the truths about blogging

Months ago I did a Q&A and there were a handful of questions that were quite common. Right next to the topic of balance {which I wrote about here}, the most repeat questions were about blogging – how to start, how to grow, how to make money. I could have split this up into a bunch of posts, but instead I wrote a novel and apparently have some strong opinions about these topics. So for all of you with questions about blogging specifics, this post is for you.

Let me first begin by sharing a bit of my story and how blogging has changed my life.

Since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a wife and mom. I spent my childhood playing house, daydreamed about my someday family, and had a subscription to Martha Stewart Weddings way, way before there was any prospect of getting married {like when I was 16. That’s embarrassing to admit}. My sophomore year of college, I fell in love for the first time. He was smart and creative, a deep thinker and oh, so handsome. Five years after our first date, Ryan asked me to marry him {I said yes, of course, and put all those years of dreaming about my wedding to good use}. Our family quickly grew, adding four children {three boys and a girl} in just six years.  We bought a house in the suburbs, made friends in the neighborhood and while Ryan fought fires, I spent my days feeding and cleaning, coloring and play-dating with my little ones.

I was pretty much living my dream.

Then one day, I discovered a blog. It was written by a mom who had lost her baby and I read through months and months of previous blog posts with tears streaming down my cheeks feeling like I had made a new best friend. From there I discovered other blogs – some of them about family, some about home design, others about fashion, and, ironically, all of them written by stay-home-moms.

I was intrigued and inspired and decided to start a blog of my own. I could use it to document our life with all those kids. I could take photos of our house and join ‘show us your house’ link parties. I could use it as a journal, of sorts, because I found that I didn’t have time to write on actual paper, but I could type pretty quickly.

Around the time that our daughter was born, the blog began to grow. I remember feeling so excited to hit 200 followers in March 2010. I continued reading more and more blogs, made a few new friends and after we hosted a one-day summer boutique, I was completely honored and shocked to be featured on a much larger blog. My little blog was gaining momentum, I was exploring my creativity in new ways, feeling energized in a way I didn’t know I needed.

My kids remained my main focus, but quickly blogging grew into something more than just a way for me to document life; it became a way for me to simply be Emily. Not mom or wife or sister or friend, just me. I could share my heart, do craft projects, post photos of what I wore and I received positive feedback from kind strangers who felt like instant friends.

I had no idea I needed it, but I did. Amidst the daily grind of caring for babies, having this creative outlet offered motivation, new dreams and opportunities I never could have imagined.

About a year into it, Ryan and I made the decision to take blogging seriously and use it as a business {more on that below}.  I always joke that it took having my fourth baby to turn me into a working mom, but I actually could not be more grateful. I stay home with my kids and I write a blog. I design artwork. I journal. I do crafty things and house projects. Our home is going to be in Better Homes & Garden magazine {blows my mind}. In the last year, JDC had over 1.7 million unique visitors. I seriously have to pinch myself sometimes.

I’m a regular mom with active kids and close friends, a house that I struggle to keep tidy, a puppy who chews too much and a husband whose other truck is a fire engine. And I’m a blogger.

Over the past four years, we’ve learned so much about blogging. Neither Ryan nor I have backgrounds in programming or computer software or graphic design or writing – we’ve done this blogging thing through trial and error. So while there are plenty of people out there more qualified to tell you all about the ins and outs of blogging, I’m here, as a woman, a mom, a friend, and someone who has not only found external success, but also inner-transformation, to share with you some of the things we’ve learned along the way.

These are answers to the most common questions I receive about blogging.

Here it goes …

passion

Don’t we all feel like this a little bit with something new? It seems daunting and confusing and so we put it off until tomorrow. And then tomorrow turns into the next day, or the next month or three years.

You might have a very specific topic to blog about {your business, renovating a home, battling a sickness} or you may be a bit more vague {documenting the everyday, curating inspiring images} but as long as you have a desire and a passion, blogging can be such a great way to share these things with your family, your friends, the world.

