How My Blog Went From a Hobby to a Job

As I mentioned yesterday, there are several topics to not discuss in polite company: money, politics, and your stance on wood finishes. Since I have already, at various points, touched on the other two, why not go three for three and talk about finances?

I’ve held a job, self-employed or otherwise, since I was sixteen. I have been an amusement park ride-operator, a handy(wo)man, a telephone surveyor, a face painter, a babysitter, a record store clerk, a muralist, a bookseller, a web designer, a stationer, and a blogger. Most of those overlapped. For instance, I worked at the bookstore while also face painting for the village events in Oak Park, the combination of which somehow led to my being awarded Employee of the Year for Downtown Oak Park! I didn’t even know that was a possibility, but I gave a brief, awkward acceptance speech at the end of a TIF meeting, and was presented with a plaque. (It used to hang in our apartment bathroom, because that’s a pretty funny thing to see when you visit the loo.)

I’m sure you can tell from my résumé of odd jobs (literally) that I have been raking it in!

Brandon and I were married in 2004. I started my stationery shop in 2005, and I began offering web design in 2006. Making it Lovely began in 2007, and I had intended for it to be a complement to the shop and design business, but mostly just a fun place to chronicle what we were doing as we moved into our first house together. Over time, the blog became successful, and I was able to earn some advertising revenue. Each year, the balance of our finances changed a little (2008 took a hit from doing the National Stationery Show — ouch), but Brandon’s job was always the anchor.

PieCharts1

He and I had dreamed of the day he would be able to quit. Steadily, each year, we grew a little closer. Then, in January 2012, we were pushed over the cliff when he lost his job. We weren’t ready to make that leap, and we scrambled for a while. Slowly though, I began to find my footing with the blog and its potential to support us, and in September 2012, I wrote about our decision for Brandon to stay home and watch the kids while I worked full-time on the blog.

Though our income is now fully funded by Making it Lovely, I have tried to diversify the sources as much as possible. Keep reading for a breakdown of how this blog supported us in 2012.

PieCharts3

Affiliate Sales

I do use affiliate links — there is a disclaimer in the sidebar — but I don’t use them as effectively as one could. To do well with them (there are plenty of blogs devoted to teaching you this art), you have to actively push them. I use them passively. Meaning that if I was already planning to link to an item, and they happen to participate in the affiliate program I’m a part of, I will use the affiliate link. I don’t go looking for products in order to drive sales, and as such, I don’t make that much with them.

I think that there is a perception out there that bloggers link to items for the sole purpose of making money. Though that isn’t the case with me, I have considered ceasing their use because I don’t want people to assume the worst. Right now though, I’m comfortable in knowing that I remain ethical, and the small amount of revenue that I do see from their use helps my family.

Teaching

Many bloggers are doing e-courses and workshops now, and they are a good way to monetize one’s blog. I don’t have any plans for my own, but I did co-teach with Holly Becker, of Decor8, for two of her Blogging Your Way courses this year. I also taught several classes for Alt Summit on Growing Your Readership, Understanding Analytics, and even What to Wear to Alt (which was lighthearted and a lot of fun).

Event Planning

I had the opportunity to plan several baby showers this year for a brand’s Pinterest campaign. We assembled each theme in a Chicago studio, and I was responsible for planning, sourcing, executing, and styling them from start to finish. I haven’t yet shared the images here, but they turned out beautifully, and it was an interesting project to work on.

Ad Sales

I sell ads directly to independent shops that inquire, because I too was once an indie shop looking to advertise on blogs. I sell at a heavily discounted rate to them and therefore the ads are not a huge source of income, but it’s important to me. I think that there may be a shift happening in general, wherein shops large and small are moving away from display advertising (banner ads), but for now I still devote space to them.

My larger ad spots are sold through an ad network. I have been with Glam Media, and Martha’s Circle in the past, but have now been with Federated Media since 2010. I don’t solicit for ads (large or small), so I’m happy to let them do their thing for me so I don’t have to hustle for ad dollars.

