How to Make Money Blogging (and how not to)

Me, blogging and smiling away

I have gotten more and more emails lately from folks thinking about blogging asking for advice on how to make money blogging. It is very difficult for me to answer each of these emails personally, so I figured I’d do a post about it today. (So if you’ve been directed to this post by me, you now know why!)

What you Should Know Before Starting a Coupon Blog

Can I be completely candid? Perfectly honest? When I hear someone’s wanting to start up a coupon blog and the first question they ask me is how to earn money, I cringe. I truly do not believe that in most cases it’s a good idea anymore.

With so many coupon blogs out there, the market is growing saturated (if it’s not already). This means you’ll need to work exceptionally hard to compete with the blogs that people are already out there reading. (Goodness knows a constant struggle I have is to keep coming up with content that’s a step ahead!) A better question than “how do I make money with a coupon blog?” might be “what different voice can I contribute to gain traffic and unique following?” I hope that this comes across in the nicest way possible – I don’t care to dash anyone’s dreams of blogging about coupons, certainly. But if your goal is to make money, you need to think about how exactly you plan on offering something different. Some newer blogs that are making traction are coupon blogs with a specific bent – for instance, a gluten-free coupon blog or a kosher coupon blog. Blogs that are working to build a niche within a niche.

So my challenge to you would be this: do a good soul search and ask yourself if you want to write a blog because you love writing and helping others or if it’s just because you need the cash. If you can honestly say it’s because you have a love of writing and sharing with others first, proceed. If you just need the cash, skip ahead – I’ve some additional thoughts for you, too.

How I make Money

As you know, I’m pretty frank about how I make money around here. To review:

  • I serve and sell ads
  • I have affiliate relationships (Amazon, Groupon, Coupons.com and so forth)
  • On rare occasion, I write sponsored posts or host sponsored promotions
  • On some occasions, I’ve landed freelancing clients & jobs via my blog
  • I teach coupon classes
  • And other odds and ends

You might be surprised to learn that I don’t get paid for my coupon matchup posts – arguably one of the most labor intense things that happens on the blog. That being said, I do work to build mutually beneficial relationships with the brands that I care about and post regularly. For instance, Fred Meyer didn’t pay me to do a holiday post, but they did give $900 in gift cards to deserving families in the community. Another one of my store partners regularly provides me with social promotion in exchange for writing about them. As a blogger, I find stuff like this provides value beyond compensation.

However, such brand relationships are NOT built overnight. A blog isn’t as simple as “if you build it, they will come.” It takes hard work, persistence, creativity, and a bit of luck, quite frankly.

As far as making money goes, this too will involve some experimentation and hard work. If I can offer a word of advice on the topic, it’s this: don’t promote something you yourself wouldn’t buy. Not only will it be a waste of time and effort on your part, it might well undermine the credibility you desperately need to foster with your readers!

Making Money from Home

At the start of this post, I asked you frankly if this is more an issue about needing cash. I do have some thoughts for you.

If you are passionate about couponing, might I suggest becoming a couponing instructor? Quite frankly, there seems to be a bigger need for this than blogs! You can certainly charge for coupon classes. For more information on this route, please check out my Coupon Class Posts 1, 2, and 3. You can also see how I’ve structured my coupon class fees for an idea of what’s worked for me. A word here – don’t feel guilted into teaching people how to do this for free! If you feel you want to, fine. But as for me, I give so much away here for free that I can’t justify additional time away from my family without charging. (Not to mention gas, childcare, and other expenses that go into my classes.)

Another route that not many people have tapped is becoming a contributor on an existing blog. Many bloggers are looking for help – people that can run to the stores and do price checks, build content, and more. I am not currently looking for contributors, but I did last year! Watch for open calls, or consider inquiring with some of your favorite bloggers when they might be hiring.

I once ran a series highlighting folks who worked at home and made money from it. If you missed that series, please head to my Post Series page and scroll down for the Work at Home features. There truly are many options of making money legitimately at home!

I still want to learn more about blogging

I’ve written quite a bit on the topic of blogging since it’s near and dear to my heart. Some of those posts:

I should also mention that I’m sometimes asked things by email that I don’t feel OK sharing such as can I help someone brainstorm a blog name or if I can share some of my contacts or if I can meet up for coffee. Please note that while I’m happy to share some things, others I consider proprietary. And maybe others? I should probably be charging you for my time as a professional copywriter/marketer to consult with you. ;)

Beyond that, I HIGHLY recommend the blog Blogging with Amy for practical, step-by-step advice on how to start and run a money making blog.

I love blogging, and I’m so grateful I’ve found a path to work from home. But it wasn’t easy and I’ve said it before – it took 8 months before I saw my first check. It was $100. That is a lot of hours for $100! I hope that if you’re still considering starting that coupon blog you’ll start with a business plan and a realistic understanding of what’s involved.

