Today, I want to introduce you to Jodi Carlson. Jodi has a blog in a very narrow niche– Girl Scouts, and she does quite well. I know a lot of people who think that having a narrow niche will hurt your ability to earn money blogging, but that’s not true at all! Jodi is proof of that. Despite only blogging part-time, she earns around $7,000 a month from her blog.
Jodi was a Girl Scout Leader for 25 years and works full-time as a web designer. She was able to take what she missed about being a Girl Scout Leader and pair that with her knowledge of web design to create a profitable blog in a very narrow niche.
Since starting her blog four years ago, Jodi has experienced a lot, from rebranding because of copyright issues to building an amazing and loyal audience. Jodi’s story is incredibly inspiring because she shows you that blogging in a narrow niche is actually a real possibility.
She’s now making money through affiliates, sponsored posts, she has her own line of products, and a very profitable email list. And, it’s clear from the way she talks about her blog that she really loves what she does. Her passion is very inspiring and can help anyone wanting to start a blog see that anyone can do it.
In this interview we talk about:
- How she earns money from her blog.
- Strategies she’s used to increase her page views.
- How she writes her content.
- The biggest challenges she’s faced.
- Her top pieces of advice for new bloggers.
What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
My name is Jodi Carlson, I am a mother of two and work as a web developer at an insurance company during the day. I also run a successful and profitable blog part time that all started from a hobby when I was 6 years old and telling my mom “I want to join Girl Scouts.”
Fast forward to when I graduated high school, I didn’t stop with the hobby, instead I stayed in as an adult volunteer and became a Girl Scout leader for the same troop my mom started for me when I was 6 years old. With over 25 years of Girl Scouting experience I really thought I would be a leader forever. Then in 2015 I had my son and quickly found the time it took to run a troop and raise a child was not possible, so I stepped down as a Leader, but I missed the planning part of being a leader. I decided to take my 25 years of experience and my 10+ years of web design and build a blog sharing all my knowledge to help other leaders plan and run their troop meetings easier.
The blog is a resource for Girl Scout leaders to help them plan their troops with ease. Even though this site has a pretty big focus on Girl Scout leaders, because that is where my background lies, these resources have been very helpful for many readers from other girl inspiring organizations such as Girl Guides, Frontier Girls, and Heritage Girls. I want to mention also that I am not connected with or endorsed by Girl Scouts of the USA. This is a blog created because I have a passion for what leaders are doing to inspire girls to be tomorrow’s leaders.
How long have you been blogging?
I have been running my blog LeaderConnectingLeaders.com part-time since 2014. I honestly didn’t take it very seriously at first. I didn’t have any type of strategy or plan till after June of 2016. Up to that point it was more of a place for me to journal my thoughts. I had a small following, and if someone new came across my site that was great, but if not, I just enjoyed sharing all my ideas with the leaders I knew were reading it.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
I actually didn’t start this blog to get a lot of traffic or to make money. I started it to help myself and to help troop leaders in my small town. I found that I was always re-planning activities for the girls in my troop and redoing them. I built the site to document my activities and share with the leaders in my area. Once I had my son in March of 2015 I had to step down as a full-time leader. At that point I really wanted to stay connected to the organization, so I started putting more into the blog just to provide more value to leaders in my town.
It wasn’t till June 2016, when my family had a lot of unforeseen medical expenses and my student loans were starting to cause a strain on our daily lifestyle that I really started taking the blog seriously as a possibility to make an additional source of real income to help pay off some of that debt.
I have been reading financial blogs like this one for years. Always reading about how people are making money blogging and always thought it seemed impossible. I researched what other bloggers were doing and looked at competition in such a specific niche, and there was not much to compare my site to. I felt like I was paving the way to providing the resources leaders were lacking on the web, and the sky was the limit at that point, and I needed to get creative to make a profit.
What makes your blog profitable?
The profit that I make from my blog comes from a variety of sources including:
My own products: This is where a large chunk of my profit comes from. I sell activity booklets for leaders to use to help them earn badges, run parties, and play games with their girls. The booklets range from $4 to $8 dollars each and come with everything you need to earn that particular badge. I have 65 products at the time of this writing and continuously add new activity booklets monthly.
Advertising: I started out by setting up ads using Google AdSense, then once I reached 100,000-page views on my website each month I joined the Ad Thrive advertising network which is like I have my own advertising agency working for me, setting up the ads and adjusting placement to give me high performing ads each month. My income has tripled since getting on their network.
