Hey there, it’s Darren from ProBlogger and welcome to Episode 153 of the ProBlogger Podcast where today I want to talk a little bit more about my income streams. Back in Episode 150, I outlined in some kind of an income report how I make my money blogging. I talked about the first half of 2016 and where the income came from. I broke it down not in terms of total numbers of how much money I earned but in terms of percentages.
I talked about how 46% of my income or my profit from that particular time came from affiliate commissions, 31% came from product sales, ebooks, presents, and those types of things. 8% came from AdSense, 6% from sponsorship, 5% from a job board, and 3% from our event, and then another 1% from other miscellaneous things. You can listen in a lot more detail to that income report.
I want to follow that particular episode up because one of the things that I’m really aware of as you get that snapshot of my income streams today. One of the things you don’t get when you get that snapshot is the context for it and how it came to be. I think that’s personally more useful to hear about. Hopefully, it will help those of you who feel a bit overwhelmed by that. Every time I do get that graph out and that chart out that I shared back in Episode 150 in the show notes there, I do get people going whoa, that just seems so big, so unattainable. How could I ever possibly get to that point where I’ve got all those different income streams?
The other thing that I do notice when I share this type of report and when I see other bloggers talking about their figures is that sometimes people feel like they just are comparing themselves. It’s very easy to do. I know I do it when I see other people income reports. It’s not really fair to compare yourself to other people because what you’re comparing yourself to is just a snapshot at the end of their journey or along their journey. I think it’s more useful to hear about how things came to be.
In today’s episode, what I want to do is just talk you through the last 13 years of my life which might sound like it’s going to be a long episode, it won’t. I just want to walk you through the timeline of how I added income streams in over that time. I’ve done this a few times in talks, this is what people actually find more helpful than just hearing the snapshot. I hope that those of you who are interested in how to get that point of a full time income from your blogs might find it useful to hear about the journey.
Let’s walk back in time to 2002. It’s 2002, November, I’m sitting at a desk of one of the part time jobs that I had. I was also doing some study on the side. I get an email from a friend saying check out this blog. Many of you heard the extended version of this story, I’m not going to go through it completely but I ended up on this blog and see something there that I want to do. I decided that day I was going to start a blog. For the next year, I blogged on that blog. I began to experiment with a few other little blogs on the side but for the first year of my blogging I had no idea you could make money blogging and I had no idea that’s what I would end up doing. I just blogged because I enjoyed blogging.
I’m doing a bit of an income timeline here and so it could be very easy to skip over this first year but I actually think it was really important, it was an important year for me. It was a foundational year. The income that followed, some of it came because I spent a whole year not making money from my blogs and focusing upon other things.
Firstly, I learned a lot in this year. I spent a year learning about blogging, learning about the tools, culture, how to communicate, learning was one of the big things that I invested a lot of time into there without even really thinking about it, it just happened. Secondly, I wrote a lot of content in that time. I got hopefully a bit better as a writer but I also built up an archive of content which began to get indexed in Google and that drove some traffic. That’s the other thing I worked on for that year, I worked on building the traffic to my site. Lastly, I worked on building engagement with my community and with my readership.
None of these things I really was that intentional about. I didn’t say I need to learn about blogging or I need to drive traffic and instinctively happened. For that first year, I think I built some really great foundations to then monetize my blogs. I shared this because I think bloggers starting today should be investing significant amounts of time into those activities as well. Learning about blogging, understanding how to use the tools, understanding how to use your voice, those types of things. Building up an archives of content, driving traffic to your blog, beginning to grow your readership, and deepening the engagement that you have with your readers.
It’s not to say that you can’t monetize from day one, you can. I actually think it’s probably good for you to put a little bit of time into monetizing early but I think it’s much better for you to spend the bulk of your time really investing into those four areas; learning, content, traffic, and community. That was year one, no income. I didn’t even know you could.
It was in years two and three where I began to experiment with making a little bit of money on my blogs. It was around this time that I started a second blog, it was a blog where I reviewed digital cameras. It no longer exists today because I or someone else let the domain slip. It was something I’d been transitioning away anyway by the time that domain disappeared.
Years two and three, I began to experiment with monetizing my blogs. The reason I started to monetize was that my blogs were starting to cost me money. I had service, domains, that were taking up a lot of time, taking me away from the other work that I was doing. I began to look around to see was there a way I could cover my costs in blogging.
