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Is blogging a real job? How pro bloggers can make excellent money

Published: July 18, 2021 Updated: July 18, 2021

People ask me how to make a living writing blog posts all the time. There are several ways to go about it, so I’ll tell you how I got started as a freelance writer and what I’ve seen others do. But first, let me tell you about what life as a freelance writer is like.

The pros and cons of freelance blogging

Fair warning, I love my job and it’s almost all good. But there are a few drawbacks and lots to learn. 

Freelance Income

Pro: Full-time income for part-time work. My monthly income averages about $4k, which is pretty close to $50k per year. My average commission is $250 to $400 per post, depending on length and topic. If a post is really long, I charge more, if it’s short and easy, I may charge less.

Con: Freelance income is inconsistent. In 2020, my income dropped to less than half because retail clients lost business and cut back on marketing. Some years, I’ve made upwards of $75k. Many writers have a hard time making enough money.

Expenses (or lack of)

Pro: I have almost no expenses other than buying a new laptop every few years. My current laptop is 3 years old, and I’m considering trading up to a faster, more powerful model. Writers need a lot of active memory because we always have 37 windows and 4 programs open.

I need no wardrobe, no office supplies, and have no commute.

Con: You do need a good computer and a really good office chair. I alternate between an expensive ergonomic manager’s chair (well-padded) and a recliner. I like to move around since I sit for a long time. I use a lightweight rolling desk with a height adjustment. The biggest drawback is that I have little to write off on my taxes. 

Schedule? What Schedule?

Pro: Lots of writers write on a schedule. They get out of bed, exercise, shower, and sit down to write from 9 to 2, like a real job. I don’t. I write when I feel like writing and don’t when I don’t. On average I write 4 – 5 hours per day and take 2 or 3 days off per week. 

Con: Sometimes I’m super busy, and sometimes my clients send me a ton of work at once and I wind up writing like a madwoman for a couple of weeks and doing nothing for half the month. Freelancing is not for wussies. Deadlines can be insane.

Living in Nomadland

Pro: I take my work everywhere. I’ll be in a beach hotel next week, and I’ll write from there because I do some of my best work when I’m relaxed and well-rested. I can work from wherever I am, so I travel wherever I want to. 

Con: There’s always work, and I always want to do it. So I never really take a holiday. I just take my work poolside and sip Rum Runners while I write. It’s hard to call that a con, though. I call that living the dream.

The No Factor

say no

Pro: One of the things I like most is being able to turn down work that doesn’t suit me. If a potential customer tries to convince me that they can get premium content done cheaper or that my writing isn’t worth what I ask for, I say no. And I will never again consider working with that company. People who do not value your worth will be problem customers. I’ll negotiate, just not with people who do not respect my work. My best income advice is this: learn to say no.

Cons: It can be tempting to accept any job when times are lean. It’s not always easy to stick to your guns. 

Tools I can’t live without

Most professional bloggers aren’t just writing random topics. They identify trending topics and keywords, optimize for SEO, and shoot for eye-catching headlines. I use these tools every day:

  • Frase or Clearscope (similar functions, I use one or the other)
  • Coschedule Headline Analyzer Studio – to write better headlines
  • Buzzsumo – to explore trending topics
  • Copyscape – plagiarism checker. (I would never plagiarize intentionally)
  • Grammarly – everybody makes mistakes. Even the most seasoned writers. Grammarly helps ensure my typos don’t make it to print.

Do I need education or experience to blog?

Tricky question; the answer is yes and no. The only thing that really matters is whether you write well. In this business, talent trumps both experience and education. That said, if you have a good education, you have the basic skills, and as you gain experience, your writing gets better.

Talented web writers understand how to craft the right voice for their target audience. Even business blogging is about developing a personality that helps you connect with the audience. Most businesses and blogs are written in a flowing conversational style that occasionally bends the rules of grammar or includes a colloquialism to emphasize a point. Little nuggets of personable style go a long way.

The truth is that talent can’t be taught. You can learn good grammar, you can learn to identify and mimic the client’s voice, and you can learn to write in the language your audience is comfortable reading. But you cannot learn creativity and no one can teach you to be a good writer who can come up with good ideas. 

No matter what kind of blogging you choose, you are bound only by your own imagination…as long as you start with good writing skills. A lot of people think they want to be a blogger because it seems like easy money, and they ask for help in poor English. Nope. Can’t help you if you can’t put together a coherent sentence. 

Types of blogging

There are all kinds of bloggers, and they make money in a lot of different ways. Let’s go through the different ways you can make money blogging.

