Pursuing Fortune and Fulfillment with Blogger Extraordinaire J.D. Roth
Kicking off the series is J.D. Roth, founder of the popular personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly (GRS).
The son of a serial entrepreneur whose ventures included software development, a nursery, a food grinding machinery manufacturer, an accounting service, and a custom box manufacturing company still in business after 23 years, J.D. went solo in March, just two short years after his blog’s debut. Today GRS boasts more than 54,000 subscribers and provides J.D. with a handsome income.
We caught up with the blogger extraordinaire over Thai cuisine at PokPok. Following are some excerpts from the conversation.
— You recognized your writing talent as a child and aspired to be a poet in high school, then a fiction writer in college. After years of holding “other” jobs, doing what you love at GRS and getting paid for it must be tremendously satisfying. But what about non-monetary fulfillment? Aside from the compensation, what do you find most satisfying about your new, entrepreneurial life?
It is rewarding to be paid for something I love to do. But it’s also satisfying to work on my own schedule. I know that’s trite – everyone says it – but it’s true. Before, I was squeezing the writing into the cracks of life. Now I write when the muse strikes, and don’t have to worry about other obligations. This leaves me time to pursue other interests, too. I’m going to play with photography again. For the first time in a decade, I’m exercising regularly. I’m training for a marathon. I never would have had the time or the motivation without doing this full-time. I may actually have time to take some classes. Aside from the money, the most satisfying thing about my new life is being able to pursue my other interests, the things that make me me.
— You have an extensive blogging history. In 1997 you started an online Web journal, adopted Blogger in 2001, switched to MovableType in 2002, and kept a personal journal called Folded Space for five years before launching GRS in April of 2006. That experience must have jumpstarted Get Rich Slowly.
The site was successful very quickly. I had 2,000 subscribers within two months. I simply told people about it-in my personal journal, on community sites, and elsewhere-not in a pushy way, just along the lines of ‘here’s what I’m doing’. I started GRS without really being aware that there were other personal finance blogs around. Sometimes—not always—it’s best to be ignorant of the competition!
— You’ve said that bloggers aspiring to go pro often underestimate the amount of work involved. What does it take?
Each situation is different, of course, but in general it takes a lot of time. A lot of time. For myself, most posts take several hours of work to research, compose, and edit. I think many people underestimate the value of editing. I spend at least as much time editing as I do writing, and I still think I don’t do enough.
As your traffic builds, there’s more community interaction that occurs. You need to reply to comments, to e-mail. You need to network with other bloggers in your niche. You need to focus on finding new methods of making money. Most pro bloggers are constantly looking for small ways to tweak their sites in order to bring more traffic or to make them more useful to readers.
Essentially, creating a successful blog is a full-time job. Literally. For the past two years, I’ve spent 50-60 hours a week on my site. I still do. Most of the successful bloggers I know also spend this sort of time on their sites.
— Recently you met a group of colleagues at a personal finance bloggers’ powwow in San Francisco. What was it like to meet face-to-face with people you’d long known only through e-mail? Any surprises?
The biggest surprise to me was how closely everyone’s personality matched his or her online persona. We often hear that the anonymity of the Internet makes people behave in ways they might not in ‘real life’. I’m sure that’s true in some instances, but I’m learning that online personalities are usually an accurate representation of actual personalities.
Because I like my colleagues online, it’s no surprise then that I liked them in person. It was fantastic to be able to meet and to exchange ideas. It was edifying to learn that we’re all on the same page, with the same goals, all hoping to help educate people about personal finance.
— My favorite GRS post is The Worst Job I Ever Had, a hilarious essay in which you describe your short-lived career as an insurance salesman. Now you’ve created a life that couldn’t be more different in its financial and spiritual rewards. What’s next? What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
Ah, this is a fine question, one for which I do not have a fine answer. For the past two years, I’ve been riding the tide of Get Rich Slowly, allowing it to take me where it will. This has worked well to an extent, but now it’s time to treat it more seriously, I think, time to consider it an actual business. I need to sit down and create a business plan.
Do I want to write a book? Do I want to develop skills that would allow me to lecture? Do I want to produce educational materials? Or do I want to move in a completely different direction? These are the sorts of questions I need to address, I think, if I want continued success. I’ve begun to make some preparations for the future, but I need to do more.
J.D.’s already launched one new venture: Get Fit Slowly, a fitness blog in the spirit of GRS. Having conquered debt, he’s now waging a battle against the waistline–and winning. He looks terrific and just finished running his first 10K race.
And like many entrepreneurs, J.D. now faces a happy challenge: Redefining his goals. Entrepreneurial decisions always resolve to one question: What is your goal? We’ll examine that critical issue in a future post, but in the meantime, here’s food for thought: What is your goal? What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
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