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Robert Farrington is the Founder of The College Investor.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™. The College Investor is the #1 resource for helping millennials get out of student loan debt and start building real wealth for their future.
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Josh Elledge: Welcome to The Thoughtful Entrepreneur Show. I'm Josh Elledge, Founder and CEO of UpMyInfluence.com. We turn entrepreneurs into media celebrities, grow their authority, and help them build partnerships with top influencers. We believe that every person has a unique message that can positively impact the world. stick around to the end of the show, where I'll reveal how you can be our next guest on one of the fastest growing daily inspiration podcasts on the planet in 15 to 20 minutes. Let's go.
With us right now we've got Robert Farrington. Robert, you are The College Investor, you are on the web at thecollegeinvestor.com. And a friend of mine known each other for a long, long time, and I'm a big fan of what you do. We've had the opportunity to do some great work together as well. And quite frankly, I want the world to know about your success. As a blogger turned, I mean, it's, you know, the work that you do with brands now, the work that you do is part of affiliate programs, your own personal your I mean, you're an ambassador, you've really built up a great business for yourself. You've got a great team. And I think it's really exciting to share kind of your origin and success story if you'd be willing to do that.
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. I'm happy to share and yeah, let's have a great conversation about
it. That's so now going back. You I know you have a background in management, and you actually got your MBA at at UC San Diego radio management. Yeah. And yeah, so why did you Why did you want that?
Well, you know, honestly, so I went to school for my undergrad at UCSD as well, and I did political science, economics. And when I left school, I became an assistant manager. Target, right and leading big teams and everything. But one of the great perks that target offers is they do tuition reimbursement. So honestly, they basically paid for a large portion of it, I think I ended up paying about 510 thousand dollars out of pocket, but they paid for like 80 90% of it through their membership programs. So one, it was free. And two, I really wanted to kind of boost my management and, you know, knowledge of that type of thing. And the rady school also has a focus on entrepreneurship. Right. And so it was really fun. I got to network with some great people that I still stay in contact with today. And I learned a lot about myself and how to be a great leader and how to run a business as well. So it was a great experience, but it was free or almost free. And so that was that was a big driving force behind it as well.
So you had started working at Target 2001 you started college in 2003. So you probably knew about this tuition reimbursement program fairly early.
Yeah, they help pay for a small portion of college as well.
That's amazing. So now I would imagine is that's probably part of what inspired you to start The College Investor then.
Yeah, you know, I'd always just been passionate about money investing, earning it. And so I started The College Investor when I was wrapping up my MBA, because I wanted to share my thoughts on investing. And I'd read a lot of personal finance blogs and other things. And I was like, I have something that I want to say. And so I just started it. I was like, I'm gonna do it. It wasn't anything great, but it got started, right.
Wow. And what did the first iteration of the site look like? Amazing?
No, it was horrible. Honestly, like, and you know, I was very diligent, though. It's funny because I would write three articles a week from the beginning, I was very consistent. But if you dive into my archives today, they're all gone. Because I mean, they were terrible. So I deleted them. I rewrote them, I republished and made it much better for today. But yeah, I mean, I just started and I think that's the most important thing for anybody is get going, there's no better time than right now to start your idea.
And if you were to start today, Robert, obviously you have a really well thriving blog. You know, a lots changed now since you launched this and this is over 10 years ago. Right? Would you lead with a blog? Or what would you recommend knowing what you know about social media and or other platforms, in terms of building up a platform so that ultimately, you you can serve a big audience and maybe ideally, get paid pretty well by working with brands?
Yeah, 100% you need to have your own website doesn't necessarily need to be a blog, but it needs to be your own website, your own home base. And no matter what you do on any social media platform at all needs to connect back to your home base, because social media platforms change. They come in Go and over 10 years I've seen it over and over again. like Facebook was like nothing when I started. And you know, there was like MySpace was still a thing. And then you know, even in online video, Vine used to be a thing and it kind of died and now tik tok is the big thing. And so, you know, even if you are great at audio are great at video, like double down on those, leverage those platforms to help you. But you should use those platforms to drive people to your home base. And you can have your home base drive people to your platforms, because the biggest place that people find things today is on search, even with all these social media platforms being enormous searches 100 times more enormous. And so if they want to Google you as a tick tock star, well type in your name on search, and then have your website and then link that to your tic Tock profile. Like you can all make it connect because people still want to search for you and find you online. Some people read still believe it or not. It's a thing And so like they need, you need to have that home base, right?
