Reflections On Blogging As a Career Or As a Vehicle

If you’re not a full-time blogger yet, and you’re wondering whether you can earn a reasonable full-time wage over the course of a year, the short answer is yes. But will you earn it, and are you capable of putting in the time, effort and commitment necessary to earn a “career” salary? Do you have the patience to see the process through what could be 1, 2 or even 3 years? And do you have a financial fallback for that duration? (If you’re already full-time blogger and earning a reasonable living, you’re one of the favored few.)

Does Blogging Compare With Traditional Freelance Writing?

Whether you can transition to full-time career blogger is something you’ll have to answer for yourself. The average freelance writer (for print) in North America historically made passable income. Only a few ever made a great, consistent income without long, long hours. And print writers are paid a lot more per feature articles than any given pro blogger. At least according to all the research I’ve done on the writing industry since 1981.

On the flipside, blogging on your own sites could earn you income – something for which there is no analog in writing for print (other than going through the headache of publishing your own magazine, or using vanity presses to publish your books). But as with any print publication, you have to do the necessary promotion and take on many roles – researcher, writer, facts-checker, editor, publisher, ad sales person.

What I’ve Learned About Blogging As a Career


After three years at full-time blogging, I’ve come to a very difficult conclusion: I can’t do it – neither financially, nor productively, nor emotionally. I can only produce 6-9 articles (text only) per week that I’m actually proud of, and I spend far too much time on those to find the stamina necessary for my own sites, or for more paid writing. For the print medium, those same articles would not be suitable, but the same amount of output would probably earn a reasonable income. (Except that the some big players in the print industry are starting their last gasps already.)

Online, unfortunately, those 6-9 articles cannot earn me even a fraction of what I used to earn as a web consultant/ programmer/ jr project manager/ tech writer/ trainer. (Not that I ever expected them to.) I’ve gone from making $75-240K/yr (prorated, depending on the contract and the country), from 1998-2001, to nowhere even close, no matter how many hours of blogging I put in each week. And after six years of just getting by, I’ve had enough. If I’m not going to earn bags of money, I might as well (not) earn it doing what I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

My Past and Present Blogging Opportunities

In the past three years, I’ve had a go at a number of blogging-related opportunities, all of which were either good, bad or ugly. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Re-blogging other news in a few niches for low rates but high enough volume to earn about 50% or more of my part-time revenue at the time.
  2. Being an editor/ contributor for one site, which was a great gig until the budget was cut in half.
  3. Editing a half-dozen bloggers in a niche network. This paid a small base monthly fee and theoretically 50% revshare. However, the network was fledgling so 50% was essentially $0, and I couldn’t invest much more time.
  4. Linkbaiting under a pseudonym, promoted by the “clients”. Linkbaiting can pay well, especially if you’re an SEO. But if you’re only doing the writing and you’re not fast, it’s really not worth it. My method involves obsessive research and editing, so I was effectively earning $3-6/hour – not a good way to make a living. You also have to have extremely thick skin for the nasty comments you’ll inevitably get, from people who don’t know or care that you might have put in a week or three in the writing. Call me old-fashioned, but it becomes writing as competitive sport and it wears me out.
  5. Linkbaiting under my name, which never seems to do as well. Of course, I’m an odd mix of both extrovert and introvert, and I’m not big on asking people to submit the few articles I write for myself (despite how much I vote when requested). I prefer to stick to “resource” articles or comprehensive content and hope that the search engine spiders will index it all, due to the “expert” content.
  6. Screencasting/ tutorials, which I enjoy the most but for which there still isn’t a lot of demand yet, simply because I have to charge a premium over just text, and few sites can afford it on a regular basis. The material often tends to focus on fairly technical subjects, and thus has a smaller audience. (I don’t screencast on my own sites because of the time involved.)
  7. Being a lead blogger, which has been a great experience, and which keeps me on my toes to come up with fresh ideas every day. (I don’t always accomplish it, but not for lack of trying.) It’s also comforting to have one paid gig to rely on.
  8. Being a weekly freelance contributor. I love this because of the variety, but despite it being weekly, I still have to keep on top of the niches in question. It actually seems harder to write this way sometimes. When you blog every day, you already know that not every post is going to be a “hit”. But when you blog on a site only once a week, that post has to be good.
  9. Being an unpaid guest blogger, which I rarely have time for, despite wanting to contribute more.
  10. Writing for my own blogs, which earn less than US$500/mth collectively in advertising.
  11. Hiring for my own blogs, which didn’t pay out much to bloggers but still depleted my budget and earned little back.

Niches To Consider

My research shows that both polit-blogging and celeb-blogging on your own sites could earn you a full-time salary or beyond, if you do what is necessary. But it might take you a year or more to establish your site. Both niches require a constant stream of blogging news tidbits all day long, which must be posted in a timely fashion. You can’t be late to the game with a particular bit of news.

You also have to start early in the morning (EST), scan that slice of the blogosphere, news sources, TV shows, etc., and post in semi-regular intervals (every 15, 20, or 30 minutes) until about 6 or 7 pm EST. If  you cannot achieve 15-30 posts per weekday (and 5-10 on Saturdays), you might not hit the magic point where your site will gain momentum. On top of that, you have to promote ALL the posts, no matter how crappy. At least you do for celebrity gossip.

