The Hidden (And Not-So-Hidden) Costs of Being a Blogger
One of the reasons blogging has become so popular over the last few years is the fact that there are so few barriers to entry: pretty much anyone can set up a blog, and pay very little money (or no money at all, in some cases…) to do so.
It’s hard to imagine another kind of business which you could literally have up and running in the course of a spare hour one wet weekend, but blogging is that business: and that’s why (in my opinion, at least) so many people think blogging for a living is going to be easy – how could it not be, when absolutely anyone can do it, after all?
Well, blogging for a living isn’t easy, as it happens – and it’s not always free, either. Here are some of the hidden (and not so hidden) costs of blogging for a living…
Hosting and domain name
When you first start out with blogging, you might be tempted to go with one of the free services like Blogspot or similar, to host and run your blog. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course, and I know a lot of people feel they’d like to try it out, and see if it’s something they’re going to want to stick with, before investing any money in what might turn out to be a short-lived hobby.
If you DO stick with it, however, and decide you want to start trying to earn an income from your blog, you’re probably going to want to go self-hosted at some point. Now, I’m not going to get into the differences between self-hosting and using a free service like Blogspot, or we’ll be here all day, but, in short, self-hosting gives you a much greater degree of control over your blog/business, and – for -me – it’s basically the difference between owning and renting. Sure, you’ll find some very successful bloggers who still use free services, and it doesn’t seem to hold them back in the slightest, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule: most full-timers have made the decision at some point to switch to WordPress, or another content management system that allows them to fully own their blog and content, and that means purchasing a domain name and web hosting.
So, how much are we talking? It depends. A quick Google search will give you tons of hosts to choose from, at a range of different price points, but, as a general guide, Bluehost currently offer hosting from as little as $2.95 per month, and that includes a free domain name. It’s worth noting here that domain names have to be renewed every couple of years or so: again, costs will vary depending on the domain itself, and where you buy it – a .com domain will usually cost more than a less popular suffix, and the prices can vary quite dramatically: if I were to change domain, for instance, it could cost me anything from £3.99 / year to £70 / year, depending on the suffix I chose.
Once you have your hosting and domain, the next thing you’ll need is a theme/design and logo for your blog. Again, you can find free themes out there, and some of them are pretty good ones, too, but trust me when I tell you that the longer you blog, the more you’ll want to change things, and have them exactly the way you want them, and that means having a custom, or at least customisable theme. As always (I’m going to be saying this a LOT in this post, if you hadn’t already guessed: sorry!), the price for this will depend on what you’re looking for. You can buy a decent pre-made theme for around $40, and then customise it yourself (This is what I do, despite being married to a web-designer!), or you can pay someone to create one for you, which could cost you anything from a couple of hundred pounds/dollars to a couple of thousand. It’s up to you.
As it’s an internet-based activity, blogging obviously requires some basic technology to allow you to do it: I’m talking here about things like a computer, phone, internet connection, etc.
A lot of people don’t consider these costs when they’re setting up a blog, because chances are they already have things like a laptop/desktop, smartphone and some way to access the internet, so they consider those items as “free,” almost, because they’re things they’d be paying for even if they didn’t have a blog. That’s certainly true, to some extent, but the problem is that, when your livelihood depends on those items, you have to continually maintain, replace and upgrade them. I’d want to have a computer and phone regardless of whether or not I was a blogger, but as a blogger I need to have a computer that can run the programmes I use in blogging, and which has enough memory to handle the thousands of very large image files I save on it – and if it breaks down, I have no option but to replace it immediately, whether or not I can really afford to. I also can’t just have any old cellphone: I need one with a decent camera, which allows me to use Instagram and to access my blog and email on the go, and, again, if it breaks, I have to replace it.
Software and apps
You might already have the computer or smartphone, but you might not have the requisite software and apps to allow you to blog from it – and those can cost you some money. My biggest cost here is Photoshop, which I use to edit all of my photos, and which costs around £20 per month. Now, in my case, I use Photoshop purely because my husband runs a web design business, and he needs it for that: I’d argue that most bloggers probably don’t need Photoshop, and can easily get away with one of the free image editors you can find online, so that may or may not be a cost you’ll need to factor in.
In addition to Photoshop, I also pay $10/month for Buffer, which allows me to schedule social media (There is a free version available, but there are limits to how many posts you can schedule with it, and I decided I needed to upgrade!), $20/month to Mailchimp, which manages my email list, and $5/month to Boardbooster, which lets me schedule pins on Pinterest. You could easily argue that these are unnecessary expenses, and that I could just do it all myself, and save some money, but I did that for years (I have absolutely no problem spending money on shoes or a dress, but ask me to pay for anything else, and you better believe I’ll be looking for a free option!), and finally came to the conclusion that my time was worth more than the cost of these services. Social media can be a huge time-suck, so I automate as much of it as I can, and I’m willing to pay for the extra time it gives me. You might not be, obviously – everyone’s costs will be different in that respect – but then again, you might choose to pay for some other kind of software or app that I don’t: there are tons of them out there, and while most of them do have some kind of free, entry-level package you can use, if the service is good, I always find myself wanting to upgrade before long!
