How to Break Into the Business of Blogging

Like most writers, travelers and other marginally employed people, I've frequently thought about blogging for profit.

The appeal is obvious: Freedom. You run your own website free of an office or deadlines. You can work from pretty much anywhere the internet reaches. The most successful bloggers have made millions. (Arianna Huffington sold the Huffington Post to AOL for more than $300 million.)

It's heady stuff.

Just don't lose perspective. Blogging is hard work and, like most writing-related fields, is supersaturated. One article by ProBlogger suggests that travel blogs alone number more than 1.2 million.

Nevertheless, it can be done. Blogging is a crowded industry, but if you work hard and patiently build up an audience, there's still space for newcomers. Here, based on advice from some of the top names in the industry, are a few things to consider if you'd like to break into the business of blogging.

Find Your Story

What do you want to write?

From The Minimalists:

When learning how to be a blogger, it's important to ask yourself what you're passionate about. Running? Cooking? Being a parent? Have you found your passion? If so, whatever it is, write about that. If not, then you must first find your passion.

The first thing to know about your blog is its story, and not a generic one like "travel" or "money." Pick your subject, then figure out what you want to say about that topic. In journalism we call it the angle, and it will become the throughline that defines your blog's voice, audience and niche. It will set you apart in a flooded marketplace, and will help create the Google searches that let people find your work even before they know to look for you.

As the highly successful Nomadic Matt writes, "don't try to be everything to everyone. Go narrow. Go deep." Whether it's adventure travel, getting out of debt or "fearless cooking from a tiny kitchen," having a good, strong story will make your blog stand out among the thousands of competitors.

Build Your Audience

Media is an odd business. Your audience is both your customer and your product. They read your work, so you have to write for them, but your actual money comes from the value third parties put on your relationship with that audience. The upshot is that audience is… well, it's everything.

As Matt Karsten over at the Expert Vagabond writes:

Everyone and their grandmother asks me how I make money from my travel blog, but the question they SHOULD be asking is how did I build an audience. Because the hard truth is you'll only earn income with your blog once you have a decent audience. Readers first, money later. (Emphasis original.)

Tell your story and do it well. Write more on subjects that your readers respond to. Write articles based on common Google searches or Reddit questions, or based on reader feedback you receive. Engage, respond and build your audience before anything else.

Whatever you do, don't make your blog about you. This is especially a danger for travel blogs, since narcissism is one of the great plagues of bad travel writing. Yes, you are probably going to be the main character of your blog, and your voice and personality will matter quite a lot. But don't confuse that with thinking that your articles should be about you.

As Karsten put it, no one wants to read about how much fun you had at a party. They want to read things that are relevant to their lives, something challenging, funny, informative or interesting told through your unique perspective. You may be the main character, but make your work about the reader.

Stop Thinking Like a Writer

Odds are good that you want to get into blogging because you enjoy writing and are reasonably good at it. This is a qualification for most blogs. It is not, however, the only requirement.

You need to also be able to think like an entrepreneur.

As Deb and Dave write over at The Planet D on the subject of travel blogging, "are you willing to think of your [blog] as a business?"

Do you want to be a travel blogger for fun, or do you want to be in this business? If you just want to write about your experiences on the road for friends and family, no worries. But, if you want to make money with your travel blog in the future, you need to start thinking of Travel Blogging as a business. Have a plan of where you want to be in a few years and be prepared to re-evaluate when necessary.

Don't just think about what you want to write. You could create the best blog in the world, but if no one reads your work then it will languish in obscurity. Also focus on how people will find your blog, how to market it and help it stand out in the marketplace. Build partnerships and find networking opportunities. Think like a business, not just a writer.

For you, the aspiring blogger, SEO, guest posting, outlinks, pageviews and all the other jargon of web-publishing need to become second nature.

Start Thinking About Monetization

You're in business now, and not figuratively. You now own a small business, and one of the essential pieces of any business is streams of income. In essence, once you've written your content and gotten eyeballs to it, how will you make money?

As Grant Sabatier, founder of Millennial Money, writes, it's not as obvious as a lot of people think.

A lot of new bloggers think they will quickly make money on advertisements and affiliate links (promoting products that pay you a commission), but you need a lot of high-quality traffic to make money with both advertisements and affiliates links. The fastest way to make money with your blog is to stop thinking about it as a blog and start thinking about it as a platform. 

Grant uses his blog not only for its direct revenue, but also for high-impact networking, partnership opportunities and speaking engagements. Other writers use their blogs to leverage book deals, sell themselves as influencers or find freelance jobs.

A successful blog will give you exposure and build your brand name as an expert and thinker in your chosen field. Again, this is why choosing your story is so important. No one is interested in an utterly generic "travel" expert, but an authority on "bespoke experiences" can command a powerful audience.

Consider Costs and Pick Your Income

Finally, some advice from an expert at not blogging.

I currently have a portfolio website called Things Dangerous, a nod to Life Magazine and Ben Stiller's (deeply underrated) Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I use it for links to stories I've written, as well as to past articles I consider quite good but which never found a home anywhere else.

It is not a blog, but I've often thought about starting one. As a political economist who travels and writes about the way money shapes people's lives around the world, I know my story. I'm a freelance journalist, so monetization would be straightforward, and I have spent six years as a self-employed writer with all the (limited) business savvy that implies.

So why haven't I launched a proper venture yet? In a word, costs.

Starting any small business is a balance between how much it costs to make your product, how much you can charge for that product and how much you need in income. And global/travel journalism is very, very expensive.

For all the pieces written out there about how to travel on the cheap, the truth is that producing new content for a travel-related blog requires plane tickets, hotel fees, visa fees and more. Every meal is bought out, even if from a street cart, and every drink of water from a purchased bottle. Generating content for a travel blog is expensive, especially for someone who doesn't live on the road, and that makes it one of the more difficult industries in which to cover your costs.

The lesson here is to account for that in your plans. There's no reason this should shut down your venture before it starts, but critical and smart planning will make sure it doesn't shut down your venture midway through. Whether you're starting a food blog, a lifestyle blog, or a travel blog, take a realistic look at how much it will cost to create your content.

Once you beat that by more than the income you need to live, you're truly in business.

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