I first met Chris Lema back in July 2013 when I was at World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon.

Somehow, I lost track of my friends, so when it came time to choose a seat in Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, I did the only logical thing and walked down the aisle to the front row. Chris happened to have chosen the seat to my right.

We reconnected in September 2016 at Double Your Freelancing Conference in Norfolk, Virginia. My talk about how to eliminate toxic clients was the, er, counterpoint to Chris’s much more positive and enjoyable talk about attracting high value clients with storytelling.

Chris is an expert on all things WordPress, and when he’s not speaking or blogging, he is growing a tech company or smoking a cigar in his hot tub in San Diego. My kind of guy.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity at DYFConf Norfolk to ask Chris about how to become a blogger—specifically, what he wishes he had known before he started.

Chris Lema's thoughts on how to become a blogger

Here’s what he said about how to become a blogger…

Austin: What is the one thing you wish you had known before you got started?

Chris: When it comes to blogging, one of the things to understand about what I do with blogging is I use it as a revenue generation source. It took me about a year and a half to start putting affiliate links into the posts, which is a very effective way to monetize the content without selling anything. You’re basically writing stories about products you use. These are all products that I’ve purchased, that I’ve used. I’m not talking about shilling other products that I don’t even touch. I’m just talking about authentic storytelling about some of the products I use to solve certain problems. For about a year and a half, I didn’t use affiliate links. The ones I do use today on that blog generate a full-time income without my having to do anything.

Austin: Wow.

Chris: If I had started (using affiliate links) earlier, it would have been sooner, right?

Austin: Yes.

Chris: I’ve lived six months without working just because I can, right, while I evaluate the next opportunity. I have freedom to make a better choice about the next job simply because of the revenue that comes from the site and that is because of the affiliate links.

Austin: Promoting products and services you already love.

Chris: That I love, right, that I use and that I love. I think sometimes you get worried when you’re blogging, you get worried about “What am I going to sell?” “How big do I have to make my list?” “How much money do I have to make?” The affiliate link of an authentic recommendation, like “I really think you ought to choose this product, or at least this is my opinion because this is how I do it and how I solve this problem,” once you write that and you have that link and people are like, “I’m excited to buy the product,” and the company says, “I’m excited to give you 20% – 40% back because you brought me that customer,” it’s a symbiotic relationship where everyone wins. Nobody loses, and yet I had gotten nervous or I wasn’t sure if I should do it or how I should do it or anything like that.

Austin: Is that because there are a lot of sites out there that do shill reviews?

Chris: Yes.

Austin: There was a block in your mind about “Can I do this authentically?”

Chris: I just didn’t know if I could pull it off authentically. I didn’t know if there are still people who would read a post, see an affiliate link and think, “You’re just… (writing a review to make some money).” There are a lot more that just go, “Oh my god, all the material you shared was perfect and awesome.”

Austin: You honestly could not have gotten that granular unless you knew the product really well.

Chris: Yes, exactly.

Austin: Okay, this is good, because I have that block. Even books that I love, I’m like, “Do I drop the Amazon link?” I’m sitting there second guessing myself.

Chris: No, you’ve just got to get past it and just go. What I realized when I was about a year into writing was people would send me a Twitter note saying, or fill out the contact form saying, “Hey, I remember that you told me about this product. I’m going to buy it now. Where is your affiliate link because I want you to get the credit?”

Austin: That’s gratitude.

Chris: Yes, and that was their thank you. Their thank you was, “Thanks for writing this. Thanks for educating me. How do I thank you back? Where’s that link?” You’re like, “Okay, maybe I should go make that link available to you.”

Austin: We were talking about that at dinner. I’ll go buy an album out of a sense of gratitude. I know that I’ve already got the songs for free (on Spotify), but I want to support someone who has educated me, entertained me, helped me in some way. That’s good. Like I said, I’ve had that block and even with things that I love, like Trello, like Harvest, which I use for time tracking and invoicing.

Chris: You could several articles about Trello or several articles about Harvest and go, “These are the ways I use it. These are the strategies.” People would be like, “That’s awesome. Now that I’ve read that I know that product can do that thing that way. Let me go buy it.” It clicks with them.

Austin: It may be a breakthrough for them, and their invoicing now takes five minutes instead of thirty. Do you, on your blog, have a disclaimer about these are affiliate links?