So let's talk about what a great exercise. So if someone were to do an audit right now, and they were to come up with a repurposing plan, or you know how to, you know how to just get everything to kind of integrate with each other, what do you think that plan might look like? Or how would you advise someone to kind of organize their thoughts around this?
And for actual blog posts. What do you like to incorporate in everybody? Like, let's start by talking about what the content or you know, what goes into the actual post itself and I want to talk to you about afterwards I want to talk to you about like, how you identify things to write about, we'll kind of get into the SEO, it kind of the content discovery kind of stuff, but But first off, like what are best practices for post today? Maybe links, what, you know, multimedia, that sort of thing.
Yeah, so I mean, your your general sense of an article should be, am I creating the best thing on this subject? Right? And so for a lot of people, that means length, it needs to be in depth. 2000 words is kind of what you want to see out there. And the studies show that like the best ranking articles are longer, but it kind of makes sense to because are you addressing? You know, it's kind of going back to like second grade writing here, the WHO THE what the when the how the Why are you covering all those things inside your article? Then I also love to make it easy to read. Do you use proper headings? Do you have a table of contents? Do you have visuals that could be an image, I love charts and tables or things that just make you know, a written concept easy to understand. So those are extremely helpful and then you're right, multimedia is huge. So if you're doing a podcast, embed the podcast, here's the funny thing is it doesn't even have to be your podcast. Maybe there was a podcasts you listen to that was inspirational, embed that maybe there's a video that's already like an awesome explainer on it that you're referencing, embed that YouTube video even if it's not yours. But what that does is it shows that like there's a lot of great content here and you're taking from multiple places and you're embedding it and then doing that you're also probably going to get shared it's it's no different than linking to somebody on a blog post like embedding a youtubers video is the equivalent of a blog link was like five years ago, right?
Wow, that's really cool. I mean, I'm My head is like spinning from ideas of things that we could be doing better. That's why I love doing this podcast, man. I give him any great ideas. Well, and Robert, you know, you've provided so many great ideas that I've jumped on and you know, I've seen you speak at fin con a number of times, and I just really appreciate your experience with this. You know, one thing I know that you understand pretty well Is the whole SEO component of this? You've already talked about Google and search. But one question I have is, again, as I mentioned earlier, is how do I know what to write? What are the tools that you use? And then how do you then say, Well, it seems like there's some good search traffic and low competition for this. But then how do you know like, what angle to take it? Or how do you know what people like really want?
You know, and that's a hard one, and I'm not gonna I'm not I don't try to reinvent the wheel. I don't use any special tools. Like I use, like, What Does somebody want? answered? And a lot of times is what question I want answered. And that's how I started this website, like, what question Do I want to answer? And then what question Are my readers and people talking about online that need to be answered? And then I just type it into Google? And is there a good answer already, and I would tell you that now 90% of the time there's not, or there's not a complete answer. And that's what you should write about, fill in the blank, help people out. So if you go to Google and you're looking for an article and you're not finding it, well, that's what you should write about. And then you should take those Google search results and fill in the missing pieces. Maybe this person talked about 50% of the problem, or had one solution. But maybe there's three different solutions. Maybe there's something that you can bring to the table, maybe no one's talking about anything from your personal experience. You know, the one thing that nobody the one like unique advantage that you have is you. Nobody can be you. No one has your experiences. No one's lived your life. No one knows what it's like to be you know, you and so that's what you can bring to the table and you can fill in the blanks because you're clearly if you weren't getting the answer, and that's how I look at it. So you know, maybe it's longer maybe it's adding in a better visual, maybe it's, you know, a piece of content that hasn't been Create yet or it's answering a question. And you know, sometimes it doesn't do anything for you like sometimes like, you know, the articles just a dud. But you know, I kind of view the baseball analogy here is when I started blogging, I probably wrote 100 articles before one or two took off, right, like, and that's how we all start, you know, you started literally, no one's hitting the ball, right? Just don't know, the ball. But you know what, like, by the time you're in the Major League Baseball, you know, if you're batting 300, you're an All Star like, that's solid. And that's what it is today. Even when I write my best content, only three and 10. Like, anything happens with them. But it's I've done all these at bats for 10 years, and I've tried to answer those questions, right. And that's how you have to think of creating content, like your first piece of content you create, no matter how hard you try, no one's gonna read it. It's just the fact of life. And then like you keep doing it, you keep doing it, keep getting better. You keep answering the questions, and then you just get more at bats. You get more content out there, you get more potential hits.
