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What You Can Learn About Blogging Business Models from a Hip-Hop Artist Who Used to Hustle on the Corner Just to Put Food in His Daughter’s Mouth. An Ode To Biggie, Small Business and Making Money. It’s Juicy.

A Guest Post by Kelly Diels.

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First, Mom, I don’t even know what Mr. Smalls was selling on the corner but I’m pretty sure it is not smiled upon by the authorities and I have never ever tried it nor will I. Swear.

Second, bloggers-in-arms, as you might have suspected (seemingly insane titles are great foreshadowing devices, yes?) I’m going to go all things white people like and cite old-school hip-hop from a dead artist.

Don’t start composing your irate comments just yet – I haven’t earned the right to say The Word used by the late great Biggie Smalls, so I’m offering the radio-friendly version of Juicy.

Here’s the cleaned-up version of today’s musical call-to-arms:

Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’,

to all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin’ in front of that called the police on me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughters,

and all the people in the struggle, you know what I’m sayin’?

That’s you and me, baby. We’re in the struggle. We’re trying to make a living at blogging, which, if you haven’t noticed, a whole lot of people are doing and doing badly (or well) mostly for very little money.

That’s why we’re all here hanging out in the ProBlogger salon/saloon. We’re trying to make meaning and money. So we’re not exactly gangsta – although some of our outlaw blackhat brethren think they’re sooooo badass ‘cuz they get their meaningless, money-making sites banned – but it is a struggle.

You might really, really, really be in the struggle but I’m middling away at a mediocre job in middle class land. I’ve got a pretty cute suburban townhouse and some pretty cute suburban kids. Poor, poor me.

That’s why I had to use a gritty, kinda romantic, dramatically up-and-coming lyric for inspiration. My boring life won’t inspire you or a really great rags-to-riches magazine profile. We all have our burdens and Biggie’s were so much sexier and before-and-after than mine.

(Sort of: before he dropped out of school, Biggie was a brilliant, scholarship-winning student. Artists are storytellers and storysellers and sometimes stories we’re selling are more revealing than the truths we’re not telling.)

Call it the suburban curse of the mundane. Call it a paradox. Call it luxury. Birthdays aren’t the worst days but like all the other days they’re kinda boring and meaningless. And so I blog.

You can also call it not-terribly-unique: most of the big-name bloggers didn’t start out blogging for dollars either. There are other rewards. The trouble with these other, non-lucrative rewards is that they plant a dangerous seed.You start humming Biggie and thinking I AM BIGGIE and then the trouble begins.

You think: I’m getting so many accolades. I’m figuring things out. I’m creating something useful. People like it and maybe even need it. Maybe I should believe the do-what-you-love-and-the-money-will-follow lie.

Hence the grand existential web dilemma: how do blogs (and bloggers) make money?

Well, they don’t. Blogs don’t make money. Businesses make money.

When we talk about blogging for money, we’re getting it all wrong. It is not really possible to ‘blog for money’ unless you develop a business model around it. And unless you’ve got a head for business – or are willing to get one, and who needs two heads? – and are willing to put in the time figuring out the unsexy mechanics of this seductive vehicle, blogging might never make you money.

So don’t quit your day job. Hang on to your corner. Keep practicing your craft. Stay true to your vision, feed your passions, and start thinking about the back-end, business side of it.

Here’s what I think about my own imaginary blog empire. In a sense, I’ve gone about it backwards. I started blogging just because. I didn’t worry about money or how to earn it. I still don’t have a single advertisement on my site and I have never, ever made a direct cent from my blog. But I like to write, I’m sticking with it, and people seem to like it, and all of this, I think, is a good foundation from whence to build my blogging castle.

Speaking of fairytales, once upon a time I owned a coffee house. I wrote a business plan, secured financing, bought equipment, designed a process, created a look, implemented a marketing strategy, hired people, trained people, maintained the books, and made coffee.

A blog is coffee. It is what you create, what you give your customers, but it is not the business.A revenue-generating, transactional blog is the end result, or the center, of an infrastructure put in place to create and deliver the content.

But a blog, in and of itself, is not a business. If you want it to act like a business (ie generate income), then you have to think about it and treat it like a business.

So that’s my insight of the day: if you want to make blogging a business, you need to make it a business.

And that’s what I’m doing now. I’m matching my inspirational red shoes to my small business hat and thinking systematically about how to assemble a revenue-generating outfit.

How do you transform your blog into a business? (And by you, I mean me.)

You start by think systematically (not magically, not field-of-dreams-y, not the universe will deliver because You Are Entitled-y) about it. Analyze it. Strategize about it. Focus. Figure out what tools you need. Learn them. Figure out what you can sell, organically, as a result of what need you are resolving for people who land at your blog and (hopefully) like what they read.

