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How to Build a Travel Blog That Matters- Part Three: Your Blog as a Business

Note: The Travel Blog Success Sale is going on now until Friday July 31st. Read about my experiences with TBS here and here.

Last week was my sixth blogaversary, which means I have been running this blog for the better part of a decade now. To celebrate, I am spilling all of my best blogging advice to you guys in a three part series.

Before you read this, you should probably check out Part One: The Basics of Building a Travel Blog, and Part Two: Learning Your Craft. You pretty much have to master those things before you can move on to the subject of this article, which is managing your blog as a business.

First up: it’s important to consider that not everyone wants their travel blog to be a business at all. You might be content as a hobby blogger, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Travel blogging can be a lot of work, sometimes for not much monetary reward, so it’s important to think about whether this is worth pursuing to you.

If you decide it is, here is the best advice I have to give:

What Does Success Look Like to You?

Our definition of success!

Before we get started we should acknowledge something that a lot of people seem to forget: success can mean many different things to different people. So before you dive head over heels into the blogging industry, take some time to think about what your definition of success is.

Travel blogging is such an amorphous industry that the payoff here could be almost anything, within reason. For me, success as a travel blogger means making a full time living online. As long as I can pay my half of the rent, I feel like I’m doing okay. For others, success might mean seeing your name in print. Or earning a sponsored trip. Or building a portfolio for future employment opportunities. Or simply supplementing your current income.

Make sure that your vision for success is rooted in reality. It is highly unlikely that travel blogging is going to make you very rich or very famous, for example.

Monetization: The Dirty Truth

One thing that I think a lot of new bloggers find frustrating is that there is no clear model for building a profitable travel blog. You can go to panels, buy ebooks, read articles and spend a lot of money on guidance and still come away with no real idea of how people make money online.

There is a reason for this: there is no clear cut way to make money as a travel blogger.

Which is not to say that nobody is making money online, a lot of people are. It’s just that there is no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all model for doing this. Every successful travel blogger you see is running on an entirely original business model that is basically unique to them.

Awhile back I wrote an article detailing pretty specifically the different ways I make money at my job. I also included about a dozen links to other bloggers who have written articles on how they make money. Spend some time browsing them and you will see that we all have different business models based on our own interests, audiences, skills and weaknesses.

What does that mean for you? While at first it may look discouraging, I would instead view this fact as a challenge. There are basically an infinite amount of ways to monetize your website, and it’s totally up to you to figure out the best way to do it. Along the way you will probably have to try a bunch of things, and some of them will definitely fail (anyone remember my Eat the World app? That one still stings a little).

A smaller number will succeed and you will capitalize on those successes and maybe even invent some new ways to make money. The most successful travel bloggers are innovators who work hard and are willing to take risks.

Nothing is Free

Aside from making cold hard cash, many people are attracted to travel blogging because of the freebies. It can sometimes seem like travel bloggers are showered with free travel, free gear and other perks.

Trust me and my many years of experience when I say this: there is no such thing as a free trip.

First, you have to build up your blog to a level where you actually have something of worth to offer to a company. Getting something comped is an exchange of value. A hotel doesn’t just host you out of the kindness of their hearts, they do it because they believe you will promote them to your audience. If you don’t have an audience, you don’t have much to offer.

Second, you have to provide that value and earn your keep. If you’re on a hosted trip you’ll most likely spend most of your time being whisked from point to point, taking pictures, taking notes and collecting information to share with your readers. You’ll be posting on social media, writing posts and basically well, working for it.

Remember, you are (probably) not getting explicitly paid for this work, and while it can be fun, it is still taking time away from other things you could be doing that might actually make you some money. So not only are you paying for your free trip with elbow grease, you’re taking time off from actual paid work. You’ll also be paying in real estate on your blog depending on what you’ve promised in return for your free trip.

Third, you have to constantly strike a balance between taking freebies and remaining authentic and trustworthy to your audience. This can be a hard line to draw and it’s up to you to figure out where it is.

Now that being said, sponsored travel is definitely one of the major perks of travel blogging. You get to go places and do things that you might otherwise never have the opportunity for. Plus they usually feed you really well.

The point is, it’s important to be selective in the opportunities that you accept. You have to balance the value of what you’re getting with the cost you’ll pay in time and effort. I’m actually at the point where I turn down something like 75-90% of the offers that come my way because I either don’t have time to do them justice or I don’t want to deal with the strings attached.

Readers Come First

Have you ever loved a blog only to see it become totally overrun with sponsored posts and branded content? This can be a real danger for travel blogs because of the many opportunities and subsequent obligations that I discussed above.

Some bloggers can’t draw a line when it comes to saying no to free stuff. Some bloggers are so poor they can’t figure out how to travel if it’s not being paid for by someone else. Both of these bloggers are looking at trouble in the long run, because I have found without a doubt that your readers are the most important resource your blog has.

I mean that in two ways. Of course you should value your readers as people and appreciate them for even taking the time to read your words. But also, without readers, particularly loyal readers, your blog is basically meaningless in a business sense. No matter what kind of monetization model you come up with, it will hinge on the fact that you have a level of influence within your community.

This means you have to be very judicious about what kind of content you put in front of you readers. You have to strike a balance between authenticity and monetization, which can be very difficult to do.

Again, this line is different for everyone, but I think it’s about knowing you readers and what they will like and what they will tolerate. It’s about honesty, full disclosure and developing a trustworthy personality.

