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
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?