how to really make money blogging.
I am sure you can count a handful of people off the top of your head that you like following on Instagram. And I am sure you can tell which one of those people you listed are full-time bloggers, or more aptly known as "influencers". I have written about this before and if you are at all interested in the 'hows' of the blogging world, then you have probably put a lot of pieces together and figured it out. I hope this post fills in the gaps and serves as a how-to guide.
When asked for advice on how to make money, a lot of bloggers will say they make money by creating genuine content, being consistent, and staying true to themselves. Well, that is nice but if you are looking to become one of those top-tier, heck or even mid-tier bloggers, it isn't very helpful. Especially if you are years behind some influencers who started years ago.
It might be crazy to some people that high schoolers, people who have never worked at a professional company, or have a degree can make six or more figures. But it's completely true. And it's one of the most fascinating things about blogging and why I was interested in this sphere in the first place-- the democratization of the internet led to an opportunity for all. Anyone can be famous-- how nuts is that? Totally awesome. What drew me in, well before I knew about the entire blogging world, was that you didn't need permission, or someone to teach you, or a boss telling you that you couldn't do it. What I loved the most was that I could take an idea and run with it. What I have loved over the years is that the fast-moving pace of creative content has inspired me to learn new skills- photography, beginner graphic design, branding, email campaigns, Google analytics and more.
Here are some things that will take you from a zero to a hero in the blogging world. I have to disclose that I know a lot about these things and don't implement them for a number of reasons. Should I share those now or at the end of this post? Okay, I will save for the end since you probably care about monetizing your, or your dog's, Instagram!
Initiative #1: Create beautiful, inspiring, high-quality images.
Yes, this is what everyone says and it's true. The quality of content that people are creating these days are totally insane. People are so talented! The bar for photography keeps getting raised in direct relation to the quality of the iPhone cameras, as well as digital camera technology.
Reality: Getting the best iPhone will cost you $1,000 and getting the best DSLR and 1-2 lenses will cost about $5,000. So there definitely is a cost barrier to entry in this regard. Most fashion bloggers that I know pay professional photographers (who have even more expensive cameras) to take their photos and most often, edit them. Photographers in San Francisco charge about $100 an hour for 3-4 "looks" or outfits. So I guess you can get a DSLR for $5,000 and have your best friend or husband take your photos or you can get 50 hours of a professional photographers time, which is about 200 outfits- so about 2/3 of the year of #ootd.
Initiative #2: Create a beautiful website.
This is actually one of the easier things to do on this list. With so many plug and play templates available it's easier than ever to get a beautiful site. But if you want to stand out from the crowd than you will want to hire a designer to make it look even more special. If your goal is to monetize your site then you will want to work with a designer who can optimize for clicks and make it extremely easy to shop. There are specific agencies that work with bloggers on creating high-converting sites.
Reality: So much has changed since I started blogging in 2014. Before brands would not work with you unless you had a website. They wanted to see that you had consistent content. Now a lot of people are influencers solely on a platform (Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) instead of having a website. Hence, the reason why high schoolers and college students are able to monetize. The true reality of this is that when you create solely on a platform rather than your own personal url, you forfeit complete control. If for whatever reason a platform closes or goes out of style (ummm...Snapchat) than you're victim to its whims...like the constant roll out of algorithms on Instagram that influencers are constantly freaking out about.
Another huge thing why I believe it's important to have a website is I own all of the content, pictures, design. If you look at the fine print of terms and agreement of any social channel, they own what you post. So it's not under copyright laws.
While my Instagram follower count has flatlined (more on that later), my audience for my blog has grown. A main reason for this is backlinks to my site (other people linking to my site), SEO- a huge reason for my growth, and because I create the most content on here. Here's an example of how SEO works- when someone googles "San Francisco mom bloggers" my blog comes up in the search results. Instagram doesn't have that same advanced search capabilities. So it is so much easier for people to find my blog than my Instagram. Sure, they can search by hashtags but I'm not putting that hashtag on my photo, so basically, no one would ever find me.
