4 Lessons from Million Dollar Blogs

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There are only a few blogs in any industry that reach the 7 or 8-figure revenue mark. While that might seem like a pie in the sky dream for the blogger working a day job while simultaneously writing, balancing the color in photos, sending PR requests and working social media (whew!), there are a few lessons to learn from million dollar blogs.

It Takes a Village

There are a lot of sites in the million dollar blog club started by one person, but there are none that are run entirely by one person. Whether it's a boyfriend taking pictures, an assistant handling email, or a full fledged editorial team of writers and photographers, the vast majority of blogs making significant amounts of money are a team effort.

Bloggers wear a lot of (stylish) hats, but if you want to push your earning power to the next level, consider handing a few of those hats over to other people. If photography is where you really shine, try finding another blogger who's really great at social media. You taking over their photographing + lighting + retouching + cropping in exchange for them taking over your tweeting + pinning + instagramming + tumblring +++ is a way to focus on the things you're best at. A million dollar check doesn't show up on your doorstep after that, but it does free you up to focus on traffic or revenue and other things that will probably lead to a larger audience and a larger amount of income.

The first step to realistically making a living (even if not a million dollars) from your blog is not to go it alone. Not quite at the point where you can reliably pay salaries? The next time you introduce yourself to other bloggers asking them to check out your blog, include your skills and let them know that you're open to an exchange in other areas.

Embrace Change

When it comes to fashion blogs, Refinery29 is the one to beat as far as revenue. After previous lives as a New York City shopping focused site, then local fashion and lifestyle blog for 5 other cities, Refinery29 is now heading in the content + commerce direction. On track to make $24 million this year (that would make the site worth $60 to $100 million, based on purchase prices for blogs like the Huffington Post and TechCrunch), the site isn't afraid to try new things to grow their audience.

It's not always easy to acknowledge, but there comes a point where any site's core audience levels off. Instead of trying to squeeze water from stones, look at general media trends and see where you might be able to add readers. In my most recent ranking of fashion blogs Advanced Style, the street style blog focused exclusively on 60+ ladies (and the occasional gentleman), grew by leaps and bounds. A while ago lots of people fell in love with What Ali Wore, a blog photographed by a young woman, starring the dapper 80-something gentleman she saw on her way to work. If your personal style posts have hit their peak, why not include photos of your grandparents' style? There's no definitive style gene, but if you see that people are showing interest in other types of personal style, change things up and grab some of that attention for your blog.

Get People Offline

TechCrunch, Mashable, GigaOm and VentureBeat are all tech blogs, but worth noting they're all also worth at least a few million dollars. The secret? While they undoubtedly pull in a healthy amount of ad revenue, they all host events that are responsible for a significant amount of their revenue. Just yesterday, there was a post about using events to build your blog. It's also one of the best ways to build revenue.

What do you do when you want to organize an event, but aren't sure if anyone will show up? Team up. TechCrunch partners with GigaOm and VentureBeat on the Crunchies, an awards show for tech companies. They could probably fill the auditorium on their own, but pairing up with other blogs gives it a better chance of success.

This goes back to the first lesson of not always going it alone. Events are potentially lucrative, but a bear of a task to organize. From finding a venue sponsor, to managing ticket sales and event sponsor requests. If even the biggest blogs, that count on events as a good chunk of their revenue are building teams to organize them, you should probably follow their lead.

Still, the fact that it is more of a challenge means you have fewer people doing it and it's still a relatively untapped opportunity. It may seem like everyone and their grandmother has a fashion blog, but how many people have fashion events?

Make Friends with Traditional Media

The Sartorialist was an early contributor to Style.com and GQ (Conde Nast properties). Garance Dore is now doing a page in Vogue Paris every month. Susie Bubble still contributes show reviews to Dazed & Confused. Ari Seth Cohen's Advanced Style got a significant social media boost after releasing a book of the same name.

On the non-fashion side, Mashable regularly shares content with CNN, posts from Business Insider appear in different regional publications and websites.

When it comes to building an audience online, bloggers are pretty darn good at it. For many of the most successful blogs, those audiences were ironically helped along by the same large media companies that like to write about blogs vs. journalists.

Many people begin to blog because they don't find the type of coverage they're interested in in traditional publications, so this may sound counter-intuitive. It's not. Most traditional publications don't have the budgets to put a journalist on every worthwhile story, which is why you don't see the type of deep coverage that blogs often do better. What they do have are readers who you probably reach on your own.

Local media is often one of the best places to start, and more likely to lead to a story or content partnership than national magazines. Vogue doesn't have any shortage of people looking to contribute to their website or magazine, but the niche magazine that you only see at a few bookstores or newsstands will probably be more receptive. NBC probably isn't going to return your email unless your name is Nicole Richie, but your local affiliate might be open to including your coverage of the local fashion scene on their site.

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31 Responses

  1. Hey Mishka

    I interned and worked at R29 for a few years and I just want to add that their team has always been extremely open, candid and collaborative. Everyone from the creative director, EiC and interns were involved in meetings, so everyone was on the same page and aware of the objectives. Those objectives were always razor sharp and focused, with goals written down on white boards for all to see, and an emphasis was put on going above and beyond, being better than expected, more stylish and exciting than their last endeavor, etc. Everyone I met while working there inspired the hell out of me! They encouraged us to let go of any and all personal excuses for not being the absolute best. I get chills just remembering some of those pep talks! ;} I will always love that company and their growth just blows my mind.

    xx

    Mishka
    http://heymishka.com

    Reply
    • YM Ousley

      Thanks for adding your perspective. I only know the company from observation (okay, maybe a little professional stalking), but it’s definitely admirable how they’ve managed to adapt and grow their audience without feeling like they were throwing anything out.

