“But how do you monetize your blog?” I get asked that all the time. Variations of that question come up time and again. When I was on book tour last year, I heard it from readers of my blog who were enamored with the possibility of making money from their own online pursuits. When I travel on assignment as a writer, I hear it over and over from a range of people when I hand over my business card and tell them about Poptimistic. Journalists, public relations professionals, marketers, frustrated employees—all of them wonder if could they harness an online income stream, and ask my advice for immediate success. When I reply that there’s no easy answer, their eyes glaze over. Until I tell them to stick with me while I relate JP’s 3-P Perspective on Blog Profitability: Passion, Program, Platform.
Blogs as the New Small Business
First, background on my perspective. Most people want there to be some magic potion for making money by blogging. But to me, asking, “How do you monetize your blog?” is a bit like asking someone, “How do you make money running a small business?” How can you possibly answer such a broad question? Running a blog is pretty much the new generation of small businesses. Instead of opening up a store on Main Street, today people are reserving a (web) address on the info superhighway. And just like there’s no sure fire way to make a traditional small business successful, there’s no easy formula for turning a profit by blogging.
Numbers Don’t Lie
This question of blogs and profitability isn’t going away anytime soon, especially if you consider Technorati’s 2010 State of the Blogosphere report. In that influential survey, 21% of all bloggers are self-employed—meaning that they “blog full time or occasionally for their own company or organization,” and that 11% of all bloggers derive their primary income from blogging. Plus, blogging is on the rise: 62% of self-employed bloggers are blogging more because it has been valuable in promoting business. Later in the post on the 3rd P-Platform, I’m going to drill down into what I think that “promoting business” means to me as a self-employed blogger.
Okay, so with that background in mind—that blogs are the new small business, and growing—onto the 3-P Perspective. 1st up, Passion.
The most successful small business—and thus the most engaging blogs—are the ones that come from passion. There’s a real heart and soul to the business—the underlying motive is not just profits, but a passion to do something, affect change, connect with the people. The profits often come from the pursuit of that passion. Call me Poptimistic (no, please do), but some of my favorite companies and brands are those that were founded with a passion. Look no further than Whole Foods Market. The little Austin grocer founded to help people achieve a healthy lifestyle had to draw upon that passion in order to survive a disastrous flood of their first store. It would have been easy for CEO John Mackey to give up if he’d just been motivated by profit—he could have moved onto something else with a clear moneymaking potential. Instead, he remained committed to his passion, and now look at the company. Even today, the changes that the company makes are motivated by that deep passion for healthy lifestyle, thus their commitment to a Health Starts Here eating regimen. To some, that program technically discourages the purchase of high-margin items like animal protein for the purchase of low-margin items like beans and oats. A company only operating on traditional notions of profits wouldn’t roll out such a program.
Blogging is a similar chore. It’s time consuming (especially if you have another job). It’s challenging to build traffic, respond to readers, secure sponsorship, and I could go on and on. So if you’re not passionate about your topic, then why do it? And if you are passionate about your topic—the sky is the limit. Because you will stay motivated. I found a passion about being Poptimistic—that in this age of extreme negativity, there’s a ray of sunshine in being the gay Mary Tyler Moore. I execute that passion through my love of storytelling (40, Love), travel (Green Globe Trekker), food & culture (Tex & the City), and helping other bloggers (Biz Savvy Blogger).
My main advice to all potential or current bloggers is find that passion—let that guide your content—only then will you be able to gain followers, readers, and effect a business upside. Don’t get into a situation where you start to create content that you don’t care about just because you know it will drive traffic or become a potential lucrative income stream for you. Because if you do, you’ll end up just as miserable as the unhappy desk employee trying to figure a way out of a dead end job.
In my own case, I was seriously tempted to create a channel on Poptimistic just about the TV show Glee. A blog post that I wrote about my complicated feelings around Kurt’s storyline when the character Blaine first appeared became a ratings phenomenon—driving huge traffic to the blog. Hooray! Maybe I should just write about Glee all the time?! But as I dug down into the statistics, I realized that those readers were mostly coming to the site to download a picture of Blaine—and rarely spent anytime engaging or reading other content. Is talking about Glee my passion? No. My passion has always been relating my own personal experience to connect or help others—in this case, I used Glee as a springboard to tell some pretty painful recollections of life a young gay teen with confused feelings about sexuality and dating. I’ll continue to blog about Glee when it fits into my passion, not the other way around.
Similarly, judging from the amount of ridiculous press releases I receive about travel items expressly to help moms carry diapers, I should create a channel about kid travel. Or, I don’t know, maybe potty travel. I’m sure I could get sponsorship from businesses hoping to reach moms, as well as a lot of readers. But if you’ve read an ounce of Poptimistic (clearly the PR people have not, shame on you), then you’d know this is far from my passion.
All that said, don’t let profit be the tale that wags the dblog. Passion first, the rest will follow.
Next on Biz Savvy Blogger: In the second P—Program, JP challenges bloggers to think beyond traditional advertising