Blogging Basics: How to start a blog, and whether you’ll ever make money from it

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Thinking of starting a blog? Already started one and wondering when you’ll rake in the Big Bucks?

I’m going to lay it out for you….

Here’s some advice I gave to a journalist who wanted to start a parenting blog, but since people ask me the same questions all the time, I thought I’d back up from relative esoterica  -  like how business communicators should respond to negative blog reviews -  and give you my standard answer to two common questions:

  1. How do I decide what to write about, and then get started?
  2. Can you actually make money blogging?

My basic advice for beginning bloggers is this  -  go to Aussie Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger site, and read everything. That’s not meant to be a cop-out, but seriously, you can’t do any better than Darren for great starter advice. At the bottom of the front page of his site is a box, Best of Problogger, so click the tab For Beginners and just start reading. That’s exactly what I did when I started.

After that, read Liz Strauss’ Successful Blog and Chris Brogan’s blog for how to nurture your blog’s community and grow visibility and readership.

In between reading the three sites above….

  • Write good content
  • Post reasonably frequently (2-4 times a week)
  • Keep at it for at least 4-6 months, which is about how much time a blog usually needs to gain traffic and attention traction.

That’s it, really. But do you see the problem? Anyone toting a keyboard can start a blog - it’s keeping one going month after month, year after year that’s the hard part.

Key for my journalist questioner: there are thousands of parenting blogs out there, and that’s probably underestimating. What’s her special angle?

What’s your special angle? What will make yours particularly unique? What is your blog’s “elevator speech?” Hone in on that and work the bejeebus out of it to bring value to your readers.  I assure you, there’s no simpler answer.

Now, on to the money round….

I know very few people who make much money directly from blogging (myself included.) Most people’s blogs are simply part of their writing portfolio, or a storefront to/demonstration of their expertise. You have to have a really specific, lucrative niche (or a big presence) to have enough traffic to live off of blog-generated ad revenue.

Two examples of success -

  1. Heather Armstrong’s dooce (longevity, quality and HUGE traffic) and
  2. Darren Rowse’s other site, his Digital Photography School (longevity, quality and camera equipment-related affiliate sales plus ads.)

Right now, I do get paid a combined US$100-$200 a month for my work on the BootsnAll Family Travel Logue and for the Perceptive Travel Blog. They are largely ad-supported.

I used to be paid for my Fast Machines drag racing posts, but the editor can’t afford it anymore, so I’m wrestling with whether I can continue that, although I certainly want to. As a benchmark, I’ve been paid US $20-$50 per post when I’m paid by the post on that site and others.

I’m not paid directly for my Every Dot Connects posts, but Connie Reece, Jennifer Navarrete and I make money doing consulting, corporate training and workshops about social media, so the EDC blog is simply another entry into that work for our prospective customers.

If I didn’t have a military pension and wasn’t married to someone with a steady income (my husband is a high school math teacher) I’d never make it, frankly. I still do print work that pays much better (Texas Highways is one of my favorite clients, and so is National Geographic Traveler) but I haven’t pitched article ideas to them lately because I’m busy with online work. I’d kill to blog for them at per-word print rates, but their business models won’t support that yet.

Bottom line  -  the vast majority of us won’t make much money any time soon from blogging. Where we CAN make money is having the critical skill set of being able to create good online content and understand how the online ecosystem works (including eventually mobile content, which will be huge, in my opinion.)

WHEN will that make you money? As soon as more value shifts from dying print work to burgeoning online/mobile work.

And when will that be? Well, if I knew that, I’d be rich myself by now!

We simply don’t know yet, but sitting around waiting for magic answers is not a good idea.  Content is shifting to the Web and to mobile; just because a good pay structure isn’t there yet doesn’t mean you can ignore it.

You’ll have competition - there are a ton of writers and journalists finally figuring out that they’d better know this stuff.  I thought I was late to the game when I started my family travel blog in Feb 2006, on the advice of this smart journalist. Now, I have a three-year head start, and don’t you think I’m not very grateful for that.

For writers and journalists, in the end, the winners will be the ones who can deliver quality content anywhere, including online.

Congratulations to those of you who are starting a blog, and it’s OK if your purpose is simply to teach yourself how the social Web works, not necessarily to make income.

It’s still a smart move.

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This post was written by:

Sheila Scarborough - who has written 31 posts on Every Dot Connects.

I'm a freelance writer specializing in travel, NHRA drag racing and social media/Web 2.0.

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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Scot Duke Says:

    I’ll go with most everything you have said with the acceptation of the speed it takes to build a community around someone’s blog. If they are blogging of things people come online to find or for the people who are online and what they care about, understand or interests them then the time factor you mentioned in building a fan base or readership is pretty accurate.
    However, if someone is blogging on niche issues, a subject that is not understood, or anything the people who hang out online feel has a perceived lameness to it, then it may take years to get a following enough to that particular blog.
    The solution to that would then be to take advantage of more offline gatherings to promote the blog and do like FaceBook and some of the other social mega sites did to start..create an offline network of followers on the niche and then use the blog to facilitate to those people who now come online to read more on what they learned offline.
    That should, if nothing else, kill some time until the niche blog grows organically online from search engine rankings.
    At least this has been my experience of what works for blogging on niche issues.

  2. Sheila Scarborough Says:

    Hi Scot,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment; you are absolutely correct that building a group of readers can happen OFF of your blog as much as ON it (in fact I plan to post about that soon.)

    You are also correct that very small, niche area blogs take more time to build traffic and impact. For me, the good news is that niche stuff on the Web is so much easier to find (so like minds can find one another.)

  3. Wicklow Jane Says:

    There is good quality writing on here, which is not something I can say about all websites. Thanks alot.

  4. Rob Harper Says:

    What a brilliant article. I’ve started a few blog sites, most recently one on organic gardening, and it is so hard to keep it going. Your article and the ones that you’ve linked too really do hit it home, that you have to keep working at it.

  5. Sheila Scarborough Says:

    @Wicklow Jane - Thanks for stopping by.

    @Rob Harper - My Dad’s a gardener and I keep telling him he’d enjoy writing a Master Gardener’s blog. Good luck to you!

  6. Seth W Says:

    A great post about doing something everybody needs to try… starting a blog! It’s pretty easy to get started and with some time and effort bloggers have a nice earning potential.

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