How do you make money blogging? In this year in review income report, I’m sharing how I earned nearly $200,000 in one year from my blog. You can do it, too! I’ll show you how below.
Welcome to Root + Revel’s third 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. And then I started doing monthly income reports that culminated with my 2018 annual income report showing you how I earned $150,000 from my blog in year three, including $58,000 while I took time off for maternity leave.
I know sharing my income with you might seem a little crazy, 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.
And now, I want to return the favor. 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, something 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 2019…
A Year in Review: Income Report 2019
Total Income: $194,503.17
- AdThrive Ad Network, $34,920.00
- Affiliate Commissions, $86,285.10 (below are some of my most lucrative affiliates last month)
- Sponsored Content, $25,250.00
- 1:1 Business Coaching, $3,280.00
*Note: $194,503.17 is what I earned on an accrual basis, but I’ve recently started using Quickbooks and have switched over to the Cash method of accounting. So my revenue for 2019 using the cash method was actually $190,855.98. I only mention this because now I only use the cash method for tracking expenses, and to compare apples to apples, I will be sharing those numbers below.
Total Expenses: $125,533.61
I’m changing up how I report my expenses a bit here to streamline and simplify. Instead of listing out the exact expenses for each item, I’m just going to list out some of my favorite resources and services that I use every month to help me keep the blog up, running and profitable.
- Active Campaign (this is how I email my list; I used to use ConvertKit)
- Foodie Digital: The SEO/tech firm who manages rootandrevel.com
- NerdPress: The tech genius who manages all the backend code for katekordsmeier.com
- Gusto: Payroll (super easy and incredible customer service)
- Quickbooks: Bookkeeping and invoicing software (save $100 off your first year with our link!)
- 238 Accounting: bookkeeping and money mindset coaching
- Leadpages: The tool I use to make opt-in pop-ups, forms, and landing pages
- Teachable: The best platform for creating online courses (like 6FBA)
- Crowdcast: An affordable platform for hosting webinars and live streaming videos.
- WP Recipe Maker: create cute recipes cards and essential for any recipe posts for SEO + organizing data
- Nutrifox: Allows you to create custom nutrition labels effortlessly
- Milotree: A smart pop-up to grow your email list, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest
- Food Blogger Pro: The very best online blogging school
- Audible: My favorite way to “read” business and personal development books (here are some of my faves!)
- Tailwind: The scheduler I use for Pinterest (Tribes + SmartLoop are great!)
- Bluehost: When you run a blog, you have to use a web host, which is like renting space online to display your blog. There are dozens of hosting services out there, but the best, cheapest and easiest option for beginning bloggers is Bluehost. Once my traffic reached 50,000 pageviews, I upgraded to a more expensive host. But if you’re just starting out, Bluehost is the way to go.
*Note: I did not include my owner’s pay and shareholder taxes expenses above, although I do pay myself a salary from Root + Revel’s gross revenue.
Net Profit: $68,969.56 (~35%)
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.
Year in Review: Traffic Totals
Traffic Overview: 1,944,102 pageviews for the year (21.32% increase from 2018); average 162k+ pageviews per month
*Note: I’ve been talking a lot about the Google Medic/E-A-T update that took place this summer; it has really hurt my traffic, and thus my revenue. Before the update, I was getting around 225,000 pageviews per month. I lost over 70% of my organic search traffic after the update. But, we’ve started to see an increase in our traffic starting at the end of September, and our revenue has continued to increase since then as well. Fingers crossed this trend continues.
Top Ten Traffic Sources
*Note: Obviously, per the Google update I’ve mentioned above, our organic search traffic took a big dip in 2019 with an overall ~35% decrease. But interestingly we had a major increase in traffic from other search engines, like DuckDuckGo, Yahoo and Bing (which I tend to believe is due to people being upset about Google punishing and censoring holistic health websites).
Also, great to see a 14% increase in direct traffic, which tells me that we’re increasing our numbers of superfans who know R+R well and simply type in the URL to see what’s new. Pinterest traffic is actually down, but we had some reporting issues from Pinterest in 2018 so it looks like it’s way up. Due to some turnover within the team here at R+R, we took a step back from Pinterest in Q3 and Q4, and I think that explains our drop in traffic there. But with an amazing new team member who plans to tackle this in 2020, I’m confident we can get back up and then some!
I’m curious about the decrease in Facebook referral traffic, as we spent a ton on Facebook ads this year and I would’ve thought we’d see a big increase in overall traffic; alas it looks like we did slightly better with referral traffic in 2018, so that’s another item for our team to investigate in 2020. It may be because we separated out Root + Revel from Kate Kordsmeier, and the above is just traffic to R+R. That said, our quizzes on Interact have performed really well for us, both in terms of growing our email lists and directing people back to the blog to grow our traffic. So note to self: do more quizzes in 2020!
