Today, The DIY Playbook turns eight years old. It really is wild to think that for most of my adult life, I’ve been showing up here every single week! Eight years seems pretty damn cool, but I think I’ll have to throw a big bash when we hit the big 1-0!!
So much has changed since The DIY Playbook was first introduced to the world in 2013. I started it with my best friend, Bridget, and we had no clue what we were doing. All we knew was that we loved home projects and we wanted to share ours with the world! We didn’t care if no one read our blog; we certainly didn’t ever think we would make money from it; and we definitely did not see it as a business. It was just a side hobby and a way to share our passion for DIY with others.
Fast forward to 2021. I now run this blog, solo. (Don’t worry, Bridget and I are still besties and she is doing well!) This is my full-time job, which helps to support our family financially, and it’s a successful business. If you would have told me this eight years ago, I would have laughed in your face, but here we are and I’m very proud of how far The DIY Playbook has come.
Blogging Then vs. Now
A common question I receive is, “What has changed since you first started the blog in 2013?” Um, can I say, “Everything”? Back then, Instagram and Pinterest were not really a thing, so it was just all about the blog. It was kinda nice because all of the focus was on the content there and we didn’t feel like we had to do so many different things for each platform. Now, when I work on a project I have to make sure I get the photos and information for the blog post, and I also have to get behind-the-scenes for Instagram stories, an Instagram feed post, a good vertical picture for Pinterest, etc. It’s a lot to juggle on top of doing a project!
It’s also involves a lot more phone time. Before, it was all about working on the projects and writing the posts. Now, it feels kinda weird if I go a day without showing my face on stories. It’s hard to step back completely when it’s your full-time job.
But I’m also able to connect with more people than ever before. Instagram stories provide instant access with my followers. I can ask questions, ask for advice, and connect in a different way from the written word. I feel like I have so many friends in my DMs every single day and that’s pretty cool.
The Business of Blogging – Q&A
I know that the business of blogging seems a bit mysterious to people. So I took to Instagram to see what questions you had for me about running a blog as a business. You did not disappoint. I received many thoughtful questions and figured I would share my answers here today.
To keep this post from jumping all over the place, I am breaking it down into themes. Let’s start with the most common topic I received, which is “money”.
I don’t get it, how does a blog make money?
It can be hard to understand how a blog makes money when there is no physical product being sold. But just think of it as any media company. The DIY Playbook primarily makes money in three ways…
- Ads on the Website (25% of income): Go to any website out there and you’re bound to see a few (or sometimes many!) ads on the site. I try not to let them interrupt the reader experience, but they really are a necessity when it comes to running an online business. (They are found only on the sidebar on a desktop.) These ads are passive income for me, which means I don’t have to do much of anything. I work with the company Adthrive and they handle all of the ads. The best part is as long as the blog is up and running, I’m making money from these ads. The more people who come to the website, the more money I make. Even if I stopped posting tomorrow, the blog would continue to make money because it still sees so much traffic from old posts.
- Affiliate Links (25% of income): If I’m linking to something that I bought for our house or something I’m wearing, I will often use an affiliate link. I get a small percentage of the sale if people go to that site and buy something, not just the item I linked. It doesn’t cost the reader anything extra, so you can just think of it as a sales commission.
- Sponsors (50% of income): Finally, sponsors are a big part of my income. I work with so many brands that I love and I’ve had some great partnerships over these past eight years. However, I do try to keep my sponsored content to under 20% of the total content I post. Therefore, I only have so many slots I can fill up for the year. In fact, last year I had the least amount of sponsored content ever, yet I still had my most profitable year.
What’s the average annual salary for a blogger?
I think this is all over the board! Some bloggers don’t make any money at all and I’m sure others make tens of millions. (Yes, it’s a thing!) Without going into extreme detail, I’ll say that The DIY Playbook makes well over six figures and it is a very important part of our family’s financial health. I think the most condescending question I receive is, “But what does your husband do?” I think people assume that I can only afford to blog because he has a lucrative job. I am very grateful that Finn works incredibly hard and has a great career in finance, but that has nothing to do with the reason I blog full-time. I do it because I love it; it’s financially successful; and because it’s awesome to run my own business that I built from the ground up.
