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.
One thing I’ve been wondering – do you get to deduct your home improvement expenses as a cost of doing business?
Good question! Since our house is our primary residence and not our “office building” (since we live/sleep/eat there too) the things we put into it are investments in a private residence and therefore not write offs. Hope it helps!
Great and informative post! I was just telling a friend this morning that blogging isn’t just sitting at a computer and being creative. There’s a lot more technical planning and work than I ever imagined when I first got started. Plus, following the stats can be pretty addictive. All that aside, I’d love to reach the point of “living the dream” full time as well! :)
maria mercer says
So Inspiring! I love that you can spend you days with sweet Clara and make money!
Great post and eye opener! You guys make everything look so easy, but reading this makes my head spin. Congrats on the 3 successful years and to many more!
Great, interesting post! And the photo-sign combos always make me giggle … Montell Jordan, indeed.
Keep up the great work!
Wow, that sounds like so much work. But definitely worth it!
For what it is worth, it looks like ol’ Dooce is trying to copy YOU guys now. Her blog went from being just about her life, to being about fixing up their new house (sponsored by Verizon). I have to say, though, that she pales in comparison to you guys. She has a very weird sense of style. I love how you guys have your own style – but it is easily manipulated into other styles. Like, I love how you have your own way of doing things, but show how other people can switch it up to their liking. So you might be envious of Dooce – but I think she is trying to be more like you guys, honestly!
What you two have going is one of a kind. I give you mad credit for all the work you do on a daily basis!!!
Cait @ Hernando House says
Such a great post! Informative, inspiring, and it really hammers home the point that making a living by blogging is more than just sitting at a computer all day. Thanks guys!
You both do such great work! Thanks for the behind-the-scenes info.
Jessica @ How Sweet says
Love learning about this!
Amy Wolff says
thanks for sharing….
I always say to my husband, I wish we were related to John and Sherry. He just laughs.
That made my head reel! Thanks so much for sharing! I am just in awe of the expense though and commend you both for taking the risk! I know its worthwhile though!!
Tara @ Tara Being Tara says
I love this post… thank you so much for sharing! I don’t have any dreams of becoming a full-time blogger (though it sounds amazing) but I’m totally fascinated by the idea of it! You should write a book about this journey you’re on!
I guess I still just don’t get where all the income comes from! That’s not really a question, just a general statement. Kudos to you for somehow making enough to support a growing family!
I love how you guys are so open to sharing this information and how you make it easy to understand! I work as a contractor right now and when I try to explain to people I pay taxes quarterly…their eyes start to glaze over!
Thanks for this post! Many pro bloggers aren’t quite so upfront and honest about the logistics and the bottom line, and I love that you guys were!
Your investment in Amazon Cloud Server is worth every penny. I am addicted to many blogs (yours being the best) and one of things that makes it the best is that even on my slow home connection (I work at home on an air card that is temperamental) your site loads ridiculously quickly. Its fantastic, many other blogs take so long to load all the pics (and lets face it, its really about the pics most of the time) that I get impatient and only check it once a week. The set up you have and the speed is worth every penny to me, so great to be able to check your blog 2x day for each post, its my highlight.
I don’t mean to pry, but how do you make the actual dollars to support this venture? Through advertising alone? Or, is it a combo of advertising and design services?
We used to sell homemade prints on an online shop and offer a mood board service along with earning an income from sponsors and google ads (while taking on the occasional writing assignment from Do It Yourself magazine) to make ends meet. Thankfully as our traffic has grown we have been able to phase out mood boards and shop prints (which we sadly no longer have time to tend to). Luckily our google ads and sponsors can now nearly fully support the blog as a business (along with our writing assignments from Do It Yourself magazine and BabyCenter.com). And we’re certainly good at living cheaply and saving our pennies. We’re hardly rolling dough (we make a lot less than we did in our advertising days) but we’re doing what we love so it’s totally worthwhile!
