’t even know what I was doing. Um, but. I really just enjoyed it.
So I think I was blessed in the fact that I was passionate about investing. I was always kind of nerdy. I liked website stuff. I like kind of making your own site. I thought that was cool. And so all kind of like this intersection of my passions. So that’s what kept it going. And I learned as I went and I ended up making money, so it was great.
Yeah. And so obviously it’s progressed a lot since then. Um, tell us about what you’re trying to build now, now that you’ve kind of gone way past that point of, Oh, I ain’t gonna get dabble in creating a blog and throwing out my ideas and thoughts. What are you trying to build now? What, what’s your passion?
Who you trying to help?
Well, so here’s the thing is there are so many people in this world that are just struggling with their money. Student loan debt in United States is incredibly complicated. You know, as much as I like to get to investing and building wealth, you know, people aren’t there yet. So really it’s how can I help people navigate these complex financial decisions so that they can make better choices and, you know, build a better future for themselves.
And so I do that on the site today through reviews, comparisons, editorial content education, uh, across a variety of platforms too. It’s not just the blog. We have video, we have audio, we have, you know, all kinds of social media, because my goal is to try to reach people where they’re at. Right. And so we’ve really evolved a ton since we first started and in terms of how we create content, what that content looks like.
And so you’re in the business of content. Tell me, you know, brutally, well, what do you hate about it? What do you love about it? What’s good about this business that you’re now in, that you’ve created for yourself.
Well, I’ll start with what I love about it. Cause you know, honestly, like I joke we make money in our business from air. Like literally, this is like non-existent ones and zeros in the internet that literally is like a mythical thing and it creates money, which is amazing. Right. Uh, I also love that relatively it’s inexpensive.
Um, I didn’t have to buy a brick and mortar shop, buy inventory, buy anything like literally it’s what’s in my mind. Right. I write it down. I put it out into the world and that has potential. I say potential because this is the struggle with content marketing and, you know, creating content in general, you know, people might not resonate with it.
And on the flip side, you create the greatest thing in the world, and this could be like the definitive guide to whatever thing. And it is hands down the best thing ever. And it will help millions and millions of people. And no one could give a crap about it and it doesn’t do anything. And you put all this time, effort, money into it, and it’s just a total failure.
And so that’s the struggle with content marketing too, is even if you created the greatest thing in the world, you know, it might not go anywhere and do anything for you.
I mean, let’s talk about it, that process of creating the greatest thing in the world, what is, what is the process that you go through, um, to create content and I’m interested.
Because, you know, you talked about, you can create the greatest thing in the world and it not go anywhere. So when you’re thinking about how to create the greatest thing in the world, um, how do you kind of lay it out with making sure that it doesn’t get missed and we’ll see what kind of approach and strategy and visibility.
Yeah, well, first of all, let me just go back in time, right? Because when the game of creating content is a few fold, right? First off, you have to do it consistently and you have to do it well. And when anyone starts a business online, you likely might have some consistency. Maybe you’re putting out content three times a week or every day.
You probably don’t do it well yet it takes practice. It takes experience. Then as you gain followers, you need to continue the consistency. Because if you stop the consistency, people that were reading your stuff all the time will stop checking in on it and we’ll stop coming back. So you have to continue the consistency, but consistency gets you skills.
So it gets you followers, but you just get better. I kind of think of it as baseball, right? So, you know, a kid starts baseball and literally league. Sucks. No one hits the ball, right. But you just keep doing it over and over and over and over again. And by the time they’re in high school or college, they’re getting really good at it.
They can hit the ball more, they can catch the ball. And it’s just because you’ve had so many at-bats and that’s the thing with content is you have to put the at-bats out there to get hits. And then when I think a bit in terms of content marketing, like an all-star baseball player, these days maybe bats 300, that means they hit the ball three and 10 times.
Well, it’s the same thing with our online content today. Like I consider myself done this for over a decade. I consider myself pretty good at it. But even then I’m only batting 300. Like I put 10 pieces of content out there and maybe only three stick, but I have to keep taking those at bats. Because if you slow down on the app bats, you won’t get to those three, your, your average will fall off.
Right. And it’s the same thing. If you’ve never taken a thousand at bats anyways, to get to this point, your, your average, isn’t going to be there. So that’s how I like to premise the story. And then second is like, you got to create the best thing that there is out there. Right? You gotta answer all the questions.
Who, what, when, where, how, why like, is it going depth? Does it have data, ideally unique data? Did you create this? Um, and then are you reaching people where they are? Are you on their social media platforms? Are you creating audio? Are you creating video? Like. Are you helping somebody or is it about you? And you know, somebody, sometimes personal brands work, um, you know, all about you, but even the personal brands successful are also about your audience, your reader, how do you help people?
How do you reach people? And I think you have to keep that in mind as well. And that was one of my failures upfront too, was I created a lot about me. I told you I started a stock-picking blog on my stocks that I cared about. And nobody cared it wasn’t until I started creating content for other people and answering their questions and their needs that we started seeing some traction.
That’s cool. And so in that process of pivoting, I guess, from, uh, from your interests around stocks, to what other people are interested in, how did you see that kind of audience growth happen? I mean, you change the kind of content you were talking about or writing about or creating, but did you intentionally do anything to build your audience or was it something that just happened as you.
