[Editor's Note 1/15/2018: The long-awaited White Coat Investor Online Course is live and is available for purchase here. The course is entitled: Fire Your Financial Advisor. No more wading through dozens of books at the library, scrolling through hundreds of blog posts on dozens of blogs, or checking in daily with online forums trying to gain a financial education the way the hobbyists do. This course will take you from feeling anxious and having no plan to having a written financial plan you can follow the rest of your investing career as a professional and a retiree. This course is the material that should have been taught to you in college, medical school, or residency, but never was.]
As per tradition, once a year in January I update readers about all the wonderful things this community has accomplished in the previous 12 months. Each year the amount of credit that I personally can take for this becomes smaller, but that's a good thing because there's only a certain amount that I can accomplish by myself. In this year's State of the Blog you'll notice that trend pretty dramatically. 2017 was a great year for The White Coat Investor, and like all the previous years, it was our best year ever.
- Help those who wear the white coat (and other high-income professionals) get a “fair shake” on Wall Street
- Feed my entrepreneurial spirit
- Connect high-income professionals with the relatively few “good guys” in the financial services industry
Mission # 1 Getting a “Fair Shake” on Wall Street
Online entrepreneurism consists of an everlasting cycle of Create-Promote-Profit. The first two parts of that fall squarely on the first of our missions — to help doctors and similar professionals stop doing dumb things with their money. In 2017, The White Coat Investor, LLC really grew from being just a blog to being a multi-media company, and that is reflected in what we've been able to accomplish.
The blog is still the mainstay of The White Coat Investor, our greatest reach, and still the way most of you interact with us. This year we published 199 posts. I wrote 115 of them, our paid columnist Whitney wrote four posts, and guest posters, including members of the WCI Network, wrote the other 80. That brings the total number of posts and pages on the blog portion of the site to 1,257. A typical post is read by 10-15,000 people, either by email or on the site, within the first month it is published. The entire site had 7,914,730 pageviews (51% increase) by 1,256,437 unique individuals (19% increase) in 2017 and approximately 22,258,045 pageviews by 4,367,706 unique individuals since its inception in May 2011.
I still diligently pump out a FREE monthly email newsletter every month. If you're not subscribed, you're really missing out. Besides an update on what we're doing at WCI, we review the best stuff on the site and across the web each month, provide a market review, and have a “special tip” which is basically a super secret blog post that never shows up on the site. Our email list currently has 14,600 people, an increase of 41% from last year. Signing up also entitles you to the FREE 12 email Financial Bootcamp course.
This has been an interesting part of “the empire” for years now. I love getting out to meet at many of you personally as I can, but it's not exactly a high-yield way to fulfill any of the missions of The White Coat Investor. I think I still did close to a dozen live presentations this year, both locally and across the country. I also did at least a couple of dozen appearances on podcasts. I'm happy to see increasing numbers of other doctors out there meeting this need. We're trying to figure out a way to support that better.
Freelance Writinga regular column for one publication- ACPE NOW. It adds up to about 6 columns a year. I think I've been doing this for 3+ years now but I'm still surprised when I run into an emergency doc who has never heard of The White Coat Investor. I mean, it's one thing if you're an attorney or an orthodontist or even an OB/GYN. But an emergency doc? You never thumb through that throwaway you get every month in your mailbox for free?
The White Coat Investor: A Doctor's Guide to Personal Finance and Investing continues to sell hundreds of copies month after month after month. This year we sold 18,939. Since it was published almost 4 years ago, we've sold 56,472 copies. It has continued to rank at or near the top of its category (currently 2nd 3rd, and 5th in each of its categories) for each of the last three years. Of all the books for sale at Amazon (about 30 Million), it is currently ranked 2,410th. Even the johnny-come-lately Audible version is ranked # 12 in its category. There's a huge number of you who were first introduced to The White Coat Investor message via the book.