Per Month Page Views January 2018: 106,080
Per Month Page Views October 2018: 109,544
Affiliate: When I first added the affiliate links to my site for Amazon and Etsy I had no idea what I was doing and wasn’t making much from it. Then I decided to invest in Michelle’s Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course and after going through all the modules and implementing the things she suggested into my own niche, I quickly saw the profit turn around in my affiliate income. The best part is there is even more I want to do that I learned from this course, so I know there are more income opportunities in this category.
Sponsorships and Partnerships: This is the newest source of income for me and I continue to grow every month with this.
- I have done post sponsorships where someone has something they want to share with my audience that a leader could use.
- I have had product partnerships where I review products that would be great for leaders.
- I have collaborated on a few activity booklets where people have worked with me to create activity booklets.
- I have designed a fun patch set that another company sells. I promote it and get a royalty off each sale.
Because this is such a small niche I have to get really creative on how I work with people. It really is a great opportunity to be the first to market for resources leaders need and can’t find.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic in such a small niche?
The core of my traffic started coming from Pinterest. Girl Scout Leaders love Pinterest. I focused primarily there for the first year. When traffic came to my site, I had a mailing list to collect emails. So once my readership grew I could keep in touch with my most dedicated followers through their inbox with new resources available for their troop. Over time leaders started telling other leaders about my site.
After Pinterest took hold I moved onto other avenues to find leaders. In early 2017 I started a Facebook page for the blog, which has proven to be a big success as well. I have used Facebook boosted posts to get my resources out to a larger mass of people. I also share engaging content leaders want to share. I don’t always share my own content. I look for other ideas that come from other bloggers, mothers, leaders and even from what would be considered my competition. I think anyone catering to help leaders should be available, so the leader can make the right choice for their girls. I think that is one of the biggest things my readers love about my site. I share a lot of resources way beyond my own site.
Lastly, over time organic searches have grown for specific keywords leaders are looking for. There are a lot of badges with little to no resources available online to help them earn the badge. Those specific blog posts are often on the first page of the search or even the first or second item in the search. I don’t focus on organic search, I let that happen naturally when I pick subjects leaders really need more information on.
How have you grown your email list?
Having a mailing list has been the best way to stay connected to my most loyal readers. My list will hear from me when there is a new activity booklet, if I’m offering a flash sale, specific ideas that relate to monthly holidays or events. I also send out a monthly digest email with great ideas for the following month and a little something personal about me from the month before.
Currently my mailing list has 7,665 subscribers and people subscribe because I offer a free bingo game and a 10% discount on the purchase of their first booklet. I make it easy to sign up with forms at the end of each post, on the side bar and a pop up comes up the first time you come to site. I also created a landing page offering the Juliette Gordon Low bingo game and promoted that on my Pinterest page.
My email list screencap November 2018
How do you write great content that performs well?
I have had a lot of trial and error over the years, but I think I have found a combination that works great on my blog.
First, I set up categories for each level of Scouting where I share ideas for individual badges for the level. Then there is a larger category with leader resources that cover topics like troop management, fundraising, games, parties, events and more. Many of the posts I write are great resources year-round, but others, like Easter Party ideas, are more time sensitive. I try to make sure to write blog posts that are going to be popular at that time of year. Then every year, the ideas shared the previous year can be shared again on social media.
Second, I have created a good pattern for the badge posts. When I create a new activity booklet I create a new post to go with that badge with anywhere from 3-5 free ideas so every time they read something on the blog, they can take that with them and implement right away. Within the post I also share the new activity booklet that allows leaders to skip most of the planning all together. They can click over and purchase the booklet and have everything they need to earn the badge. I always include links over to other resources on the site that they may find valuable based on the current post they are reading. It is a great technique to keep them on my website and using more of the resources I provide.
Lastly, when I share posts with resources from other people outside of my site they perform great for me. One of the highest visited pages on my site is 22 websites to help you run your troop successfully, which I share other people’s resources that I have found helpful, it was posted over a year ago and still gets a lot of traffic.
How much have you earned from your blog? How has it grown over time?
When I first started blogging I was making around $100 a month and I was so happy to be able to cover some of the cost of formula.
Over the last five years a number of things have changed that have brought me to my current income of anywhere between $6,000 to $9,000 a month from (mostly digital) activity booklet sales, ad revenue, affiliate marketing and other partnerships. This is before taxes, paying VAs, and other expenses. I am now making more each month than my day job, which has allowed me to start paying off the debt that led me to start focusing on this blog in the first place.
