What I made in my first calendar year of blogging and how it was done. A discussion of blogging as a side hustle to build wealth while working on things you enjoy.
I’ve talked a lot on the blog about the four components that go into building extreme, early wealth:
- Earning more money
- Saving more money
- Taking the resulting savings from the first two steps and growing them in the best investments opportunities possible
- Optimizing the taxes paid on your portfolio’s growth because what matters is ultimately how many dollars stay in your pocket
When it comes to that first step of wealth building – earning more money – I think many people discount the possibility of a side hustle that would fit well into their lives, something they might actually enjoy.
One opportunity I certainly overlooked myself for years and which I’d like to share with you is how to make money blogging. So here’s a case study of how much blogging has generated for one person – me.
I actually hesitated for a long time over the idea of writing an income post. It’s mildly awkward to talk about in a way that sharing all my other financial details isn’t. This is in part due to the fact that several of my real life friends have ended up finding my blog, so it’s the equivalent of telling your friends what you make over dinner. Ultimately, though, I strongly believe that it’s hearing personal stories of what’s possible from others and how they did it that motivates us to pursue our own opportunities.
Partway into my own blogging journey, when I was trying to figure out how to monetize enough to pay for hosting and other small blog expenses, I ran across a few bloggers who published their income figures. I found them enormously helpful, and so I feel obligated to pay it forward to open other people’s eyes to the opportunity.
2017 Blog Income
In 2017, the blog saw over 1.2 million page views from over 361,000 visitors. It generated $62,326 of income ($57,328 in cash since some payments take 30-45 days past the end of the month to come through).
I started the blog in August of 2016. 2017 was my first full calendar year running the site. My view of blogging was that it would be an amazingly fun hobby that had no hope of making any money. But I enjoyed writing, and I thought it would be neat to connect with others who were as interested in personal finance as I was, so I decided it was the perfect hobby to try out in retirement. The blog attracted a few new readers, and it was panning out to be just as fun as I thought it would be. At the beginning of 2017, I decided it would be nice to find a way to make $50-$100 a month just to pay for things like nicer website templates, an email list service provider, and other things that would make the blog nicer. So I started reading a little about how other bloggers monetized.
I wrote about all the main ways to monetize a blog over here, but you can see from the chart above that the method I chose to start with was affiliate commissions. I found a few businesses whose products I like and share them with my readers. If a reader ends up making a purchase because of me, the business will share a percentage of the sale or a flat commission with the blogger. A great example of one of my affiliate partners is Amazon. So if you buy a book from Amazon I recommend, I might get a fraction of the sale price.
I really like this monetization path and recommend it for all new blogs over other methods, because it’s a way to provide your content absolutely free to your readers. And you get to choose your partners and can make sure that everything is a quality product you can stand behind.
Towards the end of 2017, I explored adding advertisements to the site. The advertising total for the year is a little deceptive: it only includes a month or two of results since I started it late in the year. A typical month is probably $1,000 on the low end and $1,800 to $2,000 on the high end. I chose advertisement as a second monetization tool because, while not as seamless to the reader as affiliate relationships, it allows me to provide the content completely free to them rather than asking them to plunk down cash for my work.
What I Didn’t Do – The Interesting Part
If you do a little research into how much other bloggers make, I wouldn’t say my results are particularly eye-popping. In fact, if you’re wondering what the real ceiling is on how much you can make blogging, I share some profiles of other real bloggers’ income over here. Compared to those figures, what I earned is peanuts. But the interesting part of my story is how it fit seamlessly into the rest of my life while providing the income it did. Here are some of the highlights:
5 Hours A Week
Aside from the first few weeks of starting the blog and these last two weeks doing a complete site redesign, I set strict limits for myself of doing this five hours a week, at most seven when there were a lot of non-writing things to do like answer emails.
I’m retired, and the reason I started this blog was because I enjoy writing and wanted an outlet that allowed me to pursue that while helping others. It was therefore important to me to not let this become an ‘obligation’ that took over my life or burnt me out on doing the thing I loved (the writing).
Real Income In The First Full Year
The trajectory of a blog is hard to tell when you begin. I’ve read in several sources that it often takes about a year to build the traffic and readership of a blog to the point where you can generate meaningful revenue. This is probably true, so it was a surprise to me that the blog generated actual income in 2017. It certainly wasn’t the plan. I can’t place my finger on a magic blueprint to ensure this happens for everyone, but the fact that it did (and the fact that my blog isn’t the only one to do this in the first full year) should be encouraging and cause you to think about the possibilities.
I have a confession. I am the least technologically savvy millennial on the planet. When I was issued iPhones for work, I lived for two and a half years with these fancy Apple gadgets sitting in my pocket without ever having figured out how to download iTunes and load music on my phone. Seriously, I would listen to Pandora on my way to work, and when I went underground to take the subway, my music would cut out and I would sit in silence until my phone could connect to the outside world.
Fortunately the WordPress blogging community is so robust and huge, you can find answers to almost any newbie question instantly with a Google search. If for whatever reason your request is extremely unique, there are a thousand developers on places like Upwork or Fiverr who will get you what you need for $10-$50.
