I distinctly remember a time last year when a blogger I follow hinted that she made six figures, and in the back of my mind, I thought “girl, you lyin'”. I’d seen blogger income reports where bloggers had made six figures, but the majority of them made their money selling courses that told other bloggers how to make six figures, so it seemed sort of like a pyramid scheme. It didn’t seem possible that bloggers who do not use courses as a revenue stream, and didn’t have hundreds of thousands of followers, could earn that type of revenue. Nonetheless, around August this year, I realized that I actually – just maybe – could make six figures from blogging, and I am
hype AF proud to say that I actually did it!!
Let me backtrack, because there’s a chance this is your first time ever visiting my blog. Hey!! I started blogging via YouTube in 2010, and created my website in 2013. So it’s been five years of blogging (8 years if you count the YouTube days) before I had a six figure year. However, I am also pursuing a PhD full time, and have been doing so the entire time, so I’ve been blogging “part-time” (you can read more about my story here). I put part time in quotes because I definitely spend over 30 hours a week working on my blog, but it’s not the only thing I do.
Finally, I did not set out to make six figures when I started blogging. This was a hobby for the first 5 or so years.
Then, I just wanted to be compensated fairly for my work. Then I wanted to earn enough to match what I would have earned from a dissertation fellowship (because I no longer had PhD funding), and finally, I got curious to see if I could earn a comparable salary for a post-doctoral researcher. If you’d like to know more about the thought process behind why I decided to financially scale up my earnings, let me know in the comments and I can do another blog post or YouTube video about it!
I used to do blog income reports, but didn’t think they were all that helpful, and instead decided to share more generalizable tips about how to monetize your blog and influence and how to invest in your blog to potentially improve your revenue. But for a quick timeline I earned 13K in 2015, 22K in 2016, 36K in 2017, and now over 100K in 2018. That ain’t a bad jump if I do say so myself, so here’s what I did differently in 2018 that turned me into a six figure blogger.
Quick caveat: My six figure earnings is gross, not net, and is based on an accrual accounting system, so represents the income from the campaigns I’ve brought in and worked on, and not the money that has actually come into my bank account. 45-90 day payouts are the worst. Plus I spend a lot of money paying my team, paying for web services to help my blog run smoothly, and paying for the clothes and makeup that keeps me cute. So a girl isn’t personally rolling in dough, don’t come for me asking for money ?
1. I Changed My Blog Name to Ijeoma Kola
In June of this year, I relaunched my website with a new name – my name. Because I’d initially started blogging about natural hair, my previous blog name made sense for a natural hair blog. But once I expanded into fashion, beauty, lifestyle and other verticals, the old name no longer made sense to describe the content I was putting out. An unintended consequence was that a blog name that wasn’t tied to hair made me more appealing to a variety of brands. One of the biggest shifts that has come with my income is that a few years ago, my blog income was predominantly from natural hair and wig companies – now they make up the smallest amount of my revenue. Changing both my blog and Instagram names to my own name allowed for a more diverse set of revenue opportunities.
2. I Leveled up My Content
I remember the days when I’d cook some random meal, and take a picture and share on my Instagram feed. In my defense this was before stories existed, but today I put A LOT of effort into the quality and nature of the content that I share on Instagram, particularly on my feed. Because I’m not naturally creative or artistic, I studied poses, locations, styling tips, and fashion trends on Instagram, Pinterest, and in editorials, and then used that information to plan out photoshoots in advance. I believe a cohesive Instagram feed is appealing to new visitors and shows brands that you are a serious influencer, so I also learned how to edit images using both mobile apps and Lightroom presets. By increasing the quality of my organic content, I was able to appeal to more brands as well, and even found my images being used in brand briefs describing the kinds of images they would like created for a campaign.
3. I Invested in a Team
One of the biggest changes this year was that I went from a team of one to a team of three. I had been using photographers regularly since mid 2016, but I used to do so begrudgingly. Now, I build in the cost of photography into my rates, so I can always deliver high quality imagery to brands. I always try to shoot more than one look at a time to create additional content and make the most of my money, but investing in photography has been one of the best blog investments I’ve made. This year I also hired an administrative assistant and an intern. It used to take me a week or so to reply to emails from brands and followers. Followers get annoyed and lose trust when you respond late (which I’m still working on!) and brand campaigns fill up first come first serve many times, so improving my email response rate quickly and professionally has definitely improved my revenue. Since I’m also in school, I can’t focus on the blog & business 100% of the time. Having a team gives me more time to focus on things like engaging with my audience, creating more long form content like these posts, and doing market research to stay up to date on the latest news and trends in the industry.
