I have been working full-time on this blog for three months now, but August has been my first chance to focus entirely on implementation. June and July were filled with business planning, taking courses, rebranding, attending conferences, moving into London, and generally coming back down to earth after our travel career break.
In many ways, that early phase was the most exciting bit. Part of me was always nervous about what it would be like once the dust settled and the hard grind really started. In reality, I’ve really enjoyed the last few weeks.
While August has been much less hectic than July, I still have a lot to tell you about. Most importantly, I am excited to report that last week I sent out our first ever invoice. Pending payment, Career Gappers has officially earned its first drop of income!
More on that below, but first let’s take a look at the month’s highlights.
Focus on search engine optimisation (SEO)
As I outlined in last month’s business report, my priorities for August focused largely around SEO. Having attended a great workshop with Make Traffic Happen in the Czech Republic, I was keen to put the principles I had learned into action.
At the beginning of August, our website’s domain authority (DA) score was just 3, with our new identity having only been launched on 22 July. As I write this at the end of August, our DA has already gone up to 16.
This is far quicker progress than I was expecting. It is the result of various actions, including recapturing old backlinks to Story Every Day (the blog’s previous identity), building new backlinks, undertaking keyword research, publishing new and structured content, and optimising old content.
My target for August was to publish at least ten articles. I have published 11, and I have three more completed and scheduled. In addition to this, I have gone back and restructured five old articles using my newly learned SEO techniques.
During the month I also had new guest posts published on Castaway with Crystal and Planet Dreaming, and was backlinked to in an article by The Portable Wife. I have also written and submitted several more guest posts that will go live in September.
Website traffic growth
The target I set for website traffic in August was to get back above 3,000 page views, having dropped from 3,924 in June to 2,386 in July. We just scraped over the line to 3,040 page views in August.
While this progress is slow and steady, the current levels of traffic aren’t something I’m going to lose sleep over. After networking with other travel bloggers and hearing from people who’ve been successful, I know it’s a long-term game that will require patience.
I am not expecting huge growth every month at this stage. I believe that if I work hard, keep applying what I’ve learned, and constantly review and make adjustments, the results will come.
June’s higher growth, in any case, is partially attributable to the fact we trialled some paid Facebook campaigns. While this was effective, we are focusing our efforts now entirely on organic growth. We will only use paid campaigns in future for specific campaigns, such as email subscriptions or a new product launch.
One aspect of our website traffic I am keeping a closer eye on is the volume coming specifically from search engines. While August didn’t beat June for overall traffic, it had the highest volume yet for search traffic. Although the numbers are still small, this can only be a good sign.
Social media growth
This month we brought out our secret weapon for social media – Lisa! Now that we’ve moved into our London flat and Lisa has settled into her new job – which is just ten minutes’ walk away – she has been putting a lot of hours into the blog around work.
When Lisa and I first met, she was specialising in social media at the National Union of Students in the UK, and she has a whole string of successes to her name in the field. Naturally, she has taken the lead in this area for Career Gappers.
She’s been doing this for just a couple of weeks, and the results are showing. In August:
- Our Instagram following has grown from 894 to 1,216 (+36%);
- Our Facebook page has grown from 451 likes to 504 (+12%)
- Our Twitter following has grown from 105 to 280 (+167%).*
* Note that the Twitter account was launched from scratch in July when the blog rebranded; the other accounts were changed over from Story Every Day, and so we retained the follower base.
Building the email marketing machine
Another priority for August was to “explore options for email marketing tools, decide which solution to use and put systems in place to start implementing it”.
After a lot of experimentation and frustration, this has been another win. I had earmarked ConvertKit as the best prospect for an email marketing tool given its wide uptake, in particular among the travel blogs I used as case studies in our business plan.
We signed up to a 30-day free trial of ConvertKit and tested it out on our site. After a few teething problems and some unnecessary over-complication on my part, it’s turned out pretty well. We now have signup forms in place throughout the site, and an automated email sequence set up for new subscribers.
This gives us the foundations we need to move forward and make progress towards our key performance indicator (KPI) for email subscribers.
Travel planning consultancy: a new income stream?
Ok, I guess you’re keen to know how we made our first piece of income. I’ll tell you. It actually came from a surprising source that is not a component of our business plan.
In the second week of August, we went out for a few drinks with some friends and former colleagues of ours. While chatting about travel, one of the group told me he was planning his first ever solo trip in Europe this coming October.
He floated the idea that I might be able to help with planning his itinerary, and that he would be more than happy to pay for such a service. He’s a busy guy, and of course, these things take time.
Why not give this a try, I thought? A few days later we had a short ‘briefing’ call, so I could find out essential information about his travel style and preferences. I used that to put together a costed itinerary for his trip.
As it was my first attempt at providing the service and I was doing it for a friend, I offered a discounted rate. We made it a partial skills swap too. In the end, we agreed that he would pay £30 plus an hour of his services (he specialises on advice on setting up businesses).
This is a small start, but I am sure that any professional travel blogger will be able to recall the first time they made some money. It’s a special moment, however much it is. Hopefully for us it will be the first stepping stone of a long journey ahead.
The experience of doing this was very useful and thoroughly worthwhile. My friend provided lots of helpful feedback on what I delivered and how it might be improved. I think it was a good product (and so did he), but it will need work as a model if it’s going to be a viable source of income in the future.
Round-up of monthly activities
In addition to the highlights already discussed, I have made some progress in other areas. I’ve also made adjustments to future plans in response to new information.
