It's harder than ever to make a buck with your blog. While high-traffic blogs can earn good money with display advertising, they're not doing it with traditional ad networks like AdSense.
(Plus, you're not going to have a high-traffic site like Mashable or Business Insider, blogs that make serious money on display ads.)
Instead they're paying for premium placement. As they find these premium ad solutions effective, they're pulling money out of traditional display ad networks. That leaves average bloggers with constantly declining revenues from display.
Ahmed was onto something when he wrote about the advantages of affiliate marketing. It's not as easy as slapping some affiliate links on your blog, but done properly affiliate marketing can earn you many times more money than display advertising.
Allow me to take the conversation in a different direction. There is another way to make money using your blog. Instead of trying to sell products, either directly through affiliate sales or indirectly through display advertising, you should focus on the one product that no other blog has.
Focus on you and the skills you have.
Identifying your skills
Through years of blogging, you build certain skills. It just so happens that these skills form a base of experience that you can translate into a freelance writing career.
Just think about what you've learned during your time as a blogger.
- You've learned to write. It's a basic skill, but it's not one that everyone learns. Only though consistent practice can you become a competent writer. Blogging creates that kind of consistency. If you've written on your blog daily for several years, you have developed that base writing skill.
- You have learned what kind of content attracts attention. Bloggers know the stats of every post they publish. They know when an article is a hit and when it's a bust. This skill, learned through analysis, will help you more than you know as a freelancer, even though you won't be analyzing your stats in the same way.
- You've learned to write strong headlines. If you have any level of traffic at all on your blog, chances are you've learned at least the basics of headline writing. If you knew nothing about how headlines attract readers, then you wouldn't have any readers at all. With so many blogs competing for the same pool of attention, those with poor headlines will be ignored.
- You've learned how to ask for advice. No one builds a blog alone. Even if you write and edit all of the articles, even if you create the design, you have outside help. No one can create a successful blog just by writing and reading some articles about blogging. Those form a good start, but in order to break through you have to talk to successful people and find out what they do. This is an invaluable skill going forward.
- You've learned how to edit yourself. You probably don't employ an editor, so every post is 100 percent yours. If you don't edit it, it will look sloppy and readers will turn away. Any successful blogger knows that you have to edit a post, perhaps multiple times, to make it readable.
If you haven't learned these skills yet, then perhaps you're not ready to take the next step. There's no shame in that. Hopefully you have some time on your hands, though, because learning these skills is imperative. Without them it will be very difficult to land freelance writing gigs.
A word of warning
Before we proceed, a word of warning from my own experience. After a few years of blogging I thought I knew it all. And so I tried to become a freelance writer in order to earn more money. You should have seen the smile on my face the day I got my first acceptance.
The problem is that it took a good six months of pitching before an editor even replied to me. I got the yes, and got paid for the project. But the magazine never published it.
It was another two years before I got another acceptance. I realized, eventually, that I didn't have the proper skills. I couldn't write a headline to save my life. I never, ever edited myself. Worst of all, I'd never asked for blogging advice.
After the experience of having a pitch accepted but the article never published, and then not getting another gig for a few years, I started to build these skills. So when I talk about selling yourself, I speak from experience.
Translating your skills
Now that we've identified skills, it's time to translate them into what works for freelance writers.
Writing is obvious enough. If you couldn't write well, chances are you wouldn't attract blog traffic. Blogging is a uniquely meritorious pursuit. Bad writers can get jobs at magazines and newspapers. They can write books. But bad writers don't survive long as bloggers. Readers can turn their attentions elsewhere.
Good writing doesn't just mean grammatically correct usage, though. Good writing also involves:
- How you structure your articles
- The devices you use as you tell the story
- A deep connection with the readers
Above all, good writing involves a good story. Pick your favorite writer: he or she couldn't do much with a bad story, without altering the actual details. If you can't identify a good story, chances are you aren't a good writer.
Attracting attention is also obvious enough. If you know what kinds of post your blog visitors read, then you have an idea of what kinds of posts will sell at a magazine or online publication.
This isn't to say that you should copy your blog articles. Far from it. But you should look through your highest-trafficked posts and find out what makes them work. Why did more people read these posts than the others?
