I’ve heard so many people saying that blogging is easy. On the other hand, we often see bloggers lamenting about how hard blogging is. Who is right and who is wrong?
As a newly-converted full-time blogger, I’ll share with you about what goes behind the scenes in running a growing blog. You can make your own assessment and let me know if you think blogging is easy and whether the $30 freebies is worth the effort.
Second Attempt as a Full-Time Blogger
I run a Beauty & Travel blog at myBeautyCravings.com that publishes two blog posts weekly. This blog was launched in 2014 on full-time resources, as I’d then wanted to make a living out of blogging.
But It’s almost impossible to Blog for A Living As a Newbie
It turned out that blogging for a living is not as easy as many made it to be. Time is needed to grow a blog and by that, we are referring to at least a few months or more likely, a few years. Most newbie bloggers would have given up by then.
Coincidentally, my ex-boss contacted me a while later and asked if I would like to return to help her. I said ‘Yes’.
It was a six-figure salary that was too hard to resist as compared to the measly 3-figure blog salary I was receiving then. Yes, we are talking about a 3-figure per annum blogging salary. How pathetic, right? Statistics have shown that 63% of bloggers make less than $100 per month and I was then part of that 63% majority. In case you wonder, only 20% of bloggers make at least $500 a month.
Part-Time Resources can Hardly Grow a Blog
When holding on to a full-time job, this blog could only generate one post every fortnight. My job in Communications and Marketing was demanding and required long hours of work that often stretched past midnight. I barely had enough time to sleep. Therefore, blogging took a back seat.
A Renewed Zest to Blog for a Living
In May 2018, my passion for blogging returned with a vengeance. I decided to give it another try hoping to make a living out of blogging. I wanted badly to turn my passion into my career and business.
What’s my passion? It’s about sharing contents on beauty and travel that can add value to someone’s life and help them solve real-life problems. Another passion is to make a living out of doing that.
Let’s look at the amount of work that needs to be put in, to grow a blog into one that stands a chance of earning a sustainable income.
Behind the Scenes: The 20% of Work that Goes into Creating a Blog Post
Only 20% of work goes into creating blog posts at myBeautyCravings.com. This doesn’t mean blogging takes very little time. On the contrary, it is extremely time-consuming.
This just means that bloggers have to work long hours, especially those who aim to grow their blog into a business. That explains why a 90-hour work week still leaves me with a long list of growing backlogs. As of now, I have 48 tasks in my to-do list. Each task is not a mini job; it’s a project such as to ‘revamp homepage’ or ‘create 5th freebie’.
For now, let’s just focus on the 20% of work that goes into creating one blog post.
Step 1: Take Photo of New Product (Before Testing)
As a beauty blogger, I have to take photos of products before testing them. Nobody likes seeing images of half-used lipsticks or semi-deflated lotion tubes. While bloggers in the past can get away with amateurish-looking photos, it isn’t the case these days.
With the growing popularity of Instagram, people come to expect blog photos to match magazine standards. The difference between magazine house and blogger is that we do not have a professionally-trained photographer on disposal. Neither do we have an image-editor.
As such, bloggers have to elevate their skills level even on non-writing functions. Read on further and you’ll see the multitude of tasks laid upon the shoulders of a blogger.
Step 2: Test Product Extensively
I take my responsibility as a reviewer seriously and will only share my assessment and recommendation after extensive testing. I normally spend at least a month to assess if the product is pore-clogging, anti-aging, brightening or whatever the product said it was able to achieve.
During this span of time, I would jot down my observations in my mobile notebook as and when I discover something, be it the pros or cons of the product.
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Unlike testing other products such as a gadget, the effect of a beauty product takes time to show. For instance, it takes weeks or months to notice the brightening or anti-aging effect of a Vitamin C serum.
Step 3: Create Blog Draft
Next comes the process of writing the blog post. Most if not all of my blog are more than 1,500 words. Travel posts tend to get even lengthier with many nearing 3,000 words. This post has 3,800 words. This is approximately eight pages of contents on Microsoft Word (font 12).
I usually do my writing at a cafe, treating it as my rental office and spending $6 on a cup of iced latte.
Step 4: Edit Post (First Round)
After creating the blog draft, I like to let it sit for a few days before editing it. It allows me to work with a refreshed perspective and spot mistakes that I would have otherwise missed.
