“I can’t make money from my blog because I don’t have an idea.”
Sounds familiar? Having a sizeable audience, investing a ton of time and money into running a blog, yet still making zero from it… Few things are more frustrating.
Yet the web overflows with profitable launch breakdowns, case studies, screenshots of PayPal statements, and well-deserved brags. Every blogger except you is living the dream.
Every monetization idea they have becomes an instant hit that readers rave about and throw piles of money at.
You see successful, profitable blogs everywhere and wonder what you are doing wrong. Despair starts to creep in – do those blogs have something yours doesn’t?
Rest assured – most other bloggers aren’t smarter or luckier than you. Their plan of attack is simply different than yours.
They don’t build an offering and throw it at the mercy of their audience in hopes that people buy. Instead, they flip the concept on its head.
They come to readers for insights. First, they figure out what the audience needs. Next, they validate the idea by selling a ‘pilot’ version of the upcoming offering.
Once bloggers are 100% sure it will sell, and sell well, they build it and test it with those early buyers. And only afterwards do they roll it out for everyone else to buy.
This is what Firepole calls “the audience business” model. Every profitable blog you have ever read succeeded because of it.
By the time you’ve read this post, you will have the tools and knowledge to make it work for your blog, regardless of size or niche.
You will start by letting your audience give you the money-making idea – or ten!
Monetization Step #1: Finding the Idea
Ideas don’t fall into your lap or materialize in your head. Monetizing your blog is all about one core concept: finding something your readers will want to pay for.
Your mind could be abuzz with dozens or hundreds of ideas right now. The bad news is that most of them are wildly off the mark when it comes to identifying what your audience wants.
But here’s the good news: you only need one good idea to make money. Even better, it won’t come from your head. It will come from your readers, who already showed you what they need. Your money-making idea is already out there, you just haven’t met yet.
Use these three foolproof methods to identify a profitable opportunity:
Method 1 — Analyze Your Stats
Analyzing your stats sounds challenging and unsexy, I know. But hiding in this pile of data is a treasure trove of insights into what your readers want. Ignoring it should be illegal for any semi-serious blogger. So no more excuses – let’s do this!
Hit up your Google Analytics account and list all your blog posts in order from most to least viewed. Write down the titles for the top 5.
If you have more than one signup bonus for getting people on your email list, check how many subscribers each of them has brought you. Then write down the most popular one.
Additionally, see which of your posts are the most commented upon and the most shared, and write down the top 5. Look for any overlap between engagement (comments and shares) and views.
“Why are we doing this again?” you will inevitably ask when you get bored. The stats will reveal which topics are important to your readers. If they loved your free content on the subject, they will take interest in your paid content on that subject as well.
Here’s what to do with all the data you’ve collected: look for patterns and overlaps. For example, your readers shared your huge post about the Paleo diet like crazy. They also loved your free PDF guide on nutrition. Here’s an idea: make a paid monthly service delivering yummy Paleo recipes into their inbox every week!
This method should give you 2-3 solid ideas for a kickass product or service right away. And one of those will sound so good that it will jump at you and yell “Pick me! Pick me!”
But you need to clench your teeth and resist the temptation to take that adorable puppy of an idea and run with it. You have a bit more work to do. Raw data is neat and useful, but you need to remember: actual, live people have to want your product or service.
And the best way to make sure people want it is by listening to them and take a whole bunch of notes. This brings us to the second method…
Method 2: Dig Into Audience Comments
Your first instinct might be to set up a survey and ask your readers to take part. Don’t do it – at least not yet. (We’ll get into running surveys in Step 2).
Here’s what you should do instead: dive deep into the comment section of your most popular posts. You’re looking for questions that people have asked in the comments. You can either read through all the comments, or do a text search in your browser for “?”
Now you have dozens of real questions that your readers have. Some of them are short and quick, while others you can only solve with focused, top-notch content.
You want to write the latter ones down right below the ideas and topics you already have.
Next, look through the comments again and pay attention to the feedback from your readers. What do they struggle with when putting your advice into action? What are their fears? Is there a specific area or problem your blog posts don’t address?