I have signed up to a whole host of affiliate programmes and begun implementing links throughout the site in a systematic way. There is still much to be done on this, however, and it will be a priority in the weeks ahead.
I also put together a media kit for approaching potential brand partners, which Lisa designed into a document that is available for download on the site.
After last month’s TBEX conference in Ostrava, I made follow-up contacts with some travel brands I met there through networking sessions. In one case, I have pitched an article to a major sector magazine that will be a highly valuable backlink if it comes off.
While I am plenty satisfied with the general progress in August, there have been minor setbacks in a couple of areas:
- Last month I mentioned that I had been working towards a brand partnership project for October. After limited progress, I have decided to put this back a few months and focus on growing traffic and brand credibility first.
- I am yet to turn my attention to the content plan for our e-book, which I had aimed to achieve in August. This will be pushed back to September.
Income and expenditure
While invoicing for our first payment in August is a major milestone, I can’t actually include the amount in this month’s income and expenditure reporting. This section covers payments received, not payments billed (I only sent the invoice in the last few days of the month).
This means that for now, this section is still expenditure only. Our business plan does not project any income until at least October anyhow, and anything we happen to make in the meantime is a bonus.
Expenditure in August 2018
Last month I asserted that our big upfront investment expenditure was mostly over, and we would be moving forward on little more than basic running costs.
Until a few days ago that was still accurate, and our monthly outlay was on course to dip under £200 for the first time.
However, an opportunity presented itself last week that I couldn’t miss. Before I explain more, here is the breakdown of our outgoings in August:
- Adventure In You Fast Lane blogging course (early bird discount): £193.32
- G Suite email inbox package via WordPress: £40
- Photoshop monthly subscription: £9.98
- Phone bill: £39
- Gadget insurance: £13.99
- Car hire for Slovakia trip in September: £48.20
- Facebook paid promotions: £32.22
- Drinks in creative working space: £5
- TOTAL: £381.71
At the top of this list, you can see the new opportunity of which I speak. Three months ago, in my first business report, I explained that one of the biggest inspirations behind my decision to give professional blogging a shot was the travel blog Adventure In You.
Adventure In You is run by a couple called Tom Rogers and Anna Faustino. These guys are among the most successful travel bloggers in the world today. They have transformed their travel blog into a hugely profitable business, and they are among the very few who share the secrets of how they have achieved it. Here’s an article on how they made $95,614 from the blog while travelling in the first six months of 2018.
Tom and Anna are now turning their attention to training, and recently launched a course called the Blogging Fast Lane. It has a strict limit on places to ensure focus, and last week it opened for its second batch of students with a 50% early bird discount.
I had already drawn a line under my training and development spending, having taken Johnny FD’s Income Boss course, attended the TBEX Conference, and participated in the Make Traffic Happen SEO workshop. This, however, was a real one-off opportunity.
The course covers all aspects of income generation that are featured in my business plan, as well as key areas of outreach like email marketing and Pinterest. I didn’t have to think about it too long before signing up.
The cost for this is easily covered by the saving of around £800 we made last month on changing our choice of SEO tool.
The remainder of the costs incurred in August were mainly operational, with a couple of exceptions. The Facebook promotions you can see were actually implemented in June, but the payment wasn’t taken until the beginning of this month. We also booked our car hire in advance for our upcoming trip to Slovakia.
This brings the total business investment to date to £3,093.17.
Priorities and targets for September 2018
This section of the report is becoming more narrow in focus each month, which is a good thing. In September I will be doing a lot of writing, broken up neatly by our trip to Slovakia from the 12th to the 17th. We’ll be doing some hiking in the High Tatras and spending a couple of nights in Bratislava.
My priorities for the month are as follows:
- Publish at least 14 articles over the course of the month
- Write and submit at least five guest posts
- Produce a lead magnet to help grow our email marketing list
- Complete a content plan for our e-book
- Work through the Adventure In You Blogging Fast Lane course
Targets for traffic and social media
I am raising my traffic target to 4,000 page views for September. This would be a monthly increase of nearly a third, but let’s give it a go.
Lisa will continue to take the lead on social media. Pinterest will be front and centre, while maintaining a focus on Instagram. These platforms will be integral to our growth of website traffic (Pinterest) and brand partnership potential (Instagram).
For Pinterest, we aim to have a complete strategy in place by the end of the month, while for Instagram we are targeting follower growth to 1,500 (we are currently on 1,216).
14/30 blog challenge with the Travel Bloggers Club
At the beginning of the month I am participating in a 14-day blogging challenge for members of the Travel Bloggers Club Facebook group. This is a great opportunity to collaborate with other bloggers and build some more backlinks.
The Travel Bloggers Club is an online community that provides a platform for travel bloggers to network, share experiences, exchange ideas and support one another through content sharing and engagement.
I will be writing one post a day for the first couple of weeks of September, and scheduling them to be published throughout the month. This should be a lot of fun, and will hopefully give us a boost towards achieving our traffic target.
These are my fellow travel bloggers taking part in the challenge:
- Digital Travel Guru
- Hello Yeshi
- Creative Travel Guide
- Meldrums on the Move
- Ee Sing’s Traventures
- Adventures in Aussieland
- Suzanne Easton Photography
- Walk and Explore
- Kirsty Through the Looking Glass
That’s all for now. If you’ve read this far and you like these reports, please do let me know in the comments below if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover in future.
It’s time to get to work again.
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