Finally answering one of my most frequently asked questions: how do bloggers make money?
How do bloggers make money? I get this question SO often that I finally added it to my list of topics to tackle. Gals who want to start their own blog ask it, people who are VERY skeptical that you can actually make a living from something like this ask it, and of course, some folks are just curious. No matter which category you fall in, I hope this post provides some answers for you!
When I started this blog 6 years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. Instagram was brand new, and “influencer marketing” wasn’t even really a thing yet. But I didn’t care! I was craving something that made me excited about learning new skills and connecting with people.
A little backstory:
To give you context, I was previously pursuing an acting career. After graduating with a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University, I moved to NYC and dove right into that world. I had some success right after college, but booking jobs got harder and harder. I found myself working retail and babysitting to (barely) pay the bills. Not quite what I had in mind for my life.
I was so nervous to let go of that dream because I didn’t want to be someone who gives up. I slowly stopped auditioning and got a job in marketing. But I also started a blog to keep some creativity in my life. I became addicted to the notion that the harder I worked, the more the blog would grow. It was a nice change from the acting world where you needed a heavy dose of luck to go along with the work you put in.
Needless to say, as I learned more, I grew more. And that cycle has led to what Lake Shore Lady is today! But obviously, once you start dedicating time to something and people start asking for things from you, you need to be compensated to justify all of that work. We all have bills to pay, right?! So let’s dive into how I turned this creative hobby into my full time job.
How Do Bloggers Make Money?
There are a few ways bloggers can make money, and I think it’s important to understand that there are multiple options! What is most lucrative for me might not be most lucrative for you. Or what brings in the most at the beginning might not be how you make the most money as your career progresses. Let me explain…
4 Ways To Make Money Blogging
1. Sponsored Posts
I know sponsored posts can get a bad rep, but this is my biggest source of income – and honestly, I really love this part of my job! While I pitch myself to brands occasionally, most the time I will get an email from a company that wants to promote a product or service. We discuss their marketing goals, the deliverables they have in mind, and the timeline. From there, I decide if it’s a good fit.
What does a “good fit” mean? Well, before I think about anything else, I ask myself, am I interested in this topic? Would I buy this product on my own? Also, can I tell this brand’s story in MY voice? Asking myself these questions is really important to me, because it’s the #1 reason why I turn so many projects down.
Believe me, I’ve been doing this a while and I said yes to a few collaborations in the beginning that I regretted. And that is the WORST feeling. Instead, I want to be excited about every single partnership I take on, because you guys can totally see right through the people who are promoting watches they actually hate 😉
Next, I ask myself: Will YOU be interested in this? Could writing about it possibly provide value to you? Have you asked me to cover a topic related to this before? Is this a brand that I already know you guys love?
A great example is a collaboration with Vital Proteins. They approached me and I knew that whenever I posted about them on my own, people would ask “What is collagen?” and “How do you make a matcha latte?” So, those became my sponsored posts for them!
That aspect of creative control is extremely important for me to establish. The brand needs to trust me to tell their story in my own voice, otherwise it will feel too much like an ad.
And last but not least, you have to discuss payment! Whenever people tell me they’re surprised that brands pay bloggers, I always break it down for them. If a brand wants to use traditional marketing methods, like putting an ad in a magazine, that requires a lot of money and resources. They need to find a location, hire models/photographer/stylist/art director, get props, etc. And then they ALSO need to purchase the ad space on top of that.
Bloggers essentially do all of that work for them, and companies will pay for that premium content. Sure, a blogger might not reach as many people as Food & Wine or InStyle would, but they will reach a targeted audience. And if the brand collaborates on a blog post instead of just social, that’s also evergreen content! In other words, potential customers can find it through google searches long after it’s initially posted. The brand can also use the photos you produce to use on their own social media channels most of the time, too. Win win!
My point is, when done correctly, influencer marketing can be really great for both parties. It’s a fun, creative, and effective way to get the word out about cool brands doing cool things.
2. Ad Revenue
Ad revenue wasn’t even a part of my income until last year and now I’m nerding out about it a little. I used to be skeptical because I thought putting an ad on your site would be distracting. But after signing on with Mediavine, I realized that ads are more customizable than I thought. Turns out I can put ads where I think they make sense, and take them out when I notice them getting in the way. (I’m still learning, but getting there!)
But the BIGGEST benefit of ads is this. I always thought the only way I could make money off of my blog is through sponsored posts and affiliate commissions. But now, I’ve seen how increasing my traffic means that my ad revenue also increases.
When you guys ask me to cover a topic that requires a lot of work, I usually consider the ROI. How much time/money/resources will this blog post require to be done well? And is that worth it if I’m not getting paid to create it? Most of the time I still think it is to some capacity, because I love creating content that I know you guys will love. But now I’m seeing how I can get ad revenue from posts that otherwise would make me zilch.
To put it simply, I can now make money on highly requested posts like an easy cauliflower gnocchi recipe, my thoughts on eyelash extensions, or The Best Discounted/Free Fitness Classes. Realizing this has made me so much more motivated to create content that I’m passionate about, without worrying if it’s worth my time or not. It’s very freeing!
If you don’t have the traffic to apply to Mediavine yet, Google Adsense is not a membership site, so that could be a good option as you get started!
3. Affiliate Commissions
Affiliate marketing is actually how I first started making money from blogging… which makes me laugh, because I made PENNIES. 😂 Gotta start somewhere, right?!
