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By Yaro Starak
Adam Baker is a well known personal finance blogger. He established himself by doing something most people think is a bit, well, risky.
Adam and his wife brought home their first baby girl from the hospital, and then he immediately quit his job. Their plan was to pay off the $18,000 in personal debt they had and save enough money to buy tickets to Australia and begin living life on their terms.
To reach this goal, Adam and his wife sold almost everything they had, down to what they could fit into two backpacks. Adam became a stay-at-home dad for a year while they began this process and started a blog to chronicle the entire journey. Hence ManVsDebt.com was born.
Needless to say his blog took off, but it was no fluke, Adam worked hard to both share his story and get to know other bloggers in his industry. There’s some great blogging advice in this interview, in particular how Adam grew his audience during the first 18 months of blogging.
Listen to this story and you will be inspired by someone who definitely does not make typical choices, in fact he almost always makes the counterintuitive choice given the situation he finds himself in, yet finds a way to make it work.
YARO: Hi, this is Yaro Starak and welcome to another Entrepreneur’s Journey podcast interview with an expert. Today, I have Adam Baker with me on the line and Adam, you may know from the Man Vs. Debt personal finance blog, as well as a few other things. Adam has an interesting story, certainly a great story for those of you who like the idea of quitting your job and traveling and just getting your personal finances all sewed up so, you can do things like that.
So, Adam, thank you for joining me.
ADAM: No problem, man. Thanks for having me on. I’m excited.
YARO: So, Adam and I, we haven’t actually talked. This is the first time we talked so…
ADAM: Yes, I know, right. We’ve been around for the same circles for a couple of years but, we’ve never crossed paths.
ADAM: So, first time, first discussion.
YARO: Let’s blame the distance between us being me in Australia event though the Internet has no distance there.
ADAM: [Laughs] Right.
YARO: Which is great because I don’t have a lot of back story about Adam so, I’m going to learn as much as you listeners will. So, Adam, let’s start at the beginning. Born and raised…?
ADAM: I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, mid-western boy, as we say over here in the States and I went to, I guess, to catch it up, to go briskly, I went to college for aeronautical engineering, if you can believe that or not. I was good at Math and Science and when you’re good in Math and Science and you’re raised in the Midwest, you go to the engineering school. That’s just what you do. So, I went to engineering school and ended up marrying my high school sweet heart, right after I failed out of engineering school and went into the real estate industry where I kind of sat before I got started in this sort of crazy online world.
YARO: So, you would have been working on spaceships or airplanes or…?
ADAM: [Laughs] Yes, actually, I went originally to work on missiles and stuff and I was just very intrigued by military. I wasn’t in the military. I wasn’t brave enough probably to be in the military but, I was always intrigued by sort of government type of undisclosed like weaponry and missiles and all that kind of fun stuff. That was kind of my enchanted dream of what engineering school might be like and it was very different than what I thought headed into it.
YARO: Right so, real estate was next. I’m assuming this is because you just got married and you needed some money. Is that…?
ADAM: Right. You fell out of college, what do you do? You know what I mean? You basically get your real estate license or you get your insurance license. Those are your two options if you’re really interested in making it or go back to school.
I wasn’t interested in going back to school and I heard real estate is where a lot of people invest and a lot of people I respected in business kind of were involved in real estate so, I said what the heck? I’ll go get my license.
I started selling short sales in foreclosure basically and this was in 2006 maybe or 2007-ish and this was right in the beginning of the US housing market collapse.
No one really knew it was going to be a collapse at that point but, it was right in the beginning when there started to be enough of these things on the market and people didn’t know how to handle it. They just didn’t know what to do with them. So, all it took was a little research on my part and I had more houses to buy and sell for these banks and these investors than I could possibly handle.
There were just so many on the market and no one knew how to really treat this new emerging markets.
I spent about two years in real estate and I was just getting to the point where I was successful. It takes a couple of years in the industry but, I was working like 100 hours a week and it was a crazy time. My wife had just graduated college and was a first year teacher which is just a crazy work load all in itself. We got married and pregnant and at the birth of my daughter, I just decided that I didn’t want to work 100 hours a week anymore and that real estate really wasn’t… that form of real estate really wasn’t the long-term play for me, and so, basically, when my daughter was born, I decided to get out of the industry.
YARO: I’m noticing a trend here. Whenever you get a new dependency, you quit what you’re doing [laughs].
ADAM: [Laughs]. That’s probably a good thing. It makes you kind of re-evaluate your life whenever you get somebody else that’s dependent on you, makes you sort of re-evaluate your life and what you’re doing. That actually is a pattern in my life.
YARO: Usually, it’s the other way around though. People generally want to stick with what they are doing when they have a wife and then, they got a kid because wow, we need money to, you know, we don’t want to rock about at this stage. Let’s rock the boat when we’re a little more stable.
You must be a brave man, Adam or maybe…
ADAM: Or, crazy [laughs].
YARO: Yes [laughs].
YARO: Okay so, what happened next? You quit real estate and then…?
ADAM: Yes, so, really when we brought my daughter home from the hospital, we really did look at our lives and asked ourselves, are we living in line with the values that we have? Is our life reflective of what we want? That kind of moment that a lot of people go through in life at some point or another. For us, that was the night, the very night we brought my daughter home from the hospital, and we said, “It’s not. It’s not at all aligned. I’m working way too much. I’m not really fulfilled in what I’m doing.” Courtney did like education but, she was working a lot and most importantly, we had a tremendous amount of debt for as young as we were.
We had a whole bunch of student loans and $18,000 in just stupid debt. You know what I mean? Like credit cards and car loans and just all extra lifestyle inflation stuff. And then, we had an apartment.
