A Meeting of Minds: Financial Blogger Conference 2011

Financial Blogger Conference 2011I spent the weekend in Chicago, meeting and talking with 279 other financial bloggers. After years of saying we should all get together, we finally did (thanks to the hard work of Phil Taylor from PT Money). For three days, we talked about writing, marketing, and monetization. We also talked about how to make our blogs more useful to our readers.

I opened the conference by speaking about why we write. Why do we blog about money? Do we do it for the fame? The fortune? The fun? I think all of these are part of it, but I argued that the real reason we blog is because of you, the readers.

Your blog does not belong to you. Your blog actually belongs to your readers. Without them, you have no blog. If you want to grow your blog, to gain fame and fortune, let your readers have as much control as possible. I'm not saying you should allow a no-holds-barred free-for-all in the comments. I'm saying you should allow your readers to steer the blog's content and direction.

[…]

We're lucky. We don't have to choose between helping ourselves and helping others. We can do both. One of the things that makes personal finance blogging so awesome is that our interests and our readers' interests are often perfectly aligned. The more we show others how to achieve their financial goals, the more likely we are to achieve our own.

I also stressed the importance of story. I always stress the importance of story when I speak to bloggers. I think traditional financial media is too dry; it lectures. Blogs are great because they let us share real-life stories about money so that others can learn from our successes and failures.

As part of this point, I brought in a special guest: Benny Lewis, the Irish polyglot. (Benny recently shared a guest post at GRS about how to learn a foreign language without spending a cent.) Benny is spending time in Chicago learning to speak Klingon for a Star Trek convention. This is a great example of using story to convey an idea to readers.

Using a Klingon to talk about the value of story
Using a Klingon to talk about the value of story

One of the highlights of the show was listening to my friend and colleague (and former GRS staff writer) Adam Baker (Man vs. Debt) give his early morning presentation on designing and launching a product of your own. Baker crushed it.

Adam Baker talks about selling a product
Adam Baker talks about selling a product

Current GRS staff writer Donna Freedman (Surviving and Thriving) also spoke at the conference. Her presentation covered good writing skills. Donna is much taller than you probably imagine, but she's just as funny in person as she is on the web.

Donna Freedman talks about writing skills
Donna Freedman talks about writing skills

On Saturday night, the second annual Plutus Awards were presented to the top financial bloggers. Get Rich Slowly won awards for the best-written personal finance blog and the best personal finance blog with multiple authors. It also won the award for blog of the year. It's a tremendous honor to have been selected for these; the experience was humbling.

I was pleased to see that Donna Freedman won the award for best blog contributor or freelance writer, and former staff writer Adam Baker won for best new personal finance e-book (Sell Your Crap).

Other voices
For me, the best part of any conference is meeting and talking with my colleagues. It's almost impossible to overstate how much I enjoy sharing tips and stories and ideas. The people I meet are universally amazing, and this weekend was no different.

Here are just a handful of the folks I met:

  • I met Crystal from Budgeting in the Fun Stuff. In March, Crystal shared her reader story at GRS, describing how she avoided student loans. Crystal is awesome, and I loved hearing how she got started blogging. (Hint: It involved this GRS post.) In only eighteen months, she's gone from a $35,000/year CSR job to earning $6,000 to $10,000 a month writing online. If we're lucky, she'll share some more stories with us here in the future.
  • I also met GRS reader Suba and her husband (Mr. Suba). Suba has a site called Wealth Informatics, where she shares detailed discussions about personal finance. “I spend three or four days just researching each post,” she told me. She compiles data and drafts long posts to share the findings of her research. (I love this blogging model, and may actually adopt it myself in the future.)
  • Tom from MapleMoney has started to buy smaller sites from folks who are burned out on blogging. “If somebody will sell me a site for 1x to 2x annual profit, of course I'll buy it,” he said. “It's like I'm buying future income.” He now owns dozens of blogs, though only a handful produce any real money. Still, he's getting close to where he could quit his day job. “But I figure as long as I have my mortgage, I should keep working,” he said.
  • I also met Ryan from Cash Money Life. Ryan used to be an anonymous blogger (or semi-anonymous really), but at some point he decided to go public. “When I started using my real name, so many doors opened up,” he said. I'm a strong believer in transparency, so it was interesting to hear how being more open brought down barriers between Ryan and his readers — and gave him more opportunities outside his blog.