Interestingly, I’d like to note that Instagram is not a major source of traffic to the blog. While I see the value of the platform for creating a community ON the platform, I find that it’s not a great way to grow your blog traffic and thus your income.
Top 10 Posts on Root + Revel in 2019:
- DIY Mold Remover: How to Get Rid of Black Mold Naturally (Without Bleach!)
- How I Got Pregnant with PCOS on my First Try
- How I Reverse PCOS + Leaky Gut Naturally
- Keto Instant Pot Beef Stew
- Top 7 Sources for Organic Meat Delivery
- PCOS Diet for Weight Loss, Fertility + Hormone Balance
- Natural Treatments + Medications for Hypothyroidism
- DIY Homemade Face Oil
- Natural Supplement to Treat PCOS
- What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
Social Following for Root + Revel
Social Following for KateKordsmeier.com
*Note: We created a second website with social accounts for Kate Kordsmeier to separate out our business-related content from our wellness content back in October 2019. So I wanted to share the results of those here, since they’ve impacted our bottom line as well. We don’t have separate accounts for Twitter or Pinterest currently, so I left those off the chart.
If you have any questions about why we made this decision, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I will answer them in next month’s income report.
Root + Revel Email List: 45,168 new subscribers; 8,549 net new active subscribers
Note: This screenshot comes from my dashboard in Active Campaign.
My goal for 2019 was to get 1,000 new subscribers per month and while it looks like we did way better than that, we’ve been dealing with a ton of bot subscribers that are totally throwing our numbers. In terms of new active subscribers, we actually only grew by 8,549 new active contacts, or about 712 contacts per month.
Kate Kordsmeier Email List: 4,303 new subscribers; 3,690 net new subscribers
I’m showing my 2 separate email lists now because we’ve seen EXPLOSIVE growth (over 9000%) since we silo’ed out KK from R+R. We made this change on October 25th and have been gaining over 60 new subscribers per day, and unlike R+R, most are incredibly active and engaged (and not bots). This is in large part due to the Facebook ads I’ve mentioned for our Blogging Quiz. It’s currently converting at less than $0.35 per lead, which is INSANE!
Some other cool stats from ActiveCampaign as a whole: our highest open rates come on Fridays, Tuesdays and Sundays. Our best times to send: 11 am EST (by a landslide!), followed by 12 PM, 10 AM and 1 PM. My top opt-in was for my Library of Resources, followed by my PCOS Recipe Guide, Healing Naturally Cheat Sheet, 99-Step Roadmap to Profitable Blogging and Natural Wine Guide.
I get all of these reports in Active Campaign which is easily one of the very best email service providers around! One thing that Active Campaign offers now is Predictive Sending (they’ll send your emails at the most optimal time for each individual subscriber), which I know has increased our open rates as many of our customer automations have over a 60% open rate. My goal for 2019 was to increase my open rate to 25%, and our average was 26.17% open rate across the board.
It appears our Welcome Series open rates have dropped to less than 20% opens though, so we’re working on revamping those to make them more relevant and valuable to our subscribers. This will involve some heavy segmenting!
I also wanted to increase my click rate to 5%. Last year, our average click rate was 13.6%, so we have FINALLY met (and beyond exceeded!) our goal. Happy dance!
Another goal I set is reducing our unsubscribe rate. Last year we only had a 0.58% unsubscribe rate from our emails, which I’m super proud of! BUT I did manually delete over 32,000 subscribers, including nearly 15,000 bots. It can be brutal to prune your list so religiously, but it’s always worth it to make sure you’re only emailing your true fans, and not paying for subscribers who aren’t active.
RPM: $99.37 (4.83% increase from 2018)
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.
Year in Review: 2019 Takeaways
What I Focused on in 2019
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. I had a lot of goals for 2019, some we met, some we missed. Such is life. Here are some of the highlights:
- In 2018, affiliate revenue accounted for 46% of our income, and I wanted to really focus on working with those affiliates that are most lucrative for us (like Butcher Box, Amazon, Thrive Market, Dry Farm Wines, and Beautycounter.) Not only did we increase our actual dollar earnings from affiliates to more than $86,000, but we were able to do so without throwing our proportions out of whack. Meaning, affiliate income accounted for 47.37% of our total income in 2019, which is something I’m comfortable with given how sustainable and passive affiliate marketing can be. That being said, with our traffic loss last year, we did lose a lot of affiliate revenue so I want to make sure we shelter ourselves a bit better in the future. I’d also like to work with some higher-ticket affiliates and do large-scale affiliate launches with people like Amy Porterfield in 2020, so that’s on my list, as well.
- Launching my course, The Six-Figure Blog Academy. I talked about this incessantly in 2018, and FINALLY launched it to the public in July 2018 after doing a quick beta launch in June. OMG, has this been a game changer for my business. Not only did it bring in over $42,800 with just 2 launches and a Black Friday promotion, but it lit a new fire in me to really lean into my love of business and teaching and resulted in a brand new website (the one you’re reading now), with a forthcoming podcast and many more exciting things to come in 2020!
- Growing and nurturing my email list was a huge goal of mine for 2019, and to date we’ve had over 60,000 people opt-in to our list, which BLOWS MY MIND. But nurturing those subscribers and keeping them engaged and active has proven to be much more difficult than I anticipated on the wellness side. On the business side, it’s been a dream. But I know a big portion of 2020 is going to be dedicated to really honing in on how we can improve our R+R list and make that a more valuable resource for subscribers, and a more profitable performer for our business.
- We also set some big goals for 2019. And sadly, we didn’t hit a lot of our numbers. I was shooting for $263,000 in revenue and we ended up with just over $194,000, about 74% of our goal. While at times that’s made me feel a bit like a failure, I’ve realized that we’ve still accomplished so many incredible things in 2019 and I am so proud of how we’ve grown. They say you should aim high (which we did) and if you hit about 80% of your target, you’re doing great. We were pretty close, and the good news is that I know exactly why we fell short. Traffic loss.
- The Google algorithm update severely affected our traffic, which had a big impact on our revenue from ads and affiliates. We lost about $5,000 a month in revenue starting in June. I won’t lie–this sucked, real hard. But I learned some great lessons, one of which was that I was relying to heavily on organic search for traffic and needed to diversify and also re-evaluate our content to better protect us from future updates. It also taught me that I need to create more of my own products as a revenue stream since that doesn’t rely on traffic quite as much as blog content, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect with the launch of 6FBA. So expect more Kate-made products, courses, etc. coming in the future! Likewise, although launching 6FBA was incredibly lucrative, with each launch I have honed my strategy and figured out what works and what doesn’t and I expect our revenue from 6FBA to skyrocket in 2020 with our new gameplan. My goal for our January 2020 launch is $100,000+ and 100 students enrolled.
- Interestingly, despite the huge loss in traffic from the update, we did still have more blog traffic in 2019 than in 2018 overall, so at least we’re still moving in the right direction as a whole. I set a goal to increase pages per session from 1.34 to 2.5; but unfortunately, we’re still sitting at 1.38 (a small increase). Likewise, I wanted to increase time on site from 4:01 to 5:00, but sadly we went down to 3:45. It’s still a good metric that I’m proud of because it means people are actually reading our content and not just skimming and leaving before anything can resonate. But I want to be transparent with where we missed the mark in 2019 and this is one area.
- We also set some engagement goals for Instagram, which also fell short. I was aiming to increase from .45% to 5%; however, we really struggled with the Instagram algorithm this year as well, despite our best efforts. So our engagement is still much lower than I’d like. One thing I’ve realized is that those influencers who get TONS of engagement on IG are typically those who share stories of their personal lives every single day, throughout the entire day. It’s awesome because it really connects your audience to you and they start to trust you in such a deep way as they get to know you and your family. But for me, this is something I’m not willing to do. I like my privacy. I hate being attached to my phone. And quite frankly, I hate spending more than 5-10 minutes a day on Instagram. So what I’ve realized is that since I am not willing to do that, I shouldn’t expect to get the same results. So it’s been a mindset shift and I’m still not totally clear on what this means for social media in 2020. But my team and I are strategizing and trying to see what we can do that feels authentic and right to me AND will also get us at least some results. Because, let’s face it, not having a presence on social media at all really isn’t an option for online businesses. So I’m going to try and find that middle ground.
Goals for 2020
Since this income report is for the entire year of 2019, I’m going to make this Goals section for the entire year of 2020.
- 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 2020 so you can see where I place value and where I want to go in my biz.
- Income: I’ve set a BIG, HUGE, SCARY goal of becoming a 7-figure business by 2021. So what does that mean for this year? After a long discussion with my team, we decided that our goal for 2020 is to make $650,000 in annual gross revenue for the year and $85,000/month by December with confidence that we can keep that pace in 2021 and be a 7-figure business. I’m also setting a goal to have a 5% profit AFTER I pay myself. It feels scary to even write that down (what if I don’t hit my goal?), but I’ve realized that the real failure is not even trying. So I am going for it! As part of this goal, we’re aiming to have blog revenue from Root + Revel be at least $15,000 every month (just from ads, affiliates and sponsors).
- Traffic: We aren’t setting traffic any traffic goals this year as we realize that traffic for traffic’s sake is meaningless. RPM is so much more important, so we’re aiming for $125. We may tweak this moving forward as, at the time of this writing, my team and I are still in talks about what kind of measurable objectives we can set, but for now, we haven’t set any traffic or social media follower specific goals.
- Email List: This is our main priority as your list is really where the money’s at, particularly with the KK piece of our business where we sell our own products (digital courses). Our goal is to grow our combined lists to 35,000 active and engaged subscribers.
- New Projects: While we have a few exciting things in the works that I can’t share with y’all just yet, here are a couple plans we have for 2020:
- Launch my podcast, Success with Soul, with 12 episodes in preparation for maternity leave (see below)
- Launch a live workshop course with 200 students registered
- Become an affiliate for Amy Porterfield’s DCA program and do a big launch for it in September
- While not new, we have some new ideas and strategies we’ll be testing out for 6FBA and have a goal of getting 1,000 new students in the program by the end of the year
- Maternity Leave: I’m due with our second baby in May and am planning to take May, June and July completely off from work, though the business will keep running as usual. I’ve done this before with tons of success and feel confident that with strategic planning and a stellar team, we can do it again. I plan to come back to work part-time in August and full-time in September.
- Personal Development: My biggest goal for this year is about becoming the Visionary of my business. As they say in Traction, “It’s not practical for you to remain chef, head waiter, and dishwasher as your company grows. By hanging on to all the tiny details, you’re actually constricting the company’s growth. When you experience that personal growth, the company will grow under you. It’s time to let go of the vine.” So that is my big focus this year, and it’s a lot more complicated that it might seem on the surface. That book, and their other book, Rocket Fuel are two resources that are helping me map out a path of what this will actually look like, and develop a system for my company that will enable us to truly grow. I’d like to bring on 2 more full-time team members this year, and along with that, I must step more into the “boss” role, which is tough for me. The book Radical Candor is helping tremendously, too! It’s all very exciting, but also very scary. But again, as they say in Traction, “If you cannot risk, you cannot grow. If you cannot grow, you cannot become your best. If you cannot become your best, you cannot be happy. If you cannot be happy, what else matters?”
I’ve also chosen a word for the year, that I’m using to motivate and inspire me, but also to keep me in check and grounded and focused on what’s truly important. My word is SPACIOUS. I want more white space in my life, more time to be truly present and focused on what matters most to me. I’m sick of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and constantly behind. I want space. My mantra is similar “I have all the time in the world for what truly matters.” The book Free to Focus and Do Less have been crazy powerful, as has my Origin membership and mastermind.
I’m going to end with this beautiful quote from my mentor, Kate Richeson, at Beautycounter: “what got me here wasn’t going to get me there. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to have boundaries. It’s okay to not have all of the answers. It’s okay to recalibrate. But you have to keep going.” After A LOT of setbacks in 2019, that is my motto in 2020. Just keeping going. Momentum begets momentum.
Business “is a marathon, not a sprint. You will get knocked down. Sorry to say there is absolutely no avoiding it. But that’s also where the good stuff happens. Get up, dust yourself off, have an honest evaluation about what you can and need to do differently, and KEEP MOVING FORWARD. Do the work. What works for you, may not work for someone else and vice versa. Your business is not “supposed” to be like anyone else’s. And your path isn’t either. I believe setbacks are a way of telling us two things: we are not always in control and we all still have a lot to learn. It’s okay to give yourself permission to reset and reinvent. Connect with the joy you get from your business and this community hold it front and center because it is a gift. Focus on what you CAN control. The very nature of what we do is designed to push us out of our comfort zone because that’s where all if the good stuff happens. It’s not always glamorous and doesn’t always look the way we want it to, but it’s there to learn from. No one has all the answers, but…there is tremendous power in our collective efforts. That is my WHY. Connection fuels me. Collaboration fuels me. I’ll chase that (okay, and the paycheck) all day long. Call me crazy, but it brings me joy when something feels impossible and then it’s done.
I couldn’t agree more! Cheers to making the impossible happen in 2020!
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 $1,500 to Nicholas House, Real School Gardens, and Atlanta’s Northside Hospital Cancer Institute in the name of my readers.
I am so incredibly grateful for you! Thanks for showing up!