The way I personally deal with this is simple: For each piece of sponsored content I publish, I try to publish at least one totally independent, unsponsored piece of content. I try to be upfront about who is paying for what, and I try to keep my opinions independent and un influenced. I also trust my readers to understand that I am trying to simultaneously provide them with the best information AND make a living.

Playing the Long Game

It can feel like a lot of take on, and in a sense it is. You are running your own business now, and all of the minutiae that entails.

So how do you stay motivated and keep from burning out? I’ve seen a lot of people rise and fall over the past 5 or 6 years, and here is the best advice for staying in the game:

Keep your eyes on your own paper

Have you heard the expression “comparison is the thief of joy?” This is definitely true in travel blogging. Comparing yourself to other, more successful bloggers is pretty unproductive and sure to make you feel like crap.

Blogging can sometimes feel like a competition but I assure you it is not. It’s actually more like an amazingly vast teamwork project. Make connections and help other bloggers whenever you can, and they in turn will do the same for you.

Incidentally, this is another reason why I love Travel Blog Success- community building.

Keep your expectations in check

This might seem like a smarmy thing to say, coming from someone who makes a living as a travel blogger, but I swear it’s not.

It’s important to challenging but achievable goals, and to be realistic about the results. Are you going to be making a full time living off of blogging after 6 months? Almost definitely not, but if you build your business sustainably, you can put yourself well on your way.

Just don’t stop!

The number one difference between people who have given up on blogging and those that are successful? The ones that are successful never stopped working. If you can consistently keep putting out good content that your readers will enjoy, and you don’t give up, you are already ahead of 90% of the people who have ever started a travel blog. And that’s a low estimate.

IMPORTANT: Travel Blog Success is on SALE this week (July 27, 2015- July 31, 2015). During these dates the course is 35% off (that’s $120 off).

Normally: $347

This week: $225

That’s a really good deal. After this week they will be raising the price again, so this is probably your last chance to get it for so cheap.

Travel Blog Success Limited Time Sale

TBS-Summer-Sale-2015-@2x

 

Note: This post contains a handful of affiliate links, which means that if you buy something via the link, it helps support this website.

12 Responses to How to Build a Travel Blog That Matters- Part Three: Your Blog as a Business

  1. Kristina July 30, 2015 at 2:05 AM #

    A good series of articles Stephanie, thank for sharing.

  2. Wanderlust Dispatch July 30, 2015 at 9:29 AM #

    Great read! I’ve been blogging for less than half a year and use increasing visitor metrics as fuel to keep plodding along—your advice on the long game is very accurate. Success only comes with posting great content and not getting discouraged early in the process.

  3. Kate July 30, 2015 at 9:59 AM #

    Great tips — I’ve really enjoyed this series! Thanks for sharing your wisdom 🙂

  4. Adventroverted July 30, 2015 at 6:26 PM #

    Thanks for all the information! I’ve been reading all the “how to build a travel blog” articles that have been popping up lately, no doubt because of the TBS sale and it’s been really interesting reading everyone’s recipes for success. I think it’s great that everyone is giving a different (but similar) perspective. I’ve been writing my own blog for a couple months now and would like to take it more seriously, but would TBS be a good idea when I’m only about 10 blog entries in? It feels a little like spending frivolously for me and though I know it’s a good deal and blogging is something I’d like to do professionally one day, I’m still balking at giving up my hard earned cash.

    • Steph July 31, 2015 at 11:18 AM #

      I think that if you’re serious about blogging then it’s definitely worthwhile to invest in education and community-building early on, whether that is TBS or something else. Learning as much as you can up front can stop you from making avoidable mistakes and help you grow faster. It definitely depends on what you’re ultimate goal is though.

  5. Karol July 30, 2015 at 7:33 PM #

    As you said – everybody has their own way of making money from blog, but one thing I can see is common are affiliate links. Do you know any good way how to approach such companies who’d be keen to pay for your traffic to their sites?

    • Steph July 31, 2015 at 11:16 AM #

      Many, many companies have preset affiliate programs (Although they usually don’t pay for traffic, just sales). You can find a bunch of them by signing up for Commission Junction.

  6. renucas July 31, 2015 at 9:16 AM #

    Thanks for this helpful post! I have been blogging for the past 3 years and I absolutely love what I’m doing. I agree success is different for different people. I see success as being able to influence people through my posts, and I have been able to do that!

    And, as you said, travel blogging is not a competition. We all are one industry and we should help each other. That’s so nice to hear!

  7. seegstravels August 5, 2015 at 10:13 PM #

    Your tips are so straightforward, clearly showing why you continue to be a leader in the travel blogging world:) Now I’m going to go cry for a few hours because I just missed the TBS sale by a few days!

  8. Kerjan of Backpack Babe August 14, 2015 at 1:06 PM #

    I love everything about all your posts, the way you write is so relatable and just real… you tell it like it is and it’s awesome! but yeah it’s so interesting to me that in the travel blogging world everyone is doing something different to monetize and that’s there’s no true blueprint. i feel like it pushes you to be more creative and original, and that’s exactly why travel blogging is so interesting in the first place! it’s so much more creative than 90% of desk jobs! also good point about being it in the long run and and not taking every free sponsored trip you get offered. quality > quantity 🙂 thanks for the tips Steph!

  9. Map Trotting May 18, 2016 at 1:48 AM #

    Hey Steph, some good solid advice over the 3 parts and none of the waffle some of these types of articles have. I just check through some of the blogs from people that have commented here and at least 2 have stopped blogging. Solid proof of your advice to just keep posting to get ahead! Cheers, Charlie

    • Steph May 18, 2016 at 12:14 PM #

      Thanks! It’s a tough road to make it for sure.

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