On a September weekend a few weeks ago, just over 100 women spent three days at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center for an end-of-summer camp. More than 20 speakers* gave advice at the Arkansas Women Bloggers conference on everything from search engine optimization and Photoshop tricks to writing with a clear brand or getting a book deal.
These women are serious about their craft.
The “mommy blogger,” “life-style blogger” or “Lady Blogger” (usually pronounced with a strong Jerry Lewis impersonation) typically has been perceived as women in yoga pants and unwashed hair writing updates on their children’s potty training escapades. The latest generation is changing the rules. While many still blog for their own creative or family purposes, others use their blogs as a business.
“I initially started blogging because I thought the online community piece was really amazing, but I decided to work on making it my business about 6 months in,” said Heather Dissaro, who launched Heather’s Dish in 2010. “I was passionate about the clout that blogging was beginning to develop and saw an opportunity to jump in.”
Dissaro works with a variety of companies and brands through ad networks on her blog. Her business model mirrors many of the first bloggers who monetized their websites: selling ads or sponsored content. A very few have been extraordinarily successful at it.
At one point, it was reported the Queen Bee of mommy blogging, Heather Armstrong, or Dooce as she is known in the blogosphere, was earning six figures through her blog, between ad sales and sponsorships. She recently moved into a new home in Utah paid for and furnished in large part by companies with whom she has partnerships.
The Pioneer Woman, Rhee Drummond, has published multiple cookbooks, launched her own television show on the Food Network and has wrangled sponsorship deals with Fortune 100 companies.
However, for each Dooce, there are thousands of others who make little or no money. “If you are looking to ‘get rich quick’ or become The Pioneer Woman next week, it is not going to happen,” said Stephanie Buckley, Founder and Owner of The Women Bloggers. Buckley said she gets emails soliciting advice almost daily from women who want to make money through their blogs.
“I tell them they need to identify their audience, find their niche and then see how they can be unique in that niche,” she explained. “Your blog can be your calling card for a service or product you provide. It can open up the world to publishing a book, freelance work, becoming a paid speaker, etc.”
The resume model of blogging is one that’s worked quite well for Kyran Pittman. She credits her blog with her 2011 book deal for Planting Dandelions. Most of her other freelance writing jobs have come from an introduction through her blog.
“My blog is like the lobby area of my professional writing practice,” said Kyran Pittman. “It’s where people can drop by, hang out, read my work, and learn about me. It’s a point of contact, not a point of sale.”
All three women advise other bloggers never to work for free or in exchange for a paltry amount of product, like a tube of toothpaste. Each learned how to say no to deals that don’t make sense for their particular blog. They have a minimum writing fee and work with companies from there. Each has developed a personal criteria for what pitches they’ll accept.
“The thing with food blogging specifically is that there are ebbs and flows,” explained Dissaro. “Going into the holiday season is very busy and wrought with opportunity, but it tends to thin out a bit after the New Year. Each month is very different, but adding it all together brings in a [part-time] salary I am proud of.”
Still, only about 10 per cent of the bloggers at the conference claim to make enough money directly from their blog to pay for their domain, hosting and Internet fees.
“Most high-profile bloggers I know are not relying on their blogging revenue alone to support their families, and if they are, it took years of being supported by another income stream to get there,” said Pittman. “It’s an entrepreneurial venture, and it takes a lot of time, work, hustle, and risk to turn it into a break-even enterprise.”
So why do they keep doing something that may or may not have a direct monetary reward?
For Buckley, it’s about influence, which she can turn into financial profit in the brick-and-mortar world. “My lifestyle blog is not one that I would monetize,” she said. “I always say it is a love letter to my children. However, starting a company that builds state-focused blog communities and facilitates conferences is the way I moved from having a lifestyle blog to providing a service.
“By building this, I have become an influencer of those who have an amazing amount of influence in the social media world. Companies come to me when they want to hire the right bloggers to represent their businesses.”
Editor’s note: Talk Business Arkansas managing editor Kerri Jackson Case was a speaker at the conference based on her personal blog, DrinkSleepBeKerri.com.