One of the big surprises to come out of blogging was not the realization that I could one day leave my full-time job in finance. That epiphany came when I received an advertising request on my iPhone while chilling at a bar on top of Santorini in the Fall of 2011.
The biggest surprise about blogging is its ability to be a dynamic resume to allow people to pivot into a new career!
One of the big reasons why I wanted to get out of the investment banking industry was because there was a loosening correlation between performance and reward. One would work harder, generate more revenue, and get paid less! That’s demoralizing. Ever since I left the banking world in 2012, there’s been report after report about how XYZ bank is downsizing its departments. I’ve also heard from old colleagues how their compensation continues to get squeezed.
Meanwhile, the consumption of online content continues to explode! Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy have come out of nowhere with mega valuations based on aggressive funding. Meanwhile, every week a new blogger is quitting his/her job to blog full-time. I’m bullish on blogging for the next 10 years, and I just wish I started Financial Samurai in 2003 when my father first suggested the idea instead of dilly dallying until 2009.
Financial Samurai now generates enough to put food on the table, without having to aggressively sell anything, work in an office, or report to anyone. It is a dream come true, and every day I thank my lucky stars.
What I’ve discovered is that to grow your revenue online, you’ve got to make educated guesses about the future.
YOU CAN’T PROMOTE EVERY PRODUCT ON THE MARKET
The best affiliate marketers are those who find products they use and believe in, and weave those products into their content. As publishers, we can solve problems with words. But how awesome is it to also introduce products to our readers that we’ve vetted to further help them achieve their goals?
The problem is, there are literally thousands of products to discuss, and you can’t discuss them all unless you want to be perceived as a complete shill with no credibility. You need to select a certain handful of products based on your prediction about their respective futures.
A big reason why I take so much time before signing up to become an affiliate is because a lot of companies die. What a waste of time and effort to thoroughly understand a product, write about the product and then have it shut down a year or two later. We saw this happen with products like Adaptu and Manilla, for example. Both were good products that did not last. It also is a little embarrassing if you write about something you like so much and it disappears one day.
EASIEST WAY TO FORECAST THE FUTURE
1) Research a company’ funding online. There’s a financial technology revolution going on, and I encourage you to participate as a financial blogger. Big banks (who don’t have affiliate programs) are getting left behind because they are over-regulated, too slow, and not innovative enough. This is why you’re seeing a rise in P2P lending, crowd funding, and social lending companies. Prosper, for example, just raised $165 million at a $1.87 billion valuation from a group of investors. It is highly likely Prosper is going to stick around for a very long time.
Given the financial technology movement is under 10 years old, many of these companies are still loss making or aggressively trying to gain market share. They’ve got to raise enough capital to innovate and survive to their operating profit break-even-point or else they die. The simple solution is to simply Google “XYZ fund-raising” to see how much a particular company you like has raised. The more they have raised, and the farther they are in the Series Seed, A, B, C, D, or E round, the more confidence you will have that they will survive.
A couple good resources for funding information include Crunchbase.com and Mattermark.com.
2) Test out the product yourself. If you are writing a review about a product and have never used the product, you need to stop right now. There’s no place on the internet for fake reviews for the sole purpose of trying to make money. It’s deceptive. Furthermore, you aren’t going to write a credible review if you don’t really know what you’re talking about! Sure, you can copy reviews from other sites who actually use the product, but that’s just plagiarism.
Please test out each product you are considering becoming an affiliate for yourself. If you love the product, then chances are high that your community of readers will also love the product. After all, your subscribers are very much like you, otherwise, they wouldn’t subscribe to your feeds in the first place.
3) Become an Authority Affiliate. Let’s say you’ve tried the product out yourself and find it to be awesome. The next step is to reach out to the company directly and see if you can meet with them in person to hear their story, learn about their products, and help address their concerns. If you have the opportunity, you might even want to suggest consulting for them.
As an authority affiliate at Motif Investing, I’m putting my money where my mouth is by going all-in with my time, in addition to opening up a $10,000 Motif portfolio. You’ll learn a ton about the industry and have a lot of great derivative stories to share as well.
TIME TO MAKE A DECISION
After researching the product online, testing it out, and working with the creators, you’ve now got to make a decision on whether the company has a viable future. Sometimes you won’t really know for sure until you look the CEO in the eyes to hear his/her story. Very few companies last forever. But if you can say with relatively high confidence that you believe the company will survive for at least the next three years, and their product is value-added, then I say it’s a go to promote them. You’ll rank much better for the related search terms if the company ever gets large because you have a first move advantage.
To put what I’ve written into practice, I’ve decided to spend 40 hours a month working with Sliced Investing here in San Francisco to help them grow. Sliced Investing is a Y Combinator graduate with $2.5 million in seed funding from Khosla Venture, a premier VC. They are democratizing access to alternative investments like hedge funds and private companies like Lyft, which have traditionally been reserved for people with millions of dollars to invest. You may be surprised to know that Yale University has a 50% alternative investment target for 2015, for example. Most people don’t know this because they haven’t had access to alternative investments before.
Furthermore, I’m VERY bullish on the crowdsourcing/crowdfunding space in general. Just look at Uber, Rideshare, Prosper, and AirBnB who are leveraging people’s willingness to pool resources for a better life. To me, I think Sliced Investing has a very viable future if they can properly execute. I’m predicting that they can and have signed up as an affiliate as well.
If you can make rational assumptions about who the winners will be in the future, you can not only provide cutting edge content that gets your readers coming back for more, you can also position yourself as an authority in the space. The sooner you can invest in the winners by writing about them, the bigger your advantage in the search engines as well.
STARTING A MONEY MAKING BLOG
I never thought I’d be able to quit my job in 2012 just three years after starting Financial Samurai. But by starting one financial crisis day in 2009, Financial Samurai actually makes more than my entire passive income total that took 15 years to build. If you enjoy writing, creating, connecting with people online, and enjoying more freedom, learn how you can set up a WordPress blog in 15 minutes like this one.
Leverage the 3+ billion internet users and build your brand online. There are professional bloggers now who make way more than bankers, doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs while having much more fun, much more freedom, and doing less work. Get started. You never know where the journey will take you!
Updated for 2017 and beyond.