The first million is the hardest

Financial independence

I still remember the early days of this blog when I used to get less than 10 page views a day.  Even when I’d sent the link to my Mum and got her to reload the page nine times.

Blog traffic is a metaphor for life.  Like babies, we bloggers all start off with nothing and spend a lot of the first few years crying at the lack of attention we are getting.

But eventually we get up on our feet and start to take baby steps.  It seems pretty daunting at first but we push on and before long we are able to walk. And then eventually run.  Even Usain Bolt started off that way.

When I started, I had no idea what traffic would be “good” or “bad” for my baby.  But its good to have an idea of what “success” might look like, so I plucked the number of one million page views out of the air as my objective.

I know that’s small beer by the standards of proper, grown up financial independence blogs like Mr Money Mustache, Early Retirement Extreme etc etc but it sounded like a nice round number that was big enough to seem wildly implausible at the time.

This is comparable to the journey to financial independence.  The thing about starting on The Path is that the destination seems like a million miles away, a bit like walking to Australia.  If you mention it to your fellow twenty-somethings (or whatever age bracket you start in) some may crack up laughing, suggesting that you are crazy.

But if you want to get there you have to start.  A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

And, after you have set off, you will often feel a bit weary and need some encouragement along the way.  Although life is generally fabulous these days, The Escape Artist remembers what it was like to be stressed by work and worry about money.  I write this blog so others know there is a way under the wire and out of The Prison Camp.

It turns out that if you focus on doing the best job that you can, the Universe tends to reward you.  I don’t claim that the Universe will always reward you with your just desserts.  Stoics like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius recognised that Fortuna, the Roman Goddess of luck, was not just unpredictable, she could be violent. All we can do is focus on what we can control.

We modern humans seem to have got into our heads the quaint idea that life should always be fair. This is one reason why life in The Prison Camp often seems so maddening. We perceive that others are getting ahead via sheer luck or the dark arts of office politics.  And that’s often the case.

By analogy, in blogging and the world of internet marketing, it is tempting to look for short cuts to success. It is very easy to get wrapped up with the dark arts of Search Engine Optimisation, Google Analytics, pay per click advertising and those spooky ads that seem to follow you around the internet like a crazy ex boy/girlfriend whose restraining order has just lapsed.

The Escape Artist has done none of that nonsense, preferring instead to go the old school route of trying to write something half decent.  I am more interested in quality than quantity.  Yet despite that somewhat naive strategy, this week the cumulative page view stats went above 750,000 for the first time.

On the one hand, this is good news as it provides some reassurance that The Escape Artist is not completely fucking wasting his time. On the other hand I know that because this is the internet, many readers will not believe me.  Which is understandable.

I consider the great Monevator blog a friend of this site.  And yet when I reported that I had almost got to half a million page views a few months ago, even the scrupulously fair-minded Monevator asked in the comments whether The Escape Artist might have been tinkering with the counting machine….a bit like Arthur Daley winding back the milometer on a second hand Jaguar XJS back in the 80s popular TV classic Minder.

The Escape Artist believes in honesty and is not some internet scammer in Nigeria, making shit up.  And trust me, my software engineering skills do not run to hacking into the WordPress servers and juicing the page view numbers.

When doing Show and Tell, the Show is always more persuasive than the Tell. So, below I present a WordPress screen print which will hopefully put everyone’s mind at rest.  Because I know you’ve all been worrying about this…

Financial independence

Blog traffic stats exhibit the classic J curve that comes with compound growth. Anything that grows exponentially (like money) obeys the same laws. So the first million is always the hardest.

Similarly, with financial independence, the reason that saving can seem B-O-R-I-N-G at first is that you have to wait for the first 6 or 7 years to go by before the benefits of compound interest really start to kick in.  After that, it’s not boring at all…it’s pretty fucking exciting.

Last week also saw a couple of other notable personal milestones along The Path. The Escape Artist gave a public talk at The School of Life about how to stop worrying about money.  This turned out to be a lot of fun (if you would like the slides from the talk, just email me on TEA@theescapeartist.me).

And sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.  One of the strangest parts of last week was receiving an email from an American TV production company congratulating The Escape Artist on his blog and asking if I’d be up for a call to discuss a new TV opportunity about financial independence.

The Escape Artist is something of a sceptic and was not born yesterday. When I worked in the City, it was usually a fair working assumption that everyone I dealt with was trying to screw me. And not in a good way. So my first thought was that I was being pranked.

However, one of The Principles of Lifehacking is to look for low risk experiments with asymmetric payoffs (high potential upside, little or no downside).  It’s important not to let scepticism become cynicism because you will then miss out on these sort of opportunities.  There are practical benefits of outrageous optimism.

This seemed like a nice case in point.  What’s the worst that could happen?  So I immediately pinged back an email saying sure, why not?  Fifteen minutes later, to my great amusement, The Escape Artist was on a Skype call with the TV researcher.  Who, a quick Google search revealed, actually worked at a real TV company with real offices, programmes and shit.

The Escape Artist let slip that I might be prepared to fly to New York all expenses paid if I could have boiled sweets on the plane, an I ♥ NY T-Shirt and a prime slot on the David Letterman show.

No doubt the TV company will come to the conclusion that The Escape Artist has the perfect face for Radio.  But it was fun anyway. The nice lady said she’d discuss it with her colleagues. She seemed keen and let me know that there was no need for me to call them, they would call me back.

And we all know that people in the TV business never lie 😉

11 comments

  1. Congratulations! I am a new blogger, and aspire to reach your numbers…and television?!!?!? Wow, that’s just cool!

  2. suffolkshandy · · Reply

    A pertinent and focused post considering I am just finalising my own escape from the man and his toxic prison camp. A quote from leo gura, who in addition to TEA I highly recommend viewing, ‘I am independent of the good or bad opinion of others’. Be happy in yourself, do what you are passionate about, but do not be a slave to validation from others e.g. page views. Life is not a competition and all 7 billion of us are all equal. At the end of the day, the queen may be ‘rich’ beyond comprehension,but like everyone she still has to ‘sit on the throne’ and attend to business :))

    Peace to all.

    1. Thanks…that quote is pure stoicism…I love it. I’m not so sure about the Queen image tho…

  3. rugbytrader · · Reply

    you would get there a lot quicker if you didn’t put the whole article in the email, i don’t actually need to visit your site because of that. Just put the first couple of paragraphs in and then a linnk to read the rest

    1. Fair point but page views are not everything. If there is a conflict between doing something helpful for readers and page views, I’ll go with helping the readers. Thank you for the comment….comments boost the page views so I reckon you are doing your bit!

  4. Wishing you all the best to reach your FI and blog milestones! Oh also not to forget the radio and showbiz career.
    I am at the infancy with both my blog and FI target and truly relate to this article.

    1. Thank you UB, Santhosh and TWL

  5. awesome, congrats, I am a few years behind you .

  6. Good for you, pretty impressive numbers! We would be very please if we ever get to those statistics.

  7. Ha ha, to be fair I was supportively ribbing rather than seriously questioning I’d say. 🙂

    I think you’ve done incredibly well, especially compared to the wasteland that was Monevator for the first 2-3 years.

    You have far more comments, for example, than I ever had.

    (Admittedly nobody was linking to me, but perhaps that was no accident either!)

    All that said… I don’t really trust any free stats except for Google Analytics (and I don’t know if I trust those…)

    See this quota question, for instance: https://www.quora.com/How-accurate-is-WordPress-Stats-when-compared-to-Google-Analytics-stats

    Sorry, really not trying to be negative!

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