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How I Use My Blog as a Fulcrum and You Can Too

Every now and then the “a blog is not a business” meme will come around again. Each time someone will challenge me about it.

Look, I agree. A blog is no more a business than a book is a business if you want to be strict about it. But why does it matter?

Rather than worry about definitions, let’s understand what is really important.

  • Can a blog make enough money to provide an income? Yes. Blogging is the source of my income.
  • Is blogging a route to earning an income long term? Yes. I have been doing this full time since 2005 and I earned a side income before then.
  • Will every blog or blogger make an income? No, many bloggers do not even try, and many fail just as many businesses fail.

But what about that blog versus business thing? It isn’t going to go away so what is it really about?

A blog used for business is a means to an end. The blog is not the business but it does fuel a business.

Just as a really good business can be built around a magazine (just ask Felix Dennis) a successful blog can be the engine behind a decent business like mine if you get a lot of things right even if you make a bunch of mistakes (and I do, constantly).

Most of you will already be aware that my approach is indirect monetization, making money because I blog rather than from it necessarily. I make money more “business to business”, sharing my knowledge and experience to grow an audience of people who know like and trust me. I call it “Authority Blogging“. Darren is pretty much the poster child for the other kind of blog income, direct monetization, but as you will see if you check out his more recent income reports, even though he still makes a significant amount of profit from things like Adsense, his approaches to making an income are becoming more and more indirect.

How my business makes money

If we look at my income from last year it comes down to this list. I don’t share amounts, that’s just something I don’t do, but it has always added up to enough so far and I hope it continues.

  1. Programming, site build and web development – These are the things I started out doing in the early 1990′s but I mostly stopped doing in 2o10. I still get called on to do this occasionally but I just don’t have time and there are a lot more cost competitive people out there.
  2. Consulting, mentoring and coaching – My face to face consulting ended last summer when I traveled down to work with Darren. I cancelled my appointments and dropped the bombshell that I was moving to Canada right after Blogworld. That could have gone better ;) but I still do remote consulting and coaching. While most friends and productivity gurus prod me to stop “selling my hours”, I love client contact and the grounding in reality this gives me. I would hate to be working in a theoretical world, I need my ideas to be tested in real world projects. Coaching is incredibly rewarding when you see your clients make progress and grow their freedom, lifestyle and businesses.
  3. Speaking and training – People are often shocked to find out a shy introvert like me enjoys teaching and speaking. Speaking to large groups does scare me, but I get a kick out of passing on experience and knowledge. Hopefully I can do more workshops and speaking in 2011 now we are starting to settle into our new location. With speaking you can get paid directly or indirectly, just like blogging. Recently I got more serious about not being taken advantage of and making sure I got compensated for expenses, time and opportunity costs associated with all the preparation and travel involved. With training there are workshops where people pay for a ticket and tailored where a company pays for you to come and teach. The only workshop I was involved in for 2010 was the Melbourne Problogger workshop which was great, but wasn’t really intended to be a big money maker. Online events are a growing source of income, though.
  4. Digital Products – The way I do my own digital products is labor intensive to set up but provides an almost passive income after the fact. There are also affiliate sales, though I don’t really do a lot of that because I focus on only recommending products that I can stand behind. Increasingly this category is becoming a priority source of income. It was the thing that kept the business running for the latter half of 2010, and has helped a lot in the past with family health crises and other occasions where I couldn’t work for any significant time period. While I have had some lovely clients who have been very understanding, even so you don’t want to have to rely on loyalty and generosity to keep your business afloat. Having an income detached from working hours is a life saver.
  5. Writing – In the past writing used to be a major source of my income, but now it is vastly reduced. Partly because of the “selling hours” thing which is always difficult when you don’t have many hours to sell, but also because I pulled out of all the niches that didn’t contribute to my core communities. As well as time spent writing there is also all the time keeping current in all the many subject areas you are writing for. Something has to give. I haven’t written for a print magazine for a long time now, and apart from a chapter for a social media book, the Problogger second edition was my last book in print. I do enjoy writing, I just need to find a way to fit it back into my business workflow.

