7 Things I Learned From One Year of Blogging

This week Of Dollars And Data celebrates its one year anniversary and I thought it would be fitting to talk about seven things I learned over the past year about blogging and side hustles in general.

So, if you have ever thought about doing a side project, or are doing one now, this is for you.

1. It Will Take More Time Than You Think

It was April 2015 when I first imagined starting a personal finance blog and came up with a list of post ideas. However, I didn’t write a single word until January 1, 2017. Below is a picture of that original list of post ideas with selected posts crossed off over time:

Nick Maggiulli notebook of personal finance blog ideas dated April 15, 2015

If you look closely in the center, you will see my most popular post yet “Just keep buying” as one such post idea.

The point is that it is okay if you haven’t started yet.  Maybe the time isn’t right, but I can tell you that at some point it will be.  In my case, one day I realized that I had the skills to do something compelling (finance + data visualizations in R) and I could use the excuse of my 2017 New Year’s resolution to motivate me.

To this day it is the only New Year’s resolution I have ever kept.  So, if you are struggling to get something going, that’s okay. It will take more time than you think.

2. You Will Fear Failure and Will Want to Give Up

When I started Of Dollars And Data I had a constant fear of failure.  It was so bad that I originally started the blog anonymously because I was unsure whether I was any good.  Even after I started, I cannot tell you how many times I thought about giving up.  The negativity spiral would start as follows:

Maybe I’m not a good writer. Maybe my visualizations suck. Maybe I have nothing interesting or novel to say. Maybe I don’t have enough experience (I’m NOT in this industry after all). Maybe I am not smart enough.

All these thoughts would swirl around in my mind, but I kept pushing on week after week.  Today most of these fears have subsided as I have gained enough confidence to know that I can succeed if I keep putting in the work.

If you ever fear failure or want to give up, it’s normal to feel that way.  Fight through it and keep moving forward.  If you don’t believe me, consider the empowering truth told in The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (emphasis mine):

That’s why successful people in every field are almost universally members of a certain set — the set of people who don’t give up.

So don’t give up.

3. Not Everyone Will Believe In You…But Some People Will

The hardest part of starting a side project is that most people will not believe in you or remotely care about what you are doing.  Sometimes even the people closest to you won’t be supportive. Sadly, for me this feeling is all too familiar.

In July 2016 I moved from San Francisco to Boston to support my girlfriend of 4 years who was entering graduate school.  After starting the blog six months later, I realized that she really wasn’t supportive of my goals and dreams. 

I can’t tell you how demoralizing it is to know that the person you changed your life for doesn’t care about something you are working hard on.

I had no real choice but to leave.  It was the hardest decision I ever made, but I had to make it.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice a lot for the things you believe in.

Though many people won’t believe in you, some people will.  I have lots of family and friends who have supported me throughout the past year and I cannot thank them enough for it. 

However, my biggest support has been my father who has been there since Day 1 and has acted as the “Chief Editor” for Of Dollars And Data.

This one is for him:

Dad, though you are 3,000 miles away, I have never felt closer to you. Thank you for being there through the tough times and believing in me every single week.

Lastly, you will find that some people who have the least to gain from helping you will go out of there way to provide support and motivation. 

For example, I was very lucky that Jason Zweig retweeted me only a few weeks into my blog after I sent him an email about this post:

Jason Zweig mention on Twitter

Without this tweet, Michael Batnick (who was one of my first 20 Twitter followers and earliest supporters) never would have found me and I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have to thank both of them and the many others in FinTwit (Finance Twitter) who have shared my work and motivated me along the way.

4. Luck Plays A Big Role In Your Success

While I wish I could say that my first year of success is attributable solely to my hard work, I would be telling a big lie.  The fact is that much of my life has been lucky breaks and the same goes for my blog. 

Being born in a developed country, growing up with supportive parents, and having an above average intelligence has given me advantages in society that I did nothing to earn.

Yes, luck didn’t make me write my posts or create my visualizations, but a lot of the upside came from chance events.

I already discussed above how Jason Zweig handed me a dose of good fortune early on in my blogging journey, but it didn’t stop there.

This tweet from Josh Brown got me 800 Twitter followers in a single day.

Considering I only had ~1,000 followers at the time of his tweet, you can see the impact of such a rare event:

Josh Brown tweet mentioning his favorite new blogger

When it comes to the outcome of your side projects, realize that luck will play a big role.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask for help. You may be surprised with the result.  Either way, I am reminded of what Samuel Goldwyn once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

5. Consistently Good Beats Sometimes Great

Morgan Housel once said:

The best way to build a powerful brand is to be good all the time rather than great some of the time.

I cannot tell you how true this is after a year of blogging.  When I first started, I was so obsessed with always putting out great content that I worried that my first “okay” post would be my undoing.

However, this hasn’t been the case at all, as most of my posts seem to be good with some being great and some being “not so great.”

As an example of this, check out the distribution of my post views over my first year.  As you can see, the bulk of my posts get a little less than 5,000 total views, with a small handful getting over 10,000 views:

Distribution of post views for Of Dollars And Data blog psots

The point is that, it is okay when everything you do is not a home run.  Just keep producing good quality and let the chips fall where they may.

6. To Become a Better Writer, Read More

The best way to become a better writer is to read more and not just about a single subject matter.  Why?  Reading is the best way to generate new ideas.

Every person has a different perspective on life.  This comes from different experiences, cultural ideas, values, etc.  You know things I don’t know.  You can make connections I can’t make.  By reading, you are allowing these unique connections to flourish, which can make you a better writer.

I have seen my own writing improve immensely due to my increased reading habit this past year.  Remember, if you start to run out of ideas to write about, read some more and add fuel to your writing fire. 

Your brain is made for making connections, finding patterns, and discovering new insights, so feed it regularly by reading.

7. You Will Make Lots of New Friends (aka FinTwit is the best!)

The best part about blogging over the last year is all of the amazing people I have met because of it, both online and in person.  The FinTwit community has been the most supportive community I have ever been apart of and I could not be happier.

I wholeheartedly agree with The Financial Bodyguard when she said that FinTwit might be possibly the best Twitter community in the world.  Thank you everyone in FinTwit for a great 2017.  Looking forward to an even better 2018!

Next week I will be back to my usual investing posts (I promise).  Thank you for reading!

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This is post 53. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data

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