With nearly 1,000 cumulative articles, this past month the Nerd’s Eye View blog celebrated the 5-year anniversary (or “blogiversary”?) of its re-birth in the fall of 2010. And over that time span, this blog has gone from a sleepy little side project that had a dozen or two readers for every article, to one that generated a whopping 120,000 unique visitors last month, and has become the center of my business and professional world.
From many of you who are regular readers of the blog, and enjoy the entirely free (and advertising-free) content, I’m often asked how I can ‘afford’ to give away so much of my time and content without charging anything (or selling third-party ads). The key is simply this: no matter how much free information is out there on the internet, there will always be a subset of people who need some help implementing the ideas and strategies they read.
In fact, given the size of this site, it means that ultimately even if only 1% of you (or even 0.1% of you!) have a need to do business with one of the various companies I own, or want me to speak at your event or consult with you, and the other 99.9% of you simply use this information for free to improve your own lives (or your practice, or your work with clients), we all win. And that simple strategy has more-than-quadrupled my personal income in the past 5 years, even as I give away more and more for free!
Accordingly, I am happy to report that even as the Nerd’s Eye View blog grows to new highs, I remain committed to giving you as much helpful information as I can entirely for free - and remain free from any third-party advertising as well. In fact, you’ll notice that we’ve re-launched with an updated visual look and interface to the site to make it even easier to read and navigate, and with a re-design on the back end of the site will be rolling out more new features and services in the coming months as well. All I ask is that you continue to visit the site regularly, read the content, share it with your friends and colleagues, and if you have a need for some further assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out if one of my businesses can help.
The (Re-)Birth Of The Nerd’s Eye View Blog
Technically, the Nerd’s Eye View blog was born almost 8 years ago, in very late 2007. Although the idea of a weblog personal homepage (or “blog” for short) had been around for a little over 10 years, at the time, it was one of the first and only blogs written by a financial advisor. And perhaps because the concept of blog publishing was so new to financial advisors in 2007, so too was the idea of blog reading. It felt like hardly anyone was even reading the blog, and a look at my Google Analytics confirmed I was right. So as a result, I stopped writing for Nerd’s Eye View within a year of its launch. I had been creating content, but I had no idea how people would find it.
Two years later, though, in October of 2010, the Nerd’s Eye View blog was reborn. Earlier that summer, fellow study-group colleague and advisor tech guru Bill Winterberg had urged me to check out this new social media platform called Twitter, that was just gaining momentum, and I had a light-bulb “epiphany” moment – social media was the way to help people find the content that I was creating. So I created the @MichaelKitces Twitter account (later supplemented by an email distribution list that I regret not starting earlier!), started writing blog posts again, and the traffic to the site began to grow.
And it grew. And it grew. And it grew. After nearly doubling every year since, what started out as my sleepy little “personal web-log” of the internet drawing in a few dozen readers for each article has exploded into what is now more over 120,000 unique visitors coming to the site last month to the read the latest content! At this point, my blogging “side endeavor” has more readership than several of our industry’s trade publications!
Of course, the caveat is that producing all this content, publicly available online and “for free”, is time consuming. And I do have a family at home, with several young mouths to feed! Which raises one of the most common questions I receive about this site – do you actually make any money by doing all that blogging?
Does Financial Advisor Blogging Really Pay?
When it comes to blogging, especially in the world of (personal) finance, most bloggers make their money by the same means as more ‘traditional’ media and trade publications: with third-party advertising. As a result, for bloggers in most industries, it is all about writing the content that gets the pageviews, given that so much of the available advertising dollars are paid on a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) basis. The more the pageviews, the more the blogger is paid.
Alternatively, for other bloggers, the primary way to be paid is through “affiliate marketing” offers for various (financial services) products or solutions. The functional equivalent of commission-based sales for financial advisors, the blogger is paid when the reader clicks through on a sales link to buy the underlying (often “recommended”) product or service. Accordingly, it is no coincidence that the personal finance blogosphere is so replete with articles about the “best” credit cards, or the “best” peer-to-peer lending services, or even how consumers can “pick the right robo-advisor” platform. Because when a reader finds that article, acts on the recommendation, and clicks on the link to buy, the blogger is paid a commission for the sale.
Unfortunately, the challenge of these business models of advertising and affiliate marketing is that it becomes difficult not to succumb to the allure of lower standards just to get paid more. Thus, publications paid by the pageview often end out creating articles with “clickbait” headlines, split their articles across multiple pages for no reason other than juicing the number of pageviews, or worse split articles up into ridiculously long slideshows. Bloggers writing about products connected to affiliate marketing deals often find it challenging to “objectively” evaluate which products to write about, recognizing that they get paid more to recommend more (not selectively), and as with financial services products, sometimes the ones that pay the best affiliate marketing commissions are not actually the best ones for consumers to buy.
How I “Get Paid” For Blogging, Without Third-Party Advertising Or Affiliate Marketing Commissions
As long-time readers to this blog may have noticed, there’s no advertising or third-party products being sold on/via the Nerd’s Eye View blog, and it's by deliberate design. Because eventually, it becomes brutally difficult for bloggers who monetize their content that way to maintain their standards of quality and not sacrifice the reader experience in the process. Accordingly, I have operated from day one on the simple belief that as long as I focus on trying to give value to all of you, my readers, there will be other opportunities to “get paid” and do business together in the future.
