Two years ago I published my first post on 501 Places. Since that day I’ve posted another 463 posts and enjoyed many online conversations and face to face meetings that have come as a result. I look back and see that I wrote a post on a similar theme 12 months ago, so perhaps it’s appropriate this time to ask myself what has changed in the last year.
In the first year I wrote over 300 posts on 501 Places; this year it’s only 150. What has happened in the meantime is that I have written nearly 100 posts for three clients’ sites. These have provided a steady and slowly growing income and have meant that quite naturally I have reduced the time I can dedicate to this site. From posting every day initially I dropped to four times a week and then to the current three; soon I expect to settle my 501 Places output at two new posts a week.
How did I make the connections that led to these contracts? While I meet my clients regularly in person, in each case the initial contact was made either directly or indirectly via online conversations that have stemmed from my blog. To that end, my blog has reaped worthy rewards. I’ve been invited to speak on the subject of blogging as a marketing tool for small businesses, both in a paid and a speculative capacity. In short, building 501 Places into an established travel blog has opened many doors for me that I wouldn’t have predicted two years ago.
In the two years since I became freelance my business cards have gone through several makeovers. My job title has changed with almost every design. Am I a travel blogger? I don’t think so. My accounts show that last year I made more money from writing information booklets and website copy than from blogs; I also made more writing about healthcare and oil and gas than I did about travel. I’ve settled on writer: it’s a broad title but no less vague than the spread of my work.
Besides, travel blogging in my mind is more about working as a publisher than a writer. A good travel blogger manages relationships with advertisers, becomes an SEO expert, negotiates press trips and learns the art of good photography, using video, and podcasts. I claim none of these skills and I admire those who have jumped into the world of blogging and embraced the know-how needed to make a decent living from their efforts. I’ve never hosted an ad on my site, never received a penny for a link and I have almost no designing ability. On that topic I am currently investing in its first professional makeover; I figure if it serves as my shop window to potential clients it should nice to look at and easy to use.
In the last year I have taken part in a couple of press trips and politely declined at least ten more. Some have had the most lavish and thrill-packed itineraries, and I’ve had to take a step back and ask myself ‘how will this trip help my business?’ and ‘where will I see a return on this, short or long-term?’. When I’ve done this I haven’t found a good answer. As a result I have concluded in most cases that I would rather spend the time writing at home and earning the money that allows me to travel with my wife on our own terms.
A recent project with a national tourist board represented a very interesting departure from the traditional model and one that I hope I can build on elsewhere. I travelled for several days alone, with no fixed itinerary and staying in modest hotels/guest houses (the type I would normally book if travelling on holiday). My task was to report back in the form of material for the tourist board’s website and in time, my own. For this I was paid a viable daily project fee. At last, I found a type of press trip that ticks my boxes.
So what’s coming up in year 3 of 501 Places, apart from the imminent new design? Well, a couple more clients who want to outsource their regular blog content would be good, along with a steady stream of ad-hoc projects to keep me in coffee and cakes. A month in Japan beckons later in the year and I’ll be looking at ways to sell the resulting content from that trip. Beyond that, as has been the pattern so far, I wouldn’t be able to guess the opportunities that come along at this point; and that’s just fine with me.