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Taking a 5+ Figure Blog to the Next Level

This guest post is by the Web Marketing Ninja.

In my work, I get to speak with a lot of people who’ve done really well from the web. Some have done seven- and eight-digits “well,” others who have more modest, but still impressive, five- and six-digit success stories.

And one of the common challenges I encounter with the five- and six-digit bloggers is that they really struggle to take that next step. How do they go from $100,000 a month to $1 million?

This issue seems to be coming up more and more often, so I thought I’d share the feedback I typically give in this situation in case you’re in similar circumstances.

Taking stock

The web and its low barriers to entry for certain business models can be both a blessing and curse.

The blessing is that you can start a business—a good one—with the notes you already have in your wallet. There are not many industries that can lay claim to that.

Millions of these online businesses start every year and quite a few of them succeed, delivering senior-management or executive-level incomes to people working from home on something they love. 

Although it might be hard to see that there’s a downside to earning $100,000, $200,000, or $300,000 a year, when you grow to that level, you’ll generate a thirst for more. Trust me! And that’s usually when people come to me.

These conversations often start with the comment, “I’ve done really well, but growth is flattening off. I’ve got lots of ideas, but don’t know how to take them forward.”

Then I’ll see a model that looks something like this:

  • monthly revenue = $50k
  • admin costs = $1k
  • website costs = $2k
  • business costs = $2k

In general business terms, this is an operation running on mind-blowing profit margins. Spending $5k to deliver $50k?! Wow.

I’ll then hear statements like this from the blog owner:

  • “I want to create an app.”
  • “I want to build a private community just like…”
  • “My website’s slow and I want to fix it and update the design.”
  • “I think there’s an opportunity for me to offer XYZ service.”
  • “My traffic’s high, but flat, and I’m getting the same responses to my launches and campaigns.”
  • “I know I’m leaving money on the table by not doing ABC.”

Being a straight-down-the-line sort of person, my response to these comments isn’t always what the business owner wants to hear. For example, I used this analogy just today…

If this is you…

You need to get off the bike you’re on now—the one you built yourself from spare parts.  It’s served you well, but it’s worn and won’t go any faster than you’ve got it going today.  It’s already performing above its class.

What you need to do is to go and order yourself a new race bike that’s expertly designed to take things up a level. Unfortunately, you need to buy it before you can go fast.

In a nutshell, it’s time to invest back in your business if you want to enable it to continue its growth, and go beyond the limits of one person.

This is always a pretty bitter pill to swallow, and I can understand why. You built your blog and your business on blood, sweat, and tears. It has put food on the table and money in the bank, and now I’m telling you that you need to give some of that up to go any further!

Of course, it’s not the only choice.  You can live very comfortably on $45,000 a month, and you’re taking a risk spending your money on something new—after all, you might not get it back. But you need to understand that it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to continue to grow a blogging business at this level without spending any money on it.

Typically, the response from my client is one of four:

  • They decide they’ll just continue to pocket the profits from their current blog for as long as they can.
  • They’ll make the decision to invest their own money into their business.
  • They’ll find a partner to share equity with—someone whose skills complement theirs, and who can grow their current capability.
  • They’ll seek funding from investors to support growth.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those outcomes, as long as you make the decision based on your own desires.

Looking to grow

Let’s assume you’re in one of the last three categories, and look at how you might implement some of the growth tactics I mentioned above.

If you want to create an app…

Apps can be quite simple and cost-effective to produce, or their creation costs can run into the millions. While there are still a few nuggets out there, a lot of the low-hanging, simple-but-valuable apps have been gobbled up in the goldrush.

Also, simple doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. You’ve probably heard about the $750 million Facebook paid for Instagram, but let’s not forget the $50 million in funding the app’s creators received to build and manage it in the first place.

Now this isn’t meant to deter you. Just realise that unless you can build your own app, and you want to do something unique, you’re up for a minimum of $10K to produce a quality app in most instances.

If your website’s slow and you want to fix it and update the design…

Chances are you’re running WordPress, and you might have tweaked a template or got a theme designed for you. You’ve probably installed plugin after plugin, with a bunch you’ve totally forgotten about. Maybe you’re on shared hosting that’s not scalable.

The result is that your website is slowing down and can’t deal with your traffic.

In this instance, you’ve got two problems to solve. Your website is inefficient and you need more sophisticated hosting. To get it done right—by people who are experienced with high-traffic sites—you’re looking at spending $5-$10k, at a minimum.

