Turning a Blog into a Business: 7 Things I Did Right

Digital nomad
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When I started this blog back in 2010, I started it entirely as a hobby. I never expected anyone except my parents to read it, and I certainly never dreamed that one day I would make money from it. And that was perfectly fine with me – I just needed an outlet for my travel stories, and a blog seemed like as good an option as anything else.

But as time went by and my audience miraculously began (and then continued) growing, I was faced with a decision: Was my blog going to remain just a hobby, or was it time to start thinking about it as a business and eventually a career?

It's not a question anyone else could have answered for me as every blog/blogger's trajectory is different. And I didn't make a decision right away. I kept traveling. I kept working. I eventually went back to school with the goal of getting a job in tourism.

But after I finished grad school in 2013, I decided that I DID want to keep traveling and blogging and I DID want to work towards making a full-time living as a blogger/freelancer.

It was one thing to make that decision. It was another entirely to put it into practice.

Amanda licking glacier ice in Iceland

I'd much rather take silly photos than learn about business practices and SEO.

After grad school I traveled a bit more before finally settling down in Ohio and finding some contract work outside of the travel sphere to help bolster my bank account while I experimented with different ways to make money. I wasn't ready to fully dive-in and rely on just my blog and freelance work right away – I had tried that once while traveling and it had been a massive failure. Instead I took my time and slowly found my way to viewing my blog as a business.

Throughout the long process of going from hobby blogger to professional blogger, I did many things wrong. But I also did quite a few things right and thought now would be as good a time as any to share them with you:

1. Teaching myself things along the way

I didn't go to school for marketing or to get a business degree. I studied journalism and then tourism – I knew absolutely nothing about running a business when I started. But I'm a curious type of person, and I'm always up for trying and learning new things. One major thing that I did right was being open to learning skills along the way. I taught myself about SEO and affiliate marketing. I learned how to leverage and grow my social media accounts. I did my research on how and where to find freelance gigs. And I was okay with the fact that I didn't already know it all.

Could I go and teach a business course now? Well no, probably not. I still have a long way to go and lots more to learn – but I'm willing to do it.

2. Constantly trying new things

As with anything new that you're learning, you have to be flexible and open to trying new things. I started to monetize my blog back in 2011/12, when selling text links was the ideal way to make quick money. Most travel bloggers I knew did it, and back then it wasn't viewed as unfavorably as it is now.

As Google has updated its rules, though, selling text links for cash has fallen by the wayside; it's no longer a sustainable monetization method. This has meant that I've experimented a lot when it comes to ways to make money as a blogger. I've sold branded posts, tried different affiliate programs, joined countless influencer networks, written courses about travel blogging, and have been toying around with the idea of products (like ebooks).

It can be exhausting always trying to come up with new ideas, especially when you're relying on those ideas for your income while still wanting to please an audience of travel lovers who really don't care if/how you're making money. But you can never find out what works without trying a lot of different things.

GowithOh apartment in Barcelona, Spain

3. Diversifying my income

Trying new things year after year has helped me diversify my income streams. The number one question I get asked when I tell people that I'm a blogger is “How do you make money doing that?” And the answer, of course, is not a simple one. I don't make money in just one way any more – but that's actually a really good thing. Having a series of income streams means that if I lose one, I won't go broke or have to stress too much about how I'll pay next month's rent.

These days, I make money the following ways:

  • Affiliate marketing (I use Amazon, Booking.com, CJ, and am an affiliate for some blogging courses)
  • Branded content on my blog (i.e. a company pays me to write about a product, destination, campaign, etc.)
  • Freelance writing (for other travel websites)
  • Influencer campaigns (usually on social media)
  • Course sales (my TBS course about working with brands/tourism boards)
  • Advertising (I still accept to odd ad here and there if it's a good fit for my blog, and also sell blogger ad spots)

Some months I may make a few hundred here and a few hundred there, but ultimately all those hundreds add up to an income I can comfortably live on.

