Enjoy Personal Finance content? Then you will love SovereignQuest!
{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

One hundred days

100 days.

Long enough to form new habits or break old ones.

To explore concepts. Evaluate ideas. Assess viability.

Commit? Double-down? Pivot? Set and forget on autopilot? Or abandon altogether?

Recently Sovereign Quest passed its 100th day of operation. A Personal Finance aggregation service that stepped in when the fire went out for the generous folks behind FIREhub, after nearly three years of curating and promoting European FIRE bloggers.

Few European Personal Finance bloggers who were active when FIREhub started remain so today.

Many of those who have taken their place were introduced to the supportive like-minded blogging community via being featured on FIREhub. Providing them with a frisson of excitement. A trickle of visitors. And a feeling of relief: “someone is reading!

Some of those readers might have liked what they found. Left a comment. Visited again.

The FIREhub team sprinkled a little bit of happiness. Providing encouragement that helped a generation of new content creators push through that lonely initial period of shouting into the void while finding their voice and establishing an audience.

There is a natural lifecycle to the hobby of Personal Finance blogging. Some random life event sparks a sudden interest in learning about and improving the blogger’s own finances. They decide to chronicle their journey, sharing lessons learned and newfound wisdom gained.

Over an arc of 3-6 months, the blogger progresses on their journey from relative novice to confident, comfortable, and (in some cases) competent. They establish some financial goals and a plan for achieving them. Then settle into the boring “middle part” of Personal Finance: patience, and the disciplined repetitive application of the lessons learned.

At this point, many Personal Finance blogs and channels go dark.

Draft folder empty.

They have said their piece.

Realising there aren’t many genuinely new ideas, just those new to the individual creator. Each voice possessing a unique take, differing life experience, and means of expression.

Before long, the creator has learned much of what there is to know.

Their interest wanes or competition for their attention increases.

Stimulation is sought elsewhere.

A few creators do kick on.

These tend to be in the “personal journey” style. Either writing for themselves or having established a community of supportive readers who vicariously follow the creator’s journey. Entertaining. Interesting. Relatable.

Today, I thought I’d share some observations and lessons learned during Sovereign Quest’s first 100 days of operation. Collating and perusing thousands of pieces of content created by hundreds of amateur Personal Finance enthusiasts from around the world has been a fascinating experience.

Some things turned out largely as planned.

Others worked out exactly the opposite of what I had envisaged.

A few things have surprised me.

Exotic

It turns out that the amateur production of Personal Finance content is a very niche hobby.

In each of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom a vanishingly small 0.0003% of their respective populations run a Personal Finance blog, channel, or podcast.

To put that another way, 1 in every 318,000 people decides to be an active Personal Finance creator at any given time. Slightly longer odds than a person being struck by lightning!

Apart from Singapore, that incidence is lower across the other countries covered by Sovereign Quest. Hardly surprising, given English is not the national language for the majority of them.

Attritional

Sovereign Quest was initially populated with English speaking/writing Personal Finance creators outside of North America, who had published at least one piece of content within the last 12 months.

Additional creators have subsequently been added whenever they came onto my radar and met the selection criteria. Usually via a request from a reader, or the creator themselves, that they be added.

At the time of writing, 457 individual creators have had content shared via Sovereign Quest.

Sovereign Quest - creators by locale

Of those, 138 creators have now “gone dark”, not publishing anything within the last three months.

That is an attrition rate of 30%, over a period of 15 months.

Another 30 creators are poised to join them, with almost 90 days having passed since they last published anything.

Cacophony

Today, Sovereign Quest’s continuously updated feeds share links to content published within a rolling 90 day time window.

At the time of writing, those feeds contained links to 3,950 unique articles, newsletters, podcast episodes, posts, and videos.

That is roughly 43 new content items every single day.

It has been interesting to observe the publishing cadence of creators.

Sovereign Quest publishing cadence

A handful of professional creators publish content almost every day. These are usually a collective of authors publishing under a common masthead. Sometimes a branded content farm.

On average, active creators publish content once per week.

YouTubers publish videos more frequently than bloggers write posts. Content that is simpler. Shorter. Shoutier. Easily consumed in bite-sized chunks. Typically created by and for the twenty-something demographic who are just starting their financial journey.

