Today I am pulling back the curtain on blogging finances! I’m sharing my best budgeting tips for bloggers and how to get your business to run cash flow positive, right from the beginning.
If you have been blogging for a while and wonder if this post is for you, you’re in luck! I’m sure you’ll find important tidbits to help get you back on track and renew your focus on the business side of blogging. Frankly, this post is really for anyone running a small online business. If you are looking to have a side hustle or run a business at all, this will help you take stock of what you are spending money on, what you can do yourself, and what you should outsource.
It is important to note that not all blogging needs to be run as a business! If you are looking for a creative outlet and don’t care what you are spending because you just love to write, or take photos or share recipes, that’s fine! Many, many bloggers are not in the game to make money, but as a hobby instead. I myself have actually fluctuated in and out of months and years where TheStyleSafari.com is a hobby vs. a business, and both goals are perfectly ok.
There is more than one way to determine success in this industry. One of my most important rules is that it must always be cash flow positive. That means, even if I am not getting a ton of campaigns for a few months, I must still be in the black, financially. Blogging is a business like any other- ‘lean’ businesses have a stronger chance to succeed that ‘fat’ ones, and you need to know how to be as lean as possible.
Budgeting Tips for Bloggers
Photography, find a way to do it yourself
I find that this is one of the places where bloggers and online businesses spend the most money, and the quickest way they drain their bank account. I spend a lot of time talking to my small business clients for Schoen Retail Consulting on how they can shoot their photography and video themselves, and how to do more with less. With today’s pressure to post something new on instagram every day, there is a feeling that we have to have new, professional content to share every time. This is simply not true. Especially with the rise of TikTok and prevalence of YouTube, it’s becoming clear that the ‘professional quality’ of photo and video is not as important as what the content is.
An hour of photography can start at $150/hr and increase from there, so if you are only getting 6-8 different content ‘blocks’ as I like to call it (that may be outfits, food recipes, make-up closeups, etc.) that means you have 6-8 different content opportunities to share. That will only last a week! Extrapolate that out and you might need to spend at minimum $600/month to have the bare minimum of photography content for you blog and social media.
This is simply too much for a new business. For that price, you can buy your own DSLR camera (used, why not?) to start and learn how to take many of these photos yourself. Sure, they won’t be as professional compared to hired out help, but you are starting out. Not only do you not have the audience yet, but you DO NOT have the income. Also, why set such a high standard for yourself from the beginning? If you have been in the game for years and want to continue to increase the quality of your images, then that might be the right time to start working with a photographer or videographer. But in the meantime, your smart phone or camera will do the trick.
I have used a mid-range DSLR camera for about 50% of my photos for years, and I use my iPhone for the rest. I even use my iPhone on an inexpensive Amazon tripod to film all of my YouTube videos. And I’m teaching instructional sewing and pattern making videos! I have not received one complaint about image or sound quality from viewers or brand partners and you won’t either.
Media Kits & Logos, make them yourself
If you want something custom, search ideas on Pinterest and put something together on Photoshop, Canva, or even Pages on your Mac computer. I use Photoshop (for which I pay $10/month for the Adobe Suite) for my logo and Apple’s Pages for my media kit. It’s just as professional as any one out there! I know people that have spent hundreds on these items, but it’s silly. Unless you are looking for someone to draw you a very difficult logo icon, I can’t see why you can’t figure it out yourself. You have a computer which gives you free access to the internet and YouTube, and instructions for all of these applications are available online. At the very least start with a basic word logo. Type in ‘Free fonts’ online and you will find tons of cool fonts available for your logo that are downloadable right onto your computer. And remember, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you are overwhelmed with layouts and branding, keep it simple! A media kit is just a resume with a few pictures thrown in!
If you are still struggling, blogger networks like Fohr and Activate have one sheet media kit snapshots as well that can exported and sent to brands, and are perfectly professional. Both websites allow almost any blogger to sign up so there are no excuses!
Design your website yourself
Now I know you’re shaking your head thinking “I don’t know the first thing about code!” but the good news is these days, you don’t have to be. Setting up a website on Squarespace or Shopify (or really anywhere these days) is about as user-friendly as can be and many of the layout options are cool, modern and fit almost any initial business need. These companies do charge a bit more than if you were to just host the website yourself but they remove the headache by doing most of the work for you and cost far less than hiring a custom website designer.
I have a WordPress website which is much more custom but far more difficult to learn, and even 10 years in I have never hired a website designer. Again I use the handy-dandy internet to google things like “what is the best instagram feed widget” and “how do I change the layout of my header” to get as custom look, and as painful as it was at the beginning, I now have new basic coding skills and haven’t spent a time. The $$ I saved then went to hire a monthly website maintenance company so that I can rest assured should anything happen (getting hacked, server down, photos uploading slowly) I have someone that can assist me at a moment’s notice. All of those things have happened to me and having my maintenance person on hand was 100% WORTH IT.
Website or App Services like Tailwind, Photoshop, Planoly
Always buy the year long membership! No added monthly costs here. Period.
Consider what is a blog expense, and what isn’t, to help with taxes.
Remember that gas when driving to events, blowouts, even your ‘home office’ and desk supplies are considered business expenses! Be sure to include them with your taxes at the end of the year. All of these expenses add up and can result in a larger tax refund at the end of the year. That said, they are expenses still, so don’t spend just because you can!
Have a monthly spreadsheet where you track your income and expenses.
The one I use is a canned one from Apple’s Pages, and I have my recurring monthly fees that I copy paste every month, and then add in when I think I will land my next campaign, what my affiliate payout may be for that month, as well as any other financial upside I have that month. I usually set it up for a rolling 6 months forward, to help me understand where I may need to work harder to find paying gigs. This spreadsheet is also used as my editorial calendar with dates included, instead of having a separate one to manage. I find that whatever you’re tracking, becomes the focus. So if you want to focus on being more financially savvy in your business, you need to be tracking your income and expenses like a hawk. If you want your calendar to be more efficient and have blog posts ready and in the pipeline long before they are ‘due’ than you also need to be spending time in an editorial calendar. Sounds obvious, but often I find the people that need help in these areas are not tracking their finances and schedules as well as they could be!
Time vs. Money Learnings From Above
There are a lot of things you have to do yourself, and a lot of hats you have to wear. What is worth your time, vs. what isn’t? Outsourcing website maintenance is important, because the cost associated with your time to learn and manage the back end is too high. However, for me, photography is the opposite. I have to physically BE where the photos are being taken, do my makeup, plan my outfits. So if I have to do one more step and get a tripod or shoot with my husband, it far outweighs the cost associated with taking most of them professionally. Sure, here and there I splurge and use a photographer, but typically that is when I have a specific brand deal or plan that I can loop into a larger shoot, and therefore justify the cost.
Not all these budgeting tips for bloggers will be applicable to you. If you are an interiors blogger or designer, you might need to outsource photography because those images represent a timeless portfolio that you need to be perfect, for decades. But too often I find that bloggers and small businesses are paying for photography, custom websites, assistants to run their emails/social media/pinterest/etc., PLUS all of the items they need for their blog purpose, which can be clothing, food ingredients, craft supplies or more, and those all really add up.
In short, my rules of thumb are writing or creating great content first, learning how to maximize the use of your smartphone, and at least try to do it yourself first. If you try and fail then at least you are one step closer to having a productive conversation with the person you eventually hire, making your money spent more worth it. Doing it yourself first is also much more rewarding when you do get paid, as you can revel in the fact that all of that paycheck goes straight to you! Good work, you deserve it!