Kept on batting, as you kept on writing these posts, creating content after time, it just happened magically, or were you quite intentional about building your audience?
It was both, it was a happy accident. I followed by intention. So the happy accident was I shared my own story of my own beef with my own student loan servicing company.
So they screwed up my payments. They messed everything up. So what does any good blogger do you go and write a long rant about it online about why they. Well, this blog post was one of my first, uh, blog posts that went viral. Right. And people started commenting and being, Oh my God, the problem I have as well, this is a big issue.
And it was a light bulb moment for me that it was like, wow, this is really a thing. And so what do you do when you get a good viral piece of content, you try to duplicate it. Right? And so I started trying to duplicate it and looking at what people were commenting and looking what. So basically my audience was saying and trying to do it again.
And this was what sent me down the student loan rabbit hole of trying to help people with their student loans. And so I kind of tried to hack and newsjack this success I had and duplicating it. And I realized like, if I answer people’s questions, if I’m talking about things that people care about, well, I have more chances of success in what I’m creating.
And so I started applying that message to all of our content. Like what do people talking about? What’s going on on social media? What are the comments we’re getting on our blog? A few of them that we had at first, can I answer their questions? What kind of like Twitter, like battles am I seeing in my space that are maybe a little controversial that I can, you know, hop onto and, and create an answer to and follow up with.
And so those were some of the tactics I use to. Grow my audience grow my traffic. And you know, once again, every time you create a piece of content, you know, maybe a hundred people read it, but you hope one sticks, maybe two stick and they become a follower that you do it again. But you had those two, maybe you gained two more and then, you know, you just keep doing it over and over again.
Right. And so,
I mean, you talk about, yeah. Maybe one or two sticks out at the hundred. Is there a process that you put in place for that? Like, were you intentional about building an email list, um, right from the start? Or how did you, how were you intentional about growing that, um, return visitor?
Yeah. So definitely had an email list.
Uh, I I’ll tell you straight out. I’m not very great with email. Uh, you know, it’s one of those things that I have it, we use it, it drives traffic. Um, we’re not incredibly intentional with it. I, I think I did it originally because I read on a blog somewhere that I needed to have an email list. Like, you know, and it’s grown.
I mean, we have. You know, 60,000 subscribers and we send out emails to them when they come and read our stuff, but I’m sure it could be better. Uh, you know, we have our social media following too. Like we engage on social media, we have a very active Facebook group, um, same thing. So like, how do we draw people there?
You know, in our email newsletter, we say connect with us on these platforms on social media, we promote our groups, um, and all these things kind of work in a circle around each other and sort of feed each other as well. I mean, could they be more effective? Yeah, but honestly, I still go back to my core message and I’m happy to help one person.
Like I am literally, if I can answer your question and make you better off financially, successfully happier, wealthier, like I think that’s a win. And I think continuing to have that focus on that one-on-one relationship is a huge part of my brand. And I think it’s just vital.
Yeah. And so since that you’ve got a really big focus on creating the right content and refining your messaging and just being really focused on the user and.
Meeting that user intent. So you create content that’s really valuable to them, but in terms of, um, I guess what’s changed over the years in terms of your approach. Is there anything that you used to do that you now definitely do not do or something that you’ve tried recently in terms of this content creation, um, that in, in the way that you’ve built your audience and discovered some things that are actually more or less effective.
Yeah. Well, I mean, when we started this like 10 years ago, writing a 300-word blog posts was all you needed to do. There wasn’t any content in the world. Right? And so it’s like, you could write a blog post about how to save, how to save money. And it’s 300 words with like, you should open a bank account and put money in it.
And that was it. And then because no one else was talking about it, then it’s like, you kind of won by default today. Like you need to have really great content. And that usually means a length and images and charts and. Multimedia content to, to compete. And so, you know, that’s what we’ve learned and we’ve really evolved to then, like, you know, if you’re not writing a 2000 word blog posts, you don’t have good odds of success.
And not to say you should fill it with fluff. You need to figure out how to make it 2000 words of engaging content that. Helps people. And so that’s really how we’ve evolved and I’m continuing to play. Like, I don’t know, you probably follow Gary Vaynerchuk and he likes to dabble. So I spend a lot of time dabbling and I play on all the social media platforms.
And so, I mean, we try everything I’m trying Reddit right now. Uh, we’re doing it. We’re seeing great success on TikToK with short format video. And, uh, so it’s. I’m was just a huge believer of meeting people where they’re at and trying to figure out how to transform the same content that we create on the blog, uh, in other formats.
Yeah. I think that, yeah, repurposing content I think is, uh, yeah, a solid, a solid approach in terms of, I wonder if you can share with us. Over the past decade or so, what has been your biggest screw up? If you can share that with us? I will. What did you learn through something that went being tried that went really badly wrong?
Anything you need to mind that.
Yeah. I mean, when I think of my biggest screw up, it’s actually what I didn’t do it it’s I failed to network for a long time and I still struggle with networking and connecting with other people. Um, in terms of networking, like I mentioned, at the beginning of the show, I didn’t make any money on my side for 18 months because I didn’t know what I was doing.
