What Really Goes Into Running a Blog as a Small Business

Let’s talk today about what really goes into running a blog as a small business. And I’m talking actual blogging, not the blogging that is just posting on Instagram. There’s no shame in that approach and it is, no doubt, a huge time commitment, but it’s definitely a different beast.

So, first, let’s get into a little context: I started blogging back in 2010 (yup, 2010). This blog started as a place to show images I found online that I loved, decor inspiration, projects I was tackling at home, and, of course, collages. So many OOTD collages. It was called Pineapples and Pearls back in those days — a name I had to change when a restaurant opened back in 2016 and coincidentally came up with almost the exact same name. I did all the blogger things, went to events, conferences, and the like, but it wasn’t until about 2017 that I buckled down and started taking it seriously as a business.

Since then, I migrated my blog to WordPress, invested in a new design that I like (I’ve still got some more ideas to improve), focused on consistent photo editing, and, most of all, grew my traffic. From 2019 to 2020 alone, my page views were up 111% and unique visitors were up 199%.

All that is to say, this website, my blog itself, is my bread and butter. Social media is great, but I like to write longer form content and I prefer the control that comes with running your own website.

So, let’s get into it. What does it really to take to run a blog as a small business? What should you expect if you want to launch a blog?

As I write this, I’m realizing this is perhaps, in part, self serving. I can’t tell you how often I’m asked for advice on how to start a blog, so I spend time answering questions and providing advice, and then…the person never follows through. Now I can just send them this post!

What Are the Expenses of Running a Blog as a Small Business?

First up, let’s talk about the expenses.  Y’all, it costs money to run a small business — and a blog is a small business. So, when bloggers run sponsored content or ads or use affiliate links, they’re doing that to help cover the expenses that go into bringing readers free content.

Business Licensing

If you’re bringing in money, you have to pay taxes.  If you pay taxes, you have to register your business. All of this costs money. And it’s so, so confusing. I’m still not 100% sure I’ve done it correctly, but I spoke with probably 10 different people over the course of several months and paid a decent amount of money — and no one’s told me I did it wrong yet.

You’ll also have to consider whether to register as an LLC or sole proprietor. I chose to remain a sole proprietor at this point, though there’s arguments to be made for both.

Taxes

There’s no way to sugar coat it: taxes are the worst and they’re particularly bad for small businesses. Any money that you bring in, immediately set aside 30% to go to taxes. It’s not like your 9-5 paycheck where someone is automatically taking it our for you, you need to be on top of calculating and paying quarterly taxes.

Hosting and Subscription Services

That website has to live somewhere! So, you’ll have to pay for hosting and your domain name. This is a simple, set it and forget it step. Additionally, I pay subscription based fees for a Pinterest scheduling tool and my newsletter.

Web Design

Depending on what you’re looking for, this could be a low, one-time cost or it could be a much larger investment. I believe I spent around $100 for both a WordPress template and a few add-ons. I’ve been able to adjust it to my needs thus far and, while I’d love a super customized web design, I’m not willing to shell out a few thousand dollars at this point. Plus, I know that I like to change things up on occasion, so that doesn’t seem like the best place to allocate a big spend.

Equipment

This can run from the basics like internet, a computer, camera, and tripod, to the actual items you need for your blog posts. If I’m writing a coffee post, I need to buy the supplies to make the drink — and I need photo-worthy kitchenware. If I want to write a style post, I need to buy the clothes — or make sure I have items that are still available.

While I try to limit consumption, there is some amount of buying nice items that is necessary when you’re photographing content.

Photography

I’m fortunate that, if I hand my husband my camera with all the settings in place, he can take decent photos. I absolutely recognize that isn’t always the case with friends and family stepping in and I am so, so grateful. Could I pay for professional photos that might look even better? Sure. But, these are good enough that I’d rather save the couple hundred dollars.

Other Expenses

While the above items cover most of my expenses, there are other items that you might look into including, graphic design and branding, social media management, virtual assistant services, advertising, and more.

 

running a blog as a small business

What Do You Need to Know Before Starting a Blog?

Let’s start with a big picture question: why are you starting a blog? Before you begin, you need to think about the answer to that question. Because, if you’re not doing it because you enjoy writing, creating content, and sharing what you have to say with the world, you’re probably not going to stick with it.

With that out of the way, here are a few of the skills you need to know (or learn!) before you start a blog (or while you’re starting it!):

  • Writing: This one should be obvious. For writers, blogging is an awesome way to hone your craft and nail down your voice. It’s a low stakes way to put your thoughts out there again and again and again.
  • Branding: The best blogs look consistent across the entire website and feel cohesive between the visuals, photography, typeface, and voice. It can be evolving — I’ve certainly changed mine drastically over the years. In an ideal world, I’d hire someone to create icons and create a branding suite, but it’s not something I’ve invested in at this point.
  • Marketing and PR: From building your name on social media to, you need to be your own biggest advocate when you’re doing cool things! Build a presence on social media. Get your name out there. Learn to pitch yourself.
  • Photography and Editing: While it’s awesome to hire a photographer, it certainly helps do be able to do your own photography and editing, too. You never know when a last minute campaign or opportunity might come up.
  • Basic HTML: Similar to photography, even if you hire a professional, it does help to be able to do some basic web design, particularly for blog posts on your own.
  • SEO: You need to learn to optimize your posts if you’re going to get eyes on them.
  • Google Analytics: What’s growing your blog if you can’t measure it? Make sure your Google Analytics tracking is working and learn to read it.

