Note: This post originally appeared on BreakingTheOnePercent.com in 2019, before we merged DollarSprout and BTOP together.
At the time of this writing, Ben and I are on Day 1,475 of blogging.
We filed our LLC on February 15, 2015. We didn’t even know at the time that “blogging” is eventually what our business would turn into.
A lot can happen in 1,475 days.
In this blog income report — which may end up being our last one — I want to take a look back at the past 4 years. I think it’s easy for us to lose perspective of how far we have come, plus I want you guys to know more of the behind the scenes stuff before you compare your progress to ours.
Why This May Be Our Last Income Report
I heard someone say last year in a presentation at FinCon, “you never know who is watching you“. That line has really stuck with me, especially as we have grown so much in the past few months as a business.
Ben and I have always made it a point to share as much insight as we can in our income reports. That said, I think we have a really good thing going right now with our business, and I want to make sure to protect that.
Sharing some of our more advanced strategic plans for the future doesn’t necessarily help newer bloggers (who are our primary audience for blogging content), but it definitely gives some of our more advanced competitors a handy blueprint to copy us. And I’m seeing that happen a lot.
So yeah, this is not necessarily a “new bloggers can’t relate to where we are at” reason, which is what many people cite as their reason for stopping income reports. It’s more of a “you never know who’s watching you” type of thing. Call me paranoid, but I feel like we have too much to lose at this point.
I want DollarSprout to eventually become one of the top players in the personal finance niche. Ben and I have a lot of ideas on how we can take it there, but I want our content on BTOP to stay catered towards people earlier on in their “journey.”
Of course, this isn’t set in stone. Sometimes I can’t help myself and I just have to share something. But I wouldn’t count on that happening.
Quick Revenue Update
It’s been two months since our last income report (December 2018, $104k earned revenue).
Here’s what we’ve done since then:
Note: This is accrued revenue, but real-time expenses. Not technically the right way to do things but it makes mental planning much easier.
Here is our traffic info for DollarSprout from Jan 1 to Feb 28:
January page views: 1,192,423
February page views: 1,239,494
So, how did we get here?
Even though a graph is pretty to look at, I prefer presenting the data like this (I’ll explain why in a minute):
February 2015: $0
March 2015: $0
April 2015: $0
May 2015: $0
June 2015: $0
July 2015: $0
August 2015: $0
September 2015: $0
October 2015: $0
November 2015: $0
December 2015: $0
January 2016: $0
February 2016: $0
March 2016: $0
April 2016: $0
May 2016: $0.29
June 2016: $17
July 2016: $29
August 2016: $1,162
September 2016: $1,082
October 2016: $723
November 2016: $929
December 2016: $1,744
Jan 2017: $7,158
Feb 2017: $3,487
March 2017: $5,578
April 2017: $6,135
May 2017: $6,728
June 2017: $7,768
July 2017: $10,062
August 2017: $9,470
September 2017: $8,100
October 2017: $9,726
November 2017: $9,022
December 2017: $11,946
January 2018: $12,372
February 2018: $8,480
March 2018: $11,430
April 2018: $17,640
May 2018: $21,076
June 2018: $22,176
July 2018: $25,954
August 2018: $28,785
September 2018: $36,851
October 2018: $61,840
November 2018: $91,429
December 2018: $104,097
January 2019: $180,285
February 2019: $167,390
I like when it’s listed out like this. To me, it puts the grind in perspective. This really did not happen overnight.
Since we filed our LLC 1,475 days ago, this business has been pretty much been the focus of our lives. If I had to guess, I would say that we’ve worked on the blog in some capacity for at least 1,450 of those days. Some days more than others, but there really isn’t a day that goes by where Ben and I aren’t:
- Doing the grunt work needed
- Working through problems
- Putting out fires
- Bouncing ideas around
Don’t play the comparison game
This is probably the most hypocritical piece of advice I could ever give someone, since I am constantly comparing our business to others who are way ahead of us, but oh well.
Don’t compare your blog (and its growth) to ours. Or to anyone else’s.
Most of the time, you don’t have the full picture of what’s going on behind the scenes. Most comparisons are not apples-to-apples.
Take me and Ben for instance. We have a lot going for us that most bloggers who are reading this simply don’t have — and I have no problem admitting that.
» There are two of us. It still took over a year for us to figure out how to make money.
» We’ve lived together since we started.
» Neither of us are married. We have no kids. Just two easy going dogs. (Update: Now we’re both married and Ben has one kid. But when this was originally published, we were single bachelors focusing most of our time on growing our fledgling business.)
» We live in a low cost of living area. This mattered, especially when I first left my job to give entrepreneurship a try. And it also mattered when Ben was finally able to leave his full-time nursing job.
