Last month I shared why I chose to remove all ads from my site. If you missed that post, I recommend giving it a read. It provides a bit of context to today’s post in which I share how exactly I make money as a full time internet content creator. Like how the heck, do I, as a blogger with over a decade of experience, make any money?
I bet your first thought is, “Is it all just #sponsored?” Well kinda. I think it all appears pretty opaque when you’re just viewing it from the other side so let me jump into it.
I started blogging “seriously” in 2009 and quit my day job to pursue blogging, and all things Sarah Hearts full-time in 2012 (you can learn a little bit about how I started Sarah Hearts on my about page). Since then, for the last decade plus, about 70% of my income has come from sponsored content. This is when a brand pays me to create something for them using their products. This often looks like a DIY blog post, video tutorial, Pinterest pin, Instagram Reel, etc. that features a completely original idea that I come up with that includes a product placement. And as a one-lady-show this means I execute everything from concept to final deliverables. Sometimes this involves A LOT of making, as I’ll show you in the examples below. I always style, photograph and edit the content myself (with the exceptions that I can count on one hand when I hired a photographer to shoot photos of myself for a post). Usually each sponsored project you see took weeks to create and often months of negotiations before you see the end result.
In all this time, I never worked with a manager or agent. Sure, I had the opportunity but I honestly never found one that was a good fit that could guarantee me jobs with brands I hadn’t worked with before. So how on earth do I even find these brands to work with? You gotta go out and seek them yourself. While at this point in my career I do often have brands reach out to me directly for collaborations and I have a few long term partners, I still find myself sending pitches pretty frequently. Which as you image, means tons of hours spent emailing, pitching, and brainstorming project ideas.
This photos was taken from a three part series of original blog and social posts I created for Fiskars. I created over 100 original styled photos for this project which consisted of sewing 5 garments, shooting tons of process photos with the products, tons of writing and photo editing. Plus for this series, I paid for a photographer to shoot in my finished garments, which the cost came out of my own profits along with project materials.
In this campaign shown above for Pocky, I drew the illustrations you see on the ice cream wraps, made it into a usable printable PDF, created the original Pocky piña colada ice cream recipe (which is very delicious btw), shot a process video in horizontal and vertical formats, and photographed, styled, and edited the final results for the brand.
In this project for Martha Stewart, I created mommy and me moon and star costumes. It entailed making the original costumes, photographing a step-by-step styled tutorial, shooting a separate tutorial video, paying a photographer (which came out my pocket) to shoot the finished costumes, writing the tutorial directions, and editing all the photos and videos myself.
Sometimes part of the 70% of sponsored content income is teaching a workshop on behalf of a brand. Over the last two years I’ve partnered with a few different brands to create original projects that I teach live. Which, if you’re interested, I have two more sewing workshops coming up in the next few weeks so please follow along on Instagram for info about that!
The 70% of sponsored content sometimes also includes content creation that doesn’t go on my site or my social channels. Sometimes brands hire me to create content (i.e. style and create photos and/or videos) for their own use. While writing this, I realized there are so many I have never shared! Here’s a look at one and what went into it.
Here’s an example of content I created for a brand (Clorox) for their own use. For these, I drew all the background shapes in Adobe Illustrator, then cut them out of card stock using my Cricut Explore, then I arranged them and photographed them to create a series of animated GIFs for the brand to use along with several still photos.
Another type of sponsored content: collaborating with two brands (Michaels and FIMO) to assist in designing clay jewelry components and cutters to be sold in over 900 stores in North America. On the left is a look at the mockup I sent to the Michaels team and with my ideas for the collection and on the right are just a few of the final pieces that were sold.
All of these things are a function of my time: I’m only getting paid when I’m delivering content. There’s plenty of “unpaid work” involved too, like negotiating with brands that may not necessarily sign on for a content deal, chasing down payment from the occasional late payment (oh, I have stories) and some brands have even treated me like a interest-free loan, refusing to budge on 90-day payment terms. Do they think I’m a bank?
Something that is often unknown is that payments from brands are rarely instant. At this point in my career I try my best to always get net 15 payment terms but often large companies a firm on a net 30-90 day payout. Which means I often negotiate and plan the content for months before it’s published online, yet the clock doesn’t start ticking on the payment terms until after the content is published online which sometimes means I get paid for work I did months or half a year ago. Wild, right? If you have a 9-5 job, could you image getting paid for today’s work in 6 months? Hands down one of the hardest parts of this job as it requires careful budgeting.
In August 2020 I launched my shop which now accounts for about 20% of my income. Half of which is from orders placed directly on in my shop and the other half is from my wholesale orders. Side note: if you’re a fabric, quilt, or gift shop, hit me up to learn about how you can stock my super fun woven labels in your shop and become a Sarah Hearts stockist.
The remaining 10% is where “passive income” comes in and is mix of a few things. Side note: I feel like the phrase “passive income” has the annoyingness as the word “synergy,” don’t you?
For me, passive income previously included ads served by an ad network on my site. Now it mostly consists affiliate sales from affiliate links on my page (think teeny tiny commissions for using referral links, often to DIY supplies, on my site). I also sell graphics in my Creative Market shop and have freelance design projects that pop up from time to time, and as of recently, much appreciated tips from users who enjoy my free monthly wallpaper downloads.
This year, for the first time in over a decade I’m working towards pivoting my career and my brand in a slightly new direction which directly means switching up this current revenue breakdown. I’ll be sure to share more about all of that later this year but in the meantime, I so appreciate your support all these years and would be happy to answer any questions that you might have.