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Making Money through Tech Blogs

It’s reader question Monday again.  Lately, I’ve been talking a lot about entrepreneurial topics or about topics related to Developer Hegemony.  But today, I’ll answer a different flavor of reader question.  This one is about tech blogs.  Or, more specifically, it’s about how owners of tech blogs should price things.

I was recently asked by a well known company to review a product of theirs on my site and they offered to pay me for my efforts.

I actually said I’d do it and then they could pay me what they thought it was worth. I’m not sure that was the best idea as I haven’t heard back from them!

I find researching products and writing about them is the best way to learn and getting paid to do it would be a bonus. As you frequently blog for various sites, how do you price your services out? How do you invoice them? What else do I need to know to get started in this area?

Thanks for your time and your blog posts.

Well, first of all, you’re welcome.  Thank you for reading them!

Given that I’ve done a fair bit of tech blogging over the years, and that I’ve founded a tech blogging business (we’re looking for authors!), I can certainly speak to this.  To do that, let’s do this.  I’ll walk through the progression of money making opportunities that you’ll likely encounter as a tech blogger.

Making money through tech blogs can make it seem like money is pouring out of your monitor.

Link Building though Tech Blogs

You start your blog and blog happily into the void for a while.  You share links to your posts with friends, and some of them humor you and read them.  For a while, not a ton happens.

But then you start to attract some traffic in dribs and drabs.  Maybe a little love on Hacker News here and a prominent tweet there, and you’ve got an audience.

The first thing that will happen is pretty non-monetary.  You’ll get an email that reads something like this.

Hi {Your Name},

I noticed your super pro article about test driven development where you said awesome stuff.  I really enjoyed reading it.

Anyway, I work for a company that makes a tool for testing electrical outlets and thought you might want to link to it in your post.  Here’s the link: {link to electrical outlet testing tool}

Thanks!

{Marketing Person}

Most likely you’ll scratch your head and ignore this.  If you don’t, you should.  Either way, you’ll probably wonder what the deal is.

Well, they’re doing something called link building.  The more inbound links a site has, the better it ranks when people do Google searches.  So marketers will scour the internet for even tangentially related blogs and then make requests like this for links.  They’re offering you nothing for something, so I wouldn’t bother at all with this.

(One exception is if they find broken links on your site and offer to replace them. Broken links hurt your own ranking)

Will You Talk about Our Product?

As your site and traffic grow, you’ll start to get a different kind of offer.  (The garbage marketing emails won’t stop — you’ll just get new stuff on top of them).  This one will look more like the following.

Hi {Your Name},

I saw someone on Twitter link to your article on TDD, I can see that you know your stuff.

My company makes a new mocking utility, and we’re trying to get the word out.  We’d love to offer you a free copy if you’ll review it.  No obligation to say good things — we want your honest opinion!

Thanks!

{Mocking Tool Maker}

This is generally good stuff, and it’s probably the first form of compensation that you’ll get.  You get a free license for a tool that might run you hundreds or even thousands of dollars, just to blog about it.  They get some publicity.  Everyone wins.

Or, as is the case with the reader question, they may actually offer monetary compensation for talking about it on your blog (presumably in addition to a freebie).  That’s even better.

How should you price this?  Back of the napkin math.  If 100 people read your average post, and you assume that 10% of them will click through and 10% of them will convert, that means the post on your site will earn them 1 conversion.  If their tool costs $500, figure you’re earning them $500.  Price accordingly.

Or, do it for the free tool alone.  Relationships with vendors are never bad.

But remember one important thing. When a company pays you for something like this, you have to disclose the relationship in the post.

Guest Blogging: Can We Post Stuff on Your Blog?

As you continue to grow, you’ll get offers that are sort of the cousin of “will you talk about us.”  Specifically, “can we talk about us on you blog?”  Tech blogs with decent traffic get requests like this a lot.

Hi {Your Name},

I work for a company that makes a mocking tool, and I see that you talk a lot to your audience about TDD.  Do you accept guest posts?

We’d love to get in front of your audience.  How much do you charge people to guest post?

Thanks!

{Mocking Tool Maker}

Sometimes, companies will write an email like this, but without offering to pay you.  They frame it as though they’re doing you a favor by saving you from needing to create content.  I suppose you could view it that way, but it’s a pretty disproportionate arrangement.  I wouldn’t do this for free.  As far as you readers are concerned, this is basically a commercial, even if they do it smoothly and without plugging their product.  So this “extra” content is of fairly questionable value to you.

If you’re going to agree to this for money, then I’d do the same kind of back of the napkin math.  Estimate how much revenue you think you’ll drive their way and then ask for a fair chunk of it (maybe 50% or so).

