Note: This post originally appeared on BreakingTheOnePercent.com in 2017, before we merged DollarSprout and BTOP together.
I think a lot of blog income reports suck.
Actually, no. I think most blog income reports suck.
To be honest, I’m not even really sure why I still read them. I guess there’s always a small part of me that thinks that maybe I’ll find some useful tidbit of info.
I get why they are so popular. People want to know what’s inside the black box of “making money blogging.” We want to find the “secret” to profitable blogging — but what we usually end up getting is a regurgitated, copy-and-pasted, no-original-advice-whatsoever post that’s nothing more than a thinly-veiled promotion of affiliate products.
People looking to make extra money are often sold the dream of making a bajillion dollars a month from blogging, and it’s gotten kind of old. I see it happen all the time (and hey, I’m no saint either. I’ve had my fair share of sales-y attempts to sell hosting/courses/etc.).
But now that our own blogs are starting to see some real success, I’ve noticed myself becoming even more jaded with the “make money blogging” world.
That’s why I’m treating this blog income report differently
The other day I asked people in our blogging Facebook group what they wanted to know.
I got a ton of great responses to this. After some thinking, I decided to make this whole report a Q&A. If you want the regular fluff, you can probably find what you are looking for in a few clicks around this website.
Here we go:
I’m curious how much of your blog income comes from teaching others to blog (your course, affiliate income, etc.), and how you decided to create products around that instead of finance.
First question right out the gate is awesome, and I would love for other bloggers to answer the same thing.
Here are the blogging related products we sell, and how much we made from them in December:
Hostgator: $1,000 exactly. (November also happened to be $1,000, but October was $1,570)
Pinterest Course: $423. We didn’t really promote the course at all in December. November was $1,274 (gross) thanks to a Black Friday sale.
ConvertKit: $0. We have never actually sold anything for them, but I’ll include them here because I think I tried once in December.
Total: $1,423 out of $11,946 was from “blogging about blogging.”
For why we made blogging products before making finance products: the market for blogging products was better, considering the different audiences that each of our blogs has.
The usual readers of DollarSprout are just looking to get their money situation straight in the first place. We don’t have an audience of wealthy readers ready to shell out serious cash on products (unless we made stupidly cheap products, which wouldn’t make much sense for us from a business perspective).
For the blogging audience, we found that our readers were more action-oriented and wanted a “project” they could work on, with tangible results. After seeing a few blogging courses rake in tens of thousands in sales per month for some big-name bloggers, I knew for sure that there was a market.
I actually made most of our Pinterest course on a whim one weekend when our internet was out (thanks, Comcast). Creating that course was more of a proof-of-concept than anything else; I just wanted to see if we could create something and sell it at scale.
How much were your blog expenses?
Ah. Another missing element of so many blog income reports (including pretty much all of ours up until this point. Whoops).
So I’ll preface this answer by saying that we didn’t need to spend nearly as much as we did.
But yeah, we spent $4,831.
We are trying to grow just about as aggressively as possible, while still being responsible with our spending.
$2,000 was for our nearly-full-time contracted VA (although she’s much more than a VA. She writes, edits, helps with email, works on blog SEO, and more.). We gave her $250 before Christmas because we appreciate her help so much, so that brought the total up to $2,250. Doing the right thing for people that are helping you is never a bad thing.
We spent nearly $1,300 on Facebook ads for DollarSprout, which now has over 3,000 fans. We plan to increase the spending here even more in January now that ad costs are dropping (holidays are over).
The rest was spent on our regular costs of running the blog (stock photo subscription, ConvertKit, Tailwind, other contractors/freelancers, etc.). We also had to pay $500 to renew our hosting in December, which was a big chunk.
Reinvesting profits is so important to growing your blog.
I’m sure Ben and I could fire all our help, stop running ads, and cut costs to the bare minimum, and you know what? We would probably still make over $10k in January. We’d probably be fine for quite a while, actually.
But we are playing a very long-term game here, and the reality is that it takes a serious investment to get where we want to go.
How many posts are you actively promoting on Pinterest?
We are promoting a pretty decent variety of posts on Pinterest for each of our blogs. Obviously, we do more experimentation and tinkering for articles that we know will bring us the most income from affiliates.
We have lots of articles on how to use Pinterest to increase your traffic:
- How We Grew Our Pinterest Engagement by 115,726% in 100 Days
- How to Find and Join Pinterest Group Boards
- 6 Ways Tailwind Helped Us Build a $100,000/Year Blog Income
- How to Make Pinterest Pins That Go Viral
How do you deal with the personal finance content slump in summer?
It’s hard to say, really. In 2017, we were getting better at Pinterest pretty much every single month, so our traffic started rebounding pretty quickly after the post-January dropoff.
And then as our traffic really did start taking a hit as the summer turned to fall, we were also getting a lot better at writing content that converts, which made up for traffic slowdown.
At what point in your business did you really start outsourcing?
Probably later than we should have.
Once I was able to comfortably take my $3K monthly salary from the blog (Ben still takes $0), we wanted to buy more time so we could accomplish everything we want to. The truth is, even for two people, doing everything that goes into blogging is more than Ben and I can humanly do.
Once I started experimenting with freelancers on Upwork, I was hooked. Sure, some of them were a complete waste of time and money. But once I found a few that I liked, I was able to keep them on board and take on regular assignments.
Hiring the full-time help, in addition to the freelancers, was a big step for us.
As of right now, we have 7 people (not including me and Ben) that are helping us in some capacity on a monthly basis.
Side note: I totally get that people love working from home, but I cannot WAIT for the day where we have an established office and everyone comes to work and we can all do stuff together. That’s the future that Ben and I are working towards.
