You should write a blog
I would like to see more investors blogging about their investments. And although I’m new to blogging, I’ve learned a stack about it this year and I wanted to package up some stuff I’d wish I’d known a year ago to make it easier for those who are thinking about starting.
Blogspot, WordPress, or Hosting?
First, don’t get Blogger/Blogspot. It’s easier to get started, simpler, and free, but you run the risk of Google closing it down whenever they feel like it, like they did with the Google Finance Portfolio function (and the 10foot portfolio records, bastards).
Second, WordPress is good, and free. Their entire business model is built around their free software platform, the eponymous WordPress. You can get a free site, YourName@WordPress.com and you basically never have to worry about them deleting it, because the free platform is their entire business (they make their $$ through network effects + via selling value-added services to platform users). You have to comply with their Ts&Cs and there are probably limits on storage space etc – also if you ever advertise (I don’t), they keep half your revenue. But for a freebie blog it’s great.
I went the third route and paid for my own hosting space, domain name, and so on. It’s a lot more complex and will result in significant confusion until you learn how to do the things you’re trying to do – after the initial steep learning curve, it’s very simple. I won’t go into too much detail but basically you buy a domain name (10footinvestor.com) and hosting space (this is the storage space for your website) and then you install WordPress into your hosting space and you can start. WordPress is still free but because you use your own site, you don’t have to share your revenues with them if you advertise. This option costs more but you get a lot more functionality and you can get a lot of ‘plugins’ (extra functions) for your site that you can install basically with two clicks and zero tech knowledge. Do some research on your hosting provider, don’t just choose the first one you come across.
I think I spent about $300-400ish for a site, domain name and hosting space for a 3 year period. Take my advice, if you set up a site this way order all of your features at the same time. Don’t buy the domain name, then get hosting space a month later, and more stuff a month after that like I did. You’ll end up getting (seemingly) constant bills from your host and it’s extremely annoying administratively. Order all your shit in one go, err on the side of caution and buy stuff you might need but aren’t sure, and then later on anything you don’t need you can just let it lapse rather than renewing. This lets you pay your subscription bills all at once, once every year (or every 2-3 years, since you get discounts if you order for multi-year periods) and greatly minimises the admin burden.
Don’t overlook your site’s security if you use your own hosting. Without getting too technical, change your login URL if you have your own site. 10footinvestor.com/admin was the URL for me to login to my site by default (I have changed it), but you need to change the /admin part, because there are automated programs out there that just crawl common suffixes like that to find login windows to hack. If you host your own site I also highly recommend getting the iThemes Security Plugin. This plugin taught me to change the URL and comes with a bunch of really useful features (and it’s free).
An earlier version of this site got hacked in 2016 by Palestinian rebels (true story) due to the /admin thing, and was used to post pro-Hamas and anti-Israeli propaganda. I had to delete it and start over.
Also on the topic of plugins, get Jetpack. Just do it, you’ll see why straight away. It’s free and should be mandatory for all amateur WordPress users.
Plan your content
First, have a purpose (or a ‘niche’) with and/or a plan for your blog. I didn’t have one for mine, it was just going to be a journal/thought dump kind of thing. I was unlucky enough (or lucky enough) to land some readers in the very first week of the site being established (one has been corresponding with me since day zero – thanks Dan).
This was well before the site got picked up by search engines and it immediately put me into a bit of a quandary because my ‘private’ thoughts were suddenly public. I wasn’t publishing anything private per se, I was just putting pen to paper and writing whatever came into my head, but in general my early posts were poorly organised and poorly thought out. Take it from me, this is uncomfortable because even though you think your blog may just be for your own thoughts, the very fact of having an audience puts pressure on you – if you’re putting time into writing, you suddenly feel the drive to make it useful and valuable.
I’ve subsequently kind of fallen into a niche by accident, writing about companies that I don’t think are investment grade. Early work on a few companies has lead to people sending me various ideas of other companies to look at, some of which I’ve subsequently written about, and that has become a bit self-perpetuating. If you can think of a niche or niches before you start, you’ll be three steps ahead and more focused from the get-go.
If you’re one of my regular correspondents, I love our chats. But do try and send me some good opportunities from time to time as well…
Having a plan about what kind of content you want to produce helps keep you focused, and it also helps give the readers what they came for. They’ll be more inclined to put up with extraneous nonsense if you’re on topic most of the time, or if you have a separate section of the site for off-topic musings. I give a tip of the hat here to The IPO Review, a blog that has a very well-defined purpose.
