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….
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.