4. Not undervaluing what I have to offer

When I first started to monetize my blog, it was really difficult to know how much to charge for certain things. How much should a sponsored post be? What about a banner ad? Are you supposed to charge to do giveaways? Again, it was an educational process for me, and one that I'm STILL learning about. Thankfully my fellow travel bloggers have always been willing to help and offer guidance along the way.

In the end, I settled on the sorts of advertising/income streams that I felt comfortable with, and then had to consider how much each of those was worth based on the time/effort involved on my part, the size of my audience, etc. The toughest part has been not undervaluing myself. When I went on my first paid campaign for a destination, I WAY underpriced myself simply because I had no benchmark to set my price against. Similarly, I have to remind myself to update my advertising/branded content prices as my audience continues to grow.

5. Learning when to say no

Especially when you're first starting out, it can be really tempting to say yes to everything – every press trip, every text link, every offer of a free product to try out. But you have to learn when to say no. Like no, I will not place a link to your spammy online gambling site even if you are willing to pay me $800. Or no, I am not interested in writing a sponsored post about a destination I've never visited, no matter how easy it would be. Or no, sorry, that super luxury food-focused press trip just isn't quite the right fit for my audience.

Even though it would be great to say yes to everything (and potentially make quite a bit more money), you do have to decide where to draw the line and then stick to it. It's not always easy, but is so important to running a healthy blog-as-a-business.

Amanda at Fort Island Gulf Beach

6. Investing in my website

I was just as cheap as every other travel blogger out there when I was first starting out. I got the cheapest web hosting possible, was using a free WordPress theme, and was reluctant to shell out any money that I didn't think I could immediately make back. Why? Well because I wasn't *making* much money, of course, and so it was difficult to justify spending any.

But as time has worn on, I've learned what every business owner at some point learns: you have to spend money to make money. In the past year alone I have purchased better web hosting, a new theme, a couple online courses, premium social media plugins and tools, and more. Sure, it stings a bit when some of those automatic payments come out of my Paypal account, but I've learned that it really IS worth it to spend more for quality products and services, especially since my site is now my lifeline to a full-time income.

7. Staying true to my voice (even as it has evolved)

Lastly, through all the experimenting and learning and monetizing, I've tried really hard to stay true to my voice and ever-evolving travel style. When I was strictly a backpacker traveling around Europe, I wasn't accepting super luxury press trips or hotel stays. Now that I'm a bit older and enjoy more comforts when I travel, I still focus on realistic travel – meaning I go to destinations and book tours and stay in accommodation that the average reader of my site can still afford and enjoy.

And I always keep my readers in mind when accepting anything sponsored on this site. If I'm going on a free trip, you'd better believe it's going to be one I would 100% pay for myself. If I'm going to write a branded post, I'm going to write it my way, in my voice, and in a way that (I hope) my readers will still enjoy. I try to stay real – hopefully it comes across!

 

Travel Blog Success

If you want to start out (and continue) on the right foot, then you have to invest in staying educated about what’s happening in the blogging world. I’ve been at this blogging thing for nearly 6 years now, and yet I’m STILL learning new things every single week.

A good place to start is with Travel Blog Success, which is one of the most comprehensive travel blogger membership programs I’ve come across. TBS membership gets you two different full-length courses (one on travel writing, and one on travel blogging), as well as access to a kickass secret Facebook group, perks and discounts on conferences and blogging tools, free webinars, and more.

Travel Blog Success

If you're interested in turning YOUR hobby blog into a business, then now is the perfect time to take advantage and do it. Get started now!

(And yes, if you buy through my affiliate link I’ll get a commission from your sign-up. But I legit think TBS is awesome – and I’ll see you around in the Facebook group!)

Do you have questions about turning a blog into a business? Leave them in the comments below!

 

48 Comments

  • Danny says:

    Thanks for the insight into your own blog’s trajectory! I think the most important thing is to be passionate about what you do. For me, blogging has turned out to be a great hobby, and I’ve enjoyed learning so many new things just by a trial-and-error approach.
    Danny recently posted..4 Stunning Places along the Coast of Cyprus (and Why I Liked Them So Much)

  • Jo Clark says:

    This really useful information, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • I really admire people who can turn a hobby into a business as I’m sure it’s not all fun and games!

