make money blogging

So we’ve talked about how brands can better work with bloggers. And while I strongly believe it’s the brand’s responsibility to know what they want and be transparent about it (set expectations, offer benefits, send traffic), it’s not realistic to think brands are going to do it perfectly. Remember: many are just starting out with this whole “blogger outreach” thing. Plus, it’s a two way street. And if you want to be a blogger that lands extra writing gigs and fancy perks, you can’t just sit on your ass. During pitching and after posting, there’s still work to be done.

Rule #1: Have your own ideas

If you’re going to approach a big company and ask for sponsorship or simply responding to someone who wants your influence, GET CREATIVE AND PITCH SOMETHING AWESOME. Don’t just say, “Give me x and I will write about you on my blog because I iz Important.”

Example: I went to a blogger’s conference in Toronto last May and found that most travel bloggers treat companies like piggy banks. If I had a dollar for every blogger who pitched some version of  “Pay me to go around the world, use your service and then I’ll write about my experiences,” I would be off traveling the world and writing about my experiences.

Very few of our appointments at the event had done any research. One blogger pitched us his blog management services for a blog that not only had we run successfully for months, but that I managed. Full time. [Insert slap in the face here.]

In hindsight, this is nobody’s fault. Brands don’t know how to work with bloggers and bloggers don’t know how to work with brands. So I’ll use this space to tell you exactly what companies want from bloggers:

  • Awesome content that appears on YOUR BLOG (with YOUR AUDIENCE) about your stories and experiences using MY BRAND’S service/website/hotel/gadget. I want you to tell your readers why your experience couldn’t have happened any other way then through us.
  • OR: Awesome content way pay you to write for our blog. For example…
  • Great story ideas. Pitch like a real journalist. Do your research. Find a quirky way to use Company X. Find one of our users in your hometown who brews his own beer and interview/write about him. That’s how journalists pitch. They write up a query letter, having done the research beforehand. They don’t rest on their blogging laurels. That’s douchey.
  • Your contacts. If you’re a big blogger you usually know others in relevant media. Pitch your story/experiences to said media on our behalf. Most decent companies will pay for this. If not, remember that many media outlets still pay their writers.

Rule #2: Be honest

Did you get a free meal at a fancy restaurant and the service was horrible? You are absolutely not obligated to write about it or do anything in exchange. In order to stay authentic, respected and “influential”, be honest.

Example: A well-known health company sent me a rockin’ box of pre-workout drinks. I loved the idea, especially since I was teaching yoga at the time and can fade fast. But after 10 minutes of drinking the stuff I felt nauseous and didn’t notice a difference during my workout. When the PR lady sent me a follow-up I replied,

“Thank you so much for sending me a sample! However, I’ve used it twice and both times it made me pretty sick. While I’m sure it’s great for many people, it definitely didn’t do it for me. I usually love your products but was disappointed by this one. I really appreciate you sending so many but, unfortunately, will not be mentioning it on my blog.”

Rule #3: Go the extra mile

Working with a brand doesn’t need to be a one-off situation. If you really loved your experience, you can easily form a partnership. You just need to ask. The sky’s the limit on this one. If you got a free stay at a hotel and loved it, suggest doing it again at another location. Or offer to be a “brand advocate” on your site. Give them ad space in your sidebar. Offer to write guests post for their blog. Keep the momentum going.

One thing I see bloggers do again and again is writing a post and being done with it. “I got my free shit so that’s that.” Don’t let it end there. Email your contact a week or so after your post goes live. Tell them how your blog post performed (traffic, social media shares, comments, etc), the general sentiment of the responses received and any other extras you threw in.

