10 Years as an Online Freelancer: 10 Things I’d Do If Starting Today

In 2005, I was approached by someone who told me that the Next Big Thing in online marketing was the blog. I didn’t know what a blog was, and, truth to tell, I didn’t much care. Someone was willing to pay me a monthly retainer to provide content to a corporate blog.

With my freshly-minted M.A. in Journalism from Syracuse, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. My science reporting focus didn’t pay all the bills, and we needed the rent money, so I agreed to get involved with blogging.

As you know, my recruiter was right; blogging exploded in the years after I began. Professional blogging became my family’s online source of income, and, even though the online writing landscape has changed in the last decade, I’m still the primary breadwinner.

As I reflect on 10 years in the online writing space, I’ve thought a lot about how differently I’d approach my career if I were starting out today.

Online freelancer


1. Treat Online Freelancing Like a Business

At first, my plan was to write a little bit until my husband finished his Ph.D. and got a job. I thought I’d make just enough to pay the rent and the bills if we scrimped and had help from student loans. I never dreamed that blogging could be a business. As a result, I wasted a lot of money paying taxes I didn’t need to, and I made poor decisions that I wouldn’t have made if I’d had a business mindset.

Even if your online freelance writing is meant as a side gig for a little extra, follow sound business principles from the beginning. [Read more…]

The Frugal Farmer: How Moving From the Suburbs to the Farm Changed This Couple’s Life

This is a guest article by Laurie, a wife, mother to four, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer, winner of the Fifth Annual Plutus Award for Best Green/Sustainability Blog. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life. In this article, she shares her family’s story and the background that led to The Frugal Farmer.


We launched The Frugal Farmer near the end of December 2012. Earlier that month, we’d come to the realization that our debt had gotten WAY out of hand. For the first time in our lives, we sat down and calculated our debt numbers and our debt-to-income ratio. It was not pretty.

It was a time of great change in our lives; we’d recently sold our mini-mansion in the suburbs in order to buy a small hobby farm. We wanted peace — a more simple life. We didn’t understand the whys and hows at the time; we only knew that city living was stressing us out. We moved into our hobby farm in October 2012, and the weight that was lifted off of our shoulders was more than noticeable.

It was at that point we began being able to dissect why that weight was there in the first place. Years of working our tails off to keep up with the Joneses had taken a toll, both on our finances and our emotions. We didn’t see it before, but being out in the country, away from it all, made us realize how hard we had worked to fit in with the Joneses in our upscale suburban community. We bought what others had, went where others went, did what others did, all in the name of “being successful” and “fitting in.”

After 15 years of this, we were just plain tired, and no wonder! [Read more…]

J. Money: Making Finance Rockstars and Sexy Budgets

J. Money is the anonymous blogger behind Budgets Are Sexy (winner of multiple Plutus Awards, First Annual, Second Annual, and Third Annual) and Rockstar Finance (winner of Best Micro-Blog, Fifth Annual). Within two years of founding Budgets Are Sexy in 2008, he was able to support himself and his family from his websites. Today, J. Money coaches others as they build and grow their own online businesses.

J. Money has been an inspiration to many other bloggers, and he has an amazing ability to connect with others and let his personality shine through his writing. I wanted to learn more about the ideas that drive J. to move forward with his projects.

J. Money

What is the story behind the beginning of Budgets Are Sexy?

It looked like a lot of people were having fun sharing their stories online, and I wanted in on it :)

Out of all the blogs I was reading, MyMoneyBlog.com was the most inspirational — mainly because he used to share his net worth every month which is what got me hooked. I also read a lot of FiveCentNickel.com back in the day as well as DinksFinance.com and CleverDude.com. But if it weren’t for My Money Blog I’m not sure I would have started it.

I was also super bored at my 9-5 and thought that if I were to put all my thoughts/goals/ideas out there about money, perhaps it would hold me accountable. So one day I said “F it” and just started typing… grammatical mistakes and all (I didn’t care an ounce since I honestly didn’t think anyone would be reading it, haha…)

And now here we are exactly seven years later still going strong! It’s been an unexpected ride to say the least.

I take it your birth certificate doesn’t really say “J. Money.” How has being anonymous helped you? Has it also hindered your success?

Without going anonymous I wouldn’t be able to share every last penny of my finances to the world — which was the most amazing thing I saw other bloggers doing and the only thing I knew I wanted to do 100% too. Which is kinda ironic if you think about it — I have to hide my identity in order to be more transparent with my finances! :)

So it was definitely a necessity, and I doubt I’d still be here today if I hadn’t gone that route. (Also — I wanted free reign to talk about anything and everything I wanted to — even my own work while I was blogging AT work — hah! — so this gave me complete freedom to speak my mind and be “real.” Plus, who doesn’t like a little mystery in their lives?)

As for drawbacks, sure — there are plenty. I can’t market it as well as I would like, I always have to be careful who I tell about it and what info I’m putting out there every day (and I still get stalkers), and every now and then I won’t be picked up for a story in the media as I’m unwilling to give out my real name. This mentality is fortunately changing in the media, however, as just last month I was lucky enough to be profiled in Forbes.