Our life had basically degraded to, “Hey hon! What do you want to do next? Do you want to upgrade the TV or do you want to upgrade the kitchen table?” That was kind of our discussion around our finances and we realized that we were living a life that we kind of made fun of other people for a living, and that was kind of an eye-opening experience for us so, we set a super passionate goal and this is, I didn’t know anything about online marketing or any of this stuff. We just said, we want to travel overseas with our daughter by the time she turns one.
I was like, we really want this. This is what we would do if we could do anything. We would travel overseas and we love Australia, believe it or not. That was the place that we really wanted to go. Courtney had spent a few months there before. I’ve never been but, we really wanted to go there.
So, we said, “We’re going to take a year. We’re going to re-organize our life, and a year from now or so, we’re going to leave and spend a year in Cannes, Australia.” That involved paying off at least the $18,000 in debt within that year and involved selling everything we owned down to two backpacks if we were going to make that happen.
It involved me quitting the real estate industry and finding something else that maybe able to support us while we were able to travel. So, I started by quitting, [laughs] as you kind of outlined, I started because I knew that there’s no way I’m going to do anything if I’m just this obsessed.
So, I went to my partner who I was working on a lot of sales and stuff with and asked them if he wanted to take over. I waited out and we kind of worked it out from a business perspective. I hijacked out of there and played stayed at home dad while Courtney finished up her year of teaching.
We lived off of just that just teaching income. I was a stay-at-home dad and about six months into the journey of paying down our debt and selling our stuff, I was following about 100 personal finance blogs. Because I was learning, I was engrossing myself in the community, I was being inspired by all these people that were keeping track of their journey. And, I said, “You know what? I want to be a personal finance blogger,” not for an income because I had no idea any of them were making money. Really, I was that kind of naive. But, I said, “I’m just so obsessed with these people, I want to share my own journey.”
And, I started the website, Man VS Debt, the blog, the WordPress blog, Man VS Debt. I stayed up all night one night, read Problogger archives just how to set up a WordPress blog or how to install it, stayed up all night, pulled it all night, and in the morning, I had my little WordPress blog set up and I guess, the rest is kind of a new chapter in there but, that’s really how we got started from real estate into this online world. It was with this big goal that my wife and I set.
YARO: May I ask, which personal finance blogs did you stand out, especially looking back how many years ago that was that really influenced you?
ADAM: Yes, absolutely. The first and foremost was J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly. Later, J.D. became a great mentor of mine. He’s now a good friend but, in the early days, I had no idea who he was and I just marveled at how consistent he was at tracking his journey and providing advice to his readers.
Another person which may surprise you was Leo Babauta and why it might surprise you, you probably might remember back then but, most people don’t. Leo started a significant amount of his blog in the early days. It was about his challenge to pay off debt along with some of the other habits he was getting rid of.
And so, he was almost half personal finance blogger for a year, or a year and a half there. I really love following his perspective when he was paying off his debt and there were certainly other sites that played a big role but, those two were the cream of the crop for me, and it’s no surprise that those are mentors I went to search out when I got started online because those were the two big ones.
YARO: Okay, so the year you, I won’t say “took off” because you were being a dad and that’s a job but, the year you were able to stay-at-home dad and you were doing this research, was it six months into it you started the blog? Or, how much time did you allow yourself to be a learner but, not so much an action taker?
ADAM: Yes, I would say that I didn’t have the idea to start a blog all but for maybe like a month so, we were paying off our debt for about six months. We were really passionate. I was a stay-at-home dad. And then, I got the idea maybe around Christmas time or so that I could maybe do this and I put it off for about a month before if finally clicked one night and I finally just said, “You know what I’m going to do. I’m just going to set it up and do it.”
Once again, I didn’t have this like amazing plan, business plan set out to how I was going to launch this blog and how content marketing was going to lead to a product launch. I mean, I had no idea what those words meant, and no idea what I was doing but, it took about a month from when I decided that I thought it would be a cool idea to when I actually had WordPress installed but, I had been following blogs for at least six months by that time.
YARO: Okay, so you’re not sure how it’s going to work out.But, you start a blog and you’re going to track your personal finances journey so, your quest to pay down your debt and get liquid enough to travel without, I’m assuming without needing a job or at least, having one that you could take you while you travel. Is that the rough plan?
ADAM: Yes, we plan to get jobs when we landed in Australia. That was the initial plan, yes.
YARO: And, this was in 2008, is that right?
ADAM: I believe so, yes, 2008.
YARO: Well, how did it go?
ADAM: Well, it was a very interesting process. I decided that I will be completely transparent with my finances. There were a couple of people that were doing it but, I tried to do it on a level that was very, very transparent. Very early, I shared all of our numbers, how much debt we had, how much income we were making, where it was going. I shared a list of everything that we owned because we were in the process of selling our stuff so, I was like listing out how much we owned, what we thought we were going to get rid of.
It just blew people’s minds for some reason. They didn’t really blow my mind at the time but, like, everyone was like, “Oh my…!”
YARO: Can you summarize that, Adam? What was your debt and how much did you sell everything? How did that all work out?
ADAM: I should have pulled that up maybe before the interview but, we had about $80,000 in total debt but I know that our main goal was to pay off the $18,000 because we knew that if we had to wait to pay all eighty, it would take several years, and so we made a decision that we won’t pay off the student loans. We’ll just keep making the payments on those. But, in order to be able to allow ourselves to go overseas, we would have to pay off the $18,000 that represented all our other consumer debt.
That was the goal. $18,000 in debt in a year, and the things… Oh my gosh! It started with a ton of stuff but, I think at one point, like I listed out maybe 800 items, and then, down to 600, 500, 400, 300. At one point, we were probably traveling with right around 100 to 150 items for a family of three.
I kept tracking that when we got down low enough, I even took pictures and posted them to the blog. Again, people just thought it was like the craziest thing in the world, and it really wasn’t that crazy to ask at the time but, people really connected with that. And, I think that really spoke to people.
