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Realistic Expectations For Making Money Through Blogging

This article was written by in Best Of, Career and Work, Featured. 70 comments.


When I started Consumerism Commentary in 2003, after about eight years of writing on the internet in a smaller, more personal capacity, I only had two goals: to track my finances while working to improve my money situation and to learn more about personal finance by finding articles, sharing links, and adding occasional thoughts of my own. Over a year later, I added advertising to Consumerism Commentary, and within another year, the website became more than just a way for me to track my financial improvement, it became an essential part of that progression.

For the last three or so years, I’ve been earning more from Consumerism Commentary than I have been from my day job. At times it has been significantly more, expressible in multiples — enough for me to consider leaving my career behind and write for the website and tend to other related business on a full-time basis. I’ve ultimately decided to make this jump, and now it’s only a matter of timing.

Claude Monet Bridge Over a Pond of Water LiliesThroughout this time, I’ve been receiving request after request to write more about the income I receive outside of my day job. I’ve been reluctant to write about earning money from blogging. My primary reason for this reluctance is that the concept of blogging is not directly related to the concept of personal finance. Although the topics on Consumerism Commentary occasionally stretch away from pure personal finance, I want to remain focused.

Asking me to write more about blogging would be similar to asking David Bach to offer his opinions about the process of writing a bestselling series of books rather than about the content within those books. (I don’t mean to imply any similarity or equivalence between myself and David Bach.) An even better illustration would be asking Claude Monet to paint his impression of how he paints a scene rather than his impression of a bridge over a pond of water lilies. It’s too “meta,” an added level of abstraction between something that exists and its representation.

I also don’t want to write about earning money for blogging because I’d prefer not to draw attention to my success. Of course, that is antithetical to most people’s suggestions for broadening a “personal brand.” I think it should be obvious that at this point I have little desire to be a renowned expert. No one in the “real world” has any interest in taking advice from someone who calls himself Flexo, a name chosen in about five seconds when there were no expectations for growth. “Personal branding” is furthest from my intentions.

Despite this, I reluctantly admit that earning money from blogging, just like earning money from a career or saving money on non-discretionary expenses, is a legitimate aspect of personal finance. I shouldn’t shy away from writing about the process of blogging.

So here is what I have learned from almost seven years at Consumerism Commentary, and at a lesser extent, from fifteen years writing for the web and almost twenty years building online communities including a popular modem-based bulletin board system in the early 1990s. (I’ll be thirty-four next month; it’s up to you whether you want to consider my teenage years managing a BBS as experience, but it is surprisingly similar to what I do today.)

Consider some of these points before starting a blog to earn money.

1. Increase success by writing about your passions

Which comes first, the topic or the passion? Much of the “earn money by blogging” advice I’ve seen suggests would-be internet moguls should start their business by determining which topic generates the most income overall and creating content within that topic. Unfortunately, that leads to a lot of people writing about personal finance, a lucrative topic thanks to a proliferation of deep-pocketed advertisers in the financial industry. Even broader than the topic of personal finance, it also results in proliferation of less-than-inspiring content, more noise making it difficult to discover the signal.

I don’t see this as a path to long-term success. It leads to frustration when the dollars don’t appear quickly or don’t appear at all. The only path that seems to work well is to start writing only if you have a passion for a certain topic and only if you are willing to dedicate time and effort into creating content at the highest level you can. You don’t choose the topic, the topic chooses you.

2. If you write with dollar signs in your eyes, don’t bother

It’s true that financial success is expedited by focusing on the business aspects of your endeavor, and I often hear from people who believe that if an untalented writer like myself can earn a living by writing on Consumerism Commentary, anyone can. However, most people will not earn a living from blogging-related income.

Many dollar-chasers start writing about the lucrative topic of personal finance without either a passion or interest in the subject. I read perhaps thousands of articles each week and it is crystal clear to me when a blogger is inspired by the topic and when a blogger is inspired by potential income.

Here is what I think about when evaluating whether a blogger is motivated primarily by potential income:

  • Is the writer more interested in quality or quantity? Quantity is necessary in order to get noticed by search engines, but quality provides a better experience for the reader. Attaining both would be a good goal; I try to find a balance while other successful bloggers take obsession over quality to an extreme and try to “save the world” with every article.
  • Are the articles written for the benefit of the reader, the blogger, or the advertiser? I give exceptional writers free passes to throw in a post for affiliate income if the overall tone of the blog does not involve shilling for companies. If every article borders on advertisement, my impression is the blogger is writing solely for money.
  • Does the blogger bother removing spam comments or spam links within comments? A website operator who can’t be bothered to filter noise from comments is not interested in creating a user-friendly experience. Many times I’ve stopped myself from linking to an otherwise excellent article that’s full of spam links at the bottom of the comments section.
  • Is there any personality within the articles or does the blog read like it could appear in a textbook? When I was looking to add writers to the Consumerism Commentary staff, I found that those who considered themselves “freelance writers” had a more difficult time bringing something personal to the tone. I like to know that there is a human being behind the words.

It is good that talented experts and dedicated amateurs are able to earn compensation for producing quality content and for making it available to the internet-browsing and searching public. But as the popularity of earning money through blogging has increased, so have the bloggers who are interested more in fattening their bank accounts than they are in adding something valuable to the world.

3. Have a mission statement or at least a mission

Original layout, Consumerism CommentaryConsumerism Commentary began without any income-related goals. Its purpose was to keep myself accountable for my finances and to help me learn more about money. That was, and is, the mission of this website. It sounds somewhat selfish on the surface; Consumerism Commentary is mostly for my own benefit, not for the readers.

This approach is, however, less self-focused than it sounds. The opposite approach would be to write a blog under the assumption that the author has all the answers and with the purpose of teaching others, ignoring the possibility that the author has more to learn. This is self-fashioned or self-proclaimed expertise, and I find it unappealing.

4. Earning money takes time

I don’t know exactly when Google created AdSense, but I do know it was not available when I started Consumerism Commentary. Very few blogs at that time earned money. I added the first AdSense advertisement to the website in November 2004, about sixteen months after my first post here. It was more of an experiment than anything else, and I had no expectations for income.

My cumulative earnings didn’t reach $100, the threshold for receiving the first check from Google, until April 2005. That is six months after the first ad appeared on the website, almost a year after Consumerism Commentary began, ten years after I had been writing for the web, and fourteen years after I started creating online communities.