Other bloggers, I’d love for you to weigh in. What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a blog for business? And if you are a reader of blogs, what are your thoughts about seeing new coupon blogs pop up – are you inclined to read them? Where do you feel there are gaps that new blogs could seek to fill?


Comments

  1. says

    Well, you beat me! Took me a year to get my first $100! And you are right, frugal blogging is not instant money. It takes lots of hours and lots of hard work. Doesn’t happen overnight. Only do it if you REALLY LOVE it. If you don’t love couponing, don’t love a deal, don’t love to chat with your fans and build a relationship with them, then maybe you shouldn’t be a frugal blogger. I think those who will stay with it for the long term, really love it. That being said, I think there a lot of other kinds of blogs that I would consider doing instead of frugal blogging. When I got into it, there were as many as there are now. You are right, the couponing world is saturated.

    • arussell says

      Yes, I would say that I loved it a LOT more in my second and now third years and I suppose many bloggers lose steam and quit just before they reap the rewards from their hard work. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  2. Shauna says

    Thank you for posting this. I do appreciate your blog! As you know I work from home. I don’t love what I do but I do enjoy the money. I do enjoy writing though and communicating my feelings and ideas, especially if they benefit others. I have been playing with the idea of creating a blog. I keep procrastinating though….. My friend Sarah has recently started a blog and I’m so proud of her. She lives in Federal Way and all her profits from her blog will go to a local charity. Not yet decided on. I’m hoping the south sound dream center is the one she chooses as I have volunteered with them before, through my church. Her blog is http://www.dinnerintervention.com. Check it out and enjoy your day.

    • arussell says

      What church do you go to? I attend Northwest Church in Federal Way. I’ve heard good things about that Dream Center.

  3. Jen says

    I make money from home by selling on Ebay and I am a freelance writer. It is tough to get started out with freelance writing but once you find a good employer who has a lot of work, you can be successful. Working on a two-month long project for $750 right now :)

    • arussell says

      Yes agreed. Some of my biggest contracts have been freelance writing! My biggest job last year paid $1,000. It’s great work if you can find it.

  4. tiff w says

    A few comments, and they tend to be on the negative side. I’m not a blogger or looking to blog, but this is what I was thinking:

    1. Competition asking for advice? That is sort of like owning a certain type of business and having someone in the same town asking how to get into the same business – I would think so anyway. You are very generous to offer advice on this. I guess this falls under your “be nice” mention above? Maybe bloggers are a different breed and very helpful, I don’t know. :)

    2. As a blog reader: I read only the most active blogs (of course they have to be blogs about things I like, and bloggers I do like) and have found particularly with coupon and frugality bloggers if they aren’t VERY active I don’t bother to frequent them. Angela is very active so I read her blog and have for well over a year now (plus I like everything I’ve read about her so far).

    3. Wow! I was thankful before when I read your coupon matchups, but I didn’t realize you didn’t make money on all of that work. I’ve done a few matchups on my own here and there over the years but will never have the knack to come up with the stuff you do on those posts. So now I’m EXTRA grateful – thank you!

    4. I think a lot of people think working from home is easy. I have an away office and I work at home too. Working at home is not the walk in the park that some believe it will be.

    5. I think a blogger’s personality – or at least written personality – has to be one that is charismatic and not everyone is cut out to attract the volume of readers that your blog and a few others’ blogs attract. Just my opinion.

    6. Coupon classes? More of a need? This is a very selfish comment here but I’m tossing it out: though I want others to save, the volume of couponers out there is what is changing policies and changing the value on mfrs coupons (and length of expiration time). It really is selfish of me to say this but it’s how I really feel. (sorry)

    So there are my comments – sorry for the negative ones, but they are my honest ones.

    • arussell says

      Tiff, I didn’t touch on this, but yes, sometimes I do feel it a bit inappropriate for someone starting out to ask for advice to basically replicate the business I’ve worked so very hard to build. A few requests I’ve gotten before have more or less basically asked for the “steps” to do what it is I do – sorry, that’s out of line.

      I love writing about blogging, but most of the time I’d prefer to talk about building good content, etc – not how to set up business in my market doing the same thing. Is there any other business you can think of where this is appropriate? I understand that we’re all new once and there are definitely ways of approaching bloggers for help – but a little bit of tact usually goes a LONG way. Today’s post serves basically the extent of what I want to say on the topic of the business of blogging. ;)

      Where I do make some money (but certainly NOT a lot) on the matchups is by using Coupons.com links. This usually only yields a few dollars per post, however, far less than what I pay the contributors to assemble them.

      As far as the negative comments – nah, you’re OK. I appreciate your perspective.

