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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. Hi, I’m just getting into this whole monetizing your blog thing. I’ve started a creating success blog – mainly on what I’ve been doing,what’s worked and what hasn’t for me, rather than on the ten secrets of success (whatever those may be). Monetizing – I still haven’t done that.

  2. Content will always be the magnet for readers/viewers. Much like radio and television we expect to watch commercials (or ignore them) because we are getting the content for free.

    Same with blogging. If your content is good enough people will tolerate ads (maybe even click on them) becuase they want your content.

    CompanyMarketing.co

  3. This is such a pretty reality offer to read by most of the bloggers…and it’s a good thing that you really know how to be upfront with people around you.

    Learning from you and the other experts and all the hints you can give help to others is such a wonderful gift you can offer. Thanks for the feeds…

  4. Very good points.

    I however am selling my services as a freelance writer, editor, reviewer, and more on my website.

    My blogs are special purpose and therefore are a way of branding me as a writer that people might want to hire.

    I have problems with ads on my blogs that may detract from what I am trying to do with my blogs and guest blogging.

    while I am not against making money, I just can’t get next to placing ads on my blogs.

  5. I’ve been running a small blog now for a little over a year, and just recently after reading a lot on some of these different forums I’ve started trying to monetize my blog with adsense and am looking to find different easy ways to send lots of new traffic.

  6. I do agree with what you say here a hundred percent. We do have to provides something for our blog reader. Something that can help them solving their problem.

  7. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with making money from your blog, and millions of people worldwide do.

    Theres a difference though between having one blog that makes £1000 a month and 1000 blogs that make £1 a month – the £1000 a month revenue blog is worth far more than the latter.

    The trick I have found is to have a community and niche to talk too. My technology blog last month made upwards of £1200 through advertisements (not sure what that is in dollars) but it is more than enough to quite the day job. Just keep going at it, you’ll break for the good eventually.

  8. Not to be a wet rag, but I think the title of this blog is misleading. Five ways to monitize without selling out, when in fact it is really five ethical compass points to not be selling out when you monetize your blog. Just my two cents mind you, but there is not actually a monitization plan in there.

  9. Adding something of value is important and keeps me coming back. As far as ads on a site, I’ve gotten so used to looking at them, that I don’t think of them as being negative; unless a site goes way overboard on them. Thanks for the post!

  10. If a blog post has a sharp enough focus and a clear intent then it’s highly likely that Adsense will serve up really relevant ads.

    I can’t see any problem with this.

    In some ways they add a little to the reader “experience”.

    The problem comes when an article on, say art deco design has ads for get out of debt or book an hotel in Florida.

  11. Spot on.

    My blog makes money but I find the kicker is my content. The more good content you have, and the more it changes and enhances peoples lives the more they are willing to buy ones stuff.

    It also helps to have something valuable to sell…

    first time poster – great resource..

  12. I’m learning how to market myself; and I think in my learning I’ll make mistakes, but hope to gain insights that will lead me to make wise decisions as I move forward.

    Advertisements use to bother me; but not anymore. I’ve realized many people, especially women use blogging as a way to supplement their husband’s income and stay home with their children.

    Build your community with content that is real and relevant. Keep it real.

    You’ll win some; you’ll lose some. And some may come back. Keep your eyes on those that have gone before you; and have been successful.

  13. I think the best way to work around this problem is to use Adsense.

  14. Good tips, especially about being accountable to others. I’m working on providing value to my readers; however, I usually set up a basic shop template and then go back and write reviews on the products I sell.

  15. Another great read with many good points. I have no problem with someone wanting to earn from their blog! As long as they are not trying to scam the readers by promoting B.S. stuff and just being plain shady about what they are attempting to do. It’s HARD WORK to make a successful blog with great content and all that goes into getting traffic and constantly learning all the new trends in the blogosphere, it’s a job! So why not be able to earn from your honest and hard work? That is not a sellout in my book!

  16. Jason, you said it so well. It is hard work or at least engaging work to produce a quality and successful blog. Posting is only half the work. Developing an audience is another. I hope with forums like this, honest bloggers who have so much to offer could/would continue to support each other.

  17. Thank you Dr. Dorene, I agree with you about bloggers helping each other out in online forums like this one. This is a great site and Mr. Rowse does provide a lot of great info on here and I love to read, learn and meet fellow bloggers like yourself who just want to learn the right way to navigate this online world we now live in.

  18. Thanks a lot for sharing this post as I find difficulties when try to monetize my blog and service =)

  19. I’ve just started to monentize my blog. I’ve been careful to choose products that fit my blog content. I’ve been worried about this but I know it’s time.

