You may have noticed a certain minimalist vibe going on here at Beards and Money. White background, black and white, one column, basic and plain layout all the way. I surprisingly spent a lot of time searching for a WordPress template this minimalist. It was hard. You may also notice that I have no ads, not pop-ups, no annoying solicitations to invite you to join my email list, and basically no real selling of anything. This is on purpose. I have no plans to ever place ads on this site, and no immediate plans to monetize it in any way. If you are thinking about starting a blog, then I highly encourage it. But, you should probably forget about “monetizing” it for a long while, and don’t worry about making it look fancy. Let me tell you why.
I’m not a graphic designer. I don’t know the first thing about making a pretty looking website. I do know what I like and I do know what annoys me when I read other blogs. I know what I’m good at, and I know what I should probably not waste too much time worrying about. So, I choose to focus on my personal circle of control.
Mr. Money Mustache talks about your circle of control and sums it up as follows:
So here it is in a nutshell: You will have a much better life, if you focus your mental and physical energy ONLY on the things you can personally influence. Everything else is a distraction that pulls you away from running your life properly. But quite counter-intuitively, this smaller focus does not shrink your influence and your ability to do good. It causes these things to increase.
Yes, I can personally control the design of my website, but what I can’t directly control is how others will interact with it, their opinions of it, and whether they will read it or not. I have tools at my disposal to increase readership, and I could even make some money on the side if I wanted to work hard at doing so. However, doing so would pull me away from what I can do better and pull me off of projects that are more in my wheelhouse and from which I can draw more profit.
Web design is one of those things that I’ve decided not to spend significant intellectual resources thinking about, so I find a template that is as bare-bones as I can, and I just straight up rock that beast. I haven’t touched the code in the template I’ve chosen, with the most advanced graphical design being the cute bearded money man at the top of the page. That image took 15 minutes, and it was kind of fun. Spending hours making it perfect would have been a waste of my time. I am also not writing this blog to make money or to really build a particularly big readership. I’ll get into that below.
I’m also a big fan of minimalism in general. It’s probably why I’ve recently found a home in what is called Mustachianism, the near quasi-religion Pete at Mr. Money Mustache has built by “writing shit in a computer.”
Look at two of the biggest, most badass, most visited sites on the planet: Google and The Drudge Report. Both are ridiculously minimalist because they are designed to do one thing very well. They also draw in massive amounts of traffic every day. Drudge has had the same basic graphic since the friggin’ 90s and hasn’t changed his static HTML single page site since then, either. He gets millions of eyeballs a day.
Why blog? Is it for the money?
Yes and no. I don’t blog to make money, I blog to save money. I know that sounds stupid, but bear with me.
First, let’s dispense with the costs of running a blog. If you’re smart, you can have a dedicated blog with your own domain name running for less than $1 per month. You can blog using a site like WordPress.com or Blogger for free. My webhost is NearlyFreeSpeech.net. That isn’t an affiliate link, because they don’t have an affiliate program. They offer hosting plans with costs based on the amount of resources that you use. That means, if you have a small site, with minimal graphics, and a small amount of traffic, then you pay very little. My “bill” comes out to about $0.30 per month. If the site grows its traffic, then I’ll pay more. But what I will never do is pay more to subsidize other folks’s larger sites, which is what happens with many shared webhosts.
Obviously, running a blog this way isn’t free, so how am I saving money without recouping those costs? The answer is that this blog makes my goals public and allows me to solidify my plans for the future in writing several times per month.
Make your goals public
If you’re going to make big, damn near un-achievable, and some might say CRAZY goals, then the “secret” to making them a reality is to force massive accountability on yourself. The vegetarian runner Matt Frazier says the following about creating massive accountability:
Start a blog and write about it. This is the single best thing I did for my personal growth and my ability to achieve goals. At mile 22 of my Boston-qualifying race, I felt the same feelings I had every time before, where the wheels are starting to come off and it becomes more painful to keep pushing than to ease back and face the realization that today is not your day. The difference was that this time, quitting was more painful, because people were watching. So I kept going, and discovered that I had more than I had ever accessed before.
But don’t just start a blog. Also tell your family. And your friends. And Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and everything else. Best of all, get a partner who is equally motivated to go after an equally unrealistic goal, and promise to hold each other accountable each and every day.
I have my wife and this blog to keep me accountable to my beard and money goals. Even though no one is really reading this thing yet, I am working to grow the number of eyeballs that grace to gloriousness that is the beard exactly so that I can involve as many people as possible in my goal achievement.
There is some debate about whether or not you should make your goals public. Derek Sivers has a terrific TED talk about how you should keep your goals to yourself. He cites psychology tests that show that announcing your goals makes you less motivated to accomplish them. Hey, he’s using science, which just warms my heart. The theoretical framework at play here is that announcing your goals satisfies some part of your personality that thinks announcing it is the same as actually doing it.
As a scientist, I’m not going to argue about science. But what the research also says is that this is completely not the case for goals in which you deeply involve other people. That’s why I’m working hard to pull in some other Beard-o’s to to grow their beards and money with me. That’s why this blog exists.