Camera equipment / stock photography
My preference is to take my own photos, to help set my blog apart from everyone else’s, so I’ve had to buy a camera, lenses and flash, plus studio lighting to allow me to take indoor photos. This is something of an ongoing cost: my camera is a few years old now, and will probably be due an upgrade in the next year or so, and I’m always trying to make my photos better, which means there’s always something else I seem to “need”. (Having said that, I’ve been taking most of my photos with my phone lately, purely because I’ve been too busy to faff around with the “real” camera. The quality isn’t as good, but it’s a whole lot easier, which makes me willing to make the compromise for now…)
If you don’t want to take your own photos, meanwhile, you can find free stock photos on various sites (I listed some of them here), but if images are important to you, you might get sick of seeing the same photo on hundreds of different blogs, and want to pay for something a little different, from a paid stock photography site. If you’re a fashion or lifestyle blogger, and need photos with you in them, of course, you might even want to pay a professional to take the shots for you: you’d be surprised how many fashion bloggers do this, and how much of a difference it can make to their photos!
Another thing a lot of people forget is that, if you’re working from home, you’ll be using heat, light and other utilities which would otherwise be switched off all day. Some bloggers, meanwhile, choose to work in cafes (Which means paying for enough coffee to let you stay there), or shared work spaces, which charge for their use.
Clothing / makeup / ingredients etc
This one will really depend on what you blog about. I’m sure there are some blog niches which don’t come with these kind of costs, but, well, if you’re a fashion blogger, you’ll need a constant supply of clothes to photograph; beauty bloggers need make-up to review; food bloggers have to buy ingredients to make the recipies they feature on their blogs – the list goes on. It’s really easy to say you won’t be the kind of blogger who’ll let yourself be sucked into buying things just so you can blog about them, but if you actually ARE that kind of blogger, you’re a better person than me, is all I’m saying.
I actually don’t set out to buy things to blog about, but I think it’s only natural to sometimes think, “Hmm, I’ve featured this dress 15x this month already – time for a change!” isn’t it? Actually, one of the biggest hidden costs for me is brand collaborations – which is ironic, because, when I collaborate with a brand, they’ll almost always be sending me clothes to wear in the post, so technically blogging should actually save me money on clothes, shouldn’t it? The way it generally works out, though, is that I’ll receieve an item to feature in a post, and I’ll almost immediately think, “Ooh, this would look AMAZING with X-other-item! Which I don’t have! Dammit!”
I’d love to be able to say that, when that happens, I just style the item with something I DO already have (and, to be fair, sometimes I DO…), but if I’m being paid to style something, I’ll obviously want to do the best job I can (I mean, I want to do the best job I can regardless of whether I’m being paid or not, but if I AM being paid, there’s that bit of extra pressure to get it right, you know?), which means I’ll often be able to convince myself that, yes, I really DO need to order that sweater that’s going to look SO GOOD with that skirt I’ve just been sent!”
If you think you’re not going to buy random bits of crap to stick on Instagram, then I’m here to tell you you’re LYING to yourself, girl. (Or boy.) Hell, your pants are on FIRE over there! Either that or you really do have a will of steel, and I… I just don’t know how to relate to that, sorry.
I don’t live in a particularly photogenic part of the country, unfortunately, so if I want to take halfway decent outfit photos, I have to drive somewhere that will provide a better backdrop – which costs money in fuel, parking fees, and incidentals like coffee or food, if I’m going to be out for a while. I don’t always do this, of course, because I don’t always have the time, but if it’s for a sponsored post, I’ll be much more inclined to travel in order to get it right, and if I’m reviewing a restaurant or hotel, say, the food/stay might be comped, but the travel expenses generally won’t be, so I have to factor those into my costs.
Because I’m an anti-social so-and-so, I don’t have many travel expenses other than that, but if you’re a blogger who likes attending events, you do have to bear in mind that while some brands will offer to pay your expenses, most won’t, so you’ll have to cough up the train fare/parking fee etc yourself.
Accountancy / other professional services
Terry and I pay an accountant to deal with all of our tax returns etc every year, and it’s worth every penny, seriously. Other bloggers, as I’ve mentioned, might use photographers, virtual assistants, ACTUAL assistants… it all depends on the person and their specific situation. I used to not be able to understand why a blogger would ever need an assistant (And I know it’s something a lot of non-bloggers are incredulous about, when they hear about it…), but, the more my blog grows, the more I can see how handy it would be to have someone else to answer all of those emails, chase up unpaid invoices, and take care some of the other admin that can really eat into your blogging time, and which never seems to get any less, no matter how long you spend on it. I know many people think that all bloggers do is blog, but haha, IF ONLY.
Return postage for all of those clothes you ordered that didn’t fit. The coffee and cake you bought while out taking photos for your blog. Overnight shipping on that item that has to be here tomorrow, because that’s the only chance you’ll get to photograph it. ALL OF THE NOTEBOOKS. (GOD, those notebooks. Last week Terry had to go into my desk drawer to find something, and, the next day he said to me, “Hey, here’s an idea: why don’t you buy a notebook and write, ‘STOP BUYING SO MANY NOTEBOOKS! in it?” He said this while I was standing in front of a notebook display in a store, though, so, sorry, Terry, don’t think so…) All of these things add up: or they do if you’re me, anyway…
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Of course, not all of these expenses will apply to all bloggers, and I’m sure there are plenty I’ve missed, too. My point? Blogging might not be the most expensive hobby in the world, and, as businesses go, I’m sure it’s a helluva lot cheaper than most. It’s definitely not FREE, though, as most people think, so, if you’re thinking about starting a blog, hopefully this post will give you some idea of the kind of expenses you might run into along the way!