Make Money Blogging: 20 Lessons Going from 0 to $50,000 per Month
You know everyone thinks we’re fools, right?
To most of the world, blogging is a joke.
It isn’t a career. It isn’t a way to make money. It isn’t a tool for changing the world.
It’s a hobby, a diversion, a fad that’ll come and go. Sure, you can start a blog, but don’t count on it to take you anywhere. That’s just silly.
Try telling your family or friends or coworkers you want to quit your job and make money blogging. They’ll smile politely and ask, “Does anybody really make money from that?”
Yes, they want you to have dreams. Yes, they want you to chase them. Yes, they want you to succeed.
But they also want you to be “realistic.”
If you really want to improve your life, you should get an advanced degree, write a book, or even start your own business, not hang all your hopes and dreams on some stupid little blog. There’s no money in it.
Or is there?
I’m hesitant to say this, but…
This Blog Makes $100,000 per Month
In January and February, we cleared over $40,000 per month in sales. The verdict is still out on March, but if we didn’t make it, we should be close enough.
Well, I’ll tell you. Not because I want to brag (well, maybe a little), but because most of the advice out there about monetizing your blog is complete crap.
For instance, do you see any ads on this site?
No? How about e-books for sale?
None of those either, huh? In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find anything for sale at all.
There’s a reason why.
Over the past six years, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some of the smartest bloggers on the planet. I worked with Brian Clark as he built Copyblogger to a multimillion dollar brand. Neil Patel and Hiten Shah also hired me to help them launch the KISSmetrics blog, and while they’re not big on publishing revenue numbers, they did recently close a $7 million venture capital round.
Combined, I wouldn’t be surprised if both blogs have earned more than $50 million. In comparison, the $100,000 per month I’ve managed to generate is a pittance.
Want to know how much money you could be making from your blog? Find out with our free Blog Profit Calculator.
But everyone has to start somewhere, right?
The reason this blog has made so much money so fast is I learned from the best, and then when I left, I kept learning. Every day, I crunch numbers, read books, talk to experts, and spend at least 30-45 minutes in silence, staring into the distance, doing nothing but thinking.
It’s paid off. If you will take some of these lessons to heart, it will pay off for you too.
Because here’s the thing:
You are not a Fool. You Can Make Money Blogging.
So, you want to make a living teaching other people what you know? Nothing wrong with that.
Professors do it. So do public speakers and best-selling authors.
Hell, consulting is a $415 billion industry, and what are all those consultants doing?
Getting paid to teach.
Blogging is no different. It’s just the same old models with some rocket fuel thrown in, courtesy of social media.
In fact, we might as well call that the first lesson:
Lesson #1: You’re Not Just a Blogger
You’re an expert, a teacher, a mentor, maybe even an entrepreneur. Your blog is simply a launchpad for all those things.
Look around, and you’ll find nearly all “bloggers” who make a decent income have books, courses, a side career as a keynote speaker, or even software. That’s how they make money. Their blog is just the “freebie” they give away to attract customers or clients.
Lesson #2: Don’t Sell Advertising
Selling ads is attractive, because it’s passive income, but you can usually make 3-10X more money using the same “ad space” to sell your own products and services or even promote an affiliate product.
Pat Flynn, for example, makes about $50,000 a month in commissions from promoting Bluehost.
Here at BBT, we mostly promote our own products, but we’re also in the process of creating affiliate sales funnels for LeadPages and Stablehost, both of which offer hefty commissions (and are great products too!)
Lesson #3: Build the Funnel in Reverse
We’ve all experienced sales funnels.
A company entices you with a freebie, then they offer you something cheap but irresistible, and then they gradually sweet talk you into buying more and more expensive stuff. It’s a tried and true marketing tactic, and you should absolutely build a sales funnel for your blog.
What you might not know is you should build it in reverse.
A lot of bloggers launch a cheap e-book as their first product, and then they get frustrated when they don’t make much money. Here’s why: the real profit is at the end of the funnel, not the beginning.
Selling e-books is fine and dandy if you have half a dozen more expensive products to offer your customer afterwards, but it’s downright silly if you don’t. You’re much better off creating and selling the expensive product first, and then gradually create cheaper and cheaper products.
When you do have some less expensive products to sell, you can offer those to new people first, safe in the knowledge that you have something more profitable up your sleeve to sell them later.
