When I was 16 years old my mom reminded me that it was time to come up with my junior/senior project. If you are a kid in my family, you have to do some sort of meaningful project that will help you develop life skills before you graduate high school.
For the longest time I had no idea what I would do, but after listening to ‘The Total Money Makeover’ by Dave Ramsey in the car with my mom I was inspired. I did some research to find out how many websites were out there devoted to teens. There were many great sites out there on what to do once you were in debt as an adult, but not much that helped you learn early how not to get into debt in the first place!
That’s how I decided to start a website just for teens and their money. I came up with the name TeensGotCents and my first ‘post’ was published on January 1, 2013.
My main goal was to tell the stories of what I was learning with my money, even when I made mistakes (of which there have been many)! Generally I just wanted to learn myself and help teens understand that having a budget and being careful with your finances is an amazing way to reach your goals fast.
What is Success?
For me, the definition of success with my blog has changed quite a bit over the years. It’s important to have specific goals in mind when you start a website. People start blogs for all sorts of reasons and you have to figure out what success means to you.
When I started I just wanted to complete my high school project well. Wait. That’s not really true. The truth is that my older brother had done an amazing project and I wanted mine to be even better, or at least as good as his. Of course, I did see my project as a way for me to develop much needed communication skills. Better yet? I thought it would look really good on a resume.
I remember the day that more than 10 people read my blog. That definitely felt like success even though it took quite a while. I knew that someone other than my mom, my grandmother, my brother, and my best friend were reading the site. Very cool!
Basically, in the beginning, setting up the site, adding a new post every week, interviewing business leaders for articles, and having to make phone calls were all a part of the project. Everyone of those things were improving my communication skills and required me to keep posting every week. At that point TeensGotCents was a huge success in my book.
Then I went to FinCon and saw my first Plutus Awards. I was seventeen and had been blogging for less than a year. At FinCon I realized people were blogging and making money. What? And if they had a really good site, they would get a Plutus award which recognized their hard work and commitment. Are you kidding me? And they got to dress up and have their picture taken.
Sign. Me. Up.
I wanted to get dressed up and get one of those Plutus Awards! I had NO IDEA I could make money with my site. I left FinCon wanting to do a lot more with my site. I still considered it a success, but a whole new world had been opened up.
Four months later I landed my first regular paying client. I can trace that back directly to what I learned at FinCon that first year and how inspired I was to start doing something big with my site. I only made $200 a month with that first job, but it more than covered my blogging costs and gave me a little money to work with. At that point I invested everything back into the project.
If you are thinking about starting a blog, what does success mean to you? Do you want to have lots of people reading every day and your site be super popular? Looking to develop writing skills or the tech skills to build your own site? Hoping to have a solid project to put on your resume outside of good grades for your high school career? Need to make money?
Once you determine what success means to you it will help you better understand your approach. And just as a side note, if you need to get rich quick, blogging is not what I would recommend…
In the early months I tried to write two articles a week. It stressed me out, my writing wasn’t that great, and I was still trying to make all A’s in school. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could only do so much.
In those early days I would work on an article by writing a rough draft or scheduling an interview with someone so I could write the article I wanted to write. I realized I needed to have several articles going at a time so I was always developing content. My goal was to have a months worth of articles written or started at all times. This was a goal I often did not reach, but I did try. Being purposeful in this one area made a big difference.
Now I manage a team of six other teen writers for the site. Every day I take time to read their articles, approve headlines, and give them feedback on what they have submitted. It’s a part of what I do every day. I set aside one day a week so I have time to write as well. Currently I have content scheduled out for about three months. It’s hard to keep up sometimes, but it’s worth it to know that I don’t have to write an article tonight to be published on TeensGotCents tomorrow.
Right at the very beginning I learned about ‘pillar content’. Pillar content is what you write about on your blog, the actual topics. I didn’t want to be all over the map. I decided I would have several specific categories. They are:
College Cents – any article about saving or earning money as a college student, going to college debt free, or tips that will help you do better in school.
Job Cents – all about how a teen can get a great part time job.
Shopping Cents – this category covers getting great deals and shopping smart.
Blog Cents – how teens can develop a blog and tips on doing things correctly.
Common Cents – this is for some of those miscellaneous articles about study skills or a great new book teens should check out on personal finance.
Having a specific focus on the content helps you narrow down what you are going to write about. It’s very freeing because I just don’t write about certain topics. Will we do an article about how to fix broken makeup to save money? Absolutely, because it saves money, but you won’t ever see an article on TeensGotCents unless it specifically relates to personal finance in some way that matters to teens and college students.
Expect the Unexpected
My experience has been quite different than many adult bloggers. I don’t have hundreds of thousands of people coming to my site every month. I don’t have ads everywhere for people to click on so I can make a penny when they click. It’s just not how I have done things, mainly because I didn’t know how.
What has happened has been so much better.
I make money doing things I never even thought possible. I had no idea I would get to speak at conferences and get paid. I teach personal finance classes to teens and earn money that way. I’ve been a consultant to a number of organizations seeking to create content for teens. One of my favorite things to do is to be a brand ambassador for organizations that share my mission. It’s fun and it allows me to earn a living.
The best part of being a blogger are the opportunities that have been such a surprise. Two years ago I started an annual conference for teen entrepreneurs call The Teenpreneur Conference. I don’t make anything from the conference now but I love every minute of working with and supporting other teen business owners. Without the TeensGotCents blog I would never have had the opportunity to start the conference.
Now that I have the conference I’m working on creating a Teenpreneur Expo (event where teen business owners have the chance to sell their products and services) and already have a sponsor. See? The blogging road can take you in so many unexpected directions. The best part is I’m helping others while I’m working for myself.
The Bad News
Blogging is hard. People don’t call you back. Sometimes you get overwhelmed and just can’t get everything done. School gets in the way (don’t tell anyone I said that) when you just want to work on your website. Sometimes people don’t pay you when they said they would. Sometimes you say the wrong thing and it messes up a business relationship. Sometimes people just don’t do what they promised.
So far, 2017 has been by far my most difficult year in business. I’ve second guessed myself and faced some truly difficult challenges I had no idea how to handle. It’s been hard! But all of this adversity has made me stronger and more committed than ever to my mission of reaching teens and empowering them to handle their money well and help them start their own business.
There are all sorts of things that can go wrong with your blog but that’s where you tend to learn the most so don’t shrink back because you are afraid things won’t go perfectly. Because they won’t. But there can still be incredible success along the way.
If you are a teen and are considering starting a blog I say, the younger, the better! Go for it! And let me know if you have any questions! I love talking with other teen bloggers and I answer all of my emails. firstname.lastname@example.org