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In all my 15 years of blogging through government shutdowns, retail scandals, me breaking my arm twice, having a baby, getting promoted at work right when my blog went viral, and much more, I don’t think any year has been more difficult in this career than 2020. That being said, this was the most profitable year to date with Wardrobe Oxygen.
Blogging During a Pandemic When It's Your Full-Time Job
Below I will share what brought in income to my blog and social media, as well as the good, bad, and ugly of blogging during a pandemic.
About my Blogging Business
I began my blog in 2005 and began monetizing not long after that. In 2010 I made a decision to treat Wardrobe Oxygen no longer like a hobby that made some pocket change, but a part-time job. At the end of 2017, after a few years of my blog income surpassing my full-time career in Corporate America, I quit my day job to focus on Wardrobe Oxygen full-time.
The reason I quit my day job wasn’t to have more time to make more money and become some sort of mogul. Instead, I did it to have a better quality of life. I am careful with the paid brand partnerships I enter into (though I still make mistakes) so that I maintain a quality of life and get paid appropriately for the time, effort, and possible financial investment for each campaign. This will never make me a millionaire, but it’s the lifestyle I wish to lead.
Wardrobe Oxygen’s primary stream of income and my “baby” of this brand is the blog. This is where I put forth my most effort, where I am most comfortable, and what I enjoy most from this job. However, in recent years, especially this year, social media, especially Instagram, has become a major income stream for paid brand partnerships as well as swipe-ups in Instagram Stories with affiliate links.
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2020 Income Recap: Five Streams of Income and How They Performed
I had five streams of income in 2020 for Wardrobe Oxygen: affiliate (commission from sales), sponsored content (sponsored blog posts, Instagram Stories and in-feed posts, Facebook posts, etc.), ad revenue (the ads that you see here on the blog in articles, in the sidebar, and the footer), freelance (writing for other sites), and donations. To learn more about how blogs make money, click this link.
#1: Affiliate Income
Ever since Wardrobe Oxygen had multiple streams of income, the most came from affiliate. I like that it’s affiliate, it means you read what I wrote (I began blogging to write, not to model) and you trust my opinions. I work hard to earn and maintain your trust, and I think high affiliate income, especially from the blog, proves I am doing a good job.
I use a variety of programs for affiliate links. Some like rewardStyle (that's the company that does LikeToKnowIt to shop looks on Instagram) and ShopStyle Collective (the biggest competitor to rewardStyle) you may be familiar with, others are much smaller.
This year I helped a lot of small businesses create an affiliate program, preferring to make a commission on sales than having them pay me without knowing if there would be an ROI.
This year a lot of brands changed affiliate programs, looking for one where they got a bigger profit or better analytics. A lot of brands also shut down their affiliate programs or reduced the commission to near nothing or nothing due to the ‘demic. Both of these made for a lot of behind the scenes work of replacing links in years' worth of content and sometimes replacing them again. Also some of the affiliate programs that shut down never paid what I earned before the ‘demic. While I did better for affiliate this year, it's a bit nauseating to think what I could have made if commissions didn't change or if brands actually paid me what I earned.
#2: Sponsored Content
The next biggest income stream is sponsored content. This year I focused on quality, not quantity partners, choosing to work with the same brands multiple times rather than lots of different brands. This is smart for a few reasons:
- By showing the same brand multiple times, you understand that I am invested in it. This isn’t a quick photo for a buck, this is a relationship and I am making a choice to be associated with this brand. You are more likely to trust me if I work with the same brand over and over, and I am better able to offer detailed feedback on their product from using or wearing it over and over.
- I am able to get more money from the brand because they know I am invested. They know me, my style, my audience, and they’ve seen from past campaigns what sorts of results they’ll get from me. I can then do fewer campaigns for the same amount of money which is a higher quality of life while also being a more authentic and trustworthy blogger.
- It makes my life easier. Honestly, when it’s a brand I know and love, it’s not as hard to figure out what to do for a shoot, reviews flow from my fingers, and the whole process is way more fun. With new brands, there are usually a lot of rules and guidelines and it’s stressful. Will they like the content? Will they “get” me and the Wardrobe Oxygen audience? Will I have to chase them down for payment? I feel more authentic and creative when I’m working for a brand I already know, love, and trust.
Every year, I have campaigns I regretted doing. They were difficult, a bad fit, I didn't get paid enough. This year I had far fewer regrets. I did partner with some new-to-me brands, but none of them were as big of a regret as ones I did in years past.
