Article by Agota Bialobzeskyte
Agota writes about marketing and entrepreneurship.
Carol Tice started her blog, Make a Living Writing, in 2008.
It took her a few years to get her blog off the ground, but by 2011, she was already pulling in a six-figure income… With a ~2,000 subscriber email list!
Today, she makes over $500,000 a year with less than 20,000 subscribers.
“Wait, how is that even possible?” you might think. “Don’t you need to have hundreds of thousands of email subscribers and get millions of pageviews to make that kind of money?”
Well, apparently, you don’t.
Carol Tice started her second stint as a freelance writer back in 2005, having also freelanced for 5 years or so back in the ‘90s. Most people who go down that road end up overworked and underpaid. However, Carol was serious and didn’t put up with any nonsense (she had bills to pay, after all!).
Soon, she was pulling in decent income and increasing it every year.
She didn’t start her blog for the money – she started it because she was infuriated by the exploitation of writers that she saw all around her.
“My blog began because I was simply enraged by the low rates writers were getting paid from many online content mills.
I’d been a freelance writer and was earning well. I thought maybe I could help other writers — no, that’s wrong. I felt compelled to speak out against something I saw as flat-out evil and to help writers find better pay,” explains Carol in her Write to Done article.
Her family obligations and her freelancing career were already keeping her plenty busy, but she was so fired up that she just had to do it. “I was so excited I literally could not sleep at night thinking of all the posts I wanted to write,” she says in the same post.
And so, in 2008, Make a Living Writing was born. Who could have predicted that a blog in an already competitive niche would go on to become a $500,000+/year business? Certainly not Carol.
People often make the mistake of doing the market analysis, identifying a profitable niche, and just going into it, without any regard to whether they themselves are interested in the topic. This works on paper, but the reality is that in order to build a profitable blog you need to produce quality content on a regular basis, and you probably won’t be able to do it if you don’t care about the topic. Make sure that whatever niche you decide to go into, you are passionate about it.
Earning potential matters, too!
If you see your blog as a hobby, then passion is all you need. However, if you want to build a business, you also need to evaluate a niche’s earning potential. How do you do that? Simple. Look around. Are there people in this niche who are already making a reasonable amount of money? Yes? Great! That means you can make money in it, too.
Don’t be intimidated by the competition
There will be established players in any profitable niche, but that doesn’t mean you can’t carve out a place for yourself. Stay focused, stay patient, and one day you’ll become an A-lister yourself.
Carol took her blog seriously from the very beginning. She would put her kids to sleep at 8, and then work on her blog until midnight. She did this six nights a week.
And there was a lot of work that needed to be done.
Technology and design
Carol was never a tech-minded person, which is why she outsourced most of it. This was a smart move, because it allowed her to focus on acquiring relevant skills and writing great blog posts.
Blog and business skills
She already had plenty of writing experience, but most of it came from her work in the print world. Creating online content turned out to be an entirely different beast. Then there was the business side.
Any chance I saw to grab a free training online, read a blog post, or talk to an expert who could teach me something about blogging success, I did it.
Her background covering business as a staff reporter for 12 years also gave her a strong sense of what businesses need to do to succeed.
Creating High-Quality Content
All that studying quickly made Carol savvy to how things work in the blogosphere. She knew that she couldn’t churn out mediocre articles and expect success. So she put a lot of effort into market research and into writing pieces that would provide genuine value to her readers. On top of that, she was leveraging other people’s audiences by guest posting.
After about 1.5 years of hard work, she started seeing results. Her audience was growing, people were leaving comments and subscribing to her email list. She felt encouraged by the response she was getting and moved her blog from her portfolio website to a separate website.
Take Your Blog Seriously
Dabbling is not going to get you anywhere. “It’s important to understand that you are building a business, and, just like with any other business, getting your blog off the ground will require a lot of time and energy,” explains Carol in her Writers in Charge interview. “So I’d say that if you are serious about this, you should see it as a part-time job, and invest at least 15 (preferably 20-25) hours per week in your blog.”
Continuously Educate Yourself
It’s not enough to write well. You need to know how to write for the web and how to market your writing. You also need to understand how to run email marketing campaigns and how to create and launch your products. Want to get on the A-list? Then commit yourself to studying copywriting and online marketing.
Carol studied blog headline writing, worked hard on her posts, and soon attracted the interest of then-Copyblogger associate editor Jon Morrow, and Derek Halpern of Social Triggers. These and other mentors coached her on blogging best practices, introduced her around and helped her guest post for top blogs. They saved her years of trial and error.
In May 2010, Carol got a tweet from the Copyblogger associate editor Jon Morrow, and that was the tipping point for her blog.
After a conversation over the phone, Jon offered Carol an opportunity to write a guest post for Copyblogger. She immediately recognized the incredible opportunity and accepted the offer.
Writing a guest post for an A-list website like Copyblogger turned out to be quite a challenge. Carol’s initial effort missed the mark, so she had to discard it and start over. However, she was willing to put in the amount of effort required to create an exceptional guest post, so she worked with Jon until he was satisfied with the outcome.
50 Can’t-Fail Techniques for Finding Great Blog Topics did great, was included in Best of Copyblogger 2010 collection, and drove tons of traffic to Carol’s website.
However, only a handful of those visitors converted to subscribers, which made her seek out help.
She joined what was then the A-List Blogging course (now A-List Blogging Masterclass) which gave her access to educational resources as well as a forum where she could ask questions. Carol quickly became an active member of that community, asking almost 400 questions in the forum herself and sharing her insights with others.