I was lucky that there weren’t many, if any, other blogs discussing personal finance when I started Consumerism Commentary. There are thousands now, so it is more difficult to stand out in this particular niche. The same is true for the wider web, as well.

But great talent will always rise to the top. J.D. Roth is one of my favorite examples. He started writing on Get Rich Slowly in April 2006 and is one of the finest writers among those focusing on personal finance. Although there were over a thousand personal finance blogs when he started, he quickly rose to the top of the list. J.D. had been writing a personal blog since at least 2001, and that experience should not be ignored when looking at his path to success.

It is almost five years after I received that first AdSense check. Now there are more bloggers competing for advertisers, and putting the recession aside, more advertising dollars to go around. So I believe it is still realistic to expect income to come in slowly during the first year. If waiting six months for the first $100 seems like too much work for too little return, you may want to consider a different business venture.

5. Success takes more than just writing

I am reminded of why I’m perhaps not as successful as I could be. Over the past few years, I’ve been working harder at writing and managing this and several other websites. Unfortunately, I’ve put aside important aspects of building a successful website and community, such as participating on similar websites. As I mentioned above I read thousands of articles each week. About 70 percent of these articles are on “mainstream” websites or major media blogs and 30 percent are on amateur or independent blogs.

With more time, I would be able to participate in discussions and social networking media more. This participation in the larger community will assist with increasing the chance for success with a blog.

So is earning money through blogging unrealistic?

There is significant potential for earning money, possibly even earning a living, through blogging. For many people, especially those who are not passionate and dedicated, financial success will be elusive. My intent is not to discourage but to help manage expectations.

It’s great that free and widely available tools on the internet can help anyone can have a voice. You need to strive for excellence in order to stand out both to readers and to advertisers. It’s not enough to write occasional uninspired articles, put up a few ads, and wait for the money to roll in.

Readers can expect at least one more article on Consumerism Commentary about the specific ways I earn money from blogging with suggestions helpful to those who are writing about their passion and are ready to form a strategy for building diversified, self-sufficient income.

Because I was writing for new audiences, my recent ten-day tour forced me to write better articles than I normally write for Consumerism Commentary. This experience, in addition to my decision to put thoughts together for this article on earning money through blogging, helped me realize that I need to focus on improving my writing skills and find time for more participation within the community.

Updated April 12, 2011 and originally published February 15, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Spletni Mojster

Great information for beginners. Earning money in usually tightly connected with quality content. And for quality content you need some passion.

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avatar Craig

Make connections with other bloggers. They can always lend a hand with future contacts and possible advertising agents who may be looking to buy ads. Also try working on building a personality and brand. People are attracted to that and will stick for that and you can work other options outside of advertising if you do.

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avatar nickel

I agree with pretty much everything you said. It takes time, patience, talent, passion, etc. to make this work. But it *is* possible. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that if your passions do not overlap with a lucrative niche then your upside (in terms of earnings) will definitely be limited.

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avatar Maggie@SquarePennies

Congrats, Flexo, on being able to quit your day job! All your experience has brought you to this place, yet you are still setting goals for yourself and actively learning. I suspect that is the secret to your success!

The joke I have with my husband (actually it’s his joke) is that if you write for people about saving and not spending you can’t expect them to buy anything advertised on your site!

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avatar Guerschom Alcin

“if you write for people about saving and not spending…” That’s hilarious.

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avatar Mrs. Money

I think too many people jump into blogging with false expectations that they will get rich from blogging. I think they quickly realize that is totally not the case. I am happy that you are able to quit your day job though! Awesome!

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avatar Matt Jabs

Flexo… you mention quality and quantity, the differences associated with both, and how striving for balance is the key. How true, how true! When I started DebtFreeAdventure.com I was DEFINITELY trying to “change the world” with each and every article. That continued for about 8 months or better before I finally realized the approach was unsustainable; especially if I wanted to publish articles daily. I knew I needed to find my proper balance and decided to make that priority numero uno. Now-a-days, when I focus an article more toward earning money, either via Adsense or affiliates, I try and make sure the article is ultimately useful for DFA readers… otherwise it is too spammy and something better left unpublished. I am far from perfecting this balance… but am dedicated to constantly working toward it. I see balance as the key to being successful as a blogger who intends to earn money from his trade.

The other point made that I would like to touch on is the hard work necessary to earn money from a blog, and the time it takes to start earning. My wife can attest to the fact that blogging is indeed my 2nd full time job. If a new blogger is not prepared to work another full time job… with no earnings for at least six months, then as you mentioned – they should consider a different route to earning a side income.

Lastly, passion for your topic is paramount. Without it I cannot see success happening.

Great article Flexo. I look forward to seeing what you can accomplish when you do finally make the leap to full time writing for the web! Congrats on all your success, and Godspeed for your future – how exciting!

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avatar Wojciech Kulicki

Yeah, my wife can attest to that, too. :) It becomes infinitely harder with a brand new kid, but I am trying to balance it out and focus on the fact that I’m doing something I love. It makes it all worthwhile.

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avatar Matt Jabs

Yep, I enjoy my 2nd job MUCH more than my first. ;-)

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

I know you and I have discussed “saving the world.” And it’s not a bad approach if keeping it up doesn’t drive you crazy.

You’re absolutely right about hard work. With this kind of hard work, there is sacrifice. I’ve missed out on countless opportunities to spend time with my friends (to some of whom I am more of a stranger now, perhaps) and even my girlfriend, who would like more time with me, has to put up with my dedication to writing for this site and my other projects. In fact, I won’t be surprised if she stops putting up with it at some point.

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avatar Doctor S

Too many people start out doing this for the big bucks. They see another blogger and their success and think to themselves “I can do what hes doing” and then right off the bat they are checking their traffic and adsense account more often than they are posting.

I started out doing this as a way to write. I have achieved marginal success at best. When I first started gaining traffic, I became one of those people checking my traffic and adsense account constantly. My writing suffered and I could tell that I just was not engaging any readers at all.

Looking back its all a learning experience, I continue to blog b/c I love sharing my stories, evaluating my writing, and help others learn from my many mistakes. No more adsense on my blog. My goal is too just learn how to blog and engage the readers and find my own niche.