  20. I don’t mean to sound critical of people who don’t want to make money from their blogging. I feel that it should just go both ways and the people that do should not be made to feel like they are doing something wrong when they are just trying to earn an honest dollar. Like I said before it’s a lot of work and as long as you are being honest then I wish everyone the best! There is a lot of trial and error and don’t feel bad as long as you are being honest and trying your best. Thats all I have to say.

  21. @Jason:

    Oh yeah, it’s hard work!

    If it were easy everyone would be doing it and there wouldn’t be so many abandoned blogs.

  22. I’m trying to monetize using amazon astore but the iframe integration means no seo value :( its going to be hard to drive traffic to the store that way so may have to resort to other methods.

  23. What a great Topic.

    When I first set up my blog with affiliate banners, I felt a little uneasy or even a little unworthy. I soon came to realize that if I was providing good content, then there was no reason to feel unworthy, should I capitalize on my efforts.

  24. Hi Darren,
    This is sorta cute everyone being sensitive to criticism. Not that I’m insensitive to it cause unfortunately I’m not. I just listened to a lecture on this very subject by Ed Dale. He says when you get big and successful is when you start getting criticism. So reversely when you are getting a fair share of it it means you are getting big and successful. But that’s not even important.

    Here’s what’s important. Dan Kennedy says you only listen to people who give you money. Maybe that might sound cold blooded at first but think about it. The complainers are the one’s that will never give you a dime anyway so who would you rather cater to and listen to the ones who pay you or the ones that will never pay you? Hey you’re an internet marketer this is what you do you are entitled to make an income and survive for crying out loud. If you couldn’t survive at it you won’t be doing it very long.

  25. So many times I look for ways to make money from The Shopping Nazi forget what The Shopping Nazi is all about. I get stopped by some close friends or myself. The Shopping Nazi is and has to be an impartial looking at saving money one product at a time.

    The cannot be done with a financial rope pulling me to one product or service for my lively hood.

  26. Truthfully, it never occurred to me that someone might take offense at my monetizing my blog. I always figured it was my space and I was paying for it, and if I could offset costs then so be it.

  27. great tips, although i have now a blog that is on the first position in google for a keyword with 6600 searches, and the visitors keep comming, i still want to sell the site. the only problem is that because the PR hasn’t beed updated since half a year, the site has a PR 1, and that affects the price. still, i’m sure after the update it will have at leas PR 4, because i have a lot of great backlinks.. i don;t know what to do.. to wait for google to update the toolbar PR?

  28. Mitch I agree with you 100%!

  29. I personally like to keep site ads to a minimum and instead focus my time on creating really great digital products such as ebooks, themes, etc.

  30. Darren,
    Firstly you must be commended for your sincerity, and your ability to discuss interesting or debated topics. It’s a selling point in its own right…
    Although my experience comes from a different field – apartment rentals – as everyone knows people come to you when they find something interesting you propose.
    However, “interesting” doesn’t mean only that they find an “interest”, economic or material, or mere attraction in what you propose.
    I believe that the secret lies in giving to our neighbors something (let’s call it “X factor”) which makes them see things in a totally different – and higher – light. Creating quality, and sharing it with others, is a very potent magnet, and contrary to what most believe, people are clever enough, they can understand if you run a mere profit-oriented activity, or if you give your very best in the pitch. In the latter case, they will not only tolerate, but fully understand that you have to host publicity to keep yourself and your activity running.
    This said, congrats for the dedication at your work – which makes me come back time and again to your blog.
    Ciao! Mauro – Rome, Italy.

  31. I’ve been reading your posts for a few weeks and recently finished your book. I believe the points you are making not only help blogger success but also adds quality material and right ethics to the world of the web in general. Thanks! Much appreciated!

  32. Thanks a lot !!!

    Your guide is very helpful for me.

    I am developing and building my website since 4 months now and in the future I think your information will be suitable for me.

  33. Very good set of main goals that one should consider before starting blogging. Very valuable information.

  34. Great post on monetizing your blog.

    I really agree with the whole add value bit. If you’re not adding value to your blog, why would people even listen to what you have to say, yah know?

    It just makes sense to me.

    Thanks for the post.

    To life,
    -Gregory Elfrink

  35. Very informative article. I agree, I hate seeing bunch of ads every time I visit a blog. I remember when I started out, I used to have infolinks … what a bad idea.

  36. It is great to read some of your tips and ideas. I honestly never get the chance to chat with a bunch of people in the same boat as me. I really love the one about self motivation. It is amazing how many times I have strayed off my path to reaching goals when my motivations have been turned around.

