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Becoming a ProBlogger – A story in Many Parts

Posted By Darren Rowse 25th of January 2006 Pro Blogging News 0 Comments

d_rowse-128During the first year of my blogging ‘career’ I worked three jobs simultaneously and was studying part time – and blogged on the side.

Sorry – that was a bit of an odd way to start a post – but I just didn’t know how else to do it (It’s been a long day).

Note: this post has been updated in November 2016.

On a number of occasions this week I’ve been asked about my early days as a blogger and how I got into it as a way to make income. I know from some of the comments and emails that I get that some people come to this blog and see the few posts that I’ve written about how much I earn and see blogging as a get rich quick kind of thing but don’t see the full picture – so I thought I’d document it a little more. So if you want to hear my story grab a coffee, make yourself comfortable and relax – this could take a little while.

Once Upon a Time…

Back in November of 2002 when I first hit ‘publish’ on my original (and short lived) Blogspot Blog I did so believing that this ‘blogging thing’, which I’d only just heard of, would be a bit of fun. I started for a number of reasons but in short it was curiosity and the hope of a new hobby and perhaps some new connections that drew me to it. At the time I was working three jobs.

My 3 Jobs

My main job at the time was as a Minister of a Church. It was a part time thing and I was not ‘the’ minister but one of 4 working in a team. My responsibility was working with young people and I did so 3 days per week.

As I was engaged at the time and trying to save for a wedding, pay off my little car and pay for my college fees I had taken on a number of other part time jobs (ministers wages are not fantastic at the best of times but part time they were even less spectacular). My second main job was working for an online department store. While that might sound interesting and useful for what was to come – it was not. I was the warehouse ‘dogs-body‘ and my job consisted largely of sweeping, cleaning, lifting, packing, unpacking and other menial and boring jobs. Still – it did help pay the rent.

My third job was as a casual laborer. I was on call with an employment agency and did all kinds of temping work ranging from mind numbing production line work on a conveyor sorting through the rubbish that comes off planes at the end of 15 hour flights (not pretty) to helping to assemble circuses (don’t ask).

As well as this I was finishing off my Theology degree (a long term – 10 year – process) at a half time load.

There wasn’t much time for much else in my life at the time as the Minister job tends to fill up any gaps one has in their life with a lot of weekend work, although I did have time for a fiancee.

This was my life that fateful day when I first got the taste for blogging….

Hobby Blogger

Now I’d like to say that at the moment I hit publish on my first blog that the earth shook and a light from heaven came down and I was suddenly transformed into a full time blogger – but as we all know it doesn’t happen that way. In fact for the first 12 or so months of my blogging very very little changed. In fact if anything I became busier as I took on an extra subject in the attempt to finish my degree before my college booted me out for taking too long and I left the church where I was working to start another one).

Blogging in this time remained something that was a hobby and a way to connect with others who were involved in thinking through similar church stuff to me – nothing more. My blog had become quite popular in ’emerging church’ circles at this time and my hosting and ISP costs were starting to escalate.

It was after about a year of blogging that I accidentally started Digital Photography Blog (another story) and discovered AdSense and the Amazon Affiliate program. I’ve talked in numerous interviews and posts about this time so I’ll gloss over the details except to say that my hope was to pay for my ISP and hosting costs and to perhaps help pay for a blog design.

I quickly discovered that my hope of covering my expenses was a realistic one. This was not because all you have to do is put AdSense on any blog and you’ll make money but because I put it on an established blog that was doing several thousand readers per day (this is important to keep in mind). Even with established traffic the earnings in the early days were not high. My first month (October 2003) saw me average about $1.40 per day (and that was with lots of curiosity clicks from my readers in the first few days – thank goodness Google didn’t boot me out) and November hit $3 per day. The money was very small but it covered my costs and I began to wonder if with the extra few dollars a month I might be able to afford one of those Apple Laptops I’d been eyeing off (up til this point I was blogging on dial-up from a 6 year old PC that worked most days).

