7 Ways the Make a Living Writing Blog Makes Money

When I started this blog, I thought I would put my posts together into an ebook at some point, and then the ebook would make me bazillions and I’d be all set.

That was my whole, grand business plan for Make a Living Writing.

As you’re going to see, that’s not what happened.

The ebook came out end of 2010, and didn’t exactly set the world on fire. I didn’t know much about ebook launches at the time.

Despite this, over the past 18 months or so, Make a Living Writing has begun to earn its keep.

In the past, I did a post about how I make money as a freelance writer. Today, I take a look at the other side of my writing life — how this blog earns its living.

The quick version: There are seven different ways.

How long it took to make money

Before we get into describing the various earning methods that turned out to work for me, let me lay out a timeline.

Because this definitely didn’t happen overnight.

The first couple years I wrote this blog (it started in 2008), it didn’t earn anything.

Then (while I wrote endlessly on that ebook), I started offering paid Webinars, one at a time. For $36, and then for $47. (The higher price sold better!)

I’d sell a bit, and maybe take my family out to dinner. It was like mad money. Spare change.

But I soon got tired of the big marketing cycle for each Webinar. I wanted to teach more and sell less!

Also, given the umpty-million hours I like to spend creating free stuff on this blog, it needed to earn more. Or I needed to quit it. One or the other.

So I moved up to doing multi-session premium courses at $225-$295 or so, mostly with Renegade Writer’s Linda Formichelli. I also had $400 one-on-one mentoring students, who got a lot of individual attention from me.

I liked being able to sell less, and teach students for longer who were more serious about growing their income.

But obviously, lots of people couldn’t afford $300 all at once for a class. And my mission is to help the most writers that I can earn more money, as fast as possible.

How could I make it cheaper, so more writers could afford it? I wondered.

The idea started to germinate in my head that became my membership community, Freelance Writers Den. A community platform could use the power of mass (many people learning at once) to lower the price to an almost-ridiculous $25 a month for a chance to view all the podcasts and Webinars I’ve got, plus use our support forums, job board, and many other helpful features.

I still love this model — and so do more than 500 members. I’m fulfilling my mission of helping more writers, and this setup also proved to be the most popular offering I’ve got, as you can see below.

How this blog makes money

Now, just over a year after the Den launched, I think it’s a good time to take a look at the revenue generators here, which you can see on this handy chart (click that “show/hide” button to get exact percentages). No, I’m not providing dollar figures, but since you know the price of the Den and its membership level, you can probably do some rough math here:

[easychart type="pie" title="How My Blog Makes Money" groupnames="Freelance Writers Den,Premium Courses,Course Audits,Affiliate Sales,Mentoring,Ebook,Products I Love" group1values="62" group2values="9" group3values="8" group4values="11" group5values="5" group6values="2" group7values="1" chartfadecolor="FFFFFF"]

Below are a few quick thoughts on each category, and a look into where revenue-generation is headed in future around here. These are ranked in order of revenue size:

1. Freelance Writers Den. Now it can be told: I just prayed that 250 people would join! My fantasy was that some day in the far-off future, it might possibly hit 500 members. Instead, it blew past that in less than a year. Now, with more than 60 hours of trainings inside, and a staff that includes top copywriters’ coach Chris Marlow and Renegade Writer Linda Formichelli on the staff, it’s unclear how big the Den might grow. But as it gets bigger, I will keep hiring more experts to staff it — I’m committed to keeping a good ratio of experts to members.

The part people don’t know? Running a membership community also costs a substantial amount. There’s a webmaster, a troubleshooter, a transcriptionist, an admin, a media manager, and I’m expecting support roles to grow in the coming year. So while it has the most income, the Den also carries the most cost.

2. Affiliate sales. This was a tricky category for me, because I knew I didn’t want to slap up ads, grab junk products to sell off Clickbank, or send three marketing emails a day to my list, like a lot of the hardcore Internet-marketer types do. I started small, trying to affiliate sell a few things I’d used myself — see #7 below for more details on that. After some experimentation (and a couple fails!), my major affiliate income comes from courses I present to my audience for a range of experts who are mostly people I know personally. I sell one course per month only.

