Can we leverage blogging to make a living?
Talking about what it takes to leverage blogging into a money-making endeavor.
Each of our panelists comes from a different background, so there’s a lot to be learned. We’ll go through each panelist’s story, and then do a Q and A session.
Rachelle writes for Chicagoist, and for her own blog (Rachelle B), and now works at Feedburner. She met those folks through her blogging.
Q: Kim a newbie, blogmamas.com is a team blog, but wants to push the envelope on being authentic real. How do you deal with alientating family including husband? Can Heather address that later?
Q: Interested in hearing about the business aspects. Do you set up a corporation? What support people do you need, such as an accountant or lawyer?
Q: How do you decide that you have enough of an audience to start turning it into an entrepreneurial type of blog or business?
Let’s turn to Arianna to tell her story. She writes for many many blogs, some of which are her interests and some aren’t such as Hillary Duff Blog.
My main site is blogaholics.ca. I’ve been blogging prof for over a year. I started in a corp environment doing a blog to get the business back onto google. I got to know the whole community and learned enough to start her own blog. Within 3 months I had 4 different blogs. Met great people online who inspired me to push forward and work for myself. I quit my job and started my own business. I have 17 blogs. Some of them I really enjoy, my baking blog and fashion blog. Some of them I hate, such as Lindsey Lohan and Hilary Duff, but they help me make a living. I’m the channel editor for xxx . Built it out for . I work 12 to 18 hours a day. My mixed income stream comes from network ads and direct advertisers.
Heather Armstrong: I started in 2001 as a project to practice writing. I was single and living in LA and according to CNN was desperately seeking my husband. I was fired for my web site in 2002. After LA, I moved with my husband to SLC and we had a child in 2004. About a year ago, my husband and I decided, after much deliberation, to make the jump into advertising. Several advertising networks approached me. Based on the amount of traffic I have, we were able to make enough for him to quit his job and come home. It’s now a very serious job, and sometimes I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
We started 2 companies with the advice of our accountant, so that taxes are a certain way. We have an accountant, a lawyer and a trademark lawyer. It can be really expensive. You need that lawyer to protect your interest.
Q: Most people start for fun, when it becomes your job, how quickly does it sap the fun out of it.
A: Arianna, I don’t think I could write about Lindsey Lohan without my own blogs to vent about it.> SoI have this balance. I have a strong community around my blogs but a lot fo them don’t really know who I am. I have this inauthentic personality online. It puts pressure on my venting and my personal space. I really enjoy blogaholics, my home on the b-sphere, but I struggle with my identity and what should be shared for my identtiy and my reputation. It really affects what I can communicate.
Heather: In the first few months after we started running advertising, but it was really rough. I expected to do what I was doing before. But now I feel like I’m the CEO of a company that is responsible for feeding my family. There’s no schedule and no deadlines. I would cry myself to sleep and say that I want my old life back. The pressure of doing this day in and day out. My email inbox is totally overwhelming. The pressure is almost bone-crushing, trying to maintain this day in and day out. Designing it, doing the photos, making sure the content matches the quality of the brand I’m trying to make.
For those of those who are interested in doing paid corporate blogging, what are the evenues and what are the rates?
It’s really diverse – there’s no standard in the industry. A lot of marketing and PR people start them up, but it doesn’t necessarily go over well in the blogosphere. Sometimes you might have a rising payscale that increases as you generate traffic and comments. It might be, say , $500 per month for x amount of posts. If you are an expert in a topic, find the people who are needing bloggers on that topic.
Q: Heather you seem to keep sort of a M-F schedule. If something happens on the weekend, do you queue it up?
A: Yes, I keep the stickie notes program open at all times, and record ideas whenever they happen. I keep a M-F schedule specifically just to motivate myself. When it started our house was chaos because I was coaching my husband on how to keep the house in order, as I was getting started, so I was trying to find a good time to work. He takes care of all of the details, paper work. We both work about 4-5 hours together in the morning, then the baby sleeps, then I work in the afternoon. Then I stop at 6 oclock every night. And the reason I do this is to have that time with my family. Otherwise it would consume my life to the point that I wouldnt be able to function
Q: what is your exit strategy. If god forbid your popularity falls, what are your plans to support your family.
H: I have a second job through Alpha Mom. I write for this three times a month. this is one where I can use my blog to leverage getting a job elsewhere. Right now the plan is to do this for as long as it will suppor tus
A: I have tried to get a lot of diversity in what I do. Blog for myself, networks. This is a strategic diversification. I also consult to companies who want blogs. I don’t like to do everything I do. I do different things to keep me spirited and interested. My exit strategy is to do what I love to do as long as I can do it.
How do you stay motivated?
A: The morning is the most challenging thing to me. I need lots of coffee. I look at my celebrity folder and there’s 1000 posts. LL had an exciting weekend. I have a strict routine. I write only about celebs for a certain part of the day. You have to think about it like a job. I am lucky that I’ve grown a community and I do treasure the community even though I don’t like the celebrity. My routine is such that I can push out a post in about a minute.
