Becoming a Professional Blogger: What Everybody Ought to Know

 

I may not be Darren Rowse, but I'm still a professional blogger. That's because blogging is the main way I make my living as a writer. In the last 10 years I've written for sites covering everything from travel to business to social media marketing.  Some days I still can't believe that people pay me to do something I enjoy so much!

That said, it's been quite a ride. Apart from a brief flirtation with Blogger when it started up, in 2005 I'd never written a word for publication online and I had no idea that blogging would be a paying career. I had plenty of writing experience, gained from years as a reporter and editor. But blogging was an experiment.

At the time, not many companies had blogs and not many businesses took blogging seriously. But personal bloggers were everywhere, and I became one of them, honing my skills on a now-defunct site. That got me into the habit of writing daily, responding to comments and getting ideas for new posts from readers' comments and questions. And I learned about SEO, online writing and other useful skills.

Lesson one: hone your blogging skills

My First Blogging Gig

 

What Everybody Ought to Know About Becoming a Professional Blogger

Image source: Pixabay

Then – an opportunity. In 2007, a site called PiggyBankPie invited readers to submit posts to win a prize. I entered, won (with this post) and immediately started wondering how I could do something that was so much fun and still get paid. Luckily, it was a time when sites were springing up all the time and people were desperate to learn about blogging, WordPress, social media and all things web-related. As a bit of a nerdy geek (geeky nerd?) I was in my element.

It took a while, but by 2008, three new opportunities had come my way:

  • First, the chance to review web-based services for the site that later became Appvita.
  • Second, the chance to blog about WordPress related stuff on another site that's now defunct.
  • Third, a gig blogging about blogging (that site's gone too).

All of these opportunities paid. The pay wasn't great, but I was earning money doing what I loved – the true start of my professional blogging career.

Lesson two: blogging gigs can come from writing about your interests.

Meanwhile I was still developing my blogging skills on my personal blog, Get Paid to Write Online, which I continued to update till last year. This was a great way for me to develop my writing voice and continue the interaction with others that makes blogging worthwhile.

Marketing without Marketing

Today, we take it for granted that all bloggers need to market their skills – on social media, on their sites, via newsletters and with content. I did that without realizing what I was doing. There was no plan. I just connected with like-minded people on Twitter and became part of a strong community of writers and bloggers. Many of us are still in contact today.

Here's the great thing about blogging and marketing: every post you publish under your own name markets your skills. My original three gigs plus a travel article I'd written for a friend were enough to land me my first big blogging gig – for a travel industry company in the US. I kept blogging for them till 2012, and the gig paid enough to fund most of my expenses.

I still wasn't a full-time blogger, but I was getting closer. I also kept my hand in with journalism, writing news and features for a couple of UK trade magazines.

Meanwhile, I took on lots of writing gigs, some paid, some free. I covered writing, social media, travel – whatever came up that interested me. I made lots of blogging friends, like Ileane Smith of Basic Blog Tips and Gail Gardner of Growmap, and blogged on their sites too.

I also started blogging on my own professional site, showcasing my work first monthly, then quarterly and sharing those posts on Twitter. I picked out some of my best work and put it on a portfolio page. And I changed my site to reflect my expertise in blogging.

Lesson three: networking with friends can help you showcase your blogging work.

How a Regular Gig Found Me

Soon all my writing and low-key marketing paid off. For the first time, a blogging client approached me – and it turned out to be a doozy! The former editor of Crazy Egg sent me a contact form message inviting me to talk about writing for the site. That led to a totally different conversation from the ones I had where I was one of hundreds applying for a blogging gig. He knew what I could do already and all we had to do was establish the terms.

Saying yes was the best decision I ever made because that opportunity has led to many others. More than three years later I am still writing for the blog, have a great relationship with the current editor and have a lot of work that serves to showcase my skills. These days, I don't often have to chase writing gigs: they come to me. Lots of people see my work and approach me to write similar content for them. And that's a great position to be in.

