7 Lessons I’ve learned from 5 years of blogging
After debating whether to start a personal finance blog for over six months, on July 20, 2014, I published the very first blog post on this site titled “Best Financial Advice”. During those six months, I questioned myself whether I have enough ideas to write consistently and I wondered what I would call the site and the tagline. After toying with many different site names including terms like dividend, financial independence, and financial freedom, I settled on a term that I’ve used since I started using the internet – Tawcan. It was a term that I created which stood for Taiwanese Canadian. I figured that an ambiguous name is a good name to use (clearly SEO is not my forte and not the focus of this blog). Five years later, this blog has grown from a rarely visited place with tumbleweeds rolling across the page, to a popular site with loyal readers. I feel extremely blessed.
It has been one heck of a ride so far!
7 Lessons I’ve learned from 5 years of blogging
I’ll be the first to admit that over the last five years, I have made many mistakes on this blog. Thanks to these mistakes, I have learned many different things about blogging. Here are 7 lessons I have learned from 5 years of blogging:
#1 Blogging is about building relationships. Not about page views, subscribers, likes, followers, SEO, etc.
If you read these “how to build a successful blog” articles, they will tell you that as a blogger you must keep a close eye on all the mandatory blogging numbers. Numbers like page views, email subscribers, likes, bounce rate, etc. SEO optimization is also an important aspect of blogging. You must do keyword research, include these keywords in the page title and the article, research the competition… the must-do list goes on and on.
Sorry, for the most part, I don’t do any of that.
I am probably the last person to tell you about SEO optimization. I suck at it.
The key lesson I have learned as a blogger for five years is that blogging is more than page views, email subscribers, likes, follower counts, SEO, etc. If you only focus on these mandatory blogging numbers and tasks, you will get bogged down and get lost very quickly.
Treat other people how you’d want to be treated – that’s something I live by on a daily basis and something I am teaching my kids.
Therefore, because email subscription pop-ups annoy the heck out of me, I decided to never have pop-ups on this site. Why put readers through the same pain, just to get a few email subscribers? I figure if people want to follow me or sign up for the email list, they can do it on their own will. There’s no need to put a pop-up in their face and ask them to provide their email address.
So yeah, for the most part, I don’t follow the traditional blogging advice. What I have learned after ignoring all this traditional blogging advice is that blogging is about building relationships, and this has been my #1 focus in the last number of years. I want to build relationships with readers, I want to build relationships with other bloggers, and I want to build relationships with other like-minded people.
From day one, it has never been about how can I make money from readers. Readers are smart, they can tell if you put making money as the number one priority. Sure, I have ads on the blog, but they only generate enough money to negate the website hosting cost. Living off blog income is not my plan and it never will be.
Again, it’s about how can I create a relationship with you the reader. Is there something I can help you with? Are you looking for a Google spreadsheet template to track your portfolio? Are you wondering how to start investing in dividend paying stocks? Are you wondering how to grow your net worth? Are you looking for ways to save money?
Thanks to this blog, I have met many awesome bloggers in person either one-on-one or at a conference somewhere. I will always remember the following meetups:
- Meeting Jeremy, Winnie, and Julian with Mrs. T and Baby T1.0 when both families were vacationing in Osaka Japan. We talked for hours in a Starbucks.
- Arranging a meet up with Jay from FI Fighter while I was on a business trip in Hong Kong. We ended up talking for around 5 hours straight. The only reason we said goodbye was because public transportation was going to stop running shortly.
- Meeting up with Tanja from Our Next Life in San Francisco before she revealed her identity. I was in SF for business, she had discovered this from a tweet I made and contacted me. She had flown into SF on the day I was due to fly back to Vancouver. We chatted for a couple of hours in the hotel lounge (I was super glad we did that since we missed each other by a day in Tokyo before this meetup).
- Meeting Bill from Wealth Well Done at FinCon’17. I was in the elevator on my way up to the hotel lounge to grab a drink. Bill just happened to step into the elevator and we started chatting. I then invited him to the lounge to continue chatting. I think we ended up talking for over an hour (?) that night and the bond was formed.
