Why You Shouldn't Blog For Money
Bloggers everywhere are picking up their spears and lighting up their torches, preparing to come knock down my door and burn me at the stake for that headline. If you're one of those who clicked on the link to this post out of anger, welcome! I'm glad you're here. Let's get down to business.
First of all, before you get too fired up, go back and read that title again.
Ok, did I say "Why You Can't Monetize Your Blog", or "Why You Won't Make Money From Your Blog"? Nope.
This post is not me up on my high-horse telling you that you'll never make a dime from your blog. This post is me knowing a thing or two about a thing or two and sharing it with you in hopes that you will make money from your blog, but without making the almighty dollar your main focus.
Got it? Good.
Let's get something straight, shall we? It's perfectly OK for you to monetize politely and authentically, but it's not OK to start a blog with the sole intent of making money. In other words:
How do I know that's a bad idea? Because I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
I got caught up in the blogging frenzy of sponsored posts and monetizing ideas and ads and everything else trying desperately to make enough money to quit my job.
Want to know what happened?
- Seriously crappy blog posts that lacked value but made me a few bucks
- Inflated analytics that were bought & paid for with giveaways rather than hard-earned with quality content and engagement
- Loss of passion
That last one? That's what made me hang it up. I'm going all Sophia from the Golden Girls on you for a minute.
Picture it: One Tough Mother, my first blog. December 2013.
I was working my little bloggy fingers to the bone to pump out yet another half-ass blog post to make a few bucks, all while holding down a full-time job and sacrificing any spare time I had with my family to be working on the blog.
One morning, I woke up, and got slapped in the back of the head by God Himself, giving me an all-too-clear vision of what my future would be if I didn't walk away. It wasn't pretty.
My daughter was growing up without my involvement. My husband was spending countless nights alone in front of the TV. My life was passing by at warp speed and I was on the sidelines watching it go by.
So, I walked away. I had pageviews in the six figures, a part-time income, and my Facebook fan count was growing by a couple hundred a week. And I walked away.
It took me six months to pick up my proverbial blog pen again, and when I did, I gave myself a strict set of rules to go with it.
- I'll blog by my own standards, not someone elses.
- I'll create my own brand of success.
- My family is priority #1, no matter what.
- I'll say "no" to things that don't fuel my passion or guide me toward my purpose.
And I've stuck with it. That was May 2014, and in just over a year, I've been blessed with more success than I ever saw in a combined 3+ years before I took time off.
Now I could leave you with some nugget of wisdom about staying true to yourself and all your dreams will come true, but that wouldn't do you any good, right?
I want to help you. That's why I'm here. So no matter what stage of your blogging career you're in, I have advice that will help you monetize politely and authentically, without losing yourself in the process.
Let's do this.
WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?
First things first, I'm a realist you need a mission statement. (Sorry, my inner-Iggy pops out every now and then.)
What is a mission statement, you ask? It's your commercial. You're "elevator pitch". It's how you define what you do and why you do it to your target audience.
But it's more than that.
It's also how you determine if something is in line with your goals.
My mission for Sweet Tea, LLC is to educate, inspire & encourage the overwhelmed and overcommitted woman and blogger who has lost sight of her passion. After losing my own passion & walking away from a blog I built for 3 + years, I have learned my purpose, and want to help other women do the same.
Through valuable educational tools, inspiring creative projects, and encouraging community engagement, I enable you to pursue your passions and connect with a community of like-minded women. Break free from comfort zones, define your own brand of success, and live a life of passion.
I learned from the always-epic Regina of byRegina.com how to craft a mission/brand statement, and I want to share it with you.
A mission or brand statement should answer four questions:
- Who do you serve?
- Why do you care?
- What do you actually provide?
- What makes you different?
Take some time to craft your mission statement. Then once you have it, make it public. Mine is front and center on my home page. You can put it on your about page, sidebar, or wherever you think is best.
Your mission statement serves two main purposes:
- To let people know what you do and why you do it
- And to give you a gauge for all the future work you will do
Consider it your measuring stick. Got an offer to do a sponsored post? Great! Does it align with your mission? No? Then say "no". Or change your mission.
Alright, let's get to the meat of the matter...
