It's one of the top questions people ask us. Yes! Seriously. Even in real life. Not just in the little IG question box when I give people permission to ask things they'd probably never dare ask to my face in real life. Friends, relatives, and people who are just genuinely curious ask us all the time, “how do you make a living blogging?” or “what's your main source of income?” They're all fair questions, and I'm totally going to answer them today. But first, we have to start with a story.
8 years ago, I was a brand new mom in Sandy, Utah with a beautiful little baby girl. And it was the life I had dreamed of. Not like we had endless amounts of money (actually totally the opposite – I was definitely counting pennies when I did my grocery shopping!) but I was living the “stay in your jammies as long as you'd like and drive an SUV with your baby in the back seat and stroller in the trunk” life that I thought would complete me.
What I wasn't prepared for was a simultaneous diagnosis of postpartum depression. I cried every day in the late afternoon, as the sun would set around 4pm and I felt the walls of dark loneliness closing in around me. My husband Neil would come home and say, “what's wrong?” and I would look back at him and say, “I don't know.”
In the midst of that challenge, I decided to start a blog. You can read the whole story here, but it really did help pull me out of a dark place and bring my mind into a much brighter space, where I looked forward to doing something (finding deals and sharing them online!) that seemed silly at the time, but was fun and challenging and gave me a purpose beyond poopy diapers and breastfeeding. WHICH I LOVED. But I was struggling. And this helped me to be excited to wake up every day. This leads me to the next and probably most important part of the story.
How to make money blogging for beginners:
A few weeks into blogging, my college friend, Brad (who was also coincidentally married to a high school girlfriend of mine) called me and complimented me on how great I was doing blogging, and said his wife was loving my content so far. And then he said, “So Corrine, how do you plan to monetize it?” To which I replied, “Umm, mone-what?” And he chuckled a little and said, “How are you going to make money?” “OH!!!” I said. “I guess maybe I'll put an ad up or something down the road, I don't know! I haven't even thought about that.”
And this, THIS, is the key. This is how to start a blog, and make money doing it. It all focuses around one central point.
I guarantee you that almost every single “successful” blogger out there (whatever measuring stick you use to define that) has become that way by blogging about something they LOVE, and the money followed, not the other way around.
I promise I AM going to answer this question more directly, but just stick with me for a second!
Have you ever been to a restaurant where you can just TASTE, in every single bite, just how incredible the food is and how much love and passion went into developing that recipe and perfectly baking that crust of bread or rolling that sushi or searing your steak to absolute perfection? You know what I'm talking about right? That's how excited I feel when I find an INSANE sale on something I love and I get to share in the thrill of someone else discovering that favorite product that's so much better than the other face cream or handbag or pair of shoes they would've bought without my trusted recommendation. It really does feel like a dream.
You need to be SO PASSIONATE about what you're blogging about that people can feel it, the same way you can taste it when you go to an incredibly good restaurant.
You need to love it so much that making money from it is a second thought, not first.
So back to Brad.
Brad then introduced me to the idea of affiliate marketing.
Instead of having to prove myself over a LONG period of time with a potential sponsor who might want to give me a flat fee upfront to share my opinion or expertise on something (more on this in a min!), I didn't have to wait for tons of people to discover my blog and make money through banner ads (although this is a great way to make money blogging over time), I could make money immediately by getting a small commission for anything I sold through my links. It made so much sense to me!
It was fair, it was quick, and it was something I could do right away.
The affiliate network that Brad was putting together is no longer around, but I'd give anyone the same advice he gave me. If you're wondering how to start a blog that will make money… Start posting affiliate links. Share things you actually GENUINELY love and if people love and trust you and buy through those links you'll make a small commission.
How exactly do you make money blogging?
So how DO you make money blogging? And who's paying you?
- Affiliate links: Have you ever been to Nordstrom in-person? Or any other commission-based store? When you were looking around, someone probably offered to help you. If they were genuinely helpful, and you walked up to the register and they said, “was anyone helping you today?” You probably answered “oh yeah, that girl in the blue shirt” or maybe “yes, her name was Corrine.” This is the same concept with affiliate links. Through my ShopStyle Collective affiliate links (more on this in a minute!) Nordstrom (or any other store) recognizes that I helped influence a sale to their store, and they offer me a commission just like they would if I worked in their store.