What is the Time Commitment?

This can range wildly depending on both the blogger and the week you ask them.

And, I’ll add for some context: I’m writing this on a beautiful, 65-degree Sunday afternoon. If your blog is your side hustle and you have a day job, it’s going to be a nights and weekends time commitment. 

So, first, you have to think about how often a blogger is posting new content. For some full-time bloggers, it is, literally, a full-time job — they’re posting new content every single weekday. For side hustle bloggers, it could range from putting up a post every week or so, to consistently posting two to three times a week. Since I have a full-time job, in addition to blogging and freelancing, I tend to fall in the one to three post a week cadence, depending on how many photos I have at the ready and what my freelance week looks like.

When it comes to how much time those posts take to produce, that can also depend on so many factors.

  • A travel post with 20-30 photos and detailed itineraries could take several hours and I’ll typically space that work out over a day or two. These are, by far, the most time-consuming posts, regardless of whether they’re a partnership with a destination or just a recap of my own travels.
  • A post like this one you’re reading, where I’m leveraging a photo I took for something else and writing is the big lift, will take about an hour to an hour and a half. Keep in mind, posts like this are long — this one, for example, is over 2200 words.
  • When you think about normal posts, with two to three photos and about 500 to 750 words, that could take an hour and a half to two hours to edit photos in Lightroom, clean up in Photoshop if necessary, bring into WordPress, find accompanying links, and write the post.

However, it’s not just blog posts that take up time. You also have to consider time allocated for all of the following:

  • Planning: This includes planning an editorial calendar, planning photo shoots, and scheduling time to edit and write.
  • Pitching: Because my blog is not my primary source of side hustle income, I don’t do a ton of active pitching. I primarily work with brands who come to me, however, I do on occasion pitch brands and organizations. This requires research, editing, and maintaining an updated media kit.
  • Working through sponsored posts: There’s a lot that goes into producing sponsored content! There are initial conversations and negotiations, reading contracts, producing draft content, getting that content approved, making edits if necessary, and working into the editorial calendar in a way that feels organic.
  • Promoting: You want all that hard work to be seen, right? That means making sure posts go up on social media, particularly Pinterest, on a regular basis and trying to leverage evergreen content (I need to be better about this!).
  • Backend admin work: Think back to that business licensing and tax stuff I mentioned, that takes time. Invoicing takes time. Keeping track of expenses takes time. It’s not the fun stuff, but it has to get done.

How Do Bloggers Earn Money?

I’ve said before, my focus for earning money through my side hustle is on my freelance writing and design work, not my blog. I love blogging, but it’s definitely more of a passion project than a huge moneymaker for me. However, these are the ways that I do earn income from my blog:

Google ads

I have Google ads set up and those are what you’ll see interspersed throughout the site. They are retargeting ads, which means they’re based on your searches. I’ve had to tell more than one person this when they’ve been like, “omg, what are you advertising?!?!”

Sponsored posts

I do more sponsored posts on my Instagram than my blog, but those could look like this post I did Braun. Typically, with these, the brand will send product and I will get paid for posting. While some influencers are 100% against gifted product only, I’m totally willing to post for gifted product if I think the gifted product value matches equally with the time I will spend on the post and it’s product that I’m super pumped to get.

Affiliate links

These are the links that I include in my blog posts and via Like to Know It (which you can also find on my shop page). I earn a small commission when people buy products through those links or use a brand that I have a promo code with — think of it as a personal shopper fee. You don’t pay anything additional, but the brand pays in order to be a part of the affiliate program. I detailed this process further in this post.

Note: at first I was going to include a section about how to support your favorite bloggers, but I’ve decided that deserves its own post entirely!

How Do Bloggers Feel About the Term “Influencer”?

I can only speak for myself here, but the term “influencer” makes me think of someone who just posts photos of their Starbucks cup conveniently held in front of their luxury car steering wheel, while hawking skinny fit tea on their feed.

However, I do think that bloggers have influence — and they can use it positively! We’re all looking to social media and the internet for recommendations. I google every item I consider buying and seeing firsthand testimonies online helps me figure out what’s legit. I get ideas of fun things to do from bloggers and Instagrammers. I find out about restaurants and towns I’d never heard of. The amount of influence I’m consuming is life-changing, and often for the better. I hope I can offer that same positive influence on someone else through this blog!

Which is why, each time I receive an email or a DM from someone who found me and planned their honeymoon itinerary based on my blog post or redecorated their bedroom when they found a pin of mine, it’s so wonderful and validating to hear! If I can influence people to do something that makes them happy, then isn’t that the best reason to do this? 

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