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:
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 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.