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How to Make Money Blogging
A Definitive Guide from Mirasee
Chapter 3: Ways to Make Money Blogging
This chapter will review six different ways to make money blogging. All of these options are available to you, but depending on who you are, what your industry is like and what your personal goals are for your blogging business, some will be far better than others.
What we’re doing in this chapter is providing a quick overview of each monetization model. We’ll explain what it is, how it works and cover the basic do’s and don’ts for the model, as well as best practices. Then we’ll look at who it’s best for and why you might choose to use a particular monetization model.
But before we dig in, take a second to share this report.[clickToTweet tweet=”Don’t miss the Make Money #Blogging report. #amreading ways to monetize your blog.” quote=”Don’t miss the Make Money Blogging report. #amreading 6 ways to generate blogging income.”]
Now let’s review the ways bloggers make money, so you can choose the best method to generate your blogging income.
6 Ways to Create Blogging Income
Download the entire How to Make Money Blogging book now.
The first type of monetization model is using your blog to sell services. Selling services is basically what it sounds like: You do something for a client in return for payment. When traditional business people talk about service-based businesses, they often mean things like cleaning services, yard mowing services or other in-person services.
Since we’re looking to build a business online, we’re looking at things a little differently. We consider online services to fall into one (or more) of three categories: You can offer freelance services, like writing or design. You can be a consultant and offer your knowledge and opinion in person or online. Or you can be a coach and use your experience and empathy to help people improve something about their lives.
Just about any type of service you can think of to offer online falls into one of these three categories. And pretty much any service can be sold through a blog built as an audience-based business. In fact, creating a blog business is the best way to market your services, because you have a built-in customer base.
Why Does This Model Work?
Selling your own services to your audience is great for three reasons.
First, your audience members already see you as an expert in your field. They already know you and like you. When you have a large audience who thinks you’re the very definition of awesomeness, you have to do very little marketing outside of your list. You can sell your services on your blog and through your email list and quite possibly stay booked up without any other marketing efforts.
Second, your start-up costs are very low, compared to other businesses. Assuming you have everything you need to perform your service, you will only need to make a small investment in setting up your blog. You’ll have to invest time in building your audience, but your financial investment will be minimal.
Third, as you build relationships with other bloggers and professionals, you can set up an affiliate program and offer commissions for referrals. Once you’ve established a relationship and people trust you, they’ll be happy to send business your way in exchange for a commission.
If you’re planning to become a consultant, you might want to check out this article, “Build a Killer Consulting Business 5 Tips,” from Inc.com.
If coaching is your thing, take a look at this fun and informative article from Mental Floss, “How Does One Become a Life Coach?” You might also want to visit the International Coach Federation and CoachU.com for information on training to become a coach.
Planning to freelance as a designer, a writer or a coder? Check out this great Mashable article, “85+ Tools & Resources for Freelancers and Web Workers.”
Do’s and Don’ts of Using This Model
Okay, so now you know what selling your services is all about. You have a sense of how you can market your services through your blog and how you can expand beyond your blog to make more money without purchasing advertising or spending money on marketing campaigns.
Now let’s look at a few “do’s” and “don’ts” of selling your services online.
Create at least one pilot program to test and validate your service ideas. Plan out what you think you want to offer and who you want to offer it to. Be very specific about what you’re going to do, and test it out.
You may be tempted to offer this pilot program for free. Don’t. You’re providing services and you deserve to be paid. Also, your pilot customers will value your work more and invest themselves in your services if they’re paying you. A discount rate is fine, but don’t offer freebies.
Start with a small group of clients to see how much work you can handle at one time. Of course your pilot program is going to involve a small number of people.
You should also limit your first “live” service offerings to fewer people than you think you can handle. Everything takes more work and more time than you expect. Prepare yourself for this by taking on far less work than you think you can manage. It’s much easier to grow your group of clients than downsize it.
Create firm expectations about what you are offering, and the timelines involved. Make sure that you’re clear about how much time clients will receive not only on their projects, but also in the form of meetings, phone calls and emails. Think through your offering before you set up your program.
If possible, ask clients to repeat back to you what they’re expecting, so that you can clear up any misunderstandings before they turn into problems.
If at all possible, get paid up front. Most clients will expect to either pay up front or pay a deposit for a service. If a client balks at even paying a deposit, you should consider whether the client raises any other red flags, and possibly turn down the work without a deposit or payment up front.
For large projects, you should not only require a deposit before work begins, but also establish milestones for further payments. Do not work on the next milestone until you’ve received payment for the one you’ve completed.
Keep an eye on your cash flow. When selling your services, it’s easy to get into a position where you have several projects going and no payments on the horizon for days or weeks.
When accepting new clients, be sure to look at the projects you have on board and the payments you’re expecting. Make sure that you have adequate cash flow to pay your bills. You don’t want to be working full-time (or more!), but still not have the money to pay the rent.
