Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…
Guest series :: Some straight talk on monetizing your craft blog
Diane Gilleland makes crafts, podcasts, ebooks, and online classes over at CraftyPod in Portland, Oregon. When she isn’t making things, she’s tending to the every whim of her cat Pushkin, and what’s wrong with that?
Image by Windell Oskay, via Flickr Creative Commons
Hello, Whipup! I’ve been a craft blogger for six years. (And in this odd, still-pretty-new internet landscape, that constitutes a long time ago!) When I started blogging, it was purely a hobby, but within a couple years blogging became the center of my livelihood – and I quit my day job. I think this is a little bit because I was lucky, and largely because I’ve worked very, very hard to develop income streams from blogging.
I’ve learned some valuable things about monetizing a blog over the years, and I thought I’d share some of them here. I hope these ideas give you some real-world advice and useful food for thought!
Where does blog-money come from?
It’s tempting to think that monetizing a blog works like this: you write great posts, people like them, and the money comes in. Maybe you take some advertisers, maybe you create a tutorial and everybody buys it, or maybe you get “discovered” – but one way or another, all you have to do is be worthy and the money finds you.
There’s a tiny handful of popular bloggers for whom that strategy might work, but let me tell you: for the vast majority of us, making money blogging means treating it more like a business. There really aren’t any truly passive income sources for bloggers – that is, if you want to make a reliable part-time or full-time income.
Image by Richard Elzey, via Flickr Creative Commons
Small Income Sources vs. Large Ones
You don’t have to be shooting for a part-time or full-time income from blogging, of course. There are plenty of methods you can use to earn smaller amounts of income through blogging. You can sign up with ready-made ad programs like BlogHerAds, Google AdSense and Project Wonderful. You can join a craft blogger marketing program like The Blueprint Social and find opportunities to do sponsored posts. You can place Amazon affiliate links in your blog posts. These are easy-to-implement options that don’t require much upkeep, and will earn most bloggers at least a few lattes’ worth per month, and perhaps more. And that may be plenty for your needs, and that’s great!
Traffic-based income vs. Skills-based income
…But let’s say that you want to turn your blog into that part-time or full-time income. Well, your first decision is a big, broad one: will you make money based on the size of your audience, or will you make money based on selling your skills?
If you have a large audience for your blog, then you have the option to turn that audience into a kind of “product,” and sell exposure to them to companies. You might start up an ad program for your blog and sell space. You might place affiliate ads or links on your blog. Or you might sell sponsored posts. With all of these options, the larger your audience is, the more income you stand to make.
Or maybe you want to get hooked in with a craft company – to be hired as a designer, or write a book, or host a TV show. In that case, you need craft company decision-makers to see your blog, and you can reach out and start conversations with them on Twitter and Facebook to pique their interest. But you also need to cultivate a large audience of crafter-readers. Your readers provide evidence that you’re worth hiring, because you come with a built-in audience.
In order to make that reliable part-time or full-time income through any of those options, though, you’ll need a lot of audience. It’s hard to put a firm number on these things, but I think your monthly site visits should number at least in the tens of thousands.
What if you don’t have that kind of traffic? Don’t worry! You can always start out monetizing your blog based on selling your skills instead. There are practically endless opportunities there. All you need to do is figure out three important things:
Image by splityarn, via Flickr Creative Commons
Important Thing #1: What are your sellable skills?
What forms of craft do you love to think about, and make, and share most? Usually, knowing your best crafty skills is a good first step to creating money-making options for yourself. What crafts or techniques are you good enough at to teach other people? What kinds of things are you great at designing? What media do you know especially well? What crafts do you do differently than anyone else?
There are tons of ways to spin these skills so they can be sold. You might produce PDF tutorials or ebooks to sell. You might teach online classes. You might teach live classes. You might sell your skills as a designer to small business owners. You might make handmade things to sell. (All of these options require a receptive audience, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)
More than likely, you also have several non-crafty talents – skills you’ve picked up at your day jobs, or through your education, or via the School of Life. These skills could be useful in monetizing your blog as well – how can you combine your crafty skills with your non-crafty ones to create interesting products and services for your readers? If you’re great at project management, for example, could you teach classes in project planning to crafty business owners? If you’re an accountant by day and a beader by night, could you write a simple ebook on accounting that creative minds can embrace?
