We’ve passed many milestones since we decided to start a blogging business over a year ago, and I’ve detailed them in these reports along the way – but July 2019 marked a very special one. For the first time since our blogging journey began, we made a monthly profit. This wasn’t a one-off, either. We followed up with more income in both August and September, and with the business now sustaining itself, we have a sound footing on which to build further.
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Although we didn’t hit all the targets we set out in our previous report on April–June, the third quarter of the year couldn’t have gone much better. Here are the highlights:
- We received our first payouts from affiliate programmes
- We made over $1,000 in new affiliate commission
- We did our first paid brand partnership
- We applied to two advertising networks (having reached the required traffic threshold)
- Our traffic continued to grow, with monthly sessions climbing by over 50% to 12,704 (short of our target but still good progress)
- Our domain authority (DA) grew from 31 to 33
- We revamped and expanded our core destination content on Peru and Patagonia
Now, let’s get into the details…
Website traffic growth
The target we set for website traffic back in June was to double our monthly sessions from 8,244 to over 16,000. We didn’t manage this, but we’re happy to have hit well over 12,000 sessions in September. The trend is continuing in the right direction, as you can see here:
There are various factors that have contributed to this growth. The summer season in Europe has helped; our articles on Malta, Slovakia and Lithuania have been among the highest performers.
However, we believe that the main driver has been niching down and focusing on specific destination content. In previous reports I outlined our intentions to flesh out our content on Peru and Patagonia. In September we completed this process, revamping all existing content and creating several new targeted articles.
Not only is this content getting the bulk of our traffic overall, but it’s also responsible for most of the income we made through summer. More on that below.
Continuing to learn
Building a blogging business has been an ongoing learning curve, and that hasn’t stopped. During this most recent period, Tom and Anna – the couple behind Adventure in You – made some major updates to their Blogging Fast Lane course, which I joined a year ago.
The course has been one of the best investments of our blogging journey. Most importantly, it has helped us to understand more about the various monetisation methods and how they can best be implemented.
The new updated version of the course has enabled us to organise our content on Peru and Patagonia in a way that gives continuous value to our readers, builds trust and optimises our affiliate performance. Taking the time to work through the course content before doing this work has given us great results.
SEO is still the key
Search engine optimisation remains by far the most effective component of our traffic-building strategy. In the July–September period, search engines accounted for two thirds of traffic to the blog:
We have continued to apply SEO principles to our content, and to devote time to building relevant links. Our domain authority increased from 31 at the end of June to 33 at the end of September, and our search traffic has grown steadily.
…but we want to diversify our traffic sources
A recent development has highlighted the dangers of relying too heavily on one particular traffic source. In the last week of September, Google released a major algorithm update, something it does every so often to improve the quality of its search results.
Algorithm updates always have winners and losers. We’ve seen among the blogging community that some people have been hit hard, while others have barely been affected as all. It’s quite early for us to tell, but it looks like we’ve had a bit of a dip in traffic in the days since the update.
In the long term, we believe that producing high-quality content will allow us to weather the storm of Google updates. These algorithm changes are designed to help people find the best answers to their questions. The sites that will suffer, ultimately, are those with poor content that are just trying to game the system. As long as we have good content we will be able to adapt.
Even so, it’s a scary thought that – after working so hard to build our traffic – a flick of a switch at Google HQ could bring much of it crashing down. Although SEO will remain our main focus, we intend to make more effort to improve traffic from other sources.
This is where Pinterest comes in. While our performance on the platform improved steadily in the first half of 2019, it has stuttered a little over the last few weeks:
Herein lies the challenge of blogging – it’s tough to keep all the plates spinning! Our prioritisation of content development and affiliate marketing has meant that we haven’t been able to devote as much time to Pinterest. We’re also in a limbo of sorts; we have been holding off on refreshing our pin designs until we make time to look at our brand identity as a whole.
This is a ball we intend to pick up again in the final months of the year. Pinterest has the potential to be a powerful traffic alternative to the mighty Google.
Public speaking as a promotion tool
Another channel we are utilising to promote the Career Gappers brand is public speaking. By putting ourselves out there in this way, we can spread our message further through word of mouth and potential media coverage (and it has the bonus effect of building more links).
In September I gave a talk about our blogging journey at a Four-Hour Work Week Meetup event in London. I’m also in discussion with a university in the UK to give a guest lecture to tourism and marketing students.
Further down the road, Lisa and I are pitching to give talks at blogging conferences. We’ve both signed up to attend TBEX Europe in Sicily in March, which will be an exciting opportunity to build new relationships regardless of whether or not we’re accepted as speakers.
Now comes the exciting part. After many months of struggling to transform our success with traffic growth into income, we’re finally starting to see some solid results.
Prior to the end of June 2019, we made less than $200 in affiliate commission across all the programmes we had signed up to. We were getting the occasional sale on each platform, but nothing consistent, and nowhere near enough on any of them to reach a payout threshold (which are typically $50 or $100).