  37. So I’m curious and you guys out there may have different approaches to this: I have a professional blog about education, childrens/youth culture, social media and art/aesthetic development in the educational system and just today I was contacted by a company that works with marketing and social media and they asked me if I would be interested in doing a blogpost (for free) about a non-profit campaign focusing on teaching democracy in public schools, The company contacted me because they believe in ‘spreading the word’ through social media like blogging and my blog is topic-wise relevant for this. I agree with the company about the idea of using ‘untraditional’ ways of communicating a message like the one of the campaign and I like the idea of the specific campaign, but it also makes me wonder…That social media company makes money, but I don’t? I guess I don’t because my blogging/my blogposts can not be bought, that’s my basic rule – but where does that leave me when it comes to making money on my blog? I already have Adsense and so far it’s just a symbolic amount of money I get from that. My blog just recently jumped to +900 visitors a month after a slow first year. (I’m danish so you won’t understand a word of my blog) and I have plans for more traffic, more dialogue …and more money. Any thoughts on this?

  38. Oh man…what I wouldn’t give to go back into time and read this post. It would have saved a-lot of negative comments from my own subscribers. I’ve always provided value to my readers but the money part got the better of me.

    Thanks for this Post
    Paul

  39. Great post as usual! I’m always looking for new ways to monetize my blog without upsetting anyone. It’s pretty tricky sometimes.

  40. Darren — that sure was a catchy title! I think many bloggers don’t talk about it, but there’s a deep-rooted fear many of us have of “selling out.” I was one of them until I realized that—yes—it’s all about providing value and being honest with our readers.

  41. Thank you for your inspiring post. I am starting a blog and I am at the same time trying to monetize it through affiliate programs. I never gave thought to a question of selling out because I believe in the products I am promoting, I use them myself or I researched them and came to have faith in them. I believe that information products, new information products put into the economy for fair prices will help our economy.We information providers provide services and products for society that are just as important as housing and cars. We provide services and products that guide emotions, provide income streams and help to maintain those income streams. We provide education and knowledge. We provide service that takes time to create, time and effort and that time and effort is valuable. I believe we have a right, and a responsibility to monetize our blogs. Thank you for your time.

  42. Hi Darren, Nicely said. When people have asked me about this in the past, I’ve said… You’ve spent time and money learning what you know, so you deserve to be paid for it. Some people may complain and expect to get your knowledge for free, but stand firm and value yourself.

    Also, if you don’t charge for what you know, people won’t value it.

    Many times in the past I have given people advice for free, and often they didn’t do much or anything with the information I shared.

    However, I have also *charged* for the same information, and the percentage of people who did do something, and made good money themselves from that information, was much higher – and they were very grateful too.

    So in may ways you can be doing someone a favour by charging them a fair price for your knowledge.

    Finally, I have always offered a full money-back satisfaction guarantee, or even a better than money-back guarantee. Only a very small percentage ever took that up.

    So my advice, for what it’s worth, is to really value what you know, charge fairly, expect some complainers, but stick to your guns, make enough money so you have time to study more and improve your knowledge, turn that into more and better products, and watch as more people are drawn to you and what you have to offer.

  43. Well I don’t have the problem of seeing myself as a sellout nor do my readers find it that way. Every ad or promotion on my blog is related closely to the topic of my blog and I aim to only provide products I used or tested myself so there wouldn’t be any negative backslash!

  44. I had found my timing and approach to monitizing my site to be one of the toughest decisions ever. Prior to landing on this blog I had been posting good, solid information and received positive comments, but never risked adding much more than a link or two.

    I feel I’m on much more stable ground now, thanks to your tutorial. Thanks very much for sharing the great tips and suggestions.

  45. We know that the content is king and it’s an important aspect if you engaged in online marketing. It should touch the heart of the reader. Once we done this, no one can stop to get huge traffic.

  46. Excellent article Darren. Being accountable is really the key.

    warm regards
    Joshu

  47. I think the most important thing is to “Provide value to readers.”

  48. Great post. Well I see selling out as selling something you don’t use yourself. Everything I blog about or have associated on my blog are products that I use myself. There are so many blogs out there just recommending products and they aren’t even using them. I actually caught one successful blogger doing this.

  49. Great tips here… I am always thinking about selling out, but I just don’t have the heart. I hope that this helps me get over it.

  50. Great tips on monetizing blogs. I’m affiliated with various affiliate programs but not seeing much results yet. I have alot of work to do when it comes to adding more value to my site

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