Lesson four: sometimes you have to take a leap of faith; it may pay off.

Where I Went Wrong

If you're thinking that this all sounds too good to be true, let me admit to making a few mistakes on the way. Mistakes like:

  • Not having a business site to attract blogging clients at the start. My writing blog was great, but not many people hired me based on what they saw there. If I'd done this, I might have been a full-time blogger sooner.
  • Treating my guest blogging bio as just a bio, rather than including a call to action encouraging people to check out my other work.
  • Undercharging for the amount of research and writing time I put into every post.
  • Not tracking results – there's no excuse, since Google Analytics is free.

Lesson five: if you want people to hire you, create a destination that shows your work and point your bio to it.

What I Did Right

At the same time, there are some things that worked really well for me:

  • Experimenting with social media sites as they were launched not only gave me something to write about, but helped me promote my skills.
  • Taking occasional guest posting opportunities to put my work in front of new people really paid off.
  • Continuing to be a polymath with a wide range of interests made me a versatile blogger and writer.

So here's what I've learned after years of blogging professionally:

  • That if you're blogging under your own name, your work markets you.
  • That you can make money from blogging even if you don't monetize a site.
  • That guest posting your best work on other people's sites is a great way to find people who want to pay you to blog.
  • That success in blogging is a mixture of hard work and good luck.

Is being a professional blogger easy? Yes and no. It took 7 years from the day I wrote my first blog post to the time where blogging represented most of my income. That's hardly a get-rich-quick approach. In fact, it's more of a “get pretty comfortable real slow” approach. But that's OK.

A couple years ago, I hit the sweet spot where 90-95% of my income came from blogging. Why only 90-95%? Because I have old clients who come back to me for other kinds of writing. And because, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I want to be free. Having blogging as a base with the ability to take up other writing opportunities as they arise gives me that freedom.

How did you get started in blogging? What have you learned?

Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional freelance writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 20 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. To get a post like this for your blog, connect with Sharon on her website.

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47 thoughts on “Becoming a Professional Blogger: What Everybody Ought to Know

  1. Great article, Sharon! I’d also add for pro bloggers, it helps to develop an ideal client profile or profiles. I’ve gotten lots of inquiries over the years I wish I hadn’t taken because I knew from the start we weren’t a good fit. The allure of the money and exposure is strong, but it’ll only work against you ultimately if the client leaves dissatisfied and so do you.

  2. Sharon… you found resources early on that I didn’t… not surprised. And you’re prettier than Darren. I started blogging without having any real idea what a blog was/is… and sometimes I still don’t know. Love your list of what you did right and that you kept plugging….

    • Thanks, Anne. Sometimes sticking it out goes a long way. 🙂 You were one of my early mentors, though you probably didn’t know it as I spent a lot of time lurking back then.

  3. I could really relate to this Sharon. (And if I’m perfectly honest, I made some of the same mistakes).

    Some of the blogs where I was first paid for blogging are defunct now too. 🙂

    I think the key to having a career in blogging is not giving up. I can think of some bloggers I looked up to when I started (and who I thought would likely be around a long time) who no longer blog.

    “Get pretty comfortable real slow” is also my experience. But I still take on non-blogging projects (mostly copywriting and proofreading gigs), so blogging isn’t 100% of my income.

    • I agree, Laura. I’m glad I stuck with it. Non-blogging projects can be fun, too, but blogging’s what I love most. 🙂

  4. I’ve loved watching your journey, Sharon. It reaffirms my belief that the cream does rise to the top. 🙂 I also love blogging. While I am definitely not complaining (because it pays well), some of my best work is ghostwritten for clients. The only blogs with my byline are the blogs I own (or the guest posts I’ve done). Blogging fits my style. I can really be myself.

