With the new year coming up, I know lots of people are thinking about how they want to next year to be different from this one. I thought it would be an appropriate time to discuss blogging, because I think it’s a great way to facilitate change in your life.
Have you ever read a blog and thought, “I could do that!” But maybe you’re worried about technical aspects, or whether anyone wants to hear your message. Maybe you’re hoping to do it just for fun, or you really would like to make money from a blog but have no clue how it works.
Well, I’ve been blogging on and off for about 10 years, first for fun and then for profit. I’ve done a ton of research about it and spent a good deal of money on courses and training. Here’s my list of favorite courses and books about how to make money blogging. I also have some tips and tricks to get you on the right track, as well as which programs have the training you need.
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Why do you want to blog?
Before you start a blog, you need to be clear about what you want from it.
I blog because I love writing, and I find it enjoyable to write about topics that I’m knowledgeable about in the hopes that I can help other people. But I also blog with the intention of making income. This blog is one of several income sources I have, and writing for income is definitely my favorite. It’s also something I can do from anywhere, and during whatever hours I choose.
Having income sources from blogging and other writing jobs lends to my minimalist lifestyle by reducing or eliminating the need to commute to an office in order to earn money. I also get to spend more time on things that matter, while wasting less time doing things that don’t (like sitting in traffic).
It also helps me as a disabled person because I can work when I feel well enough, from the comfort of my home.
Here are some common reasons why other people blog:
As a creative outlet: a place to put their thoughts out onto the web and to talk about concepts that are important to them. This blogger isn’t worried about making money or having a fancy site; what’s important is the blogging itself.
A site that showcases an existing business, with the blog adding value to potential customers with free information on related topics. Examples are: authors who talk about their books and writing process, wellness coaches who write articles with tips on wellness, or professional photographers who post stories about the pictures they take.
Blogging as a business: a website developed on a specific topic or set of topics with the intention of making money. The author may or may not have physical or digital products of their own.
These 3 types of people will have different requirements for their blog, including what type of website they build, how often they post and how they want it to look. If you’re basically doing an online journal, you can do whatever you want. But to make money blogging, you have to be more strategic. So that’s what the rest of this post is about—making money from a blog.
How technically inclined are you at blogging?
I remember back in the day (maybe 15 years ago??) I had a friend who had a website he needed help with. I’d taken a basic HTML course and I had a book with HTML codes in it, so he asked me if I could help. He needed me to set up a store for him with his artwork. His platform had no pre-built anything, so I had to write the code to build his store and list each product, including uploading pictures and through a file-sharing program.
At the time I was young and full of energy, and it didn’t seem that hard. But these days we have gone wayyyyy beyond HTML as far as coding for web design, and I have no interest in learning how to do it.
There are many different blogging platforms out there and some are more labor-intensive than others. Some will do most of the work for you while others require you to understand plugin compatibility and code injection and a bunch of other things that, if I talk about any longer, I’ll doze off.
You can also hire someone to create and maintain your blog, but that can get expensive. I think it would be totally worth it, though, if it’s in the budget and website maintenance is not something you enjoy. I actually shut down a blog before, and one of the reasons was I got sick of spending more time on web maintenance than on writing. So pick your platform carefully, and don’t hesitate to switch to a different platform if you don’t like where you’re at. But, this can be complicated and costly so try to pick the right one the first time around.
Are your topics profitable for a blog?
I’m sure there will be people who will tell you that there’s a way to make money from any idea out there. But let’s be realistic: if your ideas or too obscure or too popular, then you’re going to have a tough time of it. It might not be impossible, but it also isn’t going to be easy.
The trick is to find something that some people are doing, but not what everybody is doing. Then put your own unique spin on it and put it in an attractive package.
That being said you can find an audience for just about any topic out there. But if you want to make money from it, there will be some time and effort involved.
Do you know how to market your blog?
Poor-quality images, too many ads, a page that loads slowly or numerous grammar and typographical errors will turn people away.
But that’s assuming they find your blog in the first place. The days when you could just start a blog and people would come to your website in droves are long-gone. The web is so saturated with blogs that you have to make yourself stand out. They say that you have 5 seconds (or less) from when someone lands on your website to grab their attention. People these days have very short attention spans.
So besides making your site presentable and your articles intriguing and useful, you also need to drive traffic to the site through marketing. There are a few ways to do that.
One is organic traffic - using free techniques to bring people to you. It can work, but it will take a lot of time and patience.
Paid traffic is advertising. You can pay to advertise on search engines and on social media. It will bring you more traffic, faster—if you know what you’re doing. Otherwise you are just throwing money away.
So how do you do all of these things?
