Blog Anniversary & the Business Side of Blogging

Original-DSS

Deep Space Sparkle will be six years old next month. When I began blogging in 2007, I never dreamed how significant it would become to me and my family. Back then, showcasing pictures of my student’s artwork and writing about the process was intended for parents. Who knew that in six years it would become a thriving business not to mention the creative joy of my life?

Deep Space Sparkle is my baby. It’s where I get to have creative fun not only in the classroom but behind the camera and in my studio. I get to flex my entrepreneurial muscles (which had been lying dormant for a while) and because of all this, my family is benefitting from the extra income.

So that’s why I’m writing this post. To share the business end of DSS. Hopefully, I can inspire or nudge someone in the right direction. A warning though…this is a LONG post!

How much time does it take?

First of all, maintaining a website is not easy. But, it’s not hard either. Three years ago, I went from teaching at two schools, 4 days a week to just one school, 2 days a week. I did that so I could focus more on DSS. It was a good decision. I used to spend about 5 hours a week blogging in the early days. Today, it’s more like 30 hours a week.

Here’s a look at what a typical week looks like for me:

What-my-week-looks-like

What my week looks like:

  • Developing art lessons for my students usually takes up most of my week. I just don’t whip out lessons. I do research, examine standards, determine the needs of the class, develop the sequencing of the lesson, test the lesson, fine-tune the techniques and figure out how to approach the lesson with the group of kids. I rarely repeat lessons so you can see that after 10 years of teaching art, I have created mucho lessons.
  • Creating PDF lesson plans and e-course content is next. Since I began offering e-courses, my publishing efforts have increased dramatically. The e-courses are packed full of creative content: videos, pictures, worksheets & lesson plans. I spend a couple of hours each week deciding which lessons should be turned into PDF’s to sell, which ones would best demonstrate a technique in an e-course subject and which ones to offer on the site for free.
  • Photography and Video production vary throughout the year. It generally takes me four-six months to film a series of lessons for an e-course so it is on and off throughout the year. Photography is a bit different. I take about 20-30 shots per lesson while I’m teaching the students. I’ve gotten pretty good at incorporating a quick snap while a child is working. Occasionally, a class will be more demanding and I won’t get a single action shot in the classroom. If that’s the case, I do studio shots at home. I upload my pictures from my DSLR camera to my Mac computer and do some quick editing in iPhoto. When its time to create a PDF, video or e-course segment, I use Photoshop.
  • Developing the blog has moments of intensity and periods of rest. Last spring, Neil and I embarked on a redesign of our entire site which meant researching e-commerce templates, e-commerce options, design styles, coding, etc. It took forever ( 5 months) and quite a few moments wishing I had hired a web designer instead. But other than overhauls, I spend an hour or two each week improving navigation, exploring new plug-ins, changing graphics and keeping things fresh.
  • Social Media doesn’t have its share of the pie mostly because I hate to calculate how much time I spend on Pinterest and Facebook. I do consider it Blog Development as I like to engage my readers to see what needs they have. Many questions or discussions from Facebook have ended up as full-fledged posts (like this one).
  • Writing posts and creating content for my blog has remained pretty consistent over the last six years. Because I don’t have any pressure to maintain traffic numbers for advertisers ( I don’t advertise ), I don’t feel pressured to post every day or to draw traffic to my site through a crazy amount of blog posts. Instead, I focus on delivering high quality content that remains relevant for years. I’m pretty proud that my art lessons first posted on DSS in 2007 are still searched, pinned and used today. I do receive alot of traffic, well, at least for me. I haven’t checked in a good long while, but my daily visitors reached around 10K last spring. I don’t count page views anymore but the last time I checked, I was receiving around 800K per month. Not bad I think. Update: Neil just informed me that I now have 1.7 million page views a month. Holy Moly. That’s alot more than I thought.
  • Teaching art inside the classroom counts for 2 days week. I often consider this my reward for the work I do on the site. Working with the kids energizes me and quite honestly, is the reason why DSS exists. If I didn’t like working with kids and teaching them different ways to be creative, Deep Space Sparkle would have no soul. I receive so many lovely emails from people just thanking me for sharing my resources. The truth is, I can’t help it. It’s just so darn fun working with the kids I want everyone to experience the same joy as me.
  • Speaking of emails, answering emails and responding to comments is another component of my week. I try to answer every email, but I do let some slip by because I forget, or can’t figure out what the person is asking or another stupid reason. It’s important to note that Neil takes care of ALL the tech support and there is alot. Everything from email gaffes to download issues….he handles it all. And he does it very well.
  • Newsletters are a new thing to me. Since we launched our new site, it’s not always obvious when there is a new posts/lesson to read. Signing up for my newsletter has become the best way to stay current with lessons. I use MailChimp to deliver my newsletters and for some reason, it has taken a while for me to learn the ins and outs of this program. Many people still don’t receive my newsletters for various reasons, so that can be frustrating to sort through.
  • When all of the above is done, I like to kick back with a cup of coffee and learn something new. I take advantage of the wealth of internet knowledge out there and sign up for e-courses that teach everything from living a creative life to Photoshop for the newbie. I love learning and this site is a home for my curious mind.