Once you understand why some posts performed better than others, you can start coming up with ideas that will work with wider audiences. Those are the kinds of articles that get accepted at larger publications.
Headline writing. Why is this important? Don't editors write headlines? In many cases they do, but that doesn't mean the writer can't crate the headline. In fact, the ability to craft an attention-grabbing headline might be one of the most important skills of a freelance writer — not for the headline itself, but for the pitch.
In order to land freelance gigs, you have to pitch editors. Not everyone is as lucky as this guy. When you pitch, you have just a few seconds to grab the editor's attention. What's the most efficient way to grab the editor's attention?
The same way you'd grab a reader's attention: with the headline.
Write quality headlines, and more editors will pay attention to your pitches. Those headlines will differentiate you from the bland pitches editors read every day.
Ask for advice. Once you get an assignment, you'll have to find people to talk to. People don't want to read your thoughts on a certain topic, unless you're a bonafide expert. At the early stages of freelancing, you certainly are not. Your job is to collect information, find common threads, and weave a story that people will enjoy.
You do that by talking to experts and finding out what they know and what they think.
Essentially you're asking these experts for advice. What do they think? What experiences and stories do they have to illustrate the point? Bloggers who have reached out for advice have experience with this kind of questioning. It will form an important base.
Editing yourself isn't essential, per se, when freelancing. You have an editor who will edit your work. But especially in the beginning, you need to put your best foot forward. Submitting your best work will give a much better impression.
Skills you'll need to build
Let's not pretend that blogging will give us all the skills we need to succeed as freelance writers. There are a number of skills that you'll need to learn along the way. Let's cover the big ones.
- How to find contact information. Subject matter experts can be particularly hard to track down. That is sometimes deliberate. You need to learn how to contact them. That might be through a secondary contact, or it might be doing some digging and finding their email addresses. There are means to accomplish this, trust me.
- How to pitch. Didn't we already go over this? Yes, we talked about how to get your pitch read. The headline will grab the editor's attention. But you still have to sell him or her on the viability of the article itself. Many a good headline has attached itself to a horrible story. Make sure that you can sell the editor on the story.
- How to ask the right questions. You'll learn this mostly through experience, but it's worth doing some research into how to conduct an interview with a source. The better answers you can elicit from the source, the more robust the story becomes. Understand: when sources answer the best questions, they lead to even better questions. If you don't get an answer that opens up new questions, it probably wasn't a good question to begin with.
- How to get paid. Yes, you wanted to make money freelancing right? Getting paid isn't the same as with blogging. When you sign up for ad or affiliate networks, they pay you on a regular basis. You earn, they pay. With publications, typically you'll have to invoice them. Make sure you have a professional-looking invoice. I recommend something like FreshBooks's invoice template, because it's clean and easy to send. It also lets you know when the recipient opens it — which is important, because if you want to get paid you have to be persistent. Follow up if you're not paid in a reasonable amount of time.
(Hint: find out when the accounting department cuts checks. If you don't receive one shortly after that, follow-up aggressively. You did the work and submitted the invoice. The least they could do is pay you promptly.)
Ready for the leap?
First thing's first: If you don't have the skills in place, don't make the leap. Take your time, build your skills, and then dive into freelancing. You can waste years, like I did, if you go for it prematurely.
If you are ready, start looking around for magazines and websites that you'd like to write for. Take note of all the kinds of stories they publish. Your pitch stands a better chance if it conforms to the stories the publication typically publishes.
Look for writer's guidelines as well. The last thing you want to is to not follow procedure. Not only will your email get ignored, but future emails might get ignored, too.
Only pitch an editor when you are confident in your story. Know who you plan to speak with — and speak with them beforehand if at all possible. Saying you have a source lined up for an article is a selling point. Leverage it when you can.
Resist fast follow-up. Editors get more emails than you can imagine, hundreds upon hundreds per day. Yours might get lost in the pile, and so you will certainly want to follow-up. Give the editor a few days to catch up with his or her email queue. I usually wait five to seven days before following up. Read this guide before jumping into anything.
As every freelancer ever will tell you, it's not an easy profession. You have to hustle every day. But if you're ready to start making money with your writing, then you'll have to give this a try. Unless you want to keep believing that your blog is the next BuzzFeed.
Hint: it is not.