#3: Ad Revenue
I am a member of the Mediavine ad network, which is the company that shows the ads you see between paragraphs, in the sidebar, and the footer of the website. I have been part of Mediavine for a few years now and it has been quite lucrative while having fewer annoying ads (pop-ups, audio, flashing, covering images) than other ad networks I was a part of in the past.
At the end of the year I joined PubExchange, which is another ad network. At the bottom of articles on Wardrobe Oxygen you will see a widget suggesting articles on other sites. All of those sites are also part of PubExchange. A few will pay a couple of pennies if their site is shown in the widget and you click on it.
This doesn’t make me a lot of money at all, but it shows my articles on other sites and has increased traffic to Wardrobe Oxygen this year, which is also a good thing. It hasn't been long enough for me to see if this is something I'll keep up or if I may retire in 2021.
Over the years, many have asked how to support my site without having to click links. I have always said traffic and engagement. Traffic to the site means ad revenue, even if you don’t click on a single link. Leaving comments, liking my social media posts, sharing my content – this shows brands that I am a valuable person to partner with because I have an engaged audience.
But this year has been a weird one. When the ‘demic started my affiliate income dropped like a lead balloon. I also had a few sponsored opportunities canceled and some brands dropped their rates for paid opportunities. This spring, I was concerned about my business and so were many of you.
An industry expert I follow had Buy Me a Coffee in her newsletter. I thought it genius. While I respect her and get so much insight and inspiration from her, I can’t afford her course. Instead, I bought her a few virtual cups of coffee in thanks. I added Buy Me a Coffee to the sidebar of this site. I also had followers who knew my accounts send me donations via Venmo and PayPal.
It felt really weird to accept donations, but it really helped for the tough months this year, and when I had good months, I was able to then give back. Every organization featured in How to Help in Wardrobe Oxygen’s Weekend Reads received a donation and I was able to do that in big part to these donations.
This category is usually freelance and speaking engagements and at the beginning of 2020, it looked as though this would be a pretty substantial income stream.
I was scheduled to speak at two different conferences and had two other discussions happening for paid speaking opportunities. All canceled thanks to the ‘demic. I also was right at the contract point of having a monthly writing gig when lockdown happened. I had a few other opportunities this year for freelance content fall through thanks to the uncertainty of this year.
Freelance work sometimes has my byline on it, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s writing an article, sometimes it’s consulting for a brand. It really varies, and I know is a lucrative category for many influencers. However, I don’t usually focus too much on it because I would always rather write and invest my time in Wardrobe Oxygen than another brand.
2020: Where Was the Money Made?
A decade ago, 99% of any money I made was from the blog. Social media was just starting to be a thing, and most paid opportunities were on Twitter, doing sponsored tweets or participating in/hosting Twitter parties.
Now, Instagram is so big that many influencers have let their websites collect dust (or never created one) and just make all their on the ‘gram through sponsored content, LikeToKnowIt, and Story swipe-ups. TikTok became HUGE this year and I know many who just joined this year and still made tens of thousands on the platform. And while Facebook isn’t what it used to be, Groups became the safe spaces of the platform, and many influencer friends found Facebook Groups to be a major income stream in 2020.
For 2020, things were about the same for me as previous years. My focus and income came primarily from the blog itself through sponsored posts, affiliate links, and ad revenue. My traffic dropped at the beginning of the year, but by the end of 2020 I was exceeding the traffic from the same time in 2019. I had fewer sponsored posts on the site, but more ad revenue and an increase in affiliate revenue.
A little over a quarter of my revenue came from Instagram, which was primarily sponsored content and a portion from swipe-ups. My Instagram Story traffic increased over the year and Instagram became a separate audience from the blog, with different demographics and different desires. I don’t like LikeToKnowIt but tried using it pretty consistently this summer to see if I was missing out or not offering a service you desired. Nope, didn’t make enough from it to justify continuing. However, I found that when I shared affiliate links as swipe-ups on Instagram Stories, they often did extremely well, sometimes better than on the blog. I found success with quality, not quantity. No need to swipe up to every little thing, but when I had several people ask about an item (which I shared with Buzzfeed this year), I took it as justification to swipe up and it proved beneficial.
Some brands still saw value in Facebook and paid for sponsored content to be on my page. More saw value in my Facebook group, but I refused any paid content for that group so I could keep it a safe and trusting space. However, I do discuss the business of blogging in that group a lot and often share my affiliate links and codes and invite members to use them if they planned on shopping from that retailer anyway. Members also have shared my affiliate links or links to articles from the blog that have affiliate links and I did see income come from there too.
