On a rainy Autumn afternoon in April 2006, while sitting in the front room of my home, I launched Digital Photography School – a blog about photography to record and share the lessons I was learning in photography.
The first post was on shooting action shots in low light conditions – it wasn’t that great and I’m not sure that anyone ever read it – but it was a start.
Today, 3 and a half years later, that blog is read by over 3 million readers a month and is quickly paying my mortgage – in fact in November it generated more than $100,000, most of that in a week after launching a Portrait Photography Tips E-book.
This might sound like another scammy ‘make money fast online’ story – but it’s not. While the money did come in fast in November, it was on the back of over 3 years hard work and gradual growth on that blog.
Not only that – I’d been blogging for 4 years previously on other blogs – learning the medium and experimenting with how blogs could make money.
How did I do it?
Like all good bloggers – let me try to condense the important stages into a list:
1. Build a Foundation of Helpful Content – ultimately this is where you start and end. A blog needs have something on it worth reading. I started by producing the most helpful and useful ‘how to’ posts that I could come up with to help beginner photographers. In the beginning I wrote most of it myself but in time began to hire a few regular contributors and incorporated reader generated tips.
2. Go to Where Your Potential Readers Are – many bloggers write great content and expect that readers will come to them. This doesn’t work – you need to identify the type of person you want to read your blog and find out where they’re already gathering in numbers. Once you’ve done this – participate in those places. For me it was photo sharing sites like Flickr and other photography forums and blogs.
3. Be Useful – every successful blog is useful in some way. Successful blogs meet needs and solve problems of some kind. This might mean that they entertain, that they make people think, that they give information, that they give people a place to express their opinions…. but in my case I was useful by helping beginner photographers get the most out of their cameras. This ‘usefulness’ needs to permeate everything you do – the content you write, the way you interact on other people’s sites and the interactions you have with readers.
4. Build Community – once people start to come to your site you have an opportunity to turn a first time visitor into a loyal one. Your useful content will help with this objective – but there are a lot of other ways to draw people in and feel a sense of belonging. For me this meant starting a forum, giving readers opportunities to share their photos, running polls and more.
5. Get Permission to Keep in Touch – perhaps the most important thing I’ve done was to start a weekly newsletter. This started after a family member asked how they could find out about new articles on my site. I explained that they could subscribe to my RSS feed – their blank face made me realise the vast majority of people have no idea what RSS is or how to use it. Email is a more familiar technology for most – so I started a newsletter and invited readers to subscribe and give me permission to email them once a week with the site’s latest tips, tutorials, reviews and offers. To this day 260,000 people have done this.
6. Monetize – There are many ways to make money from a blog. Most bloggers start with an Ad Network like Google’s AdSense program. Depending upon your niche, this can work well and for me it’s been a solid base of income as my site has grown. I also sell ads directly to advertisers and use Affiliate marketing (where I earn a small commission when someone buys a book or camera that I recommend on a site like Amazon). These income streams have been profitable for me – but their downfall is ultimately you’re selling someone else’s product and sending people away from your own site.
7. Build a Useful Product of Your Own – I still make money from the above methods but in November launched the first product of my own creation – a portrait photography e-book. The product is a PDF e-book – 78 pages full of portrait tips. It cost less than $1000 to have designed, proof read and set up for downloading yet in the 8 day launch period sold a little under 5000 copies – making me $80,000 AUD. Since then it has continued to sell 10-30 copies a day – providing a steady and much appreciated income stream.
By no means is this an overnight rags to riches story and by no means did it happen quickly or easily. It took 3 and a half years and a few years of blogging before that to learn the ropes of the medium on other blogs like ProBlogger – but in the long run it’s certainly been a profitable and fun project.