If you are a blogger and you are thinking of taking that next step to enable you to freelance or wondering how to turn your blog into something that makes you enough money to pay your bills then this one is for you. (And if you are a freelancer yourself, then I’d love to still hear from you at the end of this post!)
Also, my apologies that this blog post is a little later than I’d planned but hopefully you can forgive me! It’s another long one because I kept adding and adding to it! Ack! Plenty to say on this topic, I guess.
If you aren’t a blogger or you have no interest in becoming a blogger or if your blog is really just a hobby and you aren’t interested in it becoming a ‘career’ per se, then my apologies because you’ll not find anything interesting in this post today. I promise I’ll be back with more interior related stuff for you very soon.
First caveat: If you haven’t yet read Part I where I talk about what you need to be doing before you even consider freelancing as a blogger, you can read that here. You really need to be doing all these things first, okay? And also, I’ll be referring to the first part as we go so it’s best to read that one before ploughing in to this one. Got it? Good.
Second caveat: What I am talking about here is my own experience and others’ experience may be different. A lot of this is just figuring out what works for you and your blog and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You will see as you read that I haven’t got it all figured out either.
So let’s talk about making money with your blog. There are a few ways you can make money so I thought I’d cover the four most common ways first. Now bear in mind, each of these can be a post in and of itself but I’m trying to keep this post as an overview so I’m just offering my thoughts on these. If you’ve been blogging for a while (again, see Part I), you are likely already familiar with these but if not, then I suggest doing a bit of research around any one of these before starting your freelance career.
This is essentially where a company pays you to talk about their products. If you have done all the things I spoke about in the first part, you are probably already being approached to do these. Companies have a way of ‘finding’ you and once you’ve built up a certain level of recognition, you can expect that you’ll be approached more and more. As I said in my first post, please don’t accept anything unless you really like it and feel you can get behind the brand. Does it fit YOUR brand? Do they do things ethically? If you weren’t being paid, would you be happy to recommend them regardless? Don’t accept things if in your heart, you know it’s not a good fit.
How much can I charge?
How much you can charge is entirely dependant upon your traffic OR your social media following OR your engagement (ie., lots of comments and shares on your posts) OR a combination of all three. Once you reach a certain level of traffic, you can command more.
As a REALLY rough guide, figure you’ll charge around £50-£90 per 10,000 visitors per month (so if you have 30,000 visitors per month you are probably looking around roughly £150 – £270 per post). Again, this is a rough estimate because if you only have 8,000 visitors a month but you have 50k followers on Instagram or 25k followers on Twitter, then that will boost how much you can charge. Conversely, if you have 20k visitors a month but don’t have a FB page or you barely use Twitter at all or have a really small social following, then you might not be able to command as much. Most companies expect you to promote your content across various social media platforms so if you can’t offer that as part of the ‘sponsored post’ package, you may not be able to charge as much.
You may be able to charge more than this or you might find you’ll have to charge less than this – it really does vary so much that I hesitate to give you values but I went crazy trying to find some benchmark when I started so I wanted to include it. The easiest way to find out how much you can charge is to go in with your highest price and be willing to negotiate to a lower value if you would still like to work with the company.
The other thing you might want to consider (and something that I do and I know other bloggers do) is charge a slightly lower rate for smaller independent companies. Why? Smaller companies tend to be easier to build relationships with and they don’t always have large budgets BUT you can find some really great unusual things with smaller independents that not many people may know about or have heard of before (giving you more authority as a ‘thought leader’) and it’s a nice way to support the little guy (which I personally like doing). I see this as a way to build a relationship with a smaller company that may be in time grow much larger and bear in mind, when they do grow and do have a larger budget, the likelihood is they’ll want to work with you again given your early support.
Should I work for free?
If a company asks you to work for free, please do not ruin it for yourself or other bloggers by accepting on the basis of ‘free promotion’ unless they are a huge organisation with an enormous amount of traffic and even then, be wary. If they do fall into that camp and you know it will lead to further offers of paid work and it’s about building a relationship with a brand that’s important to you, then I would say this is the only real exception to working for nothing. We work hard on our blogs (blood, sweat and tears, remember?) and we deserve to be paid. Don’t forget that. We are NOT free advertising for PRs.
