The hardest part of writing a personal finance blog is finding fresh material. Most things have been said before and better. All the important points have been regurgitated onto the screen thousands of times before. If a PF blogger wants to make a difference she needs to find something to add to the already large heap of material available.
The trick to wealth is a very short story: save half your income, invest in index funds, avoid debt like the plague. Everything else is opinion. Everything else is nothing more than ways to spend less and learning to live on half your income without feeling cheated so you stay the course. The real trick is to get readers to apply the simple message.
Then the truth hits home. Even brilliant new ideas come crashing to earth as the blogger reads the PF universe. The new idea was said before and without a doubt, better. It is a sinking feeling when it happens. You pour your soul out onto the page only to discover weeks or months after publication another PF blogger already wrote the story. You feel like a hack.
You keep writing, keep hunting for the elusive fresh story. It’s new to you so it does not matter. Your story, your writing, is a journey of discovery; a story you can’t keep inside; a story you must tell. So, several times a week you sit in your chair and push your index finger (in honor of index funds) down your throat until you ralph up another classic. And you hope and pray it all makes a difference for at least one person. Otherwise you are only wasting your time.
Misunderstanding the Greats
Reaching a lost soul is more than being first and better. Not every messenger gets through. Most never get past the front gate and dogs. The evidence is abundant and clear. Millions of people, many millions of people, are living in a financial purgatory. They heard the message before and it didn’t sink in. Or maybe you are the first to reach the gate. Now to get by the pit bulls.
Many came before The Wealthy Accountant. Get Rich Slowly and Jim Collins are two that come to mind. Last year Collins published The Simple Path to Wealth. Many bloggers wrote reviews of the book. Not me. I was never asked and probably would have found an excuse not to anyway. I don’t know Jim from Adam. Never met the guy. The only thing that came to mind every time his name came up is a picture (facial side view) where he is looking up with a weird expression. I thought he was a pompous ass.
First impressions are a bitch. Too bad we can’t control how people perceive us the first time they see us.
I probably ran across Collins’ blog in the past and it didn’t tickle me on first glance so on I went. It happens. Then people started talking about his book. Big deal, I thought. Another PF book from an arrogant know-it-all.
Here is the weird part. The forward was written by a client! Here is a guy well respected in the community getting awesome reviews and I was taking a pass. (Well, I was busy!)
Then Collins did something only a genius in marketing would do. He gave away free copies of his book at Camp Mustache SE where I was speaking. My intense love of books is the only reason I didn’t chuck the thing before packing my luggage for the trip home. The Simple Path to Wealth would be a great book for the waiting room at the office, I figured.
Back home, I took the book to my office and put it on a shelf next to my desk. I need to briefly vet a book I plan on sharing with clients. One day during lunch I started paging through The Simple Path to Wealth. Acid swelled in my stomach. All my preconceptions died instantly. This is one of, if not the best, PF book I’ve ever read. It is so simple and to the point. And I loved the style of writing. Where the hell was this Collins guy all these years I was looking for good PF reading material? Oh, yeah.
Confession time. I recommend certain blogs to clients in need of guidance. I, ah, ahem, sometimes recommend Collins’ blog. I also recommend Mr. Money Mustache, Mad Fientist, and Money Boss a lot. There are plenty of newer bloggers with great material, but I tend to start with the alumni because they tend to have more material and are better at sharing it, hence their longevity. Then there is this crazy accountant from Wisconsin who thinks he knows what he is talking about and is really full of shit. Just saying. Look out for those bloggers. They can really mess you up.
At Camp Mustache I discovered Collins has family about 40 minutes south of my home. Small world.
I never met Jim, but look forward to the day I do. My first impression was wrong and the same happens every day to every PF blogger. No single blogger will get’em all. The PF blogger universe is small. We all know each other or know of each other. Best not to talk smack about a peer. I have met Mr. Money Mustache (he is also a client), the Mad Fientist, and J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly fame and now writing Money Boss.
A Hack Shows Up
Have you seen the work from these guys? When I say they said it first and better, I mean it! There was a time when I read a post each day on Mr. Money Mustache until I finished the entire blog. Then I went back and re-read it again. I couldn’t get enough. When the right blogger comes along and says the right things the right way it pulls you in hard.
Then the lump in my throat reappears. Every time I open the laptop to bang out another post I feel like a fraud, a hack. Sure, I have new material. Still, there are times I am burping up the same hash. My only solace is that I may be saying this different enough to save that one wayward soul passing by and saw the same picture of Collins I did and had the same reaction before reading the guy first. (Collins does have other pictures which strike me just fine.)
And I made the same mistake with Tim Ferriss. I refused to read his stuff due to one Amazon review where a guy said Tim spent the first half of The 4-Hour Workweek bragging about how awesome he is. I looked at Tim’s picture and came to the same conclusion I did about Collins with one exception. I felt Ferriss was waaaaay too promotional. In some ways he is and he is not as frugal as I want to be.
Recently Ferriss published Tools of Titans. Ferriss put together a massive volume of personal stories from the most successful people alive. The idea intrigued me so I bought the book. This softened me to Ferriss. Recently, I broke down and borrowed The 4-Hour Workweek from the library. The Amazon review was 100% wrong! What an idiot I was! The 4-Hour Workweek is not Ferriss’s victory lap of bragging. He does mention early on several successes, but it all lends to the message provided throughout the book. The book is really about gaining control over your life, especially emails, phone calls and other crazy stuff killing entrepreneurs. The advice is solid.
I tell these stories so you don’t make the same error. Bloggers who stood the test of time have earned a look-see. Their survival alone makes them required reading. How did they do it? What part of their message resonated with the masses? There are so many lessons to learn.
It has All Been Said before and Needs Saying Again
Most of what you read on PF blogs is nothing new. Each blogger shares her worldview. The stories are different; our styles unique. Sometimes out face alone can draw in a reader or push her away. (I can only imagine what my puss does to the unprepared as they open the about page on this blog. Some bald dude with attitude. You should see me in real life. I’ll haunt your nightmares.)
Writers are their own worst critics. As a group we tend to look at our work with a twisted face, unsure if we conveyed the message we wanted or if we said it in a way people will fully comprehend. Writing is a difficult form of communication. Not everyone has a way with words.
Then there are guys like Pete (Mr. Money Mustache), J.D. Roth (Money Boss), and Collins. They are fantastic writers who draw you in. Collins’ only mistake was to let me see his picture before allowing me to read the book. (The picture in question is on the back cover of the book.) The talent of these bloggers is significant. They are also must-read blogs.
Someday I hope I reach the same stature. I see a lot of new PF bloggers—many of which I know personally. I belong to this generation of bloggers. My past work doesn’t count. This blog is where the tire meets the pavement. I pray I am communicating a message people find entertaining and useful. My dream is to open the door for a few wayward souls and show them the way to financial freedom.
There is only one last matter I need to remain cautious of. This PF blogger community is very small. I said that above. That means at some point Jim will run across this little flirtation of mine. Not that he will care a lick about anything I write (probably thinks I’m a pompous ass), but that someone will tell him I was talking behind his back.
The next time I am at a conference I will need to lay low. If you hear a story about some accountant getting his beak busted at FinCon or some such event, know Jim Collins recognized your favorite accountant and sent a message about what he thinks about my work.
Then again, he vacations with family 40 minutes south of my farm. A pleasant summer drive north for 40 minutes to kick the shit out of an accountant is something most people would do even if I didn’t say anything about them. That is all I have for today. I need to build a wall around my farm before summer gets here. You know, to keep the cows in. (And pissed off bloggers out.)