That’s about all. At least on my side, that is.

The technical side of blogging

Neil has been a big part of the business in the last few years. He was the one to encourage me to sell my lesson plans and to try video. Neil is a computer engineer so that’s why I don’t have to hire services to code my site or host e-commerce. He can do ANYTHING I ask. He has a very busy professional life and just happens to be a really involved Dad so even I wonder how he does it all. Forget about me. He’s the one who manages everything.

Here are a few of the things Neil does that are important (extremely important, actually) if you plan to have a business based website:

  • Tracks all orders and handles customer support
  • Manages the web hosting so that you all can see this beautiful site in record time.
  • Makes sure the site doesn’t go bonkers whenever WordPress updates something.
  • Handles all e-course registrations, MY DSS account and anything money related.
  • Hunts down hackers and sets up traps so they can’t get at my stuff. This is my explanation, not his.
  • Helps my e-course students with their tech problems
  • Pays DSS taxes

Hobby Blog or Revenue Stream?

I get asked a lot about the business side of DSS; how I knew that blogging was right for me, how I decide what lessons to sell, and even whether it would be worth it for someone else to do what I do. Sometimes it’s hard to answer every question by personal email so I like to be as transparent as possible on the blog.

At some point in your blogging career, you may have considered a revenue stream for your blog. Maybe you purchased a few books or sourced out a few blogs to determine if this was right for you. For me, it wasn’t so much a decision to make money through my blog, but to add a service for art teachers. If a teacher wanted more instruction/visual aids and handouts, they could purchase a packet. If they didn’t want to, then I still had tons of free stuff. I think everyone is happy.

There are many blog genres out there and it seems as though our little niche (art blogs) are the least interested in monetizing. I’m not sure why. Kid’s craft blogs are heavily into monetizing. As are home decor and fashion blogs. Here’s something to think about; when a brand asks you to review a product for them in return for some freebies and you say yes, you are advertising. But are you getting paid for it? It costs a company peanuts to ship off a few bottles of paint and they are getting  advertising for free. Many other blog genres have figured out ways to make this scenario work for them like selling ad space to the brand or doing a paid post. Just something to think about.

A common scenario for making money on blogs is to generate a crazy amount of traffic through great content (just you or a collaboration of people), host very cool give-aways (offered by brands) and then selling ad space, using affiliates or even Google Ads to generate the money. It works and there are tons of blogs out there doing it. The content is still the same, but the blogger is getting paid for her efforts.

