This year Alyssa and I came up with a big goal for our blog: reach $2,000/month of passive income from this blog.
I know there are a lot of bloggers out there who make tons of money from their blog, but we just wanted enough to cover our living expenses while on the road. Since the bulk of our income comes from working with video production clients, passive blogging income would just be a nice added bonus.
Plus, developing a passive income stream would give me more time to focus on building up my new company (CampgroundBooking.com).
My biggest concern was sacrificing the integrity of our content and blog in order to earn a quick buck. I’ve seen so many websites that talk about earning income and I wanted to be able to make money from our blog and do it in a non-sleazy way. I wanted to provide value, entertainment, and education that benefitted both readers while also providing revenue options for Alyssa and myself (AKA the white whale of blogging).
While we haven’t yet hit our goal of $2,000/month (we’re currently at ~$800/month), I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve learned while trying to reach $2,000/month of blogging income:
1. It all starts with solving a problem.
I think solving a problem is the best place to start if you want to monetize a blog. While solving a problem won’t inherently make you money, it sets you up for success.
When I first started HeathPadgett.com, my content was all over the place. I blogged about our travels, jobs I worked during Hourly America, and entrepreneurship. None of it really fit together into a central theme.
It wasn’t until after we finished Hourly America that I started honing in my content onto something more specific. One day after our trip I posted in a Facebook group that we had just finished up a 48 state journey and asked people to guess how much we spent in gas.
The post blew up with over 300 comments in an hour. I actually posted it without the answer at first and then logged off Facebook to eat dinner. When I logged back in, people were furious that I hadn’t given them an answer yet (oops). I quickly jumped back in the group and told them exactly how much we’d spent.
After the post received a ton of engagement and that’s when I realized something: Everyone wants to travel, but money is a huge roadblock to hitting the road (aka a problem I can help solve).
After You Identify the Problem
Since there was so much interest over the cost of our travels, I wrote a blog post that outlined the rest of our costs for our 48-state road trip for Hourly America. I broke down all of our spending into separate categories and offered a few tips for saving money on the road. The popularity of this post proved to me that money while traveling is a problem people want to learn more about.
To help solve this problem, I developed a free seven day course on how to travel America on $2k/month (you can sign up here). I knew I wasn’t an expert on all things travel, but I was confident that some of the tips I shared would help others who were embarking on a similar journey.
After launching the course, I started thinking about how I could help solve the bigger problem of how to earn an income on the road. However, I didn’t want to be hypocritical and share “how to” information on something I was still learning myself. This is why in February I launched The RV Entrepreneur podcast and our Make Money and RV Facebook group. These free two resources helped crowdsource information on how people could earn a living from anywhere.
Solving these two needs (saving and making money on the road) has helped me hone my blog to focus on the specific niche of earning an income on the road. Knowing what my audience wants to read makes it easier for me to write helpful content for them on a weekly basis.
From a numbers standpoint, it’s also helped me increase traffic to my blog (over 30k page views/month), email subscribers (from 100 to 5,000), and podcast downloads (15,000 downloads/month).
Before you do anything else to grow your blog, make sure you are solving a real problem. This has been my secret weapon for growing my blog. Plus, finding a problem to solve actually led me to creating my first product for the blog.
2. A product changes the name of the game.
In October Alyssa and I released two products for sale here on our blog:
(shameless plug for both of them)
Selling a product on the blog has allowed us to provide more types of content that can benefit our audience. After 80,000 downloads of my podcast this year, I’ve validated that people enjoy hearing stories of successful entrepreneurs making a living on the road. People want to learn more ways to increase their income while RVing. So, I wrote The RV Entrepreneur ebook as a guide to help share what I’d learned from experience and the interviews I’ve done on the show. The book outlines everything I’ve learned on how to get started building a business while traveling.
You can read the first 2 chapters here for free.
Our Hourly America documentary is a totally different piece of work. Hourly America chronicles what it’s like to travel to all fifty states in a 20-year-old RV (yes, we flew to Hawaii) and what work looks like across the country. I worked a job in each state and interviewing hourly workers across the country about how to find work that matters to you. While it’s not about working on the road, it is full of inspiring stories of ordinary Americans who love their jobs.
Our film and ebook have been another great step toward monetizing our blog while also staying on mission.
The best part of having an actual product to sell is that it’s helped me to start thinking of our blog as a real business (which I wished I would have done sooner). When I send out an email to my list and receive five new book purchases, that’s a pretty amazing feeling.
Note: It’s difficult to launch a successful product if you haven’t found a need you can solve for your audience.
3. Blogging is a marathon.
Seriously, I can’t overstate this enough.
I started my first blog in 2011 and it was awful. The next few blogs I started after that (because why try to improve one crappy blog when it’s so easy just to start five more?) were also awful. I had no focus, no plan, and I treated blogging more like a journal or a soapbox than a business.
After writing hundreds of posts, my blog posts have approached mediocre (Not trying to do a humble brag here, I really believe my writing has a long way to go before I can call it good).
For a long time I had a readership of two, my mom and Alyssa. I couldn’t count how many times I questioned what the heck I was doing. Why am I even blogging? Nobody cares about what I’m writing about. I’m never going to be as good as Michelle from Making Sense of Cents or my friend Bryan from Videofruit, so why even try?
