This is an interview with Tom Kuegler of Finding Tom and Post Grad Survival Guide.
1. Hey, Tom. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I am a blogger and a little bit of a vlogger.
I’ve been writing on Medium since 2016. If you don’t know what Medium is, it’s basically just like Instagram for bloggers, except you post blog posts and not pictures and you can follow your favorite writers and get their stories on your homepage.
That’s how I’ve grown my audience. I have 50,000 followers there and they have this thing called the Medium Partner Program where you’re able to get paid as a blogger based on how many people read your stories. That’s been really awesome!
I’ve been able to make a full-time income blogging on Medium and I’ve also been able to make a full-time income selling courses about how to grow on Medium.
I write about self-improvement, traveling and entrepreneurship. I talk about writing advice, a bit about politics sometimes, and I touch on creativity and just living a better life as a 20-something.
I also have a publication on Medium called the Post Grad Survival Guide where I try to make content that will appeal to the younger generation and people that just graduated from college.
I also have a vlog on Facebook and YouTube. On Facebook I have half a million followers, but I haven’t been vlogging lately and mostly I just make videos about my adventures in the Philippines. That’s pretty much everything.
2. What was your first side hustle and how did it go?
Jeez, I think it was freelancing. I was freelancing way back in 2014 or 2015, right when I was graduating college, and I did pretty good.
I remember I made $100 writing a 5,000 word ebook for somebody on Upwork, and I thought that was just the coolest thing ever. So when I graduated in 2015 I freelanced for about two years and I did everything. I wrote about coffee clubs, I wrote about breweries, I wrote about craft beer.
I wrote for some pretty big websites like the Huffington Post, Inquisitr, who has a pretty good, decent payment system for writers. I wrote for this oil and gas website for a while. They were paying me like $50 an article to write there.
I was just a freelancer from the beginning and so I hardly ever made over $500 to $600 per week. So, freelancing was my first side hustle!
Read also: How to Make Money Writing: 11 Tips to Increase Your Freelance Income
3. How did you come up with the idea for Finding Tom, and why did you choose to be a travel blogger?
I remember reading this person’s blog called Adventurous Kate, and she was so inspiring for me. I wanted to do exactly what she did, which was make money while traveling the world.
I don’t think I was so keen on reviewing certain cities or telling people what to do, or what things to eat. I was more keen on just being able to travel.
I wanted to write about what I was learning and the transformation that I was undergoing as a 20-something, and I remember I wanted to sort of have a travel blog that wasn’t really a travel blog, so my idea was to have the website called wherestom.com, but to my dismay somebody already had that domain name, so I had to figure out what was something else that I could make, so for me it was findingtom.com. I decided to go with findingtom.com because I love Finding Nemo. That’s one of my favorite Disney movies, and so I decided to just play off of that and call it findingtom.com.
4. When and how did you discover the potential Medium.com has for writers?
Late 2016 I got started writing on Medium and I remember somebody tipped me off. I followed this Facebook group called The Copywriters Café, and the owner of that group sent all of us an email. He said, “Medium.com might be something worth looking into if you’re trying to be a blogger online.”
I remember that’s exactly what I wanted to do. My WordPress site findingtom.com just was not getting any traction at all, and I was like, “Maybe I should just go write for Medium and just see what happens.”
When I got back home after my road trip across the United States in 2016, I decided to just say, “All right, I’m going to write on Medium for one month. I’m going to write one post a day and I’m just going to see what happens.”
I did that, and after one month I had basically quadrupled my views from my findingtom.com site. Just imagine that.
I was over the moon. I started my publication, the Post Grad Survival Guide, right then in 2016. It started growing. I was getting like 20 to 25 followers per day for some reason. I was just like, “Wow, I’m finally getting traction here. I’m just going to go all in on Medium.” And I did.
5. Tell us about starting The Post-Grad Survival Guide and growing it to over 40K followers.
I started the Post Grad in 2016 and I started getting some followers from Medium from the algorithm. They were recommending my publication to new users and stuff and so over the course of the next six months, I decided to let writers submit to my publication.
This is easy to do on Medium. You can just call for submissions, ask writers if you can publish their story in your publication and you can sort of just poach for stories on Medium.