      • Jessie says

        I’m sorry, but I completely have to disagree with most of what has been said in regards to business networking. Most companies have conferences and networking is often a very helpful tool to businesses.

        I find it interesting that you seem to be so irate in this post in regards to other bloggers, yet in your Be Nice post back on Feb. 22nd you seem to talk an awful lot about being inclusive. Here are some direct quotes from your post:
        “Promote other blogs & spread goodwill through the blogosphere … Work to be inclusive, not exclusive.”
        “As much as possible, take the time to respond kindly to readers who have emailed you or commented on your blog or Facebook page.”
        “Be nice to the newbies. On the flip side, remember that we all had to start somewhere! Please be kind to others who are just starting out. You never know, that blogger may be a game changer. *I believe good things are to be learned and shared across the blogosphere.*”
        “Link & link generously. In my niche it’s very common to find deals on other sites … my traffic has not been hurt from promoting others.”

        I don’t know what happened between then and now, but maybe a polite no thanks to those who are asking for details about your individual advice would have been more appropriate.

        We all need to realize that there is always more that we can learn from one another and sometimes the best way to do that is through asking questions and advice. I appreciate the amount of time, effort, blood, sweat and tears that it takes to make money at blogging and there is no “get rich quick”.

        Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope that it helps and doesn’t hinder.
        Blessings!

        • arussell says

          Hi there – I’m not sure why you’ve chosen to use the word “irate.” I feel that’s a bit strong.

          Here’s the thing. I’ve written quite a bit about blogging, but what’s been eating at me since Feb 22 (2011 – NOT 2012), is the increase of emails of people that just want to get to point C, making money. This is not something I care to be a resource for.

          There comes a point where I feel that I give and give on this blog, and then there is a point where I feel it’s OK for me to respectfully draw the line and say, “you know – best wishes, but that’s proprietary information and I don’t care to share that.”

          Am I irate? Goodness I wouldn’t say that! Shoot – I just took some time out to address these emails and offer some candid advice many other bloggers would not have done. I don’t feel it wise anymore for me to say “sure, anyone can start a coupon blog,” because I think there has been a fundamental shift in the last year. Does that make me a Debbie Downer? Maybe – but it’s an honest consideration for someone wishing to start a coupon blog in the post-Extreme Couponing era.

          As far as Be Nice goes:

          - I regularly promote other blogs (unchanged)
          - I respond regularly to comments both here and on FB (unchanged)
          - I feel I am nice to newbies (though again, there is a line that is drawn when I feel requests are inappropriate – please read the making inroads)
          - I regularly link & link generously (unchanged)

          If you read my blog regularly, I should hope these things would be evident without me having to explain them.

          Thanks for your perspective, and I hope you can consider mine.

  5. says

    Thanks for posting this. I started blogging back in January as a way to show different home projects that I completed and also as a way to keep myself accountable to finish the projects that I start. At this point, I figure if it makes money then it makes money, if not, its a creative output for me to enjoy. I get excited just by seeing a comment on a post.

    I agree with your statement above that the coupon blog world is a bit saturated, I’ve found that I have 3-4 couponing blogs that I loyally check, any more than that and all the posts start to look alike.

    Thanks for all you do, I’m really enjoying your series on homesteading right now.

    • arussell says

      Thank you Kendra! I actually just prepped tomorrow’s Homesteading post and I think it’s one of the more interesting adventures I’ve had thus far! ;)

      I do think there are MANY wonderful reasons to start blogs – such as you have! What worries me is when someone’s primary motivation is money. If it’s about money, you have a whole extra layer of added pressure and accountability.

      • tiff w says

        “What worries me is when someone’s primary motivation is money.”

        Well said. Plus I think when the primary motivation is money, it shows in their blog – when it comes from loving what you are blogging about, it really shows! :) I noticed this in real estate: those who were strictly in it for money but didn’t like what they do didn’t last very long.

  6. says

    I sat on the idea of a blog for MONTHS and am very glad I did. I knew I wasn’t passionate enough about couponing to do an exclusive coupon blog, but was struggling to find what niche I wanted to get into. I felt like it was over-saturated then and that was 2 years ago!

    The most important thing about blogging (especially if you have young children like you and I do) is that you MUST be passionate about what you’re writing. In order to get everything done in this one-man show, I get up WAY before my kids and I know you stay up late. I sacrifice nap times, evenings and quite a bit more to stay up with where I want the blog to be. If I wasn’t passionate about it, there is no way I’d get my bum out of bed in the morning. Besides, if you’re not passionate, your readers (or lack of, I guess) will pick up on it.

    Second thing that comes to mind is that it’s painfully obvious when a blogger is just out to make a quick buck. Time spent, blood, sweat, tears and many, many hours later, you may be able to make some money. Making money will not come if you don’t have loyal readers and write compelling content. You might make a few bucks here and there, but it’s not going to be what you expect it to be.