If you find yourself in this place – with the desire and ideas, but stuck before you’ve started – I wish I had something new and mind-blowing to say, but really the best advice I can offer is just start.

You don’t have to have it all planned out ahead of time; you just have to take the first step.

We sometimes get nervous that we won’t have the right words to say or that no one will be interested in what we have to offer, and this might be true, but it’s probably not. The world is huge and there is always room for you to share your story and your passions. If you find something to be interesting, chances are, there are others who feel the same.

So if you want to write a blog but have been putting it off, start today by taking one step. That might be brainstorming blog names, compiling a list of possible blog posts, asking a friend to keep you accountable, or maybe you are ready for more technical things like registering a domain name or choosing a blog theme. Wherever you are on your blogging journey, allow yourself to take the first step.

As far as actually starting a blog, there are lots of options available {perhaps too many which is part of the where do I even start? problem}. I have found that starting a self-hosted blog with wordpress.org is the way to go. You can choose a free option like blogger or wordpress.com {both great} but because you do not own your site, you are limited with what you can do with it. Think of this like the difference between owning and renting a home. Both function as a shelter, but you don’t get to paint the walls and tear out worn carpet if you are renting. The same is true for your blogging platform. Host your own site and you can make all the decisions about looks, functionality, and advertising.

Having a self-hosted blog means you own your domain name {yourblogname.com} rather than having it hosted though a separate site {yourblogname.blogspot.com}. We use Dreamhost as our hosting company, but there are tons of other equally affordable and quality hosting companies. Once you sign up for hosting and choose your blog name, you install wordpress.org {it’s free} and then customize from there using plug-ins {extra functionality like comment forms and spam protection – most of which are free} and a theme.

There are thousands of great themes {the template for how your blog will look} and many are free. JDC is currently using a theme from ThemeForest called The Cotton, but I’m working on a site re-design and will switch to a new theme by woo themes called Canvas sometime soon. You get to put in whatever graphics you like – so you can create {or have a designer create for you} your header, your sidebar images, a blog button, regular feature graphics, etc.  One of the best things about wordpress.org is that you can completely customize everything about your site.

All of this can be overwhelming, for sure. Especially if you are not particularly comfortable trying new things in the ever-evolving tech-world. Honestly, it’s why we created the Blog Class because we saw a need for a step-by-step guide that takes a bunch of the guesswork and research out of the setting-up of a blog so that you can just start blogging.

Most women who want to blog don’t care about all of the technical aspects, and can be a bit intimidated by the techie-language {html? ftp access? ugh!}. While there are some things you just have to work through and some things you’ll learn as you go, if you can get online and type a word document, you can totally do it. Still not convinced? Maybe find a friend who also wants to start a blog and you can do it together – sharing tips and struggles and solutions along the way. Or join the Blog Class. Shameless plug, I know. But seriously, that’s why we put the class together.

privacy

Such. A. Big. Question.

When it all comes down to it, this is really an issue of personal preference.

We all read blogs with daily family photos, full names, personal details, stories and experiences and we love these bloggers like they are our real-life friends.

There are other bloggers who write with pen names and give their children nicknames and avoid sharing personal moments and yet we love them like friends, too.

You can go either way.

Quite honestly, I am not overly concerned with privacy. I am a trusting person, by nature, and value openness and honesty and vulnerability. Besides just loving sharing our life on the blog, I adore connecting with other ladies and without a certain level of realness, that would not be possible.

Ryan is much more concerned with the protection of our family and we have had to create some boundaries for what I can and cannot share. It’s been hard to find that balance, to tell you the truth. I want to show you everything, journal my heart, tell you about every part of our lives and my more grounded husband just looks at me and says, “Is nothing sacred?!!”.