How did you choose what to outsource first?
I outsourced my most time-consuming task first (and the thing I think I’m weakest at): writing content.
Yep, I’m a blogger who doesn’t particularly like writing. It takes me forever, and I honestly don’t think I’m that great at it. (Don’t worry, this is actually me writing this post.)
The freelance writers that I have found all have a much better “voice” than me, in my opinion — especially for the DollarSprout audience.
How much time did you spend on your blogs?
I work 2 hours a week, from the beach!! My life is amazing! Buy my course! #laptoplifestyle
Ugh, I wish.
Ok, so I really did only work for about 3.8 total hours in the last week of December. I went on vacation to Florida and it was great.
But for the first 3 weeks of December, all I did was work. I would get up between 7-8am, and other than eating and going to the gym, I would be working on the blog until midnight or so, 7 days a week.
This was more a product of knowing how important January is for the personal finance niche and wanting to have our ducks in a row for showtime once I got back from vacation.
On a regular, non-crunch-time month, I would estimate I put in 60-70 hour weeks on the blog(s). Someday that may go down, but that day is not anytime soon. I’m cool with that, though.
Does most of your traffic come to 1 or 2 posts? If so, how do you get that traffic?
Each of our three blogs has 3-5 posts that drive the majority of our traffic.
Make lots of pins, A/B/C/D/E/F/G test them, make another set, test them again, etc.
We are also starting to pick up quite a bit of momentum with organic search traffic thanks to a ton of extra effort on SEO (both on-page and off-page) over the past 6 months. In December, VTX had over 11,000 visitors from Google, which is super valuable traffic (read why here).
What are your main income sources?
Here is our income breakdown from last month:
Course sales: $423
Display ads: $2,227 (BTOP uses Mediavine and VTX uses Adthrive. I just applied to Mediavine for DollarSprout)
Sponsored posts: $900 ($700 for DollarSprout and $200 for BTOP)
Affiliate marketing: $9,895
Blog consulting: $501 (This will be ending on Jan 31 and it will free up a lot more of our time)
How do you manage your different affiliates and keep everything straight?
This is a good question. I’ve been trying to figure this out too. Having 3 sites definitely makes it tricky.
First things first, I like to have everything listed in a spreadsheet and separated by category (this especially helps when you have freelance writers who aren’t super familiar with your affiliates).
Here’s what ours looks like:
I’ve also added columns that tell me what networks these are on, as well as our current EPC (earnings per click). That gives me an easy way to sort through affiliates and prioritize our promotion efforts.
Keeping a list of affiliates is not enough, though.
You need to know where your affiliate links are performing the best.
That’s why we use SubIDs. A SubID is just an extra snippet added to each affiliate link that tells us what article a link is in.
So if we see a Hostgator sale come in and see the subID “BTOP-how-to-start-a-blog”, we know that our article on how to start a blog is where they converted from.
When you have three websites and each has dozens of articles with affiliate links, this type of reporting becomes really useful.
With this information, you can:
- See which articles are performing the best
- Study why those articles convert the best
- Prioritize your interlinking
- Decide which articles need more Pinterest attention
- Calculate revenue per pageview on a specific article, which is useful for determining ROI on Facebook ad spend
As you build up more content, it’s important to make a habit of going back through to make sure everything’s current.
Here’s what our link audits entail:
A) Making sure all affiliate links still work (and have correct subIDs). Affiliate links break all the time.
B) Interlink to new content that is performing well (based off of subID reports from above).
And sure enough, we use a spreadsheet for that, too:
How do you split your time between multiple blogs effectively without letting one wane?
I won’t sugarcoat it — having multiple people helps a lot. Even if we just had one site, I don’t know how one person could ever do it all. It’s way too much.
When I say that, I mean it’s too much for the level that we want to reach.It’s definitely possible to make money blogging as a solo operation, but I think reaching the $100k/mo stratosphere levels is highly unlikely for someone starting in 2018 and doing it alone.
Break it down for us. How much of your income comes from BTOP, VTX, and DS?
This breakdown isn’t perfect, but it’s very close (I’m too lazy to go through our 8+ networks and add up all the subIDs):
VTX: 53% (organic traffic helps a ton here)
DollarSprout: 17% (Remember, this site is less than 3 months old. Launched October 13, 2017)
How do you negotiate better rates with affiliate partners?
This post shows me in action as I negotiate with an affiliate and get a 12.5% pay raise. You should read it.
How do you create compelling Pinterest graphics for saturated topics?
Long story short: never stop experimenting.
Different calls to action, different fonts, different verbiage, different everything. Just keep trying everything. People think making 1 or 2 pins for a post is enough and it is definitely not enough.
And don’t worry, Pinterest even encourages you to make multiple pins leading to the same landing page:
How do you prioritize what to work on?
I think I need to do a better job of this, actually. I pretty much just work on what’s most urgent first (usually my inbox) and then I work on whatever I am most motivated to work on that day.
If I know I’ve neglected something for a while, I try to address it. I’ve never really been capable of having Monday be Content Day, Tuesday be Social Media Day, Wednesday be SEO Day, etc. I sorta just try to do everything at once. Don’t be like me.
Those were the biggest questions for this blog income report.
Do you like this format? If you aren’t in our FB group, make sure you join it so you can ask your question next time.
I’m trying to keep it real here. I want to share as much as I can.
I also don’t want you to feel like a crumb if you haven’t made money from your blog yet.
Creating anything that brings in $12K in one month takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. It didn’t happen overnight for us.
However hard you think you have to work to get where you want to go, multiply it by 10 and double your timeline. From my experience, that’s just how it goes.