I was so open and honest that it wasn’t that long before people started sharing out my journey. Within the first month or two, I was really seeing traction. That’s very uncommon.
Now, it wasn’t like making a bunch of money. Again, my goal wasn’t to make money. I had no idea how to monetize. I had no way of monetizing it. But, people started sharing my journey very quickly online and then, once we were able to succeed, we did pay down our $18,000 in debt. We did sell everything except for this two huge backpacks that we took with us and after we boarded the plane and started kind of blogging about our travels and more in-depth personal finance stuff, it only took off more and more from there.
YARO: So, I just want to put this in perspective, Adam. You’re at home. Your wife is working, I’m assuming on a fairly entry level salary at that stage. You’re quite young. You’re selling everything.
Now, you had to sell household items. So, I’m trying to put my head around how you do this. So, you were selling on eBay. Are you having a yard sale or we call it the garage sale if you’re doing it in Australia? How do you get rid of plates in your kitchen and furniture? I’m sitting on a bunch of chairs and table…
ADAM: Well, we used like a four-pronged approach. We used eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, and yard sales or garage sales. Four years later now, I kind of teach some of this stuff but, back then, I had no idea what we were doing. But, in general, we used eBay to sell brand name things, something that was going to actually bring in the best market value because of its brand and it was shippable. So, you don’t sell a couch on eBay very often because you can’t get it to where the marketplace is going to be.
We sold a lot like the brand name like we have a really nice blender. A lot of times, you can sell that. Clean it up and sell it on eBay and that could be one of the best places to sell it.
YARO: We have both but Gumtree is more popular.
ADAM: Yes, so that type of network for us obviously is Craigslist here in the States. We use Craigslist for that kind of thing, something that someone is going to bring the truck over and pick up was much more popular for us on Craigslist.
Amazon was of course, all of our books and DVDs to a certain extent but, we didn’t sell a whole lot of DVDs. But, books were really easy to list on Amazon over here, at least in the states and we’ve sold everything on that, and then, the rest of it, we just marked down and just sold it.
I think we had one or two big yard sales or group yard sales that we put our stuff in and sold it all that way. I guess, the last way we didn’t sell but, we donated a bunch of stuff because a lot of things that weren’t worth our time to sell necessarily that wouldn’t have brought us much money would have been more stressed but, we still benefited greatly from getting them out of our lives. We still freed up all that time and stress and so, we would just go and try to find local organizations in our area to help donate some of our things too.
YARO: Okay, so you get yourself down to enough or as little as you can so you can actually get on a plane with two backpacks.
Where are we, 2009? Is that when you started …?
ADAM: No, it was 2008 as well. So, I started my blog in early 2008, and this was like in the summer of 2008 when we left.
YARO: All right. So, you got on a plane, gone to Australia, got nothing. Got a baby, two backpacks and a blog.
ADAM: Yes. So, I made a big mistake and my mistake was there’s a VISA card, a working holiday VISA, I believe or was it at that time at least? Super popular, right? People come over to Australia from the States. They can work for a year, up to six months at a job. They can work two different jobs. It’s like this really popular way to travel.
So, I’m looking and I’m like, “This is awesome. We’ll go over. We’ll get working holiday VISAs. We’ll work at a bar in the coast of Cannes if we have to. We’ll take minimal wage jobs and we’ll just live the dream,” or at least it is our dream at that time.
It was super empowering for us because we came from a place where we were basically trapped by our decisions to one where we were incredibly free by our decisions for better or worse. In this instance ended up being for worse because I didn’t read the fine print of the VISA and you can’t have a dependent and get a working holiday VISA which was a problem because we were interested in keeping our daughter around for this process as well.
So, we quickly found that Australia, no matter how much of a business savvy person I was, and no matter how popular my blog was, Australia wasn’t going to necessarily give me a VISA. They didn’t care so much for my Twitter followers. But, my wife could have an opportunity to get a VISA because she had an actual degree in Education, something that’s very universal.
We started scouring the web going on foot to schools, asking people that we were staying with. We used scout surfing a lot to stay with other families in the area while we were there and we were looking for how we could get Courtney, part time or full time into a school that would allow us to have a VISA to stay in Australia.
We found out that our dream of living in Cannes for a year actually only resulted in three days, they were a fun three days but, they were only three days in Cannes and instead we went down the coast to Townsville where we thought there would be a little bit opportunity for us to explore some things, a little bit of a bigger city, of course.
And, we spent about two weeks there, stayed with a wonderful family in Townsville, researched, researched, researched, and just found out that it wasn’t possible for Courtney to be able to teach on the coast of Australia.
There may be opportunities for her inland, in the middle of the country but, there wasn’t going to be anything for her on the coast, and having just come from the middle of one big country, we didn’t want to go to the middle of Australia no matter neat that may be there.
So, we decided to look elsewhere and started looking around in other countries and found out that New Zealand had a shortage of primary teachers and that they were really highly evaluating their VISAs and were trying to process them quickly to get them in.
So, we hopped the plane one day from Brisbane. We went down to Brisbane, hopped the plane from Brisbane over to Auckland. We stayed with another family and my wife actually went door to door to schools in the New Zealand, Auckland area, door to door, taking the bus, showing up at the school and saying, “I’m a teacher from the States. I would really love to teach in your school,” and basically trying to get a job in education door to door.
In about two and a half week into the process, she got a call back from the interview. She went to an interview and was hired on the spot at a, what they call a decile 10 school, I’m not sure of they have the same thing in Australia, a decile 10 school which is basically a ten out of ten. It was an amazing, amazing school for the kids.
Courtney absolutely loved it and we ended up spending the rest of the year about ten months in New Zealand while she worked there.
YARO: During this time before she got a job, how desperate were you financially? Did you have a cut off when you were like, well, we don’t get work, we have no money.
