In this guide, we’ll cover the basics you need to know about earning a location independent income by becoming a professional blogger.
Contrary to most peoples’ expectations, professional blogging is *not* passive income and requires a lot of work, time and effort. In this guide we’ve included the key steps you’ll need to take to get started and throughout the guide, we recommend additional free & premium resources if you want to take things to the next level and find out more information on how to make it as a professional blogger. Let’s get started….
STEP 1: Your Blog Strategy
If one of your key goals is to make money from a blog, then you’re going to need to be strategic about it from the start. The route that many people take is to start blogging about something they’re passionate about then think about how to monetise it.
That’s not necessarily the wrong way to go about it (that’s certainly the way we’ve done it several times), but it doesn’t always make for the most profitable approach. The two (passion & income) aren’t mutually exclusive by any means – but if professional blogging is one of your strategies to create a location independent income for yourself, then you need to start out with this explicit aim to generate income from a blog at the start.
So, you’ll need to consider the following in your strategy:
- Your topic/niche
- Your content strategy
- Your monetisation strategy
- Your marketing strategy
Let’s take a closer look at each…
#1 Your Blog Topic & Niche
A blog is something that takes time, dedication and effort – just ask any successful blogger out there and you’ll probably find that they’ve had to spend countless hours working on their blog & writing before they even made a dollar. Here’s the bottom line: Being a professional blogger is not a quick route to a location independent income.
That means that the topic/niche you choose for a blog really needs to be something you’re at least interested in, if not passionate about (unless you plan to outsource all the writing, of course, but that’s another strategy entirely).
There are very few industries and niches out there these days that haven’t already been done to death and are unsaturated but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter the fray. However, if you’re going to have any measure of success, you are going to need to bring a unique edge to the niche – something which sets you apart from the rest and something which will attract its own readership, even if that’s your own unique voice/personality.
#2 Your Content Strategy
With the rising popularity of video and audio online, you need to decide what type of content you’ll be creating and sharing. Will you focus on audio or video or text? Will you include a mix of all three? What type of content will your readership best respond to?
And you’ll also need to decide what topics and subjects you’ll cover. It may be clear from the niche you pick but if your topic covers a broader range of subjects, then you’ll make your life a lot easier if you can chunk it down into main categories (e,g. like Business, Travel & Tech for location independence) and structure your content around these. You might find it helpful to create a content calendar so that you know what you’ll be posting & when – in my experience, this is one of the things that sets most professional bloggers apart from hobby bloggers.
#3 Your Monetisation Strategy
Typically, the following options are popular monetisation options for bloggers:
- Sponsored content
- Affiliate marketing
- Staff blogger/Guest blogger
Let’s take a closer look at each of the above…
Making money from advertising & sponsorship on your site is more suitable for blogs which already have an audience/decent traffic versus brand new blogs with a tiny readership and small traffic volumes. There are two primary forms of advertising on blogs:
- Private advertising & sponsorship deals
Whichever route you choose, the key to success when it comes to generating revenue from either is that you need traffic and a responsive audience.
Think of it from a private advertiser’s point of view – they’re not going to pay you to advertise on your site unless they’ll be reaching the audience they want. Many bloggers will tell you that you need to have a pretty decent-sized audience before any individuals/organisations will consider sponsoring you/your blog.
With that said however, we’ve previously agreed sponsorship and advertising deals for one of our sites that had only 400 subscribers and around 4,000 page views per month at the time – so you don’t necessarily need to have a subscriber/reader base in the big thousands before you make any money from a blog.
Similarly with adsense, you’re going to need have a decent volume of traffic hitting your site each month if you’re going to stand a chance of generating more than a few cents from ad clicks every month.
Sponsored content is what it sounds like – you get paid to add specific content on your blog. As you can imagine there are some drawbacks to this, especially if one of your aims is also to create a community around your blog and nurture trusting relationships with readers.
Adding sponsored content to your blog can work if you set the right expectations with readers & sponsors – with readers, that you only include sponsored content when you mark it clearly as “sponsored” and with sponsors, that you have the freedom to write a fair & honest review (if that’s what you’re being paid to write of course).
Affiliate marketing is a bit like advertising except you run adverts for services/products/tools you like and earn an income if someone clicks on your advert and then proceeds to buy that product.
