Without fail, the minute I mention at a cocktail party or work function that I’m a blogger people ask me how to make money blogging and how I’ve managed to make it work. They lean in, genuinely interested in what I have to say, like there is a secret. Thankfully, I’ve managed to hone the response after nearly seven years of these questions and not feel so nervous when talking about it anyway.
The short answer is that bloggers (myself included) make money in three primary ways: affiliates, product sales, and sponsorships.
I’ve made really good money, enough to replace my full-time income at times. But it’s taken me years.
Find yourself undaunted by the work that lies ahead? If you have what it takes and a topic you’re REALLY passionate about, it's actually fairly easy to learn how to make money blogging. Keep reading.
How to Make Money Blogging – First Steps
Step #1 – Get Hosting
In order to make money blogging, you simply have to commit and get started.
You’ll need to get self-hosting (a “self hosted website”) in order to make any real money. Click here to get your own self-hosted blog with HostGator for just $2.75 per month using my special link, and then come back go here for my step-by-step tutorial on installing WordPress.
Most blogs are run off WordPress and it's the easiest and most user friendly content management system to use. (This is my opinion, but most agree with me. WordPress is for bloggers.)
Step #2 – Create Great Content
Once you’ve set up the website, in order to earn money you’ll need to consistently create great content.
It can’t just be a post promoting an affiliate – you’ll need to create posts that connect and engage with your audience on your given topic. And lots of it. Blogging is a never ending beast that needs to be fed with content on at least a monthly basis.
Passive readers don’t trust you enough to click and buy. You’re making friends, promoting trust and building your brand – all with your content.
That saying, don’t phone it in. You have to be in it for the love of it, not the money.
Step #3 – Build Readership and Engagement
As you continue to blog you’ll also build your readership (and engagement) with social media, an email list, and by partnering with other bloggers in your space.
Step #4 – Start Monetizing
Once you’ve got a solid library of content, it’s time to begin monetizing your site. Ask:
- What works best with the content you’ve already created?
- What products do I already know, use, and love?
- What’s the best way for me to monetize my site (what works for fashion bloggers may not work for finance and so on.)
Now that we've covered – at a very high level – how to get started making money with a blog. Below is a deeper dive into the various revenue streams bloggers rely on to generate CASH MONEY.
How to Make Money Blogging – The Three Main Income Streams
What is Affiliate Income?
Affiliate advertising works like this: brands (via affiliate networks) will give bloggers links to products or services. Bloggers embed those links into their posts and then they get a “fee” or “commission” of whatever business they bring to that brand.
I see this as a win-win. I get a commission for my influence, help keep this site afloat (Hosting isn't cheap) and you get to buy with a company that’s reputable, often at a discount because you used my affiliate link.
Most bloggers monetizing their site do it through affiliate advertising. Some do it very, very well. (Looking at you, Michelle)
I didn’t start monetizing my site in this way until late 2015. 2015!
After three years of blogging and building an audience. Honestly, at that time, I felt weird about promoting affiliates. This is because I:
- a) I never want to rep something I don’t use
- b) I have weird feels about recommending credit cards because of my own history with credit.
But here's a confession: I made a whopping $90 in affiliate income in my first year doing affiliate advertising.
But I wanted to grow my business and knew affiliates could help get me to the level of income I wanted.
I also realized that since I was running my own website, I could set my own rules and only recommend companies I’d used or personally vetted.
Money flows where your energy goes. In 2016 I took Michelle’s affiliate course to learn more about how affiliates work and how to optimize my own content for affiliate recommendations and sales. And it worked! Putting my energy into monetizing my site has increased my income, especially in affiliates.
Here's a quick-and-dirty overview on how I made it to my first $1k in affiliate sales and how you can as well.
Getting to Your First $1k in Affiliate Income
Tip #1 – Join the Networks
Really, there's a lot of experimentation involved with affiliates, no matter which network you go with or which product you decide to promote.
I constantly test and re-evaluate my affiliates based on their performance – always keeping in mind what works well, and what doesn't.
