In response to last week’s post, The Money Myth of Fashion Blogging (and How to Monetize Your Blog), I’ve asked 4 bloggers to share their experiences with monetizing their sites, the successes they’ve faced, and the challenges they’ve encountered.
Each of the women I have talked with has had varying successes in monetization– Gala Darling has found great success in selling her podcasts, and has worked in selling branded merchandise, using affiliate links, and selling banner ads. Grechen, the powerhouse behind Grechen’s Closet (and several other sites), has built up her full-time blogging job focusing on being a shopping blog, using affiliate links, and selling banner space. The lovely Sally from Already Pretty has monetized her site using the ad network BlogHer and selling text links, all while cultivating individual relationships with those who approach her. Lastly, Kristina from Pretty Shiny Sparkly has found success selling banner ads and building brand relationships, all while being a full time med student!
These ladies each represent different niches, varying readership and methods of monetization. I hope though, that in these short few questions, that their answers will help demystify monetization and provide inspiration, ideas, and insight in to the process.
At what point in your blogging did you decide you wanted to monetize your site? At what point did you start actively pursuing it (if they vary)?
Gala: I decided to start monetising on day one. When I started my website, I had just quit my job at New Zealand Post, traveled across the USA & Europe, & moved to Australia. I had absolutely no money, & was living off a credit card with a very small amount of credit on it. I was inspired to start my blog because of Darren Rowse (Problogger) & Steve Pavlina (stevepavlina.com), who I saw making a very good living from theirs.
I think a lot of people think that blogging for money is bad or unethical somehow, & I disagree. I think there are so many ways to be an ethical blogger, to contribute to the world & to earn a fair living from it.
Grechen: I was several months in before I realized I might be able to make a little money from my first website (Grechen's Closet). I started it purely as a means to share my favorite online finds, outfit pictures, and a designer directory I had created – not as a way to make money. I was bored with my current career and my new site was a welcome diversion. I started getting some attention from the online boutiques I featured (for free) and realized that I was creating something of value to online boutiques & designers – not only to my readers. I honestly didn't think much about selling advertising until a boutique asked me about it – but I ran with it!! It was 2 years before I was able to make my website my full-time job, during which time I started working with affiliate sites as well as advertisers.
Sally: To be honest, I decided to monetize my blog once advertisers began asking me for my rates. It never occurred to me to pursue ads or other revenue streams on my own, but once the opportunities cropped up, I felt like I could embrace them. Well, the non-sketchy ones, anyway.
I don't actively pursue monetizing my site. I have probably proposed ads to a dozen vendors – all of whom knew me from previous blog/editorial collaborations – and NONE of them were interested. I would love to be more proactive about revenue, but it just never works for me. Weird.
Kristina: As a previous photoblogger back when blogs weren't cool (circa 2003), I already knew that monetizing blogs was possible, but I knew it was difficult. So I actually am one of the rare people who knew from the start I wanted to monetize my blog if people/sponsors were interested. But I didn't start actively pursuing it until I had the traffic and numbers that I knew were at least a bare minimum to be of use to potential sponsors. Namely, I waited until I had at least 15,000 page views per month and ~400 RSS subscribers.
What approaches do you take to monetizing your site? What have you found to be most successful and most surprising?
Gala: My site has moved beyond being something which makes money & now I make money because I have the site — if that makes sense. For example, speaking gigs pay very well, & I am able to line those up because I have a big web presence. But really, the key is to diversify, & I think that's always the way for a self-employed person.
At the beginning, I made the bulk of my money from advertising, but when the economy crashed & burned a couple of years ago, suddenly no one had any money to spend on blogs. It put me in a really bad position & I remember being in Austin, Texas, freaking out because I was about to fly back to NYC & move into my new sublet — but I didn't have the money I needed to secure it.
The most surprising successful venture I've embarked upon is my podcast. I've been writing a book, & the way it works is that I write a chapter (10,000 words) every month, compile it as a PDF & then record an MP3 of myself reading it. I sell the chapters individually & I also sell subscriptions for people who want all of it. It's the most profitable thing I've ever done. I was anxious about releasing it because I wasn't sure if anyone would want to pay for content, so it's been amazing to see the enthusiasm for it!
I've tried lots of things which didn't work. I sold t-shirts for a while, but ultimately, I don't wear t-shirts, so I couldn't really get excited about it! You have to be passionate & truly back the products you put out into the world, or it's going to flop.
These days my income comes from a combination of places. My podcast, advertising, speaking gigs, & contracting to companies on various projects. It's quite a hodge-podge, & it was nerve-wracking at first because I was used to a regular pay cheque. I prefer this way though — there is truly no cap on how much I earn. It's all up to the amount of imagination & effort I'm willing to put in.