We now have 6,387 Twitter Followers (135% increase) and 4,880 Facebook Followers. (102% increase) We've thought about doing some stuff on Instagram and Pinterest and even Snapchat, but really haven't made a lot of progress on those fronts. Social Media is a funny thing. It's really weird to think that I have thousands of followers and people that “like” me given how much of a dweeb I was in high school–except for about 3 days late in my senior year after I scored a very important goal in a very important hockey game after sitting the bench for 3 1/2 years and the hometown newspaper referred to me as a “little-known, low-scoring senior.” It all kind of reminds me of that Brad Paisley song. But I've really grown to enjoy Twitter this last year or so. 140-280 characters is just about right for my attention span. I did a letter of recommendation for a neighbor applying to college recently. The computer form only allowed me 500 characters. I thought, “No problem! That's like two full tweets!”
Thank you to those who follow us and like us on social media. It really does help spread the message. My goal for social media this year is to keep up with Physician on FIRE. Not only does he have lots more online friends than I do, but he's a lot better at converting them into real life friends!
- Grand Prize Winner- Andrew Goates
- 2nd Place- Natalie Moreno
- 3rd Place- Adam Goode
- 4th Place- Joshua Weinberg
- 5th Place- Samuel McMillen
We'd also like to give a special thank you to the Platinum sponsors for this year's WCI scholarship (contributions of $3,500+)
- Larry Keller (Physician Financial Services) – Disability and Life Insurance
- Laurel Road – Student Loan Refinancing
- Michael Relvas (MR Insurance) – Disability and Life Insurance
- Locumstory.com – Locum Tenens Education
- Jamie Fleischner (Set for Life Insurance) – Disability and Life Insurance
We were looking for ways to get less busy last Spring and I suggested that maybe we could drop some stuff we were doing, including the scholarship, especially when I thought about the ridiculous criticisms sent our way by people who didn't even donate to the scholarship fund nor volunteer to judge it. There was an uproar among the WCI staff, as they felt that was one of the best things we do. So we plan to continue. Not only does it help spread the WCI message of financial literacy for high-income professionals, but it very directly helps reduce indebtedness of a few skilled writers and wonderful people who also happen to be attending professional school. We hope you will join us this year in our efforts.
The forum was started in January 2016 and has grown by leaps and bounds. There are now 4,234 threads (172% increase) and 49,241 posts (225% increase) written by 3,738 forum members (128% increase). One of the best things the forum does is foster a sense of community here and help relieve a bit of the burden of answering questions off of my shoulders. Thank you to all who participate there and are especially welcoming to new people popping in with what they worry are stupid questions but are really all the same questions the rest of us had when we started. A special thank you to our volunteer moderators: ACN, cassell, DMFA, Doc Spouse, Hatton, jfoxcpacfp, Jim, Joseph, LBKCLU, nachos31, Passive Income MD, PhysicianONFIRE, tjroyce, Virajith Wijiweera, and WallStreet Physician.
The Youtube Channel
We started a Youtube channel this year. We didn't get to do as much as we wanted to do with it, but we put up eight videos and have 267 subscribers. We've had 9,790 views there. There's still time to get on the ground floor here! There will be a lot more of that going on this year now that we have a little video studio in the basement. It's been an interesting transition in the personal finance space in the last five years. Blogs used to be king, but that seems to be transitioning toward podcasts and now more and more toward video. The White Coat Investor will continue to go where those who need this message can be found.
The WCI Network
We'll discuss this a little more in the next section, but a year ago there was no WCI network and now there are three blogs and we're in discussion with a few more. The cross-promotion between the blogs allows us to get these important messages in front of thousands more than what we could do by ourselves. Thank you to Physician on Fire and Passive Income M.D. for partnering to spread this message far and wide.
Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference
The first comment on last year's state of the blog post read:
Any thoughts of doing a day long or weekend conference? Many folks learn better in that environment with q/a on different financial topics.. you can throw in a ER topic for fun… I’m sure sponsors would jump on that as well and it’s a nice write-off for the business owner to combine a business and pleasure trip assuming we’re skiing the other half of the day?
