Are You Hobby Blogging or Problogging?

Like many other bloggers and internet entrepreneurs, I am the proud owner of at least thirty domains. When I first started blogging, everything I thought of was potentially a new business. When the Wii was released, I wanted to do a Wii game review blog (that dates me a little). When I learned about bocce ball, I started a bocce ball blog. When I bought my first grill, up went the grilling blog. My main blog, Microblogger, where I share my experiences building up a 7-figure personal finance blog, was registered just five months afterwards! I never touched it until just recently!

Jim Wang Image - 20k-start-a-blog

What separates the extremely successful blogs from the “meh, that’s nice” ones? A mixture of planning, hard work, and luck. In the years since, I was fortunate to have started at least one blog that would enable my professional career as a blogger. I still have the others, they’re nice fun hobbies, but only one became something much bigger. I’ve often been asked by other bloggers, how do you know when you have a hobby blog or a pro blog?

The answer isn’t that simple but hopefully I can offer some of my experience today to help you answer that question.

First, let’s define the difference between a professional blog and a hobby blog. It all comes down to the purpose of the blog and how much revenue it’s able to generate. A professional blog is one that can support you financially.

A hobby blog is a blog that can’t provide total financial support, though that’s not to say it won’t one day. A hobby blog can generate income but it’s not enough for you to quit your day job.

A professional blog is not necessarily better than a hobby blog, it’s often a mistake to think that every blog needs to generate tens of thousands of dollars in income for it to be a success.

Sometimes the purpose of a blog is to be a creative outlet for the blogger. Sometimes it’s to make a little money to help pay for a hobby. The difficulty is when you want it to be a professional blog and it won’t get bigger than a hobby one.

How do you know if your blog will remain a hobby or become a full-time income?

Do You Want a Hobby or Pro Blog?

Before you do anything else, you need to ask yourself this very simple question – what do you want? There is a natural assumption that everyone wants to build a side project that becomes a full-time job. That’s not true. I know many bloggers who have extremely successful blogs on the side. They continue to work elsewhere because they derive great pleasure and fulfillment from their day jobs. They don’t want to be full-time bloggers but they enjoy running a successful business on the side.

While it’s possible to build a successful blog by accident, this isn’t the norm. If you want to build a blog that generates a full-time income, you need to know from the start and treat it as such. Very rarely does a hobby blog magically grow up and become a business, though many blogs get their start as a side hustle. We often rise to expectations so unless you expect big things from your blog, it’s rare that you’ll achieve it.

Build a Blogging Business Plan

If you want a pro blog, what’s the best determinant of success? It’s a business plan.

Do you know why investors always want to see a business plan? It’s because it forces the entrepreneur to think about how the business will respond to a variety of scenarios. It forces the entrepreneur to objectively analyze the opportunity, the threats, the market size, and all these other issues on paper, before he or she tries to start a business. Everyone knows what happens to business plans the moment they face reality but it’s the thinking and the planning that matters.

[Tweet "If you want a pro blog, what's the best determinant of success? It's a business plan. ~ @wangarific"]

Building a business plan is also much faster than starting a business. Once you have the plan, show it to some friends and family. Show it to people you think would be interested in that blog. Listen to their feedback and use it to improve your plan. If you still feel strongly about your plan, pursue it. If you have several ideas and several plans, this process can help you home in on the one you should try first.

Your first step in determining whether your blog will be a hobby or a professional pursuit is in coming up with this plan.

Analyze Finances & Revenue

As you build your business plan, one critical section that you need to spend a lot of time on is finances. This section focuses on your revenue and your expenses, your prospects for growth, the competition, and all the things that make business both challenging and fun. This is where you need to do the most research to find out how lucrative your niche really is. How can you earn income from your blog? How hard is it to beat out competitors? To take market share?

Let me give you an example of my analysis for a hobby whisky blog I created several years ago. I’m a fan of whisky, I thought I’d create a blog that talked about various whisky products, be it actual drinks to glasses and cleaners and whatnot. I did not create a business plan and so I didn’t know early on that my blog’s limits were that of a hobby blog. The reality is that most people don’t buy whisky online, they buy it in a store. Shipping spirits is also difficult given state laws, and so revenue would be restricted to a few physical products like glassware.

My approach, to rely on advertising and affiliate revenue, limited it to a hobby that generated a trickle of income.

If I created a business plan, and if I was focused on making it a full-time blog, I would’ve known to try a different approach. People don’t buy whisky online but spirits companies advertise. I should’ve focused on building up a large loyal community, rather than focusing more on SEO and search traffic. Alternatively, I could’ve tried to build my name as a whisky expert and provided consulting services to spirits companies. Either of these ideas would’ve been more effective than pursuing affiliate advertising!

A business plan would’ve given me that insight and saved me a lot of time. It may have also elevated my scotch blog to something more than just a fun site to have around!

The Plan Becomes the Blueprint

After you create a plan and after you decide which opportunity to pursue, the plan becomes your blueprint. What often separates success and failure is persistence. As you grow your business, you have minutestones and milestones along the way that can give you sense of progress. This plan makes it easier to continue since you won’t subjectively pick others to compare yourself against. It’ll become easier to manage the emotional toll of setbacks and lack of growth. The plan will be your stabilizing force.

I ran Bargaineering for three years on the side before pursuing it full time. I didn’t have a full business plan but I had milestones and an idea of what I was hoping to accomplish and when. I had simple milestones, like emailing five bloggers this week just to say hello. I’d comment on five sites I never commented on before. These seem simple but that’s how it starts. In the beginning, success was completing these achievable goals.