Now you have actionable information about what your readers want. You know what keeps them up at night. Those insights will help you come up with more great ideas for products, services, events, or memberships.
Go ahead and brainstorm 5-10 concepts for how you could monetize your blog, based on the data you have discovered.
If you don’t have a lot of comments, or if you need even more data, there’s one last step in the path to finding your monetization ideas.
Method 3 — Delve Into Your Inbox
This method is optional, but I recommend it because when you create a paid offering for the readers of your blog, it makes sense to target those most engaged.
People reading your blog and leaving comments are somewhat engaged. People emailing you with questions, sharing their problems and successes – now they are super-engaged!
Those people might have already handed you a profitable idea. All you have to do is dig up your past conversations and look for useful nuggets. Email back-and-forth is a treasure trove of ideas – don’t pass it up!
This was how Firepole Marketing developed “Write Like Freddy,” its first paid program. Early on, Danny Iny wrote 80+ guest posts in the first year of Firepole’s lifespan – and you can bet that people noticed! He even became known as the “Freddy Kruger of Blogging” – wherever you looked, Danny was there.
He got lots of emails that said, one way or another, “Oh my God how are you doing this? I also want to be able to put out first-rate content and get it published on major blogs”. And that’s how “Write like Freddy” was born.
You have curious and passionate readers who look at you and go, “Huh, I wish I could do what she does.” Give them a chance to learn more, learn better – and they will pay for the privilege.
Idea Generation: How Does It All Come Together?
How you go about finding an idea is unique to you. You can use any of the above methods, but I recommend doing all 3 in combination. Varying them will reveal any recurring topics where profitable ideas are hiding.
For example, if your blog doesn’t have a comment section, you can’t do much with method #2. (Note that this didn’t stop Leo Babauta from zenhabits!) If you haven’t spoken with any readers via email, method #3 doesn’t apply.
If an idea attracts both passive (views and shares) and active (comments and questions) interest from readers, it’s worth testing.
And testing is the second, and most important, step in the quest to make your blog profitable.
But before we dive into what testing your idea looks like, let’s take a look what you can do if none of the three methods apply to you.
What if None of These Idea Generation Methods Apply to You?
Your posts aren’t of the how-to variety. Your comment section is non-existent or doesn’t contain any clues on what your readers want. Your inbox is empty of the vocal minority screaming, “Shut up and take my money!”
Let’s take an example of a blog that isn’t meant to teach, but to entertain.These types of blogs are usually webcomics, or a personal story blog that has a following. They are hard to monetize, not because they are in a money-repellent niche, but because people love the “starving artist” myth.
They love hiding behind “authenticity” when justifying why their passion can’t make them a dime. The truth is, they are afraid their readers will abandon them the moment they ask for a penny. Is the fear justified? Heck no!
The blog I want to use as an example is Illustrated with Crappy Pictures.
On the surface, it’s the antithesis of monetizable. The pictures, as it says in the title, are crappy. The stories are personal and relatable, but without much instructional or teaching value to them. Or at least, there’s nothing intentional “teachable” in the posts.
At the same time, its most popular post has 40,000+ shares on social media. Its Facebook page has over 120,000 likes. As much as I distrust using social media following as a metric, those are impressive figures for anyone.
The blog’s owner made a tentative venture into monetization by selling 2 books via Amazon. One was a hit, with 400+ glowing reviews. The second one was less successful (only 36 reviews at the time of this writing).
What could she improve, and how could she earn a more reliable income?
I noticed two things while scouring Amazon reviews for the books, and looking through the comment section of her blog:
- Lots of reviewers said the book was too short and not worth the money – but they loved the blog and wanted more of it. Loyal followers with a need? Check.
- On the blog, she hosted a successful sale for charity and readers bought cards made by her six-year-old. Loyal and paying followers? Check!
Based on these quick observations, I see at least 2 strategies the blog’s owner could test:
1. Expand and re-release the books on her site. Most readers who weren’t satisfied with the books found them too short compared to tons of free content on the blog.
Beefing up the books and creating a second edition seems like the next logical step. Selling them from the blog as a digital download means a healthier margin and no Amazon commissions to pay.
