I Make My Living Off a Blog No One's Heard Of
I’m a wedding blogger, but chances are you haven’t heard of my blog. My site’s traffic probably wouldn’t impress you and it wouldn’t even be listed in the top 15 wedding blogs in the nation. My blog is also my full time job, I have two employees and over 90 advertisers, and I am making more money than I was as a magazine editor (which I know doesn’t say a whole lot, but you get the idea!). AppleBrides.com, my bread and butter, is a local blog. Although we have content for readers from anywhere, the vast majority of our features are for brides in the Inland Northwest, exclusively. When my readers visit Apple Brides they recognize the venues in our wedding features, they see engagement shoots from their neighborhood and vendor spotlights about professionals they could actually book (instead of someone from five states away). Everything on the site is just for them.
The world wide blogging scene is pretty much saturated. It’s not impossible to grow a successful blog, but it’s hard to find a niche and even harder if you want to make a living out of it. Local blogging is relatively untapped. There are still a ton of opportunities for smart writers to fill voids in their community, which is such a breath of fresh air in this doom and gloom economy.
It was actually a desperate job search that led me to the wedding industry. I can’t say that weddings were anywhere on my radar when I finished my masters in journalism. Anyone who has graduated with a writing degree in the last 10 years can tell you that jobs are scarce. So when one comes along, you usually just take it, especially when you’re first starting out. I was offered a production assistant job at Ireland’s biggest wedding media company (how a girl from Spokane, Washington ends up in that position is a whole other story!) and I jumped at the chance for a steady pay check.
I fell in love with weddings. I loved everything about my day to day. I loved that my readers were planning such a happy event, that it was my job to sift through weddings dresses and bouquets, and I also learned what a solid market the wedding industry is.
So when my husband and I decided to move back to Spokane, I knew I was either going to have to give up weddings or start my own site. I didn’t see any potential in starting a national blog because of how many were out there already, especially in weddings. I also knew there was a need for a centralized wedding resource for the Inland Northwest, something I knew firsthand from trying to plan my own wedding there from Ireland. Huge sites like The Knot didn’t even mention Spokane or anywhere close to it. I had to rely on Google… which is a great tool for finding good Chinese but a very poor wedding planner!
I started blogging six months before we moved just to see how viable it was. It was slow at first (I think my sister was my only reader, and I don’t even think she was very faithful!), but after a couple months I could tell that with some hard work I could make some money off of it; how much I didn’t know, but honestly, it was my best (and only) job prospect. So I decided to jump in head first.
I didn’t want to take on advertisers till I was sure that I had the audience to support them, which meant I didn’t make any money for about seven or eight months. It was hard to be working so hard and not getting anything in return, but I believed in what I was doing and was taking my satisfaction from the fact that I was gaining readers.
Fast forward four years (and a whole lot of trial and error, hard work, tears and lessons learned the hard way) and Apple Brides is now the busiest wedding resource in the Inland Northwest. We have 90 advertisers all over the region and I have hired a sales manager and a production assistant to help with growth.
It won’t be easy, but here are a couple steps to get your local blog started!
How to Start a Local Blog
#1: Find your niche. Most bloggers will tell you that the key to success in blogging is finding a niche, and the great thing about a local blog is that it’s already pretty specific. The hard part comes in trying to find your subject. I saw first hand the need in my community for a wedding resource, but maybe your community needs a restaurant reviewer or mom blogger. Think about what kind of site would make your daily life better and go from there.
#2: Make local connections. Anytime you start a blog, making connections with likeminded people is necessary, and it’s even more important for a local blog. Find people in your community who have influence (i.e. established reputations, a solid social media following, etc) and partner with them. I offered free advertising to five or six local wedding vendors that I knew were popular and well known in my area in exchange for promoting Apple Brides on their social media and websites.
#3: Know your audience. This might be the biggest difference between a local and national blog. The posts you see on Style Me Pretty might not be representative of your small town (or maybe they are?). Think about things from your readers’ perspective and try to meet their needs. For me, I know my readers want the nuts and bolts of planning a wedding; pictures of local venues, price lists, a list of local photographers, etc, so I make sure this stays at the heart of everything we do.
#4: Figure out Google. SEO (search engine optimization) is one of the most important tools for a local blogger. You can gain a ton of readers through specific searches. For example, if you have a mommy blog in Cincinnati, you want to come up on the first page of Google for searches like, “ things to do in Cincinnati with kids” or “play groups Cincinnati”. SEO is a bit of a science and never stays the same for long, but is well worth mastering for quick growth.
#5: Be flexible. Wherever you live is different from anywhere else in the world. You may start your blog thinking you know what your readers need and then find out they actually want something completely different. It’s important in local blogging to know your readers, to understand what’s important to them and to be willing to alter your perceptions to meet their needs.
I don’t think I will be entering the millionaires club anytime soon, but I’ve managed to create a job for myself that pays the bills, that has a future and most importantly, that I love. And I know there are plenty more opportunities out there for aspiring entrepreneurs who are willing to put the time in, work hard and commit to serving their community.