How I save money by blogging
Every few days, I write some shit into a computer. It has the effect of reminding me that I made a commitment to grow my beard (because doing so is awesome) and to spend much less of the money I earn. I don’t spend a lot of time on this because its probably more productive to actually earn that money. I spend just enough time to keep me motivated. Some weeks that may be a LOT of time. Some weeks it might be less. My goal with this blog is to help me. If you get helped along the way, then that’s so much gravy.
I am also making myself accountable to myself. I am laying down some hard, written objectives that I can look back on to see how well or how poorly I’m doing. And it’s working. I’ve been spending a little more time than I probably should here at the beginning, but I have also managed to save way more this month than I ever have before through simple actions. My time commitment to this project will shrink as I build habits.
As an side, blogging is also helping some with my career. A large part of my job is writing, which can be difficult to start. I’ve found that I can come on this stupid little site and crap out some craptastic sentences, and I’ve greased the groove. I drop into my academic writing much more easily, and even though I’m “wasting time” writing this drivel about beards and money, I’m being more productive in my money-making writing.
Why I don’t have ads, and maybe why you shouldn’t, too.
So no ads. Why? Because setting up ads takes time and energy and it pulls your energy away from doing the actual thing you want to accomplish with your blogging.
Look, I know how to make money with websites. I’ve done it. In the early 2000s I ran a little side business that sold a product on eBay. I made some good money doing this. So, I wrote a book on how to sell this product on eBay and sold that for a really high price online. The whole book was really just an advertisement for a dropshipping company I set-up. This meant I was building an army of customers for my dropshipping business, and this army was paying me for the privilege. It was a pretty good deal. Ebay changed some policies and Paypal made dropshipping VERY risking for the dropshipper, so it ended in minor disaster. I ended up eating the cost of a ton of products. All in all, I made money. I was making about $30k per year, which is a nice side income. But I was working FULL TIME for this side income, and it was affecting my other work. This was hardly passive, and I’m better at other things than what I was doing with this business, so I blew it up and walked away. I have no regrets, because it allowed me to focus on what I am good at, and I earn nearly 3 times that amount today with less stress because I enjoy what I do.
I also ran a very niche website within my area of expertise that I have built a career around. This site got pretty big for the niche. We averaged around 50,000 unique visitors per month, with somewhere around 150,000 pageviews per month at the peak. I had a crazy high Google page rank. I was only earning about $50 per month with Google Adsense, and other attempts at monetization didn’t really pan out. What I learned from this experience is that it takes A LOT of eyeballs to make any decent money with Google Adsense. And I spent a LOT of time worrying about it. ChrisG hits on these points here. Basically, my business model sucked!
Now, that $50 was pretty passive. After a while, it didn’t matter how little I wrote, because it ran itself. But I blew that up, too, and completely changed the format and removed the ads. Why give up some pretty sweet beer money that required no real work to maintain? Because I’m making WAY more money with that site now than I was back then.
I could have monetized the site better by offering some information products, but my audience was students in the discipline in which I teach. They don’t have a lot of money, and there are tons of these products already sitting on the shelf at their university bookstore. I could have offered online tutoring, but in order to make it worth my while I would have had to charge $80 per hour, and tutoring just plain sucks, while doing it online sucks even harder. So instead, I blew up the site and completely redesigned it for professionals in my field. I removed the ads for other people’s products, and the whole site became an ad for ME. I make way more money consulting with major businesses and school systems around the country than I ever did with Google Ads. Now that site makes sense. It gets way less traffic, but the traffic it does get is way more likely to pay me thousands per week to help with their educational project.
Sometimes if you look at something a little differently, you find that there are better ways to use your time and resources to accomplish your goal. It’s easy to look at personal finance blogs and see the email list sign-ups, ads, affiliate links for financial products, etc. and think that doing that would make you coin, too, and BANG, you’re out of debt. But the reality is, you probably just need to get your shit straight first before you try profiting off getting other people’s stinky shit straight.
You’ll waste significant intellectual resources and a lot of your time building a business that you didn’t really want to build in the first place. You should be focusing on side hustles that you could easily be good at, and using the blogging as a motivator. You should be focused on not spending so much damn money. Learn to live on half your salary RIGHT NOW, without a side hustle. Then side hustle in your wheelhouse for extra gravy if you can and it doesn’t affect your productivity in the real money maker.
So I don’t have ads because I don’t care about making money from this website. If it blows up, then maybe I’ll add some affiliate links to shit I’m already writing about, but that’s it. I don’t want to be a professional blogger. I just want to write shit into a computer and have some folks help keep me accountable to my beard and money goals. I’ll get bearded and rich the good old fashioned way: by not shaving and by not spending all of my money. Maybe you should think about doing the same.
UPDATE: Yeah. That didn’t take long. You might have noticed there are some AdSense ads in some of the posts. I’m playing around to see what AdSense can do theses days with a different niche than sites I’ve worked with in the past. Basically, when I wrote this, I didn’t expect 2,000 pageviews in the first week. Beards really are badass. Give me a few weeks of hypocrisy, and if I find earnings aren’t worth the annoyance (like a couple bucks a month for silly little ads blowing up my beautiful content), then I’ll yank them down and go back to bitching about the lack of minimalism in personal finance blogging that is supposedly about minimalism. If those silly little ads make bank, then … well … suck it.
At least I didn’t put any ads in THIS post … until now …