Intiative #3: Build your follower count. This is the most important and often the one that is skipped over the most when people share how they make money. If you want to make money, YOU HAVE TO HAVE FOLLOWERS. I know, it's totally crazy but it's true. I find it so fascinating that people I am actually inspired or influenced by in real life have very little "influence" online. Well, in their personal network I am sure they do. We all have that really stylish friend who is constantly inspiring us with their fashion choices, home decor, reading list, restaurant pick, travel adventures and more, but who don't have a big following. And then on the opposite end, there are people who are so contrived online and have no original style, yet have thousands of followers.
Building your following gives you maximum opportunity to make money in two ways: it brings more people to your site who can click and (hopefully) convert to sales. Let's keep the math simple: if you had 100 people coming to your site a day and 10% of them clicked on an affiliate link (assuming click affiliate rates of $0.10) you would make $1. If you had 1,000 people coming to your site and 10% click you would make $10. So the more, the merrier, right? So the bloggers that make money off of affiliate links are the ones who have a lot of traffic- like 100,000+ visitors to their site a month. So imagine 20 days of posts with affiliate links. If 10% of 100,000 visitors clicked once a day you would have 1,000*20= $20,000/month. That's a lot of money! But getting that many people to your site takes a lot of time, and nowadays, help from an agent, team, and brands.
The second way a large audience has an impact on your ability to make money is your audience size is correlated with your rate for sponsored content. This is how you make the real cash flow. You can wait for your affiliate pennies to add up or you can charge a brand a lot more for a single post. This is the method I used to prefer but now I am not so sure anymore. For me, I liked this method because (honestly, the affiliate links are a time waste to implement unless you're making a lot of money) and it's fun to work with brands. I always worked harder when I had a sponsored post to create better images and more creative content. Why I say it used to be my favorite is that now influencers are sometimes partnering with brands for the money, rather than the brand alliance. I totally lost it when I saw people posting sponsored content of ham. We know you don't eat that. But it's not lost on me that for a lot of people this is their full-time income and in work settings, we all take on projects that we don't want to.
So the rates of sponsored content are still all over the place. At one point it was based on your audience size of your blog, then it was your Instagram follower count, but since people buy followers that's not as reliable so it's based on your engagement. It's very hard to calculate but I always would propose to brands that would come to me a number based on time that it would spend to execute. Big bloggers (with followers over 500,000) can charge $5,000. So if they do four sponsored posts a month that's $20,000!! That comes out to $240,000. Is that totally nuts? Ha! Doing this math is making me think I should rethink sponsored content! Haha! Just kidding. But seriously, that's a conservative amount that some influencers make!
Reality: Building your follower count takes time and money. What I mean is that accounts who have over a million followers (!!!) did not start yesterday. They started almost 10 years ago. They were first to market and got a lot of perks that come with that. But now they have to work extra hard to keep growing, especially with other people trying to rise the ranks.
Building your follower count:
Tactic #1: Post lovely images and hope people find you and follow you.
Reality: Lady, that ain't gonna happen. That's been my move the last year+ and if you post it, they will not come. There are too many people on the channels who are being a thousand times more proactive. Hence, why my follower count is stagnant. I never like or comment on anyone's photos and sometimes use hashtags.
Tactic #2: Create quality content for brands you love.
Reality: Create beautiful content that is brand specific and tag them in it. You can even go ahead and DM them the picture. Cross-promotion is key to building your follower and brand. Do it for free. Brands LOVE that you are creating free content for them and they might send you some stuff to enjoy and create more content for. Just know that you are working for free. I think some influencers halted their own growth because they stopped tagging brands all together because they wanted to monetize their posts. They didn't want to disclose who made the items so that you would shop it through their page and earn them a commission. Brands didn't see these posts and then didn't repost them. This is where people who weren't monetizing thrived because brands reposted them. Now influencers stack tags on top of each other so they can tag the brand but not have followers know who it is.
