Could you earn thousands of pounds simply by writing an online journal? If so, consider becoming one of the 60 million bloggers who are sharing their opinions with a global audience. The art of blogging has become a publishing phenomenon.
According to Technorati, the US-based search engine, 175,000 new blogs are started every day, while those already in existence get added to at the rate of 18 updates per second.
The most popular bloggers, particularly those offering titbits about scandals in high places, now boast more readers than many national publications, and this means they are beginning to attract the attention of advertisers.
Prime examples are the British political blogs, written by the likes of Guido Fawkes (5thnovember.blogspot.com), which came to prominence during the summer months for its coverage of allegations about the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.
A number of these blogs have now secured deals via new media company MessageSpace which enables them to sell advertising space to pressure groups, lobbyists and others who want to get their message through to decision-makers in Westminster.
One political blogger is former Tory candidate Iain Dale. Apart from a six-month break to work for party leadership candidate David Davies, he has been writing (iaindale.blogspot. com) since 2002 and estimates up to 100,000 people read his views every month.
"I thought there must be some potential for advertising revenue when I realised how many hits the blog was getting," he says. "I should get about £1,000 a month from these ads and this is something I wouldn't have thought possible a few months ago. I still can't earn a living from it, but it gives me an incentive to keep attracting readers."
However, it's not just high-profile bloggers who can make money, says Jamie Riddell, director of innovation at online media buyer Cheeze.com. There are a number of simple ways in which mainstream bloggers can also get in on the act. "The quickest way to generate income is by hosting adverts through signing up to something like Google AdSense," he says. "You post some code onto the page which reads the blog and displays targeted ads relevant to the content. When a visitor clicks on an advert, you get money credited to your account."
You can also sign up with dedicated websites, like adbrite.com, through which you can access specific types of adverts for your blog, says Riddell. These have the benefit of looking more professional.
"Rather than getting paid per click, you will receive a flat rate based on the overall number of visitors to your blog," he says. "It also makes sense for companies because it only takes a couple of sales for it to have been worth their while."
There are also affiliate schemes, such as Tradedoubler.com, that enable you to become a virtual re-seller for well-known global brand names and earn a commission on every sale that the company makes as a result of a customer coming to them via your site.
"There are also a number of new ideas coming onto the marketplace, such as Reviewme.com which offers the chance for bloggers to get paid for writing reviews on behalf of companies," says Riddell.
Other people use their blogs as a promotional tool. Author Jeff Scott set up a blog on his website, methanolpress.com, after publishing Showered in Shale, his book on speedway, and has quickly attracted a loyal readership.
"The idea was that people would read the blog and then be persuaded to buy the book - and it has worked," he says. "I get a lot of orders online via payment service PayPal and that's crucial to any blog wanting to encourage people to spend their money."
Scott, who also runs Platypus PR, in Brighton, even plans to publish a further book next year based on the blogs that he has written. "Blogging has definitely helped to drive fans and other interested parties to the website," he says. "Judging from the number of e-mails received and the people that come up to me at meetings, I have a lot of readers."
So how can you join this blogging revolution and start earning money?
According to Derek Gordon, Technorati's vice president of marketing, the first thing to decide is what you are planning to write about and how you would like your views to be expressed.
"There are many wonderful blog-hosting platforms, some of which are free and offer limited features and functionality, while some are fee-for-service offerings that include more extensive features," he says. Among the platforms worth a look are Blogger.com, WordPress, MySpace and MSN Spaces by Microsoft.
Other issues to consider include the commitment you will have to maintaining and updating your entries, what you're trying to achieve, and whether there are any existing blogs that you particularly admire.
IT consultant Mark Wilson used blogger.com - now owned by Google - when he began posting on technical issues a few years ago and says it's simple enough to allow even complete novices to start publishing.
As well as earning money from signing up to Google AdSense, the 34-year-old from Buckinghamshire has also put a link on his site (markwilson.co.uk) through which people can pay him via PayPal.
"As a lot of what I write on the blog is information, I decided to ask people to consider making a small donation if they found it useful," he says. "It doesn't happen all the time, but I'm always amazed by people's generosity when it does."
Although setting up a blog is relatively simply, the key to its being successful - and, hopefully, profitable in the longer term - is to attract a decent number of regular visitors.
Creating a community of readers by linking to bloggers covering similar topics can certainly help, suggests Iain Dale, as well as earning a reputation as someone who is willing to "stand up and be counted" - even if that sometimes means upsetting people.
"One of the secrets of being successful is injecting your own personality, because the worst thing a blog can be is ambivalent," he says. "You've got to have an opinion and encourage dialogue with readers."
However, while blogging can be fun and a potential source of extra income, it also has a darker side. As well as the possibility of being sued for any libellous comments that appear - and running the risk of offending family and friends - you also need to make sure that you don't upset your employer.
Even then you may get lucky. Catherine Sanderson, a secretary living in Paris, was sacked from her job after her identity was revealed as the author of the blog La Petite Anglaise. Since then, she has been offered a six-figure deal by Penguin for a book version of the blog, which covered the break-up of her relationship, a new love and life raising a young daughter.
Similarly, former Delta Air Lines stewardess Ellen Simonetti had her contract terminated after photographs of herself wearing company uniform were published on her blog, Queen of Sky.
Although Ellen has managed to turn the situation to her advantage by writing a book based on her experiences,Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant: the Queen of Sky Blog, she recommends everyone checks whether their company has a blogging policy.
"If your company is very blogophobic, you should either not start a blog or go to great lengths to remain anonymous," she says. "But even some people who have remained anonymous have been fired."
'You could be looking at £2,000 a month'
Craig Munro is one of the new breed of internet entrepreneurs who appreciate the profit potential of blogging.
The 23-year-old web developer from Brightonstarted a blog on his site www.sober-productions.co.uk to record his opinions on films.
Now he has turned a labour of love into a money-spinning venture by not only allowing advertising on his blog, but also by writing reviews for companies.
"I found a site called PayPerPost.com which pays you for blogging about products and services," he explains. "So far I have written about 100 posts for them and have around US$1,500 (£784) in an account."
Craig has made a further US$2,200 (£1,150) by signing up to Google AdSense and posting regularly about hot new computer game Line Rider. "I'm amazed at the growth of the site over the past month - it's just been crazy," says Craig.
Even if you spend money on a website and domain name to help promote your blog, he says, you can still make a handsome return.
"You could be looking at earning a couple of thousand pounds every month," he says. "However, I'd be worried about packing in the day job - there's no guarantee that it would last."Reuse content