A lot of bloggers like to post regular “income reports” on their blogs. I always thought that was the weirdest thing. I mean, you never hear anyone outside of the blogging world shout out to their friends, “Hey guys, I made $___ from my job last month!”
And now here I am, posting our first ever blog income report. Hear me out, though.
Bloggers and online entrepreneurs are a different breed, that’s for sure. But there are actually a lot of reasons for why they choose to publish their online income each month, none of which have to do with bragging:
- Documenting the journey: Bloggers naturally enjoy writing. Oftentimes, income reports give readers a behind-the-scenes look into what all goes into making a successful blog.
- Accountability: Income reports are a popular spot for bloggers to lay out some goals. By making them public, bloggers become more accountable.
- Showing Expertise: This doesn’t apply to every niche, but for many finance/business/marketing blogs, publicizing your own results boosts the overall authority of your blog. That’s why these niches are the most common spots to see income reports.
- Inspiring Others: We all started at $0. Some of us stayed at $0 for…a while. Income reports can offer some inspiration and show other bloggers how it is possible to break through.
- Promoting Affiliate Products: If there’s a certain product or service that they use that helps them with their blog, they can promote it to their readers and get a commission on any sales.
So, what made me want to post our first ever blog income report this month?
Ben and I have been running the personal finance blog over at DollarSprout (formerly known as VTX Capital) for almost two years now, and this blog for about 4 months (since October 2016). During that time, we’ve learned a lot about what all goes into running a successful blog, mostly via trial and error.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the past year is the incredible value in studying others who have already accomplished what you want to accomplish.
In my opinion, we did too much trial and error in our first year. I think we would have been better off investing more time in learning from people who were already succeeding. We tried to reinvent the wheel, and it wasn’t working.
So with this income report, I have a couple of goals:
- Show you what is working for us and what isn’t
- Let you know that it is possible to earn a living from blogging
- Show you why you should never give up
Are you completely new to blogging but want to get started? Be sure to check out our step by step guide, From 0-$100,000: How Anyone Can Start a Blog. You can get started with just a few minutes of setup.
If you’ve already got your blog up and running and are dying to get more traffic, check out our course: The Perfect Pin: How to Create Viral Pins that Drive Insane Amounts of Traffic (We get over 100k monthly visitors from Pinterest each month)!
January 2017 Blog Revenue:
Approximately 98% of that is profit.
This didn’t happen overnight. It took hard work and there was a lot of second-guessing and failing.
January 2017: $7,158
December 2016: $1,744
November 2016: $929
October 2016: $723
September 2016: $1,082
August 2016: $1,162
July 2016: $29
June 2016: $17
May 2016: $0.29 (We officially made less than 1 cent per day that month. This would have been a pretty reasonable time to quit, but we didn’t.)
January ’15 to April ’16: No income.
The vast majority of our online income comes from affiliate marketing (promoting the products of other companies and getting commissions on sales or leads that we generate). We also make money from ads (where we get paid per click) and from sponsored posts.
Here are some of the most popular affiliates that we make money promoting (we’ve tried and personally recommend all of these companies):
- Personal Capital
- Lending Club Investing
- Ally Invest
Let’s back up for a minute though.
Takeaway #1: You Won’t Get Anywhere Without Traffic
You might hear different opinions on this, but until you have at least 10,000 monthly visitors to your blog, you should not even be thinking about making money from your blog. If you aren’t quite there yet, building up your traffic needs to be your top priority. And 10,000 is still very low.
Here’s a breakdown of our traffic numbers for both blogs in January:
Just under 200k pageviews brought in $7k in revenue (again, mostly affiliates). We are going to work on optimizing our conversion rates to get more out of each page view, but this gives you a general idea of where we are at.
To increase your income from your blog, one of the levers you need to tilt in your favor is traffic.
Speaking of traffic, that brings me to the second takeaway…
Takeaway #2: Become a Master at One Social Media Network First
This was a big mistake that Ben and I made when we first started the blog over at VTX. We wanted to be everywhere, all the time.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Quora, Quibb… we were all over the place.
And you know what?
For the longest time, our traffic sucked. I mean, it REALLY sucked. We weren’t getting anywhere.
Then we did what every male blogger thinks he will never do… we got into Pinterest.
Here’s what happened (click to expand):
Keep in mind, we run a personal finance blog — not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Pinterest.
