2019 Income Report: Tough Lessons I Learned During My 3rd Year of Being Self-Employed

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Girl working on her laptop in her bed with notebooks

If you follow me on Instagram (and if you, don’t you should!), you might be current with all that’s been happening in my life this past year. From DIY home renovations, being indebted to the IRS with self-employment taxes, to developing autoimmune symptoms, it’s been a wild rollercoaster ride this year for me as a self-employed entrepreneur. 

Last year, I posted my income report and was elated to share that I made almost $40,000 during my 2nd full year of blogging. It was a dream to end 2018 on a high note with just over $5,200 in monthly income. My goal for 2019 was grow my business by hiring virtual assistants and outsourcing certain projects. This would allow me to focus on refining my branding and creating quality content that would connect with my readership, which has now surpassed over 10,000 email subscribers (a major win for me this year!).

Unfortunately, this year did not pan out the way I expected it to. There were many wrenches thrown into my plans, and most of them I did not prepare for. This year taught me what not to do when running your own online business, and I think I will be spending 2020 recuperating from these hurdles and getting back to normal operations. 

However, I already know people want to know how much I made this year, so here it is at the beginning of this post: Last year in 2018 I made exactly $37,953.17, while in 2019 I made a grand total of $45,620.18. 

Last year I broke down each income avenue in numeric detail, but this year I really want to focus more on my actions and how they resulted positively or negatively for me. I also don’t want people to read my income reports solely for the numbers because I don’t want to push a dangerously false narrative that these kinds of numbers are achievable across the board (as many bloggers tend to do). Every niche is different, every blog is different, every person is different and the strategies they use with the time and effort they have are all different. While it is very possible to make money from blogging, I also encourage you to consider the many varying factors that are involved before you compare your income to others!

2019 Blogging Achievements

I Hit Over 10,000 Email Subscribers

I grew my email list to over 10,000+ subscribers – a major win of 2019! Keeping them, however, proved a little challenging for me. My biggest opt-in is my skincare quiz, which allows readers to take an in-depth skin analysis quiz to get their results and along with a customized and affordable skincare regimen of recommendations. However, after they received their results they would unsubscribe immediately after receiving a 2nd email. Although this is a little disappointing, unsubscribes are a normal part of the process and weeds out readers who won’t engage with your content (and probably aren’t your target audience anyway).

I Secured Bigger Sponsored Opportunities

This year I was able to work with brands on a larger level. During 1st quarter, I worked with a furniture company and received over $7,000 worth of furniture. At the end of the year, I negotiated a deal to get over $1,000 of tile to renovate our guest bathroom.

I felt a lot more confident in my business negotiation skills this year, thanks to having completed over 100 sponsored projects for brands (to date – NOT this year alone). Yes, I actually have a list of sponsored posts that I keep track of as they are completed! Through those 100+ experiences I think I now have a pretty good idea of what brands want, what to avoid, and how to show the value of my work to brands – all without overselling my services and then disappointing them or underselling the quality of my work and getting underpaid as a result.

During summer I enrolled in Julie Solomon’s Pitch It Perfect course, which I definitely recommend for new bloggers that want to gain a better perspective of how influencer work is priced, as well as how to negotiate. Although I wound up already knowing a lot of the material in the course, it was still a great course to confirm my theories as well as have all of this information in an easy-to-reference course workbook. If you’ve been in the game for some time now and are comfortably earning over $1,000 on sponsored posts, it’s probably safe to say that this is material you might already be practicing in your own negotiations, but it’s well worth it if you have the money to invest in!

I Made More Money Than I Did in 2018, But Worked Less

In 2018 I made exactly $37,953.17, while in 2019 I made a grand total of $45,620.18. I feel like I worked much less this past year, too, which was great considering the income increase. 2019 was my and Jun’s first year in our own home, which meant we spent a lot of time on DIY renovations (we painted our entire house, basically). I was also adopting a healthier lifestyle – I practiced self-care more, exercised regularly, cooked healthy meals, and entertained my hobbies. This allowed me to achieve a much more sustainable work/life balance, which I had no semblance of prior to (I was basically killing myself in order to work nonstop and get my business off the ground as quickly as possible – I don’t recommend this to anyone).

This year, I was fortunate to work less and still maintain my income, thanks to much of my income being passive through affiliate sales. Many of my posts are steadily circulating around the Internet thanks to re-shares on Pinterest as well as decent SEO. Every month I would pin my posts on Pinterest, and then go about my regular schedule. 

In 2019, I booked significantly less sponsored work, but they were larger projects that paid much more than 2018’s sponsored work. In 2018, I was booking sponsorships left and right, and settling for less pay than the actual value of my work was. In 2019, I chose to work smarter – not harder – and be more selective with the brands I collaborated with. The ones who truly respected my work were willing to pay the price that I requested.