- Sponsored posts: once you've established yourself with some brands and they notice that you're sending a lot of sales their way, or if they just notice your content and love your aesthetic and voice and see your branding lining up with theirs, they may offer to work with you on a sponsored rate. If you think of traditional marketing, the kind where Sprite or Gatorade comes to an athlete and says, “Hey _____, we noticed that you love our brand of (drink or shoes or clothing or skincare or whatever), and people like and trust you, we'd like to offer you a sponsorship to rep our brand for X amount of dollars for X amount of time.” There would be something the athlete agrees to on his or her end like a certain amount of commercials or a photoshoot for magazine ads or billboards or a park bench or bus wrap or ad in a subway station, and that athlete would be paid a flat fee for appearing in those advertisements. The tricky thing about this is, when you're paying for a billboard as a brand, you have no idea what percentage of people driving by that billboard are in your target audience. Maybe half of those people care about soda, but half are only water drinkers. But if you can pay a professional baker to say, “this is my FAVORITE kind of flour and it's all I bake with,” and it's truly what she loves, well then you really have a win. She's partnering with a company she loves, the brand is getting great recognition, and it's going to a target market of people who really do care about what THE BEST flour out there is.
- So when I've partnered with certain skincare companies or major department stores over and over, it's because I actually do use and LOVE their stuff so much, or it's something I tried and was genuinely so impressed by that I'd pick up the phone and tell one of my besties about that new find. And when I've said no to many opportunities out there, it's because I know if I “sell out” and share about something I don't love, not only will I feel gross about it, but my audience won't keep coming back because I'll lose their trust. To date, my largest offer I ever received for a sponsored post was one with a haircare company that I turned down because I just really didn't love their products. Still hoping someday that another opportunity like that will come along, but one I'll be excited to say YES to! But if not, it's okay. Because my integrity is worth more. And so is my trust with my readers. That doesn't mean they'll love everything exactly as much as I have, but it DOES mean I go to sleep at night knowing I've done my very best to be honest in all my dealings.
- Banner ads: This is basically the internet's version of a billboard, except SO much better because they can (again!) target their audience. So instead of slapping a billboard on I-15 and hoping a good percentage of people who are driving down the road care about the best flour, a flour company can work with an ad company and say “we'd like to put ads up on food blogs that have baking recipes so that when people are reading about a recipe that has flour as an ingredient, our ad for flour is shown on the same page.” GENIUS right? But it does take a long time for this kind of advertising to result in money, because you're paid per view. More readers = more money in ads.
- Products: this is territory I haven't crossed into yet. I've watched many bloggers who started around the same time as me do incredibly well with their own product lines. This can be anything from clothing to makeup to hair products to brand merch. It hasn't felt right in the past for me, but maybe someday in the future?!
How to start a blog that makes money fast
The fastest of the 3 ways above is definitely affiliate marketing. You don't have to have tons of readers or a huge following to create income through affiliate links. But you do need an established readership to gain sponsors, or make more than a few dollars a month on banner ads. And if you're just starting out, that can be slow-going. But if your readers trust you, and you're providing REAL VALUE by trusting your expertise or recommendations or your taste or style, then you'll probably convert well and start making some money right away!
Which affiliate program do you use?
I got this question a LOT last week when I opened up a question box to my audience asking, “what questions do you have for me about making money blogging?”
First, you totally can go the route of forming a relationship with every brand out there individually and signing up for all of their affiliate programs separately if you want. But this takes a LOT of organization, time, and memory! It's confusing to keep up with which brand is on which platform.
SO many passwords.
SO many logins.
SO many different ways to create affiliate links.
And so little time!
So I found it WAY easier and more efficient to belong to one big affiliate network that would allow me to link to almost all of the places I loved, instead of having a separate login and way of creating links for every. single. retailer. under. the sun.
I've belonged to MANY affiliate networks. I tried out all of the biggest and most well-known and over time narrowed it down to one network that I work with almost exclusively now. ShopStyle Collective has been my favorite of all the affiliate networks out there, and for the past 6 of my 8 years blogging I've used them for almost everything.
Well first of all, it's just WAY EASIER to stick with one!
Second, I love what ShopStyle Collective stands for as a company.