Totally informative…and the Montell Jordan verse is the cherry on top! :o) My question is how did John become so savvy with coding, HTML and the like?
He’s 100% self taught thanks to reading online tutorials, googling around for answers and checking out the occasional book on the subject from the library. He’s the first to admit that he still has a lot to learn, but to me HTML looks like pig latin, so he’s my hero!
Thank you for such an informative and insightful post! I usually peruse your blog for eye candy and DIY inspiration but lately I’ve been really admiring it for business ideas and inspiration when I realized you have both quit your day jobs to blog full-time. This post was great timing for me lol. I’ve taken business classes in college but none of them cover blogging so this is a wealth of knowledge. Thanks :)
YAY that you use Liquid Web!!!! They are about 10 minutes away from us, and we certainly appreciate you helping our local community!! I was already a dedicated YHL reader, but now you boosted my love for you!! ;)
emily griffith says
I’ve been a blog stalker for awhile now but haven’t ever commented and I figured that it was time! Though I love all your posts, as a fellow small business owner (and dog lover…I especially loved the earlier post about Burger’s bday) I really connected with your post today! Thanks for sharing your talents, experiences, ideas, and lives with all of us via your awesome blog! Your efforts are worth it! :)
Thanks for sharing! You guys are such hard and thoughtful workers, and it SHOWS! I’m sure y’all have already seen Dooce’s office makeover on her blog and I couldn’t help but think that John and Sherry could have done a LOT better (and with a lot less $!)…sorry, didn’t mean to be snarky, but it’s true! You guys rock…happy anniversary! :)
Thank you for sharing this! My husband and I want to eventually start our own antique automotive restoration business, but we’re overwhelmed by all it will entail. Hiring an accountant definitely seems like a good idea when we finally do take the plunge into the business world.
I loved this post! You two always make everything look so effortless that it’s refreshing to hear just how much goes on behind the scenes. Hopefully things continue to go well for you two (four!?) and you can continue to do the things you love!
[email protected]'er All About It says
I think another key to your success is that you have a two-some! It helps so much when you have double the brainpower working on the blog to throw ideas around with and the like. Way to go, guys! You’re an inspiration to many people out there!
Someone had asked a question about HTML & coding. A good place to start for anyone interested in this is the book “Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML” (http://headfirstlabs.com/books/hfhtml/) it’s a wonderful book that shows you lots of basic ways of coding a website.
You guys work hard and make it look effortless. I love how you are always honest about all your projects, whether they are a success or not.
Thank you for a great blog.
[email protected] says
Congratulations on your blogiversary! Love the site. I’ve sent my niece your way. She just moved into a new (for her) home in CA…
Love the site and your home!
Laura (Blogging Over Thyme) says
I loved learning about the behind the scenes business side to the blog, I’d always been curious, but wasn’t sure if asking was too personal.
It sounds so intimidating! I’m overwhelmed just reading about it, but obviously I’m so glad you stuck with it and hopefully this blog will be around for a very very long time.
Great post very informative!
I do have a question though, How long do you plan to live off the blog? Do you think you will run out of projects to do? I know a home is ever changing but you have most of the major projects finsihed like the kitchen, bathroom, basement, etc. Now that the blog is as big as it is do you see yourselves buying a new home? (i know you mentioned be fore that you dont.) also it you have another baby what would you do for a bedroom? Do you have plans for an addition?
We’re go with the flow people, so we like to just see what happens and live one day at a time. We thought we’d run out of things to talk about right after we started the blog (we finished our kitchen makeover and wondered what the heck we could talk about back then. But we haven’t stopped chatting (and changing our house) since. I guess time will tell where we end up!
Happy anniversary! You guys have come a long way and you deserve it! I must say I am a little jealous you get to work from home, and the work is getting to fix up your own house. You do save on gas and car expenses from only having one car, and not having to drive into work everyday, and also from not having to pay for day care! But on the flip side, you also have higher utility bills then if you were going into work. I work for a small company, so I have a SEP IRA too, and don’t have all the great health insurance, 401K matches, etc benefits of a large company. Even so, I love my job and wouldn’t leave it for a big company with better benefits!
