Reflections On The Financial Blogger Conference – How To Take Your Blog To The Next Level…Over 3,000 EPIC Words!

by Khaleef Crumbley on October 8, 2011

in Blogging

Financial Blogger Conference

This past weekend my wife and I attended the first annual Financial Blogger Conference in Chicago. We had an amazing time meeting people that I have worked with for more than a year, and those whom I had never met before.

Besides all of the fun, we also learned a great deal about various tools, concepts, and methods that have proven to be successful for personal finance blogs.

The Financial Blogger Conference On Writing

Here are some tips that I picked up on the subject of writing. I hope to be able to incorporate these into all of my sites, and hopefully, you will notice the difference.

Know To Whom You Are Writing

In order to become a more effective writer, you need to know to whom you are writing. This was one of the themes of the conference, and one that I desperately needed to hear!

If you want your message to mean something to your readers, then you need to know who they are and understand what they need.

Have A Target Audience

Once you figure out who is in your audience, determine if that’s whom you are wishing to speak. If not, then do what Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You To Be Rich did and fire your readers! He talked about how he had people in a program that was set to bring him $75,000 for the rest of the year, and once he realized that the people didn’t have the right mindset, he shut the program down and gave them a prorated refund!

Because he didn’t want to have the wrong “type” of readers at his site (and in his training courses), he gave up a lot of income in the short run, in order to have better control over the direction of his site and business in the long run!

Be Very Focused In Your Writing

The reason why you need to know so much about your readers is so you can write content that is focused. You want to be able to become an authority in your niche, and in order to do that, you have to be able to write content that speaks directly to them.

I would give myself an ‘F’ in this area, since I have tried to cover every topic in personal finance since starting this site. I plan to become more focused and deliberate in my writing in the future.

Have A “Message”, Don’t Just Write Articles

This was another theme of the conference. We have to do more than just churn out “content” like robots – we need to have a common message that carries through in all of our communications. Whether it is honoring God in how you manage your finances, becoming a better investor, learning to pay off debt, or even making more money, you need to have a common theme.

This message needs to come across in your articles, Tweets, Facebook posts, emails, categories & tags, and even the phrases that you become known for.

Be Transparent

This was a huge topic at the financial blogger conference! The idea here is to be as honest and upfront with your readers as possible. Give them a reason to believe what you are telling them.

Gain The Trust Of Your Readers

This is the hardest part about building an authoritative blog. What is it that makes your words worth anything? Why should people listen to what you have to say – and in many cases, base important decisions off of the information/thoughts that you share on your blog?

Make sure you are transparent when it comes to your claims/promises, and make them as precise as possible. Don’t mislead people with exaggerated claims, which you haven’t even tried out yourself. Be willing to show your readers how the information that you are sharing with them has changed your life.

Once You Build Trust, Then You Can Expand

Before you decide to write a few e-books, secure speaking engagements, create a forum, or develop a product or course, you need to first gain the trust of your readers. There is no point in doing all of those extra things, if no one is willing to put your plan/advice into action.

Once you build up the trust of your readers, then you can expand to more topics and delivery methods. This isn’t to say that you can do this now, but you can’t expect to be seen as a master at everything overnight!

Tell Stories

More than one presenter brought out this point. For most blogs, it’s not enough to simply spit out content. Most likely, the information that you are giving is not new, and can be found with a simple search – you need to have more!

Again, facts can be found in many places, but if you can frame them around a story, you can make your writing unique and people will stick around to hear more!

Find a way to incorporate stories and narratives from your own life, conversations with friends or clients (with consent, of course), observations, and anywhere else you can think of. Be able to share your message in a way that really reaches out to people, and not like a fact-giving robot!

People Connect With People, Not Content!

This was one of the most powerful statements from the conference, and it was made by Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income! If you do nothing more than just list facts about a topic – like an encyclopedia entry – your readers will not be able to connect with you.

I’ve even noticed this with my articles. I have a tendency to do a ton of research into a particular topic, and then write a 2,000 word post explaining every detail. To me, those types of articles are the most valuable, because I am giving a ton of information. However, they aren’t always effective in growing my site.

