April 2016 Income: Blog Investments
Hey everyone!! I'm back at it again with Income Report #2! April was a rollercoaster ride with plenty of ups and downs, but there were quite a few successes that I'm so excited to share. I definitely didn't make as much money as I did last month, but this is the reason I want to start sharing these monthly income reports: I think they will help give you a good sense of what it's like to work as a freelancer, and how to keep pushing despite these ups and downs. And let's not forget that while you gotta pay the bills, there are so many other rewarding parts of having a business that you can't put a dollar figure on.
If you missed last month's income report, you can find it here.
Now, some very exciting things happened this month. I managed to find all new clients for some social media work, a tiny bit of freelance writing and some sponsored content. Last month, I got a big photography job that really boosted my income for the month. Though I took a pay-cut this month, I have quoted a few brands/networks for larger jobs that will hopefully come to fruition. I also DOUBLED my traffic. Say whatttttt?
I didn't include this last month, but wanted to show you where my traffic is coming this month. I do want to caution you that every month it changes, and it's taken me a LONG ASS TIME to get noticed by Buzzfeed, however I am finally starting to get featured occasionally on their site and social media pages which results in huge traffic for me from Facebook and their site. I always used to wonder how food bloggers seemed to get featured so easily on Buzzfeed – it seems to be the holy grail of traffic and impossible to get at the same time. I would read blogger income reports that showed they were getting noticed by Buzzfeed within a couple of months of launching their blogs, meanwhile I had been focusing on food for well over a year before I ever got featured.
There are two reasons for this I think: first of all, I used to shoot with artificial light when I had a busier work/school schedule and I wasn't very good at it. When I started shooting in natural light I was definitely getting better, but I don't think I really knew how to bring a “feeling” to my photos with props and accessories. Within the past couple of months, I've wrapped up school and started to really focus on improving my food photography, planning out my content with the following checklist:
- What theme am I going for?
- What season is this dish going to remind people of?
- What are the main dishes I'm going to use? (plates, large/medium sized-bowls?)
- What accessories/props do I need? (chopsticks, napkins?)
- What's the colour scheme going to be? (will I use a white background or coral napkins?)
- Links for styling inspiration (usually the first thing I google that is related to my recipe that catches my eye, or I look to my Food Styling Pinterest board for composition)
I also have really been working hard to get more traffic from Pinterest and recently bought a year-long membership from Tailwind. My traffic has definitely tripled since signing up, but sometimes it feels like it goes up at a snail's pace. I've also been told that Pinterest has changed their algorithm and bloggers are noticing a more natural increase in traffic in the past few weeks. I pin about 40 of my own pins to large group boards every day (about 60 on weekends), and then I try to pin at least 10-20 pins from other people to my own boards to keep them active. I'm still figuring out Pinterest needless to say!
These are just some of the challenges in figuring out how to improve website traffic, and needless to say I don't know everything when it comes to this. And I try not to worry too much about landing a ton of traffic either, because ultimately that is just one small part of a blog. However, it does give you the ability to charge more money for work as you grow in popularity, and will give you higher earnings advertising-wise.
Here’s a breakdown of my income from this month:
- $150 from advertising (Google Adsense, Gourmet Ads, Chicory and AOL Ads)
- $1280 sponsored posts (clients came from a variety of PR firms, independent brands and blogger networks)
- $300 freelance writing and photography work
I'm glad that I received around the same amount of sponsored work as I did last month, so that is a good sign of around what I should expect each month. And again, like the month before, I received about the same amount of money from both advertising and freelance writing work. The reason the amount is so low for freelancing is because I did not have the time to actively seek out freelance work – I simply took work that was assigned to me from websites I normally work with, without pitching to a publication. I hope to increase this amount as I finish my Master's thesis and have more time to dedicate to crafting pitches. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm still in school full time because otherwise I will literally just work my life away. My advertising should also be going up considering that my traffic doubled, but again, my traffic is relatively low compared to some big food blogger names out there.
About a third of my sponsored posts for the month came from blogger networks such as Food Bloggers of Canada and Social Fabric. I’ve also heard good things about Mode Foodie but they require you to have their ads above the fold. The remaining sponsored post opportunities I received this month were through emails directly from my site, and PR agencies I have worked with in the past on similar types of sponsored content for different clients. I find that my connections in the Toronto PR and media industry really come in handy – odds are if I do a good job on one campaign, I get referred for another at some point.
Before I move on to the goal-setting part of my income report, I wanted to talk a little bit more about income reports themselves and why I want mine to be a bit different from the typical template. First of all, while I respect other bloggers' need to make money and use income reports as a means to make some affiliate income, that is not my aim with these posts. I consider myself to be part of such a friendly, awesome community of talented people and I simply want to be part of a larger conversation about money making in the online world.
