How to make money from your blog

You can start a blog on just about any topic: beauty and fashion, travelling on a budget, your favourite hobby, or anything else you can think of. And as you build up your audience, you can also monetize your blog so you can continue to write and provide service to your readers instead of going out and looking for another job.

Reviewing Products
One way of providing a good service to your readers while also benefitting yourself is to review products. It’s important to remember, however, that in order to give your honest and unbiased opinion, you can’t receive money for doing the review. However, you can keep the products you review, and if these are products you really want, that can be as good as money. What would you like to review? How about a coffee maker or a new computer? Or baby clothes? Whatever you want to review, if it’s in keeping with the topic of your blog, you can probably get it for free by contacting the company that makes it, as long as you can prove you’ve got a good blog, a solid audience and an established reputation.

Selling Advertising
The best way to make money with your blog is to sell advertising. And yes, you can sell advertising to the company whose product you just reviewed (after the review is published) if they wish to advertise on you blog.You can sell display advertising (banner ads or ads in a sidebar) as well as text-link advertising, “which is getting huge among blogs for SEO purposes,” says Tenille Lafontaine, a product review blogger and owner of Feisty, Frugal & Fabulous.

Tenille points out that you shouldn’t expect to get rich by blogging. Rather, it can give you an income similar to a part-time job and can open doors to other opportunities. For example, Tenille’s been blogging for two years, and just recently was offered the job of Social Media Manager for a company who knew her because she reviewed their products a couple of times. The job is one she can do at home in addition to her blogging. Being able to work at home is very important to Tenille because in addition to blogging, she’s also a stay-at-home mom.

How to Contact Companies
You can write to companies directly, or you can go through PR Agencies. Tenille has been blogging for two years, so she is established well enough now that most of the time, the PR Agencies contact her. She doesn’t know how they find her, but last September an agency contacted her out of the blue asking if she wanted to go to L.A. to cover a T.J. Maxx event. She had never heard from this company before, and didn’t even know if they were real. She believes they just did an online search with keywords that fit their focus.

“I think my title is what worked,” she says. “T.J. Maxx is the sister company of Winners in Canada, so my guess is she searched out blogs with the word ‘frugal’ and stumbled upon mine.”

When Tenille is interested in a product, she’ll contact the company that makes it and ask them to send her the product to review. For example, she decided she wanted to start running, so she contacted some companies to find out if they would send her running shoes.

“I emailed a pitch, like a magazine would, [stating] this is what I’m looking to write a feature on, this is how I’d like to present it to my readers, and the most important thing: what’s in it for them,” she says, emphasizing, “companies aren’t interested in what they can do for me, they want to know what I can do for them.”

And what is in it for them? Mainly, the number of readers you have and the amount of traffic (number of ‘page views’ or visits) to your site.

“Product review advertising has got to be the cheapest advertising a company can find right now,” Tenille says. For example, running shoes retail for around $110, but the wholesale cost to the company may only be $50. So for just $50, they’re getting a product review, a text-link within the review, and longevity: the review is never taken off her website. They also get a testimonial they can use on their own site.

“They get all that in return for sending a product,” says Tenille. “And it’s beneficial both ways. Here I am, a stay-at-home mom, with a brand new pair of $110 running shoes.”

What to Charge for your Advertising
“It varies. A blog with six months experience and 500 subscribers, to me, should be charging less than a blog with 2000 subscribers and two years of readers,” she says.

In the beginning, the companies told her what they were willing to pay. Since then, she’s  asked around to find out what other people were charging, and looked at what she had to offer in return, in order to figure out what to charge. If you’re having trouble figuring it out, she suggests contacting other bloggers, adding, there’s a huge network of Mom-bloggers out there that you can contact for information.

And as in any business, when it comes to sales, there can be negotiation. Some people will accept the price you quote and some people will counter it.

“When it comes down to business, you’ve got to decide if it’s worth it to take their offer,” she says. “I have to ask, ‘what’s in it for me?’”

What Products Should you Review?
What products you decide to review is up to you. You can focus on a specific interest, like baby-related products or technology, for example, or you can focus more broadly on general products.

Tenille’s selling point is that she’s a stay-at-home mom looking for good deals. So she can cover anything that would be of interest to mothers. This can cover a wide range of products and services, from children’s clothing to household items, from beauty products to travel destinations. When Tenille started, she was reviewing $10 hair bows. Now a product has to be worth at least $25 in order to review, because anything less is not worth her time. And it does take a lot of work to review an item; first you have to test it out, then you have to write about it and post it online.

“I can’t give the same focus to a $10 bib if I’m reviewing a $500 vacuum,” she says.

How to Build your Audience
An effective way of building your audience is with product give-aways. Tenille says the reviews give your readers first-hand knowledge of the product, which is good, but your readers will come back for more if you have something to offer them.

“That’s what I tell the companies that I work with,” says Tenille, “and 90% of the companies will in turn offer a product as a give-away to my readers.”

She points out the give-aways also generate the buzz on Facebook, Twitter, and online contest sites. It gives you more promotion, gets you more links, and gets more people talking about you, if there’s a give-away attached.

What is the Time Commitment?
Tenille notes that while anyone can start a blog and review products, most people don’t realize the amount of work that’s involved. She’s seen a few people start a blog, review a couple of products, then become disillusioned by it. They think they can do a little work and get free products in the mail. What they don’t realize is that there’s a very big time commitment to doing this. Tenille puts in more than 40 hours per week.

“[Blogging] can give you an income similar to a part-time job and can open doors to other opportunities.”

“My computer’s on all day,” she says. She has a laptop that she can carry around the house and a blackberry so she can have access to emails when travelling and going out with the kids. In fact, she’s been working full-tilt for two years and is just now beginning to take her weekends off. “PR Reps work Monday through Friday,” she adds. “In the beginning when I was working with a lot of Mompreneurs,  I was emailing all the time because Mompreneurs are like me, home all the time.”

Start-up Costs
Tenille started out using a free blogging platform offered through Google called Blogger. As the months went by and she grew, she wanted to differentiate herself and look more professional. That’s when she started putting money into it. At first she bought a $30 design template, then  in the past month, she switched over to WordPress, which means she owns her own website. Since she’s no longer hosted through Google, she now has to pay hosting fees, and she bought a new design so she has design fees.

If you want to start a blog and review products, be prepared for the work and, if you’re new to blogging and social media, the learning curve. It’ll be easier to blog about something you’re already passionate about, so do your homework and figure out what that is. Then brainstorm different names for your blog because you’ll want something that catches attention, isn’t already in use, and would be easily searchable. For example, if you plan to blog about fashion, then you may want to include the word “fashion” as part of your title.

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