This is one of those posts that I kept saying I was going to do, but every time I sat down and tried to approach it, I felt overwhelmed and opted out. We get a lot of questions about how we’re able to run a profitable blog, most of the time via Instagram or blog followers, but sometimes in person, and sometimes phrased in such a way that we’re made to feel uncomfortable, like we’re in an industry where you have to 1. have started off super wealthy and just be throwing money at it until your blog succeeds or 2. be doing some kind of behind-the-scenes, sketchy magic any ordinary person couldn’t. I promise you, neither is the case.
Usually when presented with the question, “So how do you make money running a blog?” I give a one-word answer: slowly, because it’s true and it kind of allows me to cop-out from going into more depth if the person asking isn’t someone who I feel is open to looking at blogging as an industry, rather than a hobby. To leave this blog post at that, though, would be kind of cruel. So, as promised, I’m going to break down everything we’ve learned about making money through this platform (& Instagram, too) in the past year and a half.
Before I do that though, I want to make it clear that we don’t have all the answers. Our blog is successful, but in the wider scope of all the successful blogs out there, it’s not that successful, and while certain tactics can increase the likelihood that your blog takes off, there’s no perfect algorithm. If there were, everybody would be doing this because, let’s be honest, being bloggers is pretty unreal. You make your own hours, you do whatever you want and get to write about it, you get to travel to some seriously awesome places, and you have a little corner of the internet preserved with all the highlights of your life. Also, you get to hang out with your fiance all day and argue over who actually is the boss (spoiler alert: it’s me).
So here we go, I’ve broken it down into six steps or stages because I’m into lists and in this case, especially, understanding that income for bloggers doesn’t come from only one channel is very important. If you have any questions or want a more in-depth answer on something particular, leave a comment below or shoot us a DM over on Instagram, nothing helped me to understand this industry more than talking to other bloggers !
1. Be a Professional (Photographer)
I put the photographer part in parentheses because first and foremost, if you want your blog to be a success, you’ve got to act professional. Basically, if you want your blog to be treated like a business, you have to run it like a business. This means not reaching out to brands via Instagram DM, but going on their website, researching their backstory, and finding a strong PR contact. It also means not calling yourself an “influencer” when you have maybe seven hundred followers (or ever! This word is just the worst and basically reduces all of your creative talent to swaying people’s opinions, which, in our opinions, really stinks. Ban it from your vocabulary). When you’re collaborating with brands (more on that in a minute) your responses need to be prompt and your emails need to be articulate. Every opportunity you have to leave someone with a greater social reach than your own with a good impression of you is vital if you want bigger companies to share your images on their social channels and to believe you’re trending toward significant growth.
Now for the photographer portion. If your photographs aren’t high quality, well-edited, well-framed, and generally captivating, your blog will almost never take off. I know there are exceptions to this, but the rule goes that if you want people to look at your blog and consider it on par with the best in this industry, the quality needs to be there, unfailingly, every blog post, every Instagram. Invest in a good DSLR, familiarize yourself with editing apps like Lightroom, and understand that this is an amazing investment, because if you’re a professional photographer as well as a blogger, opportunities for income and exposure increase significantly.
When Porter and I were just crossing the threshold of working with brands and wanted to increase our discoverability, offering our photographic services for content creation (basically just product shots) for free to big brands in exchange for being tagged when those photos were reposted on their social channels brought us serious traffic. If your photos don’t appear professional, you can’t extend this courtesy to brands, and it’ll take a lot longer to gain traction.
2. Affiliate Links
You know how a lot of blogs you read have links to certain things a blogger is wearing in many or most of their blog posts? Those links are usually (but not always) affiliate links, meaning that the blogger is working with a company that allows them to make a percentage or commission off everything that’s purchased through that link. These kinds of programs are application based, but if you’ve concentrated on being a professional (see step 1) your blog should be accepted without too much trouble.
Sometimes, this means that the blogger only makes money if something is purchased, and other times bloggers get paid based on how many times the link has been clicked. Here’s where even bigger money comes in: if you click a link in a blogger’s post to a site like, Flynn Skye, let’s say, and Flynn Skye is hooked up to whatever affiliate program the blogger uses, then decide you actually don’t want to buy anything that day, but come back three days later, Google Flynn Skye and make a purchase, the blogger still makes commission, sometimes for up to thirty days because it tracks that purchase back to their link!
Also, it doesn’t always matter if you purchase the exact item the blogger was wearing, they can make a percentage off of whatever you buy at check out. I’ve heard a story that a blogger wore a tiny ring from a very expensive jewelry designer and linked to it via an affiliate link in one of her blog posts, then, the next day, found out someone had used that link to purchase a $20,000 necklace. I imagine that commission was pretty sweet.
