J. Money: Making Finance Rockstars and Sexy Budgets

J. Money is the anonymous blogger behind Budgets Are Sexy (winner of multiple Plutus Awards, First Annual, Second Annual, and Third Annual) and Rockstar Finance (winner of Best Micro-Blog, Fifth Annual). Within two years of founding Budgets Are Sexy in 2008, he was able to support himself and his family from his websites. Today, J. Money coaches others as they build and grow their own online businesses.

J. Money has been an inspiration to many other bloggers, and he has an amazing ability to connect with others and let his personality shine through his writing. I wanted to learn more about the ideas that drive J. to move forward with his projects.

J. Money

What is the story behind the beginning of Budgets Are Sexy?

It looked like a lot of people were having fun sharing their stories online, and I wanted in on it 🙂

Out of all the blogs I was reading, MyMoneyBlog.com was the most inspirational — mainly because he used to share his net worth every month which is what got me hooked. I also read a lot of FiveCentNickel.com back in the day as well as DinksFinance.com and CleverDude.com. But if it weren’t for My Money Blog I’m not sure I would have started it.

I was also super bored at my 9-5 and thought that if I were to put all my thoughts/goals/ideas out there about money, perhaps it would hold me accountable. So one day I said “F it” and just started typing… grammatical mistakes and all (I didn’t care an ounce since I honestly didn’t think anyone would be reading it, haha…)

And now here we are exactly seven years later still going strong! It’s been an unexpected ride to say the least.

I take it your birth certificate doesn’t really say “J. Money.” How has being anonymous helped you? Has it also hindered your success?

Without going anonymous I wouldn’t be able to share every last penny of my finances to the world — which was the most amazing thing I saw other bloggers doing and the only thing I knew I wanted to do 100% too. Which is kinda ironic if you think about it — I have to hide my identity in order to be more transparent with my finances! 🙂

So it was definitely a necessity, and I doubt I’d still be here today if I hadn’t gone that route. (Also — I wanted free reign to talk about anything and everything I wanted to — even my own work while I was blogging AT work — hah! — so this gave me complete freedom to speak my mind and be “real.” Plus, who doesn’t like a little mystery in their lives?)

As for drawbacks, sure — there are plenty. I can’t market it as well as I would like, I always have to be careful who I tell about it and what info I’m putting out there every day (and I still get stalkers), and every now and then I won’t be picked up for a story in the media as I’m unwilling to give out my real name. This mentality is fortunately changing in the media, however, as just last month I was lucky enough to be profiled in Forbes.

How have your goals for blogging changed over the years?

Oh man, first it was, “Let’s see if you can blog for a month!” Then it was, “Oooh, I made a dollar??? Let’s see if I can make 100 of them!” And then, “Holy crap, this is actually turning into a thing — I wonder if I can do this full-time for a real job?” And then, “Awesome! Look at me, I’m self-employed, let’s kill it!” followed by, “Hello my beautiful little boys! I better focus on you two more than my blog, let’s not spend every waking hour on that anymore. OK?” Haha…

Your priorities tend to shift over seven years, but the main purpose of the site hasn’t changed in the least: to get people to have fun talking about money.

J. Money

Budgets Are Sexy has a busy and active community of loyal readers. What actions did you take to build a strong community and a loyal following among your readers?

I always keep it real and just be generally positive over the years.

The worst thing in the world to me is accidentally offending someone as I always want people to leave the site feeling better than they did when they got there. Of course, $hit happens and I do dumb stuff, but I think being conscious of who I’m writing to every day makes a big difference.

I also make it a habit to respond to almost every single comment and email that I get, even though it’s been getting harder and harder over the years. People take the time to not only read what you’re writing, but then to share opinions and questions, so I find it rude when they don’t get acknowledged — even with just a quick one-liner. (This is probably one of my pet peeves with bloggers — they ask questions and want people to engage, but then they leave ’em hanging!)

How have you increased the number of visitors to and readers of Budgets Are Sexy?

I’m actually one of the worst people to ask about this as I honestly just do my best to pump out semi-decent content and then cross my fingers that it’ll get spread. 🙂

As a blogging coach, however, I can tell you exactly what you should be doing to get more traffic to your site: guest posting, guest posting, guest posting!!

This not only gets you tons of new fresh eyeballs to your site, but also helps immensely with SEO. I’m just so tired of writing after doing my own posts that I can’t bare to do it again — even though I know it’s incredibly helpful. I do network my ass off though and try meeting as many bloggers I can, which I find helps in the process.

And when you have a story or look or style it’s a lot harder for people to forget you. 😉

You also foster community among your peers, other financial bloggers. What specific actions did you take to build trust and camaraderie?

