Last week I wrote about the experience of almost losing my online business as a result of having too many eggs in one basket and then followed up with a post on what I did to diversify the traffic sources coming into my blog to become less reliant upon Google.
Today I want to continue talking about diversification but to switch our attention to diversifying income streams.
Back in 2004 when I almost went under, I not only was too reliant upon traffic from the Google Search Engine – I was also very reliant upon Google’s AdSense Ad Network as the main source of income for my business.
AdSense had been very good to me up until that point (and it continued to be for years after), but by focusing so much of my efforts upon it I now see that it left me exposed and in a risky position.
As I suggested last week, a great question to ask is:
Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?
At that time, AdSense accounted for 95% of my income – losing it would have had pretty devastating consequences.
I had already been experimenting with a few extra income streams in 2004 (including Amazon’s Affiliate program, some small time direct ad sales, and some other affiliate programs) but had become a little lazy in these experiments – mainly because Adsense was already doing so well (I was pretty much at a full time income from it).
As a result of almost losing it all in December 2004, I came to my senses and decided it was time to get my act together and to begin to grow some serious extra income streams.
My first experiment was to try to find another advertising network that might work like AdSense. I tried a few (Yahoo had one at the time, for example) but none really converted as well as AdSense for me until I found Chitika (aft).
Chitika blew my mind. I remember the day I came across it and was impressed with it because, like AdSense, it was just a matter of copying and pasting code into my blog to show the ad – but unlike AdSense it showed ads with product images IN the ad unit. This was particularly good for me because my blog at the time was a camera review blog and I was talking about products every day.
I excitedly added an additional Chitika ad unit to every page on my photography blog at that time and the next day logged in to see how it had performed.
It did really well and that single ad unit made about 25% of what AdSense did every day.
Over the coming weeks I added more ad units and tested new positions of ads and grew that Chitika income to the point that some months in the year that followed saw it earn more than AdSense. Amazingly to me this increase in income from Chitika didn’t come at the expense of AdSense which continued to work well.
Note: Chitika ads don’t work perfectly on every blog. I myself noticed that they slowly slid back in what they earned over the next few years and today I don’t use them any more – mainly because we’ve moved to selling ads directly to advertisers (more on that below).
As my blogs and my own personal profile grew (particularly here at ProBlogger) I began to notice opportunities open up for me to generate an income by offering my services of creating other products to sell.
These largely fell into three categories – speaking, consulting and writing a book.
The speaking came first. I had already done a little speaking for free in my local area, but after launching ProBlogger I began to get paid opportunities to speak to groups about blogging.
These started off being local opportunities in my city but then grew to become interstate and international.
Similarly, as my readership on ProBlogger grew, I began to get emails from readers wanting to hire me to help them with their blogging.
I began to offer ‘blog consulting’ services where I would charge an hourly rate to advise bloggers. I didn’t stick at this for long as I didn’t find it as enjoyable as actually blogging – and I also thought I could probably help more bloggers by writing about blogging rather than working one on one with bloggers.
Also around this time I was approached by Wiley US to write the first edition of the ProBlogger book (a paper one). This book is now in its third edition.
While speaking, consulting, or the book never became million dollar income streams, they all did help me to diversify my income – they also all helped me to grow my audience and learn a lot!
Over the years since numerous other income streams have emerged.
These have come to include the Job Board here on ProBlogger, the membership site at ProBlogger.com (stay tuned for some big news about this in the coming months) and what became my biggest income stream – selling eBooks that relate to my blogs topics.
Each of these streams started as a small experiment to see what I could learn and what I could grow.
The job board has been a slow burner income stream in many ways. It generally only sees 1-2 jobs added to it every day at $50 a pop, but over the years this has added up to bring in more than $100,000.
eBooks had a more spectacular impact on profit. Again, I started slow with a single eBook that I put together largely by myself and a little outsourcing. I didn’t know how it would go but after nervously launching it to the photography blog audience that I’d worked hard to build up, it generated over $70,000 in a week (important note: I had been blogging on that blog for years and had build a decent audience – it didn’t happen overnight)!
The success of that eBook launch led me to publish more photography eBooks (15 so far) and ProBlogger eBooks.
As Digital Photography School has grown, there have been a number of opportunities to start new related ventures off the back of that original site.
The first of these was SnapnDeals – a deals site for photographers where we promote both our own eBooks that might be on special, but also other people’s products as an affiliate.
Similarly, we’ve also launched SnapnGuides – a photography mini-eBook site (we’ve published two eBooks there so far) that are smaller and cheaper eBooks/guides on niches of photography.
I have numerous ideas for other smaller ‘sister sites’ for the photography niche that I’d like to roll out in the coming years.
Four years ago I had an impulsive idea to run an event for Aussie bloggers. Six weeks later we held our first ProBlogger Training Day for 100 bloggers in Melbourne.
We’ve held this event every year since, each each time growing not only attendance levels, but also the professionalism of the event.
We’ve also added a ‘virtual ticket’ for those unable to get to Australia for the event.
While not a huge money spinner, it is another income stream in the business and helps support other aspects of what I’ve built.
In the last few months I’ve circled back to one of the early income streams that I touched on above – direct sales of ads.
I’ve never really stopped doing this but last month have completely removed AdSense from my blogs for the first time since I started blogging and have engaged the services of a great little team of ad sales specialists to sell ads directly to advertisers.
The initial results have been very encouraging!
While I know some people have a lot of negative things to say about AdSense, I’ve never really written it off completely. It’s an ad network that has generated over a million dollars over the last nine or so years, and the people at Google have been nothing but helpful to us. But for now, we’re seeing more potential in working directly with brands.
Here’s a breakdown of my own income streams in April of this year. While it doesn’t reflect the switching off of AdSense (Ad Networks) or the increased attention to direct ad sales, it shows you how I’ve become less reliant upon any one stream of income for my blogs.
That’s my story – what about you?
Of course there are many many more potential income streams for a blog, but I’d love to hear your experience.
Have you got a variety of income streams? Or are you focusing pretty heavily upon a single one?