Here at BBT, our products cost $9,997, $997, and $591. We’re working our way down the funnel in reverse, releasing the most expensive products first and then gradually getting cheaper and cheaper. It’s been much, much more profitable this way.
Lesson #4: There’s No Such Thing As a “Cheap” Market
“But Jon,” I can hear you spluttering. “I can’t sell a $10,000-15,000 product! My customers don’t have that much money.”
My response: you’re 98% right. Unless you’re selling exclusively to multimillionaires, the vast majority of your customer base won’t be able to afford premium products, but what’s interesting is it doesn’t matter. Often times, you can make more money selling to the 2% than you can to the entire 98% combined.
For instance, our $10,000 product is a year-long coaching program for writers – a group that’s not exactly known for their wealth, but I always fill all 10 spots within minutes of opening the program. Here’s why: I notify 40,000 writers about it. 2% of 40,000 is 800 people who might possibly buy a product in that price range. By only accepting 10, I’m creating a situation of extreme scarcity.
You can do the same thing, even if your list is much smaller. If you have 100 subscribers, chances are two of them might be willing to buy premium products or services from you, and those two will often pay you more money than the other 98 combined.
Lesson #5: By Charging Premium Prices, You Can Offer Premium Service
Feel guilty about charging that much money? You shouldn’t.
By charging premium prices, you can offer premium service, doing everything possible to help your customers get results. For example, with my coaching program, I get on the phone with students every week, review their homework, answer their questions, look at their blog, and guide them through every step of the process.
Could I put that same information in a $7 e-book? Sure, but I couldn’t give anyone one-on-one help at that price, and that’s what people who buy premium products and services are paying for.
Lesson #6: Deliberately Delay the Sale
Another big shift in thinking: rather than trying to push everyone to buy your products upfront, smart bloggers delay the sale.
I first heard this idea from Rand Fishkin over at Moz. They offer their blog readers a free trial to their Analytics and SEO software, but after studying the behavior of their customers, they noticed something interesting: people who read several blog posts before signing up for a free trial stayed customers for two or three times longer than people who didn’t.
I’ve noticed the same thing with our customers. Instead of immediately clobbering readers with sales pitches, it’s much better to give them some content first and build trust before you begin talking about your products and services. Yes, you’ll make less money in the short term, but the long-term profits go through the roof.
Lesson #7: You Are the Bottleneck
Without a doubt, time is our biggest problem as bloggers. Not only are we expected to publish a continuous stream of content on our blogs, but we also have to deal with technical issues, read books and articles about our field, create new products to sell, answer questions from readers… the list goes on and on. The further into it you go, the more clear it becomes that you can’t do everything.
So, what’s the answer?
Believe it or not, I found answers from studying manufacturing processes. If one machine is working slower than others in a plant, it can literally cost the company tens of thousands of dollars per hour. To make sure it never happens, smart plant managers are willing to spend any amount of money to eliminate bottlenecks. They have an unlimited budget, because the cost of eliminating the bottleneck never comes anywhere close to the cost of the bottleneck itself.
The same is true for us, except the solutions are often different. Instead of buying a new machine, for example, we might purchase a new type of software that automates some of our business, or we might hire a virtual assistant or programmer. It can be expensive, yes, but it’s worthwhile if it saves you enough time, because then you can dedicate that time to higher value activities.
Lesson #8: Measure The Value of Everything You Do
What are those higher value activities, exactly?
Well, it depends on your goal. If your goal is to increase traffic, for example, start measuring the visitors per hour invested. Let’s say you invest three hours in writing a post, and it brings you 100 visitors, and you invest five hours in writing a guest post that brings you 500 visitors. The first activity has an hourly rate of 33 visitors per hour. The second activity has an hourly rate of 100 visitors per hour. Guest posting, therefore, is a better use of your time than writing content on your own blog.
Granted, it’s a short-term perspective, not taking into account long-term gains, but it’s still extremely useful to start measuring your time this way. Not just for traffic, but also for subscriber growth and revenue.
Lesson #9: In the Beginning, Creating Content for Your Own Blog Is Silly
I tried to sneak this one under lesson #8, but I think it’s important enough to get its own number, even if it does get me labeled a heretic and burned at the stake. Because here’s the deal:
In the beginning, your blog is like an empty classroom. Standing in front and giving a lecture is silly, because sure, it might make you feel important, but there’s nobody listening. You’re all alone, and you can come up with the smartest, most entertaining lecture in the history of mankind, but it won’t matter, because no one else heard it.
