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The one free resource you can use to earn more money blogging, hidden in plain sight

Credit: Tracy O

Credit: Tracy O

What if I told you that your favorite bloggers, the ones making buckets of money, are giving away all their secrets? Every single month they are publishing what is working on the sites and how they do it?

You’d probably think I was crazy right? Even publicly traded companies are only required to disclose numbers quarterly and even then they don’t share insider secrets.

But that’s exactly what a lot of bloggers are doing.

They’re called blog income reports.

This level of disclosure isn’t anything new. Back in the mid to late 2000’s, personal finance bloggers had “net worth reports.” Each month, bloggers would share their net worth in posts, in tickers, on their sidebar, etc. It would include the headline numbers, a little commentary on the past month, and a little mention of what was on the horizon.

At first, I didn’t participate. It felt tacky. Eventually, after seeing so many of my contemporaries doing it, I started publishing net worth posts on Bargaineering. I have those posts to thank because it was the reason I was featured in the New York Times.

Back then, as is the case now, people ogled over the numbers.

The headline number was sexy.

It’s totally natural.

As it so often happens, history repeats itself. Today, net worth posts are out but blog income reports are in.

In November 2013, Pat Flynn made $55,202.74.
Lindsay and Bjork cooked up $10,812.76.
John Lee Dumas recorded $86,625.77.
Robert Farrington netted $6,750.25.
Mike from Maine put an extra $1,786.69 into his pocket.

The list goes on and on.

Here’s the kicker… if you read blog income reports and just look at the number, you’re reading them completely wrong.

I know that seeing Pat Flynn take in $55,000+ is impressive (it is). John Lee Dumas got nearly $90,000 in November (dude is a machine, deserves that times two or three honestly). Depending on your mood and temperament, it can be inspiring. It can also be morale crushing.

Today, I’ll teach you how to study a blog income report so you can take away useful strategies that will make you more money.

Don’t focus on the headline number

The number one appeal of a blog income report is the headline numbers. Seeing what someone else makes on their site feels a little taboo, which is exactly why people like watching reality television. Unfortunately, the headline number is entertaining but it can also be distracting and bad for your business.

I look at headline numbers for one reason only – to figure out whether I should read the entire income report for this business. My goal for reading the report is to pull out strategies I can use for my own business, not see how much someone else is making. If you’re new to a niche, a blog income report can be valuable because it shows you how viable that niche is. The higher the numbers, the more likely it is that you will be able to generate income in that niche too.

Why is it distracting or bad for business? Looking at an income report with five and six figure monthly incomes can be inspirational but also morale killing. What if you’re six months into blogging, you’ve made $5, and you see another blogger in your niche making $10,000? What if they made $5,000 last month and doubled revenue? You’ve made $5. It sucks. You start doubting yourself, doubting your process, and beating yourself up for not doing a better job. That’s how it could kill your business.

In reality, you should be focusing on what their doing to grow and emulating those ideas that make sense.

Here’s how to overcome this natural reaction.

Don’t compare your day one with someone else’s day one thousand

Every single human, at one point or another, has needed someone else to feed them, change them, and move them around. Your business is the same way. You have to start small and build your way up.

If you look at Pat Flynn’s income report right now, he’s making mid- to high five figures a month and his email list has 75,000 amazing people on it. It’s intimidating. He’s doing well because he’s smart, hard working, gives back so much, and a million other reasons… but he’s also doing well because he’s been doing all those things since October 2009. That’s over four years ago. He’s been grinding away for nearly fifty months.

Comparing yourself to him, four years in, would be a mistake. If you’re in your first few months, go read his income reports from the late 2009s and early 2008s. They’re going to be more useful to you than some of the ones he’s doing now. The first few months he mentioned products, as an affiliate, he made a few bucks but nothing notable. It wouldn’t be a year later that he started earning significant income. It took him 4 months to get his first 150 subscribers. His beginnings are as humble as anyone’s and he’ll be the first to tell you.

Let’s take another example – Lindsay and Bjork of Pinch of Yum. In their most recent report, they made over $15,000. It’s incredible and awesome, they totally deserve it. A little over two years ago, August 2011, they made a whopping $21.97. The blog itself started in April 2010 and back then it was on Tumblr. It wouldn’t be until March of 2012, seven months later, that they broke $1,000. Almost two years until $1,000 a month. Humble beginnings.

Kristen of The Endless Meal first published an income report for April 2012 where she made $68.10. (she does mention she made $15.37 in May 2012) By October 2013, she’d make close to $400.