Then, at the beginning of July, we made a breakthrough.
We made our first sale on a high-value affiliate platform, earning £95.88 commission for selling a G Adventures tour package – converted from one of our Peru articles. A week later, we sold another.
This helped us to amount over $200 affiliate commission in July – more than we had made in the entire year prior to that.
In August, it got better; we nearly doubled our total commission, making consistent sales across several platforms. In September we went higher still, nearly reaching $500 in commission for the month. Here’s how the trajectory is looking now:
We don’t want to get too excited about this, but it really feels like we’re finally cracking it. And with the trekking season just beginning in Patagonia, we are hopeful of continuing this progress in the months ahead.
One way we’ve managed to get these wheels rolling is by utilising the support available to us through the affiliate platforms. Back in December, we made our first affiliate booking on GetYourGuide, but then made no more for the next six months. So, in July, I contacted their team, and they were happy to help.
A member of their team asked me to send links to our highest-traffic articles, and arranged a video call to discuss strategies. They reviewed our posts before the call, we discussed some best practice examples, and they sent me data on the most-booked tours. After implementing some of the methods we discussed, the conversions immediately started to come in. During July–September we made over $200 commission on this programme alone, and we’re confident this will continue to grow.
At the beginning, our first aim was to reach the threshold of 25,000 monthly sessions required to apply to the advertising network Mediavine, considered by many a rite of passage for aspiring bloggers. We’re still quite a way off this, however, and have been on the lookout for other options.
In August we surpassed 10,000 sessions, making us eligible for both Ezoic and Monumetric, two possible alternatives. We applied to Ezoic first. However, after waiting several weeks for a response, and then having a promising consultation call with Monumetric, we’re now applying to them too.
There are pros and cons to every advertising network. Our concern with Ezoic is that many bloggers have reported that it has adversely affected site speed. The drawbacks of Monumetric are that it requires a $99 signup fee, and a contract agreement that means it would take at least a month to switch to a different platform later.
On balance, given our experience at the consultation stage, we are leaning towards Monumetric. We believe that it can contribute around $100–$400 per month to our income at this stage, which would grow as our traffic does. And it’s not necessarily just a stop gap while we wait to qualify for Mediavine, either – if it performs well, then there would be no need to change.
Making an affiliate sale wasn’t the only monetisation milestone we passed in July. We also did our first paid brand partnership, working with an adventure company in Peru to create some great content and highlight their packages to our readers.
We’ve been very cautious with brand partnerships until now, screening each potential partner carefully to make sure they’re a good fit for a brand. We love what this particular company does, we believe they are just right for our audience and it’s been a pleasure to work with them. And it doesn’t stop at publishing the content – we’re still working behind the scenes to build traffic to it and deliver value.
Earlier in our blogging journey we did various brand partnerships on the basis of trading services, for example working with a dive company in Malta, a city pass scheme in Venice and various wineries in central Italy. The resulting portfolio of case studies is now a powerful tool to help us move on to fully paid partnerships.
Selling our photographs
In March’s report I floated the idea that we may attempt to bring in some extra income by selling our photographs. I’ve finally pulled my finger out on this; last week I signed up to Shutterstock and uploaded some selected shots.
This may fall flat on its face, but it’s worth a try – I’ll let you know how we get on in the next report.
Income/expenditure in July–September
I was beginning to think the day would never come! We can finally report some decent income. On the expenditure side, the summer period was also our most expensive time of the year by far, with three big renewals of annual subscriptions and a bulk payment for the TBEX Europe 2020 conference.
Before I continue, I’ll quickly explain how we are reporting on currency. Our payments, both incoming and outgoing, are made using a mixture of US dollars, pounds and euros. I’ve stated our affiliate income in US dollars, as that’s the one most commonly used by the platforms. For our expenditure the details are in pounds, as that’s what we’re mainly working with, but I’ve converted the final figures to US dollars for context and comparison.
Our total affiliate commission during July–September was $1,067.13, and we made a further $500 in brand partnerships (completed and paid) bringing the total to $1,567.13.
Once affiliate commission is clocked, it does take a while to receive the payments. As I’ve mentioned, each platform has a threshold to trigger a payout, and then you have to wait for the partner company’s payment cycle. We’ve hit payout thresholds on five different platforms now (exceeding our target for the quarter), and have received £207.07 / $253.92 in payments so far, with further payouts imminent in October.
