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Personal finance bloggers share several deep, dark secrets the public is unaware of. I have the honor of knowing many of these bloggers, some of them personally. When the door is closed and the public is a safe distance away we admit to our small, but select group the truths we all share. If the public knew what went on behind the closed doors of personal finance bloggers they might call the police or at least the mental hospital.
What personal finance bloggers go through to get their words published seems so easy until you know what goes on in their real life. The insecurities, dreams, and yes, even fears, are more profound than anyone outside the industry can imagine. If it were possible for me to pull your chair behind my desk and next to me so you could see what other bloggers really mean in their posts your jaw would flap in the wind. Knowing what I know, you would read The Wealthy Accountant and scream after every other sentence: BULLSHIT!
Yeah, I’m full of shit and so are most bloggers; actually writers in general. We take a certain literary license in our work and justify it by calling it editing. It’s not really that bad, but it is funny to see how your favorite bloggers really think sometimes in private. Today I offer a list of awful truths about personal finance bloggers. Once you are armed with this knowledge, be gentle. We are people too. Just barely.
- We want to help everyone and know we can’t: Writing a blog requires sharing information and stories with broad brushstrokes. Any story we tell or idea we share are based upon personal experiences that worked for us. The problem is that what works for us may not work for you. Your position in life, your health, age, and the city you live in all affect the choices you make. Personal finance bloggers know our advice is given without first knowing the client. In the industry it is called malpractice and personal finance bloggers commit the crime every day.
- Our advice is general and we know our readers will not make the mental leap to modify the information to their personal needs: It is frustrating to watch people trying to live someone else’s life. When bloggers tell their stories many people want to live that exact life. They want to live on a farm like me; they want to own an accounting practice like me, they want to invest like me; they want to live where I live and have a spouse like my spouse. I have news for you. You can’t be me, so stop trying. My life is far from perfect and it takes a lot of hard work to have what I have. I do what I do because it makes me happy. There is no guarantee you will feel the same happiness doing what I do. I don’t want to speak for other finance bloggers, but I want my readers to take my stories and learn a lesson which they can use to live their life better. And for the love of god we don’t want a world full of Keith’s running around. What a fucking mess that would be!
- We are afraid we will do more harm than good: It is too easy for a finance blogger to think their way is the only right way. When I push the publish button there is always a small concern it will do more harm than good for at least one person. If you have a conscience you are bothered by this. The goals of a blog are multiple. We want an audience and a few extra dollars would be nice, but we also want to make a positive difference in the world around us. If you write enough, eventually someone will misread or misuse the information to cause themselves or others harm. It comes with the territory and it concerns us.
- We like people but need to keep our distance to keep our sanity: Speaking in front of a group of people causes some to want to get up close and personal with the speaker. The demands are exhausting. I have a gatekeeper at the office to keep the phone calls away from me which can reach toward 100 per day; it is impossible to return each call. Emails are worse with 300 or more each day. In all fairness a lot of the emails come from business clients. Spam also increases with a public persona, so multiple emails are used. They all take time and believe it or not I actually enjoy quiet time with Mrs. Accountant and alone time. The more popular a blog becomes the more people want a piece of you, making it ever more important to keep distance between blogger and reader. Once again, we hate it. We want to communicate with our readers, but can only handle so many personally.
- We have to say ‘no’ more than we want to; it is a survival tactic: The requests pile up as a blog grows. The more influential a blogger becomes the more speaking engagements are requested. Tax blogs like The Wealthy Accountant get even more requests for services. This is great if my business is growing, but when the house is already full it is hard to fit a large number of new clients in. People also tend to want the blogger himself to perform the work. It just is not possible to write a successful blog, talk to everyone who wants to talk, and get the tax work done. Delegation helps, but truth is I don’t answer many requests and say ‘no’ a lot. I currently am open to a few more speaking engagements per year. There is no doubt those precious few spots will quickly fill because I mentioned here there was an opening. On one hand it is good; on the other it leaves a lot of people waiting for their opportunity. If only I could clone a couple hundred me’s.
- We are flattered by praise; hurt by criticism: Like any human being, personal finance bloggers love a pat on the back. And why not? It feels good to be appreciated. The other side of the same coin is a back-hand. Criticism hurts. It feels personal. We try to contain our frustration and fear it might pour out when we respond. Ignoring the insult is the best answer most of the time. Sometimes it is an honest complaint that deserves honest feedback. You might be on the other side of a computer screen, but remember, words hurt.
