Is a blog a business? Or is it just a hobby? Abby and I get some pretty funny reactions when we tell people that we're full time bloggers because most people outside of the "blogging realm" don't understand how putting pictures and text on a website can generate income.
I don't blame them-- it's not always easy to understand! Throughout our time blogging, we have found three proven strategies that help people turn their hobby blog into a thriving business, proving that it really is possible to make money online.
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Is a blog a business?
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
A blog isn’t a business any more than a building is a business. Both have the potential to become a business, but in order for that to happen, the owner has to offer something for sale, whether it’s a physical product, a digital product, a service, or even advertising.
Until something is for sale, a blog is not a business. The potential for a business is there, but a blog on its own is not a business.
Turn your blog into a business with these three business models
1. Display Ads
If we take a look at the advertising model for turning a blog into a business, make no mistake, there is something being offered for sale: your readers’ attention.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this model; you are compensated for having your readers and visitors look at and click on ads. If we relate this back to the non-internet business world, this is similar to the business model of free community newspapers. Content and articles are used to attract a readership, and the attention of those readers is productized and sold to advertisers. The higher the readership, the more the owner can charge for an ad spot. The same goes with ads on blogs.
In the online business and blogging world, this is the easiest model to start with but hardest to grow substantially. To some, it seems like easy money — they just have to grow the traffic to their site and display ads will bring in more revenue. It is easy money, but it’s easy little money.
Abby started Just a Girl and Her Blog back in January of 2013, but it wasn’t until April of that year that we tried to earn a little bit of money from the site. Where did we turn first? Ads, and more specifically, Google Adsense. We filled out a quick application, added some code-snippets in sidebar widgets, and we were all set!
The first few dollars were certainly exciting. We were finally a business! We were selling our readers’ attention and earning a few dollars. In those early days, we were excited when we earned $10/day from Adsense. As Abby’s traffic grew, those numbers increased and so did our ad revenue, but not by a whole lot.
Today, Abby’s blog receives 500,000+ visitors every month, and for now, we still show a few ads on the site. They’re not prominent, and we’ve rejected video ads and the other more distracting (but more profitable) ad units. We earn about $1,500/month from these ads. Not bad, but that’s a low return on the amount of effort Abby has put into growing her blog to a half-million views every month.
Fortunately, ads are just one of many income streams we use to monetize Just a Girl and Her Blog, so while we're earning passive income from ads, we can also be employing strategies from the other two business models as well.
Display Ads: The Numbers
In our example let’s say we get around 500,000 page views per month and earn $1,500 from our fairly conservative mix of six ad units — no video, takeover, or image ads. That’s $3 per every 1,000 page views. This is inline with our typical $3 to $4 CPM I see in our ad dashboard. CPM is revenue per thousand impressions. (Pageviews and impressions are not the same, but they are close.)
Now let’s translate these numbers to a blogger six months into their blogging journey who has worked really hard, made some great connections, never missed a posting date and is getting 1,000 pageviews/day (completely doable!). They’ll earn about $90 each month. $3/day x 30 days = $90.
That’s not bad! Those first dollars are incredibly motivating. Now your blog earns enough to more than cover the hosting fees and even some fun money left over each month. It's a great start!
2. Earning money from others' products-- affiliate income and sponsored posts
Besides display ads, many bloggers also earn money through selling others' products. There are two major ways this is done: through affiliate marketing and sponsored posts.
With affiliate income, bloggers offer or recommend someone else’s product for sale and then they earn a commission. This could be virtually any product under the sun with the Amazon Associates affiliate program. It could be software and services like hosting or WordPress themes. It could also be eBooks or courses from other bloggers or entrepreneurs.
What I love about affiliate income is that simply by telling others about products we already use and love in a natural, organic way, we can earn a commission if our readers decide to purchase something through our affiliate links. Because we know that people are likely to buy based off our recommendation alone, we are very choosy about what we promote in affiliate partnerships and always strive to put our readers' best interest first.
You can browse through our income reports to see some examples of affiliate partnerships we have.
Another way bloggers earn money through the sale of others' products or services is through sponsored posts. Rather than being paid when someone clicks a link and purchases something, as with affiliate partnerships, bloggers are typically paid a flat fee for a sponsored post. The blogger writes a post about their experience with the product or service, shares it on their social media channels and meets other requirements set forth by the advertiser, and collects the agreed upon amount from the brand.
Some bloggers rely on affiliate sales and sponsored posts as their main source of income, and they can make a lot of money doing it. A major upside to selling others' products is that you don't have to create anything yourself. You don't have to ship or package anything. You don't have to deal with customer service inquiries. You simply recommend products that you already use and love, and the owner of the products takes care of the rest.