You will notice I do not list how I make money from ads. I have made money from ads in the past. I’m trying to think if I made any in 2010. It’s not really my approach to online income.

For the first time 2010 saw me not make any money from software or online services. In fact as of December 2010 I don’t currently have any continuity income. Also in 2010 I didn’t have any physical product sales. These are things I aim to fix in 2011.

The WHY behind the HOW

Chris Garrett at BlogWorld by Kim Clune

Why I can make money this way is more important than the how in my opinion.

This brings me to the point of this article.

My blog is the source of my income. What I build here with this blog is the trust of an engaged audience and enough authority to offer advice, products and services.

I don’t need massive traffic to earn a living, just to attract the people who want what I can offer and are serious enough to invest in my solutions. This means I don’t spend all my time writing blog posts, I work on my business and blogging is part of that. Go back a few years ago I had the tiniest of lists but I provided a good enough experience and my customers got results so that my business grew.

Blogging has helped me grow my network which has lead to terrific opportunities and joint ventures. I would blog if this was the only benefit I saw.

Rather than pitch, cold-call, write proposals and suchlike, I create content that attracts the right people, I share that content and interact, and I build community and participate in others. Some of these activities are me doing a whole bunch of work for free but I believe you get back what you give. That’s not the whole story though. If you take another look at my income streams you will see a bunch of things I do where I am getting paid to publicise my blog.

With a small amount of effort I can produce big results. My blog is a fulcrum.

The secret is to blog strategically.

Summary

Blogs are not the only answer. Before blogs people still had similar businesses, perhaps built through being an author, working the speaking circuit and newsletters. Blogs allow me to do all that but in addition call on more modern tools and online communities.

Spend some time thinking about how what you do fits into your business. Are your activities attracting customers or are they distractions from what you should be doing.

How does blogging fit into your business? Are you seeing results? Do you have plans for 2011? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments …

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Comments

  1. Pip pip. Couldn’t agree more. To me it seems like it’s arguing about semantics, as you say.

  2. Hi Chris
    You’re right that this irritating argument won’t go away. The only thing I can say about this debate is that it does inspire me to think more critically about my blogging – or should I say, as you suggested “strategically” – I realize you can’t just “blog” there needs to be some planning and actions taken to offer products and services and do things that will actually help make your “business/blog” profitable.
    It’s so encouraging to find blogs like your and people who believe wholeheartedly in making a blog work – it gives me hope for my future – I know that if I just stay focused on my goals, a higher level of success is just around the bend :)

  3. Awesome post Chris! I often describe blogs as a hub, rather than a business. Everything branches out form it but also comes back to it, to me it’s the home where I based, but not necessarily where I directly make a living from as a business in itself.
    Have a great Christmas and wishing you all the best for 2011.

  4. The question of the year. I’m re-evaluating my business strategies for 2011… I’ve learned a lot, and it’s time to start putting some of those things I’ve learned into play. :) My blog does help with my business, but I think I could use it much more effectively and strategically if I knuckle down and do it. Great post, as always m’dear.

  5. Keep speaking!! I’ve said it to you before and I’ll say it again – it’s your vulnerability that makes you such a wonderful person to listen to. I’m happy to hear that you are making efforts to get appropriate compensation. With your knowledge and intentions, you definitely deserve it.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Tina :)

      I have helped other people get paid for their speaking a lot better than in my own business, it comes down to my own psychological resistance to asking for $$$! Am working on it :)

  6. Awesome Chris,
    this is what I want to do with my own blog – building my own community and channeling the traffic to kick-ass business opportunities like the ones you feature here !

    It’s awesome what you have done, and it fires me up to bring my blog to the NEXT level in 2011 !

    You shine !

  7. I’m trying to build my blog into a community of great conversation and thought-provoking content surrounding personal development, growth, self-actualization, healing, what-have-you. I started it as a hobby to turn a bit of a mirror on myself and found that, in the real world, I was becoming a bit of an expert on this “woo-woo” stuff, and thought, well, maybe I should use my blog to capitalize on that. My business revolves around referals and people feeling safe and connected with me, so I’m really feeling my way into shifting the blog towards a value-added service, community and platform.