On the other hand, if I write a more personal post, I usually receive more comments and the readers look for other articles to read. This is hard for me, since I enjoy reading technical articles that are more scholarly – like what you may find in an academic journal (blame my graduate training in economics ;-))!

I plan to do more of this on KNS Financial, without sacrificing the quality and accuracy of the content. If you are looking for very personal posts from me, you can always visit Fat Guy, Skinny Wallet, where I write about my journey to lose 100lbs and pay off debt that is currently over $100,000!

Make Your Message Personal

This goes along with telling stories and trying to connect with people. Making your message more “personal” doesn’t mean that you need to write about every private moment of your life; but it does mean that you let your readers get to know the real you.

Even if you blog anonymously, you can still be open and honest with people and develop strong relationships with your readers. If you don’t believe me, take a look at how J Money from Budgets Are Sexy, Flexo from Consumerism Commentary, and Ninja from Punch Debt In The Face are able to interact with their readers and reveal much about themselves, while keeping their real identity secret for so long (it looks like Flexo is dropping much of his “persona” now). These guys were among the stars of the conference, even though they don’t write under their real names!

Many writers talk about their hobbies, children (even if just in generic statements), pets, bad decisions, struggles, lessons learned, and other areas that help them seem like a “real human” to their readers. If you can develop that type of connection with your readers – while gaining their trust with amazing content coupled with transparency and honesty – you are guaranteed to be successful!

Monetization

Coming into the conference, I thought that these would be my favorite topics; however, they were secondary to what I discussed above. That doesn’t mean that the idea of earning money isn’t exciting, but just that it won’t happen unless we make priorities of the first things!

Here are some great lessons on how to monetize your blog:

The Ethical Side Of Making Money With A Blog

These are the things that we must consider when trying to remain ethical and make money at the same time.

Never Mix Advertising With Editorial

I think this is one that most of us follow. Whenever you post an article or review and are paid to do so, make it obvious. If you write a review of a product or service, you should not only disclose that you were compensated (this is actually a legal requirement), but you should make sure that your opinion isn’t swayed by the fact that you were paid!

Advertising should be separate from your content. This doesn’t mean that you can’t put up sponsored posts, or have links to advertisers on your site. However, you must be careful and transparent enough to mark a distinction between your recommendations and an ad.

In order to do this, your advertising should be clearly marked. Again, your main goal is to gain the trust of your readers and to help them make wise decisions; not to simply see them as numbers which you can sell to an advertiser!

Write To Help Your Readers, Not To Make Money

As a follow up to the last point, your main goal should be to either tell your story or to help your readers. Many times these goals coexist perfectly!

If you do everything that you can to help people with your writing, tweets, comments, emails, and even the structure of your website, then the money will come. Again, someone like Pat Flynn is the perfect model of this! He has worked so hard to help his readers by giving away amazing content for free, that he now has the complete trust of all who know him. As a result, whenever he launches a service or recommends a product, we go out and buy it, because it has his seal of approval!

That is ultimately my goal – and hopefully yours as well. I want people to know that if I am promoting something, it has to be the best!

Email Lists Are Extremely Valuable

This was another piece of advice that came up more than once at the conference. Many times I see bloggers (myself included) focusing so much on connecting with readers in other ways (Twitter, Facebook, getting RSS subscribers, etc), and not as much on email.

An email subscriber represents the most committed of all readers. It is very easy to like a page on Facebook or follow someone on Twitter (be sure to do both with the links above ;-)) and never be involved with their content. RSS feeds are better, but only if the person actually opens their reader – I estimate that I have over 5,000 unread items in my reader currently!

Here are some tips that I gathered from the Financial Blogger Conference about building and retaining an email list:

Make Signing Up Easy And Obvious

People shouldn’t have to search in order to find a tiny box that asks them to sign up. It should smack them in the face without being obnoxious! You will probably have to play with your blog design to accomplish this…or you can just use a stripped down landing page as does Daily Worth!

Give People A Reason To Subscribe

You can use all of the tactics you want to get people to see your email subscription box, but if you don’t give them a reason to sign up, its meaningless! Tell them exactly what they are going to get out of it.

Do you plan to send them a weekly newsletter? Then tell them about the great, exclusive content that they’ll receive! Did you just release an e-book? Offer it as a free gift to all who sign up for your email list!