ADAM: Basically, we did. We paid off $18,000 and we saved about another $20,000. That’s kind of a financial detail I left out. So, we paid off the $18,000 in debt and we were also able to save up to $20,000 in addition to that.
YARO: How? How did you get $38,000 in savings?
ADAM: Yes, so…
YARO: That’s from one job, right?
ADAM: My wife made about, I think it was like low $40,000 and I had a little bit of income that came from the real estate business I’m talking like maybe $5,000 or $10,000 that came from my exit from the real estate industry and the rest of that came from selling all of our crap.
We had a lot of stuff. I’m not joking. And, we basically spent nothing. We didn’t eat out. We stayed at home and played board games for entertainment. We didn’t spend anything that wasn’t necessary and when we started paying down all of our debt, we had more and more margin to pay off even more debt, right. It kind of like it snowballs as they say in the industry because you have less expenses now.
And, we were from Indianapolis which was only the $600 a month for our apartment at the time and so, we weren’t living in New York City so, that really helped as well. But, it was basically, we had a lean, lean aggressive year but, that lean aggressive year really paid off as it allowed us the opportunity to go over there.
But, once again, $20,000 goes quick when you’re jet-setting around as a family of three.
YARO: Yes, with a baby.
ADAM: We were very frugal. We stayed in hostels or with people for free on a couch surfing but, it still goes quickly on those plane tickets. It’s costing in badly amounts to get across the oceans there as you probably know coming to the States.
We were running a little bit of a clock. We definitely had to get something with then through to six months or we were going to have to just come back home.
YARO: It must be some amazing mix of emotions because “A,” you’ve freed yourself up from everything. So, there’s a sense of liberation there but, that’s pretty scary as well to know nothing solid that you’re holding you down. You don’t have assets at all.
And, you guys done this and you got a baby which is again, you’re very counter-intuitive to what most people do when they make a baby, they go, “We got to make sure our salary is coming.” They don’t go, “Let’s sell everything and then, travel.” I mean, that’s crazy but, obviously you made it work. So, what happened next? You spent ten months in New Zealand. Were you still being a stay-at-home dad and writing about the process?
ADAM: I was. Courtney did a teaching job there like I said, we spent the ten months in Auckland. We got a tiny apartment, a one-bedroom apartment there in downtown Auckland and I continued to grow the ManVSDebt.com audience.
I was passionate still about continuing to pay off our student loans and my focus started to switch to like the do what you love category. It’s a very general category but, what I generally call do what you love which is try to give enough margin in your life where you can focus on your passion.
So, I changed some of my writing to be more focused on my journey as an entrepreneur to use this kind of freedom that we have now, and the sacrifice that what my wife was making and working although she loved education was at a good school, she was still making a sacrifice to work so we can have the VISAs and the money.
We lived off of her income once again and I continued to build the audience. I don’t think I made any money while we were in New Zealand. I continued to build my audience but, I still hadn’t figured out exactly how I was going to monetize that community.
I think I was very lucky in the aspect that I had provided myself enough flexibility in my life to not have to have money because that really allowed me to build a community that were my main focus wasn’t money. My main focus was actually giving value out and helping people.
And, I think that then helped me when I went to make money later on.
YARO: Did your wife give you a deadline? Adam, you can’t mock around this website for too long without getting money back because we need more income than just my job. Did you have that pressure?
ADAM: A little bit but, I think I more put that on myself. I’m a man, and again, I don’t know if there’s a cultural difference but, here in the States, you have that pressure, right to be the supporter, to be the breadwinner for the home. I mean, that still exists very much at least in my mind, in the culture that I was raised.
It was very much a pressure but, I think I put it on myself more than my wife did. I mean, Courtney has always believed in the message in the community that we were building. It’s very much been a joint project. I’ve always included my daughter and my wife, and now, my new daughter in the site. I mean, it’s very transparent. So, they were very big part of the site and she always believed in the message.
Now, I think that there were obviously times when we were both very frustrated on maybe, I should be trying to make money. Maybe, I shouldn’t be trying to make money. Is that more? Are all my rears going to leave in a big bus when I try to start to make money? How do I make money? Can I make enough money?
That’s obviously a year or two long struggle for me. Over the next few years, as it is for many people but, mostly, overwhelming support from my wife, and mostly internal pressure from myself.
YARO: Okay, so you’re in a fairly good situation for growing a blog in terms of having time available and obviously, there’s enough pressure there to make you do stop everyday so, you’re going to be an action taker.
YARO: But, can we just change gears just a tiny bit, briefly before we continue on this journey. I’m curious, this is like first two years or eighteen months of the blog which is when most people tend to give up or have a lot of trouble continuing.
Is there something you found that was really effective for you both as content creation process because you’re doing all the writing and I’m curious how much you wrote and also from a marketing perspective, how you’re building your audience. What was working for you then?
ADAM: Yes. So, to answer your question how much I wrote, I did start off everyday initially because that’s what all the personal finance bloggers that all at the time were doing. It was mostly a race to get content out and most of them were monetizing through an advertising model where it was very beneficial for them to continually pump out content, right because they were getting paid for eyeballs based in advertising.
As I started to travel, I realized that that wasn’t going to be possible because “A,” when were traveling before, we had settled in New Zealand, it wasn’t possible to write everyday, just literally not physically possible. I couldn’t get into an Internet connection. It wasn’t always possible.
And, “B”, it didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as writing once or twice a week. So, I changed to writing once or twice a week. It was once of the best things I ever did for the community of my site because I got to focus in and really provide more value than just keeping up with the rat race of blogging.
So that, from a content marketing standpoint, that was my journey and once I started blogging twice weekly, that’s when my blog really took off even more than it had before we had left. That always combined with me obviously leaving for Australia. It was a very exciting time and people were very interested in my story. So, it was kind of a best of both world situations.
I forgot the original question. Will you repeat that for me?