I just talk to people as if they’re all my friends! Because they are!

The community around blogging is one of the best surprises that came out of the whole thing. Yeah, I like money and helping people (and myself) get better at it, but MAN is it more fun to just be around like-minded people and shoot the $hit.

Every single one of my friends — and best friends — came from blogging online as sad as that sounds, haha… And what happens when you’re friends with lots of bloggers online? You of course help them out and share all their stuff too! So that’s really all I do to be honest with you.

I talk to people on Twitter, leave comments on my favorite articles I read, share the crap out of the gems (which is where Rockstar Finance comes in), and email a ton with everyone back and forth. That’s actually the biggest thing I’ve learned since launching Rockstar: Email is very much still the #1 way to build relationships. I’d much rather email one new person a day than I would Tweet or FB them, etc.

You explained a little about Rockstar Finance. How does this website fit in with your overall approach?

Rockstar Finance highlights all of the best articles on money out there (at least in my opinion). We produce SO MUCH content as a whole among our community, and we all know not every single piece is brilliant. In fact, I’d venture to say maybe one or two a month MAX are — my own stuff included.

I always thought it would be cool to have a central place that promoted the best content and where you could easily find new bloggers, and since it didn’t really exist yet (at least curated lists) I finally decided to just do it myself. It took me three years to finally pull the trigger, but so far the response has been great.

Each article featured gets hundreds of hits off the bat and often goes on to be featured in places such as LifeHacker, Business Insider, The Globe and Mail and more. In fact, it helps everyone else more than it does myself — hah! But that’s exactly what it was set up to do: promote our fellow colleagues doing great $hit and to take a break from promoting my own stuff 24/7 like many of us are accustomed to doing.

So my goal with Rockstar was to have a place that houses all of these best articles of our own to help people wade though the “meh.” I also wanted to make it easier for people to find new blogs out there that they normally wouldn’t have, so by featuring three different bloggers a day it really opens up the opportunity to come across some great sites out there. And what’s better than reading a gem of theirs first rather than something that’s statistically so-so?

How do you find and curate all the new articles each day?

I use Feedly to track everyone, and every day go in and scan the 75 to 200 new articles being written in hopes of finding my three gems for the day. If I don’t, I start hitting up peoples’ blogrolls and the stuff being shared on social media until I lock onto something that fits.

Some days this takes 30 minutes, and others three hours. I also scan a lot of bloggers’ “round up” articles they do as they typically feature bloggers I’ve never seen before, and then anytime I see those that really excite me I plop them into my Feedly going forward which continues to help in the curation process. It’s pretty time consuming, but no real way around it if you’re trying to be selective with the quality of content.

How can a blogger increase his or her chances of writing an article that would be featured on Rockstar Finance?

The perfect stuff out there is personal, creative, *informational* and just gets you inspired to go and out take action as soon as you’re done reading the post. The thing with money is that it’s always the same stuff over and over again as it hasn’t changed in the past THOUSANDS of years. So it really comes down to sharing these tips and stories in a more unique way. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read about cutting back on coffee or making your own lunches every day to save money – which of course are all fine tips – but everyone’s doing it so it doesn’t show up on Rockstar. Now if you were sharing how you cut back on coffee and then used that money for a down payment on a house which you then turned into passive income and now are going to retire early because of it – well hot damn! Now we’re onto something!

So I look for articles that takes this money stuff a step further and adds a new spin on it. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a new blogger or veteran blogger or have a million fans vs one fan — I base everything on the content alone. So please don’t think you don’t have a shot to be featured on the site if you’re a new blogger. Some of the most creative ideas come from the new people on the scene!

What kind of results have you seen with Rockstar, and what has been the result for bloggers or other writers who have been featured?

Here’s the funny thing — I pretty much do the exact same thing now as I did over a year ago when launching the site, but the stats and traffic just keep growing because more and more people are finding it helpful. And honestly, the bloggers themselves usually get more traffic than Rockstar itself because I push everyone off my site to theirs!

And all my marketing efforts on Twitter, Facebook, and even my daily newsletter that goes out with the three Rockstar articles a day all send people away to the featured blogs. It’s very counter-blog-like as you’re supposed to keep people ON your site if you want to grow it, haha… But of course this is a whole different beast. I could easily make a few changes and double/triple the growth of Rockstar itself, but then it sends less people to the bad ass articles themselves which it’s set up to do.

So yes, my site is growing by the month, but the real “win” here is that the bigger it gets the better it helps the community we’re all a part of. Last year featured bloggers were getting a couple of dozen clicks, and now they’re getting hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of views with each mention. Which is of course awesome!