So here’s what works for us: We keep our real last name private.  I call the boys No. 1, No.2, No.3 when I talk about them, but Audrey just goes by Audrey. There is no rhyme or reason to that one. We have a P.O. box for business correspondence. I have not shown a full tour of our home because it seems kinda creepy to have our exact floor plan roaming the internet. No full shot of the exterior of our home. We don’t say when we’re on vacation. There are parts of our story and our everyday lives that we’ve agreed are off-limits for blog content. Sometimes that makes me sad because like I said, I’m a sharer, but I also understand the importance of keeping our personal lives personal. It will be interesting once the kids are older to see what they think about being on the blog. I don’t post about them individually a ton and so far they think it’s cool to see themselves on the computer screen, but that may change and I’ll respect their wishes.

We have not had any issues with our privacy being violated and I’m sure if something shady happens, I’ll tighten up even more. But for now, these are the ground rules that work for our family.

A few more things to consider as you navigate this privacy issue: talk with your loved ones about it – define some specific boundaries. Make sure your family/friends are comfortable with being in photos before you post them. Be cautious about details you post just to preserve a little bit of anonymity. Most of all, remember that once you hit publish, there is no going back.

traffic

You pour your time, energy, your heart into your blog post and then … nothing.

It’s completely depressing.

Be encouraged! We’ve all been there. Looking back on my first blog posts, most of them have zero comments, zero facebook likes, zero pins {well, it was before the day of pinterest, so whatever}. Some are really good posts with decent photos and heartfelt stories, so I don’t think the lack of comments is because of the content, but rather lack of exposure.

And then it makes me wonder: what was I posting for? Who was I posting for?

I didn’t go into blogging thinking it would turn into my job; it was just a place to escape and be creative. I’m sure I was hoping a few people would read my blog, but I did not start with a clearly defined purpose for why I needed readers. I wanted them because it made me feel good. I liked seeing my follower number increase, I was thrilled to receive comments, I waited anxiously to see how my latest post would be received. Are those things bad? Not necessarily. But it began to become a bit addictive.  Blogging started turning into something I did so I would be liked, rather than my original purpose of being creative and open with my life.

It’s a constant struggle between being true-to-self and striving for popularity. Believe me, it’s a pretty ugly battle. I haven’t conquered it and I’m not sure I ever will. So the best trick I’ve learned is to regularly assess and define my goals, expectations and motivations for blogging.

I highly recommend you do the same.

Are you blogging to document life? To give your children a peek at life when they were too young to remember? To journal a personal journey you are on? Then it doesn’t matter if you have readers or not and you can’t let that pressure get in the way of your intended purposes. If readers come and leave comments and you become the most famous blogger in the world, then great. But that still doesn’t change your purpose of simply documenting life.

Are you blogging to grow a business or gain exposure or earn an income? Then of course you should concern yourself with traffic as this is your livelihood. Just be careful that you don’t lose sight of yourself and stray from your goals in the name of popularity. The blog world is big and there is plenty of room for all of us – do things your own way in a manner that feels natural and integrous and resist the temptation to compare. Easier said than done.

If you are in this second group and are a Christian, there are two opposing arguments for whether or not you should worry about growth.

NO. 1 //  If you are blogging with the right heart and are being obedient to what the Lord is calling you to, He will bless it. That may be in the form of growing readership, or it might be in transforming your own heart, but simply by being aware of what He’s asking of you, you will be honored.

NO. 2 // If you opened a brick & mortar shop and did nothing to advertise, you would likely go out of business. There are some basic, prudent steps you can take to spread the word about your shop, promote your goods, get people in the door, make a sale.  The same is true of blogging. And there’s no need to apologize for it.

I sit somewhere in the middle of both of these opinions {how wishy-washy, I know}. I’ve wrestled with this one a lot because I really want my motivations to be honorable when it comes to blogging, growing traffic, making money.

After about a year of blogging, JDC readership began to grow and it was actually costing us money {we had things set up incorrectly at first and were paying way too much for bandwidth usage – like $500 too much}. At this point, I was totally enjoying the ways I was able to be creative; sharing, encouraging, inspiring other women, connecting and experiencing new opportunities because of it. But due to the expense, I had to decide to either shut down the blog, or figure out a way to make money. We chose option two. Once we took that step, the motivation shifted a bit to not only include a place to be creative, but also a place to earn an income. I took the blog a little more seriously, worked more hours, was intentional about a regular posting calendar and had to step out and start promoting my work {even though selling was and remains to be a very uncomfortable and unnatural thing for me to do}. At the same time, it was very important to me to be obedient to what the Lord wanted to accomplish through the blog. It may have been more business savvy to stop posting personal stories and simply develop and promote products, but I had to be true to myself and make this blog about more than that.

