Why You Shouldn’t Be Blogging

Photo Credit: Andy P

Photo Credit: Andy P

When it comes to making money online and the “passive income” dream, the first thing that comes to mind for many of us is blogging.

And why not? Examples of successful bloggers abound and the barriers of entry are practically non-existent. You can decide to start a blog now and be up and running in ten minutes time. Personally speaking, I attribute a great deal of my success to this blog.

But in my opinion (and with the benefit of hindsight), creating a blog with the aim of monetizing it is not the best way to build a sustainable online business quickly. Not by a long shot. Although I am a huge fan of blogging, in this post I want to play devil’s advocate and explain why it is an inferior method of making money online. I’ll also explain what I think you should do in order to give yourself the best possible chance of building a successful online business.

My Experience With Blogging

Leaving Work Behind is now over two years old and at the time of writing generates approximately $3,000 per month in direct net revenue. That’s not a small amount, but it pales in comparison to my freelance earnings, which are only likely to increase as Clear Blogging Solutions grows.

Although I believe that my blog income will eventually outstrip my current freelancing income record (~$6,000 in one month) and perhaps even the income generated by Clear Blogging Solutions, it will have been a long journey.

For the first fifteen months or so of its existence Leaving Work Behind operated at a loss. Furthermore, if I were able to to divide its lifetime net income by the total sum of hours spent on Leaving Work Behind, the hourly rate would be paltry.

My blogging journey has been beneficial for many reasons and I believe that I am near a tipping point where all of the hard work to date will truly begin to pay off. However, it has taken a long time and a great deal of hard work to get to this point.

The Problem With Blogging

The art of blogging is simple to learn but extremely difficult to master. Unless you know what you’re doing, it takes an awful long time to build a successful blogging brand.

That was the case with me — I was brand new to blogging in June 2011 and it has taken me over two years to really nail down in my head what Leaving Work Behind is all about. I believe that the next few months will see this blog explode in popularity, but it has been a long time coming.

Many people will point to the “overnight” success of certain blogs as evidence that one can become a successful blogger in a short space of time. One can argue that sites like Social Triggers are evidence of just how quickly a blog can take off. But Social Triggers wasn’t Derek Halpern’s first rodeo. He launched Social Triggers off the back of a string of successful websites — of which one attracted a million page views in just one day. By the time he had the idea for what is now one of the most successful online marketing blogs in the world, he had already cut his teeth on a number of different websites over a period of years.

When it came to launching Social Triggers, Derek drew upon his prior experience to create something that rose to the top quickly, but if you’re new to blogging you cannot expect to achieve the same. While you may be able to find example of overnight success stories, they are the exceptions to the rule and make it far too easy to dream about what could be.

The bottom line is this: if you want build a blog that will enable you to quit your job, you should expect to wait for at least a year (and probably much longer), and that’s if you have the patience and determination to slog through periods of stagnancy and demotivation. Let me put it this way: I would still be in the job that I left in December 2011 if I only had my blog’s income to rely upon. In fact, I may have given up altogether.

Blogging as a Business Model

It is extremely difficult to generate an income directly from a blog — it almost always requires an underlying business model.

The only real exception to this rule is affiliate marketing, but as far as I am concerned, generating an income from affiliate marketing without selling your soul is very difficult to do. It can so easily put you in a position where you compromise your morals (I consider this to be the case for even certain a-list bloggers who are mistakenly considered infallible by many). Furthermore, your income relies upon products created by others — a situation I wouldn’t like to bet my career on.

In my experience, blogs are most effective when acting as a source for client or customer leads for a business. The blog does not directly make money — it acts as a referral source for the machine that does make money.

But having a big audience does not mean that you will make a lot of money from them — directly or indirectly. If you build a blog with a huge audience that has no interest in spending money, you’re screwed.

And let’s face it: most people who read blogs have no prior interest in spending money on them. They come to read free content. You have to persuade them — often over an extended period of time — that whatever you have to sell to them is worth their hard-earned money. Doing so is not easy.