I evaluated including creators publishing primarily on Instagram or Tiktok, where the younger generations spend their time. Unfortunately, for now, the signal to noise ratio is too low.

Quality

The quality of the Personal Finance content shared via Sovereign Quest is variable.

The selection criteria for creators attempt to screen out the worst of the spammy or predatory content.

Creators are typically well-meaning amateurs. Sharing their stories and the lessons they have learned as they progress along their personal journeys. Relatable, talented, and (mostly) well-intentioned.

This can result in an “unknown unknown” scenario, where the creator is blissfully unaware of the limitations of their own knowledge. At times this presents as a blinkered perspective of absolutes and false confidence, out of ignorance rather than malicious intent.

It has been fascinating to observe how much of the conversation gets driven by topical stories. Meme stocks, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies providing recent examples. Fear of missing out is a powerful motivator.

I have been somewhat surprised at how tribal some niches within the Personal Finance community are. Strongly held beliefs creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop. A bubble, where creators preach dogma to the converted.

There are lots of ways to succeed at personal finance. No one true path.

After 100 days of reading, listening, and watching my perspective has evolved somewhat on Personal Finance content. It should be viewed as entertainment rather than educational. Treated with caution.

One leading Personal Finance creator went as far as blocking the Sovereign Quest aggregation robot. Concerned that their well-researched articles might lend credibility to whatever content they appeared next to, potentially an ill-informed opinion piece or a dangerous cryptocurrency evangelist promising instant riches.

Commercialism

Another thing that has been intriguing to observe is how heavily affiliate marketing incentives drive content creation.

Creators don’t have brokerage accounts, they have moomoo, Pearler, or Trading 212 accounts.

Crypto doesn’t get traded on an exchange, it gets traded via Binance or e-Toro.

Creators don’t do P2P lending, they do Mintos or RateSetter lending.

The broad view of the conversation provided by a content aggregator highlights whenever a new budgeting, personal finance, or trading app appears on the scene (or the incentives change for existing apps). There is a noticeable ripple of advertorial coverage in response.

I have nothing against creators being rewarded for their hard work. However, very few transparently disclose the commercial influences behind their choice of content. After 100 days of Sovereign Quest, my default perspective has shifted from creators being generally pretty upfront about disclosing affiliate relationships, to one where there is probably an existing or aspirational commercial relationship behind every single branded product mention.

Challenges

Sovereign Quest started as a passion project. I wanted to give back to the supportive community of Personal Finance content creators, many of whom have generously supported my own writing here at { in·deed·a·bly }.

There were several interesting challenges and unknowns to solve.

The purely technical challenge of building an automated web-based content aggregator. Something that could be turned into a repeatable and potentially saleable commercial product. This was fun, allowing me to knock the rust off some long-dormant coding skills.

Next, there was the collation challenge. At the start of the project, I had a reasonable familiarity with the secret society of UK FI bloggers, but very limited knowledge of Personal Finance creators based elsewhere. The discovery of a host of new (to me) voices has been the best part of the Sovereign Quest, the very use case that the project had been created to address.

Finally, there was a creative challenge.

Initially, I used a free WordPress theme. It was quick, functional, and provided an attractive starting point. Over time, there were several features I wanted to implement or automate, that the free theme had not been designed to support.

As a side project, I decided to learn WordPress theme development, building a new theme for Sovereign Quest from scratch. This was also fun, taking far longer than it should, given my steep learning curve.

The end result was the recently updated look and feel visible on Sovereign Quest today.

I thought it turned out pretty well.

A cleaner layout with improved usability. Content-type filtering, allowing users to quickly access their preferred medium. Embedded playing of videos and podcasts. Shining a spotlight on new creators as they joined the Sovereign Quest community. Highlighting the best content I encountered each day.

The audience appears to disagree. Daily visitor numbers falling by almost a third since I made the change! You win some, you lose some.

The biggest unknown around the Sovereign Quest project was who the audience would be?

Was it the general public?

The Personal Finance creator community?

Or was I solving a problem that nobody actually had?

In the relatively brief time that I have been blogging, there have been a half dozen or more Personal Finance aggregators come and go. This suggested content aggregation wasn’t a lucrative endeavour!

