There are many reasons to be positive heading into October 2018. As we emerge from a month of hard grind on the content production front, we’re beginning to see some serious results.
These are the headline achievements of what has been a very satisfying September:
- We achieved 4,613 page views, our highest ever, exceeding our target of 4,000
- Our Instagram follower base has grown to 1,602, exceeding our target of 1,500
- Our website domain authority has grown from 16 to 19
- We made our first ever affiliate sale
- We reached the top page of Google search results for one of our target keywords
Before I look at our activities and progress in a little more detail, however, I’ll talk about some things that have fallen by the wayside. Best to get the downsides out of the way before we explore the good stuff, eh?
First of all, there’s our e-book. In last month’s business report I discussed how this had already slipped a little, and that we had deferred content planning from August to September. We have now decided to shelve the project entirely.
During a strategy review – which I’ll get onto in more detail later – we concluded that our production efforts at this stage of the business are far more optimally spent on growing the blog directly. Once we’ve got our traffic numbers up to where we want to be, then we can consider turning our attention to products like e-books.
We’ve also decided to put two other projects on hold for now. When launching Career Gappers back in July, I mentioned that in the second half of 2018 we planned to “undertake a challenge roadtrip around Europe, and launch a podcast to showcase inspirational people’s stories”. These ideas are also on indefinite hiatus while we focus on growing the blog and the brand.
Okay, let’s move on to the things we have been doing…
Content production: foot on the gas pedal
At the end of last month’s business report, I mentioned that we would be taking part in the Travel Bloggers Club September blogging challenge. Throughout the month we managed to publish a blog post every other day, resulting in 15 new articles in total.
The challenge was a great motivation for me to work through our backlog of source material. My personal focus was first to complete our content on Patagonia. After producing a series of articles covering each leg of our journey, this culminated in a mega cornerstone Patagonia itinerary and travel guide, which went live on 11 September.
Lisa and I have both worked on content about the practicalities of taking a career break. Our new articles in this area include a saving guide, a woman’s perspective on taking a travel career break, why travel makes you better at your job and a collection of inspirational TED talks.
In the middle of the month we took a five-day trip to Slovakia, where we went hiking in the High Tatras and spent some time in Bratislava, the capital city. This trip has formed the basis of our first blog content on Europe. We’ve published two articles so far: things to do in Bratislava and Slovakian food in Bratislava.
In September we also introduced our first guest author on Career Gappers. Last year, my great friend and former housemate Lindsay Wilson set off for a year of travel across Europe and North Africa in a self-built van with her partner George. Drawing on this experience, Lindsay penned a guest article for us on van life essentials.
Guest posting on other blogs
In additional to ramping up the pace with content for Career Gappers, we’ve also had guest posts featured on various other blogs. Our target for the month was to write and submit at least five guest posts. We did this and much more.
During September we had seven guest posts published on other sites, and submitted a further five that will be published in the coming weeks.
Guest interview on the Travel Couple Podcast
For several weeks now, I have been listening to the Travel Couple Podcast by To The Nations Worldwide. Every week, Mike and Natalie interview couples who are living the travel lifestyle and running online businesses to support it.
It occurred to me that it if we could possibly get an interview feature slot on the podcast, it would be an interesting, alternative way of getting our message out there. I contacted the guys via email, and they were very happy to invite us onto the show.
Me and Lisa were both a bit nervous ahead of the interview, as neither of us have a lot of experience in broadcast media. In the end it went well pretty well – or at least we thought it did!
The episode was published towards the end of the month, and you can listen to it here. We talk about our experience of taking a career break to travel the world, how it’s benefited us, and what we’re doing now with Career Gappers.
Website traffic growth
With a swath of new content to promote, an SEO strategy beginning to show results, and Lisa cranking up the gears on our social media activity, we’ve had a record month for website traffic.
Our target for September was 4,000 page views; we ended on 4,613. This is a month-on-month increase of 52% from our 3,040 page views in August.
