How to break through the relentless personal finance echo chamber
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Whenever someone emails me asking for an opportunity to guest post, I'm not all that interested in their writing credentials. I don't care where they've been published before. It doesn't matter to me what school they went to or how many medals or accolades they have.
Frankly, all that stuff is bullshit. Instead, I ask them a very simple question:
"Can you write about something exceptionally unique, or cleverly controversial, that you wouldn't find on every other personal finance blog out there?"
That turns away about 80% of them.
If the answer is yes, we'll talk. If they've given me article ideas like "The 10 best ways to save for retirement" or "Why saving money is important", then you're not writing for me.
I don't care how good you are. It ain't happening. You're just feeding into the relentless echo chamber that is personal finance.
A few examples of the ones that made it through include:
- How 401k leveraging can supercharge your early retirement
- Why keeping your safe job is a risky financial position
- Life after the dissertation: The Ph.D.'s guide to building a career
- How to eat a hamberger
How to escape the personal finance echo chamber
I like to encourage personal finance bloggers to read other personal finance blogs. Not only will that help to uncover some new ideas for posts, but it also helps us bloggers to stay up on what's happening out there.
And, the things that we're talking about. Trends and things.
But, it also has a way of instilling within us this subconscious assumption that we all need to be writing about the same stuff. The same damn stuff each and every time we publish something new.
The truth is we don't have to, and the more outside the norm we get, the better job we do of separating our blogs from the insurmountable number of other blogs that talk about the same stuff, over and over again.
After all, if we're all talking about the best ways to save money, how will the average reader choose YOUR blog post over everybody else's?
It's like we're walking through a sea of Camry's at the Toyota dealership, and we're looking for something that sparks our eye. Something that really grabs our attention. Do you think yet another Camry's going to do that?
Or, how about a bright red Land Cruiser instead?. Or a Toyota Tundra.
To avoid falling neatly in line with every other personal finance blog out there, aim to be the bright red Land Cruiser within a sea of white Camrys.
Three tips to avoid the personal finance echo chamber
1: Challenge yourself to think outside the box
You'd think this should go without saying. "Well duh, Steve". But evidently, it doesn't. Most of us aren't thinking outside the box because we are much too concerned with churning out content. Any content.
And, those "10 ways to save money this holiday season" articles are easy to write. Too easy, and that's why everybody does it. Most of us are looking for that easy button.
"Easy wins," as the corporate world always says. Or, "low-hanging fruit" or some such. Don't pick the fruit that is closest to the ground because by the time that you get there, the sweeter stuff is probably already gone.
And, nobody wants rotting fruit that's barely palatable.
Your blog is a reflection on you. The more that you challenge yourself to keep upping the ante, the more your readers will respect the time and energy that you're putting into your content.
I can promise you that.
2: Seek out controversy
In my Blogger Confessions interview series, one of my questions asks whether you'd rather be loved, hated or controversial.
Most people said loved.
If I were to interview myself, my answer would be simple: Controversial. I want to be controversial because controversy makes people think. It gets my readers out of their comfort zones and kick starts the emotional side of their existence. And, that's where magic begins to happen.
The most controversial article that I've ever written is about expensive cars and why they just don't impress me any longer. Boy, did that ever elicit a response, especially from those who drive around in expensive cars.
It's one of my top performing articles. Every week, that single article is in my top 5. Sure, I published that thing several YEARS ago, but it's still performing well to this day because it's controversial.
I don't care about being loved. I have family and friends for that.
Online, my goal is to make people think. If you don't agree with an article that I've written, that's cool! I don't care whether everybody agrees with me or not. But if I made you stop and think, even for just a second, then I'm happy.
And, controversy works (Mark Manson's "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck", anyone?). Too few of us within the personal finance community touch on controversy because we'd rather be loved, but being loved doesn't put butts in the seats (for the possible exception of J$ at Budgets Are Sexy who is rightly loved by nearly everybody). I mean lots and lots of butts.
3: Don't be afraid to be the one-man/women Army
Here's a secret to life: It's okay to be different. I know that it's comfortable for us to feel like we belong. After all, that's a very natural part of being a human being. I certainly don't blame anybody for that.
But, there's a time and a place for comfort.
Your home, for example, is a perfect place to feel comfortable. Put soft cushy pillows on your couch or bed. Install nice soft carpeting. Use floor lamps instead of ceiling lights for a more subtle ambiance.
Whatever makes you comfortable, your home is the perfect place for it.
However, it's okay to escape your comfort zone, especially if your goal is to make your mark or have an impact. Societies don't change (for the better) when everybody just sits inside their comfort zones.
And, most personal finance bloggers are blogging from a position of comfort. They don't want to try something radically different because, well, most of us don't want to feel as if we're different.
But, being different isn't a bad thing. Fuck comfort.
See what I did there? I cussed. I used the f-word, something that very, very few personal finance bloggers do. However, I do.
I've made it a practice to swear a bit on the blog because it's one way to separate this blog from the others. Nobody's looking for well-manicured and heavily edited magazine-quality writing when they are reading blogs.
That's not what blogs are about.
Blogs give us a damn voice. They give us a chance to put forth ideas that aren't necessarily the same as everybody else's. To be different. To be unique and offer something of value that hasn't gone through the endless ringer of political correctness. Seriously, who cares if something is offensive to somebody. It's your blog.
Don't squander your opportunity to just be different. Shit.
Here's a challenge: Spend the next week thinking about how to be different.
The next article that you publish, make that sucker super unique. Ask yourself this simple and honest question: Could I throw a stone blind-folded and randomly hit another personal finance blog and find this exact same article on that site?
Hint: The answer is very often "Yes".
But if the answer is "No", you've got a gem, there, that's flirting with the boundaries of the echo chamber. Aim for that.
If you're willing to accept this challenge, then let me know in the comments and, hell, even post a link to your article after you publish it. But remember, it's gotta meet the following criteria:
- It's outside the box
- It's a little (or a lot) controversial
- It's different than anything else out there
Are you willing to accept the challenge?