Finding Your Voice in Your Work with Tanja Hester of Our Next Life

Tanja Hester is set to hit the stage at #FinCon19 as a Big Idea Presenter, where she will deliver a powerful talk as a key influencer inside the FinCon community. Whether you’re headed to this year’s FinCon or plan to catch the talk later, you won’t want to miss it.

She dropped by ahead of time to share more about the projects that are keeping her busy.

A media Renaissance woman of sorts, Hester shares insight into blogging, podcasting, and book writing. No matter where you are on your journey or which platform you’re currently using, the gems in this interview are equal parts educational and inspiring, especially if you’re working on finding your voice and your audience.

How has blogging evolved over time?

Hester has written Our Next Life, an award-winning blog, for the past 4.5 years. Throughout that time, she’s seen her own blog evolve as she found her niche and her voice. She’s also watched the blogging community change and grow. In fact, she says that where she started is almost entirely different from where she is now on the blog.

Originally, Our Next Life was meant to chronicle the home stretch of her journey toward early retirement. She looked at the blog as an online journal for accountability. It was going to serve as a way to combat the memory compression and selection bias that all humans face. Thanks to the blog, she intended to get to the end of her savings journey and have a way of remembering both the good and the bad.

Finding your voice and your audience

However, once she started blogging, she also began reading other blogs. That’s when she noticed something. She saw a niche and realized that she could actually write into it more. Instead of only focusing on numbers, spreadsheets, and data, Hester also focused on the life side of the equation. She wanted to ask hard questions like “What does it actually feel like to change your life dramatically?” She also wanted to serve up honest answers for her audience.

Once she started writing about the number sand life side of things today, she found her blog resonating with more people.

Her initial posts on Our Next Life were short journal-entry style posts written in stream of consciousness. She quickly realized that she was the only person talking about a topic or approaching it from a particular angle. That’s what compelled her to start doing more research and writing longer. Most of her posts now clock in between 1500 and 2500 words.

Embracing expert status

Over time, Hester’s changed the way that she describes herself. She resisted being called an expert at first. But now she realizes that she truly is one. She’s written hundreds of thousands of words and done extensive research, not to mention actually retired early. Hester says that she didn’t dodge the label of expert due to imposter syndrome. Instead, she focused on the fact that there really is no one right way to do things. That line of thinking made her a bit resistant to the expert title at first.

That same philosophy applies today when she shares her expertise on the blog. Instead of rehashing the same financial formula, she tries to broaden it. She acknowledges that she doesn’t have all the answers, but she does know plenty. Plus, by broadening the perspective, she’s been able to make the blog and the blogging community more inclusive.

As for people who are just getting started, Hester says it’s important to hang onto what makes you unique. You might get some initial miles from the “me too” style of writing. In the long run, though, readers want to get to know you. That means it is all about finding your voice and sharing your thoughts. They don’t want regurgitated content.

She advises that bloggers and content creators should consider the gap.

  • What is no one talking about?
  • What is unique to your experience?

Answer those questions and you’ll give readers something to hang onto.

If you are worried about imposter syndrome, check out how Pete McPherson of Do You Even Blog says to combat it here.

What does marketing a blog look like?

Hester wants to make one thing clear. She’s interested in forming sincere relationships, not just marketing in the traditional sense. Because she has always taken time to connect with people in genuine ways, whether that’s via blog comments or on platforms like Twitter, she has fostered a real sense of community. She’s leveraged that not only with her blog, but with her podcast and best-selling novel as well.

She also takes that attitude to events like FinCon. She says that for her, FinCon isn’t a strict networking event. Instead, she focuses on building relationships and creating new friendships there, too.

Interestingly, Hester never intended to monetize Our Next Life. She has made a bit of income from other personal finance work that she does. As for the blog, she makes a concerted effort to not turn that into a source of income. By removing income from the equation, Hester is free to look at her blog as a source of both joy and play, not more work.

Additionally, she finds it easier to keep her opinions pure. In electing to bypass affiliates and sponsorships, she is free to voice her thoughts and her research in her own way. Still, she is quick to point out that she understands the purpose of affiliates and isn’t trying to knock them. That is just one more aspect of blogging for content creators to consider.

Check out how other content creators like Joseph Hogue of Let’s Talk Money do use affiliates here.

What does your blogging workflow look like?

Now that she is retired, she’s accepted blogging less. Her book forced her to step back a bit from the blog as she created new content for that. She’s currently experimenting with different things by writing once a week or once every other week now.

For the first three years of blogging, she posted every Monday and Wednesday. She pushed herself to stay disciplined. Those self-imposed deadlines help make sure you keep posting. Anyone who is early on in their blogging career wants to be consistent. This consistency is what trains readers to show up to find your content.

Once you’ve really got an established audience base, you can relax a little bit.

Snag more blogging tips from Grant Sabatier here.

How is podcasting different than blogging?

The Fairer Cents podcast that she co-hosts with Kara Perez from Bravely is growing. It just wrapped its third season, and it’s pulling in a bunch of recognition and praise as well. When asked about this project, Hester is quick to pull back the curtain on podcasting as well.

