How I Lost Money in My First Year of Blogging – But Gained the World Instead

This post is about me and my first-year experience in blogging.

I briefly thought about naming it “438 Things I Learned From Blogging In My First Year”, but that would be boring.

So instead I’ll start by telling you I lost money blogging in my first year. Despite spending a huge amount of time and effort in doing it. But I found a lot of things along the way. Things that even money can’t buy — like passion.

If you’re a struggling blogger, hungry musician, or just don’t know what to do with your life, I hope my experience below will help you. Not because I’ve got it all figured out, but because I’m struggling too. And hopefully as we review my struggles in the first year, we’ll all be entertained and learn something together.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

Authenticity

I like to think I’m a writer. The word “blogger” in Malaysia conjures up images of a young, beautiful lady, with long hair, great fashion, and occasionally a display of cleavage.

Not me.

But I struggle with the weight of the word. Every time I meet someone new, and they ask me, “So what do you do?” I get nervous.

Do I tell them about my day job, or do I pretend to be a writer?

Pretend to be a writer, and I surely have to explain. Which is difficult for an introvert like me. And all things in consideration, I actually have a pretty nice day job. It makes easy conversational material — especially with young, beautiful ladies with long hair.

But if I’m talking, I’d really rather talk about writing. It’s hard, but I think I’m getting better at it. Nowadays, when people ask me the dreaded question, if I have enough courage I say, “I’m a writer.”

So far, no one has laughed at me yet.

 Screenshot of "Malaysian Blogger" Google Image searchGoogle Image Search for “Malaysian Blogger”. The only guy here is famous for a sex video.

 

“But Do You Make Money?”

“Oh, that’s interesting. Where do you write?”

That makes me even more nervous. Why? I think it’s because of ego. I don’t want to look like a loser, whose only readers are his mom and girlfriend. I wish I could tell people I was one of the founders of The Huffington Post.

Instead, I take a deep breath and say:

“I have a blog. It’s at mr-stingy.com.”

“What’s it about?”

“Optimization. Making full use of resources: like time, money, and relationships.”

“But do you make money?”

A good question, but rather unique to blogging. Because for most other hobbies, no one gives a damn if you make money or not. For example, if you say “I like reading,” no one asks you:

“But do you make money reading?”

I blame it on “lifestyle marketing”. People showing off their glamorous lifestyles on social media, and telling potential victims: “You can live like me too! Your blog will make money automatically, and you can sit by the beach all day. Just sign up here…”

But here’s what I’ve realized. If anything, a blog is less of a direct money-making vehicle, and more of a gateway to other business opportunities.

Because there’s a difference between making money directly from a blog, and making money online.

(And just in case you’re curious, The Penny Hoarder has a great article here on ways to make money online on the side.)

 

How Pro Bloggers Make Money

But what about professional bloggers? Everyone knows someone who knows someone who doesn’t have a job, parties every night, and gets paid while she’s doing her makeup right?

If you’ve ever wanted to know how pro bloggers make money, there are three main ways:

  1. Products / Services — Selling their own products and services. For example, my favorite blogger Mark Manson sells his great E-book directly on his website.
  2. Affiliate Marketing — Recommending someone else’s products, and taking a percentage commission for every sale. For example, if I link to a book on Amazon, and you buy it, I might get 4% of the book price.
  3. Advertising — How most people think blogs make money. For example, displaying advertisements, getting paid for reviewing products, and becoming a brand ambassador.

I learned the above from this in-depth post at Authority Hacker. It explains how 23 successful bloggers make money online. Just note that some of these people are the 1% of the blogging world. Not everyone is going to be like them.

The big daddy of pro blogging Darren Rowse himself tells us here:

“Most bloggers don’t make a full-time living from blogging.”

The critical component is traffic.

If you don’t have enough traffic, you’ll never make good money online.

How to get traffic? You have to bring value to people. And just in case that’s unclear, “value” means information that people need. If you share information about how to be healthy like Rue-Hann at Healthworks does, you’re bringing value. If you teach people how to invest like KC Lau does, you’re bringing value. But if all you write about is what you did at work yesterday (assuming you’re not Elon Musk), that’s not very helpful. It’s not very valuable.

But wait! What about all those girls who get popular posting half-naked pictures of themselves online? Where’s the value in that?

It’s value too — because like it or not — 50% of the Internet is made out of men who like to look at pretty women, and maybe another 35% is made out of women who like to compare themselves to other women.

 

Highlights from My First Year

In my first year of blogging, I made RM 100 (USD 28.57) from affiliate marketing. I don’t run advertisements and have no products of my own yet, so that’s the only income I made.

