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5 Ways to Monetize Your Blog Without Selling Out

selling-out

Last week at a conference I had conversations with many bloggers about their blogging.

It was interesting to see some of the themes that emerged as bloggers shared their challenges, problems and fears.

One of the recurring conversations that I had revolved around bloggers’ fear of being seen as sell-outs by readers when they started to monetize their blogs.

On numerous occasions this past week I’ve chatted with bloggers who’ve been so scared of the potential reader reaction that it stopped them from adding any form of monetization to their blogs. In some cases, this meant the bloggers were no longer able to sustain what they do financially.

Here’s a summary of some of the reflections I had to those expressing this fear.

1. Be clear about your goals and values.

Perhaps one of the best things a blogger can do in this area is to know where it is they’re headed—or at least where they want to move to with their blogs. Just as important is to have a clear understanding of your values.

Give some thought to these factors, and you’ll be in a strong position to make some good decisions about the strategies and methods you’ll use to reach your goals. You’ll also be in a good place to do some self-monitoring to keep yourself from selling out.

Filter people’s reactions through the framework of your own values and goals, and you’ll hopefully be able to tell whether there’s truth in what they’re saying.

2. Provide value to readers.

I remember the first time I released an ebook on Digital Photography School. I was very nervous about launching it, because I didn’t know how readers would react. I remember hitting the Publish button on the launch post, and expecting a backlash from readers emailing to express how insulted that they were that I’d try to sell them anything.

But the backlash didn’t come.

Instead, I started receiving emails from readers thanking me for the ebook. The lesson I learned was that if you provide something of value to people—something that will matter to them, and help them overcome a problem—they’re often only too happy to buy it.

Not only should your product be valuable, but the interaction you have with your readers in the lead-up to its launch should be valuable too. Among the emails I received that day were messages from readers saying that they’d never bought anything online before. Yet, based on the past interactions that I’d had with them and helped them, they’d felt compelled to buy my ebook.

3. Communicate your reasoning for the charge.

I hope I’m not sounding like I’ve never had negative feedback about releasing a product. At times there have been readers who’ve expressed feelings of resentment or disappointment when I’ve released products.

In these instances, my main approach is to attempt to share my backstory of the product’s release. For example, I remember the first time I put ads on my first blog. By no means was this a play to become rich; I was just trying to make my blog break even.

One particular reader started a campaign against me, and accused me of selling out. My response was simply to email him with my story. I communicated how my blog was costing me money each month and that as a newly married guy working numerous part time jobs and trying to provide free valuable information to readers, I needed to find a way for the site to break even. On hearing the story the reader’s attitude was turned around.

Similarly, when I launched the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog ebook, I told the story of how my readers had pretty much demanded that I turn the original series of blog posts into a PDF, and indicated that they’d pay for the content in that format. In doing so I was able to communicate how the idea wasn’t even mine—in fact, it came from reader need.

I also think sometimes people need to be reminded that behind a blog is a real person who needs to find a way to sustain it. In most cases, when you share that information, I think people understand your need to monetize your blog.

4. Monitor your own motivations.

Being in any kind of business will undoubtedly lead you into situations where you’re presented with opportunities to sell out. The reality is that it can be tempting at times.

I remember an instance two years back where I was offered a five-figure sum for a series of tweets promoting a product—a product I’d never used and never would have recommended myself. The catch was that the tweets had to be positive, they’d be written by someone else, and I couldn’t include a disclaimer stating that I was being paid to tweet them.

The situation was certainly tempting on some levels: over $10,000 for a few Tweets!? I could have paid for a new car, or a year or two of my kids’ education with those tweets. But ultimately I knew that it was just a quick cash grab. I wasn’t willing to go there because it didn’t fit with my values, and the motivations I felt for doing it weren’t healthy ones.

5. Be accountable to others.

The last thing I’d add on this topic is that it can be worthwhile to have others who you can bounce these issues off. Sometimes, as  individuals, we can lose a little perspective on the realities of monetization, and the voices of others can draw us back to good decisions.

I regularly bounce the opportunities that I’m offered off a small group of people—family, friends, and fellow bloggers. In a sense it’s a little advisory board (although it’s certainly not that formal!) that I give permission to ask me tough questions, and help me stay on course to achieving the goals and values I mentioned above.

There have been a number of instances over the years when these people have pulled me back from making decisions that, upon reflection, would have seen me sell out.

