How I Made $100,000 Online with a Small Blog and Following
I don't have 100,000 followers on Instagram and I certainly don't feel as if I get an impressive number of traffic to my blog.
After seeing a plethora of sketchy blog advice being dished out online by people who truly do mean well, I decided to sit down and share my story with you, my professional background, how I got started making money online, and the actual steps I took to make a full-time living off of my blog.
This is for you if:
You're a new blogger trying to monetize your site and you don't know where to start
You've been blogging for a bit, but are struggling to make the income you want from your blog
You're a long time blogger utterly confused by the 'other' side of blogging
You're looking to learn more about blogging so that you can showcase your talents and become a full-time writer or creative
You're looking to make a career change and want to use your blog as a way to stand apart
You're looking to blog to attract clients, leads, and sell your products
I'm sharing this with you because I've done each and every one of these myself and know from firsthand experience how life-changing a blog can be. There are hundreds of ways to make money through your blog, and today I'm going to share how I've done this in the past and how you can get started today.
The advice I'm going to share with you in this post isn't from random trial + error and one off experiences. I gained this knowledge through working in the marketing industry for five years as a full-time employee for other companies before taking the steps to freelance and then work for myself full-time.
I want you to feel empowered when blogging, not lost or overwhelmed. After you read this blog, promise me one thing - you'll take action today!
Ok, let's do this.
How I first started blogging and how I used my blog to land my first $2k client at 19
I first fell in love with blogging when my mother brought home a Windows 98 desktop back in the 90s. From that moment on I became fascinated by the blogging industry.
As a preteen, I spent most of my nights and weekends studying and researching successful fashion bloggers trying to understand what worked when growing a following, and most importantly why it worked. Brilliant women and men were making a living strutting stilettos and the latest trends and I wanted in!
Although my passion for fashion has died, my dedication to the monetization of a blog and my creative passions have only become stronger.
This curiosity eventually found its way into my professional life. When I was 19, I used a lifestyle blog I created in Wordpress as a portfolio piece to set myself apart from other intern applicants. Not only did I create my own logo, design my layout, and publish a few pieces of content, but I really showed how passionate I was about social media marketing to my potential employer.
Landing that internship had a huge impact on my life. After the internship ended, I used my lifestyle blog and my portfolio that I developed from writing articles and writing tweets as a portfolio to pitch small businesses the same services. At 19, I was able to take in $500/week in additional income (I had a full-time job working as a sales associate at Nordstrom) all summer long. It was a life changer.
A few years later, I found myself working in software sales at a tech start up. I learned a ton, but I wasn't passionate about sales anymore. I felt burnt out from years of sales and commission structures. But I realized that I had discovered my true passion and calling - content marketing.
How I used my blog to get a full-time job in the marketing industry so that I could advance my skillset, knowledge, and confidence
When a position at my job opened up for the same role, I was shut down in the middle of asking the hiring manager more about the role. I felt completely disrespected and was mansplained so hard by that guy.
I decided to quit that job and freelance writing articles and creating content for companies again like I did when I was 19. Although I had experience under my belt, I was still considered entry level in my mind and thought it would be super hard to find clients that were willing to pay decent rates now that more people were rushing to get into the marketing industry.
Again, I used my lifestyle blog and the one article I had published online as a portfolio and was able to find freelance clients super easily. This allowed me to leave NYC and travel for three months across the US where I then moved to LA.
In Los Angeles, I was able to land a gig working in influencer marketing. We flew to NYC, launched a photo editing app at BeautyConNYC, designed an incredible booth and achieved all of our business goals on the trip. We launched at number 4 in Canada for photo/video and number 8 in the US for photo/video.
As I entered the world of influencer marketing where I learned from the inside how businesses were choosing which bloggers, Youtube personalities, and online influencers they sponsored to target their audiences.
That's when I realized I needed to start doing this stuff for myself, for my own brand.
I'm qualified to talk about these things because
I've successfully made a full-time income through my blog and social media channels
I've worked as an influencer marketing manager and know what marketing departments are willing to pay influencers
I've worked in a number of different roles within marketing before finding my personal favorite channels and strategies
I don't pretend to know it all, I just share what I know works for myself and thousands of other people have replicated as well
I didn't learn this from a course or college, this was self-taught and learned in the workplace and adapted overtime
So how does one make money blogging? What matters when monetizing a blog? Before we talk about what works, it’s important that we talk about what doesn’t work and why.