Should I disclose?
It is not only unethical but against ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) regulation to not disclose if your post is sponsored. You can read more about what the rules are for bloggers on ASA’s website.
If you are outside the UK, please do your research to ensure you are disclosing properly as every country’s advertising standards are different. However, this doesn’t mean if it’s not against regulation that you don’t have to disclose regardless. Don’t be that blogger. It’s f*cking with the trust you’ve built up with your audience as I mentioned in Part I.
So this is a ‘proceed at your own risk’ sort of money maker. Personally, I don’t accept any guest posts from companies* on my blog. This is a personal decision because I think it waters down your content if it’s just written by someone at an SEO agency that no one has heard of or is not established as an authority in your niche.
Consider this analogy: You run a very successful restaurant and have many regulars that love the food you serve. Some random walks in and tells you he/she cooks all the time, is really good and would like to be your head chef for the night. Would you let them? No, of course not – it’s your restaurant and you don’t even know this person. How can you be sure they will treat your restaurant patrons with the same love and care you normally do? So emails from people offering me guest posts are usually refused.
*I’m talking about guest posts offered by agencies and randoms that normally pay you a nominal amount to write a blog post for you and add a link somewhere in the text (and again, once you’ve reached a certain level of recognition and authority in your niche, you’ll get these offers pretty frequently).
Guest posts from fellow bloggers, industry specialists, people you love and respect are absolutely fine and offer a great way to have a bit of a break from writing without interrupting your schedule. Nothing at all wrong with that in my eyes.
Okay so here’s where you can see I’m still working on this freelancing lark. I’ve never done affiliate linking! WHAT. I know, shocking. I’ve signed up for a few and then never followed through with it. It’s something I’ve considered doing and still might but it’s probably worth looking into. That’s a bit of shit advice, isn’t it? But I guess I’ll just say it’s another avenue to making money on your blog so do your research because there are so many out there (which is probably why I haven’t signed up to one yet – too much choice) but they are generally free to sign up for so do your research around which affiliate sites look most closely aligned with the sorts of products you talk about. Again, any time you use an affiliate link, it must be disclosed.
Rewardstyle, ShopStyle, Affiliate Window, Rakuten (formerly LinkShare) are all pretty popular and some larger companies like Amazon will have their own internal affiliate programme. Bear in mind, how much you make is usually down to how much traffic you get because it’s all a % game – the more traffic you have, the better you’ll do.
If at some point, I start using one and feel I can offer some advice, I’ll do another post on it. But in the meantime, here are some good advice articles: here and here. Also, if you do use affiliate marketing and can offer some advice, then please do so in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
*Update Jan 2018: I now extensively use Reward Style as well as Amazon Affiliates in my posts which provide a small income each month. I’d recommend starting with an affiliate network sooner rather than later, simply because the longer you use affiliate links in your posts, the more you’ll make in the long term. It takes time to build up as most don’t pay out until you reach specific thresholds but once you do, you can expect to make a regular passive income with them.
Another way to monetise your blog is to add banner and display advertising to various areas of your site. This essentially just entails choosing a banner style, deciding where you want it to appear, adding a snippet of code to your site and that’s pretty much it. Most ad networks offer either PPC (Pay Per Click) or CPM (Cost per Thousand) which means they will pay you a small % every time someone clicks on the ad or you will be paid a certain amount of money after reaching 1000 clicks, respectively. Most of these have an earnings threshold before they pay out.
Again, similar to affiliate linking, it’s all a numbers game. If you don’t have a huge amount of traffic, you may only make a small amount each month but if you have 100s of thousands of visits each month, it can be a great earner. Of course, you also don’t have to stick to just one ad network – try using a couple of different ones on your site and see which earns you the most money and which works best for your niche.
Of course, you don’t want to load up your site with adverts because it’s going to look a bit of a mess so balance here is key.
