Just the other day, Steve, an old friend of mine, asked me to help his wife, Liza, get into freelance blogging. Well, a huge chunk of my online earnings come from blogging about digital marketing, WordPress and web design, but between you and me, I had no idea where to start her off.
I mean, when someone close asks you to induct them into blogging, where do you start?
Do you advice them to apply for blogging gigs straight away or should they first blog with little or no pay to earn their stripes? Do you ask them to put together a couple of blogging samples or launch an online portfolio? Do you refer them to your mentors and other successful bloggers who share their experiences on their blogs?
The question of the hour is: How can you make a living blogging?
If you are looking to make a living blogging away, where would you start? So, even without all the answers I sent Steve my address, and in the next few lines, I will share with you the blogging lessons I sent Liza in a long (too long) email. Enjoy and let's make you a living from blogging!
It's NOT as Easy As You'd Imagine
No, it's not my intent to discourage you or anything. It's true you can make a living blogging and have a little fun while at it, but just like any other job, it's hard work.
It's not the career for the untalented, the lazy, the uninspired and the weak. I'm not saying this because I blog for a living or want to sound macho. I'm saying this because blogging is pure hard work – blood, sweat and tears kind of hard. It's hard mental work. It's hard physical work. Pure hard work contrary to what many a conman looking to sell you an eBook will have you believe.
If that wasn't the case, everybody would be a blogger, and we would have no need for posts such as this very one. Anybody who decides blogging for a living is the way to go must take the long view, something that's only familiar to cutthroat investors. Think long term because making money blogging, and especially from your own personal blog, takes time.
You will spend hours hunting leads. You will spend hours balancing your books. You will spend days on top of days marketing your blogging business. You will spend lonely and cold nights working away at your computer to meet an important deadline.
You will have times when quitting seems like the best thing to do. You will get demands that will make you question your own sanity. You will work long hours. You will be your own boss – the hardest of all jobs. You will have taxes to file, orders to ship and so much more to do. You'll run a business.
It's no joke. It's pure work, but you will love it. You will love setting your own schedules. You will enjoy the flexibility to be with loved ones whenever. You will choose your own projects and enjoy working on them.
You will enjoy the thrill of making something out of nothing – from the ground up. You'll be a creator, an inventor of ideas and your own dreams. When your first dollar hits PayPal or your account, you will experience joy like never before.
You will determine how much you're worth, and how much you can make. You will be wiser; you will gain experience you can never learn elsewhere. You will be the envy of your peers who thought you must have hit your head when you decided to go into blogging.
You will make your own mark, even with all the work, and if you're really good at it, your name will be remembered long after you're gone. You will meet many interesting people. You will meet many crappy people; but the lessons they teach you will live with you forever.
You will have your own business cards and professional email address.
Your Own Website
Before we get lost in all this, you can make a living blogging in three main ways:
- Freelance blogger where you're hired on contract basis. You still control your schedules and whatnot. You're your own boss up to the terms of the contract. You're not employed per se, so no benefits for you. You choose your clients, and set your own pay.
- Employed blogger working in an office or from wherever. You're hired as an employee and enjoy all fringe benefits that come with a 9 to 5 setting. You're not your own boss, and if your boss is not a fan of telecommuting, you have to report to the place of work on a daily basis.
- Starting your blog where you build a brand from the ground up and later on monetize the blog. You're an entrepreneur, and enjoy every benefit that comes with the title.
Whichever category you fall in, the first step to build a career around blogging is always getting yourself a killer website. I meet guys like you who'd love to make money blogging, and I always presume they'd understand the importance of having a website.
Until I ask them, and [insert cursive] hits the fan.
I can't emphasize this enough, especially in the face of many would-be bloggers who won't get a website because of self-defeating reasons only known to them.
You're or will be a blogger, digital marketer, online writer, content developer – developing content for online properties. You need your own online portfolio, because well, it's your “office”. Even if you won't make a living directly from blogging, you still need a point of contact and a platform to showcase your wares.
Many aspiring bloggers want to skip this step and go direct to work. Great spirit mate, but poor execution.
Even offline businesses have storefronts. And if that isn't enough, many traditional businesses have websites now, because if look around, we're living in the future. It's the 21st century baby, and if you cannot be found online, you probably don't exist.
To echo my point, your website is your storefront, your office, your business, your portfolio; you. Your website is you – your point of contact in the vast neighborhood that is the internet.
You get a digital stall to showcase your skills, sell products and generally be awesome. You also get a professional email address that shows the client you mean business.
