This short handbook on how to make a living with blogging is my gift to you.
If blogging is your passion, consider this your personal handbook. I will share all my personal secrets how I’ve been (luckily) able to make a living from blogging.
Of course this advice won’t necessarily work for you. Ultimately you need to find your own path. You need to experiment, take risks, and not just follow a recipe. What worked for me won’t work for you. But I think there are a few strategies and principles that will help you (hopefully) make a “living” (not a killing) from blogging.
Chapter 1: The 3 Principles of Becoming a Full-Time Blogger
These aren’t rules, but personal principles that have helped me make a living with blogging, and to stay inspired with blogging. I hope this can be a good jumping-off point for you:
Principle 1: Own your platform
The first cardinal sin that I see bloggers make is this: they blog on a platform that doesn’t belong to them.
For example, they focus blogging on a platform that they don’t own. That can mean blogging on Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress.com, Blogger, Instagram, Medium, etc.
If you’re not paying for your blogging platform, there is a hidden cost somewhere.
If you are a hobbyist blogger, it is fine to just use traditional social media to blog. But if you want to end up monetizing, customizing, or really being creative with your blog— you will want to own your own platform.
So for example, I use the open-source “WordPress.org” platform (not to be confused with WordPress.com, which is free, but has a lot less freedom for customization, and is supported with advertisements). I currently have my website/blog hosted by 1and1.com, which has been affordable, but a bit complicated to setup. If you want to start your own blog and website, I recommend Bluehost.com and doing the “1 click wordpress install” to setup your blog.
The benefit of using WordPress.org is that you have creative control. You can install any theme you want, any plugins, and make more changes to the source code. Also even if you’re not technical, using the WordPress platform is quite easy to use. Most of the customization features are visual — so you can just “drag-and-drop” your website design.
Also the reason I recommend WordPress.org is that it is the biggest blogging platform on the internet. Meaning, there is a lot of tutorials, tips, free plugins, free themes, and free resources on how to get setup (you can figure out anything with Google or watching YouTube videos on WordPress).
Principle 2: Never stop blogging
It takes for an unusual person to become a blogger. You need to be obsessive. You shouldn’t need to “force” yourself to blog. To you, blogging is just like breathing. You do it, or else you will die.
The second principle to making a living with blogging is to never stop blogging (I hopefully plan to blog, even on my deathbed).
The sad reality is that 99.9% of bloggers stop blogging after the first week or month. The only difference between “successful” and “non-successful” bloggers is longevity. Whether you survive, or die. It is survival of the fittest. Aim first for survival, and prevent dying in blogging.
But how do you stay inspired? My practical suggestion: find inspiration everywhere. I’ve found inspiration for blogging in philosophy, zen buddhism, photography, psychology, cognitive science, architecture, interior design, hip hop music, coffee (lots of it), and sociology.
Another practical tip — write a blog post that is “80% good enough” and just publish it. In silicon valley, they call it an “MVP” (minimum viable product). Which means, try to just get the basic gist or idea written as a blog post, and just publish it. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Because in reality, your blog posts will never be perfect.
Whenever I write and publish a blog post, I see it just as an “attempt” (the same word for ‘essay’ in French). I’ve written over 2,000+ blog posts in the last 10 years, and even when I read my blog posts from 1-2 years ago, I cringe. I am sure that is going to also happen to my blog posts written today.
Perfect is the enemy of the good. Don’t seek perfection. Be like Nike and “just do it.”
Principle 3: Create value
The last principle to making a living with blogging is this: create value. Which means, write blog posts which are useful to people.
If your blog posts aren’t helpful to others, it won’t have any value to others.
There are so many ways you can be valuable as a blogger. Some ideas:
- You can share your personal experiences about living, life, that can resonate and relate with other people.
- You can become an “information hub” (what I have done) — where you create information, resources, tutorials, and tips for a certain topic (for me, it has initially been street photography, and has branched off to general photography, and life philosophy).
- You offer solutions to problems. When I started off in street photography, I had no idea “how” to shoot street photography. Therefore for me, blogging was about scratching my own itch. I tried to figure out how to “best” shoot street photography — and I just learned the lessons I’ve personally learned along the way with others.
Is that it?
Of course these three principles aren’t comprehensive. There is a lot more to blogging than what I mentioned. But consider these 3 principles as a scaffolding, or basic structure in which you can consider blogging as a living.
Ultimately, the point of being a “full-time” blogger isn’t to just make a living with your passion. The point is to have that drive, the passion, and fire in your belly which makes it the purpose of your life to help others, on a large scale.
For me, blogging is the best platform (so far) in terms of helping other people. Blogging is the easiest way to share your ideas with a large audience, in a convenient way. Nowadays (almost) everyone has access to the internet, a basic device— whether that be a laptop or a smartphone. Everyone has a web browser, which means anyone can access your blog. But if you’re a slave to some social media platform, you will be trapped, and a prisoner.