“Hey, there's that notebook you always carry,” said Pete from Bible Money Matters when he saw me jotting down quotes. (I last wrote about my notebook a couple of weeks ago.)

“It's true,” I said. “I have to carry it or I'll forget this stuff. Besides, everything is a blog post.” (Late on Saturday night, I confessed to Pete and several other bloggers that I have an obsession with wool clothing. “I have an entire blog post written about it,” I said, “but I don't think I'll ever post it.”)

Note: I also spent a lot of time talking with Tess Vigeland, the host of Marketplace Money. I've been listening to Vigeland's work on public radio since the early 1990s. Turns out we grew up in neighboring towns during the 1980s and graduated from high school just a year apart. Her parents still live just across the river from me here in Portland. Crazy!

At lunch on Sunday, I chatted with Flexo (Consumerism Commentary), Will (Wise Bread), and Kelly (The Centsible Life). We talked about where blogging has been and where it's going. “I'm not sure where things will be five years from now,” I said.

“I think I know where they're going,” Will said. “Cat blogging is the future of the internet.” You know what? He may be right.

Simon Climbing a Ladder

Thank you!
Finally, thanks to Phil Taylor from PT Money. It was his work and vision that pulled this conference together. We PF bloggers had talked about doing something like this for years, but nobody ever took the initiative until Phil made this his baby. It took him months of hard work to pull this off, but the result was worth it. Thank you, Phil. We personal finance bloggers are grateful.

PT Money prepping for the conference
PT Money prepping for the conference
Note: Tomorrow, I leave for a vacation in Peru. For five weeks, I'll be hiking in the Andes and sitting on the shores of Lake Titicaca. You can follow my adventures at Far Away Places, my travel blog. In the meanwhile, I've written plenty of posts for my absence, and April will be stepping into the role of editor. I'll pop in when I'm not out petting the llamas.
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Mike Holman
Mike Holman
9 years ago

It was a great conference – kudos to Phil.

Definitely fun to meet people in person that I’ve known online for several years.

Everyday+Tips
Everyday+Tips
9 years ago

It really was an amazing conference, and I enjoyed your speech. I learned an incredible amount over the weekend, and I was grateful I had a notebook with me! I had no idea so many speeches could be so engaging, I was so impressed.

Have a great time in Peru!

Erin N.
Erin N.
9 years ago

As a knitter and lover of wool, I’d love to see your wool post =)

Paula+@+Afford Anything
[email protected]+Afford Anything
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin N.

I’d love to see the “wool” post just out of pure curiosity!

20's Finances
20's Finances
9 years ago

That sounds like a great conference. I am sad to have missed it, but I hope to go next year, as long as it happens again.

Chase
Chase
9 years ago

As a nerd, Wealth Informatics may become one of my new favorite blogs; thanks for the heads-up!

Also, I read this post while listening to Marketplace Money…weird coincidence.

Sam
Sam
9 years ago

Wool post please!

Katy+@+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
[email protected]+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
9 years ago

Man, would I have loved to attend this conference. You need to persuade the powers that be to hold it in Portland next year.

Have a fantastic trip to Peru, and make sure to allow yourself time to acclimate to the high elevation.

Katy

Roger Wohlner
Roger Wohlner
9 years ago

It was a great conference, kudos to Phil and all of those who helped organize it. I enjoyed your talk and all of the others. Met many great great people. Many solid ideas and take aways.

naresh
naresh
9 years ago

you totally deserved the awards…. will love to see further interesting posts in this blog , including the wool one 😛
Have a safe trip 🙂

MD
MD
9 years ago

It was cool to finally meet you in person. I was impressed with how outgoing all of us personal finance bloggers can be. Now it’s time to apply a bit of what I learned this weekend from all of you.

