There’s a reason why monetizing your readership is the very last step in my guide about how to start a blog.
That’s because today… while you’re still just getting started, monetization should not be your #1 focus.
You need to find your readers, start building relationships with them, forming a community around your blog, and keep delivering value (in the form of content) before immediately trying to sell them on an online course, buying your freelance services, or otherwise.
Blogging is an investment that can pay massive dividends, but it’s a longer-term payout.
Even still, it’s good to have an idea of which ways you’d like to make money blogging as you go into this.
Now, keep in mind that when you’re just getting started, some of these monetization strategies will be easier than others while your readership is still growing.
Let’s dive in!
1. Sponsored Content.
What’s sponsored content? Generally, it’s when a brand, company or individual pays you a fee in order to get their content (or offer) in front of your audience. That means you’ll likely need some semblance of a readership base before you’re able to broker a sponsored content deal—because the sponsor’s going to want to see your readers click through and at least evaluate the special offer you’re writing about.
The best way to do sponsored content without alienating your readers, is to weave it into your typical publishing style (like I’ve done with this sponsored post and this one too), of which I charged $1,500 to write and publish for Skillshare and Slidebean.
Unless you already have a sizable option on another site (or social account) that you plan to use for driving traffic to your blog, it’ll take you some time to grow your readership to a point where sponsored content is a viable monetization option.
Here’s a snapshot of my first year of traffic to ryrob.com (in orange) and my second year of traffic (in blue).
As you’ll see, my first year of blogging saw only about 9,000 total readers, but I wasn’t really taking blogging seriously and I was still learning how to drive traffic. In my second year, you’ll see traffic begins to pick up dramatically as I start to figure out who my audience is and which traffic strategies work best for me—that’s when I started driving almost as much traffic per month than I’d gotten in my entire first year.
It was at this point, once my readership grew to around 10,000 monthly readers (on average), that it became a viable option to start commanding a decent rate for sponsored content to be published on my blog and emailed to my couple hundred subscribers.
Tune in to my podcast episode with Preston Lee from Millo.co, who’s mastered the art of landing blog sponsorships for his side hustle blog… he regularly books $15,000/mo in sponsorships from top brands in the freelancing and design industries.
But, there are much quicker ways to start monetizing your blog. Like…
2. Freelancing (Selling Your Services).
If you want to start earning from your blog right now, then selling your services is going to be your lowest effort option by far.
All you really need in order to land your first freelancing client, is a strong enough pitch, which is where a blog will help significantly. You’ll want to build out your key pages (About, Contact, Hire Me) and showcase at least a couple examples of the type of work you’ve done that you’ll soon be pitching freelance clients on.
And if you don’t have those work samples yet… don’t let that hold you back. Spend a few days right now to create those example articles, designs or other deliverables and host them on your own blog as if they were a project you got paid to produce.
If you have a skill that you can sell as a service, then you’re already prepared to go out and start pitching potential clients. That skill could be something like…
- Public relations
- Social media management
- Virtual assistance
- SEO or paid advertising campaigns
- Business strategy or project management
- The list goes on… because any skill can be monetized
Today, I regularly book new freelance clients (like LinkedIn, Zendesk, Adobe) for $5,000/mo or more and I’m brought on to advise and execute on creating content marketing campaigns for their blogs. But that’s where I am today… not where I started.
My first freelance client paid me $250 for each article I wrote for their blog. They discovered me because of my blog, and liked the style of content I was producing, so it was an easy decision for them to hire me as a freelancer to ramp up their publishing at an affordable rate.
After having this realization, I started going out and pitching other similar (non-competitive) startups and online brands that clearly needed more business-related content for their blogs… and over the course of the next year, I continued to slowly double the prices I’d charge per article. I’d add new “extras” as time went on and I built a larger community & brand for myself too—always experimenting with my offer to see what clients would pay more for.
If freelancing sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll want to grab my (free) collection of all my best resources, tools and templates for freelancers. That resource bundle is the culmination of more than 5 years of refining my freelance contract template, proposal template, cold email templates that convert new clients, and more.
I also put together an in-depth guide to getting started with freelancing that you’ll want to read and another great foundational read about how to develop a pitching process that works for your type of business, is my freelancer’s guide to cold emailing.
Oh! And if you want to try out some of the websites where freelance clients are already looking for talented help, here’s my list of the best freelance job sites.
3. Online Courses.
Once you have a skill (or experience) that others also want to learn, it’s relatively easy to package your best advice, strategies, tactics and tutorials into an online course where people can pay for access to accelerate their learning much quicker than they otherwise would going through the stumbling process of learning through trial and error.
Last year alone, I generated over $20,000 from the launch of a premium online course about validating business ideas.
What’s great about online courses as a monetization path for your blog, is that you don’t need a huge audience in order to start earning from course sales.
Once you have even just a handful of readers on your blog, encourage them to interact with you—ask questions, offer free downloads, share advice and get them to either join your email list or to personally reach out and connect with you.
