Lifestyle blogger Ijeoma Kola shares how she earned six figures through blogging

5 Things I Did in 2018 That Turned Me Into a Six Figure Blogger

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!!

no products

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.

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Comments

  1. Thanks ijeoma kola. Been following you for long to know I want to learn more from you. Would you tutor someone on blogging…. I’ve taken notes from this blog post and I intend to put into practice. Thanks.

  2. What an informative piece. Thank you so much for sharing so honestly.

    I can’t wait to start implementing some of the strategies you’ve outlined here, especially implementing a team and connecting with other influencers.

  3. This is such a good post. You have helped me tremendously. I started my blog two years ago and I’m still trying to figure everything out. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m constantly researching on how to make everything better.

  4. Hi Ijeoma. Thank you for this post! It was really detailed and informative. I started working on my blog a few months ago and I launched it finally but I am not seeing it in Google search I have been rammaging the internet as to why that is and most of the articles point to the fact that it needs to be indexed by Google first. So now I have a couple of questions that I hope you can shed some light on.
    1) How long did you have to wait for your blog yo be indexed?
    2)If you used wordpress, did you change any settings to get seach visibility?
    3) Should I still promote my blog even though it is not yet indexed?
    4) Should I still continue to write content?

    Thank you in advance.
    Sherdeana

    1. Congrats on launching the blog! So caveat: when I launched my blog in 2013, I knew nothing of indexing or SEO so wasn’t thinking about it, so I’m not sure how long it took to be indexed. I will say though that I searched Sherdy Birdie in Google just now and your blog came up, so Google has indexed it. Whether or not its ranking for various content is different – SEO ranking is not guaranteed, and takes time to build domain authority and optimize your keywords before articles rank. I use Yoast SEO plugin on my wordpress site. I do think you should continue writing regardless, especially because having more quality articles on your site will keep readers on it for longer, which will help your authority. However, I suggest spacing out your posts in an editorial calendar, because it seems you’ve posted 5 articles back to back, but haven’t posted anything since, and building a regular and sustainable posting flow is also important. Hope that helped!

      1. Thank you so much for the advice. I will definitely do these things and thank you for always posting amazing content. #bloginspo

  5. thank you so much this post. new to your blog and IG feed… I am new to the influencer/blogging world. I am trying to figure it out but there are not much content for women of color out there, especially focused on home interior and home improvement.

  6. This is so helpful! I’m an actor who is looking to take advantage of the influencer opportunities. While i’m still trying to figure it out, your blog answered a lot of the questions I have. I will be reading the rest of your blogs too. Thank you for offering this for free. Good luck and continued success.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this, just the reminder/motivation I needed.
    It’s amazing reading about how much you’ve grown over the years.
    I pray 2019 is even better than 2018.
    I wasn’t able to blog for a lot of last year because of so many life changes, can’t wait to get back into Blogging fully, definitely going to implement some of the changes you shared.

    http://www.tukesquest.com

  8. This was such a good read. I actually changed to my name this year as well and once I did two brands reached out to me within a week. One of the brand even told me they noticed I changed my name (and without saying it was the reason they reached out). Your post is encouragement to keep learning and growing. Keep up the good work

  9. This is such a great post. I recently shared a post on mistakes newbie bloggers shouldn’t make while starting a blog. Like seriously, blogging is on a whole other level in the world right now, it is a full time business that demands investment of time, research, lots of funds, etc. and except one doesn’t intend to make money from it, it will be foolish to ignore posts like this.

    Another thing is, I want to also say thank you for sharing… really… this is as realistic as it gets. there are lots of catchy headline posts out there about how to earn six figures from blogging, but at the end of the day they are just abstract tips, but this is very relatable… doing research, leveling up your content, etc. these are realistic goals I can actually set for my blog.

    I was already working on upgrading my blog and as soon as I saw this post, I jumped on it!

    It was a worthwhile read.

    Thanks again.

  10. This is so amazing.I am really glad to have joined you on your journey Ijeoma!
    I will continue rooting for you.

    Here’s a wild thought , how about doing online blogger-bie meetings or classes to delve into pertinent issues on how much to charge and other nitty gritty details!

  11. I’m so glad you shared this post

    I always feel like I have to sell a course to make a lot of money, the part you talked about talking to other bloggers and influencers about pricing is major key ! And I hope I can have conversations like that with my blogger friends before the year runs out.