Example: When I stayed at the Point Reyes hostel in September, I wrote my blog post about my experiences, Instagramed my photos, tagged their company accounts, left a glowing Yelp review, wrote about them in an article I wrote for a different website and emailed a week after with stats on the post. A month later, I was able to stay in their Seattle and Vancouver locations and meet the marketing manager to learn more about their program. *drops mic*

Bonus Rule: Trust your gut

If you’ve been a blogger for years and have established a following, it’s tricky business to transfer into a business relationship with companies. If you get a free phone and then write about that phone on your blog, it’s probably going to be boring. Your readers aren’t going to share or comment and if you do it enough, people are going to think you’re a sellout. (This assumes you don’t have a blog that just posts phone reviews, then you’re okay.)

So my biggest rule is to trust your gut. Don’t partner with companies you don’t believe in. Be transparent with your audience. And don’t be afraid to get creative. Brands don’t know what they’re doing either and we should all be in this together.

Have you ever worked with a brand before? How’d it go? 


What Happened When I Disabled AdBlock

by Marian Schembari on July 7, 2011

A weird thing happened to me the other day. After years of puttering away on Firefox with my AdBlock plugin safely enabled, I uninstalled it. At my fancy new job I do a lot of work with Facebook and Google ads, and since I love The Fox so much, I nonchalantly removed my plugin without a care in the world.

And then this happened:

Let’s pause for a moment and just take a look at this same site with AdBlock safely installed:

Phew! I feel much calmer just looking at this beautiful blog ad-free.

My Pseudo-Problem with Ads

Now, I’ve never understood reader aversion to advertising. These bloggers are giving you content FO’ FREE, and you sit around bitching because you think they’ve sold out. Honestly folks, I don’t get it. Unless you’re using a free site, running a blog costs money. And many folks do it for a living. Advertising is an incredible way to make that living – if you do it right.

I have ZERO problem with ads. I can’t say I spend a lot of time looking at them because, well, I block them, but in theory I have no problem. I myself would love to make money from ads, but I’m too lazy to figure out the best way to do it that works for me. Affiliate programs, sponsorship, selling products directly on your blog are all other great ways to make money. Advertising just happens to be the easiest and if you do it right, the most lucrative.

HOWEVER. I feel like I’m being eye-raped every time I open up my internets now. In fact, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, my entire online experience has changed. What once was a leisurely stroll on a design blog is suddenly a fight to pay attention to the actual content as opposed to the colorful, blinking, moving ads in the sidebar and header… and between the posts themselves.

My solution involved reinstalling AdBlock on Firefox and leaving Chrome for ad-filled browsing (and ad creating, I know, I know, who AM I?) at work.

I guess I don’t really know how I feel about online ads. In theory, I approve 100%, but in real life I often find them distracting and sometimes a little spammy.

So I figured I’d open up the floor to you. When is advertising okay? When does it cross the line? And who does it really well?


5 Monetization Mistakes That Make You Look Slimy

by Marian Schembari on October 20, 2010

This is a guest post (and fantastic reminder) by the lovely Jennifer Gresham of Everyday Bright. Read it, weep, then share your thoughts in the comments.

Monetization is all the buzz. While “hot trends” make a maverick nervous, blog + awesome products has the potential to be a true win-win. Fans get problems solved and you get cash.

So where does it all go wrong? I’ve seen a rash of bad behavior when it comes to monetization from bloggers who frankly have been around long enough to know better. Greed and a desire for passive income does funny things to people.

You can see how it happens though. Everyone seems to have a story about a blogger making easy money, and they’re sure you can do it too. As more and more engage in unabashed pitching, poor manners can seem… completely acceptable.

Here are 5 indications you just might have sold your blogging soul to the devil–and how to get it back:

1. Treating readers like ATM machines

Do you only communicate directly with readers when you’re on the verge of a sale? Do all conversations lead back to your pitch?

I’m not hear to pass judgment on those who prioritize making-money over the human connection (except to say that such people are lame). However, it turns out that treating your readers like people will actually make more sales.

Who Gets It: Naomi Dunford. Few are as persuasive as Naomi. Virtually every post is a gem of a sales lesson. She also cares about her readers. Once, after leaving a particularly pitiful comment on her blog, she DM’d to ask if I was okay. Wow.