I read that blog post and I never went back to try to figure out more and learn more. And it wasn’t until I started connecting with some other bloggers online, we were in forums back then, but I found like some blogging and marketing forums online. And they were talking about strategies about how to grow your content, how to grow your monetization.
What does that look like? And I started learning and engaging with other people and asking questions and sharing the little knowledge I had. And yeah. And this online networking, like significantly propelled my business forward. I went from making nothing to making $24 my first month to making $7,000 that year.
Um, you know, just through learning how to make money and grow your audience and stuff. And so, yeah. Not networking was detrimental to me. And then, you know, I got a little wind, but I still stalled out. Um, I saw some conferences in my Twitter feed and I was like, I don’t know if it was imposter syndrome or what, but I was like, I don’t want to go, I shouldn’t do this.
Like, I shouldn’t go connect with these people. Like I’m not on this level to go there. But after a couple of years of kind of stagnant growth, I made 7,000. Then I made like 10,000. It kind of stayed in that same bubble. I went to a conference for my first time and connected. With others in real life. And that was game changing for my business.
But here we are at like the four or five year Mark before I even did that. And so for anyone out there, like go network, go collaborate, go connect with other people. It’s a huge win for you. And you will learn so much and build connections and it will be so helpful.
Yeah. And that’s totally what the Indie Media Club is all about.
It’s about creating that connection, helping people level up so that they can, as they’re developing their content publishing business, as they’re building community, that they can do that and collaborate with other people to do that. But I’m curious, what conference was it that you went to? That was that, uh, help so helpful for you?
No, it was the financial blogger conference. It’s now evolved into fin con. So it’s a conference where financial influencers connect with financial brands and, you know, mainstream media. And it’s an amazing conference of knowledge, education, connections. And, uh, I think it’s been going on for about 10 years now as well, but I didn’t go to the first couple of them just because I had this imposter syndrome and this scared, you know, I didn’t want to do it.
And so tell me about this kind of how your monetization model has evolved over the year. So you started not making much money. Um, you went to the conference. And something changed or something helps open your eyes to do something different. Tell us about what, what happened? How has your monetization model or tactics changed over the years?
Yeah, well, I mean, when I first monetized it was ad sense, right? We all love our AdSense made $24 putting some display ads on the site. And that was kind of the monetization model for a few years. Then I started learning that, you know, there’s like actual media networks where like they play ad sense against other companies against direct buying.
Did that for a long time with display ads. But really for me, it was a affiliate marketing was really a game-changing for us because I learned that, you know, if you can help people, but you can also connect them with products and services that are extremely helpful for them. You can create these win-win situation.
So I’m not about like the scammy affiliate marketing, where you should go and. Pitch silly things that I don’t believe in. Like we do honest reviews. Like I have some affiliates that we give one-star reviews and we say, don’t use this product. It sucks. And we’re still affiliates for them. And they still convert, which is hilarious to me.
But like, you know, like you just gotta be honest and transparent, um, with that. And I think when you can create those win-win scenarios where it’s a win for the consumer, It’s a win for solving their needs and you can be paid for it by promoting the product. I think it’s great. So that’s really how we’ve transitioned.
We do a lot of affiliate marketing brand partnerships, and I’ll tell you about two and a half years ago, three years ago, we removed all display ads from our site. So we don’t do any kind of ad sense display content or anything. I’m really focused on the user experience. And there was a big win for us. Um, you know, we, we cut, we lost over five.
Solid five figures in revenue per month, um, and made it all back in other earnings from just having a better user experience on our site.
So then tell me about how that works then. So you, you, uh, you were generating, I dunno, something like $50,000 a month or something in, in ads and you are then turning those ads off and you think somehow you, the improved user experience generated.
A hundred percent. Yeah. Because people are just ad blind these days. So one, it just makes your site look so crappy. Like you got banner ads, things here. So you remove all these distractions, a one it’ll say significantly impact your search rate, your search rankings. You will shoot up in the search ranking.
So you’ll get more traffic as a result. You’ll also get more social shares too, because people like to share your content. Nobody likes to share these like new sites unless they have to, because like you go on these new sites, man. It’s like, what’s the headline is that this ad right here. And then there’s an ad below the fold.
And suddenly a video starts playing automatically. Like people hate that stuff. So when you clear all the debris away, All of a sudden, people will read your content and then they will also see an offer there. And they might actually click it this time because they know what they’re actually getting into.
And it’s just shocking to me how much of an improvement was. And like I said, about two months after removing our display ads, we had regained all of that loss revenue through other channels.
And so those other channels where affiliate partnerships, you just saw your affiliate conversion rate go up
Significantly like three X.
Wow. That’s a, that’s an interesting story. Um, yeah, I’m at the moment I don’t have, um, ads on my site. We have our own, we have our own ad placements in the site, but I was like, Oh, well, why don’t I just kind of stick some ads at the bottom of the page, just to see what, just to see what happens. So I’m, I’m about to embark on an experiment going the other way.
So I’ll let you know how it goes.
It all changes, I would say. And I would say, if you do it, try to avoid the dynamic stuff. These things drop 150 cookies on your site. Uh, you know, like all these networks and stuff and it just, it just destroys, you know, any type of speed or things that you’re looking for.
And I do, I truly do believe you get penalized for it. Um, so just be mindful of that as you go down that experiment.