Affiliate advertising is probably the most common method many bloggers use to generate an income from their blog – and that’s because it works. Unlike Adsense, advertising products you resonate with and recommend personally is like giving a personal recommendation to friends, family and colleagues. There’s an element of trust involved which is why it’s a method that works well on blogs – because you if you’re doing things right, you as the writer/blogger, are likely to be continually building relationships with your readers on an ongoing basis.
While this isn’t a strategy that immediately springs to mind for most bloggers, you can be a “pro blogger” by being paid to write on other peoples’ blogs. So this technically crosses over in to the area of freelance writing but you can generate a decent income by being paid to write blog posts for others based upon the reputation you’ve built on your own blog.
This is something that worked for me when I first started blogging. The location independent blog wasn’t generating any income (that wasn’t my goal at the time) but on account of the reputation and portfolio of work I’d built up there, I got well-paying gigs writing on other blogs I approached. At $70-$100 per article, it doesn’t take many articles a month before you’re making a decent income from your blogging skills – even if that’s not directly from your own blog.
#4 Your Marketing Strategy
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of writing a blog you’re passionate about and having an outlet to share your thoughts but one of the most neglected aspects of being a professional blogger is what you do off your blog and not on it. That is, how you reach out and drive people to your site in order to grow your audience, grow your traffic and generate income from this.
The most successful bloggers are religious about doing this and put as much time and effort into marketing their blogs as they do into blogging. The following strategies are the most common and often the most effective wayst to spread the word about your blog:
- Guest posting – very effective, especially on bigger blogs in your field
- Advertising – e.g. on Facebook & on other blogs
- Social media networking – e.g. on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and online forums
- Link bait – e.g. writing articles that entice/encourage links from other bloggers
The bottom line is this: If you’re hoping to make money from being a professional blogger, then you need to be strategic and organised about it from the start…not start blogging in earnest and hope that the money will follow.
- You Need A Blog Strategy – great article on why you need to start with this
- Problogger’s “Make Money Blogging” resources
- Blog Strategy category on Daily Blog Tips
STEP 2: Setting Up & Designing Your Blog
This is the stage where we get practical…if you haven’t already got your blog set up (and even if you have in some cases), here’s where you need to do it. At this stage, I’m going to save you a lot of wasted time & effort and tell you what I’d use and recommend when it comes to blogging platforms, themes, design & branding.
Firstly, here’s what I wouldn’t use or do…
- A blogger blog (e.g. yourblog.blogspot.com) – while there are some bigger blogs out there which still use blogger, it’s typically not used by professional bloggers so I’d avoid it.
- A Typepad blog – although Seth Godin uses Typepad, I’d recommend using a self-hosted blog so you control & own 100% of your content and you’re not at the mercy of another company who hosts your content for you. This is also why I wouldn’t recommend using a WordPress.com blog because again it’s a hosted solution and you don’t have full control of your content.
- Keep the default theme or use a cookie cutter theme – while some of these are absolutely fine, if you really want to make it as a problogger you need to set yourself apart in as many ways as possible and show you’re professionalism throughout…this includes in your personal branding and site design.
And now, here’s what I would do….
1 – Set up your own platform & content
I’d recommend purchasing your own domain and get a self-hosted blog set up using WordPress.org. This means that you’ll have complete control over your site and its contents which is what you want if you’re aiming to be a professional blogger.
You don’t ever want to be held to ransom by another organisation so self-hosting your own site is highly recommended. It’s not nearly as difficult as it seems to get this all sorted out, there are plenty of tutorials to help.
2 – Build a decent brand
Your brand is everything – but it doesn’t just include the theme, look/feel, graphics, colours and visual elements of your blog. It also includes your “voice” and style of blogging.
At this stage, you may still be finding your blogging style and voice so for now, focus on the visual elements of your site.
Ideally this means paying a professional designer to create a custom design for your site – this is really the only way to get a site which completely conveys the personal brand and image you want.
However, if you can’t afford this then head over to Headway, Woothemes or Themeforest and pick up a premium theme which you can either try to customise yourself or bite the bullet and pay someone to get it looking how you want it. It really depends how quickly you want to be up & running and how much time you want to spend getting up to speed on html/CSS – or whether your time is better spent blogging and creating content.
3 – Customise your site
WordPress works just fine out of the box but you’ll find that you can extend its functionality and usability with some (free) plugins. For starters, we recommend the following plug-ins:
- Maintenance Mode – puts your blog into maintenance mode & hides it behind a splash page while you work on it behind the scenes.
- Contact Form 7 – a simple but effective plugin which easily lets you add a contact form to your site.
- Google XML Sitemaps – create a Google-friendly site map automatically.