In a similar way. I think it’s also wise to listen to what a wider group of people are saying to you. And that wider group is your readers. While there will almost always be someone who has a negative reaction to your approach (you can’t please everyone), there’ll be times when there’s a wider feeling among your readers that you really need to hear. At these times, it’s worth going back to your core motivations, and seeing if the wisdom of the crowd is something you need to pay attention to.

How do you stop yourself from selling out on your blog?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. Thanks Darren

    I know many of us struggle with the value we place on ourselves, and our work. Especially when its a labour of love.

    If you strive to put out the best product you can and keep your ego and ethics in check, then everybody wins.

  2. I love all of your points, but I feel that number 1 is the most important to me. I want to monetize my blog in order to drop my time at work. This freed-up time would allow me to better live out what I am writing about. This better living would help me improve the quality of the material on my blog… which would help the cycle grow.

    I’m not there yet, but with my first ebook coming out Monday, hopefully I’ll at least be able to finally break even.

  3. The fact that bloggers are worried about “selling out” is troubling to me… Why it is so hard for bloggers to understand that it is OK to make money (blogging)?

    Who said blogging should be about endlessly providing free information, working endless hours without expecting anything in return? Who said it’s wrong to get paid for helping others? That’s right. No one did.

    If a blogger wants to make money, and some people do leave because the blogger “sells out” and starts promoting, advertising and selling things – that is OK. It is OK to let go of people who don’t want you to get paid for what you do. Heck, you want those people away from your blog – they’re just leeching you and your blog.

    Other thing that troubles me about selling out, is that bloggers who want to make money even end in that situation… Is it really smart strategy to wait before starting to monetize? Wouldn’t it be better to start with the end in mind and start monetizing from the day one?

    For those who are afraid of selling out, I say: Snap out of it people, read Darren’s advice and start monetizing your blog today. It’s not selling out. It’s OK to make money.

  4. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed the personal story about the offer for promoting a product on twitter, interesting moral question. I wonder how many would have made the same choice.

    I don’t personally have a problem with seeing ads on blogs so long as they don’t become the main focus of it.

    Point five has to be the most important point because it is so important to keep in contact with your readers especially in this community.

  5. Thanks for the insight. Publishing online has that challenge – how do we monitize it? I think readers understand that you need to make a living and will accept ads or other commerce. What they won’t accept is being pitched covertly. So as long as it is transparent, it should work out fine.

  6. I’m agree with return on our blogs and web pages. Most do this to achieve some economic benefits, then why were not going to do?

    Greetings

    ( sorry for my english )

  7. What a great headline. Covers some of the fears that we all have as bloggers. I couldn’t agree more with all the points either.

    One that stood out for me was #3. The reason it did was just because if you can really be honest and say the truth people will respect you first of all for being real with them. At least that’s what I have to add.

    Great post Darren

  8. Thank you very much for the post. I enjoyed it. And its quite informative too. Anyway, all posts in PROblogger are definitely attractive, informative and marvellous!

  9. I definitely won’t ever sell a product which I don’t believe in. Blogging is a responsibility and its for our readers. Making money blogging is not bad but products should be useful to readers otherwise they feel cheated.
    This is a wonderful post and a reminder to those who get tempted. Wake up conscience!

  10. I agree with Antti Kokkonen, it is a good idea to start out monetizing your blog. And you will have readers that fall off or do not like the promotion of product – let them go.

    When you are first starting out it is easy to want to cling to every reader and subscriber.

    Everyone has people that drop off. Just keep pumping value and providing links to top notch products. It will all work out in the end.

  11. Thank you very much. Your guide is very helpful for me.
    I’m building my website and in the future i think i will apply your ways to my site :D

  12. As an active internet user I must say that ads on websites do not bother me. In nowadays almost every site has ads on it and readers are used to them.
    Flyouts and popups are different story though.

  13. Currently on my blog i post affiliate articles occasionally, but i’m sure my readers appreciate that I offer info about premium products too. 95% of the time i don’t try to sell stuff and in a lot of articles i promote free stuff.

  14. It all comes down to personal morals. I’ve been in the situation where I could have made big bucks if I chose to sacrifice my integrity – honestly, there’s not enough money in the world to tempt me to do that.

    One’s own integrity is the measure by which one does business.

  15. I don’t personally have a problem with seeing ads on blogs so long as they don’t become the main focus of it.

  16. You know I tweeted you about this – it’s a hard line to decide whether to advertise or not and something I personally struggled with.. I set myself some guidelines – no sponsored posts because I want to feel motivated by a product or service that I write about – not whether I get paid to write it or not – on this I have remained vigilant and knocked back many a product/sponsored post opportunity because I feel it’s not a real representation of me which my blog is an extension of.