Yeah. And so, okay. So you’ve dropped display ads. You’ve like doubled down on affiliate. Is there any other, um, monetization that you’re actively pursuing through the site?
Yeah, so we do a lot of brand partnerships, sponsored content, things like that.
Uh, now that we’re a large site, it’s, it’s really fun to work with brands and create customized ad campaigns. So I’m not telling you about like the shitty sponsored posts that you might have seen over time. Like we actually do really cool branded campaigns. Um, Sponsored social sponsored, you know, media, all kinds of variations on a theme too, to work with some of our partners that we really enjoy working with.
And so, and that’s a lot of fun.
And so you’re creating content on their behalf, um, because you have the insight into your audience that perhaps they don’t have. And so how do you, how do you charge for that? Do you charge on like, Hey, give us $5,000. We’ll create a post and include you in it, or how does it work?
That’s exactly how it is on a base level. You have a, you have a flat fee for an article, but like there’s so many, ad-ons different things that we can do. How do we do it? I like to do campaigns, like, you know, you know, one post to post three posts over a month and we advertise. And you, you can retarget people that saw the first post with a second post and you know, all these different variations on a theme.
And so the advertisers like it because they don’t have access to our market, they can’t necessarily retarget. To our audience. Who’s read this article. I want to retarget visitors that have read this article about, I don’t know, 10 ways to make money where maybe they might be the first way to make money, but they can’t do that unless they work with us because we have the pixel.
We can, we can share that stuff. So, you know, we can do newsletters. We can do push notifications. There’s, there’s so many ways that we can work with brands. We can do some spokesperson work. We do a lot of custom surveys now that we’re starting to roll out. And so we can get insights into our audience. Um, I like doing brand stuff too.
A couple of things that are enjoyable or new product launches for existing brands or new FinTech startups. So these like, you know, young companies that are like launching a new product, I always find it’s fun to work with and they can get a lot of insights. Like, is this gonna resonate or not resonate?
We can help them split test landing pages, uh, drive traffic from a known audience to two landing pages and see if their offer converts from a warm. Messaging standpoint. Um, so these kinds of partnerships can be really win-win and collaborative and, you know, they’re great for money. And so like, yeah, from a base model we charged for posts.
I mean, we charge on all these different levels of things we can do. And I also joke, like for, we work in the financial space, so like literally I put in like a compliance premium, all these like banks and investment firms, man, like some of their lawyers and stuff it’s like, just for working with you, you’re going to, I’m going to charge you double because you’re such a pain in the ass.
And so, yeah. I mean, how do you price that out then? Can you give us like a range of like where, where one of these campaigns might start at and what’s the kind of top limit of what you’ve been able to charge?
Yeah, I mean, like I say, on the bottom level, when I first started this, like, you know, $500, $200 for a post, this was, you know, seven, eight years ago.
I mean, we can go into the six figures on these campaigns, um, and working with brands. So it’s, it’s all across the board, what they want to do, how that looks. Um, you know, how long, what our commitment looks like so forth.
Interesting. And so, I mean, this building out these campaigns, um, it sounds like a very different level of sophistication to just creating content and making really engaging, uh, posts.
So you’ve obviously got a team in place to help you do that. Can we talk about that a bit? How you structure your team, what it looks like and how that has changed over the past 10 years or so?
Yeah. Oh, when I first started the first like, quote unquote hire I ever made was an another freelance writer. So once I learned that creating content was great and it was working, um, I started to get burnt out.
Right. I’m trying to create content every day. I’m writing, I’m writing. Like it gets exhausting, like so, but I was like, we can’t let this go. Like we need to have it. So I brought on another freelance writer and I was like, I gave the ideas cause they were still my ideas, but. It’s like, Hey, can you fill in these content gaps that like, maybe it was, I was just getting burnt out or maybe it’s something that like, I know we should write about, but I really didn’t want to write about it.
Like, it’s just, you know, there’s like, there’s like fun topics to write about. And then there’s like the topic that’s like, we need to have it. It’s important, but it’s so dry and boring. Like, can someone else just like take care of this? So then I added a couple more writers, like filling in more of those gaps.
Um, then we started like, Bring in a social media person to help us create better social media content. Um, and now today I have an editor that manages the writers that handles that we have a social media team. We have an ads manager, I have a business development person that works with these brands and partners, um, and so on and so forth, have someone that does our audio have someone that does our video.
Um, so it’s all crafted out and organized, but, you know, yes, it is a lot bigger team than it was back in the day.
So how many, yeah. Tell me, so how many people have you got in total then? Is that about 10 people or something?
Yeah, about 10 or 11 people.
And are they all based in North America or do you have a globally distributed team?
You know, it’s all based in North America. Um, all in the United States. Actually I have a few people contractors that we use as needed. Um, so there’s some are in Europe, some are in, uh, Asia, uh, in terms a lot of that’s technical stuff. Um, but usually it’s just stuff we use as needed. But, uh, for the most part, all of our core team is in the United States, all distributed, no one, you know, um, we don’t have an office or anything.
Everyone just works from wherever they wanna work.
Nice. And so tell me about your tech stack and how you’re making this happen. There’s a lot of people involved now in producing this content. Rolling it out. Um, what are you using to manage all this content you’re producing all the campaigns. Um, How are you kind of project managing it and then kind of what’s the tech stack that you’re using to deploy all this content?
