How to Start Blog and Monetize the Hell out of It!

*This post contains sarcasm and honesty, and affiliate links which are noted by asterisks.*

Starting a Blog Pitfalls: You will fail for sure if you're lacking FOCUS and a NICHE

Though I'd been blogging for years on Wordpress, I'd never learned to build and keep an audience. My challenge was that I had too many ideas, too little time, no focus, and no real niche. I tried to write about everything in my blog; it was my outlet for virtual catharsis. My posts weren't connected to each other, they did not call for action (meaning: lead to other pages, ask for newsletter signup, or ask for comments), and my bounce rates were high (meaning visitors read one post and bounced away!). Only one post out of hundreds became a viral hit, and we all know that viral hits are akin to "one-hit wonders" or "15 minutes of fame." One viral hit will get you and your blog nowhere, and that was my story. 

I had considered giving up blogging to focus on writing and publishing my ebooks. (Insert shameless plug here: Liam, It'll Always be You, a romantic, new adult suspense book will be out this December.) In October 2014, after I was laid off, I quickly moved on and considered a career pause to become a stay-at-home mom. I fantasized about monetizing a "mommy-blog" and earning a six-figured income. That would be a win-win situation for me; I could be with my son all day, and earn money just by blogging my brains out.

Dream on, Mama Kat!

I had no focus. I had no idea what niche I would fall into. I had no idea where to start; without a game plan or much thought put into it, I launched Phil and Mama in two days. My tagline was "Phil and Mama's beautiful adventures in the city"; okay, but what was my blog's true message and mission?

I hadn't a clue...

During the first month, I published random posts about my daily life with Phil (Halloween costumes!), and had an audience of literally none. Phil & Mama was a "new mommy blog", just like every other undiscovered new mommy blog out there; it lacked a strong purpose, recurrent message, and consistency. It lacked my heart. 

This blog, I thought, would undoubtedly fail. 

First Breakthrough

By November, I considered shutting down this blog. I was busy applying for a new job and knew that I would not be able to monetize the hell out of this site. My disillusions faded; however, I decided to giving blogging another try and published a post about the KonMari method. That one post transformed my audience of none to an audience of thousands within a few months! I remember seeing crazy numbers when I logged into Google Analytics.

 Of course, I'm still nowhere near where I want to be in terms of my audience size and reach; but I've gained some momentum; thus, it was time for me to rethink the direction of this blog.

Lesson Learned: Dear readers, if you're serious about starting a blog, have a game plan and build a framework before you launch a site... 

Squarespace metrics, philandmama.com site stats from October 2014 (birth) to april 2015

Squarespace metrics, philandmama.com site stats from October 2014 (birth) to april 2015

First (Technical) Steps: Domain and Hosting

Now that you've planned it all out, chosen a name for your blog, decided on your audience, and found your focus, it's time to bring life to your  blog. First, the site will need and presence, so you'll need to register a domain name and pay for hosting. Like many other "newbie" bloggers moving away from a free Wordpress account, I had considered using Bluehost* as it's only $3.95 per month for hosting, and plus, it offers you a free domain name when you signup for their hosting!

*Affiliate Link*

*Affiliate Link*

Instead of choosing Bluehost, I opted for Squarespace, as my husband had a year of free hosting from them, scored from a web conference he attended earlier this year.

While using Squarespace In the beginning, I made a critical mistake of not "getting to know" the host and all its technical beauties and nuances. Phil and Mama, at birth, was plain and unattractive. My posts had high bounce rates and no calls for action. My blog, though text heavy, had no real substance or high quality content. I just blogged what I felt or thought I knew. I might as well keep a diary and hide it from the world!

I fell into the same "blogging rut" and just posted my thoughts, never truly connecting to my readers, or leading them through my blog as if it were a journey. Phil and Mama was a one-stop blog; let's read about the KonMari method, leave, and never return again. 

Blog-Piphany

What was I doing wrong? I thought my blog was perfect. (It wasn't perfect, of course, and it still is far from perfect.) I just didn't see it until I shut off my ego and visited some of the most popular and lucrative blogs on the Internet. From those sites, I drew insight and inspiration. A lightbulb flashed above my head as three sites in particular reshape my thinking and blog approach: Song of Style, Just a Girl and Her Blog, and Elle & Co. (You can google those sites for their links; I don't need to feed their popular asses additional traffic from my measly pool.) [Note: I'm being sarcastic, this is my sense of humor, LOL...] 

I discovered that all three or those blogs had recurring themes:

  • a strong, reader-focused voice
  • large social media following, and devoted and loyal readers
  • high quality content
  • recurrent themes and messages. consistency is key
  • great story in the "about us" section. Song of Style tells the story through a video
  • frequent posting
  • beautiful images & photographs (everything's manicured!)
  • helpful information, honest reviews and recommendations, and advice
  • transparency
  • multiple calls to action
  • clever incorporation of ads, sponsored materials, and affiliate links

Every single post leads to other post, and promotes products and services they're selling or affiliated with.     

Having a "blog-piphany" (patient-pending by Kat Lieu, ahem), I quickly restructured and redesigned Phil and Mama (in two days, LOL. thank goodness for my artist and techie background). Every post now has a call to action. I've unpublished some posts that just don't fit the blog anymore. I've created categories and added beautiful images. I've added freebies, and started using Pinterest and Twitter again, even though I don't like social media. I've also rewritten our "About Us" section to include the honest truth: the loss and sadness that filled October of 2014, my postpartum depression, and my newfound purpose in life. From now on, I will blog from my heart. This is me, the real me, the funny, crazy, silly, and sarcastic Mama Kat. 

Enough about that, what about monetizing the hell out of a blog?