Build all of your non-billable working hours into your pricing, including marketing, technology, blogging, etc. There are various ways to calculate your hourly wage. One of the best ways is to figure out how much you need to make each month to provide the income you need and want, and then divide that by the total number of hours you’ll work, including billable and non-billable hours.
Build all of your expenses into your pricing, as well. The best way to do this is to set up a spreadsheet listing your expenses. You should list fixed expenses such as rent, utilities, cell phone and blog hosting, of course.
You should also estimate your variable expenses, such as any advertising fees or any other costs that fluctuate based on usage. For example, if you sometimes hire a virtual assistant, you’ll want to calculate how much that could cost, even if it’s less some months.
Don’t slash your prices to be competitive. Charge what you’re worth, and then some. As a service provider, especially if you’ve never sold your own services before, you may be a little put off by the hourly salary you came up with by calculating what you need to make.
Avoid the trap of saying, “No one’s going to pay me that much to do this.” You don’t know what someone will pay until you tell them your price. Charging what you’re worth serves your clients because you have the time to do their projects well without feeling tired, stressed or overworked. It also serves you by giving you the money, time and freedom you need from your business.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew if you’re new. Pace yourself. We mentioned this above, when we said that you should open your program or services to fewer people than you think you can serve. It’s easy, especially in the flush of excitement with a new business, to think you can do far more than you can. When it turns out that you can’t, you stand to lose business and referrals, and also faith in yourself and your ability to succeed with your business.
Don’t allow changes to the scope of a project without charging a fee. If the client wants changes, quote a price. By “the scope of a project,” we mean that you should not do work above and beyond what was agreed to. If you’ve agreed to two rounds of revisions and the client wants more changes after the second round, quote a fee for additional revisions.
If the client asked you to design a blog theme and asks for an extra page template, quote a fee for the template. If you get in the habit of doing extra work for free you will not create the success you want and deserve. You also do your other clients a disservice by spending time, for free, on other clients’ projects and taking time away from the clients who pay you fairly.
Don’t give “mates rates.” You might occasionally want to offer someone a discount. You should think carefully about it and give the discount only if there’s a very good reason for doing so. The best reason for a discount is that there’s something material in it for you, now or soon, and you are positive you will receive that benefit.
When a friend or family member asks you for a discount, try saying this instead: “I actually don’t discount my services, but because we’re [brothers/best friends/ dating] I’ll do this for you for free. If someone asks you, please be sure to let them know that I charge X amount for this work.”
When you’re ready to take on clients for your new service offering, it’s time to run a full campaign. Pull out all the stops and advertise your services on your blog and in your email list. If you’re satisfied that your service offering is completely ready, approach bloggers and professionals you know and ask if they’d be interested in earning a commission for promoting your services.
Use your blog, emails, and guest posts to get people into a sales funnel with an offer of a free consulting hour. The number of free consulting slots you give away should be determined by how many clients you’ll take on. Make sure that you offer that same one hour consultation for a fee on your website, so that people who take you up on it realize its value and appreciate it as a gift.
Follow up with everyone who consults with you for the free hour. Don’t follow up once or twice. Capture their names and emails into an email list and keep in regular touch with them. Send them useful, interesting and enjoyable content and occasional offers for your services.
Is Selling Services the Right Model For You?
Selling your services works best if you’re an expert at something and your blog presents you as an expert in that topic. You can offer services with a relatively small audience and build your audience over time. As long as you’re charging enough for your time to make it worth your while, even a relatively small audience should provide enough clients to keep you busy.
Of course, it goes without saying that this model only works if you’re also interested in selling services or working with people one-on-one! If you’re not, that’s ok—there are several other monetization models at your disposal.
2. Affiliate Sales
Defining Affiliate Sales
The second type of monetization model is using affiliate sales. Using affiliate sales simply means that you sell other people’s products to your audience. If you’ve ever seen a blog with an Amazon bookstore, that’s an example of affiliate sales.
You may also occasionally receive an email from a blogger whose newsletter you subscribe to. The blogger may be telling you about a great new software program or book or website. Chances are he or she is receiving a commission in exchange for promoting the program or product.
When you receive an email like that or visit a site selling something offered by someone else, chances are that the blogger or site owner has tried the product or service and likes it. Of course, no one has read every book on Amazon, but many people like and trust Amazon and feel comfortable promoting Amazon’s products to their readers.
Did you catch the key points in that paragraph? The blogger has tried and likes the product or service, and feels comfortable offering it to his or her audience.
If you set out to promote affiliate programs based on how much they pay, without trying them and without making sure the product is a fit for your audience, you’re going to fail massively. You won’t sell much for your product-owning partners, and you might drive away a significant portion of your audience.