So I’m a bit in the middle about how hard to push traffic-growth: I know this blog is just a tool and could be gone in a second and so I trust that the Lord will do with it as He wishes. At the same time, I make strategic business decisions in the hope that readership will continue to grow and an income will continue to be earned.

Here’s my point: remind yourself what the purpose of your blog is and either let yourself off the popularity-grow-my-blog-I-need-more-readers hook or take the necessary steps to promote your blog.

All of that to say, there are a handful of practical ways to increase traffic, many of which you’ve undoubtedly heard:

Post regularly, title your posts clearly, make your images the best possible, include share links {like a pin it button or fb like button}, name your blog something memorable and catchy, read and comment on other blogs, join link parties, host giveaways, be generous, ask leading questions at the end of posts, put subscription buttons in obvious and prominent places, submit projects to larger sites to be featured, offer to write guest posts for established blogs.

If you want to grow your blog, the ultimate goal is to turn the casual, just-stopping-by reader into a loyal follower. Any reader is great, of course … unless she never comes back. You may have a few high days here and there, but what you are looking for is consistent readership growth.  It is the loyal follower with whom you can build a relationship, offering really great content in return for her telling her friends, neighbors, random waitresses about you and sharing your content on her pinterest boards, with her facebook friends and via email.

The very best and most essential step in motivating your loyal follower to share your blog is by creating quality, original content. While your site design, header logo, basic functionality is super important, your blog content is what really draws in and engages readers. Make it the best you can. Give things away, share secret sources, inspire or educate, show a how-to. Write from your heart, share your opinions, be relatable and positive and someone you would want to be friends with.

Don’t forget to make your subscribe box obvious, enticing and easy to join.  I can’t tell you how many times I have stumbled upon a new site only to click away and forget about it because there was not an obvious place for me to follow. On the other hand, I have visited numerous blogs that I’m may not be completely sold on, but the subscribe box is right there and so I join. I figure I can always unsubscribe, but it turns out, if the blog posts are interesting, entertaining or inspiring, I rarely do.

Once you’ve turned a reader into a follower and you’ve posted sharable, pinnable, likable content, you want to make sharing, pinning and liking that content as convenient and simple as possible. Truly, social sharing is how your blog will grow. Be sure to have social share buttons somewhere on your site, and more importantly, somewhere in or below your post. Pinterest, especially, is so big right now that you must make it easy for your images to be pinned. Add a pin-it button, put a watermark on your photo and title your image descriptively so that when it posts to pinterest, there is no need for the pinner to change the title. As your content is shared, other news sites and bloggers will re-share until eventually your post will be search engine ranked {that’s a good thing}. Now, people who have never heard of your blog can find you by searching on a search engine and having your blog post show as a result.

Do you see how that all works together?

how blog growth happens by jones design company

Growth takes time and is often very organic, so be patient, be committed and, most of all, be yourself.

make-money
Yes, you can make money blogging. Just how much is the hard part to answer.

I’ll do my best.

Many bloggers have no intention on monetizing their blog. They do it for the love, the joy, the escape or passion and don’t let the pressures of moneymaking get in the way.

For others, blogging becomes such an occupier of time that if there is not some sort monetary compensation {even just enough to cover the costs associated with hosting and bandwidth and related services}, it is just not worth it.

And still others, like myself, see blogging as a business and a viable source of income for their family.

No matter which category you fall into, it is fine. There is nothing wrong with not making money and there is nothing wrong with making money.  You don’t hear volunteers apologize for working for free and you don’t hear engineers or teachers or baristas apologize for working for money. Bloggers need not either.