So, whether you want to become the most sought-after indie blogger in your niche, the best corporate blogger or run your very own million dollar blog, you need to start with a blog – your own website. After all, nothing is stopping you.
You can take the cheap route and use free services such as WordPress.com, Blogger or Tumblr or invest at least $100 per year in your website. $100 per year for a simple blog won't break the bank, so there's no reason to go with the free options to begin with. After all, the plan is to make money so you won't have to worry about bills.
If your budget is tight at the moment, you can still choose the free option until you can make enough coin to upgrade. I will start with my own website any day, because they're cheap and offer you plenty of options and flexibility that free options won't.
For instance, you can get a domain name for $10 per year and great web hosting for roughly $50 per year. WordPress is free, and you can always get high-quality themes and plugins without paying a dime. That's about $60 per year for the most basic set up.
Having your own professional website portrays you as a professional, which goes a long way in securing you the most lucrative gigs. Again, take the long view and invest in your business early on. Your website aka blog should be agenda number one on your plan.
Speaking of which…
Do You Have A Plan?
I would claim I started with the perfect plan, but I would be lying through my teeth because mine wasn't really a plan, but an idea backed with strong conviction that I would eventually make a living blogging. My plan was flawed in every imaginable way, and even though it took shape with time, it slowed and nearly stopped my transition to a paid blogger.
Without a sound plan, you won't know where you're headed, which is just as bad as it sounds. Making a living from blogging is a business like any other, which means you need to have a sound plan on how you'll transition from a complete newbie to making the green like pros.
If you fail to plan, you're planning to fail. – Ben Franklin
How are you going to make money from blogging? Will you promote someone else's products or sell advertising space? Will you blog for other websites as a contractor or will you sell your soul to the devil?
When will you work? Are you going to blog full time or is your time tied up in another job? Do you have enough savings to last you until you can make your first dollar? Do you have a sound plan?
If you want to move from point A to point B, you need a plan that guides your steps from point A to point B. It's that simple. The other option is to take any other route available and get lost like there's nothing else to do.
The best business plan starts at point B and work backwards to point A. Your planning game should be strong, for your plan will guide your business through thick and thin, through storms and tempest.
Many people dive into blogging with the notion it's the easiest of jobs. Slight work; just slap together a blog haphazardly, sit back and wait for the offers or whatever. You have to put in real effort marketing your website, connecting with the people who matter and making money.
You need a sound and flexible plan that covers these and other areas. Of course, you must put it in writing, because it's the sort of thing you do to stay on top of every detail and remember stuff.
Play to Your Strengths
Whether you will make money from your own blog or blogging for others, I've found out that it pays (and pays good) to blog about the topics you're passionate about. For instance, I'm all about content marketing, SEO and WordPress.
There are a million and one other topics from which to choose, but catch me dead blogging about stuff that don't excite me. You know, like dogs. Okay that's a lie; everyone loves dogs.
Another poor example: I cannot blog about bee keeping no matter how much I enjoy a nice spread of honey on my bread. I love honey but I hate bees with a passion. I have my own reasons, and no, none of them involves bees stinging people on the face.
There's fulfillment writing about your passions. The work is great, you get to expert level relatively fast, and make good money doing something you love. It's easier to recommend readers to products if you're passionate about the topic surrounding said product. So take advantage of your hobbies, interests and even expertise.
If you love capturing the beauty of mother nature behind a lens, you can start a photography blog and share best tips, your works and more. If you are an experienced financial analyst, you can start a blog on finance, investment or business. You can start a blog about anything, just make sure you're playing to your strengths.
Again, why is this important? Playing to your strengths will make your work easier, fun and highly rewarding.
Define Your Target Audience
My friend Mike is a seasoned accountant. He's experienced in everything money and investments, and he would like to share his expertise with the world. Good move Mike, blogging about your expertise. I advised him to write a quick post, so I could have some content to point him in the right direction. He submitted the post and asked for feedback.
The post was well written, no grammatical errors and whatnot – apparently Mike got a good education. However, I could not connect with the post, and I'm the perfect example of the person Mike would like to reach. I'm a total newbie when it comes to investments, and Mike's blog will soon be in my bookmarks, but I just couldn't connect with that specific post.
Mike wants to attract the beginner investor, but his post was full of finance-speak that would go over the head of any beginner investor, yours truly included. I asked how much he knew about his target audience, and he just stared at me like I stepped out of a Marvel comic book. Over some cheap whiskey, I explained why he needed to define a target audience.
