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Why I Haven’t Made a Dime From My Blog—and How You Can

This guest post is by Alexander Heyne of Milk the pigeon.

When I first started my blog, I wrote a series of posts I was sure would resonate with thousands all over the world, create a movement, and bring massive traffic over to my site.

Except when I published the posts, they went to the black hole of the Internet.

No one heard them. No one saw them. Just a couple Facebook friends and maybe my mom.

Frustrated blogger

Image copyright Renee Jansoa - Fotolia.com

Suddenly my idea of writing about what I enjoy, and making a living (however small) off it was shattered. It was time to regroup and start over.

A model for making money

Just as you need to have a serious game plan to ensure your success blogging, including a master plan and many smaller plans, you need to have a model to work with for monetization.

You need a simple path that gives you a general idea of where to go and what to do, and in what order.

Following the next six points will ensure you’ll be six months ahead of where I was when I started, and you’ll no longer be writing for “someone”. You’ll be writing for your future massive, engaged audience willing to buy your products.

1. Create a list and engage your audience

This is blogging 101 to most bloggers now—especially those who are planning to release a product or course to their audience. But it wasn’t to me. I mean, I figured I would just write some good stuff, and maybe some advertisers would contact me, and then I’d somehow end up making $2,00 or $3,000 a month from advertisements.

Rookie mistake.

Make an email list as soon as you start your blog, and start collecting subscribers. But unless you have an established reputation people most likely will have a hard time forking over their email address to you, so what do you do?

Give them a reason to subscribe, like a free ebook or a mini course. The sooner you start building your email list, the better. Because the sooner you have a list the sooner you can start building trust with your audience and establish yourself as having expertise in some area.

What I did: waited until month three to make an email sign up list, and offered no incentive to subscribe.

What I should’ve done: I should have signed up on day one with an email subscription service like Aweber, and offered an ebook or mini course for subscribers.

2. Fine-tune your content

Sometimes your niche is pretty clear—blogging, marketing, or running, for example. But sometimes it’s not and covers a wide range of things—lifestyle design, location-independent work, or self-help.

Assuming you fall into the latter categories, you are probably going to need to do some content fine-tuning. That means testing a variety of closely related topics and seeing which ones resonate best content-wise and message-wise with your audience. You can test those qualities based on re-tweets, views, shares, and comments, although these metrics alone should not be the be-all end-all.

Just remember that in the beginning it’s going to be harder to work out what your audience likes and doesn’t like, because you may not have an audience yet! Just have fun at the beginning and experiment a lot.

What I did: Wrote about a variety of topics, and kept no analytics on what was popular or why.

What I should have done: I should have deliberately tested various types of content with my audience and used those results (Google Analytics) to hone in on what I should’ve written more of in the future. It also gives you potential product niches.

3. Show some link love

One of the worst, most sinful mistakes I made was not reaching out and trying to connect with others in my niche, not trying to follow people who had already achieved the goals I wanted, and not establishing other relationships with people in the online world.

It goes pretty much without saying that you can’t make it alone in the blogosphere—and that nurturing genuine relationships will be the single most beneficial thing you can do to help your business take off.

The following three types of people you should make a list of and establish friendships with:

  • people in a niche somewhat similar to your own (peers)
  • people who are doing what you hope to be doing one day (mentors)
  • people who you see will be up and coming and need to be heard (pupils)

What I did: Believed I could succeed alone, and made no effort to connect with others.

What I should have done: I should have networked until my eyeballs hurt, shared as much as possible with my peers, share posts by people whose mission I believed in, and established several people as mentors who have attained the goals I am striving for.

4. Consciously build your audience and list

There are three ways you can deliberately build your list and audience more rapidly than letting them organically grow:

  1. getting better exposure via guest posting
  2. holding a webinar where people need to subscribe to participate and get more information
  3. offer exclusive content or a free additional course that requires a sign up. For example, on your products page you can have a “free marketing 101 course.” You could then have a ten-part auto-responder course (or ebook) that gives great content, for free. And in return you get someone’s email address added to your list.

