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Turning a Blog into a Business

In 2007, former graphic designer Macala Wright created a blog called Fashionably Marketing Me to organize her thoughts about fashion and lifestyle trends and stretch her writing chops. Within nine months, Wright began getting consulting inquiries from readers. In 2009 she quit her day job at a jewelry company and started Why This Way, a Los Angeles digital media consultancy. Annual revenue of $250,000 supports her and two full-time employees, says Wright, 31. She spoke recently to Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein about earning money from a blog and why “killer content” is crucial. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Karen E. Klein: Did you intend to create a business when you started blogging?

Macala Wright: I did not have an inkling that this would ever become a business or a major source of revenue. I just wanted to explore how fashion retailers and lifestyle consumers were being impacted by social media. It was a question I thought about a lot, and it seemed no one else was talking about it.

I do think, now, that a blog is probably your single best marketing tool for developing your personal brand, depending on what you want that brand to do. If you want to use your blog to get a job at a company, you don’t have to worry about traffic, or referrals, or advertising. If you want to turn your blog into a media company, you think about things like how unique you are in your vertical. And how you’re going to gain that little piece of the market where people want to collaborate with you and advertise with you.

How much did your blog cost to start?

I spent about $500 on a Web designer who was referred to me by a photographer at work. I did all the rest of it myself, even search engine optimization. I just read and learned and taught myself everything, including background on apparel manufacturing and overseas sourcing and distribution that I hadn’t had any formal training on as a 19th century literature major.

Directly, the blog makes about $1,000 a month now. Indirectly, it built my whole other business. If I hadn’t put the time, resources, and revenue into the blog, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

How does blog traffic drive business to your consulting company?

It brings in most of my clients and gets me a lot of attention. A year ago, I started speaking nationally. In the past two months I’ve had speaking engagements in Australia and Singapore. When people look for experts in a specific business area and your site is the only thing that comes up, they figure you must be the expert in that area.

In terms of traffic, we started with 50 hits on a good day. The day we hit 100 I almost fell out of my chair. Now we’re averaging 1,500 visitors a day and half a million unique page views per month.

What business lessons have you learned?

I’m having to learn when to let go. I probably write a couple things a month now instead of blogging daily. That was a big step away, but it works.

Last year, I hired an editor for the blog, tried it for about 90 days, and realized it wasn’t going to work. I found that it is very difficult to find people who love something and respect it as much as you do. The blog is my brand. It’s like your kid—you’re not going to leave it with just anyone.

Are there mistakes you’ve avoided that could help other entrepreneurs?

I do all my own social media posts. I would never allow an intern to pretend to be me. I’ve seen way too many Twitter meltdowns, when the intern gets upset and goes on a rant on the brand’s Twitter account. Social channels are communication methods to your customers. Would you turn over your database of clients to a random person? Don’t do that with your social media accounts.

What do you recommend for bloggers who want to increase traffic and monetize their blogs?

Traffic is all about killing it with your content. Cool photos and killer content gets you a long way. Don’t copy what other people do. Learn to hone your own voice and expertise and you’ll naturally attract traffic and get people following you.

Twitter and Facebook now rival organic search traffic from Google (GOOG). I’m interested to see how Google+ shapes up. I use Delicious and StumbleUpon, but again it’s quality over quantity. There are a lot of time-intensive things that yield a little traffic but they’re not worth the time you put into them.

How did you start getting advertising?

I tried Google Ads but I found that they weren’t worth the space they took up and they distracted from my content.

I started bartering and trading advertising, and then once my readers saw ads on my site, they started asking for my rate kit. I had to make one up—I didn’t have one.

Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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