Transparency

My Ethical bar is pretty high.

Well, I assume everyone’s perception of their own ethical bar to be pretty high, so in theory the above sentence is nonsense. But when I look at the great majority of other content creators, I reaffirm my conviction: my ethical bar is very high.

I get easily annoyed by lack of transparency, clickbait titles, ads, affiliate links, shady marketing practices, popups and calls to action, overpriced courses, copywriting, and so on.

In general, as a rule of thumb, I don’t like monetized up-to-the-neck websites.

But I’m also trying to monetize my blog a bit, which raises the question: how to do it in the most ethical way possible?

The scope of this page is to provide you a declaration of monetization intents (and more), and make myself accountable for them.

This page takes inspiration from the Transparency page on Our Next Life blog.

Let’s get started.

Money

Let’s discuss the money aspects first.

I’m going to list the potential sources of income from my blog, how I feel about them, and if I currently exploit them (or plan to).

Ads

I don’t like ads.

I have adblockers (uBlock Origin) installed on my Chrome browser. Sadly, I haven’t found a way to block ads on my Chrome Android App yet. I permanently ban websites with lots of ads. I skip YouTube videos that have too many mid roll ads, or unskippable ads.

This means I don’t have ads on my blog, and I won’t add annoying ads ever.

Well, unless some unrefusable offer for specific banner ads on specific pages would show up. But it would have to pass my other ethical tests.

Anyway, no annoying AdSense for a few bucks. Promised.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing means recommending products to your audience, and getting a cut if someone buys the product using your affiliate link. Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular ways to make money among bloggers and content creators in general. 

I have mixed feelings about Affiliate Marketing.

On one side Affiliate Marketing “doesn’t hurt” the reader. It can be implemented without being an invasive technique, simply adding referral codes to your links. You get a cut on the face price of the item recommended at no extra cost for the reader who clicks on your link. Plus, sometimes the referral code brings actual benefits to the customer. Use my referral code: I get $X, and you get $X! It’s a win-win-win for the merchant, the customer, and the salesman blogger!

On the other side, Affiliate Marketing is what makes every content creator a salesman. It’s easy for a content creator to let the profitability of an affiliate program drive the content they create.

Every post becomes just a “host” for the affiliate links.

When you see SEO friendly lists posts like “top 5 brokers in Switzerland“, or “best 7 banks in Lichtenstein“, or “top 5 credit cards in Suriname” the likelihood that the ranking is based on affiliation is very high.

Take for example the P2P Lending community in early 2020. When several platforms closed and turned out to be scam many bloggers were accused of being a fraud. One (financially independent mom) had to shut down her blog after having been threatened. Another one (Jørgen Wolf) was seriously accused of milking his following and earning a 5 digits monthly affiliate revenues for promoting fraudulent platforms.

It doesn’t seem a win-win-win to me.

Another example is the web hosting referral euphoria. Every blogger sooner or later will write a post about “how to start a blog“. It will be a really basic post with no interesting information for anyone BUT with an amazing affiliate link to their crappy hosting provider, usually BrownHost (not actually Brown, just another less shitty color).

BrownHost is the worst. I’ve fell into that trap myself, and got out after 5 years and I’m finally so happy with a non-EIG owned hosting service! They start with a competitive first year offering, but then they add hidden fees and raise your hosting package price up to the sky over time.

But hey… they offer the best referral fee for affiliate marketers, so every blogger will recommend it, even the (once) best FI blog on the internet: MrMoneyMustache:

I started unfollowing blogs who recommend BrownHost. Ok, exception made for 3M, for now 😉

Here follows an incomplete list of affiliate product categories that are common for my blogging category (which is supposed to be “personal finance”, I guess) in my descending subjective ethical order:

  • Amazon. I use Amazon regularly. I like it. I know it might have killed brick and mortar family businesses which is bad (not sure though), but it’s also killing malls – and malls are evil. Their affiliate program lets me earn small commissions if you purchase something I recommend, and it costs you nothing. I signed up on Amazon Affiliate program in January 2021.
  • Bank Accounts. Modern banks for millennials are generally good, fully online, free of costs, and their affiliate programs offer incentives on both sides. I think there’s nothing wrong in recommending them, assuming you really use them and didn’t just sign up to share the referral link. I don’t recommend banks at the moment, but I might do in the future.
  • Credit Cards. If I were in the US I would rate this category down. Being in Europe, and evangelizing values like extreme saving rate and frugality, I assume my readers are able to use CC judiciously. I use the Cumulus Mastercard and Revolut since several years, and I recommend them.
  • Brokerage Accounts. With brokerage accounts you can hurt yourself badly. We enter in dangerous territory. I’d think twice before recommending a brokerage account. I would only recommend one if I have been using it for years and I love it. That’s why I recommend Interactive Brokers. It’s the best one if you live outside EU. Sadly, thanks to Brexit, EU citizens have been forced to leave IB-UK and join the less-awesome IB-IE, IB-CE or IB-LUX. I don’t have opinions on the subsidiaries companies, please don’t keep asking.
  • Investing Instruments. I think getting paid to recommend investment instruments like pension funds, roboadvisor, actively managed funds is a slippery slope. Unless you’re extremely picky about what to recommend, have been using the instrument for a long time, and have the skills to judge its long term quality… just don’t do it. I don’t have any affiliation with any investing instrument, even though you can monitor which of them I use, and my level of satisfaction.
  • Web Hosting Platforms. This is a personal hate. Of course the risk associated to recommending a crappy platform is nothing compared to recommending a bankrupting brokerage firm or a scam investment product. But if the recommended web hosting platform sucks asses it’s a good indicator of the ethic level of the blogger / content creator / influencer.
  • Buy a dose from this drug dealer, and we both get a dose for free! Yeah, we’re descending into darkness.
  • MLMs. Slightly below partnering with drug dealers we find Multi Level Marketing referrals. Please don’t. You’re a family destroyer. Don’t be that evil.
  • Hire-a-killer: use my discount code and you get 3 death threats for free! Slightly worse category than MLMs.
  • Ponzi Schemes. The degeneration of MLMs. Do not recommend crypto-Ponzi, communities that promise 1% daily returns, and so on. BITCONNEEEECT!
  • Your Nuclear Saboteur: use the following link to launch an atomic bomb wherever you like! Use my code to get 50% off on the first 3 months of your nuclear bunker rent! We’re hitting rock bottom…
  • P2P Lending Platforms …but we can keep digging! I don’t have a great opinion of P2P Lending Platforms, and I think accepting money to refer them is the lowest ethic level there is.
  • New Hitler Crowdfunding Campaign: be among the first 100 subscribers and you can get a spot as a Kapo in one of the new concentration camps we’re planning to build! Ok, you can’t be more evil that this, right? Unless…
  • BrownHost. Exactly. If you recommend it you’re the worst.

I hope you appreciated the sarcasm in the list above.

There are many other affiliate marketing categories that I don’t have an opinion about yet, like paid newsletter, online courses (not by Contrepreneurs), gig economy apps, fintech apps, and in general whatever has an affiliate program and it’s not included in the list above.

Of course affiliate marketing is like advertisement, it’s never purely “good”. Even in the top spots of the previous list you’ll find “tolerable” categories or online shops, like Amazon. You don’t find charities, or ONGs. Advertising something is almost always a trade off game. Unless you get positive modifiers. With positive modifiers you can do better than “just tolerate” referring a product, but actually looking forward to recommending it.

