Don’t Blog About Places You Want to Get Hired

Is there a client you’re trying to land, or even a day job that lets you use your writing skills? It may seem like an obvious rule, but you shouldn’t blog about those places, especially if you’re considering saying something less than pleasant.

There’s the obvious chance that you’ll lose out on the deal to begin with, but many prospective clients will walk away from a writer who has posted unfortunate things about clients in the past — they think ‘that could be my company up there next’ and start looking for another writer.

Yes, Even Anonymously

I’m sure you’re thinking that if you don’t name names, the problem is solved. There’s two approaches to keep names out of it: either you blog under your own name but you don’t use the name of the client you’re hoping to work with, or you write on a blog where your name never appears but you mention the name of the client. It is possible you could be blogging anonymously, as well as not naming names, but for the purpose of this post, I’m assuming that you’re trying to accomplish something specific with your blogging.

But the fact of the matter is that anonymous isn’t nearly as anonymous as you’d like. If someone from the company in question reads a post, he or she will probably be able to figure out what’s going on just from the general details. If you’re writing under your own name, many potential clients will read your blog as a matter of due diligence. If you use the client’s name, it’s relatively easy for the post to be found through a routine Google Search.

I’ve posted a very vague statement about something a client had done to upset me to Twitter (with no names or even much in the way of details). An hour later, I had an email from the client in question in my inbox, asking if I was talking about him. It was a sticky situation, to say the least.

Even If I’m Going to Say Something Nice?

I’m a little wary of even posting nice things about a prospective client — I don’t want to be known as that writer who will suck up just to land a client. If I have something genuinely important that I think is worthwhile to say, I might bring it out here, but if it’s just something run of the mill, I’m far less inclined to bring it up.

There is something worth noting here: one of the easiest ways to get someone’s attention online is to blog about that person. Many technologically-savvy types have Google Alerts set up for their names, so a couple of mentions of them on your blog can create an opportunity for an introduction. But I’d generally restrict that approach to the absolute preliminaries and I’d avoid making a habit of it — after all, if you’ve got a blog, you’ve hopefully got at least a few readers you want to keep entertained. Keep Google Alerts in mind, though: that’s one of the fastest ways for someone to learn you’re writing about them, good or bad.

Image by Flickr user Yohann Aberkane

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.

Women, Technology and Blogging: Happy Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. Bloggers all over the world are taking a few minutes to acknowledge the contributions of women in technology and science — women like Ada Lovelace, who managed to write the first computer program and dream of a world of advanced computers while Charles Babbage was still trying to get his calculating machine to add up numbers.

For me, there are a few bloggers I’d particularly like to point to. These women write amazing things about science and technology every day. They’ve inspired me not only to write, but to explore new and interesting areas with every post they put up. Yes, there are plenty of female bloggers out there, but we could always use more interesting posts from writers with two X chromosomes in science and technology.

  • Gina Trapani: I’ve looked up to Gina Trapani for years now. She was one of the first women I heard of who was not only making a living from blogging, but she was doing it by talking about computers, programming and productivity. On top of that, she’s a whiz with computer code, building the tools she needs to be productive on a regular basis. Trapani’s blogging career really took off at Lifehacker and, while she’s not writing full-time there, she continues to post cool stuff both to Lifehacker and to her own site, Smarterware.
  • Maggie Koerth-Baker: A relatively recent find (at least for me), Maggie Koerth-Baker seems to have a pipeline straight to the coolest science as it happens. Her byline pops up all over the web, but I’m particularly fascinated with her posts at BoingBoing. Her recent headlines include “T-Rex’s on Saturn: The theory that will re-make science as we know it” and “Saturday Morning Science Experiment: Melting steel with the sun.”
  • Suw Charman-Anderson: While it doesn’t hurt that Ada Lovelace Day is the brain child of Suw Charman-Anderson, her other projects are incredibly fascinating. Her resume includes titles like Executive Director of the Open Rights Group and Social Software Consultant, as well as blogger. She writes at Chocolate and Vodka — where posts on volcanoes follow write up on book binding experiments — as well as working with her husband on Strange Attractor, a blog that offers insights on social media, business and journalism.

