Note from Bamidele: Carol Tice is the freelance writer I respect the most. The reason for this is very simple: Besides the fact that she gives clear, proven advice, she gives advice in a no-BS kind of way. Most importantly, her advice has helped me make six figures in the few years that I’ve been a freelance writer. Due to Carol’s advice, I went from charging around $80 to $150 per article to commanding as much as $500 and significantly more per article.
In this article, Writers in Charge interviews Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing. Her new guide Small Blog, Big Income teaches what it takes to build a solid income from a small blog, and in this interview we get her to share what it takes to make six figures from a blog. Enjoy!
You started your blog in 2008. Almost a decade has passed since then and the blogosphere has changed a lot. Do you think it’s still possible to build a profitable niche blog in 2016?
It’s definitely possible.
Yes, it’s crowded, but really, it was already crowded when I got in. Look, if there’s no one in the niche you are thinking about, it means that there’s no money in it. So don’t worry about the competition. It’s a sign that there’s money to be made in that niche.
Also, I think it’s comforting to know that blogs wax and wane. You might look at the current landscape, see all these big blogs, and feel intimidated…But you need to understand that just because they are big now doesn’t mean that they will always be big. Things change.
For example, when I started, there already were plenty of established, high traffic blogs in my niche. But guess what? Now Make a Living Writing is bigger than all of them.
There’s always a place for someone who’s willing to work harder than the other guy and offers a fresh point of view.
Why do you think that the surest path to blog-based business success is to learn how to earn well with a small audience?
It’s just the statistical reality. Most people are not going to go viral, build a 100,000 subscriber email list, and get 1,000,000 unique visitors per month. So it’s not wise to base your business strategy on the hopes of making it big.
You say that tactics offered by big blogs often don’t work for smaller blogs. What exactly do you mean by that?
You can’t monetize a small blog the same way you’d monetize a big blogs.
- When you have a lot of traffic, you can put ads on your site, and even if only 2% of your visitors click on them, that still ads up to serious money.
- When you have a huge email list, you can run aggressive marketing campaigns, because getting 250 unsubscribes doesn’t mean much when you have 100,000+ subscribers.
- When you have a huge blog, you can do what is called The Big Launch, when you create an expensive product, market it like crazy, and then make $100,000 on the launch day.
These tactics work well for big blogs, but they’re detrimental to small blogs. Putting up ads doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have a lot of traffic, you can’t bombard your list with sales emails because you can’t afford the unsubscribes that brings, you can’t do The Big Launch because you don’t have the connections to pull that off, etc. Niche bloggers don’t have the same resources as big blogs, so they can’t use these tactics and expect them to work.
What amount of work should one expect to put in order to get their blog off the ground?.
It’s important to understand that you are building a business, and, just like with any other business, getting your blog off the ground will require a lot of time and energy.
There’s a lot to do when you are just starting out. You need to set up your website, sort out the design, produce content, build your email list, promote yourself, network with other bloggers, etc. Plus, you also have to take the learning curve into account. There are going to be plenty of unexpected bumps along the road.
So I’d say that if you are serious about this, you should see it as a part-time job, and invest at least 15 (preferably 20-25) hours per week in your blog.
How do you pick a profitable niche and develop a great concept for your blog?
You need to look for an intersection of being super-passionate about the topic and a clear earning opportunity.
What are you so passionate about that you can easily see yourself writing hundreds of articles on it? People often start blogs in “hot” niches that they don’t really care about, and it never ever goes anywhere. They inevitably burn out and give up. Building a business is not quick or easy, which is why you need passion driving it, otherwise you are going to get discouraged and quit before it has a chance to catch on.
That being said, you also need to make sure that the niche has some earning potential, and you can do that by examining the competition. Who else writes about that topic? Are they selling anything? Are they making decent money? Don’t go into a niche unless you see that people are willing to pay for products and services in that niche.
What do you think is great content and, how do you produce it on a regular basis?