I discovered this advertising network that existed called AdSense. AdSense is Google’s ad network. You would’ve seen their ads almost everyday of your life over the last few years because they are everywhere, all over the internet. Many times, you don’t actually know who’s serving the ads but you’ve seen the ads. They started out back in 2002, a lot of them were text based ads. They were pretty ugly, you could change the colors of them but that’s about all. You could have different sizes. I started to put these ads on my blog. From day one, they started to earn me a little bit of income. By little, I mean a few cents a day. That wasn’t enough to buy coffee but it did drive a little bit of income into my blog.
It was around the same time I started to experiment with Amazon’s Affiliate Program or the Amazon Associates Program as it’s known. This is where you link to a product on Amazon with a special link and you earn a commission if someone buys that product based upon your link. Again, the income in the early days from Amazon was literally a few cents every week. It wasn’t even everyday. I was linking particularly to books which was what Amazon was all about back then, still is largely but they’ve got so many more products today. I was earning 4% or 5% commissions on these $ 10 books. You can say it wasn’t much but it was the start. I learned so much by experimenting with these two income streams.
I also learned that if I was going to ever make more than a few cents a day, I needed to do a few things. Firstly, I needed to get more traffic to my site. Both of these income streams and all the others I’m going to mention will go up if you grow your traffic to your site. This is something I did years two and three. I really worked hard on growing my traffic. I now had a bit more incentive to do that. It didn’t just make me feel good to know that people were viewing my site, I could see it was directly impacting how much money I was able to make. That helped me to grow towards a part time income.
The other thing I worked really hard on on those two years was optimizing how I was using these income streams. AdSense was something that I gradually over time learned. You could do things to impact how much you earned. You could, one, put more ads on your site. I think you can have three on each page. You could change the size of the ads, there were new ad unit sizes coming in. You could change the position of the ads, you could put them high up on the page, you can put them underneath your blog post, there were different positions and they each would help you to earn different amounts. You could back then particularly change the design of your ads as well, change the colors of the text ads that appeared. You can’t do that so much anymore but there are plenty ways that you can optimize that income stream.
Same with Amazon Affiliate Links, I learned how to call people to buy those products better, experiment with different places on my site to promote the products as well. Years two and three were a big learning time for me as well, I still can really put a lot of effort into creating lots of content, driving traffic, building community, but I also increasingly put a little bit more of my time into working with these different income streams.
That was the beginning for me. With those two income streams, I got close to getting to a full time level. It was around that time that I started ProBlogger. From now on, I’m now just going to start talking about income streams that were both on my photography blog but also ProBlogger.
Year four and five, this is where I began to build on AdSense and Amazon by adding a few more income streams. There was actually five in these two years.
The first one was direct ad sales. I realized that advertisers were now beginning to target my site. I could see the same advertisers appearing on my site all the time. I knew that Google AdSense was taking a cut of all those ad revenues. I began to reach out directly to some advertisers to see whether they wanted just to work with me directly on my site. We’re not talking big bucks here, don’t think I was earning tens of thousands of dollars from these sponsorships that I was selling on my site.
The first one, I earned $ 20 a month. That was a camera store here in Australia that decided to advertise on my site. It was small amounts and I sold the advertising on a monthly basis. You would buy a certain type of ad in a certain position on my site for a monthly fee. I would charge more for a banner ad in a prime position and I would charge less for a sidebar ad in a less seen position. It started small as did all of these income streams but it gradually grew as my traffic grew and as I was able to send more people to these advertisers.
I also began to experiment with some other affiliate programs around this time. I began to see other blogs creating ebooks of their own and so I joined some of their affiliate programs and began to promote their ebooks and their products. That did okay for me in the early days, I learned a lot by doing it. I also added in other advertising networks, it was around this time Yahoo! had a publishing network, an ad network, and another one that I came across called Chitika. They’re still around today, they’ve changed quite a bit since the early days. I added Chitika ads onto my site alongside my AdSense ads.
At first, I thought it would decrease my AdSense ads. Turns out, it didn’t. My AdSense stayed steady but I added this whole new income stream. Really, that was a lightbulb moment for me as I realized that one of the fastest ways that I could increase my overall income was to just add a second income stream alongside my previous ones. It didn’t quite double my income overnight but it came close to doing it. That was a really exciting day. It was as I said a lightbulb moment and I began to think really strongly about how can I add some new income streams as well.
It was around that time I got approached by Wiley, the publisher in the US, to write the ProBlogger book. That was another small income stream that was added there. That only really came about because I’ve been blogging on ProBlogger for a couple of years and I’ve grown a profile on that particular topic of blogging. That approach came out of the blue.
Also for a little while there on ProBlogger there, we had a course which I ran with another blogger called Andy Wibbels. We ran a course, I think it was called Six Figure Blogging back in the day. It’s no longer in existence but that was my first experiment of having my own product. It’s something that I am really glad I did but I felt a bit out of my debt within those early days as well. There was certainly no software around to help you run courses like there are today. It was a big commitment to get that up and running at that time.
In years six and seven, I added three more income streams on top of some of the ones that I already mentioned. Firstly, I started to do some speaking and get paid for it. This is another one of those ones that came to me, I remember the first time being asked to speak at a conference. I was about to say yeah sure when the person said what’s your fee? I was like oh, you’re going to pay me to speak at a conference? Suddenly again, another income stream opened up. It’s something I haven’t done a lot of. I get asked a lot but being here in Melbourne, Australia, it’s hard to travel around the world to speak at these conferences. I say no more often than not but it’s something I really do enjoy.
Alongside that, I also began to experiment with some consulting, particularly off the back of ProBlogger. This is where I would do blog coaching. It was a service that I started back then. I didn’t do a lot of it, I very quickly discovered it wasn’t really for me, it wasn’t something I felt like I could add a lot of value to. I knew a lot about blogging but I didn’t feel that it really suited my style, my personality, and I realized I could probably have a bigger impact by creating lots of content for lots of people. That’s what I’ve done by later on creating some of the products I’ve created.
The last one in years six and seven was adding in a job board. If you haven’t seen it already, it’s at jobs.problogger.net. This is where people looking to hire bloggers pay $ 50 to get their ad in front of bloggers for 30 days. At first, that was a very small income stream, it was maybe two or three jobs per week on the job board, a few of my friends I used to give freebies to just to get a few more jobs on there. Gradually, over the years, it’s grown quite a bit. Now, it’s two or three jobs a day. Some days, four or five, or six or seven jobs. That’s a fairly passive income stream, it’s probably the most passive income stream that I have.
Years seven through to ten was a time where I really focused a lot of attention on building products and different types of products. The first one was an ebook and it was by this stage I started Digital Photography School which was kind of an evolution of my first photography blog and it was more of a how to take photos type blog. I put off doing an ebook on there even though I knew I probably should do one, I put it off for a couple of years by this point and eventually decided I’ve got to get my act into gear and I started to put aside 15, 20 minutes per day to create my first ebook.
I was a busy person so I basically got up early every morning and took a lot of the content that was already on the site, a lot of the posts that I’ve written personally about the topic of portraiture, how to take good photos of people which I knew was a popular topic in our audience. I compiled those together, I got them edited, I found a designer who would design the book for me. I learned about shopping carts and how to get a sales page up and all these things that I felt like I was completely out of my depth with and I launched this ebook. It took me about four months to get it together.
I was worried that no one was going to buy it because a lot of the content was already on the site and I was really upfront with my readers about it. I probably undersold it, I kind of said you may or you may not want it, I didn’t really sell it very well but it sold a ridiculous amount of copies. We sold $ 70,000 worth of copies in the first 11 days. That sounds like a lot of income overnight and it was. A lot of that came in literally in the first 24 hours, it was a wild 24 hours let me tell you.
As I reflected on it, it really came about because I’ve invested all these years of building my audience, we had fairly significant traffic by this point. I built engagement with that audience, they trusted us, they liked what we’re doing. It was the perfect time to launch this product. Then, launched a product and ebook over on ProBlogger, very similar story, repurposed content, 31 Days To Build A Better Blog. It was a series of blog posts that I’ve written, launched it again and it outsold even the first one.