I've broken all of us bloggers into three main categories to make things a bit easier. We'll begin with the newbs.
CATEGORY #1: BABY BLOGGERS
You're just cutting your teeth on this whole new shiny blog thing and you know that money is out there and can't wait to sink your teeth into your first paycheck!
Slow down sister! Not only should you not blog for the sole purpose of a paycheck, but making money should be the last thing on your mind when you are just beginning to blog.
Baby bloggers need to focus on CONTENT, among other things. I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
Think about it: Would you, as a brand or business, want to invest money into a blogger who has a handful of posts, no engagement, and no real sense of direction? Probably not.
Just like anything else in life, learning to be a good blogger takes time and hard work. There are plenty of people out there who have books or courses or whatever designed to help you "Grow Your Blog Fast" or "Make $1000/month in 6 Months!" or "Start a Blog The Right Way!" or whatever.
That's all fine and good, but I truly believe we have become too focused on monetizing and not focused enough (or at all) on creating great content and building engagement with our readers.
That's what baby bloggers should be focused on. Here's a handy list:
- Developing quality content
- Engaging with the community
- Improving photography
- Learning the in's and out's of blogging
- Promoting & growing your readership authentically
- Building an email list
- Finding your voice
All of those things will make a massive difference when you are finally ready to graduate from "baby blogger" to our next group...
CATEGORY #2: INTERMEDIATE BLOGGERS
You've been blogging for a while, have built a pretty good gallery of posts all tied to your niche, and you've learned how to blog authentically. Now you're ready to start making some money.
ADS & AFFILIATE LINKS
Ads on your sidebar, in your header, in and around your post, and even on-image ads are a super easy way for bloggers to earn a little coin, but just like everything else in life, moderation is key. You don't want your blog to turn into something that resembles the Las Vegas strip.
There are literally dozens upon dozens of networks out there who work with bloggers, but a lot of them have minimum pageview requirements, and you might not be there just yet as an intermediate blogger. Does that mean you can't have ads? Nope!
Google Adsense is probably one of the most used advertising platforms for bloggers, and is super easy to set up. Essentially, you'll create your Adsense account, link your URL, then start displaying ads on your blog. You will get paid based on clicks and pageviews.
Rather than getting wordy on the how-to's of Google Adsense set-up, I'll just send you HERE, and let Fabulous Blogging give you the 411.
Want more control over the ads on your site? Passionfruit allows you to sell ad space on your blog or website. You can also buy ad space from other bloggers. There is a fee to use this service, and I've heard mixed reviews about their customer service and technical support. Just like anything else, do your own research before forking over cold hard cash for any paid service or feature.
Infolinks is not your typcial advertising platform. Rather than sidebar or header image ads, Infolinks provides in-text ads. Have you ever been on a blog and noticed a word or phrase highlighted or underlined, and when you hover your mouse over it, a little ad pops up? That's Infolinks.
You can select the types of in-text ads you wish to run on your blog, and control (to a degree) how much content is linked to advertising.
A word of caution: I used Infolinks for years before deciding to turn them off on my blog, Sweet Tea & Saving Grace. I received multiple emails from readers explaining that one of my links sent them to a malware site. After some research, I discovered it wasn't one of my links, but an Infolinks ad. I did contact the company and that advertiser was removed, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. The payout was decent, though.
Becoming an Affiliate
What is affiliate marketing? It's a type of advertising that rewards you with an incentive when you send business to someone else. Let's say you sign up to be an affiliate for my ebook, An Inbox of Opportunity. Each time someone purchases my ebook using your unique URL, you'll get a small cut of the purchase price.
Everyone from huge brands to your average blogger uses affiliate marketing because it works. How do you get started? It's as simple as signing up!
You can start by checking the websites of companies you shop from, services you've used, and brands you know and trust. (Hint: Scroll to the bottom of the website and look for "Affiliates" in the footer menu.) Here's what that looks like on the Target website:
A lot of larger brands, like Target, use third-party services for their affiliates, like Commission Junction or Shareasale. Signing up for an account on these sites allows you to shop for other affiliate companies.
Payouts might be better, however, when you become an affiliate for smaller brands or other blogger's products or services, or even blog-specific companies. For example, you might notice on my sidebar that I have ads for Genesis Framework and Restored316 Wordpress themes. I am an affiliate for both of those products. I use them myself and love them, and recommend them to other bloggers.