I have experimented with other Ad sites just to see how they perform (See Adroll), but in my 17 months of blogging, I haven’t received one check. I figure if I ever, ever, ever get my traffic and content to the point of where it could be profitable, I will let someone email me and pay me directly to put up an ad.

Until I find myself in that situation, I am just going to worry about engaging readers, trying to post consistently, and continue to learn about the personal finance world from all of the different blogger’s point of view.

Look how you engaged me to comment Flexo, good work as always!

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avatar Wojciech Kulicki

I’ll echo Matt’s comments and what I’ve found to be true:

People will tell you “this way” or “that way” is the best and push you in a lot of different (and often, extreme) directions. This isn’t only true for content, but for everything else with blogging. “Content is king, don’t market,” “Marketing is king, forget content,” “Never advertise,” “Monetize to the max” are just some examples. “Post daily” vs. “post only when you have an earth-shattering article” is definitely one I’ve struggled with, too.

In the end, I think everything is going to be about moderation, balance, and small adjustments to your strategy. I think making drastic changes to how you handle your blog just confuses readers, who obviously liked your blog before since they subscribed.

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avatar Financial Samurai

Good stuff Flexo! Seems like it just takes time. We talked about your successes a little in the podcast, but Tom edited it out :)

NOT having a money goal in mind is key! I would think most people in the first couple years make way more in their day job than from their online endeavors. When people see themselves only making a hundred or two or month, I’m sure that becomes discouraging.

There’s only two key things for Yakezie Alexa Challengers to focus on, and that’s content and selflessly promoting others. If we can do this, I’m sure we’ll all succeed.

It’s going to be tough leaving your day job with all the securities and perks Flexo! Let us know when and what it will take sometime in the future!

Best, Sam

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avatar Matt Jabs

“NOT having a money goal in mind is key!” Totally disagree. I had a $ goal when I started and still have the same goal in mind today. The key as I see it is to simply not to make $ the main focus.

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avatar Financial Samurai

To each their own then. I have NEVER had a money goal with my site. I sincerely believe that if you do what you enjoy doing, money will follow, if there is an angle to monetize.

My #1 goal is to just have fun. The second goal is to learn from the community. The third goal is meet some new friendly folks. And the 4th goal is to practice some creating writing. If money comes, great. If money doesn’t great, b/c the site is not about money.

All proceeds on my site get donated to charity partly b/c I don’t want to be swayed by money, and partly to help the local community.

Best, Sam

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

Thanks, Sam! It may be OK to have a “money goal” in mind, as long as that goal is realistic. And there’s a lot of confusion about what is realistic. My main point is that it’s not realistic to go into a blogging endeavor with the expectation that it’s an easy money-making opportunity.

Even a couple hundred dollars a month can be seen as a success depending on other financial conditions like cost of living. It’s all relative.

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avatar Financial Samurai

Agree, everything is relative. I just think the reason why there is so much boring content is because advertisers end up being puppet masters and dominating the publisher’s writing. I’m getting bombarded myself, and it’s just tough.

Hence perhaps if an advertiser wants to sponsor something on my site, or write about their product, I’ll just have them write about the product, unless I’m absolutely knowledgeable about the product.

If I were to ever think about blogging for a main purpose to make money, I’d quit tomorrow and never revisit. There are so many other things to do out there to make a TON more money, and much more quickly. It’s not easy making decent money on a blog, I absolutely agree.

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avatar Darwin's Finance

Flexo,
Great article; I appreciate seeing successful top-tier bloggers highlight the realities and temper expectations related to blogging income rather than beguiling prospective bloggers with tales of six-figure incomes from home. You’ve told it like it is.

Personally, I’ve been very fortunate that I started in 2007 when blogging platforms and ad outlets were very much more user-friendly, especially to the programming deficient like myself. I started up on blogger for free (which I DO NOT recommend – they currently have Everyday Finance locked for Spam with no explanation whatsoever), but that led to Darwin’s Finance (WordPress) which is generating a 5-figure side income for me annually now. It’s only been a couple years, but I will attest to toiling away for hours per night and weekends generating content, social networking, learning what works and what doesn’t and one thing I want to highlight – virtually all your traffic, success, money, whatever you want to define it as – will come from a very small portion of your content. You never know which article is going to go viral and get all kinds of stumble, digg, search traffic, etc. I’ve tried to hit one out of the park and it doesn’t even get comments and is relegated to the archive folder. Conversely, I’ve written an article on a whim and it ends up with #1 search rank on Google and brings in 5,000 views per month from google. So, for the stats nerds out there, the standard deviation is enormous. Also be mindful that it can change overnight. If Google decided to remove Darwin’s Finance from their index or change their algorithm for search, my earnings would drop to probably 10% of the current level. Therefore, it’s important to diversify and have other sources of traffic and income, which I haven’t done a great job with to date.

The biggest takeaway, and while it may seem cliche, it is completely true – blog about something that you enjoy. something that you’d write about for free – something friends and family approach you on and you love to talk about. This will sustain you during the early year(s) and even if you never make more than a few bucks doing it, you won’t regret it. You’ll have learned along the way in researching articles, met relevant contacts related to your interests, and perhaps the experience will set you up for something else down the road. Just please, please, please, don’t go start up another “how to make money online” blog, especially if you’ve never first actually made money online yourself.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

Just please, please, please, don’t go start up another “how to make money online” blog, especially if you’ve never first actually made money online yourself.

Yeah, I think this is a terrible implementation of the self-marketing rule: “Fake it ’til you make it.”

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avatar Chack Pesh | FreedomHabits

Very good distinctions made. I’m at the point where I’m putting in a lot of long hours but no real traffic has materialized. The key is writing good content that is of interest to you and more importantly to your readers. And to keep on doing it.

Your point about diversifying your income streams also well made.

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avatar David @ MBA briefs

Hi Flexo,

Thanks for your openess and honesty about the revenue you generate from your site, and pointing out the fact you can’t expect to make money overnight. I can’t deny the possibility of eventually making money isn’t a motivator but it’s more satisfying to get a comment or an email from someone about how you’ve helped them in some way. One of my goals is to dumb-down or de-textify (a word of my own invention) my college textbooks and put the content into my own words. About half of my visitors are from overseas and many are in emerging markets and probably don’t have access to this kind of information so I figure in some small way I’m helping the global economy.

