Personal Finance Luminary-Interview with Mike Piper
Welcome to an interview with Mike Piper, of the Oblivious Investor Website. This fourth interview for the Personal Finance Luminaries series continues with the mission to highlight and learn from outstanding personal finance educators. Mike follows Luke of Consummerism Commentary, Dr. Charles Richards, author of The Psychology of Wealth, and Kyle of The Penny Hoarder.
Mike Piper has been a favorite blogger of mine for several years. In addition to his CPA designation, he is the author more than nine money related books including the newest Microeconomics Made Simple, and publisher of the well regarded Oblivious Investor Website. I admire Mike’s brevity and disciplined message.
Piper is faithful to his message, “This blog is dedicated to spreading the idea that investment success is based upon stubbornly following a few (very simple) principles.” His recipe for success is simple, continue reading and learn more about author and website publisher Mike Piper!
1. What led you to transition from working for Edward Jones to writing books and publishing a website?
There was a stage after working as a financial advisor and prior to writing books during which I worked as a tax accountant. Each tax season, I was flooded with tax questions from friends and former classmates. Eventually I decided to answer all the most common questions in a short book so I could simply refer them to that rather than answering the same questions over and over.
As it turned out, complete strangers ended up buying the book on Amazon and giving it pretty good reviews. I was quite surprised that it ended up being a lucrative endeavor.
2. What is a typical day like for you?
Most days, I spend about half my working hours answering emails from readers. The rest of the time is spent writing articles and doing research for articles.
3. How transferable is your work situation to others who might like to work from home and support themselves online?
I think the business model could very easily be applied to other fields — any topic that people are looking to learn about. Write a book about the topic, then write a blog with short articles about related topics. Market the book on the blog. It’s very straightforward. The way I see it, books are the perfect companion product to blogs.
That said, I think I got lucky in several ways in order to turn it into a full-time income in a relatively short period of time.
4. How did you decide to publish under your own company versus a traditional company?
As I mentioned above, I didn’t really expect to reach a broad market with my first book. I never even considered approaching a traditional publisher.
5. Who (and what) are your biggest inspirations and role models?
I don’t really think of my work as inspired. Alternatively, you could say the people who read my blog (or books) are my inspiration. Every morning I wake up to questions from readers. Answering them is just the obvious thing to do. Some of those emails turn into articles, and some of those articles turn into books. It’s a very natural progression.
6. Does your spouse have a full time job as well?
She’s self-employed also. She’s currently working to grow a business using a similar business model. (She’s working on her first cookbook.)
7. There’s a lot of interest in epublishing today and you were one of the early adopters. How did you learn the ropes and what tools do you use to implement your book publishing?
Aaron Shepard’s book Aiming at Amazon was very useful for me when I was getting started in 2007. At the same time, I think I learned the most from simple trial and error. I published books for which there’s no market. I published books with terrible titles. I first attempted to market the books with a static website rather than a blog. The list of mistakes goes on and on.
As far as what tools I use, CreateSpace (Amazon’s print-on-demand subsidiary) is who I use for the print publishing. For publishing on Kindle, I just created an account with Kindle Direct Publishing. I write all the books in plain-old MS Word. Then I use somebody I found on Elance to create the Kindle files.
8. What are your top 3-5 tips for staying organized and focused?
With regard to staying organized, I just use a simple handwritten to-do list every day. With regard to staying focused, as I mentioned above, working is just the natural thing for me to do. Having gone out of my way to show people that it’s OK to email me with questions, it’s now like a faucet that doesn’t turn off. The questions keep showing up, so I keep answering them(and turning some of them into articles). (Barb’s comment; Mike wanted to cut this question, but I disagreed. Although his tips are simple, they bear publishing!)
9. What are your short and long term professional goals?
My most immediate goal is to update each of the books over the next several months. Since my books contain a lot of tax-related information, they need to be updated each year. However, as the list of titles grows, so does this annual project. I’m slowly realizing that my next goal should probably be to find somebody who can help with this.
10. How do you handle your family finances to allow for necessities, luxuries, and investing?
We keep a pretty large emergency fund. I think that’s just a necessity when your income fluctuates significantly from month to month. (And, for reference, it does! I’ve had months where revenue fell by 50% from the month before and months where revenue grew by more than 200% from the prior month.)
As far as investing, we have a solo 401(k) with Vanguard, and we make automatic contributions each month. It all goes into the same fund (Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth), so there’s nothing to think about. We keep as much of it on autopilot as possible.
Barb’s End Notes
As one who is usually working on multiple projects and business endeavors simultaneously, I admire Mike’s focus. Notice his simple business model. In person, Mike is a generous individual willing to share his knowledge with others. As an entrepreneur, business owner, publisher, and blogger there’s a tip in here for you.
Since this article was originally published, Mike has become a regular on the prestigious WSJ.com expert panel. Continue to follow Piper and get an hones and clear view on major investing topics.
A version of this article was previously published.