I spent the below money:

  • Bluehost Web Hosting: RM 451.82 (USD 129.09)
  • PO Box Rental and Deposit: RM 80 (USD 22.86)
  • Blink WordPress Theme: RM 154 (USD 44)
  • Total for 1 year: RM 685.82 (USD 195.95)

So my net loss for Year 1 was:

  • RM 100 – RM 685.82
  • = RM -585.82 (USD -167.38)

I also spent the below (estimated) time:

  • Writing and editing: 10 hours / week
  • Reading and research: 3.5 hours / week
  • Social media and promotion: 1.5 hours / week
  • Website design and testing: 1 hour / week
  • Total for 1 year: 832 hours (about 35 full days)

And ended up with the below statistics:

Picture of mr-stingy's Year 1 Statistics

It’s not incredible viewership by far, but I’m happy that it’s not just my girlfriend and mom who read my blog anymore. One year in, and I’m loving it more every day.

But before I had mr-stingy, I had something else that lit up my life. Or at least, I thought I had it…

 

What If It’s Just Meant to be a Hobby?

A few years ago, I thought I wanted to make music my passion: make music covers, upload them to the Internet, and become the Boyce Avenue of Asia.

The first time I uploaded a cover, I got lots of positive responses. It was Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger. I think 12 people shared my cover. I nearly cried.

So I went on a music binge. Bought more cool equipment. Practiced harder. Uploaded more songs. At one point in time, I was probably spending 15 hours a week working on music.

But I never even reached the low heights of my first cover. In terms of shares, views, likes and comments. Which is actually a horrible way to measure the value of one’s work BTW. But a somewhat true indicator of how many people you’re reaching…

The bigger question was: Was I really enjoying myself? And as much as I loved music (and as much as I still love it today), the answer was “No”. Forcing myself to practice for countless hours was killing my love for music.

Today, my relationship with music is much happier. I play music when I feel like it. Sometimes I go on stage at events and perform a few songs. It makes me happy. And it’s a hobby.

 

Picture of Boyce AvenueDon’t worry Alejandro… Your throne is safe.

 

You Know It’s More Than A Hobby When…

In many ways, the past one year of working on my blog has mirrored my first few months dabbling in music.

When I first started, no one except my friends knew. I had to initially spend some money: buying recording equipment for music, and buying web hosting for my blog. The number of hours spent per week was similar too — anything from about 15 – 20 hours a week. I find it very hard to put in more time, because of my full-time job and other commitments.

But the difference was, the more time I spent writing and building my blog, the more I loved it. And the more my readership grew. Sure, there were weekends when all I wanted to do was chill and look at pictures on Instagram. But I never burned-out like I did when I was pursuing music.

Experts say one of the ways to know if something is for you is if you lose track of time doing it. When you’re in “Flow“.

A lot of weekends, I stay home to read and write all day. Sometimes, I take vacations just to do this. I enjoy the alone time so much that the hours just fly by.

But it can make for some awkward Monday morning questions:

“So what did you do during your holidays?”

If I don’t feel like talking very much, I just say: “Oh, I spent some time with my girlfriend.” That always gets a nod of approval.

But if I say: “Oh, I stayed home during my vacation. Reading, and writing my blog,” I get some interesting reactions. Sometimes they say they don’t believe me. Sometimes it looks like they think I’m a weirdo. Or pity me.

Blog Views as of 8th June 2015But I’m growing! (Historical blog views as of 8th June 2015)

 

And When You Somehow Find Persistence

About four years ago, long before I ever had my own website — I started writing online for Emmagem, a local Malaysian magazine. My editor was very kind to take a chance on me: someone with no experience at all.

So every week, for the most part of four years, I posted an article. There were many times when I felt lazy. I didn’t even know if anyone was reading my material. Sometimes I wished I could be out with my friends instead. Yet — and I don’t really know why — I just kept doing it.

About 2.5 years in, I wrote something that had more than a hundred shares. “Whoa,” I thought, “Finally people are reading my stuff.” So I started working harder. Thought about what was working, what wasn’t, and how I could reach more people. A few months later, I wrote something that had thousands of shares.

Something clicked in me, and soon, I finally launched my own website.

 

To Find Passion, You Have to Try and Fail

What I’ve learned through all this is you have to try stuff. If you’re really interested to live a life of your own choice, and not hide from the all-important question: “What do I really want to do with my life?”  Try new things until you find something that really feels right for you. And then dive into it with all your heart. See if it brings value to people around you.

If it does, they’ll let you know.

As important as they are, I’m not talking about hobbies here. I’m talking about that elusive passion you hear being thrown around on the Internet. “Follow your passion,” they say, “and then you’ll do great work, make lots of money and be happy.”

But passion isn’t a single activity you were born to do. It’s not suddenly waking up one morning, and discovering you’re Number One in the world at something. Here’s how it usually happens:

  1. You like to do something.
  2. Because you like it, you become good at it.
  3. Other people find value in what you’re doing.
  4. Because other people like what you’re doing, you like it even more.

The above process goes on and on in a cycle.

And then hopefully, you find a way to get paid for it. In an ideal world, if you bring enough value to enough people, the money will come.

We don’t live in an ideal world of course. I’m still figuring out how to make stable money writing. It can feel daunting.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

But I’m a writer, so I’ll continue to write. I must. Even if it costs me money. Even if I have to wake up at 5:30 AM, say “No” to countless gatherings with friends, and be alone a lot. Even if it took up 832 of my waking hours last year. Because it’s me.

