How I Made $45k Blogging

Last year was such a great year.

I made $45k blogging while working full time.

If you’re new here, as a little background… I started my blog 3 years ago, knowing nothing about blogging. I started it because of my student loan debt. It led to me quitting my career that I hated, while taking a 50% pay cut, pursuing a career I love, and paying off over $100k in student loan debt.

I had no idea I could turn my blog into a business when I first started. It’s been amazing.

 

Background: My First Two Years Of Blogging

My first year of blogging I made $8k.

My second year of blogging I made $30k.

These are gross figures, which means that I paid expenses and taxes out of these numbers.

Most of the money I made my first two years of blogging was from freelance writing and display advertising (there was a little from affiliate marketing, but not much).

I monetized my blog directly with advertisements on my site. When I first started using ads, I used Google Adsense. Then eventually, I moved to Media.net. Finally, once my pageviews were over 100k/month, I moved to AdThrive.

I started freelance writing as my second method of making money. All I had done up to this point was write a few guest posts, but I figured I could make money freelance writing because other people were.

Once I felt like my time spent freelance writing was taking away from monetizing my blog, I stopped. It wasn’t a certain income level that I reached, but more of a sense of knowing I had so much work to do on my own blog to monetize it that led me to stop freelance writing. Since my goal was to monetize my blog and not become a freelance writer, I knew it was the right decision. Freelance writing is a great way to make money online, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. (Here’s a good blog post about how these three freelancers make over $10k per month if you’re interested in freelance writing.)

I shifted my focus to affiliate marketing as the main monetization strategy for my blog over the last year and half. My goal was to learn the ins and outs of affiliate marketing then move on to creating and selling my own digital products.

I learned everything I know about affiliate marketing from Making Sense Of Affiliate Marketing (Michelle makes $50k+/month from affiliate marketing) and from Six Figure Blogger (there’s an entire module in the course about selling affiliate marketing).

It took time and investing in myself to learn affiliate marketing, but the best part is that now I feel confident about how to promote affiliate products and make money from with affiliate marketing.

 

Side note – here are my favorite FREE blogging resources:

 

My Third Year Of Blogging

Fast-forward to this year, and I made $45k blogging while working full time.

The income I received was from affiliate marketing and display advertising only.

None of it came from sponsored posts, freelance writing, or any other monetization strategies (besides a few free books I received that are considered income).

This is important to me because I wanted to streamline my monetization strategy, with a specific focus on the most passive monetization tactics. I knew I needed to understand affiliate marketing before creating my own digital products because I’d learn the marketing and sales components to selling that would carry over into my own products.

 

The Stats: Income, Expenses, Traffic, and Email Marketing

Here’s a look at an overview of my income, expenses, traffic, and email list for the past year.

 

Income

I made $45.5k this year.

The chart below shows the breakdown between affiliate marketing income and display advertising income. (There are entries in April, June, July, and October for small amounts of “other income,” which is from free books.)

Income and expenses chart

Expenses

My expenses were $13.6k this year.

So, my net income (total income – expenses) was $31.9k.

The net income is what I pay taxes on. After taxes are paid, the rest of the money is mine.

Keep in mind I try to give accurate information, but there could be some variations because I haven’t done my taxes for the year yet. (This is the not-so-fun part of blogging!)

 

Traffic

I had just under 2 million pageviews this year. This averages out to just over 5k pageviews per day (it varied by day though, with some days being much higher or lower).

Most of my traffic comes from Pinterest. I took Pinterest Traffic Avalanche this year and implemented everything in it. I highly recommend this course if you are looking to drive traffic from Pinterest.

 

Email Marketing

I had about 25k email subscribers by the end of the year. I constantly “clean” my list (delete inactive users), so that’s why this is a rough number. I used ConvertKit the whole year. It’s my favorite email marketing service for blogging.

 

What Worked

There are many things that worked really well for me this year.

Here’s a list of the most notable things that I think helped me make $45k blogging while working full time.

