Does the idea of making money on your blog through marketing make you feel a bit icky? Does the word “marketing” leave a bad taste in your mouth?
If so, then I think you can relate to my reader Angie a lot.
Recently Angie wrote to me expressing her concern about starting her first blog, wondering if she could actually make money blogging without marketing. She didn’t like the idea of marketing at all, and was hoping for some advice. Here’s what she said:
I have lots of strong values (e.g., ethical products, environment care, standing strong against marketing strategies) so I feel like it would almost be going against my values to create a blog that makes money because how could I do that? But I still want to share what I’ve been learning because surely there are people like me. So I was just wondering if you guys have any thoughts. ~Angie
I applaud Angie for not wanting to compromise her values for a quick buck. However, I couldn’t help but feel that Angie’s hangup may be due to a very common misperception of what marketing is … or should I say, what good marketing is.
If you find yourself in the same boat as Angie with regard to marketing, or even if you just can’t wrap your head around what ethical marketing looks like in the world of blogging, here are two bits of advice I’d like to encourage you with when it comes to making a living as a blogger:
1. Put your readers first. Always.
Yes, professional blogging is a form of digital marketing. In order to make a living blogging, there is a certain amount of marketing that is involved.
However, I think the issue isn’t with marketing itself but with the perception of what marketing is. Pretty much everyone has a skewed picture of what marketing is because we’ve all experienced bad marketing.
In blogging, marketing, in its essence, is promoting products, services, and other resources we believe would be good for our audiences — whether they’re our own products or someone else’s.
Now, I’ve experienced a lot of bad marketing in blogging. A lot. To me, bad marketing is when a someone promotes any and all products to their audience solely for the sake of earning money, regardless of whether or not they feel it’d be a good fit for their readers.
I personally have a VERY strict policy of only promoting products that I believe in, have used myself and LOVE, and that I feel would be a good fit for my audience.
The only exception to this rule is when I give an honest review of something and don’t really like the product — like when I posted my very first review about Stitch Fix. I think it’s fine to share products with your audience, as long as you’re honest about your experience! (And to my surprise, my negative, totally honest Stitch Fix review is still one of my most popular posts!)
That said, I will absolutely NOT promote anything that doesn’t sit right with me. That doesn’t mean I won’t promote things that didn’t work well for me. It means if I feel there’s something off about the product, the company, or the offer, or if I can’t in good conscience stand behind it, I won’t share it with my audience — no matter how much I might get paid.
This means I’ve turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. It means I’ve said “no” countless times. And it means I can have a clear conscience. Because my readers are always a priority.
Every single time that we’re negotiating a contract or opportunity with another company, we are saying, “How does this serve our readers? How is this a win for our readers?”
My audience always comes before a paycheck. Always.
But that said, marketing itself can be an extremely helpful way to reach people and share resources that your audience wouldn’t otherwise know about.
And in doing so, I feel it is absolutely okay to be compensated for your efforts in sharing someone else’s products and services or your own products or services with your audience. This could be through sponsorship, brand partnerships, or affiliate marketing.
So before you start marketing a product or offer to your audience, ask yourself this question:
“Would I promote this [product, service, event, etc.] if I weren’t being paid to do it?”
If your answer is no, then you shouldn’t promote it. If your answer is yes, then it’s a good chance someone out there in your audience will benefit greatly from it!
2. Set your personal boundaries.
When it comes to blogging and values, I understand how hard it can be to define your personal boundaries. Boundaries are essential to creating a successful blog that people resonate with.
Your values exude your passion, and passion is necessary for creating a long-term successful blog. If you’re struggling with understanding where digital marketing fits in with your own personal values, define your boundaries clearly.
Jot down a few boundaries for yourself with regard to what you will and won’t promote on your blog. What are some topics you won’t touch with a ten-foot pole? What are some products or types of products you wouldn’t feel comfortable promoting?
For me, that looks like not promoting credit card offers or mortgage companies. Not because I think that credit cards or mortgages are evil, but just because I personally don’t use credit cards and we are advocates of being debt-free, so for me to promote credit cards and mortgages wouldn’t be in line with my values and those values I encourage on my blog.
Once you set your boundaries, you may want to re-visit it from time to time as you continue to redefine your marketing strategy. After all, the more you know, the more you grow! Case in point, I ended up trying Stitch Fix again and found it to be a MUCH better experience than the first time. And again, my audience was SO grateful that I told them about it!
This is a great example of a marketing strategy that I always recommend: letting your audience tell you what they want and need. I would’ve never even thought to do another post about Stitch Fix if it weren’t for my audience letting me know their thoughts!
Since one of my personal blogging boundaries is to only post things I feel would be a good fit for my audience, I decided it was a valuable post that my readers would benefit from. And it definitely was!
So decide your personal boundaries and always put people before profit. If you do that, your audience will love you for it, they will trust what you have to say, and you’ll serve your audience in a way that will benefit them and spark more joy for you.
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