The trend over time is clearly moving in the right direction. It’s important to note that June was a bit of an anomaly; the spike in traffic was in part due to some paid promotional campaigns that we ran on Facebook. Taking this into account, we’ve seen a constant upward curve from May onwards.
Our volume of traffic from search engines continues to grow as well. In September we reached a new record of 418. This is still a modest total, but we may be braced for lift-off very shortly…
Search engine optimisation: small wins
I wrote in last month’s report that we had begun to implement an SEO strategy after I attended a workshop hosted by Make Traffic Happen in the Czech Republic. We’ve continued to apply the strategy through September, and the hard work is beginning to show fruit.
In August, we saw our domain authority (DA) shoot up from 3 to 16. Writing this at the end of September, we’ve gone up another three notches to 19. The higher we rise, however, the harder it gets, and we’re expecting the number to creep up slowly.
Above, I described the work we’ve been doing to contribute guest posts to other blogs. This has helped to accumulate backlinks to our site, which is boosting our DA in turn.
It can take many weeks or even months for Google to index new blog posts, and we’re prepared to play the waiting game. Having said that, we’ve seen some encouraging progress already. One article, which we published towards the end of August, has already reached the first page of Google results for our target keyword.
The Make Traffic Happen Facebook group has been a fantastic community to be engaged in along this journey. It’s been immensely useful to be able to seek feedback from experts and exchange ideas with people facing similar challenges.
Social media growth
With Lisa at the helm, our Pinterest account has sparked into life in the last month. Our reach has almost trebled, growing from 7,502 impressions in the first 28 days of August to 21,146 impressions in the first 28 days of September.
Our monthly target for our Instagram account was to reach 1,500 followers (from 1,216 at the end of August). We’ve gone beyond this, reaching 1,602 by the end of September.
We’ve also established a presence on LinkedIn during September. It’s early days, but given the nature of our message about the value of travel to career development, we see a lot of potential in the world’s largest professional networking platform.
At this point we are not setting any targets for our Facebook page. While we keep it updated with content, it’s a lower business priority compared to other social media platforms. However, we do see a future in using Facebook to facilitate a community of career gappers, which I’ll come onto later.
Another of our targets for September was to produce a lead magnet to help grow our email marketing list. While we’re slightly behind on this specific task, we’ve made very good progress behind the scenes.
Last month I reported that I had signed up for Adventure In You’s Blogging Fast Lane course. During September I started working through the course, focusing on the modules relating to email marketing and lead magnets.
Taking my learnings from the course on board, we have made some adjustments to our email marketing plans. Putting this into action will be our strategic priority in October (more on that below).
Reviewing our business strategy
Nearly three months has passed since we completed the initial business plan for Career Gappers. We thought this would be a suitable juncture at which to take stock and reflect on our progress, and review our strategic priorities. So, at the end of September, Lisa and I headed to a local creative space for our own version of what organisations tend to call a ‘strategy away day’.
Our initial business plan covered a one-year period to the end of June 2019. After making some adjustments to our strategic goals and objectives, we are extending this timeline to the end of 2019.
We have revised our vision and mission statement to focus on three strategic areas: inspire, educate and connect. To be precise, our vision is a world where everyone is empowered to take time out of work to travel at any stage of their career. Our mission, which works towards achieving this vision, is to create a platform that inspires, educates and connects career gappers.
For each strategic area (inspire, educate and connect), we are setting long-term goals and structured objectives. This renewed focus will shape our work going forwards.
Income and expenditure
It’s time to talk money again. Drum roll… for the first time, we have an income section. Woohoo! In September we received payment for the explorational travel consultation work I did in August.
We also hit another major milestone in September. We made our first ever affiliate sale! I’m sure that every affiliate marketer out there remembers the moment this happened for them.
In our case, somebody clicked one of our Amazon affiliate links. They didn’t buy that specific product, but they did stay on the site and buy something else – a book – for which we received a small commission. It was only $0.60 – but you gotta start somewhere!
