The Frugalpreneur Episode 5 – The Business of Blogging w/ Luke Landes of ConsumerismCommentary.com
Luke (aka Flex0) founded ConsumerismCommentary.com several years ago simply as a way to become more accountable about his finances. Since then the blog has evolved into a successful finance resource, podcast and some serious business collabs with big business names like the Wall Street Journal & Kiplinger’s Finance Magazine.
Also..if you could please subscribe and rate on iTunes that would be mucho appreciated….a nice little rating after subscribing would be the equivalent of Nachos Bel Grande w/ extra cheese. Do it. Do it!
Listen to Episode 5 Listen In For:
- How blogging has evolved over time & how what was taboo is now profitable.
- How to leverage your blog for jobs, side gigs and extra income.
- Learning how to evolve your blog from a personal journey to a thriving community.
- Doctor Who nerdiness.
[highlight]Download The Transcript as a PDF[/highlight] [highlight][spoiler][/highlight] The Frugalpreneur Episode 5 w/ Luke Landes of ConsumerismCommentary.com Recommended Resources: http://www.FrugalBeautiful.com http://www.FrugalPreneur.com http://www.ConsumerismCommentary.com/ Podcast Transcript: [00:00:00] Shannyn: Hello and welcome to the The Frugalpreneur Podcast for people who want big venture for little capital. I’m your hostess, Shannyn. And on today’s podcast, we will be interviewing the creator of ConsumerismCommentary.com. Flexo a.k.a. Luke originally created Consumerism Commentary as a blog to keep himself accountable with his personal finances but overtime this little blog has evolved into a real community of podcast and even a business. He has some excellent insight on how you can monetize your blog; build a community, and really some of the great unanticipated outcomes that can come from building a really great blog like Consumerism Commentary. I think his story really motivate and inspire you. I really enjoy getting him on the phone. So without further adieu, the creator of Consumerism Commentary, Flexo. (Music playing) Shannyn: All right so today we have Flexo a.k.a. Luke from Consumerism Commentary on the call with us today. Thank you. Luke: Thank you, Shannyn. Shannyn: And welcome to the show. We’re so happy to have you on the Frugalpreneur podcast. Luke: I’m excited to be here. Shannyn: Oh, that’s great. Uhm, for anyone who doesn’t know who you are, what you do, could you tell us a bit about yourself and the blog you run? Luke: Sure. Shannyn: and how you got started with that? Luke: Sure. Well, I’ve been going by the name Flexo since I started Consumerism Commentary. And it’s a blog that I started back in 2003. I created it with one, with only really one purpose. It was kind of selfish purpose, just to keep myself focused on my finances ‘cause until that point, until perhaps a couple of years before starting the site my finances were a mess. And even I was a long time blogger, long time web designer, by that point I figured that starting a blog, a new blog for me just to focus on my personal finances where I could put up this report every month to show the progress mainly for myself but if anyone happen to read, it would be great too. But mainly for myself so that I can keep myself focused on the decisions that I make everyday and how they affect my finances. Shannyn: Awesome. So really starting a blog for you was just simply a way to tell the world about what you’re about to manage your finances and really gain some accountability. I think that’s one great reason why so many of us love blogging. It’s because it helps us reach our goals. So over time now, how long have you been blogging? Luke: Well, it’s, I’ve been blogging on Consumerism Commentary since 2003 so that’s almost 9 years now. But before that, I was blogging on different sites. I had several personal sites. I actually started with what you might consider a blog back in 1994 when I was in college. Of course Blogger didn’t exist back then. No one used the word “blog’” but the website was basically what you would call “blog” today it was. It was an online journal of things that I felt like writing about and it was updated as frequently as I could focus on back then. It was just a you know of a personal nature. Shannyn: Awesome. For those of, our listeners out there that want to start a blog, do you have any tips and things that you’ve picked up on over the years? For anyone that’s new who’s starting out, any insights you’ve had on really how to do blogs successfully? I know everyone listening defines success a bit differently. Some people wants simply to blog for the accountability of whatever their goal is, to lose weight, to get their finances on track. But others really want to build a blog that has reach and that really spreads their message and their vision so do you have any tips and advice on how to really get started in blogging successfully and growing your reach? Luke: Well you’re exactly right when you say that everyone has different definition of success. I think if you want to start a