How I Created a Tiny Niche Blog That Earns Six Figures

    When I got this tweet in spring 2010, everything started to change for my blog.

    Most “how I created my successful blog” stories are about how a blogger quickly skyrocketed to 100,000 subscribers or a million monthly pageviews.

    Then they started selling ebooks or courses or iPods, and the money poured in.

    My story isn’t anything like that.

    I started my Make a Living Writing blog in 2008, and it took until 2011 before it earned anything substantial.

    My blog had just a few hundred subscribers when it started to earn a little, perhaps $500-$1,000 a month. When it broke six figures, it had less than 2,000.

    Even today, I’m barely over 5,000 subscribers. Relative to the superstar bloggers, my blog is still barely a blip.

    I currently get about 25,000 unique visitors a month — far better than the majority of blogs, but certainly not impressive numbers. Yet the blog now earns all the income I need, and more.

    How do I earn so well from such a small audience?

    Short version:

    • I found a way to help readers solve a critical need — I help them earn more money.
    • I won their trust and loyalty by offering a lot of free help.
    • I built a highly engaged audience by constantly responding to my readers and asking them questions.
    • I looked for ways to develop paid products that would deliver more advanced learning.
    • Through trial and error, I discovered what types of products readers wanted to buy from me.
    • I developed and sold those products.
    • I also sold a few select, relevant affiliate products made by others I could personally recommend.

    Full version: Here are the 10 key elements I believe went into creating my financially successful blog with only a small audience:

    Want To Grow Your Blog From $0 To $1000 Per Month? Yes! Show Me How!

    1. Passion


    My blog began because I was simply enraged by the low rates writers were getting paid from many online content mills.

    I’d been a freelance writer, and was earning well. I thought maybe I could help other writers — no, that’s wrong. I felt compelled to speak out against something I saw as flat-out evil, and to help writers find better pay.

    I’d briefly ghosted a blog for a business owner, so I had a vague idea what a blog was. When I discovered Zen Habits and Leo Babauta, I realized I could start my own blog and use it to help other writers.

    I was so excited I literally could not sleep at night, thinking of all the posts I wanted to write.

    I didn’t know it at the time, but that orientation of focusing on a single topic — coupled with an attitude of writing to serve readers — is critical to monetizing a blog.

    To start with, I had the dim thought that if I wrote enough blog posts, maybe I could turn the posts into an ebook and make a bunch of money from it.

    I had a lot to learn.


    2. Learn


    Speaking of things I didn’t know…I had strong writing skills, but was trained in the world of print journalism. I needed to learn everything about blogging and promoting a blog. I’d never sold anything to anyone!

    I became a crazy learning sponge, reading voraciously from sites such as Copyblogger and Problogger. I soon learned some of the key elements of blog marketing, including:

    • Strong headlines. Two resources that are vital and that I still refer to are Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks report, and Sean D’Souza’s report Why Do Most Headlines Fail?. Writing stronger headlines made a big difference in drawing a crowd.
    • Compelling topics. A post I read early on from The Blog Herald helped me focus topics on what readers would comment and respond to — The 18 Types of Posts That Get More Comments. I started to interact with readers and build relationships with them.
    • Blog design basics. At first I thought I didn’t have to care how my blog looked — it was about writing, after all! But I quickly discovered that the more clean and appealing I made my design, the more readers I acquired.
    • Email subscription. For quite a while, there was no way to subscribe to my blog! I learned that RSS subscribers were problematic because you don’t get their email address and can’t contact them. I signed up for Mailchimp and got a subscription form.

    Any chance I saw to grab a free training online, read a blog post, or talk to an expert who could teach me something about blogging success, I did it.


    3. Work hard


    Technology makes me cry. I’m not good at it.

    But I could tell from the start that if I wanted to blog, I would have to learn how to use it or pay a fortune to professionals…which wasn’t really an option in my budget!

    I conquered WordPress. I learned to put up photos and install widgets and plug-ins. Later, I’d learn to use Webinar presentation and video-editing platforms so I could put on Webinars.

    For about 18 months, I clocked an 8 to midnight shift after my children went to sleep, mostly wrestling with technology and writing blog posts.

    As my blog grew, I moved it in late 2009 to its own site, from its original home on my writer portfolio website. That signaled my growing belief that my blog had the potential to be a business of its own.