Q: I was wondering how those advertising contracts work? Are you obglitating to write every day? Can you talk about it?
H: For some sites, you are obligated to write certain amounts. Advertising on my site works in that people are paying for eyeballs. It has nothing to do with how much I post. I work with FM publishing . I worked with BlogAds before. Google is PPC.
A: With the topics, it’s all about diversity. You should pursue them all. Work to maintain the relatinship with the advertiser. It’s really about you and your content. The networks do have a minimum post qty, but
CPM is how much you get paid per thousand visitors to the site.
Q: About RSS, as people use RSS more and more, your page views can go down and down. Are the advertisers doing anything about that?
H: I have ads in my RSS feeds run by Pheedo. One solution is to not provide the entire post in the RSS feed. So the user has to click through and get to your site. I actually get frustrated myself if I have to click through to see the rest of the post, so I’m not sure what the solution is.
A: A lot of the RSS feeds do not generate clicks. It’s mostly search traffic that generates clicks. It’s people who come and go who I will make money from. Loyal readers are there for the content.
Q: Controlling the content of the ads. If I’m talking about a particular topic, can I control what gets advertised.
H: Google doesn’t allow you to control it. For example on the page where I talk about leaving hte Mormon church,, all the ads are about Mormon Singles and BOM.
I had with blogads approved an ad for PETA. They were showing videos of puppies being slaughtered. I ddidn’t know. The ad network took it down as soon as I called. They want to work with you.
Q: Heather, can you talk about how you added ads without alientating your readers.
A: We heard a lot of complaints, a lot. We’ve tried to listen to the constructive criticism. My readers are really important to me. I am loyal to them and don’t want to piss them off. I had a masthead that said “This web site sucks sweaty goatballs”. When I was designing this, I thought, an advertiser is not going to be comfortable with this. At that moment, I knew I had to make it. Two advertisers backed out. They didn’t want to be near sweaty goat balls.
Are you cool with that?
here’s the thing. If the advertiser doesn’t understand that readers are coming to the site to see “sweaty goat balls”. I don’t write my content for the advertisers. I write it because it’s what I feel and what I think my readers are coming to see.
Q: There’s more than just getting ads on your site as a means to automony. I make money because of my blog, not from it. Expressing your professional voice, can allow you to make money.
A: We did have a third panelist who was coming from that place, but was not able to here. She is active in the homeschooling area. People would contact her because of her blog and she would get interviews and speaking engagements.
Arrianna: That’s what I’ve been pursuing lately. I’d like to be able to balance those things. I haven’t figured out how to do it?
Back to the how not to alienate family when writing about your feelings authentically…
Heather: The first person I alientated was my father. After 9/11, I wrote this anti-Mormon diatribe. I compared the fundamentalism to the terrorists. It wasn’t very nice. I talked about my family, how could they ascribe to this religion? My mom called the next day because my brother had found my web site and sent it to my parents and told them to read every page. That was the first time I every really alienated anyone. Three months later, I lost my job. Then after that, I put words into my husband’s mouth that he never said. Now, my boundaries are constantly shifting and taking new forms. What you write, even with good intentions, can come back and bite you in the ass. You have to be ready to live with what your words are going to do. I never write anything now that I would not say to someone’s face. If I’m going to write anything about my husband, I say it too him first.
All of my mother’s friends and co-workers read my web site. My father’s mother-in-law reads it.
Arianna: My family and friends are some of the biggest fans of my web site. I was actually a little weirded out to find that my friends read the web site everyday without telling me. I haven’t opened up that much on the site, so I’ve never said anything about other people.
Q: Heather, the person that you are relatively merciless about is your daughter. How do you think she’s going to deal with it?
A: The story of a child up until they’re about two years old is pretty similar. They eat and sleep and scream and I’ve just told that in a creative way. I have begun censoring myself because it’s too invasive. I’ve scrapped some posts I’ve started. I’ve had some terrible feelings in the pit of my stomach when I think about her being in first or second grade and how she’ll feel when her classmates can read that she pooped in her diaper when she was a baby. How will she feel?
Q: I live in SLC, close to Heather. I teach and have the parents sign a consent for me to put their pictures on a web site. Do you worry about putting her name and pictures on the site?
A: My answer to that is that bad things can happen in public. I’m not sure what the huge risk or danger is of putting her picture online. We are very protective of our address.
Q: Question about having comments open or closed. How do you think comments help or hurt the user experience.
A: I turned them back on in February. I turn them off when I’m not going to be around to manage them. COmments for sure help page count, but it makes it so that people who might be shy about sending an email can participate. It’s also a way for me to give back to my community. Two women who both read my site, met via comments and became lovers. One of the crowning acheivements of my life.
Adrianna: I’ve started getting more problems with the comments. The kids are home for the summer. The kids treat it like a forum, going back and forth. They hurt each other’s feelings, and I don’t know what to do.
