As we enter the final phase of this tumultuous year for our blogging business, it finally feels as though we have some prospects to look forward to. In our last quarterly report midway through the year, I described how we had been through a period of rethinking and regrouping. In this report I will be telling you how we’ve spent the last three months putting our new plans into action.
Even though we have some cautious optimism and there are signs of a steadying ship, it’s still going to be a long road back in the face of this crisis that has hit the travel sector disproportionately hard. So while I write with hope, there is also a bleak reality that a challenging, uphill task lies ahead.
But let’s begin on a positive note, eh? Here are some of the successes that we’ve achieved this last quarter:
- We completed and launched our first ebook
- Our second blogging business is on the verge of going live
- Our website traffic has climbed back above 10,000 monthly sessions
- We successfully applied for a government support grant
Before we dig into the detail of business, there’s a little bit of housekeeping to attend to, and some life-changing news to report…
We have a new member of the team!
In July, our household changed in a pretty big way. We adopted a rescue dog! Regan has brought chaos into our lives, in the best way possible. We aren’t sure exactly what breed he is – our guess is a little bit lurcher, a little bit Dutch shepherd, and a little bit Staffordshire bull terrier. But whatever he is, we love him, and he’s brightened up our days at home in the office.
Regan has loved becoming part of our travelling crew, having already accompanied us on four camping trips since he arrived in our home. He’s even got his own Instagram account if you want to follow his antics (yes… we’ve become those people who have an Instagram account for their dog…).
New blog preparation has taken priority
There isn’t quite as much to report about our work on Career Gappers this quarter as usual, because we’ve refocused much of our time on building our new blogging project, which will focus on our home city, Lincoln. After a summer of networking, exploring the city in depth, writing, photographing, designing and structuring, we are almost ready to launch.
My time has been split around 80% on the Lincoln project and 20% on Career Gappers, which has meant I’ve had to be heavily streamlined with my focus on the latter.
To keep our content ticking over on Career Gappers, we have continued to publish our series of interviews with people who have taken travel career breaks, while making gradual and careful updates to our old travel content. We are holding off on planning any significant new travel content until probably the beginning of next year.
We finally launched our ebook
The biggest milestone we have surpassed this quarter with Career Gappers is the long-awaited completion of our ebook, How to Take a Year Off Work, which we launched at the beginning of August. The ebook is some 30,000 words long and brings together many of the career break resources we have been creating over the last two years, along with some new tools and insights.
Due to the timing, we are expecting the ebook to be a slow burner. Although we had a handful of initial sales, we are waiting until economies in our target markets begin to recover again before launching a bigger marketing campaign to promote it.
The ebook launch is an important moment for us. Not just in terms of the project itself, but also because it gives us a template process for producing more digital products in future, which will be part of the business strategy for both of our blogs as the world opens up again.
Slowly rebuilding our traffic
The task of rebuilding our website traffic again has been arduous. We had reached 28,000 monthly sessions up to the first week in March (and growing – this was in off-season). This plummeted to as low as 6,750 sessions in the month after the initial lockdown period.
But we have gradually been making inroads again. After a strategic shift in content focus and some targeted updates to old posts, our traffic has been climbing month-on-month since April. In August, we reached 10,000 monthly sessions again for the first time post-lockdown.
It’s still a very long way back to where our traffic was before, and much further still to where it would be now had the events of this year been different. But we are pleased to see some progress; it gives us some heart and encouragement for the future.
Closed borders = zero bookings
The fact that so much of our travel content is focused on South America is a particular challenge in the current circumstances. Prior to the global health crisis, our content on Peru, Chile and Argentina together accounted for the lion’s share of our website traffic, and almost all of our affiliate sales.
All three of these countries have had their borders closed for six months now, with no sign of when that will change. In September, several countries across South America announced they would be remaining closed for tourism.
This means that we have been making almost zero travel affiliate sales – a scant few bookings in Europe is all we’ve managed. There has been just a slow drip of visitors to our Peru and Patagonia itineraries, presumably people who are planning future trips. But nobody is booking.
While have seen our overall website traffic recovering slowly, our South America content has remained flattened. This will change as borders open up again. But when it comes to bookings, we are likely in for a longer wait. Realistically, we can write off the 2020/21 hiking season in Patagonia, and look towards next year’s season in Peru as the period when bookings may start to pick up again.
Income, expenditure and a support grant
The summation of this year’s challenges has left our blogging business in a trench where it is unable to bring in any significant income until people can start travelling again. But there has been some good news, and indeed a lifeline.