How have your goals for blogging changed over the years? [Read more…]

How Bloggers Avoid Burnout, Enjoy Writing, and Give Readers What They Want

This is a guest article from Elle Martinez, who helps familes at Couple Money and the Couple Money Podcast achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second.

Elle Martinez

For the last eight years, I’ve been blogging about personal finance. I started because I had a specific goal in mind: getting rid of my credit card debt before my wedding. Part of it was due to realization that I could do a better job of handling my finances and part of it was just a competitive spirit.

I had just had a heart-to-heart with my fiance and discovered that the only debt he had was one semester’s worth of a student loan (which he planned on paying off as soon as the grace period was over). I, though, had a bouquet of debt consisting of credit cards, a car loan, and student loans for the last two years of college.

To help me speed up the debt pay off process I started reading personal finance blogs like Get Rich Slowly and Being Frugal, and seeing what worked and what didn’t for others in similar situations. Happy to say I not only got rid of my credit card debt, but along the way I discovered an outlet to bring in some extra income.

As I transitioned from a hobby blogger into self-employment, I experimented with various writing methods and systems to avoid burnout and to make my personal finance site more resourceful for visitors and regular readers. My goal with Couple Money and the podcast is to provide useful content for spouses looking to build up their net worth and marriage.

That hasn’t always been the case — in fact it took me a few years to get the hang out of it.

My money, my problems.

After some time writing about college and finances, I found myself becoming less interested in writing. Part of it was due to the corner I had written myself into. Once I was out of college, I had a more difficult time coming up with topics to write about.

I began relying more on what readers wanted to learn about, and for a while it seemed to work. Understandably I eventually became tired of writing for others and missed sharing personal stories and digging into topics that excited me. I eventually sold my first blog and focused my attention on a new one, Couple Money, where I discuss building up a marriage while improvising our net worth.

Over the last five-plus years, I had my share of ups and downs, periods where I was either enthusiastically exploring how to work together through financial issues or being burnt out and seriously contemplating selling the site and moving on.

Thankfully encouragement from my husband and readers kept me going. It gave me a chance to try out and discover a way to keep me involved and excited by both covering our personal finances and looking at how other couples are dealing with money. I even expanded into a podcast last year to specifically reach out to more couples.

Finding the balance.

I now average about one or two posts a week on Couple Money, one weekly “full-length” podcast episode, and a smaller follow-up show. While I’m posting less, I’m still seeing new visitors and returning readers coming to the site.

Instead of feeling burnt out on personal finance, I’m enthused about coming up with different posts and episodes. The mix of media has been a huge help for me as I get to explore topics on the show and go into more detail on my blog.

Being a work-from-home mom has meant that my time is constrained, so I’ve learned to be more efficient. As someone who would rather focus on content than constantly analyze every bit of data, I’ve narrowed it down to a handful of tools that quickly give me the information I need.

I’ve tried out a ton of tools to gauge which topics are the most popular with readers and other couples as well as keeping tabs on how my site is doing on the whole.

Google Analytics dashboards. There’s a ton of information here so I was easily overwhelmed and only visited it occasionally. Thankfully a fellow blogger showed me a dashboard template that tracked Pinterest pin sharing and I saw that I could have a much more manageable system.

Digging more online, I stumbled across more dashboard templates and I found these to be extremely useful:

Basically I use the social media information to see what people are engaged in and then use SEO dashboard to polish up and hone in on keywords. Let me give you an example.

I noticed that one of my more popular posts was about how far to space out having children. I wanted to reach a wide audience so I created a small snippet of a podcast just addressing that one question. When constructing the script, I made sure to use keywords that were the most searched for.

Once the show was released and the show notes were published, I then went back to my original post on Couple Money. I refined and updated it with the goal of helping parents get the information that wanted.

SEM Rush. I started playing around with SEM Rush because I wanted to see how others in the personal finance niche were driving traffic organically.

I love the site audit feature. After the effort I put into writing, I want to keep it simple for new and long time readers to get the information they need. That means removing dead links and seeing if I can include updated information whether it’s a more recent post on the topic or linking to another site.

BufferApp. This is a handy tool for me to get some immediate feedback on which posts and topics people are interacting with. If I share a post from another site and it takes off with retweets or clicks, I will look at Couple Money and see if there is a relevant post I can share to continue the conversation.

Something I’ve done recently is comparing tweets between my blog account and the podcast so I can find the best time to reach others.

Lessons learned.

So what about those topics that are on other couples’ minds, but I have either no interest, knowledge of, or experience? I used to stress out over this, feeling that I was being selfish, but I’ve come to understand that one of the best things I can do for those readers is to point them in the direction of someone who does have answers.

No blog can be everything to everyone, so there’s no real benefit to myself or them to try. I instead link to, and share across on my social media channels, great content that addresses what they are looking for. It has freed me up to focus on content that I do enjoy writing about.

I no longer feel pressured to produce something, I’m excited about my posts and I have more time to write them and interact with readers in a more meaningful way.

Your thoughts on writing.

Enough from me — I’d love hear from you and get some of your thoughts. How do you balance writing about what matters to you personally and addressing your readers’ needs and questions? What system do you have and tools that you use for brainstorming ideas and creating posts?

Thanks to Elle Martinez for sharing her story. If you would like to share the origin of your successful blog that’s managed to positively affect readers’ lives, contact Luke.