I got the biggest compliment recently — someone on the Den remarked that if hard-sellers are a 90 out of 100 in obnoxiousness, Make a Living Writing and the Den are a 9. I’m hoping to stay right there. Maybe I could make more — at least short-term — hitting my list harder, but that doesn’t feel right to me. (For more on my affiliate sales offers, see #7.)

3. & 4. Premium courses and course Audits. The first class Linda F and I developed was our marketing course The Freelance Writers Blast-Off Class. Then this year, we cooked up our article-writing crash course, 4-Week Journalism School. Both of these were solid successes and sessions sold out for our hands-on mentoring levels.

Then Linda tried an experiment and sold a limited-time “audit” version of one of her own classes (you just get the materials and no live particiation or mentoring time) at a “pay what you want over $30″ price — and sold a ton. So we tried it with our two classes, and discovered there are plenty of writers willing to work through the material on their own for a big discount (previously, I was selling audits at $97 apiece).

The option to combine an Audit with a Den membership and access our exclusive support forum for Audit homework feedback has helped make the pay-what-you-want Audit sales a popular offering that as you can see, makes nearly as much as the premium courses do in the first place! That was definitely a surprise.

Adding sales of all the premium course versions together, these classes would be my #2 category. At this point, I plan to teach each of these twice a year only, and offer the Audits rarely at that discount price to keep interest high and make them easier to sell. (Did I mention I’m not a fan of hard-sell marketing?)

5. Mentoring – My goal is to help most writers through the Den. I actually thought my 1-on-1 mentoring might go away when the Den opened. But some writers still find it worthwhile to get personal coaching on their specific writing challenges, and help creating a game plan for growing their income quickly. I’ve just revamped my 1-on-1 program to include quarterly Q&A calls for a year, to provide more followup support.

6. e-Book – Yes, here it finally is, my 220+ page e-book, Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century Guide! It’s made a couple thou over the years, but more importantly is a first product that many writers buy that gets them familiar with the quality of my offerings. In the next few months, watch for it to go on sale and then disappear to become part of the Den’s resource library, while I refresh the material and split it up into several shorter, hipper ebooks for 2013 release.

7. Products I Love – The first affiliate selling I did involved setting up this page and putting A-List Blogger Club on it. Today, these low-key affiliate sale offers have grown to include a Useful Books tab as well. I mention these offers occasionally in blog posts, but they mostly just sell off these pages, on their own. They’re a very modest source of income, but I keep these up because they introduce writers and bloggers to products and services that can really help them grow their business, such as Freshbooks, Mailchimp, The Writer’s Market and The Well-Fed Writer. As long as I keep getting thank-you notes from writers who buy these through me who’re super-grateful to have found a great tool or resource, I’ll keep them going.

One category I’m expecting to add to the mix in the coming year is speaking fees — I’m presenting online at International Freelancers Day on Friday and in person at Surrey International Writers Conference in October, both of which pay a stipend. I’m hoping to do more in-person conferences like Surrey in future, getting out of my writing cave to do more teaching live.

What I haven’t calculated here is how many gigs I’ve gotten on the freelance writing/blogging side where having this blog as a sample may have played a part. It’s definitely been instrumental in many of the paid blogging gigs I’ve gotten, too.

Derek Halpern

P.S. Need to figure out how to make your blog earn?

Join me tomorrow at 12 PDT/3 EDT for a free training from one of my own blog mentors, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers.

Our topic: How to Get Subscribers and Make Money With Your Blog (While Avoiding the Biggest Mistake Bloggers Make). Register here: http://socialtriggers.com/webinars/carol-tice/

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34 comments on “7 Ways the Make a Living Writing Blog Makes Money
  1. Karen says:

    One of the things that I love about “Make a Living Writing” (and you) is that you’re NOT hard-sell. That’s actually what kept me coming back in the beginning, then joining the Den, THEN signing up for one of your “Audit” classes.

    And your blog is a great example of “If you put in the time and work, you get great results.” I’m glad it’s successful for you, because your site is one that I visit every day! And, selfishly, I’d hate for you to have to quit the site because it wasn’t contributing income for you. :-)
    Karen recently posted..Recruiting Insights Part 1: Nailing Your Job Application

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks, Karen!

