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5 Ways to Monetize Your Blog Without Selling Out

Last week at Blog World Expo, I had conversations with literally hundreds of bloggers about their blogging.

It was interesting to see some of the themes that emerged as bloggers shared their challenges, problems and fears.

One of the recurring conversations that I had revolved around bloggers’ fear of being seen as sell-outs by readers when they started to monetize their blogs.

On numerous occasions this past week I’ve chatted with bloggers who’ve been so scared of the potential reader reaction that it stopped them from adding any form of monetization to their blogs. In some cases, this meant the bloggers were no longer able to sustain what they do financially.

Here’s a summary of some of the reflections I had to those expressing this fear.

1. Be clear about your goals and values.

Perhaps one of the best things a blogger can do in this area is to know where it is they’re headed—or at least where they want to move to with their blogs. Just as important is to have a clear understanding of your values.

Give some thought to these factors, and you’ll be in a strong position to make some good decisions about the strategies and methods you’ll use to reach your goals. You’ll also be in a good place to do some self-monitoring to keep yourself from selling out.

Filter people’s reactions through the framework of your own values and goals, and you’ll hopefully be able to tell whether there’s truth in what they’re saying.

2. Provide value to readers.

I remember the first time I released an ebook on Digital Photography School. I was very nervous about launching it, because I didn’t know how readers would react. I remember hitting the Publish button on the launch post, and expecting a backlash from readers emailing to express how insulted that they were that I’d try to sell them anything.

But the backlash didn’t come.

Instead, I started receiving emails from readers thanking me for the ebook. The lesson I learned was that if you provide something of value to people—something that will matter to them, and help them overcome a problem—they’re often only too happy to buy it.

Not only should your product be valuable, but the interaction you have with your readers in the lead-up to its launch should be valuable too. Among the emails I received that day were messages from readers saying that they’d never bought anything online before. Yet, based on the past interactions that I’d had with them and helped them, they’d felt compelled to buy my ebook.

3. Communicate your reasoning for the charge.

I hope I’m not sounding like I’ve never had negative feedback about releasing a product. At times there have been readers who’ve expressed feelings of resentment or disappointment when I’ve released products.

In these instances, my main approach is to attempt to share my backstory of the product’s release. For example, I remember the first time I put ads on my first blog. By no means was this a play to become rich; I was just trying to make my blog break even.

One particular reader started a campaign against me, and accused me of selling out. My response was simply to email him with my story. I communicated how my blog was costing me money each month and that as a newly married guy working numerous part time jobs and trying to provide free valuable information to readers, I needed to find a way for the site to break even. On hearing the story the reader’s attitude was turned around.

Similarly, when I launched the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog ebook, I told the story of how my readers had pretty much demanded that I turn the original series of blog posts into a PDF, and indicated that they’d pay for the content in that format. In doing so I was able to communicate how the idea wasn’t even mine—in fact, it came from reader need.

I also think sometimes people need to be reminded that behind a blog is a real person who needs to find a way to sustain it. In most cases, when you share that information, I think people understand your need to monetize your blog.

4. Monitor your own motivations.

Being in any kind of business will undoubtedly lead you into situations where you’re presented with opportunities to sell out. The reality is that it can be tempting at times.

I remember an instance two years back where I was offered a five-figure sum for a series of tweets promoting a product—a product I’d never used and never would have recommended myself. The catch was that the tweets had to be positive, they’d be written by someone else, and I couldn’t include a disclaimer stating that I was being paid to tweet them.

The situation was certainly tempting on some levels: over $10,000 for a few Tweets!? I could have paid for a new car, or a year or two of my kids’ education with those tweets. But ultimately I knew that it was just a quick cash grab. I wasn’t willing to go there because it didn’t fit with my values, and the motivations I felt for doing it weren’t healthy ones.

5. Be accountable to others.

The last thing I’d add on this topic is that it can be worthwhile to have others who you can bounce these issues off. Sometimes, as  individuals, we can lose a little perspective on the realities of monetization, and the voices of others can draw us back to good decisions.

I regularly bounce the opportunities that I’m offered off a small group of people—family, friends, and fellow bloggers. In a sense it’s a little advisory board (although it’s certainly not that formal!) that I give permission to ask me tough questions, and help me stay on course to achieving the goals and values I mentioned above.

There have been a number of instances over the years when these people have pulled me back from making decisions that, upon reflection, would have seen me sell out.

In a similar way. I think it’s also wise to listen to what a wider group of people are saying to you. And that wider group is your readers. While there will almost always be someone who has a negative reaction to your approach (you can’t please everyone), there’ll be times when there’s a wider feeling among your readers that you really need to hear. At these times, it’s worth going back to your core motivations, and seeing if the wisdom of the crowd is something you need to pay attention to.