    BTW – I did go to school for Marketing and I have TWO business degrees – they aren’t much help in this arena anyways, so you’re not at too much of a disadvantage there 🙂 (Perhaps had I graduated in this century, the curriculum would have been more relevant – email was pretty new to the world when I was in undergrad!)
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..3 Nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia

  • I think numbers 4 and 5 are SO important. Great read, as always. Thanks for sharing, Amanda!

    Happy travels 🙂
    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren recently posted..London Hotel Series – Part 1: Luxury Hotels

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks for reading, Lauren! There are plenty of other things I’ve learned, too, but I figured starting with 7 was good enough. 🙂

  • Isabella says:

    Hello Amanda!
    thanks for the useful information. just out of curiosity, if you don’t mind , on point 2 of your list you mention “when selling text links was the ideal way to make quick money.”
    what does it mean?

    thanks a lot
    happy travel
    Isabella

    • Amanda says:

      It basically means what it sounds like – you would sell links in blog posts to companies who wanted to buy them (since it used to be ideal to get as many backlinks as possible, companies would often pay to place them on blogs and websites). Google frowns upon this, though, and cracked down on the practice a few years ago.

  • Deynn says:

    If you have blog content an image or a logo that lends itself to being printed on mugs, T-shirts, and mouse pads, or other items, you should consider selling branded merchandise from your blog. Not only is it extremely fun to see your brand printed on all sorts of swag, but it will help you with promotions and can earn you some extra money.

    • Amanda says:

      That’s a good suggestion! I personally don’t think I have enough readers who would buy branded products like that, but it certainly would work for bigger blogs/websites.

  • Tanya says:

    I love reading about peoples successes with blogging! I love how you didn’t even intend on making a career at first then it ended up being on anyway 🙂 Very encouraging, Thanks for the tips.
    Tanya recently posted..2016 FLSA & The New Overtime Rules – Free Webinar

    • Amanda says:

      I think it sometimes works out better when you start something purely as a passion and then it grows into a business – it’s much more natural that way, and you aren’t stuck doing something you don’t really love.

  • Arti says:

    Great insights, Amanda! I can relate to so many of these myself. Thanks for sharing.
    Arti recently posted..Places to see / Teerthas of Rameshwaram: Rama Teertham.

  • I think learning to say no is one of the hardest parts. Sometimes it’s easy, like when someone asks you to put a link in a post that doesn’t make sense for $7 but other times it’s a bit harder. I love all of your points here! They are some great learning curves that I think every blogger has experienced at least once.

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, sometimes it’s really hard! I’ve turned down really good money and cool press trips before simply because they weren’t a good fit. Did I feel great doing it? Of course not! But in the end it’s always the right decision.

  • Interesting read, Amanda! I use my blog not only as a creative outlet, but a way to promote my teaching resources too. I would love to research more on how to make my blog really grow and generate more of an income for me – just enough to pay the blogging fees would even be nice 🙂
    Amanda | Lesson Plans & Layovers recently posted..What’s In My Bag: England

    • Amanda says:

      There are lots of ways to make money from a blog, but of course different approaches work for some people and not for others. The first thing I would look into are affiliate programs – I make a nice chunk of money each month (more than enough to pay my rent) just from affiliate sales!

  • Nomadic Foot says:

    Really useful and helpful points specially new bloggers like me. Thanks for posting.

  • Great post. I think when we don’t try knew things, we slow ourselves down. A little failure, a little trial and error never hurt anybody (too bad). 🙂
    Kati from Ms B Travels recently posted..4 Southeastern Small Town Restaurants You Shouldn’t Miss

  • Amanda,

    Thanks for sharing tips on how you grew your blog. I love hearing stories about individuals who started blogging, for example, as a hobby, but it turned into a business. I really liked how much research and brand-building you did for your blog. Learning about SEO isn’t easy, but you took the time to make sure your blog would be as successful as possible.