How we make money on DSS

Interested in the money end? For those who want to pursue a revenue stream from a blog/website, this graphic might interest you:

How-we-make-money

How we make money on DSS:

  • For the most part, art lesson plans are the meat of the business. Whether they come in single PDF packs or bundled in one big e-course, creating digital lesson plans has proven to be something that my readers like. The reason why I sell digital lesson plans is because you have asked for them. The evolution of these 20-page documents has been completely organic. They are the answer to your questions: How to I set up a class? How do I organize my art supplies? How do I teach a directed line drawing? I have the time to convert my lesson plans into documents you can use, so I have continued to do so. I love the small price tag. It means everybody who needs a well-thought out lesson plan can get one, in many cases, for less than 2 bucks. 
  • Some of my monthly income comes from affiliate sales. Some bloggers make huge incomes with affiliate networks but I prefer to keep mine on the “service end” which means that I only provide links to products (art supplies and books) to make it easier for my readers to know what I like and where to buy it.
  • The last of my income stream comes from stipends I get from speaking engagements, magazine work and stuff like that. I generally don’t pursue these options but I will consider offers if they sound fun, don’t take too much time and will benefit my blog in some way.

What do we spend our money on?

I don’t have a fancy pie-chart for this category, but it deserves to be detailed. As your blog grows, especially if you move away from the free blogs, you start to pay for fees for domain names, web-hosting, etc.. If this is where you are at, it’s nice to generate some ad or affiliate income to offset the costs. DSS’s expenses are pretty reasonable but they could be a lot higher. If DSS was my family’s primary income, we would have insurance fees, maybe some legal fees and the need to purchase health insurance.

What we do spend money on:

  • Taxes. Yuck. 
  • Web Hosting. We pay about $200 (it varies) a month for a dedicated server (the higher your traffic and storage needs, the more you need to spend for self-hosted sites)
  • Digital camera, memory cards, video equipment
  • Computer/memory and lots of storage
  • Art supplies
  • Books for my lesson inspiration
  • Printer ink and other office supplies
  • Trips/museums for lesson plans and to take my own pictures for use in my videos, e-courses and digital material so I don’t run into copyright problems
  • Monthly membership fees for Mail Chimp (newsletters), Vimeo (video) and other monthly service subscriptions
  • PayPal/Google Wallet e-commerce fees
  • Conferences

Is it worth it?

So the question you are probably wondering whether or not it is worth it. For me, absolutely. I get the biggest thrill from knowing that my art lessons have reached children in parts of the world I have never heard of. Art teachers from all over the globe have taken my e-courses and share my lessons with their students. It’s the coolest thing really. And I like knowing that my efforts are worth paying for.

I also feel that this is what I’m meant to do during this time in my life. My children are growing and becoming independent teenagers and young adults. I simply have time to do all of this. I’m also crazy good at getting things done. Really. I can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. I have high expectations for myself but I also know how to hit the sweet spot between what’s good enough and what’s not. I don’t over analyze and I trust my instincts. You don’t get to be my age without cultivating some of this good stuff. That’s the benefit of growing older; you just get better at some things.

How I do it all (which is a myth, right?)

This section is last because I not convinced that everyone should read it. Many people ask me if they can do what I do or more common yet, how do I do it all?

The truth is, Deep Space Sparkle is a natural extension of all that I do well. I don’t have to try too hard. I’m good at teaching art, I like a challenge, I like changing it up, I’m technically proficient and I don’t worry too much. I’m terrible, however, at collaboration, tech support, answering emails and taking things slow.

Do you have what it takes? Here’s my list of great blogger attributes:

  • You have an authentic need to connect with others
  • You consider blogging fun. If it is work, then it won’t last long.
  • You love learning new things whether it is making a better header or adding a widget/plug-in to your blog.
  •  You are organized, but not in the Martha Stewart way, just the plain old I-can-set-aside-time-for-the-blog-without-my-world-falling-apart kind of organized.
  • You appreciate your readers and write for them…not for who’s not reading your blog.