Listen, I still fantasize about earning (through my blog) what I used to earn working full time. I also know that the road to that dream is long and hard (yes, that's what I said). Being realistic, I now work two part-time jobs because this blog is just not making any money.

In all honesty, that doesn't really matter anymore as this blog has a noble mission; it's here as a resource to new parents who work and struggle with the juggle of life. It's here to record my journey towards plants-based living, and my desire to become a vegan, and understanding how difficult that would be. It's here to show the world the adventures Mama Kat and Baby Phil will have in the days to come. Once we do start making some money, we will give away a percentage to charity. (Since 2012, we support a child named Valeria who lives in Colombia through WorldVision. We also support the American Red Cross, and I hope to support Farm Sanctuary.)  

While I'm offering all these great and free resources, I will hope to be able to make a few dollars here and there, more than $5.00 a year, I'm hoping! As of today, after almost a year of blogging, I haven't even made back my Squarespace blog hosting fees! I've made a few cents a day from Google Adsense ads, and less than $5.00 from Amazon Associates (affiliate links). It's sad, I know. Thank god I still have my two day jobs and a supportive husband who works. 

You earn 4% for every item you refer and sell on your site

You earn 4% for every item you refer and sell on your site

So, yes, my headline is a bit deceiving, but you can't blame me because I'm a millennial. I have not monetized the hell out of my site... yet... but I have a game plan, and I'm sharing it all with you, as transparent as my Amazon payout. The following information comes from more than 20 hours of research and a lot of blog-stalking. 

Best Sources of Income for Bloggers

Rule number one: You DIVERSIFY. You never "put all your eggs into one basket." You explore what works for you and your blog, and be open to making changes. 

Affiliate Marketing

  • Bluehost*: Many lucrative blogs publish posts on "How to Start a Blog" and refer their audiences to Bluehost because Bluehost offers bloggers $65 for every new signup. Many of them have never used or aren't currently using this service (my blog isn't lucrative but I'm guilty of this too) but still promote Bluehost to their readers because of the hefty referral payout. (Let's take Just a Girl and Her Blog for example. In August 2015, the blog referred around 74(?) signups to Bluehost and took home $4,845!)
  • Izea*: Har, har, clever, spelling the word Idea with a Z. Izea connects bloggers (Izea calls them Creators) to Advertisers. As a blogger, you can also recruit other Creators and Advertisers and earn a commission on their earnings or Opportunity spendings. Sweet. (I'm probably going to make a net of $0.00 from them. Yeap...) With a free account, you can make three bids for advertisers per month. You don't get a check from them until you earn $100, and if you cash out earlier than that, you incur a $3 fee. I read here that Izea has a shady past... I'm starting to see a trend here; it's win-win for these big sites and win-very-little for blogger-affiliates. I suggest you do further research and read all the fine print before signing up for Izea. 
     
  • Amazon Associates: When you refer your audience to Amazon products, and your readers buy the products, you earn a fixed-rate commission on each product sold and shipped. My advice is to recommend products you've bought, tried, and loved and provide honest reviews of them if you're publishing affiliate links from Amazon within a blog post.
Screenshot from amazon associates website

Screenshot from amazon associates website

Advertisements

  • Google Adsense: I've used Google Adsense for almost a decade now. In the good old days, I was able to make around $50.00 a day off of displaying Google ads on my Nummyz.com website. I remember getting $1000+ paychecks from them month to month! Now, I'm making pennies off of Google ads. So unless you have a large audience and can aggregate millions of page views a month, you won't be making lots from Google Adsense. 
     
  • Paid endorsements and Sponsorships: Preppy Runner (google it yourself) has a great Sponsorship structure. When your audience grows, you'll be able to attract advertisers on your own, and not have to pay third-party fees. In the past, I've secured endorsements from smaller companies and brands, who paid around $100 for an advertisement button or banner to appear on my site for a few months. 

Your Own Products

  • Your blog is a personal and virtual space where you can promote and advertise your own products (ebooks, books, crafts) and services (writing, consultation, collaboration). Take advantage of this space. The highest source of income for a majority of high-earning bloggers come from the sales of their own products and/or services. If you're an expert of something, publish an ebook (I use Amazon KDP) and promote it on your blog!

Note about advertisements and sponsorships

If you sprinkle a million ads all over your blog, and inject dozens of affiliate links into every post, you begin to lose trust and your blog will look like a Target ad. Too many ads also clutter your blog. Don't appear dishonest by failure to put up disclosures, as per FTC Guidelines. (See my Disclosures page here.) Even if you receive items from companies for free, you must disclose that.

Don't ever rely on income from your blog as your sole source of income, of course. Few people can make a six-figure income or more off of their blogs. (Need I remind you that I've only made a few dollars in one year...?) Plus, there are so many apps coming out now that block advertisements when readers are viewing your posts with a mobile device. This means that even when those readers peruse every corner and inch of your blog, you'll earn $0.00.

And finally... 

As your blog grows, so will your expenses. Always put into perspective how much money you have made or will make, and how much time you've invested into your blog. A post like this one requires hours of research and more hours to put together prior to publication. 

Failures and mistakes are guaranteed. Unless you're super lucky and manage to go viral with multiple blog posts, don't expect to succeed and make good money with your blog within the first few months, or even first year! 

Keep edging forward, post quality content, and breathe life into your blog, which will require your constant nurturing and care to grow, evolve, and reach the masses.

"If you build it, they will come..."-Field of Dreams

Happy blogging everyone, and I hope this was a helpful and informative post. If you've managed to monetize the hell out of your blog from reading this, please remember the little people :) I welcome comments, suggestions, or questions!