The most common question I’m asked after telling people that I’m a blogger is, “Do you actually make money doing that?”
And as much as I’d like to be annoyed by the question, I understand why it’s asked. So many people blog as a hobby, and many who seem to be blogging as if it’s their job aren’t actually making any money.
But yes, I’m a professional blogger. I make money. Not enough to live on in NYC—luckily I’m not the main breadwinner in my family—but enough to make it worthwhile. And the flexibility is such a huge advantage that it raises the value of my job. I only commute once a week (to a recording studio). And I rarely have to dress up, so I don’t spend much on professional clothes.
When my kids were little, I started blogging as a hobby. I had no idea that a person could get paid for it. I blogged about renovating my house on a local real estate website, I started a site about movies and TV shows filming in Brooklyn, I wrote essays about parenting on a site for other parents, and I started what’s now my main source of income, SelfishMom.com.
Companies started contacting me almost immediately, sending me products and asking if I would attend their events. Mom bloggers were a hot commodity, and NYC was the center of this new way of getting the word out about products, TV shows, movies, and more. I was invited to at least five events a week. And I went, and sometimes I wrote about these events, but more often I didn’t. The whole thing was exhausting, the products weren’t all that interesting to write about, and my new hobby was actually costing me money—for transportation and after-school babysitters.
I also started to notice that everybody in this food chain was being paid, except me. From the PR person who invited me, to the hotel where the event was located, to the brand reps who’d come to talk up their products, to the caterers, the waiters, the printers, and—if transportation was provided—the driver, too. These events, I thought, must cost a small fortune to put on.
So I stopped going, unless I got paid to go. Even better, I persuaded many companies that it was a waste of my time to go. I didn’t need to attend an event to hear what could be said in an email. It took time, but gradually the tide turned and paid offers started coming in steadily.
Most of the money that I make is from “sponsored posts.” I write about a product or a movie or something like that. Sometimes I negotiate these assignments on my own, sometimes I go through “influencer agencies” that get paid to hire bloggers for a campaign. When I take on a sponsored post assignment, there’s a tacit agreement, of course, that I won’t be writing bad things about the product.
This means that the absolute most important part of my job is in choosing which assignments I take. My reputation is everything, and whether I’m being paid or not, I don’t want to mislead anyone about a product.
I made some mistakes early on, where I just wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the product and some of the people paying me weren’t all that happy.
And there were a couple of times where I had to back out of a contract because the product didn’t turn out to be as good as it sounded on paper. But over the years, I’ve gotten very good at choosing.
My reputation is everything, and whether I’m being paid or not, I don’t want to mislead anyone about a product. I made some mistakes early on, where I just wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the product and some of the people paying me weren’t all that happy. And there were a couple of times where I had to back out of a contract because the product didn’t turn out to be as good as it sounded on paper. But over the years, I’ve gotten very good at choosing.
I also make some money writing for company blogs or for other websites (like this one), and sometimes I take on a long-term writing job as an ambassador (a silly name, really). As an ambassador, I usually commit to writing about a product a certain number of times, and to being available for conference calls, Twitter parties, and sometimes meetings in other cities. You wouldn’t believe how often I get offered something like that without pay. Ridiculous.
I also co-host a podcast called Parenting Bytes, all about raising kids in the digital age. My co-hosts and I make money from advertisements on the podcast. And last, I bring in money here and there from affiliate sales, sidebar ads, YouTube ads, sponsored Tweets and Facebook posts, and Twitter parties. It all adds up to a decent income.
Then there are the writing assignments that I do for free because I know that these will raise my status in the blogging community and bring in new readers. Celebrity interviews can bring a lot of traffic—although, I try to only do these when they are connected to a TV show or movie that I actually want to see. Writing about hot new products or shows can be fun.
Travel blogging doesn’t usually pay, although all of my expenses are taken care of. While taking a fun trip to meet a celebrity or review a resort might seem like a no-brainer, I often turn these assignments down because of how much time they take. Three nights in Florida to promote a movie I haven’t seen means three days of not having time to write, of not being home to take care of my responsibilities there, and sometimes having to hire someone to take care of my kids. All for no pay.
Sometimes, though, the experience makes up for the lack of pay, like the time I got to take my kids to California to hang out with Tony Hawk, or the time I got to swim with stingrays in the Caribbean while on a Disney cruise, or the time I was flown by helicopter to the Hamptons for the weekend. Sometimes, I’ll even go way out-of-pocket for an experience, like paying my own way to the White House to meet the First Lady.
The rest of my writing is filled up with what interests me. What I’m baking, what I’m doing, politics and current events, whatever’s on my mind.
That’s the beauty of having my own blog: I can control what I write about. And while I was worried in the beginning that I wouldn’t get enough offers if I was too picky, the opposite has been true.
But what’s next? I feel like I’ve hit the limit of how much I can make as a blogger. I can’t clone myself, and I don’t want to work more than I do (usually about four hours per day). I don’t want to outsource my writing or social media because then my business would lose its most important quality: Me.
And as I get older, will I be able to continue being an influencer, for an older crowd of mothers whose kids are out of the house? My children are 11 and 14, and yet most of the pitches that I get are aimed at new moms. Is there a profitable place on the Internet for middle-aged bloggers?
I’m going to do my best to find out.
- Amy Oztan