The Covid-19 pandemic arrived on the scene around 18 months after we first launched this blog. As I write this report, we have now been in a state of global pandemic for a little over 18 months. Now, if my maths is correct… this means that for half of the time we’ve been trying to grow a business that relies on people travelling, we have been in a global pandemic.

This blows my mind when I think about it. Perspectives of time can be strange indeed. In many ways the pandemic has felt like a pause in time, and the days that preceded it like some kind of golden age we’re trying to rediscover. Facebook memories pop up on my timeline from one year ago, well into the pandemic, and they feel like they were a minute ago.

But this perspective is actually very reassuring to keep in mind when looking at the bigger picture. When I see memories pop up on my timeline from three years ago, around the earliest days of this blog, full of hope and optimism, I think to myself, “we should have achieved a lot more by now”. But then I remind myself that it hasn’t been any normal three years. 

Imagine that you decide to open a shoe shop. It’s going well, and you begin to attract customers. But then, all of a sudden, everyone in the world’s feet fall off. People don’t need shoes any more. Very very slowly, their feet begin to grow back, but in a slightly different shape to before. So you have to cast away your old stock of shoes, and come up with a new design. It’s still shoes, though – that hasn’t changed.

Okay, that’s a terrible analogy. But you get the point. 

Another problem about the ongoing situation is that reporting on it gets a little repetitive. Not a huge amount has happened since the last report; I don’t have any dazzling stats and figures to show you how marvellously we’ve been recovering. But, as with last time, there continue to be some subtle, promising signs.

So, in the absence of those dazzling stats, these are the main highlights of the last three months:

  • We have been shortlisted for a Traverse Creator Award (for our second blog)
  • Travel bookings are showing a sustained upturn
  • We have a new opportunity to reinvest in the blog, and so…
  • We are hiring a virtual assistant!

Let’s dive into it…

Huttoft Friday picnic
Picnicking on a Lincolnshire beach on a late summer Friday evening

Traverse Creator Awards nomination

We’ll begin with the fun part. Less than a year after launching our second blog, Lincoln and Beyond, it has been shortlisted in the Traverse Creator Awards in the category for best storytelling!

These awards receive hundreds of entries from talented content creators all over the world, so it is a real honour for us to be recognised on this shortlist among some of the very best in the business.

The shortlisting is for our story series that has explored the plight of local tourism and hospitality businesses in our home city during the pandemic, and how they have found creative ways to stay afloat.

We did enter Career Gappers into some categories but unfortunately didn’t make the cut… and of course, that just makes us more motivated to try harder for next year!

Traverse Awards champagne celebration
Celebrating our awards shortlisting with a glass of bubbles at home

An opportunity to reinvest

One reason that blogging progress has been slow over the last three months is that I have taken on an increasing amount of consultancy and freelancing work. We knew this was going to be the case, as I wrote at the end of the previous quarterly report: “The next three months will be dominated by freelancing and consultancy work for me, and so we cannot set our sights too high for blog growth during this time.”

This came to a climax in September when I was doing four days of consultancy a week, leaving much less time to grow two blogs.

I have now taken on some longer-term consultancy work for ten days a month. This is great news because I love the work, it gives us some stability of income, and it also allows me to rebalance some time back towards the blogs.

Not only time, in fact, but money too. We plan to grasp this improvement in our baseline income to reinvest funds into the blogs, primarily focusing on a strategy to drive forward our workcations campaign in 2022.

And this means that…

We’re hiring!

The best way we can invest in the business right now is to bring in some help. In particular, we have found it really difficult to find the time to build a presence on social media.

But we don’t want to make the mistake of hiring someone to “do social media” without specific goals in mind. So, to begin with, we will focus this strategy on building a Facebook group to complement our workcations campaign.

We’re now looking for a virtual assistant specialising in Facebook marketing to help us deliver this. If that could be you, or someone you know, then please ping me an email on alex@careergappers.com and we can have a chat.

Welland Valley Viaduct hike
We hiked past the Welland Valley Viaduct on a camping trip (the second historic viaduct we’ve seen this summer)

So, where next for workcations?

If I’m honest, the workcations campaign has become a little frustrating. It started with such promise and gathered momentum so quickly. But we still haven’t been able to take a workcation trip outside of the UK to start building new destination content for it.

This isn’t through lack of interest; we’re still in close dialogue with multiple tourist boards about proposed trips. But due to the seemingly never-ending swamp that is the pandemic, the conditions just haven’t been right yet to go ahead with any. 

That will change, and the trips will come. But in the meantime, we’re going to take matters into our own hands. At the end of October we’re spending a week in Cornwall, and will use the time to create a ‘prototype’ workcation destination guide.

We’ll then follow this with two or three targeted workcation trips in Europe in the first few weeks of 2022. (There is a possibility one of these will come before the end of the year.)

Signs of travel recovery are afoot

Are you ready for some graphs now? I’m sure you’re ready for some graphs.