Learn about their biggest challenges (as related to the broader topics covered on your blog). Pinpoint the ways you can uniquely help them by leaning on your own skills, knowledge, experience.
After you’ve determined the right way to help a handful of your readers solve a real problem they’re encountering, pitch them (individually in a very personalized manner either over email or ideally on the phone) on pre-ordering your course and getting direct coaching from you in the meantime while you work on building out the actual course material.
This’ll do 2 key things for you:
- First, asking people to actually give you their hard-earned money will validate that you’re solving a real problem
- Second, you’ll get live test subjects to help build and curate your course content in real-time over the coming weeks—and your course can emerge as the result of lessons learned and tactics proven from your direct coaching time
I highly recommend reading and following my idea validation framework where your focus remains on pre-selling your course to a small community of early adopters (or beta testers) and you interact with them one-on-one while building out, testing and refining your course material to make sure it does a good job of solving your reader’s challenges.
This is the exact process I’ve followed to launch each of my online courses (some to very small audiences of just a few hundred people) and earn five-figures from every course launch over the years.
Take your learning a bit further in my interview with Adda Birnir, founder of Skillcrush where she’s built a series of online training courses that have reached more than 15,000 designers and developers over the past couple of years.
4. Traditional Blog Advertisements (Joining Ad Networks).
On my blog right now, you’ll see a small advertisement in the right sidebar just below a little information about me…
I’m a member of a small ad network called Carbon Ads, that partners with bloggers and pairs them up with ads from high-quality startups like Slack, Asana, Freshbooks, Monday, Upwork and others. I also have small ad placements from them throughout a few of my highest trafficked blog posts.
Even still, with around 200,000 monthly unique readers on my blog, I only earn about $1,000/mo from being a member of this ad network. Plenty of other ad networks offer marginally higher CPC (cost per click) and CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) rates, but aren’t as restricted in the types of brands & products that are allowed to advertise on my site—so I’ve chosen to take less in earnings in order to stick with the types of brands I want to promote on my site.
Some of the other major ad networks to consider installing on your blog would be Google AdSense, BuySellAds, and Propeller Ads.
All in all, traditional CPC or CPM advertising doesn’t become very profitable (at least as a viable source of meaningful income) until you’re driving close to a million monthly readers, so it’s not a great monetization channel to focus on in the short-term.
But if you figure out the right levers to start generating massive amounts of traffic, this is a very quick way to flip a switch and start monetizing your readership in a pinch.
Check out my interview with Grace and Silas Moser of Chasing Foxes, who regularly earn around $20,000/mo in income largely from ad networks. They’ve cracked the code to driving insane amounts of traffic from Pinterest very quickly, and offer up a lot of actionable advice.
5. Podcast Sponsorships.
Another great way to start monetizing your blog is by launching a (simple) podcast for your readers… and use both your traffic & early listener statistics to go out and book sponsorships from brands that want to reach your type of readers & listeners.
Here’s the growth trajectory of my podcast over it’s first year:
You can even combine podcast ad placement offers with sponsored blog posts on your site to sweeten the deal.
What I like most about podcasting is that it gives me an excuse to interview some of most interesting people in my industry, and depending on the niche you’re blogging about, it may be relatively easy to start booking interviews with some of the figures you look up to in your space.
When I launched my show, I already had about 100,000 monthly readers on my blog and 20,000 email subscribers to seed the early listenership numbers. That also helped me sell an early sponsorship slot for 10 episodes to Freshbooks at $500/episode to help fund getting the show off the ground.
That worked for me because of where my blog was already at—but when you’re starting out with less traction, I recommend getting a few episodes recorded and launching your show without trying to book a sponsorship in advance.
Release a handful of episodes and ask any guests you’ve interviewed or mentioned to share with their communities. Those that tune in and like your show will subscribe and stick around. One of the best ways to reach more listeners and grow your download numbers is to be a guest on other (more established) podcasts in your space.
For much more on the mechanics behind launching a podcast with your blog, check out this episode on my show with Michael Sacca of Rocketship.fm, whose grown his show into a $10,000/mo source of side income while he still holds onto his day job in sales and marketing. It’s a true masterclass in starting a podcast that you don’t want to miss.
6. Affiliate Programs.
Every month, I earn a good amount of passive income from affiliate programs I’m a member of.
Here’s how affiliate programs work: You get a special tracking link from the company you’re an affiliate for. Then, you’ll place that link within posts on your blog, emails to your blog subscribers, and weave it in elsewhere that you reach your readers. When someone clicks on that tracking link and completes a purchase, sign up (or occasionally another metric), then you earn either a set fee or percentage of that sale.
You’re getting compensated for referring new customers to your affiliate partners.
Some of the biggest brands have affiliate programs. Think global companies like Amazon, all the way down to key players in specific niches like online education where brands like CreativeLive, Skillshare and Udemy have lucrative programs. Here’s a snapshot of my recent earnings from a few of these programs:
You don’t need to be a member of an affiliate network in order to start earning, either.