If you practically consider blogging as a business model for a moment, it’s absurd: trying to build a potential customer base out of people who aren’t interested in buying. If you had the choice between doing that or attempting to sell to people who are in a buying mood, which way would you go?

So What Should You Do?

Creating a business ultimately comes down to three approaches:

  1. Services,
  2. Products, or
  3. A mixture of the above.

Whichever route you choose, the key is to create something of value and market it to people who may want to purchase it.

Regular readers of Leaving Work Behind will know that I am a huge fan of service provision as a means of building a sustainable online business with relative ease. While it may not be as glamorous as “passive income” business models, freelancing is a means of building a real business that can operate in the long term (do you think that niche sites are going to last forever?). Furthermore, as I am just beginning to show, you can adapt and evolve a freelancing business way beyond its original boundaries. The sky is the limit.

If you have a monetizeable asset, you should look very carefully into your freelancing options. For many of us, what we do in our day jobs can be freelanced (e.g. bookkeeping). Alternatively (or additionally), a particular skill you have that you may not fully appreciate could offer great opportunity (like writing did for me).

The alternative is to build an online business by selling products (either electronic or physical). There are a huge number of ways in which you can do this but my primary advice would be this: consider areas in which you have specialized knowledge and seek to utilize them. Find your “unfair advantage” and exploit it to its full potential.

I’ll give you an example — one that is unfolding before my eyes.

Cheese wedding cakeMy girlfriend works as a sales rep for a cheese wholesaler and knows more about cheese than anyone else I know. She also knows how wholesalers work. She has also made cheese wedding cakes (like that bad boy to the right) for friends. It only takes brief clarity of thought to see how those qualities could be combined to launch a micro business selling cheese wedding cakes, and that is exactly what she is doing. (Incidentally, I’ll probably have more to tell you about that project in the future.)

Raise Your Business Idea from the Ground

I recently finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing, which offers many pearls of wisdom that I’ll be reflecting upon over the coming days and weeks. One of my favorites was his likening of as yet untold stories to buried fossils. King believes that stories are pre-existing — under the ground, so to speak, and your talent as an author is your ability to raise that fossil from the ground intact.

I think the same way about business ideas. I believe that you have a great business idea inside of you right now. It may be buried, perhaps deep underground and perhaps in so many fragmented parts, but it’s there. What you need to do is dig deep and excavate it.

To translate the analogy into practical terms, what you must do is explore the potential for a synergy of your strengths. If you can combine one or more of your relatively unique talents in an effective manner then you may well have a winning business idea on your hands.

The irony of my suggested approaches above is that you might well decide to create a blog as part of your business model. That’s absolutely fine — as long as the blog isn’t at the center of your business model.

Conclusion

The purpose of this post is not to tell you that you shouldn’t blog.

After all, this blog makes me good money and serves as a referral source for my freelance business. Furthermore, blogging can be fun — an interesting hobby that could lead to more in time. Who am I to tell you not to enjoy yourself?

The title of this post was deliberately antagonistic in the hope that it would lead more people to read it (Why Blogging is Pretty Cool But You Should Maybe Think About Other Stuff Too just didn’t quite have the same ring to it). However, my intentions are honest. I think it is high time that the “make money online” crowd shifted their expectations of what blogging can do for us and put careful thought into the alternatives.

You should be impatient to Leave Work Behind. You should want to do it tomorrow. Blogging won’t get you there tomorrow.

Find something that will.

Comments

  1. says

    Tom – great post – this is really helpful as my blog has stagnated a bit this last year. I think you make a great point about about how it takes time to figure out what the blog is supposed to be about, do for you, do for the reader, what its purpose is, and what hole it is supposed to fill. These are the questions I wrestle with in my mind about posting. Totally agree with the ‘sell your soul’ aspect of affiliate marketing. Very hard to not look like a sell out.