In our last quarterly report, we pointed towards a small upturn in travel-related bookings at the end of June. Possibly the best piece of news I can give you now is that this has continued in the right direction. Take a look at this graph of our travel-related affiliate conversions over the last two years:

Look at that upward curve over the last three months! People are beginning to travel again. Let’s be clear, these numbers are waaaaay off where we need to be – we need to build this up to hundreds of conversions a month – but we’re beginning to climb back onto our previous trajectory.

(The reason I specify ‘travel-related’ is that we’ve been able to make a significant amount of affiliate sales on Amazon Associates, not all of which is directly related to travel. So, the graph above shows affiliate conversions for everything except Amazon: tours, accommodation, insurance and so on.)

Another reassuring thing about this is that we’ve seen travel conversions growing across the board. It hasn’t just been focused on one type of booking. We’ve seen conversions for hotels, hostels, self-catered accommodation, tours, insurance, bus tickets, flights – the whole spectrum.

Site traffic is plateauing… for now

Sadly, our website traffic hasn’t been springing forward in the same way that our travel affiliate conversions have. We seem to have become stuck on around 19,000 sessions per month over the last quarter:

My lack of time to create new content and update old content is likely a big factor in this. We have only published eight new blog posts in July–September. In a similar period of time before the pandemic I produced more than four times this amount of content.

To clear this hurdle, we are working on a more focused content strategy, and we may also use some of that VA budget to support content production.

Income and expenditure

It has been a mostly disappointing quarter for blogging income. I had hoped that the UK content we created might catch some of the summer boom here, but our Cornwall posts started ranking just a little too late for that – and my increased consultancy work meant that I produced much less of it than originally planned.

You can see in the graph below that we saw a dip in affiliate sales in July and August before rebounding in September:

As discussed above, this doesn’t quite tell the full picture, as there is an important distinction between travel and non-travel sales. While we have seen a gradual drop over the last few months in non-travel-specific sales such as remote working accessories, the upturn in September is a result of travel bookings returning. 

In total, our combination of booked income from July to September via affiliates and advertising was $2387.21. This is a drop of around 24% on the previous quarter.

Riding the waves of seasonality

From here, we expect things to get slightly worse before they get better.

While we are endeavouring to find ways to build new content in Europe, the bulk of our existing travel content covers destinations in South America. It now looks like the southern hemisphere summer season, which we are just about to enter, is going to be wiped out for another year in our core destinations like Peru, Argentina and Chile.

The new content we are producing on destinations closer to home is building towards spring and summer in Europe next year. So, it is likely that we will need to see through a difficult winter of slim pickings before we begin to see a substantial recovery.

Outgoings

We spent the bare minimum in the last quarter. As you can see here, our only expenditure has been ongoing operational costs:

  • Regular monthly costs:
    • Photoshop monthly subscriptions: £29.94
    • ConvertKit monthly subscriptions: £107.54
    • Non-sterling transaction fees: £2.95
    • G Suite subscription: £12.42
    • Phone bills: £96
  • Annual subscriptions:
    • Keysearch: £89.02
  • TOTAL: £337.87 / $457.65

Things are about to change in this respect, however. With various trips coming up (yes, actual travel!) and plans to reinvest income into the workcations campaign, we are set to spend more than ever in the final quarter of 2021.

Nele and Richard in Lincoln
We welcomed our friend Nele of The Navgatio blog and her partner Richard to Lincoln

Goals for September–December 2021

We can look ahead to the final three months of 2021 with excitement, because live and in-person conferences are back on the calendar! As someone who thrives from meeting new likeminded people, I can’t say how much I have missed this.

Most, if not all, of the travel bloggers I know have been struggling with the same challenges you’ve read about in this report. Glimmers of hope interspersed with the ongoing reality of a slow recovery. Sharing our stories of pain among one another brings a little comfort, and also allows us to collectively pool some optimism!

It was great to see our friend Nele, who runs The Navigatio blog, and her partner Richard when they visited Lincoln last month. This was like a prelude for getting back out among the community, which can’t come soon enough.

In November we are spending ten days in Mallorca for the Traverse 21 conference, where we will be staying in a seaside villa with a group of blogging friends. Earlier in the month I will be in London for a week for the World Travel Market (WTM), which may be followed by a sponsored workcation trip currently in discussion.

At the end of October we will also be spending another week in Cornwall, which I will be using to gather more content for next summer’s season.

The combination of consultancy work ten days each month and the above-mentioned trips means that my blogging time will need to be very focused. So, I am setting three goals for this period:

  • Complete a prototype destination funnel for the workcations campaign (Cornwall)
  • Get a Facebook group off the ground to support the workcations campaign
  • Create a prototype piece of video content for each of the blogs

The last of these has flown under the radar a little. You may remember earlier in the year that we invested in a drone and gimbal to begin working on video content. We’ve been experimenting with these while creating content for our Lincoln blog, and the time has now come to take this a step further.

All said and done, we’re in for a busy three months that will hopefully see us end 2021 on a high. It’s time to strap in and enjoy the ride! See you in the new year, along with whatever that brings…

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In our third quarterly blogging business report of 2021, we continue our slow recovery and look ahead to reinvestment opportunities. #incomereport #travelblog #travelblogging

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