Step 5: Take Photos Again (After Testing)
When a post is almost ready to be published, it’s time to see if more photos are needed to fit the outline of the draft. For instance, I may need to show the before-after effect of a foundation, lipstick or mascara. This is the time to take more photos, in addition to Step 1.
Step 6: Edit Photos
Editing photos is surprisingly a time-consuming task. I spend up to a few hours shortlisting photos, editing them, resizing and applying watermark and saving them in the right format. I use Photoshop for this purpose. In case you wonder, bloggers have to be well-versed with photo-editing software (and these are not cheap).
Travel posts often take me thrice as long as there are usually a lot more photos to shortlist and edit – about 20 photos per post shortlisted from a few hundreds.
After uploading the photos onto the blog, I will also have to add captions and meta tags to the images. What’s meta tags? It’s a technical label inserted to boost SEO. And what’s SEO? It stands for search engine optimization. To a layman, SEO is the act of making your post appear high on google search.
Have I impressed upon you the number of diverse skill sets and tasks a blogger need to have? Wait, there’s more.
Step 7: Edit Post Again (Second/Third Round)
At this point, I would normally need two more rounds of edits.
The final edit is the most important step. Other than editing the content and brainstorming on catchy headlines, I have to improve the overall aesthetic of the post, such as standardizing font, color and format. At the same time, I’ll have to perform other tasks that are invisible to readers such as inserting categories, tags, featured image, affiliate links and no-follow tags.
To boost pageviews, it is important to ensure that relevant posts are interlinked. Hence, time is required to insert such internal links.
This step is not over yet. The final action for Step 7 is to apply SEO techniques – there are more steps involved which I shan’t bore you with because it would take up a few pages of elaboration. This crucial step plays a role in getting the article to rank high on Google Search. And here’s my certified SEO score for the hard work put into every post. Yes, it’s an “A”. :)
Step 8: Create Pinterest-Friendly Graphics
For every post, I will design a Pinterest-friendly graphic (vertical banner). This will be pinned to Pinterest which can help drive traffic to the website or boost its visibility on search engine.
So, a blogger has to learn how to be a graphic-designer too. Tough life as a blogger? You bet.
Step 9: Share Post to Various Social Media Platforms
After the post is published, it is time to create social media posts. These days, there are so many social media channels – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and more. Imagine the time required to create and share these posts. A blogger also needs to spend time socializing on social media platforms and responding/reciprocating to comments and likes.
Social media platforms have made the life of bloggers so much tougher. The algorithm has been designed to ‘force’ influencers to post actively so as to stand a higher chance of getting seen by their followers.
Notice how I’d said ‘stand a higher chance’. Yes, it’s not definite – even regular posting doesn’t guarantee that our followers would see our posts. For instance, only 7 to 13 percent of my Facebook/Instagram followers see my posts. How to get seen by more? There’s an option in Facebook to advertise to reach our followers. I thought it’s absurd! Didn’t my followers agree to follow me?
I’m contemplating pulling the plug on social media and focusing more resources on building my email list. It’s growing much faster than my social media. Every email that I sent out gets opened and seen by 35% of my subscribers – this is far better than the pathetic social media organic reach, which by the way may drop to zero.
“Facebook says you should assume organic reach will eventually arrive at zero.” ~ Hubspot (source)
How Many Hours to Create a Blog Post? I’m Too Embarrassed to Share
The above concludes the steps in generating one blog post and the subsequent marketing efforts to get the post delivered to followers. Make a guess how long the above 9 steps take?
I’m actually a little embarrassed to share because it would probably sound absurd and unbelievable. One thing I can reveal, the $30 freebies we get for writing a review isn’t worth the time, that is, if we value our time as a professional.
That’s also the reason why I’m no longer lured by freebies and have said ‘no’ to many companies. I’ve just said no to four freebies last week and two this week – these freebies offered up to $200 in product value. Unless I’m truly interested in the product, I view these freebies as cheap baits to get us to contribute more than what we are getting in return.
Some of these companies did mention that they only needed a casual coverage which is fair enough. However, this blog has never been set up to produce casual mentions of products. It is mostly a review website and my desire is for each and every article to rank high on google. Therefore I always politely decline these offers.
