That Old Saw: Can I Make a Living Blogging?

Blogging as a passive income stream, as a full-scale business we can rely on, or as side-gig?   We’re told there’s lots of way to make money in blogging.  Are there?

In The Olden Times

The original blogs (back in the Olden Times) were mostly personal, though some had aspirations to be more than just online journals.  There were art project blogs that experimented with digital art, writer’s blogs where new, undiscovered writers hoped to find their voices–and their audiences, and recipe blogs for those aspiring to write cookbooks one day.  There were the beginnings of blog sites that wanted to a new kind of online magazine (or “zines” –that term didn’t last long).

Before there were affiliate programs, online stores,  and corporate presences, blogs were mostly the work of a single pioneer here and there. In the 1990s, blogging was most of all a hobby.   We were all on dial-up modems back then.  A photo could take a half an hour to load –and visual browsers had settings that let you stop any of those bandwidth-hogging .jpgs and worse, .TIFFS from bringing everything to a dead stop.

Blogging as a Business

Today, blogs are (allegedly)  big business and you hear crazy stories about people making serious coin blogging, especially all those fake news bozos.  But the real answer is, “it depends.”  Here’s a great article from LifeHacker (back from 2014) about making a living as a blogger.  However, I take these statistics quoted here with a HUGE grain of salt (perhaps a ton) because these surveys were self-reported earnings–and you know how people exaggerate on the Internet.

Lola’s Wise Advice: Listen to the Voices of Reason.  There are some niches that readily lend themselves to selling goods and services. Food blogs can review gadgets, sell catering services, even sell ingredients for recipes  A mental health blog will have a harder time, unless the person running it is a professional counselor, using a blog to market their “brand” (i.e., find patients).

Bloggers who want to make money at it have to ask themselves: what am I going to be able to sell?  And what is the likely return on investment for my time and trouble?   

Selling advertising will depend on first generating lots of traffic. Here’s a great article from Melyssa Griffen, the creator of The Nectar Collective that shares her experiences in monetizing her (very successful) brand, with real dollars and cents discussed. 

Generating traffic is about having great content to put out there and learning how to market that content. It takes time to create that content and it takes time to market it.  There are lots of software packages and services that people are dying to sell you (and me) with the veiled promises of quitting your full-time job to do what you love.     You remember those Macedonian teenagers who made money generating fake news blogs?

Wow, that sounded audacious, didn’t it?  Still, that was a weird moment in time, much like winning the lottery.   Audiences are getting more savvy about the fake news phenomena.  It will be interesting to see how those markets fare in the up-coming year.

The Scams Are Everywhere

These scams rely on a bored (largely American) public, searching for something of interest on the Internet.  I’ve seen advertisements for “curating” programs that (for about $2000 dollars, seriously) will scour the Internet for news that a site could re-blog (more like steal) on any topic.  I gave this some consideration when I was working on my food blog review blog. Wow, something that would bring me hundreds of blog posts a day!  The legality is dubious at best, but filtering through that garbage would be horrific.   The Macedonian teenagers found an audience in a mood to consume garbage.  They found advertisers ready to aid and abet.  That’s going to be a harder sell going forward.   Note, too, that this worked because the Macedonians did not have any other income possibilities– and while these articles discussed what they made, they did not discuss how much they spent.  Or whether at the end of all of this, any of them had much in the bank to show for it once the bubble burst.  Balloons are like that–they pop.   The big crowds of garbage-eaters are going to be around for some time, but the commercial future of these sites are (hopefully) on the wane.

Selling Expertise and Creating a Personal Brand

Professional blogs are a better investment of time and money–if you have some expertise to sell. 

Still, a professional blog can be great way to market one’s expertise and help one to get recognition that can be turned into a good job offer, a book deal, or just new contacts.  Take my fictitious customer, Duke, who knows so much about the Austin honkeytonks and has experience in marketing beer, wine and liquor.  With some additional Internet research, he could market interesting beer and liquors, bar equipment, and even run ads for local liquor stores.  He already writes great reviews for exotic beers that he posts on Facebook for all of his friends.  Moving up to a blog would not be a difficult step since he already has a friend-fan base who have helped him to develop his writing capability.

You have to be able to write.  If you want to make money on through blogging, the capability to communicate is essential.  Sure, there are websites out there, many in blog form that scrape and throw together crap, but they don’t make that much money, really, even if you already have significant readership.  At best, its a side-gig.

You have to have a well-defined niche and you have to research that niche.  This is why it has to be something you are passionate about, because research is hard.  You can burn out even on topics you like.  (I still like food blogs. I just don’t want to do one anymore).  Often, your research will take a turn and you’ll begin to find your way, writing for an audience you want to connect with–an audience who needs and wants what you have to say.

Commercial Blogs: Selling Things

The commercial blog for a defined niche still has potential. 

If you are making something real, there are all kinds of online marketplaces from EBay to Etsy, who can accommodate you or you can create a blog and get into e-commerce.   Heck, the Amish people — yes, the Amish people — are selling toys and foods and whatnot through a local online site that is kind of blog-like.   This mostly municipal and chamber of commerce site markets Lancaster, Pennsylvania as a place to vacation and provides online stores for Amish toys, food, and furniture.

My fantasy customer persona, Marilyn,  a new blogger who wants to market her AirBnB and related goods and services in Miami, should certainly pay attention to blogs like these: local blogs that focus on vacations.  What else could she offer?  Discount coupons for jet-ski rental at local Miami rental places?   If you’re looking to make money on blogging, do your research on people who are already making a living doing what you’d like to do.  Many of them will talk about the money side of things and that can be very inspiring, or bring your dreams back to reality.   People get kind of weird worrying about someone “stealing” their idea or thinking of other people doing the same thing as Evil Competitors. I think of them more as peers and potential role models. I have so much to learn from Melyssa Griffin!  And she’s doing some of the same stuff I think I want to do.

Start Small and Think of Your Customers

Just remember, small things grow, and they grow their own way.  I, too, am trying to figure out what kind of income stream I can grow from blogging.  Last year, I went “all in” and spent oh, maybe a cool grand on WordPress hosting and all the bells and whistles at Bluehost, and cool/hip themes.  Gads, I spent so much on themes. It was like crack. I think I changed the look of the blog weekly until I finally crashed the whole thing, eight months in.   It took all my weekends to get the site up and running, and figure out all the little menu possibilities, and writing–oh what a time sink it was. I made zip. A part-time job at MacDonald’s would pay better.

Start small. This site cost barely a hundred dollars for a year of webhosting and domain and the minimal bells and whistles.  I’m currently using a basic theme but because I purchased the premium hosting, I get access to lots and lots of interesting themes.  As I get more content together, I’ll change up the design.  But for now I’m focusing on content, content, content  for my fantasy customer personas.

More tomorrow. Thanks for dropping by.  ~ Lola














Author: Lola

Recovering academic, real-life, honest to cornflakes anthropologist (Ph.D. and fieldwork and everything), tech-head and social media researcher.

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