      The thing I’ve discovered is if you’re providing what readers need, you really shouldn’t HAVE to be very hard-sell about it. You just say, “Here this learning is, if you need it.”

      I’ve learned that different writers are at different places. Some need free advice. Others need a $300 class so they’ll take it seriously and really DO it. Some will get a ton from a $36 ebook. And some need something like Freshbooks for accounting or a web host, because they’re starting out. I try to have a variety of stuff around that writers will need at different points, and that seems to be working.

      Everyone wants to hear the secret formula to figuring out what to sell quickly, but for me it was more like trial and error…(and still is).

      Like I say, I guess maybe I could earn more if I sent 8 emails about every thing I’m doing instead of 2…but the idea of it makes me want to barf. I take that as my sign not to do it. ;-)

  2. Neil says:

    “Make a Living Writing” is one of the first places (and only one that kept my attention) when I was surfing looking for that resource in how to earn a living through writing. You know my back story about where I came from in retail and how this became a completely new direction for me.

    I love moderating for your Den and gaining the education to make this work. I agree with Karen above, it would be a shame to have you not around to keep this venue going.

    Blogging is a new entity for me as a an income provision. It is finding that niche that works that becomes my biggest hang-up. However, I see the value in creating the income stream through it…even though my main direction is seeking work through pubs and companies.

    Keep it up, Carol.

    Neil

    • Carol Tice says:

      The funny thing is, I never imagined I’d do anything except freelance writing! I didn’t start this blog because I wanted to quit doing that. I still am freelancing and I still love writing for clients.

      I just wanted writers who were working for Demand to know they could make a lot more money elsewhere. That $10 an article was NOT the ‘going rate.’

      That writers can make a living doing this, even if they don’t have a degree in journalism and don’t feel ‘qualified.’

      From there, it sort of took on a life of its own. ;-) And I felt myself being pulled toward doing this sort of writing, for which there was clearly a need.

      Now, I feel like I’m in a real sweet spot. Helping other writers earn more is soooo personally gratifying for me. When a writer on the Den tells me they got a great-paying gig, honestly — I’m happier than if I got it myself! I love that I’ve figured out a way to keep on delivering a ton of help to other people in my profession.

      And having this blog now allows me to only take the freelance clients I really want.

      I hope everybody comes to Derek’s event tomorrow and learns more about how they can do this sort of thing…use their blog to create an income and gain the freedom to write what they want.

  3. Your success is very well deserved, Carol. I have been following your blog (and advice) for the past two years and watching you grow is the proof that if you are willing to work hard and stand by your principles, you can indeed make it.

    I am proud member of Writers Den and learnt TONS from it. Like I said on my guest post, I have managed to land 100+ per post clients following your strategies. I am here for good! Cheers,
    Marya
    Marya | Writing Happiness recently posted..10 Habits of Highly Successful Bloggers

  4. Thomas says:

    Nice sales pitch.

    There were nugggets-albeit small ones-of useful info.
    Otherwise it was more like I was I was reading an infomercial…
    Thomas recently posted..Thomas Ryan Gives a FAQ

    • Nancy says:

      Thomas, I disagree. For someone who is attempting to make a living from a website, there is nothing more useful than this type of first-hand information about what works and what doesn’t, backed with numbers. I think this post is extremely generous and practical.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m spilling my guts here about how much I earn and how I do it…and you’re thinking infomercial?

      Yes, I do happen to have an event coming up about blogging…but I almost didn’t run this post here because it’s so long, and a shorter one might ‘convert’ better for the event. But I wanted to be transparent about what’s going on here, so I went for it.

      Guess that points up another thing I should blog about sometime — once you get a little successful at blogging, the one thing that’s for sure is, what you do will always be pissing off someone. They should pass out skin thickener when you register with WordPress or something.

      • I think the original post was an attempt to ruffle a few feathers. But the bottom line is that you’re right Carol, in the world of blogging, as in life, you will always have a few dissenters.

        You provide a lot of great, free advice to people, but let’s be real, you are running a biz. There is nothing wrong with self-promotion – it’s how you STAY in business.