blog that is more than just a personal journal. Something that you want to present to the world as yourself and whether it’s to grow your personal brand, if you’re looking to, uhm, move forward in your career, whether it’s to achieve some kind of personal goal, uhm, I think what you need to do is start with a mission for this site. And the mission can just be one or tow sentences long. It just says very concisely. This is why this site exists. This is what I’m doing and everything, and then you can take that mission and then everything you do from then on should tie in to that mission somehow. And I wouldn’t worry so much about this specifics when you are just starting out because these are things that you kind of discover as you go along. So I would just start with a broad idea of what you want to do and why you want to do it. And then think about what you need to do in order for that to happen. Shannyn: Very cool. And so with the mission, uhm, do you find that yours evolved over time? Or do you think that you still kind of have this same tone, same ideas as you did when you started out? Luke: Well the mission has certainly changed over time. So what I started with Consumerism Commentary, you know like I said I was just kind of starting to keep myself accountable for my own finances, which is good and you know that kept me you know I felt no problem working several hours a week on the site with that sort of mission. Over time, though it turned out that this site could become a business. And although I didn’t really want to look at it as business so much, I wanted it to be a hobby. I wanted to enjoy it and not have to think of it as work because I found that, uhm, you know I was just enjoying writing so much that I would spend almost all of my time outside of work, outside of sleep, and outside of, uhm, you know social activities, writing on it. You know, I didn’t want that change when it became a business so I was very focused finding the right balance for me. But what I found was that the mission changed over time so what I kind of set was you know the original purpose of this site was to hold myself accountable for my finances. But now the mission has changed to be more of a general idea where you know I’d like to help people succeed and find their own definition of success for their own finances. Shannyn: Awesome. And so I was just going to ask a question about, uh, your transition from kind of just a blog like a personal accountability model into a business. I know that many bloggers especially when it just starts to pick up steam. I have questions about monetizing. You know, should they put ads in some of their sites? Should they take sponsorships of any kind? Do you have any thoughts on monetization specifically making that decision as when it’s right or you know what works for you? Do you have any thoughts on that? Luke: Sure. You now, back 10 years ago, it was or maybe 15, or 12 or 15 years ago, it was unthinkable to monetize a blog that’s just never happen. You know, a lot of people who were blogging at the time were kind of techy. Eventually blogs became political with the 2000 Elections. That’s when people started thinking about monetization. And some, it’s still wasn’t very much in the mainstream. People who had ads on personal sites were, not really respected as much as people who, you know were staying out of making their blogs businesses at that time. But the environment has changed so much since then. Basically, you know blogs have become a way for people to earn money on the side. It’s accepted now. It’s part of the site and of the Internet today. And for me that’s started in 2004 when I decided, okay. I’ll throw ads on the blog and see what happens. A lot of other political websites were doing it at around the same time. I thought, “Well, let’s try this and finance and see what happens.” And, uh, yeah I mean it took awhile but the site started generating an income. You know, I realized well there’s something here. I mean I can actually now justify all the time I am spending writing by saying, “well, it’s earning me some money so it can’t be all that bad.” But you know a lot of people still have problems with the idea of accepting money for creating something that’s supposed to help people. You know it comes down to whether you want to monetize and how you want to monetize is going to be based on what you’re comfortable with. If you’re comfortable with selling products that you create then you can do that. If you are comfortable with affiliate type of relationship then you can, you have a website that’s based on affiliate sales. There are so many different ways to do it nowadays that there’s anyone who wants to try to earn with a blog can certainly have enough opportunities to do so. Shannyn: Yeah. Could you give us a little bit more insight on monetization? Because I know you added Ad Sense and things like that. Has blogging like in any other opportunities of that kind other than Ad Sense because you said that people could create products, which is great. They