Writing Elsewhere

I also earn money by writing for other sites — in my case, Babble, My Colortopia, and Better Homes and Gardens. The apartment makeover videos I shot in New York were a result of my pitching the idea to My Colortopia.

It can be tricky to find a balance, and to figure out what should be posted where. I have a regular beat on BHG (“Get the Look”), and My Colortopia provides us with a theme each month (e.g. “dining room transformations”). I post fashion and products for the home on Babble, and Making it Lovely remains my personal space to talk about what I’m doing. I had a Filing Cabinet section a few years back, in which I was posting a find of the day, but the section didn’t work out. I was happy to have my writing at Babble take its place several months after I dissolved the category here.

Sponsorship

I have written about this before, back in 2010. Since then, I have continued to explore new ways to work with sponsors, while still maintaining my standards. Sometimes I will speak directly about the product or service that I’m working with. Other times the sponsorship is more like a commercial at the beginning of a post. I think of those much like a television sponsor — a show may be “brought to you by Car Brand X”, but the characters aren’t necessarily driving around in one of their models.

I try to schedule sponsored posts so that there are no more than one per week, but sometimes it isn’t possible. Advertisers tend to want to push campaigns out on certain dates (that is why you may see the same brand on several sites on the same day), and you can either agree to participate or pass. I don’t typically know how many other sites will be a part of the campaign alongside me until I see the posts published on their respective blogs. The other reason you will occasionally see many sponsored posts in a short time is simply due to the nature of advertising. They work in quarters and certain times of the year are busier than others, so there are more opportunities to work with brands at different points throughout the year.

Thank You

Again, I’ve been thanking you a lot this week as I reflect on the past six years, but I mean it. 2012 was a scary year of leaping before we looked, but we’re in a good place now. Thank you for being there as Brandon and I navigated our way.

135 Responses to “How My Blog Went From a Hobby to a Job”

  1. Holly January 17, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Fascinating as always – I read every word of this post. And I’ll say it a thousand times, you’re writing is superb. You need to write a book – is that in works yet? Because if not, it should be. You go girl!

    • Sarah January 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

      Yes! Write a book.

    • Making it Lovely January 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      Thank you. This is the year I’m going to really push to try and make that happen. I had an opportunity slip by years ago because I wasn’t ready to take on the commitment, but I want it now.

    • Lisa @ Wicked and Weird January 30, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      I think it is definitely time for a book about the business of blogging and you are the girl to write it for sure!! Where do I sign up for an advance copy? :)

  2. jbhat January 17, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    So informative and interesting. I particularly loved the colors you chose for your pie charts. : ) Really!

    jbhat

  3. Jessica January 17, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Nicole – I’m not sure if you remember me but our paths crossed in Land of Nod at Oakbrook around Christmas time. It was one of those awkward moments (for me) where you walked past me and I exclaimed “Hey, I know you from your blog!”. LOL…I bet that happens to you all the time? You graciously didn’t run away and told me that your daughter had done your makeup that day… so sweet and funny.

    Anyhow, thank you so much for sharing a glimpse into the financial aspects of blogging as a career. I know it’s very personal, but it’s so inspiring and helpful. I’m a photographer and recently branched out to start a new blog and am just so inspired by all that you have done.

    Hope our paths cross again so I have an opportunity to put a cohesive sentence or two together :)

    p.s. have you been to the Land of Nod outlet in Naperville?!

    • Making it Lovely January 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

      I have been to the outlet, but not recently. And I do remember that day! My sister put blue eyeshadow and red lipstick on Eleanor at Sephora not long before that, and since then, E always wants to go play with the makeup when we’re at Oakbrook. So I indulged her and let her put some blue eyeshadow on me, and that was the day you ran into me!

  4. Vidya Sudarsan January 17, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Thank you for sharing – good info and loved your visuals! You inspire other bloggers :-)

  5. Abbi January 17, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    I really appreciate you doing this. The transparency is great and I think it’s really interesting! Good for you for growing your business and constantly reinventing yourselves!

