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This is one of those posts. I can just feel it. You know the posts I’m talking about, right? The ones that I have been writing in my head for years and finally get typed out for you to read. When I first started this blog in 2009, I didn’t really think it was possible to make money blogging. In fact, I didn’t really understand how anyone made money running a non-retail website. Oh sure, I knew that if you were lucky enough to buy a domain that a big company wanted to buy, you could make some bank by selling the dot com. But how did everyday average people like you and I tap into the internet’s wealth of advertising and affiliate revenue? I’m happy to tell you that the rumors are true – you absolutely can make money blogging. But after 8 long years of running this blog, as well as a few side blogs, I have learned lots of tips and tricks. I have also learned (many times the hard way) so many things NOT to do. I want to share them with you so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
A little background for those that haven’t been with me since the start: In my pre-kid life I was a teacher. I absolutely adored teaching! Student teaching and my first teaching job were amazing experiences! I was so happy when I was teaching and making lessons come alive for my students. I was sure I had picked the perfect career path for my future.
After years of grad school and then lots of interviewing, I landed (what I thought was) my dream job, teaching in a public school. I made a very good salary, had great healthcare and had no reason to think that I wouldn’t teach until I retired. Whelp. Sometimes you find out that unfortunately your dream job, in fact, isn’t. I loved the teaching and the kids, that was never in doubt. The problem? I had a an absolutely ghastly principal. Instead of appreciating my enthusiasm and energy for the job and choosing to mentor and support me, she took my passion for teaching and pretty much killed it. She crippled my self-esteem with verbal and mental abuse. She humiliated me in front of co-workers multiple times. She sent me home in tears on more than one occasion and there were many nights that I stayed up well past midnight crying through lesson planning, dreading school the next day. My misery is an important part of this story, so keep it in mind!
When school let out for the summer in 2008, I was 6 months pregnant with Lily. I made sure to take every last personal possession from my classroom before leaving for break. I made a silent promise to myself that I would do whatever I had to do to never have to teach at that school again. I was that broken and miserable there. I figured I would use my maternity leave (originally slated to last for 1 school year) to try to find another job teaching somewhere. I never realized that I would be able to turn my misery into the self-motivation that I needed to start an entirely new career. Keep reading!
September of 2008 brought our redheaded bundle of joy into our lives. Miss Lily was born and turned our world upside down in the very best of ways. You might also recall that fall of ’08 was also the tumultuous housing market crash when the economy was looking pretty scary and bleak. It was around this time that I became very interested in learning how to stretch my dollars. We had chopped our income in half when I went out on maternity leave. We had put some money away to last until I went back to teaching, but I became keenly aware that the more we could save, the better. I also started looking for ways to bring in some money while I was home.
How I made money from home before I started my blog:
I did some mystery shopping, I filled out LOTS of online surveys. I even scanned my grocery purchases to earn different incentive prizes. While those things didn’t pay our mortgage, they DID put extra dollars in our pockets and went towards everything from groceries to gas in the car.
How all of this led to starting a blog:
Not only was I earning some extra money doing the things I just mentioned, I was also taking an active interest in learning how to save money. I was learning to shop sales, use coupons and match those coupons to weekly store circulars. Of course one of my favorites was to play the drugstore game at CVS. With a little pre-planning, I was walking out of the store with BAGS of product for pennies, sometimes it was even free.
I was getting pretty good about this money saving thing. I talked about it to friends and family. A lot. One day my sister said to me, “You should start a blog.” I didn’t really know what that meant. It sounded like something the college kids were doing – maybe like an online diary?? Not exactly, but kind of, right? It all started as a hobby. I never dreamed there was any money in it.
While I cannot promise that you will make a full-time job out of blogging, I know many many people who do just that. I am one of them. It is absolutely possible.
I made a lot of mistakes. Don’t make the same ones that I did!
Start out on a self-hosted WordPress blog. I did not and this is probably one of my biggest blogging regrets for a bunch of reasons. You really need to self-host a WordPress blog. It is SO easy and so quick to get started. A host like Bluehost will get you up and running from just $3.95/month. That’s right! Another great host company (and the one I use) is New Blog Hosting. They have a “Blogger Package” that will get you up and running for just $35/year!
