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Turning a blog into a business

Darren Rowse began making a full-time living out of blogging in 2005.

Darren Rowse began making a full-time living out of blogging in 2005. Photo: Supplied

Blogging. Monetising. Branding. These were three words that dominated last week's Problogger Training Event, a national conference for bloggers held at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium. These are people who live their lives online – sharing everything from craft patterns and cartoons to stories about their children, sport or business.

One thing's for sure, blogging is no longer just a part-time hobby for oversharers. It's an industry. And at the heart of this industry is the man who is indisputably one of the most influential bloggers in the world. Certainly, the most influential in Australia.

Darren Rowse started blogging in 2002 and began making a full-time income from it in 2005. While he has been involved in blogs focusing on a diverse range of topics over the years, his main blogs are now Problogger (321,000 readers) and Digital Photography School (around 986,000 readers). He earns money from blogging through advertising, affiliate links and selling products such as ebooks. When Rowse released his ebook 31 Days to a Better Blog in 2009, he says it generated more than $70,000 in eight days. The conference, now in its third year, is Rowse's initiative.

While Rowse is clearly an outlier (you certainly don't come across people with his level of blogging success every day), others are following in his footsteps, albeit on a smaller scale.

From business to blog – and back again

Nikki Parkinson fell into blogging when she asked a website designer to create a website for her personal styling business, which she founded in July 2008 after leaving her job as a senior journalist at a regional daily newspaper on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. "At the time, I didn't even know what a blog was," says Parkinson. "I just wanted a website that I could update myself."

Initially, Parkinson used her blog as a marketing tool for her styling business. However, her Styling You blog grew in popularity and she began to accept small amounts of sponsorship and advertising. "I saw that there was a whole community around blogging," she says.

This "community" comprises the readers who visit her blog for styling tips and advice on fashion and beauty. Parkinson has gained such a following (around 37,000 unique visitors per month) that she has effectively become her own media channel. At the start of this year, she decided to concentrate on full-time blogging, and secured a talent agent that specialises in representing bloggers. She now earns more than she did as a salaried journalist, mainly through sponsored posts, advertising and affiliate sales.

Turning personal into business

While the ATO may not yet understand the power, reach and income-earning potential of bloggers, savvy brands and businesses have. 

Parkinson is not the only blogger who has turned their blog into a business. Personal blogger Eden Riley also earns money through sponsored posts and advertising. Riley's posts about her life have garnered her a smaller, but highly loyal readership. She is also a sought after speaker and is featured at all major blogging events around Australia.

Riley is also represented by a blogger talent agency but says she has had to fight to be recognised as a "blogger" by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). She had an ABN which she had previously used for freelance writing. However, it was cancelled because she no longer earned money this way. Then her blog took off.

"I honestly never set out to monetise my blog. It's only since I signed up with Lorraine [who runs blogger talent agency The Remarkables], that I've started to treat my blog as a business."

Riley says she has earned more in the last four months as a blogger than in the last financial year, hence she asked the ATO to reinstate her ABN. Although this is usually a straightforward process, Riley was met with a roadblock. She says a representative from the ATO informed her that it did not recognise "blogging". The ATO said it would not comment on individual cases.

"I explained what I do, that I have an agent; I had to send my blog URL and explain that, these days, you can earn money from blogging.

"Eventually, I supplied some invoices for some freelance writing work I did for a website. The ATO accepted that and only reinstated my ABN last week – but that was because of 'freelance writing', not 'blogging'."

A spokesperson for the ATO said: "As a general principle to apply for an ABN/ABR you must meet an enterprise test; this is irrespective of industry."

According to the ATO website: "An enterprise includes a business" but "It doesn't not include private recreational pursuits and hobbies" or "activities carried on by individuals … without a reasonable expectation of profit".

While the ATO may not yet understand the power, reach and income-earning potential of bloggers, savvy brands and businesses have. Riley says she has already been approached by three publishers keen to talk about a book deal. When it comes to dealing with bloggers, publishers not only see ready-made evidence of a strong writing voice, but also a community of fans who are likely to buy the book.

