WARNING: This post is long and thorough! ….
I get asked quite frequently how I grew IHOD, when I started offering advertising and why, how do you make money from blogging, etc. I wrote this post in answer to all of these questions and a hope to shed some light on a topic that is hard to dig up answers about:)
When I started blogging, it was at a time when I was just using it as an outsource for creative inspo and support of my accessory shop. Since I was a graphic designer, it was a way to practice my daily design per say. It was also at a time when blogging was spreading rapidly, but it hadn’t quite exploded yet. It was a good time to start, as the blog world was still somewhat small, instagram didn’t yet exist, and you visited each other’s favorite blogs on a frequent basis. It was a wonderful community for me, a new mother who had just moved to a very small town in the midwest and was feeling the isolation. Blogging allowed me to open up my creative voice and try new things, while also getting to know a wide range of women in different phases of life across the globe. It was fascinating, encouraging, and ultimately helped define my creative path.
As my work as a freelance designer was going in full force, my blog somehow was growing each month, and opportunities presented itself that had me considering for the first time if it was something I could do as a part time job. I will explain below what helped me begin that process. Having blogged for over 5 years now (what?! wow that went fast), I have dabbled in many different sponsorship and monetization options to try and figure out what was the best fit for me, my family, and staying true to the desire to be an authentic space. I had good and bad experiences of working with brands, and ultimately found a place I am happy to sit and stay a while. SO, some things to consider…
WHY DO YOU BLOG? It would be impossible to address monetization without first asking yourself about the WHY behind your blog. If you are starting a blog for the intention of making money, you will hit burn out before you even have the chance to find your groove. Blogging requires a purpose, and should have a very good mission, motto, or passion at its core. To really grow a blog involves a good deal of dedication and a reason for people to connect to it. It is worth taking the time to really think through what would be the topic that keeps you going. My blog has shifted over the years, but it has always been under the topics of style, design, and family mainly. The things I never grow tired of sharing. It was important for me to having value and deeper meaning behind each of these topics as well, and that has always been the thread that has tugged me along even when I felt spent. I’d say if you can find some things to consistently blog about for an entire year, it is worth a try, because whether you monetize or not, you will have created a journal or time shell of something you value.
WHY MONETIZE? A few years back there were many debates going on about monetization and blogging. Is is selling out? Can a blog stay genuine if there is sponsorship behind it? I think as blogging has become more widespread it is more generally understood that it takes a GREAT DEAL of time to run a blog well. To continuously put forth original and unique content, or in some cases, to design boards or photograph recipes. Even family bloggers take the time to write and share their life. If you want to guesstimate how much time it really takes to blog well, shoot the bar high and it still probably doesn’t hit the mark. However, I think there is balance in how you accept sponsorships and the ways you work them into your blog. I have seen people do an incredible job with a sponsored story as well as blogs getting lost into a stream of scripted words and content that buries their authenticity. Its a tough balance. A few bloggers who are blogging for a living, but are consistently sharing addictive content with a strong and genuine voice: DesignSponge, Studio DIY, Design Love Fest, The Fresh Exchange, to name a few. And I can guarantee you they put more hours in a work week than most 9-5 jobs.
And if you are keeping up with a blog just because it is a good outlet for you, and maybe you get a little compensation on the side, good for you! If it enriches your life, why quit? Blogging was and still is a way of breathing creatively for me. It’s a healthy form of exercise.