 

  1. Re-branding. I re-branded from theFinancegirl.com to NatalieBacon.com at the start of the year. I also got Facebook coaching, which turned out to have the side effect of getting advice from my coach, Monica Louie, to change the photos on my blog. It was a simple sentence to check out different photo companies for my blog that led to a total overhaul of the images on my blog. Now, I think my blog reflects me, and I’m much more proud of how it looks than I was prior to this year. One piece of advice I got a long time ago was to ask yourself as a blogger if you would read your own blog, and now I can confidently answer yes to that question.
  1. Email marketing. I spent a ton of time re-working my email marketing strategies. I use ConvertKit and have for two years. But this year, I added Lead Pages and Canva to the mix. This means that I started creating much higher converting lead magnets. They were more professional looking and people signed up more because of the landing pages I used. And of course, I continued with ConvertKit. I made my sequences sooo much better this year. I spent a ton of time on email marketing and it paid off. I learned how to use email marketing to sell, which was huge. I really learned firsthand that the money is in the list.
  1. Taking Six Figure Blogger. This course changed everything for me. In Six Figure Blogger, I learned about exactly what I was doing wrong with how I created content, how I used affiliate links, how I emailed my list, how I promoted freebies, and my monetization strategy (or lack thereof!). I completely changed how I created content. Instead of writing about what I wanted to, I focused on serving my readers. I redid my email marketing funnels by using the email templates from the course, which turned into sooo much more of an engaging email list, as well as increased affiliate sales. I redid my free eBooks and email courses, and my landing pages for those freebies. And most notably, I defined my overall monetization strategy for the future. This led to creating my first product as well as my plans for my future products. I learned how to do it all myself, too, which means that I don’t have to pay anyone to design sales pages or put up a store on my site, etc. It was the biggest influence on me more than anything this year. (And because I loved it so much, I took every single course in the Pro Blogger Bundle that they offer.)
  1. Defining my overall monetization strategy for my blog. About half way through the year, I defined my monetization strategy for the future of my blog. This is something I learned from Six Figure Blogger. Before, I was relying on traffic to get more affiliate sales from random links I threw up in blog posts. Now, I have a strategy for email marketing, affiliate marketing, content creation, and digital products. It’s night and day compared to my old strategy. It feels soooo good to have this in place.
  1. Driving traffic from Pinterest. Most of my traffic came from Pinterest this year, so it was a success. However, I plan to diversify my traffic in the future, as I grow my blog. Pinterest Traffic Avalanche was a big help with redefining my Pinterest strategy. I started using Tailwind and monitoring my stats more closely.
  1. Affiliate marketing. Everything I did throughout the year had an undertone of working toward increasing affiliate sales. I not only learned a ton from Six Figure Blogger, but I also took Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. I learned a tooon. I didn’t see the real benefits of everything I did until late in the year, but it was nice to see it pay off. My email marketing efforts improved my affiliate sales. My use of ConvertKit, Lead Pages, and Canva improved my affiliate sales. My content overhaul and how I write blog posts improved my affiliate sales. Driving traffic from Pinterest improved my affiliate sales. It all helped grow my income.

 

Finding Time

The question I get the most other than “how do you make money blogging?” is “how do you find the time?”.

It comes down to being intentional with my time. I am constantly planning my days out and fine-tuning my time management and productivity skills.

Apparently, I am pretty good at time management and get a lot of questions about it, so it’s likely I’ll incorporate more content around this in the future.

Here are the most important things I do to manage my time…

First, I set goals and plan out each step it’s going to take to achieve my goals. I use a lot of tools for this, including gCalendar, Evernote, Trello, The Productivity Planner, and The Artist Of Life Workbook as my main planners and tools for organizing my time and life.

Second, I plan down to the hour, breaking up each step to accomplish my goal down to as small of a step as possible. The secret to time management and productivity is in the plan. If I don’t know what it’s going to take to achieve something, I schedule “brainstorming” time. I spend at least 10-15 minutes looking at my calendar every day. I always have it up in the background. I evaluate it, move things around, and make sure it matches how I want to spend my time on a daily basis. I schedule my down time and fun time, too. This allows me to be intentional about how I include other parts of my life, so I’m not just working and blogging non-stop.

Third, I schedule the results I plan to produce during a set time instead of the activity I plan to do. Instead of scheduling “work on blog” from 12pm-4pm on a Saturday afternoon, I schedule the results I expect to have from working on my blog during that time. So, it might say “write one blog post; create corresponding Pinterest image; draft subscriber email” from 12pm-4pm. This way, I’m holding myself accountable for what I produce during a specific time.

Finally, I am a ninja with my morning routine. I get up at 4:30AM or 5:00AM every day during the week. Weekends, I usually get up between 5:30AM and 8:00AM. I feel fresh and ready to work right when I wake up, so I maximize my brainpower for working on my blog before work or anything else I do that day. I go to bed anywhere between 9:00PM-10:00PM.

