It was a very good year!
I started the blog (late 2010) to market the book. When I realized the blog’s potential I researched the easiest ways to earn revenue. Until 2012, my only blogging expense was $25/year to register the The-Military-Guide.com with WordPress.
Unfortunately in 2012 the only way to earn money from WordPress.COM was their WordAds program, and several months after I’d applied for it I still hadn’t been approved. By early May I was ready to move to Bluehost using WordPress.ORG open-source blogging software.
I’ll never know if it was coincidence or the WordPress team reading my blog, but I was approved for WordAds literally the night before I was going to move to Bluehost. I’m already financially independent and there was no urgency to earn blog revenue, so I figured that I’d stick around for a few months to see what WordAds could do.
It seemed like a great deal– WordPress would sell ads (at the end of a post) in over 30 broad categories. The advertisers would pay WordPress for the exposure and we bloggers would earn a revenue share. The only catch was that WordPress wouldn’t pay out until the clicks had earned at least $100. The blog was getting over 200 hits/day back in May, so it seemed like that could happen pretty quickly.
Not so fast. The WordAds categories were so broad that they barely applied to the military or financial independence. Instead of text links or graphics, they were almost all video commercials for consumer products (like trash bags) or for food. (One was a baseball fan video of two players reading Twitter tweets.) Over the next four months, here’s how the bucks racked up:
Total earnings: $25.58
Total paid: $0.00
By August I’d realized that the $100 payout threshold wouldn’t be reached until (at least) late 2013. In September I spent three days at FINCON with over 400 entrepreneurial personal-finance bloggers. I returned home totally stoked about self-hosting, so I dusted off my checklist. Several FINCON presentations had helped me confirm what I needed, and I’d consulted another dozen bloggers about their experiences. I whipped out my credit card and started shopping.
Bluehost charges about five bucks a month to allocate their server’s “shared resources” to your blog (shared with lots of other blogs). It’s the equivalent of your desktop PC running several programs at the same time, and hopefully they all get along together. It’s the best solution for small blogs with less traffic, but if a blog takes off then you’ll need to upgrade to more resources and bandwidth. So far so good.
The “catch” on Bluehost’s rock-bottom monthly fee is that they want to be paid in advance– for three years. (I wonder how many of those three-year blogs are still active. Sounds a lot like the classic trap of an annual gym membership.) While I was there, I allowed Bluehost to upsell me on their backup services and their “Sitelock” security services. (More on those in another post.) I’ve seen too many backups casualties over my 30+ years of computer use, and I hoped that a Sitelock purchase meant that Bluehost would pay more attention to spam problems. I had a high volume of spam on WordPress.com and I’d heard lots of FINCON horror stories about spam & hackers. The upselling worked out better than I expected.
I have a 1980s computer science degree and I’m Internet literate, but let’s be realistic: one false move on a site transfer would’ve put me in the penalty box for hours. Been there, done that, I’d rather be surfing than figuring out cryptic error messages. Ryan Guina of Military Wallet recommended letting Blogcrafted tackle the move, and it was well worth the expense. We e-mailed back & forth about what I should set up, I signed up for Bluehost, I turned over all the passwords, and 24 hours later the move was finished. (I changed the passwords again after we were all done.) I got great answers to all of my blogger-geek dumb questions and I avoided several minefields in the transfer process.
When I started the blog I was happy to use a free WordPress theme, but I knew that someday I’d want to sell the blog. I wanted to make this blog as attractive as possible to a new owner, and that meant being able to easily upgrade or move everything. Instead of the “good ol’ days of simple CSS themes” (that’s blogger sarcasm), blog software has now grown to a “framework” that handles much of the blogging infrastructure (especially layout and SEO) while running child themes. The two big framework products are Thesis & Genesis, and you’ll see them on many popular blogs. Back in September Thesis v1.0 was getting pretty creaky (they just rolled out v2.0 a few weeks ago) so I went with Genesis. I’m pretty sure that I paid full retail for the software equivalent of a McMansion instead of a two-bedroom townhouse, but I wanted the blog’s (someday) new owner to have room to grow. It’s turned out to be a wise decision for me, too, because Genesis has a number of conveniences that I never would have thought to demand from a free theme. As my blogger skills improve, Genesis will be able to handle my improvements.
The blog move/upgrade was a very interesting party weekend, and the bill reflected that:
$247.03 Bluehost (with URL domain registration, backup service, and Sitelock)
$60.00 Blogcrafted (after rebate for using Bluehost)
$59.95 Studiopress (Genesis framework)
How long will it take for the blog revenue to pay that back? It already has. I don’t feel so bad about abandoning the $25.58 of WordAds accrued earnings, and I’m glad I didn’t wait another year for their $100 threshold.
I signed up for Google AdSense as soon as the move was finished, and I had ads running by 10 Oct. Google pays out about three weeks after the end of the month, so I’ve received payments for both October and November. I also sold a one-year text link for a major financial-services provider through a third party:
$101.74 October AdSense (three weeks)
$133.01 November AdSense (full month)
$125.00 Text link
December’s AdSense revenue will put the payback over the top. I’m also starting up Amazon’s affiliate service as well as commissions from several other military-friendly financial services.
How am I really handling all that filthy lucre? The first thing I’m going to do is donate $366.98 of my own assets to charity, split between Wounded Warrior Project and Fisher House. I gained full value from the blog move, and the education was well worth the price of the tuition. On my tax return, I’m going to deduct the $366.98 expense of the blog move against the book royalties & blog income. Of course I’m also going to take a tax deduction for the charitable donation. I’ve had other blogging expenses during 2012 (FINCON and the USAA conference) that exceed book royalties & blog revenue.
What am I going to do with all of the money that this site will earn in 2013? Google’s terms of service agreement doesn’t allow publishers to claim that they’re donating revenue to charity. (Google doesn’t audit those claims, and they don’t want people misled into clicking on ads.) I won’t tell you what I’m doing with the Google AdSense revenue. However all book royalties and other advertising/affiliate income will be donated to military charities chosen by the contributors. If you share your advice or your story on the blog (or in future editions of the book) then you’re a contributor, and you get a vote on what charities receive our donations.
2012 royalty income (accrued since the book’s June 2011 release) is $1660.74. It’s quite possible that 2013 royalty payments (January & July) will total at least that much.
I have no idea how to price a 40-page eBook on military insurance topics, but I suspect that will also earn at least $50/month. As soon as I finish writing it.
I think it’s also possible to ramp up the 2013 blog revenue to $200/month, and most of that only requires a one-time setup. If I tried to sell the blog for its revenue stream, it’d be priced at about 12x-36x monthly earnings. Since I’d stick around to generate content for the new owner, I’d set its value at $7000. I’ve had some offers but I’m going to revisit that decision in June. I’m still enjoying the blogger challenges and I’m getting just enough surfing to maintain my “work”:life balance.
I don’t expect any more blog expenses until late 2015. I could buy quite a few paid services, but so far I’ve been able to work it out with free plugins and sweat equity. I’ll write more about that in another post.
Otherwise blogging is a career that you have to save up for… at least during the first two years.
Beginner’s guide to part-time blogging for money (part 2 of 2)
Reader feedback on USAA interest rates and blog advertising
Update on selling the blog– or not
WordAds is trying to get it right
WordAds from WordPress
“So Nords, why are you still blogging?” (part 3)
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