Today, I am excited to have Tom Drake on the podcast. He owns a Maple Money and is the number one financial blog in Canada. He is fantastic at online businesses and he has taught me so much about SEO and running a business. Like Tom, you can be successfully unemployed.
How Tom Drake Makes Money with His Financial Blog
Tom’s blog, Maple Money is the thing for him. It is almost like a magazine and is very traditional. There is a lot of content on the site and a lot of the money is made from ads, like Google ads.
He also receives a commission from affiliate links when someone clicks a link on his site and buys the product.
Another way a blog could make money is through sponsored posts.
This is where a company will pay you for a post to get in front of your audience. Tom does not have sponsored posts on his blog.
What Tom Drake Was Doing Before and How He Became Successfully Unemployed with His Financial Blog
Tom was lucky as a blogger. He worked at a desk job and had spare time during his lunch hour and coffee breaks.
This made it easier to start dabbling a little bit. If he was a truck driver or a cashier at a store, it would have been more difficult. He was able to use his breaks.
There is so much free time. Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Stop watching Lost”. You don’t have to spend all of your free time watching TV.
Most of Tom’s blogging time was from 8:00pm or 9:00pm to about 1:00am or 2:00am. He worked his day job, spent time with his family, and when everyone went to bed, he started up the second job.
It felt like he was working two full-time jobs at the same time.
In 2009, blogging didn’t look as fabulous as it does now. Back then, it still had a hobby feel to it. There were people making a lot of money from it, but that wasn’t public.
You had to know people to know they were actually making money from it. It felt like a place to write and Tom was trying to improve his finances himself.
It became something he wanted to contribute his voice and he didn’t see it as a business at first.
The Domain Name Is Really Important for Finance Blogs
When Tom started, he didn’t put a lot of thought into his domain name. He wanted to start a Canadian finance blog, so he created canadianfinanceblog.com. As time went on, he felt like having the word “blog” in the title was a little demeaning and like it wasn’t a serious business. In addition, Canadian Finance was a little generic.
These two things started to bug him. He wanted to start a podcast, but he didn’t want to name it Canadian Finance Podcast and dig another hole. This is when he came up with Maple Money.
This name still felt like he was keeping some of the soul of the site, but with a better name.
Transitioning From His Full-Time Position Was a Slow As He Built His Finance Blog
Tom is big on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), where you are writing articles people are actually searching for. When SEO had a more negative connotation,
Tom would ask others, “Why don’t you write posts people are searching for?”. You can phrase your title in a way for the person who is actually looking for that help.
Listen the the Financial Blog Episode:
Tom started doing SEO and what he calls building blocks. This is where you write a post and expect so many visits because you have done some research and put it out there.
You get a few hundred views a month, or a few thousand if you are lucky, and then you do another one. This is a long game, not a get rich quick sort of thing.
Tom has been doing this for 11 years and there have been ups and downs.
It has more or less worked its way up, and it is about constantly pushing ahead. Coming up with a podcast is a different direction to get another stage of growth.
Overthinking Starting a Blog is a Huge Problem
If Tom had waited to start his blog, because he didn’t like his blog name, he would have been so much farther behind. He sees this with other people in Facebook groups when they talk about starting a blog for a couple of years. Just start. Tom uses namecheap.com for domain names and a good starting host is siteground.com.
For a few dollars, you can get started. Don’t overthink the name. A lot of people use their own names now, which is quick and easy. It doesn’t take a lot to get going.
Most blog run on WordPress and that makes it even easier. When Tom first started, he had to get a WordPress zip file and FTP it up — it was more complicated. Now, you can start in minutes.
Niche Your Financial Blog Down to Something More Specific
Some people say you should blog about whatever you want. However, that tends to turn into more of a personal diary. The best blog topic for someone to write about is something someone is passionate about.
Tom is a big fan of keyword research when it comes to the blog post, but not when you are deciding what to write about. If you don’t have a pet, it doesn’t make sense to write about dog grooming.
It isn’t uncommon to not see a dollar of income for six months.
A lot of bloggers will stop before those six months.
Even bloggers who aren’t in it for the money will stop, because they lose some of the momentum or interest if there isn’t something coming back.