Chris: Yes, you have to have it.

Austin: Okay. Is that its own page or…?

Chris: I have two. I have a disclaimer on every page. On every post there’s a small disclaimer that basically says, “The links above may include affiliate links.” It’s at the bottom of the post.

Austin: Cool.

Chris: It’s a legal requirement to be able to articulate that. I also have another page that’s called “Disclosures,”and it highlights that a post may cost me money. Let’s say I buy five plugins, and I play with each one of them, and I research them, and I compare them, and I write a blog post. That blog post may cost me $1,000.00.

Austin: Because you’ve just invested.

Chris: I bought five plugins, right?

Austin: Yes.

Chris: Then, I write my descriptions, and someone picks one of them and buys it, and I get 20% off someone else’s product, which maybe nets me $20.00.

Austin: It’ll take a little while.

Chris: Calm down if you think I’m writing this just to get the money back, right? Because it’ll take forever to get that money back.

Austin: The fact is, your initial outlay was pretty significant.

Chris: My point is, is when I write, I don’t write to get that money. I get to give the reader the authentic assessment, and it costs me money to do that. If you think I’m just dropping in some link to randomly collect change, you don’t understand what I’m doing.

Austin: How do you respond to the haters?

Chris: I delete their comments.

Austin: Okay.

Chris: It’s my website. That’s the other thing, if you’ve said what are the top two things, the second thing I would have said is… .

Austin: It’s my website.

Chris: It’s my website. So I let people come to my house all the time, right? I let people come in my house, and they can hang out, and they can eat food from my fridge. They can drink my drinks. They can smoke my cigars. Do you know what they can’t do? They can’t go to the outside of my house and spray-paint on my walls. They don’t get to do that.

Austin: There are some rules.

Chris: There are rules.

Austin: I think they’re reasonable.

Chris: Yes, and they don’t get to do that. When you come into my house on the web, you can read all my posts, and you can write any comments. You can use the contact form, but what you don’t get to do is you don’t get to decide whether I keep your comment and I make it public. I’m ruthless about taking down your trolling comments and getting rid of them on my site.

Austin: The people who are most offended by that are the people that are also most likely to leave a trolling comment, right?

Chris: Yes, and I don’t care about them. It took a year and a half of me letting certain comments appear that I probably shouldn’t have for me to get comfortable enough to go, “I wouldn’t let them do this in my house.”

Austin: They’re peeing in the pool and making the pool less enjoyable for everybody else.

Chris: Yes, so I started deleting them. I said, “No. Game over.”

Austin: There was a guy who left a comment on my blog once. He wasn’t adding to the conversation. He was hating, and I deleted his comment. And then he left another comment saying, “I noticed you deleted my comment,” and I was sitting there thinking, “Do I even engage this guy in conversation?”

Chris: No, just delete again.

Austin: Delete again.

Chris: “Keep going, bro. We can do this all day long. You comment. I delete. You comment. I delete. I do that on my Facebook wall too. If I write a post and then someone starts commenting, Facebook give you the ability to delete it. I delete it. I’m like, “I’m sorry.”

Austin: At some point people started thinking that this is a democracy. But it’s not. I love the “my house” metaphor because it’s like, “If you come into my house and you speak in an ugly way to my wife, you know what? I’m going to see you out,” or “If you’re weird around my kids or whatever, it’s like okay. It’s time for you to go.”

Austin: That was really good, Chris. Thank you. “

Chris Lema’s 5 Tips on Starting a Blog

  1. Put affiliate links in your blog posts. They are a proven way to monetize your blog.
  2. Write about products and services that you have used and tested thoroughly, and only include affiliate links for the ones that you can recommend wholeheartedly.
  3. Include a disclaimer at the bottom of a post with affiliate links.
  4. Add a “Disclosures” page to your website that outlines your treatment of product recommendations and affiliate links.
  5. Your blog is your digital house. You set the rules. You have the right to comments that don’t add to the conversation, and you can ignore the trolls and haters without justifying yourself or responding to them.

Do you want to build a profitable business you love?

Duh. Pony up that email address, and you can learn from my failures. You can laugh at my mistakes. You can envy my success at croquet, slow running, and modest bank accounts. Let’s make good money and leave the world better than we found it.

No-nonsense business advice for content writers and freelancers. Served warm with a side of dad jokes.

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