In a room full of a diverse range of bloggers at the Problogger Training Event, Riley and Parkinson are just two bloggers who are successfully turning what is essentially an online journal into a viable business. It's the result of creating compelling content, nurturing a community of readers, and forming the kind of partnerships that are likely to generate revenue. "This year has been huge in the online world," says Riley. "Everyone knows what a blog is these days – and I think it's only a matter of time until the ATO catch up."


As I am heavily involved in the blogging world, here are a list of disclosures:

* I have written guest posts on and, last week, spoke at the Problogger Training Event.
* I am co-founder of, a business that connects brands with bloggers. 

twitter Follow Valerie Khoo on Twitter  @valeriekhoo

9 comments so far

  • It is exciting times when oversharers are able to make a living from their passions. I attended the Problogger Training Event. I left even more excited than when I turned up. Yay for brands that get teaming up with bloggers is an effective way to reach target audiences. I've purchases items on the recommendation of a blogger. It's a powerful message when it comes from a 'real' person in a space that your trust (ie their blog and social platforms).

    Jeanie (Inspired Wish)
    Date and time
    October 19, 2012, 12:01PM
    • My concern is that money may destroy credibility. Bloggers are often encouraged to write with advertising copy as the model. Most bloggers don't see any danger in this kind of advice.

      The currency of the web is credibility.

      Evan Hadkins
      Date and time
      October 19, 2012, 2:22PM
      • Agree that the currency is credibility. I too see blogging getting more entrenched by the year and some clever people making a reasonable living from the platform if you have something unique and interesting to say.

        In 2004 I was blogging for laughs, mostly as a writing outlet, not for any commercial purpose. Having a website now I can say that it's lots of work for minimal returns, just like a lot of other traditional business models. It takes time to build. There are many successful probloggers in the US who also started more than five years ago and built a successful niche and following. They saw an opportunity and got in early when rivers of easy traffic flowed past their front door and ad revenue was much easier to come by. As the industry blossoms, this is changing and becoming much harder to make an easy buck.

        reality bites
        Date and time
        October 19, 2012, 3:51PM
      • You hit the nail on the head Evan. Although credible bloggers will only recommend items that they believe in or use. Typically if a blogger has a wide following and welcomes comments - they'll have too much to lose by plugging a product/service that is dodgy.

        Date and time
        October 19, 2012, 4:08PM
    • Everyone with access to the internet and an SLR camera are making blogs now. Everyone thinks their idea is interesting and unique.

      Most are not.

      Date and time
      October 19, 2012, 4:14PM
      • "Everyone with access to the internet and an SLR camera are making blogs now. Everyone thinks their idea is interesting and unique" - yes and everyone with access to the internet is also commenting on other people's good ideas and yet those commenters remain irrelevant themselves.

        Date and time
        October 20, 2012, 3:52PM
    • Lesson: Don't believe everything you read on the internet.

      I certainly need to read around a lot of places before making a consensus on any topic. I prefer forums where its not one person dictating opinions and doing all the editing.(usually a team of very hands off moderators just pulling people up on profanity).

      Date and time
      October 19, 2012, 11:11PM
      • Blogging is something you get into for the love of writing and the community that surrounds it. If you start up a blog with the expectation of making a living out of it you are likely to be sorely disappointed.

        Date and time
        October 20, 2012, 7:37AM
        • Why the hang up with the word “blogging” and the ATO. The ATO understand terms like “publishing”, “online publisher”, “freelance writer” or just “writer”, vey well.
          All you have to do is realise what “blogging” actually is and slot it into one of their established categories.
          I’m sure they would be suitably unimpressed if you told them you “write in a diary”.
          However, if you write in a diary and it is published online and rakes in thousands of dollars in advertising revenue - what activity are you actually doing?

          Date and time
          October 30, 2012, 8:29AM

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