I’ve used Google Adsense in the past with pretty decent results and have recently signed up for The Blogger Network so once I’ve have that for a while (it’s really early days), I can let you know how I’m getting on.* I’ve also heard really good things about AdThrive so that might be worth checking out too if your traffic gets more than 100k visits a month.
*Update Dec 2015: The Blogger Network has worked fairly well for me in the last 6 months or so. It’s not a huge earner at this time as it’s a percentages game but you can’t knock making a little extra cash each month for essentially doing nothing (passive income at its best) especially if your blog receives some decent traffic.
*Update Jan 2018: I now exclusively use Mediavine for my display advertising and earn a nice amount each month using their services. I would highly recommend them as you decide your own earning potential with how many ads you want to have on your site and where they appear. It’s very customisable and their customer service is top notch. About 1/3 of my monthly income now comes from display ads.
What do I need to know about SEO?
This is the most baffling aspect to most people. But when it comes down to it, it’s really just about having really good content that’s regularly updated on a site that’s easy to use and ones that lots of people are linking to and sharing. How do you get people to link and share your content? It’s pretty hit and miss but for the most part, people share and link to what they like. So it’s just about catering to the content that your audience will want to read and that resonates with them. This is why being different and standing out in a sea of bloggers is really important. Because if you are just saying the same thing everyone else is, how will you stand out and be noticed? If you are following all my advice in Part I, then you are probably already most of the way there.
I don’t want to bog you down with SEO here but there are plenty of best practice guides out there. I use the Yoast plugin on WordPress which I like as it’s really helpful to make sure your blog posts are following the SEO best practice guidelines so if you are on WordPress, then download it. It’s really easy to use.
You’ll also want to promote your own blog posts across your social media platforms – otherwise, how is anyone going to see them? The more traffic you can drive to your posts, the more eyeballs on it, the greater the chance of it being shared by other sites, the more links you’ll get and the higher you’ll be in search results.
Working with Brands
There will be times you will see a company you want to work with. How do you approach them? I HIGHLY recommend creating a Media Kit. I’ve spoken in detail about creating a Media Kit in this post so please check that out.
Once you have a Media Kit, you will find it easier to approach brands. Normally this entails finding out who does their PR and getting a contact. This isn’t always straight forward but doing a bit of digging online might help or even just using a customer services email address to find out who their PR contact is will lead you to the information. I’ve also found that signing up with Gorkana will alert you to press releases and so you’ll normally know which PR company handles which account.
Once you have that email address, then approach them with your ideas for a post. Be pleasant and professional, let them know why you want to work with them (Everyone likes being flattered, right? It’s no different here) and tell them what they will get from the collaboration. Talk about your engaged audience, your growth, your social media following, BIG YOURSELF UP. There’s no shame in your game. But of course, don’t be arrogant. No one likes arrogance. Confidence? Yes. Arrogance? No. Don’t overdo it.
Building long-term relationships with brands is also something you will want to keep in mind. If you’ve worked with someone in the past, instead of a one-night-post sort of relationship, consider asking about their upcoming campaigns, their long-term objectives and come to them with ideas that will help them reach their goals that are mutually beneficial. Be creative with your ideas and offer solutions rather than just saying, ‘Do you want to work with me again?’. I find if I have an upcoming project, I will approach brands I’ve worked with in the past to work with me again. This builds trust and you will be at the forefront of their list whenever they have a campaign they would like to include bloggers to assist with.
If I do all this, will I make enough to support myself?
Here’s the important thing after all of that: Not necessarily. Well, that’s a bit of a bummer, right? Again, not necessarily.
The best advice I have is to have diversify your income and don’t rely fully on any one avenue to support you – at least not to start with.
If you are a blogger and you’ve reached a certain level of success within an industry or niche, it’s probably because you are pretty good at SOMETHING. Can you use those skills you’ve amassed to create an opportunity for yourself? I would say probably 80% of the bloggers that I know that are freelancers have a side business that supports them. It could be styling work, interior design work, photography, selling your artwork, offering your organisation skills, being lifestyle coach, creating an online retail business – I mean, the list is endless here.