- We secretly hope to go viral for ego’s sake: There is something flattering about something you do going viral. It is the equivalent to making the local TV news when people actually watched that stuff. Today TV celebrity is replaced by a viral blog, blog post, or YouTube video. And we don’t think small either. Viral is not thousands, it is millions. We want millions—30 or 40 should do— page views. Yeah, I know. Not asking much. Before you think it is all about money, think again. (Okay, so it is about money; play with me on this.) Out ego inflates to the size of a modest planet when we go viral and secretly dream of the day when we win the blogger lottery. Then we can tug at our collar and say modestly, “Yeah! That was me.”
- Sometimes we don’t know what to write: Considering the volume of material I publish it might come as a surprise there are times I have nothing to say. (Dad, shut up and sit down. And stop laughing.) Sitting up at midnight wondering how to present an idea is not uncommon. I have tons of ideas and have nearly 40 in the queue waiting for me to bring them to life. I write the title and give a short description of what I want to present and save it for another day. When the day comes to bring the idea to life it can be a painful experience. Worse, there are times we get a thousand words in and discover it’s not going to work. I say several naughty words, take walk under the stars, and come back and try a new idea.
- Sometimes we are afraid we get too personal: Do we mention someone in a story by name? Do we say things about our personal life that make us squirm? The answer is sometimes and yes. My personal life is fair game. I am the blogger; I am the writer. I should expect a thorough examination of my work. If I put myself out there I must open myself to criticism. (Read the section above on criticism.) Where do we draw the line when it comes to other people? Of course it is a judgment call. The best part is we have no idea how the other party will respond. My policy is to change stories to fit the format of this blog and to protect the people in the story. I’ll mention people by name if they are already public figures or if there is no conflict associated with the story. It is okay to embarrass myself, never another person.
- Some readers scare us: So far this blog has been good. In my tax practice I have had clients and employees drive out into the country just to show up at my house in the middle of nowhere, unannounced. Surprise! It is a bit disconcerting when it happens. Readers can get too close also. My blog is too small at this time to have any issues, but it can happen once you get a significant following. I have been lucky to never have been stalked or anything similar. Groupies make me nervous for some reason. Remember, you know us from our writing; we have no idea who you are, what your agenda is, or what you want from us. Everybody wants to be our friend and it becomes overwhelming.
- We watch our blog stats a lot: If there was ever a blogger who did not watch her stats like it was a directive from god, you will need to provide proof because I don’t believe you. When stats are trending up we are really happy people, even if a bit paranoid. When traffic stalls, or worse, declines, we think we did something wrong. Back in the 1990s when I published my first book on Amazon I watched my ranking daily. (Okay, several times a day. Geesh!) I check all my online properties at least daily or in rare cases weekly. The Wealthy Accountant is my current favorite child. I keep Google Analytics running even when I am not in front of the computer. I check revenue from each source like anyone with an out of control case of OCD. There is no doubt I have a sickness and most bloggers when they start have the same sickness. As long as there is traffic I will check it often.
- We want fame and fortune from our blog and privacy for our family: Earlier this year Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) had an awesome blog post about me and my work. It was flattering, for sure. The issues I never anticipated were with how many people would connect the MMM blog post to me locally. The shocking development was when my youngest daughter came home from school and said the teachers saw me on the MMM blog. People treat you different when they think you have something they want. Everyone wants to stand next to the popular kid. Right? And then you have to act like a dick when you can’t be everyone’s friend. It settled down quickly, but people comment on my national exposure on a regular basis. Flattering and concerning all in the same sentence.
- Most of us make shit blogging, but dammit, the odds of hitting it big blogging are a hell of a lot better than playing the lottery: The most awful truth about personal finance bloggers is that we make almost nothing for our efforts. A few make a large amount of money and a somewhat bigger group make enough to say it is worth the time. For everyone else, we make shit. And that is generous since shit has value as a fertilizer. Blogging is hard work and takes some luck to become profitable. It costs money to run a website like The Wealthy Accountant. Sure, the costs are a fraction of any other business, but the time demands are brutal, especially in the beginning when you are cutting your teeth and trying to build an audience. A lot of great bloggers never get the traffic necessary to hit the breakeven point. It is a cruel joke personal finance bloggers do what they do because they love it. If they do it for money they are gone with the morning dew.
This is the 102nd post on The Wealthy Accountant. My previous experience publishing online and the 101 prior posts here give me the right to share some truths about the group I am a part of. Another truth is bloggers are hungry to meet each other. We need to socialize with people who understand our worldview and the hardships baring our souls online brings.
Now that you are armed with this knowledge, don’t forget to hug your favorite blogger the next time you see her. She needs it, you know.