When you first start out, writing content for your own blog is one of the least efficient ways of building your audience. You’re far better off serving a little time as a “guest lecturer” first. In other words, write guest posts for someone else’s audience, impress the hell out of them, and siphon off a portion of their readership for your own.
That’s what we did here at BBT, and it resulted in the most successful blog launch in history: 13,000 email subscribers in 60 days, before I even wrote a single blog post. We had nothing but a coming soon page and an invitation to join our email list. Sounds strange, but I can promise you it’s vastly more efficient.
You don’t have to wait until you get to 13,000 subscribers to start, but I’d advise accumulating at least a few hundred. That way, you have an audience to share your content when you start publishing posts.
Lesson #10: Don’t Waste Time on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.
Here’s another shocker: you know your dream of building up a huge following on Facebook or Twitter and then using it to promote your blog? Well, it’s a dumb idea. Out of everything we’ve tested, building our own social media accounts produced the lowest visitor per hour figure. In other words, it’s quite possibly the worst way you can spend your time.
Does that mean having followers in those places is useless?
No. Facebook is nice because you can advertise to your followers. Google+ can help boost your search engine rankings. Even with those benefits though, it shouldn’t be near the top of your list for things to do. In my opinion, you shouldn’t think about them at all until you hit 10,000 subscribers, and then outsource the management of them to someone else. You can use your time more efficiently in other places, such as:
Lesson #11: Webinars Kick Butt
If you’ve been on our list for long, you know that we do a lot of webinars. Here’s why: on average, each webinar generates $40,000 per hour invested. It’s by far the most profitable thing I do. Nothing else even comes close. If you’re wondering how on earth we make that much money, all you have to do is attend one of our webinars to find out. Everything we do is on display, and you can study it, free of charge.
Interestingly, webinars are also the most effective way to build our subscriber base. When doing webinars for other people, we average 500 new email subscribers per hour invested. It’s not uncommon to gain 1,000-2,000 email subscribers from a single webinar. If we’re promoting a product, we usually make at least $10,000 too.
Translation: webinars kick butt.
Lesson #12: Longer Content Gets More Traffic
You know what else works? Long content.
It might seem strange, but on average, longer content gets much more traffic than shorter content. Not just for us, but for our students too, regardless of the niche, and here’s a post where SEO expert Neil Patel came to the same conclusion. The sweet spot seems to be about 2,000–3,000 words per post. That’s why posts here on BBT are much longer than your average blog.
Granted, content of that length also takes longer to produce, but if you measure the visitors per hour invested, longer content still wins by a mile. Assuming you’re promoting it, of course.
Lesson #13: Promote The Crap Out of Your Content
The problem is almost no one promotes their content enough. And by “promotion,” I’m not talking about sharing your own posts on Twitter and Facebook. I’m talking about blogger outreach – the process of building relationships with influencers and asking them to share your work.
At a minimum, you should spend just as much time on outreach as you do creating your own content. So, if you’re spending 10 hours a week writing blog posts, you should be spending 10 hours a week on outreach too.
Can’t do that? Then scale back how much content you’re creating. Spend five hours on writing blog posts and five hours on outreach. You’ll get better results.
Lesson #14: Ignore SEO for the First Year
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not against SEO. Far from it. We now get tons of traffic from Google. I just think most bloggers focus on it way too early.
Again, it all comes down to time. When your blog is new, the most efficient uses of your time fall into three broad categories: building relationships with influencers (including guest blogging), creating content worth linking to, and selling your products and services. If you do those three things well, not only will your blog gain traffic and prominence, but you’ll also start getting search traffic without doing anything.
And then you can focus on other things that matter more, such as…
Lesson #15: Your Email List Is More Important Than Anything Else
In analytics, there is a principle called “the one metric that matters” (OMTM). The idea is that you find a single number that accurately predicts the success or failure of your project.
In the case of blogging, that number is the size of your email list. (Not RSS, mind you – it’s dying a slow but certain death.) In my experience, your email list is the most accurate predictor of how much money you’ll make.
Here at BBT, we make about three dollars per subscriber per month – an impressive feat, due mostly to our skill with marketing. The number isn’t important, though. The point is that I can accurately predict our sales based on the number of subscribers. So can you.
If you’re new to this, I would strive for one dollar per subscriber per month in sales. In other words, an email list of 1,000 subscribers should result in at least $1,000 per month in sales, 10,000 subscribers would result in $10,000 per month in sales, and so on.
