How to Monetize Your Blog: The One Mistake You Need to Fix

How to Monetize Your Blog: The One Mistake You Need to Fix

Diversifying income streams is a critical part of monetizing any online business. Unless you’re genuinely not interested in making any money, it’s a critical step to becoming successful as a solopreneur, whether that means increasing your income in retirement or creating an asset your family needs to survive the present.

It’s all related to diversifying income streams — and it can be a more positive experience than you might think.

First, some background.

On Tuesday, April 21st, Jeff Bezos decided it was time to substantially cut commissions for Amazon affiliate marketers. In doing so, he essentially reduced the income of many online businesses, many of which were already struggling in the face of restrictions related to the pandemic. 

How to Monetize Your Blog: The One Mistake You Need to FixAmazon announced it with one week’s notice, in the middle of a global tragedy during which many other businesses have made changes to try to help small business owners, both on- and offline. It felt like one final blow for the little guy.

But is it really such a bad thing? Does it present us with any opportunities? Are there lessons to be learned? And in learning them, can we make sure that our businesses will not just survive, but thrive?

Like many others, I’d become complacent. My monthly Amazon earnings were substantial and, as a result, I’d put on hold a course I’d been “meaning” to create for months (no, I’ll be honest — for over two years).

It’s not immediately obvious, when you first see the changes. But overnight, my affiliate income dropped like a stone, commissions plunging from 8% to 3% — a decrease of 62.5%. Even so, that was better than other Amazon categories, which dropped to just 1%…

Amazon fees as at 3 March 2020 (WayBack Machine)

Grid of Amazon Affiliate Commissions by Category at March 3, 2020

Amazon fees as at 21 April 2020

Grid of Amazon Affiliate Commissions by Category at April 21, 2020

Time to take stock.

Why Diversify?

This doesn’t only relate to Amazon. Relying on any single source of income, including a full-time job, is a massive risk. It doesn’t matter how well you’re doing now, or how great you consider your relationship with that single source of income, whether it’s your employer, or a business like Amazon, or an individual client…

The critical point is that the income source is out of your control.

Anything can happen. We’re learning that in spades right now. Amazon decides to become an affiliate bully and online businesses that were built on promoting products are left stranded.

Or a pandemic hits the world and millions of people are laid off. Some businesses will survive, but many will never re-open. Their employees, dependent on that job, are left with nothing.

Even without the pandemic… What if your company decides it no longer requires the role you’ve been employed to do for the last thirty years? Or they need to cut back and you were the last in, so first out. 

Basket of eggs dropped with some broken

Or you suffer unexpected health problems and can no longer work — but bills still have to be paid and you still have to put food on the table. 

Whatever the circumstances, and whether your income source is offline or on, relying on one source of income over which you have no control is a huge risk. You’re one step away from disaster.

Diversifying your income streams doesn’t stop it hurting, both financially and emotionally, when one is chopped or removed. But it can help mitigate the pain. 

And not taking the opportunity to consider diversifying can mean we ignore opportunities that, if we were more actively searching, would enable us to create something we love.

Why Don’t We Change?

If we accept that monetizing our blog or website needs to include diverse income streams; if we know that diversifying will stabilize the amount of income we generate, mitigate the risk and create a level of security we don’t currently have; if we see successful blogs and online businesses with multiple cash streams and know that’s how they make their money — why don’t we do it?

Fear.

Scared Mime

We’ve found a revenue stream we like. We’ve learned the skill of writing product reviews. Our sales pages satisfy our customers, because we’re giving them a solution to a problem no one has been able to offer them before. And it’s earning us money. We’re comfortable with the process.

Isn’t that a win-win-win? It is — while it lasts.

Jumping into a different way of monetizing your blog can be scary. We’re naturally reluctant to change something that’s working. 

It’s so easy to become over-confident that one approach will always work. We’re relying on that income stream. We may worry about whether another would be as successful — and anyway, we don’t know if we have the knowledge and skills to do it (forgetting that knowledge and skills can be learned!). 

So naturally, we don’t want to disturb the status quo. 