I started to accept guest submissions. I went from being a nobody blogger to now an Editor, and so that was interesting.
I remember posting one of the first posts from a Green Beret, and he was talking about all the things he learned as a Green Beret, and it was just a super interesting article.
That’s how we grew the pub. We started to get a lot of submissions and once that happens, you inevitably get a lot of followers, so it’s just been a steady grind for us.
I remember in 2018, I believe, I hired an editor to help me come on and take care of the submissions, because it was getting to be too much for me. My editor Stephen was been able to get us really focused and we started to write content about making money online, investing, personal finance, jobs, how to crush it on interviews, how to be a better worker, etc.
We went from getting maybe 50,000 to like half a million views monthly. From 2018 just up until now we’ve been averaging about that volume of views, so yeah, it’s been just an amazing thing there.
6. How do you manage your time between the 2 publications?
My editor helps me out. I needed to hire him because it would be impossible for me to grow my own personal business, my online course business, and also deal with my own sort of publication as well.
He does about two hours of work every day, just sifting through submissions, working on submissions with writers and making sure they are of the utmost quality. It’s been such a great hire for me.
7. How was life back when you were freelancing?
Life back when I was freelancing was fun but stressful.
It was very freeing in that you never know when your next client’s going to come. You never know what your next job is going to be, and you’re always doing something new, it seems. You’re always writing about something new every day because you never know what your clients need from you.
I was hopping from client to client. I had few long-term clients, but mostly I was just trying to win new jobs every week.
There was this sort of vagabonding aspect to freelancing for me back in the day. So I wrote blogs, I was a copywriter, I handled email marketing, I handled social media marketing. I did a lot of that kind of stuff and I was mostly just a freelance writer for people.
It’s hard to be a freelancer writing about topics that you know nothing about. You have to research those topics and then become an expert pretty much overnight. That is tough to do, so yeah, that’s sort of what I was doing back when I was freelancing.
Read also: Freelancer vs Blogger vs Course Creator: Which Business Model is Right for You?
8. What was the turning point to going from a freelancer to a blogger?
I freelanced until late 2017. I started in 2015. I started blogging on Medium in late 2016, so after about a year of blogging on Medium I had about 10,000 followers on there.
I remember looking around and getting a lot of comments from people asking me, “How do you grow a Medium publication? How do you grow a Medium profile? How do you get more views on your articles? How do you write better articles?”, etc..
And I was like, “So nobody’s talking about how to use Medium? Nobody’s talking about how to grow a medium? Why don’t I make an online course about teaching people how to grow on Medium?” Since I had already done it, you know?
I had that in the back of my mind but I didn’t quite act on it. I was freelancing for this oil and gas website and they were paying me $50 an article. I wrote two articles per day. It took me all of two hours to write them and then the rest of the day I could just focus on other things and write for other websites if I wanted to.
I got an email from this oil and gas website one day and they told me, “We’re actually shutting down the website, we’re not profitable, we’re not making any money and so the investors have decided to just pull the plug on it.”
Overnight I lost all of my freelancing revenue and I felt so sorry for myself. This was in October 2017.
After two years of freelancing and bouncing around from client to client and having people hire me and then drop me, and then I wasn’t really needed all the time, I was just like, “I’m done with freelancing, I hate freelancing, this is so annoying. I have to keep bouncing from client to client.” I was sick of that whole world. I wanted something steady so I decided one night that I’m going to make my own online course about Medium and that’s the way it’s going to be.
I researched this one person called Mariah Coz. She had this website called femtrepreneur.co, which was super cool, really great name, and she talked about webinars and online courses and how you could sell online courses with webinars. I remember reading her blog and she pretty much taught me the whole process from start to finish.
I implemented exactly what she said, I watched other people’s webinars, I watched Jeff Goins’ webinar to see how he sold things. And I decided to create my own webinar and sell my own course about how to grow on Medium and how to use Medium because everybody was asking me questions about it and nobody had an online course about it.
I remember my first webinar I sat there waiting for people to show up and I had 30 people show up live.
I was over the moon. I was so happy. People are actually showing up live for this thing!
I did my webinar, 5 people signed up for my online course and I made my first $2,000. That’s the point where I went from freelancer to full-time blogger, because now I was officially making money from my blogging.