I’ve been writing longer articles less often (2-3 times/wk) and I’m not sure if that’s worse than writing shorter articles 5-6 times/wk. Social networking also seems to help out tremendously with generating traffic.

Thanks for sharing this information with us Flexo!

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

David: I don’t think there’s a hard rule about whether longer articles less often generate better results than shorter articles more frequently. It’s always best to experiment and determine what works for you. I like commenting on current events occasionally, and there is always something in the news for me to find, even though I have to dig for it occasionally. But in terms of pace, find your groove… and if your groove changes, let it, and adjust. This way you never force anything out.

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avatar Evan

Agreeing with you and Matt, whenever anyone asks about blogging, I always say don’t burn out and remember that, at first (for most part), is a hobby. The moment you start playing with your blog at work is when your real life is going to suffer.

I make very little money with my blog, but I love doing it. Where else am I going to get an opportunity to talk with hundreds of people a day (granted Flexo and some of the other more bad ass bloggers talk to thousands – THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS)?

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avatar Mrs. Frugal

As a new blogger I really appreciate this candid post as well as the comments from all the other great bloggers that I follow. For me monetization is a distant dream. For now, I’m simply focused on posting useful content.

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avatar Patrick

Great advice, Flexo, and congrats on your well deserved success.

From my experience, it took me 7 months to earn my first AdSense check and almost a year to earn a thousand dollars. I earn a nice side income with my websites now, but I’ve been doing this for three years and have over 1,000 articles in my archives, which gives me more opportunity for traffic from Google and other sources. It take s a long time to build a sizable archives, which is one of the most overlooked aspects of earning money with a blog or other website. Too many people think “If I build it, they will come.” That is true to a certain extent, provided you write quality articles about the right topics and have enough content to be found. Earning money online can happen, but you need to be willing to put in a lot of time and effort with little to no rewards at the onset.

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avatar Little House

So, if I hear you right, you’re saying, “Don’t quit your day job!”, right? I think that’s good advice. It’s also comforting to hear that your blog wasn’t an overnight success. I think that is more inspiring for others who are passionate about what they do to be persistent, but not to expect fame and fortune.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

I would say, “Don’t quit your day job… yet,” or, “Don’t expect to quit your day job.”

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avatar ChristopherFM

Thank you, Flexo, for being straightforward and open about your experience. I can say for certain that articles written by you as well as other “top-tier” personal finance bloggers have made an impact on my life. I agree with you on the signal vs. noise tidbit, in that I went through thousands of articles on this topic before figuring out that it’s not about the words on their own but it’s the passion and intent behind them.

Quite frankly, I’ve been intimidated by how many blogs are out there (and how many more start each day). There are so many rungs on the ladder, so to speak, when it comes to having a talent for writing (as you said, JD comes chief in mind). And as some previous comments have brought out, that, if by some odd stroke of luck your writing gets noticed on the web, it’s not necessarily going to translate into dollars.

But I believe it was wrong to be intimidated. What this post really means to me is that the PF community as a whole should be encouraged by one another, and find ways to be both creative and willing to help our readers.

Again, thank you, Flexo.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

ChristopherFM: I used to be much more involved with mutual encouragement and help among the personal finance niche of the blogosphere, particularly when I was involved with the now defunct MoneyBlogNetwork. A small cadre of bloggers tossed ideas off each other, shared advertising leads, and cross-promoted each other’s work. I’m not as involved with this type of network as I used to be, unfortunately. I do still have a few “mentors” that I go to occasionally and I make sure if any other bloggers approach me with questions I try to move their questions to the top of my email queue.

I think these micro-networks, formal or informal, are extremely valuable.

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avatar RetirementInvestingToday

Great post and thanks for sharing. I’ve only recently started blogging after I do the ‘day job’. I started for 2 reasons:
- By forcing myself to write it down for public exhibition I have to work through a lot more charts and really think through what I write which helps me with my own retirement investing strategy.
- If what I write inspires somebody to go off and do their own research and not make the same mistakes that I have then that is great. It gives me a good feeling if they post a comment about this on my blog sharing what they have found out. In time maybe some of the comments will help me. Almost a community spirit which is almost lost in the large city where I live and something which I miss from previous towns’ where I have lived.

I have advertising on my blog however this is very much a secondary consideration. I know I am competing against thousands of others and what I write about is always related to my own retirement investing research so is clearly not always relevant to a mass audience. That combined with the fact that it is only me writing after a 12 to 16 hour day and I know I will never compete with ‘professional bloggers’.

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avatar Monevator

I was interested in blogging long before I started Monevator a couple of years ago, due to my day job. I actually started a PF blog on Blogger in 2004 or 2005, but stopped after a couple of articles when I’d ‘only’ made $12 from Amazon links. I doubt I’ve made that much from Amazon in the past two years! The web is so competitive now: boy I wish I’d kept of that dirt PF blog.

Anyway, after a couple of years at it I now feel well qualified to detect BS posts and comments as opposed to the real thing, and your post Flexo plus the comments here are definitely in the ‘true’ category.

I got some flack for a post I wrote a 18 months or so ago about how for most people blogging for money was like rural labour for $1 a day. I only got a couple of angry comments but I got some nasty emails about how I was being really negative and trying to pull of the drawbridge (as if I had one – even now a LEGO castle would have more of a defensible moat than Monevator!

People are entitled to their opinion of course and I didn’t mind the disagreement one bit, just when they started swearing at me, but here’s the thing – I doubt one of those nastier critics had made ten bucks from blogging, unless it was selling blogging guides to newbies. Anyone who has tries knows it is a long hard slog, or they were very lucky or exceptionally talented.

With my piece I wasn’t saying don’t blog, far from it. I’m all for self expression. I was saying don’t do it for money if the money won’t be there for a long time, if ever.

So I 100% echo what you’ve said.

I’m finally making some progress on income; I’m sure I’ve been bad at networking, promoting and maybe even writing. I know short articles about new credit cards would be ‘better’ than 1200 word articles about my hearing an old economist speak – better for monetization, better for google, and probably better for my long suffering readers! But it’s my blog and I’ll write as I want to! Money can come if it wants to and it would be great – and I will do some of this affiliate articles some day when I have time and can add value – but I can’t see the site ever earning me multiples of my day job.