That’s only going to solve your immediate problem, and that’ll be back again before you know it, unless you bring in developers and other experts to give your blog constant attention.

If you know you’re leaving money on the table by not doing ABC…

This one’s pretty open ended. “ABC” might be something simple, such as setting yourself up as a merchant so you can take credit card payments directly, rather than using PayPal. It might be breaking the limits of your basic checkout system, the creation of an ebook or other product—the list could go on an on

Simply by making that comment, though, you’re admitting that your To-do list is longer than you can handle, and that in itself is costing you money. It might be time to get some help.

Just a blogger? Or a business?

Are you “just a blogger?” Or are you “in businesses?” It’s an important question to answer.

The prospect of spending money on your business, when you have the means to do so, is often a telling moment. What you do will reflect just how serious you are about building a business, rather than “just” being a blogger.

Businesses hold the keys to greater financial gain, but unfortunately, along with that potential comes more pressure and risk—and that’s not for everyone.

But if you’re finding yourself in a similar scenario to those I’ve mentioned here, you need to come to terms with the fact that your dream run of growth will someday reach its peak, if you stick with your current capabilities.

It’s going to cost you to change that, but that cost could turn you into one of those eight-, nine-. or ten-digit superstars. We can all dream of never-ending growth with minimal investment. But in most cases, the real world doesn’t work like that.

How’s your blog’s growth going? Do you think it’s time to invest to build it further? I’d love to hear your plans below.

Stay tuned for more posts by the Web Marketing Ninja—author of The Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing, and a professional online marketer for a major web brand. Follow the Web Marketing Ninja on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. i love this guest post, if you can’t do some stuffs yourself then find someone who can. cool! i’d also love to guest post for this blog but i don’t know how! any tips

  2. Amy Hagerup says:

    I had no idea that making an app could cost that much. I guess I’ll put that on the back burner for now. I DO want to keep my blog running smoothly though. Better check all the plugins again. Thanks.

    • Web Marketing Ninja says:

      Hi Amy.

      An app can be cheap if you build it yourself, use a framework or find some cheap help (they all have their upside and downsides). The App industry is not as mature, thus not as empowering. Every day the barriers to adoption will go down, but we’re still waiting for the ‘wordpress of apps’ to emerge.

    • Amy, I wouldn’t be discouraged or put it on the back burner so quickly. It is true apps can be expensive BUT you can also find very talented app developers who will charge way less or you can also phase out your app. So maybe phase 1 accomplishes a certain goal and instead of paying a lot up front you can pay as phases are cometed. I know several people who have had quality apps done between $2,500-5k

  3. Sarah says:

    brilliant article ! thank you

  4. It is essential to start a business with a business mindset. Otherwise, we can’t it a business. We will need to find out our strength and hourly rate and tackle from there. If we can outsource the tasks at a cheaper rate, it is a feasible option from a business point even though we can do it ourselves.

    The key is to put the our time into right usage so that we can run a smooth business.

    Cheers,
    Ming

  5. Sudhir says:

    i loved reading this post, it had much to say.
    I accept the fact that we need to invest more for the growth. our blog has been fetching us a decent amount of money and its been stable without any increase so i think its time to invest more to get back more.

  6. Shelby Roth says:

    I loved teh 5 digit stories, I think you really thought about it. Sounds indeed a very informative and inspiring idea. I look forward into it. Keep up!

  7. Ayaz says:

    Hello! I love reading the post. Excellent tips and especially five and six digits successfull stories. and I am in b/w them working on my app to create next month and certainly learned few things from here.

    Thanks for sharing valuable information.

  8. Great stuff indeed! Getting to the next step in business is so easy if you really focus and need to be successful! Nothing just comes out of lazy hands, we must be devoted in our steps to shine. I loved the ideas above. Really look forward to do the same. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Doug says:

    This is the biggest pile of baloney I have ever read. Like: “You can live very comfortably on $45,000 a month”

    Really? I did not know that. How will I keep fuel in my jet? Who is the target market for this post based on that statement?

    I would love to know how many people are making $100k per MONTH from their blog and this article is about taking your blog to the “next level”. Get real.

  10. Nice tips. The information will definitely help!

  11. I was just talking to a blogger friend of mine via email, and she told me it wasn’t worth it to go out and work since she already makes a great income on her food blog. So then I run across this post in my mailbox and wonder what have I been doing wrong all these years. I virtually make nothing on my blog. Please tell me what I’m doing wrong? Where do I begin to start generating a decent income? I used a couple of outside parties but nothing to speak of came through in revenues.

