“You're a… blogger? Do you actually make money doing that?”
Ah yes, my two favorite and most-asked questions. Ever since I decided to take the leap of faith and start doing this full-time, I've always had a hard time explaining to people what the heck I actually do for a living.
I know my neighbors see me at home all day long and wonder what in the world is going on with me. My wife and I are easily the youngest people on our street, and because of the incredible opportunities I have had with my business, we're both here all the time.
If you add in our wakeboarding boat and my wife's Mercedes (it was used but still nicer than any car I've ever driven), people probably think I’ve inherited a ton of money or won the lottery and literally do nothing for a living. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them even thought I was a drug dealer.
Then they see my 2004 Yukon and get even more confused, because if I were any of those things, why would I drive such an old car?
It's a fair question.
What my neighbors don’t know, and what I’m going to tell you about today is what it’s actually like to be a professional blogger, both good and bad, including:
- How flexible blogging is
- What it’s like to help people with your story
- What’s it’s like to spend your time talking with awesome people who are doing awesome things
- How slow blogging is in the beginning
- How blogger life can be a little lonely
- That you have a million things happening at once
These are the things I wish I knew before I started this whole journey to becoming a professional blogger. When I started M$M back in 2015, I really didn’t know how to start a blog. I didn't even follow other bloggers or know that you could make money doing what I'm doing right now.
There were professional bloggers who were actually making money online in this really, really obscure format of just writing whatever they were thinking. I fell in love with the idea and eventually quit my job to pursue this.
My life has changed drastically since I learned how to start a blog, and I've learned a lot through the process of building this business. I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished and how I’ve helped people along the way (check out my M$M Facebook community to hear incredible debt payoff stories and big financial wins).
But, blogging isn’t sunshine and unicorns 24/7. I’m not complaining at all, but being a professional blogger is much harder than it looks but easy to make it seem, well… easy.
If my journey inspires you at all… If you want to confuse your neighbors with what appears to be a non-existent day job… If you’ve just always wanted to learn how to start a blog of your own, then start here.
How to start a blog
I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide for how to start a blog. Remember, every blogger does things a little different, and that’s part of why I really enjoy what I do. I can see the steps one person took, and then adapt it to work for me.
If you want even more information about how to start a blog, even more than I can fit here, please grab a copy of my free blogging guide.
Step 1: Figure out what you want to blog about
Some people find this to be the most difficult step – it’s almost like asking a kid what they want to be when they grow up. You might not be 100% sure what you want to write about in the beginning, but you need to have at least an idea before starting, then you can start narrowing it down.
If you need a little help that, start by thinking about the following things:
- What story do you want to tell? Because you can blog about anything, start thinking about your experiences, interests, passions, things you’re an expert on, things you’re learning, etc.
- How can you make that story a little more niche? The broader your topic, the harder it is to set yourself apart from the crowd.
- How will that resonate with readers? Start thinking about who might read your blog, and try to identify that group. Will your blog’s topic be relatable, interesting, or helpful to them?
This can take a bit of time, but it’s worth doing from the beginning. Your blog will go through subtle changes over time, and that’s okay. But, having a starting point will help you with these next few steps.
Step 2: Start writing
Bloggers write, a lot. I publish three posts per week and they can range from 1,500-3,000+ words. This one is around 4000 words. I also email my readers pretty regularly too. That’s a lot of writing if you’re a brand new blogger.
What you need to do at the very least is to start getting a feel for writing posts. You can do this before you even start your blog. Once you learn how to start a blog and get it all set up, then you can go back to that writing, clean things up, and publish those as your first posts.
What you write will be informed by your blog’s topic, so now you know why step 1 is so important.
Starting to write now really helps you find your voice, build stamina, and see if you actually don’t mind essentially writing for a living.
Step 3: Set up your blog
If you haven’t done so yet and are feeling a little intimidated by the technical side of blogging (I hear this from a lot of people), I created a solution that I think you’re going to be pretty excited about.