What I did: Thought that the “crawlers” would just find my content and it would go mainstream.

What I should have done: I should have guest posted as much as humanly possible, combined efforts with other bloggers to hold webinars, and given away tons of free, extremely valuable content (in various forms).

5. Do some spy work (probe your audience members’ brains)

At this point you should be asking yourself, “What am I doing with all these people? I have been giving them great content, building relationships with others around me, and now have a list of quite a few people. What’s next?”

Here’s one of the next steps to take: find out what specifics your audience wants and what problem of theirs you can solve.

I’m going to work with the assumption that you don’t have three to six months of free time to make a product that flops, so here is one way to test for demand. Offer free or paid consulting. At this point, your audience hopefully respects you and sees you as somewhat of an authority. So why consult for free?

  • You will acquire some experience which you can later use to transfer into paid consulting.
  • You’ll realize patterns of problems that your audience has, and you can begin to develop a product tailored directly to their needs.

What I did: Assumed I knew what my audience wanted.

What I should have done: I should have done a number of things: given out a questionnaire, consulted (free/paid), asked directly (via a blog post), or researched what other people are selling in the same niche.

6. Make a product or promote a product

As far as products go, the historic route that people have taken is to make an ebook. Ebooks work well and lend themselves to automation, but there is one other product recommendation that tends to work better for some others.

Launch a limited-time program or online course, for example, once every four months. The reason I suggest making an online course is that it helps you jump exponentially over time (both in terms of influence as well as financially).

Every time you launch your course, you build your email list, you get feedback, and you find out what updates your audience wants. And then you can launch the course again—and, assuming you have received feedback, you can update it. And, assuming you did a good job developing your product, you now have a bigger list, more exposure, and a larger audience. The benefits grow over time.

The other option is to promote someone else’s product. I know quite a few people who made their first dollar online by promoting a product they tried and thought their audience would like.

If you know of a product (ideally that you have tried) that genuinely provides a solution to a problem your audience has, write a post reviewing it. State clearly what your audience will get from the product, let them know that you’ve tried it, and keep your promise. Afterwards, you can keep a smaller banner advertisement or list it on your products or resources page.

What I did: Got half way through an ebook, realized it probably wasn’t going to sell as much as I wanted, and went back to the drawing board.

What I should have done: I should have #1 followed through, because even if your product only makes five sales, you are getting some feedback and now have experience making a product.

I should also have decided if I wanted to make this an ongoing product with support and feedback options. If you want a product that requires no updating and support, go with an ebook. If you want a product that has much more potential for growth but will require a larger time investment, go with an online course.

What next?

So why go through all these steps? Why bother with an elaborate checklist of things to go through?

The reason is because if you don’t have a model, you’ll be taking shots in the dark. Your work is going to be all guesswork, and guesswork is going to lead to disappointment. You’ll be running your blog with the same intentions I had: “Do a couple posts here, a couple posts there, maybe get some ads on there, write an ebook, and then I’ll be making $5,000 a month.”

Save yourself from the same silly assumption I made: otherwise you’ll end up like me—never making a dime from my blog.

Milk the pigeon is about killing that lost feeling, standing out in the crowd, and living a life of greatness.  Download a free copy of Milk the Pigeon’s manifesto here: Killing Your Old life and Living the Dream

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Comments

  1. Its always nice to read advice that comes from personal experience rather than dry, general advice seemingly aimed at everyone and none at the same time. Thanks for this.

  2. Santel says:

    To me I think if your blog didn’t make any money it is because you don’t believe it could. You have to believe first then study what kind of people who visit your blog, what they want?

    If you could find an answer, I am sure you would find your own way to make money from your blog.

    Good luck!

  3. Lindsay says:

    Thank you Alexander! You sure said it. I am printing this out and putting it next to my computer so the next time I think “what should I do?” I know!