Why I wish I started out on self-hosted WordPress:
:: I made the mistake of starting out out on Blogger. My original website address was actually mamacheaps.blogspot.com. It was free and I didn’t know any better. Guess what Google (they own Blogger) likes to do? DELETE Blogger blogs that it deems to be spammy. This is an automatic, instant, no recourse deletion. All of your work, GONE in an instant. Thankfully, I saw this happening to other bloggers within my 2nd year of blogging and got moved into a self-hosted blog. Try to load mamacheaps.blogspot.com. Oh wait, you can’t. Google deleted it. Gone. Happened a year or so after I moved to WordPress. Like I said, don’t waste your time – start out on self-hosted WordPress from the beginning.
:: You can make more money on self-hosted WordPress sites. When I was on Blogger, I made chump change on ad networks like Google Adsense. Pennies a day, if I was lucky. When you host your own site, as I do now, the ad networks start to generate some real income. The income tends to pick up during holiday season as traffic picks up. It’s also the time of year that advertiser’s are paying top dollar for ad placements. It’s not unheard of for me to make hundreds of dollars a day in ad network revenue when traffic is buzzing. That is PASSIVE INCOME! You get one recipe to take off on Pinterest, one DIY video go viral on Facebook, you could enjoy traffic that generates this passive income.
:: You control your site and settings. When you self-host your own blog, YOU maintain control of the settings. You can go super simple with a FREE template or pay a developer to install a custom look or theme. That’s up to YOU and you can change it up at any time.
Do yourself a huge favor and self-host your blog. Head over to Bluehost and from just $3.95, you’re going to be up and running.
Don’t start a blog about anything you are not feverishly passionate about. Over the last 8 years I have seen bloggers come and go. “Blogger Burnout” is a very real thing. That’s when one starts out with a ton of motivation and then due to life or kids or a day job or simply a lack of interest, the blog gets tossed by the wayside. This doesn’t mean your blog can’t evolve because it most likely will – mine sure has! You are more likely to stick with something long-term when you enjoy it. If you want to make money from a blog, you need to be prepared to put in the time – LOTS and LOTS of time. It’s not just the time spent writing the blog posts. You need to network with other bloggers, network with public relations, build a social media presence and be present on those platforms. In a typical week, I put in 40-60 hours over 7 days a week. I take exactly one day off a year from checking email, writing blog posts, etc and that is Christmas Day. Those kind of hours may or may not apply to you but for me this is a full-time job. The more I put into it, the more I get out of it. Remember the teaching position where I was so miserable? After 1 year of blogging, as my maternity leave (that I had already extended once) drew to a close, I was able to QUIT thanks to 2 things: my blog was starting to generate some income and I had learned to coupon and budget, thus stretching my dollars farther than ever before. Knowing how unhappy I was at my last job was (and still is) an incredible motivator!
Don’t waste your time on blog content that isn’t high quality. I have written about 40,000 blog posts in 8 years. I would estimate that at least 1/2 or more of those posts are complete and utter crap. I really didn’t know any better back then and I focused on quantity over quality. I thought that more blog posts meant more traffic which would generate more income. That’s just not true. The majority of those posts are now entirely useless. The deals have expired, the links have broken. They are dead weight. That doesn’t mean I don’t still post deals – of course I still do. I generate at least half of my annual income in affiliate revenue. However, while I still post a good amount of deals, my focus has shifted on creating quality evergreen content The good news is that those posts are the ones I love to write. Think about your content and if at all possible, write posts that will remain relevant for a good long time. A recipe or craft post that does especially well on Pinterest can continue to bring you traffic for YEARS. My Elf on the Shelf list of ideas has been pinned on Pinterest over half a million times. This results in major traffic to that post every year during the holidays. And as for income? Traffic on that post in December generated enough ad revenue to pay my mortgage for a couple of months. THAT’S JUST ONE POST! Can you imagine the possibilities if you had a number of posts take off on Pinterest or Google?
Don’t use crappy images. This really goes hand in hand with the previous point. Focus on high quality writing AND photos. In the visual age of Instagram and Pinterest, good pictures are everything. This does not mean you have to be a pro photographer to be a blogger. If photography is not your strong suit, invest in stock photography. I love Canva for high quality images when I can’t take my own. Don’t I REPEAT DO NOT use images from a Google search. That’s called STEALING and it’s absolutely a no-no. Many images can be improved with a little retouching. I edit and watermark my pictures in Photoshop Elements and PicMonkey.
