Believe it or not, I’ve been writing content on the Internet for 20 years. For the first several years, I treated it largely as a hobby. I started with my own newsletter, which eventually morphed in a website on Geocities. Remember Geocities? I also contributed to my friend’s online magazine and managed a student newsletter while attending university. For those early years, the very notion of monetization hadn’t even entered my consciousness.
That changed in 2006 and I started to learn more and more about how I could take this hobby and turn it into a viable career. These days, I make my living as a professional freelance writer and editor. I’ve written for a number of blogs, including my own, and while I’m nowhere near John Chow rich, I do okay. And as I reflect back on these last two decades, I can’t help but think about those pro blogging myths I encountered along the way.
Needless to say, several of my fellow bloggers from 2006 aren’t really around anymore. But I’m still here, because I’ve learned to overcome these common misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
Look at All That Free Stuff
A more recent development that we’ve seen in the industry is the rise of “influencers” and “influencer marketing.” Whereas bloggers were once dismissed as hobbyists by many companies and brands, they’re now seen is a big part of the whole marketing machine and a great, “authentic” way to reach audiences (and customers).
I get invited to “media” previews and “influencer/blogger” events every now and then. Sometimes, I’ll return home with some “swag” or some form or another. You might also see some of your blogger friends receive “free” samples of products to test and share with their followers.
And while there can and should be a very clear demarcation between paid media and earned media, you have to realize that none of that stuff is “free.” There is some expectation of a quid pro quo eventually. As much as you might like getting “free stuff” as a blogger, you’re “paying” for it by offering “free” exposure… and you’ll need to earn some actual money, as you can’t exactly pay for your rent or mortgage in swag and merch.
It’s Just Writing, Right?
Blogging is just writing, right? And it doesn’t even need to be good writing, because you’re just writing in such a casual tone. Like, totally. Like how you would just talk with your friends, because no one needs a blog that’s all super serious and stuff, right?
Not exactly. If you want to make it as a “professional blogger,” you have to treat it like a business. That means dealing with the logistics of managing a website. That involves everything to do with accounting and bookkeeping and filing your income tax return. You’ve got marketing, and monetization optimization, and social media management. And this is all above and beyond the content creation that goes beyond writing, like learning how to take great photos or how to repurpose your content on other platforms.
Even if you don’t want to be Casey Neistat, you really should consider building a strong video presence on YouTube. That requires learning a whole new set of skills, and forces you to flex a whole different set of muscles. Vlogging is not blogging, but it all feeds into the same content beast.
Blogging isn’t “just” writing. And that’s not even downplaying the value and skill of good writing.
If You Build It…
This feeds back into the previous point. So many people go into blogging thinking that they can just throw together a website, toss up some content, populate the page with affiliate links and banner ads, and then just wait for the money to come pouring in. Except it totally doesn’t work that way.
If you build it, they won’t come. Not unless you’ve got some truly exceptional content. Not unless you network with other bloggers and influencers and publishers so that they can help spread the word about what you have to offer. Not unless you’re active on social media, meaningfully engaging with people without outright trying to sell them anything.
A blog that isn’t read by anyone is not going to make any money.
Anyone Can Do It
I wrote a whole separate blog post on the misguided mindset that anyone can do it. On some level, it’s true. The startup costs for a blog are remarkably minimal, since chances are you already have a computer and an Internet connection. Social media accounts are free. All you need is a domain and some web hosting. Other expenses, fundamentally speaking, can be free or remarkably low cost.
But not everyone can do it. You need to bring not only unique skills, but a unique combination of skills if you want to make it as a pro blogger. Remember, it’s not just the writing. It’s the branding, the marketing, the monetization… all of it. And then there’s the whole mindset shift, recognizing that you probably won’t be the most popular blogger right off the bat (and you may never be the most popular either). You need a steadfast determination to keep moving forward when everyone says you can’t.
Can you make it? What are you doing to advance your blogging career?