Almost everyone should forget about making money directly from blogging. It’s so unlikely that it’s a total waste of your time trying. I am actually shocked at how ubiquitous the idea is that blogging is a get-rich-quick scheme. Or even a get-rich-slowly scheme. It’s not. Blogging is a great career tool for creating opportunities for yourself. But here are eight reasons you should stop thinking about money from blogging:
1. Big bloggers come from big media.
Usually I’m the first person to rip on print media as outdated and a dead-end career. But here’s something that maybe you don’t realize: Most big bloggers today have a strong background writing for print. For example: Erik Schoenfeld (TechCrunch), Owen Thomas (Valleywag), and I all wrote for Business 2.0 magazine at the same time. Ten years ago. Which means we had a ton of national media experience before we started blogging. Anya Kamenetz (Yahoo Finance) wrote for the Village Voice and had a very serious book published—before she started blogging.
2. Sure, there are exceptions. But you’re probably not one of them.
Let’s look at some people who have big blogs who didn’t come from big media. Heather Armstrong at Dooce. She’s a good one. Here’s what she has that you don’t: She’s a talented writer and a talented designer. She’s married to a developer who does all her tech stuff for free. And she has an amazing story to tell. She has the ability to translate her genius across many media—photography, memoir, twitter, and so on. She is a marvel. And you are not. None of us is. That’s why she is making so much money from her blog.
3. Even if you can do it, supporting yourself with a blog is crazy hard.
Most people had to do their day job and experiment with their blog and figure out what works and then do two, pretty much full-time jobs, and then quit their day job when their blog earned enough money. JD Roth did this at Get Rich Slowly. I did this with my blog (and nearly fell apart). Most people who do this do not have kids. Because if you have kids and a job you already have two full-time jobs, so you cannot add another. Blogging to support yourself is a complete full-time job. Read Gina Trapani’s post about how she is taking a break from blogging because it's so life-consuming.
4. You probably have to be controversial to make money blogging.
Yes, there are some topics that do not require controversy: Productivity tools, for example. I think it’s safe to say, though, that that market is pretty saturated. You will have to find a good niche for yourself in order to stand out from the crowd. So you will have to be different, and the bloggers who are different have surprising things to say. And if you have surprising opinions, you’ll have people who tell you you’re an idiot. And if you are making good money from your blog, you’ll have hundreds of people telling you how you’re an idiot. Do you want that? Really? Will you be able to write another controversial opinion the next day or will you be too nervous?
5. You can make more money flipping burgers.
If you want to get your opinions out into the world, or you want to write a diary about your life, whatever—do that. But why do you have to make money at it? Most of you would probably like to write a bit, to get new opportunities, and then leverage the blog to do something fun. Most of you do not want to write blog posts optimized for advertisers. Really.
6. Please shut up about your book deal.
Books are not cash cows. They are time sinks. And they are marketing tools for something else. Like a consulting business or a speaking career or a blog. And people who are great speakers are seldom great writers, and vice versa. So don’t tell me you are doing a blog to get a book deal: Dead end. And don’t tell me it’s not a dead end because you’ll turn that into a speaking career. Show me someone that has worked for. Don’t tell me about Seth Godin. He had huge books before he started blogging. Not the other way around.
7. Blog for better reasons than money.
There are a lot of reasons to blog, but for the most part, money is not one of them. In the book, Blog Blazers: 40 Top Bloggers Share Their Secrets, Stephane Grenier asked forty bloggers what their definition of blogging success is. He talked with people like Seth Godin, Neil Patel, Ramit Sethi, and me. We all make a living online, and we all have big blogs, but almost no one in the book said money was the definition of success.
Bloggers defined success as things that mattered in their life: influence, connections, friendships, the ability to lead a conversation that matters to people. Some talked about a blog leading to other business opportunities.
8. Banner advertising is the mafia.
I have not had banner advertising on my site because I am so adamant that people should not blog to earn money—I don’t want to encourage anyone. I did take one ad. For Career Bags. I’m going to tell you something: The amount they paid for that ad was insignificant to me. But they let me do a lot of shopping on the site for free. Which was a huge treat. Shopping was fun. And I think about how much I love my blog every time I put my laptop into my Casauri bag.
I would never say that about a banner ad. But I am about to capitulate and sign a contract with Federated Media, the by-far-biggest company for online ad sales. Federated is sort of doing me a favor. I mean, I have about 400,000 page views a month, which I think is less traffic than any of their other clients. I’m grateful to be part of Federated because I do, in fact, need to make money from my blog. But what I have done to get here—work two jobs at once while raising kids, sell equity in my blog and then almost go out of business, and spend about four hours on each post—you probably wouldn’t want to go through all that just to make money on banner ads. You probably have a way more efficient mechanism for earning money and you can blog on the side.
This seems like a good time to tell you the advice my writing teacher gave our who class in graduate school: Writing for a living is a very, very hard life. If you can do anything else for a living, you should.
So the idea that blogging will help you get rich: Forget it. Your chances of that are so slim, while your chances of gaining the other benefits of blogging are very high. So blog, yes, and do it to reach real goals, just not financial goals.