What follows now is a list of my “personal ethic modifiers“, who can boost up or down an affiliate program based on personal experience with the product/shop itself, in descending subjective ethical order:

  • + + + Products I’ve used a lot, love them, and would refer for free. That’s why I’m happy to refer IB, Cumulus Mastercard, Amazon and so on.
  • + + Products that offer a sustainable referral fee. If they offer you a crazy referral fee you’re no more impartial. And their business model is not sustainable. They’re planning to acquire market share and then milk the customers. This is common with millennial-friendly online/app modern bank accounts for example. That’s why I didn’t recommend them so far. That’s why I recommend products that won’t bring much money in my pockets.
  • + Products I use kind of regularly. If I use them regularly, I’m more likely to recommend them maybe even if I do think there are superior alternatives. But we’re moving down the ethic path here.
  • Products I’ve never used, or I just signed up to advertise them. Here we’ve crossed into unethical territory. I’m not a pure marketer, and I do have problems with marketers in general. I make some exceptions for Amazon: if I was going to mention a book or a product available on Amazon, I will use my affiliate code even without having tried the product itself. For example “I like this guy, he has written a book I’d like to read one day, here you can find it on Amazon: <Affiliate Link>(*)“. This is in harmony with my monetization ethic. I understand that your mileage may vary.
  • – – Products I’ve used and didn’t like. Even worse. Recommending something knowing it’s shit just because they have a good referral program. You’re the worse.
  • – – – It is recommended by Affiliate Marketing Fake Gurus. Yeah, if I find out you paid an affiliate marketing course whose price ends in a seven, and you’re exploiting those techniques and referring shitty products… you are the worst of the worses.

On a side note: I do have some ethical problems with marketing in general.

I get contacted regularly from various businesses to publish sponsored posts on my blog.

Sponsored posts are posts written by third party with the main purpose of advertising some sort of service/product the third party is interested in, either directly or indirectly.

Sometimes they limit their “ask” in few backlinks to their target product, even in old/existing posts. Usually they ask you what’s the price of a sponsored post/backlink. Rarely they initiate the conversation with an concrete offer.

I’ve never accepted any sponsored content so far.

I don’t like that.

This is a personal blog, with my personal voice. A crappy SEO-friendly post that contains nothing useful but a link to a product I wouldn’t recommend can’t find a place on this blog.

I might accept (under some specific circumstances) guest posts. Check the guest posts section for more info.

Never say never though. If you want to contact me with a sponsored post proposal, please check the following list first:

  • If your content is US specific I will block you. No, my readers are not interested in Student Loan repayment plans or 401(k) accounts. You didn’t even put 10 minutes of effort and verified I’m not a US blogger. Go fuck yourself!
  • If you want to sponsor a shady product go fuck yourself directly. Gambling, Porn, Medical, MLMs, BrownHost… 1, 2, 3 go fuck yourself now!
  • Show me you read some content on my blog. Tell me why you think your product would be a good fit for my readers. Mind that the vast majority of my readers are living in either Switzerland or Italy.
  • Offer me to try your product first. I won’t recommend a product I never used, and I won’t allow you to recommend it on my blog even if you open your wallet.
  • I will let my users know that this is a sponsored post, i.e. that I got paid to publish this content. In case I decided to accept to publish your sponsored content, the content will be marked very explicitly as “sponsored”. There’s no way around it.
  • I will guarantee the content to stay online for 2 years at least. Then I will take it down if I desire so. Of course any change (for the worst) on your side and I’ll take it down immediately.

Price for a sponsored content that meets all the criteria above is in the mid 3-digits at the moment.

When I do a product review it’s usually NOT A PAID ONE. Like I did for Finpension.

If my sincere review of the product is positive, and the product offers an affiliate program I will take it and let you know. Like I did for Interactive Brokers.

It might happen in the future that I will get paid for a product review (never happened so far).

Same rules of Sponsored Content and Affiliate Marketing would apply: I must like the product, the fact I got paid for the review must be explicit, and yada yada yada.

Of course negative product reviews don’t follow any rule 🙂

Services

I’m going to offer paid services in the near future.

According to the internet service means “the action of helping or doing work for someone“.

