As a blogger, people often scratch their heads and wonder what I do for a living. I have a business card that I hand out that says:
I have an email signature that says something similar:
fadra nally | writer, blogger, marketer
And yet, it’s still difficult to define what I do for a living. I have a background in technology and marketing. In both of those roles, I did a fair amount of writing but never really found my creative side. I found things I was good at but didn’t necessarily enjoy.
Then I started blogging as a way to create a writing portfolio for myself. I wanted to show that my creative writing skills went beyond crafting the unique value proposition for the software package of the day.
As I’ve mentioned before, I stumbled into blogging before I knew about the community of blogging and it’s really the community that has made me feel like part of something special. I’m reminded of this every time I attend a blogging conference and meet these lovely people in person.
But everything I’ve mentioned is not a living. It’s an activity, or in some cases, a hobby. Nobody pays you to write your own blog. Nobody throws money at you and says, “We love what you have to say about a little bit of everything so here’s a bucket of money so you can keep doing it. And of course you’ll have complete creative freedom! There’s nothing in it for us!”
I think most of us fantasize about that but even the uber-successful bloggers that have evolved into NYT bestselling authors will tell you that they are never truly given free reign. That’s what editors and publishers are there for: grooming the content to make it palatable to the target consumer market.
Can you make money as a Blogger?
Most of us that have been blogging for quite a few years have figured all this out. We may not make tons of money but we’ve figured out some monetization strategies that feel good and help us sleep well at night. But the readers we have “on the outside” don’t quite get it. And I know this because I got a little opinionated during the Super Bowl commercials and found it came back to bite me.
I’m a bit of a cynic. Not a heartless one, but definitely a cynic. So when I watched this commercial during the Super Bowl, I didn’t get as teary-eyed as others.
Perhaps it’s because it’s Oprah and I find her to be rather disingenuous. Or perhaps it’s because I felt like these were actors playing on our emotions for the sake of a vehicle. To be honest, I don’t know if they are actors or not. And in the end, I did appreciate the fact that Jeep does actually do something to help returning soldiers. I just wish they didn’t have Oprah narrate it.
And don’t even get me started on Clydesdale horses or farmers. Yes, as mini-movies, they were well-produced and emotion-evoking but as a consumer, I put up a wall that keeps me from consuming purely out of emotion. Although I really do think Clydesdale horses are awesome.
And so, trying to keep my dark cynical side away from the harsh light of the public, I posted to my private Facebook wall:
Surprisingly, I found that people felt I was being a bit contradictory considering “what I do.” And I thought, well, I don’t sell products. And yet, some people seem to think that’s what a blogger does. I can see how it might all be confusing.
What a Blogger Actually Does to Make Money
Since no one ever seems to want to talk frankly about the business side of things, I thought I might clear up a few things, especially for the non-bloggers out there. Here’s what it means to blog for a living:
1. You’re a writer.
You may not be an awesome writer but most people that blog are in it because they enjoy the art of words. How they choose to use their words is entirely up to them.
2. You might review products.
Before you ever get your first opportunity to write for money, you might be offered an opportunity to review a product. I usually consider these types of things if it’s a cool company, cool product, or product worth a certain dollar amount. The review is not contractual. It’s simply an opportunity to create new content on your blog if you want to. And generally speaking, the product is yours to keep. Some people consider that compensation that makes it worth their time.
Note: Some people charge to do reviews because it’s something that takes up their time. I choose not to charge for reviews as I’d never want to give an indication that I’m paid to review anything.
3. You might do sponsored posts.
Sometimes, I do choose to get paid. But these are clearly defined as sponsored posts. Sometimes the content is completely at your discretion. Sometimes you’re given a general theme (e.g., write about a woman who’s had a significant impact in your life). Sometimes the client wants certains keywords and links in your text. Sometimes, they simple want their logo showing they sponsored your post. Payment is dependent upon how big your reach is. It can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. You’re getting paid not just for your writing but for your audience.