How do you approach potential advertisers and partners? Or do they approach you, and if so, why do you think they do?

I’m usually pretty bad about approaching advertisers and partners because I only promote those products and services I personally use myself, and I have a tendency to use the same ol’ companies over and over again without testing any new ones. But I’m working on being more open in 2015 because I know there are so many kick-ass products out there I’m not using — esp in the finance field — and so far I’ve already found a new one I’m now obsessed with: Digit.co, a service that helps people automatically save more money.

As soon as I got hooked I made it a point to help them get the word out more, so it’s been a pretty awesome partnership so far.

So I guess my “approach” is to ask yourself what companies or products you love and use yourself, and then physically reach out to them and strike up a relationship letting them know you’re a perfect candidate since you’re a big fan of theirs! And then pinpoint the advantages of working with a fine person such as yourself by noting site traffic, skills, relationships within the field, etc, etc.

It doesn’t always work (I’ve been trying to chat with the folks at Acorns.com — another company I’m just now getting into who’s ignoring my advances, haha) but it’s the best type of relationship I’ve at least come across so far. And really, the companies you’re raving about online should be paying attention anyways — something Vanguard and USAA are great at for example.

USAA invites bloggers out to a special mini-conference they put on each year to give their online fans and organic promoters a little love and the inside scoop about new products and information. And as most of us finance nerds can attest to, what’s better than infiltrating the headquarters of a company you highly admire?

What are some of the most important lessons you impart to other bloggers you coach?

To be yourself and just pour your heart into your writing — the good, the bad, and especially the ugly. People LOVE to read about all the mistakes you make because it not only makes them feel better about themselves (you know it’s true), but it makes us bloggers much more relatable too. Yes they want to learn and have fun and not be bored too, but the more real you can be with your blog the better.

That’s the difference behind a blog and a website really. One shares information without the personal element (websites) and the other is more like an online journal. Only now that we’ve found ways to make money from it and build a “business” out of blogging the line starts to get kinda fuzzy. Especially with sponsored posts (*ahem*).

Of course there’s no right or wrong answer as to what you should or shouldn’t do with a blog as it’s your blog, but I usually find that when you’re in it for the money you’ll be done with it sooner than later.

There’s a billion other ways to make money MUCH faster, so you really have to enjoy the whole blogging process or you’ll burn out fast.

Here are other topics or tips we go over:

  • Figuring out what your “story” is. We all have one, but we rarely take the time to pinpoint it.

  • Figuring out what you are not. For example, I suck at and hate doing lots of in-depth research and analyzing, so I have to remind myself not to compare my blog with other kick-ass blogs that ARE awesome at it. I like to think of my site as the desert and not the main course, which helps my confidence and figuring out my “place” in the blogging world. It’s empowering knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are!

  • Figuring out the best way to spend your time. Most of us pump out content 24/7 and suck at then marketing it. That’s a pretty important piece if you’d like to grow your blog faster. And again, something I’m working on myself.

  • And just getting into the habit of being creative with writing. The most successful bloggers out there have learned how to turn the same boring advice into new ways of thinking of it, either through storytelling or making up new terms and phrases on the fly. Not only does this keep your audience interested, but it can help spread your blog faster too.

    Hell, just the other month I made up a term mid-way through my article and decided to make it “a thing.” A week later it showed up in the New York Times. THE NEW YORK TIMES!! From something I totally made up from thin air. People need to hear things in all sorts of different ways to finally “get it,” and there’s no reason they can’t have that epiphany from reading one of your own ideas.

How has blogging and this community changed your life?

Well, put it this way: Seven years ago I was on job number 30-something, just floating through life, not making a lick of a difference in the world (or with my money!), and now I’ve stumbled across a pretty exciting career on top of dozens of amazing new friendships.

My aunt once told me that you know when you’re on the right track when obstacles get out of your way and the ride just keeps getting smoother, and at this point in time it’s safe to say I finally found what I was meant to be doing.

I urge everyone reading this to follow those cues in life as well, and to just START whatever it is that moves you in the off chance it’s your true calling. I failed over 30 times finding my place in the world and then all of a sudden, bam! I’m getting interviewed all about it. So get out there and keep on experimenting in life and with your blogs, and above all else just have FUN. You never know what can come of it.

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Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life · February 18, 2015 at 10:53 am

Great story, so much truth. This community really is “rockstar” 😉

    J. Money · February 19, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    And coincidentally enough you’re about to be featured on Rockstar Finance tomorrow! 😉

    (Thanks for passing on the good word Flexo!)

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