    Blogging is not easy, but it can definitely be rewarding if you find something you enjoy writing about. To throw this out there with Angela’s numbers, it was at least a year before I received a check in the mail that was anything to speak of. Thank goodness for a supportive spouse (and blogger friends who were generous with their advice and time, wink wink) or I’d never have been able to perservere!

  7. says

    I wouldn’t say that there isn’t room in the deal market, there is never a market that is too saturated, especially in the internet. I believe that anyone can make a name for themselves. Especially now that the show that will not be named has been out, there are more and more people looking at coupons to save them money.

    But you did hit the nail on having a specific niche to fill, that will allow them to make money faster. If they wanted to replicate all the other big name sites out there, more power to them. They will eventually make money, if they keep at it. Although doing something different, and having a great personality will get them there faster.

    I totally think someone brand new can do an amazing job, since there are so many new people starting to get into couponing. A lot of the big name sites, haven’t been updating some of their tips, and many people don’t want to search a site for something. So if you give them fresh tips daily, that can grow an audience.

    Cheers,
    JIM

    • arussell says

      Yes, if it’s about making money quickly I cannot stress finding an untapped audience! I do think newer folks can do amazing stuff ALWAYS, but if money is an issue, there are some things to consider. I also cannot stress enough personality, personality, personality. Just slapping up coupon offers or making some sort of “best coupon site on the Internet” ain’t going to cut it anymore. I still maintain that the coupon niche as a whole is pretty saturated, but there we must agree to disagree. ;)

      So many of the people that email me do seem primarily interested in making that quick buck, hence this post. I still maintain that the coupon niche as a whole is pretty saturated, but there we must agree to disagree.

      I would say this, Jim, many of my readers have indicated that they are tired of the amount of deals and coupons to sort through and many folks are cutting the number of coupon blogs they follow, not adding to that number. It’s something to be mindful of.

      Thank you for adding to the conversation and offering a slightly different POV here.

      • says

        No problem, I love playing devil’s advocate. Now I do agree with you on the market being saturated, but what I meant to say is that the market is HUGE, and even though it is saturated anyone can carve a little dent and make some great income. But it is going to take time and effort. There is something that people don’t realize is to treat their blog like a business. That is where they will fail to make the income needed to say leave their job and work from home.

        One thing I noticed is there is a few things that a lot of bloggers don’t do, and that is straight up internet marketing and SEO. I think that the true internet marketer or affiliate marketer will kind of shy away from the coupon niche simply because it will take a lot of work to make any decent money. That makes it better for us.

        To Our Success,
        JIM

        • arussell says

          I think we are basically saying the same thing, Jim – that was exactly my point on creating a niche within a niche.

          I would agree with you on marketing and SEO as well – that is territory I consider proprietary and won’t address here, but trust me – it’s clear which coupon blogs pay attention to that.

  8. says

    Fantastic post Angela. I think that if I knew how much work I was going to put into my blog (that was started “just for fun” nearly 4 years ago), I probably would have passed! While the blog now supports my family (quite the blessing since my hubs was laid off), it IS a ton of work. I no longer have hobbies, I see my “friends” (aka: sisters) less, I don’t read books or watch TV anymore, I don’t volunteer in my kids classrooms, or even do laundry (enter super hubs!). It’s an overtime job… and we have a team of several women! I agree 100% that the market is oversaturated and people have no idea what they’re getting into when they want to start a “coupon blog”. BUT you have a fantastic point about the niche with in the niche.

    BUT, I sure am glad that I am at the disposal of my littles when ever they need me, and I get to work from home and support our family. I love that my 2 year old is BF’s with her daddy!

    • says

      I completely agree with you Cathy. I missed out on lots of things with my oldest daughter (not by blood, but she is my daughter) with working so much at a job. I was laid off, and decided to go for my dream of being my own boss. Recently my family added a new addition to our house (he is one month old today.) I haven’t missed one doctor’s appointment since my wife got pregnant. And even this year I was able to coach my daughter’s T-Ball team.

      Who knew that being laid off would be the greatest blessing in disguise.

      By the way, love your site. Miss Mavis and her quirkyness!

      To Our Success,
      JIM

  9. says

    I started a coupon blog about a month ago, not to make money but to help others and give myself an outlet to talk about Disney. I have made a whole $2 in the first month (I have actually invested more money wise than that $2 bc I wanted a costly list plugin), LOL :) But i have learned so much and have gained new friends through connections. I enjoyed your post.

    • arussell says

      Thank you – and welcome! Honestly you’re starting from a good place – because you simply WANT to write and share your knowledge with others. With that attitude, you’ll go far. Best wishes!

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