Business blogging

Business blogging

Professional blogger Lucinda Honeycutt’s website

I am a business blogger, which is essentially content marketing or inbound marketing. Businesses pay me to write quality content for their sites based on keyword research. There is a steep learning curve for beginner bloggers to make the kind of money a professional blogger pulls in. Over the years, I’ve developed a wide skill set that includes AP style, graphics, impeccable grammar, original ideas, an understanding of keywords and semantic search, and search engine optimization (SEO). 

Most professional bloggers have a website set up with a price list for writing services, like Lucinda’s. I do not. I have only my LinkedIn profile, which I update now and then with byline posts. Byline is when you’re identified as the author. Most of my writing is anonymous. I stay busy most of the time, so I never felt the need to set up a website. 

Industry secret: some of the big niche bloggers I talk about later hire people like me to write for them. Plenty of thought leaders posting on magazines like Forbes and Inc use ghostwriters, too.

Tips for getting started as a business blogger:

  1. Apply to a content service. I started working for a content service about 15 years ago. It wasn’t hard and did not pay much. I cranked out six or seven 500 word articles per day for about $15 each, with such fascinating titles as “The Importance of Lava Lamps” – no kidding, I really wrote that. Those kinds of jobs are still around and likely pay a bit better today. The pay wasn’t great, but there was plenty of work and the editors helped me learn the ropes about writing valuable content for the web. What’s more, my editors remembered me and stayed in touch. As they moved from publisher to publisher, they hired me at higher and higher pay rates. So you can say that I got high with a little help from my friends. Most of my work comes from referrals, either people I have worked with in the past or clients. In turn, I pass a lot of work I don’t have time for to other writers.

Note: I have an ongoing discussion with a friend about whether it’s better to write a lot of easy, cheap content like she does or big, complicated thought pieces that pay a lot more. It’s possible to make the same money either way and easier to find cheap, easy jobs. If you type really fast, it might be the right route for you. There’s a never-ending need for things like product descriptions or simple blog posts for local businesses. 

  1. Get a byline on a top site. Some sites take guest posts or article submissions. It’s not easy to get published, but if you come up with a great pitch, you may be able to establish a toehold. My method was to pitch 3 trendy potential headlines with a sentence or two to explain what I planned to write. It will also help if you have a big social presence. Their agenda is to gain readers, so the more viewers you can bring to the table, the better. Do plenty of research before you pitch to figure out what kind of posts are most popular, and then choose a fresh angle.
  2. Optimize your LinkedIn profile. Mine contains keywords based on my skills and links to my published articles. Before people contact me, they have a good idea of how I write and what I have to offer.
  3. Build skills. To make bigger money, you’ll need to understand AP style, the significance of customer profiles, voice, and SEO.
  4. Know your worth. Polish up your negotiating skills. You need to be able to tell clients “This is how much I charge for the service you want.” and mean it. Don’t be wishy-washy or hesitant. If you don’t know your worth, how can they?
  5. Build an engaged audience. The more reach you have, the easier it is to get attention and land byline publishers.

How to find clients

Most writers cruise the job boards to find gigs. Sites like Problogger, Copyblogger, Clearvoice, Upwork, and LinkedIn are good places to start.

However, it’s less work to develop your skills and post on public sites so people will find you. Until you break into a big publisher, try writing articles on LinkedIn or Medium. If you can make a name for yourself, business will come to you.

Most of my clients are either marketing/SEO companies or business owners. I usually have 3 – 4 clients at a time, and often write for them for many years.

Niche blogging

Niche blogging

A niche blog is a personal blog about a specific topic, usually written with a first-person point of view. Popular blogs encompass all kinds of interests. Write about what you love. Your blogging journey might start with a mom blog or parenting magazine, a travel blog, a fitness or health blog, or a blog about shopping, fashion, tech, gaming, or anything you can think up.

There are hundreds of thousands of wildly successful blogs online. In the travel space, some of the most popular blogs are very specific: The Points Guy started as a blog about airline points that was started by a blogger just like you and me. In less than 10 years, it grew into a big business.

How niche bloggers make moneyniche bloggers

TheTinyLife.com is an impressive niche blogging site about living in a tiny house

When you start a blog, you have to approach it like starting a business. You’re going to pour in money and time and not make money in the beginning unless you have a built-in audience begging for your content (which is rare). Be prepared to crank out tons of quality articles and get very few readers.