    My advertising isn’t imposing on the content or design and is relevant to the readership, so I don’t struggle with it any longer – I see it as a service – and it helps the advertiser too. Win/win!

    I do tend to think less of a blog if is not established (i.e. around for a small amount of time or has a small readership) having a page full of monetisation – it tells me that that content is not king – and content is why I go to a blog.

  17. That’s a great question Darren! I think the best way not to sell out is by sticking to what is relevant to your blog (business) and to offer something of value.

    But most of all to believe in what you are selling or at least make every effort possible as I know for many bloggers sell ad space as a way of monetizing and may not always have a say on who is purchasing those ad spaces.

    My guess in all honesty is that people who complain about bloggers monetizing their sites, have no intention of supporting that blogger anyway (monetarily or any other way) and looking out for their own interests and not considering the time and hard work that goes into maintaining a site.

    You’ve worked very hard on your site and I’m glad you’ve made a business out of it and have become a role model for others wanting to leave the 9 to 5 rat race and live their dreams of running their own business on their own time schedule.

    So thanks for sharing your story and thanks for taking action even in the face of concern and worry of what your readers may think… glad it worked out for you. =)

  18. I started monetizing my blog from the very beginning by including ads from Amazon, Commission Junction, etc. That way, my readers are used to seeing ads.

    I hope to launch a product eventually and I hope they will be receptive to it.

  19. hey Darren

    Ive been following you for a while and actually purchased your products. However I gotta differ with you on this. To me its “all about making a buck”. If I were doing this to “save the world” or have an influence on some social good issues then its a different story.

    I wonder how you would think about this 10 years from now when you need that $50,000 for college education for those kids
    and you wind up having to pay for it for the next 10 years

    Just me but then I studied economics in college and watched multiple family members go broke from making poor business decisions. Guess who they come to for loans to bail them out?

  20. #5 is so relevant to me right now. After 2 years working from home (alone) I’ve realised how important it is to bounce ideas off trusted people.

    Just in the last two weeks I’ve had positive and negative responses to ideas that have shaped my offerings. It’s not till someone holds a mirror up that things become clearer.

  21. It makes no sense to me that anyone would have a problem with someone wanting to profit from their hard work.

    More importantly, if you’re selling something on your blog, it doesn’t alter that you’re also sharing free information.

    Seems that it’s the small minority that ever raise a complaint when someone tries to profit from their hard work on a blog.

  22. I’ve been having a great time playing with all of the ways to earn money from a blog. I’ve decided to focus on a challenging prospect. I wonder if it is possible to monetize a blog about compassion, education, lifelong learning, etc?

    Do I make any money? Very little, but at least I spend my time focusing on what matters in my life. I invite you to stop by and see my chaotic web collage. Maybe you could be a warrior poet?

    Thanks for teaching me so much on a consistent basis, you deserve all of the success you have achieved.

    Peace Out.

  23. Thanks. Some really useful info here. I am glad to hear that you stuck to your ethics about the advertising tweets by the way. Kudos for that, most people would have just taken the money.

  24. I struggled with this to the point that I actually sort of abandoned my last blog. My goals for monetizing the site weren’t clear from the beginning and I started letting readers dictate the direction the site went. Eventually I screwed things up by taking a pretty extreme stance against monetization.

    This time around I’ve got a plan in place and certain goals to meet. I think it takes a thick enough skin to not be bothered by what a minority of readers vehemently disagree with and a clear vision in the beginning to avoid selling out.

  25. With my site I am starting with one ad. At a later date there will be more but I want to build readership first.

  26. nice tips everyday from problogger…tq

  27. Very informative article as always. And very interesting too. I have started a blog. I have bought your 31dbb book too.

  28. Hi Darren, I don’t think there is a need for bloggers to stop selling out their blogs, because as bloggers we are sharing the knowledge and tips to the internet users. But still we are humans and still we need to earn money to live to comfortable life. Anyways, thanks for sharing these wonderful tips.

  29. Thanks for the tips buddy, I will try them out.

  30. Problogger is the best site to follow. The tips written here about blogging are worthy.

    Talking about this article, this 5 points are very useful to monetize the blog.
    Thank you sharing this article.

  31. I run everything by my accountability partner before I do it.

    Of course, it’s up to me to take her advice or not, but usually I do.

