Dear travel bloggers who want to make money,
It’s great that you are interested in turning your blog (or starting a new one) into a steady income. But you should know what you are getting into before you start. It will help you have realistic expectations as well as understand the field in order for greater success.
When I begin blogging in early 2008, there were less than 10 other travel blogs. Many were magazine style like Matador or Vagabondish. None were more than a personal journal.
Oh, how the industry has developed, changed, and grown since then. But it is still in its infancy and it will change rapidly in the next few years. If you want to survive and thrive, here’s my advice to you:
Blogging is a lot of work
First, and I agree with Gary on this, be prepared to work a lot. Blogging is a lot of work. In fact, when people are out having fun, I am usually on my computer running my business. If you are really looking to make a serious go at blogging, you must be prepared to put lots of time. You’ll need to develop time management skills, get good at setting a schedule, and developing priorities. People always ask how much time I spend on my website. The answer: all the time I’m not out exploring the world.
You notice I said “business” because that’s what this is. Blogging is a business and if you really want to make a living from this, you need to think of it as such.
If you are heading out on a year long trip, have decided to start a blog (for whatever reason), and think that blog is going to pay for your trip, you’re barking up the wrong tree. That’s not going to happen. You are better off becoming an English teacher, dive instructor, or bartender. There are plenty of ways to work overseas.
If you just want to blog for friends and family, do so. Have fun, ignore all the advice you read – advice like this. But if you want to be making a semi or full time income from this, the first thing you need to do is set goals.
The very first thing you need to do as a blogger is decide:
- What are you an expert in?
- What do you want to be?
Write what you know, expertly
Hemmingway used to say you write what you know. Well, blog about what you know too. Thanks to the Internet, there is no niche too small. With billions logged on, you can always find a good amount of people who like your topic. If you only know fly-fishing in Alaska, blog about it. Excel at camping trips in Europe? Blog about it. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Stay focused. Be a big fish in a small pond.
Which leads me to my next point: What kind of fish do you want to be? You see this is where I see too many bloggers get lost. They seem to float around many different topics. Do you want your site to be a resource site? Do you want to be a brand? Do you just want people to follow along in your story? What are you, what are you selling, why should people care?
This is important because you need to be considered an expert in whatever topic you decide. And let’s get one thing straight – spending 6 months in some part of the world doesn’t make you a travel expert. It makes you like everyone else – a traveler. Or, in this case, a traveler with a blog. If you are going to move from traveler to expert, you need to change how you think about travel.
You need to have depth of knowledge. You need to think and write critically. There is a lot of back and forth about “blogging versus traditional journalism” but the one thing we can take from the old school journalists is that they spend a lot of time researching and writing articles. You need to do that too. You need to write 2300 word guides and advice articles. You need to link out and quote. Not all the time but if you plan to be an expert, your articles must reflect that. Yes, I write short articles on places I go. But when I am writing a ‘how to’ guide like my article on travel hacking, I will put weeks worth of work into an article like that.The best blogs mix short stories with longer, researched, and in-depth pieces. If you are looking to last over the long term, you must write those pieces.
Look at the top blogs in the world – no matter what the niche, they share one common trait – they help people. They inform, educate, and connect. Even if you have a narrow topic like fly fishing in Alaska, you can do that by writing expert pieces and sharing stories that allow people to imagine themselves their and gain insight for when they go on their journey.
Too many bloggers don’t do that and as a consequence their blogs are more a short story of what they are doing than expert advice. That’s not sustainable over the long haul. The best blogs mix short stories with longer, researched, and in-depth pieces. If you are looking to last over the long term, you must write those pieces. It will set you apart from the pack and make you viewed as an expert in your field.
Plan & build your audience carefully
Next, develop a business plan. Last, November, I went to World Travel Market in London. When asked how many bloggers had a business plan, less than a handful raised their hands. During that month, I was laying out the framework for 2012. Right now, I am already developing my strategy for the first half of 2013 when my book gets released. You can’t get to your goals if you don’t have a plan to achieve them.
Next, know that, due to the laws of the universe, you may never make it big. It’s like acting. For every George Clooney, there are 10,000 waiters trying to get their big break. Blogging is the same. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a living though.
Let me be frank about travel blogging: there’s not a lot of money in it. However, there’s more now than there was in 2008 or even 2011. Companies are waking up to bloggers and they are throwing tons of money at bloggers for all sorts of things. That’s good but you need to be careful.
Your monetary plan needs to align with your site goals. If you want to be a brand, don’t have links or sponsored posts up on your site. Yes, it’s easy money but it will ruin your brand over the long term. After all, how will people trust you if you recommend every travel insurance company in the world? Or if everything is sponsored?
This concern comes up a lot when I do my consulting calls. I always say “If you found out every link and post was paid for and recommended because it was, what would your opinion be of that blogger then?” Everyone always says they wouldn’t trust them.
Which is why I say, instead, create a few other websites, put that link and sponsored post stuff on them, and use the money to build up your main brand. You get the money but none of the bad stuff. Then a few years later, you can use books, products, sponsorships, freelancing, and speaking gigs to earn your living. Because blogging is like any other business in the world – it takes time to build up. Even Facebook spent years climbing the mountain. If you want money now, don’t blog – go bar tend.
I really want to emphasize this: blogging is not get rich quick.
In fact, don’t try to make money. Try to get readers. Money will come. If you develop a massive audience, people will notice and monetary opportunities will arise. But develop the audience first.
The Internet is so large that it’s easy to find an audience. I’ve seen a number of blogs arrive late in the game and hit a home run. But the ones who do are the ones who think about the big, long term picture. They aren’t the ones scurrying for the next dollar. My strategy has cost me tens of thousands of dollars but at the same time, it’s allowed me to strengthen my brand, focus on building content, improving my site, and getting a book deal.
Think beyond travel
You’ll probably hear a lot of people moan about building an audience and making money. The trick is that to be a success travel blogger you must focus outside travel blogging itself. And that I mean by that is after a certain point, you will hit the limits of the industry. There won’t any more place to guest posts. But the Internet has billions of website where you can get traffic, readers, and guest posts. I never understood why people don’t focus on guest blogging outside travel blogs. I’ve been on all sorts of websites from finance to marketing to consumer blogs.
That’s my last piece of advice: make friends with other travel bloggers, they are all wonderful and amazing people. But also make friends in other fields. Don’t think travel must only focus on travel. Travel crosses over into other fields easily.
If you want to turn your blog and passion into a job, you don’t need any type of degree. I just started a blog. But you need to realize that because you traveled, doesn’t make you an expert. You need to earn that title. You need to think differently. But once you do and once you develop goals and a strategy to get there, you can find success.
It’s a long hard road with very few rewards in the beginning. But nothing worth doing is ever easy.