2. The “I’m-not-pitching (oh yes I am)” ploy

I once got an email that went like this: This is not a pitch. I’d rather tie my legs to the saddle horn of a galloping horse before pitching you. But I just wanted to let you know there’s only three more spots available in my new course for the special “I love you” price of $300…

I un-subscribed from the newsletter and vowed never to buy something from that blogger. Ever. This tactic may work with some, but has the potential to produce bitter readers who now hate you.

Who Gets It: Scott Young. He created a division between his blog and the business behind it. You either opt in for pitches, or you just read the blog. That kind of transparency is refreshing.

3. The illusion of access

Another kind of product that’s gained in popularity is the pay-as-you-go discussion forum. Usually an A-lister hints if you join the forum, you’ll have private and exclusive access to their time in exchange for a small monthly fee. It seems like a bargain compared to plane fares to attend blogging conferences.

Unless the blogger never participates. If you put your name behind a forum, there’s likely to be bad will if it turns out you’re charging readers to talk to one another.

Who Gets It: Jon Morrow. I’m enrolled in Jon’s Guest Blogging course, and recently spent an hour and a half on the phone picking his brain on writing, connecting, strategizing and more. I got a ton of information that more than paid for the price of the course.

4. Selling secret decoder rings

Make sure your free product can stand alone. There’s nothing more annoying than getting something for free that really requires a paid product before you can implement. Teasers are okay. Decoder rings are best left to cereal boxes.

Who Gets It: Chris Guillebeau. Can’t afford Chris’ Empire Building Kit? His manifesto, 279 Days to Overnight Success, is free and packed with great ideas you can start using right away. Chris truly understands the idea of paying it forward.

5. Lying

Marketers know that scarcity sells. Just make sure that before you announce the overwhelming demand for your product, it’s actually true. And please don’t tell me about all the people begging you to sell your product unless you’re willing to produce testimonials to go with it.

Who Gets It: Annabel Candy. She recently asked followers to send her to BlogWorld. When a reader offered to share her hotel room, Annabel stopped donations short of her stated goal. Now that’s integrity.

I’m sure I haven’t captured them all. What monetization schemes make your skin crawl? What other bloggers stand out as model salesmen?

Jennifer Gresham is a PhD biochemist who left a successful career in the military to pursue her passion for writing.  She is the author of the blog Everyday Bright, providing inspiration and support for those interested in career design.

{Photo credit}


I would really, really, really like someone to give me a list of successful bloggers that make money blogging that don’t actually write blogs about:

  1. Blogging
  2. Making money blogging
  3. Being an entrepreneur
  4. Social media

Seriously. I feel like I’m constantly bombarded with sites that get trillions of visitors, thousands of comments and are highly regarded in the blogosphere but ALL BLOG ABOUT THE SAME DAMN THING.

Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.

If you check out my favorite sites, many of them involve humor, cartoons, design, books, whatever.

I feel like my writing is being pushed in the direction of BLOGGING! SOCIAL MEDIA! MAKING MONEY ONLINE! Because that’s where I get the most traffic. The most comments. Alas, my whoredom continues.

Last week’s post about why no one’s following you on Twitter is out of control, getting something like 2,000 hits a day, and whose “success” has me stressed out like nobody’s business. It’s by far my most read post, been retweeted an insane amount of times and it’s the number one source of traffic to my blog. Instead of being happy about this I’m worried about writing a similar post, keeping up my traffic, trying to come up with something bigger. Better.

Someone tell me that I’m allowed to write about shit that has nothing to do with Web 2.0 and that I’m still loved if I write about my new favorite band or my potential move to London or my budding career as a job coach (more on that later). Right? Right?