It’s important to really know what your audience wants and needs when you use this model, and be discerning about which products and services you recommend.
Why Does This Model Work?
Have you ever looked for a review of a product on the web, instead of just looking at reviews on Amazon? Suppose you went to Google and typed in “home espresso maker review.” Probably half of the top ten results would be review sites, which monetize through affiliate programs.
You don’t have to run a review site to make money with affiliate programs, though. Content bloggers can see similar financial results by finding affiliate products and creating joint venture relationships with other business owners.
When you start out you might want to join existing affiliate programs while you get a feel for the business and build up your audience. Once you have a sizable audience and a track record as an affiliate, you can and should reach out to specific product owners and request special deals and offers for your audience.
Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income is arguably the most respected expert when it comes to making money with affiliate programs. Pat’s article, “Smart Affiliate Marketing Strategies,” is a must-read if you’re considering becoming an affiliate marketer.
Understand that you need a sizable audience to monetize well with affiliate products. If you’re promoting a one-time purchase, such as an ebook or software program, you will need to keep your sales funnel filled with new people who are interested in the product and might buy it.
You should probably look to have at least a few tens of thousands of subscribers, and a thriving, growing list before you can depend completely on affiliate marketing for monetization.[clickToTweet tweet=”You need 10K subscribers before you can count on affiliate income. #bloggingtip” quote=”You need 10K subscribers before you can count on affiliate income. #bloggingtip”]
Respond to real audience need with relevant products. Take the time to get to know your audience members. Don’t think of them as “your readers” or “your list.”
They’re not just names in your email list software. They’re people, and you should spend time required to read their emails, ask them questions and understand what they want and need. Then spend as much time finding relevant, high-quality products to recommend as that takes.
Test everything you recommend personally and thoroughly. Never promote something you have not tried and liked. Better yet, never promote anything you don’t love. In the beginning you’ll probably have to purchase products in order to test them before promoting them as an affiliate.
Once you have a larger audience and a track record as an affiliate, you can ask product owners for a product to test. Information product owners are especially likely to say yes to requests like this.
Be ready to answer detailed questions about your partner’s products. If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know but you’ll find out. Then find out and answer the question. Make sure you know the answers to the most common questions about the products. You might want to create a FAQ document for each product you recommend. You can post the FAQ on your website, use it to create content for your blog or email list, or copy and paste answers into emails you receive. A combination of all three methods is great.
Offer real, helpful information about the products you recommend. Presell the products you recommend with blog posts, emails and reviews. Don’t just throw out a few positive comments about the product. Explain what it is and what someone would want it for. Explain why they should buy this instead of something else. Mention a few warts so that you don’t sound like a paid spokesperson. Be clear that you are being paid an affiliate commission, but you would recommend this product even if you weren’t being paid. Make sure that is true—and if it isn’t, don’t recommend a product.
Offer readers a way to bypass your affiliate link. Some people have a thing about clicking on affiliate links. Other people, while they don’t have a thing about it and will click on an affiliate link, will feel better if they’re offered another option. At Mirasee, we say that if you don’t want to click on the affiliate link you can just Google the product and order directly. This gives people an option, and some people will click on the affiliate link because they have the option not to.
Don’t accept just anyone or anything as an affiliate partner. We’ve already mentioned that you should only promote products you would promote for free. You should also be very careful about who you promote. Even if a product seems great, make sure that the creator or product owner is someone you want to be in business with.
If you promote their products, in your audience’s eyes you are in business with them. No matter how tempting the commission or how much you like a product or a person, don’t promote it unless everything is exactly the way you want it to be before you present the product and its owner to your readers.
Do too much too soon—start with one or two affiliate products or services, and see what your audience response is like. We get that it’s easy to get impatient, and that you’re starting a business to make money. Your readers may get it, too—but they don’t care.
They don’t necessarily want you to be poor and stressed out, but they also don’t want to be the product you’re selling to your affiliate partners. If you throw up tons of affiliate banners and reviews and articles, you are making your readers into the product. They will revolt. You won’t sell any affiliate products and you may not keep all of your readers.
Don’t make claims that the product or service can’t back up. You need to know exactly what the product can and cannot do, and limit your description and claims to the reality of what the product owner promises.
You should also be sure to stay in line with the FTC regulations about affiliate promotions, which say that you have to disclose your affiliate relationship and that you have to disclose when advertised results are not “typical.”
Make affiliate offers by different methods. You can make direct recommendations and write reviews for your blog or your email list, place graphical ads on your site, add text links to your blog posts and/or sidebars, promote affiliate programs in emails and hold live events like webinars to promote affiliate programs.
You can and should try out every possible method of promoting affiliate programs. Keep track of the response, not only in terms of sales but in terms of positive or negative feedback from your readers. Adjust your affiliate offerings to promote more offers in ways they like, less in ways that are not as popular, and not at all in ways that your readers strongly dislike.
