When it comes to entrepreneurship, blogging, and creating money online, there is no shortage of content on “What” to do.
If you read any of my side hustle action emails, I often talk about the advantages of being in business for yourself and taking action to do just that!
And while my perspective can offer you some valuable information and insight, my goal is to also help you learn from other successful online entrepreneurs.
In that past, I have interviewed a blogger who works full time in medicine, to another couple who makes $250,000 a year blogging full-time. I have asked real estate agents how they have gotten their start and here soon I will be talking with a full-time entrepreneur who flips cars!
All this to say, that I am pumped to share with you an interview I did with Jeff Proctor, co-founder of DollarSprout in the MLW disrupting the “9-5” entrepreneur Q&A series!
I have no doubt you will find a ton of value in hearing what Jeff has to say as it pertains to entrepreneurship, managing time as a business owner, and sharing what it's like to quit your full-time job!
Oh and as if you thought I forgot, as the co-founder of Dollar Sprout, Jeff and his partner Ben have created a seven-figure business online, so he might know a thing or two 🙂
DollarSprout Interview with Co-Founder Jeff Proctor:
1. What is your background? What was life like before you started DollarSprout?
I grew up near Seattle, WA in a small town called Port Orchard. Growing up, I was always a bit of a math and science nerd, but I didn’t even consider entrepreneurship as a possible career path until a few years after college.
That being said, I do remember being the kid who was really good at trading Pokémon cards back when that was a thing we all did. My mom would never let me buy the cards from the store myself, so I learned how to make deals with my friends at an early age.
After I graduated high school, I moved across the country to Blacksburg, VA, where I attended Virginia Tech. I studied biochemistry there, with the plan to head to medical when that was over.
As I got closer to my graduation, I knew deep down that I didn’t want to be a doctor. And even if I did, I didn’t have the grades to get into med school. I decided to pivot into a career field that I had an interest in all throughout college: finance.
The problem for me was that no one in the financial services industry was looking for a biochemistry grad straight out of college. I got rejected by at least 50+ banks, investment firms, etc., before I finally got an offer to work for a local financial advisor for $8 per hour with no benefits. I jumped at the opportunity.
2. What did you do before DollarSprout? Did you start BTOP or DollarSprout first?
I only had one “real” job before I started what would eventually become DollarSprout, and that was the job I got right after college. By the time I left that job, I had worked my way from $8/hr all the way up to $40k/yr plus benefits.
As I look back on my early career, I’m thankful for the first job, because it really nudged me towards entrepreneurship. I quickly learned that I did not like having a boss, and I didn’t like staying in one room, sitting at one desk, looking at one screen, for 8 hours a day. I knew there was no way I could do another 30-40 years of that.
I remember thinking how miserable it was to work there, but then I realize that if it had been just a little bit better, I may have never been pushed to want to start my own business. I try to keep that in mind today as I deal with challenging stretches in business or in life.
I left my full-time job on August 1, 2015, to start our original personal finance blog with my roommate and co-founder, Ben. We started BTOP maybe a year or so after that, but then also rebranded our personal finance blog to DollarSprout in October 2017.
3. How is it running two successful blogs/websites?
I will say, the vast majority of our time is spent on DollarSprout. BTOP has always been a side project of sorts; just somewhere for us to share blogging tips and insights that wouldn’t necessarily fit on DollarSprout.
DollarSprout is a full-time job for both us, and then some. We’ve worked quite hard to get the site where it is today, and I feel very fortunate to have this work be our source of income.
4. How do you manage your time throughout the week? Any tips for new entrepreneurs?
This is something I am still trying to get better at with each passing week, so I’m definitely not an expert yet. One of my biggest struggles with time management is keeping my head in the clouds for too long and not actually completing anything tangible. I love strategizing, but I still struggle with executing.
For new entrepreneurs, I would recommend keeping your task list and your overall strategy as linear as possible, at least when you are starting out. For example, if your first goal is to have 10 new blog posts up on your site before you start marketing, don’t let yourself get distracted by everything else that has nothing to do with those 10 blog posts. You only have so much time, so spend it working towards the tasks that matter to you and your business.
5. When you quit your full-time job, what was the final straw? Any fears?
For me, it was a slow build up. Once I had the idea in my head of starting my own business, it almost became a foregone conclusion that it was going to happen. I spent about a year saving as much money as I possibly could, knowing full well that I was going to leave my job and have zero income for a while. During that last year, I never told anyone at work that’s what I was doing.