Suddenly, literally within a few months, I had this brand new income stream. It was another of those moments where the income pretty much doubled within a few months because up until that point, I’ve been relying so much upon advertising and affiliate marketing. Suddenly, to have my own products opened my eyes to this whole new world. That’s what I then spent quite a few of the next few years working on, really those first two ebooks worked so well that I was like let’s do more ebooks. We’ve since that time launched I think 35 other things on a broad range of topics on both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School. Ebooks became a very big focus for me, almost too big a focus. It closed me off a little bit to some of the other products that we’ve since launched. It became a bit of an obsession to be launching four or five ebooks every year.
Another income stream that I had going for a little while in this period was also a membership site over on ProBlogger. This is where people were paying a monthly fee to get access to some premium content in the form of webinars, closed private communities, plugins that we developed as well. That membership site was quite profitable but it wasn’t the most satisfying site for me to run because I didn’t see a lot of engagement there. We had a lot of people sign up and I didn’t quite know why they signed up to be honest.
Like I said, it was profitable, we’re making good money, but I didn’t feel like I was really contributing a lot of value. I decided to close that down and to rethink that model. Out of that came this podcast which doesn’t make a lot of money but on the flip side it feels like it’s having more of an impact upon people. For me, it’s not just about the money, it’s actually about what impact do you have. We may revisit the membership idea and tweak that in the future but for now that’s an income stream that didn’t work out for us.
It was also in these years, I think it was 2007, I ran the first ProBlogger event. The first three, four years of that event it didn’t make any profit. I didn’t really try to, it was something that was more of a labor of love. Unfortunately, running events that have 400 or 500 come to them get quite expensive so it got a bit risky to run it so I started to build some income streams around that as well now. It’s not a big income earner or profit earner because there’s a lot of expenses but it’s certainly a new income stream that I developed in that time as well.
Then, there were printables. Printables really could be anything really but they’re things that you sell for your readers to print. I guess in some ways, they’re like an ebook but for us on Digital Photography School they’re some our posing guides where we got someone to do some hand drawings of different poses for taking portraits of people so you could print them out and take them on location with you and show your subjects, “Hey, pose like this.” They did quite well for us as well.
The last two years, years 12 and 13, have been extending the idea of the ebooks and creating some more products of our own. These were courses, I’ve done three courses now on different aspects of photography particularly and Adobe Lightroom presets, little plugins that you can put into that software to help process images in a click.
There are the different income streams, most of which I mentioned in Episode 150 but I hope it is a little bit useful for you to hear them presented more as a timeline rather than a snapshot. Most of these income streams actually started out as little experiments as little hunchers, little let’s see what happens if I add this, let’s see what happens if I invest a bit of time to create that. Some of them worked really well, some of them have not worked at all. Some of them have been slow burners like the job board, even AdSense, just a few cents a day, gradually grew 10% this month, 10% that month, and gradually added up over time.
I hope it’s been helpful for you to hear that story presented in that way. Hopefully, it gives you some ideas of some of the income streams that maybe you can be adding into your own blog as well. As I’ve said previously, there are plenty of other different types of income streams that you can add to your blog as well. I would love to hear your own timeline, and you could just do it in a simple bullet list, year, what income stream you added, I would love to see that because I think I’ll find it fascinating to see how bloggers grow their income streams as well. If you like to do that, I’d love to see it.
You may just get an email from me because I’d love to do some more podcasts interviewing people to hear about these stories as well. If there’s some interesting responses there, maybe you can become a guest on the ProBlogger podcast.
The next thing I’ll say is that I’m going to do a follow up to this episode in the next episode, Episode 154. Those of you who are listening to this just the day it goes live, you’ve only got a couple of days to wait. Those of you listening to it a week or so later, it’s probably live so you can go and listen to that straight away.
In the next episode, I really want to give you a few observations of things that I’ve learned about adding income streams particularly. I want to suggest three ways to grow your income, I want to talk about some of the foundations that you should build before you grow income, I want to talk about the idea of experimenting with income streams and I’ll also give you some hints as to how to work out which income streams to try first. If that sounds interesting, subscribe to this podcast over in iTunes. While you’re there, leave us a review, I’d love to hear what you think. Or, subscribe to the ProBlogger Plus newsletter which will be linked to in today’s show notes as well.
Thanks for listening today and I’ll chat with you in a few days with some more on this topic of adding income streams to your blog.