To publish or not to publish, that is the question
I debated whether I should publish this article for two months. I talked to friends, family, acquaintances — all have given me different responses. I tweeted to fellow personal finance bloggers, too. Everyone had a different answer.
Frankly, I’m nervous to share this article. Unlike my weaker points and budgetary failures, this article is a highlight. It was easier for me to write and confess my student loan debt to you all, but successes are more difficult to share — ironically.
After much consternation, I decided I’d finally publish an answer to a big question I’ve been getting: “How much can bloggers make?” Or, more specifically sometimes: “How much did you make, Sam?”
Even as I type these words, I’m debating whether I’ll push the publish button. It’s really challenging to share this number. I’m proud and embarrassed in a weird way.
Well, here goes nothing! Today, I’m going to share with you how much I made over the first year of Frugaling, and what led to that success. My goal is to both inspire those who are thinking about starting a blog, but also to provide info about where the greatest revenue can be made. I know of quite a few people right now who want to get paid to write or need some push to start blogging.
This one’s for you.
A trickle became a torrent of funds
I started with Google AdSense
I began Frugaling on May 4, 2013. Motivated out of a desperate need to share my story with others and begin my journey back to zero debt, I wrote my first article. These first few months I only had Google AdSense. I stared at $15-20 a month and thought this was pointless, but that quickly doubled, and doubled again.
For those who’ve never heard of the platform, it’s an easy and very popular way to start making revenue. Google handles the advertisers — all you do is publish them. Easy as can be. Nobody becomes rich from AdSense, though (hardly anyone at least). It’s an entirely automated and algorithmic ad network that pairs relevant advertisements with consumers. While creepy sometimes, the ad network is the best in the industry — for everyone involved in the money making process.
I looked up affiliate opportunities
As a member of the personal finance blogging community, I was fortunate to be exposed to various money-making experts. Many had done well adding affiliate programs to their sites. Affiliate programs usually host a bunch of companies that are looking to give publishers a small commission for products sold. Let’s say you run an apparel website and link to Macy’s, you can count on a certain amount of revenue kicked back to you in the referral process. Or, if you blog, it can help to advertise your web host.
I decided to throw my hat in the ring and joined a top-notch network called LinkOffers. Two months after being approved to hawk some bank-affiliated products, I looked at my account and noticed a strange number: $500 in sales. It was early in the summer and the number shocked me. I was making ridiculous amounts of money! Over the ensuing months, I received an atmospheric amount of affiliate commissions (I’ll address monetary specifics in the proceeding section).
I partnered and linked to Amazon.com
I timed articles to important holidays, your recommended books, and/or tax season. Most bloggers seem to struggle to make much money with Amazon’s affiliate program. I found it to be incredible.
You can link to nearly everything in the Amazon store and make a commission on that item and anything else that’s purchased during that visit. This primary and secondary commission style is very generous. For instance, if someone buys the product you advertised and a new Macbook Air, get ready for a kickback of $40 or more. These purchases added up quickly. One article netted me over $200 in two months.
Flappy Bird-style wealth creation is definitely scary
The Apple Store was slammed earlier this year with millions of downloads of one app with a ridiculously simple premise and name: Flappy Bird. The creator was a mysterious and private individual based in Vietnam. Not much was known about him until Rolling Stone magazine tracked him down and got one of the best interviews yet. Rolling Stone reported that:
By February, it was topping the charts in more than 100 countries and had been downloaded more than 50 million times. Nguyen was earning an estimated $50,000 a day. Not even Mark Zuckerberg became rich so fast.
This level of attention and wealth prompted Nguyen to take down the app and buck the demand for his work. Within a couple days of his decision to remove the app, it vanished. Many criticized his decision and questioned why anyone making $50k a day would optionally take down their application. Frankly, I could relate on a tenth of the scale.
In December, January, and February I saw earnings that blew my mind. Every day I checked my earnings, I was looking at another couple hundred dollars. I was closing in or crossing $5,000 per month. I was scared about whether the affiliate company would actually pay me. Every month — before I got paid — I’d get nervous. I’d think, “Are my earnings going to be revoked? Am I actually going to get paid that much?” Month after month would pass, and the earnings would clear — right into my bank account. It was like magic.
Average these earnings over 12 months, and I’d be making over $60,000 per year. Meanwhile, I’m a full-time graduate student working 65+ hours a week. With all my earnings combined (regular work, too), I was nearing a six-figure salary. My debt was disappearing and life was looking up in a crazy way.
The earnings eventually slowed. The bulk of the money was earned. I paid off a $25,000 student loan and stopped taking out loans for school entirely. Suddenly, I was paying in cash for the deficits in my graduate assistantship budget.
Marketing and advertising affects everyone
You’ve now read nearly the entirety of this article, but I still haven’t shared how much a blogger can make. Or, more specifically, how much I made in my first year. Before I say that value, I want to mention one thing: advertising tends to taint perspectives.
As a personal finance writer, there’s a wealth of advertising opportunities. It’s a direct consequence of the powerful financial services sector. Trillions of dollars are managed within financial companies, and consumer credit products are just one of the many revenue sources they have. It can be easy to be swept up with the possibilities and ignore the initial purpose for starting a blog.
I got swept up by it. I was deeply affected by it. It changed how I speak. It swayed my opinions.
After you see this value, I hope you take great care with your site and visitors. Please don’t let this inspire you to morph into a credit-card-hawking-affiliate-driven-market-maven. The personal finance world needs personality and reality. Credit products aren’t right for everyone.
Still want to know how much I made?
I made about $35,000 in my first year of blogging.
Related post: Make An Extra $10,000 In 6 Months!