Beginner’s guide to part-time blogging for money (part 2 of 2)
(This post stands on its own, but you’ll have a better perspective if you scan the first post in this two-part series.)
My last post talked about using Google AdSense and other advertisers to start up your revenue stream. If you’re only interested in spending a few hours a week on your blog, then AdSense is the easiest first step.
Once you’ve set up AdSense then you’re ready to do more. Here are the last three of the top five ways to start bringing in money.
Affiliate sales give you a commission when your readers buy the product. The seller charges the same price to your reader whether they use your affiliate link or not— but when the reader uses your link to buy the product, you get a small percentage of the price. It may not seem like much money, but Amazon’s affiliate sales link credits you with anything that a reader buys from Amazon during the next few hours. If a reader goes to Amazon for one of your recommended books and then buys electronics or an appliance, you’ll get a commission from that too. A huge chunk of Pat Flynn’s income is from affiliate sales to Bluehost blog-hosting services, which he also describes through posts and video tutorials. Ironically his main blog uses so much bandwidth that he buys a dedicated hosting service from another company, but he runs niche blogs on Bluehost.
At first I felt a little embarrassed about sending you readers (who are generally frugal bargain shoppers) to a website that’s tempting us to spend money. After all, you’re here to learn about financial independence instead of ways to empty your wallet. I finally decided to encourage searching for the books at a local library (just as they can for “The Military Guide”) and try before you buy. If you decide to buy the book anyway, then I’d appreciate your using my affiliate link. Some readers are building their own reference library to re-read and mark up (old school!) while others can’t deploy a library book to the Western Pacific or into the desert. Even more readers are looking for training materials to use at their commands, or gifting to family & friends.
Whenever I buy anything online, I check my favorite blogs to see who has an affiliate link for that seller. It’s a cheap way to say “Thanks!”
Credit card companies will pay you a one-time commission for every reader who uses your link to get their card. MrMoneyMustache (admittedly a very popular blog with over 10K hits/day) was earning thousands of dollars a month from credit card commissions.
Affiliate marketing is a potential gold mine, but consider why you’re blogging. I’m not sure how I feel about encouraging junior servicemembers to sign up for credit cards while I’m blogging about military financial independence. However this blog has hundreds of credit-responsible readers who’d be all over an offer from a military-friendly company like USAA.
Before you sign up for affiliate marketing, you have to grow your own market. If you apply to an affiliate program during your first month of blogging, you have few readers and no credibility. You might be one of the three bloggers each year who grow to thousands of daily readers in a few months. (I hope you are!) The rest of us will need two years to grow your audience to the point where an affiliate marketing company will want to do business with you. If you apply to an affiliate marketer with only a few dozen readers then you’ll probably be turned down, and the marketer may not offer a second chance. If your blog owns the first page of Google search results or has a regular audience of several hundred hits per day then you’re ready for an affiliate marketer.
You can earn a commission by selling recommended products, but you can earn even more by selling your own products. The most popular products are books or tools (like a financial calculator or a special-purpose spreadsheet). Other ideas include smartphone apps, blog plugins, meal recipes, woodworking plans, and clothing patterns. Your products can even develop their own pipeline: you can write special reports or recommendations that you’ll sell as 99-cent PDFs. You can follow up with eBooks on selected topics for a few dollars. You can even repackage your entire blog as a book, which is how “You Are NOT So Smart” was published.
It’s counter-intuitive. Why in the world would people pay you for articles and short books that they can read on your blog for free? You probably let them test-drive your spreadsheet or your website, too, so why would they pay you for it?
First, it’s a way for your readers to say “Thanks!“. If you’re improving their lives and helping them save thousands of dollars, then many of them will want to leave you a tip. More pragmatically, it’s a way for them to have their own copy of your work to take with them when they’re not online. And finally, it’s their reference library if you should decide to stop blogging or even shut down your site.
I’m outlining the second edition of “The Military Guide”, but I’m not going to publish a second edition until the first print run sells out. In the meantime I can create more of my own copyrighted material on select subjects (like military-related insurance products) and sell a 30-40 page eBook on just that topic. If it sells, I’ll earn lots more money for military charities. If it doesn’t sell then I can give it away and do more research on what would actually sell. Whatever I sell as an eBook can be added to the next hardcopy edition of the book
YouTube and iTunes
YouTube and podcasts are powerful marketing machines. Your blog reaches your readers, but your podcast reaches your listeners– and your videos show everyone how it’s done. Popular YouTube videos earn advertising revenue, and both channels can direct your readers to links and products.