can do affiliate sales. What’s come your way and what works best for you? Luke: Well, for me, some of the opportunities that have opened up to the site have been, you know my ability to communicate on a certain level with people I respect in the industry like financial writers and columnists as well major, major companies. I mean I, through Consumerism Commentary, I’ve had a chance to consult or provide my feedback on financial products that end up being delivered to the public at large. That’s pretty exciting to have some kind of feedback and say on the, on how some of these financial products are designed. And of course as your listeners may know, Consumers Commentary was recently sold to a larger company so there’s always the opportunity down the road for someone to notice the work that you’ve been doing and to appreciate it so much that they’re willing to partner with you in that, in that kind of, in that kind of relationship. Shannyn: That is awesome. Because I think there are plenty of us out there that just see a blog and maybe a six-month time frame that we just see that we’re going to post three articles a week for the next 6 months and see where it goes. But there are really opportunities to leverage the success you have on a blog you put for sale or to get writing gigs with major publications or to offer feedback on existing institutions in your niche. I think that I’ve seen many people being able to leverage their blogs. Even you know, to add on the resume if they’re comfortable with that to get jobs. And so for media and PR, which is pretty cool. But you know, beyond the actual, the business side of Consumerism Commentary, what’s been your favourite part of blogging? You know, the intangibles or the other stuff? What’s the fuzzy feeling you get from it? Luke: Oh, well I just like every receiving feedback from readers. Uhmm, whether its you know how they may have discovered something about themselves through Consumerism Commentary or the site has, you know has help them communicate with people who are in the same situation as them. They’ve learned something or even feedback or that kind of, even feedback where people come back to me and say, “this, you know this is really something to think about. Thanks for, uh, bringing up this issue or putting something in a light that’s frequently heard.” You know, that kind of, that gets me a little excited I guess. And of course, getting to know people who are of the same mindset as me. Other financial bloggers, other columnist or other writers who are really passionate about money management and these things that people think are boring but are really exciting to talk about especially when there’s a lot of innovations going on in this space. Shannyn: Yeah. It’s definitely something to think about that the blogosphere is constantly changing especially as more and more people get into the, into the game. But speaking of that, you know now that it is changing so rapidly. Some of the things that you encountered early on your blogging career aren’t really an issue now like we talked about AdSense being kind of more mainstream and acceptable now. What are some of the changes you see happening in the blogosphere? Do you have any advice for our listeners that probably want to stand out and get recognized and really define themselves in blogging? Luke: Well yeah. That’s a great question. Going back to 2003 when I started Consumerism Commentary, there were other no personal finance blogs around so, uhm, it was kind of, it was an opportunity that in this space doesn’t exist anymore to really make a name for yourself early on and get noticed by major media. You know, uh, just a couple of months into your existence because no one else, very few people who are out there doing it the same time. You know, the question is what is the world going to look like now that instead of their being 20 personal finance blogs, there are 2000, 3000 personal finance blogs. All kind of competing for the same advertisers or most of the same advertisers in the same revenue and the same search terms and everything else that they have to think of from the business of blogging. What I’m concerned about now is I think that blogs as we known them are probably you know at their peak so what I am trying to do is to look forward to the next thing in trying to figure what it is, whether it’s going to be mobile or something social. You know, I have to decide whether I want to be there personally in this space competing to get attention in a crowded field that just gets more and more populous. And to, I think that’s a big concern for people who are starting out now is to really understand what they’re up against as far competition in terms of getting attention. The type of attention that you need in order to build a good audience. A lot of great bloggers have gotten past that barrier. They are some of the best personal finance bloggers who started out the last year. And some, and they’ve certainly made, uhm, a statement and made an impact by doing what they need to