Is it worth it? I mean, because I think some people might be hearing our conversation go, oh my gosh, it's gonna take me so much time or it's gonna cost me more money. You know, let's say that they're producing a podcast and they're just, they're just taking their machine transcription. I don't know who would do that and call it a day like what we're doing. But, but you know it, I guess, what would you argue the business justification is for that extra work?
You know, it's all on what you want to make of it. If you're, you're just writing for a hobby or creating a podcast because you enjoy talking to people. Cool. Like, I'm not gonna begrudge you on that, like that's, that's why I started this, I thought it was a hobby. I like talking about investing and making money topics. But if you want to make money, you have to put in this extra work. If you want to turn this into a viable business. You have to create the content that your customers want, it stops becoming about you and starts becoming about your readers, your audience, your customers, you know, your potential future. So like if you're gonna use content more Marketing is a business strategy. Yeah, well then at least invest in a way that's gonna give you an ROI on your business. If you're creating crappy content, well, then yeah, you're just kind of throwing your marketing dollars away. But if you're going to create the best content with the best audio or the best video, and you're going to invest in it for your business, because you see it as a potential for lead generation, well, at least do the best work at it. Don't just write out crappy stuff. You know, I there was an analogy about marketing. I don't know who said it, I can't attribute it to the right person, but it's like, you know, if marketing can bring you eyeballs to your stuff, but if you have a turd, all you do is shine a light on a turd. Right? And it's the same thing. So like if you create bad content, and then you start sharing, not the best content, all you're doing is bringing traffic to you know, not the best but it's a lot easier to share and you feel good about it. Like if you have the best thing out there. It just feels great to share it like why wouldn't you want to get this out there to the world? Yeah. And so
if because a lot of people who listen to this show that they've got a team, like they're Yeah. And so let's say that they're like, Okay, I'm going to jump on this, but I need to hire somebody, or I need to, you know, someone else already has a role within the company. I need to get going on this. Like, I guess what would be the who who would you want to hire? You know, what maybe what level would you hire at? Like, I think some people might, you know, some people, not everyone, but somebody might have the temptation to say, Well, I see this $5 an hour person on up work. Will that work?
Yeah, no, I mean, it all depends on what.
It all depends on what level of effort you want to put in, right? Yeah. So like, I actually really enjoy working with younger writers and producers of content. But I also have an editor and I have a social media person. So I'm not asking this single person to wear multiple hats. Right. And I can pay a little less for them because I have an infrastructure in place that can take maybe a little more raw content and transform it into a finished product. But if you're a small business, that maybe content marketing is a marketing piece, and it isn't necessarily like your full time gig as a media company like I am, well, then you might want to pay much more to have a fully produced final product that requires no editing. But you have to realize that, like you're gonna pay much more, but on the flip side, you're not paying for other infrastructure. You don't need to have an editor or other things. And so it's really on what that looks like for your business. Yeah, let's get going on it. And like, I will tell businesses, you can outsource podcasts, you can outsource audio, you can outsource video. It works. And I've seen it and so it's something that you should consider as well. But the same principles apply. You got to have a strategy and you have to know what it's for and what purpose it's serving, because just creating something out there that You know, doesn't help you isn't going to drive your business there isn't going to drive you revenue.
Yeah. So Robert, with your thriving business? Would you mind sharing just a little bit about how you monetize and how that works? And and how do you build relationships in such a way? And and if I can lump one more question in here, like, how do you know what's gonna work or not?
