Accidental Entrepreneur: From Nonprofits to Serious Profits

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Nonprofits and loads of graduate school student loans left this blogger desperate and in debt. Discovering personal finance blogs turned everything around.

I hope you’ve been enjoying our series on accidental entrepreneurs where we’re interviewing full-time bloggers to find out how they stumbled into their current careers. Since blogging isn’t exactly a science, there are many ways to go about making a living online. That’s why it’s so interesting and fascinating to learn about the paths people take to earn legitimate income through profitable online businesses.



Melanie Lockert is next up in our group of successful full-time bloggers. You probably know her from her blog Dear Debt, and you’ve likely seen her writing on several popular blogs. I really relate to Melanie’s story because like me, she went to graduate school for a career where she knew she wouldn’t make a lot of money and yet, life had some different plans in store for her! Melanie said, “Before becoming a blogger, I worked in the nonprofit sector my whole life – mostly in arts education, but also international education. I never made a lot of money.”

When she got accepted to her dream school, New York University, she decided to pursue a master’s degree. She wanted to increase her income, cross something off her bucket list, and experience all New York had to offer. Instead, she graduated when the recession was still in full swing with over $50,000 in student loan debt.

After graduation, Melanie lived in Portland and struggled to find a full-time job. She said, “I was working seasonally, making $12/hr. I felt like my master’s degree was a waste and everything felt like a struggle. I didn’t know what direction I should go in, and I didn’t know how to get out of this monstrous debt I had accumulated.”



Frustrated and fed up with what seemed like an endless cycle of side hustles, like actually cleaning other people’s houses, Melanie turned to the Internet for answers and found personal finance blogs. She was at an extremely low point in her life, but personal finance blogs inspired her so much, she decided to start one of her own.



Although Melanie had many jobs for nonprofits and in creative fields including communications, she felt like her hands were tied. She loved to write but always had so many restrictions. When she started freelance writing, the first thing she noticed was that her clients appreciated her work and gave her lots of leeway in terms of her style and topics.

It was this feeling of creative freedom that finally inspired her to pursue blogging full-time and leave the nonprofit (and side-hustling) world behind her. Melanie said, “I love having freedom over my schedule. I am a natural night owl and despise mornings (which is why I’m writing this at 2:30 a.m.) I can actually sleep in and work when my energy is high instead of force myself to be somewhere I don’t want to be at 8:00 a.m. Blogging and writing have kept me creatively fulfilled and challenged. I used to perform and teach theater – something that I may go back and do again – but for now, writing fills that creative part of me that is always hungry.”



Bloggers never plan to become bloggers. It typically always happens by accident. Melanie said, “I didn’t know the first thing about blogging when I started, I just wanted an outlet.” What she enjoys the most is that “blogging caters to a community of like-minded people who are fighting to get out of debt and live on their terms.” Melanie is an amazing voice for them and a great source of encouragement, just as other personal finance bloggers were to her when she started reading blogs.

Now, the sky is the limit for Melanie. Taking the plunge to full time self-employment was tough but now, eight months in, Melanie has found her way. She’s now able to expand her business, land new clients, all while taking two week trips to Europe, and working along the way.

Nonprofits and loads of graduate school student loans left this blogger desperate and in debt. Discovering personal finance blogs turned everything around.

It all sounds glamorous, but don’t be fooled. I know Melanie personally, and she is an extremely hard worker with a work ethic far above most. She is willing to do just about anything to earn an income because that’s what it takes when you support yourself.

As I said, there was once a time, before blogging, when she cleaned other people’s houses to make money and now she spends her time writing high quality articles for large websites, updating her blog, paying down her debt, and constantly improving her brand and her business. It’s not easy, and because I do similar work as Melanie, I know some days can be a massive struggle, but the rewards of freedom are worth it. Melanie has worked hard to enjoy that freedom, and it’s available to anyone else who’s willing to work for it too.


What side hustles have you tried your hand at? What are some of the oddest jobs you’ve worked to earn an income? If you could choose your career, what would you do?

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Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families. Check out her award winning blog,


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