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

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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 management; 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.

The thing about this industry is that it's always changing and evolving, so the learning never stops.

Amanda in Cleveland, Ohio

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. Some things have worked (like advertising and affiliate marketing), while others might not be for me (like selling products or running tours).

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 mortgage.

These days, I make money the following ways:

  • Advertising (I'm with Mediavine, which serves up all the in-content ads on this site)
  • Affiliate marketing (I earn commissions when people buy/book things I recommend)
  • Paid campaigns (when I'm hired by a brand or destination to create content about a tour or place)
  • Branded content on my blog (i.e. a company pays me to write about a product, destination, etc.)
  • Consulting (with other bloggers on things like affiliate marketing, and with destinations about influencer marketing)
  • Influencer campaigns (usually on social media)
  • Course sales (these ones!)
  • Speaking (usually at blogger-focused conferences and events)
  • Freelance writing (for other travel websites, though I don't do this very much any more)

My income still fluctuates month-to-month, but it's far steadier now than it ever used to be!

READ MORE: How I Make Money as a Travel Blogger

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 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.

The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that access to my audience is valuable (and closely protected!), my content is strong, and I 100% deserve to be paid for the hard work I pour into every project.

As a female entrepreneur, it's far too easy to feel apologetic about wanting to make money – but we all need to get over this!

Amanda at Ait-Benhaddou

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.

As time has worn on, I also sometimes just have to say no for my mental health and well-being. I don't want to always be on the road, and need to force some balance into my life at times by saying no to trips and projects that I'm just not super excited about.

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 I've learned what every business owner at some point learns: you have to spend money to make money.

It starts out slow: maybe purchasing better web hosting, a new theme, an online course or ebook, productivity tools, etc. And eventually it will turn into spending money on team members and premium services to help you work smarter instead of harder.

And of course I spend more money on traveling, too, which is equally as important for a website that's all about traveling!

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!

Want to read more about the business of blogging? Check out these posts:

And don't forget that I run my own blogging courses, too! I have courses on working with brands and getting started with affiliate marketing – you can check those out here.

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

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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74 Comments on “Turning a Blog into a Business: 7 Things I Did Right

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  1. hello Amanda
    it was really inspiring , it was really lovely to read about your own life and your experience
    about how you become your blog to a business which is really motivating
    thanks Amanda

    Not undervaluing what I have to offer that is my take home message.

    I sometimes wish I learnt business marketing and so on before I started my own business, would of saved me ALOT of money.

    Very helpful. Just a technical question — for your sponsored posts, are all links nofollow? Or do you also use dofollow links? I also have accepted one pre-written post which I re-wrote to fit my voice and style. I regretted doing it, however. It would be the last pre-written post in my site.

      I don’t accept sponsored posts any longer. But technically the links should be no-follow.

        Thank you, Amanda. Seems like I would have to decline sponsored posts moving forward.

        Last question, if it’s ok, do you use a plugin to convert links to nofollow? Thank you!

          I don’t, no. I just manually make links no-follow when they need to be.

    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!

      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!

    Bahaha, those online gambling websites are the worst ๐Ÿ˜€ 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Blogging is so much more challenging than many people realize! But yup, never a dull moment. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    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. ๐Ÿ™‚ Cheers!

      Yes, being passionate about whatever you’re writing about is a must!

    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.

      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.

    […] Turning a Blog into a Business: 7 Things I Did Right Amanda Williams never expected anyone except her parents to read her blog, let alone that she would one day make money from it. But as time went by and her audience began growing she faced a decision: Was her blog going to remain just a hobby, or was it time to start thinking about it as a business and eventually a career? […]

    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!

      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!)

    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.

      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!

    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.

      Definitely! And it’s something that I still struggle with (and maybe always will) – but I’ve definitely gotten better at it over the years!

    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.

      It’s still something I struggle with from time to time, but I’m getting much better with practice!

    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!

      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!

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