Life and Work
How four female bloggers turned their passion into cash
Meet four women who parlayed their blogging hobby into free stuff, career opportunities’and cold, hard cash
Blogging for dollars
Have you ever fantasized about jettisoning your day job? Dispensing with the daily commute and the irritation of office politics to concentrate on something you really love to talk about, whether it’s cooking, travel or your children? That’s the tantalizing possibility that life as a blogger holds: the chance to delve into the topics that make your heart go pitter-patter, set your own working hours, and maybe even make some money.
Weblogs (blogs for short)-once regarded as the ultimate in navel-gazing-have gone mainstream, and some bloggers are cashing in. In the 2011 State of the Blogosphere report produced by Technorati (an Internet search engine dedicated to blogs, which has a comprehensive index of who and what is most popular in the blogosphere), about 18 percent of bloggers surveyed characterize themselves as “professional bloggers” who either “use blogging as a way to supplement their income, or consider it their full-time job.”
Here’s how four female bloggers from across the country have parlayed their passions into new careers, free travel or even thriving businesses with real revenue streams.
Andrea Tomkins – A Peak Inside the FishBowl
In 1999, Andrea Tomkins of Ottawa was home with a new baby, feeling isolated, sleep deprived and in need of some kind of creative outlet. “All of my friends at the time were single,” she says. “I wanted to share my cute-baby stories.”
And so she started a blog. She called it A Peek Inside the FishBowl. It was really about her daily life with the kids and her husband, Mark: the parenting dilemmas she and Mark faced, the activities the family pursued, the recipes she liked to make for them. Initially she had about 10 readers including her husband ( “of course”), her in-laws and her mom. Every once in a while she’d email a link to the blog to her single friends so she didn’t have to “torture” them with baby pictures. Before long, those friends were passing the link along to their friends, who started passing it to their friends. “Something in the content must have resonated,” says 39-year-old Tomkins.
It didn’t initially occur to her that she might be able to profit from her blog. In fact, she waited a good nine years before soliciting ads on her site in an attempt to cover the costs. She started out by asking a candy shop she frequented with her kids to be a patron for $50 per month. “I pulled that figure out of a hat because I could not find information anywhere on what to charge,” Tomkins recalls. The candy store signed on, and over the next few years other advertisers started approaching her, including a children’s arts studio, the Ottawa Public Library and the National Arts Centre. When she thought the market would bear it, she raised her rates.
Now, 12 years after she started, Tomkins’ blog has become a legitimate enterprise, logging some 58,000 hits per month and attracting $2,000-plus monthly in advertising, mainly from local businesses. On top of that, it has opened up career opportunities for Tomkins, who now writes for other online and print publications. “Seriously, had you told me 12 years ago that I would be making an income off this blog, I would have found that pretty ridiculous,” she says. “Funny how life works out.”
Elan Morgan – Schmutzie.com
Regina writer Elan Morgan, 39, credits her blog with saving her life. Schmutzie.com consists of exceptionally literate missives on the complexities of life. “Every major issue I’ve been dealing with as an adult, I started dealing with through blogging about it,” says Morgan. She has since managed to overcome alcoholism, depression, smoking and cancer, with her readers as both sounding board and support system. “I’m not a religious person,” says Morgan. “But one thing that I always kept with me from the religious community I grew up in was, ‘In the beginning was the word.’ I really believe in the power of writing about who you are and doing so openly.”
In 2003, when Morgan started blogging, she was the manager of a hotel gift shop and wanted to push herself into the habit of writing. She named her blog Schmutzie for an old nickname- “my mother was always wiping schmutz [German for ‘guck’] off my face,” she says. But by the time two years had passed, Morgan began to notice that the blog she treated “like a diary” had a readership that went far beyond her husband, Aidan, and the occasional friend, to anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 readers per month. “It was odd at first,” she admits.
“It became difficult to write for a while because I became conscious that there were people I didn’t know out there who were reading it.”
In the end, though, her growing audience inspired her to take her blog to the next level. She began to spend more time crafting her writing. In addition, she tossed out the free site-building templates she’d found online and began designing her own blog. “I had no design experience,” she says. “I just researched and played until I could create what I wanted.”