Chapter 2: How To Make a Living With Blogging
The topic of this chapter is how to make a living— not a killing with blogging.
First of all, you need to calculate your basic costs of living. This is going to be different from wherever you are in the world.
If you really want to make a living with your blogging, figure out first how you can cut out superfluous expenses. That might mean moving into a smaller apartment, living in a less-desirable neighborhood, getting rid of your car, getting rid of your smartphone plan, or getting rid of your toys & gadgets.
You’re not going to become rich through blogging. If you really want to make a pledge being a full-time blogger, you need to learn how to adapt a spartan lifestyle. To learn how to get by with less. After all, if you’re a blogger, all you need is a laptop and an internet connection. Both which are practically free in today’s modern world.
Why do you want to be a full-time blogger?
Another question to ask yourself: why do you want to become a full-time blogger, and make a living from it?
Honestly, having a stable 9-5 job and income (and blogging on the side) can be preferable to being a full-time blogger. If you’re starting off in blogging, you might be stressed out all the time about paying rent, and “monetizing” your blog — which might detract from the primary purpose why you blog.
Even if you have a 9-5 job, you can find lots of time to blog. For me, I never intended to blog full-time. I used to have a 9-5 tech job, and would blog a little bit before work in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon after lunch, and sometimes after work. And sometimes I would blog on the weekends. I honestly find that I can blog about something interesting in 30-minutes time. The biggest barrier isn’t time, but it is having an idea, and a passion.
However having said that, now that I don’t have to go to a 9-5 job anymore, I have even more time, energy, and attention to focus on blogging. In the past, I was restricted to writing 1-2 blog posts a week, because I was always being distracted. Nowadays, it is quite easy for me to write 1-2 blog posts a day— because it is my primary focus, and nothing else distracts me.
I personally prefer blogging full-time now, because I feel that I have more mental energy, to come up with ideas, create, and share. I know my life on earth is limited, and I don’t have many personal needs. As long as I can pay the rent, drink coffee, feed myself, and have access to wifi — I’m satisfied.
So really friend— ask yourself the tough question, why do you want to be a full-time blogger? Don’t try to pursue blogging full-time, unless you’re insanely passionate about it, and you feel like it is the best time you can use your life-energy.
How to make money from blogging
Okay getting a bit into the meat of blogging — how do you make money from it?
There are many different ways. Let me first start off by what not to do as a blogger.
For me, I actually discourage advertisements to make a living. Why? You need to get millions of page views, just to probably make $3,000 a month from blogging. Google AdSense works well for mega-corporations, not small independent bloggers.
Rather, I recommend you to create your own products (whether informational or physical). You can make a living as a blogger not directly by blogging— but by selling books (physical books), ebooks, videos, courses (online courses, or off-line workshops), by selling your time (through consulting), or a myriad of other ways.
If anything, your blog and blogging will help you build an audience, build your reputation and sense of trust, and your legitimacy. I don’t think the best way to monetize your blog is directly with blogging. Think of blogging as a way to market yourself, and your services/products.
Also my practical tip is this: give away all of your blogging information for free, but charge a premium for your “paid” products (whatever that may be). It is what the philosopher Nassim Taleb calls the “barbell strategy” — you embrace both extremes. Either things are free, or really expensive. You don’t want to offer “medium-priced” things, and try to “nick and dime” everyone.
For me, I give away all the content on my blog for free. I give away all my ebooks, articles, and videos for free. I then make my living by teaching workshops and by selling physical products. I personally think that information should be free (and all will eventually be free). So trying to charge money for information is eventually going to fail. Because be honest— would you visit someone’s blog if they charged you money to read their blog posts?
It will take time
The last thing I want to leave you with is this — know that it will take a long time to build your reputation, and make a living from blogging.
For me, I started my training in blogging ever since I was 16 years old. I learned how to become literate with computers, design, HTML, and all that jazz throughout high school and college. I studied sociology and social media in college. I did a social media marketing internship, which also learned me “social media strategies”. Also briefly working as an online community manager for a year also helped me learn how to manage online communities as well.
I didn’t start my photography blog until I was 22. Therefore my “apprenticeship” on learning how to blog was about 6 years. Not only that, but after I started my photography blog, it took about 2 years of solid blogging (consistently 3 times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) before it really started to take off and become more popular.
I then lost my job as an online community manager, and I wondered to myself— what if I could make a living from my passion (street photography?) I wasn’t sure how I would make a living from my photography, but I ended up teaching street photography workshops. And now at age 28, 6 years later, I am still alive, and able to pay the rent.
Luck and timing
Personally, I am lucky that I started my photography blog the time that I did.
At the time (around in 2010) there weren’t many online resources on how to shoot street photography. So I ended up blogging about how to shoot street photography, because it was something that I was personally interested in. And then what ended up happening is that I filled the gap. Therefore it was relatively easy for me to become the #1 most popular street photography blog on the internet.