I truly believe that life is all about choices. The more you practice making decisions intentionally, the better at decision-making you’ll get. And once you’re good at decision-making, you can make life choices that support your dreams and the limited time you have. This means cutting things out of your life that are a waste.

I don’t think I work too hard. I’m not burned out. I’m motivated by positive emotions. I’m not stressed, and I’m not anxious. I feel “on purpose” and love working toward my goals while still being happy where I am now. I don’t binge watch Netflix. I don’t have “dead time” or wasted time. It’s the best gift I’ve given myself because time is the most precious resource we have. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

 

Plans For the Future

I am really excited for this next year.

It’s really important to me that I have multiple income streams, so I plan to continue to grow my blog on the side, just as I have in the past.

Specifically, here’s what I plan to do with my blog…

 

Monetization strategies

This year is all about products for me.

I plan to create 3 eBooks and 1-2 courses this year.

I learned sooo much about how to monetize my blog from Six Figure Blogger. I’m taking everything I learned and putting it into action with creating my own products.

I just created my first product How I Made $45k Blogging In 1 Year While Working Full Time.

I’m working on a personal development workbook, which I expect to be done in the next two months.

After that, I plan to create 1 more eBook (content is TBD).

After my 3 eBooks are out, I plan to create and launch 1 (maybe 2).

My strategy is to get the hang of creating smaller products (eBooks) before jumping into courses.

I still plan to promote affiliates I believe in and use myself, as well as keep display advertising on my site.

In the future (after my products are done), I may incorporate sponsored posts as a diversification strategy.

One of my goals is to continue to diversify my income. It’s really important to me to have multiple streams of income.

 

Growth Strategies

I have a lot of ideas for growing my blog in the future…

I plan to continue to focus heavily on email marketing. I’m expecting to increase my email list by at least double in the next year.

Once my products are all created, I plan to explore other ways to diversify my traffic more, including focusing more on my YouTube channel.

With the creation of my new products, I’ll likely change up the content on my blog a bit to be more in line with the products, assuming that’s what my readers want the most.

I’m attending Traffic & Conversion Summit this year. This is for marketing and something I’ve never been to, so I’m excited to learn. I’ll also be at FinCon, which is a conference for finance and media. I love conferences and think they add so much value to my life.

I don’t plan to do anything to focus specifically on popularity this year. I’ll be turning down most interview and speaking requests. This is something I’ll explore more in the future, after my products are all out.

 

Focus

One of my biggest goals for the next year is to have more focus.

I think focus is the secret sauce to achieving anything.

Here’s where my focus is for the next year:

  • Value > Profitability > Popularity

First, I’m focusing on providing enormous value. I’m going to listen to my readers, give them what they want, and show them results with my free content.

Second, I’m focusing on profitability. Meaning, I have a specific monetization strategy in place that includes ads, affiliate marketing, and selling my own digital products.

Third, I’m intentionally not focusing on popularity. It’s hard to do by default because there are so many opportunities as a blogger to increase popularity. So, it’s important I remember that with every “yes” I say to one opportunity means I’m saying “no” to something else. I’ve learned from experience and from other bloggers that you can be super duper popular online and not have a profitable business at all. Not what I’m going for.

Finally, I’m committed to evaluating my business growth over time to make sure that how I’m focusing is actually working. There’s no sense in continuing with this strategy if it doesn’t work.

 

A Final Note!

My blog has made so many things possible in my life that I never thought could be.

And it all started because I had student loan debt.

Without my debt, I wouldn’t have a blog, I wouldn’t be making money online, I wouldn’t be a financial planner.

If you have something difficult in your life right now, think about how you can turn it into an opportunity. That’s what I did with my debt and it was the best decision I ever made. It reminds me of the Tony Robbins quote that “life isn’t happening to you, it’s happening for you.” Remember this. It’s the secret to how I turned $206k of student loan debt and a career I hated into a second income stream, paying off massive debt, and  switching into career I love.

For all you visual learners out there, here’s a look at this post on YouTube.

If you want a more detailed look at the month-by-month income reports from this year, check out my eBook where I break it all down – How I Made $45k Blogging In 1 Year While Working Full Time.

Cheers to making money blogging and designing a life you love. 🙂