Is Affiliate Sales the Right Model For You?
Affiliate sales work best for people who aren’t interested in creating their own products, but do enjoy engaging with their audience and recommending products or services based on the audience’s needs.
If this sounds like you, keep in mind that affiliate sales won’t generate enough revenue by themselves until your list reaches at least several thousand people. This is a math thing: Not everyone will buy everything you promote, and you don’t want to keep throwing in new products all the time, simply because everyone in your audience has already bought what you’re promoting.
That said, if your audience is growing, you might want to experiment with affiliate sales.
3. Memberships and Communities
Defining Memberships and Communities
Membership sites and communities are the third type of monetization model. They are basically private areas of a website that users pay to have access to.
You can create membership sites in a wide variety of formats. You might create a members-only email list or networking group, or create a course or a content repository with frequently updated content.
Why Does This Model Work?
Membership communities are a great monetization model because they operate on a subscription basis where users pay for continued access. This brings badly needed stability to online entrepreneurs.
Although you will have to continue your marketing on a regular basis in order to recruit new members, you can rely on a steady stream of income from a membership community. Creating a quality membership site with stable membership numbers can help you create a living from your blog without so much stress about finding new customers.
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, check out this CopyBlogger article, “7 Tips for Creating and Running Your First Membership Site.”
Plan what you want your membership area to be like.
Will it be a structured course or email sequence, in which you’re communicating with your members but they communicate only with you (if at all)? Will it be a forum or community where people can do their own thing? Do you want your community members to connect with each other? If so, what do you want them to talk about and do together? Will you need to create new content for your membership site every month?
If so, do you have a good plan for creating the content without stretching yourself too thin?
Encourage the behaviors you want, and discourage those you don’t. This generally applies to forums and other types of communities, like private social networks, where people interact with each other and have the ability to post messages and upload images and files.
However, you may notice behavior you’d rather discourage in a course or email sequence. If a member of your site becomes rude or acts inappropriately toward anyone—including you—you will need to stand up and ask that the behavior stop. If a member does something particularly helpful or kind, you should recognize that behavior and encourage future similar behavior.
If you’re running a community where people will be engaging with each other, lay clear ground rules. This doesn’t mean you have to create a five-page list of rules. Our rules at Mirasee are “Be Kind, Be Helpful or Be Gone.” We do elaborate on those three rules, but we do try to state them clearly—and enforce them. If you set your ground rules correctly, they won’t require much explanation.
Don’t let your membership site or community get too big too soon. If you set up your community the right way, your members will be active and engaged—and that can mean a lot of upkeep work for you! Batching new arrivals means that you can both scale responsibly and carefully monitor how things are going.
There’s another advantage to batching new entries into your site. If you put up a page announcing that the membership site is full, and allow people to join a waiting list, you create a sense of anticipation and hopefulness. People who were simply interested in joining your membership site will now be eager to join when you let in new members.
Be careful not to let your community languish! You have to be able to continue generating new reasons for your members to keep paying you every month. This may seem easier if you have a forum or community where members generate much of the content.
However, you still need to be active and involved. You should pop into your community on a regular basis to say hello, answer questions or simply give a word of encouragement where it’s needed. The more involved you are in your community, the more your members will value and appreciate your membership site.
Don’t allow any member to intimidate or mistreat other members. Either moderate the forum yourself to make sure that members follow the ground rules, or appoint volunteer moderators you trust from members of the community. It’s been said that most people attach a more negative meaning to any words they see online or in an email.
Combine this with people who don’t always express themselves well, and it’s easy for misunderstandings to occur even without someone deliberately mistreating another member of your community. If an incident occurs, step in quickly to calm hurt feelings and remind everyone to be respectful of others. No community is perfectly free of hurt feelings, but your attention and care will make sure your community thrives in spite of occasional issues.
Make sure that what you are providing is so exceptionally valuable that it would be stupid not to pay for it. The easiest way to do this is to listen to your audience’s feedback and ask them questions about what they want.
Create a membership site with exactly what they have asked for, but with more content or more features than they expect. Then price it at a level that makes it absolutely a no-brainer to sign up and pay the bill every month.[clickToTweet tweet=”Set prices where it’s a no-brainer to sign up and pay the bill every month. #bloggingtip” quote=”Set prices where it’s a no-brainer to sign up and pay the bill every month. #bloggingtip”]
Consider running a free or $1 trial to give users a taste of what they will miss if they fail to sign up. Make sure that the content available is completely ready for prime time and is so amazing that they’ll miss it when their trial is over.
Make the trial long enough for new members to get a real feel for what’s available, but short enough that they won’t put off checking it out. Seven-day or two-week trials are popular with membership site owners around the web.