    Thanks for telling your story,
    Dennis

  • Shara May says:

    Hi Amanda,
    Thank you so much or the article! I’ve been working on my blog now for 6 months and it’s hard getting it off the ground and I start to lose motivation for it some days. I love reading your write ups and it inspirers me to keep going and hopefully one day make it into a full-time business!
    Shara May recently posted..Enjoying Granada As a Solo Female Traveller

    • Amanda says:

      As with any business venture, it takes time! I know it’s tough not to get discouraged sometimes, but just stick with it! The first year is always the hardest.

  • Morgan says:

    This is a really great overview and a good insight on what it’s really like to run a business. Starting a new business is a big task that requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but the results are often so worthwhile! Nicely put! Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks for reading, Morgan! It’s funny because I never in a million years thought I’d ever start a business – but that’s exactly what I’ve done without even realizing it!

  • Aaron says:

    Thanks for sharing these tips, Amanda. I’m literally launching a blog that is about 1 day old now, and it’s my first blog with the intention of generating income through affiliate marketing.

    I’d like to see future posts regarding tips as well. All of this is pretty new to me from a personal blog standpoint, so I’d love to read more about your challenges and how you have overcome them.

    And props on using CommentLuv. I’m one of the developers of the plugin, so always good to see it being put to use!
    Aaron recently posted..The Best 720p TVs (Updated August 2016)

    • Amanda says:

      Good luck with the blog! I don’t do as much with affiliate marketing as I could, but I’m slowly adding more and figuring out what works and what doesn’t on a travel blog. The key is to build enough traffic first!

  • Christina says:

    You make great points about understanding when to say no and not undervaluing what you have to offer. It’s nice that you have realized the importance of pricing your skills appropriately.

  • Not undervaluing what you have to offer is vital. At the start you can be so hungry for sales etc that you accept below your value. It takes experience to have the confidence to state what you actually want.

  • Kaitlyn says:

    What an interesting read! I really enjoy hearing about bloggers’ road to success. It’s great you were able to not get caught up in every offer and draw the line for yourself/business.

    • Amanda says:

      You definitely have to learn to say no. I love what I do and already put a lot of hours in every week – but that number would explode if I said yes to every offer that came through!

  • Andrew says:

    I just found this post and it gives me a great basis to start. I love how you mentioned about investing in your business, I think that’s one of the main things people forget to do when first making money.

    Was one of the things you invested in your header image, or did you create that yourself because that is some talented artwork!
    Andrew recently posted..Lisbon, Portugal – The First Stop Of My 7 Month Trip

    • Amanda says:

      YES, investing in yourself/your business is a huge hurdle for a lot of people, but it really is SO important!

      (And yes, I absolutely did invest in that beautiful header image, as well as the matching social icons you’ll find in the sidebar on all my posts!)

  • Christina says:

    Your statement about teaching yourself things along the way makes a lot of sense. Constantly trying new things can make a world of difference as well.

    • Amanda says:

      Definitely! I’m always testing and trying new things on my blog to see what people like, what can make me money, and new ways to be creative. There are always new things to learn.

  • Justin Estor says:

    I’m actually starting my own one soon and probably focus on that after I leave my job in the future. It’s best to cover something you’re really passionate about and then people will read, watch and listen. 🙂 Cheers!

  • Bahaha, those online gambling websites are the worst 😀 But you’re totally right, saying no is so important (and sometimes so hard). I’m currently working on diversifying my income, but there is SO much you can do and so much to learn. I’m still struggling with setting priorities and finish one thing first before jumping to the next exciting project… Oh well, at least it doesn’t get boring 😉

  • Ben says:

    Running a blog for profit is just like running any other media company – that’s what your doing when you have a for profit blog or website. Consistent, quality traffic is key, and that’s super hard to come by. Congrats for doing well!
    Ben recently posted..Makemytrip Offers & Coupons

    • Amanda says:

      Yup, but it often takes time to make the mindset shift from treating a blog like a hobby vs. like a business. But somehow I’ve managed to keep growing it!

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