Bob Lotich is a homesteader wannabe. He longs for the day when he owns 25 acres and does all the things he reads about from his suburban home in St. Louis. He’s also a professional blogger who believes small farms and homesteads are missing out on the money they could make online.
“I wanted raw milk,” he says, “so naturally I Googled ‘raw milk in the St. Louis area.’ I got two hits.” Since selling raw milk in Missouri is legal, Lotich is convinced that a homesteader with a few dairy animals could capture a great deal of search engine traffic just because no one else is doing it. And in building a successful blog, capturing search engine traffic is half the battle.
Jenna Wogenrich of Jackson, New York, presented a workshop on blogging for extra income at the 2012 Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania. She asked the standing-room-only crowd how many folks had some kind of online presence to promote their farms. Only a few hands went up. Then she asked how many were there because they wanted to learn how to build that presence. Almost every hand went up.
Homesteaders know better than most not to put all their eggs in one basket. Whether selling eggs and produce at a farmers’ market, goats-milk soap and vintage tea cups on Etsy, or scrap metal to the junkyard, homesteaders are experts at making money from multiple income streams. Why not add blogging to the list?
I know just what you’re thinking, “How in the world will I ever find time to do that, too?” Wogenrich has just the answer: “Look at it as another farm chore. You can’t say ‘I’m not gonna milk today.’ So, work your blog with the same mindset.” That’s what she did.
Blogging since her teen years, Wogenrich quit her job as a web designer for The Orvis Co. on her 30th birthday to write full time. She already had a successful personal blog and a book deal with Storey Publishing for her first book, “Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One’s Own.” She monetized her blog, started advertising workshops and classes that she holds at her farm, wrote about her pastured pork shares, and the rest is history. Today she says she would have no income without the exposure her blog affords. But whether you make a full-time income, or just open up the gate for another income stream, blogging could be your next profit center.
Where to begin
For the easiest set-up in the least amount of time, most bloggers begin with the free Blogger platform. “Blogger ranks fairly well out of the box because Google owns it,” Lotich says. That means that if you’re trying to sell raw milk in St. Louis, and you have highlighted that fact correctly on your site, you will be picked up on search engines quickly.
Using Blogger requires that you have a gmail account. Once through that hoop, simply go to Blogger.com, sign in, and set up your account. Blogger is so user friendly, I doubt anyone would have any trouble following the directions.
Blogging instructors, like Lotich, encourage others to self-host their site and use the free WordPress.org program to set up a blog. You can purchase domain hosting for as little as $10 per month and, although WordPress is not as user friendly as Blogger, many folks are able to navigate it on their own.
Why a person would want to take the trouble to learn WordPress is multifaceted. Some folks are intimidated that the giant Google owns Blogger and basically has control over their site. WordPress is more versatile than Blogger. Also, there are more design options and more ways to monetize a blog with WordPress.
Not to worry, though. If all these choices and set-up options confuse you, there are plenty of people out there to help, including GRIT and Capper's Farmer, which host blogging communities of roughly 200 homesteaders and dreamers alike sharing their experiences on and off the farm. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for more information on a GRIT or Capper’s Farmer blog.
Further, myriad blog posts exist just to help beginners navigate the blogging seas. Online classes exist, too. Simply check out “Resources” below.
What to blog about
No doubt about it, you want to choose a general topic to write about, but if you want your blog to succeed, you need to narrow your general topic into a specific niche. Simply blogging about the farm will not attract readers; there are scads of farm blogs out there for yours to get lost in. But suppose you have alpacas. Fewer blogs exist about alpaca farming than, say, vegetable gardening. And if you have an alpaca farm that hosts tours for special-needs children and allows them to try their hand at spinning fiber, that is an even more specific niche.
However, if you are stuck here, just get started. “You will refine your direction, design and tone as you get into it,” says popular chicken blogger Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily. “What you start blogging about might not be what you ultimately settle on.”
In the old days of advertising, a newspaper man would sell ads by boasting of the number of subscribers the newspaper had. “We can put your ad in front of 25,000 readers every single day,” he might say. Definitely, if you have no readers for your blog, you will not get the word out about your farm products or events. So where do those readers come from?
- Post about your blog on Facebook and Twitter. Social media channels are one of the best ways to promote your blog, so sign up for accounts if you do not already have them. To keep your personal life personal, start a separate Facebook page for your blog.
- Join blog carnivals or blog hops, places for you to add links to your posts. One blogger collects all those links and puts them in one post for everyone to enjoy. Do an online search for “farm blog hops” or “homestead blog hops” and follow the blogs you find. On the appropriate day, link up one of your posts to the hop. You can also visit BlogCarnival.com and search the index for carnivals in your niche.
- When you read other blogs, leave a comment with your contact information. Done regularly, this attracts new visitors to your site.
- Add your posts to Pinterest. If you don’t have a Pinterest account, get one now. Like Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest is a social media site. On it you pin pictures from your posts on bulletin boards for others to see.
- Build relationships with others in the blogging world. This tip is an underrated key to success in blogging. It’s not always about how I can get my message out, but how I can help the next guy. Once you have made friends with a few other bloggers, offer to guest post on their site in exchange for links back to yours.
Once you get a follower base going, you might want to think about monetizing. This is how bloggers make their money. One way to monetize is to sell your own products, be it milk and eggs to the locals, crafts through mail order, or other media like ebooks.
“When I started the blog in 2010,” says Jennifer Burcke of 1840 Farm near Dover, New Hampshire, “it was a way for me to share my experiences with new homesteads. … As time went on, I realized I had stumbled onto an incredible opportunity to showcase the handmade products that we make on our farm.”
You can also make money by selling advertisements or becoming an affiliate advertiser for a larger company. Places like Tractor Supply, Amazon and Purina have affiliate programs for bloggers. Some folks think they need a large following to sell ads or secure sponsors, but according to Wogenrich, a minimum number isn’t necessary if you are willing to settle for lower prices. She recommends that bloggers with local customers approach local businesses as sponsors. Barter for the advertising just to get some on your site. Then, once your follower number increases, you are set to solicit larger companies.
If you think blogging might be the thing for you, just get started. “Take the leap,” Burcke says. “If you work a homestead or farm, then you have valuable experience to share.” Once you get going, she says, you will “be welcomed into a fantastic community … eager to share their knowledge with you.”
Many bloggers blog about blogging. Some of them even offer classes to teach others. If you need a little help, check out these great sites:
Blogging Your Passion
Bob Lotich and Jonathan Milligan post regularly on topics like how to go about discovering your passion, monetization, using video, and sources for photographs.
Blogging with Amy
Amy Lynn Andrews shares her "tips, tools and tutorials about blogging and websites."
The Blog Maven
Jeni Elliott gives you "the tools you need to build a new blog, grow your readership, and make money blogging – all without sacrificing your unique style."
With more than 300,000 subscribers, Darren Rowse’s site is the "go-to" source for the industry.
Freelance writer and blogger Carol J. Alexander homesteads with her family in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Follow her blog, Everything Home with Carol.