Consider different membership levels to “price set” effectively. For instance, you might have a basic level for your forum, which includes access to most of the topics, but does not include any downloads or the ability to upload files or images.
You could then have a premium level which includes downloadable files and file/image uploads, at an increased price. For power users of your forum you might include additional downloads and files, and access to more topics in the forum.
Many people might start out at the basic level and stay there, while others might start at the basic level and move through the premium level to the power user level.
Are Membership Sites or Communities the Best Model For You?
Membership sites generally don’t require a huge audience, but they do require someone with a genuine interest in connecting, engaging, and fostering a community. If that sounds like you, you may be considering offering a membership area with content, like a course or a toolbox of resources.
If so, you can probably start your membership site once you have a critical mass of 1,000 people in your audience. If you’re setting up a community, you’ll want a larger audience to be sure that your community is alive and active, rather than dormant and boring.
4. Digital Training
Defining Digital Training
Online membership sites are sometimes confused with digital trainings and online courses. They are related, but they aren’t the same, and the monetization models are different for a membership site than they are for a digital training program.
We define a digital training as a permanent training course, coaching program or other training resource that your students go through on their own. You may have heard this kind of course referred to as a home study course.
Why Does This Model Work?
Home study programs are very popular products for bloggers, and with good reason. You can sell an unlimited number of them, because you don’t have the student support responsibilities that you have with a live training or coaching program.
This makes home study programs a very sustainable way to build a more hands-off business. It does take a lot of time and work to get your home study program off the ground, but once you launch, it’s a long-term revenue source that you don’t have to work as hard to maintain.
Another nice thing about digital trainings is that they are often very scalable, so you can grow your income by selling more copies of your digital training each month, week or day.
The first step to setting up your digital training is to pilot it! Do live trials with small groups to get feedback on your training. We talked about piloting with services, and it’s no less important with a digital training product. In fact, running pilot groups and working through any issues to get the kinks out of your training product may be more important for a digital training.
With a service, you’re working directly with the client and you will know if there’s an issue. With a digital training, you may not know about issues until they affect your sales, return rate or reputation. So pilot and gradually iterate towards the permanent product.
Partner with other bloggers as affiliates to sell your digital training program to a much broader audience. As you grow your blog business you’ll create relationships with other bloggers in your field.
Once you have some strong relationships with people you feel would be a good fit for promoting your digital training program, you can approach them to join your affiliate program. Ideally you’ll create special offers for their members to encourage more sales and build your customer base more quickly.
Plan how your digital training will scale. Keep in mind that you may have student support questions and issues to handle. This can be as simple as someone who has lost their invoice and needs to recover their access info with their email address. It can be more complex, like a student who can’t open a PDF file for no apparent reason. Or, more complex still, it may be something like a refund request from someone who doesn’t understand how to use the material.
Keep all of this in mind when you consider scaling. Based on your pilot, estimate how many student support issues you can expect per, say, 100 students, and what kinds of issues you can expect. Base your scaling plans on your ability to handle those issues.
Determine whether you need help and how to get the help you need. One area where you might want to get some help is student support. Hiring a part-time virtual assistant on a freelance basis could free you to deal with only the major student support issues, and free up your time to work on your blog and on new digital training products.
You might also need help in creating your product. You should make sure both the graphic design and the writing are top-notch. If you aren’t a designer or a writer, consider hiring a designer to create the cover graphics and lay out the documents, and an editor to smooth and polish your prose so that it sounds more reliable and professional.
You can find freelance assistance by doing a search on Google for what you need or by browsing freelance job boards like Elance.com or Guru.com.
Don’t start with a permanent product, for goodness sake! You have to validate that the solution you’re creating is one that your audience wants, needs and will use.
Start with the minimum viable product. A minimum viable product means the least amount of time and effort that will create something close to what you hope to eventually bring to market. You can pilot with this product and iterate (a process—and word—we love at Mirasee) to create your final product.[clickToTweet tweet=”Start with a minimum-viable product to validate your idea before scaling up. #blogging tip” quote=”Start with a minimum-viable product to validate your idea before scaling up. #blogging tip”]
Don’t half-ass your final product. Spend the time and money making it comprehensive. You can always offer updates to add more value, but you should never have to offer updates because people feel they didn’t get the quality they expect when they pay for content.
For that matter, don’t half-ass your pilot product. You’ll intentionally keep it bare bones, but do a fantastic job with what you create. You should plan to iterate into the final product, not fix your pilot product because you didn’t do a good job with the pilot product.
Don’t take on too many students at once. Your pilot program will give you some idea of what kind of support students will need, and how much time that will take.
But sometimes students are far needier than you expect. If you sell the absolute maximum number of training courses you feel you can support, you can quickly become swamped beyond your ability to fulfill your promises. You’ll end up with angry students, a high refund rate, less money than you expected and possibly a damaged reputation.
