Behind the Scenes: How a Fashion Blogger Makes Money

incomestream

I always appreciate getting a “behind the scenes” look at income breakdowns and the nuts & bolts of making a living as a blogger, so I thought I'd get on the other side of it today and give you a peek inside my income stream over the last 5 years. I was inspired by the ProBlogger's recent income stream post, and although I don't have 12 streams like he does, I think it's interesting to look at how the income streams I do have have changed over the years.

To keep it easy, I just measured from January 1 to May 15th of each year:

2013:

2013incomechart

This year is the first year I've had any freelancing income. And I also just added Google Adsense back into my sites late last year, so that is a relatively new income stream. I used Adsense in the very beginning back in 2004-2005, and it was good income for me, but never “great,” and back then it wasn't as easy to control or manage, and they were mostly text ads. As soon as I started getting a lot of weight loss ads show up I took all the ads down and didn't put them back on my site until last year. Google Adsense is always most profitable on sites that get a LOT of traffic, and you've heard stories about bloggers making many thousands of dollars from Adsense, but the reality is that for most bloggers, it's more like hundreds of dollars.

In 2012, direct ad sales made up 34.9% of my income and affiliate commissions made up 65.1%.
In 2011, ad sales made up 47.9% and affiliate commission made up 52.1%.

It kind of goes like this back until 2008 and years prior when the majority of my income came from direct ad sales instead of affiliate commission:

2008chart

I only have numbers beginning in 2008 when I started using Quickbooks to do my accounting (which I recommend highly), before that, I don't even want to remember what I was doing!! But I think it's very interesting to note the shift occurring between more of my income coming from direct ad sales vs. affiliate commission.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • In 2008, affiliate programs weren't new by any means, but they were still relatively under-developed, and definitely not as focused on attracting fashion bloggers. Now, with Reward Style and Skimlinks, it's so much easier to use affiliate links and create content around them, that I simply use them more often.
  • More and more smaller boutiques are taking part in affiliate programs now than were doing so in 2008; they're so much easier to maintain now, and it's a great way for a boutique or designer to make sure they are getting a satisfactory return. Several boutiques I worked with as advertisers prior to 2008 switched to an affiliate relationship with me, which led to the shift from ad income to affiliate income.
  • Direct ad sales is a lot of work. In the beginning, I spent a great deal of time seeking out and communicating with potential advertisers. It proved productive for me, but in recent years, I haven't devoted as much time to that as I would need to to keep ad sales up. I also cut the number of ads I show on my sites to only 2-3 because I wanted to work very closely with my advertisers and give them more space to speak to my readers. Honestly, I appreciate that quite a bit of my affiliate income is passive, which makes it easier for me to focus on other projects.

While I don't have 12 income streams like ProBlogger, I have 4 and I'd like to see that number increase, especially after really seeing how much my overall income has gone down slightly the last several years. A lot of things have changed in the world of blogging generally and for me specifically that have contributed to that:

  • The sheer number of fashion blogs out there now as compared to 2008 or before is staggering. I simply have much more competition now. Not that I'm complaining, but it definitely has an impact on my ability to make as much money as I used to.
  • I had to remove a large, very lucrative component of one of my sites several years ago, which I've never really been able to recover from. That was a BIG mistake and I regret it everyday, but I am trying to pick up and move on.
  • I am spending much more time creating content than I am reaching out to potential advertisers. I enjoy that more, but it has definitely contributed to a drop in income.

Overall, I'd like to do more consulting and freelancing to diversify my income quite a bit. I do feel like I've already let myself sort of fall behind on that, just trying to keep up with blogging, but my goal for this year is to add at least “consulting” to my income stream. In six months I'll do a follow-up on this post so you can see how it goes!

What are your top income streams for your blog? Do you see a large % difference in ad sales & affiliate commissions?

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29 Responses

  1. Luz

    Thank you Grechen!
    It’s amazing how IFB contributors seem to post the answers to my questions week by week!
    It is very kind of you sharing your experience as a professional blogger, I find it very helpful to have a realistic idea of how a good blog can make money.