    4. Listen


    Once I had subscribers and a few comments coming in, I started asking questions of my readers at the end of posts. I took surveys. I had contests and gave prizes for the most revealing responses.

    Why were they reading me? Where were they at in their writing lives? What were their obstacles to earning more?

    The answers surprised me. I assumed my readers were all new writers, but that wasn’t the case. About half were new, but the other half were experienced writers who either hadn’t freelanced before, or weren’t earning well as freelancers.

    Learning about my readers’ challenges helped me write more useful posts. I started doing regular mailbag posts, where I’d reprint questions readers had emailed me and answer them.


    5. Social media


    One of the things I learned was how to promote my blog on Twitter. I was connecting with and learning from interesting people, and sharing their stuff…and my own blog posts.

    One day in May 2010, I got the tweet you see above, from Copyblogger associate editor Jon Morrow. It led to a phone conversation and an offer to guest post on Copyblogger.

    What an exciting yet terrifying opportunity! I only had maybe 100 subscribers to my blog at the time. I felt like a midget in the land of the giants.

    But I worked hard with Jon — I actually wrote and discarded a lengthy initial post before writing the one he accepted. That post made it into Best of Copyblogger 2010 and brought many new readers to my blog. But the funny thing was, I didn’t get a lot of new subscribers. My site wasn’t set up to convert them yet.

    I was in over my head. I needed to learn a lot more about blogging.

    That’s when I joined A-List Blogging.


    6. Mentors


    When I got in A-List Blogging, I couldn’t believe what an amazing resource it was! They had a post or a video training about every imaginable aspect of blogging.

    And there were forums where you could ask questions! There’s a counter, so I can tell you the exact number I asked: 386.

    I started working on my design. I changed my tagline. I began posting more frequently, going from one a week to twice and finally to my current level, three times a week.

    To sum up, I got serious about making my blog an incredibly useful and visually appealing resource for my readers.

    Probably the most important thing I learned in A-List was how to sell in a way that wasn’t obnoxious. I’d been baffled by that, but knew I’d never want to slap up ads or send daily marketing emails.

    Soon, I had a Products I Love page, and was selling A-List affiliate memberships, along with my own one-shot Webinar trainings for $47. By the end of 2010, the blog was making a little money.

    I connected with more mentors and got direct feedback to improve my blog. Derek Halpern from Social Triggers reached out to me and gave me valuable design tips. I streamlined my sidebar, removing extraneous items. I got a bigger subscription box and created a free report for subscribers.

    Jon Morrow taught me how to target a blog post to a top blogger and get them to share it on Twitter. The result was this retweet at left, from Problogger’s Darren Rowse.

    It brought so much traffic, it crashed my site. My baby blog was growing up.

    Mary Jaksch even subscribed! That blew my mind.


    7. A contest


    Then one day in late 2010, Mary did something that surprised me even more.

    She emailed me and told me about the Top 10 Blogs for Writers contest.

    She thought I should enter. I thought she was plumb crazy, but I’d had good luck winning writing contests as a freelancer, so I went for it.

    Winning top 10 blogs that first time, at the end of 2010, marked the beginning of my blog as a viable money-earner. I went quickly from 300 subscribers to 1,000, and began selling my ebook and Webinars, along with my affiliate products.

    I met a bunch of other great bloggers — the other winners. One of them, Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer, would come to partner with me on courses and other projects and become a major factor in ramping up my blogging income.


    8. Network in-person


    My blog might have continued as a modest earner, except that Derek Halpern mentioned to me that he would be presenting at SOBCon, the Successful Online Business conference put on by Liz Strauss and Terry St. Marie. Going to SOBCon in Chicago would be the game-changer for my blog’s income.

    Before SOBCon, I had a vague idea that maybe, there should be a paid-membership community for freelance writers, like A-List was for bloggers. That would allow me to reach more writers, teach more, and market less, compared with putting on one-off Webinars. But it seemed like a daunting thing to build and launch.

    From my reader feedback, it was clear there was a need for a resource like this for freelancers — but was I the one to build it? Would people really join? I had a lot of doubts.

