If my inbox and DMs are any indication, a career as a content creator (a.k.a. professional blogger, digital influencer, freelance writer, videographer – whatever the term du jour is) is in high demand. You won’t get far in your Facebook feed before you hit an article from The New York Times or Forbes about bloggers who make hundreds of thousands of dollars for frolicking in Maldivian bungalows and wearing designer threads they got for free. If the Internet is to be believed, bloggers practically print their own fat stacks.
(NOTE: if you’re reading this on mobile, you’re missing all the GIFs!)
And it looks easy, right? Every day, I get questions from folks asking for the golden ticket to that lifestyle.
“How can I do what you do?”
Or, “How do you get paid to travel?” or “I want to make some extra money so I started a blog. When do I get paid?” Lots of variations of the same train of thought.
When someone asks me how to become a publicist, I have a clear-cut answer of how to do it. When someone asks me how to be a blogger, I’m like crazy, hot-mess Charlene. There are just a lot of ways to get there, and no one easy answer.
If you want to know the truth, becoming a blogger is the easiest thing in the world. It’s as simple as signing up for a Blogspot or WordPress account and writing whatever you want. That’s what I did on BigAppleAngie.com. It wasn’t meant to be a career. It was just a way to keep family updated on my adventures in New York… a fun hobby for a girl who loved to write and didn’t have an outlet.
Now… well you know my story, right? I’ve been writing for more than 17 years.
And Lordy, if my inbox isn’t overflowing with folks looking for a piece of that GET PAID TO TRAVEL pie. If only I’d tell share my secret to being a professional blogger. So here it is:
Work Work Work Work Work. –Rihanna
It really is that simple. But it’s 100% not easy.
I don’t mind answering questions from up-and-coming bloggers, but I do struggle to put into a few concise sentences how I do what I do. Blogging as a career is a lot more complicated than shiny stories and Instagram posts make it look! I suspect that’s why most would-be bloggers give up after a few months of toil.
If you’re thinking of giving it a shot, I wrote this just for you. Check out the 11 Surprising Facts about Life as a Professional Blogger, and then let’s chat about your career path!
If You Want More Free Time, Get a “Real” Job
I work even more now than when I had a “real” job. And my real job as a publicist in NYC was not a traditional 9-to-5. Knowing I’m the only person in charge of my success means I always put in extra time, stay up late, get up early, answer one more email, speak at conferences, network even though it’s draining, interact with social media in bed. I don’t take days off, but I do have the flexibility to spend the afternoon running errands if I need to because I can finish working in the evening. I also haven’t taken a real vacation since I started down this path.
I can hear the screams, “But you travel all the time! You’re always on vacation, Angie Away!”
YES, I travel a lot – but don’t confuse that with vacation.
If you’re seeing edited photos, produced videos and published articles, that didn’t just happen organically in my spare time. It’s a focused, strategic, planned effort. Travel and vacation are not necessarily the same thing. I answered emails on my wedding day. I worked on my honeymoon. I cancelled a much-needed vacation for Rick and me because an amazing opportunity came up. It is what it is!
Now don’t start drafting a rage comment just yet. I promise this is not an entitled whine about how difficult my job is or how many hours I work. I LOVE to work. I LOVE the career I’ve carved out for myself. I do this all purposefully and intentionally, and I am not complaining about the path I’ve chosen. It works for me.
But if you want to be a blogger because you think you’ll have lots of free time and less grind, better go for a traditional 9-to-5.
Most pro bloggers I know are bloggers plus something else. Having a blog and being a good writer is the foundation, not the end game.
I wear many hats, and that is the secret to my freelance success. The truth is, at least 75% of my income comes from sources outside of blogging itself – PR clients, media consulting, freelance writing, TV projects, affiliate sales, public speaking, photo licensing, video creation, etc.
I’m juggling half-a-dozen different careers. Blogging happens to be the most visible.
Rules? What Rules?
I am a rule follower. One of the things I loved about working at a PR agency was the structure, the daily flow, the professionalism that guided us. Sharing similar educational backgrounds and career paths with my colleagues gave us a solid foundation of mutual respect.
On the contrary, the blogosphere is the Wild, Wild West. Because blogging as a profession is quite new and each blogger is basically a self-employed island, there aren’t any rules per se. Sure, there’s suggested etiquette from Google, from mishmash blogger associations, from factions within the larger group. But there isn’t one set of universally accepted professional guidelines.
Bloggers come from every background, too – communications, healthcare, finance, politics, parenting, tech. Why? There are no barriers to joining this profession. Perhaps that’s why it seems like an easy option. You can have advanced degrees or a 5th grade education. Twenty-five years of journalism experience or zero. You don’t need a resume or an interview to get in.
Don’t believe me? Dig around. Some of the top bloggers don’t know the difference between there, their and they’re. Some wouldn’t know what to do with an AP Style book if it smacked ’em upside the head. (Not that it’s a requirement to follow such rules. That’s my point: there’s no baseline.)