December saw daily earnings hit $6 per day, January $9, Feb $10 and March $15. Hardly big dollars but I began to wonder what would happen if I saw the same sorts of increases in income over a longer period of time. By that I don’t mean adding $2-$3 to the daily average per month but what would happen if I could sustain 30%, 40% or even 50% growth each month. I began to think in terms of exponential growth.

Part Time Blogger

Around this time I began to find myself with a little more time on my hands and in need of another part time job. My study was winding up (I finally graduated) and the grant I’d had to start up the church was on a declining payment system over two years (something I was fine with). ‘V’ (my wife) began to hint that maybe I should start looking for another part time job (rightfully so) and we decided that when I finished my degree at the end of June that I’d need to get serious about finding another two days per week work. All this time I was secretly doing the calculations in my head to see how much I’d need to earn per day to be able to call my blogging my part time job.

April’s earnings came in and averaged around $20 per day and I began to realize that I might just have myself a part time job. The beauty of blogging income is that it earns you money 7 days per week so totaled $140 per week. The other beauty was that AdSense and Amazon pay in US$ which equate to $1.30 in Australian currency.

June was looming and I decided to increase my efforts in blogging to see if I could get it to a level that might justify me pitching to ‘V’ that I dedicate 2 days per week to it. I started blogging more posts per day (this is when I started working late into the night after work) and learnt as much as I could about SEO and ad optimization.

The work paid off because in May earnings hit $32 per day and by the end of June I’d broken $1000 in a month for the first time and was bringing in $48 per day.

It was crunch time now and V and I had to consider our next move. I could probably keep growing things each month by working after hours on blogging and go find another job – or I could put the two free days that had been taken up by study and the church work that had just decreased by a day per week into blogging and see if we could make a go of it.

We decided to give it a few more months of increased effort into blogging to see where it would end up. I also got my first Apple computer (an ibook) – but was still doing it all on dial-up).

I’ll pause here in my story to say that this was a bit of a freaky moment for both ‘V’ and myself. Neither of us had started a small business and while I’ve always had something of an entrepreneurial spirit we are both fairly conservative people in many ways and while the figures indicated that there was potential on many other levels it just seemed plain weird. I mean who makes their income blogging? Needless to say we didn’t really tell too many people of our decision and when we did with a few family and friends there were plenty of raised eyebrows and lots of comments like ‘that’s nice but are you going to get a real job?’ and ‘how’s your little hobby business going?’

I’ll stop going into the monthly earnings at this point except to say that investing the 2 days per week into blogging at this point proved to be one of the best decisions we made. I will stress that this decision came after I’d been blogging for 19 months already and after establishing a number of blogs that were obviously earnings reasonable money. It is not something I recommend people just do off the cuff in their early days of blogging – work up over time because while it worked out for me there are plenty of others that it has taken a lot longer for and some who it just hasn’t worked at all for.

Over the second half of 2004 I continued to put 2 days per week into blogging while maintaining another 3 days a week of other work (some church work and some warehousing). In actual fact it was more than 2 days per week in practice as I continued to work long hours in the evenings to keep things moving forward and at times worked literally around the clock (like during the Olympics when I partnered with another blogger to run a blog on the Games).

This was a time where I began numerous blogs (I got up to 20 at one point) and experimented with many different income streams and advertising systems. It was in this time that I also started blogging seriously about blogging and had an active blog tips section on my LivingRoom blog. This didn’t go down too well with some of my readers there and so I decided to move all of those tips to a new blog called ProBlogger.net – it launched on 23 September 2004.

Full Time Blogger – Eventually

By mid December of 2004 we had pretty much decided that 2005 would see me go full time as a blogger. I’d already ditched most of my warehousing work as the earnings had continued to rise over the month or so before and the grant for my church work was going to run out early in February 2005 (we transitioned leadership of the church to more of a team thing which I still lead voluntarily).

All was going well with some amazing figures in terms of earnings in November and December until what felt a little like disaster happened in mid December. Google did one of it’s notorious updates where some bloggers go way up in search results and others go way down – I was in the later group and most of my blogs virtually disappeared from Google – taking with them almost three quarters of my traffic and earnings. Ouch!