It’s called Launch That Blog. It’s a completely free service that installs and sets up a WordPress blog for you. My team will:
- Install a self-hosted WordPress blog for you
- Make it look professional from day one
- Install essential plug-ins
- Give you free training resources
- And, you get a free domain name for one year
The service itself is free, but you will need to click on this Bluehost affiliate link to get the deal, it also comes with special pricing for M$M readers. That’s only $2.95/month for hosting. Check out this post on Launch That Blog to learn more.
Now, if you don’t want to use my service or pay for hosting, that’s totally fine… we can still be friends 🙂 I like to tell my readers about it because it’s a really, really low-cost way to start a professional looking blog from day 1. And, if you want to be a professional blogger (ahem, make money blogging), your blog needs to look legit.
Step 4: Find and grow your audience
There’s honestly so much to say here, and it’s hard to nail things down because each blogger has a slightly different traffic strategy. But, I’m going to cover some of the essential points for you.
Start by utilizing social media
Pick one social media outlet and start a page for your blog. Share it with your friends and family. Post often. Share your blog posts. Comment and like what people on your posts. Interacting with your readers via social media can be a lot of fun.
Once you gain some traction and see some traffic coming in, you can try adding another social media platform. There are a bunch too, like:
Those are the most popular, and I dedicate an entire section of my free blogging guide to just Facebook alone.
Find people to guest post
By inviting other bloggers to write for your blog, this helps both you and the blogger. But, it doesn’t just need to be other bloggers. I’ve had my accountant write about taxes before because I knew it would help my readers.
This is a must that will cost you readers. At the beginning of M$M, I lost 4,000 page views in one month because I missed a couple of weeks of posting.
Decide how often you can publish a post, and be realistic about it. You can start with one post a week and work up from there. Whatever you choose, pick a day of the week for publication and stick with it.
Being consistent is showing up for your readers.
Step 5: Start monetizing your blog
This step is so involved that it could be its own post… oh wait, it already is – How to Make Money Blogging (How I Went from Teacher to 7-Figure Online Business). I’ll let you click over if you want really detailed information, but I will touch on the five most popular blog monetization methods.
Offer freelance services
Many bloggers start here, and advertise services like:
- SEO work (search engine optimization)
- Social media management
- Web development
- Graphic design
- Digital marketing
You’ll want to put a “hire me” tab in an easy to find place on your blog. I freelanced by running Facebook ads for small businesses after starting M$M, and it sustained me until I grew my blog income in other ways.
This is when an ad network places ads on your blog, and you earn income when people click on those links or by how many views they get. You have to be careful here, because display ads can give your readers a bad experience if you have too many. They’re also not always worth the traffic you might lose in the beginning.
This is when you work with a company to write posts that promote their products or services. The key to doing it well is to keep your audience in mind, only giving them content that is actually valuable and helpful in some way.
You can learn more about sponsored posts at Making Sense of Sponsored Posts Course Review.
This is when you place special links in your posts for products or services your audience might be interested in purchasing. When someone buys something through that link, you make a little money.
Some bloggers talk about affiliate marketing income as if it’s the holy grail of passive income. While it’s not 100% passive – you have to factor the work it took to build your blog up and the work it takes to nurture and drive traffic to those posts – affiliate marketing can pay really well.
But like every other source of blogging income, you HAVE to pay attention to your audience. Provide them with valuable content more than anything else.
For more on affiliate marketing, including how not to be scammy about it, check out my review of the course Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. Michelle is an awesome human being and regularly earns around $50,000 a month (!!!) from affiliate income.
Create a course or ebook
After you’ve really grown your audience’s trust and know what will improve their lives, you can create a digital product, like a course or ebook. Most professional bloggers I know are doing this now because you’re in complete control of this income source while providing even more value with some you created.
Helping people feels good, and I love when readers tell me they’ve taken the Facebook Side Hustle Course and it allowed them to pay off debt, leave a job they hate, etc.
Step 6: Work on your email list
You’ll want to start this almost right away. Before affiliate income or course sales, you need an email list. An email list is so important because you own your list. You’re not competing with algorithms or worrying what will happen to your business if Twitter implodes tomorrow.
