Full Disclosure: How I Earn Money Off Of My Blog (Updated)
Last Spring I wrote a blog post entitled ‘Full Disclosure: How I Earn Money Off Of My Blog‘ where I talked about all of the ways I use my blog to make money, as well as a few tips as to how you could apply my methods to monetize your own sites. It feels like the whole blogging landscape has changed so dramatically since I wrote that post as a university student on a year abroad, to now sitting here as a full time blogger and freelance journalist. I thought it was about time to take stock with a new post, both because I want to be transparent with you all about how I use this site to make money (I would not make a penny if it were not for you all), but also to provide a bit of commentary as to how the blogging landscape has changed in that time.
Photo by Nicole Anderson, March 2013 at the TOMS’ Cafe on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice, Los Angeles
I think the best way to illustrate how much things have changed is to give a breakdown of where my money came from in 2013, and compare it to how I am earning my money this year so far in 2014. I know this year is not done yet, so I have done it in percentages to give more of an idea. I’ll explain a bit more about how I made these changes below (which ones I was forced to adapt and make, and which ones I made for myself), but the numbers are worth keeping in mind. I was not doing any freelance work (yellow) outside of rachelphipps.com for other websites in 2013, and it now makes up for 30% of my income. I like that it is solid, I know how much I am going to get each month when the rest of my figures are so unpredictable. It is really something I’d recommend to bloggers looking to go full time. Another big area where there has been a lot of growth is affiliate marketing (green). While some of these earnings were earned in 2013 and only paid out in 2014, this is an area I’ve been pouring a lot of time and effort into (see below), so I’m really glad that has paid off. The final big thing you’ll notice is that in 2013 ‘Miscellaneous’ made up over half of my income. I know that does not sound very transparent, but most of that is referral commission. One of my affiliate networks, rewardStyle offered (I can’t find it they still do or not) a 20% referral commission on the earnings of bloggers you personally refer to the network for a year. I was very, very lucky that I referred a friend who went onto become one of the worlds biggest lifestyle bloggers, and that was where that years commission shows up. In case you were wondering ‘Related Projects’ are fees I’ve received for filming videos and attending photo shoots as a blogger.
While the percentages don’t really show it as I am now commanding much more per post than I did last year (you can read my post on how to work out how much you should charge for a sponsored post here), but I am doing only a fraction of the sponsored posts than I used to. It is now something to boost my blog income rather than a large portion of it. Rosie explained this all fantastically in much more detail when the change came in February last year, though it took a few more months to really take effect.
However, while I am doing less sponsored posts now, I as well as getting more money for them, I’m having a lot more fun writing them. Where before they were usually posts that did take a lot of time like shopping roundups from various brands, they tend to lend themselves to more creativity, as you are now showcasing the products more than before. I had so much fun putting together this recipe for Mint Aero Ice Cream for Aero, for example.
There has been a lot of chatter across the blogosphere recently about brands and PR agencies expecting bloggers to work in exchange for product without compensation. While I was a student, getting free samples from brands I already loved or wanted to try, earnestly with a view to review was a good option for me, another way to add to my income. But now, it being a brands way to get out of paying for more traditional advertising, or for a journalist to do something for free will not work for me (I no longer have that student grant propping me up!) so you’ll be seeing less product placements like that around here for brands that I don’t already have an existing relationship with.
All this said, my ethos towards sponsored posts (and all forms of sponsored content on this blog and across my social media streams) remains the same; if I would not endorse it without financial incentive, money will not change my mind about writing about it. You can read my policy on sponsored posts here.
I am actually signed up to three different affiliate networks, and each of these work for me in different ways so there is not much overlap, and I can maximise how much money I am making from my blog and from social media. The network that requires absolutely zero effort on my part past installation, and that I’d recommend for any blogger no matter how big or small you are is Skimlinks. Skimlinks is a piece of code that you can install on your site that changes all links that are not existing affiliate links (so it won’t affect any links you add from other networks) that link to a member of their network (they have practically every retailer you can think of) into an affiliate link.
