Blogging as a Business: Growing a Six-Figure Blog. This page was added in late 2014 and I update it continually as I learn new things. Latest update: Jan 2017. This page contains affiliate links to products/services I use, love, and highly recommend.
Blogging as a Business: Growing a Six-Figure Blog
How I Got Started with Blogging…
This blog started out as a hobby. We were living in a tiny town in Oklahoma, 2+ hours from the closest Target (the horror!). It was simply a way catalog my projects and keep my mind busy (I had 3 kids under 3.5 at the time). I had no intention of it becoming a business and that’s why I often refer to myself as an accidental entrepreneur.
Flash forward to 3.5 years after I first start my blog. It was early 2015 when I realized this little blog of mine was becoming a full-time business, so that’s when I started learning more about the business side of blogging and concentrating on how to actively grow my blog. In May 2015, I officially became Dawn Nicole Designs, LLC. In April 2016, I filed a trademark to protect my brand: Dawn Nicole Designs™.
As of 2017, my brand is officially Dawn Nicole Designs®. (More on that down in the legal section). It is also the month this little blog o’ mine will hit 1 Million Pageviews for the first time.
In 2016, I earned a six figure income as blogger…but keep in mind that took quite a few years! This is not a get rich quick thing for most of us. Yes, I now make more than 3x what I did at my corporate job. But I also work a lot of hours. Not to mention that I still have a large student loan to pay off from grad school.
And, like I said, I put in a LOT of hours of work. I do all the projects, photography, and blogging to keep an entire website running with new content. That’s no small task. So be sure you’re blogging because you love sharing ideas with others, not just because you want to make money. I blog because I love it. The money is “just” an added benefit. If you blog with money as your main motivator, you’ll get the dreaded “blogging burnout” fast!
Why am I sharing this with you? Because as far as jobs go, it’s a really fun one. And I truly believe there is room for anyone who wants to succeed as a blogger. But you have to be ready to put in the WORK! ‘Cause there’s a lot of it.
Is Blogging a Real Job?
YES! Read this post called Five Ways Graphic Design School Changed my Life for the answer to that question!
On Working from Home with Kids…
Your kids will probably ask you what your job is (you know, aside from all the things motherhood entails 24/7/365). I overheard my six-year-old tell my five-year-old the other day “Mommy is a Blogger but no one really knows what she does”. Truth. Most people who ask what I do look at me as if I have a third eye when I tell them I’m a blogger. So there’s that…But yes, it really can be a great source of income, especially if you find multiple revenue streams (blogging, ads, eBook, products, services….it will be different for everyone). Being a work at home mom is a blessing and a curse. Read my 10 Tips for how I attempt to manage it here.
It can get a little lonely sometimes, but as a textbook introvert, I largely LOVE that I get to work from home.
Two Random but Very Important Business Tips…
- I operate on the business principle that you should give FAR way more away for free than you sell. I think that leads my readers to be more likely to buy from me when I do sell something since I’ve built a relationship with them and generously give a lot my work away for free! It took me 4 years to really figure out my product/service. During that time I focused on growing my numbers and now I have a really good sized audience to sell to.
- Never stop learning. I’m constantly taking online classes or reading books to further my skills and/or renew my passion when I’m feeling burnout! Two books I feel are must reads for creatives: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative* & The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion.* These two books are EVERYTHING when you’re feeling unmotivated, uncreative, burnout and/or all of the above.
Blogging as a Business: The Blog Village
Hands down my favorite tool for blogging as a business is The Blog Village*. I am a lifetime member and I truly think it it was worth every penny because it offers so much…it just plain ROCKS! Seriously just click the link to go watch the video on their homepage. I signed up seconds after I watched it and am so impressed with every aspect of what Trevor and Jennifer have created to enable bloggers to succeed.
- The stats dashboard. It’s amazing. Plus I can also set it to compare to fellow bloggers and there’s a “matchmaker” tool to suggest people with the same-ish social following for any social media I want to tell it to use.
