Even though I think blogging is a particularly tough side hustle to earn money with, lots of people keep proving me wrong. The latest in that line is Brock McGoff, who runs TheModestMan.com in his spare time, a style blog “for short(er) men.”
Brock’s site earns revenue in many of the same ways Side Hustle Nation does: affiliate commissions, sponsored content, and product sales. What follows is his breakdown of where he’s generating his income and lessons learned on monetizing a blog as a side hustle.
If you’d like to learn more about starting a blog of your own, check out my free 6-part video course.
In the meantime, here’s Brock:
A few months ago (April 2015), I decided to publish an income report on my blog. No big deal, right? Lots of bloggers do this.
Here’s the catch — my blog is about men’s style. It’s not about business or passive income or online marketing.
Which is why I was nervous about publishing this post. Would my readers be confused or turned off by this sort of content?
To my surprise and delight, my first-ever income report was well received. Even readers who have zero interest in the business of blogging liked the post.
They enjoyed the opportunity to look “behind the curtain” and appreciated my transparency.
(To be fair, it wasn’t my idea. I got it from Pinch of Yum, a food blog run by past Side Hustle Show guests Lindsay and Bjork Ostrom, who started publishing their own income reports – on their food blog – each month.
These posts were so popular that Lindsay and Bjork decided to start teaching people how to start and monetize their own food blogs.
Now this part of their business generates the lion’s share of their monthly revenue.
I thought this was pretty cool, and I had never seen any style bloggers discuss their income publicly (especially on their own blog), so I decided to do it myself.
One of the unexpected benefits of this post was that it allowed me to get access to audiences who would otherwise never have heard of The Modest Man.
Specifically, I made several really good connections after posting about this income report on Reddit’s /r/entrepreneur.
This post was way more popular than I thought it would be, which made me realize that other online entrepreneurs could benefit from this sort of inside look at style blogging.
I’m not going to rehash the income report here, but if you want to read it, here’s the link:
Update: The site was over $4k last month!
This post will highlight a few things I’ve learned about making money from affiliate commissions, sponsored posts and digital products.
Affiliate Income (28%)
I never thought affiliate revenue would be a significant part of my income from The Modest Man. Honestly, I’m still not sure that it will ever make up more than one third of my monthly income.
But even at 28% of the overall revenue, it’s worth focusing on. Here’s what I’ve learned about making money from affiliate marketing over the past two years:
Lessons #1: Amazon Converts
Amazon converts better than other websites, period. If you send someone to Amazon (especially if they’re in shopping mode), there’s a 5-10% chance they’re going to buy something.
It might not be what you sent them there for, but you still get a commission.
Nick’s Notes: This is called “share of cart” and is one of the biggest selling points of Amazon Associates. Here are just a few of the random things people have bought through my Amazon affiliate links this month:
The downside is that the commission percentage is very low, and the tracking cookie only lasts 24 hours.
But still, if you can choose between linking to the same product on Amazon or another site (like Nordstrom, for example), go with Amazon.
Nick’s Notes: Matt Giovanisci discovered the same thing when he switched some of his affiliate links over to Amazon for his authority site.
Lesson #2: Lifetime > One Time
Some companies offer recurring affiliate commissions, rather than one time commissions. This makes sense to me.
If you write a post about a product, and that post convinces someone to buy it (i.e., to become a new customer for the company who makes the product), you should get credit for the lifetime value of that customer.
My most successful affiliate relationship is with a custom clothier who pays me a commission for every purchase made by a customer I referred — for life.
Nick’s Notes: Recurring commissions are awesome, but are most common in the software space. That’s one thing that attracted me to the live chat software niche. (I’m actually thinking of selling that site, if you know of anyone who might be interested.)
Ads & Sponsored Posts (53%)
Advertising (banner ads) and sponsored content made up more than half of revenue in Q1 2015. Here’s what I wish I knew about advertising when I started blogging.
Lesson #1: Charge More
I remember being thrilled the first time someone sent me a free pair of jeans, and the first time someone paid me $150 to write a post about their brand.
These days, my minimum fees are much higher. I also get way more inquiries from brands and PR companies than I used to (this seemed to increase significantly when I passed the 50k monthly unique visitors mark).
Nick’s Notes: That’s a lot of traffic! For the sake of comparison, SHN was around 29,000 uniques in the last 30 days.
