How to write 750,000 words: 10 years of Empathic Finance

I reflect on ten years of blogging, working to help people succeed with their finances and live a more authentic and radical life.

On November 12, 2012, I was in a hostel on the big island in Hawaii. While on my dorm bed, I clicked a button and made my new site go from “private” to “public”.

And with that, Unlikely Radical was born.

If you’re new around here, you probably don’t know anything of Unlikely Radical, but it was the initial site that became what you’re reading here: Empathic Finance.

It has now officially been ten years since I started this journey, working to help people succeed with their finances and live a more authentic and radical life.

And so, I thought I’d look back and see what I’ve accomplished, and (potentially just as important), what I have yet to achieve.

If you want some behind the scenes stories, read on.


In 2012 I had found Chris Guillebeau and his Art of Non-Conformity site. I had also become friends with Emilie Wapnick, who had just started her site for “multipotentialites”. (This was well before her TED Talk went viral.)

I had previously jettisoned any attempt at making music as a career, and was feeling adrift and unsatisfied in my tech job, so I was looking for a project that had impact to others and meaning for me.

I remembered Chris Guillebeau’s saying, which went something like this:

“If you don’t know what to do, then find someone who needs help and help them.”

But how? There’s a whole world that needs help, and I’m only one person.

Then, over time, I realized one thing: I was good with money. I grew up in a very anxious household, and held on to that mindset for years. But through all that, I had learned some skills and tactics that I felt could not only help people succeed with money, but also reduce their anxiety too.

I envisioned a website, with lots of different sub-sites on how to live an unconventional life, with my money site being just one of those.

I decided that I would write two blog posts a week without fail, and post on Mondays and Thursdays. Over time, I would develop an audience of like-minded folks, all eager to work together and help each other succeed.

And so, in November 2012, I launched two sites: Unlikely Radical and Radical Finances. Radical Finances would be the money site, where I would offer financial coaching, while Unlikely Radical was the parent site with the blog.

My first post there was a kind of manifesto, called “Ex-Velleitiers Unite!“, using a word that I considered turning into my brand, but eventually ditched as it was too much of a mouthful.

The post is still there, but it looks a little different now

2012-2018: The blog begins

I soon found that keeping two separate sites was too much, so I ditched the Radical Finances site, and brought financial coaching under the Unlikely Radical umbrella. I can’t say I did much of any financial coaching aside from a little bit of pro bono work, but that was okay, as I didn’t expect to be an overnight success.

On the blog, I wrote about money, about travel, about not owning a smartphone, and other ways to accept being different and weird in this hyper-consumerist world. Also, I bought a home, and wrote about going back into debt for the mortgage, and how tough that was.

And all the while, I posted every week, without fail, twice a week, such that by the end of 2018, I had accumulated almost 650 blog posts.

I can’t say that I had much traffic during this time, and the traffic I did get was usually off-topic. In particular, this post about how digital history evaporates so easily became the #1 page for the Tony Robbins app that no longer existed. (It still gets hits to this day.)

But I kept going.

2019-2020: Rebranding

My site theme, picked on a whim years back, was starting to feel a little “out of style”, and its lack of responsiveness meant that Google was dinging me in its search rankings. Plus, I wanted visitors to see my site as contemporary and up-to-date.

Also, the name Unlikely Radical had become a liability. By this point, I was focusing primarily on money wellness, with the idea of multiple sites having died out long ago. It was time to rebrand.

So I enlisted the help of a very good designer, and we went back and forth over the course of a year to come up with not only a new name, but a new brand: colors, themes, etc.

At the beginning of 2019, the site became Empathic Finance.

Simple but effective

The name felt very authentic. Money, but emotionally-focused, different from how so many other money people operate. I knew that financial success wasn’t found solely in the head, but also in the heart.

I also made a big change: I began posting once a week instead of twice. The main reason for this was so I could focus more on business development over content creation. This was (and is) super hard for me, as I would much rather write forever than self-promote.

But, with less on my plate, I had more time to devote to my ultimate goal, which was to earn a living through my financial coaching.

2020-2021: Going for it full-time

I had always maintained a “day job”, unwilling (too afraid) to quit it to devote to my coaching business.

And then, in February 2020, I was laid off.

For the first time in my working life, I wasn’t jumping from job to job. I had no real prospects, and as the pandemic soon took hold, no obvious prospects were coming.

So I decided to take advantage of the opportunity that had fallen in my lap: I would go for it, full time.