Yeah, definitely. Uh, I mean, one, I’ll tell you my, the tech stack drives me nuts, man. It’s like one of those things, it’s like, you love it. You hate it. I hate all, like, I hate subscription as a service and like all this things, it’s just, everything just starts layering on top of each other, but I’ll tell you the heart and soul of how we project manages Asana.
I’m a huge Assan above. Um, we do everything in Asana. I’ve tried various other platforms. I even tried like click up. It’s supposed to be like the Isana killer. I just couldn’t Asana is where we’re at. It. It works really well for our team, uh, in terms of our project and our business and our, uh, you know, like our CRM effectively for managing our ad partners as well, works phenomenal.
We have a great setup for it. Um, you know, everything else. I mean, we it’s our sites, WordPress, um, you know, everything, of course it’s customized, uh, in terms of the theme and a lot of the backend on it. And, uh, yeah, I mean, I keep it pretty simple. I don’t, I don’t really have a huge tech stack of different things.
Give me, give me a Dropbox, Google drive, Asana and WordPress, and you’re ready to rock and roll.
And in terms of, so in terms of like SEO tools you use or outreach tools, um, as, is there anything else that you’ve yeah, that, that you’re using that you think is pretty effective?
No. I mean, we use Ahrefs. Uh, I don’t really live and breathe in it.
I actually, we don’t do a ton of SEO research. Like I’ll be frank with you in terms of SEO research. What we do is is this topic going to help our readers type it into Google? What else is out there? And can we make something better, more creative, more interesting, more interactive than what’s. Already there.
Like, I mean, yeah, we do the basics of SEO in terms of title, tag, headers, like, you know, that kind of stuff. But SEO to me, isn’t really that hard. If you create great content, people will link to it, share it. Um, you know, I do a lot of outreach in terms of PR outreach. Um, given what I talk about student loans, I do a lot of media myself.
And so that’s kind of the extent of my outreach is working with media. I do a lot of interviews. I do a lot of podcasts like this. Um, I do, I would say I do personally three to five outreach type things a week in terms of a podcast, a media interview, um, responding to a reporter, uh, things like that, but I’ve also built this network over a decade of, you know, I get a lot of reporters that reach out just naturally to us.
Hey, we weren’t working on this story about student loans. Can you provide a quote? Things like that.
Yeah. So you’re just taking a very organic approach to developing content. So you come up with an idea, you write about it, or you, you brief someone to write about it. Can you talk about that editorial process though?
How you decide how, how you, you know, you’ve got a backlog of stuff. I’m guessing that you want to talk about. You talked before about there’s the boring, dry stuff that you don’t really want to talk about, but you know, you need to, how do you decide and prioritize, okay guys, this is what we’re going to create.
This is what all are we going to do in the process for getting it from an idea to published.
Yeah, so we run our content calendar in Asana and we plan our content calendar at least a quarter in advance. So like right now, as we’re recording this, we’re in October, uh, we’re working on our January content right now.
We’ve already got the rest of the year dial, like we’re working on what the new year looks like. Cool thing with personal finance is it’s the same themes every year. And I think we have, this happens in a lot of spaces, like, you know, in the United States, it’s like January to April tax season. And then in late.
Spring, it’s paying for college. People get their admissions letter in the summer. No one really cares about their money. Like everyone’s on vacation then it’s like back to school time, and then it’s, you know, the holidays are coming up, right? Like you have these same kind of themes every year. And so.
We’ve just paid attention to these seams over time we write them down. We haven’t, we actually keep the 12-month calendar already. Rolling. And so like, for example, we just finished back to school. If we found gaps or let’s just say, um, people were leaving comments on our articles or on social, and we’re like, that’s a great article idea, but it’s a back to school article.
So we literally will drop in content. Right. For next year’s back to school this year, based on what we learned and lessons we learned. So that’s part one part two is we update a lot of our old content at this point in time. Given that once again, everything is the same all the time, but like things change products and services change, but like in personal finance, there’s this joke that literally there’s only seven topics.
It’s how to get out of debt, how to start investing, how to save money, how to, you know, like literally it’s just the same thing. So the question is, is, do we have something about this we can update, do we need to change? You know, so on and so forth. So we do a lot of content updating, but we republish it as new articles.
We add a lot to it, you know, and especially, you know, no one in our site, no one will remember what I wrote about seven years ago. Like it’s just not going to happen. So like, it gives me the same article. You bring it up seven years newer and. There it is. And then there’s a lot of new products and services.
So we do a lot of reviews, a lot of comparisons, you know, new stuff’s coming out all the time. So that’s fun. Uh, I love the new stuff. I was telling you about this before. Like, so I always seeing what’s going on with the new products and services. Um, and then, you know, just ideas that come to mind, like, uh, what what’s, what am I feeling?
What are we doing? And so all the content ideas come from me and my editor and we assign those out to our writers in the Asana. Um, we structured all out article deadline, you know, we have our social media guy create all the social media content drop. All those assets in Asana podcast gets dropped in Asana video, gets dropped in Asana.
Um, you know, anything that’s post the article. I think a lot of people also forget post publishing. Um, Promotion and things, but like linking to your article from old stuff. So like where did this article come from? Did it come from a reader’s comment from here? Well, why don’t we go respond to that?
