Now that you've decided on your business focus, started creating exceptional content, and started leveraging your social media networks to build an audience... you're ready to begin monetizing your new digital media. This is a subject of some debate for many media producers. It really depends on your perspective when to start monetizing your sites. Some people don't want to monetize their media in the beginning of building a brand for fear of losing readers / viewers / subscribers with of customer-repelling ads in return for a small amount of income (think Mark Zuckerberg in Facebook's infancy). I certainly respect that outlook and agree that it should be seriously considered depending on your target audience. My opinion, however, is that implementing a monetization system and plan early on in your business development will:
a) Give you valuable data you can analyze including a baseline for revenue and what income channels are most successful
b) Avoid shocking your audience when you do eventually place ads on your sites, affiliate links, publishing paid posts, begin merchandising, etc.
c) Grow income streams naturally with your media business from an early stage.
And most importantly you'll be profitable at all times regardless of your humble initial earnings. I want you to always be earning money and staying profitable almost immediately. Even if you make just $1 a month and you subtract the < $1 per month for a domain name, you'll still always be in the black! I know it might not be much income but not many businesses can say that they're profitable their first month. In fact, most businesses lose money their first several months or first several years (if they are ever profitable for that matter!) so you'll always at least be ahead of the "average business" owner. Anyways, that complex debate is for another lengthy post. If you want to begin monetizing your media, here are some excellent options you can start utilizing within months of starting your business:
Google AdSense / WordPress Ads
Whether you are using WordPress or any other free blog / website service, you'll be able to utilize Google AdSense Ads or WordPress ads. These ads can be displayed on your websites and get filled by Google with ads containing relevant content. You'll earn a specific small amount for users that click on your content and a much smaller amount based on the thousands of impressions (RPM) your ads receive. You can place up to 3 of these AdSense ads on each page and the same for WordPress ads as well. If you are also creating YouTube videos (which you should be) then you can become a YouTube Partner and allow ads to run before, during, and after your videos. You'll usually get a higher level of income with these video ads compared with Google or WordPress ads. In addition to your website traffic and Click-Through-Rate (CTR), your earnings. While your overall earnings from these ads may be small (especially initially), the ads being served are automated which saves you a lot of time. These are also reputable networks with long track records of making dependable secure payments.
Premium Advertising Networks
You'll earn significantly more money with premium advertising networks through Mode Media, Federated Media, Sovrn, or BlogHer (to name just a few) than with just Google or WordPress ads. To qualify for these networks you'll need to have strong enough web traffic and social media accounts so it might not be an option immediately. You can always take 10 minutes and apply, eventually you'll be accepted. Because these are "premium" ads, advertisers often have to pay more for them and want higher quality websites to display them. These ads might also be more sophisticated which can earn you extra money, but can potentially slow down your website or interfere with overall user experience. To minimize this slow down their are plugins you can download with WordPress or you'll need to compensate by speeding up other portions of your website. While these ad networks are usually exclusive so they can't be combined, but they do allow serving of AdSense ads as well in conjunction. It's all crucial to know that if you're using WordPress to build your site, you'll need to be self-hosted to use a premium advertising network. If you use Blogger or other free options you can usually use these premium ads without self-hosting.
Manual Ad Space Sales
You can also obviously sell advertising space directly on your websites or creatively with your other media. Contact advertising prospects that could benefit from the exposure on your website or other companies that might be looking for affordable marketing solutions. Charge customers by ad size, length of time, and your analytics to provide them with exposure. While this can be more complicated and time-consuming, it can often times provide you with greater earnings that aren't dependent (at least in the short term) on your website traffic.
When your media gets a lot of high quality traffic and you become a trusted industry "influencer" that your followers look to for advice, affiliate marketing can be another revenue stream. Include products that you are passionate about in business or personal life and include a tagged link to purchase it in your post. Each time somebody makes a purchase directly from that unique link on your site, you'll receive a small commission of that purchase. It could be anywhere from 3-25% depending on what network and products you are selling. Amazon affiliate links (usually 3-8% commissions) are an easy option because they sell nearly every item under the sun, and it's a reputable company with an established standard payment system. I usually have a product review section on my websites with affiliate links so take a look for another simple example.
Getting a contract with an established publishing company is incredibly difficult, but publishing your own eBook is as simple as uploading it to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. You set your price and they'll show the commissions you'll earn from 35-70% of every sale. No overhead, no risk, and no down side! Some individuals with excellent writing skills can make a very significant second paycheck with eBook publishing, but it certainly takes a great deal of effort for lengthy or multiple publications. Take a look at my newest eBook as a simple example.
If your following is large and engaged enough with your brand then you can consider creating merchandise or related products. Many digital media producers end up selling t-shirts or other branded products. You can start simply with Spreadshirts products (printing on demand... no overhead) or VistaPrint for company branded product designs. Very successful media producers can end up making this a very lucrative revenue stream and just another marketing tool for their brand.
Paid Sponsorship / Ambassador Roles
There are plenty of opportunities for industry influencers to attain roles as sponsored professionals or paid brand ambassadors. Seek out brands that you are passionate about and that fit in with your mission statement. You'll be compensated for reviewing products, promoting products or companies, attending company events, participating in brand chats, and several other mediums.
There are plenty of other monetization methods for your new digital media business but these are some tried and true options. But remember, I'm certainly not saying any of these are going to be quick and easy ways to make a significant amount of money. You'll need to be generating a significant amount of unique content and quality website traffic to start achieving real income. It won't be easy but it can pay off huge dividends if done correctly. As digital mogul Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say, it's all about hustling and adding value for your followers. Be unique and offer them something that few, if any, can provide. You might start earning just a few bucks, but if you work at it these paltry earnings will transition to hundreds of dollars, then thousands of dollars, and potentially more from there.
I hope you enjoyed this post on monetizing your digital media.
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Michael J. Schiemer of Schiemer Consulting
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