For me, as you may already know, I was in content marketing and social media marketing before embarking on being a freelancer. Because I was an Editor for one retailer’s blog and have worked in marketing for more than 10 years, I’ve gained experience working with SEO, PRs and marketing departments from the inside. In my last job, I helped a retail company build their blog and their following alongside my own. So I now offer consultancy to companies who want to build their blogs and freelance write for a number of company blogs as well. I used my own skills and secular experience to help make that leap to freelancing.
You can build this freelancing work slowly alongside a full time job. I took on as much freelance side work as I could and built my blog in my spare time – yes, this meant many months of working evenings and weekends with very little time for anything else. It took me around a year until I was able to approach my employer about going part time to enable me to pursue more freelance work. It’s not always possible to do this, I realise but it’s worth asking and if you do, make sure you are able to offer solutions to your employer as to how you will be able to get the job done in less hours without it costing them more money! After 3 months of part time work, I had enough clients to finally put my notice in – at that point, I didn’t have any more spare time to take on any more freelance work and I felt confident I could at least cover my bills with the clients I had and be able to use the additional time to build up more work. Your experience may be different of course, but this is how I approached it.
Some of the downsides you should be prepared for:
It can get lonely working on your own.
I try to make sure I get out and meet ‘real people’ around once per week or so. I also engage with lots of people online including others in the blogging community and try to attend different blogger events when I’m able to. It’s nice to know you aren’t truly alone in this. I admit I’m a bit of an introvert so sometimes I have to force myself to get out but I never regret when I do.
You need to be self-motivated.
I create a daily schedule every Sunday for my week ahead as well as keep a calendar to keep track of things like deadlines for the month. I find I am best motivated when I have a pressing deadline. If there aren’t as many pressing deadlines, I can get a little lazy. I also find that I like planning my own blog calendar a few weeks in advance so that I always know what I’ll be writing about or what projects I need to complete and when. Obviously everyone is different but if you find you are not self-motivated, you may struggle with this aspect of not having to answer to anyone about your workload.
Nothing is guaranteed.
I have this low-level constant worry ALL THE TIME that I’ll lose a client or have a slow month and the truth is, you might not always know for sure how much money you are going to be bringing in month to month. Yes, it’s nerve-racking but for me, it’s worth the worry. If you can’t handle not having a steady pay cheque and if you don’t like the idea of having to chase clients for payment (yes, it happens more often than you’d think), you may want to reconsider if freelancing is really for you.
One way you can stave off this worry is by saving enough money before you make that jump to freelancing to cover from 1 to 3 months of bills (obviously the more savings you have, the better). Another thing I do is save enough the month prior to cover my bills in order to ‘pay’ myself on the 1st of each month. This means that I always have cash in my bank account and my outgoings (which normally go out around this time), are all covered. Anything I’m earning the same month gets put into a savings account to cover the following month’s bills. This just helps with cashflow which is not always easy to control when you freelance.
Some final thoughts…
I think it’s really important to create goals for yourself. Where do you want to be in a month’s time? In a year’s time? In 5 years’ time? Write them down and refer to them often. Ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to your goals for tomorrow.
And finally….You’ve got to do it for the love.
Blogging is hard work. This is not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme and everyone’s journey will be different. Will I ever be rich as a blogger? Probably not. But am I happy? Absolutely. I get to do something I love from the comfort of my own home and I genuinely love my job.
If you don’t love it, you will struggle to see the point on the days when your numbers slip (and they will from time to time) or if you don’t get as many click throughs on a post you put a lot of work into or you don’t get enough comments on something you felt was for sure going get the conversation started. But if you do it for love first and foremost, you will weather whatever lays ahead because you NEED to and because you’ll WANT to. So stay focused and remember why you started a blog in the first place.
Wow, this is a REALLY LONG post. Possibly the longest I’ve ever written and I could probably write more (!) so I’ll leave it there.
Let me know what you think of all this, share your own experiences and tell me, is this something you’re considering pursuing? If you’re a freelancer yourself, anything to add? I’d love to hear from you!