  4. And there is some spy work needed in analysing what fellow bloggers are doing.

    nice post

  5. Simon Duck says:

    I haven’t made anything substantial yet because I have spent two years trying so hard to post three times a week, that by the time I have done that, I really cannot be bothered to try and engage with the community and build an audience to read those posts I am striving to post. I’ve had a couple of months where I would work harder, and see the results, but then just stop again.

    2012 is for change, and your points shows that. I need to ‘Consciously build your audience and list’ and try and engage more and that is my target for the year. The quote at the end is so true – “Do a couple posts here, a couple posts there, maybe get some ads on there, write an ebook, and then I’ll be making $5,000 a month.” – We go on websites like Pro Blogger etc. and assume we can do the same thing, without realising really how much work goes into them. Assumptions should never be made.

    Thanks for the read,
    Simon Duck

    • Drewry says:

      if you are able to post one unique piece of content every day to your site, you would have a good search engine rankings in about two years time. In addition, if you were to write one post a day and post it to your site, in addition to writing one unique article and submitting that to any article directory of choice, with elite inside the body of your article to each specific post newly published on your site “every day for two years or close to it” you would definitely have been on the plus side, in terms of getting steady passive traffic, and good $ gUaP $ from affiliate programs, as well as contextual advertising programs. Search engines favor websites and blogs that post unique content every day to their URL address, as well as connect meaningfully with others on other blogs, other websites, and online discussion forums. If I can do anything to help, please let me know how I may be of service in helping you :-)

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VSY8JYWm2k

    • Simon, In my opinion, the following is much faster:

      Instead of writing 5 posts a week, write 1-2. Make them really damn good. Really useful. Pillar content.

      Spend the rest of your time guest posting. It will probably shave off a year (or MORE) regarding how long it takes your site to build an audience and snowball .

      Hope that helps

      Alex

  6. While author lists his mistakes, he doesn’t provide the tested solutions, but only what he thinks would work. Because of that this article doesn’t worth reading. You can get all these advices also in Darren’s book, the one which banner you see above.

  7. Drewry says:

    I could not agree more when you said “you need a plan not just for blogging but for monetization”.
    to be honest, I haven’t started getting into hard-core e-mail marketing, and asking people to fork over their e-mail addresses, nor subscribe to my RSS feed. When reading this post, I’m inspired to create some new online marketing strategies, in hopes of “capturing potential e-mail addresses by the masses”.this is why today I take blogging seriously, because there are all kinds of unique opportunities on the World Wide Web, for bloggers and Internet marketers who connect with people meaningfully on the Internet :-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hsHZTcLvLE

  8. Ted Sheibar says:

    Fantastic post! The only other one I’d add (however trite) is:
    7. Never give up. With blogging, consistency is key, which presents a big challenge – keep your content entertaining, new, and fresh. The best bloggers do it everyday, so it’s best to shoot for at least 3x a week. It can be difficult, but you get measurable results. Just don’t give up!

    • Drewry says:

      When you refuse to give up, you show true leadership. I could not agree with you more, when you said “never give up” :-)

    • Ted, I totally agree.

      With blogging sometimes you have to spend months talking yourself off the ledge. Just keep going.. and remember that 99% of bloggers give up within 1-2 years, so just out-lasting them will prove some measure of success.

  9. Thanks, I started blogging just two months back & I got to read this post today. I am still in the process of working out a formula which can make me successful. And hopefully, the few points which you have made here will certainly provide me a direction. Way to go.

    • Drewry says:

      Varghese,

      I was talking with a friend today, while sitting in his Dodge ram truck with a HEMI motor, about blogging, and creating unique content for people and for good search engine optimization. I was encouraging him to start his site on the Internet this week, as well as “develop a meaningful content strategy” for social networking success, and also to try traffic from search engines, while building up his contextual advertising

      $ gUaP $

      I would like to know how your progress is coming along, after two months of blogging. What is your particular niche, and what can I do in being of service to you? Please let me know, as I am happy to network with you, and help you succeed in your “web blogging efforts” :-)

  10. Jason Scott says:

    I’ve learned from posts like this that building a following is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m learning to be a bit less sensitive about slow progress. I have to roll up my sleeves and put in just as much effort behind the scenes as I put into content. Thanks for the tips, I’m on it!