Things looked a little uncertain for the first time in over six months and we wondered if the next Google update would see things back to where they were or to get worse. The Google update in mid December left us at a level where we could still get by – but we wanted to be sure so it was time for a contingency plan and I promptly applied for a six month position doing some research for 7 or 8 months a couple of days per week which started the day I finished the church work. I got the job the day before the next Google Update (at the end of January 2005).

The update brought things back to a level just under what they were before the fall in December and we needn’t have worried as much as we did – although it did teach me many many lessons including the importance of diversifying your interests, the necessity to not just rely upon Search Engine traffic and to expect the unexpected when working online.

2005 was a massive year. I worked in the research position as well as working full time on my blogging (a juggling act but both were worthwhile). You can read the story of this year in the archives of ProBlogger (I won’t go into the details on this post but did do some end of year reflecting here) but it has seen me continue to diversify my efforts which has resulted in new blogs and partnerships including a blogging course called ‘Six Figure Blogging’ and founding a blogging network called b5media).

2006 is upon us and where as last year was a year of diversification this year is looking like being one of consolidation (I say that now but suspect I won’t be able to help myself and will get into new things too).

Update from December 2008

A lot of people still come to this page so I thought it might be time to update this story for them because a lot has happened since 2006.

For starters b5media has continued to grow. These days we have over 300 blogs. We took on $2 million in venture capital and have invested that into expanding our team of developers, ad sales staff, administrators, writers etc and the network is one of the bigger blog networks going around.

I’ve also launched two blogs since this post was written – Digital Photography School (DPS is a blog with hundreds of photography tips) and TwiTip (a blog dedicated to sharing tips for using Twitter). These two blogs (plus ProBlogger) are my full focus in terms of blogging these days. Previous blogs that I’d started are no longer active because I discovered that the more attention I paid to a small number of blogs the better they did (rather than a little bit of attention to many blogs).

DPS has actually become my biggest blog with a readership of over a million visitors a month and a thriving forum area. It has taught me a lot about blogging and has been a tremendous amount of fun to develop as a site. I’ve written more about the first two years of DPS here.

Also since 2006 I’ve co-authored the ProBlogger book with Chris Garrett. The book came about after writing here at ProBlogger for a number of years and getting a lot of questions from readers about how to get going with blogging. Chris and I took a lot of the lessons we’d been learning and writing about on our blogs, updated them, put them in a logical and concise order and published it with Wiley Publishers.

All in all blogging continues be be an amazing journey. It’s opened up some great doors to connect with fantastic people, speak at a variety of conferences around the world and experiment with some great technologies.

Update from November 2016

Wow – it has been a long time since I updated this post and a lot has happened since the last time I did.

Digital Photography School (dPS) has continued to grow (it gets up to 4 million visitors a month) and become more and more of my focus. In 2008 it was just me running the site but since that time I’ve taken things way beyond just me. We have a small team including a site manager, an editor, a customer service person, a developer team, a marketing person and a large team of writers.

Back in 2008 dPS was largely monetized with advertising but in 2009 I published my first photography eBook and discovered a whole new way to monetize blogs. Today we have launched over 30 photography eBooks, 3 courses, 3 bundles of Lightroom presets and numerous other products.

ProBlogger has also continued to evolved. We’ve published a number of ProBlogger eBooks including the best selling 31 Days to Build a Better Blog which I originally published in 2009 and did a 2nd edition of since.

On ProBlogger I also started running a small event for Australian bloggers back in 2010. 150 showed up to the first event in a suburban hotel with dodgy carpet and wifi. While the hotel wasn’t much to look at (it was condemned shortly after) the event was a hit and we’ve been running annual ProBlogger events ever since with up to 750 attendees.

Another aspect of ProBlogger that has grown is the ProBlogger Job Board which I actually started in 2006 but forgot to mention above. It’s a place where bloggers can find work and where companies looking to hire writers, editors and other kinds of freelancers can advertise. This started very small – with just a few jobs a week advertised – but continues to grow and is now a place thousands of bloggers look for work and where hundreds of advertisers every month put ads.