How did you know you should go full-time?
I worked in television as a producer for many years before leaving to blog full-time in 2018. I worked both my full-time job and the blog for five years, juggling them both at the same time. Back then, I didn’t have much of a life and I worked over 80 hours a week. It wasn’t possible to continue going full-speed ahead with both gigs, and the blog was generating more income than my corporate salary, so I made the leap to full-time blogger. It was the best decision I ever made.
When do you work for free vs. charge a fee?
In the beginning, we did lots of sponsored content in exchange for free product. It was so exciting that a brand would give me a gallon of paint in exchange for a sponsored blog post! As the blog has grown and I’ve thought of it more like a business, that has changed. I don’t know about you, but our mortgage company won’t let us pay in gallons of paint! Now, I only do a partnership for free if it’s in exchange for large ticket items, like appliances. I would say over 95% of my sponsorships are paid.
Is it too late to start a blog?
Not at all! I think it’s never too late to do something you’re excited and passionate about. Would I suggest starting a blog just so you can try to make money down the line? No. I think you have to absolutely love it and be bursting at the seams to share with others in order to have a successful blog. It’s likely that you would have to work lots of hours, and potentially years, before seeing a return on your time and effort, so you should go into it for the right reasons. (And now I sound like I’m on The Bachelor…) This post has a step-by-step guide to starting a blog.
Should I start a blog or an Instagram account?
There are many successful creators making a living off of only an Instagram account, and that is amazing. Kudos to them. But if you want my personal opinion, as someone who works hard at both, I think it’s important to have your own website. Instagram owns your account and if you get hacked tomorrow, your job is gone. And what if Instagram isn’t “cool” anymore? What then? Not to mention, getting paid on Instagram involves sponsorships. There’s no way to make passive income, like I do with the ads and affiliate links on my site.
I own my website and it serves as a reference guide for all of the work I’ve ever done! You can type in that search bar and go back years and years to find posts from my past. Searching on Instagram is not quite the same. Even if you don’t consider yourself a blog reader, I’m guessing you still read blogs relatively often. Maybe it’s googling a recipe for the best margarita, which I have here btw, or a tutorial on how to tile a backsplash, Google will likely bring you to an article written by a blogger just like me!
Long story short, I think you should do both if you’re really serious about making it a successful business.
How do you grow your following?
There is no secret recipe for success. I always say the same thing QUALITY CONSISTENT CONTENT. I truly believe the reason the Playbook grows year over year is because I show up four days a week. My readers know when to expect me and I try my best to create quality content every time. If you create content that you’re proud of regularly, you’re already light years ahead of everyone else.
3 pieces of advice for a newbie blogger?
- Be yourself and the right community will come to you.
- Create quality consistent content.
- Know your weaknesses and hire out when necessary. (For me that’s accounting, finance, & tech.)
Creating the Content
Do you write about what you want or what you think people want?
A little bit of both. My editorial calendar is based on the projects that we want to get done around our house. So, I’m dictating the projects, but I’m always keeping the reader in mind. Now that I have over 2,000 blog posts in my archives, I’m always thinking of how to do a similar project in a different way. It’s a balance.
How do you create mood boards?
I use Canva. It’s free and really easy to use.
How do you get so much done? I feel like you churn out so much content?
It’s definitely a never-ending cycle of content, but at the end of the day, it’s my job so I keep on chugging along. I have a type-A personality – I am a 3 on the Enneagram – and I do lots of planning and organization. I plan out my editorial calendar months in advance and try to always have two to three weeks of content ready to go. Now that Rory is here, I don’t have quite as many full workdays, so I have to be very productive and organized with my time. It has been an interesting year, getting used to it, but I think I’ve finally got it down. You can check out this blog post for how I plan out my week as a full-time blogger and tomorrow I’ll be sharing how I use the Trello app to organize my weekly schedule.
What camera is the best for a beginner?