  11. Hi Alexander,

    I made each mistake along the way.

    Change your message – or worse, not having a clear message or purpose, at all – confuses your audience. I jumped between personal development, network marketing and cash gifting, for years. Finally I decide to stick with network marketing on 1 blog, cash gifting on another, and PD on a 3rd. Then, I dropped the PD blog all together because only 24 hours exist in a day.

    List building is relationship building. You make money from strong relationships. A reader subscribes, likes your emails, and begins to trust you. If you gain trust you can promote products which people will gladly buy. The process is simple but you need to start the process by building a list.

    Networking is the stir which draws the drink. All other factors might be in place but your results will be supercharged by connecting with others in your niche. Make friends. Aggressively promote other’s content. Leave value packed comments. Some folks will return the favor on all fronts, and your presence is leveraged.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Alexander.

    RB

    • Ryan,

      Totally, totally, totally. A lesson that took me forever to learn is that… people are people! Relationships online work exactly like relationships in real life. You just need to establish meaningful relationships, it just takes time.

      “Make friends. Aggressively promote other’s content. Leave value packed comments.” Agree x 10000

      It’s a great way to get people to notice you too.

  12. really like the post , but what if you make the site for Google and get massive visitors from Google?

    @ pro blogger – from your experience i would like to read a article on search engine visitor vs direct visitor , and your view on which one convert?

    Regards,
    Saad
    admin at seoallrounder

  13. Carolyn says:

    #6 really resounded with me, although it wasn’t making a product, it was my first YouTube video, published yesterday and set to be embedded in a post tomorrow. No, it’s not perfect but I learned an awful lot from doing it . . . and the next one will be a lot better (and will probably — I hope — take half the time to assemble).

    Sometime or other, you’ve got to do that “first one” to work the bugs out of the system.

    • Carolyn,

      The first one is the best one ! I say that because once a person finally gets the courage to start the first one, it’s all down hill. First is the hardest, just like making your first dollar from blogging.

  14. Michael says:

    Hey I think that attitude of not worrying too much about money is essential. I found I was just like you, seeking to only be able to do certain things for a little money rather than trying to make the most of the passion I had for a niche. I’ll probably need to get started on that list!

  15. While I do not look to make money directly of my blog, I do look to drive traffic to my website Carpet Cleaning Orange County where we can book a client to then provide our services for them which of course we charge for. So all your help here and suggestions will certainly help our task. I am getting better at just that with all the pointers and help I receive from bloggers like yourself. Than you

  16. This is actually what I needed to read at this moment, this is a great article that helps point people in the right direction. There is nothing more valuable than someone’s experience, even if it didn’t pan out the way they wanted.

    I think I will have to decide what to do about all this first, but this is a great start. Thanks for sharing this with us Alexander!

  17. Great advice I really liked the way you summarized your point with a – “what I should have done” very helpful information. I am going to work on point 4. Thank you

    • Wayne says:

      I’ve never made a penny off either blog that I have. I do keep trying though. It’s a lot rougher than I would have ever imagined.

  18. Karl says:

    HI Darren

    Many thanks for this post, I have been doing an internal company blog for the last 6 months and it has been quite successful, but then I do have a captive audience. I have now got the bug and the desire to reach out the general public and I have taken the plunge and started my own blog site (2 days old so still a lot of work on the site needed) The article has given a good foundation on the route to plan and take, I will of course be back to digest more of your excellent guidance

  19. For a related post, see “Why Blogs and Social Media Sites Die” at http://leonardsipes.com/blogs-and-social-media-sites-that-die/. Best, Len.