Study the streams of income

John Lee Dumas produces one podcast a day, has over 400 podcasts, and brought in $86,625.77 last month. Of that large sum, how much came from affiliates? $441 (plus $2,000 from DU Publishing, though I don’t know what that is) Sponsorships accounted for nearly $40,000 (41.75%) while his own products and services (Fire Nation Elite Mastermind, Podcaster’s Paradise, 1-on-1 Mentoring) accounted for another 55%.

What can you learn from his report? If you’re a podcaster, you want to learn the ins and out of sponsorships because that’s where there’s big money. Fortunately, he explains everything in this post about podcast sponsorships. You will also want to start thinking about creating your products, services, or a membership site because those are big revenue drivers too.

What isn’t a big driver? Affiliate marketing. While it could work for you, it’s not a focus of EOF and that’s a good reason to focus on other avenues first.

Let’s take a look at a more modest income report – Robert Farrington’s on Beat The 9 to 5 where he recorded $6k last month. This one is less detailed and so it’s not as valuable to read but there are still a few gems you can glean from the streams of revenue.

First, Robert runs a handful of sites, rather than focusing on one, and most of them rely on “private advertising” as their main source of income. While it’s not clear what private advertising is, Robert shares in the comments that it’s a catchall for “everything else” like sidebar ads, advertorials, etc. Affiliate advertising results in a trickle of income but it’s not a big part of the income. Diversification seems to be the strategy here and it’s working well, to the tune of $6700!

What can you learn from his report? Private advertising is still a strong source of revenue and is very appealing if you have no other sources. Sponsored posts can hurt you but you can’t run your business based on fear, right? When I started, I know that putting a few thousand dollars in my pocket was far more important than Google’s opinion of me.

Read lessons learned too

Pat Flynn’s blog income reports catch your eye because of the income number but you read it for the lessons. The November one is especially good because it discusses his redesign, which had a hiccup and his process of making improvements once he had feedback and data (“Never assume.”). It also goes into detail on his latest project, Foodtruckr.com, before launching into the income breakdown.

The lessons learned from November for Pat? Spend a little more time on social media.

His words: “I realized how lazy I was and how a few minutes of extra time to actually think about what I was doing on platforms like Facebook and Twitter could help get my content in front of a lot of other people.”

What can you do to be a little better on Facebook? Do you use quote cards? (I don’t but I will now just to test it out, it reminds me of the images people use to help popularize something on Pinterest).

Now look for trends

Read Pat’s first income statement created in October 2008, the same month he started Smart Passive Income. His earnings are a little under $8,000 and all of them on intheleed.com, the precursor to GreenExamAcademy.com. How did he make his money? Advertising via adsense and a product, which was the bulk of earnings at ~$7200. He made $0 off SPI, which is to be expected given it was only 15 days old at the time he recorded the income.

One year later, most of his income is from Green Exam Academy (products, the ebook and richer products like audio). He diversified in November 2009 to start writing for eHow, putting in affiliate links, and even driving PPC traffic to it. He hits 150 subscribers to SPI in January 2009, four months after he started.

Today, he’s still makes a sizable income off the satellite sites, which rely on a little advertising and mostly products, and his SPI income is a mix of affiliate and product sales. The useful trend to see here is the important of introducing products and services as a way of diversifying income.

Let’s look at the world of Food blogging. We have Pinch of Yum making a lot of money off services for other food bloggers, but what if we can’t (or don’t want to) promote hosting? What are the other options besides display ads? Julie of White Lights on Wednesday’s September 2013 income report, which shows a healthy $1500 September 2013, shows that you can always work with brands directly for sponsorships (though in this case, the payouts appear to be for advertorial/sponsored posts) on your site and in social media.

Now look for things you’ve never seen before

Here’s where things get really really fun.

As I was researching blog income reports, I find one from Mike from Maine where he reports around $2,000 for November 2013. I had no idea who Mike from Maine and I don’t know what circles he’s running in. It’s like discovering an island in the middle of the Pacific with it’s own ecology and it’s own population doing interesting things.

I scan through his expenses and I see $980 for something called “Solo ads.”

What are solo ads? You basically pay someone with a list to promote your site and you pay by the click, or more accurately in batches. So you pay someone $95 for 300 clicks, track the number of clicks you get, how many of those convert to your subscribers, and then eventually you’ll sell to them too. I spent maybe an hour or so reading about it and it’s fascinating,

I love learning about these little pockets of clever ways people are making money. I won’t be doing solo ads but it’s informative to read about them because you never knew what insights you can glean from other practices.