Blogging Monetization Myths You Need To Give Up To Succeed
Blogging is dead. Something I hear often when speaking to other bloggers is the idea that blogging is dead, you either capitalized on it or you didn’t, and it’s too late - you have to be an Instagrammer, Snapchatter, or Youtuber - they say. This couldn’t be more wrong. Blogging is still a booming industry in development and it’s only getting bigger. But like any industry, you have to be willing to learn and adapt with the changes in your industry in order to succeed.
It’s impossible to make a full-time living writing. Now more than ever it is becoming easier and easier to make a full-time living as a writer thanks to the growing popularity of influencer and content marketing. Companies are now resorting to outsourcing content to keep up with demands. With 92% of consumers opting to trust the recommendations of people they know, versus traditional brand content and advertising, it's no surprise that influencer marketing achieves 3-10x the conversion rate of traditional marketing. If you don't know what influencer marketing is, don't worry! My Influencer Marketing Bootcamp dives into content marketing and how to use it to monetize your blog, Instagram, and creativity.
You should start monetizing your blog once you get enough traffic. A lot of people think monetizing a blog is saved for when you have enough traffic, whatever enough is. By setting the right practices in place from the beginning, you can monetize your blog from day one. I personally have made a full time income from this very blog you're reading, and I don't pump out a blog a day or even a week. I monetize my site through products and services. I attract buyers and clients through social media and zero advertisements. I recently started working with a few brands to create custom content that I'll be sharing on my blog and social media channels, and that didn't take as much traffic and followers as many think. To learn about tying Instagram or Influencer Marketing into your strategy, checkout my Influencer Marketing 101 guide.
No one will buy from me. Oh, the dreaded "no one will buy from me" line. Understand that the value you put on yourself and the product you look to sell through your blog will spread to your potential customers and site visitors. Know your worth, own it, and be confident. And if you're truly making a product or writing a blog that you don't believe someone will trust enough to buy from, why are you creating it in the first place?
Email marketing is not for me, it's too spammy and doesn't work anymore. Anyone looking to build an online based business needs to be building and nurturing an email list. Your email list is compiled of your top readers, the people who love you the most, they trust you and are more likely to buy from you than any other random visitor that stumbled across your site.
I must write a million blog posts to be noticed and sponsored. I'll admit I once fell into this trap. It's the idea that you must write a blog post a day to gain traffic. This is completely wrong! Although it's always key to create quality content for your visitors, it's important to focus your content creation around the likes of your target audience and your goals. Being original and being good at photography are the two shortcuts to working with brands. But realistically, it starts with creating some high quality sample content and pitching brands. Don't wait for them to reach out to you.
I’ll pick a niche once I get a ton of traffic. It’s not about getting all of the traffic, it’s about getting the right traffic that will convert into paying customers. Focus on defining your niche and creating content around that topic. Some people think that they'll scare away brands, opportunities, traffic, and followers if they're too narrow in their blogging approach. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, I think it's more strategic to start your blog with a niche. This helps you become more focus and action oriented, instead of chancing yourself of being too caught up in wondering what topic to write about vs actually writing. So pick your niche, grow an audience around it, and branch out from there if appropriate.
The only way to make money off of a blog is through ads. There are thousands of bloggers who monetize their blog without a single ad or product on their blog. Let's talk about how.
I hope that this post helps you realize that there's more than meets the eye when it comes to this stuff, because each person will choose to monetize in different ways. I recommend testing out a few and seeing what works best for you, your skillset, and your desired lifestyle.
Now that we've covered some of the blogging myths you should avoid, it’s time to talk about what does work and why.
How to monetize a small blog with little traffic
Define and research your niche
The first most important step to monetizing a blog is defining your niche. Your niche is the topic you blog about. Once you define what your niche is, it's important to research your industry and competition. This helps you learn more about the current state of your industry, what works, what doesn't work, and can help you identify a way to make your brand stand out.
By doing this research initially, you'll be able to take this information and help create tailored content for your target audiences which will help you develop a portfolio for when you're looking to work with brands.
My biggest piece of advice to people getting started with a blog, Insta, or creative project is to just be yourself. Too many people go on Pinterest, search a topic, and try writing a better blog post than the next person on the same topic. The internet is full of pretty stale unoriginal content. The easiest way to capture the attention of your audience is to be original, so just do you!