My initial goal had been to provide a “magazine” style capability that would allow a reader like me to browse recently published content in a given geographical locale. Anything that looked interesting, the reader would consume by clicking through to the creator’s own site or channel.

Given that I was (initially) consuming much of the content feeding into the site, a natural extension was curation. I started sharing the best stuff I encountered via the Sovereign feed. This has become the most visited part of Sovereign Quest.

After 100 days, I examined the analytics data to determine the answer to those initial questions.

It was quickly apparent that the general public had very little interest in a continuously updated magazine-style aggregation service for amateur Personal Finance content!

Those who did visit tended to visit semi-regularly.

A core group of Personal Finance aficionados. Mostly creators themselves.

Keeping tabs on what the community was discussing.

Seeking content ideas and alternative perspectives.

Sourcing material for their round-up posts and newsletters.

A small, but passionate, community.

Learnings

As a passion project, Sovereign Quest has been a success.

It has provided me with the opportunity to develop skills and explore interests outside of what I do professionally.

The WordPress theme development adventure led to a couple of small freelance commissions. Not something that would be financially viable to pursue for a living (competing on price with talented folks living in Romania and Bangladesh is a losing game), but an enjoyable diversion.

As a potential commercial endeavour, the story is somewhat different. Launching a product without a clear idea of who the intended audience will be is a terrible idea. Don’t try this at home!

The bulk of the global English language Personal Finance audience is American.

So too are the bulk of the Personal Finance creator community.

In consciously choosing to focus on helping creators operating outside that market, I have also chosen to ignore the single largest and most lucrative market segment. Altruistic perhaps, but financially foolish!

At this point, the logical next commercial step would be to focus on community building. Establish Slack channels or Discord servers for the locales with larger Personal Finance creator communities, then sell into them. Web hosting. List building. SEO courses and consultancy. Microphones and video cameras. Editing services. Multi-level marketing. Mastermind groups. Coaching.

I must confess I have zero interest in doing any of that. It would turn Sovereign Quest into the very type of multi-level marketing driven site that the creator selection criteria actively screens out.

For now, I view Sovereign Quest as a charitable endeavour. After 100 days of operation, new creator suggestions are generally coming to me, rather than my having to hunt through blogrolls and round-up posts to discover them. That means it takes roughly 10 minutes per day to support and maintain the site.

I will probably accept some of the advertising pitches I have started to receive, to get Sovereign Quest to a point where it is financially self-sustaining. Then let it run, reviewing how I feel about it when the web hosting contract is up for renewal at the end of the year.

Commit? Double-down? Pivot? Set and forget on autopilot? Abandon altogether? Or sell?


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20 Comments

  1. Aussie HIFIRE 20 May 2021

    I didn’t realise you were the one responsible for Sovereign Quest, I must confess I hadn’t even heard of it until a couple of weeks ago when you were kind enough to make one of my articles Champion of the Day so many thanks for that!

    And strangely enough it’s probably been around 100 days or so since I discovered your blog which I believe was shared in another linkwrap. I’ve been quite enjoying your writing which has a very distinctive style!

    As to what to do with the site when the contract expires, I suppose from one of your recent posts that there are many things which may or may not happen between now and then, in which case it might be better to delay the decision until closer to the time.

    All the best!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 20 May 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Aussie HIFIRE, glad you’re enjoying what you have found.

      The contract expiry is many months away yet, and the service is largely automated so not too much of a time suck. The review point is more for me to consciously evaluate whether SQ is achieving what it set out to do. I probably should pair up with someone possessing a strong social media game to promote it, do some brand building, and raise awareness. Not my native environment I must confess.

  2. Red kite 20 May 2021

    Well. After nearly 10 years of reading Monevator and some other personal finance blogs, I had never heard of FIREhub or Sovereign Quest. What does that say? That I’m old, I guess. I barely understand the term ‘content aggregation’.
    Also, pretty well every blog I’ve read (and there haven’t been many in the last 5 years, I’m basically faithful. I’m more interested in the personalities and journeys than the money learning) has come to my attention via Monevator’s weekend links. So I guess I do use a content aggregator.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 20 May 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Red kite.

      After nearly 10 years of reading Monevator and some other personal finance blogs, I had never heard of FIREhub or Sovereign Quest. What does that say?