To avoid this, close sales periodically and manage the entry of new students into your digital training program. Just as we talked about in the section on membership sites, putting a “Closed” sign on your signup page won’t hurt your sales when you reopen. If anything, most people will be more eager to get into something that they’ve had to wait for.
Pilot your content at least twice with different groups and iterate your offering based on your pilots. Two is the minimum number of pilot programs and iterations. If you don’t feel confident and completely positive after your second iteration, run another pilot program to get everything exactly right before you launch.
When you have a product, launch with a big campaign. To reach your own readers, launch to your list and on your blog. Offer a pre-launch discount to your readers before you launch to the public at your regular price. You can also arrange special offers for affiliate partners as part of your pre-launch campaign.
Although you’re launching with a big campaign, set a number of students you’ll accept in the first round, and stick with it. Place everyone else on a waiting list and let them in only when you’re sure you can handle supporting more students.
Are Digital Training Products the Right Model For You?
Monetizing through offering digital trainings works well with any size audience. The larger your audience grows, the more you can sell of your product. You can also sell through affiliates once you’ve established yourself and your product.
The only real requirement for digital training is that you have something that you’re excited to teach and an audience who wants to learn.
The fifth way to make money blogging is with eCommerce. You might hear eCommerce defined as “selling online.” We’re going to narrow that definition to exclude the digital training and information products you might create and sell, as well as your services.
For our purposes, an eCommerce business is any business where you’re selling a physical product over the internet.
Your product could be toys, clothes, food, books, books about food—anything that you have to physically ship. This is a popular option for people who are trying to take offline businesses online, but it’s also relevant to anyone who can engage a community who is interested in your products on a blog.
Make yourself a resource for more than just the product. What does the product do in terms of solving a problem or creating a delight? Become an expert on that subject, and make your blog a place where your potential customers can come to learn.
For instance, suppose you sell beautiful, sturdy wooden canes which are appropriate for people who need a cane for medical purposes or for support…
You could offer resources on choosing a cane, as well as how to care for a wooden cane and how to measure for a cane. You could create content on living with a disability, temporary or permanent. You could write case studies about your customers and document how they use your canes to enjoy a full life and how much they enjoy using an attractive cane rather than an ugly metal cane from the drug store.
Price things carefully. Remember that all of the work you do, from blogging to shopping has to be compensated by the income you make from selling. Margins in eCommerce can be low, and knowing your margins to the penny will help you make a profit rather than a loss.
If eCommerce sounds like your thing, check out Mashable’s “7 Tips for Improving Your eCommerce Strategy” and Search Engine Land’s “8 eCommerce SEO Tips Gathered From A Decade Of Consulting.”
Don’t use services like Groupon or Teambuy. On the surface these sites seem like a good way to get new customers, but it’s almost never worth it.
For starters, you make very little money. The discount site requires you to offer at least a 50% discount on your product or service. Groupon or any similar company then takes half of what’s left.
At best, you make 25% of your regular price. You might make a bit of money offering a service, but when you offer a product margins are already slim. You could well end up taking a loss just to bring in a lot of traffic.
You can’t make up a loss in volume, no matter how much volume you get. You also probably won’t get many repeat customers. Deal of the day buyers are usually chasing the deal and not looking for a new place to shop.
Don’t trim your margins to the point where making a profit is a question mark. If the main reason someone should choose you is that you’re the cheapest, think again. It’s not a sustainable selling point unless you’re Walmart or Amazon. If you differentiate on price, someone can always undercut you. You must be the best provider of whatever you sell, not the cheapest.[clickToTweet tweet=”Never differentiate on price. Be the best, not the cheapest. #bloggingtip” quote=”Never differentiate on price. Be the best, not the cheapest. #bloggingtip”]
Don’t forget that it’s easier and cheaper to sell another product to an existing customer than to attract a new customer. Go out of your way to provide outrageous customer service. You’ll see more repeat customers and referrals, and spend less time and money on marketing to bring in new customers.
Make sure there’s more on your website to interest your visitors than simply the products catalog. Provide quality content that interests, intrigues, informs or inspires your readers. Make your blog a regular destination, not just a catalog.
Remember that they are not as invested in what you sell as you are, and may value it very differently. Run tests on pricing, descriptions and selection to determine what your audience wants to buy and what they want to pay for it.
Try to create packages or groupings of your products that you can offer at different rates—add more value by saving on shipping for your customers! This is often known as bundling. When you bundle, be sure to calculate your margins and make sure you’re not pricing a package for less than you’re willing to selling it for.
Create opportunities for your customers to engage with you and your content. You don’t want to be a broadcaster. You want your audience to converse with you, and you want to converse with them. Create a community rather than just another shopping site.
Is eCommerce the Right Model For You?