Really, the question of what you sell comes down to our next important factor….
Image by BartNJ, via Flickr Creative Commons
Important Thing #2: What is your ACTUAL market for those skills?
This is a somewhat trickier idea. And I’m writing the word ACTUAL in all caps to make a big point: you may love to write about crafts, but that doesn’t always mean other crafters will pay you for it. You may love to make crafts, but that doesn’t always mean other crafters will pay you for them.
For many of us craft bloggers, our readership is made up of friends and kindred spirits. And while this is lovely for conversation, it just doesn’t automatically lead to income. In tight economic times, your readers have to make careful decisions about what to spend money on – and more often than not, this means your readers will be interested in buying things that solve some kind of problem for them, or that they have an actual need for.
…So if you want to make a decent skills-based blogging income, you have two options. The first one is to formulate some kind of product or service to sell to your existing readers. And if your readers are other crafters, then you basically need to figure out what those readers actually need. That might turn out to be something very different from the things you blog about or make.
For example, let’s say you’re an expert crocheter, and you want to sell hand-crocheted hats. If your blog audience is fellow crocheters, then they might not be the best market for your hats – they can, in fact, make their own hats. But maybe they’d be really interested in buying patterns for your hat designs, or learning your expert crochet techniques.
Or, if you’d rather blog about and make what you like, then your second option is to cultivate a new audience of people who actually need those things. So if you want to sell handmade items, and you want to use a blog to do it, then the people reading that blog need to be the people who need your handmade items. A classic example: let’s say you make quilted pot holders and embroidered dish towels. Are crafters the best buying audience for those items? Probably not – they can pretty easily make their own kitchen items. But people who love to cook? They’re a great market for your product! So, what kind of blog would appeal to them?
These are great big ideas, but they really just boil down to the same things that drive any successful business: what you sell has to have an ideal customer, it has to solve some kind of problem for that customer, and the customer needs to know it exists. … And that brings us to our third important factor.
Image by Jason Kessenich, via Flickr Creative Commons
Important Thing #3: How much time and energy do you have available for monetizing your blog?
To generate regular part-time or full-time income through blogging, you’ll need to invest basically part-time or full-time effort in developing, marketing, and supporting your business. Do you have that kind of time? If not, that’s okay – what DO you have time for? You can always start small (with some of the simpler options I listed above) and make adjustments as your income grows.
It’s important to be realistic in your expectations, and to understand that no matter how you choose to earn money blogging, in order to earn a sustainable income, you’ll be putting in plenty of effort. It takes time to write an ebook, teach an online class, produce a video, or write a pattern. It takes time to write the kind of blog content that keeps your traffic high (and attractive to advertisers) week after week.
You might want to pull our your calendar right now and set aside some regular blocks of time for working on your blog-based income.
Image by kodomut, via Flickr Creative Commons
Stay nimble, my friends
All of this may sound like monetizing a blog is really hard to do. Well, speaking from experience, it’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s well worth the effort. If you don’t mind, I’ll add one last slightly-challenging idea. Once you start making income from your blog, it’s no time to rest on your laurels! The blogosphere moves very fast, and it’s very likely that what’s earning income for you now won’t be the same thing that’s earning you income next year. To earn your income online, you have to be ready to keep a flow of new products or services, and change directions when your market changes – and that will happen regularly. Or, if you’re making your income based on traffic, then your nimbleness will involve keeping a stream of content that keeps lots of traffic flowing to your blog. And again, tastes change quickly online, so you’ll likely find yourself needing to change along with them.
All that said, I wouldn’t trade my little blog-based business for anything in the world. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a very satisfying expression of who I am, and what I love doing. It’s worth the amount of effort it took to build up, and the amount if takes to keep it going.
If you want to go deeper into this subject and come up with a customized monetization plan for your blog, you can even take my upcoming online class. I’d love to help you find your best money-making options!