Grechen: Right now, I make money by selling ads and via commissions I receive through affiliates. When I started out, I made more selling ads than via affiliate commissions, but now, it's tipped a little more in favor of affiliate commissions. I never did very well with Google AdSense; now I don't use it (or recommend it) at all, although I do make a little via the Google site search tool. I don't use it to make money though, I use it because I think it's a comprehensive search tool for my sites. I've also tried Chitika, but I didn't find the results to be relevant for my readers and quit very soon after starting.
Sally: As I mentioned above, my monetization is almost entirely passive. The exception would be my relationship with BlogHer, which has been steady and generally beneficial.
The most surprising approach has been selling text links. Their main drawback is how they affect your Google Pagerank, but since that system isn't terribly significant compared to other measures of blog success, I don't sweat it too much. Text link ads are unobtrusive, easy to sell, renew regularly, and benefit both parties.
My attempts to deploy Google AdWords have all failed miserably. Since my blog is about the intersection of style and BODY IMAGE, AdWords was constantly throwing diet pills, girdles, Botox, and loads of other inappropriate ads onto my site. And since their system only allows you to filter out a certain number of notoriously offensive ad categories, I could never customize it to my liking. My BlogHer ad is restrictive in some ways, but at least I have near-total control.
Kristina: The most successful and surprising approaches to monetizing have been via giveaways. Asking potential sponsors to do a giveaway and then realizing that I had over 300+ entries was a wake-up call for me about what I could be doing (i.e. requiring sponsorship before allowing giveaways) as well as provided the sponsoring shop a great teaser of what kind of buzz could be generated with RSS. As for what failed miserably – everything else that didn't result in sponsorship! In the beginning, I had sent professional, personalized requests for sponsorship that sometimes didn't even garner replies. One time I copied/pasted what I had written to one potential sponsor, and had forgotten to replace it with the current business's name later on in the email! Needless to say I didn't get a response. 🙂
Do you approach companies to work with you/sponsor your site, or do they approach you? (Or is it a healthy combination of both?)
Gala: I've never really approached any companies to work with them, which is kind of weird! Often someone from a company will email me & say, “We should work together!” & we'll bat ideas back & forth. That's historically been the way it goes, which suits me because I'm either a) too lazy or b) too busy to chase companies down for this kind of thing. I recently hired two amazing managers who seek out opportunities for me & it has improved my life so much!
Grechen: When I was only a few months into writing, a boutique that I had featured contacted me about advertising opportunities. That's when I realized I might be able to make some money from this…after that, it was a healthy mix of companies coming to me and my reaching out to them. I used to send out hundreds of e-mails a week introducing Grechen's Closet and linking to my media kit; I'd receive a little interest in return. Now, it's companies coming to me – I don't have time to reach out like I'd like to, although I do think it's important – if not only for advertising opportunities, just to introduce yourself to the people you'd like to work with.
Kristina: In the beginning, I approached companies. Now, I can kind of sit back and filter requests. Sometimes I really fall in love with a brand that I think deserves some exposure, or that I'm really passionate about, and I will approach them – usually then is when the magic happens, when we both realize we can do great things for one another.
What's your #1 piece of advice for bloggers wanting to monetize their site?
Gala: Make sure you feel good about the way you choose to monetise. We all have different comfort levels — what feels good to you may not feel good to me — so just maintain your integrity & listen to your instincts. Okay, I know you only asked for one thing, but another important one is to put a premium on customer service, whatever that means: dealing with your advertisers, giving them stats, or responding to people who buy your stuff. You have to keep your customers happy!
Grechen: Don't even think about it until you have established a community around your blog (via blog comments and social media tools) and are networking with other bloggers in your niche. Then once you're sure you're in this for a while, GO SLOWLY and deliberately. Work ONLY with boutiques/advertisers you would personally buy from and never ever EVER compromise your readers for the sake of money.
Sally: Advertising on blogs is market-driven. I would never advise anyone to post their ad rates or traffic stats, or to calculate ad rates based on some generic algorithm. Decide what placing an ad on your site is worth to you, throw a number out there, and see what happens. You'll be able to cut great deals for up-and-coming indie vendors, and get better returns from larger, more established companies if you operate on a sliding scale. Using this system means that both you AND your potential advertiser get to weigh the monetary worth of creating a relationship. If either of you feels it's a bad fit, no deal. Everyone walks away feeling secure in having made a sound decision.
Kristina: Have a professional, clean layout, and great content. Make sure you build your traffic to a respectable number first. Never fudge your numbers. NEVER low-ball yourself – by doing so you are low-balling all of your fellow bloggers, and we really would prefer that you not. 😉
Image via karrah.kobus