As I shared above, figuring out a way to make money became necessary for our family in order for me to continue blogging. We could not afford to spend $500 each month if it simply remained my hobby.  I already had a custom stationery business and decided at this point to combine blogging with my business and it morphed into something new. Thankfully, my husband is a smarty-pants entrepreneur and business marketing enthusiast and was willing to be my partner.

Our first step for monetizing JDC was to start selling art prints. I was already designing them to put in our home and figured maybe my artwork would resonate with ladies who read the blog. We had a good-quality printer and lots of nice paper {for the stationery business}, so it didn’t take much to get things going.  We used a free plug-in for our shopping cart and processed payments through Paypal. Because I already had a small but loyal following, it did not take long to sell enough prints to make up our monthly deficit.

We could have left it at just selling art prints, but the problem with me is that I can’t pin myself down to just one thing. So we started offering printable stationery/invitations/gift tags as well as my hand-drawn fonts, and then developed JDC | Monthly {monthly membership for printable organizational items}. We offered a class on starting a small business which was good, but maybe not the right fit for my market. Or me, actually. We have done some custom blog design {it was short-lived due to the time requirements}, we’ve sold advertising space and occasionally I promote products as an affiliate. I sold reproduction rights on a few of my art prints to Dayspring, we teach an online blogging class and have a few new mini-courses in the works.

See? I’m all over the place.

From research we’ve done and our personal experience, spreading yourself out and collecting from multiple streams of revenue is the most effective way to make money blogging.

Certainly there are high-high-traffic blogs that make a majority of their profits through advertising and still others who earn their income solely through affiliate sales, but those are not the norms.

By diversifying your methods of earning an income, you are more likely to actually earn one.

So let’s talk specifics: how can you make money blogging? There are really only two ways.

how-to-make-money-blogging

Either you can 1. sell your own stuff or 2. sell someone else’s stuff.

If you want to sell your own products, first decide what is the best fit for you. Ebooks are big right now as are most digital products {classes, printables, software, apps} because once it is developed/written/designed, you are finished with your end of the work. Handmade and other physical products are also viable ways to earn an income. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to price your item at a competitive market value while still making enough profit to cover your costs in materials and time.

In order to sell your own products, you’ll need to have an online shop. There are many great options available – you can set up your shop through etsy, big cartel, shopify or wazala, or simply use paypal buttons or a shopping cart plugin that will allow purchases to be made directly from your site. There are benefits and drawbacks to each one {cost, customization, personal branding} so do a bit of research to find the right fit for you.

If you are looking to sell other people’s products, there are several ways to do so. Selling private ad space {sponsors} is probably the most common as you simply trade displaying an ad for a set fee. There is no ‘rule’ for when to start advertising or how much to charge for ad space as much of it is market-driven and niche-specific, but in general you can charge about $50 per 100,000 monthly page views.

You can also join an advertising network {like blogher or federated media} which takes the control out of your hands for which exact ads will be displayed on your site, but the payout could be better and there is less management of invoicing, displaying ads, collecting payment.

Affiliate sales are an effective means of monetization and you can control which products you push and how frequently you want to market them.  When you join an affiliate program, you receive a special code that you include in a blog post or advertisement about an affiliate product. Each time your blog refers a sale; you make a percentage of that purchase price. So, for instance, if you do a post about your favorite summer books and include amazon affiliate links, when a reader clicks on a link and purchases something from Amazon, you will make 4-10% of the total sale. Some programs have higher payouts, and some are minimal, but if you like a product and plan to link to it, you might as well be an affiliate and earn a portion of the sale.

Of course you can become a much more deliberate and strategic affiliate marketer – choosing only products with high payouts or advertising sales at optimal times through all of your social networks. There are plenty of bloggers who have made a decent income through affiliate sales, but a majority of them have put in a lot of effort to research, advertise, and promote these products.

Sponsored posts are funded by either samples of a product or actual monetary compensation in exchange for a blog post about a product. You have control over which items you accept, what the terms are and what opinions you share in the post.

These are all great methods for earning an income.