:: Size your images for various social media platforms. I can’t tell you how much I wish I had paid more attention to image sizes years ago. This is especially true for Pinterest. Make sure that you always try to include at least one nice pinnable image in every evergreen piece of content. Ideally you should create a nice long pinnable picture (720×2000 pixels) with clear images and text for Pinterest. Statistically that size image is the most frequently pinned image on Pinterest. I can’t tell you how many of my old posts I have had to go back and create pinnable images for and I’m still not done. Start right from the beginning and you’ll be good to go.
Don’t see other bloggers as competition. When I first started blogging, I often felt very alone. It seemed like every other blogger was just out there for his/her own piece of the pie and not only was it isolating, but it does nothing for growing your readership. Instead of going it alone, find Facebook groups and other networks to collaborate with fellow bloggers. Consider guest posting for others, participate in content sharing groups, etc. Some of my best friends are fellow bloggers and I can’t tell you how much they have inspired, helped, encourage and supported me over the years, as I do in return for them! Cross promoting, collaboration and community can all be amazing for your blog AND personal growth!
Learn multiple social media platforms. You don’t need to be a guru in every single social media platform. However do not pigeon-hole yourself into only using one or two. I wish that I had paid more attention to Pinterest and Instagram when they first came out. I dabbled but was never a serious user and now I feel like I’m playing catch up to gain followers. I could say the same for YouTube as well. I have always loved making videos but never put my effort into getting subscribers. Now I am trying to grow my subscriber base.
Use scheduling services like Tailwind. Part of the reason that I failed to grow my Pinterest audience is because I would either pin nothing for weeks or have a sudden pinning burst and pin 50 things at once. Pin things and you will gain followers on Pinterest, that’s a fact. Spread out your pins with a scheduling service and gaining followers becomes super easy. I was stuck at 6,000 Pinterest followers for about 3 years. I signed up for a Tailwind subscription over the summer and have gained 2,500 new followers in about 4 months! It has been a wonderful investment. Remember – having a piece of your content take off on Pinterest leads directly to blog traffic and in turn generates ad revenue and possibly affiliate sales. You can try Tailwind for FREE right here.
An example of one of my most pinned posts: Top 15 MUST-PACK Items for Taking a Baby to the Beach That post contains product suggestions and generates affiliate income for me year round when people purchase items from my links for their beach vacations!
Keep it fun or else you won’t keep it going. I hinted at this above but I can’t say it enough: do (or in this case, write about) what you love, the money will follow. Write about what you know, what you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy writing about your subject matter it will become a chore and we all know how fun chores are to do.
How do you actually make money from blogging?
Typical interaction that happens to me at least once a week:
Other person: So what do you do?
Me: I’m a blogger/digital influencer/content creator/writer/whatever term I feel like using at the moment.
Other person: Oh.
Other person: But how do you, make money doing that?
This is honestly one of my least favorite questions to answer. That’s not because I mind sharing, I definitely don’t mind. It’s because there are so many ways to earn money from blogging, there’s no way for me to answer their question without a long-winded response.
Common Ways to Make Money from Blogging:
:: Affiliate Income: When you write blog posts that include links to certain services and products, you can check to see if that company offers an affiliate program. If they do, you can apply to join the affiliate program and earn a commission when readers purchase items through your links.
Common affiliate or referral programs that I use: Amazon Associates, Share a Sale, Linkshare, Commission Junction, Ebates, and Center Point.
:: Ad Network Revenue: Those banner ads on my site? They are run through an ad network. I make money based on page views and user interaction on those ads. In my experience, the higher your site traffic, the more money you earn from ad network revenue. Once you get the traffic coming, this is passive income. (Think about when a post takes off on Pinterest or some other social media platform. The traffic keeps coming on it’s own and you keep earning. That’s a beautiful thing!)