I also had opportunities to meet up with a number of readers. It was super cool that a reader recognized me at a US airport and told me that budgeting, investing, and FIRE are boring. It was also very cool that a beaver’s parent from my Beavers Scouts group (I’m one of the leaders) reached out to me on Facebook recently after finding my site through Reddit. Or that a neighbour read my story on Moneysense Magazine a few years ago and it sparked our on-going conversations on financial independence and investing. Needless to say, I love to connect with other like-minded people. It always brightens my day when I receive emails, Facebook messages, or Twitter DM’s from readers.
I have been able to build relationships because the personal finance/FIRE community is totally awesome!
#2. Make blogging fun
Blogging is harder than many people think. Many people think bloggers just sit down and hammer out an article in 30 minutes or less. I sure don’t hammer out articles like that and I believe most bloggers don’t either.
It must be some sort of blogger fantasy dream world!
Blogging takes A LOT of time. How much time? Almost as much as a full-time job. Writing an article isn’t as easy as sitting down and starting to type. Below has been my typical writing process:
- Think of an interesting idea to write about
- Research the topic to expand the idea
- Write the article
- Read the article, realize it totally sucks and makes no sense
- Leave the article for a few days (sometimes weeks or months)
- Go back to the article, revise it, add more sentences, etc.
- Repeat steps 3 & 6 a few times
- Do a final edit of the article
- Find the appropriate image(s) to use for the article
- Schedule when the article will go live
From start to finish, each blog article usually takes me about three hours to complete with many of them taking much longer than that. There have been a few articles that took me months from start to finish (my current record is ~7 months – this post).
Since blogging takes up a lot of time, if you aren’t enjoying it, it is extremely difficult to continue. This is especially true if you started blogging to make money.
That’s why I’ve learned that I need to keep blogging fun. If it’s not fun, I would have stopped writing and shut down the site a long time ago.
Lesson #3: Be honest, authentic, and vulnerable
I knew that being honest and authentic were important a few months into my blogging career. This message was brought up by many speakers at FinCon’17 in Dallas. When I had my one-on-one mentoring session with Erin Lowery from Broke Millennial, she re-emphasized the importance of being honest and authentic, but more importantly, being vulnerable.
Thanks to Erin’s mentoring, I realized that it is OK to show my vulnerability in blog posts. I realized that it’s important to show my authenticity through my writing. It’s the key differentiator, as Erin pointed out during our session.
I am proud to say that I have followed the advice and tackled some very personal stuff in many posts. As it turned out, many readers really connected to my story because of these posts.
- How my struggles with English taught me about financial literacy
- FIRE. RIP. 2014-2018
- Life. Death. Financial Independence is really not that important… is it?
- The END
- Do the choices you make in life make you a happier person?
I will continue to be honest, authentic, and vulnerable on this blog.
Lesson #4: Tell your stories – Be yourself
Lesson #4 is slightly related to lesson #3. I learned that in addition to being honest, authentic, and vulnerable, it is crucial to stay true to yourself. Don’t try to pretend to be someone else that you are not. Readers are smart, if you pretend to be someone else, they will quickly discover that.
The best way to stay true to yourself is to tell your stories in your own voice and perspective. Through your stories, you can develop your own writing style and your writing voice.
Now I don’t claim to be the best writer out there, especially being ESL (English as a Second Language) and all, but learning to be proficient in English has made me appreciate even more about writing and expressing ideas through writing. I am always in awe of writings by authors like Cait Flanders, Michael Harris, George Orwell, Tara Westover, and Agathe Christie, and I have realized I probably will never write like them. However, I can get inspired by these great authors and learn how to write so readers can connect with me, relate to my stories, learn from these stories, and make them think.
Readers aren’t coming back because your blog has a cool design, or your blog has a super cool pop-up, or your blog is making tons of money, or your blog provides free chocolate chip cookies (ok maybe they will).
Readers are coming back because of you. They are coming back because they can relate to you. They are coming back because they can learn from you.
Always remember that!
Lesson #5: There will be setbacks – Don’t give up!
I have faced numerous setbacks on this blog. Although I work in high tech, I don’t know much on the technical side of website hosting. Simple things like switching from http to https, site security, and site optimization were beyond me. There have been times I completely messed up and had to spend hours trying to fix my mistakes. Thanks to the awesome blogging community, I was always able to find someone to help me.
As mentioned, blogging takes a long time. Once you are a few years in, you will probably ask yourself what’s the point of blogging. When you encounter a few setbacks, even though blogging is still fun, you can start to doubt yourself.
I have had a few encounters myself. For example, at some point last year, it became increasingly difficult for me to generate content. At one point I was considering giving up, but after spending a few days of refocusing and regrouping myself, I didn’t give up. I decided to continue writing because I enjoy writing and expressing myself through words.
One thing that has kept me going and motivated is switching to a consistent posting schedule. Nowadays I publish an article every Monday. Occasionally I would publish a post on a Thursday. Having a regular posting schedule means I can plan topics and posts much easier and ahead of time.
In addition, I have learned that setbacks and failures are a way to learn. Sure, it sucks to waste time, money, and energy and end up with something doesn’t work, but don’t give up. Use these mistakes as lessons to improve. Believe in yourself and that your writings are making a difference to someone.
Lesson #6 You don’t know everything – There’s never too much knowledge
One thing I have learned is admitting that I am not an expert at anything. I am not a dividend investing expert. I am not a financial independence retire early expert. I am not a personal finance expert.
And not being an expert is totally OK.
I tell myself that I can learn something new every day because there’s so much knowledge out there, waiting for me to tap into. The new knowledge can be from anyone, from books, from the internet, or even from animals. You never know where that new knowledge will come from.
So don’t get trapped in your ego. It doesn’t matter what I know, I can always learn new things from someone, regardless of who they are. I am learning from top bloggers, I am learning from books, I am learning from new bloggers, I am learning from my kids. Be willing to learn and absorb new knowledge. Listen to those around you and be open to something new. If the knowledge seems foreign, don’t just reject it. Be open-minded. You can’t just know everything automatically.
Lesson #7 There are no rules
This lesson is a bit related to lessons one and two. After five years of blogging, I have learned that there are no rules about blogging (OK, some people may argue against that, but hey, it’s totally cool!). Blogging is about creating something new and there are very few things you can’t do, shouldn’t do, or shouldn’t try. It’s totally OK to push the envelope. Be creative and be open. Try using new tools, try writing new topics, try using new techniques, try a different writing process, try taking a break, try a regular posting schedule, try an irregular posting schedule, etc.
Remind yourself to try different things, because there are no rules. It’s your blog, you make the rules. The worst thing that can happen is that you make a mistake. And mistakes are how you learn.
That’s why I don’t just write about dividend investing, index ETF investing, frugality, and financial independence retire early. I write topics like self-improvement, the psychology of money, happiness in life, and other topics not directly related to personal finance. I have tried posting at random days and now publish on a set day. I have tried writing lists but found them too boring.
Give new things a try and remember, they’re called personal blogs for a reason! It should be personal!
Some numbers for the curious minds
I know I said numbers don’t matter at the beginning of this post but I’m sure some readers, especially fellow bloggers, are curious to see some numbers. To feed the curious minds, here are some fun numbers:
- Total Comments: 11,994 (5,511 were mine)
- Published Posts: 422 -> 15.36 non-me comments per post average
- Drafts: 48
- Average Session Duration: 06:55 (wow do people actually spend that much time on the blog? Or my writings are just too confusing to understand?)
- Bounce Rate: 51.97% (I have no idea if this is low or high)
- % New Sessions: 53.07% (this means 46.93% of the visitors throughout 5 years are returning visitors!)
- Page / Session: 2.43 (I have no idea if this is a decent number or not considering five years of history)
- Best Ever: 29,537 views in a day
- Countries that have not visited this site: Greenland, Svalbard, North Korea, Western Sahara, Niger. (Tell your friends in these countries to visit this site! Hmm weird, I’m pretty sure Mrs. T’s friends in Greenland visited this site before…I’ll have to bug them later about this…)
The past five years have been a blast. I really really appreciate all your support and help!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
From the bottom of my heart, thank you again. I can’t say that enough times.