    • says

      Hey Brandon,

      So many blogging courses want you to nail down what your blog is about from day one, but I’m just not convinced that it’s possible. It takes time, and only wizened blogging folks like ourselves realize that ;-)

      Cheers,

      Tom

  2. says

    Thanks, Tom for your honesty. I have found exactly what you share to be the truth…it has taken me 2+ years of (consistent) blogging to really understand what my blogging brand is about.

    Recently, I’ve realized the conclusion you come to…that the blog is a way to build credibility and a platform, but it’s not the source (at least primarily) of stable income. I have also had to look toward an alternate business model to create something I feel will be sustainable.

    This post is really helpful for those just coming to the space…or those who’ve been here for a while.

  3. says

    Interesting post Tom. I agree that ‘blogs are most effective when acting as a source for client or customer leads for a business’. If it wasn’t for blogging then I wouldn’t have half the freelance writing clients I’ve got. I also know how hard it is to start a blog and launch it from nothing – everywhere you look there are people more popular than me, seemingly making more money!

    But you know what? I LIKE blogging. I really, really like blogging. OK, so most of my money is made from blogging for OTHER people but how do you think I got into that? How did I learn to be a great blogger so I can charge my clients a healthy rate? I started a blog and I never stopped. It’s helped me to be accountable, it’s helped me form ideas, it’s helped me think in a more creative way sometimes and then in a more business minded way in others. It’s connected me to people who tell me that I help them. I LOVE that!

    I know you’re not disputing what a blog can do for it’s owner – look at LWB – but from a business point of view it still works. I know what you’re saying about affiliate advertising but would you be selling your information product if it wasn’t for your blog? That’s business; that’s your very own product that you’ve created – and your blog is your vehicle to sell it.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to drone on for so long! Thanks for a thought-provoking one as always Tom :)

    • says

      Hey Kirsty!

      I totally agree with you — part of the reason why I made the point at the end: “Who am I to tell you not to enjoy yourself?”

      I like blogging too — love it in fact. I published this post an hour or so ago and here I am discussing it with you — how awesome is that? And it’s done so much for me; no doubt. Having said that, I think you get the point of the post. :-)

      Cheers,

      Tom

  4. says

    Glad to see your mention of On Writing by Stephen King! One of my favorite books.

    Wholeheartedly agree with you on starting a blog to make money. I could’ve gained ground on my freelance business much faster if I wasn’t so preoccupied with writing posts on my own blog, which barely made any money. While I think blogging is a great way to make money, it really depends on your business plan.

  5. says

    I’ve been at blogging for a year. Though I’ve never started a new blog and stuck with the one I have, it’s undergone two reincarnations and is currently on its third one. This final one is the way I wanted it to look, feel, and BE from the get-go (but never figured out how until now).

    Am I making a mistake sticking with this blog? Maybe. But as you and Kirsty were saying above, I just LOVE my blog topic and my blog. I don’t want to give it up, and if my goal isn’t to make money from it directly, then I don’t really NEED to.

  6. says

    Great article, Tom. Any tips on how I can figure out how to go from the blog to a solid business idea? I agree that there is a great business idea inside of me. I have been trying to bring it up to the surface for years, but it hasn’t revealed itself yet!

    • says

      There were tips in the post Wendy! :-)

      It’s about combining your relatively unique talents. I can’t tell you how to do it because I don’t know what your talents are…

  7. says

    Hey Tom,

    Yeah, no one talks about the peaks and valleys when it comes to blogging, do they? In a sense, blogging is a lot like trying to make it with music or some other art form; there are times when you feel like everything is moving and the energy is there and then there are times when you wonder if it will ever move again.

    In my experience and this is dealing with client websites, you are absolutely right. There is almost always an underlying means to income and usually it transfers seamlessly to other ad mediums. For example, I have an HR client who runs a trade magazine and sets up regional seminars who uses the blog to generate interest in both. It’s not the other way around (where you set up a website, work it for a while and then decide to use it to launch other things).

