Ironically, I’ve been struggling to write a catchy intro for this post, probably because I feel like a post about writing should be well-written. But I keep coming up short, so I’m just gonna cut to the chase: If you’re one of the many people who have asked how to make some money off your blog, podcast, or YouTube channel, here’s (almost) everything I’ve learned from 10 or so years of “professional content creation.”
And for those of you who are asking “who the hell are you and why should I care what you think about this,” here’s my best answer: I’ve been blogging since 2008, written somewhere around 2500 blog posts, written for some national outlets MetalSucks, Substream, and Terrorizer among others, and have done a ton of ghost writing for business outlets like Virgin, IBM, and Entrepreneur. I’ve hosted and produced a few podcasts, including ones that had guests like Gary Vaynerchuk, Richard Branson, Mark Cuban and Tim Ferriss, and I have a YouTube channel (which nobody watches lol).
With that out of the way, I’m gonna give you some bad news first – but stick with me, it gets better… I promise this article isn’t a downer! 🙂
THE BAD NEWS: BLOGS ARE KINDA DEAD
Yup… The reality is that blogging was hot 7-10 years ago, but it’s just not where the action is now. People don’t read as much as they used to.
Here’s why: the web in general is way less relevant than it was 3-5 years ago. If that seems hard to believe, consider that 5 years ago Snapchat had less than 100k users, Instagram was still a little startup, the iPhone 4 was Apple’s flagship product, and Facebook had only just added mobile advertising. YouTubers and Instagram influencers as we know them weren’t really a thing.
Yeah, yeah — “but what about X or Y?? Their blogs are doing great!!” Yes, of course there are outliers (mostly blogs that built their followings years ago when blogs were more relevant) but they don’t disprove the general pattern.
The bottom line is that traffic and interest in blogs is way down since their peak, and that has a lot of implications for anyone who wants to make money from writing – and it’s why I’ve shifted my focus toward video and podcasting.
TRYING TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF ADS = PRETTY BAD IDEA IMO
Because of the above and some other things like the rise of programmatic advertising, it’s now harder than ever to make any real money from putting ads on a website. Basically, in order to make more than beer money off of ads you need to have pretty massive amounts of traffic, and getting massive amounts of traffic is just super, super hard. If huge content companies like Vice and Buzzfeed struggle to do it, then you can imagine how hard it is for the rest of us!
Without getting too far into the weeds of how these ads are bought, sold and priced, roughly speaking if you got 100,000 page views a month on your site you could expect to make something like $50-500 (probably closer to $50 than $500). You can read more about it here if you’re interested in the details.
Making a few hundred dollars a month off a blog sounds pretty cool, but in practice getting 100k page views a month to a blog is pretty fucking hard. I think at my peak (when I was posting 1-3 times a day and putting 40-60 hours a month into it) I got something like 160k views in a month and made maybe $5-600 – which was I am proud of, but in reality it was literally the equivalent of McDonald’s wages.
So realistically? At best you’ll make beer money, but mostly like you won’t even make enough to pay your bar tab for a night.
And everything I said above is true of YouTube ads as well, except maybe even worse because YouTube changes the monetization rules all the time so your income from their ads is totally unpredictable.
Still with me?? Awesome! Because the good news is here!
THE GOOD NEWS: THERE’S STILL A WAY TO MAKE MONEY FROM CONTENT
Contrary to what you may be thinking, I’m not writing this to shit all over your dream of being a professional content creator– in fact, I think that being a creator is one of the best ways to create opportunities that can be a total gamechanger for your career and life!
The key is to think of content as a means not an end. To be blunt, it’s pretty unlikely that you will ever make real money purely from blogging or YouTube (especially if it’s writing about music or art), so you’re gonna need to do some lateral thinking.
Instead of thinking about how to make money directly from the content, I highly suggest that you think about how you can instead use your content as a bridge to some other opportunity where you WILL make money – and probably way, way more than you ever would off of ads.
IMO there are basically 2 viable ways of doing it:
If you have any interest in monetizing your blog, follow in Graham’s footsteps
OPTION 1: SELL A PRODUCT
The most obvious way to make money from a blog, podcast or YouTube channel is to use your content to build an audience which you then monetize by selling them stuff: a book, merch, affiliate products, etc.
My friend Graham Cochrane of The Recording Revolution is a particularly inspiring and successful example:
“In January of 2010, he rebranded that blog The Recording Revolution, and he remembers it made hardly any money at all in its first two years.
Today, nearly six years after he made it his primary focus, the site earns between $35,000 and $75,000 a month.
Aside from the free content he’s always offered, Cochrane added in-depth video courses on different aspects of sound recording and mixing that cost between $39 and $897, and a monthly membership for $27 a month that provides access to supplementary content. He estimates between 6,000 and 7,000 people have taken his courses so far.” – [Read more here]
Pretty fucking cool, right?? I highly suggest following Graham – not only is he an awesome human being, but imo he is THE template for the “sell a product” strategy of monetizing your writing.
