Crystal Paine is the founder of the amazingly successful MoneySavingMom.com, which sees 1.5 million visitors each month, and employs 13 full time staff. Born of a blog series that turned into an ebook, which then evolved into an e-course, Crystal realised her readers were hungry for a real-life guide to living frugally, but well; be it slashing their grocery bill, using coupons, or finding ways to run their home on less.
Crystal had been looking for ways to create an income while she was a stay at home mom, and realised she could make a healthy business meeting her readers’ need for such information. With forethought and intention, Crystal created and monetized the site, but was still surprised when it outdid their expectations – by a long shot.
In our interview, we chat about the plans she made before MoneySavingMom.com went live, the things she did to make it a success, and how they kept that ball rolling to create the main source of income for her family today. Crystal also shares her ideas on revenue streams, how long it actually took to make a consistent income, and tips that will help you be more intentional with your efforts to succeed.
The Beginning: Blogging Goals and Direction
You started Money Saving Mom after a blog series turned into an ebook, which turned into an ecourse. What dreams did you have for the site, seeing as you’d already covered so much of the content elsewhere?
I realized that I had barely touched the tip of the iceberg with the ebook and e-course I wrote on cutting your grocery bill. My vision for MoneySavingMom.com was that I was going to be sharing specific deals you could find at your local drugstores and big box stores (such as Walmart and Target). I also planned to share deals I had gotten locally, as well as ways our family was living on a small budget. As there are new sales every week and I’m always finding great deals and bargains, I knew that it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with new material to blog about each week.
Step Two: Creating an Income
You were very intentional about monetizing the site from the start to help supplement your family’s income while you were a stay at home mom. Did you have an idea going into it how you would monetize?
When I started MoneySavingMom.com in 2007, I had already dabbled into monetization on a mommy blog I had. I knew I could make money with sidebar ads, as well as sharing some affiliate links. Back then, the options were fairly limited, but I kept researching, watching what others were doing, and slowly started experimenting with new ideas. One of the best ways to monetize in the early days of the blog was by becoming an affiliate for coupon printing sites (such as Coupons.com). They would pay me per print session. So if I posted about a great deal on toothpaste at Walmart and shared a printable coupon on Coupons.com that could be paired with the sale to get an even better discount, I’d get paid for every person who printed that coupon. While it was only a small amount per coupon printed, since I posted quite a few coupons each week, it quickly added up! To this day, getting paid per print for sharing great printable coupons is one of our highest earning affiliate income sources!
Do you think creating a monetized blog from the get-go is much different to monetising an established blog? (I have heard some people say it is easier to start with monetizing in mind rather than then try and turn a personal or other type of blog into something that makes an income – I was wondering if that was your experience.)
Great question! I think it’s always wise to be strategic and to go into any venture with a long-term plan. That plan can always change as circumstances and opportunities change, but I think it’s important to have a destination in mind when you start out on any road. Otherwise, you may end up just going around in circles because you don’t have any clue where you’re headed.
That said, I still believe that Content Is King. You can have the best monetized blog in the world, but if your content isn’t helpful and relevant, all the monetization strategies aren’t going to make much of an impact. So I always encourage beginning bloggers to start by establishing yourself as a voice people want to listen to. Provide great content, write about topics that are relevant, format your posts in an organized manner, and share your posts on social media in a compelling manner. Focus on solving problems and meeting needs in what you write, build up your credibility, and slowly also work on creative ways to monetize your blog.
I am told a lot that some people really wrestle with the idea of monetizing, although they ultimately would like to. What advice would you have for them?
I know there are definitely camps who believe you should just write because you love it, not because you’re getting paid for it. I think you should do both. I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to spend so much time producing great content, you should also get paid for your time. One of the best ways to monetize your site is to be a person of integrity. Write about things you are passionate about and be very particular in what products and affiliate links you promote. Never sacrifice your integrity in the name of a quick buck. When people trust you, they will put much more weight in what you promote.
For example, I rarely wholeheartedly endorse a product. I might talk about pros and cons, share what I liked about a product, but it’s rare that I’ll say that I LOVE something. Why? Because I want my words to have weight. If I “LOVE” everything, it becomes meaningless quickly. So honesty is paramount when you’re considering promoting a product. Always have your readers and their needs first and foremost. Analyze every opportunity in light of: will this benefit my readers? If it only benefits me or if just mostly benefits me, I always choose turn down the opportunity. By doing so, I can, in good conscience occasionally really wholeheartedly endorse a product, site, or service — and my readers will know that it is something really worth checking into.
What kind of mindframe do you need to be in to make a blog a financial success? Do you need to treat it like a business as early as possible? Or can that come later?
I think one of the greatest keys to be successful as a blogger — both in terms of building a readership and making an income from your blogging efforts — is consistency. If readers know they can count on you regularly posting great content, they are much more likely to regularly show up. This doesn’t mean that you always have to post the same number of times every week, or always post at the same time each day, or that you can’t ever take a break from blogging, but it does mean that you treat your blogging seriously. If you are employed somewhere, you are expected to show up to work and complete your work in a timely manner. If you don’t, there will be fall out — you might miss out on that promotion, you might not get that coveted opportunity, or you might even lose your job. It’s the same way with blogging. You need to do all you can to keep your commitments to your readers — or don’t make the commitments in the first place. You need to place priority on producing great content. And you need to show up regularly. When readers know they can count on you, they feel much more invested in you and connected to you.
