This post contains affiliate links, any of the links with an asterisk* means I get a small portion if you purchase or sign up using that link
Are you a smaller or medium size blogger who’s looking to earn some money from all the hard work you put into your blog? You’re so not alone!
If you’ve been around the blogging block, I’m sure you’ve run across the blogging income report. These typically look like a balance sheet of a blogger’s monthly income, expenses and traffic. I’ve found them anywhere to mildly useless (or annoyingly spammy) to incredibly informative. When it’s the latter, it’s usually written by a professional blogger *cough Pinch of Yum cough* who’s blog is what many of us aspire to. But many of the figures just are way out of our league and a strange mix of inspiring yet defeating.
However, it’s really tough to find a comprehensive look at how to start earning some money as a newer, smaller blogger. Which is exactly why I wanted to share with you what I’ve been doing the last 6 months to earn anywhere from $50 to $700 a month as a part time blogger. While I might have six figure dreams, everyone has to start somewhere and I want to help you start too!
One note before we dive in to the nitty gritty – it’s my opinion that a blog can only truly be both successful AND satisfying if you’re passionate about what you create. I also believe every blogger who works hard, has integrity and adds value to their audience deserves to earn money from their passion. But for any of these strategies to work in the long run (which is what I’m all about) you need to blog with integrity.
Your audience IS your asset and their trust is all you have. When you lose their trust you lose your audience. And if you lose their trust it means you lost touch with why you started in the first place. So before you start monetizing your blog, draw your lines in the sand now. Make sure you know what crossing them means. Promoting a product you don’t believe in, lying to sponsors about your numbers and cutting corners might earn you a buck this month, but it will deteriorate what you’ve worked so hard for. Ok, phew, had to get that off my chest. LEGGO!
In this post, I’m going to go over 4 basic strategies of monetization and my tips, experience and thoughts about each. I’m only sharing the services I’ve actually used and I’m going to be super transparent about how successful they’ve been in my case.
Finally I’ll share some of my favorite resources and investments to help you get movin’n’groovin’.
Also, when you’re thinking about getting started, it can be super overwhelming *Hi! Been there, still there pretty often*. While having diverse income streams, (not just relying on one strategy) is important, when you’re just starting out, focus on learning one strategy at a time, otherwise your head might explode. Then once you’re comfortable with that, add another stream of income.
Affiliate sales is a great place to start as a smaller blogger. I kick myself for waiting so long to get started myself. Affiliate sales is when you recommend a product or service using a unique link (often provided by an affiliate network) and earn a commission if that product or service is sold using your unique link.
Example: I love using my food processor for making smoothie bowls, this is the one I use and recommend: Hamilton Beach Food Processor*
Probably the most popular network and easiest to utilize as soon as you start your blog is Amazon Associates. I will admit I’m not using this tool to it’s full advantage as I don’t recommend a lot of products on the blog.
In her super helpful post, Write Profitable Affiliate Posts, Melyssa from The Nectar Collective pointed out that the way to really harness the power of affiliate links is to create tutorials utilizing the product or service.
This is something I’m currently working on, but I’ve seen a ton of blogger have success with creating tutorials on how to set up a blog using Bluehost* or how to pick the right running shoe and linking their amazon affiliate links only to the running shoes they highly recommend. There are plenty of affiliate opportunities out there, if you find yourself loving a product or service check if it has an affiliate program. You’re one tutorial or review away from some shweet affiliate income.
Make sure whenever you do use affiliate links that you note at the bottom (or top) of your blog post that you are doing so. People are usually happy to support you… as long as you aren’t tricking them. Any of the links with an asterisk* means it’s an affiliate link and I get a small portion if you purchase or sign up using it.
Advertising is probably what most people think of first when they think about monetizing a blog. Advertising is when you sell a space on your blog (usually in the side bar) to a brand or ad network. There are a ton of ad networks out there and to be honest working with different networks is not my strong suit.
I personally, think advertising is only effective at making decent money if you have huge traffic. Plus, I personally get super frustrated when ads ruin my user experience on a site. I vow to never have pop up videos or full page takeovers. No judgement if that’s your jam, but I personally feel like they take so much away from your amazing content and don’t pay nearly enough. What might seem like a good deal in the short term could be potentially turning away a lot of great readers in the long run.
That said, I do use 2 networks which are great for smaller bloggers!
Networks I use:
I love Gourmet ads. They work specifically with any food related blogs, which means they have relevant ads to serve on your blog. Now, I’m not getting huge money, probably anywhere from $45-70 a month but that’s only with 3 ads and they pay out monthly with no minimum payments. Gourmet Ads pays for impressions (CPM = cost per thousand views) instead of per ads clicked (CPC = cost per click). CPM rates are usually lower than CPC but they also guarantee that you’re still getting paid whether someone clicks the ad or not. They also have a really high fill rate which means that when you trade your ad space they are almost always serving an ad (aka making you money). They have great customer service so if you have any issues setting them up their team is really great.