You need to know exactly who you will attract to your blog. Understand their needs, online habits, their buying power, where they live, how they find your website etc.
Don't just blog out of the blues – set your sight on a specific target customer. If you went to the shooting range to practice your aim, I bet you would want to hit the targets as opposed to, say, waiting all day for the targets to come and hit the muzzle of your gun.
If you'd like to make money blogging for other blogs, the content you publish on your blog should target the people behind the blogs you're interested in. To borrow a hook from Future, the rapper, you should be a monster on your target audience. You should be a monster; ruthless and merciless when targeting your audience.
I blog for web developers and digital marketers with WordPress-based businesses. I target clients from a specific country that I won't mention to remain politically correct. Why do I target one specific country? Well, because they can foot the bill and are super-awesome to work with compared to clients from other locations I won't mention as well.
However, when I started, it wasn't like this. I targeted the entire world and completely missed the mark. I attracted the wrong audiences, which cost me time and money but later on bore today's lesson: define your own audience. After working with different people from different locations, I noticed differences, and I was able to settle on an audience.
In my case, starting without a definite audience led to a better understanding of the people I wanted to work with. It took time and money though, which you can avoid by defining your audience early on. Enough about me already.
Remember that you can have different target audiences for your various products or businesses. Just don't target the entire world, develop your niche(s) and stick to your guns. After identifying your audience, always write your posts in a conversational manner. Talk to them, not at them through your content.
That's right buddy, don't be too formal, it's just a blog. Unless your blog demands so.
Use the Right tools
You can't take a knife to the aforementioned shooting range, now can you? Imagine getting to the shooting range, taking out your kitchen knife, going prone upon the ground and aiming the target with one eye shut.
Unless you can walk on water or feed 5,000 people with two cans of tuna and five slices of bread, you can wait throughout the seasons and you'll never hit the target. In fact, you would be thrown in a mental facility, if the instructor does not take it as a light moment.
Using the right tools can mean all the difference between turning in a profit and making catastrophic losses from your blogging business. Start with the wrong tools, and you will end up regretting. Start with the right tools, and your job will become easier.
What tools do you need as a blogger to be? Firstly, and we've already mentioned this, you need a great website. For that, you need WordPress, a great theme such as the select few that live on WPExplorer, Themeforest or Elegant Themes.
Secondly, your website should live on a great server, you know, to avoid downtimes and performance caps that will send your prospects away. Your web host shouldn't strangle the life out of your website; you should be accorded all the resources you need to run your business without any hiccups. I recommend WP Engine, Bluehost (I host a few sites here) and Fatcow (I started here).
You will also need a notepad or app to take notes and jot down new ideas on the fly. A shorthand pad and pen will do most times, but if you would like to preserve trees, you can use Evernote, which is both free and extremely versatile.
On top of that, you need project and time management tools such as RescueTime, Basecamp and activeCollab among others. You will also need Google Analytics or KISSmetrics to track your traffic and the performance of your blog.
You also need companionship, love and support from loved ones, so don't try making a living from blogging on your own. It's lonely and can leave you with an unhealthy craving for the evenings, when you can finally go dine or hang out with friends.
With the right business and personal partners by your side, you will get the most out of your blogging business as opposed to doing it all by yourself. This I learned from experience.
Wait…are we still talking about blogging tools here?
The tools you choose depend on your blogging needs, so think about this beforehand. The first most important tool is yourself – you should take care of you first. Your health, your relationships – your everything – should all line up if you want to commit fully to blogging. You should endeavor to align your spiritual chakras as well.
But having the right tools does not guarantee you will create the kind of blog that makes you money. Unfortunately, we won't cover this area in this post. Since the topic is expansive, we've reserved this area for a similar post that will show you how to build the ultimate blog.
Focus on Building A Community
No man is an island, entire of itself. – John Donne, No Man Is An Island – Meditation XVII
How do you make readers come back to your blog? How do you make them fall madly in love with your blog they can't think of anything better to read in the mornings? Of course, you need to have awesome content and provide value. Next, you need to make your web visitors part of your community.
Huh? Part of my community? I don't even own a blog, how the hell I'm supposed to hack the business of having a community?
After you've set up your blog and added great content, you should encourage readers to participate in the comments.
If the conversation is not happening in your comment section, please don't sweat it; perhaps you are attracting the wrong audience, or the volume of traffic is not enough to provide 600 comments overnight. If this is the case, you should work on defining your audience and generating more traffic. Otherwise, feel free to invest in a one of a kind forum.