My mom is a big part of what makes this blog possible. She was the lady who said “yes, you can join Girl Scouts” over 25 years ago, the lady who ran my troop for 13 years, and who was by my side as a leader for the following 12. When I stepped down as a leader so did she, but she missed it too. So, when I started really focusing on this blog in 2016. I went back to my mom 26 years later and asked her if she would join my blog and help share our combined 50 years of experience of Scouting with my readers. So, I hired her as my first Virtual Assistant and we work together putting amazing activities together for girls K-12th grade.
Additionally, because of the growth, it has allowed me the flexibility to hire a Virtual Assistant to help me with the social media design work so I can focus on the part I love, making the activity booklets and writing the ideas on the blog.
If you are wondering why the big profit range? Well it’s because of the niche I am in, within Scouting there are times of year when things are not in high demand. Summer time is much slower for both traffic and sales, but I have a number of ideas to help keep my readers engaged during the months where many are taking a break or just out camping.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
I have learned so much on this journey to where I am now. While some things were challenging and I wish I would have known before starting, other mistakes lead me to where I am today. Here are a few of the big ones:
- Picking the right hosting provider: If I had known better from the beginning, I would have picked a better hosting provider. I had my site go down a number of times early on, and when traffic started picking up I was down for a few days straight. I have since changed hosting providers, but it was challenging since the site was live and getting regular visits.
- Avoiding copyright concerns: Early on, not knowing where this site was going to go I started with “Scouting Leader Connect” as the domain and branding but was quickly informed that people would associate that with Boy Scouts. I changed it to Girl Scout Connect, then when my site was starting to get a lot of traffic and business, GSUSA stepped in and said I needed to change my name and make it very clear that I was not associated with them. I didn’t understand copyright concerns when I was just mostly sharing free content, but I had to do a lot of changing and revamping of my blog. While this was challenging, it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. It allowed me to broaden my niche to other girl inspiring organizations. I grew in profit and traffic due to my loyal readers helping me decide on a new name and new brand. They shared my email I sent them when I was about to quit but instead my readers inspired me to keep going.
How do you find partnerships in such a small niche?
Finding new ways to connect with people can be challenging since the niche is so small. I have gotten very creative approaching it from two angles.
- Finding new leaders to be my readers: I have joined Girl Scout groups on Facebook and share some of my free ideas and also comment and give advice to other leaders. I use Pinterest and my own Facebook group to get the content out using contests and engaging posts to get leaders interested in sharing.
- Finding partnerships: I am sharing my story, blog and resources on podcasts, financial blogs like this one, and guest posting on mommy blogs. I have been featured on the Side Hustle School Podcast and interviewed on the Side Hustle Nation Podcast. The audience who listens are also entrepreneurs like me and I have gained a number of great partnerships from people reaching out after hearing my story. I have also partnered with patch companies because patches are things leaders need and love!
What is next for your blog?
I have a dream to someday leave my day job and make this my full-time job. To do that I have a lot of projects in the fire.
- I am actively collaborating with a few other passionate leaders who provide amazing resources to other leaders.
- I am working on a product line for leaders – SWAG if you will.
- Camping programs to help with summer time low.
- Continue adding badge activity booklets.
- Providing more free resources to leaders.
- And a whole lot more… The options are unlimited!
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
I have so much advice because I have learned so much in the last five years of blogging. It has been an amazing ride and I learn new things every day. So, my five tiny pieces of advice are:
- Don’t expect to get rich overnight. Any blogger who claims you can make 100k in six months either was super lucky or lying. You can do it, it just takes time. I never thought I’d make $100 a month and now I am getting close to 50K total for 2018.
- Find a few bloggers who inspire you and follow them. I have a few including this one and this is a completely different niche. There are a lot of things other niches do that you can tweak and use in yours.
- Start your mailing list right from the start, don’t wait until you are getting a lot of traffic. Your mailing list is your money maker. Every time I send an email my sales go up even if I am not promoting anything that costs money.
- Depending on where you are with your skills I recommend checking out online courses from bigger bloggers. I have purchased a number of programs from other bloggers who are successful to learn more about how they are making their money. It has helped spark even more ideas to make my blog better.
- When you can afford it get yourself a Virtual Assistant to do the things you hate so you can focus on the things you love!
Where can we go to learn more?
I would love to get to know you, and even if you are not interested in Scouting take my pieces of advice above and feel free to follow me or reach out to get ideas for your own small niche.
Are you interested in starting a blog? What do you want to write about?
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