How about non-blogging tasks? Unfortunately, the time we full-time bloggers spend on generating content forms only a tiny fraction of the time required to maintain the website.
Let’s look at what I do 80% of the time. I hope I am representing professional bloggers who blog with an intention to add value and help someone solve a real-life problem. Professional bloggers work and grow their blog like a business (not a hobby) and want to make sustainable income so as to continue doing what they love. Blogging to get freebies is not their goal and they are hardly lured by such offers.
80% of the Things Full-Time Bloggers do other than Writing
There is a lot that goes into the daily workload of a full-time blogger. Other than writing, these blogging tasks that I’ll be sharing take up 80% of my time as a full-time blogger. Let’s see what these tasks are and how many hats a blogger needs to wear.
1. I’m a Web Designer
A blogger usually needs to know the basics of designing and enhancing her website. WordPress themes do provide some basic options to help us structure our website, such as adding categories, menu, widgets and sidebar.
However, if we want something a little more fanciful-looking, we will need to know how to work on HTML, CSS and page-builder tools. Basic things like Accordion, Toggle, Tabs, columns and pop-ups are some of the things we learn to create as a blogger cum web-designer. You can see some basic pages I’ve created here and here. I’ve also recently learned how to enhance my website menu.
Of course, bloggers can engage external design services. However, most bloggers who just started out would not be making enough to justify paying for such extravagance. Therefore, I would say that a prerequisite of a full-time blogger is her willingness, interest and ability to pick up new and diverse skill set.
2. I’m also a Geeky Webmaster
Other than acting as a web-designer, we, bloggers, are also the webmaster. Updating plugins, resolving technical bugs and improving website speed are some of the things we do.
A recent ‘project’ that I was forced to undertake was to restore a crashed website within 12 hours. The free but poorly-coded website theme that I was using for years decided to play truant after a routine update. Coincidentally, that had to happen a day after I started pitching my website services. To prevent potential advertisers from seeing gibberish on my website, I purchased a new theme and worked overnight to get my website to a presentable state.
Another geeky project was how a new rule required website owners to convert our website from HTTP to HTTPS. It may be just an additional ‘S’ to readers, but it is a totally different website property. A lot goes behind the scene to push the website to this more secure platform. I self-learned and did it over a few late nights to make sure the move wouldn’t affect my website ranking and traffic.
Who says bloggers aren’t geeks?
3. You can call me a Marketer too!
There’s no use writing when no one is reading. Therefore, bloggers need to spend a lot of time boosting website traffic. This includes participating actively on forums, commenting on blogs or frequently posting on social media platforms.
As I’ve said earlier, the algorithm of most social media platforms forced us to post frequently in order to stand a higher chance of being seen by readers who have chosen to follow us. If we have four social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter), we will ideally need to post at least four times a day. Therefore, bloggers or “influencers” are constantly working even when eating or holidaying – taking photos or creating social media drafts.
As if life as a blogger isn’t hard enough, we can only reach a fraction of our followers whenever we publish a new social media post. The only way to reach all of them is by paying advertising fees. Maybe these social media giants think that the less-than-$100-per-month income earned by most bloggers is too much.
4. Traffic Booster
Since we can’t rely a lot on social media platforms these days to bring in the traffic, we have to start growing our email list or subscribers. One way to do it is to offer free products in exchange for a reader’s email address.
To do so, we have to spend time creating free products and learn the technical aspect of delivering these freebies automatically. We’ll also have to spend time marketing these freebies so that they get seen by the right target audience. This on its own can be a month’s worth of job, per freebie.
Another way to boost exposure is to guest blog on other prominent websites. I’ve yet to embark on this, but I’m working on it. This means writing free contents for other websites and spending time pitching to them why it is good for our content to appear on their website.
I wish there are more than 24 hours in a day – guest blogging has been on my to-do list for months.
5. My Fifth Job here is to Update Blog Archives
There’s often a need to update our archives of old posts. For instance, a change in WordPress theme can cause format misalignment.
Other times, we may decide to refine the structure of our blog such as revising tags and categories or adding a new format structure to the content (e.g. a summary box for travel posts). This would require us to edit and standardize every single post in our archives.