2. Make the books free or pay-what-you-want and create a membership instead. A central objection that most readers had to paid books was, “Why buy these at $9+ a pop if the blog is so damn good… and free?”
They have a point, misguided as it may be. There is more than one way to support someone’s art – buying merchandise and physical goods isn’t always the way to go.
Setting up a voluntary subscription for the blog’s readers is another promising strategy. As for the books, they can become excellent traffic generation tools.
Amazon has a terrific promotional program for free or discounted Kindle ebooks. Making the two books free and including a call to action to subscribe to the blog in both books would bring a lot of fresh visitors to the site. Some of them will end up as paying subscribers.
To sum up, even if you think your blog is unmonetizable, or doesn’t have a ton of data to research, there’s always something you can do. Consider looking at all the ways other blogs in your niche make money. And if you run out of ideas in your niche, look at other successful online blogs outside your niche. Sometimes the best ideas come from outside your area of expertise!
If you have tried selling something before, with no success, think about revamping your previous offering into something more appealing. Check out Mirasee’s guide to blog monetization for more ideas.
Monetization Step #2: Validating the Idea
Using your Google Analytics data, reader comments, and emails from your audience, you have created 5-10 ideas that will likely make you money. That’s better than 90% of bloggers will ever manage, so great job! Now it’s time to test them with your readers and make some early sales.
From that list you have made, pick one idea that you like the most. If ‘paralysis by analysis’ strikes, choose one at random. Don’t worry – if it’s terrible, your test audience will tell you! Think of it as failing your way to launch. Everyone does it.
Testing Your Offer
You want to test your offer on your most dedicated followers first, before you release your offer to your whole list. Your most dedicated followers are the ones who open your emails, leave comments on your posts, take action on what you teach, and in general engage with you more than once.
The idea here is to lower the stakes as much as possible. Making an offer that people will love to buy is hard work, and it gets harder with people who aren’t very engaged with you. If you can’t sell your offering to the people who have a certain relationship with you and care about what you do, move on to the next idea.
When it comes to finding a test audience, you will need to test your idea with several pilot groups, preferably 2 or 3. For example, if you have a 1000 people on your list, your first pilot group could be 50, your second could be 100, and your third 200. If possible, those should all be active participants on your blog and your email list.
Testing With a Very Small Email List
If your list is so small that there is little point in breaking it down (under 50 people), you can still test your idea. Strike up a conversation with every individual subscriber and see what happens. It will be eye-opening, I promise!
Reach out to your select few people and ask for brutally honest feedback.
Here’s an email script you can use:
Subject: Can I get your opinion on something?
Thank you for being one of my most active readers – I appreciate your support so much!
Thing is, I am working on a big project right now, and dying for good feedback. I’d love it if you could answer a few quick questions for me.
Interested? Hit “reply” and let me know!
Reply to those who said “yes” with a brief message. Include two things: a link to the description of your work-in-progress offering and a link to a short feedback form.
The description should contain a brief rundown of what you are working on (product, course, membership, event etc.). Make sure that your readers understand the benefits of what you’d be offering, the delivery method, and the cost. Put the description in a Google Doc – no need to get fancy.
For the survey itself, I suggest you use Google Forms – again, no fancy stuff. Keep in mind that your readers are doing you a favor by answering your survey, so keep your survey as short as you possibly can.
You can ask about content, format, or any other big-picture detail that you need their help to figure out. Limit your survey to no more than 5 questions. The 3 most important questions go at the end:
- Would you buy this from me?
- If yes, what is the biggest reason that makes you want to pick this up?
- What, in your opinion, is the #1 thing this product needs to have but doesn’t?
Follow up with people who said “yes” to buying from you. Let them know that you’re working to create the product right now, and that they can get in for a special early bird discounted rate. Ask them to send you their payment via PayPal, or send them a pre-order link on Gumroad or a similar platform.
Follow up with people who said “no”, and ask them about the #1 objection or concern they had about buying your offering. They will give you every excuse in the book, and some of them will be legitimate concerns that you will want to write down for later.
Now, one of two things will happen here as a result:
- some of the “yes” people will buy, and you will make some sales right off the bat (without having an offering yet);
- nobody will buy, but there will be a ton of information explaining why.