9. When did you start your YouTube channel and what role does it play in your business now?
I started my YouTube channel in 2018, after I started my online course business, and I was going to focus on topics like writing, online business and self-improvement. I wanted to be like Casey Neistat. He’s one of my favorite YouTubers.
Shortly after that, I went to the Philippines. I stayed there for like a month, and their culture and the people impacted me so much that I started to make videos about the Philippines and my travels there. Before I knew it, I started going viral with these videos, so I had my first million view video on Facebook in late 2018.
I kept vlogging for the next couple years and made tons of videos about the Philippines and a lot of them went viral.
You know, the Philippines, they say, is like the social media capital of the world. Everybody has Facebook there, and a lot of vloggers come to the Philippines just to make videos about the place so that they can get viral videos. I went down that rabbit hole and I made videos about the Philippines every single week, sometimes multiple times per week.
I have half a million followers on Facebook now and like 100,000 or so YouTube subscribers, but it doesn’t really play a big role in my business now.
I monetize with ads on my videos, but it doesn’t really play a huge role in my business. I want to incorporate it back into my business but I don’t want to make videos about the Philippines anymore.
I want to make videos about the stuff that I write about, which is self-improvement. Just little tips for 20-somethings. Investing, cryptocurrency, etc. I want to focus on the things I normally write about.
10. How have you grown your channel since then?
I started to understand certain headlines. The way I went viral on Facebook so many times was thanks to these square videos. I had my widescreen video in the middle of this black square. So I put my headline above the video in yellow text and when people are scrolling their feed, they immediately know exactly what I’m talking about.
They don’t have to watch the video, they can just read the headline above the video and choose to watch. I got adept at figuring out what headlines get people to stop and take a look, and I figured out that a lot of my hot takes were stuff that resonated with people in the Philippines.
I took a lot of blogging lessons into my vlogging career and incorporated the headline tricks into my videos on Facebook. That platform has by far been the biggest driver of growth for me. I’ve managed to go viral on Facebook way more times than YouTube.
11. What are some elements of a viral video on YouTube?
For me, the two main things that are so important are the headline and the thumbnail.
The thumbnail is of course that little rectangle that shows up next to the video title. You see nothing but thumbnails on the homepage itself whenever you scroll on YouTube so getting that thumbnail correct is extremely important.
It’s an art form in and of itself. I Picmonkey.com to edit my images and it’s super helpful. I think it’s like $7.99 per month to be able to edit images.
But I learned that if I have my face in the thumbnail, and I have this in-picture image of whatever I’m talking about, that’s good. I put that next to my face and also add words on the thumbnail that spark some controversy.
The phrases that I use are always two, three, four words long. They’re never long sentences.
I think for one of my recent videos one of my phrases I put over top of my thumbnail was, “Wait, what?” So I just try to see what little phrases will capture people’s attention and get them to click.
Honestly, going viral is up to the algorithmic gods of YouTube to figure out what types of videos they want to go viral.
I uploaded all of my videos from Facebook onto YouTube and for like a year I never went viral on YouTube. They never did quite well, and then all of a sudden one day YouTube decided to bless one of my videos with hundreds of thousands of views.
Every day I was getting 5,000 subscribers for a while. It was just astronomical growth so I think you have to just be patient and understand that just because a video’s not going viral on YouTube right now does not mean it will never go viral. Because the video that went viral for me was uploaded like months, and months, and months in the past.
12. How do you find the time, focus and creative energy to do both vlogging and blogging?
I think I journal a hell of a lot. I write about what I did every single week. I do this thing called bullet journaling now, which has just changed everything for me.
You should look up bullet journaling online and you’ll be able to see what I mean. I write down what I did every day. I write down how I feel. And I try to, all at once, juggle all the different projects that I have. I blog on Medium, I vlog on Facebook and YouTube, I make blogs for my personal website, and I manage my online courses, and then I also have other projects that I work on.
Juggling all of that stuff at one time is exceedingly difficult and so I find journaling is just this amazing thing that can help me take stock of everything that I do.