» Our living room is not like most living rooms:
» We now have over a dozen people helping us in some capacity. We can pump out a lot more work than a one-man show.
So yeah, don’t get caught up in the comparison game. We all have very different situations.
How it all started
I’ve mentioned this in a few other articles before, but I actually had no thoughts or inclinations of becoming an entrepreneur as a kid, or even in college.
Starting a business was just never on my radar.
And then I got my first “real job” after college. And that’s what sprung this whole sequence of events in motion.
The thing is, my story isn’t all that unique. A lot of people hate their job.
Looking back, I think my greatest break of all was becoming so jaded by the working world at such an early point in my career. Most people have this existential crisis in their 30s or 40s; I had mine when I was 24.
At the time, I thought what many other people would think: Maybe more money will make this misery easier to bear.
So, I asked for a raise.
At the time, I was making just over $30k a year, but I was doing the work of a $50k-80k position. Plugging that gap would surely go a long way towards making me happier, right? I thought so, at least.
So, I put my talking points down on paper before I met with my boss.
Here is exactly what I wrote (this is the actual document):
I also did my homework and compiled salary data on what other people doing the same work as me were making:
Turns out, none of this mattered.
After it was all said and done, I got a raise…. to $40k/yr. It wasn’t the $60k+ I was looking for. Looking back 4 years later, it’s so obvious to me now that money was never going to solve this problem. If I actually got the raise I wanted, it could have completely changed the course of my life. I could still be working there, stressed and miserable.
Regardless, at that point, my fate was sealed.
I knew I needed to find my own way and not depend on an employer for anything.
From then on, I was mentally checked out from the idea of working for someone else.
A few weeks later, I gave my 3-month notice
Yes, I know that’s an absurdly long notice. After a key employee quit, the owner of the company asked me to give him a couple months’ heads up if I planned to leave. Maybe it was professional courtesy, maybe it was some sort of corporate version of Stockholm Syndrome, but I held up my end of the deal.
My last day would be August 1, 2015. 3 months away.
The countdown begins
The countdown being “you only have a year to make this work, otherwise you will run out of money.”
Still, I was excited to do this. I finally had freedom. I even let the world know about it:
Spoiler alert: I ran out of money within ten months.
I didn’t know it at the time (thank God), but I was about to enter one of the most stressful years of my life.
I can’t remember exactly, but I think I had about $22-25k in savings that I burned through.
Some things that I vividly remember about that year, none of which are things people like to talk about:
- The first month was great, but then the reality crept in that this was going to be really, really hard. I was in denial.
- Explaining to people what you “do” now, especially when you aren’t making any money yet, can definitely get in your head. I felt like a fraud. I still feel that way sometimes.
- Stress affects every part of your life. I’ve never gotten sick as often as I did in that first year (just ask Ben). I also couldn’t afford health insurance, so I never went to a doctor.
- I ate like crap. I could only afford cheap carbs and it showed.
- Watching everyone else move up in their career while you are making a mess of your life is not a fun feeling.
Time to swallow my pride
Yeah, at this point everything was in shambles. Blogging sucked. Business sucked. Entrepreneurship sucked. I sucked.
We were getting very little traffic to our website, and overall the future was just not looking good.
There was no way around the fact that we were failing. But I still needed to feed myself, so I had to go back to work.
There was one small problem, though: Nobody seemed to want to hire me.
For instance, Wells Fargo was not a fan:
And they weren’t the only ones. I could not make the cut anywhere in the financial industry. I got 11 other “thanks, but no thanks” emails over a very depressing two-week span.
That’s when Ben said “well, maybe you can get a job at the hospital.”
I really didn’t have any desire to do that, but I also didn’t have a choice. I was dead broke.
I eventually got a job as a “Psychiatric Technician” at Carilion Clinic St. Albans Hospital. It was a job that a high schooler could do, but I was thankful for the opportunity to not starve.
So, for almost a year, both Ben and I worked at the same hospital.
He was a nurse, I was… definitely not a nurse.
Still, we kept trying to crack this blogging puzzle whenever we weren’t at the hospital. I didn’t want to work in a hospital forever, and neither did Ben.
Finally starting to make progress
Blogging is a slow, slow grind.
By the time we started making decent money from our blog, I still had some quitting-your-job PTSD. One benefit of my hospital job was that I had the option of dropping down to part time.
So, in March 2017 (after a $3k blogging month), I put in my request to go part time.
This let me spend more time on the blog, but without the stress of 100% relying on that income (yet, at least).
After a few months of part-time work, I dropped back even more, until eventually I was completely done with the hospital — and back to being fully dependent on blog income to survive.
Fast forward to now
(Ok, a lot of fast forwarding)
Ben and I both do this full time. We are very fortunate to be able to do this stuff for a living, especially now that the immediate financial stress isn’t there anymore.