Your readers have given you their addresses, which means they want to hear from you.
Send them your best offers, give them first access to new products, hold giveaways and contests, and send them updates when new content drops on your blog.
You’ll need an email opt-in form somewhere on your blog, and Mailchimp is the best option for new bloggers. It’s free to use for the first 2,000 subscribers.
Now that you’ve gotten all of that, I want to tell you the best and worst parts about learning how to start a blog and turning it into your full-time job…
The pros of blogging for a living
There is so much flexibility in this business
I don’t do income reports anymore, but they are probably one of the biggest indicators of both the flexibility and growth you can experience with blogging. Typically, the progression that you see from bloggers that make it as pros looks something like:
- Provide freelance services through their blogs (digital marketing, writing, etc.)
- Earn ad revenue
- Run sponsored posts for companies that will help your readers
- Start making affiliate income after taking this course
- Create a course about something you know a lot about (and will help your readers even more)
Now, there are different ways to do it. I started out by providing digital marketing services (running Facebook ads for local businesses), then made affiliate income, then ad revenue. Now, the bulk of my income comes from my courses.
As far as flexibility goes, you can essentially pick which direction you want to go, master it, and then move on to something else you can scale.
I legitimately have fun every day
Quick disclaimer: It wasn't always this way, but I'll talk about that more in the cons section below.
Between M$M readers, the people I've hired to help me grow the business, my business partner for Laptop Empires, and my friends I've met in the online space… I have a ton of fun now. Maybe the best thing about being a professional blogger is that you can mold your business to fit the lifestyle you want.
All of those people that you've seen living in vans, RVs, and sailboats? They're real. The people you see traveling all over the world and blogging about it? They're real too. They probably make being a professional blogger even more fun than I do, but remember that there is a lot of behind the scenes stuff happening to make it look as easy and cool.
Still, if you can learn how to start your blog and then make it through the first few months to a year of really hard work, blogging is legit one of the most fun jobs ever.
Most of the people I've met are really nice and have cool stories
Speaking of the people that do what I do – they're all so interesting and have achieved awesome things. These are things like paying off massive student loan debts, retiring early, traveling full-time, building businesses… you name it.
Originally, the biggest reason that people followed this site was my student loan payoff story.
It’s different now because my story has changed so much, but that’s the hallmark of a lot of professional bloggers – their story is the draw.
Everyone has an interesting story to tell, and blogging is a great way to share it. You can help, motivate, and inspire others with your life experiences.
You can scale this to be a large business
I know some bloggers who hit full-time income with their sites and then put it into coast-mode (for the most part). There are also blogs like The Penny Hoarder that keep growing and bring in millions of dollars in revenue per month!
Then you have a smattering of everything in-between. Some people just build blogs up to sell them for a large amount of cash and then move on to building the next thing.
The point here is that the internet has made it exponentially easier to scale your site over time. There are different traffic sources, monetization methods, etc. It’s ideal to go slow at first, master one and move to the next, but the more you work the more you can grow.
Before I learned how to start a blog, I wanted to start a swimming pool company. Looking back, there's probably no realistic way that I could have scaled a brick and mortar business to this size in just four years.
I feel like I've been able to help people in a meaningful way
This probably should have been #1 on the list, but I guess I’m saving the best for last.
I genuinely like helping people. You can definitely become a full-time blogger without being hands-on, but I enjoy seeing the success stories that roll into my DM's and comment sections. It's hard to explain, but there's just something really fulfilling about knowing that you changed someone's life without even meeting them in person.
I’m not trying to sound smug about that either, and there are lots of jobs that can give you this feeling – nurse, counselor, social worker, police officer, etc. Helping people just feels good, and having a job that allows me to do that AND has the rest of the perks I’ve already mentioned is really freaking awesome.
The cons of being a professional blogger
Blogging is sloooooow
I mention this a lot, and I feel like it's worth repeating several more times – blogging is not a get-rich-quick scheme.
If you aren't willing to try blogging for a long time without seeing significant income, then it's just not a good option for you. That’s been the reality for me and every other professional blogger I know.