People are afraid of spam and ‘inbox overload’, so you have to convince them that giving you their email address will be a great benefit to them!

Keep Them “Warm” With Great Content

This is an area where many people fail. They make it very easy to sign up for their email list, they promise great content delivered to our inbox, and then you don’t hear from them for 6 months! I’m sure that many people would probably unsubscribe from emails or simply ignore them, if they were to come that infrequently.

Adam Baker from Man vs. Debt talked about sending out consistent emails filled with great content to keep readers ‘warm’. Since email subscribers are often the hardest to acquire and maintain, you need to do a lot to both draw them in, and keep them!

Segment Your Email List

A professional email service such as Aweber (aff link) makes creating segments extremely easy. You can create segments within your email list such as, “readers who have opened an email in the last 30 days” or anything else that you may find useful.

If you want to be able to market more effectively, you need to be able to accurately predict how various readers will respond to your communications – especially if you are selling a product.

Consider Developing Products

Writing a bunch of blog posts and then slapping Adsense, or selling ad space isn’t enough. If you want to be able to generate a serious income from your blog, then consider developing products.

It could be something to help people automate their finances or get out of debt. Maybe you can teach people how to negotiate with their bosses and/or credit card companies. Some people sell investment guides and others teach people how to change their mindset.

If you observe a need in your audience, then try to find ways to meet it. As I stated earlier, we first need to become an authority in that area and gain the trust of our readers. After that, consider developing a product or system to help people change their lives!

Give Away Free Lessons In Full

If you visit the websites of the most successful personal finance products, you will find that a good amount of the content of those products is contained in throughout the articles on the site. You want to deliver your best to people up front, so they can understand how valuable your product/service really is!

Move Beyond Your Blog

Blog posts are not enough to properly serve your readers!

Many people don’t have the time, patience, or commitment necessary to sit through dozens of articles in order to figure out and apply your message. We need to find other ways to reach these people.

Incorporate Various Media Into Our Presentations

I love to read information. The best way to teach me something is to put it in writing. However, many people aren’t like that – they need something different.

Some people love watching videos. If you choose not to produce any videos on your website or on a video sharing service, then you could be failing to reach a large amount of your potential audience.

What about all those people who have long commutes to work and listen to podcasts? How about people going for walks or to the gym? If you don’t provide audio content, that’s even more people that you are missing.

Times are changing and so is that way that people get information, in order to reach them, we need to change as well!

Work With Others And Build Networks

There are a lot of other bloggers out there with great ideas, similar goals as yours, and a trusting readership. Be on the lookout for opportunities to become partners with people so together you can have a greater impact.

By building a network, you can more easily offset your own weaknesses and correct many deficiencies. When I took part in the Yakezie Challenge, that’s exactly what I was doing. Now, just about every service that I could ever need for my blog is available to me simply by posting in a forum or sending an email. I have also taken part in various projects that have benefited the entire group.

You can even do something on a much smaller scale. Find another writer content producer that shares your vision, goals, targeted audience, and values, and work on a project together. You will be able to reach more people that way than if you try to do it alone.

Final Thoughts

Philip Taylor from PT Money did an amazing job with this conference. He did a great job with the presentations, choice of venue, logistics, getting sponsors, and even the constant communication with attendees months in advance! My only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough ;-).

My wife and I met a lot of great people and even though we both had reasons to feel out of place – she’s not a PF writer (yet), and I’m an introvert who doesn’t like making small talk – we never felt uncomfortable at the conference. Before the conference even started, we were welcomed by J Money, Glen from Free From Broke, and Tom from Canadian Finance Blog.

photo by Peter Anderson

Your Turn!

  1. What did you learn from the Financial Blogger Conference?
  2. How do you plan to hold yourself accountable for the changes that you plan to make?
  3. Do you plan on attending next year? If so, please send contact Philip Taylor and ask him to make the conference a full week next year! ;-)

Here are some other great posts about the conference (Thanks to Glen for the Round Up):

If you have written about the conference and would like to be added to the list, leave a comment below with a link to your post.

© 2011 – 2013, Khaleef Crumbley. All rights reserved.

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