Learning how to blog
You can go online and research the answers for free. But then you have to contend with:
Whether the information is reliable
If the information is current (the “rules” often change and the information could be outdated)
Whether it applies to your unique situation
You can also hire someone (or many someones) to teach you everything you need to know. The likelihood of finding one person who knows everything is very slim. There is so much stuff you need to know that you will probably need to go to multiple sources to learn everything.
Or, you can just accept that you will need to look in many different places for the answers. If you find a course that’s interesting, at least you can “cyber-stalk” the person who wrote the course and see how successful they are at what they’re teaching. Start with the basics and then once you have those mastered, move on to other things. That’s what I did. Here is the route I recommend taking:
Learn how to set up a blog (the mechanics of it - how to get a domain name, how to create pages, etc.)
Learn how to write engaging blog posts. Get a few of those under your belt and up on the website.
Learn how to develop a relationship with an audience through things like regular posts, adding value to your posts, etc.
PIck one way to send traffic to your site and learn how to use it.
After you’ve got one type of marketing set up, learn another.
If you try to learn everything at once, you will drive yourself crazy.
How do you pick the right sources to learn to build your blog?
The answer is very situational - what you want to write about, how much money you have, and how much time you have. As mentioned above, if do some basic research about any course. If they’re talking about getting 100,000 followers on Pinterest, how many followers does their Pinterest account have?
Of course, nothing is guaranteed to work for everybody all the time, so just use your common sense. Once you’ve made an educated decision, I recommend going through only one training program at a time, follow it to the letter and reach out to the person who created the program with any questions you have.
How to set up a blog
For the technical aspects of blogging, get the input of existing bloggers out there. There are tons of sites about how to blog, plus Facebook groups and online forums. Figure out which platform will work best for you based on your technical expertise (or lack thereof).
But before you run out and sign up, or even buy a domain name, take the time to figure out your brand and what it stands for. There are a LOT of choices out there, but I’m only going to go through the ones that I’ve personally used and feel have some value here.
The course that started it all for me was Courtney Carver’s How to Create a Microbusiness that Matters (affiliate link). At $19.99, you really can’t beat the price of this course. Check out the link for more details, but if you want to run a business in an authentic way and not feel like you’re trying to scam or trick people into buying from you, this is where you should start. Because before I checked out her course, I thought that making money online and being authentic were mutually exclusive concepts. It delves into not only the ins and outs of identifying your brand but also how to get started with Courtney’s blogging recommendations, get some subscribers on your list and even make some money.
How to write blog posts
After you have the basics down, it’s a good idea to fine-tune your writing style so you are presenting information in a format that people will want to read. You can have the best ideas and information in the world, but if you don’t know how to write in a way that pulls people in, then all that good knowledge is lost.
It’s a little bit older, but the book Content Rules (Amazon link) by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman still has a lot of good information about writing as applies to blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks and webinars. The relevant information relates to garnering and keeping readers (customers) with your story. There is also some information on using social media—the value here is in what to write, rather than social media metrics. You can find it on Amazon for about 10 bucks, but I got it at a library book sale for a dollar. =)
How to monetize your blog
The very cheapest resource I’ve found in this category is the book by Ruth Soukup, How To Blog For Profit Without Selling Your Soul (affiliate link). This book actually falls into multiple categories - setting up your blog, monetizing it and marketing it.
At $8.32 for a Kindle or paperback version (or free if you have Kindle Unlimited), it’s a huge bargain, and I’ll tell you why. Ruth has built a seven-figure empire from her blogging, and she offers a course called Elite Blog Academy only once per year and with limited enrollment. The price of the course keeps going up, and it’s now close to $1000.
I’ve gone back and forth about whether I should pay up and take the course, because she has some crazy success stories about her students. Like an unemployed single mom who use her credit card to buy the course and six months later was making something like $10,000 per month.
So I researched the heck out of the course, reading all these reviews by different people who’d taken it. The bottom line I came to was that the course wasn’t bad, and nobody regretted taking it. But what made it worth the money was access to the people in the Facebook group, which you can only get into as part of the course fee.
But here’s the kicker—somebody said in the comments of a review that Elite Blog Academy has a lot of the same information as the book How To Blog For Profit without the huge price tag (affiliate link). The reviewer, who appeared to be giving a fairly unbiased opinion, confirmed this was true.
I already had access to a really good Facebook group through another course, so I decided to forego Ruth’s course and save myself nearly $1000. You’re welcome. ; P
Monetizing your blog with affiliate marketing
So the other course I was talking about—the one with the Facebook group that I like? It’s called Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing (affiliate link). It’s written by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, who’s a blogger I connected to through Instagram because we were both RVers at the time. Since then she’s sold her RV and owns a sailboat, but she’s still blogging.
She’s been featured in Forbes magazine because her million-dollar blog hit its stride when she was only in her mid-20s. I believe she’s still not even 30 yet.
