Where Bloggers Go Wrong And Why They Are Broke And Penniless

by Robb Sutton

There is one fundamental reason why 99% of bloggers never make enough money from their blogs to live off of…and it is incredibly simple.

This past week has been an interesting one filled with conversation. After a post about paid subscription models in blogging and how that could change in the future, there was a ton of conversation around paid content online and whether or not it would work within current audiences. Honestly, it created a great conversation that got me thinking about how I want to structure my blogging in the future.

But…it also brought out one very sore thumb in the blogging world that is the reason most bloggers will never make the big time. So where do they go wrong? Like a horse with blinders on…

They are too busy thinking like a blogger instead of like a business owner.

Blogging in itself was built on the foundation of online journaling. There wasn’t any true monetary platform until these online journals started getting traffic that was rising above corporate websites. Through some growing pains, the art of blogging and the world of capitalism figured out how to leverage this traffic into dollars through various forms of advertising and promotion. But…at its heart…most bloggers still think like the bloggers of old. The only difference now is that some of them are at least covering their costs and putting a little bit extra in their pocket at the end of the month.

When I brought up the idea of paid content in blogging, one of the biggest excuses that it wouldn’t work is because big media (magazines, newspapers, etc.) has a lot more resources to hire writers, photographers and other assets to create more value that the individual blogger can not accomplish. While they are true in that on a low level…they are forgetting one key thing that will keep them broke.

What if the paid model opened up the resources to accomplish those things?

I am not saying this is the answer or the only way to do things, but it illustrates a great point within the blogging world. When you take the money you make online and reinvest it into growth of your business, you are no longer the sole blogger trying to make it. You are applying fundamental business models to your online empire to insure future growth and more money that you can get from Nokzeit. However, if you are not able to think outside the “blogging box”, you will never get past just being able to pay for your hosting and a night out to dinner a week.

When you look at your blogging, you have to start thinking about growth and future income outside of just affiliate promotions and banner ads. You have to start developing areas of your blog with future growth in mind and not just how you can make an extra 5 bucks today. You have to be open to new ideas and willing to test these ideas.

If you keep thinking like a blogger…you will never be more than a blogger.

19 comments

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19 comments

Seewhatididther February 24, 2011 - 2:31 pm

Isn’t it all about content and engaging your audience? If you’re thinking too much like a business person and not enough like a blogger talking about what you love, don’t you think that’ll affect your content? Your authenticity? Just a thought. I had to quit freelancing for magazines because it too the fun out of it for me.

As for the paid model, id also worry about competing with enthusiasts just talking about what they love.

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Robb Sutton February 24, 2011 - 2:43 pm

I was really just using the paid content model as an example of how bloggers fail to look outside of the box.

Successful companies are authentic and they do what they love. There is now difference there in most cases…however, they run their business like a company and not a hobby. When you treat your blog like a blog and your hobbies like hobbies…that is all they ever will be. If you want your blog to be your primary source of income…you have to treat it like a business.

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Geoff Crane April 12, 2011 - 4:07 pm

I have to agree with Robb here. Content and engagement are still very important, but thinking like a business doesn’t have to affect that unless you want it to. Of course, if you switch to an entirely monetizing mindset, yes, you’ll likely turn off your reader base…god knows we’ve all seen enough of that in our Twitter streams and Akismet blocks.

But if you look at your blog as a service that you provide to your readers, then all kinds of possibilities open up. What things can you create that supplement what you’re already giving your readers for free? You can charge for those. Are your readers consistently posing common problems in your comments section? You can charge for solutions…and these things are all tailored perfectly to the people who are already there. They’re giving you monetizing potential…if you know to listen to them.

But sometimes you do have to put money back into your blog to help it grow. It’s an investment though, and not an expense.

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Cosmin Stefan February 24, 2011 - 4:06 pm

I really like bloggers who make their blog only a part of their business: bloggers who sell e-books, who organize training courses, or bloggers who offer different services such as web-design. They blog because they like it. They create new connections and engage with their readers, which are possible future clients, and keep a close relationship with them.
This is something that I’m trying to do right now and even though I’m still at the beginning, I definitely think this is the future of “pro-blogging”.