  8. says

    One of the reasons I was glad to have a cuttin-my-teeth blog was that it gave me (in retrospect) freedom to learn what blogging was really all about – and what it wasn’t.

    Interestingly, the blog platform that holds the content for my product (That’s Math!) is soon going to be living under a non-profit. We’ve finally decided to pull the trigger, get a lawyer and make it happen!

    And the MathFour.com blog is going back to being a place to share, promote the mission and continue the math education revolution – not make money!

  9. Jordan says

    I just read a similar post on the Freelance Writers Den about reasons not to blog. It’s good to have reasonable expectations for monetization since it’s not 2007 and everyone has a blog nowadays. It’s a pretty saturated market to try to directly monetize a blog. Just look at how many “how to make money online” blogs there are – tens of thousands at least.

    I too believe many people have a business inside of them, waiting to be excavated (I like the fossil analogy). And maybe starting a blog is just the tool to explore and uncover the synergy of their strengths, the backbone of an authentic business. I’m just now setting up a blog and am surprised at how time consuming it is, but I’m hoping that it will be a useful “vehicle” as you have written about. I think affiliate advertising can be a nice income stream if you truly stand behind the products you promote, and believe they will help your audience. Affiliate dollars are probably best earned within a blended business model (as you have successfully done here) if you don’t want to sell your soul. It’s interesting to read about your journey with your blog, thanks Tom.

  10. says

    Great post, Tom.

    When considering creating product, one can always start with something that you can use yourself. If it has value to yourself, it probably, almost always, will be useful to other people. That way, you will have a market, and a business. That’s how I got started and it continues to work well for me. :-)

  11. says

    Hey Tom,

    Great post and On Writing is a great read. Like King says, when you’re uncovering that fossil you’ll need big machinery (jackhammers and bulldozers) and some finer tools (brushes, small picks) to really unearth the beauty of the tale. I think what most bloggers miss are the finer tools. Lots of people can hack out a blog post but making it shiny and appealing to be read, commented on, shared and re-read are the finer tools that not everyone has the patience or skill to learn to use.

  12. says

    Enjoyed this!

    One of the benefits of having your own blog is using it as a platform and guide towards that business that will be right for you somewhere down the line. The fact, as you point out, that it takes time to build and become a viable earner can only be seen as positive really…even though very frustrating!

    • says

      Good point Erik — in fact, what you say is pretty much what I did. However, it doesn’t always work out that way — you might spend two years on a blog only to find that there is no viable business model on the other side…

  13. says

    Great post Tom!

    I think it’s great to deflect the unrealistic expectations some have about blogging. From what I’ve read from you and other pro bloggers, blogging for the sake of monetization simply does not work! Pat Flynn’s Green Exam Academy took a while to make money and so did yours. Also, blogging for the sake of blogging doesn’t work either!

    People who succeed in blogging are passionate about what they’re writing. And they’re GOOD writers. In a recent podcast I listened to, they said that a blog may be a modern tool but writing is an ancient craft. =)

    Sadly, I’m not a blogger. I have one on my website, but it’s a sad little thing. Lol! In fact, I’m hoping to get into the creative business trading time for money. We can’t all be bloggers! However, I am a keen consumer of some. Thank goodness for all you guys who write excellent blogs.

    And wedding cheesecakes?! Genius idea! Your gf sounds like a legend. Lol!

  14. says

    HI Tom,
    great post, as ever, but I was slightly worried when I read the title. But, I totally agree with you. I’m still in the process of working out the direction my blogging business takes as I build my audience so this post is very handy indeed.
    Huge thanks,
    Karl

  15. says

    Tom, great, thought-provoking post. I’ve been trying to make money online for awhile now with minimal results. I came across a few courses claiming that blogging is a viable way to make a living, but have since read several posts like yours debunking that idea.