While we didn't pull it off in 2017, it is scheduled for March 1-3, 2018. We'll see how it goes, and maybe there will be more in the future. Amazingly, within 7 days of announcing it, we not only filled all 300 spots but had 180 people on the waiting list.
It took all year to get this one done, but I finally knocked it out in November. The blog functions very well for continuing financial education, but it isn't so good for your initial financial education, although the “Start Here” page helps. The WCI Financial Bootcamp will hopefully help with that. When you sign-up for the email list, you start getting emails once a week. This 12 step program will take you from being financially illiterate without a plan to getting on track in just 3 months, all for free. We plan to give it away for free throughout 2018, but at a certain point it is going to be packaged into an inexpensive book and perhaps only part of it will be given away free. That decision hasn't been made yet.
The Online Course
This is a project that I'm really excited about. This was a major part of our long-term plan for The White Coat Investor and is now our premium product. Katie and I just spent literally two months of our lives on it. I don't expect the vast majority of readers to buy this. However, for a significant minority, it will be worth ten times its price. If you're not a hobbyist but would like to eventually be a do-it-yourselfer because you are hesitant to pay thousands of dollars for financial advice that might not even be good, this course is for you. The course is tentatively titled “Fire Your Financial Advisor!” In around eight hours of coursework that you can do on your own time from anywhere in the world (even on your phone) you'll become financially literate and develop a personalized, written financial plan at a fraction of the price of hiring a financial advisor. We launch the course on January 15th. There will be a special discount for WCI readers as it launches, but that will only last a few days, so don't procrastinate.
So what do you have to look forward to in 2018? Besides the online course, I plan to get that tax book I've been talking about for about 3 years done. We just got overwhelmed this year and I put it off to the end of the year, and then Congress started messing with the tax code. So I decided to wait until they were done so the book could at least last a year before it went out of date. But hopefully, 2018 is the year. Financial Bootcamp will also be compiled into book form and published. We're also looking into the possibility of a conference just for students and residents. It won't be much of a money-maker, but with a reasonable level of sponsorship, we might be able to at least break even on it. We also plan to increase the number of podcasts, start doing regular videocasts, continue to publish and promote some wonderful written content, and anything else we can think of to meet the mission of the site.
Word of Mouth
I want to give out a special thank you to all of the readers and listeners and viewers out there who have shared The White Coat Investor message with your peers, trainees, and trainers. Although we do all we can to get people to stumble in here, we know that a huge part of our growth is simply you sharing something that has impacted your life in a meaningful way with others that you care about. Thank you!
Mission # 2 Feed My Entrepreneurial Spirit
“Feed my entrepreneurial spirit” has a lot of different aspects to it. For sure it applies to making some money for me and my family. The White Coat Investor has been a for-profit enterprise from the very beginning, even though it really didn't make any money at all for its first three years. But as it has become more financially successful, the actual income aspect of it becomes less and less important to me. Part of that is a natural consequence of us approaching “enough.” But part of it is that entrepreneurship isn't all about money. It is also about creating something larger than oneself. Leaving a legacy. Creating jobs. Making a difference in the world. In 2017, those were the things that drove our efforts far more than the money. Of course, making more money is always nice too and we'll take it, and hopefully will be good stewards of it for the betterment of others. As noted in our post on Christmas Day, this was the first year of our lives that we gave away more money than we spent. (Actually more than twice as much as we spent, since we pre-paid our 2018 charitable donations due to the tax law changes!)
One of my favorite parts about The White Coat Investor is that I have been able to create some jobs. And not just crap jobs. Good jobs. Jobs that can be done on your own time from the comfort of your own home. Jobs that pay well enough to move families from the middle class into the “high-income professional” category. Jobs that teach others about entrepreneurship and personal finance and investing.
One wonderful thing about owning the entire company is that we can pay people whatever we want without having to be accountable to anyone else for providing a good investment return. That includes not only the partners we work closely with around our dining room table, but also those we partner with that you may think of as “just advertisers.” For many of our advertisers, we are a major source and sometimes the primary source of their business. We're not just building one company here, we're building dozens. But today I want to focus on those we work most closely with even though they are mostly behind the scenes to you given my role as the “face” of the company. Physician On FIRE calls these women “Dahle's Angels,” and he's right about one thing- there would be a lot fewer White Coat Investors without their efforts.