That would never fly in the PR or journalism world, but in the blogosphere? It only matters if your audience cares. (Welcome to ‘Merica. If it’s not about Trump’s tweets or the latest Kardashian scandal, nobody is paying attention.)
Blogging is MUCH More than Writing
You wrote a story, took some photos and pressed publish… congrats, you’re a blogger!
Oh, you want to get paid? As I’ve said, that’s a whole other ballgame.
Blogging vs. Blogging for Profit are two entirely different animals. Blogging is just about creating the content.
Experience. Write. Photo. Publish. Share with your Mom. Done.
Blogging for Profit has about 100 more steps. There’s what you see – the pretty photos, the cute Tweets, the fun blog posts – and then everything else. It’s maybe a 25/75 split in my world of what you see vs. the effort it takes to get you to see it.
If you’re considering becoming a professional blogger, you should already be working to build an engaged audience. That’s a HUGE part of why brands pay bloggers to create content for them. Yes, the content itself is important, but its the Pro’s expertise in publishing, publicizing and extending the life of that content that makes it so valuable.
That’s why professional bloggers get paid.
This is the hard truth that no one wants to hear, but there’s more to being a professional blogger than just traveling, writing and taking pretty pictures.
(I know – I was disappointed when I found out, too!)
You should also learn everything you can about SEO, publicity, photography, affiliate marketing and social media. Go to conferences and networking events. Know how to freaking spell. And plan to self-finance your endeavors for the foreseeable future, as you would starting any business.
And… well, like I said. 100 more steps.
Creating content doesn’t rank up there with what NICU nurses or my genius friends at NASA do. But like any profession, it takes strategy and hustle. I wish it were the case, but it’s just not as simple as taking an iPhone video and slapping up some notes about your vacay.
Success Takes Time & Money
What people think happened: I loved to travel so I quit my job and then someone decided to pay me to take pictures & say nice things about their hotels.
What really happened: Quit my stable job, left my lovely apartment and traveled alone. GASP. Spent my life savings to see if I could make it as a blogger. Hyperventilated for a year, wondering if I was making the right decision. Stuck it out through 7 years of ups and downs. Wrote hundreds of thousands of unpaid words before I made a dollar. Networked with hundreds of people around the world. Slept on a lot of airport floors to save money. Lived out of a suitcase for two full years. Lived at my parents’ house on breaks. Improved my writing. Learned from others. Shared my experiences. Grew with the industry. Invested in new equipment, classes and training. Changed focus. Worked to educate brands on the value of hiring professional content creators with the belief that a rising tide lifts all boats. Failed a lot, succeeded now and then. Ended up here.
I didn’t wake up one day with a blogging career and a lot of frequent flier miles because someone decided I deserved it. I risked. I hustled. I invested in my business. And I’m still risking and hustling and investing all the time.
Mean Girls (and Guys) Exist
Travel bloggers (in particular) seem so free and enlightened with dreamy mountaintop photos and inspirational quotes, but there’s as much drama in this profession as there is in any other job. There are factions who snub the girls in the cheeky bikinis and floppy hats and others who’d rather die than sit next to a less influential blogger at an event. (And they’ll tell you that to your face!)
There are bloggers who buy followers, bloggers who provide photos and content to brands for free because they’re independently wealthy and still others who’d die of starvation before accepting one icky dollar from a brand. There are bloggers who take on topics from racism to recycling, and others who’d trample a pack of endangered baby hedgehogs to get a good selfie. There are bloggers who pay $2/hour to virtual assistants in SE Asia to do all their writing, and others who try to game the SEO system. There are fat-shamers and slut-shamers and eco-shamers and accommodation-shamers and every kind of shamer.
It’s not a utopia full of self-aware, self-actualized, totally perfect entrepreneurial free spirits. I only point this out so you don’t idealize the blogosphere and end up disillusioned when you break into the field only to find some of the same cliques and jerks you left behind in your old job.
(NOTE: There are PLENTY of phenomenal, difference-making humans, too. Obvi. I would be lost without my blogging community!)
Highlight Reel Only, Please
Bloggers portray the lifestyle we want people to see. Or the lifestyle people want to see, depending on your perspective. It’s not necessarily that we’re hiding “real” life, but my day-to-day is pretty average. Do you want to see me hunched over the computer for 10 hours in my jammies? (I mean… I guess I could Facebook Live that?)
Yes, I sometimes stay in 5-star hotels and take Boomerangs with manicured hands and Champagne, but my home office looks like a homeless camp. I’m chronically dehydrated because I forget to drink water while I’m working. I haven’t folded laundry in literally 5 months. Every day at dinner time, I’m like, “AGAIN?! I have to cook AGAIN?!”
Sometimes I forget to wash my hair. TMI? I’m just bein’ honest.
Last week, my darling, patient Rick finally said, “I wasn’t going to mention it, but you’ve worn the same outfit every day this week. Are you ok?”