    Welcome to Canada, Chris. I hear you’re moving to Calgary. If you ever come for a vacation in the Cypress Hills, look me up!

    • We are already here :D We moved in late October, just coming up to two months now in Calgary. Funny, my wife and I have had a long interest in “woo-woo” stuff (I am an open minded skeptic, my wife is quite a bit more excited by it after things like reiki and acupuncture helped her and my daughter a great deal).

      • Yeah, it’s actually not too bad. Many things are becoming mainstream, and almost as many more are gaining scientific credibility. One of my mandates is to make the woo-woo more comprehensible, because science is really catching up, and it shouldn’t have the stigma it does. Well. The jury is still out on a lot of stuff, imo. Guess I’m just going to have to become an authority and help people to differentiate!

        • In our case it didn’t really matter what the science said when it came down to it, it was the results we could see with our own eyes. I might have said this before here or elsewhere, but if you get the result you wanted, does it matter if it was a placebo? :)

          • I agree with you, but many people don’t. Then, of course, there’s rose-by-any-other-name effect. Tons of Law of Attraction exercises, (and many other exercises that are not branded in any way) simply use psychological priming to gain the desired result. More still are a result of cognitive biases. Finally, there’s subjective vs. objective reality. Since everyone technically operates in a subjective world, any number of scientifically unsubstantiated things can be “true”.

            But you really shouldn’t encourage me like this. I can go on for hours :P

  8. Hey Chris. Very timely and reassuring post as we all review our blog goals for 2011. My blog is less than a year old but i’m keen to explore digital content next year. Can you link me to your best posts or resources on setting up ebooks, fact sheets, how to videos etc, some of which will be monetized? Need some holiday reading. And I hope you do more speaking gigs. You were fabulous at the problogger conf. Emma

  9. Hi Chris, thanks for sharing this. Watching bloggers like yourself, David Risley, Chris Guillebeau and Adam Baker has made me realize the way to making money from blogging is indirect monetization as you put it. I’m not even going to attempt direct monetization because it will take too long to reach the required traffic levels.

    My plan for 2011 is to follow in your footsteps. The stuff that I’ve learnt from the Third Tribe & ProBlogger Academy has helped me lay out the steps. However I find it difficult to balance creating a product, building an audience and consulting all at once. How do you split your time? Cheers

    • My time split varies but for product creation I have a short time span of intense work but I only have to do it once then polish, with consulting and coaching it is ongoing so that does eat up a lot of my schedule.

      • Thanks Chris. I’m going to try not to obsess over every detail before I launch my free incentive product.

        I keep telling myself once I get the 1st product out it will only get easier. I’ll be sure to tell you when I launch :)

  10. I really learned a lot from this read. I have been following your stuff on and off for a few months now. I have a question that I hope you can help me understand a little more.

    I understand the whole “diversify your income” thing, but as for your own digital products, is it better to have one product that is really great or multiple that are pretty good and can revisited in the future?

    Which should a new guy be pursuing?

    Another question – is there a ratio between free stuff and sale stuff that should be on your site?

    I have stayed out of the argument so far as I have only been doing this for about a year, but I think I am real close to you on it. I see my site as my platform or vehicle to introduce other things. I look forward to hearing your reply. Thanks for your interaction and great content.

    Thanks.

    • Focus on the next thing you need.

      To build your audience you are going to need free content. If you want more of them to join your list you will need a free incentive. For a good number of them to trust you to pay $$$ then you will need an offer that most people will be willing to take the risk on, and so on.

      Every niche is different but I usually tell people to get around 1,000 subscribers before making an offer.

  11. I have just started some blogs that talks about different topics such as sports, latest gadgets, toys, and so on. Thanks for this article that I got some ideas and I agree with this one.

  12. haha this is funny because I am half way through a blog post called ‘blogging is not a business’. No need to finish it now I’ll just put a link up to you!