    SOBCon was the shot in the arm I needed. I met a ton of high-powered bloggers and authors — Liz and Terry, Chris Garrett, Derek, Chris Guillebeau, Chris Brogan, Jonathan Fields, Michael Port, Carol Roth, Barry Moltz, and Tim Sanders, to name just a few. I got a massive shot of inspiration as I sat in mastermind sessions and heard presentations from these smart people.

    And I came home resolved to launch a community for freelance writers in 90 days, confident that I now knew people who would support me and help me find the resources I needed to build it.

    I polled my members and found out what they would want in such a community, and what they’d pay to join. Then, I designed the community to offer what they wanted, at the price they told me.

    In July 2011, Freelance Writers Den launched. My dream was it might one day hit 500 members, if I toiled for many years…but it did that within the first year. Today, it’s above 600 members and growing.

    While I imagined my ebook would be the big money-maker for my blog, readers told me they needed something else. And I listened.


    9. Experiment and improve


    Once I had a sense of what readers would buy, I began to experiment with prices and formats to find the sweet spot where I could help the most people while still earning well.

    Writers liked live events…but liked recorded trainings they could watch on their own schedule more, I found.

    A course priced at $297 could bring in just as much — and help more people — if I priced it at “pay what you want under $30.” My readers love half-price sales, too, and will buy more than twice as many units. I love finding these win-win situations.

    I started the Den with some e-courses created from past blog posts, but quickly began to stuff the community with new, live trainings. Today, we have more than 100 hours of podcasts, and I frequently poll members to discover new features and services to add.

    How do I know when I’ve got it right? I get thank-you notes and raves from writers who’ve bought my products.

    10. Learn and connect


    I continue to attend live events to build more relationships and learn from new and current mentors — this year, I already hit the New Media Expo and have a ticket for World Domination Summit. The relationships I’ve built in person have been the most transformative for my blog, and each time I come away with more ideas for how to improve it.

    When you’ve got a small blog you want to earn a living from, you need highly engaged readers. If people take nothing else away from my story, that’s it. Talk to your readers, find out what they need, and deliver it.

    If you can do that, you don’t need hundreds of thousands of people to make a living.

    Then, keep on going. I’m still asking questions and learning from my readers and my mentors, and looking for ways to make my blog and my community even more useful.

    How do you engage your blog readers? Leave a comment and tell us your strategy.

    About the author

      Carol Tice

      Ger Carol Tice’s new pdf '8 Ways Low Earning Writers Can Make More —Fast! ' here: her new book for niche bloggers looking to earn well is Small Blog, Big Income. She writes the Make a Living Writing blog.

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    • Hi there,

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    • Great post! Earning six figures with a blog has to be nice!

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    • yenni says:

      Very nice blog, i want to taste her have a blog like this

    • It’s the best feeling when you actually earn from your blog; I don’t know what feeling will it be when you earn 6 figures out of it 🙂

    • very nice blog ..

    • Ricky says:

      Wow…. Great post.

      This is what we are talking about. Keep up the good work Author. Thanks for sharing.

    • I was amazed with six figure income only from 25,000 unique visitor from a niche blog, impressive number. I would love to try.

    • Great Blog & Thanks for sharing this information……….

    • akshaykeerti vjay says:

      It was really very informative for a person like me who wants to be a blogger.I would love to follow your insights
      to become a successful blogger of personal developmeny

    • Hi Carol,

      I like how you put the emphasis on the quality of your readership versus the quantity. I appreciate you taking the time to write your “how it all came to be” story on this post. I find it a refreshing contrast to what is taught in the internet marketing niche where “content is king” where in that niche they don’t mean the quality but quite literally the quantity…pump it and dump it as fast and far as possible.

      One thing I was curious about is did you do much offsite marketing for this blog or mainly rely on onsite SEO. Forgive me for not knowing because this is the first time I have come across your content and I have been around for awhile, albeit not int he writing or blogging communities so much.

      Anyways, thank you for the post. I am bookmarking and I will definitely come back and read more.


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    • Angelica says:

      Thank you so much..with all these money making schemes through blogging, the secret lies in your passion for writing and the things you write. Right now, my blog is still in its infancy stage but I’m enjoying what I’m doing so it doesn’t feel like I’m working on it. 🙂

      here’s my recent post

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    • Malek says:

      Thank you a lot. it is so much informative and helpful article.