The best place to start is to look at products you know and love or have already recommended. Then do a search online of which affiliate program has that relationship, it'll either be through a network, or the company/brand may have their own affiliate program.
Personally, I like working with affiliate networks.
They do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, have daily reporting (so you never wonder where your money is), and come built in with a lot of resources like multiple landing pages and creative so you can test what works best. Networks have all of this to make YOU more successful at promoting their affiliates.
Some programs can be a bit sketchy, but the ones below are some of the top affiliate programs in the business, and I've used ALL of them at some point or another. (No sketchies allowed.)
Top Affiliate Programs for Bloggers in All Niches
Some of these require a minimum number of page views to join, but if you're looking for affiliate networks to join and start generating cash…start here! *some of these are affiliate links
- Commission Junction (now CJ Affiliate)
- Impact Radius
- Amazon Associates (sign up with your own Amazon Account!)
Tip #2 – Prioritize Building Traffic Over Other Activities
It isn’t enough to say, “I want to make affiliate income.”
- Say you want to make $300 a month at first from affiliates.
- That’s $10 per day.
- And if you leverage an affiliate that pays $5 per lead…you just need 60 leads a month, or 2 per day.
Figuring 2-3% conversion, you can then estimate how much traffic you’d need to each post in order to hit the number of sales you need.
[color box]?Since affiliate success is largely based on traffic and numbers, it will help to focus on building your audience as well. The affiliate course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, helps cover this as well. Click here to enroll. [/color-box]
Tip #3 – Monetize Existing Content First
This was a great tip I got from the Commission Junction advertisers Facebook group. Instead of worrying about how to pick an affiliate that works and creating new content for that post, they recommend you pick your ten highest performing posts and try to grab an affiliate link that already works within those.
This is what I did and it’s a great way for beginners who aren’t already doing affiliate income to quickly leverage content they already have to get started.
Tip #4 – Start (Super Duper) Small & Scale
The world of affiliate marketing is overwhelming. It seems as if every brand offers an affiliate relationship and in the beginning you don't know which are going to work for your audience, what people are going to want to buy, or what’s going to fit in best with your blog.
When I was looking at my top ten posts, I made a list of potential products that would fit, then looked in my existing affiliate portals to see if any brands were offering an affiliate relationship.
At first, I only leveraged six affiliates within my top ten posts and only two new affiliate content pieces. I’d prefer to be a master of a small group first rather than a master of none. Now I’ve worked up to 15-20, but I try not to go over that amount as it gets hard to manage them all day and day out.
Tip #5 – Promote, Promote, Promote Again
It’s called affiliate marketing. And marketing is a touch point game.
Really. They’ve done studies that prove it takes nearly seven “touches” to get someone to buy.
Because you’re a blogger and need to be a bit more authentic with your connections, you’ll have to spread this out over time and promote to your audience in a genuine way…
……but the point is if you want to earn affiliate income you have to think like a marketer and not like a blogger.
Affiliates can take work on the front end, but afterward, an affiliate conversion is pure passive income.
Initially, I was hesitant to begin building out a digital product.
Part of it was not wanting to put the time and effort in on top of working a full-time job, running this blog and a side hustle, and renovating a home in my mid-twenties. But more than that, it was a little bit of imposter syndrome – I didn’t think I was relevant or interesting enough to have a product.
Then, I finally clued into the power of passive product income.
It was a day when I was super sick in bed and had three articles due to clients…and I could barely find the energy to get out of bed.
On top of being sick, I was panicked and stressed. How was I going to get all of it done?
I’m in a business where if I don’t consistently produce, I don’t earn.
That kind of money stress was an awful emotional feeling on top of physically feeling terrible.
…But an amazing thing happened that day.
Earlier in the month I'd scheduled an email to go out to my email list on the same day I happened to be sick. I do all of my promotional emails at the beginning of the month, and schedule them out. Then I made $300 that day while I was sick and sniffly in bed.
It may not seem like a lot, but that $300 on a day when I didn't work felt so amazing to me.
It was then I realized how powerful it can be to make money while you’re sick, when you sleep, or when you have any other type of emergency.
