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Becoming a ProBlogger – A story in Many Parts

During the first year of my blogging ‘career’ I worked three jobs simultaneously and was studying part time – and blogged on the side.

Sorry – that was a bit of an odd way to start a post – but I just didn’t know how else to do it (It’s been a long day).

Note: this post has been updated in December 2008.

On a number of occasions this week I’ve been asked about my early days as a blogger and how I got into it as a way to make income. I know from some of the comments and emails that I get that some people come to this blog and see the few posts that I’ve written about how much I earn and see blogging as a get rich quick kind of thing but don’t see the full picture – so I thought I’d document it a little more. So if you want to hear my story grab a coffee, make yourself comfortable and relax – this could take a little while.

Once Upon a Time…

Back in November of 2002 when I first hit ‘publish’ on my original (and short lived) Blogspot Blog I did so believing that this ‘blogging thing’, which I’d only just heard of, would be a bit of fun. I started for a number of reasons but in short it was curiosity and the hope of a new hobby and perhaps some new connections that drew me to it. At the time I was working three jobs.

My 3 Jobs

My main job at the time was as a Minister of a Church. It was a part time thing and I was not ‘the’ minister but one of 4 working in a team. My responsibility was working with young people and I did so 3 days per week.

As I was engaged at the time and trying to save for a wedding, pay off my little car and pay for my college fees I had taken on a number of other part time jobs (ministers wages are not fantastic at the best of times but part time they were even less spectacular). My second main job was working for an online department store. While that might sound interesting and useful for what was to come – it was not. I was the warehouse ‘dogs-body‘ and my job consisted largely of sweeping, cleaning, lifting, packing, unpacking and other menial and boring jobs. Still – it did help pay the rent.

My third job was as a casual laborer. I was on call with an employment agency and did all kinds of temping work ranging from mind numbing production line work on a conveyor sorting through the rubbish that comes off planes at the end of 15 hour flights (not pretty) to helping to assemble circuses (don’t ask).

As well as this I was finishing off my Theology degree (a long term – 10 year – process) at a half time load.

There wasn’t much time for much else in my life at the time as the Minister job tends to fill up any gaps one has in their life with a lot of weekend work, although I did have time for a fiancee.

This was my life that fateful day when I first got the taste for blogging….

Hobby Blogger

Now I’d like to say that at the moment I hit publish on my first blog that the earth shook and a light from heaven came down and I was suddenly transformed into a full time blogger – but as we all know it doesn’t happen that way. In fact for the first 12 or so months of my blogging very very little changed. In fact if anything I became busier as I took on an extra subject in the attempt to finish my degree before my college booted me out for taking too long and I left the church where I was working to start another one).

Blogging in this time remained something that was a hobby and a way to connect with others who were involved in thinking through similar church stuff to me – nothing more. My blog had become quite popular in ’emerging church’ circles at this time and my hosting and ISP costs were starting to escalate.

It was after about a year of blogging that I accidentally started Digital Photography Blog (another story) and discovered AdSense and the Amazon Affiliate program. I’ve talked in numerous interviews and posts about this time so I’ll gloss over the details except to say that my hope was to pay for my ISP and hosting costs and to perhaps help pay for a blog design.

I quickly discovered that my hope of covering my expenses was a realistic one. This was not because all you have to do is put AdSense on any blog and you’ll make money but because I put it on an established blog that was doing several thousand readers per day (this is important to keep in mind). Even with established traffic the earnings in the early days were not high. My first month (October 2003) saw me average about $1.40 per day (and that was with lots of curiosity clicks from my readers in the first few days – thank goodness Google didn’t boot me out) and November hit $3 per day. The money was very small but it covered my costs and I began to wonder if with the extra few dollars a month I might be able to afford one of those Apple Laptops I’d been eyeing off (up til this point I was blogging on dial-up from a 6 year old PC that worked most days).

December saw daily earnings hit $6 per day, January $9, Feb $10 and March $15. Hardly big dollars but I began to wonder what would happen if I saw the same sorts of increases in income over a longer period of time. By that I don’t mean adding $2-$3 to the daily average per month but what would happen if I could sustain 30%, 40% or even 50% growth each month. I began to think in terms of exponential growth.

Part Time Blogger

Around this time I began to find myself with a little more time on my hands and in need of another part time job. My study was winding up (I finally graduated) and the grant I’d had to start up the church was on a declining payment system over two years (something I was fine with). ‘V’ (my wife) began to hint that maybe I should start looking for another part time job (rightfully so) and we decided that when I finished my degree at the end of June that I’d need to get serious about finding another two days per week work. All this time I was secretly doing the calculations in my head to see how much I’d need to earn per day to be able to call my blogging my part time job.

April’s earnings came in and averaged around $20 per day and I began to realize that I might just have myself a part time job. The beauty of blogging income is that it earns you money 7 days per week so totaled $140 per week. The other beauty was that AdSense and Amazon pay in US$ which equate to $1.30 in Australian currency.

June was looming and I decided to increase my efforts in blogging to see if I could get it to a level that might justify me pitching to ‘V’ that I dedicate 2 days per week to it. I started blogging more posts per day (this is when I started working late into the night after work) and learnt as much as I could about SEO and ad optimization.

The work paid off because in May earnings hit $32 per day and by the end of June I’d broken $1000 in a month for the first time and was bringing in $48 per day.

It was crunch time now and V and I had to consider our next move. I could probably keep growing things each month by working after hours on blogging and go find another job – or I could put the two free days that had been taken up by study and the church work that had just decreased by a day per week into blogging and see if we could make a go of it.

We decided to give it a few more months of increased effort into blogging to see where it would end up. I also got my first Apple computer (an ibook) – but was still doing it all on dial-up).

I’ll pause here in my story to say that this was a bit of a freaky moment for both ‘V’ and myself. Neither of us had started a small business and while I’ve always had something of an entrepreneurial spirit we are both fairly conservative people in many ways and while the figures indicated that there was potential on many other levels it just seemed plain weird. I mean who makes their income blogging? Needless to say we didn’t really tell too many people of our decision and when we did with a few family and friends there were plenty of raised eyebrows and lots of comments like ‘that’s nice but are you going to get a real job?’ and ‘how’s your little hobby business going?’

I’ll stop going into the monthly earnings at this point except to say that investing the 2 days per week into blogging at this point proved to be one of the best decisions we made. I will stress that this decision came after I’d been blogging for 19 months already and after establishing a number of blogs that were obviously earnings reasonable money. It is not something I recommend people just do off the cuff in their early days of blogging – work up over time because while it worked out for me there are plenty of others that it has taken a lot longer for and some who it just hasn’t worked at all for.

Over the second half of 2004 I continued to put 2 days per week into blogging while maintaining another 3 days a week of other work (some church work and some warehousing). In actual fact it was more than 2 days per week in practice as I continued to work long hours in the evenings to keep things moving forward and at times worked literally around the clock (like during the Olympics when I partnered with another blogger to run a blog on the Games).

This was a time where I began numerous blogs (I got up to 20 at one point) and experimented with many different income streams and advertising systems. It was in this time that I also started blogging seriously about blogging and had an active blog tips section on my LivingRoom blog. This didn’t go down too well with some of my readers there and so I decided to move all of those tips to a new blog called ProBlogger.net – it launched on 23 September 2004.

Full Time Blogger – Eventually

By mid December of 2004 we had pretty much decided that 2005 would see me go full time as a blogger. I’d already ditched most of my warehousing work as the earnings had continued to rise over the month or so before and the grant for my church work was going to run out early in February 2005 (we transitioned leadership of the church to more of a team thing which I still lead voluntarily).

All was going well with some amazing figures in terms of earnings in November and December until what felt a little like disaster happened in mid December. Google did one of it’s notorious updates where some bloggers go way up in search results and others go way down – I was in the later group and most of my blogs virtually disappeared from Google – taking with them almost three quarters of my traffic and earnings. Ouch!

Things looked a little uncertain for the first time in over six months and we wondered if the next Google update would see things back to where they were or to get worse. The Google update in mid December left us at a level where we could still get by – but we wanted to be sure so it was time for a contingency plan and I promptly applied for a six month position doing some research for 7 or 8 months a couple of days per week which started the day I finished the church work. I got the job the day before the next Google Update (at the end of January 2005).

The update brought things back to a level just under what they were before the fall in December and we needn’t have worried as much as we did – although it did teach me many many lessons including the importance of diversifying your interests, the necessity to not just rely upon Search Engine traffic and to expect the unexpected when working online.

2005 was a massive year. I worked in the research position as well as working full time on my blogging (a juggling act but both were worthwhile). You can read the story of this year in the archives of ProBlogger (I won’t go into the details on this post but did do some end of year reflecting here) but it has seen me continue to diversify my efforts which has resulted in new blogs and partnerships (most recently with Andy in Six Figure Blogging and with Duncan, Jeremy and Shai with b5media).

2006 is upon us and where as last year was a year of diversification this year is looking like being one of consolidation (I say that now but suspect I won’t be able to help myself and will get into new things too).

Update from December 2008

A lot of people still come to this page so I thought it might be time to update this story for them because a lot has happened since 2006.

For starters b5media has continued to grow. These days we have over 300 blogs. We took on $2 million in venture capital and have invested that into expanding our team of developers, ad sales staff, administrators, writers etc and the network is one of the bigger blog networks going around.

I’ve also launched two blogs since this post was written – Digital Photography School (DPS is a blog with hundreds of photography tips) and TwiTip (a blog dedicated to sharing tips for using Twitter). These two blogs (plus ProBlogger) are my full focus in terms of blogging these days. Previous blogs that I’d started are no longer active because I discovered that the more attention I paid to a small number of blogs the better they did (rather than a little bit of attention to many blogs).

DPS has actually become my biggest blog with a readership of over a million visitors a month and a thriving forum area. It has taught me a lot about blogging and has been a tremendous amount of fun to develop as a site. I’ve written more about the first two years of DPS here.

Also since 2006 I’ve co-authored the ProBlogger book with Chris Garrett. The book came about after writing here at ProBlogger for a number of years and getting a lot of questions from readers about how to get going with blogging. Chris and I took a lot of the lessons we’d been learning and writing about on our blogs, updated them, put them in a logical and concise order and published it with Wiley Publishers.

All in all blogging continues be be an amazing journey. It’s opened up some great doors to connect with fantastic people, speak at a variety of conferences around the world and experiment with some great technologies.

Lessons from the Journey So Far (written in 2006)

So why am I telling this story? Is it just a self gratification thing? Maybe, I have enjoyed reminiscing – but there’s more to it than that.

Firstly I wanted to tell it because I’ve been asked to on a number of occasions – but secondly (and mainly) I wanted to tell the story again and in this extended way because I think it’s important to keep reemphasizing a number of points:

1. Blogging for an income takes time – while there are stories around of people making good money from blogs much faster than I have, from what I know of the many bloggers that read this blog my own increases have been faster than most. I’ve had my fair share of luck, I worked insane hours and I started out at a time that was a lot less competitive than it is now – all of these things have contributed to any success I might have had. It took me over 1.5 years to get things to a point where I could say it was a part time thing and another year after than before I went full time. It takes time.

2. One Step at a Time – Unless you have a massive pile of cash somewhere or a sugar daddy to cover your expenses in the mean time you need to approach blogging for money one step at a time. My approach was to always have a back up plan and to increase the time I dedicated to blogging only gradually as it started to show me earnings that justified it. We made a decision of what level of income we wanted me to be earning and decided that as long as blogging was under that that I would need to have other work. While there was one point where we broke this rule and I stepped out into two day per week blogging we put a time limit on it. If income didn’t reach the level we wanted within that time frame I would have been looking for work. While this might sound a little rigid or a bit of a downer – I believe I have a responsibility to my family and it’s goals and didn’t want to run off ahead of ‘V’ in my own direction without our decisions being joint ones that we were both comfortable with. V has been incredibly supportive in all this and has allowed me to follow my dreams even when they seemed quite bizarre – but there have also been times when she’s rightly been the voice of reason and pulled me back to earth to be sensible with the dreams.

3. Hard Work and Discipline – As I mentioned a number of times above, there have been countless nights when I’ve worked into the wee hours of the morning blogging. While I’m not quite as full on these days it wasn’t unusual for me to post 50 times per day over 12 hours in front of the screen). I love blogging so this isn’t a chore all of the time – but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t days (and weeks) that I didn’t want to slack off and ignore my business. One of the common reactions of friends to me talking about a home based business is that they say they’d never be able to do it because they’d be too tempted to never work. I always thought I’d be like this too but I’ve worked hard at being disciplined and working hard and put a lot of progress I’ve made down to this.

Note from 2008: I no longer post this much. As mentioned above – I focus now upon 3 blogs and concentrate on 1-2 posts per day on each of them.

4. Follow your Dreams – The main point of this post was to communicate the above three points – I never want to be accused of giving an unbalanced view of blogging or hyping it up as a get rich quick thing. I’ve gone out of my way on numerous occasions at ProBlogger to emphasize this (although am still regularly accused of being unbalanced). Having said all this it would also be irresponsible of me not to say that it is possible to make money blogging – and for some (not all) it is possible to make good money doing it.

I do no know where my story will end or how long my good fortune will last but I’m certainly attempting to prolong it and am making the most of every day it goes on.

I hope in this people catch a glimpse of where I’ve been and some of the lessons I’ve learned so far (I’ve written about many more lessons here previously). I look forward to sharing the next part of the journey here at ProBlogger in the coming years.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Hannah says:

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    I had been blogging since 2005 (I think), and recently some friends told me I needed to get more serious. I have been reading your blog, and I have learned alot from you! I also have started a couple of other blogs!

    At this point I only use adsense, and amazon but this week I got my first paycheck of $240! I’m ready above the $100 mark for next month as well!

    i never felt it was possible, but now I have money to send to some ministries that I support. Thank you so much for sharing the knowledge! I hope to become more educated, and learn to earn more in the future!

  2. thekalpong says:

    it’s really motivating. nice words of wisdoms DR. i am the waiting expert. soon enough I’ll have my first pay check from blogging. ;-)

  3. Justin Flood says:

    The major thing about blogging is that you have to find a topic that you are extremely passionate about and interested in. Most people simply give up before a blog will turn a profit because they get bored or defeated. Long stretches of seeing adsense lingering at 4 cents a day, can be frustrating. With a network of sites it can talk almost a year or more of pretty hard work a to get that first check from google.

    But, like most things in life, the major thing is to not give up. Build your community, focus on good quality content (This is really important), Don’t write fluff pieces just to keep posts coming. Make sure every post is informative and entertaining. Blogging is as much a performance medium as it is a personal medium. Remember there are people reading what you write and it’s your responsibility to keep the quality high.
    In the mean time Just enjoy the process of blogging. You’ll eventually reap what you sew if you don’t forget to water the plants.

  4. GettyCash says:

    Thank you for sharing. I just got a chance to read this post today. It’s great to learn from your blog and how you become a ProBlogger.

  5. kev says:

    Darren,

    This was a very inspirational article for me. I just started blogging a month ago and I am starting to see how this all works. My results have been interesting…

    Week 1 = $5
    Week 2 = $11
    Week 3 = $29
    Week 4 = $45

    Although the results aren’t making me rich it is exciting to see the potential if the numbers increase over time.

  6. Tim says:

    Great story Darren.

    I myself, like everyone else have just started my free blog. I am studying at law school at the same time but find blogging pretty therapeutic.

    I started my blog on personal development as I have vast knowledge in this area. If it makes money, that’ll be great, if not I think it’s just good to be able to share my knowledge.

    I do have a business plan and am hoping for double digit growth as far as visitors are concerned. Ii tend not to write for the search engine spiders but just try and ensure my readers are receiving te best quality possible.

    Great post, great blog.

  7. Clark says:

    Thanks for the tips Darren. This is some really helpful stuff for me as I’m just kind of getting off the ground myself and sometimes have to remind myself to be patient and let the process take its course. Thanks again.

  8. Frank Lee says:

    Darren,
    Great story, truly direct from the heart and very motivational and inspirational too. Whatever one wishes to persue ine must have the passion for it. Otherwise, it won’t last.

    I look forward to your postings and keep them coming. And thank you for sharing with us your life experience.

  9. Frank Lee says:

    Darren,
    Great story, truly direct from the heart and very motivational and inspirational too. Whatever one wishes to persue one must have the passion for it. Otherwise, it won’t last.

    I look forward to your postings and keep them coming. And thank you for sharing with us your life experience.

  10. Amarnath says:

    I am seeing you as a go getter and have been in my head for a long time. I would some time be there!!

  11. F says:

    what a story. i like the “lessons from the journey” part. Blogging for an income takes time. i’ll notice that for myself. remind me to be more patient. :)

  12. I just read this as an offshoot of your ‘reality check about blogging’ article. I’m not sure I’d have had the patience to perservere like you did. Good on ya and I bet you’re pleased you did!

  13. Vanessa says:

    I ran into this article on the Cuil search engine, searching problogger.
    Great article. I can relate to this. I remember the early days watching you and others blog 2 and 3 days nonstop. What a training ground for what you are able to do now.

  14. Duong says:

    Darren,
    Incredibly inspiring. I love that you emphasize work, diligence, time. really enjoy your blogs and learning so much. I believe that God has blessed you the ability to help others succeed in this new wave–now not so new–but still growing. May everything you put your hands to prosper!

  15. moinuddin14 says:

    Darren this is just as inspiring as any film like story. Am blogging since jan 2008 and accumulated 32$ till date. Well i never give up till i reach my goal. Your post has just fueled my aim and thank you for giving such inspiring thing.

  16. Robby G says:

    Great story. Quite inspiring actually. And you’re right, even though $30 or $40 / day doesn’t sound like much, it’s a 7 days/week business so it really does add up.

    Cheers.

  17. thanks for updating your timeline and your thoughts. It’s good to get perspective. Especially when you have to balance having a family

  18. Corina says:

    Wow, that’s amazing! Very inspirational article! I’d love to know more details like that…

  19. Savyray says:

    Your sharing means a lot to me. I am a beginner in the world of blogging and hope to learn to create a sustainable income from it. I agree that it takes a lot of dedication and at the same time being creative in always making the site interesting, informative and inspiring.

  20. Karl Rohde says:

    I have been blogging off and on for about 4 years now.

    The biggest problem I have encountered is what to write about. I read a lot of “general interest” blogs, and also read more specialised blogs. Whether these guys make money is always something sitting at the back of my mind.

    My own blogs (and other websites) usually make enough to take my wife out for dinner once a quarter, a far cry from full time income.

    The details you have provided indicate quite strongly that discipline is the key missing piece for improving what I earn from blogging.

    I am looking forward to coming back in 12 months and saying I have benefited from your insights.

  21. D Jackson says:

    Great post, really really inspiring. Take care and send some of that love my.

  22. drakesuyat says:

    darren,

    wow! i may have read your post 2 years after you posted it but it still contains the same impact on whoever reads it! Really inspiring!! And im sure everyone would agree that what makes this post inspiring is because readers can feel the honesty and sincerity of its content. An excellent quality for a real professional blogger!

  23. David says:

    I enjoyed reading about your journey. We have more in common that I thought we would. I too am earning a theology degree that is a decade in the making. Keep up the good work and you have a new subscriber.

  24. Wooooow thats some sort of a evolution there Darren. Thanks for sharing this fantastic post which shows us that there is hope :)

  25. Tressa says:

    Hi Darren

    I love your blog. Thank you for sharing your story, you are right a lot of people think it’s instant success but it does take time and a lot of hardwork. Someday I hope to be in your position.

    Congrats! And keep on blogging.

  26. tim says:

    I love the life story. I know how it is to be in Bible school and working three jobs while getting ready to be married! I also know how it is to take my time with getting my degree (attending on and off it took like 8 years).

    Thanks for sharing your story, I think it helps people connect with you and your experiences in life.

  27. Have started blogging two years back and I’m surprised that my blog has lasted till now. Having experimented with Adsense and all, I’m still in the $1 region per day.

    Well, reading this post has nudge on. Anyway, I enjoy the interaction with my readers and I guess that’s what keep me going as well.

    Cheers,
    C K

  28. Ken says:

    Darren,

    What ever happened to you ministry? I am an ordained minister and just starting to blogg. Any tips about ministry and blogging or using your ministry as a blogg site?

    Peace,

  29. Erin Kennedy says:

    Hi Darren,

    Wow. What a great story! I just recently got into blogging a bit more and am really enjoying it. In fact, I wish I had more time for it, but with 2 small boys and a full time resume writing home-based business, it is hard finding the time.

    HOWEVER, your terrific post has given me new reason (and excitement) to get out there and post more. You provide such a wealth of information… especially for us blogging newbies! :)

    Thanks.

    Best,
    Erin Kennedy

  30. Robyn says:

    All your good hard work removes the slog from blog and gives me hope that even I, with my theology degree and artistic brain, can hatch and nurture a blog. Thank you!

  31. alex says:

    wow really inspiring

  32. Priscilla says:

    Thanks for the story, Darren. It’s encouraging–and balanced. Anyone who says up-front that it takes a couple of years or more of hard work isn’t preaching a get-rich-quick scheme! Just launched my blog in Jan and am enjoying it a whole lot more than I expected, so I’m paying attention to stories like yours. Thanks for sharing so thoughtfully. And congrats on your successes. PS: I’m interested in the number of ministry-theology-seminary types responding here. I got my start in theology too.

  33. Rob Llewellyn says:

    I’ve been back at this post about three times over the course of a year. Always an inspiring read Darren.

    I’m curious about how the chemistry and potential income of blogging has increased/decreased since the introduction of the likes of FaceBook and Twitter.

    Incidentally …I follow you on Twitter.

    And I Twitter @ http://twitter.com/robertllewellyn

  34. Marcia says:

    This information was incredibly helpful and seems very reasonable and realistic! Thanks for sharing… I am an early blogger and have wondered about blogging for money… since I would be able to be a “stay at home” and still help my hubbie financially…

    As far as I am concerned… I will keep trucking and working and see where this leads me…

    Thanks…

  35. sun says:

    Wow…what a story…congratulations!

  36. planettech15 says:

    Hi friends
    I love the life story. We have more in common that I thought we would. I too am earning a theology degree that is a decade in the making. Keep up the good work and you have a new subscribe.
    Well, reading this post has nudge on. Anyway, I enjoy the interaction with my readers and I guess that’s what keep me going as well.
    =====================================
    sameer
    ===================================
    temping jobs

  37. lavender kitty says:

    Dear Darren,
    Was nice to see you had faith to stick to your dream.
    Your now in my heart and prayers.Keep up the great work.
    Thank you 4 the information.
    God loves You
    Kitty

  38. Thanks for telling your story Darren. It’s truly heart-warming. As they say, you have a great head on your shoulders! You made your own luck so you deserve all the success you achieve.

  39. Perros says:

    Thanks for this post Darren. I have some problems with monetizing my web, but this is very inspiring. I have to say that my web is in the part-time-job status, though, so it is not so bad. It certainly takes time and discipline (the latter being my biggest problem) but it is possible. Thanks for such an inspiring story.

  40. Dita Basu says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. There are times when I get so discouraged. But I love to blog and some how deep inside I feel it will make it some how ,some day. I just have to be persistent. Your article written long time ago, still inspires, inspired some one like me.

    Thank you.

  41. DKPORT says:

    Thank you for this post. This is an inspiration for me in becoming a problogger just like you. Thanks again!

  42. Awesome post.

    Its always interesting to hear the back stories of successful people.

    The main points I got out of this are
    1) Work hard, and focus on few blogs.
    2) Blog about things that people want to learn about, like how to blog better, how to make more money, how to take better pictures, how to use twitter better.

    Your success is impressive and inspirational.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Today I spent a little time here on ProBlogger updating an old post that I wrote back in 2006 – Becoming a ProBlogger, a Story in Many Parts. […]