They prioritize integrity, and it shows with the kind of people they hire, the moves they make as a company, and the transparency they provide to their bloggers. Again and again in my blogging career, where some networks create aggressively competitive environments, ShopStyle Collective has created more of an “everyone's invited” empowering environment. They show you exactly what their percentage is of the cut they get from your links, and exactly what you get to take home in comparison. It's not a mystery.
They want to be known as the MOST transparent affiliate network out there, and every interaction I've had with them over the years has felt fair and honest. I really value that and appreciate them for this.
Even during a couple of rough seasons where I had to have hard conversations with them (because ALL businesses go through these growing pains), they were always honest and forthright with me. And that, along with inclusivity, fairness, and empowerment, has built my loyalty toward them over the years.
I also LOVE that they accept new bloggers! If you're new to blogging and here to get ALL the inside tricks on how to start a blog that makes money, I would highly consider this “trick:” becoming a part of ShopStyle Collective's new Standard Program. You don't have to hit a benchmark first for them to consider your application. In fact, they encourage up-and-coming bloggers to apply who have fewer than 10,000 Instagram followers! I was thrilled when I heard this, because I know when I was first starting out I was looking for something just like this where I could just jump in and see how it would go.
You can apply to join ShopStyle Collective's affiliate network here and download their super easy-to-use app here. You can apply directly for the program in the app with instant approval for those who qualify!
How do you create affiliate links?
Again, if you're using a boatload of different affiliate sign-ups then you're going to need a massive amount of storage in your brain to remember how you create a link for each and every retailer out there. I love using ShopStyle Collective (and have for 6 years!) because it's ONE quick and easy place to use a LinkIt tool that sits at the top of your browser, and with ONE click you can create a link!
ShopStyle Collective also has an app called Collective Linkit that makes creating affiliate links crazy simple on-the-go, too! So if I'm talking about a product I love, or something I'm wearing that day, or something I just got in the mail, I can hop on their app and create a link really quickly and easily.
How much money can you make blogging
Okay this one is tricky (and also a little awkward!) but I also get that it's a fair question, especially for someone trying to figure out how to start a blog that will bring in some type of income.
Ready for some math?
Most products that you can create affiliate links to can earn up to 10% of a cut for that item that you sell. That's extremely variable though, because with any given retailer (anyone from Walmart to Nordstrom to Amazon), they might offer up to 10% commission on a full-price women's sweater, but only 1% on electronics or home appliances, or only 5% on sale items. So it even depends on what category of item you're linking.
Occasionally a retailer will offer 15-25% commission, especially if it's a smaller business trying to grow their audience or sales.
Industry standard for good conversion is anything higher than 2%. So if you have 1,000 people reading your blog per month, and you blogged every day about your favorite things and 100 of those 1,000 people clicked on your links, 2 of them probably actually made a purchase. And then you'd earn 10% of those two purchases. No extra cost to the reader! Just a benefit to you for sending the sale to the retailer.
Because of this model, I “made” about $0.30 an hour blogging my first year. Seriously! The amount of time I put into my blog along with the money I was investing in a very inexpensive blog host, clothes to take pictures of, an okay camera, and paying for blogging conferences and courses to teach myself how to do all these things ate up almost every penny I made, and I wasn't making very many pennies!
I'm not trying to discourage anyone — you've gotta start somewhere right? And the more you stick with it, and CONSISTENTLY post (whether that's daily or weekly or whatever), the more your audience will know to keep coming back because they can always expect something new from you. And the more you'll start to make.
One of the very smartest things I did that first year and a half when I was figuring out how to start a blog that would bring in an income was to put all the money BACK into the blog, as wisely as I could, so that it could continue to grow, and I could continue to learn.
I've never felt comfortable putting out an income report, but many bloggers do. You can check out my friend Abby's income reports here, or my friend Pat Flynn's income reports here, or Pinch of Yum's income reports here. Notice though that each of these bloggers has stopped creating these income reports. Still I think it's helpful to see some of the numbers from 3 completely different genres of blogging, especially when you are trying to figure out how to start a blog and whether or not you think you can work it to a point of profitability.
What's the fastest way to grow an Instagram or blog following
When figuring out how to start a blog with a following, there are so many ways to grow slow and steady, and that's how I've done it over the years. Show up consistently, provide really valuable content, cross-collaborate with people who have like-minded audiences, and offer incentives for new people to follow you, like giveaways. With giveaways, I try to be careful to really be selective about how I do these, how often, what I give away etc. so that my reader base stays really loyal and genuinely invested in what I'm doing.