Then, one day, Mary from A-List Blogging emailed her and suggested that she enter Write to Done’s Top 10 Blogs for Writers contest. Carol didn’t expect much, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. And guess what? She won.
Keep the bar high when it comes to content quality
That tweet from Jon Morrow was one of Carol’s lucky breaks, but what role did luck really play in it? Some, surely, but this was more predictable than you might think. When you keep producing and promoting high-quality content, sooner or later, someone much bigger than you will notice your work and share it with their audience.
Work hard to make the most out of every opportunity
It’s not enough to recognize opportunities, you have to also be willing to put in the time and effort required to make the most out of them. Always do your best, because you never know what might be the stepping stone to the next big thing.
Step out of your comfort zone
Be willing to step out of your comfort zone, especially if someone you respect suggests it. Something might sound like a weird idea and you might be skeptical about it, but if it comes from someone who is knowledgeable about online marketing, you should probably try it out. What do you have to lose? Worst-case scenario, it ends up being a flop, but then you’ll still have learned something from it.
After winning the Write to Done contest, Carol went from ~300 email subscribers to ~1,000 email subscribers, and that allowed her to start making some money from her blog.
She started selling her own webinars that cost $47, as well as affiliate products that she had used and loved.
She also made sure to interact with her audience and listen to them. She paid close attention to the comments and emails that she was getting. She asked questions. She did surveys that helped her understand the acutest pain points of her audience.
The answers surprised me. I assumed my readers were all new writers, but that wasn’t the case. About half were new, but the other half were experienced writers who either hadn’t freelanced before or weren’t earning well as freelancers.
Learning about my readers’ challenges helped me write more useful posts. I started doing regular mailbag posts, where I’d reprint questions readers had emailed me and answer them.
Listening to her audience was what helped her to create a product that became her biggest money maker, a community of freelance writers who want to make more money called Freelance Writer’s Den.
Carol launched The Den in July 2011. Her big dream for it was to have 500 paying members. She thought it would take many years to get there… She was wrong. She met her goal within 6 months and her blog income passed the 6-figure mark.
Overcome your reluctance to sell
A lot of people are afraid of selling because they associate sales with being sleazy (and who can blame them, really?). You need to overcome this if you want to make decent money from your blog. What helped Carol to do that was A-List Blogging. Have the same problem? Then you need to find something or someone that will help you get your mind straight. It can be free content, it can be premium material, it can be advice from an entrepreneurial friend… Whatever works for you!
Listen to your audience
You might think that you know what your readers want, but chances are you don’t.
Stop making assumptions – start asking questions and paying attention to the feedback that you are getting. Then, selling your products will be much easier, because you’ll be giving people something that they already want.
So how did she go from passing that 6-figure mark in 2011 to breaking $500,000 in 2016?
Over the years, she has released affordable ebooks, webinars, and writing courses, but the most important thing was turning her membership site into a thriving community. At the moment, The Den membership costs $25/month, and it has more than 1, 100 paying members. Do the math.
What is Carol’s advice to other niche bloggers who want to successfully monetize their blogs?
In her Writers in Charge interview, she recommends starting with a product that is easy to create, price it at $0.99 – $2.99, and make the pitch to your audience. Then, create a second product that is a bit more valuable and a bit more expensive. Then, create the third one, that’s even more valuable and even more expensive, and so on.
Build your funnel from the beginning, starting with the entry price product, all the way up to your premium material. That way you’ll have a bunch of products at various price points that will appeal to different people.
According to Carol, this will work much better for a niche blogger with a small email list than launching an expensive product right off the bat.
Ultimately, it all boils down to listening to your audience and giving them what they want. When Carol was asked “What do you think is the key difference between bloggers who make just enough to cover their bills and bloggers like yourself who make six figures?” this is what she said:
“Closer relationships with our readers. It all goes back to building relationships with your readers, listening to them, and giving them what they want.”
Prices: Start low, move up
You might be eager to finally make some money from your blog, but it’s important to stay patient and play the long game. Pricing a product at $0.99 – $2.99 might feel ridiculous at the time, but you’ll make some sales and learn some lessons. Keep listening to your audience, creating products for them, and moving up in terms of price tiers. Over time all these products will snowball into an income stream that can pay your bill and more.
Undercharge and over-deliver
Carol could have priced The Den membership much higher. However, pricing it at $25/month actually led to her making more money in the long run. Why? It’s because the price is affordable, yet the product itself is incredibly valuable. That leaves people feeling like it’s a bargain and keeps them coming back for more.
“It all goes back to building relationships with your readers.” This is the key to turning your blog into a sustainable business that generates 6-figures in revenue.It might sound like common sense, but it’s very easy to forget that when you are dealing with the realities of running a blog (creating content, promoting it, guest posting, networking, etc.). Ultimately, it is all about the relationships with your readers, so put a sticky note on your computer if you have to, and never lose sight of that.
You might be a bit skeptical of Carol’s advice because she started Make a Living Writing when the blogosphere was much less crowded and competitive than it is now. Is it still possible to build a six-figure blog if you start now?
Carol’s answer is simple: “There’s always a place for someone who’s willing to work harder than the other guy and offers a fresh point of view.”
Let’s keep it real. You are probably not going to break the $500,000/year mark. But you probably could build a six-figure blog if you put your mind to it.
So if that’s what you want, and you are willing to put in the time and effort necessary, then go for it.
Who knows, maybe 10 years from now, you’ll be an A-lister in your niche, and other people will be intimidated by your success!