For eCommerce to be right for you, you must have a physical product to sell in order to consider this model in the first place. Like affiliate sales, eCommerce works best with a large audience. You may make some money when your audience consists of a couple of thousand people, but as your audience grows, so will your eCommerce business.
6. Advertisements/Sponsored Posts
We already discussed the various types of ad networks and why they only work for extremely high-profile blogs.
To make money with ad networks, you need a huge volume of traffic—visitors that you could more profitably leverage for income other ways. But there are a few ways that selling your audience can generate realistic income.
We already discussed ad networks and why they rarely generate significant income. A better way of making money from advertisements is through direct sales, which is when you directly pitch companies to buy ad space on your blog.
This approach can allow you to create your own pricing model—you can charge by the impression or the sale, but you can also charge a flat rate based on the traffic your blog currently has. In addition, you can charge more for features like exclusivity for a particular ad for a certain period of time.
If you’re interested in an ad-based monetization model, you might like Jason Leake’s posts on selling ads directly and using ad networks.
One problem you should be aware of if you’re selling ads is that many readers have become “ad blind.” They’re so used to seeing ads on websites that they just skip over them without reading them.
And no matter how much traffic you have, what your advertisers really care about is sales. If the company that’s buying ads from you doesn’t see a return on their investment, they’ll stop buying ads.
For that reason, many sites that depend on advertising for revenue are moving toward a different type of model: sponsored content.
Defining Sponsored Content
Sponsored content is similar to advertising, but instead of placing an ad on your site, you’re actually accepting or writing a blog post or an email. The advertiser pays you to run this content, rather than an ad. Sponsored content is usually priced either by the impression, as in CPM advertising, or by the read, as determined by analytical or statistics logging software on the server.
As with direct sales ads, you can also set a flat rate for sponsored posts based on your traffic and what you want to make. Because this approach integrates information about a product or company into the post that your audience (theoretically) wants to read, it bypasses ad blindness and is a very attractive model for sponsors.
You can find a great overview of the different types of sponsored content (also called “native ads”), as well as more information about advertising models, in Copyblogger’s article, “12 Examples of Native Ads (And Why They Work.”
You can get a range for what to charge from this post by Annabel Candy (although Google no longer updates page rank, so you shouldn’t factor that into your pricing).
Both advertising and sponsored content require a large, preferably engaged audience, which is hard to maintain when you’re selling their attention. You’ll have to create engaging content on your blog that keeps your readers engaged and eager to keep up with your blog.
No matter what type of ad model you’re running, be respectful of your readers. Many readers will not mind advertising or sponsored content, at least not too much, as long as you provide excellent content, keep the sponsored content and advertising as unobtrusive and as minimal as possible, and treat your readers well both in your actions on your blog and in your personal interactions with readers.
Screen ads carefully for the type of content your audience needs. Mesothelioma may be one of the highest-paying keywords for Google AdSense, but if your blog is about raising toddlers, you should only accept ads that appeal to parents of toddlers.
Off-topic ads will annoy your readers, who are your business. Ads that don’t mesh will with your audience’s needs will also not make you the amount of income you hope for, because those ads are not about something your audience wants or will click on ads for.
Demand high-quality sponsored content. If the person or company providing the content is also writing the content, stipulate that you must approve the content before it runs. You may need to edit content or ask for edits to meet your quality guidelines, or reject certain content that just doesn’t meet your standards.
Insist on providing content of the same quality that you write for your blog. If it goes out under your name, it has to meet your standards. Many sites that succeed with sponsored content don’t accept posts written by the advertiser—they write the content themselves.
You can charge more for this, since you’re both writing the article and running it, and it also guarantees that the post will match your tone and meet your standards.
Only publish posts that provide real value to your readers. Sponsored posts can provide great value, but not if they’re written like an advertisement. Some of the best sponsored content doesn’t even talk about the sponsor—it simply provides useful tips on a topic related to the sponsor, with a short line (similar to a guest post bio) that credits the sponsor.
Other sponsored content simply mentions the advertiser to increase brand awareness, just like product placement in a TV ad.
Make sure advertisers understand that you expect them to provide value to your audience, and that you don’t accept every advertisement just because there’s money involved. You can communicate this on your advertising, sales or information page without alienating potential advertisers.
Lay out what you’re looking for and what you do not accept. Make it easy for advertisers to give you what you need to keep your people happy and make money for both you and the advertiser.
Disclose that certain posts or emails are paid. This is both an FTC requirement and the way to retain your integrity with your audience. This doesn’t have to take the form of a complex legal statement. Simply state that you receive compensation and that you never accept advertisements or content that you do not completely endorse and that you would not run for free.
Don’t run sponsored content 100% of the time or clutter up your design with too many ads. When you started your blog, you started it to share your thoughts, ideas and voice. Your readers came to your blog because they enjoyed your voice, and they continue to read it because they want to hear from you.