  6. Ellie January 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! I am a constant lurker :) of your blog, and it’s awesome to see a local Chi-town girl making her money on her own!!!

  7. Laurie from House to your Home January 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    This is an excellent post one that I’ve never read before from the many blogs I’ve read so thank you so much!! Can you tell me what’s a blogger to do if she is considering adding ads to her blog but aren’t as big as someone like you especially if you say that small and large companies are shying away from this? Thanks for your blog I’ve enjoyed it for many years!!

  8. Heather P. January 17, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have been slowly taking the plunge into blogging, after years of teaching college English has left me worn out and broke. While I know the possibility of me making it a career is not really the goal right now, I appreciate the honesty about what you have to do to make money. It’s not all about “Oh, I’ll just put some ads up and it’ll be fine.” You have made quite a journey, and your blogging career reflects that. I hope to one day be able to make a career out of writing, and it’s nice to hear that others are willing to share the reality of how this career path really works!

  9. Jessie J January 17, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    Thank you for posting this information. It is great to read a raw, honest and informative post about being a blogger.

  10. Jennifer January 17, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Great post! I’m a long-time reader of your blog, and enjoy reading posts such as this. Congratulations on your success!

  11. Megan January 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Thank you for sharing all this information. I’m not sure if making an income from my blog will ever be a reality, but it’s interesting to hear how other do. Thanks again!

  12. heather in WA State January 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Thanks for candidly answering questions so many of us have, but are too polite to ask!

    OK, here’s one: How do you manage the occasional trolls and haters?

    I’ve followed some blogs for years that just fold up after an attack, and it breaks my heart to see a creative soul drop out of blogging because of it.

    You are an inspiration to many, and I am excited to watch your growth through the years (I’ve been following you since before Eleanor came along!).

    Have a successful and rewarding 2013!

    • Making it Lovely January 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      “If they hate then let ‘em hate, and watch the money pile up.” Nah, kidding. I just happened to be listening to that right as I read your comment.

      I have exceedingly nice readers. I get occasional comments that make me bristle, and I’ve seen some chatter elsewhere online, but I have a pretty thick skin. Most of the time comments are based on conjecture and are off-base, but sometimes I can learn from them and I try to take them as constructive criticism.

  13. Jenn January 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Great post. Love the visuals. Don’t feel bad or even note that you were making more than your husband. You BOTH earn money and work to create a home. You are living the dream girl!

  14. Miss B. January 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    This is again very inspiring and I am sure will have even more readers clamoring down your blog door! It is not easy but you some how make it seem so effortless!

  15. Noelle January 17, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    It’s so inspiring to see ladies out there doing what they love and also making a living at it! Keep up the good work Nicole!

  16. Emily @ Peck Life January 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this! I agree that it’s one of those topics that lots of other bloggers shy away from talking about. :) I’m so happy for your family that you’ve been able to find a way to support everyone though your blog – gives the rest of us hope!! See you at Alt!

  17. Jennifer Eastman January 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Such an inspiring and honest post. I appreciate you sharing the growth and evolution of your blog and the other outlets that have allowed you to support your family. Kudos and thank you!

  18. Martine January 17, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    Thanks so much for your candor! And of course, your hard work :)

  19. Brittany Lauren January 17, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    I’m so so glad your posted this. THANK YOU. It really gives others an insight of how you made things happen. I love seeing your growth and appreciate your journey. You are a prime example for others, especially women, that anything is possible! I hope your career/schedule allows your to teach others in the future :)

  20. Dottie January 17, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Nicole, girl!

    Thank you so much lady for posting this incredibly thoughtful and honest post about something most bloggers cringe at discussing. It is inspiring and also shows just how hard you’ve worked to get this balance and to be able to make a true living off of your blog. Youf success was due to diligence and a consistent smart and thoughtful content as well as beautiful design. Well done, lady!

