I write this on a plane from Prague to London at the end of a nine-day excursion to the Czech Republic. I was there to attend the Travel Blogger Exchange, otherwise known as TBEX. It’s the world’s largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers.
Right now I have that fuzzy feeling of positivity that comes at the end of a good conference. I met inspirational people from all over the world who are channelling their creativity to live their best possible lives. I learned so many valuable things about the business of blogging, and now I’m brimming with motivation to put it all into action.
I’ll tell you about the conference and its outcomes for my blogging business, but first, let’s go back to the beginning of the month. There’s a lot to get through.
Completing my business plan
In last month’s report I explained that the process of compiling a business plan had been knocked back a little. I had just finished the Income Boss course (which I highly recommend – you can sign up for it here), and pinpointed the completion of the business plan as my number one priority for July.
I am pleased to say that, after two solid weeks of working on it, I completed the business plan in the middle of July (with minutes to spare before the FIFA World Cup Final). It is some 56 pages and 12,500 words long.
It’s tricky to condense such a hefty document into a concise summary here – and there are some secrets I don’t want to give away – but I’ll do my best to walk you through my approach. I structured the plan into eight sections:
- Customer analysis. I started by defining my audience. I conducted research into the demographics, behaviours and motivations of people who take career breaks. My findings helped me to identify my primary audience: older millennials (late 20s to late 30s) who are potential or aspiring career break travellers. I used the outcomes to create audience profiles.
- Competitor case studies. I investigated a range of blogs relevant to mine, primarily focusing on four for which income reports were accessible. For these primary case studies I looked at the brand composition, audience, content, business model, traffic growth and income streams.
- Company analysis. Using some well established techniques such as PESTLE and SWOT, and some lesser known ones such as the ‘hedgehog concept’, I evaluated my blog’s existing identity and refined it, taking into account my customer and competitor analysis. Ultimately this brought me to define my blog’s mission: “to inspire and equip older millennials to take travel career breaks by providing first-hand insights and world-class resources”. I also outlined my vision, values, objectives and KPIs.
- Income strategy. My income planning was mainly informed by learnings from the Income Boss course and my analysis of competitors. I identified that in year one I will focus on four streams: affiliate marketing, display advertising, brand partnerships and products.
- Content analysis. This section comprised a comprehensive audit of my blog’s content. I looked at the distribution of categories and how the various types have performed. For comparison, I compiled a content case study of a blog with a similar focus. Finally, I assessed options for future diversification of content, such as podcasts and follow-along challenges.
- Content strategy. I used the outcomes of the content analysis and principles I have learned through my previous experience in communications management to map out a content strategy for the first business year. It is designed to support the blog’s mission and facilitate the income strategy. I took into account the desired balance of content categories, areas for expansion and reduction, the motivations of my audience, scheduling, and measurement.
- Marketing strategy. It’s no good producing great content if nobody ever sees it. All four of my planned income streams are entirely dependent on traffic. To address this, I designed a marketing strategy that focuses on three core areas: search engine optimisation (SEO), email marketing, and social media.
- Cashflow projections. Now for the bottom line. I drew upon my competitor case studies and recent learnings to project financial performance for year one. Ambition is an essential ingredient for success, and so I am shooting high. By the end of June 2019 I aim to reach GBP 4,000 in monthly income. I do not expect to start making income until October 2018, followed by slow growth for six months, and then sharper growth from April to June 2019 (a ‘hockey stick’ effect). Once my SEO efforts start to bear fruit and my income systems are in place, it should catapult the blog’s earnings.
A plan is a plan and things are likely to change over time. I am putting processes in place to constantly evaluate progress and external factors so I can adapt accordingly.
It won’t go exactly as I expect. New opportunities may present themselves while other doors close. But having a coherent structure gives a clear focus to my work.
Hello Career Gappers, goodbye Story Every Day
The second priority I outlined last month was to complete work on the blog’s new identity and launch it. With tremendous help from Lisa, who did the bulk of the design work, I launched Career Gappers on 22 July, a day before flying to the Czech Republic.
The new identity is geared towards building a community and creating a positive message about career break travel. The messaging stems from the company analysis in my business plan.
For the visual identity, we chose a versatile font family that works well across different platforms. Combined with a pronounced (but not too gaudy) colour palette, we’re aiming for a tone that isn’t too stern but will appeal to professionals at the same time.
The launch of Career Gappers marks a fresh start. While I am sad to say goodbye to Story Every Day (the blog’s previous identity), Career Gappers is a much better fit for my newly defined mission and I’m excited about taking it forward.
The Travel Blogger Exchange (TBEX)
The TBEX conference was hosted in Ostrava, an industrial city in the north-east of the Czech Republic. The staging of the conference here was part of an invigorated local effort to develop the city as a tourist destination.
Attending the conference was a big investment, but I believe it has been a worthwhile one for two reasons. First, the programme content was excellent and highly relevant to my development needs as a new professional blogger. The quality and diversity of speakers was outstanding.