    I’m working hard to jump star with my freelancing endeavors, and use my modest blog as a marketing tool, so I’m really looking forward to read your follow-up post too!
    Thank you for sharing!
    Enjoy your weekend! 😉

    Reply
  2. Laura

    Gretchen can you tell us what the very large and lucrative component of your blog was that you had to remove? I am curious.

    Reply
    • Grechen Reiter

      yes, it was a designer directory that i created by hand (html) in 2004 and added to for years. it was something completely unique and over the years built up great traffic because it was ranked so highly in google for designer searches. i couldn’t keep it up as it was (tons of maintenance), so i moved it to a hosted directory system, which was okay, but i did lose some of my search engine rankings. then, i had to delete it completely, which took away nearly half my traffic. i’ve built a new directory, but it’s definitely not the same…

      Reply
  3. Ashe

    I always love seeing posts like these, because I think they given bloggers an honest look at how money is made and how to get creative. Blogging, and making money blogging, is much more competitive now. I think 75% or more of what I make comes from freelancing, with the other 25% making up affiliate sales, ad network, and miscellaneous ads (sponsored posts, etc).

    Reply
  4. Kimberly

    ” Google Adsense is always most profitable on sites that get a LOT of traffic”

    In my experience it’s good on sites that have highly interactive readers. I’ve owned plenty of pro blogs, some with thousands of views per DAY that earned $20/monthly on adsense, and some with a few hundred viewers that made well over $100 per month. How adsense works for you really depends on the subject of your site and the type of readers you get.

    I’m also surprised at how well affiliate links do for fashion bloggers — in my experience those have always been the poorest performing ads across the board.

    Reply
  5. lucy

    Thank you Grechen – what a interesting and honest behind the scenes blog post. I work in affiliate marketing and although we, the people behind the scenes, know this trends in revenue sources and can see the huge benefits that passive revenue via affiliate marketing can do to help bloggers. The ease of a lot of our tools are not well known about and bloggers are missing out. Incase its useful to any of your readers who also blog and are interested to know more about the potentials beyond your insights we ( full disclosure I work at a company called VigLink) made a really simple but good guide to helping bloggers earn more. Just google the phrase “bloggers guide to earning more” to find it.

    A few of my friends are in very similar situations at the moment trying to balance the blog:other work ratio – I will share this article with them. I think they will appreciate hearing it is not just them.

    Reply
  6. The Science of Happy

    I really appreciate all the posts and breakdowns of monetising blogs but anyone else still lost? I feel no-one has broken down the steps to monetise, right from the basics, for people who don’t know all the functions and terms. Maybe they do it purposely so there’s less competition but I still feel lost.

    http://thescienceofhappy.blogspot.co.uk/

    Reply
    • Ashe

      There are probably HUNDREDS of posts on the topic of monetization, for all experience levels– I know I’ve written many intro posts myself over the years (here is an old, but still relevant one: http://heartifb.com/2010/10/05/the-money-myth-of-fashion-blogging-and-how-to-monetize-your-blog/). I hope that helps! Try the category tags and the search options as well, because I know there are tons of posts to get you started.

      It can take some time to wade through and absorb all of the content there is, but it’s worth it! I promise that no one at IFB is trying to withhold information to decrease competition– there’s enough room for all of us to find success 🙂

      Reply
    • lucy

      I agree there are quite a few blogs out there that try to explain monetization. Some are a bit dense in info and some are quite light but informative. I am of course bias but the guide we made ( and I mentioned above http://ow.ly/ldfAH ) is a great starting point and gives you some simple but clear and helpful advise to get you started in the world of monetization and let you grow! It is all not as confusing as it first appears! (oh and great work on your blog – I was introduced to you blog a while back by the team at ‘a very good company’ in London who love it!)

      Reply
  7. Hope Howland

    Wow.. this is great information! Thanks for sharing so much…
    Hope
    hchdesigns.blogspot.com

    Reply
  8. Cindy

    Thanks for this information, lucky for those people who are born with fashion sense. I was hoping I acquire some too.