Also. Sidenote: I’d love you guys to post some links in the comment’s section to blogs that are successful money-making machines that don’t talk about being successful money making machines…


Sorry about that last post, it was way too long. I know blogs are tricky in that our audience usually has 10 other tabs open and no one can be bothered to read my ridiculously long investigation on donations. So this one will be shorter(ish).

Does it add up?

As the second post in my series on making money blogging, I want to address affiliate programs and sponsorships, two things I absolutely do not have. I keep meaning to sign up for an affiliate account with Amazon, but I don’t really talk about products and I rarely do book reviews, and most of my audience is too poor to buy anything anyways so affiliate = pointless.

But what about those who do have sponsorship-applicable blogs? If all you do is write book reviews, it makes sense to link to those books and get a cut (however small), if someone buys that book. Or whatever else Amazon sells.

Except what if you want to recommend products not on Amazon? This is where I further embarrass myself by talking about how much I love OpenSky. LoveloveLOVE.

OpenSky Is Badass

I’m too lazy today to go into a whole thing about them because I already wrote them a love letter on Digital Book World (go there and read, they really are that awesome). For those of you who are equally lazy, OpenSky is kind of like the Amazon Affiliate program but…

  1. You’re not limited to Amazon products.
  2. You get a bigger cut of the profits.
  3. You get your own little “shop“.

Last week I went into the OpenSky offices and had some chats with the people there. First of all, there is a dog that wanders the office and his name is Pixel. Not even kidding. I almost wet myself.

Sitting backwards = Super Cool

Secondly, I felt waaaay uncool, but only because EVERY SINGLE PERSON in that office is insanely attractive. But also nice, which made me hate them more.

Here’s my point (that has nothing to do with the two above): OpenSky was hoppin’. People were meeting, everyone worked together, employees were piled onto one desk and everyone did that thing where you sit backwards on your chair that makes you look really cool but makes uncoordinated people like me fall over. Obviously OpenSky only hires the Super Cool & Coordinated.

OpenSky Works Because There Is Trust

Jimmy Moore, who we met yesterday from Livin’ La Vida Low Carb, makes some of his money from affiliate programs like Amazon as well as actively seeking out sponsors. But he’s not a huge fan of any affiliate programs because he only gets a minimal percentage and the company gets free advertising, even if no one buys. “I go out and find my own sponsors,” he told me. “Most of those programs are garbage so I’d rather vet them for myself.”

In terms of product endorsement, Moore says he tries the product and only if he feels like he can endorse that product honestly does he feature it on his site with an affiliate link. “It’s not a perfect science but I’m making it work,” he told me.

Because Moore has integrity (and is awesome) he actually turned down a lucrative (six figure) offered to endorse a certain “carb blocker”. “I had already railed against carb blockers, essentially saying ”stay away from them, they’re of the devil’ so while I definitely considered it, it was really just a fleeting thought. No way I can keep my integrity and since I’m always flat out honest with my readers, I would be lynched and my career would be over.”

And the Lesson…?

So the lesson here kids, is that sponsorships and affiliate programs may be a great way to make money (if you already have a high readership – again, this all depends), but blogging is different than any other medium. A snazzy newspaper can advertise with whoever they want because they’re a snazzy newspaper and there are tons of writers and employees. But a blogger, well, that’s different. A good blogger builds up an important trust with their readers and you can’t just going recommending products willy nilly unless you really and truly believe in them. And yeah, I just said willy nilly.

I can rant about this all day, but I’m going to leave the specific teachings to the experts. Check out the excellent site, The Smart Passive Income Blog, and see the blogger’s monthly income report (so cool!). To learn more about blogging for money I highly recommend Pro Blogger’s, Make Money Blogging.

Tomorrow’s post on creating your own content/products to sell is actually going to be posted on Friday because I have big important places to be, like DBW’s Digitize Your Career. Word.

I’d also like to leave you with this…

This is me as a child. And this is why I can't sit in a chair backwards... Apparently my sense of direction is severely impaired.

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