Rozann
Rozann
9 years ago

Please do post about wool clothing! I love natural fabrics, wool for winter, linen for summer, cotton and silk for everything in between. Many people don’t know the benefits of wool or other naturals, so please post away! Love your insights.

Naomi
Naomi
9 years ago

Congratulations on your awards! Well deserved!!

Jeffrey Trull
Jeffrey Trull
9 years ago

Really enjoyed meeting you, JD, as well as all the other pf bloggers out there. I’m still blown away by the amazing work that you and everyone have done yet how humble everyone remains.

Phil did a fantastic job organizing this, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Are there plans to publish recordings of any of the talks?

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

Wealth informatics sounds like my kind of blog. I often find myself thinking, “but did you actually look it up? Did you ask anyone?” when reading articles that feel like they were thrown together with no research.

Besides that, I don’t think I’ve ever considered how tall Donna Freedman might be. I probably subconsciously expect most women I’ve never met to be about 5’9″, though — my wife is that tall.

Mary
Mary
9 years ago

I just want to join your staff JD!

Seriously though thanks for the update and links to some great blogs that I didn’t even know about! Donna is hysterical!

Ryan
Ryan
9 years ago

It was great to meet you at the conference, J.D. Phil and his team did an excellent job with everything and the speakers were top notch. I’m definitely looking forward to next year’s conference.

Have a great time in Peru!

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

Congrats on the awards JD. I love that you talked about your “WHY” and the importance of stories. Having just read Simon Sinek’s book I can see how defining my WHY really helps drive what I do.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

I want Phil Taylor to have my children. He is an incredibly hard-working, far-seeing guy who put together an event that I believe was, for some, life-changing. Thanks, Phil, for giving me my first shot at speaking at an event like this. I want to do it again. And his conference staffers? Giants in the earth, too. Thanks so much to everyone who helped make the event such a robber of sleep. And my apologies to the Saturday front-desk staffers, who had to listen to us bark and blather in the lobby until 4 a.m. We should probably send them… Read more »

Dr Dean
Dr Dean
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Congrats Donna. It was great to meet you. My wife and I love your sense of humor.Your writing advice was like pouring alcohol on a cut….a little pain for a lot of gain!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Dr Dean

Wow, that’s a vivid image. Next time I’ll try to make my advice more along the lines of peroxide, or maybe Bactine.

Peter
Peter
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Donna, it was so much fun to meet you after reading your writing at MSN. You were truly a joy, and I loved hearing your stories in the wee hours of the morning with everyone else. So sorry you were robbed on the way to the conference, but it sure made for some good stories – and some good articles down the road -didn’t it?

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Peter

Yep. My editor at MSN Money has green-lighted a piece, and when J.D. heard he said, “So when you write about this for Get Rich Slowly…”
Write what you know, I guess.

Philip
Philip
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Thanks, Donna. You blew people away with your talk. Tons of value for us all. Just like a blog, the conference was only as good as the content. And you certainly helped make it great. Thanks for all the feedback. Can’t wait for 2012 where I might actually be able to sit down and have a conversation with you.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Philip

Thanks for your kind words, Philip. You do realize that this was my first-ever public presentation, right? (Heck, I was so nervous I forgot to introduce myself!) But everyone did his best to help make me feel confident.
And I intend to hold you to that offer of a sit-down conversation. You can run but you can’t hide. 😉

Crystal Stemberger
Crystal Stemberger
9 years ago

That was an amazing conference, wasn’t it?! I had an awesome time and am so glad I was able to meet everyone! Thank you very much for a great business lunch. Have a great time in Peru! I am already making a calendar note to get some of the Reader Stories you requested sent to you by the time you make it back. 🙂 I know you hear it all of the time, but you are an inspiration. Thank you. Plus, who doesn’t love a guy that includes a Klingon in his speech? I look forward to hanging out again… Read more »

Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey
Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey
9 years ago

Enjoy your trip to Peru! Are you going to Macchu Picchu?