Once they gain a significant target audience, smart niche bloggers make money with multiple income streams. Here are a few common revenue streams:

  • Affiliate marketing – You may sign up to an affiliate network and place affiliate links in your content or place banner ads on your site. When your users click through from your site to an affiliate site and buy a product, you earn a commission. Your commission rates depend on the cost of the product.
  • Sponsorship – Brands look for influencers to partner with. You tout their product and they offer product or payment in return. Note: to stay on the right side of the law, you have to disclose that it’s an ad…but readers don’t seem to mind. 
  • Branded merchandise – After you get really successful, you can sell branded merchandise, like hats, tee shirts, or toys – whatever is appropriate to your audience.  
  • Dropshipping – You can also curate products to sell via a dropshipping retailer. It’s similar to affiliate marketing, but customers order directly from your site and you get a commission. The cool thing about dropshipping is that all you do is the advertising part. You don’t need to buy, store, or deliver products. 
  • Digital content – Where appropriate, you can create and sell tutorials, digital art, ebooks, courses, or other types of valuable content for your readers to download.

TheTinyLife bookshelf

Tips for starting a niche blog:

Ask for and listen to feedback. Your blog audience will let you know what they like and what they want more of. Most successful bloggers put in a lot of research to deliver long, detailed blog content.

  1. Plan and focus – Define your blog topic and stick to it at first. Deliver what you promise. If your blog is called “QuestForCheesecakePerfection” then your blog should be about – wait for it – cheesecake. You can always branch out to other desserts when you start getting bored, but in the beginning, keep it tightly focused on everything cheesecake.  Recipes, stories, posts about the perfect kind of cheese (I’ve heard good things about Neufchatel), restaurants around the country, different flavors and toppings…it may seem like a narrow focus at first glance, but there are plenty of avenues to explore. Make a content calendar and write down all your ideas to make sure you deliver plenty of variety.
  2. Vary your content – No reason you have to stick to writing. Spice it up with photos, videos, step-by-step tutorials, diagrams, or anything that might fit your topic and appeal to your audience. The web is a visual medium. Feed that beast. 
  3. Don’t quit. Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” The same can be said of professional bloggers. Give it a fair trial. Don’t quit your day job until the money starts rolling in, but as long as you see growth and you’re satisfied you’re doing all you can to make it grow, just keep blogging.
  4. Grow your network. Audience size matters, but the number of engaged readers matters more. Encourage your readers to comment, like, and share. Try to spark lively discussions. Higher engagement leads to more traffic and more interest from brands. 
  5. Become an influencer. Sign up with us to connect with brands for sponsored posts. If you have an engaged audience of 5,000 or more, you could start earning.
  6. Learn SEO. It’s kind of a big deal. By leveraging keywords and SEO, you can land your site higher in the search engines and attract traffic faster. It’s a big topic with a lot of moving parts, but there are programs to help you write SEO-focused content. 
  7. Meet other writers. Join social media groups and chats and contribute. Ask questions, and give answers where you can. Instead of thinking of other writers as competition, think of them as your support group. There is so much work and good writers are so rare that writers are only too happy to share info, refer clients, and post hot job leads.  A writing group will help you build your skills and knowledge, get your pricing in line, refine your pitch, and find writing gigs.

Article submissions

Conspiracy

While I would not depend on random article submissions for a steady living, lots of places pay writers to submit content and bylines are damn good exposure. You can often link to your blog in your bio. 

Here are 12 publishers that pay very well:

The Sun Magazine -$100 to $2,500 per piece, depending on type of content.

AARP Magazine – $1/word with an average submission of 1,500 words.

Discover Magazine – $1/word for print, average pay rate of $300 for web stories.

Popular Mechanics – They no longer have submission rates published on their site, but writers report that they pay $300 – $1,000 per piece.

Make a Living Writing – $75 – $100 per piece, depending on length (also an amazing resource for writers. While you’re there, check it out!)

Copyhackers – $300 – $1,000 per piece, depending on length. (more great writer resources)

Smithsonian Magazine – $1 – $3/word depending on length.

Eating Well – up to $1/word depending on subject.

United Hemispheres – In-flight magazine. Pays $750 – $1,000 as reported by writers.

Los Angeles Times – $75 – $750 depending on the type of story, length, and where it is published.

National Geographic Kids – $1/word as reported by writers.

International Living –  $225 for 900 words and $350 for 1,600 words.

The list of publishers that pay for submissions is long, but it’s not always easy to find information. 

Good luck! Blogging is a great career, but it’s not for everybody, and it’s not nearly as easy as it may seem. It takes dedication and work. For bloggers who stick it out, it can be a lucrative and satisfying career.

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