Keep an eye out on your most frequently visited blogs for products and services they offer. Chances are they have an affiliate program that you can participate in.
A FEW NOTES ABOUT AFFILIATE MARKETING:
- Just like anything else in life, moderation is key. Don't clutter your blog with ads and affiliate links.
- ALWAYS disclose affiliate links. Always. It's the law, and it's just the right thing to do.
- To get even better payouts for your affiliate links, write a blog post about that particular product or service.
**You may have noticed I didn't mention Amazon affiliate marketing. A ton of bloggers use Amazon affiliate links and make good money doing so, but I personally don't use them. Amazon has their own set of rules, one of which does not allow you to use Amazon affiliate links in your email marketing. This means that, if you write a blog post and include Amazon affiliate links in your posts, you have to be sure that none of those links appear in your RSS-driven campaign for that post. That isn't make or break for me, however. I just choose to promote other products & services on my blog without using Amazon.**
This is when a brand invests in you, giving you money and/or product to write a blog post and share it on social media.
While you may be ready to start doing sponsored posts on your blog, you might find it difficult to get started. Brands need to find you, then see your worth. So what do you do in the mean time?
Something I call:
"Faux Sponsored Posts".
Let's say that you blog about organization and keeping a tidy home. You use, love, and highly recommend a specific brand of cleaning product and can't imagine getting through your day without that particular product.
Write a post! And not just any post - make it EPIC, and CREATIVE, and VALUABLE - to your readers and the brand.
Talk about all the ways this product makes your life easier. Talk about all the magical things it can do. Talk about your loyalty and how you recommend it to your friends, and even include it in housewarming gifts to new neighbors.
Use gorgeous, well-lit photos. Make it Pinterest-friendly. Share it all over social media.
And here's the key: TAG THE BRAND!!!
Shout it from the rooftops! Tag them on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Try to find the email address of their PR department and email them a nice note about how much you love their product and send a link to your post. (Don't ask for anything at this point - just get on their radar.)
Even long after that post goes live on your blog, schedule re-shares and always, always tag the brand.
Don't wait for brands to come to you.
I want to make this crystal clear: You are never too small, or too big, to pitch brands on your own. When you pitch brands, the worst thing you'll hear will be "no", which won't be the death of you, I promise.
But how do you go about pitching brands when you've never officially worked with brands?
First, you need to have a media kit. I get it - you have no idea what to put in a media kit if you've never worked with brands.
It's all good, girlfriend.
Jeni over at The Blog Maven has an excellent (and free!) guide to creating your first media kit. Just go HERE to check it out.
While Jeni's guide does an excellent job of showing you what to include in a media kit, allow me to add one tip: Make a template.
I've also got a post that shows you how to make a killer media kit.
A media kit is not something you'll make once and never touch again. As your blog grows and changes, and you work with more brands, you'll need to update your media kit to reflect those changes.
9 times out of 10, a brand will request your statistics and/or media kit before agreeing to work with you, so get it ready.
The wind up, and the pitch!
Alright, you've got a few brands that you love and you want to work with them, right? But they don't know you exist.
After you have created your media kit, it's time to start pitching some brands.
A couple nuggets for you to put in your pocket:
- Nugget #1: Never take a "no" from someone who can't give you a "yes".
- Nugget #2: Don't undervalue yourself!!!
Ok, I'll talk about those juicy nuggets in detail in a sec, but for now, let's talk about your pitch. Specifically, who do you talk to, and what do you provide in a pitch?
WHO DO YOU PITCH TO:
(Or, to whom do you pitch - proper English, y'all)
There are a couple different tactics that you can try in order to connect with brands - (1) connect on Twitter and (2) ask other bloggers.
My favorite way to connect with brands is through Twitter, believe it or not. Brands hang out there, and you can stalk them (nicely) and get on their radar.
Here's how that works:
Another way to get in touch with brands is to reach out to other bloggers! Bloggers love to help other bloggers, typically, and will gladly share contact information for brands they have worked with in the past. Don't be afraid to ask around until you find someone willing to share.