Take my friend Preston Lee over at the blog and community for freelancers, Millo, for example. A few months ago, he launched a new paid weekly email newsletter for freelancers that surfaces the best gigs of the week for them, called SolidGigs.
Since I have a large proportion of freelancers in my audience, he offered to set me up as an affiliate where I’d earn a set fee for each new paid subscriber that signed up as a result of an email or clickthrough from my blog. The week I sent my first email out to my community about SolidGigs, nearly 100 people signed up to try it out. And that number’s only continued to grow over the months, adding more to my recurring income that comes from this channel.
The takeaway here is that you don’t need to be confined to just the affiliate opportunities you find on the major networks like ShareASale, Rakuten, Flex Offers, Commission Junction and others.
Once you’ve built even a small readership… if they’re engaged and tuned in to what you have to say, that’s ammo to go out and broker an affiliate deal with individual business owners, startups and brands that want to surface their products to your kind of audience.
For a LOT more on the subject of monetizing your blog with affiliate income, listen to my interview with Michelle Schroeder who earns $130,000/mo from her blog (mostly via affiliate programs).
7. Physical Products (eCommerce) and Software Tools.
Similar in concept to launching an online course to your blog audience, another great way to monetize your audience is by selling a physical product or software tool to the people in your community—especially if you’ll be starting an eCommerce store to sell products that are related to what your readers need.
At the end of the day, this one all comes back down to solving the problems your blog readers have.
Take for example the story of Matt Nelson, creator of the We Rate Dogs brand…Getting 2.5 Million Followers And Earning $10,000/MO On The Side.
When he and I sat down for a podcast interview a couple of years ago, he’d just started to monetize his Twitter following of several million people who tuned into the daily barrage of cute dog photos he published alongside witty captions.
Nelson’s since grown his blog and social following into a massive eCommerce business selling everything from t-shirts, to mugs, hats, a card game, stickers, dog tags, socks, pillows and so much more. What’s even more attractive about this business model, is that Nelson doesn’t even need to stock his own product inventory.
He can use print-on-demand services to fulfill orders after they’ve been placed, and warehouse his goods in order fulfillment centers that stock and ship the more popular items so that he’s not packing and shipping products out of his own garage.
What once used to be a much more labor intensive business, eCommerce has become a great way to monetize an audience of readers on your blog.
And on top of just selling to your own audience, you can leverage loyalty programs that incentivize customers to invite friends to purchase with offers like first-time customer discounts, free one-month trials, gifting programs and more. These channels create opportunities for amplifying your message and spreading your products through word-of-mouth marketing efforts that won’t cost you anywhere near that of similar advertising fees.
Here’s a simple way to think about getting started with your own eCommerce efforts.
If you can build a relationship with 10 early readers and work with them to pinpoint a challenge you’re interested in building a physical or digital product for, focus next on repeatedly solving that problem yourself, then develop a plan of action for how you can personally help those 10 people solve that problem in their own unique situations as well. This’ll be very manually at first, but that’s necessary.
Next, ask these 10 readers to “pre-order” the product from you and work with them through a personal coaching regimen that you’ll use to make sure your eventual product has all the necessary features in order to successfully solve their challenge.
At the end of this validation process, you’ll emerge with a solution that’s built on the foundation of genuinely helping your readers.
Tune in to my interview with Hiten Shah, who’s used his personal blog to connect with his target audience and release several profitable software tools as a result of the validation conversations he’s had with them.
8. Business Partnerships.
Of all the ways to monetize your blog, this is the most unpredictable. Who knows who you’ll meet as a result of building your blog? What about future guests on your podcast? The possibilities here for stumbling into partnership opportunities are endless.
As a result of sticking with my blog for several years, I’ve been able to use it as a tool to meet some incredibly talented entrepreneurs.
I’ve collaborated with my friend Jory (a writer and content marketer) that I met originally because of my blog, on growing a $10,000/mo content marketing agency together that we both still run as a side project to all of our other work.
I’ve launched new websites (like MoneyTalk) with other established bloggers who have similar audiences as my own.
There’s even a former podcast guest who’s helping me build a software tool I’ve envisioned for years.
It’s true that there aren’t as many ways to authentically engineer the creation of these types of partnerships, aside from growing your personal brand and the reach of your blog… and then being receptive to the creative people & ideas that come your way as others discover your blog.
On the flip side, if there’s someone in your space that you really want to collaborate and work with, strategize on a way you can add value to their business first. Build a community of people you know they’ll want to reach too—and then start building a relationship with your influencer before pitching them on a collaboration idea.
Over to You…
What this all boils down to is being excited and engaging with your content.
If you want people to read what you’re writing, you need to give them a reason to.
Write exciting content, connect with people in the space, and enthusiastically share what you’re working on.
The monetization and everything else will follow.
We got through a lot here.
I wrote this guide to learn how to start a blog because launching a blog has been one of the most empowering, life-changing decisions I’ve made in my life.
And I hope that by now you feel confident enough to go out there are start a blog of your own.