Setting up ads with Gourmet Ads:
I’m sure there’s more than one way to skin this cat but I’ll give you the quick and dirty… aka how I set mine up. I use the html text widget which you can find if you go to your WordPress side bar under appearance>widget>text. You’ll imput the ad’s tag in that box and you’re good to go!
Google ads is a good place to start if you want ads on your website, however they’re pay per click and unless you have huge traffic they really don’t may much at all. On a good month I might make $25. However they don’t pay out until you reach $100 so it takes a while to actually get the money. I’m considering not using them anymore purely because I’d rather use my sidebar for my own content. However, it’s still good practice to work and learn about ad networks.
Setting Up Ads with Google Ad Sense:
There’s a super handy dandy plugin for your WordPress site to integrate your ad sense ads. Once you set up the plugin you can go and place your ads in the different parts of your blog you want them. My word of caution, don’t let the ads get in the way of your reader’s experience (ie slapping them in the middle of content).
After advertising, sponsored content is definitely one of the biggest ways most food bloggers earn money. To be honest, it’s a pretty sweet deal. You get to work with a cool brand, make something you love doing and share the awesomeness to your followers! Ok, I made that sound a little too easy. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into a great piece of sponsored content.
It’s really important from the get go to be picky about which brands you work with. It can be tough starting out to say no to opportunities, but if you wouldn’t recommend them organically then you shouldn’t do it for money either. Remember, audience trust is #1. Like numero uno… always.
The numbers game: “My blog is too small”
A lot of people ask about how to work with brands when you have a smaller audience. My personal strategy was to grind and build my audience first, using little to no sponsored content. I put all my focus on creating the best blog I could for the first year. That doesn’t mean you have to wait that long, but know that brands look at 3 main things: Quality of content, engagement and audience size. If you’re killing it on the first two, like your tribe is loving everything you’re putting out and you’re growing but still small, then you have definitely still have story to tell a brand.
Rather than focus on how small you are share how fast you’ve grown and why working with you now is a fantastic opportunity for them to get in on the ground floor of your epic elevator of awesomeness. Ok you don’t have to use that many alliterations but you get what I mean. Brands want you to influence your audience to make a purchase. If you can show them how you do that, even if it’s not at a huge scale, then you have a chance. Don’t be discouraged by the brands that don’t see your value (yet). Just keep at it because there are plenty of smaller brands or local opportunities out there if you keep your eyes open and keep asking.
Sponsorship Networks vs. Working Directly with a Brand
There are 2 main ways to work with brands. Either as a part of a sponsorship network where once you’re accepted you’ll be able to apply or receive opportunities that the network is a part of. Or you can work with the brand directly by either reaching out to them or they may reach out to you.
Sponsorship Networks I’m a Part of:
This is probably my favorite sponsorship network I’ve worked with so far. It took me a couple tries to get into Clever Girls, but it was definitely worth it. While they don’t pay extravagant amounts it’s really great being able to work with a network when you’re first starting out with sponsored content. You don’t have to worry about following up with a brand to get paid or doing your own reporting.
Ability to apply for programs. I prefer to apply for a program rather than have to wait for it to come to me. That way I can also just ignore anything that isn’t relevant.
I wish there were more sponsored food brand opportunities, I probably apply for 2 a month and have a 60% acceptance rate into programs.
Posts I’ve Done Through Clever Girl:
Linqia is another sponsored content network. Unlike Clever Girls, they come to you with the opportunities and you either accept or reject based on whether it’s relevant for you. Also unlike Clever Girls, you’re not paid a set amount. Instead you’re given a click through goal and you are paid based on how many unique link clicks you get.
They pay SUPER fast. Within a week of being finishing your campaign you are paid. While some might be discouraged by the click goal, for me it forces me to make the best possible content I can. I like the competition for myself so I enjoy this aspect. It also allows you to increase your earnings on future campaigns if you over perform.
For many, I could see that pay per click would be a con. However I’d argue if you make awesome content you’re not losing any money. It’s a good rule of thumb to treat sponsored content with the same love and awesomeness that you’d treat any other content. If you don’t think you can do that for a post then it’s not the right opportunity.
Posts I’ve Done Through Linqia:
I’ve used IZEA a couple times but only for sponsored social media posts. To be honest it’s pretty “meh” with the opportunities. However, when there are a few good brands you can bid and set your own price which is awesome.
Ability to bid and set price and the fast reliable payment.
Not a ton of great brands to work with.
I joined Fitfluential when I first started blogging. It’s a health and fitness community that also connects its ambassadors to health and wellness brands. There are some great opportunities to work with brands like Mizuno, Vitamin Shoppe and Blendtec but I was discouraged after a year of applying and not being accepted. I don’t think they should be written off because the community aspect is really valuable. However, if you’re looking to earn money and you’re a go-getter, I’d suggest either working with brands directly or being involved in a network that has more opportunities and the ability to be more proactive about getting them.
