Following last week’s post on treating your blog like a business, this guest post from Anna Johansson provides some practical ways you can start turning your blog into a business.
In many cases, blogging starts out as a hobby or creative outlet for someone looking to have a little fun writing about a topic that interests them. But at some point, most bloggers reach a fork in the road where they have to decide whether they want to continue their blog as a personal endeavour or turn it into a professional pursuit. Considering there’s a lot of money to be made in blogging, a lot of people choose the latter route.
The problem? It’s not an easy road. Trying to turn a blog into a profitable business takes strategic planning, hard work, and precise execution. But if you think you have what it takes, it’s definitely worth a shot.
How Much Do Successful Blogs Earn?
Before diving headfirst into blogging as a business endeavour, most people reasonably ask, “How much can I make?” Well, there isn’t an easy answer to that question. It depends on dozens, if not hundreds of factors. Some make a few dollars on the side, while the largest blogs on the internet produce more than a million dollars per month.
The Huffington Post, for example, which is technically a blog, reportedly makes $2.33 million per month. Mashable brings in a healthy $600,000 in monthly earnings. The popular Life Hacker blog earns $110,000 per month, while the lesser-known Shoe Money blog brings in $30,000 per month.
If your head is suddenly spinning with ideas at the prospect of earning between $30,000 and $2.33 million per month…slow down. These are some of the most successful blogs in the world. Most people will never come close to sniffing these figures in a year, let alone in a month. However, it is possible. When you compare these blogs to the ones that make just $25, $500, or $1,000 per month, there’s an obvious difference in the approach. The more successful ones treat their blogs like functioning businesses – not hobbies.
Five Ways to Turn Your Blog Into a Business
While you aren’t going to make $30,000 per month from your blog any time soon, who’s to say you can’t start making $300 or $3,000 per month by the end of the year? It’s far from easy – and many fail trying – but the first key is to start treating your blog like a fully functioning business that’s hell-bent on bolstering the bottom line.
There’s obviously way more on this topic than can be fit into a single article, but let’s review some of the things you need to do and think about as you shift your mindset towards building a business.
1. Don’t Do it Alone
Most bloggers operate as a one-man team. At best, they solicit help from their spouse or a close friend. But would you ever attempt to build a successful business without ever hiring an employee, advisor, or partner? Hopefully, the answer is no because solopreneurs rarely taste success. If they do, they end up working themselves to death.
“No one is good at everything. We may have expertise in many areas, but we aren’t experts at every thing,” blogging coach Lisa Kerr says. “That’s why it’s important to find and build a team when you have a big goal. Actors have agents and managers. Writers have agents and editors. Public officials have an entire staff. Companies have dozens of teams. The fact is we need other people’s expertise.”
Don’t think you have the resources to hire writers, editors, and marketing pros up front? Feel free to get creative. Offer small amounts of equity in the blog. Trade content on your blog in turn for content on their blog. Provide a talent you have in return for a service they can provide.
The point is that you can’t cultivate a thriving blog without having some support. The demand for quality content is simply too high and there aren’t enough hours in the day for you to handle everything that’s required.
2. Find Your Voice
One concept new bloggers often struggle with is the idea that their blog can’t be everything to everyone. They want a blog that reaches the masses – therefore, they generalise everything they do in order to appease as many people as they can.
Hint: That doesn’t work.
Think about the most successful blogs in the world – such as the ones referenced earlier – and consider that even they don’t attempt to reach everyone. The Huffington Post targets liberal people on the far-left – specifically younger liberals. Mashable is squarely aimed at millennials. Life Hacker targets millennials who want to learn practical skills. Shoe Money targets people who are interested in earning money online.
These blogs still reach millions of people, but they’re able to do so because they don’t attempt to overextend their reach. There’s a fine line between targeting a niche with a large enough audience to build a profitable business around and trying to reach everyone on the internet. The difference between the two is identifying a voice for your blog and sticking to it.
“A voice, with respect to your blog, is a feel or style evoked in your writing that causes the reader to personalise what she is reading,” entrepreneur and blogger Jeff Goins explains. “Your readers begin to construct a person based on the voice of your blog. And when that happens, your blog ceases to be all things to all people and becomes something very particular to a certain group of people. And that is okay. That is the whole point.”
Not sure where to start? Large companies usually craft “style guides,” which establish standards for writing that can then be referred to when there are questions on language, tone, grammar, and structure.
And as a point of clarification – because there seem to be lots of misconceptions on the idea of developing a blogging voice – you can’t just copy someone else’s style. “If you’re going to develop your own style – your own blogging voice – you can’t just take another person’s voice,” blogger Jeni Elliot says. “You have to take everything, everyone that influences you and filter it through your own personality.”
Sit down and think about who you’re trying to connect with (your target audience) and how they talk and write. Do they use big words, or are they short and to the point? Are they sarcastic or literal? Do they prefer slang or grammatically correct sentences? Once you start uncovering these little facts, you’ll naturally find yourself developing a voice.