do to show their, to show how unique they are and what they can bring to the table. I think that’s what people need to do to set themselves apart in a field that’s so crowded now. So even if it’s not personal finance, you have to look at the community that’s out there. The community of people that you’ll be dealing with and you’ll be competing and you’ll be working with. And to get know exactly, you know what your orle could be in that community and work with people to make a name for yourself there. Shannyn: Oh awesome. Yeah. I think your advice speaks a lot about longevity, which can be a serious asset. Many of us are so intimidated by those bloggers that have launched recently and are able to hit; you know thousands of hits a day. You know, generating tons of affiliates sales and it’s so intimidating to see a few have launched last year and certainly make it really big, really fast but the majority of bloggers never, never do that. So for you, to my listeners out there that are intimidated, if you can make it the first six months even there is still a brick ton of competition out there. I think it speaks enough that if you stick around and you’re committed. Many of your colleagues that started around the same time will probably fall to another face of the planet and just don’t have the grit to stick around because it is hard to stand out in just an oversaturated blogging community at this point. But if you stick with it, I think there’s something to be gained from it. I think everyone has to make that choice as to whether what they’re offering is truly beneficial to the community. If they feel that it’s been reciprocated in a way that makes it worth their while. So even if it’s a little bit different, I think now, uhm, I think if you bring something unique to the table. I think it’s definitely a good way to do that. And your, Consumerism Commentary has definitely done that because you guys have a lot of great content. You also have a podcast. You seem to really have a strong community and do you have any advice for community building? Or did it kind of grow holistically? Luke: Well for me, it did kind of grow holistically. I’ve always been a, uhm, I’ve been a strong advocate of online communities even back as early as 1990 when I had my own personal bulletin board service with a dial up modem. People would, you know turn on their computers and log on to their modem. They dial; you know my second phone number of my house. They connect with a bulletin board. We have messages for each other. It was an interesting way to build a community online before people have the Internet. This is a long time ago. And uh, you know it kind of, uhm, you know the whole fury kind of stayed with me throughout college. You know, I was always trying to find ways to build online communities. Yeah. I think as far as, uhm, what people can do in order to build is really get involved with people who respond to what you are doing. But the key to all of these is being passionate about it. One thing I found is that people just, you know I tend to be very passionate with the things that I like. People just seem to follow that. You know, whatever I get involved in. I talk about it a lot. I try to get people involved. You know, people join my team. It’s so exciting and you know we’re on this boat together. We’re all communicating with each other. If this kind of thing gets you excited then you know community building is going to come naturally. Shannyn: And so for those of us who maybe aren’t so great at community building, do you have any advice to really building this strong following if that doesn’t come naturally? Stuff like that? Luke: Yeah. I’m an introverted person if you were to look at my profile. I fall on the introverted side so what that means is that spending a lot of time with other people is exciting for me but it’s also draining. So I think you know, you have to look at your personality and whether you can, how you work with other people and figure out ways to make it exciting for you so that you can, uhm, effectively you know lead people and it comes down to you know, finding out how to be a leader, how to work with other people, and you know, how to get other people excited about things. And, uhm, for someone who doesn’t have any experience with that, one thing you probably want to do is start by communicating and talking to a lot of people. For someone like me who is introverted, that can be very difficult. I do have a difficult time just walking up to someone, striking up a conversation. But it all comes down to, uhm, to getting past that and to putting yourself out there. And you know, people are happy to talk and happy to become friends. You just need to talk to them. Shannyn: That’s so funny that you say you’re introvert ‘cause you actually coordinated The Plutus Awards at the Financial Bloggers Conference last year. I totally did not get that by that you’re an introvert from, (laughing) from last year. So it’s interesting. I think, you know knowing anyone can find something that