Q: I know this might be a bit on the personal side, but I’ve always wondered what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to running a successful blog. I’m sure a lot of readers just think you write up posts and conquer home improvement projects but from owning my own small business I know all about the “maintenance” (like taxes, health insurance, business licenses, etc). I don’t know if it’s something you’re willing to talk about but I’m sure there are a lot of other aspiring small business owners and bloggers who would like to learn about everything that goes into keeping YHL going. Thanks so much for the daily inspiration and all that “eye candy” as you call it! – Miranda
A: We thought this question was perfect for the ol’ blogiversary since there are definitely a lot of behind the scenes undertakings when it comes to keeping YHL up and running! The good news is that the “maintenance” as you call it is absolutely worth it – because we’re doing what we love and – pardon the corniness – following our passion. Sorry, I cringed when I typed that but it’s true.
Back when we started YHL we didn’t have a business plan (read all about how our blog baby evolved here). We didn’t intend for it to be anything other than a hobby on the side to keep our friends and family in the loop when it came to our continuous house projects. So over the years as YHL grew and we slowly wrapped our minds around the fact that it could be more than just a nights & weekends hobby, we knew we had to not only learn about blogging, but also needed to learn how to run a small business since it slowly snowballed into my full time gig and is now John’s as well. The great thing was that it wasn’t too intimidating because we just decided to learn as we went- which is exactly our approach when it comes to home improvement. And thanks to people like our brother-in-law (who owns a small business) and our accountant (who we met through a close friend) we can definitely attest that it’s possible to go from knowing absolutely nothing about saving for your own retirement and paying for your own medical coverage to becoming knowledgeable in all of those areas and then some.
First we’ll mention blog hosting. Gone are the days when we’d spend $180 a year hosting our site through BlueHost (that’s an affiliate link). Sadly we outgrew them as our traffic slowly increased. They’re a good starter web host because you can split the expense by sharing a server with dozens of other people. But as our traffic overloads started to crash our site last summer, we took dozens of other blogs down with us- oh the guilt! They eventually said we were too much for them to handle (basically they broke up with us – sniffle) so we set about finding another host with more room to spare. Happily we found LiquidWeb (that’s an affiliate link) who placed us on our own jumbo dedicated server to keep from crashing (ourselves and others) when thousands of people click on a giveaway post all at once to enter. Whew. It was a bit stressful moving two years of files over to their server (let’s just say thousands of comments and hundreds of images went missing and we had to digitally restore them) but we lived to tell the tale! And the site has been humming like a well oiled machine ever since – even more so since we upgraded to an even larger server back in August. The only shocker was learning that we’d have to go from spending a couple hundred dollars a year to a couple thousand (it was quite the jump). But it’s just one of those hidden business costs that are all part of the equation of being bloggers- and we’re so glad to have so many people stopping by to see us. You guys are worth every penny it takes to support all the traffic!
On top of using LiquidWeb to host our blog we also learned that it was helpful to use another company to host our images (it keeps the page loading faster and avoids the risk of having everything in one spot). For this reason we use an Amazon cloud server to host all of our images which charges us based on the volume of images we use (lots) and traffic we get (also lots) so it also adds up to a couple thousand dollars a year. We tried using a much more affordable option like Flickr or Photobucket (which are nearly free) but many of our readers lamented that our images were coming up as blocked when they checked the blog from work, so we opted to keep the site as accessible as possible. For anyone interested, we’ve also been super impressed with their service and have never had an image issue since trying them on for size nearly a year ago.
Now for the taxes explanation. We pay quarterly federal and state taxes on every dollar that we make, so a good chunk of change goes right back to the government every three months. I’m not gonna lie, this was definitely the biggest adjustment. It sucks to go from the every-dollar-I-take-home-is-mine mentality to the every-third-dollar-I-take-home-must-be-saved-because-it’s-owed-back-to-the-government mentality. Of course we know that taxes make the world go round and that just because people who work for a larger company get them taken out before the paycheck is generated doesn’t make it any less of a hardship on them. But it really is a mind shift to look at your bank account and know that the number isn’t really what’s yours because you have to save a fraction of everything and send it in every 90 days. We’ve hired an accountant (which we definitely recommend to anyone else who aspires to blog as a full time gig) to help us make those quarterly payments four times a year. It’s definitely more expensive than paying someone to do annual taxes (since they’re filed four times more frequently) but it’s such a lifesaver. Our accountant is the best, and he’s definitely super knowledgeable about every single aspect of our business – so it’s a lot easier than blindly trying to navigate this new way of living by ourselves.