When I first started blogging, reading other sites (not blog reports, there weren’t any back then) and researching “weird” things is how I got started with affiliate marketing. You only have to see anrdoezrs.net and jdoqocy.com a few times before you start wondering what the heck they are (they are CJ tracking links and the one that caught my eye was tkqlhce.com because it’s straight up jibberish).

Without that bit of serendipity, who knows where I’d be today.

There you have it – this is how I read income reports. If you want to find more, it’s as simple as searching through Google.

As a guide, you might find this little cheat sheet on how bloggers make money useful as a reference. Many of the bloggers I talked about today follow strategies under Expert in that list and “solo ads” isn’t there, I only learned about them this past week. πŸ™‚

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Jim

In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog (Bargaineering.com) that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

20 responses to “The one free resource you can use to earn more money blogging, hidden in plain sight”

  1. Jim,

    Thanks for mentioning me here. I’m glad to here that I was able to introduce you into the wide world of solo ads.

    Great work here!

    Mike

  2. Michael says:

    Yeah, it’s hard to beat those reports for insight into how people are making money from their sites. Of course, there’s still a certain amount of obfuscation in many of these reports, but you can still learn a lot by poring over them.

    • Jim says:

      When you combine what they write about (when they share) with what they’re doing, you can get a good sense of what you might be able to try.

  3. As someone in the beginning stage of making an income online (and doing income reports) I find all these income reports fascinating! I’ve picked up a lot of tips, ideas, and inspiration from them. I enjoy that the bloggers making giant incomes share so much information and it seems to help them as well.

  4. Jim,

    Fascinating breakdown, and honored to be included…I hope you are doing this monthly as well as I am hooked reading others income reports and gleaning great ideas, and a centralized place for that is AWESOME!

    • Jim says:

      I’m might create a monthly repository of income reports as well as an analysis, I might as well take my study time and turn it into production. πŸ™‚

  5. Meg Sylvia says:

    Awesome article, Jim! I love reading Pat Flynn’s reports, since he goes into such detail on what he learned each month. I definitely agree that looking at these reports can be disheartening sometimes. One of my goals this year is to always find a bright side, and focus on the motivation rather than comparison.

    Thanks for the ideas!

    • Jim says:

      Sometimes I fall into that trap too. I mean look at John Lee Dumas and how much he’s accomplished in such a short time. He released EOF #443 today (which at one a day puts him at under a 16 months) and his December revenue figures were over $100,000 for the month.

      On one hand, you can say “wow that’s amazing, I could never do that” or you could say “he worked his face off, picked it up, put it back on, and then worked it off again… I can do that.” It’s all about mindset.

      Could you start something that generated six figures a month in 16 months? Maybe. And that maybe is what should drive you.

      Before him, most people would say a daily podcast would not succeed, let alone earn a comfortable annual income in a single month.

      It’s all about mindset.

  6. John Shea says:

    Great post and very informative, I recently just started publishing income reports myself on my blog.

  7. Jim, Thanks for using my report as an example. I appreciate the highlight and feedback. What tips would you recommend to make it more transparent – I love feedback!

    • Jim says:

      Hi Robert – I think that what you include is great, I think I only said less detailed because you do similar things across all of your sites.

  8. Steve says:

    Jim,

    It’s almost as if you’ve been watching over my shoulder for the past week or two. Before starting my newest project one of the things I did was exactly what you are recommending; pour over the income reports of successful bloggers to see what they are doing right (and wrong). And ironically enough two of the top inspirations for me were EF and Pat Flynn. And even more ironically I began reading SPI in chronological order…yeah I started from his first post to get a feel for the growth process of the site and its earnings. It really is powerful stuff and can be extremely motivating when you see where some of the heavyweight earners have come from. Great post!

  9. Hi Jim!

    Thanks for this write up. I think it’s really important for others to take away the lessons learned from the reports, as you’ve suggested in this post. So many look at the number, get frustrated or feel as though they’re never going to make it, and then leave. But the purpose of these reports (for EOF and I know for others as well) is to share our struggles and our successes to help others. Great post!

    • Jim says:

      Thanks for sharing the perspective from the other side as well, it’s so easy to see the numbers and stop but there’s so much hard work, and struggle, going on behind the scenes. It’s nice to see people talk about how it’s not easy and how it is a lot of hard work to “make it” (and keep “making it”).

  10. Forest Parks says:

    As always a really thought provoking post Jim. I’m just getting a new blog up and running and it’s something I plan to try out a few new things on. Maybe I should go digging around some of these income reports for some income ideas when the traffic starts flowing.

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