I Started Only Posting Content I Was Actually Interested In

Up until the end of 2018, I was posting content just to stay committed to a consistent publishing schedule on both my blog and Instagram, even though they were things I wasn’t super passionate about. I started feeling creatively drained and devoid of passion – I felt like I’d just become a product peddler to keep the money rolling in.

In early 2019, I ended this. I announced that I would no longer be blindly advocating designer dupes out of fear that they were supporting the corrupt counterfeit industry (which is directly responsible for sex and drug trafficking as well as child labor – more on this here). Sharing the latest and greatest dupes so often began to feel cumbersome and mind-numbing to me, but constant reader’s demands made it hard for me to say no to. In the end, saying no inspired me to create fresh content.

I was excited to finally start writing about things that I really wanted to talk about, such as The Scary Truth You Need to Know Before Buying Counterfeit Luxury Handbags, How Much Money Do Sugar Babies Actually Make? I Tried to Be One…, and How I Manifested Over $1,000 in Less Than 21 Days. These posts renewed my sense of purpose, which I felt like I was beginning to lose sight of.

I never intended my blog to be solely about budgeting or fashion dupes alone – I wanted it to be a lifestyle website to share how I work around financial limitations to live the life I want and to help others do the same. Putting my foot down on producing content I wasn’t passionate about freed up my time and allowed me to write content from a place of passion. I feel like these kinds of posts led my readers to connect with me on an even more intimate level, which created a stronger sense of community within The Baller on a Budget brand.

I also posted significantly less on Instagram, which is what I intended to do from the beginning of 2019. There were so many algorithm changes that limited the visibility of my posts, so I found it futile to continue posting daily. Reducing my posts to once per week actually led me to create more meaningful posts that my followers could connect to on a deeper level.

I Updated My Course, The Blogger Bible

I am very proud of my progress in updating The Blogger Bible. I’ve streamlined the content to provide a better flow and sense of progression, added audio tracks for each lesson, and redesigned the course visually. I think overall, my updates added more value to my course’s offerings.

It’s worth noting that The Blogger Bible course enrollments are not my main source of income. I created this course to supplement coaching clients that I work with on the side and give them additional guidance outside of our one-on-one sessions. I in no way intend to trick impressionable new bloggers believing that they can make millions (like many courses lead people to believe). The goal of my course is to give people a structured business plan that will help them build a full-time and consistent income or match their existing income from their existing full-time job – how quickly they intend to grow that income is up to them. 

Realistic disclosures aside, I recommend looking at The Blogger Bible if you are thinking about creating a fashion, beauty, and/or lifestyle blog, or already have one and want to figure out how to turn it into a money-making business. Many blogging courses online are useful for any blogging niche, but I’ve found that these 3 niches require more unique tactics of online promotion and business strategies. They are heavily focused on creating a visually successful brand and require you to work with brands on a more intimate level, which are two things that are not emphasized in many popular courses (it’s touched on, but not focused on). So if you’re interested, definitely check out The Blogger Bible and see if it’s a good fit for you.

2019 Blogging Learning Lessons

I don’t want to consider the following as failures, but very hard learning lessons. Keep this in mind when you read this post, and remember that there is something to be learned in every pitfall you might encounter when you make money blogging!

I Didn’t Save Up Enough for Self-Employment Taxes

Back in 2018, I made a lot of taxable income through free merchandise and wound up having to pay the taxes on those as well. In the end, I wound up with a $3,600+ tax bill to the IRS that I wasn’t prepared for since I spent a lot of my savings on much-needed home expenses. Luckily, I was able to set up monthly payments, but it basically turned into an extra credit card bill for me I had to pay monthly in 2019 on top of my quarterly payments (which is about $6,500) to pay for 2019’s earnings.

Having to pay the IRS so much for 2018 backpay as well as 2019’s quarterly payments left me with hardly anything for any differences owed this upcoming year when I file my taxes. I don’t think I had enough tax deductions to claim (which is normal when running an online business since there are no brick-and-morter operational expenses to pay for), so I may possibly owe a little more to the IRS. I’m not looking forward to this.

Health Insurance For Entrepreneurs Is A Nightmare

My government-assisted insurance coverage ended in 2019. Unfortunately, I did not qualify for renewal, as I made too much according to the government guidelines (you must make under the federal poverty level, which is around $17,ooo annually).

I’m taking a huge risk by not having health insurance, especially with my recent autoimmune development. Although I’m not at the federal poverty level, after my business expenses and living expenses I hardly have enough to save money, let alone pay towards a health insurance premium. This situation is tough because I definitely feel as if that federal poverty level is so low that I’ve been marginalized as a result, yet I still need access to medical care. This is something I will need to really tackle in January 2020.

Luckily, for the year of 2019 there were no tax penalties for those without health insurance, but it will be reinstated in 2020. At this point, I might just eat the cost of the tax penalty: $695, or 2.5% of your earnings. Either amount seems cheaper than a health insurance premium. Regardless, I’ll have to figure this out as soon as possible.