Once I had a years’ worth of living expenses saved up, I knew it was time for me to pull the trigger. I wasn’t happy at work, and nobody was going to fix that problem except for me.
As a “last stand”, I asked for a 50% raise in the off-chance that money would solve my happiness issue at work (it wouldn’t). When I didn’t get the raise I asked for, the chip on my shoulder was finally big enough for me to give my notice. In a weird way, I wanted to prove them wrong.
Did I have any fears?
You bet. I worried about everything. On my first day of self-employment, I had zero dollars coming in. It felt like an hourglass just flipped, and I had one year to make this thing work. I didn’t have health insurance (don’t do this), and the stress of that paired with a draining bank account made the pressure extremely high.
6. Your business partner is a best friend, how does that work? Any suggestions for hiring employees since you have a team?
I can only speak from my own experience, but I can honestly say that I can’t imagine starting a business with anyone other than a great friend. Ben and I lived together for 5 years, 4 of which were spent building DollarSprout.
We built a company from our kitchen table and grinded away on our laptops for so many countless days and nights. I think that’s the level of work that is needed to build something meaningful, and I can’t imagine spending that much time on it with anyone other than Ben.
Maybe for other co-founders it’s different — I don’t know!
Today, we have a mixed team of freelancers and full-time employees, most of which were found from the FinCon community (a big online community for personal finance content creators).
7. What were some of the first things you did to scale your company? What are tasks you let go of early in the process of growing your brands?
One thing I see so many entrepreneurs do early on is delegate tasks that they themselves are not good at, and I think that is a huge mistake for most people. One thing that Ben and I figured out early on was that we had much more to gain by multiplying our strengths instead of spending money to cover our weak areas.
For example, once I became good at making pins for Pinterest, we hired a designer to help replicate my process for creating pins. Since I was already proficient at making them myself, it was much easier for me to communicate what we were looking for to a designer and essentially “pour fuel on the fire.” If I never learned the nuances of pin-making myself, I don’t think our outsourcing there would have been successful.
Same thing for writing content. Right now Ben and I write almost no content for our sites, but in the beginning, we didn’t start outsourcing our writing until we had a proven model for creating articles that satisfy our users’ needs.
If we had outsourced from the start, we wouldn’t have been able to discern good content from bad.
8. What is the plan for the future with DS and BTOP?
I feel like my answer to this question changes at least 3 times a week! Haha.
In all seriousness, though, I don’t know what the future holds for our sites. For me, I just want to build DollarSprout into something that is near the top end of my potential, without sacrificing too much in other areas of my life. I’d love to see the site become one of the bigger names in the personal finance niche, but I know it’s going to take years of hard work and smart decisions to get there. I’d like to make more of an effort in 2020 to appreciate the journey (the ups AND the downs) and not focus so much on the final destination or outcome of DollarSprout.
Of course, there are other times when I daydream about cutting down to 10-20 hours of work each week to have more time to travel, invest in real estate, and start other businesses. I’ve been itching to start some sort of a physical product business just to have a new challenge for myself outside of publishing/media.
9. Any other projects you can let us in on?
We have a complete website redesign/rebuild for DollarSprout that is due to be finished by the end of January 2020, which we are really excited about. The site is going to be much cleaner and easier for our readers to navigate.
We’ve also been slowly releasing a new series of financial calculators, like this one for determining how much to save in a rainy day fund. We have several more in the pipeline, which I think will make our content even more helpful for people.
Other projects for 2020 include working on more content for our email list and growing our YouTube channel.
10. Where can readers find you Jeff?
If you're wondering “How” Jeff was able to make DollarSprout a seven-figure company in a few years, the answer is quite simple:
- Create an online brand
- Grow the heck out of it with tons of awesome content
- Grow the brand and rank high on Google
- Drive over 1 million views per month to your website
- Make money with affliate marketing
Notice I did not say easy, I said simple. Jeff and his business partner are full-time entrepreneurs who work hard to achieve the results they have created with DollarSprout.
I hope him sharing his background and some practical tips helps you get your start as an entrepreneur! You never know where you might be in a matter of years by simply taking action!
Josh writes about ways to make money, pay off debt, and improve yourself. After paying off $300,000 in student loans with his wife in less than five years, Josh started Money Life Wax and has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Huffington Post, and many more! In addition to being a life-long entrepreneur, Josh and his wife enjoy spending time with their newborn son, their chocolate lab named Morgan, working out, being outside, traveling, and helping others with their finances! In case you were wondering, Josh uses Personal Capital to track his net worth and his first investment account ever was an Acorns account 😎