YARO: Yes, now you answered half of it. It sounds like you switched from trying to compete on a page views model to providing one or two more extensive articles a week.
YARO: And, what were you doing to get eyeballs? How did people find your processes in the first place? I can see how they might have shared it once they did find it but, how were people searching you.
ADAM: Yes, mostly guest posting and other connections. I’m very much part of the formula of blogging. All those things that people suggest to do, I did those. The thing was, I was just so aggressive that I was basically everywhere. I was talking to everyone. I was really trying to deliver value. I wasn’t being spammy and many people picked up on this story. Some people played JD Roth, who I mentioned was one of the people I like that got me into blogging.
While I was in New Zealand, I remember exactly where I was. I tried out to be a staff writer for How To Get Rich Slowly. So, I had my own personal blog but, I was going to write, he was having the staff writer, paid position where I could write once a week for his website. He hired two people. I ended up getting the gig. I tried out. He made it a public contest. It was very humiliating but, I got hired and I wrote for a year for JD.
That helped me in two ways. First, it did help me with eyeballs, meaning that I did link back to different article. Every post I wrote linked to an article at the very top.
So, I just wrote, “Tyler Durden’s Guide to Personal Finance.” And, I got to put that all in Get Rich Slowly, one of the biggest sites at the time, and that really did help with eyeballs. It also started to provide a little bit of freelancing income that was blog-related towards the end of that New Zealand time. I didn’t make money from my own site but I did start that Get Rich Slowly gig and I got to have a professional writer basically JD, editing my work which made me a much, much better writer.
The other ways with like people like Chris Guillebeau picked up on my own story very early and just offered unwavering support for getting my story out to that many more people.
So, it was really bloggers who were more well-connected than myself, taking an interest in me and taking me under their wing and sharing my story with their audience that was probably the most pivotal thing I did.
Of course, like I would teach now and like I would like to think that I was hell bent on helping people like the content really was what led but, like you said, you can write great content and they could share it but, if they never get there in the first place, no one is going to share it.
So, I don’t know how necessarily I got the attention of some of the bigger people but, over time, just a few probably a half dozen people that really contributed to me getting past that tipping point, and to where I was starting to become a known blogger if you will, at least in the personal finance space.
YARO: Right. So, you could call it a combination of guest posting, reading the other blogs everyday, and when you see an opportunity to connect somehow, whether that be a comment or even sending an email to that blogger or a tweet or something like that, just…
ADAM: Oh yes, I do remember, sorry to interrupt you, I do remember now one of the things that I did very, very well when I was getting started and I have that thought about back in a long time, but I supported big bloggers pet projects. Does that make sense?
So, all of the bloggers at the time usually had some sort of pet project. And, I’ll give you two specific examples. JD Roth started a radio show, Blog Talk Radio Show back in the day with another personal finance blogger named Jim Wang who ran another big site in the personal finance industry, and for the first six episodes, they tried to get people to call in to this radio show and no one was calling in.
They have 100 people in the chat room and no one would call in. So, for every episode for the first six episodes, they had one caller, one person who got on the phone and called in, wrote a question out and asked them. And, that was me. I was the one who called in and asked the question. Every week, they talked about the topic. I thought of a good question. I called in and asked them.
It really helped the radio show and guess what happened when it came time for me to try off for the staff writer position? I probably had a little bit of an advantage, right? At least he knew my name.
The other one was Leo Babauta. He was writing one of his books and he was trying this model of crowd sourcing it where he was writing it in public and he had this developed Wiki page where he was putting it out.
I offered to help during one of these chapters. I really dug in. I really helped one of this chapters. I spent hours, I think days on it, helping them with my suggestions of the chapter, not just like a few typos but, really where I thought he should go with this and where I like and what I didn’t like about it and then, I also later on after that, contacted him through that and said, “I have an idea for a personal finance blog around simplicity and I was wondering if you would want to do it together with me, sort of like a joint venture type of question.” He ended up agreeing to that.
Now, actually never put that out together. I ended up putting it up on my self but, we worked together for a couple of months on it and that really helped me get established with another personal finance blogger.
So, if I had to go back and start, that was one process I definitely will complete. I was such a big fan of the people that I followed that I knew what their pet projects were. I was able to really, really help them aside from just trying to go after them on their main platform for what they were talking.
YARO: And, you did all these from New Zealand?
ADAM: I did. Australia and New Zealand, yes. So, I remember getting the call from JD about the staffwriter position when I was in New Zealand. So, it’s kind of fun.
YARO: Okay, so well, take us forward from New Zealand onwards. Why did you leave after that?
ADAM: We got to the end of the term and we either had to re-up so, we had to re-app for a year. The school actually offered Courtney a full time position but, she had to commit for a year or two and we just weren’t quite ready to do that. We weren’t quite ready to say, “Yes, we’re going to stay for another year or two in the position.”
So, we could have stayed a little bit longer but, we stayed the extra month in New Zealand. We drove around the South Island, a beautiful country and then, we hopped over to Thailand for a month. There were some people that I knew in Thailand from the online world, and we knew it was really cheap to live in Thailand so, we said, “Let’s go to Thailand for a month or two or we could stay up to three months I think on the VISAs and let me see if I can launch my first product,” which was actually an eBook,” the one that I was talking about that I originally had proposed to Leo, about simple finances.
“… Let me see if I can launch this while we’re in Thailand. We’ll keep our costs low. Let me see if I can get this eBook out and see whether I can make money from this online thing almost eighteen months into the process.”
So, our next stop was Thailand.
YARO: Okay, and how did it go?
ADAM: It was an incredibly stressful process. I spent months and months and months writing and I launched it at $17 to be technical and I believe I sold about three or four maybe up to 500, between three and five hundred copies within maybe the first week so, at the time, that’s not much money if you do the calculation but, at the time, that was basically life changing for me because it was the first time I had ever made an offer out into the world.