Ask yourself the following questions and write them down:
What is your niche?
What makes you qualified to talk about this topic?
What makes you unique?
What topics do you want to talk about?
What topics do you not want to talk about?
What websites does your audience read?
What will you post on social media?
What social media channels will you use?
Is there a popular topic or trend in your niche that makes sense for your brand?
What is working for you?
What is not working for you?
How can you make your existing content better or more relevant to your target audience?
What are some of the top brands and bloggers in your industry?
What do you like about what these brands are doing?
What do you like about what these bloggers are doing?
What don't you like and what do you want to avoid all together while blogging?
Define the criteria for the types of brands you want to collaborate with.
Define the types of influencers you want to collaborate with.
What does your audience want the most?
What are their goals?
How are you collecting feedback?
Define your monetization strategy
The second step sounds simple, but is oftentimes overlooked and the major reason why most bloggers fail to make a dime even after years of blogging. The second step to start making money blogging is to define your monetizations strategy. How do you want to make money? Not how do other bloggers make money.
12 ways to make money through your blog:
Sponsored email ads
Sell books and workbooks
Attract leads for your email list that you sell to
Attract clients for your freelance services
Attract clients to your coaching business
Find freelance leads
Add an e-commerce site
Promote other people's products and launches
If you're frustrated with social media or failing to land opportunities from it, make sure you're not only creating great content, but you're also making it clear who you are, what you do, where to buy things from you, and how to contact you.
Create a services or product page
Here are a few tips on what to include on your services and product pages. Your services page should be easy to find and contain the following:
A professional photo of you
A few lines on who you are and what you do
What products or services your offer, who you work with, and testimonials
Who you work with, who you don't work with
Your email address or a form to contact you
Links to your published work or portfolio
Links to your social media accounts and Linkedin if relevant
A way to sign up for a consultation
A way to purchase a package directly (if relevant)
Links to purchase your products and memberships
Start building an email list from day one
Do you have an active newsletter? Are you collecting emails on your site?
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when strategizing how to make money blogging is they fail to build an email list from day one.
“I’ll start building an email list when I have enough followers,” they say as cash is left on the floor.
The most beneficial thing any blogger, creative, or entrepreneur could possibly do is to build an email list before launching a product, service, or website. This helps you test your concept and gain insight in on the level of interest of your existing following.
Top reasons why you should start building an email list from day 1
Building an email list before launching helps you test your idea. Think of it this way, the people who sign up for your newsletter are your tribe, your most loyal followers. If you announce to your list that you’ll be launching a course on photography and 100 people sign up for its pre-launch, you know you have a solid idea worth dedicating your time to. Your email list will help you get instant feedback from your target audience while allowing your audience to grow more connected to you.
It helps increase visitors and sales. A pre-launch email campaign is great because as soon as you launch, all you have to do is send a tailored email to your list to send traffic to your new post or product. Because this list is curated of people who are interested in what exactly you do, this will increase the odds of a sale.
Pitch products and services to your list. Whether you sell your own product or act as an affiliate, your email list is a great place to cash in on affiliate commission by recommending your favorite products.
Sell sponsored content on your email list. Sell email sponsorships to brands for a flat fee or commission, whatever makes best sense for each deal.
Beta testing and feedback. Something I personally love the most about subscribing to newsletters is the opportunity to talk 1:1 with the person behind the list, but also the chance to beta test new products for free.
Great way to find opportunities. Through your email list, you can not only offer opportunities but find them too! Through email newsletters, I've learned of new jobs, events, and even collaboration opportunities.
8 things to send to your email list and to build subscribers
Free content, knowledge, and insights
Early access to product and event launches
Free challenges, workshops, and webinars
Coupons and early access discounts
Extended content + exclusive videos to supplement your blogs and social media posts
The opportunity to beta test products
What if you want to work remote but you're not ready to be a full-time blogger?
Being a blogger isn't for everyone. It's hard work and takes a number of different skills ranging from photography, PR and several types of marketing.
When I first started working remote, it was for someone else. To learn how to find a full-time remote job, checkout my Professional Development Bootcamp. If you're struggling with where to start, read my Workforce Survival Guide.
What are your biggest frustrations when starting to monetize your blog?