Last Updated on August 9, 2019 by Jeremy
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It is a bit crazy to think that I'm already done with my first year as a full-time blogger. It took me ten years to get to the point to quit my job and do this as a living, and seemingly out of nowhere I'm already one year into living off of my website earnings.
I have to say, I'm never looking back.
While making the leap was a great business decision for me, in this one I wanted to share some of the things I did after making the decision to go full time as it may help others who are looking to do the same. So if you are curious what to expect, what to do first, and what it is like overall being a full time blogger in the first year, read on.
Finishing My To Do List Was Goal #1
My first goal when blogging full-time was a simple one- finish my to-do list.
If you are anything like me, when you have an idea for something you write it down, probably forget about it due to lack of time, and repeat until you have an unwieldy and seemingly never-ending list.
When I went full time, my first goal was to get caught up on everything I've ever wanted to do on the backend. Site redesigns? Done on both sites. Speed optimizations? Yep, averaging about 2 seconds per page. SEO on old articles? Worked on hundreds upon hundreds of our articles. The little details that would make your eyes bleed? That too.
The first few months of going through all of these were excruciating, if only because there was a reason why I didn't tackle them when I had the idea in the first place. The little details are a pain. But much of this was a necessary evil because, in the end, my YOY traffic went up 12% and 37% on my two sites respectively- mostly through many of the SEO improvements mentioned above.
Even better? We're starting to see even more accelerated growth from search in the last few months, likely due to our recent redesign and speed improvements, so we hope that the next year will reap even more rewards from this work than the first one!
While I still have a few things on my to-do list that I've added recently, what is nice about tackling this when going full-time is that I simply have more room to breathe than I did before.
That is a luxury in full-time blogging!
Goal #1 for future full-time bloggers: finish your to-do list. The faster you can have a clean start in your new career will be huge, both for growth and as a mental hurdle.
I Worked on Making More Money, Fast
Part of my to-do list was working on more optimizations regarding affiliates and ads because, while more traffic typically means more money, more ads and higher conversion rates also means more money. Considering I had just quit an engineering job, I needed to make up part of that difference fast (in fact, it was a necessity for Angie letting me quit)!
I did this through a number of tests, and ultimately ended up designing custom footers for each of my sites to include unique prompts for hotels, tours, insurance, and other items based on whatever the topic of a post was at any given time.
So if you're here reading a blogging post, you now see blogging affiliate links in the footer. If you're reading about the Seychelles, you may see Seychelles affiliate content. If you see Asia, Asia content, etc. This was done with a mix of custom prompts in individual articles, AdInserter Pro in posts within broader categories/tags, and a few of my other favorite WordPress Plugins.
Likewise, I optimized my top 100 posts on both sites in order to manually place my ads based on what is best for the user experience. Sometimes ad count went down, sometimes this went up. Overall, my ad count went up a fair bit (on a few rather long posts) which also contributed to a revenue rise as well.
So, how'd it all work out?
In 2017, my blogs grossed approximately $29,000. In 2018, they grossed $70,000. In 2019, I'm projecting approximately $98,000- just shy of my six-figure stretch target and up 40% year-over-year.
While the biggest YOY change happened from 2017 to 2018 (where I worked full-time on the site for four of the months, coincidentally my biggest income months of 2018), it is probably more telling to look at things on a 12-month schedule based on when I quit- so on an August to August timeline.
From August 2016 to August 2017, my blogs grossed approximately $17,200. From August 2017 to August 2018, they grossed $50,000. From August 2018 to August 2019 (my first 12 months as a full-time blogger) I'm projecting a gross of $80,500- up 61% YOY. Compare that to our traffic growth and you can see some rather huge gains beyond traffic increase alone.
Much like with my generic to-do list, I still have a number of custom prompts I want to make and tests to run to get my affiliate income up. But now our sitewide RPM is at a respectable $33 most months (or $0.033 cents a click) which is quite nice for future traffic growth even with some work left open- most bloggers are nowhere near that figure!
Goal #2 for future full-time bloggers: optimize your income streams in existing content. You're probably leaving money on the table!
Note: Optimizing your income streams only works if you already have some reliable income streams in place to begin with. I do not and will not advocate anyone quit their day jobs to blog if they do not already have reliable income streams in place. You may be leaving money on the table, but it is also entirely possible to have no money on the table to begin with. It is much easier to improve earnings on current streams than find new ones. Proceed with caution.
I Made Myself Quite Busy… When I Wanted to Be
One of my goals for going full-time blogging was simply to do what I want, when I want. Sleep in? Check. Travel more? Check. Work 18 hours a day? A sad check, but a check all the same.
