Ready to start blogging, but don’t have any money to invest yet?
In today’s interview, I’m talking to Erin Odom, the author of More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated and founder of The Humbled Homemaker, a blog dedicated to grace-filled living designed to equip and encourage mothers in the trenches.
Her Southern charm and wealth of inspirational, practical content has drawn an audience of millions over the years. Erin and her husband Will live in the South where they are raising their four children.
Erin can speak to an experience that I hear about all the time. She built her blog at a time when she had ZERO money to invest. Yes, actually zero money. But that didn’t stop her. Nope, she blogged, networked, DIY-ed and bartered her way into a full time income and brought her family out of poverty.
How did she do it?
Back in 2011, Erin and her family were living on a very low income. After moving to South Carolina to be closer to her parents, they had a home in Mississippi that was under water and not selling, right in the middle of the recession.
Her husband Will was a high school teacher working in a state that does not pay teachers well at all. They had a toddler and an infant. Both Erin and Will were working odd jobs but living on government aid. Erin’s degree in journalism helped her to get some freelance work at a local newspaper and couple other writing gigs.
The schedule was hectic. Erin worked a lot in the middle of the night and during naptime. Her parents helped out with child care, too.
Would she have done it differently? Erin feels she didn’t have a choice back then, but she definitely doesn’t recommend sacrificing your rest if you have the option!
Erin found out she was pregnant with their third child in winter 2011. At the time, they thought they were doing everything they could, but they still couldn’t make ends meet. “The tunnel just felt really dark,” Erin says.
She didn’t know much about blogging at the time, but within a week of each other, two separate people mentioned that some stay-at-homes moms were making an income from blogging.
Erin was initially excited but skeptical. She was intrigued by the idea but didn’t know how to go about it. And she was scared to tell anyone that she was thinking about blogging for a living.
For the first six months, Erin didn’t tell anyone except her husband. At first, he said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Over the course of six years, there were many ups and downs. There was also a period of tension when the blog was taking a lot of time but not making a lot of money. Then, Erin started to burn out and wanted to quit, but her husband encouraged her to keep going. And now, her husband has quit his job teaching and works on the blog with her.
Erin called the blog The Humbled Homemaker to speak to her own experience of being a wife, mother, and homemaker and feeling “humbled” by the daily challenges she faced. She wanted to help other moms in similar situations navigate “life in the trenches,”
She mainly wrote articles at first. She wanted readers to know from the get-go that there would be no guilt, but only grace coming from her. She strove to provide content that came from the heart but was also practical. And she tried to create content around things that she was struggling with at the time.
All the experts say that you need to buy a domain name, have professional design, and so on in order to monetize your blog. Erin is here to tell you that it is possible to start for free if you don’t have money to invest. Just start somewhere.
The key is choosing a platform where you can monetize. Erin initially used Bloggr, and started off as thehumbledhomemaker.blogspot.com.
When she felt like she had $10 to spare to buy the domain name, she upgraded to thehumbledhomemaker.com. And, finally, eventually, she had enough to get started with a professional WordPress site.
If you really can’t invest anything in your blog right now, that’s okay! But start with the intention of upgrading as soon as possible, and make sure that you’re still able to monetize your work.
So what was Erin’s strategy?
Back in 2011, link ups on other blogs were really popular. Erin found a meal planning blog with a link up. She wasn’t doing weekly meal plans at the time, but she saw the potential to get some traffic within her niche. She started posting her meal plans there every week.
After about a month of doing this consistently, she got a random email from two other bloggers. They had seen her link and invited her to join a Mastermind group that they were forming.
These three women formed a group with the intention of helping each other grow. So they posted on each others’ sites, did series together, and boosted each other on social media. This was a huge factor for Erin in growing her audience.
Erin stresses that this Mastermind group wasn’t about competition, but camaraderie. All these women were in a similar niche and could’ve been aggressive with each other, but they were motivated to help each other succeed.
She also says that you also have to be willing to start these connections yourself. If no one approaches you, you’ve got to put yourself out there and approach them! Take some initiative, and start a Mastermind on your own. As Erin says, “It’s free! You can do it.”