      That I’m pretty rubbish at marketing and promotion! 😉

      Seriously though, it is an excellent observation.

      FIREhub’s target audience was personal finance creators who focussed on financial independence. Their feed contained a curated selection of their favourite content from those creators.

      Monevator’s weekend reading is fantastic example of well executed content curation (as opposed to aggregation), targeting the general public.

      It also gives back to the creator community. When a new blogger gets featured, hundreds of readers follow the link. The blogger’s web traffic chart looks like it has been hit by a tidal wave. Few of those readers will ever return, but a small handful stick around and follow the blogger’s journey.

      By contrast, Sovereign Quest is primarily an aggregator, presenting all the recent content (good, bad, or ugly) produced by those creators who met the selection criteria. I do some content curation (the Sovereign feed), but don’t wrap it in a thoughtful weekly monologue like Dr FIRE, Monevator, or The FIRE Shrink.

      • Red kite 20 May 2021

        Well you see I didn’t even know enough to get the terminology right!

        • The Investor 21 May 2021

          Glad to be of service.

          Congratulations on your first 100 days Indeedably!

          • {in·deed·a·bly} 21 May 2021 — Post author

            Thanks TI.

            I can’t claim to have read Weekend Reading for Red kite’s 10 years, but it is something I look forward to each weekend. Thanks for continuing to produce such a valued curation, week after week, year after year!

  3. Liz 20 May 2021

    To be honest, I don’t read Sovereign Quest. I do, however, have your ‘i read’ page as one of my top bookmarks and I visit it everyday (most days more than once). Take this data point for what you will…..

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 20 May 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Liz, all feedback is welcome.

      That illustrates the difference between collation and curation. The former is ordering à la carte, the latter is enjoying a tasting menu containing dishes the chef has pre-selected.

  4. Donna 22 May 2021

    I know you mentioned Sovereign quest in your posts before, but I didn’t really pay that much attention to it. It looks like a professional site, but maybe you need to put a mission statement of the site and link it from your blog. Be proud of your achievement. Don’t give up on it yet, give your loyal followers a chance to read it!
    I can relate to your statement regarding the general public. In my early banking career, I worked in a bank branch based in a major shopping centre.
    I was surprised to see how few people were interested to come in the branch to remortgage (potentially saving 1,000s a year) vs how many people hit the shops in the sales to save a few quid.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 22 May 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Donna, some great advice there. That mortgage refinancing point is well made, a couple of hours of hassle could have a life changing cashflow impact.

      Nobody’s giving up, this post chronicles my experiences with Sovereign Quest thus far. Usually, when a new venture gets launched, everything is outwardly rainbows and unicorns. However, behind the scenes the story is anything but. Potentially great from a marketing perspective, but fails provide a realistic perspective of the lived experience, which I think tells a much more interesting story.

      If I was trying to talk things up, I could have cherry picked some flattering statistics:

      * Sovereign Quest’s traffic volumes are consistent with what Personal Finance Blogs reported in an interview after operating for a few months, which is amazing given Sovereign Quest doesn’t include North American content.

      * The number of referred users a creator receives from a curated Sovereign Quest feature is currently higher than what being featured on Campfire Finance or FIREhub use to send through when an { in·deed·a·bly } post was featured.

      * All-Star Money, which started around the same time, reports following 1500+ bloggers and has ~400 social media followers so far. Given Sovereign Quest doesn’t cover the North American market, we can adjust that for scale. ~500 creators and roughly ~130 social media followers suggests SQ is growing at roughly the same pace.

      The biggest challenge with an aggregator, particularly as it increases in size, is it can feel like trying to drink from a fire hose. The content type filters partially help address that, but will never replace the convenience of having somebody else curating the good stuff.

  5. FI-FireFighter 22 May 2021

    As an avid follower of yours for a long time, I have been with SQ from the start.
    But…. personally, I dip in and out as I have kind of got my established and trusted sources – Yourself, Monevator, BoF, TEA, JLCollins, Simple Living in Somerset, Cashflow Cop, Finumus.
    However, I have added the link to SQ to my email signature.
    Its a subtle, understated way to share the message to the curious and you never know where it might lead.
    I have also shared the SQ link with a couple of friends after chatting about finances etc, I’ve just said start here, have a look and let me know if you have any questions. It has piqued their interest and they have come back to me which has allowed me to give them a bit of support and direction.
    You will never know how many people you have had a positive affect on with SQ, but I would suggest it is many and the ‘snowball’ will be forever growing now. 🙂

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 22 May 2021 — Post author

      Thanks very much, FI-Fighter. That’s very generous of you!