Without these simple tasks, if I just focused on something I had less control over such as revenue or traffic, I might have quit. If I had stopped anytime in those three years, I wouldn’t be here today.

Do you have the persistence and, to be perfectly honest, stubbornness to stick with it for years before it can support you? It just might take that long. It took me three years in an industry, personal finance, that is tailor made for making money on the internet. For years it was providing hobby income, despite professional income potential, until things turned a corner.

After the plans and the research, you need to ask yourself… are you ready to do the work?

Photo Credit: Annie Mole

22 Responses

  1. Zoe @ One Beet October 3, 2013 / 10:17 am

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, they are very helpful!

    • Jim October 3, 2013 / 10:18 am

      You’re very welcome!

  2. Eli@coachdaddy October 3, 2013 / 10:11 pm

    Excellent insight. I don’t think I have an end game for my blog. Do you think that’s a problem?

    • Jim October 4, 2013 / 7:57 am

      Do you? 🙂

  3. Jack Smith October 4, 2013 / 2:15 am

    Great Post Jim. Informative article.I’m currently running a personal SEO blog and making my strategy in blogging. Your points will help me in many ways.

    • Jim October 4, 2013 / 7:57 am

      I’m glad it was helpful!

  4. Sam October 4, 2013 / 2:49 am

    Good Post, Jim. I am very new to blogging. I own lot of websites. I am not able to single peeny with these websites. This post help me a lot. Thanks.

    • Jim October 4, 2013 / 7:58 am

      You’re welcome!

  5. Andrews October 4, 2013 / 8:53 am

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. Owing thirty blogs isn’t uncommon but having thirty great blog is really impressive and honorable for any blogger. Blogging demands a lot of energy so it is very hard for me to give time to a single blog.

  6. Dragos October 4, 2013 / 9:30 am

    Thank you Jim for sharing your personal experience and advice with us! I am still trying to figure out what I should do- I have the day job that I like as you mentioned but I am also tempted by a pro blog project- maybe I am still reserved and somehow not sure I could manage it successfully. But your experience is inspiring, thanks for sharing- I am going to establish a business plan and stick to it!

  7. Amanda L Grossman October 4, 2013 / 2:00 pm

    I have been blogging for 4.5 years, and just completed my first ever business plan about four months ago. Such a worthwhile pursuit (you can find a free template on the Small Business Gov website). It really changes your perspective on how you view your blog. Since I want to have a business with my blog, this new perspective is perfect.

    • Jim October 4, 2013 / 4:22 pm

      Congrats! That’s awesome, it’s never too late to do it.

  8. Sagar Nandwani October 5, 2013 / 11:30 pm

    Ever since i started up my own blogs a few years back I have been firmly placed in Reason #3. In fact, even though I haven’t even hit 30 yet I’ve been very slow on picking up the professional influence in the blogosphere. I honestly didn’t pick up on the fact that the majority of blogs are “professional” until about a year ago.

    Then, after reading more and more posts here, I realized that my current blog is unintentionally Reason #4. I saw other fanfiction writers posting in their site profiles information on when they’ll update next, or ideas on an upcoming project. I wanted to do the same for my few fans and thus created my blog. Now it’s about 1/2 random outlet for my thoughts and 1/2 building a platform for my writing.

  9. Fakta Unik October 7, 2013 / 12:18 pm

    i think i will love to be a problogging, because i build many blog to get some money
    not just for fun 🙂

  10. Deepak Singh October 8, 2013 / 7:31 am

    NJice Post, Jim. I am new to blogging world and this post was really helpful for me. Cheers

    • Jim October 8, 2013 / 8:21 am

      You’re very welcome, if you ever have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out!

  11. Simon George October 9, 2013 / 8:57 am

    Thanks bro for sharing such a useful post….I don’t know much about blogging additionally I am a beginner too and owns 2 blogs but not able to generate any cash from both of them. But after going through your this post I got it I have not done planning before starting within it. But now sure will keep the points you listed above and proceed.

  12. Khurram October 10, 2013 / 12:18 pm

    I am also blogger.. At start i am blogging as hobby but after some success on blog and my writing starts to lighten, now i am professional article writer in my own language.. I read your experiences giving me more idea about what i am. I am problogger..
    Best Wishes from me..

  13. Peter October 13, 2013 / 1:44 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I am starting off my own blog right now (I actually started 3 – all based on hobbies/knowledge areas of mine, but have decided to start on just 1 to get started). However am finding it hard to attract any readership. I had previous attempts at blogs a few years ago as well, but gave up after struggling to find readers. At the moment I have a free wordpress blog, but am thinking of buying my own domain name. Will that make a difference? Am also struggling with backlink building. I have created some, but am having a hard time finding good quality sites to put backlink on (and not spamming). Am thinking of going the quest post route, but that will be challenging as I don’t think most higher up blogs will want some unknown writing guest posts for them. Also this would also force me to put content on other blogs besides my own. Would like to get at least some passive income from this project, however I need to find readers first.

  14. Heidi October 15, 2013 / 4:20 pm

    I’ve blogged for years and they were always hobby blogs. My new blog has been a dream in progress for a few years, and creating a business plan for it was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Thanks for the great article, it’s one I’ll be sharing with others.

    • Jim October 15, 2013 / 4:27 pm

      Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad it worked out well for you!

  15. trina December 27, 2013 / 5:52 pm

    I also think that a big difference between a “hobby” blog and a site that makes money is the niche. Its pretty difficult to create a money making site in a niche that doesn’t have anything to sell. Your finance site is an obvious example of a niche site that has the opportunity to grow into a big money maker.

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