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

by Meagan Francis on May 14, 2013

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.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Momchalant May 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm

This is SO encouraging to read. My ultimate goal is to make a career out of writing. You give me hope that I can one day reach my goal.

I’m a new reader but I already love your blog and visit daily : )

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Love it! Thank you!

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Marcia Layton Turner May 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Love hearing more about what you’re doing and how you’re generating an income, Meagan.

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Hey there Marcia! Good to see you.

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Elizabeth Flora Ross May 14, 2013 at 6:34 pm

This is great! I am looking forward to the rest of the series!

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nattie May 14, 2013 at 8:40 pm

As I get started (after stumbling into pat’s smartpassiveincome blog and then onto your podcast too) trying to lauch my new blog, I will be patiently waiting for all the posts on this topic. Thanks for sharing and for the encourangement! nattie

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Nanouk May 15, 2013 at 5:07 am

Great article! I want to read more:)

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I’m planning on putting out new posts on blogging/working at home every other week or so. Stay tuned!

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Ashley May 15, 2013 at 9:20 am

Thanks for sharing your take on what makes a successful blogger (monetarily speaking). One thing I’ve always appreciated about you is that you don’t exploit your kids and write very personal details about their lives. Not naming any names, but I’ve unfollowed many “mom bloggers” for that reason. It feels too creepy and voyeuristic — and I always wonder how their kids will feel someday when they discover so much information about themselves on the web, put there by their parents for others’ consumption.

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Thanks, Ashley, I appreciate that. It’s such a personal thing, and I think some bloggers are able to walk that line really well – but like you I sometimes get skeeved when reading really confessional blogs. It’s one thing to write confessionals about yourself but another to share all the “poop” (literally and figuratively!) on your kids in a public space!

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Meagan Paullin May 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm

First of all – A friend posted this article in a Facebook group, and my first thought when I came to your site for the first time {man, that was a lot of “firsts” in one sentence… lol} – is, OhmyHECK, her name is Meagan too – and she spells it the same way! That seldom happens. So I liked you already :)

Second – I’ve been blogging for about 2 years now, and it is my full time income. My boyfriend was having trouble finding work {he was a construction superintendent when the housing market crashed – tough times} – so now he works with me. I secretly think of him as my secretary, but don’t tell him that…. Being a set of work at home parents has a lot of challenges, but is the MOST amazing thing ever.

I love your tips here so far, and can’t wait to read more on this. I think that there are DEFINITELY not enough posts out there telling the “real” side of earning an income with a blog. It’s either people putting down those who “commercialize” themselves too much, those who feel guilty somehow earning an income and try to hide it, or the stuff making it seem like a get rich quick type of thing.

Blogging can be the most amazing work ever – but it’s NOT easy. Fun, but not easy.

I’m actually starting a new site in the next month {I bought MeaganPaullin.com – just have to get it up and designed! Wooo!} to share my experiences. At first I thought it would be blogging tips – but the more I thought about it, it needs to be more of online business tips – since like you mention here, if you want to earn an income, it’s usually more than JUST blogging.

Total fan of your site now – and sharing your post :)

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Meagan Francis May 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Meagans unite! :) So glad you liked the post – and loved hearing about your work and partnership with your boyfriend! There are a lot of us out here making a “go” of blogging, I think, but you’re right – we are often reluctant to talk about how this really works, or share our success stories. Can’t wait to see your site!

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Lucrecer May 16, 2013 at 11:12 am

Great write up, Meagan!

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Tracey May 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm

What a great article! It really helps baby bloggers (like myself) know how to grow. I look forward to the rest of the series!!

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Mel May 22, 2013 at 2:16 am

Thank you for the honesty and perspective. Also, loving your podcast! Just wanted to reach out and say Thanks!

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Jan May 28, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Hi Megan. This is all encouraging. I think that I can handle the domain name, the wordpress.com registry, maybe even a theme, but I am worried about organization and branding and all of that. I have a lot of brands, so to speak. I am a former lawyer, current psychologist with lots of different interests and expertise (forensic, career change/coaching, adolescents, adults, juvenile justice, juvenile psychopathy). My husband is the SAHD and we homeschool. I have been told that I was a brilliant writer my entire life, but I am absolutely terrified to try. I have been published academically, but blogging, writing fiction, etc. all scare me to death! If you have any recommendations on blog experts, editors, designers anything that wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg, let me know. If you don’t think they are necessary, please tell me or point me to how??

Thanks so much for your site!

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Penny Lane June 10, 2013 at 2:07 am

Thank you for sharing this. As a new blogger (writing a blog with my sister about raising our girls) I’m so hungry for ways to broaden ourselves so that income starts coming. It can be discouraging to work so many hours and after a month realize you made a whopping $6 from affiliate marketing (which of course isn’t MAKING money at all). Glad we found you – excited to be your newest follower.

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Kristen June 16, 2013 at 10:18 am

I have to say my biggest challenge has been getting stuck in the. Starting phase. I have so many ideas but have a hard time narroeing it down specifically. …. which leads me to deciding on name…. I want to avoid making the newbie mistakes and havi g to change ot again in a year when I realize i didnt take the time to name it….. suggestions?

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Michelle July 3, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Love this post. I’m making the full-time switch soon and I’m so excited!

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Hobbies for boys July 29, 2014 at 6:17 pm

I love looking through an article that will make people think.

Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

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