Reader’s comment with our article. Hey, like you had a great comment. We actually wrote, answered it more. Here, you know, and follow up, same thing on social. Like, I will tell you that people are amazed at like, I’ll follow a Twitter, like full on, like people are battling on Twitter. Save that tweet, write the article, come back to it and be like, dude, you guys had a great rant or conversation or argument.
Like here’s our thoughts on it. And you’d be surprised how much that just gets you some initial pop on your article because no one does it, you know, so, but if you save that in Asana, it’s so easy to come back to it after you publish it, because you you’re not like, what was that tweet again? Or where was it you already have it saved.
Um, and then, you know, it was the same thing. I do a little outreach if it’s necessary. If we write about a brand or quote somebody or things like that in the article, reach out to them. Email them say like, Hey, I mentioned you in this article, you might like it. It’s not like necessarily like linked to me or share this, but most people will like, especially if you’re saying flattering things about them.
So yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s kind of how we break it all down.
Cool. And so do you know, do you have any sense of like how, how long does that process typically take from, from going from backlog to being published.
Like I said, we’re planning about a quarter in advance. I mean, we can publish things super quick and we’ve pivoted quite a bit.
This year has been the year of the pivot. Right. Um, so we had a lot of content, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. That we were just iterating very quickly. Like we’re scrapping the month of March of what we had. We’re going to talk about unemployment insurance and student loan relief and stimulus checks and things that are pressing people today.
And we’re going to revamp our whole content calendar. And that’s the cool thing is because you have content planned out for three months. I mean, you can literally just drag drop, move things to a different place. And you know, it doesn’t really impact things too much. It also is important to have a flexible team and understanding like, Hey, can you turn this article around able to just the next couple of days, uh, you know, in coordinating that.
But, you know, we have a great team, very flexible, very able to do that.
And do you know, how much do you want? I mean, do you calculate how much it costs you to produce different pieces of content?
Yeah, I mean, honestly I do. Um, there’s an ROI that’s always involved, but you gotta, you gotta hit those bats, you know?
So, I mean, we’ll pay an article. I’ll tell you anywhere from a hundred to $500 for an article, depending on the in-depth content what’s required and stuff. And then. You know, most of the other stuff is just already built in between social media, things like that. Like it’s just in our overhead costs, but you know, when you’re thinking about that article, you do you need to think a little about ROI, right?
Like if I want to invest a hundred dollars in this, will I earn a hundred dollars? Yeah. Maybe, maybe not like seven times out of 10. No, but you know, there’s three times out of 10. It’s almost like I almost think about it. Just talking about this with you. It’s like the VC model, right? Like the venture capital model, they invest in, you know, a hundred companies.
Cause they know like two of them are going to be unicorns and like another, like 10 of them are going to do. Okay. It’s the same kind of thing is, you know, three of them are going to make their money back and maybe one out of 20 is just going to knock it out of the park for you. Right. And so it kind of all makes it all balances out.
And so in terms of you and how you’ve seen your revenue growth change, we kind of talked about, you started with display ads. Uh, you transitioned into affiliate, you’ve layered on brands, partnerships. Um, how has, how have you seen your kind of revenue grow through that period and has that, to what extent have you, I guess, pivoted your content around.
These kinds of brands, partnerships, um, how, how has that kind of evolved that? Because I think from my, I guess, experience of, yeah. Going from affiliate to more direct relationships, it’s a lot more lucrative. How have you seen that, that grow in terms of you, you know, you started off talking about 7,000, then 10,000 for the first couple of years, what’s been that kind of growth rate for you.
And similarly to this, because it just. The idea came from you talking about this, the VC idea, like two out of 10, these are going to be unicorns. Was there a kind of a unicorn moment for you in this. Decade on how did that happen?
Yeah, I mean, so our growth was, it’s kind of like grow plateau, grow plateau, grow plateau, and that’s kinda been the story of it.
Like we’ve seen huge growth plateau for a year, you know, more growth plateau for a year and things like that. And, and so, and that’s just been the story of it. I mean, I think the unicorn moment for me is remember this was a side hustle for years. I started as a side hustle. I did this as a side hustle for the first seven, eight years.
That I did this, but it was when I started earning more from my side hustle, then I was at my day job. That was kind of like, wow. But like I’m earning more doing this blogging stuff than I am working. Full-time and that felt really good, but it wasn’t like I’m going to leave my job right away. Like I was, I earned more on the college investor in my side, also for about a year and a half.
Before I left my day job. I made two years. And so I was able to achieve a lot of financial goals. In this time. I was able to pay off all of our deck and ask, do the loan debt, get out of car debt, you know, start paying off our house, achieve those goals, which enabled me to feel more comfortable in terms of making that leap to full-time entrepreneurship.
Um, but like that first time when it’s like, I made more outside of work than I did at work. That’s a pretty cool moment. Right? And you’re like, Whoa, this is, this is cool.
Yeah, no, I definitely remember that moment where I was like, I didn’t really need to go to work anymore.
Right. It’s magic. And then the funnier thing was when I’m at work, I actually enjoyed work so much more.