    The blogging courses were produced by genuine teachers and all have warnings that blogging won’t make you rich overnight. I guess those guys making $200k a year have been blogging for years. But what I find interesting is they also sell their own products (ebooks, courses) and some affiliate as well.

    After giving it some thought, I think the best way is to create a product and casually start a blog to help gain an audience and sell the product to that audience and other means. Then, maybe down the road a few years, the blog will start to generate income by its sheer size. Kind of what you’re doing with LWB.

    Thanks again for the great post.

    Joe

    • says

      Hey Joe,

      The old method of (1) build audience, (2) ask them what they want, (3) build it for them still works. But it is typically a timely process. I suppose that, more than anything else, was what I was trying to get at in this post.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts :-)

      Tom

  16. says

    True. If a person’s only motivation for blogging is to earn money, then he is in for disappointment.

    Like what you said, earning is possible with blogging; but it can happen for a very long time. You have to have the patience of a passionate blogger, and of course hard work and the right strategies to truly make blogging a sturdy source of income.

  17. says

    Interesting “antagonizing” title Tom. Although to be honest, I was a bit more confused than antagonized by the title.

    That being said, are you now in the camp of “Blogging as a way to generate passive income is dead camp?”

    I’ve seen quite a few people who made a bit of money from quick blogs and micro niche’s saying that this is no longer the case with the Google zoo running amok.

    I’m guess that you are of somewhat the same view?

    Cheers,

    Daryl

    • says

      Hey Daryl,

      Not sure why you’re confused — the title gives reasons why you shouldn’t blog. It does what it says ;-)

      I am definitely not in that camp, but I am in the camp of “passive income doesn’t exist” — at least not in its literal form. While one can make a lot of money with a blog, it always requires time — even if that time is relatively limited.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  18. says

    Hey Tom,

    Nice Post. You raise some valid points. I agree with you on a lot of these assertions.

    However, I must say that Blogging in of itself can make a great long term business model.

    Definitely not a model where you can quit your job within a few months.

    But with consistency and endurance it can be a superb asset for you in the long run.
    From my experience ,I have found out as much or even way more than any other online business service one can offer!.

    Robert

  19. says

    Hey Tom, it’s so true about it taking time to really figure out what your blog is going to be about. It helps to have a rough idea when starting out, but sometimes the pressure of nailing it at the get go and setting everything up just perfectly can become a real obstacle to starting a blog – as I have discovered for myself.
    I had to tell myself to just sit and write and to figure the rest out as I went along.

  20. says

    Hi Tom.

    I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks, and find it very inspiring.

    I’ve just started blogging a few months ago (at least, seriously) and, as you say, it’s hard just starting out. I feel lost sometimes. So having guys like you share the “real-life” part of it on posts like this just makes me think: “Oh well, seems like I’m not the only one struggling here…”

    Thanks for such a great post. I feel like you’ve just described my case, in which blogging is not the ultimate outcome, but a means to an end. It helps to keep that in mind, in order to stay focused.

    • says

      Hi Angel,

      You certainly aren’t the only one struggling! I shared a statistic on my Facebook page a while back — it was the enormous amount of hours I spent on my blog before I made any money on it. I can’t remember the number but I know it was big ;-)

      Cheers,

      Tom

  21. says

    This reminds me that it’s better to run a business than a blog.

    I mean you have to think of you website as part of your business, not your only business.

    Too many people get all googly-eyed when it comes to blogging and they don’t look at it realistically.

  22. Debmalya says

    Wow great post Tom!!. The things that you wrote were wandering inside my head over the past few months. And to have my concerns beings affirmed by you made me believe more on them. Seriously, blogging is not everybody’s cup of tea and to think that you will have your bread and butter coming from blogging is totally absurd. You have to be really great and lucky too to have your blog stand out among 150 million plus blogs on the web.

