A couple of times a year now, someone emails in, asking for tips on how to become a tool blogger, reviewer, or YouTuber. They often ask a lot of the same questions, and I often find myself writing out the same thing over and over.
Sometimes I ask a question too. Why do you want to write or talk about tools? To make money? To get free tools? These are the wrong answers. The right answer is that you want to share information, your experience, insights, and opinions with your audience.
I strive for ToolGuyd to be an enjoyable, informative, and helpful resource for tool users and buyers. I should say that money and tool samples aren’t unimportant, as ToolGuyd is now my primary means of earning a living and access to the latest tools to check out plays into the same passion and interest in tools that got me started, but they’re far from being my primary motivators.
After a couple of months, I will usually check up on the people I have given advice to. Some have been churning out great and valuable content. Some haven’t done anything, or have quickly started and then abandoned their efforts. Others have copied off of ToolGuyd, at least for a time before giving up interest. And some become “everything is awesome” brand and advertiser prioritized spokesmen who trash talk me/ToolGuyd at every opportunity because they think it’ll help them get ahead quicker.
There’s plenty of room in the tool review/news/info/etc. “niche” for more voices. If you’d like to get started, here’s how:
How do I get started blogging?
If you think you might want to start a website, register the domain, install WordPress or another content management system, and give it a go.
Get the ball rolling, and figure things out as you go along.
It will take a while before traffic builds up to where you’re seeing enough traffic, engagement, or revenue to make things tangibly worthwhile, which is why a lot of people give up. I haven’t given up because I find great satisfaction in what I do.
Do I have to be a professional?
No. I’m not, and someone who once commented on ToolGuyd calling himself a “newbie,” is now producing some nice reviews of professional tools.
My undergraduate training is in physics with an added emphasis in applied physics, and I hold masters and doctorate degrees in materials science and engineering.
But you do have to have experience with tools, and you do have to be a tool user. There are tools that I cannot test, review, and recommend with confidence or authority, and so I don’t. There are rare times when I review a type of tool I haven’t owned or used before.
Sometimes even experience can be complemented with insight. Take my recent review on FIXT’s T-handle torque tool. I’ve never used that exact type of tool before, and I don’t wrench on race cars, but I think I did a great job testing and reviewing it.
Experience, understanding, and insight is what you need. And if you don’t have it, a willingness to put in time and effort can go a long way. Don’t want to do that? Then why do you want to talk about tools anyway? Don’t let the fact that you’re not a “professional” or tradesmen to hinder you. You don’t need a PhD degree either.
Do have any tips for expanding my audience and gaining new readers to my website or subscribers to my YouTube channel?
Write, or produce videos, and they will come.
Building an audience requires quantity, quality, time, and trust. That’s an AND. Quantity AND quality. You can have quality without quantity, but please don’t go the path of quantity without quality – it’ll show. Start with 10 ideas, and go from there.
I don’t produce YouTube videos often, so I might not be the best to ask. But I do know that volume is important. If you want to attract viewers, grow your audience, and potentially earn revenue, you’re going to need to release a steady stream of videos. There are a lot of strategies about how and where to place “subscribe” buttons and things like that, but I don’t seek out these resources. You might want to.
You can share your content on social media and in forums, but make sure there’s value. I will sometimes share content on the Garage Journal forum, but I’ve been a member there for a long time (before ToolGuyd even), and only share things I think the community will like. Share on forums because you value the community, and not because you want clicks. Spam forums with links and your reputation could very well suffer and any clicks will be empty.
This is important – create and share content for the message and information you want to provide. This is also true for reviews that you might have received tool samples to help create.
How to approach companies for free product samples to review?
I am upfront with brands, and always have been. Tell them who you are, what you want to test/evaluate/review, and why. If you’re looking for a product for personal use, then it’s a sponsored product you want to ask about, and not a review sample. There’s little difference to them, but there should be a difference to you and how you discuss the tool to your audience.