Being our own bosses also means that we pay for our own health insurance as opposed to having that covered by an employer, which has been another pretty major adjustment since we used to be covered by John’s office. It wasn’t hard to find insurance (we just Googled around for “freelancers insurance in Virginia” and got a few recommendations from other self-employed friends) but we will admit that it’s not exactly fun to pay for it each month since it’s a lot more than we were used to paying (let’s just say there’s an extra zero). But in the peace of mind arena, it’s priceless. Especially with Clara around.
We’re also now responsible to save for our own retirement since we don’t exactly get the amazing company-matching 401K benefits that we used to. Instead of being called a 401K it’s actually called a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) and we basically divert a specific amount of our income every month to that account in order to ensure that we can retire someday! It’s funny how little things like retirement aren’t really things that you have to research or think much about when your company does it for you, but it was definitely something worth learning about when we were tasked with looking out for ourselves. In fact it was actually kind of fun to learn about how to DIY something like retirement. You know we love jumping in and getting our hands dirty (so picking the right company and plan was semi-enjoyable).
Of course we also pay for a business license and to maintain Young House Love as an LLC each year. There are actually a decent amount of annual business fees and expenses since we’re a bona fide two person “company” (even though the idea of being a company makes us laugh- we just consider ourselves to be two people sharing our home improvement trials and triumphs on the ol’ blog). If you’re looking to learn more about licenses and other “paperwork” items like this, just check out both your county and state government websites for business info (we’ve also found that our accountant and lawyer friends are a wealth of knowledge on the subject).
Also in the column of behind the scenes maintenance, there are those occasional times when we have to hire programmers to fix any bugs or glitches that slow things down for our readers. We also occasionally invest in business equipment – like a faster/bigger computer or camera just to keep up with the times so we can edit larger videos and take better pictures to enhance the site and our readers’ experience when they drop by. These few and far between expenses can be fun (who doesn’t like a little update here or there?) but it can also affect the time that it takes for us to save up for major or even minor projects here at Casa Petersik. So although we might have been dying to tackle the bathroom remodel or the basement overhaul, we may have had to wait a few extra weeks or months until we had the funds to take that on since we just got a new camera or paid a coder to fix some blog glitch to keep YHL looking up to par.
And speaking of undertakings like bathroom remodels and basement makeovers, we also take on non-stop projects here at YHL. It might sound silly to mention, but just to keep the blog up and running with new content and info calls for regular home-related investments (sometimes we daydream about being someone like Dooce who blogs about her life without any necessary home improvement store purchases… but then we snap out of it and realize that we couldn’t stay away from the paint and wood cutting aisles we tried). So we’ve gotten used to budgeting and saving up for every project that we tackle, both big and small. Even if we just tackle one mini project (like making a pendant light fixture or whipping up some cork vases) that’s still money that’s going out, so we’ve learned that it’s smart for us to save for and expect those expenses as well. It’s all a part of being our own business, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re looking to maintain a home blog- the key is that you have to keep tackling new makeovers and projects (which means they’ll probably know you by name at places like Michael’s and Home Depot since they’ll see you at the register so often).
Whew- so there’s a little behind the curtain look at how we keep YHL up and running. We can definitely attest to the fact that it’s not something that “practically manages itself” (we wish) but it’s so worth it because (corniness ahead again) we’re living our dream. There’s nothing we’d rather be doing and no one else we’d rather be sharing our adventures with. So a big wet kiss goes out to every single person who drops in to see what we’re up to around here.
Update – Some of the most frequent requests that we get are for info about professionally blogging (how we made our site, how we grew our following, how we make money, etc) so we shared all of the details about how we started a blog, grew our traffic, and turned it into a full time job.