There are several reasons why that book is not available now. So, the book that I wrote then is not still available because it was my first book, and I did a couple of things wrong with the book in positioning and in helping people in the best way.
But, I got it out there. It was overwhelmingly a big hit in the support and it set the framework for what I needed to do and the confidence for what I needed to do going forward.
YARO: That’s still a good result. It’s a lot of sales, three for 100 copies for $5000 to $6000 so, that’s enough to live in Thailand for a couple of months.
ADAM: Oh yes, for sure. And, it was much better than some of my peers were doing at the time. People that launched a product, anyone that’s launched an eBook knows especially their first eBook, it can be very difficult even to sell a couple. That’s just the truth of the industry that we’re in. People can work really hard to try to create an eBook and not only sell one or two.
So, I was very flattered by that amount. It wasn’t some windfall that was going to make a radical change in my business but, again, it was proof. It was proof that I was on to something and that if I continue to evolve in my business strategy, that I would be able to likely support us. That was the spark.
YARO: Were those sales to your own audience or did you have affiliates and do a launch process?
ADAM: I did have affiliates. I used e-Junkie and I did the most basic launch you could possible imagine. I had a couple of people that wrote about it. Leo was one of the people that wrote about it so, he sold several hundred like about half probably. It’s the truth but, half of my sales were from him but, that was great though because again, I got to appear on his blog. Here’s Leo Babauta, one of the biggest bloggers at the time endorsing my first eBook. That’s a lot of social credit that goes with it, a lot of people that said, “Oh, he must me the real deal now. He’s writing an eBook. People are buying it, people are endorsing it,” and you know how that goes and it was…
YARO: Why did he do it?
ADAM: Well, he liked the eBook but, it was the eBook that we were going to work on together, and he had to back out just because of previous commitments.
So, he had basically wanted to do an eBook and he got a workload that was too much for him to handle at the time and he approached me about it. I’m like, “No. That’s cool, man. That’s fine. I’ll continue to write this. I’ll finish it and launch it myself.”
He was like, “I fully support that.” And, when it comes out, I’ll read it over and if I like it, I’ll send it out. And so, it was just a really great partnership and mentorship through the process. He helped me with parts of it and then, of course, helped shared it out with the world when it came out and that was just something that he wanted to do because he believed in the project.
YARO: I can assume you can take that back to the fact that you helped Leo with editing his book early on and whatever else you did to help him as you followed his work.
ADAM: Exactly. That helps you get the foot int the door, right? I mean, you still have to do the work…
YARO: Right, that’s the start.
ADAM: But, those early relationships were the biggest things in the world to me when I was getting started with Leo.
YARO: Because most people are not going to go and just knock on Leo’s door and have them do what you’re doing. A lot of people do that but, he’s probably just deleting those emails.
So, yes. Well, good success story. Where does that take you though? You said that you realize it wasn’t sort of angle you want to take with what you’re doing or…
ADAM: Yes, so it was called “Un-automate your finances.” It was a catchy play on simplifying your finances but, what I realized is no one woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Oh my God! I need to un-automate my finances.” It was creative but, it wasn’t really playing to a real need, and I wasn’t as experienced in my marketing and or helping people range as I am maybe now but, I now realize that I could have helped people on a much more direct way.
The other thing is an eBook isn’t necessarily the best way to help somebody get out of debt. A lot of people that are in debt need more of the community approach to things. They need more of a daily touch. They need something that’s really motivate them.
It’s just that the people that are in debt, there’s better ways to help them. So, since then, I’ve created a couple of different products that the next one I did was a $47 series of eBooks that was at launch. So, it was a higher price point which was obviously better for me as I try to make a living of not a million people but, a couple of thousand people that were on my email list and that regularly read my blog, and that one is still available today and has sold really well and is still is 80,000 words and is just one of the things I’m most proud of ever creating actually because it was the second time, my second go around and we really put our heart and soul into it and it still sells to this very day and that has helped.
That itself didn’t make enough money for me to live off of but, that has continually helped. Every single month, we built the process and then, I went on to create a course called “You VS Debt.” It’s a more in-depth course. It does ping daily videos that go out to people, breaking down a different lesson for six weeks and that format, I just found really helped people more than the eBook did and because I helped people more in a deeper way, I am able to charge more for that course that I ever could in eBook.
And so, it’s better for business and it’s better for the people that end up purchasing it.
I did continue to produce products is the short story and then, since I’ve created those products, I’ve now started some side ventures like… and I’m working on a documentary and all this sort of fun offshoots of the main blog that I run.
But, my main business is Man VS Debt is still through courses and guides that I offer to people.
YARO: Okay, I’d like to dive in a little more into that but, I would’t mind tying up the rest of your story because you would not be back in the States now, obviously. Since we’re running out of time, what happened from Thailand?
ADAM: Okay, so we jump back from Thailand and we get back to Indianapolis and we had this amazing experience and Man VS Debt is starting to come around. It’s not replacing our income completely but, we’re starting to see that there’s a possibility that it could do so.
We decided, what do we want to do next? Well, we traveled overseas but, we really hadn’t seen anything in our backyard. We really hadn’t spent that much time traveling the US.
So, we decided for our next adventure, we would buy an RV and we would RV around the US. We did that for about seven months and we held meetups in the cities as we would go so, we would go and hold meet ups with other bloggers and stuff and just meet. We met thousands of people on the road living out of our RV while we traveled the US. That was kind of the next significant travel we did before finally settling down for nine months most recently in Asheville, North Carolina. That kind of catches you up on that travel aspect, at least of how we finished things out.
YARO: Right. So, in the last sort of four years, you’ve pretty much did Australia and then, almost a year in New Zealand, and then a couple of months in Thailand, and then, you went straight back to the States and drove around in an RV doing almost like a blog tour.