Tactic #3: Buy followers from an online company.
Reality: We all saw when Instagram erased fake followers and everyone's numbers dropped. People realized how many inflated follower counts there are. I don't suggest doing this because it's a short-term gain and will hurt you in the long run.
Tactic #4: Participate in a loop giveaway.
Reality: This used to be the best bang for your buck and how most people grow their follower count. I think it's gotten some shade thrown at it recently because it's another way of buying followers. But honestly, let the people do it. It's a business tactic. I did this last year and if I ever feel like I want to increase my follower count it's the first tactic I go to. Each participant contributes to the prize and a loop is created where you have to follow all accounts. You definitely get a bump in follower count. While it used to range from 2,000-1,000 never followers, I think it has dropped to a few hundred. Who usually end up unfollowing you in the end.
Tactic #5: Giveaway with a brand.
Reality: This is a great way to grow your following but the trick is finding a brand who will partner with you. Most of them are inundated with giveaway requests that they politely decline. You also have to think about your audience alignment? Would their followers be interested in following you? Would your followers be interested in following them?
Tactic #6: Comment pods.
Reality: A lot of guerrilla marketing tactics are used on Instagram and truthfully I find them a pain. I am actually not sure if comment pods are still around but usually, a group of 10-12 people would be in a pod and all comment on each other's photos. It was like scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. The purpose behind this was to increase engagement so brands would see you have a lot of people interacting with your photos which makes them assume you have an engaged, clicking, (read spending) audience. Honestly, I found this crazy and tried it for two days then left. The thought of having to comment on others' photos every day was painful to me.
Tactic #7: Hashtag likes.
Reality: One of the OG growth hacks. Search by the hashtag #sfblogger and like and comment on their photo. Or #chaneladdict and the point is that you find people who would be interested in your content. The truth is there are so many people who are using certain hashtags that I think this works if you want to build your following in a niche area-- like fly fishing. I am being totally serious. I had an old colleague who was a flyfishing instructor on the weekends and during the summer and had 7,000+ followers but he had the MOST engaged audience because people loved what he was sharing. I don't do this because frankly, I don't care about anyone I don't know personally, TBH, and it's such a waste of time. I think I could spend an hour doing this or I could go do something else to build my business. I have recently done it for @givethebundleofjoy because I am trying to reach hyperlocal influencers in parts around the country. But I spend five minutes and I'm like uggghhh this has to stop.
Tactic #8: Follow/unfollow.
Reality: This method is another time suck and one I haven't done but know about. Every week you go and follow 100 more people in the hopes that they follow you back. When they do, you unfollow them. I know people who have interns who do this for them. And enjoy it! HA! Sounds like my worst nightmare. I get it, it's crowed on the platform and you need ways for people to find you but browch, this sounds painful. There is even an app in the app store that you can get that makes this easier. Instagram is constantly changing their UI to make it harder to do this technique in their native app. They also keep making it harder for third-party apps to do things like this. Sidenote: I sometimes feel bad for Instagram because they are constantly under attack- from users who are frustrated and from tech companies that are popping up that are trying to make a quick buck off of meta-services.
Tactic #9: Get tagged by other friends who have a sizeable following.
Reality: This is a great way to grow your audience if you're not working with brands or getting reshared on their accounts. This is how Kim Kardashian started out. Let's not forget she was Paris Hilton's assistant. The sidekick is the sidekick until she has millions of followers.
Okay, I hope that helps a little bit! You're probably wondering if you know so much, why aren't you more successful? I often ask myself the same thing! Ha! Jk I have always loved writing and blogging but never wanted it to be my full-time job. I am appreciative of how it has been a source of income over the years, but not my main source. Also, I don't care enough about social media to commit to this. The final reason is that realistically I will never be that successful at it, no matter how hard I try because I really don't care enough and I think that most of the big influencers have already been established and it's hard to "catch up" to them.
Hope that helps!