4. You might accept advertorials.
You can call this sponsored content if you’d like but this is the equivalent to an ad. You can let someone post their content on your blog, usually with very specific text and keywords and links. I never, ever accept content like this on my blog. And they really don’t pay well anyway. Plus, it feels icky.
5. You could allow advertising.
You can fill up your sidebars, your header, and in between posts with every form of advertising. You can use an advertising network or you can sell individual ads. I chose to join an ad network as an experiment. I think the ads are mostly cool but in an entire year, I think I’ve made enough for one moderate trip to the grocery store.
6. You can participate in affiliate programs.
You can sign up for one of many affiliate programs which basically means you get paid a commission on any product someone happens to buy as a result of clicking through your blog. Some are better than others in terms of payout and longevity. If I were a fashion blogger, it might make sense. I talked about these awesome boots I love and if you love them too and buy them, I get a commission. It’s a nice system as long as you feel like a blogger is being authentic and not just pushing items that have a high commission.
7. You can do freelance writing.
Actually, for most bloggers, freelancing is their bread and butter. Whether it’s writing or photography or consulting or managing a brand community, it’s piecemeal work that hopefully adds up to something.
If you look at all of these options, what I really do for a living is a combination of 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7.
So you see, I may talk about products, usually with a high degree of authenticity, but I’m never selling them. And I never do a campaign where my payment is dependent upon how many people decide to buy what I’ve written about. Obviously, if I really like something, I’m going to tell you and hope you like it too. But it’s really no skin off my back if you don’t.
I had no idea that Oprah narrated that commercial until reading this blog post. I feel like I didn’t even hear the voice the first time I saw it, just paid attention to the pictures on the screen, that definitely moved me to tears.
I have to admit that I don’t get sold on any products during the Super Bowl commercials, I’m simply looking to be entertained. Whether I laugh or am moved to shed a tear or two. However, I do understand your stance on the commercials.
I love your list of “what is a blogger.” I may have to study it a bit and number myself!
The sentiment of the commercial was nice but I recognized Oprah voice at the onset so it tainted it for me. And I’m a bit of a cynic 😉
Love how aptly you described what you do; what bloggers do. I agree with you on everything.
Still, though, people don’t understand. Someone looked at me incredulously the other day and said, they have CONFERENCES for blogging?
Bravissimo!!! Now I understand. I guess the suspicious side of me got the best of me. Thanks for shedding light on this.
I certainly take paid gigs when I can get them but we’re required by law to disclose when we are compensated or have received free product. Doesn’t always mean someone’s writing is genuine. That’s why you find bloggers you like 🙂
Ugh – don’t like Oprah either for the same reason. Ick.
Good. At least I’m not the only woman in America that feels this way.
I love that. Thanks for simplifying things. And boo Oprah.
So it’s not just me with Oprah?
Great post! I think it’s hard for non-bloggers to understand how difficult it is to make a living from blogging. My parents keep asking me when my blog is going to morph into a show on the Food Network. Geez, mom, it doesn’t work like that.
When you get that show, can I be a guest? I can’t cook but I can judge!!
love this. it’s explains it perfectly. and honestly it’s helped me see where I want to take my blog more than anything else has. 🙂
Ooh, it was helpful to a blogger? Bonus points!!
Well said. It’s hard enough to define what we do when we have a niche. For those of us who tend to write about whatever’s on our mind when we sit down in front of the computer, it’s just that much harder.
Made me think, about what I’m doing vs. what I’d rather do: I do 1, 2, and 3; recently dodged a bullet with #4; have one AdSense ad, so a bit of #5; trying #6, but don’t seem to follow through; and would love to do a lot of #7.
I love that you put a writer first! I think it all comes down to that.
If you can’t write, you have no business being in this field. Even a deal blogger needs to be able to articulate well!
I love this post! I’m restarting a blog and I needed to read this. My last blog was back in 2005 and I feel like things have changed dramatically. I know it’s going to take some time to get ads and do product reviews but I am first using this new blogas a way to write and tell my story. Thanks for the post and I love your bog!