A little primer for those of you who are not aware on what an affiliate link exactly is. If you click on an affiliate link to a product, and then you buy it or anything else on the website you have landed on, the blogger who linked you to the site gets a portion of your sale in commission. This works in that when you click on a link a cookie is installed on your web browser. That cookie stays put for 30 days, so a blogger can make money from your click up to 30 days afterwards. The exception to this is that the last cookie installed is the one that makes the commission, so that if I link you to a nice saucepan set, then later in the day another blogger links you to something else on that same website, it will be that second blogger who makes the commission, not me.
Skimlinks has some really great graph tools telling you where people clicked on the link and how much they spent, and best of all their payment threshold (how much you have to make before getting paid, via Paypal) is only £7, which is very, very low (my other two come in at £100/$100) which makes it a good option for smaller bloggers, meaning you will still get paid every month or so.
As I mentioned before, I have an affiliate agency too, rewardStyle. I have to generate these links myself from my rewardStyle dashboard, and my payment threshold is $100 so I only get a pay out every few months. I love being with rewardStyle as I know an actual person who runs my account who I can go to if I have any problems, and they are also who provide the majority of my sidebar advertising on my blog; they are ad banners, but they operate on affiliates.
Now, over the last year all of the work I have been putting into my affiliates is on the social media side. You can use rewardStyle links on all social media, so I occasionally link to products I am really digging on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. However, my money is coming from Pinterest. You can pin items directly from rewardStyle onto Pinterest, and as I have more of a clothes orientated following over there than on the blog (as this is a food blog, that kind of figures!) rewardStyle have recently introduced liketoknow.it, a service that allows you to add affiliate links to your Instagrams, but I have not really been using it long enough to be able to comment on how I have found it, yet.
Thirdly, I use ShopSense from ShopStyle. It works in the same way as rewardStyle and I use it in the same places, but it is pay-per-click rather than being pay-per-sale, so it may be the better option for smaller bloggers in that it may have a £100 payment threshold, you will get there much faster.
Advertising Networks & Sidebar Advertising
In January I signed up with Mode Media (who at the time were known as Glam Media). I had been resisting joining an advertising network for years, but a combination of finding the right network for me, and the need to diversity my income towards the end of my degree when I was exploring freelancing and blogging as a full time career option meant that it was the right time for me, and I have been nothing but pleased with my experience of working with Mode so far this year. They are in charge of the square 300×250 ad that you will see above the ‘About Me’ section at the top of my sidebar most of the time, and I get paid per the amount of times people visit my website and view it. With Mode I have so far also run one social media campaign of sponsored Instagram posts. I thought long and hard about if I was going to allow sponsored content on my social media feeds, and in the end I decided that I would follow the same guidelines I did with sponsored blog posts: I would not endorse anything I did not already love, I would clearly mark everything as sponsored, and I would use original content whenever possible.
As well as selling a very, very small portion of sidebar ads independently, I use Passionfruit to sell advertising to small independent businesses and blogs monthly via this page of my website. I pay a yearly subscription to Passionfruit to sell these, and I really would recommend the service. It makes things really easy for people to buy and renew ads on my site, and through having my site listed in their market place I have sold ad space that I would not have originally done.
I started freelancing in January, and some of the pieces I have written so far, as well as now making up roughly 1/3 of my total income have been among some of the pieces I have been most proud of in the entire 8 years I have been writing for the internet. As I mentioned before, I would wholeheartedly recommend freelance work to anyone looking to blog full time as regular clients really can help make your income more secure month to month. My three big clients are Borough Market for whom I write a regular column twice a month, Great British Chefs who I write recipes and food travel for, and the version of my ‘Student Suppers’ column I write twice a month for Wozedu.
Thanks so much for sticking by me with such a wordy post, and I really hope that my laying out how I manage to make an income from my blog has been helpful in giving you some ideas as to how you can turn your personal blogs into a bit of a revenue stream without making them seem too much like a business or changing the experience too much for your readers. For additional reading, while I will never want to share the exact figures of my personal finances on the internet, I really admire what Lindsey and Bjork over at Pinch of Yum have done in laying out their traffic and income reports with a detailed commentary for their readers every month. Just to think, when they started posting all of their reports in September 2011 they recorded a $21.97 profit, and last month they reported a $26,385.75 income. The power of the blogging world just blows me away sometimes!