        Who says you can’t (or shouldn’t) provide value and market yourself at the same time?

        My degree was in Marketing and you know what I learned in school? Regardless of your industry, you are ALWAYS marketing yourself, whether you’re conscious of this or not. This goes triple for entrepreneurs. Writers are no different than anyone else in this regard. Anyone that doesn’t believe this is living in a fantasy.

        Can’t please everyone I suppose. C’est la vie!

  5. Lynn Allen says:

    Joining membership sites is not my usual MO, except for yours. I had been lurking since you started the Den, but recently joined because of the quality posts and classes you consistently offer. As a long-time tech writer and entrepreneurial newbie struggling with all the usual issues, I am glad to have a resource that caters to all levels of writing ventures. Thank you and here’s to your continued success.

  6. Nancy says:

    Thank you so much for this exceptionally generous post. As someone who is working to optimize earnings from a website, I find it extremely helpful to learn what online revenue streams are working for others. It is very kind of you to share this numerical data — invaluable information.

    • Carol Tice says:

      My pleasure Nancy.

      I meant to include a comment about the one thing I think is really notable — no ads! Yes, Virginia, you CAN earn money from a blog without slapping up ads everywhere.

      I’ve got competitors with ads everywhere, even going THROUGH the middle of posts. And I am thrilled to be able to present my blog without a lotta ads.

      My max is one sidebar ad for one of my own things or my one monthly affiliate course I’m mentioning. That. Is. It. People.

      I hate ads! Also, I think for most niche blogs, we’ll see that strategy working less and less in the future anyway.

      At this point, I’m hearing from people who’d like to advertise their random stuff on here nearly every week. No, thanks.

  7. Carol Tice says:

    Getting some reports of folks who can’t see that chart — I’ve checked it in like 3 different browsers…but I gather if you got it on email it didn’t come through.

    So for anyone who can’t see, here’s what the pie chart says on what brings in how much income:

    Freelance Writers Den 62%
    Premium courses: 9%
    Course audits: 8%
    Affiliate sales 11%
    Mentoring 5%
    Ebook 2%
    Products I Love/Useful Books: 1%

  8. Charley says:

    Some of the revenue information provided in this outstanding post, I’ve been able to guess at already by number crunching. Of course, I don’t know the costs associated with your websites, but with revenues like these, it’s easy to see why you keep going. It gives encouragement to those of us starting out. There are sales pitches on your sites, but NONE OF IT PUTS ME OFF. I’ve figured out, for instance, the “premium” course to “audit” course connection. I’ve figured out who the “trusted” affiliates are, and what they have to offer. But Chris Marlow, and Linda Formichelli are TWO people, not 202! A lot of tips and advice on the Den can be obtained by Googling, but why bother? I can fix my own car, too, if I want to spend a week doing what I can pay a professional to do if I simply work a few hours of overtime. In the Den, it’s all there, without the carnival barkers, and I never find myself clicking on some rolling infomercial (Want to chat? Trixi is standing by to answer your questions.) that won’t let you skip ahead to the price (No, wait! Do you really want to leave?) .

    What I haven’t seen, yet (it may be there; I just haven’t seen it), is a “free Kindle giveaway” promotion to generate buzz, and solicit real (not “mastermind”) reviews, and position an ebook for a high Amazon sales rank.

    But, I’ll be watching.

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s easy to see why I keep it going NOW…but wish I could take you all back to when I was plowing thousands into the Den launch and wondering if I was just out of my mind…or if people would really want something like this. Of course, it all seems great in hindsight. ;-)

      Oh man, I hate those floating chat-box things. And the popup where it won’t let you get off the page. And you can expect to NEVER see either of those things on the blog or in the Den!

      I have thought about giving away valuable stuff sometime…are you saying that’s bad? I know AppSumo has made a F O R T U N E on that strategy. ;-) I feel like people tend to love those free-stuff giveaways…so I’d love to hear more on that.

      But you bring up a good point. Certainly, you could figure all this stuff out on your own…but it would take a long time. The Den is a shortcut, and clearly it’s worth the money to many writers to take that shortcut. Especially since it is relatively ad-free and hopefully not annoying.