    I look forward to your reply. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. While I love blogging and creating posts, it would be nice to earn a few $$ doing it especially when I read posts like this.

    • Web Marketing Ninja says:

      This is a hard question to answer as, to be honest, there’s no ultimate ‘system’ and there is no right or wrong answer. Lot’s of people create a great income approaching things in very different ways.

      Depending on where you are at with your blogging, if it’s early you should still be building your audience — a engaged one. If you can do that, then monetisation becomes a lot easier. Just remember at this stage to try to establish a connection with them (email address etc) so you can reach out later.

      The next step is really the open one. It will depend on the needs of your audience. What problems they have, what price they’ll pay to solve them, and what you can offer that will dictate your direction and focus.

      I’m sorry I can’t say to you ‘just go do this’ because frankly, that would be shallow advice.

    • Tom Southern says:

      Hi Vicki!

      You’re using a free web host which means that you’ll probably not be allowed by your host (site provider) to make money with your blog. That’s a killer, if you’re hoping to do just that – make money.

      Second, yes, Web Marketing Ninja is right, you need to build an audience; a community and to do this, you need to be clear about your purpose for blogging.

      Check out other blogs in your field of expertise and find out what they’re doing that makes them interesting.

      Often, the secret is to link your topic: cooking to something else that people really want (but can’t do/have at the same time, but want).

      Hope this helps a little.

      Tom

  12. Mi Muba says:

    Great post by a great blogger for the great bloggers. what am I doing here???? hahahahaha

  13. Marcie says:

    This is very timely as I am working on transitioning my site from just a blog to a business, and I am willing to invest time and money for both.

  14. Steve Hughes says:

    $45K/mo I guess I could manage. The takeaway here is you can’t do it all by yourself, and if you want grow there are some tough decisions to make. There is money and opportunity on this crazy platform called the web.

  15. This is a great post, even for those of us only making 4 figures a month from our blogs. It’s just amazing how high the ceiling is in some genres.

  16. Michael says:

    Great tips as always. Thanks!

  17. Tom Southern says:

    So true. It’s all about creating community ready to buy.

    Creating a community ready to buy means knowing what you want your blog to do for you, before you start blogging.

    It’s vital to know this because your answer will direct you to what kind of community you want to attract. Get it right and your community will let you create as many streams of income as you want, for as long as you want, because you’ll only create products that they want to buy from you.

    You’ll never get stuck on how to take your blog to the next level, then the next, then the next … because you’ll be serving your community’s wants.

    I’ve discovered this is the best way to grow a blog because it makes increasing income generation simple.

    By focusing on creating a community that’s right for you, you’ll create a blog that’s in tune with the wants and needs of that community. An added focus is for your community to based around similar core interests that you have in common with them.

    By starting to create this community *before* you start your blog, you save yourself tremendous amounts of time, effort, frustration, money (and strained relationships with your spouse and family).

    And, it’s easier than you think.

    It has to be win-win, of course, for everyone involved.

    You have to focus on getting to know what people want and then showing them how, and why, you’re the one to give it to them (in ways that will resonate with them).

    It’s about introducing yourself to popular bloggers too, even before your blog is running, and building relationships and networks with them. Showing them how you can compliment what they’re offering to their community.

    It’s about recognising the gap between where your community is, and where they want to be, then filling that gap with products and services tailor-made for them.

    It’s about opening conversations and offering answers.

    It’s about giving, and focusing on your community, not jumping on the latest gimmick because that’s how others say they’re making big bucks with their blogs.

    In the end, it’s all about realising that your blog is not your business. Your blog is the platform that sustains your business. Your business is about creating (and giving) answers that your blog’s community wants.

    Tom

  18. Meagan Dahl says:

    Great perspective! My experience in the startup community has taught me how much financial investment goes into launching an app or business, but like you said, it’s not just financial, it’s emotional, mental, and time investment as well. But wait, time is a man-made construct right? Joking, but not really. Companies or bloggers who are completely invested, dedicated, cards-on-the table believe in what they are doing have a far greater chance at reaching that top-tier. If they’re not, it’s often a long, pot-holed road for them. I think that whatever you’re selling or doing, you have to tell a big, grand, epic story to your audience, and you have to believe the story yourself.