It is possible to make a full time income on affiliate sales and sponsored posts alone. Bloggers just need to use caution that they're using these methods in a way that is genuine and natural rather than pushy or sales-y. They also need to make sure they're not burning out their readers with sponsored post after sponsored post.
Selling Others' Products: The Numbers
Remember our blogger from our ad example who had been blogging about 6 months and was getting around 1,000 pageviews per day? Let's say she decides to begin adding affiliate links into some of her more popular posts. If she is able to do this in a natural way and direct people to products that will truly help them and make their lives easier, readers will start purchasing through her links. If she makes just $5 per day from affiliate sales, she will add $150 per month to her income. As her pageviews increase and she gets better with her affiliate marketing strategies, that number will continue to grow and grow.
Additionally, our blogger can start to get connected with some media companies or with brands directly to help her find sponsored post opportunities that will bring her yet another income stream. Even if she only does one sponsored post per month, she could add another $150+ to her income, and the amount she earns will continue to grow as her blog gets bigger.
3. Selling your own products or services
One of our favorite ways that we've turned our blog into a business is through the sale of our own products. In this model, you create something — maybe an eBook, course, class, or even physical product and sell it to your readers on your blog.
Many bloggers also offer a service-- design consultations, virtual assistant services, blog consultations, etc. With both products and services, you can reap the benefits because you are in total control of what you're selling. You can create additional products or take on additional clients and increase your income.
Tackling your own products or services can mean more work because you are handling every aspect of the sale yourself, but they can also have a huge payoff once sales start rolling in.
Selling Your Own Products or Services: The Numbers
Let’s say our blogger with the 1,000 pageviews per day put a lot of effort into building a quality email list during their first six months. They signed up for ConvertKit on day one, created something valuable to offer their readers in exchange for entering their email address, and, as a result, built a healthy list of 2,000 subscribers by the end of the first six months. Again, totally doable!
After six months of posting on a consistent basis, the blogger has a good understanding of what really resonates with her readers. There a few posts that seem to be getting more traffic than everything else. Those posts are generating a good number of comments and a decent amount of buzz. She hit a nerve with something!
Instead of doing nothing, she decides to create something to take the ideas in the post, expand on them, and create a simple product to sell. She does this with the needs of her audience in mind. She doesn’t make something that helps her; she makes something that will help her audience. She’s not guessing that they will want this product-- she knows they will based on the nerve she struck with a few of her most popular posts.
She spends some time creating an eBook in iBooks Author (free) or even Microsoft Word if she uses a PC. She makes sure the formatting is beautiful and she is spot on with the typography. She pays her designer friend $50 or $100 to make an absolutely beautiful cover.
She builds buzz over the course of a few weeks leading up to the launch by mentioning the product on social media and some of her blog posts. She uploads the book to Gumroad who takes care of all the payment processing and digital product delivery.
She then emails her list of 2,000 subscribers the night before launch day with every conceivable detail about the book including price, format, who it will help, how long it is, etc. She emails her list again the morning of the launch and writes a compelling post to get people excited about the eBook.
Obviously, that is a super basic launch plan, but you get the idea. The blogger's email list is extremely valuable at this point. History has shown that at least 1% of an engaged list will purchase a low to mid-price product during launch week.
For this blogger, that means 20 people from her 2,000 person list will buy this $25 eBook. That’s $500, my friends!
I’ve also found that launch week typically accounts for 25% of a product's overall sales throughout the course of an entire year. That’s $2,000 in total revenue over the course of the year from the eBook. (These are very conservative numbers.)
There are a lot of assumptions in this calculation…
I’m assuming the blogger doesn’t do anything else to continue promoting the book. If they offer a sample chapter in exchange for an email address and walk the subscriber through a series of five or so emails with some soft sells of the eBook, the revenue numbers will go up dramatically and the revenue will continue to climb throughout the year.
If the blogger continues to grow (products give credibility and people take notice) the revenue from the eBook will continue to grow.
My numbers are also conservative here. For a $25 product, it’s not uncommon to see 3% or even 5% of an email list make a purchase if the eBook is spot on and resonates with the audience. Even if you increase the 1% to 2%, the revenue numbers I’m talking about here double!
Choose a model to turn your blog into a business
Though a blog in and of itself is not a business, it has the potential to be an incredibly lucrative business. By implementing one or more of the strategies shared above, your income could go from $0 to a few hundred dollars a month to several thousand dollars per month in a fairly short amount of time.
Think carefully about the business model(s) you choose. Think carefully about where to spend your time in the effort of turning your blog into a business. Think carefully about the numbers associated with these various business models.
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This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.