Someone asked me not too long ago what the secret was to my success. My answer: “There are no secrets; just hard work.” I have blogged almost every single day but Sunday, every single week, every year since I began blogging in 2005. That’s a LOT of blogging. And trust me, while I truly love blogging, there were days when I would have rather been doing something else. I have stayed up late at night, gotten up early in the morning, and worked on Saturdays and holidays. There have been grueling and exhausting seasons, but the commitment, drive, and consistency have paid off in big ways.
The Elusive Blog/Life Balance
What advice would you give to moms or parents who were much like you in the early days – trying to get a blog off the ground while balancing that with the needs of your home and family?
My best advice would be to not follow in my footsteps and bite off way more than you can chew! Instead, I encourage you to write down your goals. Where do you want to be in six months from now? A year from now? 5 years from now? In considering your six month goals, write down a list of everything that needs to happen in order to achieve those goals. Then, pick the top 3 most important to-do items on your list as your first priorities.
After you’ve chosen your top 3 action items, consider how much time you realistically have to invest each day. Maybe it’s just 30 minutes or an hour. That’s okay. Start there, but remember that if you don’t have much time to invest, you may need to scale back your expectations for how quickly you accomplish your goals. Break those three items down into bite-sized steps and then make an appointment with yourself for your 30 minute or 1-hour time block (or however much time you’ve committed) and make it a priority. Set the timer. Start in on one of the steps and keep going until the timer goes off. While you might not accomplish as much as you’d like as quickly as you’d like, you probably be surprised how much you can accomplish in 30 minute to 1 hour blocks of focused effort.
You have said before that you and your husband just wanted to “see where this goes” in the early days of your blog – did you have a particular timeframe, or certain goals that would help you decide to continue?
My goal was to make a part-time income (I was aiming for around $1200 per month.) I knew that this amount would help not only supplement our income, but would allow us to be able to save and give more. It took me around 2.5 years of hard, hard work, to hit that amount on a consistent monthly basis. And there were many months in the beginning when I wondered if I was just chasing after some really unrealistic dream. But eventually I started to not only hit that goal every month, but then to exceed it. Pretty soon, I was consistently doubling that initial goal, and then tripling it. It was so gratifying to realize that all those early months where I was doing well to make $2-$3 per hour paid off! I’m so glad I didn’t give up when it felt like my efforts weren’t really going anywhere.
When did you realise the blog was actually going to be successful?
When I started MoneySavingMom.com in 2007, I truly pictured that it was just going to be a little off-shoot of the mommy blog I had started in 2005. So, you can imagine my shock when, within a few months of starting it, I was getting 14,000 to 16,000 pageviews per day on it! It blew my mind! And it just kept growing… until we finally got to the point that I was having find a hosting company that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and could sustain the traffic that the site was generating!
How important is your husband’s support in your work?
Honestly, I doubt I would be blogging if it weren’t for my husband. He is my best friend and biggest cheerleader. When I was initially considering starting my first mommy blog, he believed in me and encouraged me to do it. When I was considering starting, MoneySavingMom.com, he said, “Go for it!” I’m positive I never would have had the courage to hit “publish” on so many posts if it weren’t for him reading through them with me and saying, “Yes, you need to publish that. Someone needs to read it.”
In those moments when I’ve doubted myself, wondered what I was thinking, or even considered quitting, his voice has been there speaking words of motivation, reminding me of the why behind what I do: to inspire and impact people. He’s prodded me out of my comfort zone so many times. He takes care of the kids so I can write. He runs our household when I’m out of town on business trips. He serves as a sounding board when I have difficult situations come up. He takes care of all the legal and financial aspects of the business. He’s always reading through contracts for me, helping my team with legal questions that come up, working with our accountant to make sure all the books and payroll are taken care of (spreadsheets give me hives!), and working with me to dream for the future and make sure we stay accountable to our business goals.
Branching Out: Evolving the Blog
You now employ 13 people – what’s the most difficult thing about being a boss rather than a sole blogger? What is the best thing?
I never would have envisioned that I’d someday be running a business with multiple people working for me, not just a blog that I write on! It’s been quite the adventure and I’m so very grateful for the wonderful folks who are on this road with me! The hardest thing about managing a team has been trusting my gut and actually being the one to be leading the team. I’ve grown a lot as a person through running a business and have been blessed to have some really wise people mentoring me along the way.
One of the pieces of advice I’ve received was that I need to be the one who sets the course. I need to decide the direction we’re going and then encourage and inspire my team to help me be successful in heading in that direction. My tendency would be to be all, “Whatever you think is best.” Or to just not communicate a clear-cut vision for where we’re headed. I’m learning and growing in this… but I’m still very much a work in progress!
The best thing about having a team working with me is that it’s not only a lot more fun to be in this with such brilliant and wonderful people, but we get so much more done because my team members are much, much more talented in so many areas than me. Plus, my team is committed to helping me only do what I do best and to take all the other projects, details, and work off my shoulders. It’s a humbling thing to have such fantastic people working together with me to further the mission I have for MoneySavingMom.com. Often, when we’re working on a big project and brainstorming about it, I’ll step back and just look at the amazing brilliance represented in the room and think to myself, “I cannot believe that I have the honor of working with these incredible people!”
Related: You can read more of Crystal’s story in her post: This Crazy Journey I’ve Been on the Last 10 Years (and Yes, You can Make Money Blogging!).
So what do you think? Are there strategies Crystal used that you can now take into your own blogging experience? I know personally I got a lot from her forward-thinking and intentional decisions to create a successful site. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Stacey is the Managing Editor of ProBlogger.net: a writer, blogger, and full-time word nerd balancing it all with being a stay-at-home mum. She writes about all this and more (so much more!) at Veggie Mama. Chat with her on Twitter @veggie_mama (cat pictures welcome).