And you, too, can be just like me!
In all seriousness, that is my actual earning statement after officially blogging for 13 months (well, more like -$99 due to hosting and domain name). I’m writing this post for two reasons:
(1) It is insanely easy to glamorize the lives of your favorite bloggers, or to envy those that actually make a living at this; they make it look so easy. When you think, “Hey, I have ideas, I want to blog, too,” it’s disheartening to see what appears to be everyone else, except for you, succeed.
This is called survivorship bias. Lots of people fail or struggle, you just don’t see it. This post is me showing the world (okay, the optimistically nine people who regularly read this blog), that I have tried and failed at generating any kind of “side hustle” income from this blog. That I have spent easily over 100 hours of just writing for negative financial returns. We so rarely publicize and try to learn from failures.
(2) Making money from blogging is like 90% hustle, and we need to pay respect where respect is due (And in some cases we need to stay away from techniques that simply make us feel…”icky” for lack of a better word).
In the first ten or so months of blogging, we had zero social media presence. We didn’t even share with close friends and family since, you know, anonymous. We did magically get some clicks – mostly linking back from posts on the MMM forums in my signature and people attempting to go to a coding nonprofit that somehow redirected to our site. The latter was legitimately half of our web traffic.
That’s a lie, actually. We were the majority of our web traffic just by checking the site was up and that the format was optimized for smart phones. A few clicks a day from people that were not us was HUGE.
Of course, if we were promoting the blog (even in a very minor way), there should be profit, right? But ads really mess up the visual aesthetic, plus they don’t tend to bring in much revenue anyway without a lot of page views. Also everyone hates ads, and they can really make a site feel spammy.
We’d read enough posts about how to make money through blogging to know that affiliate links are where it’s at. So we applied, always honest about our actual traffic. Basically, if there was some service or company we were going to mention anyway in a post, we’d apply to get an affiliate link. And we were accepted to everything we applied for.
We also posted on average slightly over once a month, which really didn’t help our popularity. I had grand plans of getting a small stockpile of posts, to pad any lapse of productivity or unexpected events, and to post at least one article a week. Everyone said consistent, quality content was key. I didn’t listen. Rather, I had a really hard time following through.
I have inattentive ADD, and it can be painful to follow through with tasks or commitments, even if I know I will feel better at the end and be happy I made an effort. On the other hand, sometimes I get hyper focused and fly through task lists. Ironically, this only makes it more difficult to apply myself during “low tide,” since it can seem like so much effort for little progress. And while Fergus definitely helps, this blog is mostly my disfigured baby.
We persevered, we just never got into the right posting rhythm, nor did we do all the social media tricks like planning tweets at the optimal time, spamming article links every half hour, and incorporating pop up ads to sign up for a newsletter (Though if you really want email from us, you can sign up to be notified of new posts at the bottom of the page. You can join the five others currently signed up. Yes, two of those are me and Fergus).
I’m getting better, but there’s a special kind of exhaustion I get from social media, and marketing in general. It’s the feeling that we have to read everything, check everything, know everything. Each tweet must be perfect and witty, or at the very least a little clever. It’s not my nature. Plus, does everyone start out just following and being followed by other personal finance blogs? Am I the only one that didn’t realize my first readers would be other bloggers? It’s kind of difficult to get affiliate $$ if your readers are hawking the same goods.
For other promotions, I did reach out to do a guest post on Millennial Money Man, forcing a spike in traffic, but a single guest post is not a shortcut to fame and glory. Being featured on a Friday Feast post on Think Save Retire for our $4/mo smart phone plan gave us a big spike as well. We’ve had five click-throughs to Amazon, but no “bounties.”
So, -$99 in profit. $5-$6 / month in hosting with Digital Ocean (referral link for $10 off, and we get $25; Not recommended unless you are comfortable with using a linux console, and looking up and fixing random techy issues that may crop up). Then we paid $22 for the domain (two years). Plus money for utilities…and I might be able to include this chromebook as a blog expense as it was half the reason I bought it? Anyway, at least $99 in the hole, and much more in “lost” time.
Brief interlude here – can we just talk about all the bloggers writing posts on how to make money blogging by posting affiliate links for BlueHost and other services? Like, that’s super pyramid-scheme-y, no? Plus BlueHost is kind of awful. Would you buy something on Amazon that has 2 1/2 stars? No? Me neither…
So What Now?
Oh, you’re still here? Shit…umm – I mean awesome! I totally have a plan here. This is the written word. It would be patently ridiculous if I was improv’ing this.
Let’s think…say it in music, right? (nod to Mr. and Mrs. PIE)
We can either follow our instinct
Or take advice from every joker
We can either be distinct
Or wind up merely mediocre
But not me
I’d rather be 9 people’s favorite thing
than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.
I’m not going to quit. I enjoy writing, and I enjoy doing random research on things like low cost phone plans or international transfers. Increasingly, I’m building relationships with others – becoming part of a community. If I end up gaining nine friends or nine hardcore readers, that’s honestly worth it.
You have a story to tell, pull your novel out of that sock drawer!
You have a painting to paint, you best paint it and then paint some more!
In fly the vampires, oh my the vampires, then die the vampires,
filling you with life, creativity, all that you heart should be, out go the vampires
Die vampire, die vampire, die vampire, die!
Just listen to the whole song. Trust me, the vampire references make sense in context.
I’m not going to let anyone stop me from doing something I enjoy, even my own self-doubt or impatience. If I stop feeling compelled to write frugal travel posts, I will simply stop. Because I can.
Plans Going Forward
I’m hoping to get a schedule and process together that works with me and not forced on me. As a visual person, I’ve even put up a sort of Kanban board for posts. I’ve got dozens of ideas to write about, that I’m excited to delve into, but it’s very hard to keep organized. Seeing a visual representation of posts-to-come and the steps involved make me motivated to push forward. It’s still early, but I hope this energy sticks around.
And you know what? I’ve restructured my use of social media, too. There are about a dozen or so blogs that I really enjoy, that always have unique content and really interact with readers. I’ve put them in my RSS feed (Hey Feedly – what up, bro!), and those are the ones I read regularly and comment/share the most. I still go through my main twitter feed, but there’s less of a feeling of having to sift through everything to find the pearls. I’ve also picked up Instagram, which is great since now I get a daily dose of puppy dogs and nature pics, and everyone gets to see how adorable Fluffster is.
I guess I’ll still post referral links, since we have them available. We won’t be signing up for more programs for quite some time, though. It’s just way too much effort for little return with our levels of readership. If anything, I’ll focus on the “Silicon Valley method” of business development – get users (readers), then worry about profit. Though, you know, you could be the change I wish to see in this world, just saying. You could totally head over to Fluffster Recommends and put some treats in this poor, starving dog’s belly.
Anyone Out There?
If any of this struck a chord or was interesting – let us know! Share a story of failure, or commiserate, or let someone else know they’re not alone. Comment, tweet, or otherwise give an indication that humans read this.