How to Start Selling Digital Products: 3 Steps to Your First $1k
Step #1 – Prime Your Audience for Sales
Your audience is the most important thing in all of this – they’re the ones who frequent your blog, support what you do, and (potentially) buy your products. This is why it’s important to prime your audience months in advance before you ever start selling a product.
They’re used to certain things from you, and if you automatically start giving them the hard sell, they can get turned off, quick.
Priming your audience could include:
- Slipping in affiliates before you start pushing your own products.
- Doing a pre-sale to your email newsletter subscribers
- Social media posts on “exciting projects” and products you’re working on.
- Giving folks sneak peaks of the products via social media.
You can probably brainstorm a number of ways to do this, my point is…don’t go from selling nothing to one day plastering your products all over your website.
Step #2 – Build ONE Product
Building products is FUN. But it also takes hustle. Start with one product, or (even better) bundle together things you've already written or created to form a “premium” product or experience. Here's a more in-depth guide I like on what it takes to create digital products.
Many of my first products came from things I'd already made. I put together my first email freebie, The “Grow Your Money Tree” Tool Kit. I expanded it, created a small opt-in freebie (a budgeting template), and then began selling the Tool Kit on Gumroad.
For my second product, I leveraged template and prompts I was using with my paid blog coaching clients to create my first product, The Blog Yourself Rich Workbook.
Step #3 – Leverage Email Marketing
90% of what I sell is through my email list. It’s such a powerful thing to have because your email subscribers are the people most likely to buy.
After all, they opted into your email list, so they’re obviously feeeeeeling you and what you’re putting out.
So, if you want to sell products and don’t have an email list, put together that email list first before you build out products.
Not sure where to begin? Check out this complete guide on how to grow your business with email marketing.
Do what you can to grow the list, as you’ll be able to see a very visible correlation between # of subscribers and sales conversions.
And remember: Your email list is GOLD, baby.
Better known as sponsored posts, brands will pay me for posts that mention their business, review a product, or contain relevant, valuable content related to what they offer. They do this because they want to gain exposure or drive traffic to a certain site or piece of content.
Additional Ways to Make Money Blogging
The above (affiliates, products, sponsored posts) are the three biggest ways I make money, but there are other revenue sources as well. Some of the ones below I currently use, or have used to make money blogging in the past.
I participate in a handful of ad networks who run ads on my site and pay me for it. While I was previously ignoring this area, I started really investing time into this revenue stream in late 2016.
Previously, I made only a few dollars each month and now I make about $1200/month on network ads alone.
Direct Ad Sales
Occasionally I'll sell an ad in my sidebar directly to a business. It's more money than going through an ad network, but not as consistent.
I did these in the past, but only received product as compensation. Although I no longer do this, many bloggers do, and reviewing products (for cash or for free) is a lot of fun.
In the seven years I've been blogging I've received well over $5,500 of free product and books (and recently, free travel!). I’m mentioning this to illustrate that there are other ways to monetize your site beyond cash money.
Coaching & Consulting
In 2015 & 2016 I offered one-on-one sessions to beginner bloggers who wanted to learn a lot in a short amount of time and expand their brands and websites to become online income generators.
I've worked with people all over the U.S. (and even folks in the Phillippines and Australia!)
If you're really knowledgeable in an area, you can sell that expertise as a coaching service. The best part is, private coaching is always a great option for revenue because your main way of marketing those services (i.e. your blog!) is already built and you can leverage this to get new clients.
I have made money with video sponsorships (like I did with Awkward Money Chat) . Demand for video is only going to increase, so if you have a knack for or a passion for being in front of a camera, I think this will be a big revenue generator in future.
Appearances and Speaking
I’ve also done appearances at conferences and local events for travel expenses + a fee. Sometimes I prepare a presentation and speak, other times I sit on a panel and talk on a given topic (like the awesome panel I did with Prudential during the summer of 2015.)
I won't lie. I was in a weird place and pretty much over “money content.” As a result I tried to sell the website from June 2017 until February 2018.