So let’s talk about what happens when people buy your pilot – and when they don’t.
Testing Your Offer with Paid Customers
If some people buy your pilot, let them know when the product will be available. You’ll want to make a second offer to your second pilot, and then produce your pilot and deliver it to your first and second round customers. Collect their feedback, use it to improve positioning, as well as the offering itself, and move on to your final pilot group.
You’ll also want to reach out to your customers and ask them for the #1 reason they purchased your pilot offering. Preserve all the responses in a handy spreadsheet or document – they are critical.
With the 3rd pilot group, you need to set and meet a certain sales goal. It could be as few as 10 sales, or as many as 1000, or a flat 10% conversion rate. Depending on your size, price of the offering, and its format, go with what makes sense for your blog and audience.
When you hit this target, it’s your cue to build a “release” version of your offering. Only then can you start preparing for a full-fledged launch!
If you almost hit the target (as in 75% or higher), refine your offering and do another test to see if you make it. If you have achieved less than 75%, move on and repeat your validation from scratch, using any of the 4-9 ideas you’ve got left.
What To Do If No One Buys Your Pilot
If no one buys your product the first time around, take what you have learned and improve your offering. Address the legitimate concerns, re-position your product if necessary, and try again with a bigger pilot group. If you still don’t make any sales, move on to a different idea.
Testing Your Idea: How Does It All Come Together?
In a weird way, testing your idea is much easier than coming up the idea in the first place, because it’s more straightforward. You can literally boil the entire strategy down to “if – then” statements.
If you have a sizable audience of 500+ people, follow the validation framework above.
If you have a tiny audience, talk to each subscriber individually to gauge their interest. If they love what you have to offer, try to make a sale. Landing X customers or getting X amount of profit means you are validated. You will have to decide what X customers or X amount of profit means for you, since every blog – and every blogger – is different.
For example, last year I wanted to create a freelancing course on how to make more money with existing clients – and I didn’t even have a blog.
All I had was an email list of about 20 people, only 12 of which were freelancers. So I reached out to each of them. Four people struck up a conversation with me.
They expressed enough interest for me to be comfortable pitching them. I used a basic sales approach of “Ask-Relate-Sell”. What follows is a rough gist of each email, not an exact script:
Email #1 (ask): “What are your goals with your freelance business? Where would you like to be in, say, 6 months?”
Email #2 (relate): “You must have tried something to do this. Why do you think you aren’t there yet, and what would help you make progress?”
Email #3 (sell): “I can solve this for you – here’s what I can do for you, and here’s how we will do it. Interested?”
Email #4a (close): “Great! Here’s how you send me the money, and we start on date X.”
Email #4b (handle objections): “What is the #1 reason you can’t do this right now?”
By the end of this quick exchange, one person out of four bought $1000 worth of coaching.
If I wanted to, I could scale it up by building an actual course, or taking on more clients at a higher price. See? Making money from your blog doesn’t have to be complex.
What you do need to do is to be super-focused, offer something only you can do, and make sure that it’s relevant and important to your readers. Whether you have ten of them or a million doesn’t matter – it’s the value you can offer, and the problem you can solve, that counts.
Ready to Start Making Money From Your Blog?
Coming up with ideas for ways to offer something your readers will pay for can seem, well, impossible. But if you follow the data analysis and info gathering techniques in this post, you’ll probably come up with tons of great ideas. Then, all you have to do is validate whether you’re on the right track.
You’ll know when you’ve found something your customers want, because you’ll go from “I have no idea how to do this, I hate myself so much” to “I figured out a way to help my readers, and they want to pay me to do it!”
All it takes is the right approach – let your audience be the judge of how valuable and profitable your offering will be. They will be the ones buying it, so their vote is the only one that counts. All you are doing is what you have always been good at – teaching, giving value, changing lives…
…and finally earning a living from it!
What say you? Will April be the month you finally crack the code and create an amazing paid offering for your readers? Let me know in the comments!
And if you’re still stuck on how to create that amazing paid offer, drop me a comment, and I’ll help you zero in on your profitable idea!