CincyCat
CincyCat
9 years ago

I’m so glad that you’re getting to take the trip to Peru! I know things looked a little “iffy” there for a while with your mom’s situation.

I also lend my vote to seeing the post about wool. 🙂

Preet
Preet
9 years ago

Congrats on the Plutus awards and thanks for sharing some of the main messages from the conference. I’m especially disappointed I missed seeing a one man Klingon boarding party.

Kelly
Kelly
9 years ago

It was an amazing conference, and it was wonderful to get to meet you and talk to you about blogging, cats and everything else.

As for cat blogging being the wave of the future, I’m happy to send along the pitches I keep getting for cat litter and cat food. 😉

KyleAAA
KyleAAA
9 years ago

I’m glad I forced myself to roll out of bed Saturday morning for your presentation. Good stuff.

And have fun in Peru! Fun place.

Flexo
Flexo
9 years ago

I’m glad we had the chance to chat at the conference, J.D. Enjoy your trip to Peru — I’m looking forward to the stories and photos!

Jesse
Jesse
9 years ago

I can’t say enough about how great this conference was, between Phil and all the work he put into it, to all the great bloggers, authors and friends that I was able to meet. I can’t wait till next year.

Enjoy your trip to Peru!

Briana @ 20 and Engaged
Briana @ 20 and Engaged
9 years ago

I had such a great time at the conference, and I’m really glad I got to meet you and talk with you JD! Remember, you’re the Godfather of personal finance. Have a fantastic trip!

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
9 years ago

Thanks for taking the time to hang out and chat about everything from blogging to gaming. 🙂

Have fun in Peru!

Dr Dean
Dr Dean
9 years ago

Great speech to open the conference. Did you feel a little like a father speaking to the little ones. There was certainly a lot of respect in the room!

Elle
Elle
9 years ago

I had an incredible time at the conference- meeting so many bloggers in person was inspiring. I was energized by Donna’s session on writing better. I’ve been a fan of her writing for some time, but she’s even more insightful and funny.

My challenge this week is to keep in touch with everyone I’ve met to get interviews done.

Wish I could’ve chatted with you J.D.- if you’re ever in Raleigh,NC please let me know! (That goes for all other pf bloggers 🙂 )

Romeo
Romeo
9 years ago

It was great to finally meet you, along with all the other PF Bloggers. Keep up the Cross Fit. It’s a good look on you.

Glen Craig
Glen Craig
9 years ago

JD, it was awesome meeting with you! When I checked in I glanced around and thought to myself ” is that JD Roth just sitting there?” You were the first PF Blogger I read and the main inspiration for starting a site myself.

And you are so down to earth! Thanks for answering my questions about Portland.

I loved your mention of Star Trek II in your talk. I agree it’s by far the best movie of them all.

You reminded me that I need to put more “me” in my articles.

Have a great trip to Peru!

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
9 years ago

To all of those wanting to see the post about wool: I changed it to have a bit of a travel theme (because, come on, I can’t justify posting it here) and have scheduled it to appear at my travel blog on October 15th (though that date may change)…

Jessica, The Debt Princess
Jessica, The Debt Princess
9 years ago

It was a great conference. I really enjoyed hearing you speak and your topic was so personal for me. The only reason I have ever blogged was to put a face to debt. I wanted and still want, people to see how debt can affect our lives.

Maybe next year we’ll get the chance to meet, I’ll be the one in the tiara.

HP
HP
9 years ago

Congrats on the awards! Any change that the presentations were filmed and available online? I’m particularly interested in Adam Baker’s piece on launching a product.

Cathy
Cathy
9 years ago

I agree! The conference was amazing! And you started it out with a bang saying we need to keep the readers first. I think your talk really set the tone for the conference, so thanks!

Have fun in Peru! My parents own alpacas, which are in the same family as llamas. They got into the alpaca “business” as a tax deduction. Let me know if you ever want to know about investing in alpacas.

imelda
imelda
9 years ago

A TOS Klingon? Really? The reimagined Klingons(TNG era onward) were so much cooler!