Your voice is your brand. Just as a business can’t survive without a recognisable brand, your blog can’t thrive without a voice that connects with readers. Don’t rush this process, but certainly don’t delay it. You’ll find that your voice will evolve over time, but the key principles will remain the same.
3. Create Value With Your Content
Monetisation may take place through other vessels (more on that in the following section), but for all intents and purposes, content is your currency. If you don’t have good content, your blog (business) doesn’t stand a chance of surviving. Specifically, your content needs to create value for your users.
Did you know that 94 percent of people who share blog posts do so because they think it’ll be helpful to others? In other words, people want content that’s constructive and applicable to their lives, not vague prose that lacks purpose. And while length isn’t always indicative of value, the average word count for top ranking content on Google is somewhere between 1,140-1,285 words.
The point is that while revenue may be produced in other ways, your blog’s content is what drives traffic to your business. Without content, everything else withers away. Consistently create valuable content that aligns with your voice and you’ll do well.
In addition to word length,valuable content is defined by actionability. Is the content you’re providing your readers with able to spur action and drive real results? Google wants semantically pleasing content, or content that answers questions.
Let’s compare two pieces of content to get a better idea of what we’re talking about here. We’ll start with this article, titled Carpenter Bees, Genus Xylocopa. It’s a fine article with good quality writing, but it doesn’t really provide the reader with any value. All it does is explain the characteristics of carpenter bees. Unless you’re merely looking for head knowledge, the article is pretty useless.
Now contrast that previous example with this article, titled 13 Home Remedies to Get Rid of Carpenter Bees. This article provides practical tips and suggestions for homeowners looking to ward off carpenter bees and prevent damage to their homes. After reading it, people can apply the knowledge learned. They’re also much more willing to share via their social profiles. Do you see the difference?
In order to create value with your content, you need to move your readers to action and give them a reason to share. It may sound obvious, but if you go back and review your posts from the past, you’ll find that many of them don’t create much tangible value.
4. Develop a Monetisation Strategy
In the beginning, when you’re still trying to transition from hobby blog to moneymaking business venture, the focus needs to be on creating quality content and engaging readers. However, as your audience grows and you start to see results, you should also start looking at opportunities for monetising your blog and driving revenue.
There are more than a dozen ways to monetise a blog, so you’ll have to experiment with some ideas and see what works for you. However, these are the most common techniques:
- Product sales. Presently, one of the more profitable monetisation strategies is to sell physical or virtual products to blog visitors. Some bloggers choose to build online courses and sell access to customers, while others like to create tangible products and sell them through an ecommerce portal on the blog.
- Advertising. The classic strategy is to turn pageviews into revenue by attracting advertisers and charging them for space on your blog. You can do this through banner advertising, CPM advertising, or even pay per click ads via Google AdSense.
- Affiliate sales. If your blog is an industry where there are lots of different products and services from various businesses, you may find it profitable to join affiliate marketing programs and sell their products on commission. You don’t want to dive too deep into affiliate marketing or you may water down your blog’s value, but there’s a lot of money to be made in this niche.
- Subscriptions. Finally, there are subscriptions. If your content is valuable enough, then you may be able to create premium content and stick it behind a “paywall” where loyal readers have to pay a monthly or annual fee to access it.
The key is to stay honest to your blog’s purpose and voice. You don’t want to pursue some monetisation technique that stands contrary to your blog’s long-term focus just to make a quick buck. You’re trying to build a sustainable business, not develop a side hustle. It’s always better to forgo a little revenue up front if it means making a smart decision for the future of your business.
5. Take Charge of Your Accounting
One of the biggest problems entrepreneurs encounter when trying to build their blog into a successful business is not knowing what to do with their finances. They end up mixing personal and business accounts, failing to keep meticulous records, and making other costly mistakes that could eventually get them in trouble with the IRS.
When it comes to taxes, you need to remember that you’re responsible for paying estimated quarterly taxes. This means you’ll have to set aside a portion of your earnings each quarter and cut a check to the IRS. Stay on top of this or you’ll quickly fall behind.
“On a monthly basis, when you review your P&L statement, put aside a percentage of your profit for taxes into a separate savings account,” accountant Brittany Turner suggests “A safe percentage to put away of your profit for taxes is about 30%. Your actual percentage may be more or less, depending on a number of factors, such as your total exemptions, your incorporation status, and your itemized deductions.”
Treat Your Blog Like a Business
There isn’t a ton of up-to-date information on the subject, but according to a survey conducted a few years back, just 7.4 million of the 133 million blogs tracked had been updated in the 120 days leading up to the study. Assuming that a blog needs to be updated at least once every four months in order to be considered profitable, that means roughly 95 percent of blogs are failures.
If you want your blog to be a part of the five percent that actually thrive, then you need to treat it like a business. It’s easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere.
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com and more, Anna specialises in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.