If you don’t want to invest in a DSLR right away, then I recommend your iPhone! The newer ones have amazing cameras and you can do a lot with the right lighting and editing apps. (This post has tips on shooting with your phone & this one has tips for editing.) If you do want to invest in a DSLR, this is the one I use. Camera bodies are often not as expensive as the lenses, so I’ve had the same body for years, but I’ve added new lenses to my rotation.
I think the assumption is if you have a nice camera, then you take nice photos. But that’s far from the case! You have to know how to use your camera to get good pictures, which involves shooting in manual mode. I recommend taking an online course (here’s the one I did many years ago) and practice, practice, practice! Oh, and get a good tripod because it’s a must for crisp interior photography.
What’s your biggest pet peeve with social media as a blogger?
The unsolicited advice. Holy smokes, it sometimes makes my skin crawl. I will be showing a room or a project and I’ll get ten messages saying I should do it this way or that way. I know people are trying to be helpful, but I’m not asking for advice. I’m trying to show you the way that I’ve chosen to do it. And if I am asking for your opinion, I will definitely ask for it out loud! I love getting tips from my followers, but unsolicited advice is sometimes too much for me, especially when it comes to “mom stuff”. Please, just don’t! Everyone raises their kids differently and I certainly don’t need someone to tell me to do something a certain way.
The Business Logistics
Is it difficult to do taxes when you work with so many brands?
We learned from the start that you have to keep good books. Thankfully, I have Finn, who is a financial whiz, and he handles all of that for me, using Quickbooks. Absolutely every transaction is logged there, so we can just give our year-end report to our accountant. I also get 1099s from brands I work with, so we include those too. It’s also important to hire a good accountant who understands the business, even though it’s an untraditional one.
How do you get health insurance?
Luckily, Rory and I are on Finn’s plan through his work. But I know many bloggers where both partners blog full-time and they buy their own health insurance.
Do you have any employees?
It’s just little old me! But I really shouldn’t say that because I couldn’t do it without Finn or my mom. They are the only reason I can keep at it as a working mom. I also hire out lots of things, like website maintenance, SEO, accounting, etc. Maybe someday I’ll have more official employees, but for now, this works!
Working with Sponsors
Do you reach out to brands or do they find you?
I’d say 90% of the time brands reach out to me, but it certainly wasn’t always that way. I will reach out to a brand if it’s a specific project I want to work on and I think they would be the perfect fit. For example, right now I’m trying to find the perfect partners for our upcoming backyard project. This post goes into more detail about working with brands.
Have you ever regretted a partnership?
It’s hard for me to look back and pinpoint a specific brand partnership that went awry, but I’m sure it has happened over the years. I only work with brands that I really use in my everyday life and love, so if I’m recommending it, then you know I actually like it and use it!
Do sponsors have to review your content before posting?
Yes. A partnership with a sponsor often includes concept approval, which means I will talk through my vision for the content and then I will actually create the content and submit it. My policy is that brands can preview the blog post ahead of time, but only to ensure that everything I’m saying about their brand is accurate. I retain all creative control and like to write in an organic way, so I incorporate their key messaging in my own words.
What social metrics do sponsors want to see?
For blog posts, it’s all about pageviews, which can be difficult because blog posts live forever and some get really popular months, or even years, after a partnership. (That’s why I always recommend a blog post to sponsors. It can give them a return on investment forever!) For Instagram, it’s all about engagement. Brands want to see how many likes, comments, saves, and shares their content gets, along with swipe-ups on stories.
As followers, how can we help you?
You guys are the best and so sweet for even asking this. Honestly, the best thing you can do is share and engage when something really resonates with you! Send a blog post to a friend; pin a photo to your Pinterest board; comment on an Instagram post that you really love or comment right here on the blog. I would never ask you to buy something that you don’t really want or need, so don’t ever feel like you’re not “helping” me if you don’t buy things I link on here. This community is amazing just for showing up every day. I appreciate you so much!
The Future of The DIY Playbook
I don’t know what the future holds for this little blog of mine, but I am very proud of the past eight years. There have been lots of twists and turns and I wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you for being here! Cheers to many more years!Casey