    Frivolity aside though, there is a difference between blogging for business and blogging for entertainment and even if we choose to do a bit of both at least let’s make it a conscious choice ;)

    Cathy

    • Exactly, there is still a “what’s in it for me” factor, even if the pay off is being able to read your thoughts ten years later. I just got a kick out of reading my old online journal from 1999 where I was wishing I could win the lottery so I could go skiing in Lake Louise … it’s practically down the road from me now :)

  13. Chris I’m more of an guy who make money online and offline with workshops and consulting with small businesses.

    This is one reason why traffic to my website isn’t that much important, these are the things I try to teach my clients is that you should try to spread your self online as well as offline.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  14. Great post – I’ve been working for years trying to develop a blog based around my ideas as a painter and have had many false starts. I find myself referring often to your blog as well as those of Darren and Seth Godin, and have finally found some success and momentum. Thank you for the great information.

  15. Really refreshing take on why you love what you do Chris. First off congrats on the move to Canada eh?. How are you finding it?

    Ironic you headed there as I left it to head to Buenos Aires. The beauty of blogging though and using it as a platform to build a business that offers value is because you can do it anywhere and take it anywhere too.

    I look forward to learning from you in 2011 and beyond. Merry Xmas my friend

    Natalie

    • Loving Canada so far, everyone has been so welcoming and friendly, plus my daughter has made a really good friend which has helped us feel more settled :)

  16. Perhaps you could think of blogging as the glue that sticks other online activities together, or is it the mouth piece, either way the key is enjoying it which you obviously do. Thanks for your posts.

  17. Jaume Aragay says:

    Hi Chris!

    I’m a web developer and also do iPhone apps, but when I read about blogging I can’t think of what to blog about related to my customers.

    My clients want a web, but not to learn how to make a web or what is important in a web, as they are not developers themselves. The same applies to iPhone apps… If I make a blog on app development or usability maybe I’d get programmers to read it but then they are not customers for my apps…

    So I can’t figure out how to link my product development to a blog to make a community sensible to my products/apps/webs.

    I think the blog is more likely to work when related to “authority blogging” as people decide on your expertise as they read your posts, but how would you have linked a blog to your programmer activities?

    Thanks and all the best for 2011! ;)

    Jaume.

    • Patricia Jarrett says:

      Hi Jaume

      I have just found Chris Garrett’s site on blogging after deciding over the holidays that I am going to start my own blog. I found all the articles really interesting and helpful. I love the internet and have spent all day researching and reading. But nothing about setting up my site. The problem is I have content but no site to launch it on. So in a way you would help someone like me who wouldn’t and don’t know when and where to start in developing a site to blog on.

      Patricia

  18. Hi Chris,

    Thanks. You confirmed my belief that more and more companies will realize that blogging helps them engaging with their audience.

    That’s why I spend time improving my blogging by learning from professional bloggers and also start guest blogging.

    These investments will pay off in 2011.

    Have a great Christmas and best wishes for 2011

    -Juan-

  19. first time reader, first time commenter here.

    Chris, you make a very valid point that I think a lot of people make. The blog is not the business, rather, it is a mechanism of the business. I think you defined that very well here. Just because you have a blog, if you are intent on monetizing it, throwing up AdWords and other advertising will cheapen the feel of the blog. There needs to be a business plan, including the blog, but not surrounding the blog.

    I am new to the blogging world on a serious note in the past month. This post is very helpful in aligning the high points of how a blog can be used for business, not as business.

    Thank you!

    • Glad you liked it :)

      My way isn’t the only way, but I feel it is the best way if you want to be in it for the long term and really help people rather than make money the whole purpose.

  20. Great post as I venture into the blogging world this year.

    So far, I have used my blog to let my already existing clientele about new ideas for workshops, what I am inspired by and ways that they came become “their own best curators” for their health and well-being.