Fantastic community, great content and great brands.
Difficult to get opportunities (in my experience.)
Other Sponsorship Networks:
Work Directly With a Brand
This is by far my favorite option because it gives you the most control. However, the drawback is it’s also the most effort on the blogger’s part. Working directly with a brand means you have the power to negotiate how much you’re paid, what you’ll receive and you also get to build a relationship with whoever you work with on the brand side. From experience working on the brand side, I’ve worked with some incredible bloggers. The ones I love working with again and again are proactive, ask questions, suggest ideas, aren’t afraid to show their value and treat their sponsored content with the same time, care, effort and awesomeness that they do their normal content.
I did a guest post on The Blissful Balance all about How to Pitch to a Brand. If you do get the gig, first of all, you rock, second of all make sure to create a contract. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy just outline what you are creating for the brand and what you’ll receive in return and how and when to pay you, whether it’s through Paypal or check. Then once your post is live send them an invoice with your services and fees. Excel has a template invoice you can use and adapt.
Want to go the extra mile? Send them a quick report with results on how the post went. Did you get tons of comments? Did one of your friends and readers buy the product because of your post? Let the brand know!
Products and Services
This is probably in most exciting and scaleable way to earn an income with your blog. It’s also probably the hardest at first, but I think the upside is enormous. For many of these other strategies you’re trading your time for dollars (sponsored content) or relying on things out of your control (ad networks). Not to say these are bad, but having a valuable product that serves your audience can give you more power to control your earnings.
Popular Products & Services Bloggers Can Sell
- In-person classes
In September, I released my first E-book called the “Smooth-E-Book” (clearly I think I’m hilarious) fo free (you can snag it here) to help build my email list and practice putting together a beautiful, high quality, value-packed product.
I used THIS tutorial to set the whole she-bang up on MailChimp. It took me a solid couple hours to set up but it’s pretty easy to follow.
I had originally planned to release it with 30 recipes instead of 10 and sell it, but I got some AMAZING advice from Davida from thehealthymaven.com who said that e-cookbooks are hard to sell because so much recipe content is available for free. I mean it totally makes sense. Even if they were exclusive recipes, it was easy enough to access that information elsewhere. Unfortunately there just isn’t a huge market for paid e-cookbooks in my experience.
So I pivoted to teaching a valuable skill that’s served me well : Smartphone Photography. It was supposed to be a 1-page guide that I was going to use as another lead magnet (something people get for free for signing up for your email) but as I started writing I couldn’t stop. In the end, it took over 4 weeks to create (write, edit, photograph, design, upload, configure, launch) but I’ve seen solid sales since it launched. (PS if you enjoyed it and want to be an affiliate I offer a sweet commission #shamelessplug – just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
I used the service Gumroad to sell my ebook on and it’s super user friendly and even has a built in affiliate program. It’s free to use but there’s a 5% fee + .25 per product sold, not a bad deal.
If you’re getting excited just thinking about products or services you could sell through your blog I’d HIGHLY recommend checking out some of my blogging idols:
They have so many amazing free and paid resources that will help you decide what product or service to create and sell and how to launch it.
Think Outside the Box
I love what Diane Sanfilippo (author of Practical Paleo and podcaster) says about networking. She talks a ton about how she grew her business by getting out there and networking in person. It’s so easy to think that all the money and opportunities are just online. But we can leverage our blogs in so many ways. My blogging bestie, Christina, is an amazing example of this. I always see her going to events in Tampa, heck she won best blogger in Tampa! I know the internet is global, but don’t forget about being local too.
This blog has helped me get so many interviews and job offers because it’s a portfolio of all my skills. So don’t forget to include it on your resume! If you’re passionate about cooking, nutrition, photography, writing, social media (or all of the above) why not look for some opportunities to teach at a local school or business. Not to mention, making a connection in person is so powerful and will open up doors you didn’t know existed.
In the last year I’ve started really talking about my blog to friends, family, heck anyone who will listen, rather than being ashamed of it like an embarrassing tattoo. You never know who’s listening and who needs your expertise.
Resources I Love:
For building and managing your mailing lists
For selling your digital products (videos, courses, ebooks)
For creating your digital products like ebooks, workbooks and courses
Podcasts That Get Me Pumped About Business
Final Note: The less fun stuff aka taxes
Ok, I’m not a tax professional… aka I suck at taxes. So what I’ve done personally is create a meticulous spreadsheet of income and expenses with dates and receipts so come tax time I can work with a professional to help me. I doubt my net profit will warrant any big chunk of change to the tax man, but keeping records is so important. If you’re really starting to earn some cash, first of all congrats, second of all I would recommend opening a separate checking account that you can use ONLY for business purposes. Money in is earned money out is expenses.