    Also, I wish I was going to Alt this time so I could buy you a glass of champagne and toast you for rocking this past year so effing hard! You go, lady!

    xo

  21. AnnW January 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    If you want to have several sponsored posts a week, that’s fine with me. I’m sure you will write them really well. Ann

  22. ALIX January 17, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    This is so refreshingly honest….thanks nicole for opening up to your readers. It’s terrific to see how you have steadily built your business and I’m so happy you are able to support your family with your lovely blog. xo

  23. Jessica from Brown Paper Belle January 17, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    Thank you for being so honest and open. It is inspiring to read how your blog and work have evolved over the past 6 years. Congratulations! xx

  24. Ines January 18, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    Thank you, this is very very inspiring.

  25. Geneva January 18, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Thank you for your honesty! I know sometimes it looks so easy for us – out here, but of course, you have put alot of time, money and work into all that you do, and I appreciate it so much. You are truly an inspiration and so very talented!

    Keep up the good work – you and Brandon make a wonderful team!

    Geneva

  26. Josephine January 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    Nicole, I’ve been visiting your blog almost as long as it’s been in existence, and that’s testament to your humour, good taste and honesty that has remained a constant here, no matter what else was changing.

    Hearty congratulations on all you have achieved! I’ll be visiting as long as you fancy sharing!

    • Making it Lovely January 28, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      I love that I have so many readers who, like you, have been reading since the beginning. Thank you.

  27. Tan January 18, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

    Thank you for this honest post on the success of your blog. It’s truly inspiring to see where one can go. I’m so happy you and your family are able to have something you love support you.

  28. Emma January 18, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    Always appreciate your authentic voice, as I’m sure many women do as its so refreshing. It may be too personal (you need some privacy!) but I was wondering about whether you’ll post about how you being the breadwinner has changed the dynamics of your family – time with kids, time with your husband, letting go of certain things. The hard bits, the easy bits. Its stuff we’re all grappling with and you have such a wonderful perspective.

    • Making it Lovely January 28, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

      I think I need more distance before I’m comfortable sharing. It’s hard to talk about family dynamics while they’re still shifting.

  29. Anna January 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    Thank you for being so honest! I would like to know how did you go from starting a blog to 250K views in only ONE year. Could you please write specifically why/how/when your blog became a success!

    • Making it Lovely January 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

      My growth was fast, but not that fast! It took over a year to reach more than 100K page views/month, and I didn’t reach that 250K/month milestone until nearly two and a half years in. I do teach a whole class on Growing Your Readership for Alt. There’s another one coming up on February 11.

  30. hanalei January 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    This is so so so so helpful! After blogging since 2007, I’ve decidedly started a fresh, new blog that i really want to put my heart & time into. I’m glad you are so thoughtful and ethical about your advertising. Your story is inspirational, thank you for sharing!

  31. Nicola January 19, 2013 at 1:16 am #

    Nicole, you are the most hard working person I know!!! It must take so much time and mental energy to write for so many places and keep things fresh on here, all the while being a mom to 2 little ones and keeping a clean and organised home. I admire your work ethic and focus.

  32. Amy @ Living Locurto January 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Great info for you to share and help others! I like seeing how organized you are with charts! Makes me want to do this for myself. This is such an exciting time for bloggers. Congrats on growing your business. Very inspiring. Happy I got to know you at the Michael’s event:-) Keep up the great work!

  33. Lindsay Redd January 19, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    I laughed so hard at politics, finances and wood finishes! That is so true! That breakdown is fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

  34. Gena@BakeAllTheThings! January 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    This was fascinating to read and I think you deserve a martini [or at least one of my brownies!] for being so transparent with your readers!

  35. Patty January 21, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    Hi Nicole–I have been reading your blog since about 2008ish. I have never posted before but I wanted to say how much I love checking in and seeing what you are up to. Mostly I wanted to tell you how sweet and “lovely” I think you are! Gracious and kind with an a great style. Thank you for what you do…

  36. Maddy January 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Thanks for this great post. So often this stuff is glossed over and I have no clue how it all works. Thanks again!

  37. Raluca | WhatWouldGwynethDo January 22, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    What an informative, interesting read. Thank you for being so open to sharing.