    You’re amazing
    http://www.olotufunke.com

  12. Love it! Great read and a reminder for me to take more action from the part you mentioned about knowing what to do and not implementing. Will definitely be checking out the pages you mentioned for research. Thanks for sharing!

  13. This is such a informative read and I definitely soaked it all in. I am also looking forward to working smarter not harder for 2019.

    FYI you are killing it out here – congratulations you so deserve it

  14. I’m here for all the transparency in this post. Thank you for sharing, talk about growth wow, congrats. I’ve been following you for a while now and it’s my first time on the blog, can’t believe I’ve never been. In 2019 I’ll be implemting some of these tips, Lord knows I need to research more and work on on my IG feed.

    http://www.princessaudu.com/

  15. You go girl!!!! I’ve been following you since early 2017 and I can definitely see your growth in that short period of time and I’m so proud of you! You truly are an example to be admired and imitated especially as a new blogger like myself. I love how you shared what worked and what didn’t work,specifically selling courses etc. Its true that everyone and their mom is pushing that that’s how you can make money as a blogger as if that’s the only way. It’s actually a relief for me because I felt like I had to fit into that mold. So thank you! Thank for being consistently awesome. It is not going unnoticed!

    1. My heart is so full from this comment!!! Sometimes it feels like I’m trudging along so when other people notice the shift, it helps make my work worthwhile! I appreciate you sis! Checking out your blog now because I’ve been uninspired in the kitchen.

    1. Definitely the kind of post that you might have to read more than once, it was a lot of info! Hopefully you found it helpful. Cheers to an awesome 2019!

  16. This is my first time on your blog as I love researching too. I’m on top of everything that says how to monetize blogging haha. I must say this is really insightful thank you! You are indeed so transparent and an absolute darling!

  17. Amazing post!

    Recently discovered your blog through a friend Alpha Ngana and your content is quality! I just started blogging 6 months ago and this is so helpful and so inspiring. I am absolutely taking notes!

    Thank you for sharing!

  18. This is such an informative and inspiring post! Transparency is so important in this industry so thank you for being so open and honest! There’s so much that goes into this whole process but those that you listed really made some things clear! Can’t wait to see what’s to come for you in 2019!

    Sydney
    http://www.classiccitychic.com

  19. Amazing! So inspiring to watch your growth and thank you for taking us along! I’m with you on the ability to research and then use the info, but I always worry about “copying” people in my niche. I know I would never do it on purpose, but I know fear of copy catting has me not using my research skills the way I should! But this post (along with a few other mindset shifts I had recently) has inspired me to get to it! Thanks!! ♥️

    1. Girl nothing is original in these internet streets! Everyone is inspired by one another. Take basketball – no one is avoiding taking threes or doing crossovers because it’s Curry’s signature. You can still put in work after doing your research. As long as you aren’t blatantly copy pasting (with images, wearing the same outfit going to the same location posing the same exact way and using the same caption), then you’re good.

  20. I second Ms Dakara! This is so incredibly encouraging and I would love to see nanoinfluencer opportunities as well to look into. I am not into just supporting any brand and will be researching more brands that I am interested in working with and possibly pitch to.

    1. You hit the nail on the head – with a smaller following your best bet is to PITCH for your life! Find the person responsible for influencer outreach or partnerships by looking at LinkedIn or press releases, and just pitch yourself! Pitching isn’t my strong suit but Mattie James has a lot of resources around pitching.

  21. This is a post worthy of bookmarking, printing and re-reading for inspiration. I have not made any money blogging in years, and I know that I have that potential! Ijeoma you’re truly inspiring and give out a lot of great information, and I just wanted to say thank you for this post.

    I really need to get off my butt, stop making excuses/letting fear dictate, and do the work.

    I don’t know if you have any recommendations of blogger agencies that will work with nano-influencers (I suppose I should just do the research myself, but I was going to ask you via IG at some point anyways).

    1. Yes, please bookmark it!! And if you look at my old blog income reports, I listed which agencies I was getting work from when I was <20K followers, but I'm sure new ones have popped up since then. Off the top of my head: SocialFabric, Popular Pays, Clever. But again, just search for influencer marketing platforms or agencies and see what comes up!

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