Many of you will recognize my wife and co-owner of The White Coat Investor. She assists with the strategic vision of the company and is in charge of video production, bulk book sales, and arranging speaking gigs. I'm thankful to her not only for her help on The White Coat Investor, but also in all the other aspects of our lives. When people ask, “How do you do it all?” the answer is usually, “Katie.” She has also contributed to content from time to time with a podcast interview and even a blog post or two. She has put in countless hours these last two months, at least as many as I have, developing the new online course.
Cindy has been with us since 2014. Around here she is known as “The Rainmaker.” In the Create-Promote-Profit paradigm, she spends 90% of her time on the profit part. She manages relationships with our partners, sponsors, and advertisers. She checks the mail, signs the checks, tallies up the finances, and sells the ads. In addition, she is also our podcast expert. Okay, maybe she wasn't an expert a year ago, but she is now. It's amazing what you can learn from Google, a few emails, a lot of Youtube videos, and a conference. Cindy has also had the primary role in planning the upcoming WCI Conference. Be sure to thank her for all she does when you meet her there. She wrote about her experience refinancing student loans a couple of years ago. In part thanks to her work at WCI, those loans are now gone.
Jill is our newest addition to the WCI team. After we were completely overwhelmed this summer just trying to keep the balls in the air between trips, clinical work, planning the conference and all the other stuff we're doing, we knew we had to bring on someone else. We had to make a decision as to whether to try to hire someone who knew how to do all this stuff or whether we just wanted to hire someone smart and motivated and teach them the business. We elected to do the latter, although Jill did come with experience as an editor and owner of a small town newspaper. We figured if we could learn how to blog, run an online business, do a podcast, tweet, do video editing, write a book, make an online course, and run a conference that someone else could learn new skills rapidly as well. Jill's enthusiasm and hard work have been refreshing to me as they remind me of why I started down this road originally. We kind of cheated with the training though, taking the whole team to FinCon17 where we split up and were essentially able to make sure at least one of us attended each of the classes! By the end of it, everybody on the team knew how to do multiple things better than I did. Jill is now in charge of editing, content management, and guest posts. She is also working on expanding our social media presence. Like the rest of us, she pitches in on other projects as they come up. Everyone wears multiple hats at this start-up.
Whitney is my 13-year-old daughter. When she isn't busy attending school, playing soccer, doing ballroom dance, doing volunteer work, and being one of the leads in the middle school play, she writes a quarterly column for us. The goals of this column are many. First, I want to embarrass as many high-income professionals as I can into learning this stuff. I figure if they see that a 13-year-old can stay out of debt, manage investments, and do her own taxes that they can too. I also want readers to get ideas about how they can teach financial topics to their children.
In addition, I want Whitney to learn about writing, entrepreneurship, and hard work. But there are some ulterior motives here. First, it's a tax play. Every dollar I pay her is a business expense to WCI, LLC. And as a low-income minor employed by her parents' business, she doesn't owe income or payroll taxes on the money. And when the money gets put into a Roth IRA, it will never be taxed again. Her IRA at 13 already rivals mine at 30. But more importantly, she is learning to manage money as a teenager. You know how we all complain our parents never taught us anything about money? Well, she won't be able to complain about that. Some readers have said I can't sell The White Coat Investor until my kids can take it over.
Between Whitney's desire to go to medical school and her experience writing now, perhaps that will be a viable option. She has some great plans for her posts this year, including “The Questions My Friends Ask Me About Money.”
In fact, Whitney isn't the only one of my children working here at The White Coat Investor. You think those four kids are willing to pose for pictures for free? No way. They all get paid top-notch modeling fees for those smiles. And yes, they all have Roth IRAs.