But we’ve already seen that the status quo can easily become destabilized. Unless we pivot before we need to, our livelihood is at risk. 

The answer?

Feel the fear and do it anyway. 

How to Monetize Your Blog — Plan to Do It Differently

There are steps you can take now, to mitigate the potential for problems in the future. Whether you’re an experienced blogger who’s stuck in one income rut, or someone just on the edge of launching into the world of online income, the steps are the same.

1. Acknowledge That One Income Stream Will Not Work Forever

This has to be the first step, and it can be hard. It’s like leaving your baby to fend for itself. You may want to keep tweaking your one income stream, because that’s where you feel comfortable. You may understand the logic of diversifying — it’s pretty much unarguable — but your feelings need to catch up.

Different types of eggs showing diversification of income streams

What to do: take time out to write down why it’s not a good idea to hold on to just one income stream. Use an old-fashioned pen and paper — there’s evidence that you’ll connect your brain with the emotion of the decision more effectively than you will with a machine.

See how it makes you feel. Recognize the feelings, and keep feeding your brain the logic. It will come round.

2. Take Time to Plan

The best way to protect against financial disaster is to constantly search for new income streams while keeping expenses low. 

Don’t wait till you’re under any pressure, though. Do it while you have time to step back and consider options. Waiting until your main monetization stream has dried up doesn’t give you enough time to think about what’s best for your business. There’s a danger that you’ll leap into something that’s not a good fit.

What to do: set time aside every day for the next two weeks to think through potential new areas for expansion. Even an hour can pay dividends if you’re focused.

Then, schedule in time in a month to assess. Don’t be afraid to take a different path if necessary. The business that learns from and is able to respond to its mistakes is the one that will keep growing.

3. Identify Your Customers’ Needs

Consider what alternative income streams might be available to you by first considering your customers’ needs. Is there some solution they keep trying to find — and failing — that you could provide? That may mean there’s a gap in the market that you could fill.

Don’t limit yourself to considering affiliate products. Think wider: what services could you offer? Would mentoring be of more help to your audience than yet another physical product?

For me, the lightbulb came on when I realized that my audience didn’t only need to know which is the best chicken egg incubator on the market, nor did they only need to know how to use it. They needed someone to hold their hand through the stress of incubating and hatching healthy chicks. And so was born my ecourse.

It’s the emotion that your audience will respond to.

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel

What to do: always look at the “so what?” of any product or service you’re considering using to monetize. Don’t concentrate solely on features. Think about what the power of the product or service will be for your customers. Why will it help them solve their most pressing problem?

And if you can’t find any “power,” don’t sell it.

4. Assess Your Own Strengths

Affiliate marketing is great for people who are introverts because we don’t have to have any contact with anyone. (The affiliate partner deals with everything from poor reviews to customer care.)

And, let’s be honest, many solopreneurs are exactly that. Introverts. We don’t feel comfortable selling, and we certainly don’t want to deal with angry customers. 

So finding income streams that match your personality is as important as assessing your customer needs. Choosing a monetization method that’s totally out of your comfort zone is likely to mean that you’ll either do it and mess up, or avoid it altogether.

What to do: Examine your own strengths as part of your planning time. Make a list: what income can you create that you’re totally at ease with? What do you do better than your competitors? And what would give you nightmares?

Don’t dismiss the nightmare scenario altogether, though. It can lead to the most creative and lucrative ideas. Don’t waste opportunities.

Write them down anyway. Writing them doesn’t mean you have to take action. But planting a seed in your mind and allowing it to grow can result in an entire garden of profitability.

5. Analyze Each Potential Income Stream

Be brave. Let your mind run wild when you’re planning. Be bound only by your audience’s needs.

What to do: brainstorm as many monetization methods as you can think of. You don’t have to do them all, and you shouldn’t, in any case, try to do them all at once. Just list them.

When you have your list, go back over each one and ask…

  • How will this make your reader’s life better?
  • How does the thought of implementing it make you feel?
  • How much time do you have, and how much time will it take?
  • What are the potential costs, if any?

And then, jump in. Just do it. Choose one stream to start with. Get that up and running and move on to the next. Always coming back, after a reasonable time gap, to reassess what’s working, then doing more of it.