3. Sponsored Collaborations
While affiliate links are super helpful, and do bring in some money, I can almost guarantee that 99% of successful bloggers aren’t making the biggest chunk of their salary via that avenue. Some bloggers actually ignore affiliate links entirely in favor of working solely with brands one-on-one. This is where the opportunity to make a more serious lump sum arises, and if you’re already profiting this way, it’s a good sign that your blog has started to be taken seriously.
Sponsored collaborations essentially mean that instead of just receiving free product, now brands are sending you free products and paying you a premium for an agreed upon number of posts, blog posts, tumbles, Pinterest posts, or YouTube mentions (depending on who they’re working with). How much you charge is entirely up to you, but the general rule of thumb is that you want to be regularly engaging 5% or more of your following size, and not be changing the number you charge too often. (Example: don’t charge one brand $300 per post, then charge the next $900). It is good, though, to analyze the costs and benefits of the brand you’re collaborating with. Maybe this brand has an identical target audience to your own so the collaboration will almost definitely increase your own audience (reduce your fee), or maybe you’re kind of taking a risk working with this brand because you like their aesthetic but they have 1200 followers and are just getting off the ground (increase your fee). There are a lot of factors that play into pricing yourself, and the more collaborations you do, the more you’ll get a sense of what you feel is a fair price for what you bring to the table.
Side Note: Don’t be a sell out. Just because you can make money via sponsored collaborations doesn’t mean that now every post you do should be sponsored. Your audience won’t like that, I promise, and it’s painful to come across accounts that once had really strong followings that are basically tanking because every other post says “#sponsored”. I’ve heard that one out of every eight posts is a good trend to set, so maybe try and stick to that. While your blog can make you money, it shouldn’t feel like a money-making machine. Truly successful bloggers incorporate collaborations subtly, infrequently, and only when they really really believe in a product.
4. Find Additional Ways to Add Value
Remember in part 1 when I said that being a professional photographer was a great thing because it would give you opportunities to make money through social media outside of collaborations? Here’s part 2 of why that is:
Sometimes you really want to work with a brand or a hotel, but they just don’t think you’re worth it. That really stinks. The first couple times that happened to us, it was a bummer, and kind of left me doubting a lot. But then you get over it, and pick yourself up, and don’t want to take no for an answer, because although no means no almost all of the time, this is an exception. Brands and hotels will turn you down the first time you ask, and maybe the second, but that doesn’t always mean they will the third time. Here’s where the “adding value” come in. If you have certain cards you can play to increase a brand or hotel’s interest in you, this is when you want to play them.
Example: When Porter and I first wanted to start getting hotel stays comped, we knew we didn’t exactly have the social reach to “deserve it”, so we would offer to do photographic projects during our stay, like shooting a certain number of high-res pictures of their new dining room, or lobby, or the entire hotel. We got a free hotel stay, a place to shoot content for our blog and Instagram, and the hotel got photos they would’ve hired someone else to take otherwise.
5. Sleep, A Social Life, Your Blog. Pick Two.
If you don’t live your brand, your brand will die. Harsh, I know, but that’s how people get businesses off the ground, and if you want your blog to be a business that same mentality should apply. This past year, our social lives were basically non existent. We’d see friends max once a week, and spend most of our weekends pouring ourselves into this blog and planning our upcoming trip around the world. I have zero regrets over this. I believe learning how to delay gratification is a good thing, and making sacrifices to build something you’re really truly proud of will make the success that much sweeter. I promise.
6. Contractual Collaborations
Okay, number six, we’re at the home stretch. If you’ve already been doing all the things I listed above then this is the natural next stop. One-time sponsored collaborations with brands are great, but they usually only have one pay-out, which isn’t exactly a steady salary. If you’re a big enough blogger, you can set up contractual collaborations, whereby a brand will pay you a certain amount per month for a certain number of months to post a certain number of times. This is kind of the Holy Grail of knowing you’ve made it in the blogging industry because now you have a steady income (especially if you have contracts with a large number of brands), multiple streams of income, and can kind of breathe for a second and not feel like you might not be able to make rent three months from now if you don’t close at least two more collaborations come December (been there!).
One last thing, with all of these suggestions, we’re speaking to what we know as lifestyle bloggers. It’s a whole different game in the travel blogging industry, and a whole lot harder to profit from. We’ve talked to huge travel bloggers who still rarely have hotels pay them, but one avenue that’s growing in profitability in that sector is tourism boards (kind of surprising, I know), but lots of countries and even states are now offering bloggers serious cash if they’ll come on an all-expenses-paid trip to their country and share that trip via their social channels. This is also known as The Dream.
We hope this was helpful and covered a decently wide scope of the things we’ve been asked! The pics above are from our trip to NYC last week from a morning we spent going to our favorite cafe in Brooklyn (I miss it already).
Anna Lisa & Porter