I applied to a discretionary grant scheme designed to help businesses that have been hit by Covid and are ineligible for any other support. The application was approved, and we were given £2,500 to cover some of our loss of income. Needless to say, this is a massive help, at least for the time being.
In addition to the grant money, Career Gappers has brought in a trickle of $592.03 (about £460) over the last three months, through a combination of Mediavine advertising income, ebook sales and affiliate commission.
It’s difficult to calculate what our actual loss of income has been during this period. Not only would our Mediavine and affiliate earnings be many multitudes higher in a world still travelling, but this lost summer is when we had expected to be embarking on new brand partnerships that would have added another strand to our income.
But there is little use in “what if”. By using this time to strengthen our foundations and build new avenues for future success, we can emerge in an even better place on the other side.
The time has come again to reinvest in the future. While we have brought our general business running costs right down, in the last few weeks we’ve used some of the funds we had been keeping aside to start building again.
Our main recent outlay has been to prepare for the Traverse 20 conference in Palma, Mallorca. Originally scheduled to take place in late November, I was already signed up to go, but Lisa wasn’t able to make those dates. It has now been rearranged for March 2021, and so we’ve bought a ticket for Lisa too, as well as flights and accommodation. We’ll be there over my birthday, which should be fun.
More events are on the horizon as well. I have signed up to attend Traverse’s virtual event, Waypoint, in mid-October. I have also registered for two upcoming free conferences – the Travelpayouts Affiliate Summit in October and WTM London in November. Furthermore, we are still awaiting to hear when TBEX will be rescheduled in Catania, Sicily, in 2021 – Lisa and I both have tickets for that too. These will all be opportunities to reconnect with the travel world, build new partnerships, and shape our business plans for the future.
These are are total outgoings for July to September 2020:
- Regular monthly costs:
- Photoshop monthly subscriptions: £20.61
- ConvertKit monthly subscriptions: £67.03
- Phone bills: £42.54
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £3.39
- G Suite subscription: £3.59
- Annual subscriptions:
- Keysearch: £95.75
- Tailwind: £57.70
- Amazon Photos: £16.99
- Events and marketing:
- Waypoint virtual event registration: £15
- Flights, accommodation and an extra ticket for Traverse: £330.57
- Facebook promotion for ebook launch: £24.96
- Office supplies:
- Macbook charger: £16.99
- New printer: £51.98
- TOTAL: £747.1 / $963.76
Note that this only shows our costs for Career Gappers. We have also spent an additional £145.89 on preparations for the launch of our new Lincoln blog. I am not yet sure how we will structure our expenditure reporting across the two businesses, given that some resources – such as ConvertKit, Siteground and Photoshop – will be used for both. This should be clearer in our next report once the new blog is up and running.
Priorities for October–December 2020 and beyond
For the remainder of the topsy-turvy year that has been 2020, our focus will remain leaned towards our new Lincoln blogging project through its launch period, while we keep Career Gappers ticking along. By the end of the year, I am hoping to rebalance my time back to 50/50 between the two.
The time we do spend on Career Gappers in the weeks ahead will about staying in tune with developments and carefully reworking our content to be relevant to the ‘new normal’. The upcoming virtual events (mentioned above) in October and November could present opportunities for partnerships and content campaigns in 2021, but much will depend on how things unfold in the wider world. That is beyond our control, so we will need to be flexible and adaptable.
Looking ahead, in 2021 we envisage working with European career break destinations to diversify our portfolio, placing a focus on outdoor activities and well-being. We are also exploring possibilities for doing more work on sabbaticals and their benefits to both individuals and business, and we have had some exciting conversations on that front. But these are only seeds at the moment, and as we know, things can change quickly in the current world.
Patience, patience, patience
Our approach to both of our blogging businesses must be rooted in patience. The things we are putting in place during the current situation will take time to bear fruit. While are working to adapt and refresh Career Gappers, there will be no quick results while the world remains in crisis. Similarly, our new venture will take time to flower.
There is, of course, some frustration to this situation. We had already spent a solid 18 months building patiently before the rug was pulled out from beneath us and so many of our friends in the travel sector. We still have moments of sadness thinking about where we would be by now if the events of this year had been different.
But the situation has not damaged our resolve or our belief in what we are doing. We are ready to build again, and excited about the opportunities ahead. Our next report will come at the end of 2020 – and I have a feeling there will be some light at the end of a dark year.