- The Free Classes and 300+ Instructional Videos! I’m following the Advanced Blogger classes and I already took “Advanced Google Analytics” and am now taking the “Adobe Premiere Pro” eCourse and next I plan to do the new “Adobe Lightroom” one.
- They give you the coding and totally walk you through setting up a KILLER Work with Me page. You can check mine out here. (It’s consistently resulted in two-three sales per months since it launched, including my top package which way, way, WAY more than covers my TBV sign up free!)
- The Auto Image Tool: It takes one photo and crops it to the ideal size for every social media.
- Spending on our package, you get a call with the creator, Trevor to talk strategy. He suggested I raise my prices. I did that yesterday and am really excited about 4th Quarter! My membership is quite literally paying off (WAY beyond my initial investment) within 2 weeks of joining.
Many people also ask me about what I’ve learned, what I use, what I recommend, etc. so I decided to start this page on the blog dedicated to helping others start and/or grow their blogs. There’s room for all of us who want to succeed in this field!
I’m not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it. -Erica Cook
All the things I list below are products/services I actually use and recommend.
Pinspiration: Follow my Pinterest Board full of great Blogging Tips and How-To’s
Platform: WordPress.org. I started out on Blogger and had to move over after about a year and a half of blogging. While it’s not impossible, I wish I’d just started out self-hosting my site on WordPress.
Website Hosting: I used Bluehost* for the first several years and was really happy with the user-friendly platform and customer service. Recently though, with higher traffic and wanting to host large files on my site, I’ve moved my hosting to Orange Geek and the customer service is awesome. I still have my domains through Bluehost.
I currently use the Genesis Framework* as the basis for my site design.
Initially, I used a StudioPress Themes for WordPress*. Prior to my current site design I used the Prose theme for several years). I love that it does the hard part of designing for you (all the HTML and coding) and then I just designed all the pretty stuff to add in to customize my site.
Current Blog Design
I use and recommend Pretty Darn Cute Designs! I wanted my homepage to focus on my graphic design work and the full blog to be a link from there (realizing that 80-90% of my social media traffic comes straight to a post from Pinterest. Many people who come to my site may not see my home page, but it looks much more professional when sending to my design clients).
My Favorite Basic Blogging Tools
- Laptop. I use a MacBook Pro*, largely because of my Graphic Design work but also because of the reliability of a Mac! I recently also invested in an iMac since my laptop is several years old now.
- Printer. I use the Epson Workforce 7620*. I love that it will print up to 13×19 which is really handy for a lot of projects I do! It handles heavy cardstock and other media like a boss.
- Camera. I used my iPhone for the first few years because a nice camera wasn’t in the budget. Eventually, I graded to the Canon Rebel T3i DSLR (which has since been discontinued and replaced by the T5i*). Now that I blog full time, I upgraded once again and now use the Canon 5d Mark III.
- When I got my DSLR, I really only knew how to turn it on. I am now shooting in manual mode (and LOVING it) thanks to this DSLR Essentials 5-week eCourse. It was worth every penny. (Now, I need a course on remembering to take the darn lens cap off).
- Adobe Creative Cloud. I use this for all my Graphic Design work, printables, eBook creation, video creation, blog images, etc.
- I use the CoSchedule Calendar* and LOVE it. I can easily move posts around in the calendar view of the WordPress Plug-in and set my posts to auto-share to all my social media at different times of the day. It saves a ton of time and helps me re-share old posts to get more traffic. Read this post on How to Quadruple Your Traffic With a Social Media Calendar like CoSchedule.
- Give credit where credit is due! If you use a picture from another blogger, (A) get permission and (B) give them full credit and link back to their blog. This isn’t just nice is ensures you’re not breaking copyright laws.
- Be sure to check local/state laws about operating an online business. I filed to register my business in my county which was inexpensive and easy to do.
- I originally operated as a sole proprietorship, but I did apply online for an EIN number for tax purposes. It took just a few minutes to do online and I immediately got my EIN letter via PDF. I did this for two reasons: (1) An EIN looks more professional (2) I no longer have to give out my SS# to all the companies I work with.
