Today we are featuring Robert Farrington, a sidepreneur that generates income on the side with a personal finance site. I connected with him on Side Hustle Nation’s private Facebook group. But I also was exposed to his story earlier on SHN’s podcast – episode 10.
Robert’s niche is very saturated and yet he still manages to earn income equal to his day job…and on the side! Let’s find out how he does it…
What Is Your Day Job and What Is Side Business?
For my day job, I’m a manager at a large retail store. I’ve been working at this day job for over 14 years, and thoroughly enjoy it. It does have it’s challenges – specifically time. Given it’s retail, I work a rotating schedule that includes nights and weekends. That makes it tough on my family.
However, the rotating schedule does help for my side business. On the side, I’m the founder of The College Investor, the largest personal finance site that focuses on millennial money and student loan debt. I started The College Investor in 2009, and it has been growing steadily ever since. Currently, my side business income rivals my day job income.
How Did You Choose Your Side Business?
Honest, I chose my side business because I was bored. It actually happened for a variety of reasons, but boredom played a big part. First, I have always had a passion for personal finance and investing. Honestly, I’ve been doing my taxes since I was a teenager and have been investing since I got my first job.
With that passion, I found myself sitting in the back row of my college class, listening to a terrible economics professor, and surfing the Internet. I was reading other blogs, but didn’t find many talking about young adults and money. I thought, hey, I can do this.
At the same time, at my day job, I was also working for a terrible boss. She made me cringe at my job, and made me really care less about working. It all ended up working out together at the right time to just light a fire inside me to start something.
Finally, one day I was browsing Facebook and my old high school crush had a profile update. I checked it out and it linked to a site her boyfriend had about how to start a blog. I started reading it, seeing how easy it was, and I was hooked.
That night I started The College Investor and the rest is history.
How Do You Find The Time To Work On Your Side Business?
This is the #1 challenge I face in my side business. Time. There’s never enough of it.
For reference, beyond my day job, I’m also married and have a 2 year old son. Family is my biggest priority at all times. On the work side, my employer doesn’t allow any type of Internet access outside the company network. So doing any type of side business work during my day job is impossible.
My solution to finding the time is simply making time by great organization and execution. I keep a strict schedule and calendar, and work hard to stick to it. I also use Asana to list every task for my side business, with due dates, and make sure that time is scheduled for that. My side business includes The College Investor, writing for various publications such as Forbes, Huffington Post, consulting for startups, running various other websites, and more.
The rotating schedule I have at work helps – I have a weekday off each week, and I work one night each week (which frees up the morning to work). I also get every other weekend off. These off days are prime side business time.
During regular workdays, I typically get up at 4:50am, check my email and social media prior to getting ready for work. At work I’m out of touch of everything until I get home. I usually get home no later than 5pm, at which point I spend it exclusively with my family. I don’t even turn on the computer because it’s too tempting to start checking and working on stuff, and that just frustrates my family. I put my son to bed around 8:30, spend some time with my wife, and hit my computer again around 9-9:30. I wrap up about 10:30 and go to bed.
Most of the “big” work projects happen on my off days and nigh shift days.
I’m also not ashamed to admit that I take vacation from my day job to work on my side job. I’ve done this for big updates, product launches, and attending conferences.
The bottom line is simple – if it’s important to you, you’ll make time for it.
What’s Working Right Now In Growing Your Side Business?
I would say three tactics have really helped in growing my side business:
1. Networking with others
2. Being on multiple platforms to grow my audience
3. Finding my true brand and identity
Networking was the biggest factor in my early growth and success. I started my blog in 2009 and simply pushed publish on my first post and did nothing else. I didn’t know any better. I continued down that path for about a year before I discovered a network of other bloggers in the finance space and connected with them. Some were more advanced than I was, others were in my same situation. But being able to email, chat, and talk to others was huge.
I was able to bounce ideas, take their ideas, see what was working, get feedback, and more. It honestly helped drive my early successes in this business.
Today, networking is still the #1 way I’m growing my business. Contacts with other bloggers have double or tripled my income. Those same connections led me to working with startups and Fortune 500 companies, who pay me to consult with them. My network enabled me to become a contributor to large financial outlets. People in my network send me customers directly.
The network you build will decide how successful you become.
Being On Multiple Platforms
From strictly a traffic growth metric, writing and publishing content on multiple platforms has really helped grow my business as well, and also helped establish me as an authority in my niche. I try to write for Forbes multiple times per month, Huffington Post monthly to quarterly, and I try to guest post on other sites about monthly as well. Most of this work doesn’t get me much traffic initially, but many times these articles get picked up by other publications and the flood gates open. Regardless, it gets my brand out there.
Second, I consider social media to be a huge platform and it’s essential that I’m on every platform my potential readers could be on. My main platforms include Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, but I’m continually experimenting with others, such as Tumblr, LinkedIn, YouTube, and more.
Finding My Brand and Identity
This is a very recent lesson, but I think it’s important to share. When I started, I honestly just posted random blog posts about personal finance stuff. They were crappy. They didn’t have any coherent structure to them. Over time, I’ve figured out my niche and what I want to stand for. I’ve branded myself America’s Millennial Money Expert and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert. I focus exclusively on those verticals and help my readers in that space.
Today, my content is pillared around that goal – Student Loan Debt, Investing 101, Earn More Money. I talk general personal finance, but very rarely. Also, all of my new content is top-notch. I consistently put out 1,500+ word articles. I’m trying to include more video (you can see white board videos on all my main content pages).
So I have a brand for myself, and I’ve created an consistent identity around that. I believe that’s something that readers really respond to and appreciate. Basically, they know what they’re getting with me and they can decide to stick around or not based on it. If they stick around, we’re a good fit, and it grows my business.
What Advice Can You Give Someone Who Is Thinking About Starting A Side Business?
I think anyone that has an idea should start a side business. I’m a huge believer that anyone can earn an extra $100. And that’s just a starting point.
In this day and age, starting a business is cheap. I started this business for less than $100. You can buy a domain for $10, host it for $4 per month, pay someone on Fiverr to design a logo for $5, and the rest of it is just what you want to put your own time and effort into it.
And if it’s something that you’re truly passionate about, you’ll find the time and energy to do it. It will actually come easily. Not to say there won’t be frustrating days, but it can be fun to figure stuff out and do it.
So if you’re just thinking about, take some action and do it today.