That was such an interesting read! Thank you for the behind the scenes look! :D You guys are doing an amazing job, and inspire with every post!
Angela – Antique Auto Restoration,
My husband & I started our own Auto Repair Shop & Race Car/Hot Rod Building Business 5 years ago (he was 28 & I was 26). I had by no means any secretarial or auto related expertise. I was an Assistant Activity Director. But, as Sherry always says….with a little research & the willingness to dive in & get your hands dirty it can be a success. And don’t be afraid to fail!!! Failure is just another chance to begin again!!!
I wish you all the best as you decide which direction to go. It is such a blessing to work together with your spouse doing what you love…..not always easy, but a blessing!!
PS – Thanks John & Sherry for sharing your behind the scenes details it’s always nice to see how others make it all work!!
Thanks for sharing the info. I am an accountant, so I understand all those details of running a small business. I’m glad to know you’ve got a great accountant. Makes all of the difference.
On another note, I’ve been reading the archives from the first post forward. Last night, I read through this same week in 2009. Very fun to read Blogiversary 2009 at the same time I’m enjoying Blogiversary 2010!
I don’t know if you’ve thought of this already, but my husband is self employeed (as in his employeer doesn’t take out taxes for him), so what we do is put his “tax” money into an ING savings account until it’s time to pay taxes. Doing this helps us “make money” aka interest on the money we owe the government, hence we feel like we’re making “free” money!
Great tip! We do our best to keep some money in a high yield savings account between each quarterly payout as well! Although it is sad to see the balance go up and down every few months. We’ll get used to it someday I’m sure!
You’ve gotta be able to deduct SOMETHING from working from home though… my friend’s parents definitely get some degree of write-off for the company they run from their home. I think it has something to do with what fraction of the house functions as their home office (in your case, that third bedroom). And of course things like your computers (and maintenance thereof) should be a write-off. I’m surprised to hear that NONE of your home improvement stuff would count – not even partially? Perhaps get a shadier accountant and see what he/she thinks? ;)
You can choose to do that, but then when you sell your house you owe taxes back to the government since you have claimed part of your house as your home business (and if you sell the business, the government gets a piece of the pie). So our accountant actually very strongly advised against that for us (since it would be such a small part of our house to write off – just the home office – and then we wouldn’t get to call the entire house “ours” since it would also be partially devoted to business). It’s complicated, but I hope that makes sense! Trust us when we say that we’re cheap-os who love a deal, so we love to work with our smarty pants accountant and claim as many deductions as we can. But we’re also definite rule-followers, so anything that could be considered a gray area (or something that our accountant doesn’t recommend) isn’t anything that we’re comfortable doing!
Great post Youngsters!
You may have plans to answer these very questions later on this week but I’ll ask anyways. Do you yall have some go to websites or books for aspiring bloggers to check out to learn more about the technical side of blogging? Any other tips for improving the blogging game?
Thanks and I know I speak for all of us YHL fans when I say GREAT JOB!
There’s a Blogging For Dummies book that just came out (amazingly enough, we’re actually in it, just for a few sentences but we’re blushing!) so that’s a good thing to check out. We haven’t really seen a lot of info about making a blog into a full time job since people seem to just fall into it and learn as they go (like us) but perhaps clicking over to the post that we link to at the end of this one will help you understand the process of how our blog baby grew! Good luck!
Allison @ House of Hepworths says
I am SO happy you posted this!! I read every word and then IM’d it to my husband who read it. We are now IMing back and forth about it! LOL
I feel corny admitting this out loud, but this is my ambition with my blog as well. I started a little over 6 months ago and just hit my HALF A MILLION page his mark!
I look at my blog though and my talents and then compare them to y’all or Dooce, or Lettered Cottage or TDC, and it’s hard to not get down on myself and think I’ll never be good enough to become that big.