Allergic to Marketing, Managing People, and Anything That Isn’t Writing
Again with the retirement focus. I started my blog as a hobby to have fun, which meant as I dove into my research on how to build and monetize a blog, there was a lot of advice that I straight up refused to implement.
I didn’t want to hire and manage writers or folks to create a social media marketing campaign for me. I didn’t want to spend hours each week implementing a ‘viral Pinterest marketing strategy’. I did make some efforts on this front, but this took up less than 10% of my time which meant less than an hour of my week. I won’t lie to you: some amount of this is going to be necessary, but I was delighted to discover that I was still able to achieve this level of readership without having to sacrifice half my hours to work I wouldn’t enjoy. Like so many things in life, the Pareto principle prevails: 20% of the techniques probably give you 80% of the benefits. In my extreme loafer case, it was more like implementing 5-10% of the techniques probably gave me 50-60% of the effect.
This should all be deeply encouraging to you. I’ve read success stories about people who seem like they have all their shit together and were meant to be marketing and website geniuses. I never quite identified with them. But if you’re not as technologically challenged as I am, willing to work on something more than 5 hours a week, etc. etc. your odds of succeeding are that much higher than mine were trying to do the same thing, at least as it relates to blogging.
Finally, case studies like mine prove that there is a spectrum of effort/skill/time/market fit that can yield successful results, and it’s not all or nothing.
So here’s the deal. I feel kind of cheated.
I built my career around this idea that I had to find a way to make a ton of money and become financially independent before I could run off and do the things I wanted, since the things I wanted supposedly wouldn’t support me financially.
Now, there are a whole host of caveats – not least of which is that one year of data is risky to bank an entire life plan on – but it seems increasingly likely that I could have quit and pursued my freedom much sooner had I put more frying pans in the fire.
I have enjoyed writing ever since I was young, and I planned to pursue it once I was retired. Why didn’t I give it a shot while I was working? Sure, I wrote things privately and saved them in the dusty annals of my computer during my working years. But I never even thought about putting it out there for others to see, commercially or not.
What It Means For You
If I could share one thing from my experience this first full year of blogging, it would be how important it is to give yourself a chance and put some more frying pans in the fire.
Will all of them pan out? No.
But your goal is to create a constant pipeline of opportunities for yourself, particularly ones that involve you spending time on things you and enjoy and would do for free anyway. That’s the part I missed. Putting more frying pans in the fire didn’t have to be about doing work on my off hours that I would find onerous. It could be about pursuing opportunities that involved me spending time doing things I wanted to do anyway, like blogging.
I don’t know what this is for you. Maybe you’re really into fitness and would dig being a personal trainer for a couple hours a week or teaching a yoga class. Maybe you’re crafty and want to open a fun little Etsy shop. Or for a pretty wide swath of people, you probably have at least one hobby or interest you could talk for hours about. Sharing your expertise on the subject and connecting with others interested in the same thing sounds like fun, so starting a blog of your own would be an excellent fit.
Today’s marketplace makes it so easy to give yourself a chance. You can get a blog up and running in 10 minutes, and you can host it for as little as $2.95 a month.
Investing $2.95 in yourself is a no-brainer. I spend $2.95 every month on some truly spectacular crap which has no hope of transforming my life and providing the kind of enjoyment that running your own site can possibly provide.
Here’s what you can take away from this case study:
- You know that blogging can make real money with a time commitment that probably works for your schedule (less than 5 hours a week)
- You know that there are success stories of people doing this who are technologically unsavvy, have strict limits on the time they can invest, and other real restrictions that go against the myth of the ‘all or nothing’ startup life.
- Will you have the same exact success level with the same inputs? Unclear. But at least you know it exists where you didn’t before. And think about how much better your odds are if you’re willing to work harder, do more research on best practices, etc. than the folks you read about in case studies like this.
- Perhaps most importantly, even if you don’t reach the same exact level of success, would even half that amount make a difference to you? Or would getting there in two years vs one year still be worthwhile? These are all real possibilities. But only if you start.
Start Your Own Blog
If you’re interested in starting your own blog, I highly recommend registering a domain and getting started with Bluehost.
They host over 2 million websites and are one of the largest focused on WordPress, which is the free blogging platform that most bloggers use. You can get hosting through this link for $2.95 vs the usual rate, and it comes with free registration of your chosen website. You can then use this guide to get your blog live in 10 minutes.
Given that Bluehost has so many blogging clients, it has built a streamlined process to walk you step by step through the setup process. It’s quick and pretty painless. Then you can check out these posts on common beginner blogger questions and how to monetize a blog.
I hope this case study encourages you to pursue a side hustle that focuses on work you enjoy. If I had put more frying pans in the fire while I was working, I might have been able to shorten my working career even more, and had more fun to boot. Whether that’s starting your own blog or something else, it helps to know there are others out there that have done it. So I’m telling you now: there are others, they are doing it, and you can, too.
How did 2017 go for you? Are there interests you’d like to pursue this year that you think you can commercialize? Do you have a topic you think would make a good blog of your own?