We made it work for us, though…. after a lot of trial and error. As a 26-year-old finance guy, it turns out I wasn’t necessarily born with the gift of making viral pins. But with practice, I’ve gotten a lot better:
Between better pin design, a better understanding of what our audience wanted, and actually learning how to use Pinterest from a business perspective, we were able to grow both VTX’s Pinterest account and the account for this blog really quickly:
4 months. Seriously, if you have a strategic approach to growing your Pinterest account, you can do this. Pinterest is the best source of free traffic out there for new bloggers, bar none.
Takeaway #3: Be Flexible with Your Business Model
When we first started VTX Capital, our goal was to be a subscription-based investment research company. We know financial advisors can sometimes be way too expensive, and we wanted to offer a low-cost alternative. Our plan was to run a few different model portfolios and charge subscribers a monthly fee to access our research and see any trades we were making.
I still really like the idea, but the cold reality is that we failed at making it work.
And it took us a long time, too long, to accept that.
I would spend all this time researching stocks, writing trade rationales, building portfolios, etc… and nobody subscribed. When you added on the free content that our audience wanted, plus all of the marketing, it was just too much for 2 people to handle.
So then we experimented with offering 1 on 1 coaching services. I wrote an ebook. While these worked out a lot better, it still wasn’t getting us the business results that we wanted.
That’s when we decided to experiment with affiliate marketing. And that’s also when things started to change for us.
We got our first real taste of success in August 2016 with affiliate marketing, and since then, our business model has completely changed. We are almost exclusively focused on working with major brands through affiliate marketing now.
Right now, our general approach to making money is pretty simple:
- All of our content is free
- Readers should always benefit from our content, even if they don’t act on any affiliate links.
That last part is really important. We refuse to run a business based on spam.
Takeaway #4: Diversify Your Affiliate Conversion Thresholds
Don’t just promote the high paying stuff.
Some of the affiliates that we promote on our sites pay over $100 per purchase, but guess what? We make more money from the companies that pay us $3-5 per email address we send their way. Free signups are easier to convert than expensive purchases, but the sheer volume of small payouts really adds up.
You need both ends of the spectrum, plus some stuff in between in order to maximize your earnings.
Also, don’t put all of your eggs into one basket! If you focus your entire source of income on one affiliate and then they decide to one day shut down their affiliate program, you’re gonna be screwed.
What We are Doing Differently than Most Bloggers
Ben and I are obviously really happy about jumping from $1,744 to $7,158 in one month.
But we are planning on putting most of our profits right back into the business. We’ve got big goals for these websites (and others we want to start), which means we need to keep the big picture in mind.
So what does that mean for us?
- Paying freelance writers for more content
- Hiring an assistant to manage and grow our Facebook pages
- Investing in Facebook ads
- Other investments for the business (coaching, admin assistants, etc.)
I’ve learned that money spent on learning is usually well worth it. We recently invested in a course called Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, and it has helped us out immensely. I’m looking to find similar courses to invest in for social media, SEO, etc.
One thing that has really helped us along the way is being 100% emotionally detached from our blogging income, whether it’s 29 cents in one month or it’s 7 grand. It’s important to always keep reevaluating what’s working, what isn’t, and the direction we want to go in.
We are no longer aimlessly writing about whatever comes to mind. We are researching what our readers want to read, SEO optimizing every post, and putting appropriate affiliates in each piece of content.
Our Goals for the Next 90 Days
- Video: I’ve been dreading this, but it has to be done. Video is ruling social media, and I don’t want to get left behind.
- Build Facebook and Instagram: Now that both sites have a stable foundation on Pinterest, we need to expand. Facebook and Instagram are next in line. This is going to require a lot of learning, but we are up to the challenge.
- Increase content output: I’m the first to admit, we post a bit less frequently than other blogs. We do need to step this up if we want to stay relevant.
Recently, we began consulting for a fairly large website completely outside of our niche, so that project will require a significant amount of time over the next year.
We are super pumped about this though because if we are successful, we would love to have them on our resume as we approach bigger brands for consulting opportunities. The main aspect we’re working with them on is converting their 700,000 Facebook likes into more profit for their business.
Who would have thought, a personal finance website would one day transform into a marketing and consulting company! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and double down on what is actually working for your business.
What I Recommend for Any New or Aspiring Bloggers
Don’t get caught up in other peoples’ numbers. I’m only posting ours so you can see that it’s possible… in four months, we took this blog from 0 pageviews to 50,000 per month.
Less than a year ago I was making 29 cents a month.
You can do this. You have to do this.
I know so many of you are looking for a way out. Well, this could be it.
I’m going to leave you with two things: