In this monthly blogging Income Report, we’re looking back on 2018 at what worked, what didn’t, what lessons we can learn and how we can best move forward to achieve our dreams. I’ll also share my business strategy and tips that made me nearly $150,000 blogging in year three in hopes you can apply them to authentically make money online, too!
Welcome to Root + Revel’s second annual income report! You may remember back in 2017, I published my very first income report detailing how I earned $75,000 from my blog in its second year.
I know this might seem a little crazy to you, but let me explain.
And they’ve inspired me so much, not only to know what’s possible in the world of blogging as a business, but also with their incredible ideas and generosity in sharing their mistakes and successes along the way.
I finally feel like I’m at a point with Root + Revel where I have something valuable to share about making money online, something that I hope will help you learn how to make money doing something you love, something that lights you up every day and makes you excited to get to work, something you’re passionate about, something that impacts others for the better, smething you can do from your couch in your jammies or on a beach in the Caribbean or at a desk in a co-working space at whatever dang time you please because YOU’RE YOUR OWN BOSS.
Please know, the goal of these income reports is not to brag or show off or pat myself on the back (though it’s always a good idea to celebrate your own successes, too!). Rather, my goal with these income reports is three-fold:
- to help anyone interested in starting a blog learn the ropes and find inspiration and motivation to be successful and change your life, whether that’s simply finding an outlet for your passion, improving your financial situation by making some extra money, or finally quitting your job and making six figures working for yourself. I hope that by sharing my own journey, my transparency and story might help you to achieve your dreams.
- to show fellow skeptics (hi, I used to be one of you when I was a full-time journalist who wrote for real publications and turned my nose up at bloggers who were running their blogs without integrity, transparency and a business mindset) that it IS possible to make money online and to do so while keeping your soul intact.
- to help myself. Yes, I’ll admit it. I do have some selfish motivation for publishing these income reports. Because quite honestly, it’s a great opportunity for me to reflect on my business, to look back and see what worked and what didn’t, to learn from my mistakes and to track my achievements.
I’ve been self-employed for nearly a decade at this point, but since I began blogging full-time in January of 2016, my life has exponentially improved.
I’m finally writing the stories that I want to tell, I’m finally helping others to live happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives, and I’m doing it ALL on my own terms.
Truth be told, when I was a freelancer for magazines and newspapers, I hated having to report to an editor, to be beholden to their advertisers and their needs, to convince through begging and pleading that a story needed to be told and, more often than not, to be rejected. Couple that with diminishing budgets, increasing demands, cranky and thankless editors, an overall exhaustion from traveling so much and a body that couldn’t handle eating rich restaurant food five times a week, and I knew I needed a change.
Now, I’m happy to report that life is so much better now that I’m truly my own boss and a full-time blogger. I look forward to each and every day–I wake up excited to work, I’m always learning something new and I love the challenge of running your own business, constantly coming up with new ways to monetize and help people, simultaneously.
Alright, enough talk. Let’s take a look at the numbers for 2018…
A Year in Review: Income Report 2018
Total Income: $149,880.01
- AdThrive Ad Network, $27,951.90 (some of this income came from Mediavine Ad Network as I switched to AdThrive in 2018)
- Affiliate Commissions, $68,567.77
- Butcher Box $32,200.00
- Amazon $7,573.51
- US Wellness Meats $5,555.34
- Thrive Market, $5,337
- Dry Farm Wines $2,737.34
- Vital Choice, $1,757.09
- Beautycounter, $1,424.65
- Viome, $1,400.00
- FoodBloggerPro, $1,147.84
- Ultimate Bundles, $994.40
- AnnMarie Gianni, $859.75
- True Botanicals, $727.89
- RewardStyle, $662.69
- Bluehost, $640
- Sunbasket, $580
- Other Affiliate Earnings: $4,970.27
- Sponsored Content, $46,650.00
- Coaching, $6,171.50
- eBooks (including Superfood Green Smoothies and 13 Pitches That Worked), $504.51
- Outbrain, $34.33
Total Expenses: $68,120.46
- Virtual Assistant $32,820.86
- Website/Tech/Tools $7,995.43 (this includes payment for our website redesign and tools like VaultPress, my hosting service Cloudways, and my tech manager, The Blog Tutor; plus tools like Milotree and Nutrifox)
- Ads $3,845.96
- Accounting/Bookkeeping/Payroll $3,417.38 (this includes Tax Prep and my online accounting service, Bookly)
- Photography $1,869.88
- Courses + Education $2,770.20 (this includes Food Blogger Pro, The Blog Village, B-School and more)
- Office Supplies + Networking $6,656.68 (this includes resources like Texture and Audible, networking meals, conferences, etc.)
- ConvertKit $1,451.86 (this is how I email my list)
- New laptop, $1,069.00
- Social Media Management $1,493.21 (this includes tools like Tailwind)
- SEO Help, $4,250.00
- Video Editor, $1,549.00
Net Profit: $81,759.55
Whew! I know that’s a lot to take in. One of the things I hope people will takeaway from these reports is just how much work, energy, thought and heart goes into running a blog. It’s not just as simple as slapping up a few words and an iphone photo and pressing publish.
Also, I want to take a moment here to talk about how high my expenses still are, especially for a new business. This is something I struggled to grasp for a long time: do you have to spend money to make money, or should you wait to spend money until you’re making enough?
I go into detail about my philosophy when it comes to outsourcing and delegating here, but I’ll say this: investing in your business (whether it’s a blog, a moving company, a brick-and-mortar store or a restaurant, etc.) is key to your success, and the speed at which you achieve it.
Traffic Overview: 1,602,445 pageviews for the year (120.12% increase from 2017); average 133.5k+ pageviews per month
Top Ten Traffic Sources
This was super exciting to see that my SEO efforts have really paid off as my Google referral traffic is up 578.45% from 2017. This is also likely because the longer and more consistently you put out quality content, the better you will do in Google. Plus we really focused on keyword research and content planning around search trends.
I talked about Outbrain in my monthly income reports (here in particular) and although it brought in a decent number of pageviews, the leads weren’t quality as they didn’t stay on the site long, didn’t opt-in to my list, didn’t purchase anything, etc. So I ultimately stopped running those ads. Traffic for traffic’s sake is meaningless, just like having a million followers on Instagram means nothing if those people aren’t actually engaging with your content. Engagement trumps numbers all day long!
Getting featured on other blogs and websites is a great way to grow your audience. Forget Sugar Friday found us organically, as did Chasing a Better Life, however we pitched a guest post to Dr. Axe and some roundup ideas to The Every Girl and it’s nice to see those paying off.
Top 10 Posts on Root + Revel Last Year:
- How I Reversed my PCOS, Leaky Gut + Insulin Resistance Naturally!
- DIY Mold Remover: How to Get Rid of Black Mold Naturally (Without Bleach!)
- Keto Beef Stew in the Instant Pot
- Top Sources for Organic Meat Delivery
- A Butter Coffee Recipe to Balance Hormones + Improve Digestion
- DIY Charcoal + Clay Face Mask for Acne and Blackheads
- How I Got Pregnant with PCOS on my First Try
- What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
- Pumpkin Pie Keto Fat Bombs
- Natural Treatment PCOS Supplement Guide
Though there aren’t a ton of surprises here as many of these articles were also our most popular in 2017, I’m really glad to see our new PCOS content doing so well since it’s such a passion of mine and it helps so many women to talk about natural ways to reverse PCOS.
I was surprised to see Keto recipes doing so well since we are not a Keto blog, however it’s such a trendy diet right now, so this tells me that we should do more Keto-related posts and recipes to take advantage of all those searches.
Email List: 17,756 new subscribers; 11,037 net new subscribers
**Note: This screenshot comes from my dashboard in ConvertKit.
Note: RPM stands for Revenue Per Mille, or the revenue earned per 1,000 pageviews. When you look at RPM, you put the focus on optimizing your revenue as efficiently as possible, rather than just getting the most people to your site. For example, a site with 100,000 pageviews and a $1 RPM makes $100, while a site with 20,000 pageviews and a $10 RPM makes $200. This is good news because it means you don’t have to have TONS of traffic to make a great income. In fact, when you niche down and focus on providing as much value as possible to your current audience, you earn more money.
Hourly Rate: I worked on the blog for a total of 649 hours in 2018. With a gross income of $149,880.01, that means I earned roughly $231 per hour. Not too shabby! My goal was to earn $100/hour so I’m stoked I was able to surpass that.
If you look at my net income of $81,759.55 instead, my hourly rate drops to about $126/hour, which is still above my goal, so I’m very pleased with that rate.
Year in Review: 2018 Takeaways
What I Focused on in 2018
Oh man, where to start. It’s tough doing this income report for the entire year (vs monthly), as there’s so much ground to cover and I’d prefer not to bore you all with a book the size of Hamilton.
So I’m going to pick two big things I focused on in 2018:
- Reducing Sponsored Content in favor of Affiliate Marketing: In my 2017 income report, I talked about how I didn’t like having so much of my income reliant on sponsored posts, particularly because it’s not scalable and you’re trading time for dollars. Not to mention, there’s less creative freedom. So we decided to cut back on the number of sponsors we worked with, increase our rates, and require sponsors to book a 4-post minimum. I am SO glad we did. We went from working with 34 sponsors to 17 sponsors. Our total income remained about the same ($46,650 compared to $47,382), but as a percentage of our income, sponsored content only made up 31% compared to 63% in 2017. I’m so happy we were able to keep the dollar value similar while increasing our more passive income streams like affiliate marketing, which is where we put a lot of our efforts last year. We ended 2017 making around $2,000 per month from affiliates. And thanks to our efforts in 2018, we earned an average of $6,000 per month from affiliate marketing (some months going as high as $8,100). What efforts? Things like doing video demos/tutorials/unboxing (like this Butcher Box video), adding some new email sequences and updating my Welcome Series, experimenting with using social media to sell affiliates, and creating new resources pages.
- Growing Traffic: As I mentioned in last year’s income report, I really focused on creating good content in 2017 and 2018 (and forever I will continue!) that would attract new readers. But you can’t just stop at good content. For me, I decided to focus on growing traffic by honing my SEO, experimenting with ads and doing guest interviews on podcasts. I talk about the first two of these tactics in more detail in the monthly income reports from 2018, but I want to share a bit about my podcast strategy here. But first–I always think it’s important to celebrate your successes and victories, no matter how small. Last year, I set a goal of getting 1.25 million pageviews in 2018. And guess what?! WE DID IT! In fact, we exceeded it with 1.6 million pageviews and 1 million people. Holy wow! That’s a lot of people. I feel so honored to be able to speak to all of you! Ok, so one of the ways we were able to grow our traffic: media features. This is an area that’s perfect to outsource to a VA or publicist, as you likely won’t make time for it yourself, and IMO it adds a layer of professionalism to have someone else pitch your expertise. It can be a little awkward to pitch yourself. For example, I’ve been a guest on dozens of podcasts in the last two years, contributed guest articles to major news sites like mindbodygreen, and had our recipes featured in roundups from major websites. This provides such great exposure for R+R, particularly podcasts, as people who listen to you for an hour on a podcast are starting off by really getting to know and trust you, and are likely going to want to visit and follow your blog, follow you on social media, and subscribe to your email list, etc. Check out our press page for more info.
Goals for 2019
Since this income report is for the entire year of 2018, I’m going to make this Goals section for the entire year of 2019.
- Focus in on the right affiliates. As you can see from the Income section above, affiliates are a major source of revenue for Root + Revel. In fact, affiliate revenue accounted for 46% of our income last year. But not all affiliates are created equal and we’re constantly analyzing things like Earnings per Click, Click Through Rate, Earnings per conversion, and Conversion Rate to make sure we’re spending our time promoting those affiliates that move the needle and not wasting time creating campaigns for those that don’t. Because affiliate marketing was such a big focus in 2018, we joined over 100 affiliate programs last year. But what I found is that only a dozen (maybe 2) actually really make a difference to our bottom line. So instead of scattering our efforts across so many different programs, in 2019 I really want to focus on those that are most lucrative for us. That includes Butcher Box, Amazon, Thrive Market, Dry Farm Wines, Viome and Beautycounter. I talked a lot about why I’m putting a TON of effort into Beautycounter in this post here.
- Focus on engagement. I set a goal in 2017 to reach 100,000 followers on Instagram, and sadly, I actually wound up losing followers in 2018. Not altogether surprising because I really stepped away from Instagram and didn’t spend much time on the platform at all. But this year, I’ve hired a community manager who is helping me schedule posts, respond to comments, and (most importantly) engage with my community. And, of course, I’m in there personally doing those things, as well. But there’s only so much time in a day. What I’ve realized is that engagement is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than how many followers you have and so I’m trying my damndest to essentially ignore that number and instead truly connect with my community in the most authentic way and truly influence, inspire and empower them to achieve their best health.
- Finally launch my course. Oh man, if you’ve been following along, I’m sure you’re sick of hearing me talk about this as it’s always something on my to do list that gets pushed back. The problem is, I’m in the trenches, working hard on those tasks that are currently bringing in revenue and providing value to my readers. And creating a course is a buttload of work with no promise for profit. If I’m being honest, I’m probably procrastinating a bit because I’m scared it won’t work, I’m scared to fail. But I know that failure only comes from not trying, or from quitting. Done is better than perfect. I won’t know until I try. And I KNOW that this course is going to help so many people. So, it’s happening. This is my year. I am finally going to launch my course all about how to monetize your blog, make money doing something you love, while working from home on a flexible schedule that affords you all the freedom and opportunity in the world. Interested? Sign up here for updates.
- Email List: In 2017, I learned the value of having an email list and have spent many hours working on ways to gain subscribers and provide them with value. I started by switching over from MailChimp to ConvertKit (and in 2019, we actually upgraded to ActiveCampaign) which provides a lot more functionality in terms of segmenting, automation and tracking. From there, I signed up for LeadPages so that I could create opt-ins for my readers. My goal was to get 25,000 subscribers on my list. Technically, I achieved it as I ended the year with 30,784 subscribers. However, I prune my list heavily and manually delete any subscribers who aren’t engaged (opening and clicking emails) and so I cleaned my list down to just over 17,000 subscribers. That’s okay, as engagement is more important, as I said above. But in 2019, I really want to focus on harnessing that connection with my subscribers, providing them the most value possible, better automating our systems and improving our open and click-through rates and creating some killer funnels that help drive traffic back to the blog, increase our affiliate commissions and ultimately sell our own products. With ActiveCampaign’s incredible features, like Lead Scoring, Site Tracking, Advanced Automation Sequences, Best Deliverability on the market, and optimizing send times, I know we’ll be able to achieve this goal!
- Numbers + Stats Goals: I thought it might be helpful for me to share with you some of the numbers I’m trying to hit in 2019 so you can see where I place value and where I want to go in my biz.
- 1.5 million users compared to 949,931 users last year
- 3 million pageviews compared to 1,602,445 Pageviews users last year
- Increase pages per session from 1.34 to 2.5.
- Increase time on site from 4:01 to 5:00.
- Income: Annual goal of $263,000 compared to ~$150,000 last year
- Email List:
- 1,000 new subscribers per month
- Increase open rate from 20.99% to 25% opens
- Increase click rate from 3.47% to 5% clicks
- Instagram Engagement: Increase from .45% to 5%
Featured Question: Each month, I feature one question from a reader in each monthly income report, so please leave a comment below if you have a question that you would like me to answer in the next report.
It’s All Thanks to You
Please know, I am keenly aware that I have the flexibility, freedom and finances to work on this blog as my full-time job because of YOU–dear reader, sharer, Pinner, commenter, Liker, customer or silent follower of Root + Revel. Your support and participation in the R+R community reaches beyond just this website. Last year, I donated nearly $2,000 to the following charities in your name: Real School Gardens (now Out Teach), Nicholas House, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,the Environmental Working Group, Made Safe, and the Humane Society.
I am so incredibly grateful for you! Thanks for showing up! ????