  20. Good advice, I am gaining some readers and I am looking to monetize soon , therefore I will kick start a list building real soon and then also reach out to other bloggers through guest posting to enhance traffic…

    Thanks for advice and hope we all have a successful blogging year..2012

  21. Neil Essex says:

    The majority of people who starts off trying to earn money online never manage it first time. Fail and then just give up. It took me several years to understand what was required to do this and persistence is the most important tool you need. Google are always changing their analytic s so you must also keep on top of this too. I agree with everything you have said, it’s not easy and their is no magic formula just hard work and persistence. While some people may give the right information they will leave out some information which is critical to success. My input is, read, investigate, read, read some more and then read some more, don’t throw your money away at so called money making gurus like i did in the beginning… I don’t earn millions but do earn enough to live a standard lifestyle and that’s good enough for me. Best wishes to you all for 2012

  22. Very good post Alexander.

    Gracias for sharing your experience. I try to follow these tips on my blog. I will comment the results soon.

    a greeting

  23. Jojie C. says:

    What gets me is this list building. It’s really rubbing me off the wrong way. I have read it countless of times that we ought to build our mailing list at get go and the number 1 provider is aweber. I am at it’s most, extreme newbie with blogging. I have little to no followers and though, I would love to have a mailing list such as aweber, for $1 for the first month and $20 each month there after on a tight budget is just not possible. One of my website is in it’s niche terms, very niche. That’s been up for two years and currently ranked—give or take top 3-5 in google search. Only 40 RSS followers. Obviously no justification of putting mailing list.

    It’s probably a wrong approach for me, but I am following my RSS feed closely. If pattern suggests more follers then yes, I would invest in a mailling list.

  24. Melanie says:

    I’m planning on starting up my email list soon. It’s odd, most blogs in my niche don’t have one, or if they do, it’s simply the one feedburner provides.

  25. Joy says:

    Great advice and thanks for sharing.

    I particularly noted Ted’s comment “never give up”. Today I had need to contact other bloggers in my niche as I’m required to find participants for the 7 Link Challenge and it was quite depressing to see how many people had got really nice blogs, but they’d just given up!

    Joy

    • Joy –

      I won’t lie, I spent MONTHS talking my self off the ledge. I have spent days thinking about how to quit, what to start next, etc.

      Don’t. Re assess, change your site, do whatever it takes to keep the inertia going.

      It will pay off but It isn’t easy.

      Alex

  26. Hooker says:

    How I wish I would have found a list like this two years ago. I had a health blog for quite some time that simply never made it too far because I was learning as I went. Now, last month, I began another one just for the fun of it.

    I already made 98 cents!

    My problem is that I don’t really have a niche so I am running into what you discussed in #2. I am having a blast with it, so it’s going to take some time to figure out what people want and what will their interests are.

    The other thing I wish I had was a guide on guest blogging. I just don’t really know how to go about it besides finding blogs that accept them and begging. Do you have any references on the matter?

    Thanks for this list. I am working on all these points with this new blog.

    • Hooker –

      I’ve seen people do well without a niche. Just find some overarching theme that links everything together.

      Re: guest blogging. Not as hard as it seems. You just contact blogs and ask if they accept guest posts, remember to write for THAT blog’s audience, not for your own. Make them useful, and make them the best posts you’ve ever written.

      Alex

  27. This is very helpful tips for me who just started a blog website. Thanks a lot!

  28. Dan says:

    Hi, just wanted to thank you for your post. Actually all your posts are great! Thanks you.

  29. Ling says:

    Procrastination, unorganized, untargeted, distractions.

  30. Dean Saliba says:

    Reading this post really did seem like you were writing about me and my experiences, I made ALL of those mistakes that you have documented. I’m just sorry it took me so long to realise my errors.

  31. Cesca says:

    Thank you for your valuable tips! I guess practicing some patience might work as well.

  32. Ferb says:

    Those are all common mistakes people make and I agreed with what you thought you should’ve done. Based on what you said on tips number two capture audience attention by Google Analytics, do you mean that we should individually add link of every new post to profile in Google Analytics in order to know what your readers want or how can you focus readers attention via Google Analytics?

    • Ferb,

      Yes, generally if you have google analytics in the footer section of your blog, it’ll capture analytics on ALL blog posts/pages automatically.