However {and it’s a big however}, the key to success for each one of these methods is traffic.

You may have the best product ever, but if you don’t have anyone to sell it to, you won’t get very far.

For example, if you join an ad network and the payout is $5 per 1000 impressions {CPM}, and your blog gets 3,000 impressions per month, you will receive a check in the mail at the end of the month for $15.

If, instead, your blog receives 100,000 impressions per month, now your check will be $500. Continue to grow readership to 1,000,000 page views per month and, based on this example, you can expect to earn $5000.

Or here’s another example: if you write an ebook and sell it for $15, you have 1000 monthly unique visitors and you assume about a 2% conversion rate for sales, you can sell about 20 books per month and make $300.  Grow your readership to 10,000 monthly uniques and you are likely to make about $3000.

Obviously these are very, very rough examples, but as you can see, readership numbers are equally important to putting out a great product.

So, the big question of can you make money blogging? Yes. There are lots of ways. But nearly all of them require more than just writing a blog post.

And for the second part of the question, if so, how much? That’s where it gets tricky. How much you can make depends greatly on your blog stats {how many people are seeing your stuff}, but also on your niche {do you have readers with disposable income?}, the current market {is your product competitively priced}, your products {are you meeting a need?} and the methods by which you sell and market your products.

From my experience, I will tell you that while I do make a substantial income from JDC, 99% of it comes from products I sell, not advertising or affiliate sales. More specifically, each month 48% of my income comes from JDC|monthly, 37% from my shop, 14% from blog class sales and only 1% from affiliate sales.

I do not make money by blogging, but I make money because of blogging.

cost-to-run-a-blog

There are some costs associated with blogging but rest assured, they are minimal and totally worth the expense for the benefits they offer.

Here’s the breakdown of costs for a new blogger:

domain name registration: $10. Oftentimes you can get it for free when you sign up for web hosting. You also get it free in The Blog Class.
web hosting: $5-10 per month. Dreamhost is offering a great deal right now for $3.95 per month with a free domain name. This is the lowest price we’ve ever seen. Learn more here.
wordpress.org: $0
premium theme: $50-100 depending on which theme you choose. You can use a free theme, but a premium theme will offer cleaner code, more streamlined usability and greater functionality. We offer a $70 theme called Canvas to our Blog Class students for free.
graphic designer: $50+ for header, sidebar, other blog graphics. You can cut costs by designing your own graphics.

To start from scratch, the cost to get a blog up and running is about $5 per month, with additional costs added for optional services and functions.

As your readership grows and your needs for additional bandwidth and services increase, the costs increase. Hopefully by this point you are making some amount of money through your blog and that should offset those costs.

want-to-learn-more

We are passionate about blogging because of the ways it has impacted our lives. We’ve made friends, grown our talents, experienced opportunities we never thought were possible and we want these things for you, too.

One year ago, Ryan and I produced The Blog Class – a step-by-step guide for how to start blogging. We’ve given all of our best and most helpful information to walk you through and give you confidence as you embark on your blogging journey.  So far we’ve helped over 300 new and veteran bloggers set up, design, use, grow and monetize their blogs. If you’ve enjoyed this post today, and you want to make your blog better {or start a new one!}, you will love the blog class.

We’ve made a bunch of updates to the class to give even more great information and we’re now offering the class at a discounted rate when you pay in full.

learn-more-about-the-blog-class

I so hope this post is helpful in some way to you. I had no idea I had so much to say on the topic so thanks for making it all the way through. Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts, ask more questions and continue the conversation …

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71 Responses to the truths about blogging

  1. Tamelin February 8, 2015 at 3:57 am #

    Thank you! For being so inspiring. You should be in Forbes Magazine. For one of Americas most amazing people. You do all this and juggle a husband and kids! Wow!!! #inspiring

  2. Alicia March 17, 2015 at 9:23 am #

    Thanks for all of the information. I’ve been wanting to start a blog {because I enjoy reading everyone else’s} but really have no idea what I am doing. This post was a great way to get some basic information, and I appreciate that very much!

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