My own personal story in a nutshell: I blogged faithfully every day for two years before I even offered sponsorships. I set my own guidelines and themes, and faithfully stuck to them without wavering. Sometimes I wonder how or why I was so consistent! I would create content to share every morning, followed by a dedicated portion of time to building community and supporting others. The good thing is, it built a very active and loyal community that I was thankful for, but I came to a point where to really continue to grow, it would involve more time than I had to give. Between my accessory shop, graphic design, blogging, and motherhood, something had to give. Obviously, motherhood was sticking around (wink), so I gave up the shop, and slowly gave up freelance design. As my family grew, I wanted to continue work that was most efficient for the little time that I had available. That soon became clear that blogging was the best fit although I never imagined it would become my job. I am grateful for what the doors that have opened through it, since it has allowed me to grow as a creative, as well as help provide for my family. I would never be able to continue to dedicate the time to it without the sponsorships and partnerships involved, so I carefully select partnerships with companies I genuinely love and try very hard to share content that I know my readers will relate to and appreciate. Those are my main goals. There will always be readers who may not understand the time it takes to run a blog, and there will always be negative criticism, but stay focused on the WHY behind your blog. If something doesn’t settle well with your gut, chances are there is a reason for that. Be careful with who you choose to support and how you share, and you will create a more organic and trusting space for readers.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE MANY WAYS YOU CAN MONETIZE YOUR BLOG:
AD SPACE: Ad space can be sold to companies or small businesses through the ad space on the side, top, or bottom of blogs, and sometimes in between or below posts. You can run these ads yourself where companies can purchase directly from you (via email or online form like passionfruit ads). This is the way I first started to monetize the blog. Rates per month are dependent on a number of factors including subscribers, daily pageviews, and social media reach. Another option is signing up for an ad network that places these ads for you. As you grow, this is usually a better option as the larger companies pay based on pageviews and clicks, and you don’t need to fill as much space. I really didn’t want many ads on my blog so when I was invited to be a part of Federated Media, I gladly handed that responsibility over to them, and have been very happy with the outcome. I hope too, that is a simpler less cluttered view for the reader as well. Triple Lift was a very effective native advertising option I tried and liked and doesn’t require a contract.
SPONSORED POSTS: Sponsored posts are becoming more common these days as brands are recognizing it is the best way to expand their reach, and it is also the most beneficial use of time for a blogger. They can be shared in many different forms and styles. The goal for the company is to grow awareness about a product or business, and will compensate the blogger to share the content in an original way. Companies base their rates on the bloggers pageviews, social media reach, and overall style. If the pairing is a natural fit, these sponsored stories can be done in really creative and natural ways. I have had both good and bad experiences. Some where I committed to a company and knew it really wasn’t the best fit for me. Readers can always pick up on forced content, so it should definately feel like it flows well for you. A blogger is always required by the FTC to share a disclosure if the post is sponsored or an item was gifted. It creates a more honest relationship with the reader as well.
AD NETWORKS: As mentioned above, ad networks can place ads for you on the site, but they can also link you with larger companies who want to work with bloggers on a post, project, or campaign. Fohr Card is a good example of a third party platform for bloggers and brands to connect with each other. You don’t have to sign a contract to use Fohr Card, and is open for sign ups. Networks like Federated Media, Glam Media, Blogher, AOL, etc. are invite only but you can apply as well.
CAMPAIGNS: Usually a series of posts or social media promotions that work with one theme over a period of time. Companies will offer a compensation package to come up with an original way to share the theme they are wanting to promote. Many times these are pitched to bloggers through a PR firm or third party network such as Linqia or Socialyte. As a blogger, you can get creative and pitch your own campaign ideas to brands you love. I have done both, and really loved working on a long term partnership. For example, I am currently working with Valspar paint for a series of home projects. It was a topic I’d already be covering, and fit well with what I know my readers love to see.
COMMISSION: You can earn commission off of some of the links you share through your blog through programs such as Skimlinks, Shopstyle, RewardStyle, etc. These links either offer a small percentage for either every click or per sale. Some companies have their own referral or commission programs, but the ones listed are connected to a slew of much larger brands. They are a third party for connecting bloggers with brands. (A brilliant concept actually!) I didn’t want these options to drive my content, but if it works organically within a post, I will use RewardStyle.
Some honest truth – Today, millions of blogs are started each year. I mean, I used to get very confused looks when I mentioned under bated breath that I blog. Now, it’s more like, “oh yeah, my friend blogs too!.” Everyone knows someone or two who blogs. That being said, it is much more difficult to grow your blog and stand out in a saturated sea. Occasionally a blogger will take off right away without having to do much to get exposure to a larger audience, but it is rare. If you really want to make a living from blogging you really have to be willing to bust your tail for a while and expect no compensation in return. Again though, if you really have the right motivations and focus, the right doors will open, and you will grow naturally. Think of ways to go outside the box and do things others are doing, or at least do things with your own spin.
Whew! Feeling a little vulnerable now;) Hopefully for those who are just starting out or have been blogging for a while and looking to grow, this post provides some open and honest insight on this whole fascinating business behind blogging. And if you were just curious, congrats for making it to the end!
I hope I can continue to keep IHOD a place where I can document my family, creative journey, and home life in a real and authentic way. You readers can keep me on track, okay? x, Anna
*This is part of the biz tips series if you would like to see more. Also, feel free to suggest more topics!