The services I’m going to offer are 1:1 sessions like:

I will put a price tag on my time, and that’s one way I intend to monetize my effort. Not the main one, since I don’t want to sell my time in the long term.

I value my time a lot, that’s why the services are not cheap (but not unaffordable either).

Stay tuned 🙂

Products

I would love to start launching a few products in the next couple of years.

I’m thinking about books, online courses, and maybe (why not?) something software related.

I’m an anti-marketer though: I’m a strong believer in fair pricing, I hate every kind of upsells, fake scarcity, wishful identification, pumped social proof. I hate spamming my products everywhere, and in general I hate every Contrepreneur technique.

I’m asking you to keep myself accountable on those values if/when I’ll launch a product.

Again, stay tuned 🙂

Donations

I accept donations.

I do think it is ethical to accept donations even though I’m wealthy and I have several streams of income.

I have put an enormous amount of effort into my blog and asked nothing back (and will continue to do so). I’m having fun blogging, but I’m also detaching from my main career, a career than earned me more than a couple of millions in last 10 years. I’m not fully FI (as of February 2021), and I need to justify the incredible effort I put on my blog.

Your feedback, and your donations are the best way to send me a “thank you” message.

Without it, maybe my passion could drain out.

The blog will continue to be free for the foreseeable future, until – as I said – my passion dries off.

Memberships

I know memberships and in general “recurring revenues” are the best sources of income for content creators. Things like Patreon, paid newsletters, premium memberships, and so on.

I don’t have anything against this model, and might go for it in the future. But it’s a lot of work to provide extra content for members, and I don’t want to reduce blog quality (and quantity) to serve premium customers.

I’d rather output everything for free, and adopt other forms of income.

Not going to launch memberships/premium in the near future, but as I said I might change my mind about it.

Merchandise

I love merchandise, and one day I WILL produce RIP stuff 😀

Not today though.

Blog Structure

Transparency doesn’t involve just money.

Here I want to be transparent over other technical (non-content related) aspects of my blog that have no direct effect on money and monetization in general.

Pop-ups

I hate pop-ups.

I hate websites that use pop-ups to capture your email or enable desktop notification or install the app or… whatever. I usually unfollow them.

I hate calls to action pop-ups.

I will never add a pop-up on my website.

if you see a pop-up on my website please let me know. Maybe a plugin update introduced it without my consent. Time to get rid of that plugin.

Well, of course the Cookie Consent for GDPR compliancy doesn’t count. the law is the law.

Mailing Lists

I know that collecting people emails is the number one sales and marketing strategy. Setting up an appropriate system to collect emails is the top recommendation I get from whoever I talk with regarding my blog. I’m talking about products like Mailchimp or ConvertKit.

I’m not using them at the moment. I’m not building any mailing list.

In my opinion:

  • Focusing on growing the size of your mailing list incentives aggressive marketing strategies (like annoying pop-ups) that I repel.
  • Focusing on growing the audience in terms of visitors and pageviews incentives writing high quality content.

I prefer the latter.

But my position is weakly held. I can change my mind the future.

Wait RIP, what is the Subscribe to Retireinprogress box in your homepage? Isn’t it a mailing list?

You’re right, it’s something that should be mentioned here 🙂

That’s the Jetpack Subscriptions widget. It’s part of Jetpack WordPress plugin, and it’s a convenient  method for you to receive an email when I publish a new post.

It’s not an active mailing list.

image source: mailpoet

Analytics

I don’t use Google Analytics.

Even though every blogger or content creator I talk to blinks when I tell them I don’t use Analytics, I’m ok with that. I don’t like their invasiveness.

I’m ok with WordPress Analytics, I’m ok with the aggregation level of their data for now.

I might change my mind in the future.

Plugins

I built my website in June 2016 with WordPress. I didn’t want to invest a lot of time in setting up my blog, I just wanted to focus on content writing. As you can see my Logo is also a crappy composition of two free online images… We can safely say that I just wanted to get started writing stuff, without wasting too much time on the blog appearance.