    I’ve played around with ideas for getting more bylined posts but I get entrenched in my ghostwritten posts. But that can always change. You’ve shared great tips, Sharon. Thank you for the inspiration. 🙂

    • Thanks, Cathy. I don’t complain about ghostwriting, either – I still ghost blog for clients, but I’m happy that most of my work is bylined. Glad to have provided a little inspiration; your business blog is a constant inspiration to me, so it’s good to return the favor. 🙂

  5. That destination bit is SO IMPORTANT. I learned that lesson early on when I had been blogging at my personal domain rather than my business domain; HUGE FAILURE. I actually had 3 blogs, I’d point people to one only to have them subscribe to the wrong one and then get confused about the content.

    Whew.

    So much simpler to just have one freaking blog and let that be the end of it.

  6. Loved this Sharon. You are such the professional and supportive team player that I am often in awe of you and your quiet power. Your post are always interesting regardless of the topic and this one just explains it even more. This was on time for me as I need a little kick to get back on board again and I am now inspired. I just may be coming to you for some advice very soon!

  7. Really good insight to guest blogging/ ghost blogging. It concerned me whether to hire, do my own, or get someone to post with a byline, this has helped tremendously, and the person I hired for a few blog posts, I will surely ask/pay for more, and get her/him to write their own too.
    Thanks Sharon and LT.. always learning.

  8. These are great tips for anyone who looks into this niche of blogging, a veteran and mostly the newbie, its a great point to point black that shows you hard work pays good enough!

    The best part of blogging that most are running into it is monetisation and the fact that its can automate your sales for any products you selling!

    so blogging is a great way to market and build a brand!

    Simple, have something great that will entertain and educate, and solve your customers problems and frustration! and become a profession blogger, its something to consider!

    Great Article & Tips Sharon!

    Keep em coming!

  9. Really enjoyed your article Sharon. Excellent tips on blogging, and your story about how you got into writing was interesting too.

  10. Great post Sharon!

    I have always enjoyed putting my thoughts onto paper by way of writing articles, poetry and one or two songs. I would read blog posts and think “I could do this”.

    The rest is history!

    I have learnt that I need to be patient, consistent and one step ahead. I give and share ideas in various forums. At times I feel like a mere amateur when networking with professional bloggers like yourself. I am being challenged and I can only go forward.

    • Everyone starts from ground zero… but having others pave the way and seeing what they do and how they do it… makes being a professional blogger or any career a little bit easier.

    • We all have to start somewhere, Phoenicia. If you’re already sharing ideas in forums, then a little more writing would allow you to make those ideas into posts. 🙂

  11. Lots of very helpful, easy tips in here that anyone can follow. I appreciate the advice to stay focused on linking to other related blogs and posts… and to keep them related. Thank you for sharing this extremely relevant article.

  12. As a starter on blogging, I find your piece as a great inspiration to me to avoid the pitfalls that other newbies who had no such exposure fell into. Thank you, Sharon. Looking foward to reading you often.

  13. For a new blogger just starting out it was nice to hear your story and see all that you went through and how in the end it has all worked out for you.
    That gives me hope as well. Thank you for sharing your true story with us.

  14. I loved reading your journey Sharon. I have been blogging for some years now but do not think of myself as a blogger like some of my online friiends I have met through blogging. I am not a natural writer and these days would prefer to shoot videos. I admire your skill and loved this post. Thank you!

  15. What an interesting start to a wonderful career, Sharon. Isn’t it amazing how great it feels to be doing something that comes naturally and that you enjoy? Your story is not only inspiring, but very telling about writing as a career. There are so many ways people with writing skills can get into that field, but often they feel it’s only thru writing novels that they’ll make money. Pity… Loved the article!

  16. @kamirules: glad you enjoyed it.
    @Meiko; So happy you liked the article. It’s true that there are lots of ways to use writing skills; all you have to do is find the one you like best.:)

  17. Sharon, all the ins and outs you been through. And how its paid off in the long run. I feel lucky to find blogs like yours to learn from. Thank you

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