Although we have well over 100 partners here as we'll discuss later, one of them deserves some special recognition. Nina Litovsky did the site redesign back in early 2016 and continues to contribute periodically solving the tech issues we can't figure out ourselves. Most of her work involves building sites for small medical and dental practices, but obviously, she has experience that applies to an enterprise like this as well.
The WCI Network also feeds my entrepreneurial spirit. Not only do I own a small piece of both Physician on FIRE and Passive Income MD (so when they make money I make money) but it is has been a very interesting exercise in seeing what sharing best practices and cross-promoting can do for each of our sites. When it comes to growing something bigger than ourselves, there is a lot of potential there.
This year I was approached three different times by parties interested in buying the website. We went quite deeply into the process with one of them and it forced us to really take a long hard look at what we want out of this. I spent a few sleepless nights flip-flopping back and forth about which I would regret more–giving up “our baby” or turning down millions of dollars. In the end, we decided we wanted to accomplish some more with “our baby.” It helped that we would soon be financially independent anyway, especially with the additional income provided by the site. It also seemed silly to sell it while its rate of growth was still so high. But mostly, it came to down to “What do you want to do with your life?” and Katie told me I couldn't sell it until I knew what I was going to do afterward.
One downside (or upside, depending on how you look at it) is it told us what this thing was really worth to someone else. And it turned out to be a lot more than I had supposed. Which made me feel like I needed to be a good steward of it and not waste the opportunity. That, in turn, caused me to work a lot harder on it in 2017 than I had planned. In fact, I had hoped at the end of 2016 to cut back on how much work I put into it during 2017. Less work for the same money or even less money seemed entirely reasonable to me at the beginning of the year. But for some reason, perhaps on a subconscious level, having real buy-out offers changed all of that. Instead, I ended up working even harder on it.
Being a CEO
Another challenge, and not always a welcome one, has been learning how to run a seven-figure business. Contracts, partnerships, hiring decisions (luckily haven't had to fire anyone yet), and making decision after decision after decision. I have had to learn to say no. I have had to break off partnerships in order to start other ones. I have had to tell people I didn't want to partner with them. I have had to learn how to manage other people, including myself. I've gained a new appreciation for hospital CEOs. Although I've always sided with the scrubs in the suits vs scrubs battle, I've got a little more insight into just why hospital CEOs get paid as much as they do, especially when I find myself going to the ED to relax!
In addition, I've had to fight tooth and nail in the marketplace like any other businessperson. There are now around forty physician financial blogs. They're not really my competition, but there are websites out there that compete with us in various of our business lines. In a lot of ways it is a lot easier to compete if you're just trying to do the profitable stuff and leave out the whole “teach physicians to be financially literate” thing. In addition, we've had a few challenges to our trademark (Yes, White Coat Investor is a valuable registered trademark, please don't violate it) this year. Most people back off when they realize what they're doing isn't kosher, but I'm getting sick of sending out $1,000 cease and desist letters.
So it turns out that running a business can be painful at times. But it also produces a lot of personal growth that I do appreciate, at least in retrospect. I've really enjoyed trying to provide as much value to as many people as I can, and at the end of the day, that's what a businessperson does. In fact, I've even enjoyed teaching others how to do what I did even though entrepreneurship can never be done exactly the same way twice.
As usual, we include a financial report of the business including a discussion of our conflicts of interest. Our conflicts of interest really haven't changed at all since last year. We try to be cognizant of them when making business decisions, but since we're not willing to do this for free, there's no way to eliminate them completely. As a reminder, here are our conflicts of interest:
- I am incentivized to run content that relates to my advertisers’ businesses (and especially those with whom I have an affiliate marketing relationship) more frequently than other content.
- I am incentivized to accept guest posts from financial professionals who advertise with me more frequently than those who do not, although the only “sponsored posts” this site has ever run are those by the five platinum scholarship sponsors each year (and 100% of that revenue went to the scholarship recipients.)
- I am incentivized to recommend you refinance your student loans when perhaps it would not be a good move for you (which is awfully rare if you’re not going for PSLF.)