    • Julius says:

      At the end of the day, it connecting to your audience does pay. I hope I could be like you, but I am not very good at selling myself or my idea (it is a fault I still need to overcome). Good luck and more power! Thanks for the insights.

    • Rhonda says:

      Thank you for this. I’ve been considering rethinking my blog and needed some guidance/ideas.

      I know where I want to take my blog but I don’t really know how to as I work full time and blog part time.

      I also want to launch a niche blog targeting emerging marketers, but writing from a consumer perspective with knowledge in marketing. Currently working on this but scare of launching it! Every weekend I’ve been thinking ‘Launch, launch, launch!’ but chickened out!

      Any tips? Thanks.

      • Sure — stop chickening out.

        You can’t start growing your blog until you launch it, start attracting some readers, and start asking them what they need to learn from you. That’s when everything starts to happen.

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    • Dita says:

      Hi Carol,

      What a fantastic and inspirational story! Honestly, thanks for sharing.

      Mike in the comment above, mentioned luck. I believe he missed the whole article. I don’t believe your success had anything to do with luck. I truly believe, it was your passion, dedication and hard work that did it.

      To your continued success!


      PS. Just copied the article and stuck it on my fridge to inspire me at all times

    • Mike says:

      Has luck been a part of your success? Or was chance no part of your climb to the top?

      • Maybe some would say that, but I don’t think of it that way. It could be “luck” that Jon Morrow saw one of my tweeted headlines of one of my blog posts…but if I hadn’t worked hard to learn to write headlines, that connection never would have happened.

        I think many writers are waiting for the luck fairy to bring them success, and I don’t think that’s a productive mindset. Learn all you can. Meet all the people you can. And your “luck” will start to change.

        As I write this, I’m here at World Domination Summit, where I’ve met Darren Rowse and Leo Babauta for the first time, Pam Slim and many more…along with connecting with many big bloggers I’ve met before and strengthening those relationships. Invest in your career and build your relationships to improve your “luck.”

        I think more like Edna Mode in The Incredibles…fortune favors the bold.

    • Valerie says:

      Thank you for this excellent article and the in-depth insight into your journey. Yours is one of the few blogs I follow closely, and I think I learn something from you daily.

    • Nina Amir says:

      Great blog post! You really inspired me, and you’ve offered such great advice for so many. This really is a must read.

    • Nice article. Its a must-read post for new blogging starters and especially moms who want to do something at home.

    • NoahDavid says:

      This list is amazing. Thank you for the depth and detail – you obviously have a huge heart for other writers and their success!

      While each point is enormous and essential, I’m drawn to #4: Listen. It takes tremendous vulnerability to open up and ask, “What do you want?” It feels like it’s admitting defeat. Yet this is such an important skill for any “teacher” or “expert” to learn – the delicate art of listening. Thank you for emphasizing it and sharing a few practical steps for implementation!

      • Yes, we all want to write about what WE want to write about.

        But if you want to blog as a business, you need to be focused on your readers — they are your future clients. What do they need to know? Answer that, and you have a monetizable blog.

        Just on my way to World Domination to meet Leo, Mary — will be thinking of you! 😉

    • Very useful tips and very concise. I noticed that you got more traction when your focus was targeted to a specific area. Your target market is key to everything and helps to build the foundation of a long lasting business.
      Thank you

      • So true, Barrie! I think as blogging grows, it’s ever more important to find a specific niche for your business, especially in crowded niches such as travel, food, or parenting. What’s your slant on it, or the specific piece of it you want to talk about?

        You’ll have a better chance of attracting fans if you have a point of view and a specific area.

        For instance, early on I decided to take a stand against content mills, where many other freelance websites were encouraging people to use them. That positioning has attracted a lot of people who think they aren’t a good place for writers looking to earn from their work. Content mills are also a hot-button issue within the freelance writing community these days.

        Taking a stand on a polarizing issue is also a way to draw the right sort of audience — the people you want to talk to — and to build a lot of loyalty.

    • Allyson Jones says:

      Thank you for sharing your hard-experience and providing real tips on achieving a successful freelance career! However, I do think you should add “compassion” as a key element.