I use a free theme, zeeDynamic, because I liked how it looked on RootOfGood blog. Again, who cares about aesthetic?

Maybe if I had to start over I’d use a different solution, but it’s a bit too late now.

I use several WordPress plugins, and here I’m going to show you all of them. This snapshot is taken on February 9th 2021. Of course the list will evolve over time. I’ll try to refresh the picture every quarter or semester, especially if I added something that I think you should be aware of.

Click on the image to enlarge it

If you think some of the plugins are harmful, please let me know.

Blog Content

Last section is about blog content transparency.

Guest Posts

Please, do not cold contact me for a guest post.

I’ve hosted a few guest posts in the past, and I might host guest posts in the future. Even though guest posting is considered one of the fastest ways to grow your blog, I’m not sure I want to host a lot of guest posts. In the end, this is a very personal blog. Not much space for your voice.

Anyway, there are few requirements for your article to be accepted as a guest post on my blog:

  • I asked you to write it. This is the easiest way to get published on my blog. I think you’re competent in a field that I am (and eventually my readers are) interested in and that’s relevant for the blog, and I ask you to write a guest post. For example, I’m looking for someone in my circle with direct experience willing to write a guest post in one of the following topics: “how to buy a house in Switzerland”, or “rental property FIRE strategy in Switzerland”, or “Value Investing 101”. I think these are topics of extreme interest, and I’m not very qualified to write about them.
  • We know each other. If I don’t know you, and you just contacted me for a guest post opportunity there are… wait, let me check… ZERO probability I’m going to even reply to your request.
  • No money must be involved. I’m not asking for money, nor offering you money to write the guest post. You won’t use your affiliate links, or direct products/services links either. Of course you can add links to your own website/blog/podcast/YouTube channel/whatever else.

To recap, my policy for guest posts is: I must know you personally, and I know you know something that I don’t know (yet) in a field I care about.

Interviews

I do like interviews (both hosting them, and participating as a guest). They’re kind of super honest guest posts, where the only goal is to introduce someone to your audience.

Feel free to ask me to be your guest. Feel free to propose yourself as a guest (if you meet the Guest Posting guidelines) on my blog.

Mind that interviews are time sinks, and I might be very slow to respond.

Clickbait / SEO / Marketing

I do hate clickbait titles. But I do like jokes and fun stuff. Sometimes that could be misinterpreted as a clickbait attempt.

I do hate “recommended post length”, but I’m aware that I’m going in the wrong direction with infinite-length posts and I will do something about it – but not because it ranks better on search engine.

I do hate trend following (like talking about Bitcoin when it’s hot), but sometimes I do want to talk about hot things while they’re hot.

I do hate SEO in general. But I do care about having an impact and watching the audience grow.

Yes, I embody contradictions, but quality and ethic come first compared to growth and money.

I want my impact to grow over time, but I’m not willing to take shortcuts.

My main marketing technique is word of mouth. If you think I’m awesome, share my content with whom you think can benefit from it. Period.

My Identity

The mother of all transparency issue 🙂

I used to blog anonymously in order to be extremely transparent with my numbers.

This is going to change in February 2021.

Please take a look at the About Me page.

My Numbers

I brag about being the most transparent personal finance blogger of all time in terms of income, spending, and Net Worth reporting.

I track my Net Worth since November 1991, which probably makes me also the nerdiest personal finance blogger of all time.

I’ve reported investment gains and losses, expenses to be proud or ashamed of, extraordinary income and unemployment benefits. I’ve not hidden any financial fact from you since I started blogging in June 2016.

I have felt ok with this level of transparency thanks to my anonymity until mid February 2021, when I showed my face on the internet.

I will keep my numbers public, but I might change it on a whim if I feel any sign of personal or family unease with it.

Changelog

This page can be changed overnight, with no accountability power.

I want to let you track changes of this page over time.

I will record snapshots of this page in the Wayback Machine and link them here, with major changes highlighted