And there it is. The unforgettable year that was 2020 has finally come to an end. Unforgettable for so many reasons – and not all of them bad. Despite everything, I think we might just look back on this as a time when many things changed for the better.
It seems a really, really, REALLY long time ago that we launched our redesigned website in January 2020. Man, that seems like a different world altogether. Yet somehow, in the same breath, it feels as though time has stood still since then. Lisa and I have left our home county of Lincolnshire just three times this year. We haven’t been abroad since we stepped off a flight home from France in July 2019. By far the longest travel drought in my adult life.
Instead, we have spent time in our new home, enjoyed the company of family when circumstances have allowed, gone outdoors, taken time to reflect, read books, learned new things. We have explored close to home and appreciated the simpler things in life. We adopted a dog, and we walk with him in the countryside near our home every day.
If life were an internet browser, in 2020 we learned to live without so many tabs open.
Sure, it was a difficult year in lots of ways – not least for our travel blogging business – but it has also been a special time, and one I think we will look back on with a nostalgic fondness.
For our blogging business, this final quarter of the year has been the busiest of all. We’re riding into 2021 on a new wave of optimism, albeit checked by a fresh dose of realism. Here in the UK we’re just embarking on our third national lockdown. It will probably be the longest so far, expected to last at least a couple of months. It’s going to be a while before we can travel out of Lincolnshire again, let alone overseas. But in the meantime, we are continuing to strengthen our foundations.
The slow recovery I described in our last blogging business report has been continuing steadily. We’ve also hit some important milestones and celebrated some wins. These are the highlights from the last three months:
- We launched our second blog after months of preparation
- In response to the pandemic and the rise of remote working, we started a new workcations content campaign for 2021
- Our new workcations guide has been featured in Forbes and Authority Magazine
- With this new content in the making, we have travel plans in the pipeline for when restrictions are relaxed
- In December we reached our highest monthly website traffic since the Covid crisis began
- We made another successful application for a government support grant
Let’s begin with our new blogging project which we’re looking forward to growing in 2021…
Our second blog: Lincoln and Beyond
When we moved to live in Lincoln in March 2019 – the city where Lisa grew up, and 20 miles down the road from my home town – we had planned from the beginning to create a blog about the place. Lincoln has so much historical intrigue, its cathedral once the world’s tallest building, its Roman origins still visible today. In recent years it has become a thriving modern city since the opening of a university, and it stands on the doorstep of some of the UK’s finest countryside. There is a lot here to celebrate and write about!
However, there was never enough time. It became one of those projects permanently on the backburner. That is, until the events of this year gave us the perfect
excuse opportunity to bring it forward.
Lincoln ticks so many of the boxes for post-pandemic travel, as people look for off-the-beaten-path alternatives to the typical tourist destinations. By going ahead with the project now, we thought we could focus on how the city and surrounding area are adapting to a new world, and what visitors can expect in 2021.
These are very different circumstances to how we originally envisioned it, but we loved the idea of contributing to our home city’s recovery. Work began back in spring, and we finally launched Lincoln and Beyond at the beginning of October.
This means we will need to spend a lot of time trying out activities, attractions, pubs, restaurants, hikes, and other tourist stuff around our home county. I know, what a drag, right?!
Workcations: a natural pivot for Career Gappers
At the beginning of October, just as we were heading into the final quarter of the year, we took a week-long break with Lisa’s family to Anglesey, Wales. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is one of the UK’s largest islands, just off the coast of the north-west Wales mainland. It features some of the country’s most attractive coastline, with many miles of hidden coves and secluded beaches. Inland, it is riddled with sleepy villages, ancient sites and historic mines. An all-round lovely place to take a quiet break.
But this particular break was different. Why? Because Lisa and I both worked while we were there.
As a result of the pandemic, Lisa’s employers have closed their offices indefinitely, giving her the freedom to work from anywhere. With my work also being location-independent, we realised that we didn’t need to stay at home all the time while working. We could mix things up whenever we liked.