You can also mitigate disorganisation on a per-topic level by having a vague idea for your posts. Putting pen to paper without planning is the easiest way to write, I believe. Just spill out your inner narrative. However before you publish, sum your post up in a single sentence. Then revisit your post and trim almost everything that does not a) directly support this sentence or b) directly disagree with this sentence.
Generally do not expand the terms of reference and widen your argument, unless you’re writing specifically about a situation in which participants are too narrow minded.
Think very carefully before electing to be anonymous, especially if you are using a blog to showcase your work. Some have welcomed me openly on the relative merits of what I write (which is what I had hoped for), others have been extremely critical, skeptical, and vitriolic, and professionals (with a few exceptions) have often met me somewhere on the scale between ‘professionally reserved’ and ‘extremely cautious’.
Several people I respect have more or less refused to speak to me because I’m anonymous, and that’s totally fair, especially from those in a fiduciary position. In their shoes I would do the same – but I admit I didn’t think of that as a possible outcome before I started. Also, if you’re strictly anonymous, it’s very hard to use your anonymous blog on your identifiable employment applications, for example.
So be or be not anonymous as you will, but think about it carefully before you start.
On balance I prefer anonymity because the 10footinvestor is far more interesting a persona than Mr H. C. Minh.
I use Twitter only and I curate it sort-of carefully. I originally had a rule where I would only make one tweet for every one follower that I gained. This would ensure that Twitter content and links to posts stayed relatively in check with the readership I was attracting. It also limits my ability to share my thoughts – which I recommend because it helps restrict banal sharing or stream of thought drivel (although I still do a bit of that). I experimented for a while with Marc Cohodes-style tweets to build hype or lead into various upcoming posts but I find that that basically does not work at all for me.
Limiting tweets to follower #s in a 1:1 ratio was a really great strategy in the early days but it does not scale well. Once you get followers and start following other smart people you often want to engage with interesting things that they are sharing and have a conversation. Conversations can be valuable too – even more so than followers – but in general until you develop a readership (and even after that) I would suggest trying to be extremely disciplined in your social media posts.
This helps your content and your thought process retain value by making them scarce. Unless your every post is pure dynamite – mine certainly aren’t – I think a little scarcity helps maintain interest. These rules may not apply if you’re an identifiable professional and need to get your name in front of people, but this works very well for me as the anonymous 10foot. Especially for an investing blog, when you lack a track record like me, you are reliant on other things like authenticity and quality of content to signal your value to others.
I have been experimenting (+ will soon experiment again) with changing Twitter names and photographs, while keeping my handle of @10footinvestor. One Twitter account that I really like is @SuperMugatu – currently ‘Christmas Mugatu’ – an anonymous US hedge fund manager (no idea who) who is the master of both, and manages to tweet incessantly without being boring. Much of what he tweets is incoherent to me, as a non-US investor, but his branding is perfect. It is engaging, funny, and interesting. I am new to this online persona thing, and I am not that funny, so I am currently experimenting to see what works.
If you join Twitter I’d suggest following as many accounts as you can to find an approach that works for you before you get started. I have not found mine yet, but it’s already obvious to me that a good online brand is worth its weight in gold.
Nobody wants to read your shit
Seriously, they don’t. And there is a decent book, called Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh!t by Steven Pressfield – if you’re looking at getting into blogging or any sort of writing, I recommend it to you. It basically says you need to reach out and grab your readers by the necks and don’t let them go.
For real, some of the best work I’ve done, in my opinion, is this post on some research into Oliver’s Real Foods (ASX: OLI) restaurant locations, and this post on Catalonia. Whether you’re interested in them or not, both offer genuine, unique insights and a differentiated perspective – as far as I am aware, these perspectives simply did not exist publicly in Australia until I wrote them.
And I say that with a lot of humility, because only about 12 people (out of an estimated ~400 regular readers) read those posts – 11 excluding me.
My Getswift post got more than 500 viewers in less than 1/10th of the time. I thought it was a pretty good post too, but it was the antithesis of unique as I was really just summing up the general thoughts of many in the market.
So, being unique and interesting is great. Over time you’ll attract more loyal readers and I’ve also had much more robust discussions with readers than I have on my less unique posts. However, fewer people will be drawn to read them.
Your posts need to be topical to attract readers. I am beginning to see why some investment websites are so click-baity. And hey, Oliver’s is a tiny company and relatively few people in Australia are interested in Catalonia. So they’re not high-demand topics, and it has become very clear to me that being interesting and insightful alone is not enough.
