Sometime last week, this blog reached the “two million page views” milestone. It took less than three months to get that second million, compared to nine months for the first one, which I wrote about on December 10th. I remember we all thought we were pretty big business back then, but by any measure there are now more than twice as many Money Mustaches growing out there as there were when we blew past the first million mark!
Blogs that talk too much about blogging can get pretty boring, so don’t worry, I’m not going to write an article like this for every million. But today I thought it would be worthwhile because there are several interesting lessons that I’ve learned from this writing hobby that I’ve wanted to tell you about. Hopefully they will be useful for the many other blog writers that hang around here, as well as for writers of other stripes and even regular Mustachians.
1 – It’s really hard to understand exponential growth.
Even though I occasionally like to write equations and draw graphs in my spare time, I still find that I have the natural human weakness of thinking in linear rather than exponential terms. When I check this website’s statistics page each night, it looks like readers are just trickling in at a steady rate, like guests to a nice party. But when you look at a graph that spans several months and divide out the numbers, you can clearly see that an exponent is at work. The exponent always surprises you.
This has applications in any internet-related business or creative venture, since the pool of people on the internet is effectively infinite. If you can get something started that has a positive growth rate, that tends to grow all by itself (by word of mouth, or search engines, or viral-style-forwarding), you can end up with some very interesting results. The Honey Badger video that we all like to quote from is up to 40 million views. A friend’s internet-based sales business is making tens of thousands of dollars per month in sales, just because of a bit of self-perpetuating exponential growth.
It also has applications in saving for early retirement. Beginner Mustachians are occasionally blown away by the numbers we throw around here. “Nobody could save hundreds of thousands of dollars!”, they say, “I’ve only got a few hundred bucks and it was damned hard to save that much!”.
I felt much the same way when I was younger. The problem is not with the numbers, it’s just with that tricky exponential function again. Today’s hundred-dollar-saver can invest his savings even as he improves his skills at efficient living and increases his employment income over his working career. When you combine all of these effects, you will see strong exponential growth in your savings. The hundreds of today can quite easily become many thousands per month in the future, until in the years just before retirement, many people are easily increasing their wealth by over $100,000 per year – sometimes more than their entire gross pay.
2 – People can actually make money with this blogging thing.
When I started writing these articles, I assumed I would only be entertaining myself and a few facebook friends until I ran out of stuff to say. The writing habit proved quite addictive, however, and the number of fun and enthusiastic readers grew. So I upgraded my goal slightly to “Saving the Entire Human Race from Destroying Itself”. But even at that point, I never thought I’d earn much more than the cost of paying the web hosting fees.
But one day, I had a look around at some other personal finance blogs. It turns out that these things are serious business. Sites that rank in the top 20 on the Wisebread list are routinely bought by internet marketing companies, often for over a million bucks. One clever guy named Pat Flynn who runs smartpassiveincome.com is an expert at generating income from websites. Last year he raked in over $400,000 from his carefully designed portfolio of sites. Get Rich Slowly, possibly the biggest blog in this niche, sold over three years ago although the sale was a secret until recently.
The most surprising part is that MMM already has a larger amount of traffic than some of the big-name websites at their time of sale. I don’t know exactly why this has happened, since we have done almost no promotion of the site. But I like to chalk it up to the fact that Frugality is the New Fanciness. This is an idea whose time has come.
In the right hands and with enough flashing credit card ads, a site this big could probably already earn more than my software job used to pay. You can tell from my feeble attempts at revenue-generation that income is not one of the main goals of this blog. But I will still proudly note that we earned $500 last month, and the income graph also has one of those sneaky exponents at work!
And don’t worry, I am not even thinking about selling this thing. Someone did send me an unsolicited offer once for something like $10,000, and I thanked him for the information. But it seems unlikely that anyone would want to pay in the millions for a blog, with the condition that the author can continue to write (or not write) whatever he wants and quit at any time without notice.. with anti-consumerism, political incorrectness, and swearing being key parts of the message.
But I do love learning about this entirely new field, and I am pleased to see that writers now have a more democratic way of making a living than they did back in the old paper publisher days. Even big-time authors like Joe Konrath now publish exclusively in e-book formats, and they find they earn more money doing that then they could with big traditional book deals.
3 – It’s Time for Mr. Money Mustache to Get Off His Ass and Write.
The biggest thing I have learned from this Two Million Views business is that we are onto something big here. If this blog really is one of the fastest-growing things in the entire personal finance blogosphere, then maybe I’d better start taking it a bit more seriously.
So I’m going to set a couple of goals. I’d like to increase the amount of time I spend working on this site. Not to the point of burnout, but I’d at least like to get a chance to write up more of the 100+ draft article ideas that keep piling up, and answer more of the emails that people send me. I’m going to talk to more people, take better pictures, start putting out the odd amusing educational video, do more science experiments.. stuff like that. I’ve even applied to be a speaker** at this year’s “FinCon” (financial bloggers conference) since it’s right down the road in Denver, and hey, I like talking.
I’d also like to set a goal of having this writing gig pay for my whole family’s living expenses. That’s about $2000 per month. Yeah yeah, we’re already retired and all that, but I think it would be nice psychological boost to be able to say that I’m supporting a family just with writing, and more importantly to share my thoughts on how easy or difficult it is to do without any soul-selling.
In reality, since we already have our consumption covered from other income and we have no desire to spend even more money, that means that 100% of MMM proceeds will in some way, over time, be used to improve the world. I’m not sure exactly how yet, but I still like the idea. Plus, as blog writing increases, my carpentry income has to decrease, which eats into my safety margin. By making a point of having the blog earn just a little bit of income, I can regain this margin.
We Mustachians are still a brand-new family. Most of the world has barely even heard of us so far. Truly big websites get millions of page views per week, or even per day.
That’s fine with me, since I’m here just to write to you and I have my own way of defining success. But if you do want to help out, here are a few ways to game the system a little bit:
Follow MMM on Twitter by clicking here.
Befriend MMM on Facebook by clicking here.
Become a RSS subscriber by clicking here. Even if you usually read on the website (which is the way I prefer to read blogs), this helps boost the still-important Feed Subscribers number, and you might learn a thing or two about the convenience of RSS reading as well.
Hardcore readers can install the Alexa Toolbar* which will boost this site’s Alexa Rank.
Some generous people have actually asked me if they could donate to this blog just to say thanks. I have always said no in the past, but given the new goals above, I will now accept that generosity and see how it goes. This is of course fully optional.. if you just want to read for free, please continue to do so!
This Paypal Button
In the long run, the biggest fundraiser for this blog will probably be the MMM Recommends Page and the Commission-paying Rewards Credit Cards list. I like that method, because those things are tucked out of the way, useful, and non-spammy.
That’s enough of this behind-the-scenes stuff, it’s time to get back to the real world. Thanks again for reading and I’m looking forward to taking it all up several notches as the blog begins its second year of existence in just a few weeks.
*The Alexa Toolbar is a browser add-on which displays the ranking of any site you visit in a tiny bar graph at the top of the browser. The toolbar sends anonymous stats to the Alexa web ranking company, which in turn determine the popularity of that website. The only weird part is, only bloggers actually use that toolbar, so your Alexa rank is really a measure of how popular your site is with bloggers. But yet many people haven’t caught onto this weakness, so your Alexa rank influences your rankings in the various top 100 blogs lists as well as how much you get paid for advertising spots. If a significant number of readers could be enticed to run the toolbar… hoohoo, that would be funny. There are already blogger networks which do a good job of exploiting this loophole, although MMM is not a member of any, hence my less-good current rank.