So, when Lisa’s family decided to book a week in a Welsh cottage, the fact that Lisa didn’t have any days of annual leave left to take didn’t mean we couldn’t join them.
The trip itself brought another realisation. We found that having a change of scenery, and mixing in some work with exploring a new place, helped us to be more productive. I spent half of the week working, and got nearly as much done as I usually would in a full week.
While we were away, an article on CNBC caught my eye. It spoke of the rise of ‘workcations’ as a kind of wellness sabbatical – a way to look after yourself while getting work done. Then the penny dropped. As a result of Covid lockdowns, more people than ever have the flexibility to work remotely. What a great opportunity to reimagine the way we experience travel in the world that emerges from the rubble.
Fleshing out the idea
After the trip to Wales, we started to think about how pivoting to workcations could work for Career Gappers. It occurred to us that this would be a very natural pivot for the audience we have been building since 2018. The idea of taking a travel career break appeals to people who are professionally ambitious, but who also want to find a healthy work–life balance and discover new experiences. Workcations are a way to do that on a smaller scale by building snapshots of travel into your professional life.
In late October and early November I had the chance to test the water for a potential workcations campaign at the Waypoint and WTM London virtual conferences. I spoke with many representatives of tourist boards across Europe about the idea of showcasing remote-working destinations in 2021 as a means of reinvigorating travel after the pandemic.
The response was phenomenal. Pretty much everyone I spoke to loved the idea, and many wanted to get involved! Harnessing this positivity, we created and published a guide to workcations. This provides the basis for our workcations content campaign, which we will continue to build in the weeks and months ahead.
An encouraging start…
Spring 2021, here we come?
Quite understandably, very few tourist boards are able to make concrete plans for visits and content campaigns in 2021 while restrictions are still in place, and while so much uncertainty remains about the pathway out of the pandemic. But we have had commitments from organisations in various European countries to work with us and support trips for a workcations campaign as soon as it is possible.
Who knows exactly when that will be? We have our eyes fixed on the spring months, and in the meantime we are keeping the conversations and plans moving as best we can. Although we don’t have any dates set at this stage, it’s a fantastic source of motivation to be able to work towards this.
How exactly will this fit into the blogging business model? Well, in the same way we had been building it around travel career breaks, which was coming to fruition before the pandemic began. Sponsored visits will give us the basis to create a whole new stream of content, which we can monetise through affiliate marketing, advertising and partnerships.
We’ve already had some excellent publicity for the workcations campaign. We were featured and quoted in interviews for Forbes and Authority Magazine, both of which picked up on it for stories about innovative business pivots driven by the pandemic. This has put the wind in our sails heading into a new year, and a solid foundation upon which to build.
Career breaks are still our bread and butter
Our pivot to focus on workcations in 2021 does not mean a complete and permanent sea change. Travel career breaks are still our raison d’être. The pandemic has presented many challenges for long-term travel, while also making people more risk-averse when it comes to taking time out of work. But it’s not going to be like this forever.
Sabbaticals and career breaks have been growing into the mainstream for many years now. This is just a bump in the road, a temporary logistical challenge. The benefits of taking extended time off work to travel have not changed, and we believe that career breaks will grow stronger than ever in the years ahead.
But for now, we’re exploring something a little different. Something that can help people to experience travel in a world that is recovering. Perhaps it will grow into something bigger. The joy of blogging is that we can continuously adapt, build, and see where it takes us.
Our website traffic recovery continues
In our previous blogging business report we had some positive news about rebuilding our website traffic after the big plunge last March. Despite a little dip in October and November, we’ve been chipping away at this, and in December we achieved our highest monthly traffic since everything went south, with just shy of 12,000 sessions and 15,000 pageviews:
There have been many little peaks and troughs along this journey, and our recovery is as much beholden to external events as it is a result of the work we’ve been doing. For example, when Chile announced in mid-November that it would open its borders for more travellers, we saw a sudden influx of traffic to our Chile content. Conversely, new lockdowns in various countries saw our traffic drop from those locations.