      See you in there –

  9. Anita says:

    Thanks for a behind-the-scenes look at things, Carol. It’s encouraging for us to read about the period of working, wondering, hoping and praying (I think you said praying) that came before the success.
    Anita recently posted..bye-bye diapers

  10. Cindi says:

    Carol – This post was engaging and informative – exactly what I look for from you AND what you deliver, time after time. Your blog posts, the Den, and a cup of coffee are essential starts to my day. Thank you. Oh! I registered for the call as soon as you mentioned it! Looking forward to being there.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks…that’s so cool to imagine people starting their day with my blog.

      And me too re: the call! With Derek, I always learn something that I’m changing on my blog the MINUTE the event is over.

  11. Jamie says:

    Hi Carol
    Very honest and inspiring post.
    Blogging is one of the most rewarding but also most difficult ways to earn a living online. I have been following several blogs for just over a year but yours is the only one where I am really inspired enough to take action upon the advice.
    I don’t know how you manage to do the Den, writing, your other blog, courses, webinars – you must be ultra organized.
    The content here is first class – I have written 2 articles for my local paper and my confidence is growing every day thanks to the Den. I have to listen to Den audio while at work then write when kids go to bed but can’t wait until I get the time to start really networking on the forums.
    I’m starting to really believe I can make a living writing
    Champion
    Jamie recently posted..I stopped rising early and all I got was this lousy blog post

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t know either…but let’s just say I’ll sleep when I’m dead. ;-) And possibly I’m just ultra-crazy rather than ultra-organized.

      I love what you said there about the blog – may I use that as a testimonial? Just getting ready to redo the About page here…

  12. This is the kind of stuff I most need to read now. I also decided to chose my affiliate programs based on things I really like from companies I respect that fit the profile and content of my blog.

    I’m relieved to know that it’s a process for everyone, but I’m trying to shorten my learning curve as much as possible by reading posts like this.

    One question/concern: It seems like it requires a great deal of credibility to charge people for courses or mentoring or to view exclusive content. How does one know when he or she has that level of credibility? Do you sort of just try it and assess the response?

    Thanks!
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Writing Emotionally Charged Pieces

    • Carol Tice says:

      As far as my own courses, I’ve usually done surveying of my readers to ask what they need to learn about…then I present exactly that. If I don’t know all of what they need myself, I bring on co-presenters. I’ve actually had copresenters on almost everything I’ve done, trying to add more value and more expertise to it. Highly recommend partnering, especially when you’re starting to design your first classes.

      Stay tuned next week for an example of what I mean…got a new Den bootcamp coming up that is based on member feedback of what they wanted to learn.

  13. Lois says:

    This means decide on what you like to write about and stick with it. If you like writing about health care, find projects where you can write on that topic. You can eventually present yourself as an expert on that topic and get more lucrative work.

  14. Jamie says:

    Hi Carol
    Sure you can use it – if you want me to write one specifically for the page just drop me an email or message on the forums.

    Sarah L Webb – I think you decide yourself when you are credible (and confident) enough to mentor someone. Obviously you must have success and knowledge so that you can answer lots of questions. Also – I would not try and teach anyone to a level you have not achieved yourself. E.g. if you earn $100 from freelancing don’t claim you know how they can reach $1000 – theory has little value on the net.

    Hope this is useful
    Jamie recently posted..I stopped rising early and all I got was this lousy blog post

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s so funny you mention this, Jamie — I recently got a reach-out from a new freelance writer. They said they’d had 2-3 clients at sort of so-so rates, and now they wanted to create a platform like the Den where they would teach others how to be a freelance success.

      I said lots luck with that…you’re not even earning a living yet! You kind of need to be a pretty solid success at what you’re doing before people are going to want your advice.

      If you look at most experts, they’ve accomplished something…and now they’re showing others how they can accomplish it, too. It’s a pretty simple criterion.

  15. Like most everyone else, I hang out here because you’re not hard sell and don’t pretend to be a “make a 6 figure income” style guru. I actually read one recently who said “6 figures or maybe even 7.” I’m no longer saying 6 is impossible, but not just from taking somebody’s “turnkey course.”