I hope this post sheds some light on the inner workings of DSS. If anything, it will give you an idea of how much time is involved in maintaining a site like this one.

Do you have any questions? Go ahead….ask me anything!

40 comments

  1. Hope says:

    Like you, my target audience starting out was parents of my students. Even though the vast majority of my followers are other art teachers, I still haven’t changed that focus except for a few “art teacher info” posts. I constantly wonder if I should change that. I am being approached more and more for product reviews, etc and my biggest concern about taking on money/advertising is that it could put my job in jeopardy, as I put my personal info on my blog to still attract parents from my school.
    My question is, do I start a different blog for money making and hope I get followers? Do I change the format of my current blog and make it more anonymous? I certainly would not want, nor could I afford, to lose my job due to a conflict of interests, making money on the side from my teaching job. Have you ever had a problem with this?

    • Patty Palmer says:

      You are allowed to make money any way you wish. I don’t believe that any teaching job states otherwise, but I could be wrong. As for your blog, I totally understand your point. At first my blog was a way to reach out to parents. Few did though, so I gradually shifted my focus. You have a great blog and great content so there is no reason why you shouldn’t profit from it. You may want to consider reducing the official “curriculum” aspect of your blog and place that info on your school’s website. You could update that on an as-needed basis.
      To avoid conflict, my website is completely independent from my school. My school likes to link to my site, but I don’t make any references to children or teacher’s names. I rarely mention my school’s name. This keeps my site separate from the school.
      Since your blog is well established, I’d consider making adjustments so as to move in a direction that allows you to sell ad space, etc. You don’t have to make it anonymous but I would consider how you incorporate your school’s identity and relationship to the blog. You can talk to your school’s administrator to see what they think.
      No matter what you decide, it’s important to know that it’s okay to make money from doing what you love. I’m just reading an ebook by a lovely lady who is offering the book for .99cents today. Here’s her link. http://www.livingwellspendingless.com/2013/09/25/how-to-blog-for-profit/
      The book is awesome!

      • Hope says:

        Thanks for your response. I read our county’s code of ethics on this topic recently and I think it’s time to sit down with the admin as you suggested. I’d feel better ironing out some of the uncertainties ahead of time. Thanks for this great informational post!

    • bea jo miller says:

      I just happened on to your blog…. am fascinated by it and have enjoyed it so much!!!
      Thanks for sharing all about your thought processes about your blog. It was so interesting!

  2. Dear Patty,
    This is exactly what i had hoped for. Thanks so much. Once again I consider you one of the best teachers I have had in a long while. I know I am a good art teacher and I believe I will be good at blogging and sharing my ideas.
    Your breakdown and the fact are very helpful. :-)
    Stephanie Needham
    Shelter Island , New York

  3. Lucy says:

    That was so interesting to read. Thank you. Sometimes I think I “should” write a blog because I am a happy and successful art teacher and have lots to share, but, truth be told, I definitely do not have what it takes to do what you do so gracefully. And this post just made me feel better about that. I am thankful for all of you who do this, and will happily spend MY extra time doing my own art in my studio! :-)

    • Patty Palmer says:

      That’s how I feel about cooking. I love cooking. I’m really good at it and sometimes I think I would like to create a cooking blog, but then I remember how much work goes into this one. So I stay a loyal follower of other cooking blogs.

    • R5bales says:

      This is funny. I helped a couple of friends by writing a few posts in their blogs. After about 3 months there was nothing more I wanted to say. Blogs require constant attention. I don’t know how Patty does it.

  4. Yours was the first Art Ed blog I ever read (while researching online for fresh ideas for sad, tired art lessons.). I was totally anti-blogging until I realized the impact it can make for promoting Art in our school and community. Eye opening! Thank you for your incredible commitment , hard work and inspiration. I love the mention that you should write for your audience! I started off censoring myself so much, it wasn’t my voice anymore. Now, I write from my heart and am starting to see the wonderful benefits. Thank you for doing this ^.^

  5. …and I have been trying to figure out your Eric Carlesque FB gadgets for years now…so cool!