Ask Me Anything: Payment for Blogging Gigs

An anonymous writer asks,

I was recommended for this blogging gig for a brand-new site (it launched about 2 weeks ago). I finally talked to the company president last week to discuss content, focus, all of those things. I asked him about pay. He said they’re still working on the best way to go about paying their bloggers. He said something about paying the bloggers based on the traffic they/I generate, and something about paying us with a percentage of the ad revenue? Have you ever heard of this? Is this common, and how worthwhile is it? I’m excited about my focus (green weddings and events), but I don’t want to put in a ton of work for something I may not be making much money from. Of course, since the site is so new, they may work out a better pay structure later, but I just wanted to do some initial checking.

To be honest, I don’t think the gig will really pay off for you. There are a lot of blogs and websites offering to pay writers a percentage of ad revenues these days — but unless the website already has something like 100k visitors a month, the payment works out to perhaps a few dollars per month. Another problem is that many sites using this payment model do very little promotion. They expect the blogger to do the hard parts in terms of social media and other promotions. One of the blogging networks I used to work for used this structure. A few bloggers were making a couple thousand per month through them, but most of the bloggers made about $25 per month for writing three posts a week.

Given that the site is so new, the odds of seeing much payment are fairly minimal. If you feel like the blog would be a good opportunity in terms of exposure, building a presence in the space, etc. you may still choose to pursue it. In that case, I’d recommend asking what sort of traffic they’re seeing so far, as well as what kind of traffic their other blogging projects bring in (if they have any). If the company has a proven track record for building great traffic fast, it’s up to you whether you’d be willing to take a couple of months of low payments in hopes of more money later on. You also would want to see what the company’s plans are as far as promoting the site.

Got a question about the business side of freelancing? Leave it in the comments and I’ll answer it on next week’s Ask Me Anything!

Bloggers for Hire

The Wall Street Journal published an article this morning, titled, “America’s Newest Profession: Bloggers for Hire.” It’s already gotten a good chunk of attention (including a response from the writer meant to address a number of concerns with the original article). It focuses on some figures, based primarily on a report from Technorati and a few other studies, that estimate the number of bloggers making a full-time income on the basis of their writing to be about 450,000. Whether you agree with the figures and the methodology behind them or not, there are some important facts buried in this story.

The headline refers to bloggers for hire — but most of the blogs that the article really focuses on are entrepreneurial ventures. There are a few hat tips to the real bloggers for hire — corporate bloggers, freelance writers working on a per post rate and so forth — but they don’t get a lot of attention. I think that the number of people earning money for writing on blogs that don’t belong to them is definitely on the rise (though I’m not really all that confident in the numbers cited in the WSJ article). They may be going up even more than the income stand-alone bloggers are bringing in. As every small business gets into blogging, for instance, most quickly discover that outsourcing their blogs is the most practical way to get things done.

These days, the majority of the writing projects I do involve at least some amount of blogging. It may be something as simple as putting together a few basic posts for a company to promote their projects, but my blogging income is certainly on the rise — as long as you focus on the blogging for hire I do. This particular blog doesn’t make me money directly and I don’t write it with the intention of making money.

All of this has me thinking: If you’d be willing to share how much of your income (percentage, number, vague estimate) comes from blogging, I’d love to hear it. I’d also like to know if you want to expand that number — would you rather take the blogger for hire route or be a more traditional freelance writer?

Blogger For Hire: Can You Make Money?

A big chunk of my freelance writing income these days comes from writing blog posts. I’ve found it pretty easy to find positions blogging — as long as you have a pretty solid online presence yourself. But there’s trouble in Paradise: the money from blogging isn’t always that great.