Also more recently on ProBlogger I launched the ProBlogger Podcast which as of writing this update has had 165 episodes published and has been one of the most fun and effective things I’ve ever done.

In terms of how I make my money these days – you might find this post on my current income streams useful. Here’s a screen shot from it:

Blog income report

With the growth of dPS and ProBlogger I’ve had to let go of some of the other projects I’ve had running and mentioned above including both TwiTip and b5media. I also let go of another project I cofounded with friends called The Third Tribe which was a membership site – a collaboration with the team at CopyBlogger and my friend Chris Brogan.

On a personal note life has been good too. ‘V’ who now is happy for me to call her by her real name on line (it’s Vanessa) started blogging on her blog – Style and Shenanigans – in 2013. We have 3 boys now (born in 2006, 2008 and 2011) so life is definitely full of shenanigans but is a lot of fun!

Lessons from the Journey So Far (written in 2006)

So why am I telling this story? Is it just a self gratification thing? Maybe, I have enjoyed reminiscing – but there’s more to it than that.

Firstly I wanted to tell it because I’ve been asked to on a number of occasions – but secondly (and mainly) I wanted to tell the story again and in this extended way because I think it’s important to keep reemphasizing a number of points:

1. Blogging for an income takes time – while there are stories around of people making good money from blogs much faster than I have, from what I know of the many bloggers that read this blog my own increases have been faster than most. I’ve had my fair share of luck, I worked insane hours and I started out at a time that was a lot less competitive than it is now – all of these things have contributed to any success I might have had. It took me over 1.5 years to get things to a point where I could say it was a part time thing and another year after than before I went full time. It takes time.

2. One Step at a Time – Unless you have a massive pile of cash somewhere or a sugar daddy to cover your expenses in the mean time you need to approach blogging for money one step at a time. My approach was to always have a back up plan and to increase the time I dedicated to blogging only gradually as it started to show me earnings that justified it. We made a decision of what level of income we wanted me to be earning and decided that as long as blogging was under that that I would need to have other work. While there was one point where we broke this rule and I stepped out into two day per week blogging we put a time limit on it. If income didn’t reach the level we wanted within that time frame I would have been looking for work. While this might sound a little rigid or a bit of a downer – I believe I have a responsibility to my family and it’s goals and didn’t want to run off ahead of ‘V’ in my own direction without our decisions being joint ones that we were both comfortable with. V has been incredibly supportive in all this and has allowed me to follow my dreams even when they seemed quite bizarre – but there have also been times when she’s rightly been the voice of reason and pulled me back to earth to be sensible with the dreams.

3. Hard Work and Discipline – As I mentioned a number of times above, there have been countless nights when I’ve worked into the wee hours of the morning blogging. While I’m not quite as full on these days it wasn’t unusual for me to post 50 times per day over 12 hours in front of the screen). I love blogging so this isn’t a chore all of the time – but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t days (and weeks) that I didn’t want to slack off and ignore my business. One of the common reactions of friends to me talking about a home based business is that they say they’d never be able to do it because they’d be too tempted to never work. I always thought I’d be like this too but I’ve worked hard at being disciplined and working hard and put a lot of progress I’ve made down to this.

Note from 2008: I no longer post this much. As mentioned above – I focus now upon 3 blogs and concentrate on 1-2 posts per day on each of them.

4. Follow your Dreams – The main point of this post was to communicate the above three points – I never want to be accused of giving an unbalanced view of blogging or hyping it up as a get rich quick thing. I’ve gone out of my way on numerous occasions at ProBlogger to emphasize this (although am still regularly accused of being unbalanced). Having said all this it would also be irresponsible of me not to say that it is possible to make money blogging – and for some (not all) it is possible to make good money doing it.

I do no know where my story will end or how long my good fortune will last but I’m certainly attempting to prolong it and am making the most of every day it goes on.

I hope in this people catch a glimpse of where I’ve been and some of the lessons I’ve learned so far.

I look forward to sharing the next part of the journey here at ProBlogger in the coming years.

Update: I’ve written a full post on some of the things I know about making money blogging.

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.

