Thanks to Square for sponsoring this conversation. All opinions and content are 100% mine.
I often get asked how to start blogging, and “how to make money off a blog”. I spoke with local entrepreneurs and small business owners about it a few weeks ago at Square’s Self Made Atlanta Night School, which generated a lot more questions. (Ps- if you are in Atlanta, these workshops focus on different nights of hands-on learning about industry topics like branding, social media, and e-commerce! I highly recommend it.)
The digital world is rapidly evolving. I could probably write an entire book on how I’ve turned blogging into a full time job, after four years of trial and error. Here, I’ll address some burning questions about my journey. I plan to share more here than I have ever before, so lean in!
First of all, “blogger” doesn’t encompass everything I do. I started my digital brand by blogging about my life, but I’ve evolved into a digital marketer, podcaster, speaker and author. I consider myself to have built a brand around my life and story, and have since monetized it. I know that the internet is the wild west and careers in this space are too, but “blogger” just doesn’t seem to capture what I do.
How did you get started?
I started my blog before I knew anything about monetizing it. I was in the thick of being a new Stay-At-Home-Mom and desperately needed an outlet for my creative energy to keep my identity afloat. Writing and photography have always been hobbies of mine, so a blog seemed like a good combo of those.
I started blogging little DIY projects, humorous mom anecdotes parenting tips, and other fun things. I gradually grew my audience after being shared in mom groups etc. I contributed to The Huffington Post and Scary Mommy as a freelance writer. About six months into my blogging journey, I had an article go viral which skyrocketed my audience and blog traffic. It was then that a few people asked me if I had monetized. I didn’t know much about it, so I got to Googling.
I quickly realized that I was sitting on something that could potentially pay me real money. I joined every blogging group on Facebook that I could find and observed every conversation I saw, trying to learn from the people who were already doing things. My grandma always told me to be quiet, you’ll learn more- so that’s what I did! I watched and learned and Googled. I joined an ad network, multiple blogger/brand networks, and started earning an income – a small one, but an income.
What should you make sure you do before launching?
I am big on not waiting for perfection before taking a risk. That said, I have learned that certain things would be easier to have solidified before trying to turn your hobby into a self made business. They are: solid branding (Who are you and what do you offer? What is your aesthetic?), a system for organizing your finances/taxes, a basic understanding of SEO, and a presence on all the popular social media platforms.
I wrote more about these things here. Education on our craft is never ending, so if you wait to know it all – you’ll wait forever. Jump in as soon as you have the basics down and train on the job.
What do you have to be skilled in to be successful?
Once you are making money, you can outsource almost anything. However, to start, you’ll want some foundation in writing/formatting, photography, and above all, resourcefulness. Again, you can learn anything you want on the internet, but you have to be motivated to go get it yourself. Honestly, this is the most important thing to remember. Luckily, Square has tools that can help you develop these skills both online and in person.
How many hours do you work?
I don’t track them, but basically all the time. If I’m not dedicating consecutive hours to a particular project or post, I’m maintaining engagement on my social media channels, and a thousand other things. It’s difficult to fit the nature of my job into a schedule, especially when I have three kids and a house to take care of as well. It’s important to remember that when you aren’t physically clocking hours, your business can still be profitable through purchases coming in. I’ll go more into that later on.
What are the ways you can make money?
Most commonly the ways include: sponsored content (paid product review/placement in a post or photo), affiliate marketing (brands and retailers who offer commission per item sold), website ad placement (ad agencies that embed ads on your site and grow revenue based on traffic), physical products (branded merch, etc.), and digital products (ebooks, courses, etc.).
How much money can bloggers make?
The sky’s the limit. It depends on a lot of things, like the quality of your work, your experience, your audience size and engagement rates. I have quadrupled my income over four years and broke six figures (gross) for the first time this year.
What kind of expenses/overhead do you have?
You can start out with almost none other than your hosting cost. At this point, I pay a monthly fee for various software that helps me run things more smoothly and other random costs like a part time assistant, occasional photography, and of course: childcare. I still stay at a relatively low cost for overhead.
How do you know when to hire out?
For me, it was for two reasons. The first being if I ran into something I wasn’t great at or was too time consuming for me to figure out. Examples would be detailed SEO help and Pinterest strategy. I decided to hire an actual part time assistant when the burden of daunting administrative tasks were taking all my time and not allowing me the space to be creative anymore.
Square Online Store is an example of another investment transition I hope to make when my product line grows. My success was built on my writing and creative direction and when the day to day task list pushed all of that away, I knew I needed to hire out in order to keep growing.
What are your top three tips for someone starting out?
- Network, Network, Network. Relationships with other digital entrepreneurs, agencies, and brands pay off. You can learn so much from other people. You may also be introduced to opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. A polite exchange three years ago may land you a job this week. Make friends and get to know people. For instance, participating in Square’s Self-Made Atlanta Night School recently was a fun way I got to know local business owners in all categories, and learn how we could help each other. I also encourage joining Facebook groups and local meetups for entrepreneurs in your niche.
- Taxes. Lord have mercy, please understand self employment taxes and get ahead of that game before you are totally confused and worried about whether you are following the law. Get an accountant who is familiar with your industry. I highly recommend making quarterly payments to the IRS.
- Know how and when to pivot. I see SO many bloggers getting stuck and not knowing why what they are doing isn’t working. They keep posting inspirational quotes about knowing they are great no matter what anyone says, but in reality- their content isn’t good and that IS why they aren’t growing or getting hired. Be positive, but also be realistic and open to criticism. If it’s not working, digging your heels in might not be the answer. You may need to redirect a focus or hire someone to do something you’re struggling with. If you are uphill climbing- really be honest with yourself.
Whew! Did I cover the basics? Don’t forget to visit Square for a multitude of tools to help you run your business with ease and organization. Happy business developing!