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David Risley February 25, 2011 - 2:59 pm

Right on with this post, and I’ve said this a million times.

It all comes down to intention. Blogging has its roots in journaling, as you said. Not only that, people *think* that the top rung of blogging has to look like a big media outlet (i.e. Huffington). So, that keeps them within the mental confines of traditional media (and even though it is online, trust me, sites like Huffington are run like traditional journalism).

It really takes a mental shift, a paradigm shift, to realize that there is a completely different way to go. Building a brand and a real business. Making offers that help people.

I really think there is a big mismatch between what so many bloggers keep looking for (making money) and the mindset they operate with. And, at least for me, I’m sitting here re-thinking a few things internally to figure out how to deal with that. 🙂

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Tim February 26, 2011 - 5:37 am

Yeah but…the people who always write this kind of thing are the ones who make money from telling other people how to be like them. Those who are writing for a more normal audience—not the modern informercial crowd—can do quite well without constantly bugging their readers to buy something from them directly. And they don’t have to annoy them with the kind of pop-up nag ads I get every time I visit your blog.

If there are 500 of you guys (conservatively) all selling e-books peddling similar advice, how’s that “thinking like a business owner?” A real business owner would do something different than the current conventional wisdom of aggressively peddling e-books and webinars.

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Robb Sutton February 26, 2011 - 12:01 pm

Tim,

You might want to do a little bit more research into me before making comments such as this one. The majority of my online revenue is actually made on Bike198.com and not on Blogging Labs. It is through the sale of eBooks, physical products, affiliate sales and direct advertising (the smallest of them all) that I make my income online. I structure Blogging Labs to talk to those people that want to make money outside of the MMO/Blogging niche.

The lightbox hover for the newsletter is also the highest converting element on my non-blogging about blogging pages.

Bloggers outside of this niche actually have a much harder time finding viable income streams. Commissions are lower, competition is higher and there just aren’t as many options as direct advertising is getting devalued over time.

Sounds like sour grapes to me man…do your research before you haul off on assumptions.

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Lindamarcus March 4, 2011 - 4:43 pm

Robb, just because something converts well doesn’t mean it’s not annoying. Telemarketing and door to door sales convert well too, but people hate them. If 2% of your visitors respond, the other 98% could be annoyed. Like I am every time a blogger covers up what I’m reading with some nagging pop-up ad.

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Anonymous February 26, 2011 - 10:23 pm

You raise a really good point here, and I think the most poignant fact you made was that the difference between the blogger and the business owner is the reinvest part of the equation.

Thanks for your insight Robb

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How to Gain Bigger Muscles February 27, 2011 - 12:09 am

You said a mouthful here. It made me want to take another look at my own blogging methods. I have several ideas that i would like to incorporate into my own blog, but never get around to them. I have actually made a little bit of money with my own blogs but it is just enough to cover hosting.

I would like to see it really explode. I need to start thinking about where I want to go with it, and how to expand it to see my blog go from a steady hobby to a solid business. Thanks for writing this post. I am gonna have to subscribe to your rss feed now. I really like the stuff you are putting out:-0

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Sean Kaye February 28, 2011 - 12:37 pm

I think obviously there are two elements to these posts as Robb has revealed…

The first element is that bloggers need to think about their blog as a business and constantly be looking for new streams of revenue and to diversify their business risk. I think that subtle point was probably lost by many in the original post because of the more controversial topic about the second element, charging for content…

There have been a few bloggers I know in the past few months who have flamed out because an eBook didn’t do the numbers they thought or their list didn’t respond as expected to an affiliate promotion, etc… I think that’s simply a case of the well running dry for some of these folks and the market saying that they didn’t add enough additional value. This is where diversification as Robb is suggesting would have helped their business, but if they’d have found another valuable service or product offering then perhaps their previous customer base wouldn’t have abandoned them…

I can’t help myself, but on to the topic of paid content. I think it would be interesting to watch, particularly in the “make money blogging” niche. In fact, I’d kind of enjoy watching how that played out. I first read about this recently on Problogger a few weeks back and subsequently a few others (this blog included) have touched on the topic.