Finally, when all else fails, go to the website of your dream brand and scroll all the way to the bottom in search of contact info, public relations, media or whatever you can find. You may not always get in touch with THE PERSON, but you might be able to get in touch with A PERSON who can connect you with THE PERSON.
WHAT DO YOU PITCH:
Once you have that precious email address laced in shiny gold and diamonds, you are ready to send your pitch!
So there you sit, staring at a blank email, waiting for the words to come....getting a little sweaty in the palms because oh-my-gosh-i'm-contacting-a-brand-and-what-if-they-say-no-and-i'll-feel-like-an-idiot-and-i'm-just-not-ready-i-can't-do-it!!!!!!
Calm down. You can do this. Promise.
Your pitch is mucho importante, my friend. It's your one shot. One opportunity...to seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment. Would you capture it, or just let it slip? (I'll give you a dollar if you get that reference. Ok not a dollar, but major cool points.)
Ok let's be real, it's not life altering, but it is important to include all the right details.
UPDATE: I've got a post that shows you exactly how to write a pitch email PLUS I've created a swipe file for you. You're welcome.
SIX THINGS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PITCH TO A BRAND
- Your first and last name, blog name & URL, social media links, and your email address
- Your big idea - all of it. The whole shebang. Like...I mean, everything. We'll get more into that in a minute.
- Exactly what you will do for them in terms of promotion.
- Your rate for this post. (VALUE YOURSELF DAMMIT!)
- Your anticipated timeline for this project.
- Your super awesome media kit.
Ok, item #1 is pretty obvious but you would be surprised how often it gets overlooked. It's like in school when you worked your rear end off on a paper and turned it in without putting your name on it.
Don't be that kid.
And here's a caveat to that: If you are planning to promote this post on social media channels (and why wouldn't you, amIright?), please do yourself a solid and go ahead and include links to all the channels you'll use in promotion, okay?
Item #2: This is where you get to be wordy, but to the point. If you want to paint a piece of furniture with a specific brand of paint, don't send a pitch like this:
I really think the blue paint is pretty and would look great on a chair I found, so if you send me some paint, I'll paint the chair and share it, and it'll be super cute!"
Instead, say something like:
I've been refurbishing thrifted furniture for 3 years and have tried countless brands of paints. When I finally discovered [your brand of paint], I fell in love! It's exactly the perfect consistency, and the array of colors allows me to stretch my creative wings!
I have a beautiful set of chairs that I am refurbishing and would love to showcase [your brand of paint] on my blog. In exchange for a gallon of the turquoise blue paint, I would be happy to create a blog post highlighting the benefits of [your brand of paint], while showing my readers how to properly paint furniture.
Go on to include other details of your project. (This is Item #3, by the way.) Think about things like this:
- Will you also create a video tutorial?
- Will you create a FB and/or Instagram video?
- Will there be a printable PDF with tips for painting furniture?
- Would you consider hosting a giveaway of the product for your readers?
- How many times will you share it on each of your social media channels?
- Have you done similar posts that have great engagement? (Send links!)
Include every detail of what you will provide for this brand.
Item #4 is MUY IMPORTANTE!!! I have to step up on my soapbox for this one y'all.
*ahem* Here we go.
For real. Don't. It's in poor taste. It not only reflects negatively on you, but it reflects negatively on every other blogger who ever tries to work with this brand. Period.
When determining your going rate for this particular post, think about how much time you will invest in the entire process: Creating the project, painting, building, photographing, editing, writing, editing some more, creating graphics, scheduling social media shares, writing a newsletter to tell your subscribers....and on and on.
How long will all that take? Do you have to incur any out-of-pocket expenses to do this? All of that comes into consideration.
Now I know some people like to give you a nifty formula that involves pageviews and stats and stuff, but I think that's crap, honestly. Wanna know why? Of course you do.
Because how I value myself will be different from how you value yourself, and none of that value has anything at all to do with the number of people who may or may not come to my blog on a daily basis.
Pageviews DO NOT EQUAL Engagement. They don't.
While a lot of brands do consider pageviews and stats to be a measuring tool, it isn't the only measuring tool, so don't be afraid to make an offer. They may say "no", they may say "yes", or they may just counter your offer and you can have that conversation if and when you come to it.