  6. Jessica says:

    Your website is super inspiring, keep doing what you do!!!! Congratulations for many years to come.

  7. Rina says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share this ( including the beautiful, colorful graphics). I am such a fan of your blog and the new directions you’ve taken.

  8. Thanks for all the great info you always share, Patty! You mentioned taking your own pictures to avoid any copyright problems…. I’m assuming you’re referring to using photos of famous artworks, right? I’m interested in learning more about this kind of copyright issue, i.e. what’s okay and not okay when it comes to using photos of famous paintings to support a lesson inspired by a famous artist. Have you ever addressed this in a blog post, or do you have a site you can recommend for this kind of info?

    I also just wanted to add that I’ve loved following the evolution of DSS! Your site is so well done and just visually really beautiful… the colors, fonts, layout, photos…. it all works together so well. Oh, and the content is fabulous, too! I’m a huge fan!! Thanks for all the effort you put into doing this. I’m happy for you that it’s paying off, too! :-)

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Hi Cheryl,
      Many paintings of famous artists can be inserted onto your blog without too much concern. I don’t have a site or post to reference to but at some point, images are considered public domain. If you are placing an image of Starry Night on your blog and you aren’t selling any part of it, then, you are fine. For me, I have to photograph my own. I put a visual references in my PDF’s and e-courses that need to be my own work. I can’t place someone else’s photograph of a cactus in my Southwest Packet (just an example) because I’m selling the packet/works. Does that make sense?
      If I’m doing a lesson that ties in to a picture book, I always do some studio shots of the book instead of scanning the book and placing that in my blog (copyright infringement) Does this make sense?
      Thanks for the comment/question Cheryl. I;’m a fan of yours too. We’ve been around for a long time!

  9. Great post! I love “behind the scenes” stuff like this! It’s always helpful to see how successful bloggers approach their blog work. Thanks!

  10. I was also wondering if you have a blogging conference you recommend. There are so many out there but they mainly seem geared for the Mommy bloggers, lifestyle/design bloggers, food bloggers, etc. Are you aware of a conference that would be a good fit for educational bloggers?

    • Patty Palmer says:

      You’re right Susan. There are TONS of conferences out there (Blissdom, Snap, Alt to name a few) but when you boil it down, we are all bloggers that want to know how to create great content and be inspired. I don’t know of any educational conferences so maybe we should start one. What do you say, Susan!
      Haven’t been to ALT but I hear that’s Fab. They are sold out this year but have online opportunities. The SITS Girls have bloggy boot camps everywhere and if you live in the South, Blissdom is supremely popular.

  11. tobie says:

    Happy anniversary! You get better every year!

  12. Gail says:

    Hi Patty,
    Congrats on your anniversary! Sometimes I feel we are sort of the veterans out there in art blogging. I’m glad you pointed out how much time it takes to run an art blog, I get requests for more lessons but it’s hard to juggle everything.
    Take care and keep up the awesome work! :)

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Thanks Gail. Yes, we’ve been around for along time. I think that must mean we love blogging which is an important characteristic to sustain a blog for so many years.
      Love to meet you someday. Do you ever go to conferences?

  13. Maria says:

    You are the best. Definitely!!!

  14. Penny Duncan says:

    Hi patty
    I took a e-course this summer and really enjoyed it. Thank you for your hard work.
    I am planning a small business. I live in a small town with several small towns around it. I want to start a paint and relax studio. But I do not know what web host to use. Can you advise me to a free or not to expensive web host? And another question, is blogging connected to your website, if not could it. I will be doing this by myself. I am not very quick about websites and blogging. I am willing to learn.