Everyone in that first Mastermind group was at a similar stage with their blogging business. This group was also very intentional about growing audiences. They did several joint series, where they would link across blogs in their posts.
Today, you could share your group’s content in your weekly newsletter. You can also share through social media. With zero money to invest, these are all FREE ways to grow your business.
Erin wants you to remember that although there are so many things you can do today to grow your traffic faster, but slow and steady wins the race. Remember the tortoise and the hare!
In Erin’s story about her road to blogging success, RELATIONSHIPS keep coming up. Relationships require investment of time to nurture, but they don’t necessarily cost money. And they can yield some amazing benefits for you.
Around the same time that she started her Mastermind group, Erin also started writing guest posts for other blogs. This proved to be a fantastic way to build new relationships.
She also used these relationships to barter for stuff she couldn’t afford. For example, someone in the Mastermind group was very skilled with design and wanted some more experience. Erin herself is more skilled with words.
These two partnered together for their mutual benefit: Erin offered to edit her friend’s ebook, and her friend offered to migrate Erin’s site to WordPress and do the design work.
By 2012, Erin had also learned how to barter to attend a conference. She approached companies for sponsorships: ”I blogged about their products, and they sent me to the conference.”
This is great advice because, as you know, attending conferences is such an important part of blogging. So think about building relationships with companies where you create value for them and then you get something in return.
Erin’s blog started making money right away, but not very much. Just a couple dollars here and there.
However, Erin was also pursuing other income streams at the time. She started editing for other bloggers, and she says that she learned a lot from that job: her client was using WordPress, so she go to learn the platform while making some money.
She also edited ebooks and tried to VA for another blogger, but that didn’t work out too well!
Erin says that you may have to find some related money-making ventures when you’re first starting out. Then you can use that money to start growing your blog.
She also made money through private sponsors (that was more popular back then than it is now). She approached sponsors through email, and they then bought sidebar ads or sponsored posts.
Finally, she wrote an ebook together with her Mastermind group. It was a joint recipe book called Real Food, Real Easy that they collaborated on and sold together.
Was Erin using an email list? At first she just had an RSS feed.
Then, in Fall 2012, about 18 months after starting her blog, Erin was involved in an affiliate marketing sale. People were starting to do really well, and everyone started emailing back and forth about what was working best.
People weren’t building email lists back then, but someone in the group had downloaded email addresses from Feed Burner and gotten a lot of sales that way. When Erin tried the same trick, Gmail kept shutting her down because she was sending too many emails. It was working!
How can you build an email list on a budget? MailChimp and Mad Mimi both have free plans that you can take advantage of. MailChimp actually allows up to 2000 subscribers, and you can send up to 12,000 emails per month, on the free plan.
It took Erin two years to replace her husband’s income of about $30,000 before taxes. It took three years before she was earning a full time income.
Her husband quit his job in December 2016 to work on the blog full time with her.
Let that sink in: Erin had zero to invest, but within two years she was making $30,000 before taxes. Within three years–well, she doesn’t want to give a number, but she does say that it completely blows her mind how much she can make.
You can do it fast, but that take a lot of hustle and lot of financial investment. If you don’t have money to invest, you can still do it–it might just take a little longer.
Look at everything Erin was doing: it ALL comes back to relationships. If you are trying to do this thing and you have money to invest or you don’t, don’t try to grow as an island! No one is an island. It won’t work unless you invest the time to build those relationships.
Erin met some of her best friends online through blogging. A couple that she met online once drove hundreds of miles to stay with Erin and Will and offered to help them figure out their financial situation
Nowadays, she gets together with other blogging families once a year, as a family to Mastermind in person.
Foster those relationships. You never know where they might lead.
Erin’s new book was released on September 5! It’s called More Than Just Making It and it’s part memoir, part practical advice on how her family climbed out of low income living in the aftermath of the recession. The key was discovering that they needed more income, and creating that income through blogging. You can get all the info and purchase a copy at morethanjustmakingit.com.