An Accidental Talk: ‘Blogging for Dollars’ at Bar Camp San Diego

I flew out to San Diego last Friday to see my husband, who happens to be working out here this summer. I found out that BarCamp San Diego was Saturday and Sunday — I’m a fan of BarCamps and other small sort-of conferences because they’re almost always free and you get to hear from a lot of people who are truly passionate about the projects they’re working on. This weekend was no different… but I wound up giving a talk myself.

If you aren’t familiar with the BarCamp format, it’s pretty spur of the moment: all the attendees show up about an hour before talks are scheduled to start and hash out the day’s speakers. Before that point, no one really knows who will be speaking and what they’ll be talking about, and that can include the speakers. As people were hanging out and chatting, I wound up on one of my standard soap boxes — making money off of writing online. If you do that at a BarCamp, you quickly wind up on the schedule.

That meant, between the next few sessions, I had to distill my soap box down into about 30 minutes of coherent presentation. I’ve included my notes below, but I simply wound up focusing on giving a broad overview on how a blogger can make money, mentioned a few key bloggers who are good role models and then offered about ten minutes for questions about the specifics people were wondering about.

Five Things to Do Before Trying to Make Money as a Blogger

  1. Use WordPress. Furthermore, get your own domain name and host it yourself. Sure, there are other blogging tools out there, but WordPress is the horse I’m betting on. It’s more robust, has a bigger community of developers and the user interface is very friendly for new bloggers.
  2. Look for money-making opportunities, besides advertising. It’s hard to make a living off of AdSense and it’s getting harder. Most other approaches to advertising require you to have a lot more traffic than you will when you’re starting out.
  3. Network with the other bloggers covering your topic. Having a network is crucial to making money, even if it’s only a matter of discussing a product idea with a friend who can say ‘I tried that and it didn’t work so well.’
  4. Listen to your readers. Maybe your readership is ten of your closest friends and your mom. Assuming your mom is only there to be supportive, your friends can still give you a good idea of what you’re doing well and where you can improve. As you grow, keep listening: ask readers questions, especially about what they’d be willing to buy from you.
  5. Write as much as you can. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fabulous writer, you have to write as much as possible. The practice will make you a better writer, which is an absolute necessity for a career as a blogger.

Five Strategies to Make Money Blogging

  1. Set yourself up as an expert and sell consulting services or freelance services
  2. Use your blog as a portfolio and land paid blogging gigs on other websites
  3. Sell information products (like ebooks or webinars) related to your blog
  4. Sell physical products related to your blog (like t-shirts, cookware or whatever your niche is)
  5. Use affiliate links to promote other companies products

This is just a smattering of options, of course. There are plenty more. But these are the big ones — the ones that absolutely have to be covered when you’re limited to thirty minutes of chatting. I think it’s worth noting that that these five methods all fall into one of two categories of making money from blogging, as do all the alternatives: indirect and direct income. Direct income comes from advertising, selling a product and so on, while indirect income comes from establishing your expertise and using it to land bigger gigs (such as consulting or writing).

I think two bloggers really typify the difference: Darren Rowse and Chris Brogan. Chris has built a whole company around his expertise and the expertise of the people he works with, earning a nice chunk of change from consulting and speaking gigs. Darren has also built up a company, but he’s focused more on ebooks, membership sites and more directly selling to his readership. There is some overlap between what they do, of course. Both of these bloggers are immensely successful, though, and make for wonderful blogging role models.