Making an affiliate sale for the first time feels like a huge relief, because until that point it feels like it’s never going to happen. As we move forward, grow our traffic and improve the way we present our recommended products, I am confident this will grow to be an important source of income for the blog.
Income in September 2018
Our sole received income in September was £30 for providing travel consultation for a Europe itinerary.
We also saved on costs for our Slovakia trip through the blog. We were given two nights of free accommodation and three nights of discounted accommodation in exchange for some writing work and featuring a hostel in an article. In total, this saved us around £75.
Expenditure in September 2018
This was the first month in which we operated almost entirely on general running costs. The breakdown is as follows:
- Photoshop monthly subscription: £9.98
- Tailwind annual subscription (scheduling tool for Pinterest): £92.87
- ConvertKit monthly subscription (email marketing tool): £22.21
- Phone bill: £39
- Gadget insurance: £13.99
- Travel insurance: £17.34
- Set of mics and headphones for podcast interview: £34.99
- Drinks in creative working space: £2.20
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £0.61
- TOTAL: £233.19
September’s business investment of £232.58 is by far our lowest monthly total to date. We expect October to be even lower, as we do not anticipate any annual subscription costs (our payment for a year’s usage of Tailwind accounted for nearly 40% of September’s investment).
After some consideration, we have decided not to include our general Slovakia trip costs as business investment, with the exception of our travel insurance, which was specifically to protect our electronic gadgets for work.
The purpose of these reports is to detail our direct business investment. While we did use our Slovakia trip to produce some content, it was still a holiday for us. If we include everything we spend on our general travels in our business reports then it will blur these lines significantly.
We do report on our travel costs separately in our spending breakdowns, such as this one on Patagonia.
September’s expenditure brings our total business investment to date to £3,182.66.
Priorities and targets for October 2018
As we have seen, in September we placed emphasis on content production. Now it’s time to take our foot off the gas and refocus on promotion and marketing.
As I have alluded to already, a big priority for October will be email marketing. Alongside this, we also plan to turn our attention to promoting specific articles and strengthening their SEO power through building backlinks.
We’re holding short of setting specific October targets for email marketing and SEO, as we still have some work left to complete our overall business goals and objectives. Once this is complete, we will build all future monthly targets around this.
With our focus realigned towards promotion it means our content production will slow down, but we still aim to publish at least two articles each week through October.
Targets for traffic and social media
We’re thrilled with our progress in September on website traffic and social media, but now we’re looking to up the game. Our targets for the month are as follows:
- 5,000 website page views
- 2,000 Instagram followers
- 50,000 average monthly viewers on Pinterest
It’s official: this is a team effort
If you’ve been following this blog for the last few months, you may wonder why the pronouns in these monthly business reports have shifted from ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’, to ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’. I will explain.
Back in March when Lisa and I made the decision that I would attempt full-time blogging once our travels had finished, we weren’t planning to work on it together. At that stage, this site was still called Story Every Day and Lisa had her own, separate blog. She was planning to go back into the job she left the previous year on a sabbatical, pick up her career where she left off, and support my attempt to go professional as a blogger.
Now, everything has changed. Lisa didn’t end up going back into the same job. She is working full-time again, but it’s on a fixed-term contract, and we’re living close to her office. With more spare time, she has become increasingly involved in the business.
In the last month we’ve reached an inflection point, and Career Gappers is now 100% both of ours. We’re incredibly excited about this. Lisa and I first met because we worked together in an organisation; now we’re working together on our own terms, which is amazing.
For the time being, I am working on Career Gappers full-time, while Lisa works on it whenever she can around her job. If we are able to build the business to the point that it can sustain both of us, then Lisa will become full-time too.
That would mean we could travel again, which is the ultimate dream! Just like our round-the-world travel career gap, it’s a dream we believe we can make happen. From now on, it’s ‘us’ all the way.
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