Monetizing your audience like this is a great option, but it isn’t for everyone. Why? Because the thing is that it requires you to be good a lot of other things in addition to making content: building a marketing funnel, buying traffic, and of course creating the product itself. And the fact of the matter is that not everybody who is good at creating content is also good at those things.
If you think you’re up for it, by all means go for it – you can make a lot of money this way if you play your cards right. But if that business and tech stuff sounds boring or unpleasant, then don’t take this route because you will probably just eat shit and get bummed out.
Which brings me to the last option, which I actually think is the best fit for most people…
If you’ve been bombarded by this ad all over Facebook and YouTube, you can thank me for that 😉
OPTION 2: BUILD A NETWORK YOU PARLAY INTO OTHER STUFF
Probably the most valuable part of creating content – a blog, podcast, whatever – is that it’s a great way of building your network.
As part of setting up interviews, features, reviews, etc you’ll get access to tons of busy, important people – bands, athletes, CEOs, labels, etc. These are all people who would ignore you or tell you to fuck off in most situations, but will talk to you if you’re a blogger, podcaster or YouTuber.
And you’ll end up building real, lasting relationships with some of them – and as I’ve said a million times before, relationships are EVERYTHING – there’s literally nothing more valuable than knowing the right people (and that those people respect you). For example, maybe you end up befriending the CEO of a new company and she offers you a job, or a consulting project worth $10,000… if that sounds farfetched, I promise you that it’s not- that kind of thing happens ALL the time!
I know because this has played out in my career more times than I could begin to list – in fact, I can confidently say that almost all of my network goes back to writing.
A few magazines I wrote for – I got paid a total of $0 for all this, but it was insanely valuable as a way of building my network and credibility
As just one example, I work with the guys in a band called Periphery on a few different ventures including Getgood Drums and Horizon Devices. And here’s the crazy route I took to get there: Back in 2008 or so, I interviewed a guy named Big Chocolate or so for a metal blog I was doing at the time. He introduced me to Bill from Toontrack who introduced me to Matt from Periphery, who I worked with on a CreativeLive class in 2014. Working with Matt on that class then lead to working with him, Misha and Nolly on Getgood Drums, which lead to working with Misha on Horizon Devices (which I did for the first year or so of the company). And working on that lead me to work with their management company on some campaigns for A Day To Remember, Issues and Self Help Fest.
I don’t expect you to follow all those twists and turns, but I do want you to take a few things away from it:
- That all took YEARS to play out – from 2008 to 2016, or the better part of a decade. You have to be patient and keep grinding. This shit does NOT happen overnight, and those who quit early will never succeed. You can’t win the game if you quit playing it.
- The path is winding and unpredictable. I would never in a million years have guessed that I’d work so closely with Periphery of all bands, but that’s where life took me… you don’t get to steer the ship, you just ride it 🙂 Have a goal in mind, but be ready to adjust course in unexpected directions.
- Most importantly, LIKE ATTRACTS LIKE – I really can’t overstate how legit the law of attraction is. That shit is so, so real, and you should use it. If you put out shitty, negative energy with your content, that’s what you will get back. If you write smart, thoughtful shit that helps other people, then the right people will notice and you’ll end up working together – it may take a while to find each other, but if you’re patient enough it WILL happen.
OK – I’ve already gone on way too long here so I won’t go into more detail, but I think you get the idea: in my opinion, the move is to build your network through creating your content, bust your ass for a long time, and know that it will turn into bigger things if you keep your eyes open and jump on opportunities as they come up.
I highly, highly suggest pursuing this strategy rather than trying to directly monetize your content… yeah, you might be able to make it work, but the odds are low, so why push against the river when there are so many better options?
Understand that content creation has never been more valuable than it is today. I consider myself insanely fortunate that I’ve been able to turn it into the opportunities that I have, but there is no reason anyone else can’t do what I’ve done, what Graham Cochrane has done, or what other smart people like Brian Storm have done.
But here’s what it’s gonna take:
- Work your goddamn motherfucking face off. Be willing to give up the things other people won’t, like watching TV, playing video games, going out with your friends, sleeping in, etc, and give them up for many years. For years I’ve gotten up at 5:30AM on the weekends so I can write for a few hours before anyone else is up, and you should too. Grind while they sleep. Bury them with your work.
- Have something to say. Nobody really cares how clever you are with words besides other literature nerds, and those people are all broke so they aren’t gonna put money in your pocket. Have a point of view and express it in a way that only YOU can.
It’s gonna be hard. But it is 100% possible 🙂
Focus relentlessly on those two things for a year, 2 years, or 5 years and I promise that money will come your way…. so what are you waiting for? Get to work! 🙂