Member Profile – Beth Hanes: Monetizing Your Passion Project

Too few of us, myself included, take or even have the time to pursue our writing bliss, a genre that may be totally unrelated to what helps pay the bills and keeps the bylines coming. Speaking for myself again, while I’ve been able to get a few passion book projects done during my off hours, it’s required an intensive amount of discipline and planning because no money changed hands until well after they were completed. But what if we could pursue that crazy, off-the-wall idea that we’ve been thinking about for years and make money while doing it, or at least break even?

ASJA member Elizabeth “Beth” Hanes is living that particular dream, although it’s been a long journey for her as well. A RN by trade, she produces B2B and B2C content for major health and wellness brands, including healthcare content marketing, hospital website copy, health and medical content for consumers, project management and more. But the mask comes off with her blog, “Savannah Says”, when she dons the fictional identity of incompetent advice columnist Savannah Lawless, who according to Beth, er, Savannah’s description, is “currently quaffing cooking sherry behind the potted palm in the corner.”

Sandra Gurvis: Who is Savannah and where did she come from?

Beth Hanes: I originally published “Savannah Says” back in 2001-02 and it was very popular. She’s totally inept with the own life, but perfectly capable of running the lives of others and that struck a chord with readers. But there really was no way to monetize web-only content back then.  And 9/11 happened when “Savannah Says” was at its peak and I found it hard to continue publishing in the wake of that.  So I shelved it.

Savannah’s fans kept in touch with me—they were still thinking about her 18 years later. The internet landscape had changed so much I decided to bring her back.

SG: You said you took specific steps to monetize the blog. What were they?

BH: What I am doing is threefold:

  1. The “Savannah Says” website has Google Adsense Google gives you money for the various banners and rotating ads that pop on your website. As contextual ads, the banners are served based on keywords Googlebot finds on the site each time it visits, so the advertising can vary wildly on a creative website. In fact Google Adsense can make for some strange bedfellows [Editor’s note: A recent visit to the Savannah column yielded ads for Stubhub, a horoscope website and for purchasing a luxury car.] The other challenge—and it can be tricky—is learning how to insert the code so that the ad displays properly.
  2. Affiliate marketing. This involves signing up with a specific company to advertise their products. Ideally the product should be related to the content itself.  For example, Savannah’s fondness for alcohol would make for a natural pairing with, when I write about her enjoying a glass of pinot noir. This type of targeted marketing is different from Adsense in that ads are  not served randomly. Rather, I insert every affiliate ad myself, either as a banner or into the text. Every time someone clicks through, I get a commission. Finding ad affiliations can be time-consuming, especially if you’re trying to arrange them on your own, which is why affiliate marketing service providers such as Rakuten and ShareASale can be useful. Some, such as ShareASale, have you go through an application process to make sure the content is appropriate. But there’s no charge on your end.
  3. My site also sells “Savannah’s Souvenirs”—mugs, totes and t-shirts with the Savannah logo. I use a service called which offers a ton of options. It’s set up so that if someone buys a product from your site, the order is automatically sent to printful, filled and shipped directly to the customer. So I don’t have to worry about maintaining physical inventory or mailing things out. Thanks to the on-demand setup you can pick what you want and set your own price.

SG: Any final thoughts and suggestions?

BH: “Savannah Says” is pseudonym and a 100 percent personal endeavor, completely separate from my career as a full-time freelancer. So I have two different, unrelated websites for each, which I would recommend if you’re going to undertake this kind of project. Because it’s not salable in the conventional respect, I put it up as its own site and monetized so it would at least pay for my time and effort. So if you’re looking to monetize of commercialize and idea or a book, this might be a solution.

You’ll also need to monitor and regularly review traffic statistics, how many people visit the site in a day or week. While there’s a learning curve involved, the information and insights from this can be invaluable. The column’s only been up since the Jan. 1 and I’m getting about 30-40 hits a day, which is pretty good. I also have more than 40 people signed up for the biweekly newsletter, which is also great news.

I am always thinking about how to constantly promote it. Right now I’m working on establishing a Facebook presence for Savannah. 

I write Savannah Says entirely for my own amusement, but I do believe there’s an audience for it. I think people might be looking for humor like mine, without politics or profanity. Savannah definitely dishes up social commentary, but it’s not mean-spirited or anything. Just nutty, off-the-wall stuff that I hope others will enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing.

The ASJA NYC Conference is full of quirky and more traditional ways to expand your freelancing career and make room for passion projects. Have you signed up? The Early, early bird discounts end January 31!