The second reason is that there is no better way to understand a sector than through face-to-face contact with the people involved in it. I met some incredible, talented people with whom I could share ideas and discuss common problems. There’s no education quite like it.
The day before the conference officially opened, I attended a workshop on SEO by Gemma Armit and Laura Lynch of Make Traffic Happen. This was for an additional cost, but I believe this to be the best single investment I’ve made in the business so far.
The workshop made me aware of various mistakes I was making in my previous approach to SEO, and has given much-needed structure to how I will approach it going forwards. It has also directly saved me hundreds of pounds.
In my business plan I budgeted to use an expensive premium SEO tool. The workshop advocated using Keysearch, a much more cost-effective tool that covers everything I need at this stage. Needless to say I have made the switch. (You can sign up for Keysearch here, and if you quote the promo code KSDISC you will receive a 20% discount.)
At the main conference I focused on attending sessions on the business of blogging rather than creative development. A particular highlight was a session by Eulanda and Omoruyi Osadiede of Hey! Dip Your Toes In about brand partnerships.
The conference also featured speed networking and ‘meet the expert’ sessions, which gave me a chance to make contacts within some big travel industry brands, and seek advice and feedback from highly successful bloggers.
TBEX was a thoroughly enriching experience and it has filled me with inspiration for the future of Career Gappers. It has also reassured me that I am moving in a good direction. The idea of making a living from a travel blog can seem like a fantasy. Meeting people who are not only doing it but making a great success of it has reinforced my belief that it can be done.
Round-up of monthly activities
There isn’t actually a lot more to report here, as the business plan, brand launch and TBEX took up the vast majority of my efforts in July.
As you might expect, with all this going on, I didn’t get a lot of actual blogging done. That’s ok though – it’s far more important that I have a long-term focus than just rushing ahead with writing articles.
I only published four articles in July, including last month’s business report and the brand launch. I also spent less time on promotion and marketing, with the exception of the brand launch weekend. As a result my website traffic dropped from my record 3,926 page views in June to 2,385 in July.
I don’t see this as a cause for concern. When I set some initial website traffic targets back at the beginning May, I wasn’t accounting for a brand change. Starting again with a new domain means that my site authority has taken a big hit, and it will take time to build it up again. But I am confident that getting my house completely in order at the beginning is the right move.
I used the opportunity of being in the Czech Republic to be a traveller again for just a little while, and collect future content for the blog. Europe isn’t a high priority in my content strategy right now, but it will come up later. My visits to Prague and Ostrava have given me some excellent source material.
Income and expenditure
This section remains expenditure only at this point as my income streams are not yet operational. As I outlined above, I do not expect Career Gappers to start making money until at least October. Slow and steady wins the race.
Expenditure in July 2018
July marks the end of a three-month period in which I have invested heavy heavily in up-front business costs. From August onwards (with a few exceptions), I will be operating on basic running costs.
The biggest outlay in July was, unsurprisingly, my visit to the Czech Republic for TBEX. Note that the amounts below do not include costs like my flights and conference registration, which were incurred in previous months.
- Business cards and t-shirts for TBEX conference: £93.55
- SEO workshop at TBEX conference: £115.44
- Czech Republic trip basic expenses (transport, accommodation, food and drink): £206.16
- Domains and domain mapping: £50.56
- Adobe Typekit for new brand font family: £38.21
- Photoshop subscription: £9.98
- Phone bill: £39
- Gadget insurance: £13.99
- Keysearch annual subscription (special offer): £93.21
- Laptop stand and wireless keyboard and mouse: £37.48
- TOTAL: £697.58
This brings my total business investment so far to £2,610.65. From here onwards, my monthly running costs will be around £150. On top of that, I have budgeted around another £1,500 for additional capital expenditure during year one. This includes things like promotional costs for project launches and further trips.
Priorities and targets for August 2018
If you’ve made it this far through the article then well done. There’s been a lot to get through this month!
With the major milestones for July achieved, I now have a very clear focus for August. My priorities for the month are:
- Use keyword research to plan my cornerstone content and make strong progress on article production;
- Review the Income Boss course section on affiliate marketing and get my links and systems in place;
- Work on an exciting potential brand partnership project to be delivered in October (hopefully more on this next month);
- Begin the process of optimising old content for SEO;
- Create professional business materials such as a media kit and contract templates for working with partners;
- Debrief from the TBEX conference, write a summary of my learnings and takeaways, and make relevant follow-up contacts;
- Produce a content plan for my e-book and begin production;
- Explore options for email marketing tools, decide which solution to use and put systems in place to start implementing it.
Essentially, I will spend most of the month confined in my flat or a local cafė with my head buried in a laptop. This is where the hard work really starts, but I am ready for it and can’t wait to get going.
My previous traffic targets are no longer compatible with the new business plan, so I will review them. For August, I aim to get back above 3,000 page views and to publish at least ten new articles.
There isn’t much more to say; the groundwork is now in place. It’s time to get to business.
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