She acknowledges that working with a partner is different than working on solo projects. Different people will have slightly different visions, and it’s important to anticipate that.

When it comes to getting started with a podcast, don’t expect perfection. That’s common advice. What Hester says next, though, is practically unheard of.

She and Perez actually scrapped three full episodes of content. They wanted to share a rhythm and a rapport with their listeners from the start, so that meant leaving some on the cutting room floor so to speak. She encourages new podcasters to be willing to make similarly tough decisions.

What advice would you give new podcasters?

She encourages people to get started and says that now is a great time. Because she started podcasting later than some, she said a lot of information was already out there. Hester also joined a local podcast mastermind group.

In addition to working with others for support, she also says that you don’t have to do everything the same way as everyone else. As an example of this, Hester shares that she doesn’t self-host. Instead, she wanted to be able to take that headache off her plate. A common theme between blogging and podcasting is Hester’s belief in doing what works for you.

For more advice for new podcasters, don’t miss Tyler Philbrook, Alex Mason and Lindsey Lawless dish on how to profit from a new podcast.

What was the book writing process like?

To say Hester is busy with projects is an understatement. Not only does she run a blog and co-host a podcast, she has also just released a best-selling book called Work Optional. To round out the interview, she dishes on all the different aspects of book writing and how finding your voice matters here, too.

Hester always wanted to write a book. Originally, she envisioned this as a project for early retirement. Early in 2017, she was approached by a book editor. Even though she was still working at the time, she decided to start talking to agents. Afterward, she moved forward with the book proposal process.

A look inside the book proposal process

For the better part of a year, Hester worked on her book proposal. As a non-fiction book, her proposal had to be lengthy and structured. In 60 pages, she provided an overview of the book and shared why she was the right person to craft it. She also included chapter outlines, a sample chapter, and a marketing plan. That way, anyone who picked up the proposal could get a sense of the book and her as an author.

It only took one month for her to land a book deal after she finished her proposal. She adds that she was motivated to publish the book quickly with the FIRE movement gaining momentum.

From proposal to published book

Hester finished her book in three months and reveals most of the content was finished within a month. While this might seem fast, she points out that the entire process took well over two years, and that doesn’t include the publicity part of it.

Hester also makes a surprising comparison between book writing and blogging. She actually says that it’s easier to write an actual book than it is to generate a blog post. The reason being that there is such a detailed process and proposal to support book writing. In that way, fleshing out the chapters of your book almost becomes like painting by numbers. The road map is there; you’re filing in the details.

Still, book writing came with its own challenges. As a natural procrastinator, she forced herself into hard deadlines. Even though she did a lot of the research up front, she spent several weeks in the library writing. During that time, she would write 5,000 to 10,000 words per day. She very deliberately put herself in a different setting to focus on her work.

She did something similar when it came to doing the book rewrites. Checking herself into a hotel for several days forced her to focus on getting her work finished. She equates it to hiring a personal trainer. Spending the money on the hotel stay meant she had to make it worthwhile.

Why work with a literary agent?

Hester interviewed three agents at the start of the process. She says that working with an agent has been worth every penny. This relationship allowed her to have someone who could support her during every stage of book writing. An agent knows which editors should get your proposal, and they can help you shape your ideas.

During the selection process, Hester says it’s important to be particular. You want to ensure that you have a good fit with them. One thing she really valued was her agent’s particular style of giving feedback. She was looking for directional edits compared to line-by-line editing, so looking at how they like to give feedback matters. She also found value in working with someone outside of the personal finance community. That way, she could understand how readers who aren’t already started on the FI journey might feel reading her book.

Why choose traditional publishing?

Hester decided to go the traditional publishing route. As a self-proclaimed literary nerd who has always been a book person, she enjoyed the idea of working with a big five publisher. She also points out that traditional publishing comes with book advances. Having some guaranteed money regardless of how the book sells is an important consideration.

Whether you choose traditional or self-publishing, Hester says there’s a vital part of the book writing process that people may overlook. That involves stepping away from your book.

For her, that happened naturally in the traditional publishing process when other people were looking at her work for feedback. By putting some distance between herself and her book, she came back to it with a fresh perspective. She was able to see where she was too repetitive and also where she didn’t dig deep enough or went too in-depth.

Final Thoughts on Finding Your Voice with Tanja Hester

No matter what medium you use to hear or read her words, one thing is always clear. Tanja’s found her voice and it resonates throughout the personal finance community. She works hard to build real relationships with her audience, and she does that, at least in part, by sharing her voice.

The next time you’re tempted to follow a path because it seems to work for someone else. Remember the value of charting your own course. The first time if finding your voice in your work. Then, remember to let it shine through.

To hear the full interview with Tanja Hester, tune into the latest episode of the Money & Media podcast.

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About Our Hosts

Joe Saul-Sehy is the co-host of the Stacking Benjamins personal finance podcast and operates the Stacking Benjamins blog.

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