There isn’t a blog in this niche that I would say that I’d pay to read. That’s not being unkind or denigrating the work that everyone puts into their blog, but the truth is, I don’t think much of it has any unique value. Everything is rehashed over and over again – not here so much, I like this blog.

I think at the top end of this niche there’s a hubris that’s set in… The top dogs think they have the midas touch and have branched out into telling us all not just how to be successful bloggers, but also how to live our lives. I don’t read that tripe, but I find it fascinating that if you look at the top three or four people in the “blogging for dollars” game, they are all moving into life coaching blogs – they’ve become quite full of themselves.

And these are the folks who will lead the charge into charging for their content. Their groupies and sycophants will tell them how clever they are for wanting to charge the “readers” to have the wisdom passed on to them. Then it will fail… Miserably. If the New York Times can’t successfully charge people for their content online, rehashing how to make money writing eBooks and guest posters talking about on page SEO through the use of H2 tags should fail in a craptacular fashion.

As I said, I’m not angry, frustrated, bitter or twisted – I’m just curious to see where this goes.

Great stuff as usual Robb!

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Robb Sutton February 28, 2011 - 2:22 pm

Sean,

Thanks for the feedback man! You bring up a lot of really great points. Part of the issue we run into with eBooks now is marketers packaging crap and selling it for premium just because it has proven to be a solid income model. Because of this…you really have to package your own products in a way that illustrates the “added value” over the competition. Then…once they have actually purchased it…deliver on that promise.

I think the paid content argument will be an interesting one to watch play out as well. I really believe it is the future of online publishing in certain aspects but it will never be able to take over free. The model that uses free content with premium options will probably be the happy medium for online publishers and readers.

I am curious to see where this heads too. During that process…we just have to keep on testing and trying out new things to see what works. There is not right answer for any given niche.

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Michael Martine February 28, 2011 - 10:00 pm

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: bloggers are cheap-asses. They don’t understand the concept of self-investment, they see everything as a cost. Business people, on the other hand, not only understand investment, they budget for it.

I don’t work with “bloggers”. I work with entrepreneurs.

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Rexsequeira March 4, 2011 - 6:45 am

So…True thanks for the Knowledge…….

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Zen April 13, 2011 - 9:02 pm

If you want to pay for blogs, it is simple: “leave a tip”.

Virtually all blogs carry click thru advertising. If you read a post, then leave the author a tip by clicking on one of their adverts.

It costs you nothing, it creates income for the blogger and it helps advertisers to get people to look at their products (lots of ads actually lead to good sites!), which is what they want. Advertisers don’t write ads just for people to look at, they want to get you to click on them!!!

So click on an ad and leave the blogger a tip.

If a blog gets a thousand readers, a thousand small tips can add up to a real income.

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Magento Theme April 14, 2011 - 9:08 am

I think without paying blogs for those only this tips useful others leave this.. Is it right?..

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Anonymous May 28, 2011 - 1:21 am

Great subject and content. I will recommend the site without a doubt, great spot!! I will be back to check out more for sure. 

Glenn Wright
VP of Marketing
Partner Source 
(Ranked #3: B2B/B2C Appointment Setting | Lead Generation and Market Research Company)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
http://www.thepartnersource.com

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web development bangalore July 1, 2011 - 6:35 am

The first element is that bloggers need to think about their blog as a business and constantly be looking for new streams of revenue and to diversify their business risk.

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Anonymous November 11, 2011 - 11:47 pm

I really believe it is the future of online publishing in certain aspects but it will never be able to take over free. The model that uses free content with premium options will probably be the happy medium for online publishers and readers.

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