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Blogger offers free blog hosting and templates. They are extremely user friendly and some templates have “website” appearances. If you want slightly more customization, WordPress.org offers free blogs. WordPress.com are self-hosted sites which means you need to pay for someone hosting your site.
      My suggestion is to buy a book. I love Blog Design for Dummies by Melissa Culberston. She’s a blogging friend so I am familiar with her style. She’s very easy to understand for the blogging newbie. There are other blogging books in the series that would be helpful too.
      Many blogs are in fact set up as websites, like mine. The lines get blurred a bit. Again, books should help you sort through the verbiage.
      Good luck!

  15. This was an AWESOME post! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your business. I am a budding blogger, a reading teacher, and soon to be entrepreneur as well. You are truly inspiring and have helped me a lot as I move ahead with my own entrepreneurial ventures. Thanks again!

    ***I learned of you by the way through the book you were featured in, 287 Secrets of Reinventing Your Life. Your story inspired me enough to reach out. Keep doing great things!

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Wow. That book was a long time ago! Good luck with your blog. It’s a lot of fun and if you really want to learn more, you should consider Holly Becker’s Blogging Your Way classes. Quite good.

  16. Hi Patty!
    I met you at an SCBWI event last year for the Common Core Curriculum day. I’m the one with the math-concept books (still have yet to be traditionally published–but I finally posted one version of my books to my TpT and TN stores this week).

    Anyway, I had to let you know you are so inspiring to me and I’m so glad I got to meet you. Your family looked great in your holiday picture! I feel like starting my blog last April was the best thing for me. I really enjoyed this post (although I am only half way through–I bookmarked it for future reference)! I have been working on my blog a lot lately and I have big plans for it. This post is great to know–maybe it will help my computer programming husband to help out too and see that it can generate revenue after a while : )

    Best of luck with everything and I hope you have a great 2014!

    ~Lucy at kidsmathteacher.com

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Hi Lucy! So nice to hear from you. I’m so pleased you are embracing blogging and producing your math units. That’s just wonderful! The world of blogging is both creative, inspiring and reflective. Wishing you all the best for your blogging plans.

  17. Colleen Berzok says:

    You are a true inspiration for me! I am a Art Teacher and Infant/ Baby Swim Instructor. I have recently been contemplating about starting my own blog after conversations with many of my parents. I have been to your site many times for lesson research and now for blogging advice. Thank you (and your husband) for sharing all of your valuable information.

  18. julia says:

    Genial! sincerelly thanks Patty.
    This is amaizing, I am still thinking how you can managed everything! even sharing with your “publico devoto”is a natural way to do it.
    I am going to do my best, and keep going, step by step, and full of good inspiration,like your incredible website place.
    Lots of love
    julia betancor

  19. Hi Patty! This is so good! Thank you for taking the time! I wondered, do you use Photoshop to make your lesson plans that you sell and create a PDF through Photoshop?

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Hi Alicia,
      I use Photoshop to edit photos and create some graphics but I use InDesign and Mac Pages to create my PDF’s.

  20. Hi Patty! I love this post. Thank you! I have recently decided to go into the business of blogging. I am just starting out and plan to blog for a few years first before branching out a creating products in stuff. In the back of my head, you have been my model. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

    Cindy

  21. After I originally commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me
    when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve
    4 emails with the same comment. Is there a means you are able to remove me from
    that service? Many thanks!

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Totally understand how that can become annoying! You can click an unsubscribe button in one of those emails to prevent notification of any new comments.

  22. Cindy Smith says:

    Congratulations, Patty, on the success of your DSS! I have been a “silent” fan of yours for several years. I have always admired your creativity and your generous spirit in sharing your ideas. Your lessons have often been “my salvation” when I needed some inspiration for an elementary art lesson. I came into teaching late in life and I do enjoy it but I am also moving into the website blogging direction. THANKS for “reading my mind” and offering such a great post so I can learn more how his all works! Many blessings to you and yours, Cindy

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