- On filing taxes as a blogger: Tax Time: What Bloggers Need to Know
- There’s a lot more to this legal section that I won’t get into because I’m not an expert…copyright, disclosures, truth in advertising, using images that aren’t yours, etc. Bottom line: Do your homework!
- In May 2015, I hired a lawyer to turn Dawn Nicole Designs into an LLC. You might be able to do this yourself but with how we move (due to the military), I felt like I needed the help of an expert since I formed my LLC in the state I’m a resident of, which is not the state I’m currently in. It cost me about $475 and that includes the $99 per year I have to pay to have a registrar agent in my home state (this also happens to be the lawyer I used. She uses her address and accepts all correspondence on my behalf and forwards it on to me).
- In August 2015, we opted to hire an accountant to help with our taxes. I also started paying about $10 a month to use Quickbooks Simple Start online and it’s cut hours from the spreadsheets I was doing prior to starting with Quickbooks.
- In April 2016, I filed to trademark my name and am now Dawn Nicole Designs®. Another “me” popped up online and was causing brand confusion so I highly recommend doing a trademark before it gets to that point. I used a lawyer and filed in 2 categories and it cost me just under $1k.
- I use Yoast SEO to Manage my SEO. This pretty much manages it for you and has spots you fill in your keywords and what not. It also builds your XML sitemap for you. This is all stuff that is for people who are IT gurus and much of what I just said is way over my head…so I consider it my SEO for Dummies plugin! It gives you a green light when your SEO is good (I actually liked that better than my new SEO format since it’s so clear that you’re good to go when the green dot pops up!)
- Make sure to rename your pictures before uploading them to WordPress. It boosts your SEO and helps your search rankings! (So instead of leaving an image named DSC00019, change it to “DIY Rustic Hook Rack 1” etc.).
- This post has great basic tips on learning about SEO.
- SEO & Keywords are so important, especially since search engines are my second biggest source of traffic.
- Put one together! Many companies will request this when working with you, plus it’s nice and professional looking. I used this article when I first created one.
- Want to see a sample? You can download mine over on my “DND Partner Program” Page. I try to update monthly, quarterly at the least often.
- Klout. It measures your social media influence and is requested by some media groups I work with.
- Why am I dedicating a whole section just to Pinterest? It’s simple! A whopping 80-90%+ of my social media traffic comes from Pinterest. For that reason, it’s my main focus for social media.
- I use a scheduling service called Tailwind since they are Pinterest approved. I set up my posts to auto-pin to Pinterest and especially big group boards I’m a part of which really helps boost traffic tremendously. Worth every penny. I schedule both maintenance pins to get old content seen again, as well as Pin Campaigns to give new posts a boost. This has played a HUGE role in increasing my page views. I’ve literally more than tripled them the past few months by using Pin Scheduling.
- Enable Rich Pins. They show a title on your pin that will be there regardless of what text people add when they pin from your site. Read more about setting them up here.
- Read this article for some good info on the use of hashtags in Pinterest.
- Use a long “pinnable” image in your posts. Because they take up more valuable real estate on Pinterest, they get more action which equals more traffic to your site I put mine at the top of my post (usually) but you can put it middle, end or wherever you prefer (There’s even code you can add to “hide” it from actually showing up in your post too).
- My tips: How I Grew My Instagram Following by over 500% in 2015.
- I highly recommend this Dean Street Society Instagram with Intention Course if you’re serious about growing your IG! I’ve WAY more than doubled my IG following since taking the class. I took the class in January of 2015 and had about 2k followers. As of October 2016, I’m at over 50k followers.
- I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It only accounts for about 15% of blog traffic, but I think it’s what most people use regularly. The major downside is that my posts are literally seen by <1% of my followers unless I pay for people to see them.
- I schedule a lot of my posts (either via Co-Schedule or via the built-in Facebook Scheduling Tool).
- I do pay to boost certain posts (like my eBook release) and it definitely has huge benefits when you do with the right post and target audience!
- Growing a Facebook group is a great way to grow a community and increase your reach!