I just list out in my weekly journal all of the major things that I work on. That’s vlogging and my blogging on Medium and on my website. Then I write down what I did that week, and then if any of those big projects in my life are lacking, I decide to prioritize it the following week.
13. Why Facebook and Instagram, and how did you build a big following there?
I talked a little bit about square videos on Facebook. Those have been crucial to helping me build a following there, and I think Zuckerberg made Facebook free for all Filipinos. He made the data free for them so that they can watch whatever they want on Facebook data free and they don’t have to pay for it, which is just ridiculous. It’s incredible.
I remember my friend from the Philippines said, “You should make videos on Facebook.” This guy Nas Daily makes videos on Facebook and he goes viral all the time.
I think it’s a better platform. I was a diehard YouTuber back in the day, even when I was only getting a couple hundred views per video, so I decided to take them up on the Facebook offer.
My first Facebook video that I uploaded got like 2,000 views. I couldn’t believe that and I turned from a YouTuber to a Facebooker over night. I was like, “Oh, Facebook is the place to be.”
They were right. Facebook is the best video platform these days, and people don’t even know.
It’s so weird that people don’t know that. Everybody thinks that YouTube is so much better, but for me, Facebook is much better.
The algorithm favors creators. The organic reach is way higher than YouTube. You could share a video on Facebook and then it goes to a lot of your followers, they can share it so it’s easier to go viral.
YouTube, it’s up to the gods of the algorithm to give you that space on the homepage, and that’s about it. But on Facebook you can get shares and you can do all that kind of stuff.
As far as Instagram, the only way that I grew on Instagram was in the comments of my viral videos I would say. “Follow me on Instagram”, and every time I had a million-plus views video, I would get like 1,000 followers on Instagram. So yeah, that’s a little hack for you guys.
14. How do you monetize your Medium publications, and how much do you earn from them monthly?
I definitely want to give you some exact numbers here. As far as my Medium publication, I have never been able to monetize that, weirdly enough. Medium for a while was handing out contracts to big Medium publications and they’ve paid them X amount of dollars per month based on how many views they generate.
When I talk about publication, I mean the Post Grad Survival Guide. I’m not talking about my personal Medium blog, because they’re different.
For the Post Grad Survival Guide, I’ve never been able to monetize that. We were super close to getting a contract on Medium but it fell through so many times, so I’ve never been able to directly monetize my publication.
In terms of my personal blog, Medium has this Medium partner program and basically it’s like a Netflix subscription. Readers can pay Medium $5/month to read unlimited stories on their platform.
For authors like me, if I post a story and a subscriber reads my story, I get a sliver of their $5 that they pay to Medium. Now, that’s divided up by all the authors that that reader has read in that particular month, so for me it could be a couple pennies.
It doesn’t really matter, but at scale if you get thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of views, you could really make a killing on Medium.
I would say for like 60,000 views you can get about $1,500 to $2,000 per month on Medium, so yeah, I’ve had months where I make like $4,000 per month.
But basically, just recently, I average about $1,500 to $2,000 monthly, just to give you some hard numbers there.
15. What inspired you to create your first course and what is it about?
My first course is called Medium Mastery.
It’s about how to use Medium, how to grow on it, how to create Medium publications and write better headlines and just become a better writer that’s in touch with the story you want to tell.
It’s one part technical with how to use the Medium platform, and it’s the other part creative where I’m teaching you how to write better articles.
Read also: How to Make Money on Medium: 5 Ways to Get Paid
16. How are you selling it on the back end?
I have a free 5-day email course that people can go through where I give them 5 tips on 5 different days. Then I shout out a webinar and a lot of people end up signing up for that immediately.
Whenever they sign up for one of the webinar spots, that’s when I sell them on my course–on the webinar itself.
I have automated webinar slots going on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (using everwebinar.com). I use Teachable to host a landing page and the payment system so people can land on my landing page and then pay through there.
I also use tools like Deadline Funnel to create some scarcity and I give people coupon codes and discounts that they can only access for like 20 minutes.
Deadline Funnel, that one tool alone, has made me hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s pretty incredible.
17. What’s your absolutely favorite business activity, and your favorite way to make money online?
I love writing. I love blogging. I love just sitting down at my computer every morning for an hour or two and writing out whatever I want to write about.
That is my favorite thing to do. I love spreading messages that I care about and that’s why I love vlogging and blogging.
For me, blogging is a business activity too because I’m generating email subscribers and revenue on medium.com.
18. What was your first hire and how did you know it’s time to outsource?
That was the editor of my publication The Post Grad Survival Guide. I hired Stephen in 2018 and I knew it was time because I was just getting so annoyed looking through drafts every day.
It took me like 30 minutes to just auto publish everything that was sent in to us and I decided, “This publication needs to have some guidelines. There needs to be somebody that will say yes or no to these submissions instead of auto-publishing them because they have no time.”
I was too busy growing my own online course business so I knew I needed to hire somebody. I hired Stephen to come on and basically just take care of that for me, and he’s done a phenomenal job helping me grow it.
19. Who’s on your team now and what roles do they have?
I have my editor at the Post Grad Survival Guide.
I have a video editor who works with me sometimes. I just shoot my video and then I send it to her in the Philippines and she edits it for me. These are short little three minute videos. It probably takes her all of two hours to make these videos for me, or edit them, and send them back.
I also have a virtual assistant who helps me look over messages that I get on my Facebook page, LinkedIn page and my email.
I also just recently hired someone to help me redesign the website. He’s probably going to be a long-term hire just to help me look over my website and stuff like that.
20. How has life in the Philippines allowed you to grow as a person and scale your business?
Such a great question. I love the Philippines. It’s helped me to get away from where I grew up. It’s helped me to figure out how to live on my own.
I learned how to get an apartment. I bought a lot of things that I need for my own house. I started to do the dishes every day, clean my place, do errands, get groceries, and I really started to be my own person.
I learned a little bit of Tagalog. I could speak with some of the locals there.
I grew up in America, and there’s this whole world out there that a lot of people just don’t get out of. And for me to spend not just a couple weeks, but two years in another country, is just mind blowing.
When most people travel, they only go for like two weeks. They don’t get to spend months and years immersed in a place to truly change who they are. It sort of changes your DNA.
When you go back home, it’s like everything is awkward. You don’t even know how to live there anymore, because you’ve lived in another place for so long. For me that changed who I was down to my core, and I loved how Filipinos do things. I spoke their language. I partied like them, I spoke like them, I rode in their types of transportation, and I lived how they live for two years. That was just life altering and mind altering.
I think that more Americans need to go visit other countries for longer periods of time if they can manage it.
Some people, they just need to take like two months off of work and just go travel, backpack. I think that would be a mind blowing experience for them.
Going to a third world country is a very crucial experience to have. The Philippines is a third world country, and while I don’t want it to be, while I hope that they can manage to claw their way out of that, I think it’s still just really important to go to get a perspective on all of the stuff that we typically complain about in America.
It’s like you’re complaining about something that really doesn’t matter. We call them first world problems, right?
One time I saw a kid that was laying on the street on a cardboard box. This kid was like 11 years old. Dirty, sleeping right in the middle of the sidewalk. I couldn’t believe it. It’s a whole other world out there.
I’ve seen stray dogs get hit and die. I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff that Filipinos have to go through, and it’s a whole different world over there that I think people need to go and witness. It’s changed me on a whole number of different levels and I am so happy that I was able to spend two years there.
21. What’s next for you and your business?
I really want to grow my own blog, Finding Tom.
Medium.com is a great place to grow your following, make money and grow your email list. However, I want to be more in control of my views and reach.
I’m going to basically invest a lot in search engine optimization and try to write a lot of optimized posts. I want to diversify how I get traffic to my blog.
I also want to get away from online courses and selling and I want to harmonize my vlog and my blog together. Ultimately, I want to look into sponsored blog posts, advertisements, making money with affiliate marketing, making money in different ways so that I don’t have to rely so much on my online courses. It’s not where I find my joy.
I find my joy from writing my story and giving people an inside look into what I’ve learned in my life. If I can figure out a way to make money just by doing that, then I think I’ll be the happiest I’ve ever been.
Whether that’s writing a book one day or else, I know for a fact if I want to get there I have to build my platform outside of Medium. That’s my main thing. Growing my platform outside of Medium, both on YouTube and Facebook with my vlog, and also on my personal website.