In other words, get thee a business model. Pour your passion and inspiration and tap-dancing red shoe love through that juicy model so that it will let you sip champagne when you’re thirsty. (And do not mix metaphors the way I just did. It makes poor, dead George Orwell want to off himself.)

Leo Babauta did it. He writes that the reason he was so successful, so soon, was because he treated his blog as a product. He branded it. He promoted it. He was consistent with his message. But most of all, he crafted a solution to the hurly burly of daily life: Zen Habits. Simplicity. Respite from the hamster wheel of work and over-scheduled family and materialism and conventional thinking.

Sonia Simone at Copyblogger gets it right when she writes that blogging is like high school and the white hat/black hat cliques could learn from each other – that, in essence, the marriage of vision and tactics makes for a power couple. (What she really meant was Kelly get your idealistic, semi-lazy red shoes to stepping and learn SEO already.)

Sonia Simone also writes that “blogs are not television” and it is tough to monetize even a high-traffic blog if you readers are not coming to your site “to solve any kind of real-world problem, other than how can I kill 10 minutes before my boss gets back from lunch?

And all of this made me realize that how (and why) your readers end up on your doorstep might predict what they are willing to buy from you. How you cultivate your traffic informs how you feed your bank account. And since I’m such a graphic wizard, I made a chart to show you what I mean:

Your traffic source: 

Search Engines

Social media (relationships, reputation, word-of-blog)

Your clients’/readers’/worshippers’ buy motivation:

Looking for (maybe to buy) a solution to a problem (the question typed into Google…) 

Looking to buy some (possibly useful) shine. 

You offer:

SOLUTIONS in the form of:

Products
Advertising

ebooks
things by affiliates

Services
Consulting
Speaking
Offline gigs 

You MUST have:

The ability to put SEO on a leash and walk it, baby. 

Relationships. Brand. Authenticity. Evangelical Fans. Love. Minor stalking. Pixie dust. 

Your business model: 

Direct Income

Indirect Income

How people find your blog predicts their motivation to buy which determines what you can successfully sell them which tells you what skills you need to hone and, in fact, the shape of your business model.

If your blog and your appeal and your traffic are about relationship, and shine, and magic, then that’s what people want from you. To paraphrase the late great Britney Spears (ahem), they want a piece of you. Probably in person and most definitely offline.

If your blog and your traffic are a result of search engine queries, then people want solutions from you and that is what they will buy from you online in the form of clicking on a related advertisement, buying an e-book or a course, paying for membership in a forum, or purchasing a product. And if you’re selling solutions in a niche that requires keyword breadcrumbs then maybe you need to have more than one blog to really make money your captive.

And so far, that’s about all I know about blogging for dollars – that how you court your people determines the source of your coffers and the shape of your kingdom. So now you know, bloggers.

Was it juicy?

Kelly Diels bakes cupcakes, rages against the machine and writes about the lines that shape us. Her blog Cleavage does not have a focus, business model or revenue. Yet.

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Comments

  1. Umer Hayat says:

    Really a nice guest Blog post.

    Blogging is a really nice way to earn a living.
    Thx

  2. Interesting take on setting up your blog to cater to your demographic. Knowing your readers and then directly appealing to them is key to meeting and exceeding your goals.

    I’ll leave the pop / hip-hop relating to you though. ;)

    Rob – LexiConn

  3. PuReWebDev says:

    Darren, this is the first time I’ve seen a blogger mix hip-hop and blogging business all in one shot. Definitely juicy, lol. I’m gonna have to quote your “Put SEO on a leash and walk it, baby. “, awesome.

  4. Carl says:

    biggest URL ever

  5. Melanie says:

    Very nice! This post had me smiling. Bloggers are so gangsta, yo! xD

  6. As a fellow blogger and a long-time fan of rap I can definitely relate to the parallels of “the struggle.” Thankfully blogging is usually not as dangerous…although both can lead you into becoming a homeless bum on the streets…

  7. Thanks for the post dude, keep up the good work.It was very informative.

  8. Dave Doolin says:

    Sweet article.

    Part of what’s so compelling about the blogging part of the business is that it’s a level playing field with very low cost barrier to entry. That is, lots of competition.

    Bring it on!

  9. Juicy is an awesome song, and this is an awesome post. I say think outside of ebooks and consulting even…build a digital empire.

  10. Jason says:

    Nice article.

  11. EF Cussins says:

    I agree with what you wrote. I spend many years in the neighborhoods where hustlers made a better living than me; the local handyman.

    There living may not of have been legal, but they knew how to get peoples attention and make a living.

  12. The Title is 140+69=209 characters Long …. Won’t fit in Twitter…

    Quite Nice Idea…. Have the Post Summary in the Title

  13. Carlos Velez says:

    Thanks for this post. I have a background of retail management and have been responsible for departments bringing in revenues of 5-10 million dollars a year. I am beginning to build a blog that I plan to go live with at the start of the new year, and this post really helped me to see that everything I learned about business at the retail level can be a foundation for my blog’s business. The analogy of a blog being coffee really helped put the relationship between the blog and the business in perspective. I will be checking out your blog soon. Until then I plan to ride on a Fantastic Voyage and possibly Regulate.

