Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is a 33-year mom who quit her job back in 2013 to become a full-time blogger after having launched her money and lifestyle blog website, Making Sense of Cents in 2013. Today, 11 years later after launching the blog, she earns $760 000 per year passively while living on a sailboat and traveling from country to country while working only 10 hours a week.
In this article, we are sharing her story as compiled by the team at CNBC make it from how she got to start her blog to how she reached the point of living the dream lifestyle of every online entrepreneur — "The 10-hour work week!".
Michelle says that when she created her money and lifestyle blog, Making Sense of Cents in 2011, she had no idea what she was doing. At that time she was a 22-year-old financial analyst making $40 000 a year in her day job and struggling to pay off her student loans.
She says that her debt was a large part of why she started blogging and she wanted to track and share the progress of her financial goals with the main one being clearing her student loans debt.
Eleven years later, Michelle happily admits that the website has grown beyond her wildest dreams. Over the last five years, She has grossed an average of $760 000 per year in passive income by providing advice on how to start investing, which financial products to use, and how to tackle other money decisions.
"My husband and I have reached financial independence, and we’ve saved enough to retire whenever we want. This has allowed me to live my ideal lifestyle: I work just 10 hours a week and travel full-time on our sailboat. I am regularly out snorkeling, exploring, and hiking. Best of all, we have plenty of time to spend with our six-month-old daughter." — Michelle says.
Michelle’s passive income allows her and her family to live and travel full-time on their sailboat.
Starting the Blog
Michelle says that she started the blog out of her writing hobby. 6 months after starting the blog, her friend connected her with a company that wanted a blogger to write and publish a sponsored post for them.
"The company paid me $100 to reach my 50 000 monthly site visitors," — Michelle says.
After that first money deal, Michelle started studying other bloggers who made money off their blogs. She posted more frequently and set up display advertisements on her website. She also continued writing sponsored posts by reaching out to brands that she saw other bloggers working with.
It took Michelle just 2 years to earn between $5 000 to $10 000 per month which was way more than what she was making at her day job. This also helped her to clear her student loan debt, quit her job, and work on her blog full-time.
Michelle says that for the first couple of years, she focused on the blogging element of her business and published new posts almost every day. She also posted guest articles on her friends’ blogs, too.
She then went on to grow her social media presence and now she has over 110 000 followers on Facebook and 161 000 followers on Pinterest. She also built an email list over the years that currently has over 130 000 email subscribers.
Michelle also started to build other channels of income to leverage her audience and in 2016, she launched her first blogging course. Today, she writes and publishes blog articles just once or twice a week which takes her less than 10 hours of work, and she has earned over $4 000 000 gross revenue in the last five years.
Monetizing the Site
Michelle says that making passive income from a blog doesn’t mean that you never have to work. You are always going to have to manage the accounting side of your business, maintain your website, and create fresh content. But you can do a lot of work upfront and earn money for years with little maintenance.
Michelle’s website has 3 main passive income drivers, which are:
Michelle says that affiliate marketing commissions make up about 50% of her website’s revenue.
"I’m paid when I direct traffic or sales to partner brands through links on my blog — including on posts that were created months or years ago and are still discoverable via Google, my social media channels, and my blog."
About 20% of her website’s revenue comes from course sales whereby she has 2 blogging courses that she sells to her blog audience and email subscribers: Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing which goes for $197 and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts which goes at $159.
The two courses have generated over $1 000 000 in revenue since their launch in 2016.
Michelle says that created her courses on Teachable and did all of the planning, writing, and recording work. She only outsourced the graphic design elements to freelancers.
The most stress-free way to make passive income from a blog is by placing display ads and Michelle took full advantage of that. She makes passive income through display advertising commissions through Adthrive whereby she is paid whenever readers see or click an auto-generated ad on my blog.
Top Tips for Earning Passive Income as a Blogger from Michelle
Michelle always tries to increase her passive income. On top of blogging, she and her husband invest in both individual stocks and investment accounts to add to their retirement fund. However, blogging is still the biggest contributor to that.
Since she lives and travels on a sailboat most of the time, she doesn't get access to the internet while onboard for 24 hours consistently. So without passive income drivers, her family wouldn’t be able to enjoy the wonderful nomadic lifestyle.
All in all, here are her top tips for creating content that can help you earn passive income:
1. Write just like you talk
In Making Sense, Michelle discusses financial topics using language that’s easy to read and understand. People walk away feeling like they’ve learned something instead of feeling patronized or confused. This makes them more likely to return or share the blog with their friends.
So you need to make sure your social media language is engaging and personable, too. A good trick is to write as if you’re casually talking to a friend over coffee.
2. Diversify your income streams
Affiliate marketing, display advertising, and digital product sales are some of your best bets for making passive income.
Diversifying your income streams allows you to not be reliant on just one way of making money or just one of your traffic sources. Instead, you will have balanced income streams to mitigate risk.
3. Post consistently
While your old blogs can earn you income for years down the line, it’s still a good idea to keep generating fresh content. This helps you attract new readers or followers while also maintaining your loyal ones.
4. Be as helpful as possible
The idea is to get readers to return to your blog. You want them to believe you enough to purchase a course or related product you advised.
Always inquire about what people want to learn more about or what questions they have. For new ideas, do your research on what's trending. Include practical advice that people may put to use right immediately. Finally, only advocate and sell things in which you genuinely believe.
Michelle went from earning $40 000 per year in her day job to making over $730 000 per year through her blog, Making Sense of Cents. Blogging helped her pay off nearly $40 000 in student loan debt in just seven months and now 11 years later after launching the blog, she lives and travels full-time with her family on a sailboat while only putting in 10 hours of work per week.