Other is freelance work, the occasional clicked link on Twitter or YouTube, the random stuff not on the major platforms.
2021 Income Goals
I don’t really have any goals for 2021. This year was constantly changing, it was impossible to set goals because you had no idea what tomorrow held. We aren’t going to wake up January 1st to a transformed world so I don’t feel secure in making true goals. I just want to make at least one dollar more in 2021 than I did in 2020 without additional stress or chaos, that will be success.
The only thing I am doing in 2021 is working with a company that will help me secure paid sponsored opportunities. I suck at pitching, and this year made me realize some of the brands I worked with are no longer a good fit for my ethics, my audience, or my real life. I hope this will increase income while not taking me away from creating the content I enjoy most and without having me partnering with a bunch of different brands that may or may not be a good fit.
I do plan on being better with using Instagram, but without sacrificing the blog. I can no longer assume that those who read the blog are on Instagram or vice versa. The Instagram audience deserves to know when a blog post is live, know where I got that sweater, and get consistent content just as blog readers do. This is a challenge for me; Instagram is a completely different mindset from sitting on my couch in my pajamas whipping out a blog post. But I know the platform isn’t going away any time soon and 2020 proved it is a valuable platform for my business.
Otherwise… we’ll see how this year goes. No major plans, no major goals, just want to be better and do better in all aspects of life, including Wardrobe Oxygen.
Business Lessons Learned in 2020
More Isn’t Better
I have always been proud of blogging consistently for 15 years. This June was my 15th blog anniversary and I was hoping to have a party to celebrate. I’m kind of glad that the ‘demic killed those plans because this year I felt that the length of time I have blogged isn’t the achievement, it’s constantly pivoting and improving that is success.
This year, I deleted hundreds of old blog posts on Wardrobe Oxygen that just didn’t provide value. The images were hosted somewhere that no longer hosts photos and they didn’t show any more. The content was meh (I had a lot of years where I just rambled about nothing just to post each day), or the content didn’t fit who I and Wardrobe Oxygen are now. I also did it with my life, performing closet cleanouts, gutting file cabinets and bookcases, donating what I don’t need and opening space to appreciate what I really need and love. It was freeing to cut out the excess, and I plan to do more of this in the coming year.
This year, I gave myself grace and didn’t expect to have fresh content six days a week. I decided as long as I did three times a week, it was going to be okay. And if a week had even less, it would be fine. This freedom let me spend more time on content that needed more research or time to craft, and let me rest when I was overwhelmed. Because this year was hella overwhelming.
This year, I also updated old content instead of creating new content. I looked at my best-performing blog posts and went in and updated them for 2020. Some, I just fixed broken links and added fresh images. Others, I rewote the entire post to fit my 2020 beliefs on style and shopping.
From an SEO (search engine optimization, AKA showing up on Google when someone searches) standpoint, this was good business. This made these blog posts perform even better, which brought more traffic, which brought more ad revenue, affiliate revenue, subscribers, and followers.
This also was good business as it allowed me to create high-quality content that didn’t take as much time to craft. It’s easier to redo 75% of a blog post than craft 100% from scratch. It also helped me see my growth as a person and blogger over the years.
I now craft a lot of my blog posts thinking of ways to update them in the future. For example, I will have a post coming up where I review several brands that offer the same product. I hope it will prove useful, but I know after a few months all those links will be broken and new brands will be on the market with the same product. It makes sense to set up the post from the get-go with the ability for me to update it next year with new brands, new photos, and new insight on such a product.
Remember the Starbucks Rule
In 2010, I decided that I was going to make Wardrobe Oxygen a proper source of income for my family to justify the time I spent on it and now with my family. I decided I had to make at least as much as I would as a barista at Starbucks from the hours spent on the blog. As a barista, I would have set hours and be able to remove my apron at the end of my shift. Blogging isn’t so cut and dry of a job, but using this comparison, I would decide whether a paid campaign was worth my time, if I should keep trying to figure out that capsule wardrobe or move on, and what to put my effort towards.
This year, I felt that most of my skincare and haircare sponsored posts weren't worth the money I was paid for it. I love my house, I think it’s cute and quirky and warm and I came to love it even more this year spending so much time in it. But my bathrooms aren’t cute. They’re old and small and not good for brands that send style decks requiring natural light and plenty of white and a modern touch. I had some campaigns where I spent four hours shooting and four hours editing to toss all the photos and do it again the next day and then have the brand come back and ask for something that I really couldn’t achieve with my home. And with the ‘demic, it wasn’t like I could shoot it during a hotel visit.