If you begin running nothing but sponsored posts, you don’t have a blog. You have an advertising business. If you continue doing it, you also won’t have an audience—they didn’t come to read what your sponsors have to say. Find a good balance involving a minimum number of sponsored posts scattered among your original blog posts.
Don’t run advertisements or sponsored posts that don’t match the tone and style of your blog. This is one of the fastest ways to go broke. Your audience won’t click on the ads or read the posts. Eventually they’ll drift away to a blog whose owner understands them better and tries harder to meet their needs.
Remember that people want to accept offers that provide them with something they want or need. If you handle advertising properly, your audience will accept it as a standard online business practice. If you run ads that don’t fit, you’ll risk losing your audience and you won’t make any money from your ads.
Don’t run anything that would offend many or most of your readers. This may seem difficult, but it’s rather simple. There will almost always be someone offended by something.
If you have a large enough audience, you could say that air is the best thing to breathe and chances are someone would have an argument about that. Your job is to know your audience and be considerate of them.
Seek to avoid offending all or most of your readers. Strive to provide the information and the types of advertisements and sponsored content that they want, and to do so without being offensive. Even if offensive is your style, make sure you’re the right kind of offensive for your audience.
If you decide to go with advertising or sponsored content as a monetization model, use content that is as bespoke as possible. Bespoke content is written especially for you, or heavily customized for your audience and their needs. There are a couple of reasons for ensuring that you’ll get the most unique content possible from your advertisers.
First, if your readers are active in your field, they probably read other blogs. If they see the same content on several blogs, they may start to wonder why they’re reading so many blogs just to get the same (sponsored) content on all of them.
Second, Google only indexes one copy of a particular piece of content. You may have heard about the “duplicate content penalty.” It’s not actually a penalty, in that Google doesn’t punish the duplicate content. It just doesn’t get indexed, ranked or displayed in the search results.
Of course you’d like to have everything you publish on your blog indexed, ranked and displayed in Google search results, so you want to avoid duplicate content if possible. As mentioned above, the best way to do this is to write the sponsored content yourself.
Keep ads from interfering with your content. Many people get annoyed when they’re reading an article and a video ad with sound starts running. Another annoyance comes in the form of ads that slide out across the content your visitor is reading without being clicked on.
Anything that intrudes on the reading experience will annoy readers. It might annoy them enough that they leave. Be extremely considerate of your audience when accepting and placing advertisements.
Remember that your audience is not there for the ads. Although you are selling the audience to other businesses, they shouldn’t be aware of that. Always place your audience’s needs above your own. In the past, we would have advised you to you treat your audience the same way when you accept advertising as you did before you started running ads. We’ve updated that advice: treat your audience even better when you’re accepting advertising than you did before you started running ads.
Is Advertising or Sponsored Content the Right Model For Me?
Advertising works best if you have hundreds of thousands of visitors to your blog. To make even a fair amount of money, you need several tens of thousands of visitors each month. You also need to know your audience extremely well and be confident that the advertising you’re running is not scaring your visitors away.
Advertising is a model that can work well once your blog is bigger, and it can be the most exciting of the monetization models. We’ll talk more about how to decide which of these models is the best fit for you and your blog in the next section. But for now, let’s quickly go over what we’ve covered in this chapter.
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- There are a variety of models you can use to make money blogging. You may choose only one, or use two or more models together once you have one up and running profitably.
- Services are anything that you do for a client, including consulting, coaching and freelancing. Your audience sees you as an expert because of your blog, so they’re likely to hire you to help them personally.
- Affiliate sales involve promoting products from other bloggers and product owners to your audience. This works well if you have an engaged audience and if you are careful to only present offers you know your audience will want, and that are great products you have used yourself.
- Membership sites and communities involve creating an area on your site open only to paying members. You could offer a vault of content, new content or course modules each month, or a paid forum where your members can interact with each other.
- Digital training is a digital training course, sometimes called a home study course, that you have created and packaged to deliver as a product without your interaction. Once completed, a digital training is very hands-off and scales easily.
- eCommerce involves selling physical products online. You may sell your own products or source from another vendor. You also may ship your own products or use a fulfillment company.
- Advertising is showing ads on your site for other companies. You need to be careful that the ads you accept are appropriate and that your audience doesn’t realize that they’re the product you’re selling.
- Sponsored content is running a blog post or email on behalf of an advertiser. It’s important to ask that the ad or email be as customized to your audience as possible, to ensure a good experience for your readers—and a good income for yourself.
Think about the work you did in the last exercise, where you painted a picture of what your business is going to look like and how much money you’ll be making.
Consider these six monetization models—which appeal to you? Which do you already have the tools and know-how to use? Are there any models that may not be a good fit for you and your blog?