      Reply
  2. Victoria Antoine

    This is the great article. That shows hope for my blog, Since I am a Public Relations and Fashion/Entertainment Blogger I can work both ways. I love it.

    Mademoise Antoine

    msvictoriaantoine.wordpress.com

    Reply
    • YM Ousley

      Hi Nasreen,
      Not just the Blonde Salad, but the Sartorialist is a team effort now, as is Garance’s blog, the Man Repeller actually has contributing writers – almost every “big” blog is run by a team, even if it there’s one person commonly associated with it. That doesn’t even include blogs like Fashionista or Stylelist where there are entire companies backing the blogs. One person can do a lot, but they can’t do it all when it comes to growing beyond a certain point. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  3. Laura Neuzeth

    What a great read. I found it very inspirational and definitely helpful.

    Reply
  4. Personal Shopper Barcelona

    Great topic!
    But, from my point of view, the first rule is investing in your blog. That’s make the difference.

    Everybody talks about small startups that became big companies and that was resulting of business angels or VC investments. So, it’s important to define first steps of your blogging adventure as test for maket fit of your proposal. After this validation, fund raising is a must to becom a 7 figure revenue blog.

    Eli Guerrero
    Personal Shopper Barcelona

    Reply
    • YM Ousley

      Hi Eli,
      It’s true that funding helps when getting to a large amount of revenue, but there are a few blogs that earn in the high six/low seven figures that haven’t taken on outside investment. The Sartorialist – and I don’t have exact annual figures, but based on previous quotes about rates for advertising and income from collaborations and special projects, probably makes a million dollars a year. To my knowledge, he hasn’t take on investment.

      Even blogs that have, like Refinery29, usually have a decent amount of income before raising money. It’s not impossible to raise money for a blog – the Business of Fashion did recently – but it’s usually after a few years of rapid and significant growth. Still, possibly a great topic for a future post.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  5. Zamri

    “Many people begin to blog because they don’t find the type of coverage they’re interested in in traditional publications.”

    I like this point A LOT! That’s actually the main reason most people starts blogging coz they wanna bring the special element that the traditional ‘offline’ media doesn’t have. In a different view, in a slightly intimate way, maybe. And of course, in a true and honest voice whenever possible – not an obliged one.
    Perfect point.

    Reply
  6. Karan

    True fact that none of the high earning blogs are handled by one person and if you have to grow your blog you have to start building a team.

    Reply
  7. CynthiaCM

    Since most of us are independent bloggers who either write ALL or most of our posts, I’m not sure if it’s fair to get tips from sites like Refinery29 or Mashable, who have larger staff.

    Just sayin’

    Cynthia
    http://www.delectablychic.com

    Reply
    • YM Ousley

      Hi Cynthia,
      I think if you’re looking to make the transition to becoming a larger blog or earning more for your efforts, there are definitely lessons to be learned from blogs that started with one person writing posts and grew to be giants. Pete Cashmore famously started Mashable on his own, didn’t get a lot of credit/respect from Silicon Valley tech blogs, and probably would have gotten laughed at in the early years if he’d said Mashable would be one of the top (THE top?) tech blog. Someone in an earlier comment pointed out that the Blonde Salad has a team, and so does the Sartorialist, the Man Repeller, Garance Dore and lots of people who make a pretty good living from their blogs – even if not a million dollars.

      The first point was about building a team because Mashable, Refinery29 and many other blogs probably wouldn’t be at the point they are today if it continued to be just one person.

      Reply
  8. Andra Dorolti

    I have opted for the last tip: collaborating with traditional media. I am writing articles for a magazine, a tiny local magazine – but it helps. I feel better, I write better and I’ve increased my views on my personal blog. so yes, it’s a great tip 🙂

    Thanks for the post!

    Andra

    http://www.andradorolti.com/

    Reply
  9. Jennifer Rose

    This is excellent! There are some things here I hadn’t thought about. Going outside your typical content every once in a while is a good thing.

    Reply
  10. Ahmad Mukhtar

    I learned so much from the post as I am new in blogosphere .. I hope I will be professional one day. thanks for sharing this useful info with us.

    My Blog
    My Recent Post

    Reply
  11. Ebenezer

    Hello,

    I read through your blog and I must say, it was an interesting read – I like it. I’m the social media rep. for a new fashion leather Accessories Company based in Georgetown, D.C., O’Bazzië Classics. We are in search of fashion bloggers willing to feature us on their blog sites. Please, feel free to contact us if interested: obazzieservices@gmail.com. Feel free to visit us on Instagram: @obazzieclassics

    Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Vicious Stilettos

    Great advice! Its very true there’s power in numbers and helping each other out can build and lead to more lucrative ventures and bigger paychecks. Plus its fun meeting new people and exchanging ideas.

    Reply
  13. Zipporah

    The great thing is that whatever you can create you can find an audience for. There is enough room for all of our ideas and endeavors as long as we put in the effort.

    Zipporah

    Reply