Perhaps I am aiming to low, but as Darwins Finance says, aiming doesn’t really seem to work in blogging. All the success stories I can think of were surprised by that success.

Sorry for this novel sized comment! To close, huge congratulations Flexo on making it, and thanks for sharing.

Onwards and upwards!

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

Thanks for your comment, Monevator.

But it’s my blog and I’ll write as I want to!

I think that’s the right approach to take. You have no obligation to listen to anyone who says they have “the right answer” to the question of how one should manage a blog. (And you can substitute the word “business” for “blog.”)

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avatar K at Greenshield

Isn’t the only realistic expectation that you won’t make money from blogging? :) Congratulations, but blogging for profit is definitely a hard row to hoe. Nonetheless, I think blogging about something you love is worth it, and you never know.

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avatar Ryan

I’m very new to blogging and I agree with this. My main goal with blogging is to just tell my “story” and provide the best information I can. Connecting with other bloggers and visitors is also a lot of fun.

Financially, I figure I’m at an advantage being so young (17) that I don’t need to make money like some older bloggers do. I can just focus on content 100% right now and worry about advertising when/if my traffic increases.

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avatar Matt Jabs

Ryan… you are exactly correct. Forget income altogether, while you can.

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avatar Austin

I appreciate your honesty in this post, Flexo. Let’s be honest: you’re one of the pf community leaders so the little guys appreciate this peak into your world.

I’m coming up on 6 months of blogging and don’t see myself stopping any time soon. Thanks to posts like this, the drive is still there.

Keep up the great work!

- Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances

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avatar Bucksome

I started my blog pretty much for the same reason you did. It didn’t occur to me that a blog could generate money (yes, I was that naive) until I read how other bloggers were making money.

My blog is now seven months old and I added the first ad recently. I’m sure I’ll expand, but it’s really not that important at this point.

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avatar Erica Douglass

Hi Flexo,

Bar none, the best article I have ever read on Consumerism Commentary. Not necessarily because it talks about blogging, but because I can see hints of the “real you” in there. You thoughtfully mention your struggles, successes, and show the world who’s really behind this blog.

And you can see the results–many other PF bloggers coming out of the woodwork in the comments who read your blog, but who don’t typically interact with it–sharing their own struggles, thoughts, and successes.

Love it. Want to read more about you–blogging or not. And still would like to eventually meet you in person, too! :)

-Erica

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avatar FFB

You can make money with anything if you have enough passion and put in enough work. But a lot of people think you can just rake in the dough with a blog and a few articles. Doesn’t happen that way. It takes a lot of work putting out good content that people want to read. That content takes a lot of passion! Passion means long term and you are willing to do it without much payment in return. If I sat down and figured out my per hour income I’d probably find I could make more money at Starbucks (and I’d at least get a discount on coffee!).

My success is nowhere near yours Flexo but the fact that I can make anything writing about personal finance gives me a thrill! Many days its tough though finding the time and the material. My toughest critic is myself which doesn’t always help matters.

Thanks for telling us your story. It reminds me that I need to get back to being more honest in my writing and developing my own voice. (And thanks for Consumerism Commentary which informs and inspires us!)

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avatar Two Tightwads

Thanks for the openness about the reality of blogging, Flexo! My wife and I started our blog 2 weeks ago (as of tomorrow). You quickly realize that you have to be passionate about what you write about. If you aren’t interested or don’t want to learn more about the topic at hand then it’s not worth continuing (and your posts will show that). I’ve become so interested in personal finance and investing in the last 2 years and have been devouring as much information as I can (I’m an info-hog and data/numbers guy). If there is something out there then I want to know about it.

Just in 2 weeks we both see how difficult it is to drive traffic. I’ll be honest the thought of making money on the side would be great but I got into blogging and personal finance for 3 main reasons, potential side income is the fourth.

The first was to learn more about coding and programming aspects. I have an IT degree and wanted to learn more about the coding and web development that goes into blogging and the back-end (PHP, CSS, etc).

Secondly, I wanted to learn more about SEO. I ended up staying in school after completing my undergrad to pursue an MBA. After completing it, I became fascinated by personal finance and enjoyed advising others (family, friends, etc) on money (and computer issues…haha). Furthermore, I’ve contemplated testing and taking classes for the CFP certification. I also felt a strong passion for marketing and thinking like the end user while explaining topics in simple terms. SEO is one route to go with marketing and this field will continue to expand drastically and grow in detail over the next decades.

Lastly, I wanted to take all the information I had learned over the last few years, from blogs to books to classes to my own personal research and pass the info on. I’d love to help as many people as possible with their finances and make as much of an impact as possible, whether that be a few people or hundreds. Either way I feel drawn to see where it takes me.

Looking forward to hearing more Flexo! Great comments all around…it’s a learning world and if there is one thing I can say thus far about my experience in the blogging community then I’d say that it’s filled with some great people and mentors who will take the time to email you back and forth to provide any advice or help you need. Even if they are the big fish in the pond! I appreciate that… Cheers!

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avatar J.D.

Great article, Flexo. I agree with everything you said. I believe strongly that passion for a subject is important, not just at the beginning, but in the long-term as well. I’ve talked to two pfbloggers in the past week who have given up their blogs because they just couldn’t maintain the passion for more than a year. They’re burned out. If you blog, you’ve got to find a balance.

That’s one reason I’ve reduced my role at Get Rich Slowly. Yes, I love blogging. Yes, I want to write every day. But do I want to write about money every day? Honestly, I don’t. I want to write about cats and comic books, photography and Proust. I want the freedom to explore other topics. After nearly four years of writing about money, I feel like I’ve shared most of what I have to say on the subject. Yes, I’ve lost the passion. So, I’ve reduced my role at the site and looked for others who do have the passion (like the one and only Adam Baker!). It’s my hope that this helps the readers, helps the new writers, and helps me. A WIN-WIN-WIN.

Great stuff.