The Per-Post Trap

It’s not uncommon to see a company advertising blogging positions paying $5, $2 or even $1 per post. You just can’t make money at these rates. The fact of the matter is that even if you are an extremely fast writer, it will take you a minimum of an hour to write a 300-word post — and if you have to find pictures, links and other matter beyond your writing, it can easily take longer.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a few low-paying gigs when you’re starting out, but low-paying blogging is a trap. It seems great to have a solid, reliable gig, even if the pay isn’t great — but it’s easy to find yourself still working at the same low-paying blog months later. It takes a surprising amount of will power to walk away from a gig that keeps paying reliably.

It’s even worse if you have some sort of revenue share. If you put hours and hours into promoting a site, even if it doesn’t pay off, you’ll be reluctant to leave. I’ve been in that position. Giving up is nearly impossible.

Sometimes, You Just Have To Move On

Over the past six months, I’ve been working on reducing the low-paying blogging gigs I take. I have fewer opportunities in the area because I’m looking for a higher per-post rate — something that’s more in line with my preferred hourly rate. I’ve actually started working on a few blogs of my own: if I’m not going to get paid that much for my time, I’d rather work on my own projects.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s money to be made in blogging. But it doesn’t come from $5 per post gigs. If you’ve got more than a month of blogging under your belt, it’s time to start chasing those bigger deals. Dream bigger — look for $30, $40, $50 per post!

Blogging For Hire? Let Me Know

If you’re a blogger for hire, please let me know in the comments. I’m putting together a list of bloggers interested in taking on work, and I know there’s some amazing freelance bloggers hanging around here.

Where to Start With This Whole Writing Thing?

A reader sent in a couple of questions this week, specifically about where to start if you want to move into writing for money. I think that these aren’t exactly uncommon questions, so I decided to post my answers here.

How do you make money writing a blog?

There are a couple of different approaches to making money from a blog. For a lot of people, a blog is more of a marketing tool than a business in and of itself. It’s a good way to show off samples of your writing without having to sort through clips. It’s also a good way to move information about yourself up the list of search results Google spits out for your name.

That said, monetizing a blog isn’t impossible. A lot of bloggers rely on advertising revenue, either from Google AdSense or from other sources, to make their blogs profitable. Using your blog to sell products, such as e-books, t-shirts (quick plug for the ones in my side-bar!) or even consulting services. There is also the option of affiliate marketing — promoting someone else’s product for a cut of the sales.

In my opinion, advertising is the hardest way to make money blogging, although it’s the route most people take. It’s just so difficult to go beyond earning a few cents a day.

What are the best tools for starting a blog?

I use WordPress for my blog. In my experience, you can customize it far beyond what you might be able to with Movable Type or Blogger. There is also a great community, with lots of people willing to help you out.

I also suggest new bloggers get very familiar with Google’s offerings beyond the search engine. I use Google Reader to follow other blogs, Google Adsense for advertising, Google Analytics for tracking how my site is doing and more.

What websites do you recommend for help with novice writers? I’ve learned to not trust any site that wants money up front to learn how to.

I think Deb Ng’s Freelance Writing Jobs is a great resource. Absolute Write has wonderful forums — lots of wonderful help. Hope Clark runs Funds For Writers and puts out an extremely useful set of newsletters every week.

I would like to submit articles for places like CoolStuff4Writers but, honestly, am intimidated by the quality (and quantity) of writers. I’ve submitted a few articles in other sites and never seem to get “in the money”. Is it a matter of write, write, write and sooner or later I’ll be recognized?

To be honest, there is an element of ‘just keep writing’ to getting published. Even now I have some places turn down my work. Throughout your freelance writing career, you just have to keep sending stuff out and keep writing.

But you can make significant progress quickly. Most editors care a lot more about the quality of your writing than how long you’ve been at it or where else you’ve been published. If you’re able to demonstrate the quality of your writing, someone’s going to want your articles sooner rather than later.