ADAM: [Laughs] It was. That makes it sound much more fancy than I think it really was but, you can call it that.
YARO: Fantastic. So, your daughter obviously had some interesting places to grow up in. I’m assuming she’s young enough. That’s fantastic for her. So, you’re back in, well, I know right now, you’re actually in San Francisco promoting a documentary which you can talk about in a moment.
So, just to maybe clarify all these, this is more for everyone listening who is actually following the process of setting up a blog and thinking about making money, I know most people try advertising first and it sounds like you did an eBook first.
I want to ask at what point did you decide for all of these products that your audience was large enough and can even talk about how much traffic and you have a newsletter you said so, how many people are on the newsletter and when was the right time to actually start monetizing?
ADAM: I put it all for as long as possible and I always shied away from monetizing through advertising by a couple of big influences, mostly being like Chris Guillebeau. I had the weird juxtaposition of being and I think this is actually a strategy if I had to start over although I did not strategize in the beginning was that I was in the middle of two worlds.
On one hand, you had personal finance blogs which is a huge, very profitably industry but is a very specific style of blogging. It’s very rich, I mean, hundreds and hundreds of personal finance blogs.
On the other side were, I hate this word, but I will use it anyway, it’s like “lifestyle design” type of blogs, blogs that were advocating the changing of your life, the re-aligning of your life with your passions. There were a lot of blogs like that.
One of the biggest ones that wrote about art and life and business and still ran the biggest… Today was Chris Guillebeau and he was starting a store where he basically created a series of different guides. He still has it today. It’s an unconventional guide store and he was having a lot of success with that, finding problems that his audience was going through in creating a resource that help solve that problem at a premium level.
I just said, I could do the advertising but, that’s seems so much more what I want to do. I didn’t feel right advertising especially on something that was this personal. So, I’m not saying that advertising is bad for everyone, right? But, my blog was very personal. It was all pictures of my family. It was us traveling. It was my experience and I just didn’t feel like Adsense did it justice.
It was just a personal choice that made our time were selling space to credit card companies. It just didn’t seem like a good fit for what I was going after. So, I decided that I’m going to help people in a couple of areas and the first thing I did was have to find those areas, how was it going to help people. But, to answer your question about traffic, I believe I had about 1000 email subscribers when I released my first eBook and I believe my traffic, that’s a very good question, my traffic always spiked up and down. I still, to this day, get about 15% of my traffic through SEO so, I still get the far majority of my traffic from outside sources which means a lot of times, that’s big spikes, up and down, just depending on the traffic that’s coming in.
But, I was probably getting 25,000 to 50,000 people, maybe a month to my site and only had a thousand email subscribers. I say “only” because I was very new to the process. I didn’t even launch my blog with an email subscription. I just didn’t understand how it worked yet. That would be the first thing I would do differently, obviously, if I had to go back with my experience now. It would be all email and I would launch without social media. But, that’s a different experience from what I have now.
So, it was all social media and I launched without an email list and so, I was just starting to change that. Once my email list got to 1000 for whatever reason, I decided I wanted to try this.
My second product launch, I was probably more around 5000 on my email list for the second product launch but, I didn’t really have a formula. It was just kind of that’s how about where I ended up being when I went to those different product launches.
YARO: Is it safe to say now, you’re obviously living off your blog income and your product income? Is your wife no longer working as a teacher?
ADAM: Yes, my wife hasn’t worked since New Zealand. We’ve had some ups and downs in the business like everyone does but yes, this business along with a couple other products I’m doing are full time income. So, I now yes, drive all of our family income off originally from the Man VS Debt but, I have a couple other projects now.
YARO: Okay, you’re not living in an RV?
ADAM: I’m not. So, we did move in. We had some stuff come up in our life where we decided that RV wasn’t the best option moving forward and we moved in to a house in Ashville, North Carolina for nine months and then, now, we have had our second child to catch everyone up on the personal journey and we moved out to San Francisco to finish a documentary that I just got on filming.
As part of the documentary, you’ll probably be thrilled to know that we did take a crew of five filmmakers back across the US on a six-week tour so, I’ve driven across coast to coast across the US, two times in the past two years and I’m quite okay not ever driving across the US again.
So, it’s a great country. It’s a big, big place and I’m worn out of driving. But, we were in San Francisco and then, we’re going to go to Portland for a month in July and then, decide what the heck are we going to do with our lives here in the fall? So, we’re transient once again but, looking maybe to settle down here.
YARO: Tell us about this documentary. That’s actually kind of the reason why this whole conversation even began, this whole podcast mainly because I saw Pat Flynn talking about the documentary which is called, “I’m Fine, Thanks!” which is sort of like a documentary, I think, that’s meant to look at people who’ve lived lifestyle like yours and figured out what they want to do.
But, I have to admit, it’s not common for a person to be, maybe just finally establishing the stability from a blog and having an income stream that they can live off and then go, “Let’s make a documentary” because that’s not cheap enough and it’s not profit leader. What’s going on there, man?
ADAM: You’re revealing now all of our trade secrets. It’s really expensive and not profitable.
YARO: [Laughs] Yes.
ADAM: You know, whenever I get to a point where I basically am comfortable, we always try to think of what’s the next thing that we can do? Can we take it bigger? Can we impact more people.
I know a lot people blow a lot of smoke about that but, really when I have clarity, when I am thinking correctly, I really do try to think what’s the next biggest projects I can do that will reach a bunch of people because I know if I help a bunch of people, then, the business is not going to be a problem.
We knew that the documentary film medium had the potential to reach much more people than say, just one blog post, right? It’s a ton more work, like you said, it’s a ton more money, a ton more risk but, it has the potential to reach a lot more people because very few people have had their life changed by a blog post, like maybe, the nerdiest people, you know, maybe they can point out one blog post but, a lot of people have had their lives changed by a book or a movie or a documentary or something that has really spurred them.
