My wife is a great cook. A certified pastry chef and professional food buyer. She loves everything about food. And she’s good at it. Really good. Her Twitter name is “@JustSayYum“, if that gives you a clue about where her head is.
So, while I love her cooking, I keep thinking that there’s a way for her to use her talent to earn money online. She has a lot of specialized knowledge and a unique view on the industry — it seems a natural fit with an online blog or store. Besides, chefs and food buyers are not highly paid, so making some easy money online would support our wine and cheese habit anyway, right?
I tried to approach the subject gingerly. “Wouldn’t you like to write for a food blog?” I asked her. She looked at me suspiciously. “Or you could start your own blog site. With a cool little blog, like smittenkitchen, you could write about food and make money online too,” I said, trying to be coy.
Then, for just a second, our roles were reversed. Suddenly, Chef Tracey became the astute CFO and numbers person. “Why would I do that?” she said sarcastically. “How much money can you make blogging online about food? And who is going to pay me?”
Hmmm. Why hadn’t I asked those questions before? There’s so many people writing blogs — many of them on quite serious topics — that I just figured there had to be a payday there somewhere. Now I had to know… how much DO most bloggers make online? And where does it come from?
So I did what I do …. I started researching this.
You know what? It turns out that this is a really, really hard way to make a living. Here’s how the deal works for 99% of the people blogging out there.
First they get excited and make an investment.
THE INVESTMENT: What it costs to start a blog
There are plenty of places to blog for free — like WordPress, Tumblr.com and my new favorite, Posterous.com — but to build a real blog yourself, you’re talking about investing in a self-hosted site. (This WordPress site costs me about $200 per year just to keep the lights on. And this is kids stuff!)
If you’re going to get REALLY serious and you want to make money on this, you’ll probably upgrade to a “membership” site and create all the linkages you’ll need to tie together Paypal, your bank, an email list service, a video hosting platform, and a strong search engine optimization partner. Now you’re at about $1,000 down.
But wait. You want to sell access to content? You’ll probably want to make some videos — they sell much better than plain text. Now you’ve got to go out and get a video camera ($200), some lights at Home Depot ($50), a memory card and tripod ($100) and a decent microphone ($30). If you don’t know what you’re doing with all this stuff, throw in another $50 to buy some books on the topic of making and uploading decent video.
Don’t forget a business class video hosting account — $100 per month at Viddler.com is about average.
In between working for a living, reading up on how to make your video camera work, and (oh yea) actually blogging, you have just created a whole other job for yourself. You are now a webmaster too. Good luck with that.
I don’t want to be a webmaster, so I put a note on “Elance.com” looking for help. Companies all over the world responded. One in Romania seems like they know what they are doing. Their estimate is $1,000 to get the site set up plus $500 per month to keep it running. Suddenly, being a webmaster seems like a better idea.
So far, the investment to create a “professional” blog is looking like somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000 all in.
And you haven’t even posted a recipe yet. So step 2, you start to get busy actually writing a blog.
THE REVENUE: Professional blogging and how bloggers make money online
If you’ve assembled all the pieces from above and are busy adding recipes and videos to a blog, congratulations — you’re a lot further than most people who do this. But hang on… you are also a lot poorer. So when do you start making money online?
To sell anything on your blog takes traffic. You want to sell a video on how to make wedding cakes? You’ll need a lot of people walking through your website to get just a few to part with the cash. And so far, it’s mostly just you and your mom hanging out in cyberspace.
New strategy: What if you became a “professional blogger” and just got a job writing for a different site?
So you swallow your pride and decide that you can write for a big blog site … Epicurious.com or AllRecipes.com or some Food Network site. That’s reasonable. A few well placed letters to the editor and BAM! you’ve got a job as a professional blogger.
Whew! Professional blogger. Now you’re in the money…. NOT.
Here’s the ugly truth about blogging for money. People who write blogs professionally are typically paid just $25 to $30 per blog post. And many (maybe most) will write for free. (Compare this to the $1.25 per word rate for most magazine writing.)
THE COMBINATION PLAY: Why bloggers write for free
Ahhh, but wait a minute. There’s a simple magic to this professional blogging thing now. You’re making $25 a week writing a post for FoodTV.com, but hundreds of people are reading it. Maybe thousands. And guess what… some of those folks are finding their way back to YOUR website where you’re still selling that wedding cake video.
Cool. Suddenly your website has both customers and products!
Fast forward a few weeks or months. You’ve built your reputation blogging for a big company… and now the Google Gods are starting to list your personal site a bit higher in the rankings. People searching on How to Make a Wedding Cake (about 50,000 each month) are starting to find you too.
Your next video on Advanced Wedding Cake Decorating Techniques makes the top page in Google, and you’re sending a promotional email to 3,000 people who joined your mailing list.
Life is sweet.
THE BOTTOM LINE: It can work…
I’ve seen this work. I have a friend, Jon Morrow, who manages to squeeze tens of thousands of dollars worth of sales out of every post he writes for a national blog site. He doesn’t really focus on his own site that much — just a few key pieces of content that he can sell to the people who read his advice on other sites.
Another friend, Jim Lodico, writes one of the top-ranked blogs on Ohio State Football. He’s not pulling in that kind of cash, but he is getting flown to OSU games (including their recent bowl victory) and having dinner with the coach and the president of the university. Not bad for a blogger.
Anyway, I’ve decided to lay off of the food blog idea. It could easily become a huge expense with no real upside. And unless and until you’re ready to make a business out of it, it starts to feel like a very expensive ego boost.
Meanwhile, here I am, still blogging.
‘Till next time.
PS: Another great resource for this is Carol Tice’s “Make a Living Writing” blog. Click here to learn Carol’s secrets to get paid for writing.