Kathryn C
Kathryn C
9 years ago

I’m so sorry I missed this, I have been waiting for someone to write a wrap up like this, so thank you!
PS I love Donna, she’s hilarious

Ben
Ben
9 years ago

It was nice chatting with you JD, even though it was just for a brief bit before my cab left for the airport.

I hope my kids never try and use the “Truth” vs the “truth” argument with me, I’ll bust them good. But I agree, in blogging it has a whole different context.

Have a blast in Peru.

Craig
Craig
9 years ago

Did anyone else receive a ‘Personal Financial Calculator For Dummies’ in their swag bag? I tried it and it’s really awesome! Very helpful for personal finance calculations and situations. Any thoughts?

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Craig

I was one of the group that stuffed the tote bags. The personal finance calculators did run out toward the end, but most people did get one.
Since I have a weekly giveaway on my website, my calculator will become a prize. I agree that it’s cool-looking — and here’s hoping whoever wins it from me USES it.

Craig
Craig
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

I looked into this product more, and after reading through the manual it can do a lot of calculations. I looked at this website too, http://www.victortech.com/dummies , and there is some more good information. Also, it’s available for sale on the website and on Amazon.com.

Jenna, Community Manager at Adaptu
Jenna, Community Manager at Adaptu
9 years ago

J.D! It was so great to officially meet you at FINCON! (Funny, I have to travel from PDX to Chicago to make that happen…) Thanks for your great speech and bringing Benny with you! Have safe travels in Peru. Hope we can meet up in PDX for a beer when you return so I can hear all about it!

Tom Drake
Tom Drake
9 years ago

It was great meeting you JD. We had some great conversations, it was awesome how approachable you were!

Suba
Suba
9 years ago

It was an amazing conference! I always wanted to meet you as you are my inspiration to start a blog and I you motivate me to improve my writing every single day.

All the talks were awesome too. Now I just have to push myself to actually implement all that I learned instead of just feeling good about learning them 🙂

Thanks for the mention. I really appreciate it.

Peter
Peter
9 years ago

The conference was a ton of fun for me mainly because of the people there at the conference. There were bloggers who I’ve known for 4-5 years and consider friends – who I now have forged an even stronger friendship. There are those who I barely knew, but who I now have a new friendship with. To me the relational aspect of the conference can’t be beat. Of course the sessions were great as well – even if Benny the Klingon was a bit startling when he jumped up – I guess that’s the effect you were looking for anyway?… Read more »

Paula+@+Afford Anything
[email protected]+Afford Anything
9 years ago

I feel so lucky to have met some of my favorite bloggers in Chicago this weekend, and the sessions — including (especially!) yours, Adam Baker’s, Ramits, and many more, were incredibly valuable. Although I must admit, when Benny the Irish Polyglot jumped out of his audience chair halfway through your talk, a part of me wondered: “Is this staged, or is this guy just a nut?”

I can’t wait to continue relationships with many of the bloggers I’ve met, as we — together — see what the future of the internet holds. Cat blogging, here we come!

Tim @ Faith and Finance
Tim @ Faith and Finance
9 years ago

It was cool to watch you speak and hang out with you and so many other great bloggers this weekend! The conference really added a personal side to the PF blogging world. Can’t wait until next year!

Philip
Philip
9 years ago

Thanks for a great write up, J.D. Certainly good to hear it from your perspective. And thanks again for your contribution. When people heard you were coming that totally legitimized the whole thing. I’m eternally grateful for you jumping on board with it. Best of luck on your travels.

Barb+Friedberg
Barb+Friedberg
9 years ago

I love the pictures!!! Bringing everything back. Wonderfully put, your blog does not belong to you. It adjusts the focus a bit. Thank you for your generous spirit.

Khaleef @ KNS Financial
Khaleef @ KNS Financial
9 years ago

It was great to get to meet you (even though I didn’t say much), and I am grateful to you and a few others for making much of this possible!

I think the conference was great and my wife and I learned so much that we plan to apply to our blogs! Hopefully, we will all see some huge improvements to our sites/products by the second conference.

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