- I am incentivized to recommend you seek out professional help with insurance, financial planning, investment management, student loan advice, purchasing and selling real estate, negotiating contracts, and preparing your taxes when perhaps you may be able to do that on your own.
- I am incentivized to recommend alternative investments such as real estate and peer to peer Loans over boring index funds at Vanguard (this is a surprisingly minor conflict of interest).
- I am incentivized to accept advertisers who do not meet my high standards for recommendation to friends and family.
- I am incentivized to recommend you use a physician mortgage loan over a conventional one.
- I am incentivized to recommend you read financial books, including and especially my own. This year I will be incentivized to recommend my online course to you.
- I am incentivized against recommending content by others who have the same affiliate marketing partners or who compete for the same advertisers, unless I am a partial owner of their site.
[Update January 2019: I decided to remove the financial reports from the State of the Blog posts for the last three years. You can read the reasoning on the January 2019 post.]
Okay, that out of the way, here's the financial report:
So where did all that money go if we live on a fraction of my clinical income? Well, the biggest chunk went to taxes. Given substantial clinical income, it was almost all taxed at our 46% marginal rate. Some of it went into the WCI Individual 401(k) for Katie and I. We finished paying off the mortgage. We gave a whole bunch of it away. The rest was invested for the future. We really didn't spend any of it. We bought the boat in 2015 and the new car in 2016, but didn't really have any major purchases this year. We were too busy working and traveling to do the home improvements my mother-in-law is bugging us about!
Obviously, our efforts have been incredibly blessed, and we're very thankful for it. I remember a year ago asking Katie, “What will we do if this thing doubles again?” Now we know. We don't expect this rate of growth in 2018, but who knows? If doctors like the online course as much as we like doctors, perhaps 2018 will be even better than 2017!
Mission # 3 Connect You With The Good Guys
Our partnerships and relationships continue to grow. Although many doctors wish they never had to interact with a financial professional, the truth is that all of us will multiple times during our life. It might just be a transactional thing like drafting a will, refinancing student loans, getting a mortgage, or purchasing insurance, or it might be a long-term relationship with an attorney, financial planner, or investment manager. The good news is that there are some good guys (and gals) out there who offer good advice at a fair price. Every time I run into them my faith in humanity is restored a little bit.
A major part of our mission is connecting you with these people when you need them. We create value for them, by sending them great clients, and we create value for you, by making sure you're not getting ripped off. Meanwhile, we're slowly doing what we can to run the bad guys out of business. In fact, once or twice a year I convert a bad guy into a good guy, such as a recent email I received from an “advisor” who went and got a CFP, realized the error of his ways, became a real financial advisor, and started his own advisory practice. He wrote me an email to apologize and admitted I was right in an argument we had earlier in the year. I've talked advisors out of trading stocks, following technical analysis schemes, and using expensive actively managed mutual funds. It's really a wake up call to many of them when I tell them I don't want their money because I don't like the way they run their business.
At any rate, when you do have need of these services, I would appreciate it if you would at least consider using those who advertise on the site. They've had some preliminary vetting by me and some ongoing vetting by your fellow readers. You can find most of them under the recommended tabs at the top of the site.
- Student Loan Refinancing
- Mortgage Lenders
- Independent Insurance agents
- Financial Planners and Asset Managers
- Student Loan Advice
- Contract Negotiation/Review
- Practice Loans
- Tax Strategists
Although we have plenty of service providers in some of these categories, we could use a few more in some of them. So if you've had a particularly good experience with someone that we're not currently partnering with, please send them our way. Or if you can provide some of these services, feel free to get in touch with Cindy at whitecoatinvestor.com to start the process.
Well, this was quite a lengthy State of the Blog report. That's a reflection of just how much has been accomplished this year. As always, a great big huge thank you to the WCI staff, to our partners, and especially to our readers, listeners, and viewers. Give yourself a pat on the back for being part of this community that is changing the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of physicians and high-income professionals.
What do you think? What did you find most remarkable about WCI in 2017? What are you looking forward to in 2018? What would you like to see WCI take on? Comment below!