A forum gives your readers the chance to interact with you and, more importantly, amongst themselves. Check out our very own Rise Forums for inspiration. Bloggers all over the place are taking to forums, so don't be left behind.
If you can meet your readers in person, the better. Attend or organize meetups where you can interact with your readers and you're sure to get a loyal following – the kind that pays for your services and products without batting an eye.
Get creative and find ways of building a community around your brand, and you'll move a step closer to your dreams of making mbesha* from blogging. If you don't know where to start, just think of at least five creative ways you can help other people without charging a dime. And no, sharing tips on your blog does not count here.
Charity, on the other hand, should be top on your list. You have four more to go…
Set the Right Rates
In other words, charge a premium because, first off, you are worth every penny, and secondly, you will earn enough to cover the bills and afford a vacation to, say, the beautiful travel haven that's Kenya.
Don't you need to earn your stripes first? You know, work for content mills that suck you dry while making millions from your hard work? Or put up with crappy clients with crappy rates because you need to pay the bills?
Here's a counter-question: How much is your time worth? Keeping in mind you won't stick around forever, how much is your time worth? $2 per post? $5 per hour? $10 perhaps? How about $300 per hour?
Well, that's up to you, but when I started out, I earned peanuts because I was the least-confident blogger around. I did not evaluate the value of my time since we've already established I started without a plan.
Don't fall into this trap because you will end up working your sorry a$$ off like a slave, wasting time you could channel towards building your own business.
What should you do instead? Invest time and effort in educating yourself on how to build a blogging business. It's encouraging that you're reading this post, because it means you're on the right path. Then target high paying blogging clients from the start, believe in yourself like you're the only person on earth, and get to down to work.
Don't stop. No, don't even look back and be quick to shut out all the crappy people who want to discourage you because they can't do it. After all, how do you think those highly-paid bloggers out there got to where they are? 200 points to you if your first answer was “they charge a premium and never quit”.
This is for the crappy guys who don't believe in your blogging dreams:
They hate us because they ain't us. – The Interview
Charge a premium rate but provide real results. At the end of the day, the client who's worth your time won't try to squeeze the life out of you in the name of saving a buck or two. They know too well it's their content that will bear the brunt of it all.
Avoid cheap clients like the plague or you'll end up regretting and, in most cases, tarnishing your reputation. That's right, cheap clients will often bad mouth you when things go downhill, no matter who's to blame.
Determine your worth, and set your rates right.
Get a Mentor
This life is a mystery that's hard to understand. If you start anything and try to do it on your own, you will probably still succeed but the journey will be full of storms. Alright, the foregoing statement is pure baloney, but it doesn't discount the place of a mentor in every area of life, not just blogging.
Join a network of people who are headed your direction, and if one can hold your hand while at it, the better. Your mentor should preferably be the person who has overcome some of the challenges you will face as you build your blogging business.
Tom Ewer was and is still one of my mentors. He is the blogger and entrepreneur who motivated me the most especially when things looked bleak. When I was in the thick of it, I could always find solace at Leaving Work Behind. His emails keep me going (yes, I subscribe to his blog to date), and I got my first good-paying client after following his tips.
Do I regret discovering Leaving Work Behind? Absolutely not! Get a mentor you will look up to, soak in all the education they can offer and become a teacher thyself. After all, they say the teacher and the student share the same destiny :)
Build Your Email List
They say the money is in the email list, and I concur 100% even though I've slacked in this area. What? I'm no superhuman and there's just too much I can put on my plate at any given time. Away with confessions, even if your main goal is to sell blogging services, try as much as you can to collect emails on your website.
Why? Glad you asked.
You can easily convert email subscribers to loyal customers. I did it once, and about 20% of the few people who signed up became clients, some only after a few emails. Secondly, you email list can be a great source of traffic, and you know what they say; traffic equals money.
People who join your mailing list are also very good repeat customers and brand ambassadors. If you plan to sell services via email, start doing so from the word go. Don't wait for a later date.
Also, don't sell subscriber information to third party sites because – just don't do it.
Network Like a Mad Man
You need the connects mate, oh yes you do. You don't know where the next client could come from. It could be Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Your next client could come from the networking event you attended last week. Oh wait, you've never attended a networking event as a blogger, but you should start now.
In the online world, the best possible way to reach out and put your business on the map is to create content on other websites. This is known as guest blogging. Does it work? Oh yeah, guest blogging works like magic. In fact, it's my number one source of business leads, better than all the SEO I have in place.