You should – and will probably need to – build an audience first. Start by reviewing tools you own or have purchased. Becoming a tool reviewer is not about the free tools or swag. Also, nobody’s going to send a product to a fly-by-night “reviewer.”
Don’t want to build an audience? Consider asking established sites and magazines if you could be a contributor. Editors will want to see quality sample work before they give you any assignments.
Much of the time, then and now, I don’t initiate contact by requesting tool samples. I build a relationship by requesting information or to be added to a brand’s media list. To me, access to information and answers to questions are invaluable, whereas I could always buy a tool if I want to test or review it desperately enough.
I took a look at old ToolGuyd emails, and saw that I started receiving free test sample offers starting at ~3,500 visitors and ~10,000 pageviews per month. That’s when the first companies started approaching me.
I started making sample requests when ToolGuyd started receiving ~12,000 visitors and ~35,000 pageviews per month.
There’s no guarantee that anyone will send you anything for free. Keep in mind that brands want return for their expenditure; they want product coverage and exposure. But never forget that your reviews are for your readers or viewers. Your audience should be your top priority – NOT the brands who send you products to test and evaluate.
Try to see what other tool reviewers are testing and reviewing. That will give you an indication of which brands might be willing to send test samples. But keep in mind that brands receive many, MANY sample requests.
At first, there’s a novelty about getting new tools to check out for free. But that novelty tends to wear off quickly, at least it did for me.
How Do I Earn Money?
This really shouldn’t be your top priority when you get started. Why? Because the path to pocket change is long and hard, at least if you do things right.
ToolGuyd earns financial support from Google Adsense, direct ads, and affiliate linking, and I also write for magazines on occasion, in a freelance capacity, to supplement the revenue.
With affiliate links, such as with Amazon, Home Depot, or other retailers, don’t spam ’em. Only provide an affiliate link if there’s some benefit to readers. I try to be very sparing, but sometimes the context of a post requires more links than usual. And sometimes there’s no context for any affiliate link, and that’s okay.
Here is a mostly-complete list of ToolGuyd’s current and active affiliate relationships: Where to Buy Tools?
Also, realize and remember that if you use an affiliate link to recommend a tool or product that you don’t truly recommend, and someone buys it and is disappointed, they’ll return it and the commission will be reversed.
I only include affiliate links where the same links would be included even without an affiliate relationship, and recommend this practice.
Google Adsense will tell you that large banners at the top of content areas are “hot zones,” but I find large ads in these areas to be annoying. We’ve been approached by a number of other advertising networks and services, but I like to keep things simple.
ToolGuyd is NOT supported by paid-for content or sponsored posts. I sometimes do participate in rare unique opportunities that align with my editorial ideals and ethics, and you’ll see notices whenever this is the case.
Can I earn some pocket change from blogging, YouTubing, or reviewing tools?
You can earn some pocket change from a website, but don’t expect immediate or quick returns. You’ve got to build up traffic and content, and it takes time.
If you want to be a tool reviewer, blogger, or YouTuber, then you’ve got to be in it for the readers and experience, and not the money. There are brand and money-first approaches, but I can’t help you there. My experiences have been and will be from a readers-first approach.
Is there an ideal blog or website service to sign up with? Is there a blog format I can use with my YouTube channel?
For a blog or website, or even for a mix of videos and written content, you’ll need a domain name and web hosting. A domain will cost you about $12 per year, hosting will cost you $60-120 per year to start. You can also try WordPress.com or Blogger.com for free blogging accounts, but even then you might at least want your own independent domain.
If you have a YouTube channel, then a website still makes for a complementary landing page where you can include links to your videos and more information about yourself or your channel.
Do companies provide you with tools to review and pay you to do so? If so, when did that begin?
No. Some have offered, and I know some of my peers accept money for reviews, but I do not. One can be a reviewer or spokesperson, but they cannot be both at the same time.
Do companies pay to post your reviews on their own sites after the reviews are live?
No. If they want to excerpt or link to a review, they’re free to do so.