    Reply
  9. Nadya Helena

    Thank you for being open about this! It’s definitely a dream to be able to make a full living from blogging. It’s a little tough in my case since I’m not a personal style blogger and therefore I would have to rely on other things beside affiliate links (I can do reviews but they have lower impact than actually wearing them yourself in my knowledge). Do you have any idea what kind of income source would be most beneficial for a blog with mostly thought provoking fashion- related posts and illustrations?

    Once again thank you for letting us know!

    Nadya
    eyeshadow illustrator
    http://thedillychic.com

    Reply
  10. Tsvetelina

    I’m so glad that joined. The information I find here is priceless. Amazing community with people supporting each other.

    Thank you for the great post!

    Tsvetelina

    Reply
  11. Wilma Bullo

    This is very informative. And you gave me knowledge what to do, like giving priority to your partner stores that your other income streams. I will be monitizing my blog soon, maybe I got enough post to make my blog established. Really a great help reading this. Thanks so much.

    Wilma
    ohsopetite.com

    Reply
  12. Tyrone

    First of all, fantastic article, kudos.

    Secondly, I’d just re-iterate what others have said – it takes a LONG time, years even, before most people start to see any kind of decent revenue streams from their blogs.

    But, what I do, and many others out there is to work as a freelancer on the side while we wait for our blog to hit the big time and garner enough traffic to make it our full-time occupation (oh, the dream!).

    There’s plenty of good options out there for freelancing – much of which only require writing skills – which almost all bloggers have, so it’s a great option. There’s a good list of ideas at http://www.coconutdaily.com/content/how-make-extra-money-online-free.

    Thanks again for the great post.

    Reply
  13. Fashion U Feel

    Hi Grechen.. first of all i am so happy to know that bloggers do make money 🙂 cos I had absolutely no clue where will my blog lead me to. I haven’t made much out of it yet except for writing a few articles for some which was like peanuts.. I just wanted to know what does Affiliate commission mean & how does one get Ads on the blog if you do not want them through google.. Is there a method to go about it.. would really appreciate your help on this.. Thanks

    Reply
  14. Anayas Review

    Hello Gretchen and thanks for this wonderful and helpful article. I have applied more than 2 months ago to Google Adsense and it keeps saying that the application is pending approval. I have no way to apply again. Any idea why and how I can solve this issue?

    Merci beaucoup

    Reply
  15. alexia

    I’m starting to making money from my fashion blog just recently. Sponsored posts is what I choose to do and I find it very easy and just what my readers want/need. Of course, I ask the brands to lend me some products for me to wear in order to do the (let’s say) outfit post – I hate photos taken from an online store etc. I need to make this personal!

    Reply
  16. Olamosh

    Thanks for this wrtite-up. I blog @ http://ictcatalogue.com but my major income is fron rendering IT Related services like Web Development, Blog Development, Internet Marketing, SEO & Web 2.0 Consultancy. I do mnoetize my blog with Adsense, Media Yahoo Ad and infolinks.

    Reply
  17. Kateryna Orlova

    Thank you Grechen! It was very useful information for me. I don`t have any income from my blog now and I don`t wanna use ads from google until my traffic will be good. I like this idea to make a place where I can share my thoughts and passion with other people. So blogging is my hobby now.

    Reply
  18. Ashley Barile

    Thanks for the blog post! I just recently started my blog, so I don’t make any money yet. I don’t have a lot of traffic, so I’ve been focusing on building that up. What would you say is the best way to monetize your blog for someone just starting out with little traffic?

    Reply
  19. Jes

    Great post! Thank you for breaking down the different revenue options that are available. I think it’s so impressive how many of the fashion bloggers have been able to generate such great revenue around their personal style.

    I don’t know if you’ve read the Harvard Business School study that was done on The Blonde Salad’s Chiara Ferragni, but I recently had the pleasure of doing a review of the study and wrote an article on it. It’s pretty incredible what she was able to accomplish: http://www.iamj.es/2015/07/million-dollar-blogger/

    Reply
  20. Are You A Fashionista? Here Are 10+ Ways You Can Make Money

    […] Implement Google AdSense into your site. AdSense is especially great if you don’t have a blog where you list affiliate links for readers to purchase items you’ve worn — it’s hands free and it affords most bloggers the opportunity to make a few hundred bucks every few months (again, depending on your traffic). […]

    Reply