Growing my email list is the number one thing I wish I’d done from Day One of Blogging. There’s no better way to reach your readers than in their inboxes!
- My newsletters are Powered by MailChimp*. I don’t want to send too many emails and risk annoying people to the point they unsubscribe, so I only send them out once or twice a month.
- There’s a bit of a learning curve when you’re learning how to put them together in MailChimp but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually very simple. My first email campaign was a total fail! Oops! But since then they’ve gone well and have had nearly double the open rate than the industry average.
- You must use an address on your newsletter to comply with anti-spam laws. I recommend signing up for a PO Box so you don’t have to use your personal address.
- I use the HelloBar* for banners and small pop-ups. I also add a link in my post signature and the combo of these things means I see a great rate of new daily subscribers.
- I give my newsletter subscribers an exclusive freebie I create for them each week because I feel like my newsletter peeps deserve something of more value than just a summary of my posts! People get a ton of emails so you need to be sure you’re adding value to their lives. Sending out your RSS feed just doesn’t cut it if you really want to grow your list.
- I use Rafflecopter to host my giveaways. Due to Facebook’s terms of service, you cannot ask people to “like” your Facebook page as a means of entry (Rafflecopter’s work around is asking people simply to visit your page but they’re not required to like it). It’s also not advisable to ask people to “like” your Google+ page for giveaways.
Amazon Associates is the main program I use. If you link to it actively (don’t forget to make those links “no-follow”) it can be a decent source of income to help cover blogs costs. For a long time I only made $100-200 a month by linking to products I actually use and love but now I usually bring in $1300-$2000+ a month! Your buyer’s price is the same but you get a referral fee which helps cover the costs of running a site. (When it becomes a business your expenses start add up: better hosting for a faster site, email list fees, Dropbox fees, Adobe Creative Cloud, Editorial Calendar app, and Pin Schedulers like Tailwind are just a few things I have to pay monthly to maintain the blog).
In May 2015, I am moved to an Ad Network, AdThrive, and they will manage all my traditional ads. At the time I applied, they required a minimum of 100K monthly page views to apply.
If you’re new to ads or under 100K pageviews, I recommend using with Google Adsense to place a few ads on your site. I believe three is the max they allow. The more page views you get, the more you can earn. These pay decent but good luck getting help from a real person with an entity as big as Google! Make sure you block “sensitive ads” so you don’t get weird/inappropriate ads on your site. I learned that the hard way.
Sponsored Posts: Go it alone or use Media Groups
I recently began going it alone because media groups don’t usually pay well once you hit a substantial reach. As such, I started the DND Partner Program to work with brands I love.
If you’re just starting out or haven’t grown a substantial social media following, Media Groups are the way to go.
Most media groups require a minimum of 20-25K page views per month but it varies a bit so check into the “rules” for the ones that interest you. I’m very picky about what I apply for. To be true to myself and the blog, I only apply for sponsored posts that are for products I use and love.
- TapInfluence*-Good pay. Great user-friendly system. Awesome to work with.
- Pollinate Media-Good pay. Awesome to worth with.
- POPSUGAR Select– I’m newish to them as well but they’ve shared one of my blog posts on their site and sent me a super cute zip up “POPSUGAR” hoodie recently as a welcome to the family!
- Clever Girls Network-Good pay and awesome to work with. Higher page views seem to be a must for getting selected for their campaigns.
- Blueprint Social-The lowest paying but fun campaigns and they’ve just partnered with a bigger media group to offer more opportunities in the coming year. Great to work with.
- Izea*-Izea offers both an ad network and sponsored post opportunities. The direct offers are the best and they pay well and fast in my experience! I only do the posts that let me try the product.
- Linquia-This is on a Pay Per Click (PPC) payment system so, for example, you could make $150 for a post or $20. Not a huge fan of the user-friendliness of their set up or the PPC system. I feel like I’d have to annoy my readers with links to hit my max earning potential and that’s just not my style. At this point, I don’t do campaigns with them based on the setup.
