When Michelle Schroeder-Gardner started her blog back in 2011, she had no idea what she was doing. When she started, she didn’t even know what a blog was or how it could make money.
But personal finance interested her, and she had a background in this area. She started sharing her journey and building a following with her personal stories and sound advice.
After about two years, she was making around $10,000 a month. After 4 ½ years, she made $50,000 a month, and after 5 years, she earned $100,000 a month. Since she started, she has made more than $5 million.
Keep reading to learn more about:
- What inspired her to get started
- How she diversifies her income
- Her strategies for growing her email list
- How to craft a good email
- How much time she spends on her blog at the moment
- Michelle’s greatest accomplishment
- Her favorite tools
- The biggest mistake she’s made
- Her advice for other entrepreneurs
You can learn how Michelle approaches affiliate marketing in her full training course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Here.
Meet Michelle Schroeder-Gardner
I’ve been blogging over at Making Sense of Cents since 2011.
My blog is where I help readers learn how to earn more, save more, and live more. I paid off around $40,000 in student loan debt in just seven months, which is what the website was based on when I started my blog.
I now travel full-time with my family on a sailboat. We have been traveling full-time since around 2015, and first started with an RV.
I’m able to travel full-time due to the income from my blog. I have earned over $5,000,000 over the years from it, and that’s with low expenses as I’m the only employee. It’s also true that I do have a few very part-time contractors who help me run my business, but that’s all.
My blog and I have been featured in numerous media outlets, such as CNBC, Forbes, Oprah, Reader’s Digest, Business Insider, and so many more.
Why She Started Her Website
In the summer of 2011, I started Making Sense of Cents to teach people how to save money and share my personal finance journey after reading a magazine that featured a personal finance website in one of their articles. I became extremely interested in personal finance websites, and my interest in blogging just grew from there.
Before that, I had no idea what blogs were, whether they could make money, or anything else. I was a complete newbie.
It was entirely just a hobby.
In the beginning, I talked a lot about paying off my student loans quickly. You can read my student loan payoff post to find out how I did it.
Eventually, I started making money blogging, and I’m now a full-time blogger. I went full-time in October of 2013 with Making Sense of Cents.
I have three college degrees: two undergraduate degrees in business administration and another in management, as well as a Master’s in Business with an emphasis on finance. Before I started my blog, I had also worked as an analyst at a financial firm.
When I first started my blog, my articles were much more personal. They highlighted my financial journey and were more journal-like in nature.
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s Earnings
Over the years, I have earned over $5,000,000 from my blogging business since I first started. This is mainly through affiliate marketing, which makes up about 50% of my revenue.
Around 20% of my income comes from my two courses, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts. I earn around 20% from sponsored partnerships, including paid reviews within blog posts, paid Instagram posts, etc. I also make a small amount of income from display advertising as well.
Her Growth Strategies
I employ many different strategies on my site, and that’s because I like my traffic to be as diversified as possible. I really don’t like relying on one form of traffic, as that can disappear anytime.
My main goal is to drive traffic to my email list, as that’s where my most loyal and engaging readers are. Plus, I own my email list and don’t have to worry about an algorithm like you would with social media.
I have never relied on a single source of traffic. Traffic is crucial for a blog, so I have always tried my best to diversify.
I have had cyclical and down traffic though, as I’m sure all bloggers have. I have had SEO traffic go up and down, Facebook used to be a much bigger source for me (whereas now it’s a much, much smaller amount), and Pinterest can go up and down as well. But, because I am diversified with my traffic sources, it doesn’t impact my blog as much in the long run.
How She Builds Her Email List
To build my email, I do the following:
● I have created many different freebie opt-ins to persuade my readers to sign up for my email list. You can find an example of a freebie opt-in of mine at Affiliate Marketing Tips For Bloggers.
● I include email newsletter sign-up forms within all of my blog posts. Plus, I make sure that the signup is related to the blog post. For example, with a blog post that’s about making extra money, I will include a freebie opt-in that’s about making extra money.
● When I’m guest posting on another website or taking part in an interview, I usually try to include a link to my email list or to my blog.
To nurture my email list, I make sure I consistently send emails.
For me, a good email is something that is personable. So, I will share my personal life with my readers, ask them how they’re doing, and write an email like I am talking to a friend. I also reply to emails from my readers, which helps engagement and interest as well.
Usually, around once a week, I will share an email to that week’s blog posts, as well as whatever else may be going on in the personal finance world. If I’m partnering with an affiliate program, I may also send emails related to whatever I’m promoting that week.
I don’t include many promotions in my email, and I try to stick to one affiliate promotion monthly or every two months.
One way I grew traffic before was on Pinterest. I used it for a couple of years before most financial bloggers got on there, and that helped me a ton. Now I have over 160,000 Pinterest followers, and it has been a good source of traffic for me for nearly a decade.
I haven’t been as active in growing my blog over the last couple of years, and instead have focused on my email list and simply just maintaining my site to reduce the amount of time I spend on it.
Time spent on the blog
I typically put around 10 hours a week into my blog. Sometimes I may only work an hour or two on my blog over a week, and other times I may work 20 to 40 hours a week in order to try and get ahead. It really just depends on what my goals are.
For example, currently, I’m working a little more as I’m trying to get ahead with my blog posts as much as possible to spend more time focusing on traveling and living on a sailboat. I have free time right now, so working ahead will make my life easier in the future.
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner on The Importance of SEO
SEO is important, and it’s something that I definitely want to work on more. I try to be as diversified as possible regarding traffic on Making Sense of Cents, and I think I have a lot of room for growth in SEO. I would like to start spending a lot more time on improving the SEO side.
Currently, around 20% of my traffic is from SEO. The rest of my traffic is a mix of Pinterest, email list/direct, features on websites (such as CNBC or Forbes), and so on.
I don’t really have an SEO strategy currently. I mainly just do on-page SEO and a little keyword research, but I really need to work on this.
I don’t really do any link building. Besides naturally taking part in interviews (like this one), I don’t do any link building for Making Sense of Cents.
Reaching Current Revenue levels
I used to publish monthly income reports, which you can find here. In the report, you can see the clear progression in terms of earnings.
I started earning around $10,000 a month after just 2 years, $50,000 a month after around 4.5 years, and $100,000 a month after around 5 years.
Normally I partner with companies mainly in the areas of personal finance, blogging, and small business. So, that may be a personal finance app or platform such as Personal Capital, a blogging company such as Bluehost, courses that teach my readers a specific way to make extra money such as how to sell on Etsy, and more.
My website receives around 300,000 monthly visitors. Sometimes it’s more than that, and other times it’s less. I also have around 140,000 email subscribers, and I send weekly or twice-weekly emails to them.
I use a lot of tools in my business, but my top three are Convertkit, PrettyLink, and WordPress.
1. Convertkit – I use this for my email newsletter. I send my email subscribers weekly emails that lead to my blog posts, affiliate links, and more. I like Convertkit because it’s very easy to use, I’m able to segment and tag my readers, I can automatically put readers into funnels, and more.
2. Pretty Links – I use PrettyLink for my affiliate links. This tool allows me to make my affiliate links look cleaner, and it’s easy to change affiliate links across my site simply by just using a PrettyLink.
For example, suppose an affiliate program changes my affiliate link URL. In that case, I can go into PrettyLink and update the link once instead of having to find every single blog post where I’ve added that specific affiliate link.
3. WordPress – This is, of course, an essential tool when it comes to running a blogging business. I used to be on Blogger/Blogspot, and that was a huge disaster. WordPress is a great platform for bloggers and I’m very happy with it.
Her Biggest Challenge
Over the years, one of my biggest challenges has been managing my blog while not having great internet access. While things are a little better now, there were many years when I first became a digital nomad when things were difficult and I always had to be tied to the internet.
I got over that, though, by handing a lot of day-to-day tasks over to my virtual assistant. This way, I don’t need to be tied to my business daily, and she handles things that don’t need me to log in.
Another challenge is feeling too connected to my business. As someone who works online, it can be hard to stop working (for the weekend or even a vacation), as my laptop is pretty much always next to me.
While I have been much better at this lately, it’s always been a work in progress for me. I once took 10 days off from my blog in a row completely, as we were on a 1,200-mile sail and had no internet access. While I love my blog, it felt really nice to be that disconnected and do something else for a while!
Her Most Important Accomplishment
I am very proud of two accomplishments:
1) First, being able to help readers. I have received countless emails from people who have told me that I’ve helped them pay off debt, travel full-time, obtain their dreams, reach early retirement, and so on.
Receiving these emails feels great, and knowing that I am helping people improve their lives and finances is extremely motivating.
2) Making Sense of Cents has allowed me to earn a great income. I have now saved enough money to retire whenever I want. This is definitely a great accomplishment as my little ole’ blog has opened up so many doors for me. It’s still a crazy thing for me to think about. I would never have guessed this for myself when I first started.
What Michelle Schroeder-Gardner wishes she knew back then
I wish I knew how important it was to start an email list. To be honest, I don’t think I started spending any time on growing my email list until around 2016! That’s several years after I started my blog!
I thought having an email list sounded way too complicated, so I just never really tried. Instead, I should have started an email list right from the very beginning, as it’s a great way to grow a blog and keep in touch with your readers.
I also earn a good amount of affiliate income from my email list, so I missed out on income opportunities as well.
Also, I haven’t really ever spent too much time on SEO on my site. It’s something that I’m always telling myself that I’ll start working on. Over the past couple of years, I have been spending a little more time on it. Going forward, it’s definitely something that I should focus on even more.
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s Biggest Mistake
My biggest mistake was starting my site on Blogger/Blogspot. I didn’t even own my domain in the beginning!
This was a big mistake for many reasons.
1) I didn’t own my blog. Google actually deleted my blog by accident in the beginning, which was no fun at all. I had to beg for them to give it back to me. Right after that, I switched to WordPress because I didn’t want that to happen again.
2) It was also a mistake because I felt extremely limited in what I could do. I felt limited by my design, the plugins I could use, and more.
I have been on self-hosted WordPress ever since, and I highly recommend it.
her advice for other entrepreneurs
Great question! I have a few things I would like to share:
1. It’s normal to feel scared. New bloggers email me all the time and tell me that they are afraid to launch their blog as they’re nervous about others reading their blog posts, they’re nervous about putting themselves out there, afraid of failure, and more.
Well, this is completely normal! Feeling nervous and afraid is normal when you’re starting something new. Perhaps you can try to think about the reasons you’re building your business or website and think about that whenever your fears start to take over your mind.
2. Just get started. This goes along with #1, but I want to say it as my second piece of advice too. If you want to start a blog or a business, just do it. You won’t know if it’ll work unless you try, so you might as well try. I’m constantly asked by readers what they can do to get started and finally make the leap. The only way is to just do it!
3. Don’t give up too early. The average blogger gives up around 6 months after starting, and that’s just not enough time to see if blogging will work for you or not. I receive countless emails from readers who are confused as to why they’re not making thousands of dollars blogging when they’ve only been blogging for a month or two. It will likely take longer than just a few months to make a full-time income blogging. For myself, it took me 6 months just to make my first $100!