Soon she was fielding requests from other bloggers to design their sites. In November 2011, Morgan was able to quit her part-time job at a shoe store; she now makes her living as a full-time blog designer and consultant. She’s booked solid and “putting people on a waiting list,” she says proudly.
“I think my blog is what really carries my design business,” says Morgan, who continues to write her blog for the love of it. “That’s often how my customers find me and it acts a bit like a calling card-it offers a concrete example of what I can do.”
Aimee Wimbush-Bourque – Simple Bites
Six years ago, Aimee Wimbush-Bourque of Laval, Que., gave up her job as a professional chef to become a stay-at-home mom to her newborn son, Noah. Three years later, a second son, Mateo, came along. Wimbush-Bourque explored her passion for food by cooking up gourmet dinners for her husband, Danny, and the kids. “The ironic thing was that the boys were picky eaters,” recalls Wimbush-Bourque, who’s now 33 and expecting a baby girl in March. “They hated almost everything I made.” So she channelled her bemused frustration into a blog she called Under the High Chair.
It featured a lovely line drawing, done by a friend, of two chubby legs in a high chair with an array of food from chicken to croissants strewn underneath. Wimbush-Bourque stocked the blog with recipes and photos of the food she made for her family, from chocolate banana pancakes to meatballs, along with observations about the general havoc of the family dinner table.
Wimbush-Bourque’s boys may not have been impressed with her scratch cooking, but her readers certainly were. Within her first year of blogging, she had 4,000 hits a month to her site. What’s more, she managed to attract the interest of fellow blogger Tsh Oxenreider, based in Oregon, whose website Simple Mom has more than 35,000 subscribers and was nominated for a Bloggie (the industry’s version of an Oscar). Oxenreider wanted to extend her brand by adding a dedicated food blog called Simple Bites. And she wanted Wimbush-Bourque to write it.
The two went live with Simplebites.net in 2010, and they now boast 11,000 subscribers and 325,000 to 350,000 page views per month. Wimbush-Bourque won’t release concrete earnings figures, but says the part-time venture earns her “a respectable part-time income” through advertising. And that’s just the beginning. She recently caught the attention of a New York agent and is in the process of putting together a cookbook proposal for a publisher. The funny thing, she says, is that “I love blogging. I would do it anyway. I really, really would.”
Heather Greenwood Davis – Globetrotting Mama
On June 30, 2011, Heather Greenwood Davis, her husband Ishmael, 44, and sons, Ethan, 9, and Cameron, 7, left their home in Toronto for the trip of a lifetime. By the time they’re back this summer, their year-long, round-the-world odyssey will have taken them to six continents, including Asia, South America and Europe. By press time, the family had already swum with the sharks in the Galapagos Islands, capered on The Great Wall of China and gone on safari in Namibia.
How did a middle-class Toronto family manage such an expense? Ish (as Heather calls him) worked extra time in his job as a public health inspector for four years, in order to earn a fifth year off with pay. And while they’re away, Heather, 39, has continued freelance writing for publications such as the Toronto Star and Budget Travel. In summer 2010, she also launched a blog called Globetrotting Mama. It is, she says, her calling card for editors, who can check out what the family has been doing and commission travel articles accordingly. It has also proven to be a draw for sponsors who provide products or services, including Tourism Thailand (accommodations and activities), Motorola (a Xoom tablet) and Rogers Communications (free roaming phone and Internet coverage), and in return get mentions in the blog.
The whole Davis family posts articles, photos and short films about their travel. In fact, one of the more touching posts was written by Ish, who grew up in Toronto’s notorious Regent Park public housing development. “The area where my family lived had four major boundaries: Dundas, Parliament, River and College streets,” he wrote. “I wanted to show my boys the world is their playground.”
Since the launch of Globetrotting Mama, the number of visitors has expanded dramatically, from about 300 followers per month to more than 15,000. “Several schools, from Toronto to New York, are using our trip to talk about topics like geography and history with their students,” says Greenwood Davis. The family has also been on Canadian television and radio, encouraging others to follow their own dreams, travel or otherwise. “We’ve affected some peoples’ lives in tangible ways and that in itself is a huge reward.”