Larry Ludwig may well be the poster child for why people recommend blogging as a side hustle. He started a site called InvestorJunkie in 2009. Nine years later, somebody paid him $6 million for it.
But if you think blogging is a way to get rich quick, think again. Most bloggers — including Ludwig — say you’ll toil long hours, possibly for years, before you make your first dime. But, if you’re a decent writer, have a smattering of technical skills and have something to say that you think other people can relate to or benefit from, it can be a long-term ticket to wealth. It’s also a job that you can take anywhere, do at any time, and take breaks from, without a significant impact to your income.
“It’s a location and time independent business,” says Ludwig, who now runs LarryLudwig.com. “But it’s not passive income.”
Indeed, says Teresa Mears, founder of LivingOnTheCheap.com, making money as a blogger is a long-game.
“It can take years, not weeks,” she says. “And even then, you might only make pennies.”
Blogging as a side hustle
Successful bloggers say you can make blogging a viable side hustle, if you stick with it. But you’ve got to start with a strategy that answers three key questions: Who are your readers? What do they need? And why do they need you?
Answering those questions is the key to building a community that will support your blog, experts note.
But because you ultimately want to make money too, also consider why you need to blog. Do you have a topic that you feel so passionately about that you feel compelled to share it? Do you have a product or service that you want to market or sell? Do you need to establish yourself as an expert in some field? The answers will help you determine how to monetize your blog.
There are five ways to make money with a blog.
- Sell advertising.
- Earn affiliate revenue.
- Sell subscriptions.
- Market products.
- Use the blog to advertise your services.
Successful bloggers generally use a combination of these to earn a profit. But the right combination will depend on your content and why you’re blogging.
Coupling money and your mission
Let’s say, for example, that you’re a young dentist, who wants to build up her practice. Blogging can help you establish a reputation as an expert, communicate with potential clients, and, potentially, earn commissions on the sale of dental products that you recommend. This blogger could profit by both pulling in new clients for her practice and by earning affiliate revenue. (Affiliates typically pay a referral fee when your readers buy products you recommended. )
What if you’re a financial expert, who wrote a book? You can sell the book on your blog, and, perhaps, market your financial coaching services, too. If you get enough web traffic, you can also offer advertising on the site.
If you’re a skilled writer and researcher — or have an engaged following already — you may be able to charge readers to get access to your content, in addition to offering advertising and affiliate links. Most news organizations, for instance, now have pay walls. These stop people from reading more than a handful of stories for free. If you want to read more than a set number of stories in a month, you need to subscribe.
How much should you expect to earn? Deacon Hayes, who founded Well Kept Wallet, says you might only make $1,000 or so per month in the first one-to-three years. However, as you build a following and organic traffic, income can rise rapidly from there.
Well Kept Wallet now produces revenue in the “mid six-figures” mainly from affiliates and traditional advertising revenue, he says.
Traditional advertising usually pays by page views and clicks. So, if you sign up with an advertising network such as Google Adsense or Media Vine, you might earn $25 – $50 for every 1,000 people who look at your site, for instance.
Affiliate revenue is harder to estimate. Affiliates typically pay when your readers take some action, such as buying one of their products. So, some writers earn a fortune this way, while others earn pennies. The same holds true for selling subscriptions or offering products through your blog.
Tips for success?
Make it fun
Because earning money as a blogger can take years, Hayes says the most important tip is to pursue a topic that you like and want to write about.
“Find something that you’re genuinely interested in,” he says. “Genuine interest will help you weather the lack of income while you’re figuring it all out.”
The bulk of website traffic is directed there through Google. So, it’s important to learn why Google sends traffic to one blog and not another. Whole books have written on SEO, so it’s too complex to go into in depth here. But there are a few keys:
- Appropriate expertise: Google favors people who are genuine experts in the field that they’re writing about. Be sure to list your credentials in your “About Us” bio.
- Play it straight. Stick to the point when you’re writing, clearly stating what your article is about at the top and throughout. When people are searching for information on how to make apple pie, they’re probably looking for a recipe, not a story about growing up on a farm.
- Popularity pays. If your content is good enough to have other sites link to it, Google’s search engine is more likely to send you visitors too.
- …so does persistence. The longer your site is live and being regularly updated, the more credibility it wins with Google.
Don’t give up
Even though you can start a blog in a day (see our story on How to Build a Website), making it a success will take time and a lot of work. Try not to get discouraged and keep plugging away at it.
“There were plenty of times when I felt like quitting when my blog was only making a few hundred dollars a month,” says Forrest McCall, owner of DontWorkAnotherDay. “But I ended up sticking with it and it’s become extremely profitable.”
“The moment you think you have it all figured out, it changes,” says Mears. “There’s always something new to add. Something new to do. You have to keep learning.”