Here’s how it works. If I want to share something with you guys, I can create a personalized trackable affiliate link. That way, if you click that link and make a purchase, I get a commission on it. Super simple!
I get most of my commission through an affiliate program called RewardStyle, which is the same company that created LikeToKnow.It. They work with a TON of retailers, from fashion to home/kitchen and more. It’s a great one stop shop for me to convert links for all of the different topics I cover.
ShopStyle has a similar model and I hear great things about them, too. I also know people who use Amazon Associates, but I haven’t really explored that yet. And lastly, individual brands sometimes have commission based incentives, but I usually shy away from those.
Here’s my feeling about affiliate commission. If you are going to buy something because of content I created, I don’t feel bad about earning a small piece of that at all. It doesn’t increase the price you pay and I’m driving sales to that retailer. Win win!
That being said, I don’t like to push products on you too much solely so that I can make more money. I could certainly be smarter about linking everything I can on the blog and Instagram, but I also don’t necessarily want to post sale alerts every day.
The whole goal of this blog is to remind you that you are enough. I am here to make suggestions or tell you about the things that I love, because it’s fun! And maybe I’m suggesting exactly what you’ve been looking for at exactly the right time – I love when that happens! Seeing you guys rocking the bodysuit I’m obsessed with in your stories makes my DAY. But I don’t ever want you to feel like I’m always telling you that you need something new.
I’ll always ramp up doing major sales, because it’s helpful to have someone else weed through it all for you. And obviously, you’ll see a lot of links around the holidays, because shopping for gifts is HARD! You know I’ve got your back there! But other than that, I mostly view my affiliate commissions as a bonus – and I’m cool with that right now.
4. Providing a product or service
This one is a little bit more vague, because there are so many different ways for this to manifest. A lot of bloggers also do additional freelance work, while running their blog. That might be copywriting or social media consulting. Some are photographers, who shoot for other bloggers/restaurants/etc. They might also sell their Lightroom presets. There are so many options!
The closest I’ve come to this so far is hosting events and yoga classes. Right after I got my certification, I taught a rooftop yoga series at the Loews Hotel, which was SO much fun. Since then, I’ve taught a few one-off yoga classes here and there, and also hosted a few events on behalf of a brand or store.
As I continue to grow, I am always thinking about ways I can push myself and bring in some extra income. One idea I’m toying with is a recipe ebook with easy weeknight dinner recipes for 1 or 2 people. I’d also like to expand on my Workout & Wellness Planner for 2020. I promise I won’t charge much for it, but if I can provide some additional value in there and/or create a physical version, I think that would be really awesome!
When do you start to monetize as a new blogger?
The first few years I started blogging, I didn’t make any money. The industry certainly wasn’t what it is now, but that’s not the only reason. Since I didn’t initially start doing this to make money, I honestly needed time to find my voice. And learn photography. And social media. Oh, and everything else.
Starting a blog and assuming you can make 6 figures right away is just not realistic. If you prove me wrong, GOOD FOR YOU! If you don’t, that doesn’t mean you never will. Deep breaths, hard work, and patience are key.
Before you start monetizing your blog and earning money, the first thing you need to do is figure out how to create quality content. There are plenty of online courses that can teach you about SEO, photography, how to edit photos, and other skills you might need to learn. Then, as you share things that people get excited about, more people will visit your site/follow you on social media. Over time, you’ll be able to gather statistics about your following and engagement to use when pitching to brands.
While you’re working on all of that, reach out to/tag the brands you love and start to create a relationship with them. Also, join an affiliate network and start making those pennies 😉 It might not be much as first, but as you grow, you can use those analytics when pitching/negotiating with brands, too.
How Much Money Do Bloggers Make
This question always makes me laugh. My friend Shaheen actually talked about this topic on her blog, too. (Guess I’m not the only one who gets these questions!) I loved that she compared it to her job as a dentist. Would you ever walk up to a dentist and ask them how much money they make?! Probably not. At least I wouldn’t! 😂
That being said, I understand that usually the question comes from a place of genuine curiosity. Is this really something you can live off of comfortably? The short answer is yes. I decided to quit my job in June of 2018 because my Lake Shore Lady income had already surpassed my salary for that job… and I still had 6 more months of the year left. Granted, I wasn’t making bank in that position, but still! So worth it for me to take this risk.
I don’t feel comfortable sharing how much money I made last year here, but there are a few bloggers who are very transparent about it. Pinch of Yum used to write monthly income reports that break down the different income streams of a big blogger like that. (I’d also recommend reading their post about why they stopped writing those reports, too. So many great lessons in there!)
Honestly, you are never really going to know the amount of money you can make off of your blog until you start doing it. You’ll be able to see how much work you need to put in to get traffic for ad revenue, or how many times a week you need to post to get affiliate commissions. As you grow, you’ll figure out how much to charge for sponsored posts. From there, you’ll be able to decide how much you’d like to take on each month to feel comfortable with your expenses. You also might be totally fine with having a blog that makes a little bit of extra money, while keeping your salary at a job you love. I have a lot of friends who do that!
Unfortunately, blogging doesn’t have a step by step guide or rule book. I say this all the time, but what has worked for me might not work for you. It is all subjective. Sure, there are things every blogger can do to increase their reach and create great content. But each of us has a different voice that can reach different people. Don’t let that discourage you, let it motivate you! Good things take time. If you really want it, roll up those sleeves, get to work, and trust that you’ll make it happen.
Do you have any other questions for me?
Let me know in the comments!
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