It’s like that F-you money concept, right. Where it’s like, Hey, I really don’t care about any of this, but like, it’s cool. Like I’m hearing like, we’ll do the job, but like, I just enjoyed work more when it’s like, I didn’t actually have to do it. Like, I don’t know.
Yeah, no, it’s some, for some reason it just takes the stress out of it, because I think because you’re like, I couldn’t even tomorrow.
Right? Totally. It’s a, it’s a great feeling. And that’s probably my unicorn moment. Like it’s not like a overnight success thing, right. It’s years in the making, but when it happens and you’re just like, this is, this feels good.
Yeah. So, I mean, tell me where you’re kind of planning on taking things from here.
You’ve, you’ve grown it steadily, um, and a big part of what you’re creating is community. I’m. I’m curious, sorry, is, is content. I’m curious about the community component of it and you’ve, you’ve talked quite a lot about creating. You know, content that helps your readers that serves them.
Um, where does the community component fit in for you and yeah and how do you see that as part of your growth moving forwards?
You know, I’ve always seen community as important, but it’s kind of minimal in my philosophy. So I thought years ago I had this thing, like, do I want to become an individual influencer and build a community? Or do I want to view myself as like the New York times and create a flagship.
Content brand that has followers. Um, but I’m not here and I’m here and it answers questions and it does all that, but it’s not, it’s not personal as much. And on the flip side, it, it doesn’t have a strong community. And so, you know, I didn’t want to necessarily be this personal, personal brand and build this personal community.
I wanted it to be more of a, of an editorial content driven. Newspaper style exactly effectively model. And so we don’t have a huge community. I would say we have a good following and really good engagement on it, but I’m not, it’s not a community built type thing as a result though. There’s pros and cons to that.
Right. So for example, I can’t sell courses. Like that doesn’t it doesn’t convert. I’ve tried it. I will never be able to sell a course through our business. So like anyone could, even, if someone created a course about money, the thing is, is course sales. Need community and they need a person and they need a testimonial and they need like a human like that.
So my model will not sell courses. So selling courses or something like that is your thing. Like, don’t do what I did. But on the flip side, our model has become very good at selling products and services that are related to what we talk about. Because we have really good reviews and comparisons and, you know, people can see that we write crappy reviews about crappy products and good reviews about good products.
And we can to, they can see that it’s a little unbiased. Um, and it goes into the education component and we’re never trying to force anyone to do this. And all, most of our reviews, I won’t say all of them, most of our reviews we’ll put comparisons. Like here’s the competitors like go see what works. And some of those competitors might not be affiliates, but like on the flip side, like, this is what’s good.
Like. I’m not going to like stop you from doing it. And so I think that gives us credibility, which helps us sell in the longer ride as well.
Related Read: Online Community Software
Yeah. And so what, how do you see it evolving the college investor? I mean, you’ve become involved now in other businesses as well, but how do you see the college investor evolving in the next 10 years?
Yeah. So one of the things we’ve done, especially more recently is just multimedia right? So I’m a personally a reader. And so the college investor for the first eight years was all written, you know, and then. My brother-in-law was actually like Christmas or something. And he’s like, I never will read. I hate reading.
I will not read a thing on the internet. He’s like, I watch YouTube for everything. I will watch a video. It doesn’t matter what the topic is. Like, even dry, personal finance stuff. I will watch a video. Before I’ll read an article and it was kind of a light bulb moment again. And I was like, I just need to create content that reaches people where they’re at.
Like, I think our content is great. I think people think our written content is really good, but if you’re never going to read it, I can’t help you. So we’ve spent a lot of time creating audio, a podcast, and now we’re doing a lot more video to try to reach people where they are, because. I’ve kind of realized, you know, there’s readers, there’s listeners and there’s viewers and the overlap.
It’s like a Venn diagram, right? The overlap is going to be really tiny between those personality types in terms of people that like to do both. And so we’re really spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to play on these other mediums, um, to get the content in front of people that probably wouldn’t have seen it before, because they weren’t going to read it.
Yeah. Cool. So you’re working on, you know, creating different types of media, expand re-purposing, um, into different channels, which is cool. Is there, I mean, I know you are, you’re working, uh, as well on these other projects you’re doing lone buddy college backer. Is there any. Any other things that you’ve got brewing or things that you’re working on?
Yeah. Well, so lone buddy’s funding is, so when I talk about student loan debt, it’s a lot of coaching one-on-one. So it was this idea of can I create a software as a service model for our coaching? And so that’s what it is, right. And it’s doing okay. Like, you know, it’s nothing knocking out of the park, but now I don’t have to necessarily coach people or email.
I say, Hey, I’ve literally put all my knowledge in this, go do this, go do it online. And it’ll answer your questions. And it works pretty well in that regard. Um, and then college backers fun. So one of the things that I’ve been doing more and more is looking at how can I help these startup companies? Uh, leverage our platform, leverage our assets and companies that I really like and can I invest in them and help them grow.
And so that’s what college backer is. College backer is helping people save for college, love the model. I love the team and, uh, the college investor can definitely help in their growth as well as my connections and network to help grow it. So being able to invest in their company is a lot of fun. And so I am looking for more opportunities like that in terms of, are there small companies that are just getting started? That I can help assist, leverage and use the other resources we’ve created to, you know, grow into something. Cool.