I have blogging clients who contacted me because they saw my writing on a different blog, not my own website. As soon as you start your blogging journey, you should endeavor to post on other relevant websites more than you post on your own blog. I said relevant because you need to stick to your niche or Google will throw penalties your way.
Guest blog on relevant and high quality blogs, whether they will pay you or not. Many web masters are trying to fill up paid guest blogging positions, so you get to kill two birds with the same stone. You get a high quality link back to your blog, the client gets awesome content and you earn some coffee money.
Additionally, get into the habit of commenting on other blogs although the impact is insignificant. Firstly, you get a link back to your blog, which should help your link building activities. If you add real value to the conversation, readers on that other blog will hold you with high regard; you're considered an expert. I have enjoyed traffic from comments I posted on other blogs two years ago.
Comment to add value, not to earn the back link. You never know where your next client will come from.
Engage in link building, but as we saw in Latest SEO Techniques and Trends, you have to be extremely careful.
Moving on swiftly…
How Do You Make Money from Blogging?
Let's say you have set up your blog and added valuable and relevant content. How do you go ahead and make the money? Blogging opens up a couple of avenues for the smart entrepreneur. You can:
Sell Your Services
There are many services you can offer on your blog, not just content creation. You could offer writing services to other web masters, and since you have a blog in place, you already have samples to show.
As you write great content for other websites, you get the chance to build your reputation and portfolio, both of which contribute to your bottom-line at the end of the day.
That aside, you could offer consulting, SEO, WordPress support and even speak at events after you've gained some experience. You can offer any other service depending on your skills, expertise and/or niche.
The secret is to be perceived as an expert, something you should endeavor to achieve from the word go by providing the best service money can buy.
Online marketing experts such as Jon Morrow, who makes about $100,000 a month from his blog, recommend that you start with services before moving on to products. Offer services first, and products second.
If selling services isn't something you would touch with a ten foot pole, or you just want to increase your earnings, you can venture into products. For instance, you can put some of your content in an eBook and sell it to your readers or the entire world on sites such as Amazon.
After determining what your audience wants, you can address a specific problem your reader is facing in an eBook or a series of eBooks. Heck, you can create any standalone product e.g. DVDs to sell to your readers, and if it solves their problem, you should start smiling to the bank soon enough.
If you can build a plugin or any other piece of software that helps your readers to overcome a particular pressing problem, you can make money selling it on your blog.
You can even package some of your content and offer the same at a premium through a membership site attached to your blog. Then instead of selling eBooks, you can sell recurring membership plans to establish a passive source of income.
This is one area I'm personally looking into venturing. And that's because you can make good money simply from promoting someone else's products. You earn a commission every time someone you refers buys the product.
For instance, if you blog about health and fitness, you can make a killing promoting treadmills on Amazon. If you blog about SEO, you can make a living promoting SEO services, software and even eBooks. In simple terms, you can make a living promoting any product under the sun!
Where to start? You can start a blog that's fully dedicated to reviewing products in your niche. If you write honest and useful reviews, your readers will start trusting you and buy through your affiliate links.
If I actualize this dream of owning an affiliate business, I will come back and share what I learn with you, but until then, let's get back to making you a living from blogging.
Start a blog about your favorite topic, build your audience, generate traffic, and then sign up with programs such as Amazon Associates and ClickBank to mention a few. Play your cards right and you will create a passive source of income that's based purely on someone else's product, and of course, your hard work.
Sell Advertising Space
This goes like this: You create a blog about some popular topic you're passionate about. You keep adding awesome content and promote your blog vigorously. With time, traffic numbers grow and you approach advertisers and sell space on your site for a premium.
Diversify Income Streams
I don't want to sound like any other self-proclaimed e-marketing guru out there, but diversifying income streams will help you to earn maximally from your blog. You can make money from selling services, products, affiliate marketing, ads etc.
Darren Rowse, the dedicated blogger behind ProBlogger, explains how he does it in 12 Blogging Income Streams [And the Story of My 10 Year ‘Overnight’ Success].
Word of Caution: Don't try to do everything at the same damn time. You'll have that plan we talked about earlier on, right? Start with one income stream and once you have that going on for you, move on to the next and repeat.
Remember, you're not just a blogger, you're a mentor, a teacher, an expert in your field, an SEO, webmaster, web designer, entrepreneur…so be prepared to learn a lot and wear many different hats. All the same, just start with a solid plan and keep on keeping on.
At the end of the day, you will arrive at point B and we will pop the bubbly.
All the best and God speed!
*mbesha – Kenyan-speak for money.