Business FAQ Pink Loves Brown The Blog

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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  • 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.

  • INSIGHTS: blogging + sponsorship - Living Abstracts Style
    February 25, 2013 at 3:16 am

    […] It Lovely blog’s Nicole Balsh explained last month how her income is made up, with almost half of her pie chart being sponsorship.  As a reader of Nicole’s blog, the sponsored posts are clearly marked (as they are on other […]

  • 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!

  • Courtney
    March 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm

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

  • 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!

    May 7, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    […] P.P.S I love how Nicole summed it up so concisely here. She also has a post on how she took her blog from a hobby to a job. […]

  • 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!

  • Julia Dennis
    February 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm


    Thank you for your honesty!! I often wonder about bloggers and whether or not another job is needed, and how that kind of thing works, this is really quite revealing when it’s not typical to see this kind of breakdown of income from online sources.


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