  • Darren, your story inspires me to make a better living tomorrow. Now, I become more exited and want to start earning income from my blog too. I make a blog about free software and a blog. Most of them I copy article from other website. I am newbies about blogging, may you give me an advice? I have to say that my English is not quite good. Thanks for post my comment.

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  • Your story is one of the main reasons why we started our blogging network. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.

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  • I enjoyed this one! It’s clear that you put a lot of hard work into your blogging. Here’s to many more blogging years ahead of you.

  • Hi Darren, it’s been a week since I have stopped by, sorry but I was so busy trying to design and code my blog (big mistake!) Anyways it’s so nice to hear about your journey as a blogger. A lot of people think it’s goldmine and a get rich fast scheme. Even I have gotten swept up in the excitement but like anything in life, it all takes time and patience and willingness to suffer through the bad times. I just started my journey as a blogger. I was hoping to use blogging to make money while I finished up my education. Becoming a professional blogger is not something I had ultimately planned.. or still think about doing but I am so glad that I started. I have met so many amazing people and reading blogs have inspired me, angered me, made me laugh, and there’s so much passion in so many great blogs (among all the money making overwhelming badly placed ad blogs out there) I truly enjoy reading you. I think you are sincere and that translate through the screen. I wish you all the best and hope that you will be a professional blogger for many years to come.

  • After reading this story, I felt good. I felt good because it erased the “you-can-get-rich-fast-by-blogging” notion in my head. I have learned that bloggers who earn a lot now (just like you hehe) had to start from somewhere and did not have high blog income at the start. The different between you and the new bloggers is that, you were around in the blogging world longer and has learned the tricks and persevered through the hardships. ^_^

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  • Amous Hol

    im curios about ur plans for the future, retirement, etc.

  • ive tried so hard :(

    you dont mention anything about learning php, mysql

    Ive had to work double overtime, college, and still havent given up,

    I made $0.00 from adsense and $1.00 from amazon

    in 2 years……………

  • webby – yep, it’s a tough game isn’t it.

    In terms of learning php and mysql – I’ve never learned it but have surrounded myself by people who know it well.

  • Darren, I quite enjoyed that thanks and it sure puts into perspective for someone like me ( about to start that is) the amount of hard work and patience that needs to go into blogging to turn it into a living. How about a Part II post to cover last 18 months since you wrote this?

  • This has got to be the best post on your site. I found that although I have interest in blogging, it is hard work too. There are research to be done, ideas to be thought and then putting everything on paper/screen in a clear and interesting way.

    Take home message from your post: push through…

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  • Very inspiring story…it really does shed some light into blogging which is that it takes hard work and alot of dedication to be successful as a blogger! Thank you for sharing!!

  • Awesome post, Darren! It’s one thing to say “successful blogging takes a lot of hard work.” It’s very different to share a personal story that paints a picture of what a pro blogger’s journey really entails. Very enlightening.

  • surya

    I got the stuff what am i searching for.Untill yesterday I don’t know what a blog is.what tempted me to know more about a blog is obviously the thing that we can earn money through it.But the post gave me a clear picture of pros and cons of achieving it

  • Darren, I really enjoyed reading your success story. It is inspiring and for sure I have learnt few things myself out of this. Thanks for sharing with us. Please do let me know if you have any suggestions or feedback for my blog as it counts a lot.

    Cheers mate.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I had learned a lot from your success story.

  • Darren, thanks for the great post. It was very enlightening and answered many questions I didn’t know I needed to ask of myself.

  • You made $2 a day with thousands of visitors!!? I just cannot believe. Anyway…. Keep up the good work.

  • adwords adsense combo – keep in mind that I was just starting out and didn’t have any idea on ad positioning etc back then. These days I’d turn thousands of visitors into more than $2 :-)

  • Your approach of spiraling decision (hobby-part time-problogger) in a quite modest time range is an inspiring step to see blogging as a career. Thanks Darren.. :)

  • Excellent Bio Darren! Gives me inspiration to keep pecking away! Also, if you get the chance some day try to give us all an updated and even more detailed bio on your recent activities starting from the beginning!