But I keep plugging along and I keep gaining followers and subscribers, and I keep getting new advertisers, so maybe someday I’ll be able to even make $500 a month! Haha! I’d love to make enough to support our family, but my goal right now is to hit $500 a month, and then from there $1,000 a month.
My hubby has a business degree and knows all those coding languages, so he helps a ton on the back end part and I do all the posts and projects and I have learned some HTML as well.
You guys are seriously such an inspiration to me! Thank you!
~Allison @ House of Hepworths
Allison @ House of Hepworths says
Oh, and I didn’t make it totally obvious in my last comment, so I want to reiterate, I do this because I love it! I LOVE all the projects and crafts and decor, and I especially LOVE blogging. I searched for at least 10 years to find my passion, and I was down about it for a long time because I just felt lost, and then I started my blog. And I love it almost as much as I love my kids. ;)
~Allison @ House of Hepworths
Do you have to have special permission to post pictures from websites, stores etc.? When you have a picture of say, a Pottery Barn catalog page, what do you have to do to acknowledge it?
Yup, you traditionally have to credit it (with a link). This is why whenever we don’t use images that we’ve taken ourselves (for example in a mood board) we’re sure to include a link back to the original photo source. They appreciate the traffic that we send their way so they don’t mind us using the image with a proper credit. Hope it helps!
You have made immense improvements to your home and it looks great! Is there a chance you’ll be taking on another fixer-upper in the future once this one is “complete”? When you purchased was this meant to be your “forever home” or just a stop along the way?
I hope you keep it up…you have given so many people so much inspiration!
There’s definitely a chance! We love transforming old dated homes way too much to ever stop!
Wow, you really opened up my eyes to how hard it is to own your own business, but even though it sounds hard, it also sounds like loads of fun!!!
You guys are so hard working! Thank you for this post. I don’t think many bloggers are willing to divulge the secrets of how to keep their blog ticking (or the behind the scenes ins and outs). So, thank you for being so forth coming! Fun to read and very informative! Loved the Flourish article of the two of you!
My husband runs his own business from home too, so even though I never thought about all you guys have to do, it makes perfect sense!
One thing I realized though, that I’m sure you’re taking advantage of, is writing off all those home improvement expenses from your taxes because really, it’s for your business (well, and for your own enjoyment too)! I wish that was part of my husband’s business, I’d be writing off cans of paint and lumber every week! :)
We actually can’t write off home projects (scroll back through the comments for more info). Basically since it’s our personal home and not an exclusive office (since we eat and live here instead of exclusively working here) it doesn’t work that way. Hope it helps!
bridget b. says
thanks for the information. it’s definitely a help for other small business owners.
Thanks for sharing! So very helpful and informative – like everything else on your wonderful blog! :)
Melanie Beth says
Love this post! I have a mini blog with an almost non existent following… so to imagine what you have is a total dream! It’s nice, though, to see the reality of it! I imagine it must be amazing to be able to spend that much time with your family!
[email protected] says
Really great behind the scenes look! Happy Blogiversary!!
Great post and very informative. I know how much goes into an at home online business, my husband owns an online store and he is entirely self-taught. Seriously, it’s more work than a 9-5 job! But the reason for your success, imho, is that you two are so great together and perfectly suited to do what you do. Love you guys!
@Beth (re: info on full-time blogging): There is a great site http://www.problogger.com with 6 years of archives all about blogging full time – either as a writer or to promote your business. IttyBiz.com is another great source for branding and web marketing. And there’s a book called “Starting Your Blogging Business.” Holly Becker of Decor8 teaches a blogging ecourse, and Ez of Creature Comforts has a post series about blogging as a business. Lots of resources out there!
And thanks John and Sherry for this peek at the behind-the-scenes. As a novice freelancer still easing into self-employment you’ve given me lots to think about!
Awesome advice and info! Thanks so much for sharing it with Beth!