I also always caution people who think there's a “silver bullet” out there, because I just don't think it exists. I've had HUGE accounts feature me during an entire weekend before, and only a small amount of people come over and stay as new followers. And then I've had someone with a somewhat small or medium-sized audience briefly mention me and I see a wave of new followers. There's a lot behind this: why did the big accounts have a big following (and was it real), did our audiences align (like were the accounts with big followings only interested in teen content, or in high-end fashion?), but most IMPORTANTLY, the smaller or medium-sized accounts that sent way more real followers over TRUSTED the person who mentioned me.
This is your goal. Trust.
Because if you're real and true and genuine, and you put out really good content, you don't have to have a HUGE following. You just have to be trustworthy.
That said, I've seen SOME accounts “blow up” overnight because they're solving a problem, offering advice, or just doing something that no one else has done, or has done quite as WELL, yet.
The Car Mom is a great example of this. I watched her Instagram following explode pretty quickly because she offers incredible advice about which cars she likes or dislikes, what she likes about them, what she thinks is annoying and what she thinks is genius, AND she knows what she's talking about because she's worked for her family's dealership since 2016. She gets to try out new cars way more than the average person, and she's solving a problem. She's doing the work FOR YOU that you don't want to have to go do yourself. Who wants to test drive 100 cars when you can go to someone you trust who's giving honest opinions of what she loves and recommends, how well a tall person fits in that car or back seat, how easily you can install a car seat into that 2nd or 3rd row…you get the idea.
Can you make money on Instagram
YES. You absolutely can. Or on Facebook. Or YouTube.
You can post affiliate links on any of these platforms. You can gain a following and eventually work with sponsors for paid partnerships through these platforms, too! I'm sure you've seen these – they're tagged with #ad or “paid partnership” depending on the social media platform, and they're a really smart way to partner on advertising something you like and use anyway to the people who follow you.
ShopStyle Collective makes it really easy to create these affiliate links for any platform, and track where your links are performing best. I can see if someone clicked through a link on my Facebook page, or from Instagram, or if that sale came directly from blog traffic. I can't see anything specific like who it was or what they purchased, I can just see overall numbers. This is something offered to advanced members, but for beginners they have a really simplified backend with really straightforward tools that allow you to create affiliate links and see simplified analytics. I would have LOVED that in the beginning!
How do you get sponsored posts or #ad opportunities
In the beginning, most of the companies I was dying to work with were way out of reach. But I worked really hard to promote the things I loved and after a year and a half of consistently blogging EVERY DAY, Monday through Friday, I started getting opportunities to partner with some of these companies and even got to go to New York Fashion Week in partnership with several of them for a few years, representing their brands at different events. That all happened because they could see on their end that I was a top performer and my affiliate links were converting with my audience for them. AGAIN, this wasn't because I had the very biggest following. It was because my audience trusted me and knew I was really talking about things I loved and that fit well, were a good deal, provided great value in showing them how it helped my skin or why I loved that kind of makeup, and those brands came back to me and said, “hey, your audience listens when you talk about us. Let's work together more!”
ShopStyle Collective has provided me with a lot of these opportunities because a lot of brands go through their network from the brand side to see who the top-converting influencers are that they might want to work with. Sometimes brand or retailers are actually looking for smaller to mid-sized bloggers to work with, either because at that level the rate they'll have to pay is lower (think a billboard in the middle of Iowa vs. a billboard in Times Square) or sometimes because you have something unique to offer that nobody else has yet and they LOVE YOU for that.
When I started my blog, I didn't know of anyone who was combining deal-finding with style. There were tons of fashion bloggers out there, and tons of coupon sites that posted daily deals, but I didn't know of anyone who did what I do now, where I get to share the things I love and share WHY I love them and focus on finding these things for a deal whenever I can. It still gets me excited to sit down and work every day, and I still get a thrill out of hearing that someone scored a deal on the exact item they've had their eye on for like EVER but didn't want to pay full-price.
You can do this!
So how do you make money blogging? Find something you love, that you're uniquely good at, that you'd do anyway WITHOUT getting paid because you love it that much, and do that thing. Write about that. Share about that. Give that value to the world, and the money will find its way to you.
“Don't aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say!- success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”
– Viktor Frankl