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  • Beautiful, moving and inspiring post. keep it going dude…keep it going…

  • Awesome article. I have recently started blogging, in fact I started my blogging site on 1st Jan, 2008. I was looking for more data on blogging, when I came across Problogger. I think this is one of the best blog resources for newbies.

    What caught my attention in this article is the niche area that Darren is talking about. In fact, few days back I wrote an article on my blog ” Why my artciles are so diversified in nature”. But considering Darren’s perspective, it really makes sense to have targeted blogs, but still I have feeling that you can cater to a larger mass, if you address diversified topics in a single blog.

    Nonetheless, this article is an eye opener. Thanks Darren for sharing your story with everybody.

  • Hi Darren

    What an awesome story. You just made me fired up to keep blogging. I’ll will let you know of my progress.
    Just curious Darren. Do you still have those 20 blogs?

  • m07

    great story.you have worked quite a bit to get where you are.best of luck for future.

  • That is a great article… it seems that you are talking about me… :)
    Funny, you know… because I have started just like you… but for a short time (1 and half year) but I believe that I can get big… as you, or maybe bigger!
    Thanks!

  • I really enjoyed reading your story.

  • tom

    Darren,
    i really enjoyed your story. Before reading your story i was set on the idea of starting a blog on digital photography for beginners. I want to do it because it is a passion of mine, however over time i would like to try and earn some money from it. Do you think that there is to much competition in the field of digital photography now for making any money?
    Thanks.
    Tom

  • Hi Darren,

    I have always wanted to start a blog but really didnt know what to do with it or what to write about. I really admire columnists and bloggers who can write really interesting stuff day in day out. How do you do it? Right now my blog is only used as a tool to communicate to my friends around the world what I’m currently up to as I thought writing an entry would be quicker than typing several emails. But now I would really like to go pro but havent really anything interesting to talk about. I am in marketing and I really dont think we need anything marketing blog (and plus it aint that interesting either). Where do you get the inspiration to write everyday?

  • Thanks for sharing the story. Love the blog by the way.

  • rohit

    I have been inspired by yourself.u r really a hard struggler,suddenly something happened in my heart when i was reading ur story and now i realised that that ” Juat because something is difficult doesn’t mean u shouldn’t try it means you should just try harder………”i really appreciate ur story and thanks for sharing ur life story with all of us ………..

  • Really inspiring, you’re helping to motivate me to work hard with my blogging efforts :)

  • Great post.

    Too bad I read it 2 years down the road. Tell me, what changes would you propose making to the original article in order to be up to date with your advice? I realize competition has increased (it never bothered me in my current biz) but anything else lurking in the background that is important to a newbie blogger?? Thanks.

  • Very interesting story! Now I want to see a Video with you sharing this story… and then twitter the URL so I can watch

  • just read this having spotted it on twitter. good stuff. i am surprised by the strength of the blogging addiction, it sneaks up, grabs you and turns into an obsession very quickly. Never had that before and don’t quite understand it. why oh why???

  • Very inspiring and informative. Thanks for writing this in the first instance and sharing this on twiiter or I’d have missed it. I have added it to my favorites and I hope some day I write a story even half as interesting as this one. I was very encouraged by your sharing the information on three jobs and dial up and using the 6 year old PC. I pray you and V always have sunnier things to look forward too.

  • Thanks, Darren. I am from Jakarta, Indonesia. This is an inspiring story.

    Judika

  • Truly inspirational article Darren. Its made me look at my blog in a new perspective . Have been blogging for about 2 months now, but I really need some advice desperately on how to go about the marketing part and submitting to search engines.
    http://www.cookingupsomethingnice.blogspot.com

  • Chi

    Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your story,i’m in the process of starting my own little company call chiworld,which will consist of clothing lines,clubs,poetry etc…so I just been reading your tip on blogging cause on my 50% complete website the blog is the only thing complete at this time.

  • Thanks for sharing Darren. I recently started the-Blog, not to make money but more of a hobby. I’ve added adsense just o see what happens. I can’t see me ever going full-time, but it’s good to see things can happen.

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