What you see on social media is a curated highlight reel, not the outtakes. (Remember that when comparing your life to someone else’s!)
My Boss is Demanding & My Assistant is Lazy
Being my own boss is harder than I ever imagined. As much as I really did love working as a publicist in a big agency, there wasn’t enough flexibility for me to be creative and have autonomy and work on my own terms. (Could I be more Millennial?!) I couldn’t wait to set my own schedule and work on the projects I wanted to work on.
Now that I’ve been my own boss for so long, I sometimes miss having someone else in charge.
I also miss the finance department, the legal department, the graphic design department, the IT department. All those departments were consolidated into one position when I quit agency life: MINE.
So yes, I’m the CEO. I’m also the assistant, accountant, appointment scheduler, writer, editor, researcher, photographer, videographer, graphic designer, computer fixer and toilet cleaner. The nitty gritty can be a real life force (and creativity) sucker. Taxes, W9s, back and forth with clients and contracts, printing, signing, scanning documents, chasing down payments – that means knowing entirely too much about tax preparation software and a lot of hours per week. Hours I always thought I’d spend writing my memoir, but instead are spent trying to get to mythical inbox zero.
How to prepare for the leap from having a boss to being your boss? It really, really helps to know yourself inside and out. How do you work best? What are your peak productive hours? Are you introverted or extroverted? What motivates you? If you’re not a self-starting, go-getter before you start a blog, you’re going to struggle, because you have to hustle every single day.
Making Bank is Not a Given
Despite The New York Times and other stories featuring a few bloggers who make money hand-over-fist, most find getting ANY money at all to be a real challenge. Brands frequently offer to pay me in suntan lotion and exposure. Once someone offered to pay me in “smiles.”
I haven’t throat punched anyone yet, but it looks like this might be the year.
There’s always a newbie willing to work 40 hours in exchange for a $99 hotel stay, $25 shirt or $10 gift card, and maybe in Year 1 of trying to make it, that might seem like a good idea. In Year 7? GET TO STEPPIN’.
Some PR firms, marketing agencies and destinations are wising up to the fact that if they want to work with professional, established writers with engaged audiences, they have to pay for the time that goes into it. Still the requests for free work outnumber paid work in my inbox by 5:1.
I spend just as much time explaining to brands why I deserve to get paid for 5 days of work as I do actually creating content.
Fiscal Responsibility is a BFD
As an entrepreneur, you have to get used to a fluctuating bank account and manage your money like Scrooge McDuck. I never realized what a blessing it was to get paid every two weeks until the first time three clients were 90 days past due and I had to pay my rent on a credit card.
Even as a veteran in the blogging industry, I walk a tightrope between feast and famine. Sometimes everyone pays at once and there’s a huge chunk of change in my checking account. That’s fun! But sadly short-lived.
When that happens, I immediately send at least 20% to the IRS and then distribute the rest in a way where I have enough to live on but can’t easily access. There’s no telling how long it will be until the next invoice is paid.
There’s no algorithm to help figure it out. You just have to be a judicious saver and a cautious spender.
Frequently, I’m checking the calendar to see how long ago I sent an invoice. Should I follow up? Is 30 days too long? 60? I don’t want to be annoying, pero like… I’m hungry. If it gets to 90 days, I start to wonder if they’re ever going to pay. Is it worth a small claims suit?
The struggle is real.
Thick Skin is a Must
No matter what you write about – the weather, your day at the beach, a cup of coffee – someone at some point will be offended.
Decaf?! You drink decaf?! And you call yourself a professional? You’re a no-talent hack!
Some of the hate comments I get are laughable. Sometimes (A LOT of the time) people don’t read the whole post, but have lots to say about it. Some comments really do sting and I take them to heart. I’m only human.
Just like in middle school, putting yourself out there is hard. Telling the truth is hard. Being yourself is hard.
Like the wise guru Shia LaBeouf tells us, “JUST DO IT.” If you want to dive into the pro blogging world, just know that someone probably isn’t going to like you.
One more time for y’all in the back: none of the above is meant as complaint or to discourage future bloggers. I love what I do and I hope I can do it for many more years.
With so many emails coming in asking how to do it, it seems the reality of pro blogging is different than the perception. It’s more profitable to sell the idea that this is the world’s easiest career path. For me, I want to contribute to the success of aspiring bloggers with an honest peek behind the scenes – not contribute to their disillusionment when it’s not quite as easy as it looks.
The good news for future professional bloggers: we O.G.s have paved the way! If you’re just arriving on scene, the foundation is set for you to join the team, take all the lessons we’ve learned (and provided free of charge on our blogs) and carve out your own unique path.
The bad news: the blogosphere has never been more saturated. You’ll have to hustle harder than anyone. If you’re thinking about diving in, I encourage you to keep researching, building your audience and honing your skills. You’re going to need them. And if you’re still game to give it a try after reading this, let’s talk!