I mean, my husband and I did get pretty creative with the shoots. This one was done with my husband in the office using his fancy lens and capturing me in our daughter’s bathroom through a partially-opened door at just the right time of day. This one was done in our half bath/laundry room/mudroom which isn’t where I’d wash my face but it worked okay. But it just would bring up so much stress and self-doubt, it wasn’t worth it.
I found it more lucrative to buy the product myself, use affiliate links and write a kazillion paragraphs offering a detailed review with those paragraphs separated by random iPhone selfies. For example, this post is by far the most successful beauty post I shared this year.
You Can Be Personal Without Airing Your Dirty Laundry
When my blog was smaller, I didn’t think twice about recapping a social occasion, discussing a work relationship, writing about my marriage. But as the blog grew, social media became bigger, and our child got older, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing so much, especially on the blog which came up first when I or any family member was Googled.
However, I lost that personal touch when I started sterilizing my content. Sure, it did well on Pinterest and in Google, but it lacked the connecting with you all who read Wardrobe Oxygen.
I started Weekend Reads as a Saturday morning series because some influencer expert said that readers love series and something to look forward to the same day each week. But I found it to be a way to show who I am without having to share everything about my life.
I sometimes share a paragraph about what’s going on in my life or what I am thinking about, and sometimes I don’t. But the links I share, the shows and books I consume, and the music I listen to are personal, showing my tastes, my beliefs, my humor, and gives peeks into my life beyond the blog. Weekend Reads was more valuable to me this year, when I so many times felt helpless. It was a way to connect, to share, to inspire, and to hopefully educate and give back.
When we were all deep in lockdown, my posts sharing what I wore the previous week made me feel more connected to you all. Mirror selfies without a perfect background or perfect lighting, wearing weird combinations and the occasional bedhead normalized the weirdness of that time and many of you said you appreciated it because you didn’t feel bad that you too were dressed that way and feeling that way.
No Blogger is an Island
All bloggers get by with a little help from their friends. Those fancy brand trips we take? Those are some of the most beneficial business trips where we get a chance to chat with our peers over coffee and wine and share tips and woes and collaborate and help one another. Blogger dinners in DC always ended up being work dinners and some of the best ideas were crafted over multiple courses. This year I realized how much energy and inspiration I got from spending in-person time with my peers and I missed that interaction.
I wasn’t good with keeping in touch with my peers virtually and ended up getting in my head a lot, comparing and being critical. And none of that helps with creativity or creation. When I did make an effort and did a Zoom or FaceTime with an influencer friend, it energized me and brought me back to who I am and why I do this.
I also joined a lot more Facebook groups for my industry. It was a great way to learn, connect, and hear from those who aren’t necessarily in my niche or circle. It really helped me see my business from a new perspective and try new things.
I’m Good at What I Do and I Love Doing It
This spring, I applied for contract jobs in my old Corporate America industry. I really questioned choosing this job and worried that it wouldn’t remain a way to support my family. I’m so glad those contracts never came to fruition.
I love this job, and I’m good at it. I am never out of ideas, I just wish I had more willpower and time to turn all those ideas into content. I love connecting with all of you. I love writing. I love the creativity of this job, I love that the more honest I am the more I succeed. Today when I was doing a Peloton ride, the instructor asked us to spend a minute thinking about what we were grateful for in life and without hesitation, I thought how I am grateful Wardrobe Oxygen is my job.
Even when it sucks, I still love it. Even when I am having a panic attack over trying to get a series of photos to fit a brand’s aesthetic or when something technical breaks on the backend of this site. Even when I have strangers attacking me in my DMs and comments and on message boards. Even when I have writer’s block yet again because the world is on fire and I can’t focus on anything else. Even when I had some months when I worried about our financial future, I still love being a blogger.
And how awesome that I built a job that I love and I am good at! I made more this year, I had more free time, more creative control, and better opportunities (even though some of the very best ones ended up being canceled). I love that I’m constantly challenged to grow and learn, and I have remained relevant and increased my audience and my income year over year without selling my soul.
And I am damn proud that I have attracted you as my audience. Y’all smell bullsh*t a mile away, you’re smart and savvy and kindhearted and brave. That you not only read and follow Wardrobe Oxygen but continue to do so after a year that has tested all of us and changed all our priorities, it is a true honor. I look forward to connecting with you more in 2021.