Yeah. That’s cool. Yeah. I think that idea of, yeah. Thinking about what you’ve created and leveraging that to, uh, for partnerships is super powerful. Once you’ve got to the stage of. Uh, you know, you’ve got an audience, uh, you’ve got a following. Um, that’s, that’s super interesting.
Um, what’s tough for you. Like, what are some of the biggest challenges you face? Um, you’ve obviously now have some, uh, you know, a team that’s producing content pretty confidently, uh, pretty capably. Um, you’re expanding into these different channels. So it’s, you know, it sounds like it’s all going wonderfully, but what is, what’s tough for you?
What are some of your biggest challenges or the things that you’re still working on or trying to get better at?
Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you business-wise the biggest challenge is the advertising market, right? We’re still at the whim of companies, advertising budgets. And that can go both ways. It’s like it’s kind of feast or famine.
Right. And we’re in this weird time of what’s going to happen with the economy what’s going to happen with the future. And I think a lot of our larger partners have really pulled back and are trying to be very conservative, which impacts our bottom line. Right. But on the flip side, um, it’s fun because there’s these up-and-coming startups that are like trying to edge in on them.
But, you know, they also don’t have the budget. So it’s like, how can we work with ’em and we still want to, but they can’t pay as much, but so it’s just being adaptive. And as a result, like we’ve had to like, you know, cut our spending. We don’t do as much advertising and other things as well to try to navigate these, these weird times.
Um, First I would say the other big challenges personally, it’s just time. Right? So I have a family, I have two kids, uh, working online from home. Is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing. And that I can be home. I can do these things with my kids. I can walk away and go play or do whatever, anytime. It’s a curse because like your business is like always right here, it’s calling you.
And as a founder and owner, you’re always like drawn to like, can I work on something right now? Can I sit down and do something? And then literally like you look up until you’ve been here for an hour at the computer and you’re like, crap. And then, you know, having that work-life balance is very challenging as a, as a business owner.
And I’d say that’s one of my biggest struggles personally, all the time.
Yeah, I can definitely relate to that. Well, let’s close up with our lightning round. Um, so what is the advice you think you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received is collaboration over competition. And it really goes back to networking, you know, in the personal finance space, there’s probably over a thousand blogs.
There’s tons of YouTube channels and. Everything out there, but yet American suck with their money. Like clearly with all these people, we’re not reaching everybody. Right. So stop thinking that everyone’s your competition. They go collaborate, work together, see how you can work together. And that’s been huge for me.
It’s going back to that networking and connecting piece, but it’s really a mindset it’s like, how can we collaborate? We’re not competition. Even if we’re doing the same thing, like we can work together and collaborate somehow.
Cool. Which of your personal habits do you think has most contributed to your success?
I would say I’m highly organized. And so we talked about this with Asana. Um, I think between working full time and running a side hustle, it has really improved my organizational skills. I’m very on top of, but when I worked, I was on top of my work and then I was on top of my business. I actually never ran my business while at work.
Like I, the, when I worked in my, my day job, I worked at target and they locked down the computer. Like there was you couldn’t like go to google.com from a work computer. Like it was all blocked from the outside world. So like I never did. And so I had to be extremely organized. I was diligent at work. And then I was diligent when I was at home to get things done.
And I think that organization is key.
Yeah. What, what tool or internet resource do you use most regularly? What’s your favorite tool? Apart from Asana.
Oh, okay. Well, Asana is like my, literally my number one tool. I’m in it every single day, 24/7. Um, You know, that’s it, my new I’ll tell you my newest favorite tools. Woopra so, um, it’s a data analytics platform that I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but we have implemented over the last year. That is just game-changing, uh, what we can do in terms of analytics, automation, um, knowing what, where the money is, where it’s going, what converts, what channels, verticals, everything.
Cool. What book would you recommend that you’ve read recently and why?
Um, so the book that I actually have been giving out a ton this year is “I will teach you to be rich” by Ramit Sethi. And I have been giving it away to a ton of recent college graduates and young adults.
Um, it’s a great book. It’s got a really, you know, click baity title. I will teach you to be rich, but literally that’s what the book does. It breaks down financial habits and routines that you should be implementing in your life. If you want to set up your financial life. To get you to be rich. And so I love giving that book.
It’s a personal favorite of mine and I give it away a ton.
Nice. So for someone at the start of their digital media journey, someone who is you, um, back, back in the day, starting their side hustle, what is one piece of advice that you’d give them, uh, to be successful?
It takes consistency over time. That is the only thing that you need to focus on when you’re starting is create content consistently and do it for at least 12 months.
That’s time. Yeah, I just do it. If you do not do that, you will not be successful. And so consistency can be different, but you need to do the same thing every week. I recommend at least three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday for 12 months. If you do that, you will be at 99 per ahead. Of 99% of everybody out there, a hundred percent.
Most people can’t do it and they’ll fail. And the five to six-month mark, they just can’t do it. But if you can’t consistency over time is key. That’s it?
Nice. Robert, thanks so much for joining us today. Where can people find it, find you and more about you?
Yeah. So you can go to thecollegeinvestor.com .
You can go to the college investor podcast on your favorite podcast platform, or you can find our videos on YouTube and TikTok at the College Investor.
Awesome. Well, if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on the indiemedia.club. But until next time, thank you so much for watching and listening.