      As a reader, it sounds like your routine is similar to my own. I’ll discover a new (to me) author, add them to Feedly, and read their content at my leisure (and often without the adverts).

      Every now and again, I’ll prune my collection, perhaps where the author’s interests have diverged from my own or where I’ve outgrown what they have to teach. Periodically I’ll delve into an aggregator to seek out new voices who may have come onto the scene, add the interesting ones to Feedly, and repeat.

      Via Sovereign Quest I’ve encountered some talented new (to me) writers. Aussie Doc Freedom. NZ Wealth and Risk. Principles Personal Finance. Your Money Blueprint.

  6. FI-FireFighter 22 May 2021

    I am always interested in ‘a new or different perspective’, thanks for the suggestions I’ll take a look.

  7. sophy 24 May 2021

    Hey, I have followed some of your articles on Sovereign Quest and I must share that I found them to be very informative. Keep up the good work!

  8. weenie 24 May 2021

    Congrats on the 100 days – it feels like Sovereign Quest has been around for ages! I enjoy the Buried Treasure feature and also like to browse through to see what new blogs/voices are out there – have found some great blogs as a result, which I add to Bloglovin, which is the whatever you call it thing I use to keep up with the feeds of blogs I read (don’t know the terminology lol!)

    Thanks for sharing your observations – I knew us FIRE folk were niche but that puts it in perspective, particularly when it’s easy to get carried away in our FIRE bubble/echo chamber, making us (me) think there are more of us than we think!

    Funny how 138 of the 457 creators have already gone dark – no stamina like some, eh? 😉

    I actually like that it’s not full of US blogs and creators because you can get those elsewhere, eg they used to be in abundance on Rockstar Finance etc.

    Anyway, here’s to the next 100 days!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 24 May 2021 — Post author

      Thanks weenie.

      Fantastic to hear Sovereign Quest is serving its intended purpose, helping readers discover new (to them) voices to follow and enjoy!

      I agree on the US creator front. The sheer volume of content would drown out those writing or producing content from elsewhere, particularly those choosing to do so in English from locations where that isn’t the primary language.

      That is one part of the Sovereign Quest experience I have found the most interesting. No matter where a blogger might happen to live, they write about much the same struggles. Worrying about job security, mortgages, and pensions. Educating their children, supporting them when they fail to launch, and bailing them out when they get divorced or need help with a house deposit. Propping up elderly parents who undercooked their own finances, often by paying for the blogger’s own education. It just shows people are people, wherever they create from.

  9. Dr FIRE 24 May 2021

    Very interesting to see the stats after the first 100 days. It’s good to read in one of your comments further up that SQ is growing at a good pace relative to it’s peers!

    I’ve found a number of blogs through SQ that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Not only a few new (to me) UK blogs, but a variety of blogs from across the world. I’m now following blogs from Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia and South Africa, to name a few.

    I have added both the main SQ feed and the champions of the day feed to my Feedly account. This means I can skim everything, whilst still making sure I don’t miss anything you curate. Best of both worlds!

    I hope you continue with it in some form past the initial year-long trial run, although I recognise that it might eventually become boring / time intensive.

    Thanks for taking the initiative to set up Sovereign Quest, filling a much needed niche. Good luck for the rest of the year!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 25 May 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Dr FIRE, glad you’ve found some value in it.

      After the recent enhancements, Sovereign Quest no longer requires much of a time investment. If I can get it to be financially self sustaining, I’ll probably let it run.

      Just a heads up, I’m thinking about swapping the main RSS feed out for the curated feed. There are two reasons, firstly that provides a value add rather than a fire hose, and secondly because I’m starting to get pingbacks from other sites who are using the main feed as the source for their own (heavily) monetised aggregators.

      The irony of this is not lost on me, an aggregator being aggregated, but I may make them work a little harder to profit from my efforts.

What say you?

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