I turn down 9 out of 10 opportunities because they aren’t a good fit, or because they don’t have the budget. In my opinion, most retail companies undervalue bloggers’ ability to introduce their brand to potential customers.
For this reason, most style bloggers aren’t charging enough for ads or sponsored content. I recommend doubling your rates and seeing what happens. People will negotiate down, so give yourself some breathing room.
Nick’s Notes: This is similar to what we heard from Melinda Fleming from CuratedCool.com on the podcast recently. Only accept posts that are a good fit for your audience and don’t be afraid to command higher prices. Big brands typically have big budgets!
Also, go for bigger, more expensive deals. Rather than charging $500 for a sponsored post, charge $2,500 for a post, email, 30 day banner ad and social media shoutouts.
Nick’s Notes: I really like this idea of putting together a whole promotion package instead of just one post. When considering sponsored posts in the future, it’s definitely something I’ll have to keep in mind.
Lesson #2: Ad Stacking
In my experience so far, direct ads are your best choice. In other words, negotiate your own ad deals, and place banner ads manually (or use a plugin like AdRotate).
You can make a lot more with direct ads than you can with Google AdSense or any other ad network.
Nick’s Notes: Because the ad network is going to take (roughly) half the money!
But…it’s always good to backfill unsold inventory. So, for example, if you have two ad spots on your site — the sidebar and leaderboard — try to sell these directly. Ideally, these spaces will always be filled, and companies will purchase several months at a time.
If they’re unsold, make sure to fill these spots with ads that are served up automatically, or even “internal ads” that lead to your own opt-in or sales pages.
When you’re small, you can reach out to companies directly and sell your ad space, but you need to have a good story to tell them (like a case study that shows the quality of your audience).
For rates, I started at $100/month for a sidebar ad. I did a bunch of research about CPMs, etc. and settled on that number. However, at those rates, it was going to take a ton of ads to turn this into a viable business.
To avoid having too many ads, I started increasing the price slowly. My advice is to keep raising your prices until your advertisers tell you they can’t afford it. Don’t sell yourself short!
My current stack goes like this:
- Direct Ads → Sovrn → Google AdSense
Experiment with different networks to see which is best for your niche.
Digital Products (19%)
Digital products are ebooks, online courses, etc., and they’re rare in the style blog world. My primary product is a $24 ebook called Short Man Style.
Here’s what I’ve learned about selling this ebook:
Lesson #1: Bonuses > Discounts
You know that scarcity and time pressure help encourage potential customers to stop procrastinating and decide whether or not to buy your product.
But for me it’s been more effective to use these tactics in a positive way (e.g., “Buy today to get a free Skype consultation”) than a negative way (e.g., “Get it for half price for the next 24 hours”).
Both tactics generate more sales, but one brings in way less revenue.
The cool thing is, some bonuses (like a Skype consult or phone call) are very easy to add on to your existing products.
Nick’s Notes: Nice use of LeadPages, btw.
Lesson #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Sell
I used to worry about selling my ebook directly to my email list. I would incorporate soft sales messages into an email every now and then, but I rarely explicitly asked people to buy it.
What if people marked my message as spam or unsubscribed?
Truth is, unsubscribes don’t matter. I find that every email I send generates about the same number of unsubscribes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sales email or an email about a new blog post.
And it doesn’t bother me anymore because I know those people aren’t my customers.
Nick’s Notes: John Corcoran mentioned the same thing in our conversation; that he had people opting-out even when he essentially sent a free $10 Amazon gift card. People will always unsubscribe — don’t let that be the reason you don’t hit send.
A couple years ago I even wrote a post for my buddy Mike Kawula on why I love unsubscribes.
When I finally inserted some more direct sales emails into my follow up sequence, I saw an immediate increase in ebook sales.
As I write this, I’m coming off my first $4k+ month. It’s not retirement money. After taxes, it’s not yet enough for me to live on, but it’s definitely going in that direction.
While I started getting free products almost immediately, it was about 6 months before I saw my first dollars. These days I’m spending 20-30 hours a week on the blog, but I love seeing the direct impact of my efforts on the bottom line.
The great thing is that as traffic grows, the income from all these channels increases.
I hope that this post helps you better monetize your blog, regardless of whether it’s about style or something else.
Ask any questions in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer them!