People need to figure out what motivates them. If you are an active golfer, you may want to start a golf blog. For Tom, it was personal finance, because he was deep into it.
He turned around from wasting his 20’s and not saving at all to getting married, planning for children, and buying a house within a one year span.
Tom turned on a dime and and decided it was time to get it together.
Everything he was reading was personal finance and saving and investing. It was an obsession and the perfect thing to blog about. Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Document: don’t create”.
To Get People to Your Finance Blog, You Need a Plan
If you aren’t writing about things people are searching for, they aren’t going to find you through SEO. There are other ways to get people to your site, though. For instance, you can speak to people on social media.
No matter what traffic site you go through, there is always a marketing feel to it. You need to do something to get that click and when they are on your site, you need to keep them.
Sometimes search traffic is not the way to get readers to your site.
They are more likely to get the information they need and then leave. If you can get 10 percent of them to stick around, you are lucky and you can build a newsletter from there.
A lot will come and go, which is fine if you have ads or affiliate links.
It is fine if you serve them and then they leave, but you need to convince people to come to your site and it takes more than just writing and posting to your site.
If You are Established, Less is More, When it Comes to Posting On Your Finance Blog
When Tom first started blogging, it was common for bloggers to post articles five days a week.
Very often, it was a blog post every Monday through Thursday and a round up post for Friday. Tom pulled back on that a lot because he started to realize it was a constant content mill where he was pushing out content with no real benefit.
It is better to slow it down.
Tom often does one post a week, because he has past content that he improves and repost. You will see two posts go live, but only one is brand new and the other is improved.
When you first start, there is a benefit to doing as much as you can.
You can kick start your blog by posting three times a week as long as the posts are purposeful, there is a search intent, or you have a social media plan.
Don’t write for the sake of writing. Once a month is better if it is great and gets some traction. There needs to be a purpose.
Longer Posts are Not Necessarily Better For SEO Searching
There are a lot of SEO gurus that say you need 1,800 words or 2,000 words for a post. Tom says you need the post to be complete. This isn’t a copout. If a topic takes 500 words to write about with no fluff, it should take 500 words.
If it will take 4,000, then it should be 4,000.
You can get Google’s opinion on this by looking at the top 10 on the search result. More and more the top 10 looks the same.
You don’t have to go longer, but you need to cover everything.
If one competing blog post has subtopic A and B and another has B and C, you want yours to have A, B, and C. Put them all together, add your own take, and then you are more complete than others in the top ten.
Choosing a Personal Site Over an Impersonal Site for Your Finance Blog
Tom’s site, maplemoney.com, is more of a personal site and Robert Farrington’s site, thecollegeinvestor.com, is more of a content site. Tom’s site is more of his personality and Robert’s site is not. Robert’s site started off similar to Tom’s.
Tom’s writing is about where he is at in his life at the time, but he doesn’t write it too personal. He doesn’t get too much into his story. When he first started writing, it was about frugality and turning his thermostat down one degree.
As the blog started to do well, he realized it was easier to make more money than try to shave a few dollars off of his expenses here and there. Both have their benefits, but his blog started to head in that direction.
Tom’s content changed based on this shift in mindset. Tom is about one step behind Robert. He could convert his site to an impersonal site very quickly. He is looking at bringing staff writers on board, which is what he used to do when he posted five times a week.
Tom may become more impersonal, but the more you can put yourself on your blog, the better. Your readers look a lot like you. Tom’s readers are Canadian, between ages 25 to 45 and a lot of them have kids.
You attract similar people to yourself. If you aren’t putting your personality into your site it is difficult to attract them.
Robert’s site has gotten so big and he is running an awesome machine of a blog that it makes more sense to take a step back and have more of a team effort. It is a different life stage.
If Robert wants to sell, he is in a better position to do that. If your blog is too personal, you won’t be able to sell it.
Spending a Little Money May Help You Scale Your Finance Blog
Scaling is something Tom did well between 2010 and 2012, and then he pulled back when he reduced the content. Now, it has been his biggest success factor over the last year or two, despite the gap.
When you are earlier on in a blog, the biggest scaling is to hire a staff writer. When he was doing this before, he could hire someone to write a blog post for $25, but rates have gone up since then.