  32. I think it comes down to relevance, relevance, relevance.

  33. Ads are allowed….but the Blog should not full of only ads!!!

  34. Thanks Darren, you have a great way of putting a lot of information into a single post.

    I didn’t realize the costs of getting started. Not trying to get rich–just paying expenses. Not trying to be fancy dancy, just create a basic blog to try and change the world–(yea, yea I know.)

    So, I keep learning from you and the other experts and all the hints you can give help. Thanks.

  35. Great article/post. Bringing value to the table is what keeps me going and the sell out when creating a reader base is a difficult thing to do. Do you think it best to either be upfront with making money when getting readers or introduce it with a product down the road when my blog is more established?

  36. I’m at this point now with my blog and I’m approaching it from a ‘what products or services do I truly believe in?’ I’ve been in sales most of my adult life and could never sell something I didn’t truly believe in. This is even more personal, so I’m being very careful and selective.
    Thanks as always for a great post!

    btw… would you like to advertise on my blog Darren?

  37. Nice post, thank you Darren
    I’m a new in blog world :D

  38. Thank you Darrin, you helped me to choose my way to make money blogging a lot.
    I respect you when you emphasis to provide a value to my visitors and I’m going to keep this priciple as much as I can.
    Thank you again.

  39. Great post as always Darren.

    I’m still struggling to get started with my new blog. I want to monetize and yet the other part of me says don’t sell out. Being aware of sales pitches and constant emails saying how to make money on your blog seems to have a negative impact on me.

    Out of all the money making emails I subscribed to and receive, yours is the best Darren. You are honest and convey feeling to and for your may followers.

    It is refreshing to hear your suggestions, advice and clear headed observations.

    After reading this post, I’ll be looking at monetizing asap.

  40. The information given here is crucial to bloggers like myself. However, the main question to ask yourself is what is the purpose of my blog? Is it to monetize it? Or I’m I just sharing knowledge. From there, you should have a basis for your plan.

    Also, as Mr. Darren put it so cleanly, know how to be upfront with people. Tell them your reason for them to pull out their cards. But understand this, if your content is good, they won’t have a problem buying it. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t be paying your internet provider every month if you didn’t want the service right? If they want what you have to offer… (common sense tells you the rest).

    mediain5.com (sharing what you may have overlooked)

  41. Wow, I just discovered your blog today on FB Networked Blogs. This article is so relevant to my situation right now. I’ve always been tempted to just hit ‘monetize’ under the settings of my blogger blog. However, it never made any sense to me why anyone would do that when the ads that will just show up on your page will be related to your posts and your content… and I’m trying to sell MY business / product on my blog, website, why would I advertise my competition on my blog? The answer is that I have to really think long and hard about what I decide to advertise on my blog… it has to reflect me and what myself and my readers are interested in, complement my business, not compete with it. I will start reading your new articles and your past ones too, I have a lot to learn, I’m pretty new with an 8 month old blog.

  42. Nice post! I liked the most the 4th point and I think that the problem is not in posting ads on blog, but in stopping blogging for yourself.

    Before you become popular, you probably run a blog, because you want to and you enjoy it. However, I’ve seen several people who posted ads on their blogs, earned some serious sums and stopped paying attention to the users and content. They just put as much ads as they could, which eventually ruined all of their hard work…

  43. I stumbled upon this site while googling to find out if is it okay to submit a blog to google reader or Buzz 2 or 3 times a day.
    The information posted here regarding monitization, especially with randomly placed ads has been enlightening. I have been struggling with those issues throughout my career as a registered dietitian/nutritionist. My training said you don’t monetize… that was a long time ago. Anyway, now I have a blog and I use it to monetize. I offer value in terms of nutrition expertise in the process. Kudos Darren.

  44. A lot of people swear off putting ads on your blog from the start, such as Google Adsense or ads from Direct Selling as they don’t want to be seen as sell outs by their readers but in my opinion, once you establish yourself as a blogger who does actually take this blogging stuff seriously and wants to earn money from it, you’ll be more likely to be respected.

    Plus, your readers won’t be all up in arms when you put up Google Adsense ads on your site all of a sudden as they will have seen them far before that.

  45. I am practicing these methods and believe me or not, I started to get comments on my blog!

  46. All great points.

  47. Providing value, yes wise words

  48. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed the personal story about the offer for promoting a product on twitter, interesting moral question. I wonder how many would have made the same choice.

  49. Brutal honesty can be a powerful thing. Just don’t go overboard.

  50. There’s nothing shameful about making money from your blog. Other kinds of writers make money; why not bloggers?

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