    As I create more content, and have specific features (it isn’t a one-niche, one-topic blog), I can direct clients, or future one’s who are interested to an article that might help explain a concept, or how to work with their nervous system, their injury, or their traumatic events…It makes it such that THEY chose to learn and read, and then if they like it, they can keep going back to re-learn and refresh their memory…

    They can also send the articles to people if they are finding it hard to explain what they do when they see me.

  21. I think of my blog as a fulcrum for traffic. The problem is I haven’t got any idea what to do with the traffic. :roll: Until I formulate some sort of plan I’m not even building a list. Hopefully I will put all this right in 2011.

    Seasons Greetings and a Prosperous New Year Chris

    John

  22. Yes indeedy. Blogging is important, and content is king. Having done the Problogger “31 days to a better blog”, with the help of the SuperWahm workshop earlier in 2010, I can quite agree with Chris, that content and interaction are crucial.

    The skills I’ve learnt from interaction with ChrisG, and the Problogger material have also been useful in facebook business pages too. I run several, both physical products and consulting related pages.

    It is true that is easier to get interaction, and make money when you have a physical or digital product, but nothing ever comes without trust.

    Then there is comments…
    Interaction breeds exposure, and I’ve just discovered a person who commented in this post, and realised I might need some new ideas from something I can’t spell, (Feldenkrais). I wouldn’t have given it another thought (after the first person I met didn’t explain it properly to me), had I not seen Irene’s comment, face, and then blog.

    On a slightly different point, Chris, how is life in the freezer!? (Canada)

  23. Thanks for sharing all of this info. I’m recreating my site and haven’t even attempted to make money from it. I might, I just don’t want to be another blogger with a ton of ads on my site. I also wanted to thank you for your info on what is a meme because I didn’t know. How did I miss that in the almost 3 years I have been doing this? :) Thanks for the great info again!

    • The meme thing does often get assumed. Memes (with a capital) are more popular in personal/social blogs, in communities and on places like facebook, chatty places, but memes are just ideas that get passed around, as Seth Godin calls them, an “Idea virus”

  24. Good take on why love what you do. This was a motivating blog for me. Thanks for that.

  25. I love this article. You have described my business motto exactly “I don’t need massive traffic to earn a living, just to attract the people who want what I can offer and are serious enough to invest in my solutions.” I run a niche blog and appreciate your inspiring description.

  26. Thanks for sharing your thought about blogging. My blog has been part of my personal branding that I used in my job, as well as in my web businesses. It has been a place for me to blog about my thoughts. Though it is not making much money out of it, I can still see some drips of money flowing out of it every week.

    I have a plan in 2011 to blog more frequently to further build my personal branding, while I start to pitch to investors on starting a web business. Anyway, blogging is just part of my social media life. :)

  27. Thanks Chris! I have just changed it.

  28. Chris,

    I have been told lately that forums are another avenue to engage people in your industry and build a social platform…do you use any at all. Any thoughts on comparison overall to a blog?

    I own a Prop Mgt Coaching company and am thinking about starting a forum in addition to a blog.

    • I’m actually seriously considering closing my forum down, but I do participate in other’s forums. I wouldn’t start a forum until you have community forming on your blog – forums are very difficult to get going from zero

  29. Nice post. I definitely want my blog to be a fulcrum. I like how you broke this down. Let’s rock 2011!

    Cheers

  30. Amazing Post Chris. Would certainly use the points raised by use as we try to leverage our blogging strategy going into 2011

  31. Working on my fulcrum too! Thanks for sharing so candidly your issues with how you allocate your time. Makes me feel normal…

    Always great to get your insights! Stay well.

  32. Hey Chris, that’s a refreshingly honest perspective on what blogging can and can’t achieve. I did have a slow start in my blog and online marketing, but looking at your as a fulcrum for your business, it’s making me re-look my current strategies and activities. Just getting started on building a community around commenters anf subscribers. The initial tough part is the choice of services/reports/ebooks to offer. Glad to have gained something worthwhile in a short reading session on your blog.
    Yasser

  33. I regulary blog about online affiliate techniques. I agree with your point. I have adsense, clickbank and amazon links on it to help generate income. My blog id not the main business but does contribute to my annual income