Momentum Series Interview – DollarSprout: Helping Millions With Personal Finances
This marks feature #44 in the Momentum Series – an interview series to share the stories of bloggers from across the personal finance community.
The goal is to showcase their story, the wins, the losses and the actionable advice that others can take value from and insights about their blogging journey. Whether that be conquering debt, maximizing career earnings, the road to financial independence or other strategies for financial and blogging success.
This week I’m excited to welcome Jeff from the personal finance blog DollarSprout to the Momentum Series.
In this interview, Jeff shares his financial journey, the money mistakes he has made, turning DollarSprout into a 7-figure business, blogging insights to now be reaching millions of readers looking for personal finance advice and much more.
If you want to connect with Jeff from DollarSprout:
Ladies and gentlemen please enjoy this Momentum Series Interview – DollarSprout: Helping Millions With Personal Finances.
My name is Jeff Proctor and I help run the personal finance blog DollarSprout.com. I’ve been blogging since 2015, but didn’t officially start DollarSprout until October 2017. Right now blogging is my full time gig, but in a past life I used to work for a financial advisor (and then as an aide in a psych ward). I’ve always been a money-nerd and have really found a passion in building businesses.
I graduated from Virginia Tech in 2013 with a Bachelors in Biochemistry. It took me 5 years to get a 4 year degree, and my GPA was a touch under 2.7. I’m a firm believer that a college degree does not determine your success in life, however, I’m not ready to say (yet) that college is a waste of money.
After I graduated and started working in finance, I did get my Series 7 license, which legally made me qualified to offer investment advice. Since transitioning to blogging full time (and not working with advisory clients), I have let my Series 7 expire.
Full time blogger! Fun fact, I actually kind of hate the word “blogger”. I think the current connotation minimizes the amount of work and versatility needed to make it in this career field.
Has taking control of your money and mastering your personal finances always been your mindset as an adult?
Actually, it has! I have always been a pretty frugal guy, but it wasn’t until I started my first job out of college at $8 per hour (yep, that’s what I started out making at a wealth management firm) that I realized no amount of frugality was going to meaningfully change the financial trajectory of my life. I had to start earning more.
Can you share the coles notes version of your financial journey?
Here is how my financial timeline went (to the best of my memory):
- Graduated college, started working for financial advisor
- Pay: $8/hr, no benefits
- Got a pity raise
- Pay: $12/hr, no benefits
- They really didn’t want me to be salaried, I guess. Another hourly bump.
- Pay: $16/hr, no benefits
- I think this is when I got my Series 7.
- Pay: $33,500 salary, some benefits
- Asked for a raise to $65k given current responsibilities, with intent to leave if I did not get raise.
- Pay: Got a raise to $40,000 salary, same benefits.
- About 1 month later, I gave my 3 month notice. I was going to be an entrepreneur.
- Left job
- Pay: $0
- Life savings depleted (about $25k). Business was a bust up until this point, but I didn’t want to give up just yet. Went back and got a job as an aide in a psych ward.
- Pay: $11.36/hr
- This is about the point when we started to get some traction with blogging.
- Blogging was finally going well enough that I felt comfortable leaving the safety of a job again.
- Blog Revenue: ~$10,000/mo
Feb 2019 (now)
- Blogging is still going well. Our team is growing, and I’m confident that our business can be viable over the long term.
- Blog Revenue: $180,000 last month, roughly 75% profit
Even this with it all written out like this, it still looks like an overnight success when I go back and read it. The past 5-6 years have been incredibly stressful and demanding, but also by far the most rewarding years of my life so far.
What strategies and tactics have you implemented in your to life to best set you up for financial success?
For me, an almost irrational level of stubbornness and persistence has been a determining factor in my current level of financial success. I’m not saying everyone should be like that — especially if you have a family to support — but some level of grit is required. Over a long enough time span, few things can beat good old fashioned discipline.
I don’t know if starting a business can be considered a “tactic”, but obviously it has changed my life tremendously. I think the biggest takeaway that anyone can learn from my situation, even if they don’t start a business, is that taking 100% responsibility for your own future is essential. I felt like taking matters into my own hands and setting out on my own was the most viable way to dramatically improve my financial outlook, so that’s what I did.
Have you made any major financial mistakes? If so, what was the outcome and what did you learn from these mistakes?
So many mistakes! Here are the first that come to mind:
- 1st Mistake: Bought a car in February 2015 that was probably slightly more than I could afford, especially since I knew I was about to leave my job. Outcome: Never missed a payment and paid off my loan early. I actually don’t regret this one, even if on paper it wasn’t the smartest move at the time!
- 2nd Mistake: Racked up $2k in credit card debt after struggling financially during the first year of entrepreneurship. Outcome: Paid minimum balance each month for at least a year until I got serious about wiping away the debt. I haven’t carried a balance since then. Credit card debt is a cancer to your financial health.
- 3rd Mistake: I’ve been burned on more than my fair share of speculative stocks. Outcome: A few thousand bucks down the drain, and now I haven’t touched an individual stock in years.
- 4th Mistake: Adopted a dog while I was in college and had less than $400 to my name. Outcome: We made it work, but I don’t think college kids should buy dogs.
What are some of the most influential resources that have shaped your money mindset or financial situation?