Yeah, so I mean, we're an online media company, right. And so our revenue comes from advertising partnerships in a variety of formats. That could be affiliate marketing, which is where I'm paying, when someone signs up for a product or opens an account. It can be direct partnerships, where, you know, almost the old school, like a company buys a page, you know, it's there. It could be display advertising, you know, we do have a little bit of our own products and services as well. And we've been creating our own service to help people with student loans. And so there's different facets that we do to earn revenue there. But you know, you never know what's going to work. So I always think try out different things and partnerships. But we also only partner with brands and companies that are, I should say, we only promote brands and companies that we like, enjoy, use ourselves and think they're reputable. You know, we also do, we also try to review everybody. And one of the things I think we become known for is that we do try to give very fair reviews, like, I mean, we do give one and two star reviews. And sometimes those one and two star reviews are affiliate partners. Yeah. Honestly, I mean, sometimes, you know, all these companies come to us and their products aren't the best, right? And they're gonna get rated fairly as such. And so I think that's one thing that we tried to become very known for is honest reviews, who's the product for because I also try to keep in mind, especially in the personal finance space, is that I might not be the target market. I might not be who this product is for. So like, should I dismiss it fully? Because it's not for me, but maybe there actually is value in this product and like, it's just Last time me because I'm totally not the target market for
it. Now. Now we'll, if someone says, Oh my gosh, I'd love for The College Investor to talk about me. Like, what's that vetting process? Or how who did someone reach out to
you? Yeah, just shoot us an email on our contact form, we'd happily take a look at it. I mean, honestly, one of the things that we're good at is we keep a very close eye on the FinTech space, or the financial technology space, we see who's out there, we see who's playing. We try to review we put people in our queue to review whether or not they're a partner with us. Because I want to just give readers the most holistic picture of whatever we're talking about. If we're talking about investing platforms, we're talking about, you know, saving money apps, like whether or not you partner with us, readers are gonna ask questions they want to know and a lot of the stuff we write about today is actually reader driven. So it's either they're commenting, they're asking questions, they're sharing it on social, or, you know, they, they have a complex thing and we can turn that into an article As well,
you know, you have something on one of your blog posts. I'm looking at your Verizon review, for example. And you've got this really cool looking quick summary and quick navigation sack. Is that something that you do through a plugin? Or do you just kind of design that yourself and reuse that?
Yeah, so the quick navigation is just our table of contents. And there's a lot of Table of Contents plugins. And the quick summary is just something that we designed in our theme builder, and we use it because, you know, we live in a short attention span. So with a lot of reviews, we're trying to put like that quick summary up top, right, people that quick snapshot, and then you know, you can read the rest of it or, you know, you just move on with your life.
Yeah, well, I mean, very, very well done. So I think, you know, if someone's looking for inspiration on how to do blog posts in a way that are very easy to digest, you do a really great job at that. And I think that that's also I know, that's a lot work that we do. Like, we'll look at speaker kits or you know, social media profiles like LinkedIn profiles. And I'm like, Listen, you know, you gotta, you got to understand how people consume content today. I mean, it's basically, you know, you're earning their attention three to seven seconds at a time, and exactly who's on because there's just too much gray on the screen. It's just nothing but wall of text, forget it, they're gone. Right? And you really just, you know, so I really love visually, you know, how you have evolved over the past 10 years to probably based on a lot of data, to make sure that you're giving audiences what they're looking for.
Exactly. I was just trying to help people and that's it and, and that's what I think most people need to realize when it comes to content marketing is like people just they're looking for an answer. And the question might be you, it might not be you but they want the answer to their question. Whether that is something in the financial space or in any industry, and if you have the product service or solution, well then it's easy. Tie in, but maybe you don't. One of the best talks I ever heard was like a small business pool guy. And he went up on stage and his pool business is doing like a million dollars a year in sales. And it's just a local pool company that builds pools and stuff. And one of the blog posts he wrote, that does the best is, here are the 10 best pool companies in my area. And you as a small business owner might be like, What? Why would you write and share and give the contact information for all your competitors and put that in a blog post? Yeah. And he's like, he goes up on stage. He's like, yeah, don't think they could Google that already. Of course they can. Right now I become now I become this guy. That's a nice guy that shares my competitors and says, go get a quote. And he's like, you know what website ranks number one, mine? Yeah, they come to me first. I share this information freely. And I think a lot of businesses regardless of your industry, you need to keep that in mind. Like, Share openly talk about who's the best in your industry. Because it's not like people are gonna have this, you know, the wool pulled over their eyes and not gonna find it like they will find it. And now you can set yourself up as a transparent, open business person, or are you trying to hide something, right?
You look like such a good guy when you're able to objectively, if you're truly advocating for the needs of your audience, then when you can do that, I mean, people are just like, that's very classy, very cool of you. And therefore, I trust you more.
Right, exactly. And I think I think people realize like, lose some of that when they come online. I think it's this cutthroat competition and stuff. And it's
like, these are over
there over and it's like, look at Google, like, you know, there's our that the results are right there. Like you're not hiding anything from anybody.
I know. I know. Well, Robert Farrington, you are The College Investor, your good friend, partner. We do it. We've done some great work together over the years. Again, thecollegeinvestor dot com is where you want to go, go. If nothing else, just go study Robert's blog and see how he does things visually just very, very effective. You can see again, you know, some of the, if you don't mind, Robert, you know, again, just like how you work with partners and brands, and it's just, it's just really inspiring to see the growth and success you've had over the past decade. So congratulations on that. And thank you so much for joining us. Thank
you. This has been fun.
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