works for them. It’s really about establishing a system and utilizing the strengths you have instead of going, “oh well.” You know, in our social circle, “oh, I’m not like Jay Money. I could never be as boisterous and outgoing as him. Or I’m not J.D. Roth.” I’m not this or that but really love who you are and your personality type to make it work for you and your community will build around that. Instead of pretending to be somebody you’re not or forcing yourself into an uncomfortable situation. I always ask this to everyone I bring on the podcast, do you have any favourite books are resources that really help you in your blogging journey? Luke: That’s a good question. You know, when I started blogging there were no books about blogging. I just, I did what came natural to me. It really, it didn’t come from learning from anything. You know. Even back in 1994 when I was just getting introduced to the worldwide web, which was pretty new at that time. At least, at least for college students like me I guess there were some people out there who are probably working with the worldwide web for a couple of years at that point but just an isolated group of people. But you know, there were no books teaching you how to learn HTML. You just kind of have to put yourself out there and figure things out for yourself. You know, there were no books to help me blog. There were no, the only thing I would you know say is very specific to personal finances is the book that I really like that kind of guided, uhm, you know my philosophy, in my philosophy in dealing with my own finances. And you know, primarily that wasn’t even in a form of the book. It was in the form of the forums on the Motley Fool back in 1999 and 2000. You know, I learned a lot from the communities there as far as how to live below your means and how to think about your finances and how to move forward. And just, uhm, you know reading, I didn’t even participate a lot. Mostly I was just reading. What I learned from there, uhm, I was able to take back to my own finances much more than most of the other books I’ve read since then. I’ve read quite a bit especially to, you know, because it’s part of what I do now. I want to stay on top of the latest books. There was one personal finance book that really stood out to me over the last few years ever since I started Consumerism Commentary. That was “The Number” by Lee Eisenberg. I like that book a lot because it didn’t really, it didn’t talk down. It didn’t condescend to the reader at all. Most personal finance books, most self-help books do that. Most of these books are written so basically, uhm, they’re written so that if 4th grader can understand them, which is great for 4th graders but I, you know I want to read a book that challenges me. So finding books that fit that description whether it’s about finance or about business. I don’t read any business books. I hate them all. Shannyn: (laughing) Well that’s encouraging for people who hates business books. Luke: Yeah. Shannyn: I’m totally a book nerd. I read so many books. You know, it’s also related to the fact that I started blogging a little over a year ago. Now that there are tons of books but I would be the type to oversaturated myself with every stupid book I could find on because FrugralBeautiful started out as a frugality and financial blog. It really isn’t much of that anymore. God help us but, uhm, you know I went the opposite direction where I found way too much stuff out there and started getting overwhelmed with all the crap I should be doing instead of just doing it and enjoying it and kind of learning as I go but. I think those are good suggestions. I think maybe not having to head to the library or totally wipe out Amazon’s you know bookshelves. But instead of going and doing that, just go to a forum and start talking to other people who do what you want to do. Whether you are bloggers or not and just make those connections and see what they think. Keep up today on news that’s happening around your topic. That’s really a great way to get involved and start pinning yourself as an expert and learning as you go. So I always ask about book because I’m kind of a book nerd but you know, there are two ways to skin that cat even though I hate that phrase. (laughing) Luke: (laughing) Well you know, it’s, uhm, the reason why there are so many books now is because the space has gotten a lot more complicated than it was 10 years ago. A lot more, uhm, in order to be successful at a certain level these days, you do have to kind of have a very strong knowledge about search engine optimization unfortunately. You know, these are things that do not come naturally to most people so you need to find a way to make it work it for you. That’s either going to come from a, you know from reading and studying and learning how to handle these advanced techniques for your online business now or finding someone to really guide you through it. Shannyn: Oh yeah. Amen to that last point because I tried, I have tried to teach myself SEO and found that I