Blog Anniversary & the Business Side of Blogging
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:
- 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 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
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!