- SITS Girls (Massive Sway)-I’ve yet to do an actual campaign with them but they do offer a few opportunities and have a great private Facebook Group for members that’s a great resource for all things blogging.
- Sverve– I joined this one but have never done a campaign with them.
- Collective Bias-Upside: A ton of opportunities. I have yet to do a campaign. Downside: A lot of their campaigns are for products I wouldn’t normally buy or use.
What Should I Charge for Sponsored Posts?
People tend to be secretive about how to charge when you’re Blogging as a Business but the industry standard is to charge $10 per 10k page views. So if you get 250k page views a month, you charge $250. Social Media shares can be priced separately. If the brand/company wants you to share to specific social media multiple times, you’ll be able to charge more depending on what they’d like you to do.
I base my pricing for my blog and social media on this awesome tool called: Social Bluebook, which helps you find your brand’s value.
- If a company writes and ask you to work for publicity, RUN! It’s never worth it. The most difficult companies to work with in my experience are always the ones who aren’t paying me.
- Be picky. Only fit things that fit your blog. It’s a mistake I made in the beginning. If it doesn’t fit your theme, it won’t do well and will likely annoy your readers. Yes, it’s hard to turn down a good paying opportunity but being picky ensures you don’t alienate readers and lose followers because you’re becoming too spammy.
- Make your sponsored posts authentic. Write like yourself, not an ad. The real posts do much better traffic-wise.
- Give your readers something of value. When I highlight a product by sharing valuable tips or a free printable that goes along with it I get so much more traffic to the post. No one wants to read an ad and everybody loves a good freebie.
Guest Posting/Being a Contributor
Not only does this help boost your SEO, it’s great for getting to know other bloggers and introducing your blog to new readers. I spent one year on the Silhouette Design Team (3 posts per month). I guest post a few times a year for various bloggers and was formerly a regular contributor for two sites: Capturing Joy with Kristen Duke (every other month), and Kimber at The Pinning Mama (once a month). It doesn’t bring in a lot of direct traffic but I’ve learned a ton from Kristen and Kimber as mentors! And as I said, it’s a great way to introduce your blog to new readers. It’s hard to measure exactly how beneficial it is for your numbers but I really love doing it. It’s also hard to give great content to another site but doing your best work as a contributor helps drive people to see more of what you’re up to! (And some gigs will allow you to re-share your post on your own site after a given time frame anyway.)
I applied for the Design Team with Silhouette and the Printable Contributor “job” with Capturing Joy. I was asked to contribute for The Pinning Mama by Kimber. For all the opportunities I applied for, I just happened to see them on Instagram. I see a lot of the big bloggers post calls for contributors from time to time over their social media, so keep an eye out for these kinds of opportunities.
May 2015 Update: I also took on some awesome paid contributors of my own this year!
My Favorite WordPress Plug-Ins
- WP Touch. This helps you create a mobile-friendly version of your site which boosts your site health and appeases the Google gods.
- WP Optimize. Database clean-up tool to help improve site speed.
- Yoast SEO. Simplifies SEO for those of us without an IT degree.
- Comment Reply Notification. Auto-emails the commenter when you reply from within the WordPress comments. LOVE this.
- jQuery Pin It Button for Images. This is how I have the fun custom “Pin it” button that matches my logo when you hover over images on my site.
- P3 Performance Profiler. Measures all your plug-in’s impact on your site load time so you know which plug-ins to keep and which to consider getting rid of.
- Ultimate Nofollow. Makes it as easy as checking a box to add the no-follow code to your links when you add them to your post. This is required by law for all sponsored/affiliate type links!
- WP Smush.it. This plug-in compresses images as you upload them, which helps your site run faster. You should still resize all your images in an outside program before adding them to WordPress to keep your site speed up.
- WP Super Cache. Enables page caching which improves site speed.
- Quick AdSense. If you’re doing your own ads, this is perfect for setting up your in-post ads quickly and easily. I used coding from Media.net to input the actual ad code (as mentioned above).
Is there something you’re curious about Blogging as a Business that I didn’t touch on? Feel free to let me know!