  14. Danny Grubb says:

    Its a fine line to walk between making bank and not being evil (or considered evil) in the blogging world. If blogging for content only, then I would submit that you are solidifying a market for yourself by building a reputation.

    Selling offline services might be a long shot for a Daddy Blogger such as myself and if I try to sell things online I would actually hurt my rep.

    So I will keep walking the line with a couple of ad units and the hope that people will take what I write and derive meaning from it. And if they’re so inclined, click on an ad and make me rich…. slowly.

  15. Yohan Perera says:

    Can you make sure that your introduction is free of all that crap and get to the point straight away. It’s very boring for me. And please re-think about your title… It’s not insane but doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I just read through intro and skipped the entire article.

  16. Webtraffic says:

    Great article. Also that chart is excellent and very true. Also love the song and enjoy staying motivated to what my dreams are. Excellent topics.

  17. Srinivas Rao says:

    Nice article Kelly. Looks today is going to be a big day for you since I can’t seem to go to any blog without finding mention of Kelly Diels :). I think there’s no doubt that treating it like a business is essential. More power to you :)

  18. Mike CJ says:

    Nice one Kelly – you got me. You lost me a little at the start, then you reeled me back in. I like you. I like your writing. I’m subscribed and looking forward to more! :)

  19. Ms. Freeman says:

    WOW that’s one heck of a title. R.I.P Biggie! :)

  20. Dean Oram says:

    What a great blog, full of Information, Kelly Love your article.
    what a great way to make money blogging, many people under estimate the power of the internet, there are many ways to make money online with different Income streams
    keep up the good work

    Thanks

    Dean Oram

  21. Great article Kelly. I hear you loud and clear. I’m right in the middle of looking at ways I can build a business using my blog. Was helpful to see someone else in a similar boat.

  22. Benjamin Cip says:

    Nice guest post indeed. I’m making 3/5 of my living online using my blog and I’m very passionate about what I do. There are no day I don’t spend my time blogging.

  23. Kelly Diels says:

    @Rob – you really shouldn’t leave the hip hop quoting to me – hip hop just shuddered and lost its edge thanks to me – but thank you.

    @Melanie – word!

    @Sami – We’re neighbours, give or take a province! PS I like your style.

  24. Kelly Diels says:

    @PuReWebDev mmmm yeah that might be my favourite line in the piece, too. Sometimes the writing ride takes you fun and fabulous places. Thanks!

    @The Emotion Machine I think, from now on, we invent a sorta secret language/jargon. It is now officially The Struggle, k?

    @Dave Doolin To where do I bring said “on”? ‘Cuz I will!

    @Nathan Hangen I am pro-empire. In the aforementioned empire, my title will be “Queen of the Non-Sequiturs.” I already have business cards and monogrammed towels at the ready.

    @Carlos Velez I’m so glad the coffee/blog analogy resonated with you. It’s all business, baby. Much luck.

  25. Kelly Diels says:

    @Danny Grubb “its a fine line to walk between making bank and not being evil (or considered evil) in the blogging world”. I hear ya. Sometimes I take a purist stance, too. Ultimately, though, I don’t think you should make any apologies for wanting and needing to make a living. “Your people” will get that and if they want you to keep on keeping on, they’ll support you. I’ve written about this: I think that my work can only IMPROVE with pay. When you’re not struggling, your mind can dedicate itself to creativity and producing; when you’re worried about surviving, your mind dedicates itself to finding a way to survive. Money is good for quality. IMHO.

  26. Kelly Diels says:

    @Yohan Perera I might be an acquired taste. Sorry to hear it wasn’t workin’ for you.

  27. Ash says:

    Just the post I needed to read!
    I’m taking a bit of a risk with blogging, and I sure hope it works. I would love to have a “career” of blogging, but I’m still going through the uphill struggle. This post was like a shot of java to keep me focused and positive.

  28. There are a couple “new ideas” you might be interested in. In terms of theory, check out “Project based” “Problem based” and/or “Inquiry based” learning. Also I love the theories of “constructivism,” and “multiple intelligences.” All of these theories could incorporate any technology you could imagine.

    I like the idea of webquests a lot and always recommend them when I am working with teachers or pre-service teachers. I worked with kids with disabilities who often needed assignments outside the box. I’ve recommended them to students who are home schooled and just everyone.

  29. Leah Rubin says:

    Kelly, you always get it right. Write. Both. You inspire, and do so with wit and insight. Thanks so much!

  30. Craig says:

    Possibly the worlds longest blog post title……

  31. Dean Saliba says:

    What a fantastic why to write a post.