You could also open it up to guest posts for a way to get content and more views.
Make sure it is still content focused. If you are doing one post a week and you want to double your results, getting that second post will help. This is the biggest area you could scale.
There are other ways to scale like hiring someone to do quick things that help your site through Upwork. It could be adding a calculator or working on a bug that needs to be fixed.
Instead of spending hours on it, you can hire someone overseas for $20 an hour to get it done so you can move on. You can get graphics done on Fiverr or Upwork.
Being willing to spend some of what you are making to do some of this stuff is a huge help.
With the first check Tom received from Google AdSense that passed $100, he bought a premium theme for $80. Without thinking about it, he put that money into something else.
It gets beyond beginner, but now he has an editor, a Virtual Assistant (VA) in the Philippines, a graphics company, and now he is looking at bringing on staff writers.
Hire these things out and don’t think you need to be the best at everything. Find your lane and hire the rest out.
To get backlinks, for Google to like you more, is to network. Get to know people.
At FinCon 18, Tom didn’t know Dustin, but he ran into him three or four times before FinCon 19, which allowed them to get to know each other without an agenda.
Getting backlinks isn’t hard. You can’t look at other people as your competition, you all have something in common.
The best backlinks Tom has had have come from people he knows.
It is a longer play to build relationships than it is to pay someone for a backlink, but it is worth it. If you aren’t going to conferences, you can email people or share their links. Don’t just ask for a backlink, you need to give a little.
Get someone’s attention in a genuine, friendly way.
Successfully Unemployed Rapid Fire Round
How Tom Drake is Making the World a Better Place and Giving Back
Something that has bothered Tom is that there isn’t much financial literacy in schools, so he created the Maple Money Financial Literacy Scholarship.
This was the beginning of giving 5% of his profits each year to causes that improve financial literacy.
Sometimes he needs to stretch this, because there aren’t great causes for financial literacy all of the time, so sometimes he gives to food banks. He may need to start his own financial literacy program, because he wants to improve this in schools.
The Advice Tom Drake Would Give to Someone Who Wants to Get Started
Get started. Many people are surprised Tom has been blogging for 11 years. When he started, he was reading six different personal finance bloggers in Canada and every one of those bloggers is now gone.
He is now one of the oldest Canadian bloggers.
People say the same thing with podcasts and they ask if it is too late to start now. If you look at the numbers, it is so small compared to blogging. The best time to start was 10 years ago, the second best time is today.
If you want to start a blog or podcast, just start it. If you think too long about it, it will never happen. Little, incremental gains is better than nothing.
Maple Money is really three blogs in one. Canadian Finance Blog is Tom’s content, but at one point, he bought a site called Balance Junkie, that was a lot of investing and economy content.
He tried running it himself for a year or two, but he realized it was better to merge the useful content to his site and he redirected the links.
He then bought another site, Mrs. January, which was Canadian and focused on frugality and coupon topics that filled a gap he didn’t have.
He got rid of the 50-word blog posts about saving $1 on paper towels this week and merged and redirected the evergreen frugality content. All three sites started in 2009 and 2010 and they came together to create Maple Money.
The Advice Tom Would Give His Younger Self Before He Had His Financial Blog
Tom lost his 20’s to partying in college and it continued from there, with spending all of his money as he made it. It took him until around age 30 to smarten up. If he used the first 10 years to start investing and take tiny steps, it would have helped so much more.
He wishes he knew about side hustles back then, because it was barely a thing. He could have started a blog in the early 2000’s instead of the late 2000’s. It would have been amazing timing.
It is easier for people now, with side hustle apps like Uber and Airbnb. It is pretty common and people know they can make money.
He hopes it is more obvious to people now. He was in a business administration course in college and he had a professor break down investing and compound interest. It was sitting right in front of him and he didn’t listen. Start things as soon as you can.
Asana. This is a task management program.
Think of it like a to-do list on steroids. As a blogger, you can program things in there that are recurring. As you scale and hire people, like a staff writer or VA, you can bring them into the system.
The Non-Fiction Book Tom Suggests
Find Tom Drake Online:
Podcast: The Maple Money Show