Heather: I put this filter on where you have to register through TypePad to comment. I have no problem now with deleting comments. There’s too many comments for me to handle each one diplomatically. Here’s my policy and if you don’t follow it, you’re done.
Are you afraid that you’re going to get dooced for saying you don’t like HD and LL. I have some that I like. I do Gilmore Girls, love the show, am happy to do it. I’m honest about why I do it. I do it because it makes money.
I saw the sites that were covering celebrities and they were doing everything all together. I had a different a pproach and it’s working.
Q: There are a lot of opportunityes to put content out via social networking sites, youtube, flickr. Do you think those draw people to your site?
Yes, I’m a huge fan of Flickr and other geeky tools. These communities feed your blog community.
Heather, I noticed you started to put movie clips of your daughter on the site. I find them very charming. What’s your plan with video?
Heather: I put one on YouTube and then became aware that that gives them ownership of the content. So I now put it on my site because of what I’m trying to do with my brand. The feedback has been really good. I want to keep doing it. I’d like to do some podcasting, drunken podcasting. Jon is really into
Q: I read a post recently about Big Love and your response on the Mormon church and bigamy. I was surprised that comments were on. I thought you have an opportunity to gather social research. Have you thought of capitalizing on this forum that you have?
No, I haven’t thought about that. I have thought about publishing a book on hate mail.
I don’t want to use people’s comments in a way that people haven’t given their consent to be used.
Q: Before you guys were wildly popular, you were like me. I’m now starting to get approached with advertising offers. I got an email from a company that wanted me to advertise this soy product. If you go back a few months into my blog, you would know how I feel about soy! I’m wondering when you just start deleting them.
Adrianna: First I felt like this is so cool! But unless they’ve taken the time to really read my blog and match it with an offer, I just delete it.
Rachelle: If it’s not interesting and appropriate for the audience, if it’s just a form letter, we just delete it.
Heather: I don’t want to use the emotional energy required to respond, when I could be using that emotional energy to respond to something else.
Q: Where do you see your business going? Are you riding the waves, or do you have a business plan?
Adrianna: I know where I want to go with me as a brand. I love to write, and this is giving me the opportunity. I explore other things on the side. How could I write a book and be authoritative?
Q: What do you do with advertisers who approach you who actually have a relevant message? Do you just send them to your advertising network?
A: If I think it’s really relevant to me and my blog, I’ll do a direct sale.
Heather: We direct them to the ad network
Q: How much do you think about what kind of new content to add?
H: That never goes away. Ever ever ever. I am always thinking about it. Some weeks it’s like pulling teeth. Some weeks the entries just write themselves. Coming here has been a nice respite. I haven’t had to think about content for 3 days.
A: I find myself composing blog posts in my head rather than being tuned into the conversation. You have to turn it off. I have good times when I do turn it off, but I don’t do a good job with it.
Do you ever feel pressured by your readers to go in a direction that you don’t want to go in.
Heather: Yes, when Andrea Yates was acquited of killing her children because of PPD, people wrote to me asking me to address it. I haven’t been ready.
A: there’s a lot of pressure. When they want you to write about something, you start thinking about what they want you to say rather than what you want to see.
Q – Thanks for sharing with us. It sounds like it’s a bit crushing, rather than liberating. Are you enjoying the tradeoff? What do you love about it?
A: The reason I talk so much about some of the bad parts is beause there’s a lot that’s hard about it, just to let you know. My husband being at home with me is joyous. His leaving his job, and his relationship with my daughter, is joyous. I don’t want it any other way. That has been the hugest blessing. That’s something you can look forward to if this happens.
Adrianna: I made the choice to separate the work blogs from the me blogs. It’s incredibly liberating to be able to go for a walk, take a nap. It’s really really good that way. With my husband, we are in the same small space all day, with our desks back to back. There’s no where else to go.
Follow up, do you like writing less?
Adrianna: I love it. I feel like I’ve opened my creativity.
heather; I like it differently. Some days I like it more, some days less. It’s different now. Before, it was a hobby, now it’s harder.
Adrianna: Sometimes you hit writers block and it’s harder now because you have to make that living.
Q: How does taking donations on your site work for you?
H: When I moved from LA to SLC, I made a mix tape, and put all the MP3s on my web site. They charged me $3000 for bandwidth overage. I brought this to my readers and they gave me enough to cover it.
We don’t take donations because my husband is not comfortable with it. it’s not just my blog, not just me.
Rachelle: When my camera broke, I reached out to my readers, and they covered it.
Q: What questions do you wish we had asked you? What advice have you gotten from mentors?
Ad: The best advice I got was to take a risk and follow my passion. I have support from a really amazing community.
Heather: I don’t really have any mentors except my mother, the Avon World Sales Leader. I watch her work the room and she is truly inspirational. She looks people in the eye, shakes their hand. I want to make people feel that way. The reason I write is to connect and find that commonality with people.