I had a lot of interest, a lot of people who paid the deposit to poke around in my Google Analytics, but ultimately, no one was interested in buying the brand. (“Too much L Bee,” they said.)
So, I sat with the question for a while of if I really wanted to let “my baby” go, and decided I didn’t. But many folks grow websites just to sell them and earn a good profit and this is a not-much-talked about way of making money with a blog.
How to Make Money Blogging FAQ’s
Can you really make money blogging?
The answer is, it depends. (Here's great data from a survey of bloggers.) There are many bloggers who never make more than $500, and others who earn over $100k in a month. In terms of earnings, I find myself solidly in the top 10% in terms of earnings (according to this Lifehacker article), but that it's harder than ever to crack that elusive top 5. I've been trying to consistently crack this top 5% for YEARS now.
How long does it usually take?
I started monetizing – $200 here and there – within my first six months. I didn’t see really good, full-time(ish) income until year three. So no, it’s not a “get rich quick” scheme. That’s not to say there aren’t bloggers who learn very quickly how to monetize in year 1. It’s different for each blogger.
How can beginner bloggers make money blogging?
Beginner bloggers make money in the same way established bloggers do. The only difference is the more established bloggers have more traffic, more conversions, and can command higher prices for things like sponsored posts and brand partnerships.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Every blogger you see out there started small, and then grew.
This is why blogging consistently and over time is so important. It’s the same as building a career – you have to work your way up.
How can I make my first money blogging?
I would say affiliate income is the best way for beginner bloggers to get started. Even if you don’t have a large audience, an engaged audience of 10-20 people buying the products you recommend can generate revenue.
It may probably won’t generate a ton of cash, but you can (and will) make money. Which, if you’re looking for a way to monetize your hobby, can be very exciting.
“How I Made $225,000+ with a Blog Side Hustle”
I'm happy to report this blog alone has made over $200,000 for my personal finance bottom line.
Keep in mind that's not in a month or a year it's over time and has been a very slow build, but personally, I'm pretty proud of the results. Here's the TL:DR before we get started.
- I started this blog (formerly called L Bee and the Money Tree) in May 2012.
- I made money even in the first year. You can see all those numbers in that year in the original post. (And at the bottom of this one!)
- I ran the blog as a side hustle until I left my FT job in 2015 to work for myself.
- During my first year of self-employment I made money primarily as a freelance writer and content strategist, but my blog income continued to grow.
- In early 2016 (about a year ago) I decided to give up most of my writing clients to focus on trying to make the website itself earn more passive income.
- In May 2017, I quit being an entrepreneur and went back to work full time while still relying on the blog as my side hustle (look at the numbers at the end of the post to see how I did!)
Now What You've Been Waiting For! The Numbers!
- YTD Blog Income Total (2012) – $1,395 (I blogged 7 months of 2012)
- YTD Blog Income Total (2013) – $8,255
- YTD Blog Income Total (2014) – $11,345
- YTD Blog Income Total (2015) – $27,647.15
- YTD Blog Income Total (2016) – $52,009.08
- YTD Blog Income Total (2017) – $62,910.42
- YTD Blog Income Total (2018) = $65,811.00
Total Lifetime Blog Earnings = $229,372.65 (OVER SEVEN YEARS)
These numbers aren't as big as some of the ones you'll find on the internet, but I'm still incredibly proud. I can't get caught up in that comparison game (even though it is very, very easy at times.)
To build something worth nearly a quarter of a million dollars with just a computer and my own fingertips…well, I can't find other words. I'll try. But the even more impressive thing is that I've consistently stuck with something for seven years.
This blog is my longest relationship. My baby. And one of my steadiest friends.
A few (other) final thoughts on the numbers above.
- At the time of this update (in 2019) I'm also proud I was able to go back to work, while still maintaining the level of income on the website.
- Even though I try to balance the job and my side hustle, a lot of this money was pretty passive. That is a win, too!
- Keeping an abundant money mentality is key. Also, not letting money influence your creative decisions or the joy you feel running your blog is important too.
Thanks for reading!