      I discovered Make a Living Writing after being laid off from a 14-year stint as editor and primary writer for assorted visitor guides and city websites. Although my confidence had hit rock bottom, you took the time to personally answer a question/comment I made on one of your posts. This act of kindness made an incredible difference in my outlook and attitude. In fact, I have taken several of your courses and continue to read every blog post.

      So, thank you for sharing your knowledge and providing truly helpful advice. It is greatly appreciated!

      • Hi Allyson —

        Thank you so much for sharing how my blog has helped you! Really made my day.

        Think I’m going to keep responding to blog comments…really a lesson for all bloggers there. You never know how a little response and encouragement might change a reader’s life.

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    • I’m following in your footsteps. Your story sounds like mine. I started blogging about a year ago. I’m refining my niche and I struggle through technology. I still haven’t started a subscription system, but I know it’s important. Each time I read an article like yours it motivates me to keep working on my site

    • Karen Putz says:

      This is quite inspiring! Thanks for sharing your climb to success!

    • This is my first “behind the scenes” look at how your blog and the Den came to be, and I think it’s an incredible story. Thanks for sharing it. And thanks for all that you do, Carol! The tips and resources on your site have really helped me become a better and more profitable freelance writer. 🙂

    • This is a great summary of your backstory Carol! Thanks for being a mentor to me.

    • It’s amazing and inspiring to see your journey laid bare, Carol.

      The two strongest lessons I get from reading your story are: (1) keep pushing on, and (2) the right networking is critical.

      Your incredibly useful experience, single-minded focus, willingness to learn from your readers have all obviously contributed to your well-earned success.

      Also, as a multi-year member, I’m also pleased to see you endorse Mary Jaksch’s A-List Blogging Bootcamp. Makes me realize that I need to take better advantage of the incredible resources there.

      Thanks for a wonderful “deconstruction” of your journey. Lots to learn from what you’ve done. Congrats!

    • I didn’t realize I must have been one of Carol’s earliest subscribers! I’ve been following her site since it was just a little blog on her freelance site, and am in awe at what she’s accomplished. Although I’ve decided not to pursue a “typical” freelance writing career, I still keep an eye on what she’s doing.

      • Wow, if you go back to the blog days you really are a veteran of MALW! In fact, that’s before it was even called MALW.

        Thanks for hangin’ in there… 😉

    • Your blog is one of the best I have come across. I have always felt inspired by your ideas. Thanks for your contribution and for writing this post. It really resonated with me and I had a fun time reading it.

      I have been following your work for the longest time. As a freelancer, I have gained a lot from your experiences. The ups and downs you have faced and your struggles were interesting to read and this has made you a better person and a better writer. That is what I have learned from you in a nutshell.

      It would be great if you could tell us what blogs and newsletters we should read if we are aspiring writers and bloggers and artists. I always look forward to such link sharing from this fab blog. Cheerio.

    • Felisa says:

      I have been blogging for 5 years and nothing came out of it. Up to now I am still trying to find my way around the blogging world. Thanks for sharing us such great tips for blogging.

    • You know, contests have been very good to me on the freelance writing side of my life as well — my whole career got started after I won a couple of essay contests, one of them at the L.A. Times. Both led to a lot of additional opportunities to write for pay…just like winning the Top 10 Blogs contests helped me meet Linda Formichelli and create some popular courses. 😉

    • I am striving to be a better writer on my photography blog and I would like to thank you for your inspirational story! your number seven is what led me to this post through google, I was searching for blog writing contests!

    • Since one of my tweets landed here, I figured I should follow up by saying that your story and your work still inspires me every day!

      Your blog and the community that has risen from it makes a real difference to people. I know, because I’m one of those people. I think the most important ingredient of your success is your true desire to help and make a difference. Your advice works, to be sure, but you really do go out of your way to help people. You you can’t fake that kind of mojo.

      You took it step by step and learned from A-List and others.You built it piece by piece and THAT’S what it’s all about. I hope that everyone who reads this post really takes the time to let it sink in. You were smart enough to know what you didn’t know and I think that’s where some of us new kids make huge mistakes.

      I think that your post also has another good message. Give back to the ones who helped you along the way. Unfortunately, many bloggers never seem to take the time to acknowledge or thank the people who helped to shape them. They make it seem like it was magic or they had some secret way of getting there.

      Rock on, Carol!!!!

      • Hi Prudence – -great to see you over here!