I used to consider this an advanced marketing technique requiring expensive audio & video equipment. The problem with my logic is that I’m a geezer who remembers when this type of gear used to cost thousands of dollars, and I’m sadly out of date. Teens use cell phones to create YouTube and iTunes content every day for their audience. It’s the only way to share your advice on topics like surfing or fashion, or show how to use products like makeup. Even a very basic video can talk your audience through the steps of setting up a blog– or entertain you with a Skype interview.
Audio & video might appeal to bloggers who find it difficult to write, let alone create fresh content. You can start today with a webcam and free video-editing software. All it takes is your interest, motivation, and time. If you struggled through high-school English classes or suffer from writer’s block, then you might find it a lot easier to talk or demonstrate than to type.
I’ve read up on these methods, but I haven’t done anything with them. My geezer reality is that I prefer to write. I’m apparently immune to writer’s block, and I’ve been too lazy to pursue podcasts & videos. Someday I’ll redirect my content through those channels, or pay someone to do it for me
Setting advertising rates for your blog
Yeah, I know, I should’ve started the post with this heading. But it’s tougher than I thought.
The blogger market is highly fragmented, it’s hard to find a rate sheet for your topic, and prices change every month. Most advertisers will offer you less than half of what your blog is “worth”, and the professionals you seek for long-term relationships will also be willing to negotiate your rates.
AdSense and Amazon will show you what you’re earning, and you don’t have to know anything about ad rates to sign up. Start with them. Once you’re making a profit (or at least paying your hosting fees) then you can invest some of your income on learning more about ad rates.
In my limited experience, in the very broad category of personal finance topics, I’ve noticed that a month of my blog’s AdSense revenue is about what other advertisers are willing to pay for a year of a text link in a sponsored post. I hope that correlation is causation!
Be bold about charging what you’re worth. Advertisers can always move on to the next blog, but if yours is ranked on the first page of Google’s search results then they’re willing to pay for it. Small business owners (and us newbies) are always hesitant to charge what we’re really worth, but smaller advertisers are going to negotiate your initial offer. Affiliate marketers may want to offer the same commission rate to everyone, but you could always ask for more– or see whether you can include other benefits for a package deal.
Even if I don’t know your blog, your writing is worth about $25-$100/hour. $25/hour is a starting wage for most freelance writers, and $100/hour reflects your level of knowledge & experience in a subject. I ask $125/hour for a two-hour minimum, and if I’m writing on a tough topic then I expect to be rewarded for it. I can write– but I know a dozen bloggers whose writing is worth more than mine because of their style, their age demographic, and their audience.
Hire an advertising manager
If any of the above makes you groan at the thought of doing it, then… don’t do it. Hire someone on commission to do it for you. A professional will help you set rates, negotiate with advertisers, and track the income.
Crystal Stemberger is the rock star of blogger advertising. She runs advertising accounts for bloggers– over 200 so far. I’ve seen her in action at FINCON12, and she knows her business. Better yet, she’s willing to teach you how she does it. Her eBook is a great primer and checklist. She charges (at least) $27 for it, but it’s worth more than you’ll pay. (You’ll recover that expense on your first text link in a sponsored post.) After an hour of reading you’ll either feel confident enough to set your own rates, or you’ll know that you’d like to pay her to handle it for you.
Blog with a long-term attitude
At the very least, after the first year your blog earnings will pay for your hosting fees. After a couple of years it’ll pay for your hobby– and maybe even your date-night budget. For us casual bloggers enjoying our passion, the income could eventually pay for a couple of IRAs or help you max out your 401(k). After 3-4 years of doing this for fun, you’ll know if you’re a blogger entrepreneur.
It’s work. It requires some hustling. It’s better if your daily routine is organized & disciplined, and it’s best if you have a checklist to make sure you hit all the cyclic weekly/monthly items. It will probably take two years to catch on, but it scales. If you love your hobby then you’ll enjoy writing about it, and you won’t mind the occasional chore.
Most of all, it gives you a sense of accomplishment & validation. It accelerates your financial independence, and it helps some of you to tolerate your day job “until my blog takes off“.
Share your blogger advice– what’s working for you?
Does this post help?