Be honest and genuine. I’ve made a stack of mistakes since I started this blog, and I’ll make plenty more. Although I usually have quite definite views – I am a conviction investor – I don’t hold myself out to be a genius and I have been quick to publish corrections or acknowledge other points of view when wrong. I wish that my thought process was as sharp and my skillset was as good as Seaforth Ben or Findthemoat (two Australian blogs I commend to you) but it isn’t, and I think I’ve managed to maintain a degree of reader loyalty anyway as a result of my authenticity, and (I hope) due to interesting or useful content.
Reader loyalty is important because if you can keep readers coming back, every new reader you attract adds incrementally to the readership of your posts. I.e., each new post attracts the old reader, and also has a chance of attracting new readers. And readers of all stripes increase your chances of getting a retweet or a share on social media, winning potential further readers.
One blog that I think is underrated on genuine-ness is Steve Greene’s Value Investing For a Living who blogs mostly about LICs. I’ve always found his posts to be well put together and they are an excellent example of a blogger writing only about things that interest him (as opposed to actively aiming to attract readers), while simultaneously presenting his posts in a way that is interesting and engaging to readers. I personally am not that interested in LICs (sorry Steve!) but I read his posts anyway because he always has an insightful perspective and his posts are coherent. Mark Susanto at Wylde Street also has a good niche sharing his microcap thoughts, as well as his experience with the thought process required to succeed in microcaps.
Bronte Capital and Bristlemouth are good examples of professionals that write interesting and authentic blogs.
Let your thoughts coalesce
Take your time writing. After ~9mths writing this blog, I find that I get ideas at all hours of the day and if I can I’ll sit down and smash out 500-1000 words (a thought dump) that summarise the idea. Then I’ll revisit and flesh it out, revisit again and trim it, then revisit again and make sure it’s coherent with its premise (i.e., the whole post directly relates to what I’m trying to say). It can take 3-6 weeks for a post to get from first thoughts onto the site, and the quality is 50x better. I used to punch out a post in an afternoon and publish the same day – look at my earlier posts compared to later ones and you can see how much they’ve improved by being thought on more.
Importantly, even despite the quality added via extra editing time, I also find that my actual thought process becomes more clear by holding the idea in my head over a couple of weeks or more. If I do 10-15 mins of editing twice a week for a month, it’s kind of like chipping a statue out of marble block. The shape becomes more apparent over time, and it’s easier to determine if the idea is good or bad, and if it’s worth publishing. My trashcan is full of posts that never saw the light of day.
The ‘dynamite’ post
I’ve spent hundreds of hours on this blog, directly and indirectly. Probably four days a week I spent 1-5 hours in the evening researching or writing, and usually around 8 hours over the weekend. And yet I calculated today that just 3 posts – and one retweet from a public figure – are responsible for over 70% of my current readership.
Nothing builds your readership quite like a ‘dynamite’ post – making a big call and then subsequently being right. Big calls aren’t what you should be aiming for as an investor but they do wonders for readership. Dick Smith Is The Greatest Private Equity Heist of All Time is a perfect example. It was reportedly Forager’s most-read post of all time by over 100x their second closest and I really hope they gave that analyst a monster bonus. This post (and their subsequent awesome performance numbers, of course) is what really let them hit the big time.
And that’s why Steve Johnson is now the unofficial face of Sky Biz.
Just do it
A lot of people get hung up on trying to write stuff. If you’re not much of a writer, your work doesn’t need to be genius. It doesn’t even need to be well written if your ideas are good, you just need to do it. Write short and sharp pieces and do it over and over and over and over and over until you get good enough that people want to read them. It’s not a work of art. Nobody cares.
Unless your post causes something to blow up, and even in the best case you won’t write more than a few of those per year, the vast majority of what you write is going to be forgotten in a few days or weeks at most. So get stuck in and be willing to experiment, make mistakes, and look stupid. Over time you will be surprised at how quickly you improve. I know I have certainly improved a lot, and I can also see I have a long way to go.
Best of luck, and I hope this helps even one person get started with their own blog. Let me know if you do, so I can start reading it!
I may edit this post later to add in any more insights – hopefully it’ll become an evolving work as I learn more, or I may elect to write a sequel in the future. If you have any useful insights or feedback from your own experience to add, please leave a comment below so that others can benefit.
I own shares in Oliver’s Real Foods. I have no financial relationship whatsoever with any of the people or blogs mentioned in this post. This is a disclosure and not a recommendation.