But, with that being said… once you “make it,” there's nothing out there like it that I've experienced. It's a regular occurrence now for me to wake up and see that I made money from a course sale or an affiliate product. I don't know about you, but I think it's a nice way to start the day.
It's easy to get discouraged
Year one of blogging is especially hard (see above). Some bloggers just seem to “figure it out” and have massive success early, and a lot of people easily learn how to start a blog and then struggle to get traction growing it.
I think it comes down to two things if you want to be one of the people who make it:
- You have an awesome story and know how to tell it effectively
- You learn marketing techniques and strategies and then implement them effectively
If you don't have a good story or aren't willing to put the time into learning the art of copywriting (words that sell), email marketing, affiliate marketing, etc., you're going to have a hard time. You also have to realize what actually resonates with people and what doesn't.
When I first started blogging, I was very preachy. Most people don't really like that. I eventually realized that I was coming across as a jerk and changed my approach to a “listen first and don't judge” strategy. The latter is working much better.
It's a lonely business
When you go from a super-social environment like teaching band (around a lot of fellow employees, hundreds of kids, etc.) to basically being alone, it messes with you. I’m home most days, in my office, working. My wife is home now too which helps, but I had to create interactions with others to get over this. Now I talk with my readers in my Facebook group or on Instagram, chat with my team, and network with other bloggers.
I know some professional bloggers like Financial Samurai have mentioned wanting to go back to normal work just to have the interaction again. If you're someone who thrives around other people, you'll want to really consider that before jumping into something like blogging.
You have so many plates to spin
I mentioned earlier that blogging is awesome because it's so flexible, but that can present problems as your business starts to grow. My business has grown tremendously this past year, but there have been plenty of times during that growth that I've felt overwhelmed by all of the projects that I've taken on.
A growing business is a good problem to have. But, when you’re in the thick of it, no matter how driven you are, you have moments when you start to wonder if this is what your life is always going to be like.
When you run your own business, it’s fairly easy to start way too many projects and not really get any of them to the level that you want them to be. As a professional blogger, you HAVE to figure out ways to make sure that the plates continually spin. If you can't, you'll probably need to ditch some plates along the way.
Once you start earning, you can outsource jobs to make your life easier. I currently have a team that helps me spin those plates. My team includes a couple of virtual assistants, and editor, someone who creates awesome graphics, a web developer, and an SEO guru.
Time off is a rarity
One of the biggest blessings of being a pro blogger is that you only need a solid internet connection to work.
It's also the biggest curse.
In the first two years of doing this full-time, I had an extraordinarily hard time unplugging from my site and marketing work. Fortunately, I've gotten a lot better at it recently, but it's always a process. If you want to see how I manage to take mental breaks and vacations from work now, you should check out this recent Laptop Empires podcast episode:
Final word – Is it worth it to learn how to start a blog?
Ultimately, yes. I truly believe that it is if you want to go for it. Compared to other businesses, it's a cheap bet in the grand scheme to see if you can make full-time blogging reality.
Here's the deal: I never knew that so many people would be interested in what I have to say about personal finance. I was a band director before this – think about that.
Somehow, I've been able to turn my student loan payoff story into a really freaking awesome business that I wake up excited to run every day. A lot of the other professional bloggers I know have had a similar experience as well. Remember, everyone has a story. You might not realize it, but I know it’s in there.
If you are serious about starting a blog, definitely do download my free blogging guide. You’re not losing anything by grabbing it, and it will give you an even better idea of what you can expect from blogging.
I’m reminding you about that again because I want you to get off on the right foot, and not make all of the mistakes I made. Seriously, I made a bunch…
- I didn’t invest money into my business soon enough.
- I didn’t post consistently.
- I waited too long to grow my email list.
- I focused too much on other people instead of myself.
- I wasn’t active enough in the blogging community.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time rectifying these things, and it’s made me better at what I do (at least I think it has).
Mistakes aside, I wouldn’t change anything about the past four years. Being a professional blogger is literally my favorite job I’ve ever had, even if my neighbors have no freaking clue what I actually do all day.