In the end, my dream of going full-time blogging was to have the flexibility to do whatever I wanted. But, since I monetized my life, I ended up working all the time and deprogramming myself to be more flexible was harder than it seems.
Still, as this is a travel site and my local blog is all about Pittsburgh, I made it my mission to get out and explore much more than I ever had before (from when I had a day job, at least).
For traveling, I ended up attending five conferences/media events in New York City, Upstate New York-twice, Boston, and the Laurel Highlands; exploring Alaska, Uganda, Tempe, Frederick (Maryland), and San Francisco; and making several shorter trips to nearby cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati to name a few. This amounted to well over 100 days away from home- up from my previous average of ~20 while working a day job.
For local explorations, I visited nearly 200 more spots in southwest Pennsylvania as well- a healthy number all around!
As far as writing is concerned, I published roughly 160 posts on our local blog and 100 posts on this site- accounting for about 25% of our total content- not bad for sites that are four and 11 years old respectively.
Suffice it to say, if you add up the travel days plus published posts you can see that it was a busy year. But it was also significantly less stressful than anything I ever had to deal with in having a day job and running my two blogs together. Those 80-90 hour weeks are a thing of the past, and I am beyond thrilled by that prospect.
So, despite being busy more than I would call my target, I'll call that a win.
Goal #3 for future full-time bloggers: get out there and own your niche more than you ever had before. You now have the time. No excuses.
I Shifted to a New Mindset- Growth at All Cost
The first points in this article were about how my first year of full-time blogging was busy working on my to do list, optimizing my income streams, and generally getting my sites to the point that I'd be happy with them in the years to come.
But there is another reason for doing all of this, which revolves around my new plan for the future- growth at all costs.
All of my work to date has been to set the stage for the final run of these blogs- traffic growth. Our sites are optimized both in design and as much as SEO as we can reasonably target, our income streams are in place, and our overall process for publishing content is down to a science.
So, when all the boxes are checked, the only thing left to do to grow is to simply produce more content.
In the last year, we published about 250 posts on the two sites combined and we're setting our sights high for the next year. Not 300, not 350, but 400 posts in 12 months (roughly 33 per month).
This would take our total published articles up by nearly 40%, and, if traffic goes up proportionally, would increase our readership by nearly another 100,000 monthly page views (or ~$40,000 per year in income) before factoring in any other increases via newly optimized SEO, forecasted growth, etc- factors we can reliably count on for additional growth year after year.
Naturally, you can see why I'm making that push now that every other box has been checked. It is time for rapid growth!
Goal #4 for future full-time bloggers: accelerate content production for future traffic growth. If you got to the point where you can quit based on your content, replicate your successes for more.
I Settled on My End Games
Finally, I started to think of the future. My goal for over a decade was to make my blogs my full-time job, but once I made that happen I had to take a step back and ask “what now?”.
Obviously, I want to increase my income and travel more (regionally at first like I'm doing now, with more international to come later). But, I also don't want to work as much as I did when having my day job and running the blogs together (80-100 weeks were nightmarish- never again). At times, these goals are not compatible as the work is, well, still quite time-consuming.
As such, I've decided on at least two end games for the blogs. The first is the level I want to get before I slow down from 50 hour weeks to 5 hour weeks, and the second is the final end game of all- retirement from blogging. (Plus perhaps a few other milestone goals in between.)
Now, I'm going to have a rare private thought and not share those here until they happen, but I think it is important for anyone making the leap into full time blogging to consider just what you want to get out of it one, five, and perhaps even ten years down the road after making this your primary source of income.
A few questions to consider include:
- What is your final plan for your blogs and when will that happen?
- Do you want to ultimately sell or live off of passive income until the sites stop earning?
- What do you think the future of blogging, both generally and in your niche?
- What amount of money do you need to only work 40 hours a week? 20? 10? Or not work at all?
These are some questions to think about now, because how you approach your first, second, third, and tenth year as a full-time blogger may change considerably.
After a year of being gung-ho on my blogs, I'm starting to realize what my answers for all of these are, and my work now is going to strive for those milestones.
Goal #5 for future full-time bloggers: figure out your end game- both near-term and long-term. Work with those goals in mind every day.
Overall, my first year as a full time blogger flew by, and most of it was spent catching up on all the things I was meaning to do but never had the time when I was working a day job. Now that I am mostly caught up on those, the real fun begins, and growth at all costs starts now!
Did you make the leap to become a full-time blogger? What was your first year like and what happened as the years went by? Comment below to share!
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About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.