started hating everything. Not just SEO but my blog entirely so I’m finally getting to the point where I’m not going to be as frugal as I used to be and simply hire somebody. ‘Cause you can find people that are affordable to do your web design to do your search engine optimization. You probably don’t want to hire anyone to do your content for you but you definitely want to find somebody or even a friend that, you know will do it for cheap. Just to make sure you don’t end up loading your blog with more than you have to. Luke: But with your blog, your blog is you. You are your blog. I think you’re exactly right to say that you don’t want to outsource your content too much. You know, again it depends on what you’re trying to do. If someone wants to create a website that has tons of content right away immediately and you know try to build off of that kind of volume then you know, then the website doesn’t have a personality but they’re not trying to have a personality so that’s fine for them. But I think for, if you’re in this for the long term and you want to create a successful business based off a blog. It has to reflect your personality. Your personality has to be something that other people are going to be interested in. Shannyn: Well that’s the hard part right there. You have to be an interesting person. Luke: (laughing) Shannyn: So you can’t spend all of your time in front of a laptop. You kind of have to have a life too. Point taken. Luke: Yeah. That’s, you know I’m trying to do that too. I don’t have much of the life these days. I’m trying. Shannyn: I know. All right. Seriously when I started this podcast, it’s been like, “oh sunshine, what’s that?” But then again this is Chicago and winter so I’m not missing much out there. So I think that would just about wrap it up. Before we go I have to ask you a totally nerdy question. If you could pick one doctor from Doctor Who, Luke: I knew it. I knew there was going to be a Doctor Who question. Shannyn: Who would be your favourite doctor? Luke: Well you know I have to go to Tom Baker, number four. He is, he wasn’t the first doctor I have ever seen growing up because I watch Doctor Who when I was five years old at least probably longer than that. I don’t remember. My younger brother who is five years younger than me, one of his first words was Doctor Who. He pointed at the TV screen as a baby and said, “Ha-who. Ha-who” whenever it came or whenever he saw the opening credits. At least according to my mom. I don’t remember any of this but that’s what she says. So I’ve been watching this show for a long time and, uhm, I have to say that number four, Tom Baker. You know, with his, he is just so goofy and fun and great sense of humour and some interesting, uhm style. I just liked it. Shannyn: Nice. Wonderful. I’m so glad I asked you. I’m kind of partial to David Tennant myself but always whenever I have the opportunity to ask somebody a totally nerdy question ‘cause I can’t with everybody. But with you I know I am safe to do that. Luke: (laughing) Definitely. Shannyn: I just had to totally do that. Well Flexo, thanks so much for being on our podcast today. Are you going to be at the Financial Blogger Conference this year? Luke: Yes. I am registered and so I’m going to be doing Plutus Award this year so hopefully with a nice team to make this even a better event this year than last year. Shannyn: Oh dig it. Dig it. I will be sending you my bribe money shortly so check for me. Luke: (laughing) Cool. Shannyn: The podcast and I will be sending in my recent Doctor Who stuff to bribe you because, you know it’s legit. But thanks again for being on the podcast. For anyone listening check out his wonderful site at ConsumerismCommentary.com. Flexo, you have an awesome day. Luke: Thanks so much, Shannyn. Shannyn: All right. Take care. Luke: You too. Shannyn: Bye. Luke: Bye. Okey dokey. That wraps up the episode five of The Frugalpreneur podcast. Huge high fives and tons of thanks to Flexo for coming on the show today. To my amazing listeners out there, you guys are awesome. Thanks so much for subscribing in on Itunes and giving me a rating. If you have any ideas for the podcast, a topic you want me to cover or an entrepreneur you want me to interview. Please let me know by logging on to TheFrugalpreneur.com. That’s the blog. And leave me a comment. You’ll see my contact form there so let me know. I want to hear from you. Also if you think a better transition than the phrase “without further adieu” that I could use on my podcast that would be tremendously helpful. Because I realized as I was editing this podcast that there is further adieu so I’ll say my intro and talk about the interviewee then I’ll say “without further adieu” then run the intro music. That technically is like a minute of further adieu so I need to think of something clever. I totally thank you for your patience with me as I figure this out. I’ll see you back on the blog on TheFrugalPreneur.com. Thanks again for tuning in. Have an awesome week. (Music playing) [00:31:56] [/spoiler]