Worried about becoming a sleazy salesperson? Don’t be. Your first priority is your customer. Your aim is to find the right product or service to help, not the amount of money it could make. 

If done with thought and planning, it’s a win-win.

Stuck? Here Are 3 Ideas to Diversify the Smart Way

Three chickens, representing three monetization methods

There are myriad ideas out there to help you make money blogging.

But if you’ve been relying on one income stream for a while, whether that’s Amazon, Google AdSense or even your own solitary ebook, it can be hard to think outside of that particular monetization box. You may not even realize you can have more than one income stream at the same time.

I’m here to tell you that not only can you — you need to.

So here are some key ideas to get your brain humming.

1. Become a (Non Amazon) Affiliate

Affiliate marketing can be an excellent source of income — if it’s done right.

Yes, I know, I started by talking about Amazon decimating affiliate earnings. But Amazon is not the only company in the world with an affiliate program, although sometimes it feels like it.

Diversifying by definition just means expanding options. So, if you’re comfortable with affiliate marketing and you’ve honed your skills in that area, expand your affiliate options.

Take your affiliate eggs out of one basket and divide them between several. 

Look for brands in your area that people trust, and do some investigation. Do they have an affiliate program? Did you know, for example, that…

  • Target does, and has a better percentage payout than Amazon
  • Walmart does, and offers home deliveries
  • Home Depot does, and has over 500,000 products available on a ship to store or home basis
  • Etsy does, and has thousands of creative items that cover most niches (yes, even chickens!)

None of them is perfect. But all of them are possible.

Then there’s the option of going directly to a producer and setting up an affiliate relationship. 

Sound impossible? I found a creator of chicken jewelry in the UK whose only sales outlet was local shows and who was willing to accept me as her only affiliate partner.

Chicken jewelry? Improbable, I know, but…

Chicken jewelry earrings

And the advantage? It can’t be found on Amazon. Or anywhere else.

Of course, finding an independent producer has its problems, particularly if they don’t belong to an affiliate program. But it’s possible, and it’s worth it.

2. Have Affiliates of Your Own!

If you already have your own product and it’s valuable to your audience, there will be others out there who could do a great job selling it for you.

It works in exactly the same way Amazon works.

You have a product. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a physical item or digital. It only matters that it fills a gap your potential customers need filling. And that it’s great quality, of course.

You agree to allow other people — your affiliates — to promote and sell your product. If they make a sale, you pay them a commission. You decide who you’ll accept, and you decide the amount of commission you’re willing to pay.

Intrigued? Read our tips for starting your own affiliate program.

3. Create and Sell Your Own Products or Services

Time-consuming up front, certainly, But the potential for selling your own products is excellent — and it doesn’t have to be on Amazon!

Sell from your own blog or website; sell from an online marketplace like Teachers Pay Teachers; sell from a “print on demand” platform like TeeSpring or Zazzle.

And if the idea of selling physical products sounds overwhelming, start by selling digital products. Start small, but start now!

Your Future: Start Thinking Creatively — Now!

Having a steady income from our blog is something that most of us have either dreamed about, or come to take for granted.

But, like the weather, the world can change at a moment’s notice. Suddenly a source of income we thought was reliable is snatched away, and there’s nothing we can do.

Except plan. Don’t wait for it to happen — or to happen again. Invest your time wisely, now of all times when we have it in spades.

Step back from what you’ve done before. Think creatively about the future. Don’t listen to naysayers. Don’t dismiss what may look like impractical solutions. Innovate. Go wild. Be crazy. Think differently. 

Because, as Steve Jobs taught us…

Quote by Steve Jobs: The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do

Cath Andrews

Cath Andrews

Cath Andrews is Solo Build It!'s Content Team Lead. Having taken early retirement from work in social care, she describes her "day job" - her online business, Raising Happy Chickens, like this: I spend my time doing what my mother calls “playing on that blasted computer all day” — and I love it. Knowing that other people benefit from my knowledge gives me goose-bumps. And goose-bumps are as important to me as the money my online business makes.
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