These are thoughts I’ve had on multiple occasions over the past year while hustling to build this blog as a revenue generator. As someone who considers myself an entrepreneur, I questioned whether I should be spending my time writing blogs or building a real business (like I said, I learned how they go hand in hand during 2016, but more on this for another time).
I think in order to be successful at blogging, it takes a five-year mental commitment. Sure, it’s 100% possible to make money long before then, but committing to that length of time will make all the difference. This the key reason why this website is more successful than the dozen I started first. Commit for the long haul.
4. Build community to be successful.
A big reason my blog has grown so much more in 2016 than its first two years has been entirely because of all the work I’ve put in to build community on other platforms.
Our Facebook group is where I spend a lot of my time answering questions, asking questions, and hanging out with fellow working-age RVers. Because Facebook is so much more personal than a website, I can connect with readers and fellow RVers and instead of them just being “followers” we can all be friends.
Just last week, we had the chance to meet up with full-timers Chris and Rachel in Fredericksburg (below). We met them in our Facebook group and they happened to be in the area. Meetups with RVers in real life are not only super fun, but a great way to put faces to blog readers and learn more about what newbie or wannabe RVers want to learn from us.
5. Affiliate marketing is the bomb (and I wished I would have focused on it sooner).
I’m pretty sure that’s the first time someone has said “the bomb” since the 90’s… oh well.
Affiliate marketing is where you promote products and services you use and believe in. For example, last year I wrote a blog post about Passport America and how it helped us save hundreds of dollars on the road. I used an affiliate link in that post and every time someone signs up for a Passport America membership through my link, I receive a commission.
This year, that single blog post has brought in over $1,000 (and lately it’s been averaging $200/month). This means that I’m receiving $200/month for a blog post I haven’t touched in over a year. You can read the Passport America post here.
However, it took me an insanely long time before I actually started taking affiliate marketing seriously.
A few reasons why:
- I assumed I needed a ton of traffic before affiliate marketing would be worthwhile.
- I didn’t think there was enough RV related products to succeed at affiliate marketing (because you should only promote products relevant to your readers).
- There are too many scam-like blog posts from affiliate marketers that rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t want to be associated with someone like that.
My mindset changed when I met Michelle from Making Sense of Cents earlier this year (and by met, I mean we tweeted at each other, #2016). Michelle is a fellow RVer who runs a successful blog that generates a healthy six-figure income. When I told Michelle about my concerns, she told me that I didn’t need crazy traffic to make money from affiliate marketing (though it never hurts). She then pointed me towards some of her favorite affiliate programs that would be relevant for other RVers.
Watching and learning from Michelle, the more I realized that you don’t have to be a slimy internet salesperson in order to kick butt at affiliate marketing. You just have to provide value for readers, built trust, and point them toward resources and products that can help them.
If you want to learn more about affiliate marketing, you can listen to the podcast I did with Michelle this week on The RV Entrepreneur or check our her course on Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing (affiliate link).
Including Michelle’s course, here are the other four affiliate partnerships I’ve worked with in 2016 that have helped provide additional streams of income:
Passport America is a camping membership we bought that has saved us hundreds of dollars on the road. You can learn more about Passport America here.
Last year I switched from Mailchimp to ConvertKit for my email marketing provider and haven’t looked back. I wrote a more in depth post on why bloggers should be using ConvertKit here.
Bluehost is essential for anyone who is starting up a blog. They make it insanely easy to launch a new WordPress site and you can sign up for $3.45/month.
You can click here to grab an account with them for $3.45/month. (affiliate link)
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Course
The only course I’ve actually invested time in during 2016. The first month I was in Michelle’s course my affiliate income went from $200 to $800. You can learn more about her course here (affiliate link).
I could have more affiliate relationships, but I’ve wanted to make sure each one is valuable and relevant to my readers. Michelle talks about this in her course. She says the #1 mistake most affiliate marketers make is trying to throw affiliate links in everything on their blog. By doing so, they lose trust with their readers and feel slimy.
Again, I’m not blogging for a quick buck but in order to build longterm relationships and provide value. It’s hard to do that if you’re throwing affiliate links down peoples’ throats 24/7.
6. Think of the blog like a business (even if it’s producing $0 dollars).
Now that I’m arriving at takeaway #6, I realize I could extend this blog by an additional 20 takeaways (but I won’t for the sake of your eyeballs).
Since our blog is now generating income, it truly is a business. However, I wished I would have thought of it as a business long before I made any money from it.
When blogging is your business, you show up everyday, whether you want to or not. A business will eventually generate revenue. A business’ main goal is to provide value for customers. If I had thought of my blog as a business a long time ago, I know I could have reached our $2k/month goal much sooner.
Ultimately, a blog really can become an incredible passive revenue generator. The work is strenuous, non glamorous, and takes SO much longer than you think it’s going to. Most blogs never produce any kind of revenue because most people aren’t willing to put in the high number of unpaid hours.
However, if you’re willing to sit behind a computer for hours on end to learn SEO basics, hone your craft of writing, network with other bloggers, find your niche, produce a bunch of bad posts (in the beginning), keep up with social media marketing, and receive random emails from grammar nazis who criticize your poor writing skills… you might just have a shot at making some income from a blog. 🙂
Thank for reading this mammoth post.