Over the last 5 years of blogging, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons, many of them the hard way.
A lot of those lessons were about turning a blog from, “just a blog” into a business that supports my family.
I don’t know about you, but when I started blogging I read a lot of success stories about people making 6 figures, or having a million dollar product launch and although it was great to know that was possible, it didn’t give me a lot of practical tips to start from very low traffic numbers.
Sure, a 6 figure launch would be just dandy but when I started out, I just wanted to cover the car payment each month, or maybe the mortgage if I was dreaming extra big that day.
If you’re at the tipping point of blogging career and thinking maybe you’d like to start earning a side income but don’t know where to begin, I wanted to share my top 3 monetization strategies for new bloggers (and what I would start with if I had to start all over again too.)
Direct Ad Sales
Definition: Selling ad space on your blog or in your newsletter directly to a business or blogger instead of using an ad network like Google Adsense or Glam.
The reason I love direct ad sales for new bloggers is because usually you won’t have the pageview numbers to qualify for bigger and higher paying ad networks and your lower paying options, like Google Adsense pays pennies a month.
With smaller pageviews you won’t be charging 100’s of dollars but if you only start out making $5 a month, that’s enough to cover your hosting and build that initial confidence that you CAN make money.
How to Take Action:
- Decide on sizes and prices (125px squares are great to start but you can check out the full range of standard web advertising sizes on the IAB website.)
- Create a page or pdf to describe the process to buy an ad. Make the whole process really easy to follow and don’t assume people know what to do!
- Ask blogging friends or businesses if they’d like some free ad space for a month or 2. Just make it really clear that this is time limited and the ads will come down on a particular day, unless of course they’d like to start paying for advertising ;) Having real ads up helps people see that you are selling space and that people are using it. Some people like having a space or 2 still open so that potential customers see that there’s still room to buy. (These buttons can link to your advertising page!)
- Start pounding the pavement and approach businesses or other bloggers who fit the target audience for your blog and see if they’d like to advertise. Small or local businesses are a great place to start.
Managing the ads can be done easily with a plugin (I used this free WordPress plugin to manage ads for a long time) or a third party program like Passionfruit ads (they take a percentage of sales so you’ll want to be earning a bit more before giving some away.)
Definition: Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards an affiliate (that would be you) for each customer brought by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts. Basically, you sign up to be an “affiliate” or sales person for a product and when someone makes a purchase with your unique link, you receive a commission for referring the sale.
I get that affiliate marketing is a dirty word because so many people have tried to game the system but if you use affiliate marketing in a helpful and responsible way, it can be a great revenue source.
Just like with any income stream on your blog, you’ll need to first examine your blog’s audience and what they need, what problems they have and what’s important to them. Their needs should guide the type of products and services you choose to align yourself with.
You wouldn’t want to try and sell affiliate products that don’t make sense for your audience because that will degrade the trust you’ve built and making money with your blog now and into the future relies heavily on your audience’s trust in you.
That being said, you should also be very straight forward about your affiliate links and commissions, not just to abide by the FTC guidelines but more importantly, because your audience deserves transparency.
In my experience, and you may have seen this too, affiliate marketing doesn’t work well when you throw up an ad in a sidebar. Especially if your audience is a lot of bloggers, you’re likely not going to see a lot of revenue from this type of advertising. And really, you haven’t put a lot of effort into that anyway, right? Making money is nearly always more difficult than that.
Try switching your affiliate marketing and come at it from a place of service for your audience. Create an experience, tutorial or event around an affiliate product and use that as a selling point.
For example, I’m an affiliate for BlueHost. Instead of saying, “Hey, use my affiliate link to sign up,” I created a video tutorial using BlueHost to set up a self-hosted WordPress blog. People can use that tutorial, whether they use my affiliate link or not and set up their own self hosted site in about 5 minutes. I’ve also included WordPress.com and Blogger specific instructions for post and image transfer.
Putting that whole tutorial together took a good couple hours but it provides value and assistance around a very common problem my audience faces. That content can help 24 hours a day, while the affiliate income I receive from BlueHost each month pays for all my hosting and software subscriptions (which there are many!) Essentially, this one income stream helps my business and blog be fairly cost neutral, which is amazing for any small business.
How to Take Action: What tutorials or events could you create for your target audience that provide immense value to them and integrate well with an affiliate product? Do some research and put your plan into action!
Not everyone is going to buy (in fact, the percentage is usually fairly small) but that’s totally ok. When you are putting something helpful into the world, good will come back to you!
Definition: the action of helping or doing work for someone online.
So often the urge is to jump straight into info products (creating ebooks and courses) because they are scaleable. Make ‘em once and sell them over and over again. It’s cool, not gonna lie, digital products are great BUT if you haven’t gotten up close and personal with your target audience, your future customer, then you’re missing a huge opportunity to understand them on a deeper level.
Getting to know the story of your audience, what their lives really look like, helps you to create the best possible product to solve their particular issue. You can use their language, their mental soundtracks to help them understand that you really get them, because after providing a one-on-one service to people for awhile, you truly will know them!
Personally, without designing blogs for years and working with my coaching clients I won’t have had the insight needed to create Blog School. The technical stuff, that’s the easy part, it’s knowing what mental blocks people have, what content to focus on, what to leave out, all that comes with an intimate knowledge of the audience.
How to Take Action: If you already provide offline services like personal training, meal planning, consulting, etc. you can transition those services into the digital realm or you may be ready to create your first product, book or course already.
If service work is new for you and you have no idea what you could do that fits with your blog, start connecting with your audience one-on-one to get to know them better. Is there a regular commenter or social media contact that you could set up a Skype call with?
Knowing your audience better will always help you, whether that’s creating products and services or just writing your post. You’ll be amazed at the knowledge and insights you’ll gain plus you’ll likely make a few great friends along the way.
Have you tried any other monetization strategies that worked well on your blog? Are there some you would avoid?