        I never miss a chance to mention all the people who helped me. I still can’t believe how lucky I was to have these great people give me advice that truly changed my career and transformed my income.

    • Tim says:

      This is an incredibly insightful post 1) for its excellent 30,000 foot view of growing a blog and 2) because you demonstrate what is difficult for all the big guys to demonstrate: Small can work. While I enjoy reading the big voices in the blogging world and get a lot of information from them, it’s easy to get discouraged thinking that one will never get there. Really encouraging to think that you have a successful blog with only a fraction of the readership. Goes to show that you don’t need to be “big time” in order to have an influence and make a living from blogging. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Kelly says:

      This is incredibly inspirational as I’m preparing to launch my website, in September and am doing those night shifts you mentioned after the kids are in bed, wrangling with technology, reading every single thing I can sink my teeth into, diving deep into the murky world of social media….. and loving every damn minute of it!!

      Of course the husband is intrigued as to how I plan to make any money of this blog of mine. I will show him your post 🙂 Thank you.

      • I am really fortunate to have the most supportive husband ever. Every night as soon as the kids were in bed we’d run up the stairs to my office and go, “OK…today we learn how to use Camtasia!” Or whatever it was that week.

        And every single time I said, “I think I should spend X to do X for my business,” before I could hardly get the sentence out he’d say, “Do it.” I know lots of bloggers don’t have the benefit of supportive family members and keep getting asked when they’re going to get a j-o-b already…so feel really blessed there.

        • Elissa P says:

          I so want to join the A-List class, but I am not sure how it will help me. I have read a lot and watch a lot of YouTube videos to know that I need some kind of help to get my name out into the world.

          However, I will be taking a big chance signing up for anything because my family is almost broke with no money coming in to the home. I know, I have to do something to turn our lives around but my husband thinks I don’t need to invest any monies into starting a blog. He thinks I would just created a blog and start and the people will come.

          I am so confuse and I was wondering how A-List Blogging Masterclass will be helpful to me? I am not sure if I want to be a freelances writer, but I know I want to start a blog in which I will be helping others learn how to have a more meaningful relationship in their Christian and family life through daily devotions and prayers. I thank anyone who takes the time to answer my comment.

          Blessing always.

          • I don’t know if that’s an easily monetizable niche for a blog, Elissa, as I don’t know much about that space online…but what I do know is they can help you fine-tune it in A-List! For sure.

            Yes, you can start a blog and spend nothing on it…and then take 10 years to figure everything out. I always say A-List is like pouring accelerant on your blog — it makes it possible for you to go much faster in building your audience. From the time I joined, I was starting to earn well within about a year. It would definitely have taken WAY longer or maybe have never happened without A-List.

            Jon Morrow taught me the next great bloggers aren’t born — they’re appointed, by the current crop of successful bloggers. If you know no one, connect with no thought leaders, and have no network, it is almost impossible for you to attract a substantial blog audience. You have to get into a community and meet other bloggers who can help you to get anywhere.

            I know many people look at the small monthly fee and think “I can’t afford that” — but the question is, can you afford for it to take ages for your blog to start earning money?

            I was fortunate that I did have a freelance writing career going and income, and I was busy with that, which I’m sure is one reason my blog took longer to take off. But once I got in A-List and started implementing the things I learned there, things started to happen pretty quick.

            You should always make sure your basic financial needs are taken care of first…but once they are and you can invest in your blog business, A-List is a great place to get the help you need.

            Best of luck with your blog, Elissa.

            • Elissa P says:

              Thank you Ms. Coral.
              I must say, if I read no other blog post for the day, I read your blog daily along with two others. Thank you for taking the time to always answer my questions and inputting your wise advice.
              Thank you.

    • Super excited to get started! I saw the email this morning and have already signed up! Been following you for awhile and can’t wait!

      • Congrats on joining A-List! I learned sooo much in the community. Even though I now run my own writing community, if people want to earn from their blog, I still tell them to join A-List. They’re really got the answer to every question you’ve got about how to design, write, build, market, and earn from your blog. Terrific community for bloggers, bar none.

      • venkatesh says:

        wonderful miss

    • Jennifer says:

      Great tips! I’m a new reader and am very enthused about all the advice you offer. Thanks for inspiring us “small fish” to continue to learn and grow.

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