I've been in the world of blogging for over 6 (!!!) years now. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed since I started this little writing hub. I had no idea what I was doing, and would take my pictures on a tiny point-and-shoot camera that served my content little to no justice. I was familiar with video, seeing as I had already been on YouTube for 2 years at the time, but when it came to typing out my thoughts, I was lost.
How was I supposed to transform my actions and emotions into words? How would I ever get an accurate expression across without my sentences falling flat and my intentions being taken out of context? How exactly was I going to turn this blog into another source of income and have one of my passions generate revenue? The truth is, when I first started, I had NO IDEA that you can make money writing for your own website. It was a pretty new concept in the internet world, and for a while, bloggers weren't taken seriously in any way, shape, or form. Some may even say we still aren't taken that serious, but these days, you can create a full blown empire out of your website.
If you're wanting to start a blog, build-up your blog, or even if you're just curious to know, today I want to share some ways that you can create the job of your dreams. I still have a loooong way to go, but I've made a career for myself on this lil' thang (as well as YouTube), so I feel I have some credibility in sharing these tips.
~ Find your niche: This might seem like the easiest step, but really think about what you want the topic of your blog to be. Do you like traveling? Write about your travels and recommendations for staying/eating in the area. Love to cook? Start a food blog! That's how Food and the City started. If you're not into cooking, write about your favorite restaurants. If you're following along accordingly, you'll know that restaurant roundups/reviews have become a big part of this website. Maybe you're #dopeAF with DIY. Show me how to add a gold trim to my $99 IKEA dresser like a boss. I'd like to read about that.
It's important to write about your passion and not just something that you think will generate numbers. When you're passionate about something, the authenticity in your content will show. When the authenticity in your content shows, your audience will form, and when your audience forms, the dollars will follow.
~ Find a network: So you've decided on your niche, created an awesome URL, styled up a blog and bam! You're doing it. When your readership starts to grow, I recommend applying to some ad networks to get you started with earning some revenue. While Adsense is probably the most popular, Food and the City is proudly signed with Mode Media. I've been with them since 2012, and I can honestly say that they have played a huge part in the growth of this site. Having an ad network under your belt helps you connect with brands, put up ads, earn revenue, and work closely with a team that's there to answer any questions you may have. I've had the opportunity to work with some AMAZING brands because of Mode Media, so I highly recommend them as an option for managing your site. You can sign up here.
~ *EDIT AS OF 7/25/16*: We have also recently joined the ranks of Spoutable, which is quickly becoming a big source of revenue for Food and the City. Only a few weeks in, and we've already reached our monthly payment threshold. HIGHLY recommend you apply there as well!
~ NETWORK THE F#CK OUT OF YOURSELF: No, seriously. Network and talk with as many people within the same niche as you as you can. Social media is your best friend, and it's vital to comment, like, and share other creators content. This is how you build connections, and with connections comes possible collaborations. If you can, go to as many events that you get invited to. 9/10 times I end up exchanging business cards with a brand representative which results in a sponsorship of some sort. Be authentic, be cool, and be yourself. You are a walking, talking billboard for your website.
~ Create great content: Over the years, blogging has become a visual wonderland. Having sharp, bright, and exciting photos within your post is crucial. Remember earlier when I said I used to use a little point & shoot camera to create my content? Yea... those posts were hideous. I cringe looking back at anything I created before 2013, when I invested in my first DSRL. While what type of camera you're using isn't always the most important factor, it's how you use whatever camera you decide on is what will make or break your photos. Play with angles, backdrops, editing tools - and you'll have even your iPhone photos creating some beautiful content. In fact, every restaurant roundup on Food and the City is shot on my iPhone.
~ Sponsorships: So you're creating great content and a brand has approached you to promote their product or service. In my opinion, or at least for Food and the City, sponsorships will be one of your highest forms of income. Assuming you don't already have a best-selling ebook that you're marketing, or have 5,000,000 unique visitors per month, sponsorships will definitely contribute to a large portion of your monthly earnings. There's a big misconception when it comes to sponsorships, though. Some people see them as taboo for their content in fear that their readers will accuse them of being fake or a sell-out. That being said, after years of doing this, I've noticed one thing: people don't really care if a post is sponsored as long as it's still authentic. Stay true to your content and your trust will still be in good standing with your readers.
A couple of things I like to ask myself when I get approached by a brand:
1) Is it a brand I like or a product I would use? I will research a brand for hours before I give them a yes or no answer. Sometimes it's as easy as a click of their link to instantly know it wouldn't work, and other times I scan over their site for a while before deciding. I will never feature a brand or product that I wouldn't personally buy from. I want to talk about things that I actually like, not shove products down your throat because my contract says to do so. Aside from that being super shady, I know my readers can smell phony advertisements from a mile away. You guys would chew me up and spit me out before I even had the chance to hit the publish button.
2) Does it fit my content? Similar to the fact that I'll only talk about a brand that I fully support, they also have to fit well into my content. I can be totally mesmerized by a type of batteries, but I think it would be kind of weird to feature them on here. Can you imagine coming to the site and the latest post you see is "Hey guys, today I'd like to tell you about this really awesome type of mens underwear." You would never come back again, and I really like you, so I'd be kind of bummed about that. Plain and simple, if it doesn't fit your niche, do like Elsa and let it go.
~ Be smart with affiliate programs: Personally, I'm not a big fan of affiliate programs. Partly because I've never had much luck with them, and partly because I'm not responsible enough to keep on top of them. That's not to say that you wouldn't benefit from them, but it's my irresponsibility that's kept me from having much luck with them. HOWEVER, I know plenty of people who have had major success with affiliate programs, it's just all in how you utilize them. This will be a perfect example of me not taking my own advice, but the simple formula to a successful affiliate program is to implement your links or code in as many posts as you can. Link back to past posts, keep on top of sales, create roundups, etc. There are a lot of ways to put your affiliate links out there without being annoying or repetitive. Nobody wants to feel like they're being sold to, but if your positioning them in an authentic way, your readers will be happy to save some of their own money by using one of your codes.
In conclusion, monetizing your blog isn't going to turn you into a millionaire overnight. It's going to take some good ol' hard ass work. Your first year should be filled with creating the best content that you can, networking as much as possible, and building a name for yourself. Don't focus too much on revenue dollars and whatever you do, DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED! Keep writing, keep publishing, and keeping focusing on your goal. This is my career because I set it up that way. It took a couple of years before I could quit my "regular" job, and now 6 years later, Food and the City is full-time, and bigger than ever! In 2014 we were named amongst the top 20 websites in all of New York City by HotelClubs.com. You couldn't have paid me $1,000,000 10 years ago to guess that that's how my life was going to shape up to be. It takes time, motivation, and a strong work ethic to be your own boss. But you know what, you can do it.
If it's one solid piece of advice that I can give you: consistent content is a consistent audience.
Never forget that.