Five Straightforward Ways to Build a Business Around Your Blog (and Two Ways Not To)

Building a Blogging BusinessDo you want to know the fastest way to make money blogging? Think of your blog as a business. Offer a service, or create a product, that you can sell directly to your readers. It really is as simple as that.

You don’t need an MBA. You don’t need any start-up capital. You don’t need to make a single cold call, or attend networking events, or do any of the things that you might think running a small business involves.

How do I know? Because I’ve done this myself. I started out with nothing but a blog … and I built a full-time business.

I’m going to share five straightforward ways you can build a business around your blog. But before I get to the ways to make money, I want to tell you how to not make money: Forget about AdSense and signing up for affiliate programs.

Why Not Advertising?

A lot of new bloggers think the best way to make money is to sell advertising space, usually running Google Ads. That’s how I started out, and it took me almost a year to get my first check from Google — for a little over $100.

Of course, you’ll have seen ads on plenty of big blogs. Advertising works for them because they have a huge readership with lots of daily traffic. The fact is, unless your blog is receiving thousands of visitors every day, you’re not going to make much money selling ads.

The other drawback to advertising is that it sends readers away from your blog. That’s OK if you’re just interested in daily traffic, and if you’re getting a lot of visitors through search engines, but if you want loyal readers who stick around and help you grow your blog and your community, keep ads to a minimum.

Why Not Affiliate Sales?

So how about affiliate sales? When a reader clicks an ad, you might get a few cents; when they buy an e-product that you’re an affiliate for, you’re likely to get at least a few dollars. If your blogging niche lends itself to affiliate promotions — if you write about expensive technology, for instance — then you might make at least a small income through reviews, product comparisons, and so on, with links to Amazon.

However, affiliate promotions can leave you open to all sorts of potential problems:

  • Not all readers will trust affiliate links. They may assume that you must be biased because you stand to profit if they buy the product.
  • You may end up promoting products which you’ve barely used or looked at yourself. If a reader buys on your recommendation, only to find out the product really isn’t much good, your reputation will be damaged.
  • You  may spend a lot of time assessing, reviewing, and  writing in detail about a product only for the product owner to withdraw their affiliate program (or take the product off the market altogether). This is the most frustrating possibility of all.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use advertising or affiliate links. They can be a nice way to generate a little extra income from your blog. Unless you have huge amounts of traffic, though, they’re very unlikely to allow you to make a living.

The good news is that the following alternative monetization methods — which involve turning your blog into a proper business — are very effective ways to start making money.

Business #1: Freelancing

A freelancer offers a service like copy writing, logo design, or WordPress programming, or sometimes a range of related services.

Many companies, large and small, work with freelancers because they don’t want to hire a full-time staff member to tackle a job that could be easily outsourced. Many of the larger blogs you read, for instance, will have used a freelance designer or developer or even freelancer writers.

You don’t necessarily need to be an expert in order to freelance; you can take on simpler jobs to begin with, at a fairly low rate, and gradually charge more and take on more challenging tasks as you develop your skills.

To start freelancing, you simply need to put a page up on your blog that describes your services. You might call this page “Hire Me”, “Services”, “Logo Design” or “Copy writing” – whatever’s relevant to you.

(Of course, when you offer any service or product through your blog, you should also register as self-employed, following the laws of your home country.)

Business #2: Coaching / Consulting

You might decide that you don’t want to offer a service to your clients, but would rather help them develop their own skills.

Coaches and consultants work with individuals and businesses to share their expertise and to offer advice and feedback. Different people will work in slightly different ways. Some might provide a fair amount of hands-on help, others (e.g., life coaches) help their clients come to their own conclusions rather than offering specific advice.

In order to coach or consult you’ll need a fair degree of knowledge about your particular field, but you don’t need to be an expert with a string of bestselling books. Coaches tend to work with individuals and consultants tend to work with businesses. It’s up to you what you want to call yourself.

There are plenty of different types of coach and consultant out there; don’t assume that it’s all about “life coaching” or “management consultancy.” For instance, depending on your area of expertise, you could be a health and nutrition coach, a writing coach, or a parenting coach. As a consultant, you could be an SEO consultant, a social media consultant, or an educational consultant.

Business #3: Selling Ebooks

If offering a service isn’t for you –perhaps you’ll have trouble fitting in client work around your existing job or your family responsibilities — then how about selling a product?

Many bloggers start out with ebooks, and for a very good reason: the overhead is extremely low. With an ebook (or any digital product), you don’t need to pay production or storage costs. The amount of work you put in and the amount of money you spend will be virtually the same whether you sell ten ebooks or ten thousand ebooks.

The most attractive feature of ebooks is that they can provide a stream of passive income . You may wake up in the morning to find that you’ve sold ebooks overnight or come back from a vacation to find a nice sum of extra money in your PayPal account. If you can only work on your business at intervals (e.g., during the summer break if you’re a teacher) then this works out very well.

You’ll want to focus your ebook on a topic that your blog audience really cares about. I encourage you to create a survey and ask your audience what they’re interested in or what questions or problems they need answered. You could come up with 3 – 5 possible ebook topics based on their answers, then ask them to choose their favorite.

You may also want to bundle extras with your ebook, like audio interviews with other bloggers in your niche or video tutorials. This allows you to charge a higher price.

Business #4: Selling Physical Products

Depending on your niche, your blog might well be a great showcase for physical products that you create. For instance, if you write about knitting, you could sell your own hand-knitted items or you could sell yarn and other knitting supplies.

You may also find that your audience wants to have products in physical, rather than digital, format — print books rather than ebooks, or CDs rather than downloadable MP3s. If this is the case, you could look into how best to produce and sell these. With books, for instance, you can use Lulu or Amazon’s CreateSpace for print-on-demand copies, that way you have no upfront cost and no need to store and ship stock yourself.

Another option to sell physical goods is to buy wholesale (in bulk), then sell each item at a higher price so you make a profit. This is how many small businesses on eBay work. If you’re doing this, you’ll need start-up capital, and you’ll also need to be able to store and ship the goods — or you’ll need to pay a drop-shipping service to do so for you.

Business #5: Running Ecourses or a Membership Site

This final business model crosses the boundary between products and services. An ecourse is a course that you run online, delivering the course materials through a website or through emails. A membership site is a website that people pay a monthly subscription fee to use — you might provide teaching content, community forums, small group coaching, or a mixture of these.

Ecourses and membership sites generally require an upfront and ongoing commitment. Before you launch the course or site, you’ll need to create at least some content for it, so that members can get started as soon as they join (or at least so that you’re a week or two ahead!) And once the course or site is running, the members will expect some ongoing involvement from you — especially if they have any questions or problems.

The big advantage of ecourses and membership sites, of course, is that they can be very profitable. You can charge a lot more for an ecourse than for an ebook, and a membership site will bring in income month after month. If you’ve already experimented with ebooks, or with offline courses, you may decide that an ecourse or membership site is the next step.

So, which way will you go? You’ve got lots of possibilities when it comes to turning your blog into a full-fledged business. You can even combine different models or switch from one to another. I started out with freelancing (Method #1), moved on to ebooks (#3), started coaching (#2) and then created ecourses and finally a membership site (#5) — as well as experimenting with offering a novel in physical, paperback form (#4).

Leave a comment below to let us know which method appeals to you the most, or share your ideas on any other business options.

Ali Luke and Joe Williams blog for SEO Training, a UK company offering training courses on SEO, blogging, social media and PPC marketing. If you enjoyed this post, check out their post 6 Ways to Get (Good) Attention in the Blogosphere.

Image from Flickr by mcamcamca