Personally, I’ve never done this sort of thing.  But, YMMV.  (I do get requests for it all the time)

Will You Write a Post for Our Blog?

I won’t bother with an example email for this one.  The premise is simple.  Tech companies with tech blogs reach out to you and ask if you’ll write posts for their blog.  They’ll almost always offer to pay, and they’ll usually leave it at that, letting you tell them the rate you’d want.

This is where things get weird.  In most of the wide world, blog content is not super valuable.  You can probably find starving would-be freelance writers that will write listicles like “50 Awesome DevOps Tools” for like $30 or something ridiculous.  Then they’ll just quasi-plagiarize other lists and crank this out.

But if they’re looking for you, they’re looking for more credibility that includes tech expertise.  And bidding for software developers as writers is a lot more like bidding for software developers than for writers.  If you moonlight as a freelance programmer, you’ll probable charge $50 hour, so that’s kind of the anchor point for competition.

But, on the other hand, if they have a HUGE following and you don’t or if they make a tool you love, that might temper your desire to demand $300 per post or something.  This dynamic creates an enormous range of prices for blog posts.  I’ve seen techies do it for very nearly the $30 per post, and I’ve seen others do it for prices pushing $1000 per post.

Billing Model for Blog Posts

Let’s say that you pick a price that makes it worth your while and that they agree.  What does the billing model and invoicing look like?

Well, as you’ve no doubt inferred, I’d suggest pricing per post.  Unlike the other situations I’ve mentioned, you don’t have a great sense for their traffic or what posts on their blog are worth to them, so value pricing is a bit dicier.  Also, don’t try to price this per hour.  I’ve never heard of pricing posts by the hour, and it creates weird incentives anyway.  You’re delivering a very discrete piece of content, not a service.

I would also suggest that you specify a “take it or leave it” model.  You don’t want to write a post and then get stuck in an interminable loop where they send back “notes” and ask you to change things.  What seems like a great deal for you quickly becomes a quagmire after a few iterations of that.

As for invoicing, that’s easy enough.  If it’s a one and done, just invoice them for the single blog post.  If it’s something recurring, I’d say invoice monthly.  Some (bigger) companies will have a standard process for paying you as a contractor or vendor, while smaller outfits might just send you money over Paypal.

Going Proactive

If we’re talking about my experience, everything I’ve done has always been passive.  I write, and people reach out to me with requests like this.  Even with my content business, Hit Subscribe, business has generally been inbound (we’re waiting until we get a nice sized author pool going before doing our own outreach).  But I can describe what I might do in some of your position, if I wanted to drum up writing business.

If you want a free tool and you have a decently trafficked blog, you could reach out to the tool author.  Tell them you find the tool invaluable and you’d love to write about it — would they be willing to give you a discount on your licensing?  It may help if you’ve already written about it here and there.

I suppose you could offer to let them guest post on your blog, but that’s probably a little weird.  And you could certainly ask them to let you write for their blog, but that’s probably going to be a tougher sell.  The main reason companies reach out to me about this is because they see that I already do paid writing for a bunch of companies.  Getting that first one is probably a little trickier.

Final Thoughts on Pricing

To conclude, I’ll circle back to pricing, since everything I’ve said is rather vague.  When companies want to do stuff on your blog (or pay you to do stuff on your blog), pricing is conceptually easy.  You can give them a fair price by estimating what it’s likely to be worth to them, based on your stats.

Writing content for them, that they’ll own, gets harder to value price.  Their content is a long game, and it has many components (traffic/conversions from organic search or shares, but also intangibles like SEO for fresh content, reputation enhancement, exposure to your own audience, etc).

But in both cases, there’s also the “what is it worth to me” concern.  And that looks a lot different with something purely freelance and superfluous, on top of your normal job.  If a company offers you a job, you know your basic market worth and you’d want more money than with your current company.  If a tech blog offers you the opportunity to write a post, you’re evaluating how much it’s worth it to do that instead of going to a kid’s soccer game or sleep in or something.  You can afford to be pickier.

So price it as fairly as you can, both to them and to you, so that it’s worthwhile.  The worst that happens is your value doesn’t match their budget.  But I’d suggest getting your name out there and taking on some opportunities to see what happens.  Don’t let yourself get taken advantage of, by any means, but also realize there’s a lot more at play than just cash.

Fire Away with More Questions!

If you have a question, please feel free to ask:

And, by the way…

If you like the wisdom here, such as it is, you can get a whole lot of that more in my recently released book, Developer Hegemony.  If you want a sample of that, you can sign up to download some chapters below.

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