  23. Janet says

    Tom, you’re still young, so don’t worry about only making $3,000 a month from your blog after two years. It usually takes 3-5 years to start making the real money.

    In the meantime, keeping working as a freelancer to supplant your income and save. You have to make about 30% more than you would have made at your day job due to all the lost benefits like retirement savings and health care.

    • says

      Hey Janet,

      Don’t worry, I’m not worrying :-)

      Having said that, I don’t see age or even time to an extent as a relevant factor. We should all strive to be as good as we can be, regardless of (often arbitrary) considerations like age.

      I didn’t get retirement in my last job and our healthcare is public here in the UK so no problems for me there ;-)

      Cheers,

      Tom

  24. says

    When following 30-40 blogs at one time, one definitely needs a good title.
    You got me to click :)
    Especially since I had just recently written an article arguing why everyone should start a blog ha!
    But, after reading your post, I completely agree with you, and still also believe that everyone should start a blog (I already had the idea that a blog has to be a platform for another business outlet anyway if income is one’s intention).
    Thanks for the great post.

  25. Tami says

    Yes, great title Tom. This is my first time to your site, and I was like “what…here’s this blogger telling everyone else why they shouldn’t blog….crazy.” So you were definitely using an effective technique for blogging. Kudos!

    It’s interesting about blogging. I heard a little different spin which intrigued me. It was to use blogging as a way to push yourself. When you have an audience, you get better because you are pushed since you have others reading and it also pushes you more to learn more and even maybe push or change your interests by what the audience comments. Then maybe a business could be born out of it because you are blogging because you are passionate about something and deeply moved, not just moved by money.

    Thanks for the read!

    • says

      Hey Tami,

      That’s certainly not a bad perspective, but it’s not one that’s going to make you money in the short term…but if that’s not your priority, it could be right for you!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  26. Steven Daws says

    Hello Tom,

    I understand exactly what you say, I have had a couple of blogs but I could never really nail it down. I initially chose technology, but as you can imagine, that is a very oversubscribed topic and very hard to get a niche.

    I am also freelance blogging (for the past two years). But I am still at the early stages in terms of generating income from it.

    I am looking a a more focused blog now, but not just to make money (though that would be nice), but also to offer something to people that they might find helpful.

    Good site Tom, I’m learning a lot from you.

    Steven

  27. says

    A couple of points really resonated with me.

    ” It [affiliate marketing] can so easily put you in a position where you compromise your morals “
    I’ve see this with several bloggers. For example one who makes over 20K$/month from bluehost, does not use this for hosting his blog.

    “blogs are most effective when acting as a source for client or customer leads for a business”
    This is my current model for my online webstore. I am in the process of building a blog whose intent is to educate my reader. I hope to build trust with my readers, hopefully then I can convert them to customers. The blog then turns into a funnel for my store.

    Thanks for the great read.

    Somesh

    • says

      Hey Somesh,

      Regarding your first point, that’s not necessarily an issue in my opinion. I’m assuming you’re talking about Pat Flynn, who runs a site that Bluehost shared hosting couldn’t possibly support. It would be pointless for him to recommend a high-end hosting solution to beginner bloggers, so it makes sense for him to recommend Bluehost if he truly thinks they’re great (I think they’re terrible, but that’s another matter).

      Sounds like you’ve got a great plan!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  28. says

    An honest post! Thanks for putting it so succinctly and plainly. It makes a change from a lot of the usual stuff on blogging.

    Two things I’ll take away from this:

    1. Your blog will grow and it’s grown-up self will probably be different from what it was when you first started.

    2. Work at it. Your blog isn’t what makes the money, gets readers, etc. – It’s you and how you relate to others (you want to attract to your blog)

    Cheers!

  29. Julie says

    Very good post. I’ve been blogging for over 12 years now. I’ve not made the focus on living off of my blogging, but many of the things you touch on here are things I’ve thought as I read the current blogging advice being pushed.

    Very practical advice. Thank you.

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