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avatar Early Retirement Extreme

@JD – The next stage of mastery (of personal finance if you will) is the transition from lists of frugal tips or how to use them, how to run a budget for instance, and into integrating them into one’s personality. It is much like a beginner focuses first on vocabulary, then on on technique, and finally on understanding and “being”. I supposedly run a pf-blog, but I rarely talk about budgets, tax brackets, etc. I take the freedom to explore other topics and my readers actually enjoy or even prefer that. Of course our audiences are different in terms of goals; but if you want to take it to the next stage may I suggest starting to write about what you do/feel/think/say (however you prefer to interact with the world) about life, the universe, and everything. Then people will start using your life as an example and so ‘you’ become the tip. This also makes for more personal (and usually engaging writing). After all, tips and calculators can now be found on thousands of blogs which are each competing with each other. Makes sense?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

J.D.: Sounds like you found an approach that works for you. I think it’s a good idea to think about your “next steps” before you get to the point of losing the passion. It’s likely to happen, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

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avatar Meg

I’ve read a lot of stuff online lately that’s talked about blogging and income, and none has comforted me so much as this. :)

While I’m in a totally unrelated niche, in the last six months I’ve gone from “unknown” to actually networking with others in my topic. I’m pretty sure the blog I write now is on more blog rolls (and one fairly big one that I’m insanely proud of, ha) than the tiny finance blog I wrote for ten or so months. Even though I succumbed to paid posts and all that. So while I made money from blogging, technically, it wasn’t ever going to be sustainable. (If the blog was going to remain un-spammy, anyhow.)

Instead, it’s nice to know it *is* possible, if I keep at it. Not sure how it works in my niche, but I can imagine affiliate programs coming into it, and I’ve always wanted to try my hand at an ebook. I’m concentrated on sharpening my skills and getting my blog out there for now, still working up the learning curve.

Bottom line, for me, is I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it. I mean, I’m doing it for free right now…. If I could ever make a little money off of it again, I’d be ecstatic. And mildly shocked…. Hah.

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avatar 2 Cents @ Balance Junkie

I love all of this talk about balance! That happens to be my passion and I love to write about it. My blog is not yet 3 months old, but I’ve been pretty surprised by how quickly it’s grown. (I guess I had the bar set pretty low.) Whenever I feel too much pressure to write, I find the quality of my writing suffers, so I take a short break from my screen and the ideas usually start to flow again.

Thanks for writing this post. It’s great for beginners to learn from more experienced bloggers. Congratulations on your success and on going full-time with blogging!

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avatar Hopeful

That was a great article. It really explains how time and dedication are the key factors in creating value.
I used to help others start or progress their small start-ups. I did not always get paid and so, I never expected to be paid, however, I always expected to give my best and receive a personal accomplishment.
Now it seems that I am in owe of how others such as yourself have remained dedicated and continue to learn from others to improve the quality. For myself, without any serious formal education, I seek confidence through knowledge. How to improve what others what? So, I went back to college, even more so I desire the quality that formal education and reading about others experiences can allow me to give more of what people want rather than what I want.
Also, I should include family and friends into my life rather then being all about me or my projects. Seems that when I do socialize more often, my quality improved too.
Thank you for your article.

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avatar Linda Goffigan

Flexo, I read your article and most of the forty two comments so I think that everyone is on the same page about Google Adsense earnings. The more aggressive you are about getting your quality blogs out to the social media sites, the better your chances of making well over the threshold of 100.00. As a hubpage writer, the earnings are split 60 to 40% between web provider and the writer. It would be more profitable to get a website and write on my niche topics but I have heard other strayers who have come back after venturing off. You see, Hubpages.com gets about 17 million unique visions and the 60 to 40 split seem less important when you look at the traffic.

To make more money writing, it is imperative to link to the social websites that was mention in your blog of stumble an digg.com. I am also a member of Associated Content that has ranked with Google News and was introduced to even more website to distribute the niche writing. Also the human element behind the writing is so important to keep your readers coming and that is why I write first for my intended audience and then use the free search optimization tools of Google Adwords to make the Google earnings rise even higher.

It is good to know that you were able to quit your day job but you had put in your dues writing before there was even Google Adsense. Good luck on your continued successed on Consumerism Complementaries.

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avatar Bible Money Matters

Thanks for the post Flexo – it’s always nice to get a peek behind the curtain and get a look at how a successful blogger (who was one of the ones who inspired me to start a blog) got started.

I recently wrote a series on my blog about how I make money blogging because I had gotten so many questions about how I was able to make money with my blog. I know a lot of people go in thinking that it’s going to be a get rich quick type deal, but blogging is a LOT of work. It is definitely my second full time job.

I didn’t get my first payout with adsense until my fourth month blogging – but I’ve had a payout every month since then.. I think I’ve been blessed in that I reached payout faster than some people do, and I’ve been able to build up some decent traffic and a nice second income with blogging – which most people never do. My guess is that most people burn out and quit their blogs within the first 5-6 months when they don’t see the quick income they were hoping for.

Can everyone do it? I think that they can if they have the passion and do the right things. Some things I think people need to do from my experience so far (which admittedly is nowhere near Flexo’s level)

1. Focus on writing good content that converts into high paying ad clicks. Not all content is created equal. Write with a focus on other people – not yourself. If all you write about is your personal situation -as opposed to answering other people’s questions about financial (or other) topics – you probably won’t make much.
2. Choose a niche that pays well (if you want to make money.). Personal finance is a good one ;) You should be passionate about your topic, but remember – not all topics convert well for every income type. Adsense doesn’t do as well on a fitness site as it would on a PF site for example. You may need to find alternate sources of revenue.
3. Network with others in your niche, they can help you to grow, mentor you, and point you in the right direction.
4. Write a lot! it wasn’t until I had several hundred articles in my archive that my blog started taking off income wise. I’m now closing in on 1000 articles over two years, and the income is higher than ever. Having more articles in your archive means more google indexed content ready to come up in searches.
5. Do your best to not burn out – it can wear on you to write about the same topic day in and day out over years.. Take advantage of guest posts, staff writers and days off.

Wow, my comment is getting a bit long now.. But i would encourage everyone out there – if they’re thinking about it – just go for it. Don’t expect riches right away, and don’t expect to be quitting your day job anytime soon. But if you stick with it and work hard over the long haul, you can bring in some nice income to add to your bottom line.