I hired a business coach, and revamped my site. Instead of a blog-first site, it was a business site, with a blog on the side.

I started all manner of social media sites, something completely alien to me before: YouTube, Instagram, even Pinterest.

I decided to get some credentials, specifically my Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) certification.

And I also did some honest-to-God promotion, appearing on some podcasts, as well as posting for such sites as TherapyDen.

And I got clients! I made more money in 2021 than in all of my previous years combined. I now had a solid offering, as well as results (and testimonials to prove it).

There was just one problem: I wasn’t making nearly enough income to live on, and that didn’t look like it was changing anytime soon. And my dwindling savings wasn’t going to be there for me forever.

2022: Reckoning

One of the big surprises I’ve had with trying to become a full-time financial coach is that there aren’t that many other people doing it. That’s a bit of a dark secret.

Exclude Ramit Sethi, and despite all the people who graduate from Financial Coach Academy, I could find almost no one doing financial coaching in private practice full-time.

Oh sure, many did financial coaching, but it was always as a supplement. When I would interview people this is what I would hear:

  • “Oh, I only work two days a week; my husband makes enough money to allow me to do this.”
  • “Actually, I sell insurance on the side.”
  • “Well, I’ve got this one company as a client that I’ve had for years, and if weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be making anything.”
  • “I make money by affiliate marketing on certain financial products.”

All of which led to a creeping sense of hopelessness. If I couldn’t find someone who was successful aside from those on the NYT Bestseller List, then what chance did I have with my little business?

In the end, money forced my hand. I had to take another full-time job. My life as a coach would have to wait.

The future

But I didn’t give up.

My motto of late has been: “If something isn’t working, change it.” And that gives me lots of opportunity.

For example, recognizing that people may not be willing to pay for financial help unless they have a secondary motivation, I started teaching a continuing education class for therapists, who can earn CE hours as well as practical skills.

I also have plans to offer new and different coaching offerings, from smaller packages to group coaching, all to find a way to meet people where they are.

And it’s time for another redesign of my site, which was never really designed to be a business-focused.

My report card

Looking back at everything I’ve done over the past ten years, I’d give myself a C+. Maybe a B- if I’m feeling charitable.

The idea of being an entrepreneur was historically so foreign to me, that the fact that I’ve founded a real business, built a coaching offer, and had paying clients, just blows my mind.

But I’ve never been able to build a big audience. I expected that after a decade I’d have a real readership, a lively comments section, and a true community. That never happened, and at this rate, it probably never will.

And despite my attempts at trying to become well-known, I’m not even top of the search for “Mike Pumphrey”. (Darn you, “wheat guy“.)

In addition, to put it bluntly, I’ve never made very much money, and nowhere near enough to make this anymore than a hobby.

And yet, every single Monday, from November 12, 2012 to today, there has been a new post on my site. I may not have my TED Talk yet, but I always put in the work.

I don’t know if it’s the right work, or the most effective work, but it’s still the work.

Sidebar: Why 750,000 words?

A year after I started the site, I wrote a post titled “How to write 75,000 words“.

This time, I went in to my database and actually found out how many words I’ve written: In 847 posts, I have written 735,329 words.

(Given that the average non-fiction book is 70,000 to 120,000 words, that means I’ve effectively written between 6-10 books. Hmm, maybe I should get some of these published.)

But I still just kind of like the sound of 750,000 words. It’s fitting for ten years. And it’s close enough.

What’s different now

A lot has changed in ten years. The coffeeshop where I wrote the vast bulk of my work has not only closed, but also demolished (it’s currently fenced-off lot).

I have a great deal more confidence in my ability to help people with their money. I’ve done it many times over, and have seen the results. I also have much more confidence in my ability to charge a reasonable price for my services.

My writing has improved. My site looks so much better. I think I understand SEO, even if I don’t know how to improve it for my site.

And, while not strictly related to my business, I met my partner. Her support and patience with me and my ceaseless toil has been nothing short of life-changing (and life-affirming). I don’t know if I couldn’t do it without her, but I surely wouldn’t want to.

The work continues

What’s not different is my commitment to helping those who need help.

As long as people are struggling with money, I continue to offer the tools to help them make more money, do more with the money they have, and feel more at-ease in their financial life.

Now all I need to do is get better at getting in front of them, and convincing them that their situation isn’t hopeless, and that if they—yes—spend a bit of money on a professional, they can get so much more in return.

The work continues. Ten years is nothing. I’m just getting warmed up. Onward.

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