The more subscribers you get, the more money you make. Granted, your relationship with your subscribers and the quality of your products or services and dozens of other factors still matter, but to drive revenue, focus on email list growth. To make money blogging, it’s absolutely essential.
Find out how much money your blog could be making – and how quickly you could grow your email list – with our free Blog Profit Calculator.
Lesson #16: Start Selling from Day One
How long should you wait before you begin selling? 1,000 subscribers? 10,000 subscribers? More?
Nope. Start selling from day one. Here’s why:
One of the biggest factors affecting the speed of your growth is who you can hire to help you. Because you’re the bottleneck, remember? So you want to hire a virtual assistant and someone to handle all of the technical details as soon as you possibly can, but of course, that requires money. Hence the need to start selling immediately.
Now, a caveat: don’t turn your blog into a gigantic sales pitch. Nobody likes that. You should, however, be offering something your audience wants and needs. Don’t push them on it, but do make it available, and do remind them from time to time that they can purchase it.
Lesson #17: Your Product Ideas Suck
You probably have all kinds of ideas for things you can sell, right? E-books, courses, maybe an iPhone app? Or a service?
Well, here’s the bad news:
More than likely, your ideas for products suck. The good news is you’re not alone in this position. Everyone’s ideas for products suck, including mine. Here’s why:
We all tend to create products we can see people need, but they’re not aware of it yet. We think if we show them the magnitude of their problem we can convince them to buy our product or service to solve it.
If you’re Steve Jobs, you can do that, but I have more bad news for you: you’re not Steve Jobs. You’re a beginning marketer, and as a beginner, you should only be selling products that solve problems your customer already knows they have. If you have to convince them the problem exists, you’ve already lost the battle.
Lesson #18: Surveys Are Dangerous
So, how do you find what problems exist in the mind of your customer? Traditionally, the answer is a survey, but I’ll warn you: surveys are dangerous. Ask the wrong question, and you’ll get an extremely misleading answer. Use that answer to guide your venture, and you can waste years of your life, not to mention possibly going bankrupt.
If you’re a beginner, I recommend asking one and only one question: “what’s your biggest frustration with <topic> right now?” So, in my case, it would be “what’s your biggest frustration with blogging right now?” That’s it. Nothing more. Look for patterns in the answers you receive, and you’ll learn a ton about what products or services you need to create.
Lesson #19: Start with Services, Then Expand into Products
Once you find a common problem, start offering a service where you solve the problem for your audience. The reason is simple: you can start offering the service immediately. You don’t have to create a product first. You’ll also learn more about the problem as you attempt to solve it yourself.
When I started, for example, I worked as a blog traffic specialist. I was contracted with a few different advertising agencies, and every time they wanted to increase the traffic for a client’s blog, they called me. I didn’t just advise them. I did the work myself, redesigning the site, creating the content, everything.
It taught me a ton about what worked and what didn’t. It was also immediate revenue. The first month I offered my services, I made something like $4,000.
After working for more than a year as a traffic specialist, I felt I really understood the problem and how to solve it, so I created my first product: a course located at guestblogging.com. The first month, it generated something like $25,000 in sales, and now it brings in more than $260,000 per year.
It’s a wonderful product, but here’s the thing: I don’t think I could’ve created it if I hadn’t worked as a service provider first. I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or the money. Keep that in mind when you’re deciding what to offer first.
Lesson #20: Teach Others What You Learned
Now, we come to the reason for this post.
Why on earth would the CEO of the company (me) work for hours to write a post like this, sharing all our secrets? It’s closing in on 4,000 words, for God sakes!
It’s my responsibility. If people are ever going to respect blogging as a legitimate business model, those of us who are successful have to speak up and share what we’ve learned. None of us works in a vacuum. The only way we can advance our field as a whole is to collectively share what we’ve learned.
And it is a field. There are thousands of people around the world making a living from blogging. The problem is, there’s not a repository, a central community where we can all talk and learn from each other. Over the next few months, that’s something we’re going to change.
In the meantime, could you do me a favor?
Share this post. Not just so it’ll get me traffic, but so other people can see that you really can earn a legitimate income from blogging. Maybe reading this will even help them do it.
After all, isn’t that what we’re here to do? Help people?
And the best part?
We get paid for it. It’s our job.
I just wish more people knew it was a viable career. Let’s change that?