Michelle Schroeder-Gardner finishes tying off the bow line of her 42-foot Lagoon catamaran. She whistles to her dogs and off they go on their first walk of the day. She and her husband are tied off at a marina this time, so the walk is easy.
“If we’re at an anchorage, then we need to put our dinghy in the water, put the dogs in the dinghy, and go to the beach to walk them,” she says with a grin.
Schroeder-Gardner’s chasing the winds in the Bahamas. She, her husband and two dogs live on the catamaran and she keeps an eye on every swage, bottle screw and toggle. Not only that, but she pins herself to her computer just about every day. There, she dives into the intricacies of blogging, and more specifically, for her site Making Sense of Cents, a homegrown enterprise that’s tallied up $5,000,000 since 2011.
She regularly earns over $100,000 a month blogging. She’s upfront about her earnings, too — she regularly reports her business income on her blog.
Schroeder-Gardner hasn’t always lived on a sailboat. Or written a blog, either. She’s a financial analyst-turned-blogger who bought her first house during college and sold it in 2015. Then she and her husband Wes traveled the U.S. in an RV.
“Our daily life varies greatly since we don't have a ‘stable’ home. Instead, our home is always changing and there is always movement, planning and new things to learn,” she told Benzinga.
What’s the life of a very, very successful blogger look like? Her day usually goes something like this:
- Wake up.
- Take the dogs for a walk. (Schroeder-Gardner and Wes walk their dogs anywhere from three to five times a day.)
- Go back to the sailboat and eat breakfast.
- This is where things change depending on the day — the crew may stay where it is or sail to a new destination.
- Eat lunch on the boat or go out to eat.
- Next, she’ll try to get a little bit of work done.
- She and her husband work on the boat pretty much every day. “Something is always broken or needs to be maintained!” Schroeder-Gardner laughs.
- Go for a hike, a bike ride, snorkel or another fun adventure.
- Eat dinner.
- Go to bed.
Start a blog — and make money on it by accident — it seemed to work for Schroeder-Gardner. “Yes, I definitely stumbled into it by accident!” she said.
She started Making Sense of Cents around August 2011, after reading Cosmopolitan, which featured a personal finance website in one of its articles.
“I became extremely interested in that website and my interest in blogging just grew from there. This is interesting and hilarious because before that same summer, I had no idea about what blogs were, that they could even make money or anything along those lines,” she added.
Schroeder-Gardner says her early ignorance about blogging was an advantage because she didn’t set out to make money on it — she did it because it was a passion. “I was doing it for free just because I loved it. I learned a lot about blogging this way, as I was on a very low budget,” she said.
She eventually started earning an income from Making Sense of Cents. Two years after she started her blog, she left her day job to blog full time.
“This is around when I started taking blogging more seriously because I had all of my eggs in one basket and didn’t want to fail,” she said.
The Secret Sauce
Schroeder-Gardner says she’ll be the first to tell anyone that running a website isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not like buying a well-chosen stock — not everyone will see success or even make money.
“Running a website takes a lot of work and there is a lot to learn about,” she said. “Luckily, there are courses and conferences that can help you learn about all of the things that go into blogging, such as creating it, SEO, social media, legalities, the technical side, writing tips, running a newsletter and so on.”
Here are the steps she suggests when her readers want to tackle blogging:
- Think about what you want to write about.
- Decide on a name.
- Design your website.
- Write content.
- Start a newsletter list and social media accounts.
- Grow your blog.
- Learn how to make money blogging.
But what’s the most important aspect? Schroeder-Gardner says the key is building relationships — even getting to know other bloggers. “Building relationships impacts so many areas of blogging, from affiliate marketing, to networking, to growing on social media and more,” she said.
Her other secret to success? Schroeder-Gardner says she writes about topics that she herself is interested in. “Plus, I get a lot of reader questions! That really helps,” she said with a laugh.
She also suggests taking her free course, How to Start a Blog, to unlock more secrets.
Where Does The Money Come From?
The four core areas where Schroeder-Gardner's blog makes money are:
- Affiliate Marketing
- Sponsored Partnerships
- Display Advertising
Managing Stress And Plans For The Future
Schroeder-Gardner says she still has to work to maintain a good work-life balance — the boat doesn’t sail itself.
“Of course, running a business full-time is stressful as well. I always try to work ahead and write content in advance to alleviate some stress. When I'm not working, I hike, snorkel and explore,” she said.
Schroeder-Gardner realized it was tough to develop a long-term plan when she and her husband were RVing full-time — so she’s not sure what the future holds.
“My only real goal is to be happy and enjoy whatever it is that I'm doing. Ten years from now, I may still be sailing, I may be RVing again, or I may even be living in a house again,” she said.
Making Sense Of Life
Schroeder-Gardner tries to introduce readers to different ways of life (such as living on a sailboat and retiring early!) and works doubly hard to take the taboo out of publicly talking about money.
“I really enjoy writing on Making Sense of Cents, and I think that is portrayed in my writing. I try to make personal finance not boring,” she said.
She’s learned so much from her readers, too — after all, they’re her inspiration for posts. And she realizes that not everyone is cut out to live like her.
“I know plenty of people who prefer to work in an office, and then I also know plenty of people who like to work from home,” she added.
Schroeder-Gardner, without a doubt, prefers to work from home — and she’s proof that blogging while cradled by a boat on the waves can be a mega-success story.