And for the first time in my life, I’ll publicly say — I’ve found my passion. It means the world to me now.

If you haven’t found work that makes you feel alive, I sincerely hope you keep searching for it. Try new things. Spend time and money to find it. And who knows, maybe someday you’ll make a good living doing what you love.

If you do, promise me you’ll share your experience with others. Then we’ll all be inspired, entertained, and learn something together.

And if you need a writer to help you share your story — you know where to find me.

 

Pic Credit: Pexels, “Boyce Avenue 2010” by Andy Rennie

 

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14 comments

  • Hey!
    What a nice article. I feel inspired to read all your stuff here. Actually I would like to ask your opinion. I’m in my first month of working with government, which is some people think noble, stable, secured job forever. But I have a problem of adjusting myself at my work place in Putrajaya. I lost my passion, myself and I am having fear to go to work every single morning because it is not something that I would like to do. For your information, I love to write, art, culture, training centre, travelling and some where I could connect myself with students and social work programme. Sometime I could imagine myself I will be part of programme to promote our country and culture. But I lost it all when I stuck doing office job and surrounded with high position people. I don’t blame the environment, probably it’s me. Because I never work before and I have been exposed to high profile management and I had culture shock which make me feel so damn stressed. Somehow I just know , this is not what I wanted to do for my life. I want to make myself happy. But I can’t. People might feel I am a quitter. I have no option except to bear with it at the moment but I feel so depress and need medical help. I have net counselor and they tried to get me transferred. But I know it’s not that easy. Do you have any advice regarding this issue? Because I feel so helpless. I just do not want to disappoint my parents but I want to be happy too.

    My ideas at the moment.
    1. To get transferred
    2. Cuti tanpa gaji.
    3. Looking for other job and get the offer. Then quit.
    4. Continue study
    5. Do social work

    • Hello Sarah,

      I feel your pain and I hope things get better. It’s quite hard for me to send any words of advice over the Internet, but if you’re feeling depression — I really recommend you continue with professional medical help. Would it be possible to get some leave of absence while you fully recover from your depression? I really think that’s the best way forward, (before even thinking about what you should do next).

  • Really love the title you’ve put here (It’s like you have to let go of something to achieve something even bigger)
    I’ve been in this kind of situation like you before and always feel like do we work to live or live to work since we were born, but I can see you have done a great job here.
    There is no right or wrong in whatever decision we make, it is about doing something you like and bring “value” to someone else.
    Keep it up!
    Thanks man!

    • It is I who should say thank you for your kind words Andy. And yes, sometimes we have to let go of something in order to get something better 🙂

  • Hey Aaron, thank you for this article. I came across it when my boyfriend sent it to me via whatsapp last night cause he bumped into it on Says. It is a really encouraging, I must say. I’ve learned a bit or two from it and it’s really comforting to have found someone who understands where I’m coming from as well. Especially how I normally call myself a writer instead of a blogger too, because… of the same reason (but i’m a girl with long hair, so yeah that’s kinda contradicting). And incidents when people ask me what I did during my weekend and I just never mention that I spent my entire weekend filming a video because I’m afraid people think I’m a little odd. So, yeah. Continue to write and thanks for the encouragement :):)

    Felicia.

    • Thanks for dropping by Felicia,

      Happy to hear you liked the encouragement, and appreciate the encouraging words from your end 🙂

  • Thank you for being so gallant for not plotting to take Alejandro’s throne.
    And you’re a great writer.

  • Don’t you just love the strange looks you get when you talk about your blog? I love blogging. If I make money…great…if not, it’s a way for me to learn new things.

    Great post!

    • Thanks Mary for dropping by. To be honest, I’m still getting used to the strange looks… And yes — you learn so much more when you start to write about something!

  • Aaron, for first timer, I believe setting blog shouldn’t be that expensive. One could actually create free wordpress.com blog and bought custom domain package since the traffic was still very low. During my time of blogging (Almost 8 years now), the first four was still very affordable (no custom wordpress domain available during that time). The drawback is the lack of customisation, but for most writers who don’t understand technical side of the backend, that shouldn’t be an issue. Please note that when you’re running your own blog in own host, you’ll also be spending time on maintaining the site.

    If any new writer/blogger want to setup a blog, I’d highly recommend Medium. It’s a much better writing experience, though lack of features for webmaster, but as writer whose job is to focus in writing, that’s a total breeze.

    • Hey Leo,

      Thanks for dropping by. I’m kinda a geek so I loved playing around with setting up my own site, buying a premium theme, and tweaking till my heart’s fancy. But yes — for someone who’s doesn’t like the back-end, a free wordpress.com or Blogger place is a good place to start.

      I love reading on Medium. The site is wonderful and looks beautiful. But I think everyone needs to have their own site too, just in case the company ever decides to change their policies. Same goes for people who want to do it entirely on Facebook…

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