But I have no interest in polit-blogging, and gossip blogging leaves me feeling dirty – there’s just so much ugliness in the gossip. (That doesn’t rule out indepth articles about celebrities, sans gossip, but unfortunately it’s the volume of short gossip bits that initially build your site’s presence.) Still, if you can put up with all that, the schedule, and the need for promoting and networking, I know of no other niches that could eventually earn you as much as for politics or celebrity gossip. Tech might, but it’s extremely saturated and dominated by a few sites. (I’m a long-time tech head, and even I couldn’t crack the barrier after two years with my own tech sites. I simply put them aside, and one makes a tiny bit in advertising revenue each month, with no new content.)

Should You Give Up Your Day Job?

Obviously, you’ll have to make your own decision, but if you are currently only a part-time blogger with a regular day job, here’s my advice to you:

  1. Keep your day job for now and save as much as you can.
  2. If you don’t have time to blog, spend time building a power social media account.
  3. When you have time, build up your blogging and social networking/ promoting skills for your own site(s).
  4. When you feel ready, find a few blogging gigs that you can manage while still holding down a day job.
  5. If you’re a good writer, don’t just look for blogging gigs. Look for non-blog/ non-website freelance writing gigs, which tend to pay much more than blogging gigs, at present. If you’re very convincing with your writing, consider copywriting, which if you’re good at is like striking gold.
  6. If after some time you feel that you can find enough freelance gigs or can earn enough from your sites to make a jump to full-time blogging, and you’ve saved money for the transition, you might consider the jump. If you’re already blogging full-time, you probably don’t need this advice.

So If I’m Not Blogging As Much, What Am I Doing?

Now, if I’m offering all this specific advice, why am I not following it myself? Well I have, but… firstly, I’ve proven over three years that I simply cannot consistently earn enough each month in freelance blogging (nor on my own sites) to make it worthwhile in full-time mode. Secondly, there’s something else I love more than writing and that’s visual mediums. I am not a designer, only an inconsistent artist, and a reasonable “amateur professional” photographer. But I’ve had a long love of film.

Filmmaking is an unrequited love I simply have to pursue and can’t put off any longer. Most people have broken into the business by now. If I have no solid full-time career anymore anyway, why not pursue what I love? I already went the “traditional” route that is part of my upbringing by getting a university education, and having a professional career as a programmer/ webmaster/ tech writer. But that career evaporated after 9/11 – as if it never happened, and I did not get out of that period emotionally unscathed. This affected my career and how people interacted with me. It’s not something I’m eager to get back into.

I don’t intend to give up blogging completely, but I do realize that if I want to go through with my career transition to filmmaking, I have to start on that immediately. No putting it off for 20 more years, like I seem to have done, hoping to build enough savings to produce films and instead straying off that path. I simply have to start. That means that my blogging career will be affected. However, there there is a transitional work schedule that I’m aiming for:

  1. One regular (daily) blogging gig and a few weekly blogging gigs. These ensure that my bills get paid each month, but leave little in the way of savings.
  2. The occasional screencasting and web coding tutorials to supplement income.
  3. Designing a few WordPress themes aimed directly at researchers/ freelancers/ SEOs, not so much bloggers.
  4. Podcasting and video podcasting simply for fun, and to develop digital media production skills without stress.
  5. Time to see all new theatrical-release movies each week, and to review them both in print and in podcasts.
  6. Production of a weekly web video show or three, with either a committed content buyer and/or sponsors. This effort will not only build my skills towards filmmaking, but will also help fund the transition. I’m already delving into this, and if the first two test episodes of one new show are a success, I’ll have a commitment for four episodes per month.
  7. Production of a variety of web videos which could collectively earn a six-figure yearly income through video sites such as Howcast, Expert Village or even Metacafe and Revver.
  8. Pre-producing, shooting, and producing films. I’m working on pre-production of two movies, but there’s only so much you can do with an effective budget of zero.
  9. Blogging about the media projects I’m working on, simply to promote them and not to earn from blogging. This is where I ultimately want to take my blogging.

I already have some of these elements in my current schedule, and as of May 1st, I’m doing what I have to to have a more suitable schedule that mixes different types of work – blogging, podcasting, screencasting/ tutorials, web video. This is a much easier mix to deal with, and is far more enjoyable to me. The tricky part is leveraging the income from #1-2 to pay for #4-5 and produce #6-7, which in turn will pay for #8 and allow me to do #9.

Summary

Here’s the takeaway from this long post. Even if you don’t think you can make a go of becoming a full-time blogger, that doesn’t mean you have to give up blogging entirely. Part-time blogging can supplement a day job. Who says you have to give that up? Or, if there’s something else you’d love to do, part-time blogging can help you through the transition financially while you pursue your dreams. Blogging can also be used as a vehicle to promote your other passion. Of course, if your dream is to blog full-time, then this advice probably doesn’t apply.

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Comments

  1. Raj,
    Thanks for such an honest post. I think it’s very interesting to hear your opinions and learn about your experiences over the past few years.

  2. ananth c k says:

    hi i went on ur write up. i wish to make money through blogging. could you pls direct me to move ahead

    regard

  3. Raj Dash says:

    Ananth: Did you actually read what I wrote? And if you read it, did you understand it? The details are hidden in the post. It’s quite ironic that you’d ask such a question on this post of all places.

  4. Steve: Thanks for the kind words.

  5. James Mowery says:

    Great breakdown of what your going through Raj. Truly a read that everyone on this site should take the time to experience.

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