Great content is something that provides exactly what your readers need that they can’t find anywhere else.
That requires you to look around the marketplace and say, “Okay, so what kind of posts are coming out every day and are everywhere?” Then ask yourself what is missing.
For example, when I started blogging , the freelance writing niche was full of this happy talk: “Oh, you are getting $10/article, that’s awesome!” and I was like, “WHAT?!” I had a very contrarian view for the time, which was that low pay was exploitation, and that writers should not accept that.
So I started writing about that, I published lists of publications that pay well, I did exposes on writing websites, I even started a petition where writers could pledge not to take work that pays $15/article or less. No one else was doing anything like that at the time. That was what I brought to the party.
So, again, you have to look around and ask, “What is missing?” and then find something that people might be yearning for but that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
How important it is to have an email list, and how do you build one?
Well, if you don’t have an email list, you don’t have a business.
A lot of people still don’t understand this. I reviewed a bunch of blogs recently and so many of them had no way to subscribe via email. They had RSS, they had Twitter, they had Facebook, or “follow me on WordPress.” Social media is great, but the reality is that if you don’t have the contact information of your followers, you can’t sell them anything. You need an email list!
And it’s not that hard to build one. You just need a free product that would be highly useful to your readers, an opt-in box that looks nice, and, ideally, a whole “sales” page for that free product (we just analysed the data from Make a Living Writing, and it turns out that the “sales” page for my free book converts three times better than the opt-in box on the homepage).
I think building an email list comes back to service. You have to figure out what value you can deliver. The point isn’t just to pile up email addresses, it’s to build relationships. You need to come from a place of just giving, giving and giving to your subscribers before you ever ask them for money.
That way, once you do ask for money, they’ll be like, “Sure! I know you. I trust you. I get that you actually care about me and that you’re here to help me. So if you’re selling me something, that’s probably something that I could really use…” Or at least they won’t be offended by it, because they will understand that at some point you need to make money, and an occasional sales email is okay given the amount of free value that you provide.
There are many ways to drive traffic to one’s blog – SEO, guest posts, social media, etc. What do you think is most important?
Building relationships with other bloggers is probably the single most important thing. As Jon Morrow says, the next generation of successful bloggers isn’t born, it is appointed by the current crop of top bloggers.
You can build those relationships by leaving meaningful comments on their blogs, implementing their advice and offering to be a case study for them, creating valuable content that they’d want to link to and sharing it with them, etc.
You have explained how trying to monetize a small blog by using tactics meant for a big blog doesn’t work. What is the right way to monetize a small blog?
If you’ve never sold anything to your audience before, you can’t just create an expensive product and start bombarding people with sales pitches. You need to start small, then ladder your way up.
Create a product that’s in the $0.99 – $2.99 price range and pitch it to your audience. Your aim with that first product is not to make money, but to qualify buyers. Who on your list is serious enough about your topic and needs your information bad enough to buy your product?
Then you can create a more expensive product. Ask your audience what they need, develop it with them, beta test it, pre-sell it, give out a free sample of it… And then you are ready to sell it. And now that you have a list of previous buyers, you can send them twice as many emails as you send to your main list. You can hit them more often and harder than the people who’ve never bought anything from you. This is how you preserve your list while selling – you qualify buyers.
Then you can create an even more expensive product… And so on. Build your funnel from the beginning, starting with the entry price product, all the way up to your premium material. That way you’ll have a bunch of products at various price points that will appeal to different people.
What do you think is the key difference between bloggers who make just enough to cover their bills and bloggers like yourself who make six figures?
Closer relationships with our readers.
It all goes back to building relationships with your readers, listening to them, and giving them what they want.
Thank you, Carol!
Disclosure: Writers in Charge is an affiliate for Carol’s products and earns a commission when you buy her products based on my recommendation. This doesn’t impact the quality of my recommendation, however, and you won’t pay anymore than the product costs elsewhere.