So, we wanted to try this medium and I had a partner that I had met online and our families became fast friends. He’s a filmmaker at heart but, he’s been putting it off for the last 15 years. We wanted to work on a project together and we said, “What topic should we do?”
I said, “Well, you’ve been putting off being a filmmaker for 15 years. Up until three years ago, I had been put off living the life I wanted to live, stuck like a rut myself so, why don’t we just go out there and do a film on the issue of complacency? So, why as adults and as we grow older, we put off our childhood dreams and we just say, ‘Let’s opt in to this default script of life.’”
Here in America, and I believe it’s true in Australia too from the people I’ve talked to there, there is a very default scripted life that you’re supposed to follow like you go to school, you get good grades, you get into a job, you buy a house, you have 2.5 kids, you switch jobs maybe once or twice and you save up and then, down the road, you retire.
We were wondering why as a society we only preach this sort of, we call it the “American Dream” here but, you know what I mean, why we preach this sort of default lifestyle, and why a lot of people get stuck into it living very complacent lifestyles.
So, we went, like I told you, across the country rather, on a six-week tour and we interviewed over 60 people including about half of those being experts, other bloggers, and authors, and experts that we met along the way that could shine some light on the issue and the other half were stories.
People, like an attorney in Texas who worked up $100,000 into debt, worked for years to get this prestigious attorney’s job and then, had her daughter and now wants to stay at home with her daughter but, can’t because she has a big mortgage. She has $100,000 of debt and she’s basically trapped working this job for five or ten years just to pay off all day, overhead. She had to get into it.
We talked to other people who had given up hobbies or were stuck in a job and that they should be happy. Everything around them should make them happy but, they weren’t. They couldn’t understand what was wrong. They did everything that they should but, they just weren’t happy.
And then, most inspiring like you pointed out, many of those people have redefined lives. And so, we got to ask them about what that moment was like, what action they took, how their life was now, and that’s the journey that we hope to take people on, by sharing these people’s stories which was really powerful to us, we hope to show other people that this is a very universal problem and inspire them to take action, and kind of re-align their own lives.
YARO: Well, fantastic subject. I watched the preview. You’ve got going a kickstarter campaign and there’s a preview to watch there. It’s also on your site, ManVSDebt.com.
Maybe, you can give us all the URLs for these things, Adam so people can go and see your work.
ADAM: Sure, the kickstarter campaign is just ManvsDebt.com/movie and that will forward right to the kickstarter campaign if people want to check that out. That’s really the best place to find out more about the documentary itself because we have to film out this big, long body of text about the project and we have this four or five minute trailer that will give you more information about why we did the movie and the actual trailer for the movie which we’re really, really proud of and then, my site again is just ManVSDebt.com, and I guess Baker@ManVSDebt is the best way to get a hold of me by email but, those are the basics of how to get a hold of me.
YARO: Okay. So, ManVSDebt probably is the one URL you need to remember because it’s a nice big fat link to the video.
YARO: For, “I’m Fine, Thanks!” is on there too so, you can find it all in one place. I’m looking forward to watching that. I’ve backed it in the Kickstarter to get myself a physical copy as well as the download. So, hopefully that will get made and we can watch it.
I think that’s probably a great place for us to wrap up. We’ve covered a lot and I actually would love to spend another half hour talking about how you create your membership sites and how you structure them and sold them and keep selling things and not using landing pages and sell things. But, we’re almost at an hour already so, maybe that can be part two.
ADAM: Yes, part two. Definitely follow up, maybe finally talk more of the insider business stuff would be a blast.
YARO: Definitely, yes. I mean, I had a couple of membership sites myself so, it’s always a great discussion. But, let’s end it with this one question that everyone obviously wants to hear about which is basically, if they are listening to this and they haven’t done all these that you’ve done in the sense that they’re still back at the start, they have the job but, it’s clearly not for them. They do want to quit their job. What is the most important part of this process? Is it a mindset shift? Is it just decision and action you have to take? Is it selling all your stuff? What is like the number one thing you recommend?
ADAM: Yes, by far, not close, nothing even comes close to it for me because everything stems from it. That is changing the people that you spend your time with, changing the people in your life is usually the number one way people can quickly change their paradigm, change their environment or get into action.
So, you can’t abandon your family. You can’t change your family but, you don’t necessarily have to include your dad in everything if your dad doesn’t support you trying to do something you’re still trying to do. You can still have him as your dad. You can still love your dad without having to include him in every little detail.
But, what you can’t control is who your spend your free time with a lot of times. So, there’s the two sides of every man that when you know it but, it’s teaching the people that brings you down which is the hardest part for many people, stop spending time with people that drag you down. Stop spending time in environments that drag you down like on the couch watching TV for many people, and start surrounding yourself with people.
Go to meet ups. Get out. Get to know people. Skype. Have conversations. Every single one of these, just like this conversation, over four years is what has helped me get to know what I’m going online and create a business for myself online.
Not only that but, I have met thousands of people that I now have relationships with. So, changing the people that you spend your free time, changing how you spend your free time and spending that with better quality of people, really over just being frank is the thing that I would suggest.
YARO: Awesome, perhaps harsh but very true reality. I think I agree with that. So, fantastic Adam. Thank you for joining me on the call. I’m just going to do my end to wrap up here. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this.
ADAM: Thank you, man. I appreciate you having me on.
YARO: For everyone listening in, if you are interested in hearing more interview s like what we’ve just done with Adam, there’s plenty of stories of people who is on this sort of lifestyle shift and make enough money to live off from the Internet.
So, if you want to grab those interviews, just head to my blog which is entrepreneur-journey.com or your can Google my name. It’s the easiest way to find it — YARO. Thanks again to Adam and thanks to everyone listening.
I’ll talk to you on a future call very soon. Bye!
About Yaro Starak
Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
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