We also have Megan working full time with us, which is something I am really proud of. She has worked her butt off over the past year or so and has played a big role in helping us get to where we are. We are also actively working on hiring for a couple more positions, while continuing to grow our team of freelance writers.
As of right now — 1,475 days into this project — life is really good.
Where do we go from here?
Ben and I were just talking about this the other day. We feel great about what we have accomplished so far, but when is enough enough?
Why are we both still working 6-7 days a week on this thing when we don’t really need to? When does it stop?
As of now, I don’t really know the answer to that question.
The thing is, I like what we are doing. I like the idea of having a project to work on. Something to tinker with and improve. I also really like the idea of creating jobs and opportunities for other people. That’s probably the one thing that’s been giving me the most satisfaction lately.
Competition is another big thing that drives me. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate, but Ben and I really do thrive on the need to be the “best” in our niche — even though we still have a very long way to go.
Where does our potential cap out?
It’s one thing to say you want to be the best in your niche. Having the skills and abilities to do it is a whole other story.
There’s no denying that Ben and I have zero business experience, we’ve never managed a team before, and are not necessarily “qualified” to run a large company.
The leaders in our space are large companies. They are not just two bloggers patching things together from their living room.
These are companies with hundreds of employees, millions in VC funding, and management teams with Fortune 500 experience.
No matter how much we grind, these are just facts. We can only take this thing so far on our own.
The tricky part is figuring out where exactly our abilities and potential max out. It’s hard to tell.
I’m thinking it probably looks something like this:
But really, I have no idea. So for now I am content with just carrying onward.
My Own Financial Goals
Right now my living expenses are about $1,500-$2,000 a month. I don’t need a lot of money to make myself happy.
What I do absolutely want, though, is to live on the beach. Ever since I was a kid growing up in the gloomy mountains of the Pacific Northwest, I’ve always wanted to move to the beach one day.
When I’m at the ocean, I’m at my happiest and most relaxed.
Case in point:
View this post on Instagram
I was feeling pretty good here.
Outside of living on the beach, I don’t have any crazy aspirations for myself financially. I don’t need to make money just for the sake of making money.
I just want to live on the coast and keep building businesses because it’s fun to do — whether it’s DollarSprout or something else in the future. That’s my thing.
For now, I am perfectly content to keep grinding on our current business, because I know that we haven’t yet hit our fullest potential. I’m sure when Ben and I move on to the next “personal” stages of our lives, (i.e., marriage, kids, etc.) our priorities will likely change. I might no longer have the need to reach my/our fullest potential — and that’s okay.
But for now, we carry onward.
Side note: Early retirement doesn’t really appeal to me at all, even if I had the opportunity to do it. I know that I would inevitably drive myself crazy if I had nothing productive to do.
This is another recent topic that Ben and I have talked about.
Besides making DollarSprout the best version of itself that it can be (for the benefit of readers), we want to start finding other ways to give back. We’ve bounced around a few ideas, including:
- Allocating a certain percentage of profits to a local cause (either quarterly, yearly, on holidays, etc.)
- Starting a scholarship for the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad (where we first became friends 10 years ago)
- Making a concerted effort to hire underserved populations (homeless, IDD, etc.). This is something that Ben and I talked about for years, before we even started a business. Now we might actually have the opportunity to do it if/when we get an office, which would be awesome. If that happens, that honestly might be my proudest life accomplishment to date.
All of this is still to be determined, so technically it doesn’t mean anything until we actually do it. But it’s something we’d like to shoot for.
In fact, “Make an Impact” is something that we included in our recently created Mission Statement for DollarSprout. Big shout out to Megan for firmly nudging us to get these in place. They were long overdue.
I’m really happy with how these turned out, and I’m excited to start using them to guide us more intentionally as we (hopefully) continue to grow.
Success is never guaranteed
Even with how far we’ve come, I know that this can all be taken away very quickly. Our business is dependent on social media and search engines, and both of those are fickle beasts. They might like us today, but they can kill us tomorrow and not even care.
There will never be a day where we have zero risk of peril, and I think that’s important to remember.
To blog, or not to blog?
Anyway, that’s our story, wrapped up in a little 3,000-word package. Feel free to poke around this site a bit more if you want to learn more about how we got to this point — I obviously didn’t include every little thing in this post.
Also, if this ends up being our last income report (a very real possibility), I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s been reading these since we started writing them a couple years ago. Your support means the world.
And finally, if you are interested in blogging and you’ve got 1,000+ days to burn on something that might not ever pan out (but also might change your life forever), here is our setup tutorial. Proceed with caution.
And come hang out with us in our Facebook group for bloggers while you’re at it.