How do you stop yourself from selling out on your blog?

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. DrDorene says:

    Darren, you’ve surely made an impact on so many bloggers. Keep up the good work. I am reading some of your other stuff, as well. And to those of you who checked out my blog, thanks. I hope you find something of value with each visit. Please feel free to share with others who can benefit.
    I am also trying to visit some of your blogs.

  2. Ann says:

    Not selling out business is booming

  3. Tyrus Antas says:

    And if you want to monetize, preferably go with your own products instead of promoting other people’s products.

    Doing your own stuff helps you build your brand and authority, it helps people see you as a leaders instead of a follower.

    - Tyrus

  4. geekbabe says:

    Excellent topic for discussion as usual! Right from the very beginning, I’ve made it clear to my readers that my site is a place where I discuss things I love & part of that includes being open to offers from companies to try new products, have new experiences & yes.. I’ll even take money for my work.My site is young but I spend a lot of time trying to provide thoughtful, quality reviews & images.

    The important thing, the key, is full on disclosure, not just via the required FTC tag on sponsored posts but in having a clearly written disclosure & privacy policies that lays out how the site will handle sponsored posts & what will be done or not done with subscriber info.

  5. A few days ago, I realized something while waiting for a bus…

    We shouldn’t try to reach for our goals directly, but rather, we should reach all the conditions that will make reaching our goal inevitable. If our goal is to “make money,” I think we’ll be prone to being suckered into the kinds of things you mentioned, Darren, like Tweeting for $10k. But if what we’re trying to do is create all the necessary conditions for us to make money, we’d approach it differently. We’d focus more on writing great content–OVERdelivering. We’d be more consumer-focused and less bottom-line focused. And in the end, that’s the kind of stuff that converts.

    That’s my shield against selling out.

  6. Anne says:

    This is so true, great post! I believe my brother has the same issues. Really great tips.

  7. Evi says:

    We know that the content is king and it’s an important aspect if you engaged in online marketing. It should touch the heart of the reader. Once we done this, no one can stop to get huge traffic.

  8. If I want to sell some of my own stuff, would that make me a sellout? Or if I wanted to help a friend get exposure for some of her goods by placing an ad for her products, would that be considered selling out?

  9. J Anderzon says:

    Great blog and great content! I´m in the same business and you never stop learning new things. Thanks for your helpful info.

    Best Regards,
    J Anderzon

  10. Adwel Lo says:

    I think most of us would have been tempted by cash for tweets! But ultimately your success is founded upon your integrity and those tweets could well have damaged your reputation for honesty beyond repair. Reputation is much more valuable than cash in the bank! I endeavour to develop long term monetization possibilites within my blogs: you can’t tell where the project is going after only a few posts! I never understand the value of Adsense: why allow your captured reader to click away for a few cents? I want to keep them on my blog, clicking links to my posts and products. Thinking long term and big picture is best policy for me.

  11. None of the above 5 points can be ignored. Thanks for posting such a great article.

  12. Jacob Nasz says:

    so true about this, yet so many internet marketers still rely on such media to advertise their products or services.. anyways its not our money and time which is wasted, but we are concern for those people, i agree with the idea of court, to help as much people as we can maximize their time, money and potential and reach financial freedom.

    thanks for the post.

  13. Hesham says:

    I like the way you have managed to communicate with your blog readers when you launched the 31 days to build a better blog e-book, good lesson to learn from!

    I’ve suffered from readers who complain from advertisements on the blog, I respond with the same way!

  14. Hi Darren,
    I think we have come to associate websites/blogs with advertising to a certain degree.
    I personally don’t think it puts people off. The right advertising for your niche and not to much of it is good.
    Affiliate marketing in posts works well, but again, not to be over done.
    It’s about finding the right balance, that works for your readers. 9 times out of 10 they will soon tell you if you have gone overboard.

    Pete

  15. I think EVERYBODY wishes that in some way their opinions or ideas could lead them to that elusive road for financial freedom from the rut of working a normal job, but the truth is that it’s a very long line to do it online. I guess the main thing we have to do is always keep our ideals realistic, and not get too drawn into the daydreams of overnight success, which sometimes comes with a price that’s not as great as what we’re willing to commit to.

  16. CPC says:

    Great insight.
    We started a blog a few months ago. Now we are working a strategy to monetize it but are worried about our reader’s reaction.

    Thanks for your advice on this matter :-)

  17. Kathryn Sias says:

    Blogging, blogging, blogging! Great article, awesome in fact. This site offers so many great articles! I’m going to enjoy it forever!!!

  18. A very nicely written article with essential tips. I am using this in my lectures on telling people how to startup blogging and make it big.

    Thanks mate for the tips!