  38. Davina January 23, 2013 at 3:24 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I recently did a two day blogging course, which was great and very inspiring but this makes it more real for me and its brilliant to have so many useful links!

  39. Linda January 23, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    I appreciate your honesty and integrity. I think its wonderful that you are able to do something that you love and that other people love , and your able to support your family. I hope you have continued to success.

  40. Natalie (@fashionatalie) January 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I really appreciate bloggers being transparent and finding a good balance between what works for them and being sensitive to their readers. Thank you!

  41. LadyLauren January 25, 2013 at 6:03 am #

    Thank you so much for this post, it’s so helpful to see how such inspirational blogs function. Very inspiring!

    L xox

  42. Dana H. January 25, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    It appears that many of your readers appreciate your openness on this issue! Thank you! I am just in the planning stages of creating a blog and would appreciate your “go-to” mentor/book/website for initial questions. Once my blog is initiated, what is the best means and time to notify other, more established and successful bloggers, such as yourself to be part of blog rolls? Also, would it be best to write several posts PRIOR to inviting my own personal contacts? I aspire to be as refreshing and interesting as you have been.

    • Making it Lovely January 28, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

      I don’t have one go-to source, but I think you may find Joy Cho’s book, Blog, Inc., helpful.

  43. z.ky January 27, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    Thank you for being so open in discussing what is seen as a “taboo” subject. I enjoyed it not because I am a nosy parker, but because it was genuinely educational – I honestly had no idea how a blog generates income, but I do now.

  44. Leesa January 28, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    Nicole – Just read this post while playing hookie, I mean staying home from work due to illness.Thanks for posting this. Your steps are logical and your success is not without its struggle. I used to think, “Gee, this gal is an overnight success. How’d she do that??!!” But, after analyzing just how long I’ve followed your blog, I had to chuckle to myself. “Overnight success” translates into many, many overnights and many, many trials and errors! A lot of people are afraid to fail so we forget how to try. Your simple post points out that there are very few “overnight” successes. Congrats and I can’t wait to buy the Making It Lovely book!

  45. H February 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    Just wanted to say that aside from the fashion/ home decor/ and etc advice you provide, I love to come to your blog because it feels so intimate. Thank you for writing this, not because I was nosey and curious, but because I love to read your words when they are so genuine. You’re great!

  46. Make and Do Girl February 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    Congratulations! I love hearing stories about how people transform their lives, careers and financial situations to suite their families best. It’s inspiring to hear how your (financial) life is pretty different than it was 6 years ago, but that you’ve rolled with it an allowed it to blossom into a great thing for you and your family.

    How did you end up doing the writing gigs elsewhere (Babble, BHG, etc)? Did they approach you or did you approach them?

    Congrats again. Always happy to hear about a woman who’s rocking it.

  47. Kim March 11, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Very interesting post, Nicole! Enjoyed reading about your shift of income over the years.

    I also have several streams of income, being a freelance web designer, blogger & jewellery designer. Currently my blog is the lowest form of income BUT I do think that people find both my web design skills and jewellery through it. Either way, I think that diversity is the most essential part of working for yourself in any form!

  48. Courtney March 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    this is so inspiring, thanks for sharing your awesome story.

  49. Dana H. March 27, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Hi, Nicole

    I linked in via the Decor8 BlogBoss class as a student. I have already been a regular reader of your blog and was so excited to see you as one of the panelists. I was reading your blog through Google Reader which of course will need to change to Bloglovin or something else soon. I am about to start my own lifestyle blog and yes, my goal someday is to make a living from it. I now know more about the incredible amount of time and resources involved. Kudos to you for your success!!! Thank you for your comments during today’s lesson!

  50. Merrideth from Spark Living July 17, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    Wow! Such an insightful and honest posting! As someone who used to advertise on Making It Lovely (yep, I’m one of those small business owners you mentioned in the post!) and is now getting more serious about blogging, this post is inspirational and chock-full of valuable info. Thank you for being one of those people who shares the secrets of their success in order to help others become successful too!

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