  33. Nadine Dib says:

    You raise very good points Alexander, these are indeed food for thought not only for bloggers but also for entrepreneurs who have solutions that answer true needs and want to start using social media to make them known to a bigger audience. Thanks for sharing!

  34. Thank you! I am trying to put more focus on my blog lately. I was fortunate enough to be in the right market at the right time that my posts were seen right away. So I never got to fully realize and accept that my blog was successful. I am just now sort of accepting reality and I realize I can be making money from this and not only will it help my pocket but it will help the readers because I am now giving more heart into it.

    You mentioned giving away something like an ebook in exchange for the newsletter subscription. While it is something I see all the time. It was never even a though to do myself until I read this and questioned WHY don’t I? I am a year and a half into my blog and just now realizing this—I only just began offering a newsletter within the last 6 months.

    We live we learn we move forward. Thanks for this trustworthy post!

  35. Jon Poland says:

    Your post resonates with me because I have done the same thing — started blogging without a real plan and without thinking strategically. A lot of people try to complicate internet marketing. But it’s really not that hard. It’s all about generating leads and then monetizing those leads. Whenever I enter a market I have two basic questions that I ask: “How am I going to generate leads and how am I going to monetize those leads?” That is my template — very simple and very effective.

  36. David says:

    Thanks for the post! I can certainly relate to it.

    Currently, with my own blog, I seem to be spending a lot of time on #2. It’s hard to figure out what people want to read when no one is coming to read… Then again maybe it’s better this way (for now) since I’m still trying to figure some stuff out.

    Thanks again!

    • David,

      Yeah the beginning is rough. It’s harder to figure it out at the start since you don’t get feedback, you know?

      Your best bet is to do a lot of guest posting, that’ll bring over people and you’ll get feedback sooner.

      Alex

  37. Obinna says:

    I guess am in this same category, yet to ‘monetise’ my blog. But this will change soon.

  38. Scott says:

    Great post I’ve just started working on building content for my blog. These are definitely things Ive noticed that have happened with the blogs I’m emulating. The only thing I think was left out was having a fresh twist someone else out there has a blog almost exactly like your, they have a bigger staff and make more money. Innovation will make you stand out.

    Also as someone who has been a part of a couple small businesses having a timeline of goals mapped out for 1, 3, 6, 12 and 24 months will make the marathon feel like a sprint.

  39. Thanks for the great post. I know I’ve made a lot of these mistakes…

  40. Vanita says:

    Thanks for the great advice. I am a new blogger and need all the help I can get.

  41. John Cole says:

    There are lots of affiliate products and sites that are surely good, but how do I know if it is reliable that will benefit you on the long run?

  42. Paf says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I have written some content but thinking they are more suitable to articles than blogs. Should I differentiate the two or is it really just all the same thing? Or do I segragate it have articles AND blogs? I’m new at this but was happy to see I had already done some of your tips before I read what you wrote.

    • Paf, you can put an article as a blog post.

      Even if it’s really long, it’ll just (hopefully) become a great piece of content that gets shared a lot.

      Alex

  43. Great post. I have also started blogging recently and facing the same problems as you did.
    You are not going to earn much unless you build a database of several nice posts.

  44. Great tips. I think many of us start with grand dreams of making big $$$, but it’s funny how life goes. It seems that those that start because of the love of blogging and have something to share end up being more successful financially than those that just want to cash-in from day 1.

  45. Taline says:

    This was a fantastic article! Essential read for any new blogger and a lot of the mistakes covered are common beginner mistakes.

    I think the most important thing to remember is that there overnight riches are not common and not giving up and persistance is the most important thing for any successful blogger. All successful bloggers will tell you that they wanted to give up at some point in their blogging path and to no matter what stay the course.

    • Taline,

      Agree 100%. The beginning is rough, no doubt. You just have to stick with it, tweak tweak tweak as much as you need to. Never give up.

      Alex

  46. I definitely need to start applying some of those, I’ve been doing it blindly. I make most of my money as a web consultant offering local services to customers, but I want to start building on my blogging income so that I won’t have all my eggs in one basket.