    I think it kind of sucks that somebody called this blog a “sales pitch.” It’s the first time I’ve ever read a reasonably successful blogger write something I could relate to. It’s usually the “How I went from nothing to $10,000 a week without even trying” sort of bs. Thanks very much and I’m sure most readers appreciate your efforts, too.
    Rob Schneider recently posted..Apps and the Social Media Frenzy

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks Rob! I hate that kind of “guaranteed riches” pitch stuff too.

      What I’ve learned is I really can’t guarantee anything, because you always have the choice to not take action on anything. And then nothing happens.

      What I guarantee in my classes is that if you don’t hear anything you could use to earn more, I’ll give you your money back. Nobody’s asked yet.

      But I can’t make you do it.

  16. Michael says:

    You deserve all your success, Carol, and it shows because of your work ethic. Being able to juggle all the different aspects of your blog can be exhausting I have no doubt.

    I’m just starting in the freelance world and not trying to spread myself too thin for fear of not being able to produce quality work, but I can see that all of it is possible. Although I had to end my membership with the Freelance Writer’s Den due to budget constraints and time, I look forward to joining again when the opportunity arises.

    Thanks for all the encouragement and inspiration!

  17. Sandy Aptecker says:

    You/’re a marketer who writes is what you are. It undoubtedly works for you. But I hate marketing, much prefer to write, and so I toil on in unpaid ignominy. But at least I’m not marketing, a word I am coming to hate. Sandy A.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Honestly, I’m so not a marketer! Before 2006 I had never sold anything to anyone and thought it was dirty and evil.

      I did a push of marketing at one point for about 18 months when I lost a big client I needed to replace…and then became a fan of building your inbound marketing. Now, for the most part, leads come to me.

      For my own products, I do probably half the marketing emails the ‘pros’ say you should do to get more conversions. I don’t care — I don’t feel comfortable sending more, so I don’t. As someone once told me in the Den, if the big guys are a 9 out of 10 on the marketing scale, I’m a 3.

      I started the Den so I could spend more time teaching and less time marketing…and I have more plans in future to do even less marketing than I do now. For instance, I opened the Den for a couple days in March — did you know? Probably not, unless you were on the waiting list. Never mentioned it on my blog at all, or emailed subscribers.

      It really takes a lot less marketing than you might think to get going as a freelance writer — more of a big effort when you get started, like a tunnel you go through, and then it gets a lot easier.

      Guess I think it’s worth a modest amount of marketing to make a six-figure income as a writer and be able to do this full-time. Try it — you might discover it’s not as scary as you think.

      I’m sorry you have such a negative view of marketing — sounds like it’s really limiting your options to pursue your craft and be read. Few businesses can survive without any marketing…and as a freelance writer, that’s what you have…a business.

      Definitely not for everyone, which is why most write for the fun of it and work a day job they hate. Guess I hate that setup less than I hate marketing. ;-)

      • Rob S says:

        There are a lot of negative connotations to the word “marketing”, the biggest one being “hustle.” The fact is, though, if we’re making a living doing anything, someone is doing the “hustling” to sell the product or service that pays our way. Marketing is not a dirty word if there is integrity attached to it. Integrity in marketing to me means offering something of real value and not misrepresenting the product/service in your copy.

        My problem with marketing on my own behalf is that I don’t as yet have a unique product or service to sell. There’s not enough return on affiliate products to make it worth the effort to go all-out on my blogs, so I focus on my writing career and keep my blogs going just because I enjoy them.
        Rob S recently posted..Man Without a Plan: my serendipitous writing career

        • Carol Tice says:

          I agree with you, Rob — and that’s what I’ve learned about marketing, that you can do it without feeling like you need to take a shower at the end.

          One thing that changes things is when you move from feeling you’re shoving yourself on people and realize businesses and publications NEED writers. You offer something valuable they need, and you’re doing them a favor letting prospects know you exist. Some are absolutely thrilled to hear from you.

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  1. [...] is, it takes a serious business plan and months (if not years) of hard work to earn a living from a blog. And to earn a living, you have to sell stuff. Whether that’s ad space on your blog, ebooks [...]

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