August and September were abnormally expensive months, which has bloated our expenditure for the quarter. These were out outgoings for the whole period:
- Regular monthly costs:
- Photoshop monthly subscriptions: £29.94
- ConvertKit monthly subscriptions: £70.81
- Phone bills: £119.41
- Gadget insurance payments: £41.97
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £12.97
- Regular annual costs:
- Keysearch annual subscription: £99.04
- Tailwind annual subscription: £97.91
- G Suite annual subscription: £65
- Additional investment/costs:
- Registrations for TBEX Europe 2020: £327.24
- Flights to Sicily for TBEX Europe 2020: £157.21
- Accommodation (half payment) for TBEX Europe 2020: £102.88
- Transport and accommodation bookings for WTM London: £28.62
- Replacement Macbook charger cable: £19
- Drinks in workspaces: £4.30
- TOTAL: £1220.09 / $1,500.36
As you can see, £261.95 / $321.14 of these costs were for annual subscriptions, and a further £587.33 / $720.35 on getting registered and organised for the TBEX Europe conference. That’s more than a two thirds of the period’s outgoings.
In October–December we expect to return to basic running costs and very little more. The outgoings in this final quarter of the year should be well under $1,000, and probably much less – fingers crossed that the income column continues to move in the other direction!
A major admin hurdle
While we’re on the subject of cashflow, I’d like to throw in another milestone that may seem insignificant, but it’s a big one for me! Last week I did something I’ve been putting off for a long time – I filled out and submitted my self-employment tax returns for the very first time.
Of course, we made a loss in our first tax year (as most businesses do) – but filing a return means we can offset those losses against future profit.
Priorities and targets for October–December 2019
The northern hemisphere summer has come and gone, and now we look to the future. With our destination content now developed to a point we are happy with, we can divert our attention to the thing we love most: building resources to help people take travel career breaks.
This will be our main focus for the rest of 2019. These are our targets for the final quarter:
- Grow to 15,000 monthly sessions
- Make $2,000 income during the quarter
- Complete the content and marketing cycle setup for our career break content
What’s significant here is that we have an income target for the first time. Three consecutive months of steady, growing income puts us in a position to do this with confidence and in a meaningful way, whereas before we would simply have been speculating.
Preparing for change
Amid the work on our priorities, we will be preparing in the background for the brand and design refresh I’ve been talking about. We don’t aim to finalise this before the end of the year, but instead we will combine it with our planned transition from WordPress.com to WordPress.org in early 2020.
Networking and skill swaps
Conferences are on the horizon. At the beginning of November I will once again be attending WTM London, and after a year of growth we are in a much stronger position to make pitches to tourist boards for collaboration.
The event will also mark the beginning of an exciting skill swap arrangement. A former colleague of mine, Greg, and his wife, Bernie – who are now great friends of mine and Lisa’s – have recently launched a new organisation, Diabetes Africa. When Greg and I worked together previously, his focus was in business development and mine in communications strategy.
After the four of us got together in June, we figured that our complementary skills could really help each other’s enterprises, and so we decided to try out a skill swap. I will provide communications consultation for Diabetes Africa, while Greg is going to help us out with partnership relations. In this capacity, he is helping me to create a plan of action for WTM, and will come along to the event and attend meetings with me on behalf of Career Gappers.
Another great friend of ours, Lou, has recently started her own coaching and consultancy business. We’ve set up a monthly Skyping session to share our experiences and offer each other support through the journey.
These kind of skill swaps can be incredibly invaluable. In the search for new connections, it’s easy to forget the support networks you already have.
Further down the road, we are looking towards the TBEX Europe conference, which takes place in Catania, Sicily, in March 2020. In last July’s report I explained how valuable my attendance at the previous TBEX Europe in the Czech Republic had been. Looking back now, I think we’d be a lot further behind in our journey without that experience.
This time around, we hope to further build our knowledge and create some inroads with travel brands. The latter aspect was tough last year when we’d only been live for a few days! As I mentioned above, we’re also pitching to speak at the Sicily conference – a long shot perhaps – but let’s see what happens.
Are tougher times ahead?
Every time I report on positive progress with this blog, I look to the weeks ahead with both excitement and trepidation. Something usually tells me that we won’t be able to keep the trajectory going. Luckily, that instinct has been wrong every time so far.
This time, however, the nervousness is biting a little stronger than usual. What if our seasonal Patagonia content doesn’t perform as well as our seasonal Europe content? And If last week’s Google update has affected us, then we could well be in for our first dip in traffic. This is partially why I’ve set a more cautious traffic target for the final quarter of 2019.
If we do hit a bump in the road, we will do whatever we can to adjust, adapt and find our rhythm again. As Rosemary Nonny Knight has said – “falling down is an accident, staying down is a choice”.
Until next time… via the end of the world?
When you read our next report, it will be January 2020. Hopefully there will be more good news to divulge. Oh, and there’s a chance that I will be telling you all about a trip to Antarctica. That’s because I’ve applied to Airbnb’s Antarctica sabbatical which is taking place in November/December! It’s an extremely remote possibility, of course, but if you don’t try for things in life then you won’t get them.
Have an amazing time for the rest of 2019 and I’ll see you on the other side.