4. I Started Talking to Other Bloggers About Money
I’ve been fortunate to live in an area where there are a lot of blogger events, so I’ve made a lot of friends in the blogging space, but I didn’t really talk about money with anyone until this year. Now I have blogger friends who I can ask for help with negotiating rates, and I can ask how much they got paid for a similar campaign or with a similar agency. Just last week I got together with a few friends over dinner and we were helping each other come up with new rates for 2019. This kind of informative conversations are KEY because the influencer marketing business is really all over the place and unstandardized. Especially in communities of color, it’s incredibly important to find people in your sector who you can speak candidly to about money – otherwise you’re just swimming in an open ocean ready to be eaten by a shark out here! Real life example: my first sponsored Instagram of the year was for $300 (I cringe typing that!). Talking to other bloggers made me realize that was SUPER low for my following, engagement, and production quality — and I’ve been able to make over 10x that for the same amount of work.
5. I Researched the HECK Out of the Industry
Another important thing, that probably sets me apart from other bloggers, is that I’ve spent hours researching the influencer marketing industry. I soaked in knowledge about content marketing, photography, video production, posing, fashion trends, SEO – you name it, I researched it. Honestly, this is where my PhD training comes in handy. I’m really really good at reading, researching, absorbing, and applying information because it’s pretty much all I’ve been doing in school for the past 10 years. So I can read an article about KPIs or white listing or focus keywords and make sense of most of it. What I don’t understand, I make note of and continue researching until I get it. But it’s one thing to know what you should do, and another thing to actually implement it. Most importantly, any bit of information or knowledge I get in this business is written down on my phone or computer and referenced all the time as I strategize for the future. I’m always learning, and because the industry changes so quickly, it’s important to stay on top of different trends. Some of my favorite resources include A Drink with James, the ChloeDigital blog, ProBlogger and the Influencer book. I will say though that I’ve reached a point where I feel like I need professional strategic assistance, so I’ve just joined ChloeDigital VIP and will be working alongside them to strategically plan and execute for 2019 as I continue to scale up.
Things I Didn’t Do
Now that you know what I did this year that I believed really changed my blog and revenue, I feel like it’s important to highlight a few things that I didn’t do or that didn’t work for me.
- Have a Manager: A lot of people say that you can earn more money by getting a manager, and while that may be true, it wasn’t the case for me. I had a management company reach out in September and worked with them on a trial basis for Q4. But I was one of their influencers with an Instagram following below 100K, and didn’t feel like they were able to convey my worth to their clients. So I didn’t get any additional work from them, and they weren’t able to negotiate a substantially higher rate on opportunities I got directly. So management didn’t work for me. Since I talk to fellow bloggers and do market research, I have a sense of how much I should and can get paid for my work, and I use my team to spread out tasks so I have enough time and energy to advocate and negotiate for myself.
- Update: As of May 2019, I now use an agency to help me negotiate deals and contracts. So management can either work or not, depending on the fit. But it’s not a must-have – I know quite a number of successful full time bloggers who don’t have representation.
- Selling Courses/Presets/Physical Products: It seemed like everybody and their aunty sold presets this year, and while I love presets and recommend a few from my favorite brown girl photographers, I didn’t create my own to sell. I also didn’t create a course or do any coaching for bloggers because when I did it in 2017 (or maybe 2016), I didn’t have the time to execute it well, and I got really invested in the people I took under my wing and was disappointed when they didn’t follow through with the goals we’d set out for them. I get that selling courses and physical products is a way to exponentially increase your revenue, but for now I’m going to continue focusing on income from brand partnerships. But creating my own branded or physical products and services is on the radar for 2020!
- Post More: I didn’t necessarily post more on my blog or social channels in order to earn more. Moving into 2019, I’m definitely all about working smarter and not harder, so I’ll be scaling back my posts even more. I really want to focus on quality over quantity, so I’ve upped my rates (for like the 17th time in a year) and will be more selective with the campaigns I work on.
With the exception of paying photographers, the five things I did in 2018 that turned me into a six figure blogger were all implemented in June of this year, and I earned twice as much in the last six months of the year than in the first six. Idk about you, but to me, that’s proof that these things worked together to increase revenue!
I hope you found this post helpful or inspirational! I share all this freely and transparently because I’m passionate about equipping women (especially women of color) with the tools and resources they need to pursue their dreams – whether that be blogging, entrepreneurship, or higher education. Not to be cliche, but if this is what you want to do, know that if I can do it, you can do it too! I’m not promising this will happen tomorrow, or even next year, but at least you now know that it’s possible to make money from blogging, influencing, or non traditional/creative paths, and have some actionable tips to reflect on as you begin to strategize for your own blog.