In fact, when I launched Nerd’s Eye View, I actually already had other ways to “get paid” indirectly for my work. I was (and still am) part of an advisory firm, Pinnacle Advisory Group, and consumers who liked what they read here could choose to work with our firm (as many have since done!). I already had a separate paid newsletter service, The Kitces Report, eligible for CFP CE credit (in its early years, the blog content was not eligible for CE credit as it is now). And, I was already doing some work as a paid speaker at conferences for financial advisors (and the volume of my travel for speaking engagements has only grown further since then!). Which meant to the extent that my readership grew here on the blog, it would simply mean more opportunities to do business with a subset of my readers in those other various businesses.
And that’s exactly what happened. There were actually so many opportunities, that my new “problem” was that readers wanted help in more areas than where I had solutions! In turn, this has led to the subsequent launch of several additional businesses in recent years, to help some of you, my readers, to solve and implement solutions to your problems. This includes our recruiting (for advisory firms) and job placement service (for financial advisor job seekers) New Planner Recruiting, the XY Planning Network for Gen X and Gen Y advisors who want to create a fee-only financial planning firm serving their Gen X/Y peers, and Pinnacle Advisor Solutions for fellow financial advisors seeking to outsource their investment management, get back-office support, and have a continuity buyout solution to protect their clients (and the value of the business for family/heirs) in the event that something happens to the advisor. More recently, we launched FA Bean Counters, an accounting and bookkeeping service for financial advisory firms as well!
Of course, the reality is that many readers will have no need for these other services. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them probably will not need any of them, and will simply have the opportunity to enjoy the content on Nerd’s Eye View for free. Yet if in the end, even if a whopping 99% of the readers on this site never have any need for assistance to implement, don't want me to speak or consult, nor any desire to work with any of my various businesses, it still means that the remaining 1% will have some need. And, as the site has grown exponentially larger in the past several years, a “mere” 1% of readers who want some help turns out to be a significant amount of opportunity. In fact, with 120,000 unique visitors, when just 0.1% of them make an inquiry, it comes out to be 30 prospects per week who may want me to speak, consult, or to do business with one of my businesses! That's the amazing thing of scaling what is functionally a "freemium" business model.
Accordingly, the chart below tracks my income over the entire length of my career in the financial services industry, since I started straight out of college more than 15 years ago. As the chart reveals, the launch and growth of this blog in 2010 has been utterly transformative over the past 5 years!
So for those who wonder if it pays to blog: yes, while it may not always come from where one might expect, there is absolutely an opportunity to “get paid” and earn a living by growing a successful blog! In fact, the level of income that took me the first 10 years of my career to build up to, has since quadrupled in the subsequent 5 years while growing this Nerd's Eye View blog!
What Comes Next For The Nerd’s Eye View Blog?
So what comes next for the Nerd’s Eye View blog on this 5-year “blogiversary”? Well, the story of my success has been the simple truth that the more I give away for free (on this blog), the more successful my business(es) become. Even if 99% of you use this information yourself for free, and just 1% of you want some help to implement some of these ideas as well, we all win.
Accordingly, you will see me continue to build further in both directions in the future. The content on this blog is free, will remain free, and will remain advertising-free as well! I remain committed to avoiding any third-party advertising, or (so often questionable!) third-party affiliate marketing deals! You'll never see any business or solution recommended on this blog for which I'm receiving some kind of under-the-table kickback or commission. To the extent you see any business mentioned in connection to this blog with which I have a financial relationship, it’s because it is a business I own, am a part of, and am personally invested in, as a solution that I believe will (hopefully!) be valuable to at least a few of you who want some assistance. In other words, if it's not a solution I'm confident and proud enough of to stake my own personal investment dollars, time, effort, and reputation on, I won't have anything to do with it at all.
Our paid Members Section will remain, with new and archived issues of The Kitces Report and educational webinars, but I will admit that in the long run, I hope to make more and more of that Members Section content free as well. What you'll see in the coming years is that the Members Section will be a place for those who want to pay to get CFP (and eventually, IMCA CPWA and CIMA, and CPA) continuing education credits for what you're already reading, access unique member resources to help you implement what you read on this blog, and find different ways to access the content that's available to be read for free (e.g., via webinars or podcast recordings for those who would prefer to listen to our written educational material). Stay tuned for continued enhancements in this area in 2016 and beyond!
In fact, in the spirit of continuing to expand with ever-more free content to help financial advisors, my current plan is to complement the educational written material on this site with a new podcast on practice management to be launched sometime in early 2016 (as many of you heard mentioned in the launch episode of the XYPNRadio podcast a few months ago!). The focus of the new podcast will be targeted specifically towards how to advance your career/business and become more successful as a financial advisor (whether you own an advisory firm or work within one). As a listener, you will hear interviews with both some of the industry’s top consultants and vendors who serve advisors, and also leading financial advisors themselves about what they did that worked for them (which will hopefully spur some ideas about what might work for you, too!).
You also may see a few more related businesses launch in the coming year(s), as we continue to try to find new ways to be of service to those readers who want some further assistance implementing the ideas of this blog, whether you are a consumer or a fellow financial advisor. As always, the focus will be on bringing quality solutions that are directly relevant to you, implemented by businesses that you can trust (and that I am proud to be a part of).
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the latest re-design of the blog itself, as we continue to try to make it more user-friendly and helpful. You may have noticed that the blog itself is now front-and-center on the homepage of the site, the graphics and design have changed a bit, we have a new logo (emblematic of the “Nerd with the Blue Shirt” you all know!). And per your requests, an adjustment to the default font size to make the content a little easier to read (especially on tablets and mobile devices)!
Thanks again to all of you for an amazing five years of readership, and I look forward to seeing what the next five years may bring! And if you think there's something we should be doing but aren't, please leave your feedback in the comments below!