There are plenty of free plugins which can massively extend the functionality of your blog but these are the basic ones we install on any new blog for a client.
STEP 3: Creating Your Content
The cornerstone of a professional blogger’s ability to make money is his content…and yours needs to be killer. Ok, well not always killer but it needs to be pretty damn good if you want to stand a chance of getting paid to do it.
Create Your Pillar Content
I think it was Yaro Starak who first coined the phrase “pillar content” but it has also been termed “cornerstone content” or “flagship content”. Here’s Yaro’s definition of it…
“Write at least five major “pillar” articles. A pillar article is usually a tutorial style article aimed to teach your audience something. Generally they are longer than 500 words and have lots of very practical tips or advice. This article you are currently reading could be considered a pillar article since it is very practical and a good “how-to” lesson. This style of article has long term appeal, stays current (it isn’t news or time dependent) and offers real value and insight. The more pillars you have on your blog the better.”
So now you know what it is, you need to go ahead and create it!
Create An Ongoing Schedule
Let’s talk a little bit about the ongoing publishing schedule of your site. You may be under the impression that professional bloggers must blog every day and that’s what you need to do to make money.
In some niches, this is indeed important (e.g. breaking news, gossip etc.) but for many bloggers, daily blog posts are overkill. Having gone down this route myself with my first couple of blogs, it’s something I quickly learned was a surefire route to burnout.
To begin with you may find you need/want to blog frequently to fill up your blog with decent content but after a while, you’ll likely find your own rhythm and can stick to this. As I mentioned in step 1, it’s always helpful to have some kind of content strategy to follow to ensure you’re keeping on track with the consistent messages you’d like to communicate and that your readers begin to know what to expect from you and when.
For example, you may decide you need the following types of articles on your site:
- “How to” posts with useful, practical instructions
- Inspiring interviews & case studies
- “In the news” commentary-style posts
- Monthly “behind the scenes” updates
Having decided on the types of post you’ll base your content creation around, you might then find it useful to schedule specific days/weeks to publish that content. So for example, you might decide to publish the “How to” posts every Monday, an inspiring interview/case study every Wednesday and then a monthly update on the last Friday of every month with “in the news” posts sprinkled in between whenever there’s something noteworthy co comment on.
Creating a schedule like the one above gives you something to stick to, self-imposed deadlines to meet and makes for an altogether more organised approach to professional blogging than a “post when you feel like it” approach.
- How To Create Cornerstone Content that Google Loves by Copyblogger
- Killer Flagship Content – free ebook by Chris Garrett (you’ll need to subscribe to his blog but it’s worth it anyway!)
STEP 4: Getting Readers & Traffic
This is the step that many bloggers forget about until they start blogging and realise that it’s not enough to sit behind their laptop and blog away merrily…they need to get out and about (in a virtual sense) and promote their blog. The following are methods you can use to help spread the word about your blog and generate readers:
Write great content
This should go without saying but it is the *only* real way to continue to increase your readers, audience and traffic in the long term. There is no sense in starting with a bang only for the quality of your writing to drop off after a while. In the long run, it doesn’t matter what other tactics or strategies you use, if your content isn’t up to scratch, you’ll forever struggle to grow your audience.
Network with other bloggers
Making friends with other bloggers in your niche may seem counter-intuitive at first but it’s a great way to stay in touch with what’s going on and build relationships with bloggers who you can partner with in various ways. For starters, you may be able to guest post for them, retweet/share their posts (and hope they reciprocate) and become an active commenter on their site by providing useful information and demonstrating your own knowledge. This is how I’ve met & befriended numerous bloggers online.
Leverage Social Media sites
You need to have a presence on the key social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. They’re perfect ways to find and connect with people who are interested in the same stuff as you and can be great for sharing your (and others) links.
Writing Link bait
This is a technique used by many savvy bloggers when they first launch their site. They write/compile a post which features some of the bigger name bloggers in a niche (or outside it) and either ask them for tips or simply let them know they’re on the list. It’s a smart way of generating lots of attention to a new site and getting on to peoples’ radars by trading off bigger names.
There are plenty of tactics you can use to grow your readership – the above only scratch the surface. There’s so much great content already out there that I’m not going to rehash it but simply point you to it…
- How to Attract Links and Increase Web Traffic – The Ultimate Guide by Copyblogger
- 10 Effective Ways To Get More Subscribers by Copyblogger
- The Best of Copyblogger by Copyblogger