One Of My Highest-Paying Affiliate Income Sources Was Wiped Out

I always thought I wasn’t putting all my eggs in one basket since I normally receive affiliate income from various sources. But I didn’t realize how heavily I was leaning on my Amazon affiliate earnings until one day, several of the products I was promoting on viral posts were taken off the Amazon marketplace. It seems that Amazon really cracked down on designer dupes this year, and some of my best-selling designer dupe posts stopped bringing in affiliate income. This was basically my bread and butter, earning me $1,000+ in passive income for doing absolutely nothing. Losing this hurt me a lot financially.

My Site Traffic Was Declining, and I Lost Ad Revenue

Pinterest made a lot of algorithm changes, which greatly limited the visibility on many of my viral posts. Where I used to have well over 3 million+ monthly views, I was getting down to a mere 600,000.

I found that a major Tailwind SmartLoops glitch was a large factor in my declining Pinterest traffic: it created a ton of empty slots in my schedule, which meant I was only publishing about 10 or fewer pins a day, which was significantly less than my typical 20-30 daily pins. After fixing this, my Pinterest traffic slowly started going back up to around 1 million, but never went back up to 3 million (I am suspicious this was due to the Pinterest algorithm change).

Now, Pinterest wasn’t the majority of the reason my traffic declined. In fact, Pinterest only makes up for about 20% of my traffic. Most of my traffic is organic. And it declined because I stopped publishing new posts about designer dupes and I also stopped repinning my existing blog posts on them, too. 

My page views went downhill a bit this year because of this, but recovered back to its previous stats from 2018 toward the end of 2019. However, for the duration of 2019, my traffic wasn’t growing. 

I Didn’t Properly Focus My Efforts on Any One Project

I admit, I was scatterbrained this year. From juggling self-development to home renovations, I was multitasking and producing lackluster results in most areas of my life, including work. This also meant that I didn’t really set clear business goals for the year besides “do everything I already did, except bigger and better.”

I had some really large goals on my list this past year, such as revamp my blogging course The Blogger Bible, rebrand my business through the use of my Elite Blog Academy enrollment, and launch a podcast. I worked on all of them, but didn’t focus my efforts and see one project to its completion.

My 2020 Blogging Plan: Make “Effective” To-Do Lists

2019 was a sort of business sabbatical for me, as I spent a lot of my time rebuilding my personal life and prioritizing self-care. I worked myself down to the bone in the years prior, and much of 2019 was spent on recovering from being so drained. 

Now that I feel ready to focus again, am determined to start 2020 off on the right foot by taking many learning lessons in stride. I aim to consolidate, single-task, and work more intentionally rather than rushing just to get things done. 

I spent a lot of time being obsessive about to-do lists this year, and I truly believe that ironically enough, those horrid lists were the reason for me not achieving the results I wanted. Each night I would compile an extremely long list of things to do for the next day, and when I looked at that list the next morning, I became intimidated by it. I wanted to chip that list down as quickly as I could, so I only did the easiest things on it, even though they actually had the least impact on my business. 

Those tasks were simple and looked a little bit like these:

  • Respond to Instagram comments and DMs
  • Respond to reader emails
  • Fix that typo on my latest blog post
  • Write that Instagram caption for tonight’s post and research hashtags
  • Post something on Instagram stories

When really, I should have been focused on crossing off these things on my to-do list:

  • Create my detailed 2020 business plan with actionable steps
  • Complete one unit of that online course I enrolled in
  • Devise a more sustainable affiliate income plan
  • Figure out why my page views declined by 40% in March 4019
  • Investigate why my DA score went from 41 to 35

By the time I finished half my list of small tasks, it was already 7PM. Where did all my time go?! I felt like I’d been “busy” the entire day, but didn’t truly accomplish anything. Honestly, those small tasks were just a waste of my time.

For 2020, I have started breaking down my large goals into smaller, bite-sized tasks are focusing on those, because those tasks will yield actual results. Doing this has made a huge difference since I started in December.

If you’re a list-loving person like me too, then download my free 12-month Business Plan Workbook below to restrategize your productivity and crush the goals that actually matter!

Overall, I’m very excited to get back to the drawing board in 2020, make more money, and thrive. 2019 was a lot of mental and emotional preparation for the wild ride that 2020 will surely be!

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  1. / 11:16 pm

    Congratz on you making more despite you worked less. Your blog is aging, so it is improving its search engine traffic. I believe that this year will be better than last year. Just don’t forget to keep money aside for taxes. #selfemployedproblems

  2. / 5:31 pm

    Amazing income report. I discovered your blog on Pinterest and I love the way you write and how you open up about your blog income. Congratulation and wish you lots of success dear!

  3. Oh my gosh, It’s unbelievable.

    Aileen, it’s been 2 month since I seriously started blogging and I did not earn even a cent.

    You are an inspiration aileen, Following you.


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