Of course, a lot of hard work, consistency, and just “showing” up is important. When I thought that I had exhausted everything about street photography — I would always think of how I could push myself a little bit more. This helped me innovate, and come up with new ideas.
For example, I didn’t know about the masters of street photography — and I ended up doing research for myself, and finished a “Learn From the Masters” series. I wanted to learn how to make better compositions, so I started a composition lesson series. I then eventually became a little bit lost with my photography, and wanted to find more personal meaning through my photography — which led me to sharing ideas about “personal photography.”
Scratch your own itch
Honestly, nobody knows whether an idea will work or not. You just have to follow what you are interested and passionate about.
And whether or not you succeed or fail is outside of your control. You will need a lot of lady luck on your side.
But know, if you keep pursuing your dreams, keep taking risks, and continuing to “fail forward” — you will succeed. And by scratching your own itch is a sign that there is a gap, or a hole, or an opportunity for you to fill.
Chapter 3: How to Market Yourself
In this last chapter, I want to share the last principle — the importance of how to market yourself.
If you share, care
For some reason, bloggers, writers, and other artistic folk hate this concept of marketing themselves. But in reality, marketing is something ancient. In ancient times, all “marketing” was just word-of-mouth. And humans have been using billboards for millennia.
Even if you have the best blog in the world, you still need to put yourself out there. Even with Apple — they make some of the best products in the world, yet still spend millions of dollars in marketing. Because if you have a gift, you need to share it. If you care, share.
There are a billion ways to market yourself today.
You can rely on traditional social media to get your message out there. Or you can share what you make via email to your friend. Or you can tell about what you blog about or write about in person. You can also go “old school” — just carry around business cards with your blog address.
I am a big believer that with enough persistence, consistency, and effort — you will eventually build a small (yet loyal) following. And not only that, but you want to help build value with your audience, by blogging things that are useful, timeless, uplifting, encouraging, and authentic.
The importance of authenticity
That is another big thing I want to share with you about— the importance of being authentic.
To be authentic doesn’t mean to be great. It just means that you are yourself. That you don’t censor yourself. That you bare your soul. That you are transparent, and showing your true self with others.
People (online and offline) are good bullshit detectors. They can sell inauthenticity from a mile away. But if you are true to yourself, that authenticity will transmit through what you blog about.
The last tip I would give about marketing yourself is don’t fear contradicting yourself. It just means that you are growing, evolving, and learning.
Don’t be a slave to your past. Don’t be a slave about what you might have blogged about in the past.
Think of blogging as a form of constantly “becoming” — that with each blog post, you are taking a step closer to finding the “truth” for yourself.
I see blogging as a form of self-discovery. Of trying to find who I am. Blogging is just as much about myself, as it is about others.
This article on how to make a living with blogging is of course not finished. It will always be a work in progress.
The strategies of how to make money from blogging will always change. The social media marketing channels will change. The platforms will change. The technology will change.
But the principles will never die.
The importance of making a living with your blogging is to create massive value, to sell your products or your services, to be useful, to be consistent, to never stop hustling, to take risks, to share what you create, and to have faith in yourself (and lady luck).
To make a living from blogging might take you 2, 5, 10 years. But if you are motivated to create a living with your blogging, start off by registering your own blog, your own domain name, and starting to write your first posts.
- Step 1: Create your own WordPress.org self-hosted blog by purchasing a website plan with Bluehost.com
- Step 2: Register a simple domain name for your blog (firstnamelastname.com)
- Step 3: Write your first blog post (try to get it 80% ‘good enough’ and hit publish)
- Step 4: Try to blog everyday consistently for a month, and share your posts via social media with friends, family, and others you know
- Step 5: If you’re still in the game, try to keep your blog alive for a year. The secret is just to not die.
- Step 6: If you’re still blogging a year later, and passionate, figure out how you can sell yourself. Sell your consulting, products, information, teach workshops, organize travel tours, or something within your expertise.
Books to read
If you want to learn how to be an entrepreneur, I recommend reading the following books (not all business-related, but have taught me the principles of running my own business, and living my life):
- “Letters From a Stoic” – Seneca (taught me how to live with the minimum) – read free here / 99 cent Kindle ebook here.
- “On the Shortness of Life” – Seneca (taught me how to not waste time, and pursue my passion) / read for free.
- “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson (biggest innovative thinker in my generation, that I am always inspired by)
- “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb (ideas on innovation, how to live a good life)
- “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel (silicon-valley inspired ideas about innovation, being an entrepreneur, and other counter-intuitive ideas which changed my mind about everything)
- “The 4 hour workweek” by Tim Ferriss (good practical ideas and tools on being an entrepreneur)
Learn how to become an entrepreneur
To learn more, read my free Entrepreneurship Articles >
I have great faith in you friend. Go pursue your dreams, and never give up.