Her course introduced me to affiliate marketing, and made me understand how to make money from it. If you haven’t heard or understand the term, affiliate marketing is when someone (such as a blogger) recommends a product or service that belongs to someone else. If the product is purchased, then the referring person gets a commission for it. The product owner does not charge extra to the customer through affiliate programs; in fact, it probably helps their marketing budget, because they are only paying a fee when a product actually gets sold. With other types of marketing, you typically pay just to get traffic and you have no guarantee they will ever buy anything.
As Michelle says, if you have a blog and are not using affiliate marketing, you’re leaving money on the table. Because most people have products they would recommend for free (even minimalists!), it only makes sense that you get some money for the time and effort it takes to research and write about the product.
I thought affiliate marketing was “slimy” and not something I would ever feel comfortable doing before I took this course. Michelle changed that for me, and that’s saying a lot coming from a minimalist who dislikes sales.
And, there are so many experts in her Facebook group! You can find an answer for just about anything blog-related in there, even if it isn’t from Michelle. However, she is still very involved in the group as well as her social media accounts and of course the blog itself. I’ve had direct conversations with her many times.
So, the downside to the course is that it currently runs $197, making it the most expensive item on my list. I know that could be a lot for a new blogger who isn’t sure if they can make a go of it. She does have sales a few times per year, but it will still be over $100 at the sale price.
Also, as a minimalist I found the information more challenging to use. She has some great affiliate resources if you love to buy and have stuff, but blogging for profit as a minimalist will always be a special challenge. The real value Michelle brought was in understanding how to use affiliate links, how to write posts around affiliate products, and all the rules and regulations about it. You can’t just plunk down a link and call it good. Legally and ethically, there are criteria you should follow if you want to be a responsible, transparent affiliate marketer.
Since I bought the course, Michelle has done some updates as laws have changed, and also added bonus modules by other experts in different areas, like Pinterest and Facebook ads. Plus as I said, the Facebook group is a gold mine.
On top of that, by taking the course you can become an affiliate for it. I’ve heard some top-paid bloggers buy the course, just so they can get the referral fees, because it’s so popular.
Using social media to market your blog
So I have 3 options for you here, and you’re going to love the first 2, because they’re totally free.
At the time of this writing, Facebook is still considered the largest social media platform on the planet. That means you have access to practically everyone out there in the world that might possibly want to read what you’re writing.
Here’s the trick, though—thanks to Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms, even if someone is following you on Facebook there is no guarantee that they will see something you post.
So really if you want any kind of movement from Facebook to your blog, you’re going to want to understand how to use their paid advertising platform, where advertised posts will get preferential access to your target audience.
But their ads are not intuitive. At all. So I encourage you to use their free resources. The first one is Facebook Blueprint, which teaches all about Facebook marketing, from how to set up your business account through how to place an ad. They give some examples, but they are centered more toward businesses that are either advertising to local customers, or who have a website with a store selling products online. They haven’t quite caught up on the ins and outs of the digital product market yet.
Their second free resource is their business support team (note: this link may not work if you don’t have a Facebook account/Facebook business account). I’ve chatted online through messenger to get help, and also talked to support on the phone during regular business hours. You can also email them during evenings and weekends and they will respond via email or a phone call.
Caveat: this is all great if you understand anything about what to write in an ad, or how to select the correct audience for your ad to reach. But if you’re a Facebook advertising newbie like I was, then you need more information than is given here.
That’s where Creator Club (affiliate link) comes in handy. At $97, they have a training that includes brand development, and then gives step-by-step instructions for establishing yourself on Facebook, examples of ads (that would actually apply to someone who isn’t selling a physical product) and guidelines about banned words, best practices for structure, etc.
Unfortunately, there is stuff in here that Facebook doesn’t tell you, but you only find out through trial and error. They keep a lot of their practices and policies purposefully vague and secret, which means that an inexperienced person can easily place an ad unintentionally that breaks the rules and then get in trouble for it.
While there is also a (very gentle) push to sign up as an affiliate for 2 products sold by the founders, it isn’t a requirement. I wasn’t interested at all in one of the things they sell, and I still got plenty of good information from the rest of the course.
They also have training in there about using Instagram, building a website and starting up a YouTube channel. It’s all very informative and they are adding and updating periodically as well.
Wrap-up: having a blog takes work
There are tons of other courses out there about other types of marketing, writing sponsored posts, and placing ads on your site, but I just haven’t gotten to them yet. If I do some more training in the future, I will write another post about it (if it’s any good).
If I could give one piece of advice to everyone thinking about doing this, I would say: be patient and have reasonable expectations. If you start out thinking that having a blog is easy and can make you a fortune overnight, you are probably going to be disappointed. But if you love writing and want to make a living from it, a blog is a great place to start. And isn’t it better to work at something you love than something you don’t?