6. I’m a Saleswoman too and it’s my Least Favorite Job of All
To blog for a living, I’ll need to make sure money comes in to pay the bills, be it the expenses associated with running this blog or to make up for lost income. No, I can’t munch a free bouquet of flowers for breakfast. Neither can I get my utilities bill paid off with a free hair service. Hence, I’ve just started pitching to companies.
I’m extremely picky in who I approach because my blog’s single mission is to push out ‘100% honest reviews’. Therefore, I only allow myself to promote things that I know are beneficial to my readers. My blog’s mission is also what’s stopping me from joining an exclusive Influencer network. Because I know I’ll be expected to produce ‘positive reviews’ to stay on the good book and to qualify for future jobs.
Being a saleswoman is something new to me. The job scope includes sourcing for email contacts, cold-pitching companies and following up with them. It’s not a process that I particularly enjoy because my passion is in writing, marketing and being a geek. However, as the only person running this blog business, I have to do everything on my own until this blog starts to generate meaningful income.
So far, I’ve managed to secure sponsorships amounting to a 4-figure sum per post. This is in line with the benchmark rates guided by Social Bluebook, and which is based on my website traffic. However, pitching hasn’t been easy and I’m honestly not spending enough time on it (least favorite, yo!).
7. I Create Products
It’s important for a business to get diversified income. Hence, other than seeking sponsorship and relying on affiliate sales and website banners, I’m also creating digital products. Here’s one that I’ve recently created. You cannot imagine the time that’s needed to create and launch this product.
I’d to figure out how to administer the automatic product delivery and find the best platform to process payments etc. What’s more, this project requires me to build a dedicated product page and then actively market it through various channels.
8. Miscellaneous & Administrative Stuff
There are other random stuff to deal with, such as replying to emails and comments and scheduling Pinterest posts. Recently, I just figured out how to segment my email list so that my subscribers can choose how often they like to receive ‘new post’ notification.
Another task on my to-do list is to further segment the list based on readers’ interest so that they only receive the most relevant emails. I’m still figuring how to do that. :)
Why Blog when the Workload is High and Rewards are Low?
Many bloggers quit after a while, probably when they realize a mismatch between the amount of work required and the disproportionately-low rewards that come with blogging.
So, what’s keeping me going? The first thing is my passion. The second is the V-shape growth of this blog – it motivates me to keep trying. Thirdly, I was happy to discover that 80% of my posts are ranking on google’s first page. I believe this means something – that I possess a skill that is marketable and valuable, i.e. I offer long-term exposure to products and services that appear on my website.
Reality VS Dream
Having a dream is good. Working towards it is great. However, I cannot logically be blogging full-time indefinitely if the traffic growth doesn’t translate to a real and stable income. And I’m not even talking about matching my previous income – I just needed something that can help me get by while allowing me to enjoy what I do every day.
Although I’m not a millennial, I do possess that YOLO mindset – we only live once and I want to do something that I enjoy doing. Lower pay is fine but it must be sufficient to maintain a sustainable lifestyle.
Maybe I’m really stubborn to believe that this entrepreneurial dream of mine would have a happy ending. Maybe I’ll realize very soon that blogging can only be a hobby to most people. If you see me posting less often or notice that the V-shape growth of my website ranking has ceased, it may signify that I’ve admitted defeat.
But as of now, I still have many things that I want to do to grow this blog. I also have a lot of contents that I want to share with you – if only I can spend more time writing.
I hardly share about my personal life here other than travel and beauty. So, this is a rare post from me to hopefully shed light on the tough life and struggles of a full-time blogger. Thank you for staying with me all these while and understanding why this blog has to grow like a business in order for me to blog full-time here. Thank you for putting up with the advertisement banners and affiliate links that help offset a tiny fraction of the expenses required to run this blog.
Unlike most of my peers, I’m glad that I’m able to say out loud that “I love my job!”. Every day, I jump out of bed because I want to get to work. It’s now 3.49am on a Friday night and I’m reluctant to go to bed because I’m still blogging. Get what I mean when I said my passion is in blogging and creating value-adding content? This is what passion can make people do – crazy workloads that come with super low rewards.
Now that I’ve bared my heart to you, do you have anything you’ll like to share with me? I’ll like to hear your thoughts, be it from the perspective of a reader or a fellow blogger. Don’t forget to subscribe to more honest contents on beauty, travel and blogging. See you soon!SUBSCRIBE
(This post was first published in Oct 2018)
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