    Next time do one in the style of a metal track from Iron Maiden or Slayer! :)

  32. Herbert says:

    Kelly:

    Loved the Biggie references, you had me hooked (although I do believe it’s “feed my daughter”). Keep up the passion and writing.

    From,
    Herbert

  33. This is the post i wanted to read for a long time. Now I have a clear idea about blogging.

  34. As always, Kelly, your writting pulls me in and makes me think.
    I admit, I didn’t approach Life Out Loud as a business when I started it four years ago – it was a personal blog. But by paying attention to the things in your chart and by treating it as one facet of my writing *busines* I’ve been able to change things up and see improvement. On course, not quite there yet. Both of the start-up blogs (Kitchen Jam, Dog Trainer’s Log) were facets of the writing business from their beginnings. Not quite ready to ‘put my SEO on a leash and walk it’ – but my SEO is beginning to respond to guided reinforcement.

  35. Loving this, Kelly. Has made me think about the direction I want to take my own blog – and you’re right, blogging does not mean instant money – there’s a business behind it if you want there to be one. For now, I’m just enjoying the writing and researching process – and love connecting with other dedicated writers – they teach me so much, it’s like going to writing or “idea” school without having to pay for it. Thanks for this!

  36. Alla says:

    Darren, I think this time you outdid yourself. Bravo!

  37. Jill says:

    Kelly,

    Your post was very informative and humorous, filled with notable quotes. You captured and held my interest despite my dislike of hip-hop.

    I have miles to go in the blogging realm and it’s good to have content like yours to turn to for guidance and inspiration.

    Keep raging against the machine, sista!

  38. Elliot says:

    Great article. Business models are huge. I like how you provided different models for people to consider for their particular interests.

    The ode to Biggie was also good. Have you seen Notorious?

  39. Ben says:

    I read this article purely because the loooooooooooong title stood out in my RSS feed reader. Very refreshing idea!

  40. Galvahaha says:

    I agree with what you wrote. I spend many years in the neighborhoods where hustlers made a better living than me; the local handyman.

    There living may not of have been legal, but they knew how to get peoples attention and make a living.

  41. Money Funk says:

    This is a great post.

    In regards to the comment above, couldn’t u tinyurl.com the title to submit to Twitter?

    3 month ago, I took a 2 wk break from my blog, refocused, started treating it like a business, and now I am generating a decent cash flow. Your right, you need to treat it like a business. Next up for me: ebooks, porduct…need to figure out what will work for my readers.

  42. Jaszy says:

    Uh…hmm…well, I think I might be speechless. Kelly, love your spirit…really, but…wow. Yeah, I am speechless, not sure how to comment on that one. Must be a personal preference kinda thing.

    Question…am I the only African-American who read this?

    However, yes, I most definitely agree that treating your blog like a business is essential and something that we are just starting to learn. So I commend you for covering the topic.

    Please check your grammar and punctuation. We’re all guilty of it, so I’m not hatin’, just throwing that out there.

    More power to you, I see where you can be a success.

    Peace.

  43. The chart is meaningful. If you can’t put check markes in each box, then you’re not done planning your business model. I have been drawing up maps of my traffic recently. I have planned a very specific strategy for how I’m attempting to drive traffic, what path I want my readers to take to first my blog, then my product. Without the map, you just aren’t going to be successful at driving traffic.

  44. Awesome guest post Kelly! Longest title evar! Love it.

  45. I’m sure that everything in our life will teach us a life lesson. You must keep your eyes open end you will find something worth for your entire life.

  46. This is one of the most phenomenal blog articles I have ever read!!! Wow!!! And I love blogging and hip-hop!

  47. Cecilia says:

    Great post, Kelly. I think it is a great reminder that businesses are about business – i.e. making money. With our short memories, we seem to continuously get caught up in “bubble cycles” that keep bursting on us when everyone finally realizes that the business model doesn’t create any revenue.

    Remember the era of .com’s when making a profit hurt your business valuation. Well that certainly wasn’t sustainable and neither will be the enormous amount of time and effort people are putting into blogging and other web 2.0 efforts if they don’t figure out how to make money.

    In the end, only the profitable will survive.

  48. People selling crack on the street corner are definitely entrepreneurs. The only problem is that they either haven’t figured out legal means to make money, or worse, don’t believe they can.

    They are very money-motivated because they never had enough. I think that some people who were never in poverty can have a hard time with the concept of being money-driven because it was never as much of a worry for them.

    It’s too bad “hustlers” don’t put their business know-how to work at a more legitimate pursuit. Like instead of hurting people, they could help people (and make more money doing it)…

  49. A juicy blog post but also all over the place.

  50. I was a Blogger for the Music Industry with popular bands. I started out as a writer for industry newsletters. It is a great income generator or supplement to your income.