Common ad networks include: Google Adsense, AdThrive, MediaVine and Media.net
:: Sponsored Posts: Whether a company approaches you or you pitch your idea to them, sponsored posts on your blog and/or social media are a great way to earn some money. My best advice for deciding what sponsored posts to accept is to be picky and choose only the ones that 1) resonate with you and your audience and 2) pay you whatever you feel justifies your time and effort. If your post, whether it’s a story on the blog or a picture on Instagram, lacks authenticity, you’ll turn readers off big-time. I turn down offers left and right when the topic at hand is not a good fit for my family or my readers. Sponsored post rates can be set by the blogger or the brand and many times there is room for negotiation. Earnings can range from a free product coupon for posting a tweet to tens of thousands of dollars for multi-month multi-post amabassador-type commitment. Only you know your worth when it comes to “how long you’ll go” as far as rates are concerned. Coupons are nice but they won’t pay my bills and my time has value!
How do I get paid?
When you sign up for these affiliate programs you are typically required to fill out a tax form as an independent contractor. Most companies will give you the following 2 or 3 options for payment: direct deposit, mail you a check, Paypal deposit
Do I need to pay taxes?
I am NOT a lawyer or tax expert. You will need to consult a professional on this one. But do keep in mind – most money you earn from your blog will NOT have taxes taken out. That is your responsibility. So when you do reach that awesome milestone when your blog starts earning some money, have a conversation with a tax professional to learn what this means for you in legal terms.
How much money can I really make on a blog?
While I clearly cannot predict this number for you, I can tell you that it is entirely possible to earn a nice income from blogging. I will warn you, however, you need to keep this in mind:
:: The money does not come quick. It could take months or even years to start making a sizable income. I do not recommend quitting your day job to start a blog and expect to reach a 7 figure salary by Christmas. I DO recommend starting your blog NOW (today!) and working on it as a side job or hobby when you have the time. The sooner you get some content up, the sooner Google and Pinterest, etc can start to index your posts which in time will lead to traffic. That’s the key! Slow and steady.
How much money have YOU personally made on your blog?
Friends, my blog has opened doors for me that I never even knew existed. I’m not sure I can put a price on some of the unique experiences and opportunities that we have enjoyed thanks to my blog, but if you want to talk about real, tangible items, some of the things that my blog’s revenue has paid for:
:: All of our Disney trips
:: All of our other travels
:: Our new kitchen
:: My Starbucks addiction
:: Lily’s dance classes, horseback riding lessons, horse shows, theatre camp, pony camp
:: Landon’s swimming lessons, ice skating lessons
:: Paid off my new car in 2 years instead of 5
:: Started a retirement account the money is adding up!
I could go on. And on and on. But I know you get the idea. Toss into the pot that for the last 8 years I have not had to pay a single cent for daycare because I have been able to have the flexibility to work when my kids napped or after they went to bed at night or these days, when they are at school.
And that flexibility is not as easy as it sounds, trust me. During holiday deal season I am up and working by 5 am, 7 days a week. I work as much as I possibly can during the day and then after dinner I retreat to the office and work until at least 11 pm. I spend those two 2 months burning the wick at both ends on a daily basis. It can get pretty hairy. It’s also the time of year that I make more money from affiliate earnings that most other months combined, so to me, it’s worth it.
But even on the craziest, longest, wildest day of blogging… I am grateful and thankful that I gave my passion a chance to grow. I think of that principal who tried to break me and then act like she had fixed me and feel immense satisfaction that I will not ever have to deal with a boss like that again – because I AM MY BOSS! (I am also thankful that I basically have the most supportive husband, parents, siblings and friends that anyone could ever ask for.) None of this would be even remotely possible without them. Whether Bob is finishing dinner and getting it on the table so I can finish editing, or my friend is dropping off Starbucks because she knows I’m working an 18 hour day, or my sister watching the kids because Bob and I got a media invite for some show in the city.
Don’t underestimate your circle of support – they are critical for your success.
Whether a friend shares your latest post on Facebook, or your sister asks you to come speak at her MOPS meeting, or your grandma tells her church group about your website… word of mouth is what built my blog following. I could advertise all over the place but it would not have the same sincere authenticity that an endorsement from friends or family carries!
Are you ready to start a blog?
Start out on a self-hosted WordPress blog. It is so easy and quick to start a self-hosted WordPress blog. You can be up and running in no time from just $3.95/month.
I would love to hear what blog you start! Make sure you leave me a comment after you create your blog so I can check it out!
Stay tuned for more Blogging 101 posts. This is just the beginning to get your wheels turning! I will write more posts including a step-by-step guide to writing a basic blog post. I am also working on an Affiliate for Beginners eBook that will walk you through setting up your blog to earn some money from affiliate sales!