MONEY v. PRODUCT
I get it. That free stuff is so shiny and I LIKE SHINY THINGS! But shiny things don't pay the bills. Shiny things don't pay for web hosting. "Exposure" doesn't pay for my groceries.
Having said that, allow me to also say this --> Sometimes product is enough.
If a brand wants me to do a blog post for a gallon of paint, or a free sofa, which one do you think is worth product alone?
The sofa. Right? Right!
Keep that in mind when pitching and negotiating with brands.
Onto Item #5! It's important to include a timeline for your project in the initial pitch because your sense of urgency is not the same as a brand's sense of urgency. You might be pitching an idea in October for a Thanksgiving or Christmas idea, but if they don't know that up front, they might not get back to you until January.
Give the brand at least a few week's time to read and review your pitch, but definitely let them know when you would like to create this project, and ask that they respond by a specific date (a few weeks in the future).
*TIP: Send yourself a blind copy of this pitch and save it in a special folder in your inbox. Make a note on your calendar to follow-up if you haven't heard anything in a couple weeks.
**ANOTHER TIP: If you get a "no", don't trash the email and get frustrated. Save the email in that special folder, and continue working on your blog. In about 3-6 months, pitch them again.
Finally, Item #6 is that beautiful media kit you created earlier. Don't forget it. As much as I hate the fact that numbers matter, they do matter to brands, at least a little bit. So include that media kit and show off those numbers.
CATEGORY #3: VETERAN BLOGGERS
You've finally reached the point in your blogging career in which you can legitimately call it a career. You have a solid grasp on your audience, you've got your brand established, and you know a thing or two about a thing or two.
You can continue monetizing the same way you did as an intermediate blogger with great success. But as your blog grows, you can also step up your monetization game.
Working with Ad Networks
There are gobs and gobs of ad networks that bloggers can partner with in order to have third-party ads on their blogs, and we've already touched on a few (like Infolinks). However, when your numbers reach a certain level, a few more doors open for ad networks specifically geared towards bloggers.
One such ad network that I have personally worked with is The Blogger Network. One of the nice things about working with ad networks like The Blogger Network is that you have a team of people assisting you with the types of ads you place on your site, ad location, and the success of your ad campaigns.
The Blogger Network allows you to have sidebar ads, in-image ads, ads in your header, video ads, etc.
A FEW TIPS:
- Do your homework before joining an ad network. Some may require you to work exclusively with them, and some may also require a contract. Talk with bloggers who have worked with these various ad networks to get real-life feedback.
- Don't go overboard on the ad placement. On my home decor blog, I work with The Blogger Network and decided to turn off in-image ads. While I was earning decent income from these ads, it wasn't worth the aggravation my readers were experiencing when the images I had worked so hard to create were being partially covered by ads.
- Don't feel obligated to have ads on your blog. I know it's kind of "the thing to do", but you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. There are other ways to make money from your blog without having ads.
Working with Blogger Networks
Blogger networks are the middle man between bloggers and brands, hooking you up with sponsored post opportunities. Just like anything else with your blog, there are pros and cons to working with blogger networks.
If you approach brands directly, you are likely to earn more money because you will charge what you feel you are worth. Working with brands through a network means you will likely get paid less per sponsored post, but you will likely be able to work with brands you wouldn't otherwise work with, and have more opportunities for sponsored posts.
So what blogger networks are out there? Just like ad networks, there are gobs & gobs, but they are not all created equal. I'll start with my favorite blogger network.
Social Fabric has my heart for a lot of reasons. I've been an influencer with Social Fabric for more than three years, and they just continue to improve how they work with bloggers and work FOR bloggers.
Social Fabric provides tons of sponsored post opportunities, and to be quite honest, I don't apply to a lot of them because they tend to be more food-related and I'm not a food blogger. However, it's what else they do that keeps me coming back.
Social Fabric provides a free educational website for their influencers called Social Fabric University, or SoFabU. They teach bloggers how to be better at what they do.
They also host several blog conferences called Social Fabric on the Road, which are one-day educational conferences in various cities across the country.
Now, I have to be totally honest with you. Not only am I an influencer with SoFab, but I've created online course content for SoFabU, and I'm the Blog Coordinator for Collective Bias, their parent company. Regardless of my affiliation with the company, I'd still recommend them because they truly are that fantastic.