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avatar Jason @ MyMoneyMinute

Thanks for the words of wisdom, Flexo. I know plenty of people make money off their blog, but it takes quite a bit of dedication. Honestly, I haven’t been able to be quite as dedicated! The beauty of it is that I love writing about PF, and since it’s a hobby, I don’t feel the pressure (yet) by advertisers to consistently produce content. I AM working to make my posting more consistent, however, because I simply love the topic, and want to continue to build on my hobby. If it turns into more than a hobby – great! But I’m not expecting it to without significant time and effort on my part.

Having said that, I did get an email from a perspective advertiser who may want to link my site! So I may begin to explore Adsense and other ways to monetize the site since I’m about to “break the seal” and generate revenue for the first time.

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avatar May-be Miracles

Wow, Flexo, I read your article and all the comments. The best reading I’ve done in the months since enterring “blog world”. I have much to learn…but this was a great start.

Just throwing this out there…several people mentioned not being very good at using social networking sites and that their “significant other” was missing out on time spent with them — wondering if you can pull them in by asking them to help you with the social networking part of your blogging business? I’m no expert on blogging, but I do know that I like to help my husband with projects whenever he will let me.

Congrats to all of you for so many good results from your blogging experiences!

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avatar H Lee D

This is not directly related to the post, but when you quit your day job, where will your health insurance come from? This is the biggest obstacle I have to getting out of a day job.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,365 (Platinum)

That is one of the main questions right now. I’ve looked at the choices in my state and while I can keep costs down, at least compared to my expectations of paying over $1,000 per month, the level of service seems to be lacking. I imagine I will need to ensure I have money set aside for emergencies in addition to paying premiums.

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avatar Jason @ MyMoneyMinute

There are plenty of health plans out there! I get health insurance through my wife’s job, but found out it’s less expensive to purchase my own HSA plan. I wrote about it in my recent blog series here: http://bit.ly/776ILV (hope the link is okay, Flexo! Delete if I overstepped my bounds.)

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avatar Kelly Whalen ♦160 (Cent)

Sorry I’m late to reading the post, but glad I got to read all the amazing comments!

I also enjoyed this peek behind the curtain so to speak. I think it was a very compelling post.

I have been blogging for over a year, and only in the last 3 months have I really focused, and worked on honing my skills. I’m able to make a small income now, which is lovely, but I’m working on figuring out how I can make that sustainable, and keep my passion alive.

Thanks for sharing this, it was to echo Erica, one of my favorite posts on Consumerism Commentary.

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avatar Moneymonk

Blogging for money takes the fun out of it

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avatar Josh Smith

This is great! Now I have a good place to send friends and family who think that blogging is, “just sitting down and writing” followed by waiting for a big payday!

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avatar Alcoholic Millionaire

Thank you for this post! I’m just starting out with my blog and have what I feel is a good niche, and I have a passion for the subject. I would like to be able to monetize eventually but I will try and not make that my focus. I’m going to bookmark your blog as I really enjoyed this post. Thanks

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avatar Brian

Nice to see an honest appraisal for once that is actually optimistic about blogging for money but also realistic. It took me about a year to see my first Adsense payout as well, and to be honest the cheque was as a result of multiple publications on the Internet and not just one single source.

I do believe it is better to focus on one or two topics however and to be a little more patient when it comes to the rewards. I think to begin with I fell into a common trap of trying to reach too many audiences; which can in fact be a mistake. If you can concentrate on perhaps one or two topics, write with passion and provide quality content, then ultimately you should start to see some payback.

Obviously marketing your work correctly, like any other product, will bring rewards a little quicker but in the end it is all about quality; particularly if you want return visits.

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avatar MD @ Studenomics

I’m definitely way too late to the party! If a new pf blogger learns anything from this post then it’s this:

“You need to strive for excellence in order to stand out both to readers and to advertisers. It’s not enough to write occasional uninspired articles, put up a few ads, and wait for the money to roll in.”

I’m not going to lie. I’ve written articles in the past that were designed to score high on SE rankings. Do you know what happened? 1. I became extremely uninspired. 2. The readers showed that they didn’t care by either not commenting or not returning.

I’ve come to the realization that I’d rather write a post that is useless for SE rankings but gets 20+ plus comments and has my readers interacting. In fact, a few weeks ago a post went up where the readers of Studenomics were helping each other solve a problem that I was useless with (due to not living in the States). I’m not an emotional dude or anything but I really loved that.

As per the actual writing tidbits here– I’ve come to accept that I’ll never be as articulate or smooth as a writer as Flexo or JD but I want my voice to stick out. I hope that they 20-somethings that read my blog don’t judge the many grammar mistakes. Instead I want my readers to relate to my voice and the issues that we all go through.

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avatar Jun on Blogmaster

Although this comment will sound late, I find your article here a real eye-opener. I’ve just started to blog about a week ago. Anyway, building a profitable blog takes time and a lot of hard work, especially link building. I try all sorts of things on how to get the most of my blog and I found out that most people don’t like to be advertised at. I also found out that traditional traffic building strategies don’t seem to work anymore like it used to. I enjoyed reading this post.

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avatar Donna Freedman

My site is my playground for words, for writing things I can’t write anywhere else. Do I want to make money? Of course, especially since I’m paying for my own health insurance ($338 a month) and my own retirement. I need one of those famous income streams. But I’ll keep writing whether or not I get it.
Thanks for the wake-up call, though — some people may think they’ll just slap together a site and retire on the proceeds. That could happen. So could a winning PowerBall ticket.

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avatar Frugal Zeitgeist

What an excellent post. I work very hard online to earn a few thousand a month and it’s taken me around 3 years to get to that level…. It takes time.

I have an income goal but that is way down the list of goals. Money should never come first when blogging. As you said passion keeps you going and through the good and bad times.

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avatar vcmcguire

Flexo, great article. Thank you.

I wanted to chime in because I’m now making a living as a freelance writer as a direct result of writing an anonymous personal finance blog, but I don’t make a living from the blog itself.

I never did find that balance between quality and quantity you talked about. I went for quality every time, and as a result I only updated the blog a couple times a week. I probably wrote and edited each post too carefully, and therefore I couldn’t produce as much content as the search engines or the readers would have liked. I kept a default template from the blog software I was using, instead of designing something cleaner and more custom. I rarely included pictures, and I wrote things that were personally useful and reflective but maybe didn’t have as much broad interest as they should have. All these choices put a very definite cap on how much my blog was earning. It think at its peak my blog earned a couple hundred dollars a month–a nice sideline but very far from being a significant part of the household income.

