The truth about blogging for a living: your questions answered!

the truth about blogging for a living, so you want to be a pro blogger

I’ve been blogging for a long time. I registered my first Blogspot account back in 2000 or 2001, back when I knew of about 10 other bloggers and we all just copied one another’s blogrolls. I wrote about my life, anonymously: my reason? I wanted a “real” writing career and was afraid that editors wouldn’t take me seriously if they found my blog!

Things sure have changed. After pursuing that “real” writing career – which included getting published in dozens of national magazines and authoring a total of four books – through the early 2000’s, I found myself embracing blogging in a big way (and this time, with my real name attached!). My writing has been focused on blogging for a few years now, and I love it.

I often hear from other moms who want to blog professionally, or who are simply curious about how it all works. They are often surprised (and just as often, encouraged) when I tell them what really goes into a pro blogging career.

Over the next few months, I’m going to be sharing some behind-the-scenes intel on what blogging for a living is really like, a look at my life as a work-at-home-mom with a (more or less) full-time job, and how you can take those ideas and dreams in your head and turn them into a source of income for your family.

To start, I though I’d address a few of the most frequently-asked questions I get about professional blogging with my honest thoughts:

Can bloggers make real money?

Yes.

But, maybe not the way you think.

I know many bloggers who make good money – including bloggers who are able to pay the mortgage and buy groceries every month with their earnings, some who earn half the household income, some who support the entire family, and some who earn six figures or more. None of these bloggers are household names like The Pioneer Woman, and many of them don’t even have particularly huge blogs.

So how do they do it? Generally a mix of some of the following: advertising and sponsored content, freelance work, consulting, selling products (ebooks, e-courses, crafts, etc) spokesperson/spokesblogger work, graphic design, social media marketing and other creative paths. This is a full-time job for the bloggers I know who are really earning. And unless the blogger has very large traffic, advertising is generally a small piece of the overall puzzle.

For example, while I do currently run ads on my blog, the revenues they bring in are tiny. To earn the majority of my income, I consult and provide editorial services for Experience Grand Rapids, blog for Babble and HGTVGardens, and write sponsored content that runs here or sometimes, on the brand’s site. I also take on the occasional freelance assignment and earn a small amount of royalty income on my most recent book. Occasionally I teach writing classes and I’ve made a little money from speaking engagements along the way.

Most working bloggers I know are like me: they cobble together an income from various sources, and their personal blogs are only part of that income. So making a living (or even part of a living) as a blogger does require creativity, discipline, and courage…but not necessarily fame.

Bloggy Boot Camp

Sarah and I speaking at a recent Bloggy Boot Camp.

Is it best to blog within a specific niche?

Well, that depends. Are you hoping to blog as a career, or do you want to make a little money doing what you love? Will you be using the blog to support another kind of career (freelance writing, publishing a book, coaching, selling crafts on Etsy, etc) or do you want to primarily focus on blogging?

The “mom blogger” market is crowded, so if you are hoping to establish yourself as an authority in a specific area (say, with the goal of publishing a book) it may be easiest to do that by focusing on a handful of topic areas or fewer. You don’t have to stay within a rigid topic area on every single post, but I have found it helps new readers find you and stay engaged when you are known for specific specialties.

On the other hand, if you really want to be a memoir writer or contribute personal essays to parenting magazines, writing about your day to day life as a mother on a blog can be a good way to show off your skills to editors.

kids in the kitchen - the happiest home

blogging allows me to make a living while writing about my life – but it isn’t always easy to meld the two.

Another thing to consider is whether you’l be comfortable writing very personally about your children and family as they grow and/or as your blog audience grows. When I started The Happiest Mom in 2009 (which became The Happiest Home last month) my oldest son was twelve, and I knew that I didn’t want to write very personally about him, or any of the other children.

You might have noticed that I often use anecdotes about my kids as starting-off points for my posts and may share our stories or struggles to illustrate an idea, but I rarely dig deeply into their lives. That was done intentionally, partly because I want to put the focus on you, the reader, but also partly because of my comfort level with writing very personally about my kids.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong path here. There are many memoirists who do a wonderful job telling their family stories in a loving and non-exploitative way. And there are lots of blogs that do well even though they don’t stay within a specific niche. But I think it helps to understand where you want to go before you get started…even, if possible, before you name your blog! It might save you some regret and waffling down the road.

Danielle Smith

My friend, video personality and blogger Danielle Smith and I at a brand event. Danielle is a great example of a talented blogger doing great things!

Do I have to be a “brand”?

I know it rubs a lot of writers the wrong way to think of themselves as “brands.” Aren’t we just people? The word “brand” feels somehow slimy, probably because we associate it with hard-sell marketing.

The thing is, though, we are all already brands, whether we like it or not.

How would your friends describe you? Fiesty and funny? Artsy and sentimental? That’s your brand.

Here’s another way to look at it: if you look closely at popular blogs, there is always a “brand” that appeals to readers and brings you back for more: whether it’s a blogger who lives in the country and takes beautiful photos, or one who dresses her children in quirky clothes and shares her knitting projects, or a working mom in Manhattan who writes about juggling it all and life in the city.

A “brand” doesn’t have to be something super-specific like food or crafts – it can be a feeling people get when they visit your site. But one way or another, readers are going to think of you in a certain way. And it’s a good idea to think hard about the version of yourself you want to portray on your blog.

I’m not talking about being dishonest or inauthentic. It’s more about choosing the parts of yourself and your story that you feel most strongly about sharing. Figure that out, and your “brand” can’t help but be authentic and appealing.

This is my first post in a series about blogging and working from home. If you’ve got questions, I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment or shoot an email to me at meagan @ thehappiesthome.com.

Want more details on how I make a living as a blogger? I was a guest on the Smart Passive Income Podcast with Pat Flynn last month and divulged a few of my not-so-secret secrets. Being on the show was an honor and a lot of fun – I love Pat’s podcast and listen every week while I’m cooking or doing the dishes! If you are considering launching a career online, you definitely need to check it out.

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