Until now, we’ve held off making any significant updates to our destination-related blog posts, with so much uncertainty still hanging in the air. But as we get into the new year, we’ll be taking a look at this. Refreshing the large base of travel content we’ve built will help keep it ranking and continue the upward trajectory.
Patience is still our biggest asset
It may feel like we are turning a corner, but there is still a long path to travel. The virus is surging around the world again, and it appears that restrictions will be in place for quite some time yet. We can’t expect any kind of normality to return for many months, despite the hope afforded by the roll-out of vaccines.
So, as we continue to rebuild, we will need to stay focused and patient.
Income, expenditure and another support grant
Although our website traffic has been steadily rebuilding, it has not been possible to make any serious headway in terms of income, simply because nobody is booking travel yet. Without people making plans, we cannot secure any commission from affiliate sales. With this in mind, it’s little surprise that we ended the year with relatively slim pickings.
In the final quarter of 2020, we brought in $526.79 in commission from affiliate sales. Notably, 80% of this came from sales of the Blogging Fast Lane course, which gave us a boost over Black Friday. That leaves barely $100 from travel-related affiliate sales.
Alongside this, we brought in $463.74 from Mediavine advertising revenue, which has been growing consistently through the year. This is miles off what we would expect in normal times, but it does give us some encouragement as our traffic keeps growing.
Finally, we successfully applied for another business support grant, further to the initial one we mentioned in our last report. The latest one is a little lower at £1,333, but it does give us some badly needed help to keep the ship sailing. In total, this brings our blogging business income for the quarter to around $2,800.
Coupled with this, it’s been our lowest-spending quarter to date. These were are total outgoings for October to December 2020:
- Regular monthly costs:
- Photoshop monthly subscriptions: £29.94
- ConvertKit monthly subscriptions: £65.82
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £1.82
- G Suite subscription: £12.42
- Phone bills: £42.54
- Office supplies:
- Keyboard and mouse: £22.43
- Headphones: £31.95
- TOTAL: £206.92 / $281.20
Note that these figures refer specifically to our expenditure on Career Gappers. During the quarter we also invested £403 / $550.41 into our new blog, Lincoln and Beyond. We still need to decide exactly how we are going to account and report across the two businesses – that will be a job for the new year.
Priorities and goals for 2021
In the past we have set quite granular business targets on things like website traffic and income. But in the present circumstances we can’t really do that. Without knowing how the pandemic recovery is going to unfold, it’s impossible to take specific aim when we’re at the mercy of things we can’t control.
What we can do is to keep adapting and keep building. We’ve just come to the end of a year that put many of our big ambitions on hold. It was not the year we expected or wanted. But I think we can be pretty darn proud of how we responded, and what we have achieved.
In 2020 we launched a redesigned website. We exceeded 35,000 monthly pageviews and had our first month of $1,000 in affiliate commission before the Great Covid Reset. We qualified for Mediavine, a long-term business goal from the outset. We created and published our first ebook. We built and launched a second blogging business. We found a way to harness the pandemic in pivoting our primary blog for a new world. We were featured in Forbes. Mostly, we didn’t give up.
So, there are a lot of reasons to take heart. As we settle into the new year, these are three broad priorities that will shape our focus:
- Building our workcations campaign and preparing for trips in spring 2021
- Refreshing our portfolio of career break content so we are ready for when travel resumes
- Growing the content base for our second blogging business, Lincoln and Beyond
Alongside this, I’ve taken on some side-hustle freelance work to help keep things moving along. Along with the support grants, this helps to sustain us in the meantime until we reach brighter times… which we will!
In the internet browser of life, maybe we will be able to open up a few more tabs in 2021. That said, I hope we don’t forget the lessons we’ve learned this last year. It’s been a tough and eye-opening journey, but we’re excited for what’s coming next.
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