I was writing it because I wanted to be writing something, and because I was a new parent and I was anxious about money, so writing a personal finance blog soothed my anxiety. Like you it was more for personal accountability and growth, rather than income.

Meanwhile, I watched bloggers like you and Nickel turn your hobby blogs into real businesses, and I felt like I SHOULD be treating it like a business, but I never managed to find the time on top of my day job and my family.

Eventually I quit blogging altogether, but not before it started to bring in money in a different way. People who read my blog and liked my writing began to approach me to write things for them separately. As a public portfolio, the blog was fabulous for me. When I quit blogging, I had one writing client and one online column for a newspaper. I landed both of them because of my anonymous blog. The freelance writing was soon paying more than my day job and my blog put together, so I reduced the hours at my day job down to almost nothing (and I still maintain my connection there because it gives me access to group health insurance prices.)

It was a bit difficult to shift from writing anonymously to writing under my real name. I still struggle with that a bit. I don’t write about money in my freelance career, and I sometimes wonder if I could use clips from my former blog to land freelancing work in that area. I’d have to strip a lot of personal information out before I felt comfortable sending those pieces to potential clients or to editors, though, and therefore I’d lose what made the writing good–the passion you’re talking about, the connection to my own experience.

I was one of those potential writers for this site who you mentioned in this piece. I agree with you that my stuff was very different in tone from what you’e achieved here. Writing under my own name, I’m not comfortable writing very personal stuff about my finances for the web. Some successful freelancers have done that–M.P. Dunleavey and others–but I would have to figure out what I was comfortable revealing and what I was not. The reality is, I might not be comfortable revealing enough to make *personal* writing about finances really compelling.

I started reading your blog in 2005. I admire the way you’ve built it up. I admire the consistency of your pieces. You have a high net worth now, but you still manage to produce content that’s useful for people who are trying to get out of debt, etc.

I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with the site now that it’s become your full time job.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦2,442 (Dollar)

I still don’t have ads on my site. One of my goals for 2011 is to find a way to get advertising that is for products/services I feel comfortable with; for example, none for payday loans or shady “debt consolidation” companies.
Which of course means I will probably never make much money even though I am building a solid base of readers. Sure, I’d love to make some money at it — I work hard to put good writing out there. But that can’t be the only reason I do this. And it isn’t.

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avatar Cole Adrian

Very True, I know so many people that just write blogs for the sake of making money. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing what is the point. There are so many folks out there that would kill for this kind of opportunity, and there are people who are misusing it. If only we had more of the people who actually write useful content.

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avatar Zen

I had a lot of fun reading through the 64 comments and of course the article itself. It is a nice wake up call for me since I am trying to start a new blog on a topic that my friend has a burning passion for. He is going to be fully in-charged of the content (articles and videos) while I handle the technical and marketing side of things. I figured we might be able to have a bit of success if we complement each other with what we are good at.

I totally love the idea of keeping the ‘balance’. It may be true that content is king, and having to write about what you are truly passionate about is priceless, but the lack of knowledge on how to monetize your website will get you nowhere. Unless you are saying you are not a tad interested in making money online, there is no way to avoid learning the boring stuff (making money!) if you want to quit your day job.

For those who think that it takes years and years of effort to get your first check, you are half right. It takes years to find out what works and what doesn’t (unless you are lucky), but the possibility of making money within 6 months of a new blog launch is much higher than you think. I am saying this because it happened to me. I have to admit that it was pure luck for me to have stumbled upon a great niche and the combination of that and great keywords was netting me over $1500 per month within 3 months. The greatest reward was surprisingly not the money, but the fact that it CAN be done. And the only way to achieve this is to find the right balance Flexo mentioned in his article. Write with passion, but don’t be afraid to learn about how to monetize your blog (the boring stuff according to some of you). I hate learning about SEO, email marketing, PPC, affiliate marketing etc, but I know I have to if I want to quit my job, spend time with my family & friends, do the things I love to do, and change the world through blogging!

I hope I don’t sound arrogant or preachy because I am in no position to do so since I am still new like everyone else. My intention is to let everyone know that success might be just a step away, but you will never know unless you keep pushing. Happy blogging!

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avatar LaTisha @YoungAdultFinances

Excellent post! I agree that writing for the sole purpose of making money is a bad idea; but I did start my blog with a goal in mind to make money from it. I wanted to earn a few dollars a day on adsense and supplement my job income by an extra hundred bucks a month. I figured that would motivate me to keep writing and it would be a business that I could eventually sell if I wanted to. Now I wouldn’t think of selling and I enjoy the blog for the voice it gives me, the ability to talk about finance and any topic I want.

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avatar Andrea @SoOverDebt

The comments here are almost as golden as the post itself! Love it!

I started blogging because I missed having an online outlet for writing. I had two sites in the past (late 90s) on Geocities, and even in that early age of the internet, the community and support was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I wanted that kind of support for my financial life, though I honestly didn’t expect my site to turn into anything. Like other commenters, I didn’t even know it was possible to make money from a blog unless I sold products.

A ton of weird career circumstances have led me to pursue full-time blogging and freelancing this year, way before I was really ready. So this is an experiment; I have no idea if I can succeed or not. But I do know this – even if the income disappeared tomorrow and I had to return to a job in my field, I’ll never quit writing. I don’t even care if anyone reads. I mean, it’s amazing and I love interacting with people, but what I get from writing is far more than I can give.

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avatar Juliet

I laughed at the part about choosing the name Flexo in the very beginning. :) I’m about to start a blog and I don’t want to use my real last name (too long and complicated) and have been in the name selecting process for a while now.
Glad to hear about your success, though- you seem like a normal guy who totally deserves it! Take care

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avatar Practical Parsimony

How true! I write what I want to write about! At first, I thought, “I can make money doing what I love, writing.” However, I loved the writing so much that I have yet to try to monetize my blog, There is something wrong with the mechanics of the blog. I have two blogs, so one works and the other does not. Until I get it fixed, I am trying to stay low profile. But, yes, I want to make money. How much money? Any amount. It is not that my expectations are low, but I am not greedy…lol. I refuse to set my sites so high that I am wounded by not reaching a lofty goal.

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