Secondly, I estimate that about a third of my traffic is probably coming from other food bloggers, so it would make sense for me to dedicate a resources section on my website. However, I want you all to recognize that food blogging is not an easy way to make money these days. There's a lot of competition in the industry, plenty of low paid (or not paid at all) jobs and it does take a hefty financial investment that also takes up a lot of time. It's only after a year of working almost full time hours on this blog that I have been able to monetize. And if you've been following along, you'll know that the money I'm making is not money you can live on alone. Some months I'm up, and some months I'm down. I'm very lucky to have understanding parents who let me move back home to live for free until I can pay off my student debts and save up some money for my own place again.
I want to talk about my investment into this blog. I am a full time Master's student just beginning my career as a freelancer. Needless to say, I don't have a lot of cash so I've had to make my money stretch and spend wisely on things that will help push the site to be successful.
Here's a list of things I've purchased for my website:
- Hosting for my blog (easily a minimum of $100 a year)
- The Genesis framework ($100)
- A website theme ($50)
- Two domain names ($30 annually)
- Fonts to help with my branding on Creative Market ($20)
- Campaigns on Facebook to help increase my following (easily have spent over $300 over the past year)
- Adobe Creative Cloud account ($25 a month student discount)
- Tickets to conferences and workshops (like the Food Bloggers of Canada conference for $170, or the $85 Business of Blogging course from Camp Tech)
- Tools for social media and newsletter subscriptions (like Popup Ally Pro for $97, or the $114 yearly subscription for Tailwind)
- Books (about $70 worth, like Will Write for Food or From Pixel to Plate)
- A subscription to Food Blogger Pro ($60 for two months) to assist me in improving my food photography and story-telling skills
- A small business tax return ($160)
- Props for food photography (at least $200-300)
- Let's not forget the DSLR camera that cost me $1000 (for a list of more of my blog resources click here)
In all, I've spent at least over $2500 worth of money investing in this blog over the course of about a year and a half. It's hard work, and it costs money.
I have been blogging for about 30-40 hours a week for the past year. When I started, I had 5000 people a month coming to my website, and was making about $10 a month from the ads on my site. I started to connect with brands, businesses and PR companies, and from there I started hosting contests for free where I often had to pay upwards of $10 each time to mail the prizes myself. I then moved to free events and meals at restaurants in exchange for reviews. After about four months or so, I started receiving anywhere from $50 to $100 for posts here and there where I questioned if the post was a good fit, but needed some of the cash I invested returned to me.
I want to write these income reports to give people genuine insight on realistic ways you can earn money, and I need you to know that it doesn't happen overnight. I obviously have a lot of personal factors in my life like being a student and living with my parents that enables me to compromise and do without a huge salary for the moment. I've also worked very hard – this blog is the result of many sleepless nights and 80 hour work weeks between it, school and working elsewhere to pay my bills. For three years I lived in downtown Toronto paying for rent, tuition, transportation, etc. so my lifestyle was obviously one I had to give up in order to work on a more full-time basis on this blog. Anyways, let's talk about goal-setting now!
Here's what I did last month to achieve my blogging goals:
- Started to build (somewhat disorganized) editorial calendars by season with recipes that have been better researched for SEO
- Purchased Popup Ally Pro to continue to build my email subscriber list – I have yet to design a custom pop-up that better fits the branding of my blog, however, and I have not sent out emails yet
- Built a media kit and used it to quote for paid opportunities (this has actually been so helpful!)
- Downloaded WP Smush, a plugin that helps optimize your photos for the web without compromising picture quality
My goals for the upcoming month are:
- Create more branded photos with text I have purchased from Creative Market (the same text as my blog’s logo)
- Incorporate more story-telling into my recipes and creating bi-weekly posts that show off more about who I am (this should help with my branding and when pitching to publications)
- Find new ways to diversify my income in relation to work I'm already doing on the blog (e.g. meal planning services, social media consultations, etc.)
- Redirect my website URL to match my website branding better, which will hopefully result in more traffic from Google
- Eventually branch off into video (will be experimenting with this once the thesis is handed in come July!)
Finally, before I end this income report I wanted to include some reading that I found especially helpful, and will be guiding me in my goals for the upcoming month.
- Why a National Board or Brand Might Hire You – Dianne Jacob
- Who Are You? Finding Your Writer's Voice – Food Bloggers of Canada
- Cooking up a “Tasty” treat: Ingredients for a viral video – Flip the Media
There we are, the end of Income Report #2. Thanks so much for reading! How do you make income from your blog? Are you still trying to monetize? I’d love to hear some of your stories in the comments!
*There are no direct affiliate links in this post, but there may be some located in other pages I have linked to in this post