REMINDERS & TIPS:
- I've said it before & I'll say it again: Don't do sponsored posts that don't align with your niche. In other words, don't be a sell-out.
- When working with brands, whether independently or through a blogger network, make sure you go above & beyond with these posts. Bring your A-game.
- You can be a part of more than one blogger network at a time. Just be sure that you pay attention to sponsored post due dates so you don't commit to multiple posts due at the same time.
Guest & Contributor Posting
Guest posting and contributing to larger or more well-known blogs may garner you a few dollars in your pocket, but if done properly, you will gain more from getting in front of a new audience. New eyeballs on your content equates to more pageviews back on your own blog, which eventually translates to more advertising income and other opportunites.
There are also plenty of blogs and websites that pay for content. A lot of bloggers who manage a team of writers start looking for new team members at the end of each year, so do a Google search for "blog contributors" to see what you can find.
I've personally contributed to several blogs and have mixed feelings about it. Some experiences were better than others, so if I could go back in time and give myself some advice, it would be this:
- Do a trial run. If possible, before agreeing to be a monthly contributor for a year, go through the motions for a month or two to make sure you enjoy contributing, and for the blog owner to be sure they like your style.
- Don't commit to being a contributor for more than one blog at a time. (At least initially.) Each blog post takes time, and you want each contributor post to be great. So don't take on more than you can handle.
- If at all possible, try to find contributor jobs that allow you to repost your content on your own blog, with a few tweaks to keep the Google-bots happy.
Think Outside the Blog
This is by far my favorite section of this post. Over the life of Sweet Tea, LLC, you'll see a lot of content designed to help you monetize without ads, without sponsored posts, and without selling your soul. It is possible, and I'm living proof.
Because this post is currently sitting at somewhere in the 4000 word mark, I want to give you some good ideas for monetizing in unique ways, and will leave you with a promise to expand on each of these in future blog posts. Is that a deal?
BOOKS & EBOOKS: By the time you get to the "Veteran blogger" level, you've learned a thing or two about a thing or two. Is it enough to fill a book? Would it benefit others?
I published my first ebook called "An Inbox of Opportunity" (no longer available) after so many other bloggers came to me with questions about email marketing and the MailChimp platform.
I poured everything I knew at the time about MailChimp and email marketing into this ebook, and easily filled 160 pages.
Whether physical or digital, books create residual income and open doors for other monetizing opportunities.
COURSES: Some people are visual learners, or may require more hands-on guidance when learning something new.
If you have knowledge that can benefit others, create a course. Educational courses can be offered through a series of emails delivered by an automated workflow, a group of videos for each lesson, a one-day live webinar format, or any other format of your choosing.
After releasing "An Inbox of Opportunity", I've continued to learn more and more about email marketing, and have established myself as an authority on the subject. The bloggers in my Facebook community and through emails I've received led me to create a course called "Exponenetial Value" to teach bloggers about content upgrades.
WEBINARS & SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS: Yes, you absolutely can get paid to talk, as long as you have something of value to say. I was fortunate enough to lead two sessions on email marketing at Haven Conference 2015, which afforded me the opportunity to get in front of so many new faces.
Webinars can be free or a paid service. As you build your "know, like, and trust" factor, you will be able to draw larger and larger audiences to live speaking engagements, which increases your worth.
SERVICES: Yet another way to use the skills you have gained over time is through service offerings. I've encountered so many bloggers who have no interest in buying my ebook and learning how to put their own custom newsletter templates together. Instead, they would rather hire me to do it for them.
Whatever you can teach, you can also do. For a fee, of course.
EVENTS: Not everything you do needs to be done online. Real-life events bring your blog to life.
Events can be as simple as a craft party that lasts a few hours, or a multi-day event like a conference or retreat. I host Atlanta blog events, which were created out of a desire to get in front of bloggers and provide them with hands-on education in a relaxing environment.
So, are you completely inspired, or completely overwhelmed? This is a lot of information to process, so do yourself a solid and pin it for reference, and share it on social media!
And before you go, riddle me this: Of all the monetization ideas I covered, what would you like for me to expand upon in it's own dedicated blog post?