Anyone can start a blog, but it takes skill, hard work, and a lot of chutzpah to earn real money from one. Chicago-area serial entrepreneur Wendy Piersall has done just that — several times over.
Piersall is the founder of Sparkplugging, a site about home-based business ventures, which she sold for an amount “well into the five figures” in 2009. She’s since launched several new ventures, including CopyCatCrafts and a network of sites for children’s activities called Woo! Jr. She shares many of the secrets to her blogging success in the book Mom Blogging for Dummies, which came out in July.
We spoke with Piersall about building an online community, making money through blogging, and what it means to be a “mom blogger.”
ISBB: Where did your career start, and how did you get involved in blogging and building websites?
Piersall: My career has been quite random and honestly didn’t seem to make a lot of sense until I started blogging. I’ve been a crafter, computer trainer, graphic designer, recruiter, and even worked as a business development director for a dot-com. I started blogging by accident, as a blog intended for personal satisfaction became more popular than I had ever anticipated.
I have been an entrepreneur for half of my career, and I just had an entrepreneurial hunch that blogging would be the right path to success for me. It turns out I was right, and I use the knowledge from all of my past jobs and business endeavors on a daily basis in my blogging. It took me a long time to turn my passion into a viable business. For the first three years, I barely broke even. It wasn’t until my fourth year of blogging that I finally replaced my income from my previous corporate job.
What was your first site, and how quickly did it grow? What strategies did you use to gain followers and increase traffic?
My first site was eMoms at Home, a blog dedicated to helping moms start legitimate, home-based internet businesses. The blog gained traction in just a few months, enough for me to continue it full time. I grew it very organically at first by writing great content, building a community, and by networking with other bloggers. This is still the same way I would gain followers and traffic if I were to start another blog today. As the site grew, I expanded by adding blogs and writers on related topics, founding my first blog network in the fall of 2007. I later rebranded the site with the name Sparkplugging, because we found that moms weren’t the only people interested in our content. I sold Sparkplugging in the fall of 2009 to private investors.
How do you monetize your sites? What’s the biggest source of revenue?
My current blog network is primarily monetized from advertising through two ad networks plus Google AdSense. I also used to use affiliate marketing, but earlier this year, Illinois passed an internet sales-tax nexus law that pretty much wiped out that portion of my income. Thankfully, I’ve always worked to diversify my income sources, so it didn’t hurt my business too much. Most blogs don’t have enough traffic to earn significant revenue from advertising dollars, so I have been quite fortunate to find a formula that works for me. That was the most important lesson I learned from all my years of blogging: Just because you are great at blogging about a certain topic, you can’t assume you’ll be great at monetizing that kind of blog. I was great at writing about business when I owned Sparkplugging, but monetizing business content correctly wasn’t my strong suit.
You recently published a book called Mom Blogging for Dummies. What defines a “mom blogger,” and is it the same as a “mommy blogger”?
A mom blogger is any mom who blogs about any topic. A mommy blogger is a mom who writes specifically about the parenting genre on her blog. What is interesting is that if you are a mom who blogs, you are about 25 percent more likely to be approached by a brand than any other kind of blogger. Brands understand the power of tapping the mom blogging community, but sometimes don’t quite understand the difference between a mom blogger and mommy blogger. When I blogged about business topics, I would get pitches to write about diapers just because I was a mom.
What tips do you have for people who want to transform a blog from a side project into a full-time source of income?
A lot of people think blogging is easy work for easy money. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I had to distill my best advice into three tips, I would say: Focus on a strong niche. Create high quality content. And be sure to have a blogging business model in place.