“While most people operate with only three degrees of action-no action, retreat, or normal action-if you’re after big goals, you don’t want to settle for the ordinary. To reach the next level, you must understand the coveted 4th degree of action. This 4th degree, also known as the 10X Rule, is that level of action that guarantees companies and individuals realize their goals and dreams.”
While this book isn’t strictly personal finance related, I totally transformed my business thinking (which then translated into financial gains). It’s a bit rah-rah at times, but definitely an eye opening book that is well worth the read.
I’m actually not a big podcast guy! I always struggle to get anything done while I listen to them, and during workouts I prefer music over talking.
What I will do (sometimes) is listen to a few episodes that someone I look up to has appeared on. For example, I’ve listened to a quite a few podcasts/talks that Kyle Taylor from The Penny Hoarder and Tim Chen from Nerdwallet have appeared on. There are so many subtle tidbits of wisdom I’ve picked up from doing that.
I always love reading anything by Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You to Be Rich (seriously, his copywriting is incredible). I also follow Four Pillar Freedom on Twitter, which is one of my favorite accounts for thought provoking personal finance commentary.
Apps or Services
I am currently addicted to Google sheets, but I always love trying out new apps.
Is there an area or area(s) of your own personal finances that you’re still looking to better master and improve?
I definitely need to be more proactive about saving for my retirement. For the past few years, I have prioritized reinvesting money back into my business and have not focused as much on putting money towards my retirement. That being said, we finally got 401(k)s for our business, so I’ve been taking advantage of that for the past few months.
If you could send a memo to every 18-22 year old in North America about better managing their finances and understanding money but it could only be 3 sentences long, what would that memo be?
Focus on using your 20s to develop a skill set that others value. You can only save a finite amount of money, but your income potential is truly unlimited. If you aren’t happy with the status quo in your life (financial or elsewhere), it is up to you to change it.
When did you first start blogging? Was there a specific launching off point or what influenced you to go down that path?
I started blogging about personal finance in 2015. After my first “real job” I quickly learned that I wanted to give entrepreneurship a shot. I didn’t like the idea of working for someone else, even though I enjoyed what I was doing (for the most part).
Is there a mission statement or underlying purpose to what you intend to accomplish with DollarSprout?
Here is a quick blurb from our website:
Our mission at DollarSprout is simple: we want everyone to worry less about money and spend more time on the things that truly matter in life. By bringing you our latest ideas on how to make and save money and make smarter financial choices, we are doing our small part to help.
From a business perspective, I eventually would like for DollarSprout to become a household name. I’d like to get to a point where millions of people turn to our site each month for personal finance content and advice. Revenue-wise, I’m not quite sure what that will look like just yet.
Can you share some of the growth figures you’ve seen on DollarSprout to highlight the number of people you’re reaching and impacting?
We just had our best month on record in January, with a bit over $180,000 in revenue (about 75% profit). Here’s what our revenue progression has looked like since we started in 2015:
Since we’ve rebranded into DollarSprout in October 2017, we’ve had the privilege of reaching several million people, which I am more proud of than the revenue figures:
What strategies have helped you get to those levels? Is there one thing you wish you could go back and do over?
Ben (my business partner) and I have always put a heavy focus on reinvesting money back into the business so that it can continue to grow. I think accepting a plateau in growth is a very dangerous game, so we’ve always made it a point to stay on the offense.
If I could go back and do the whole thing over again, I probably would have got a job in journalism for a year or two before I decided to try to build this all from scratch. Ben and I are very aware of the fact that we are building this thing in a vacuum and neither of us have any media or marketing experience. I think that’s a big weakness of ours!
Are there specific short-term and long-term goals you’re working towards with DollarSprout?
Continue to build out our content team of personal finance experts and bring on developer(s) that can help us create a more robust and personalized user experience for each reader.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the benefits of a healthy work-life balance, so I’d like to explore that more at some point. For now, though, I am happy with how I am spending my time.
If you could recommend 3 of your blog posts for Making Momentum readers to check out, what would those be?
I am especially proud of these particular posts:
DollarSprout’s Complete Guide on Saving Money (Plus 74 Savings Ideas): This is probably one of the most complete and comprehensive guides on our website. I’d like to think it’s bookmark material!
Top 10 Best Shopping Apps for Epic Savings in 2019: Many of our readers are interested in finding the best deals online, so we put together this list of our favorite shopping apps to help them cut through the hundreds of apps out there.
We are also working on a comparison page for online savings accounts, which we plan to make a lot of improvements on the near future (including a “matching” feature that will link readers up to the best option for them considering many different factors like minimum deposit, convenience, etc.). This is one of the most exciting projects in my mind over the next couple months.
Any final pieces of advice or recommendations?
Expand your timeline for how soon you expect success to happen. I had every reason in the world to give up on blogging after the first year was a total failure, but I chose not to. In the grand scheme of things, 1 year isn’t much different than 3, and recognizing that fact totally changed my life.
Be patient, but don’t ever let up on your sense of urgency!
Any special shoutouts?
Yes! I want to give a shout out everyone that’s helped us get to where we are today. Between our team of personal finance experts/writers, to anyone who’s shared a post of ours, invited us to guest post on their website, or anything in between, THANK YOU! We would not be where we are today without the support of the personal finance community!