The business of blogging: Travel Blog Camp speech

Today’s post is a transcript of my speech for the Travel Blog Camp on Tuesday night (9th November). It’s a bit long (not unlike the speech itself) but for those who missed an excellent event, I hope this post provides some points of interest and a few familiar thoughts.

the crowd | #tbcamp10I want to focus on three main themes:

  • I’ll briefly look at different blogging business models and motives
  • I’ll relate some of the things I’ve learned in a relatively short time running a travel blog – hopefully they will be relevant to many
  • And I want to finish by looking at whether bloggers have a responsibility for what they write, or is it really a free-for-all?

Everyone with a blog has a motive, a goal in mind that they would like to achieve from their efforts. So what are the most common reasons to blog?

1. Blogging as a business in itself – the professional bloggers, if I can use this term: selling text links and ad space on the site, acting as affiliate sellers, writing ‘how-to’ ebooks and even offering consulting services to other bloggers.

Some do this as a side-line from a main full-time job while the brave few do it as a main income. I take my hat off to these guys; I couldn’t do it. If you are considering throwing it all in and becoming a career travel blogger, I’d suggest nerves of steel, a healthy dose of optimism and most important of all, a reliable income from a significant other. It’s going to be hard work and a bumpy ride.

Advertising revenue is getting harder to come by as more bloggers enter the fray. And as for selling services to other bloggers, they are notoriously difficult to extract money from.

So while it might sound obvious, to make a business out of a blog, you need to treat it as a business. Saying that you’d like to make money from your site and adding a Google AdSense box is not a business plan. Think about who your paying customers are going to be and then make sure you’re actually offering something that they want and will pay for.

2. For some, blogging is a way in which they can travel the world for free on paid-for trips. I have to admit it’s a brilliant opportunity for young single 20 somethings to see the world. But is that a business model for the long term? No.

3. For others it’s a marketing tool – by having a place to show off their personal style of writing the owners hope to attract commissioned work. I would put myself into this camp.

4. And for a large number it’s a hobby or a way of simply letting others know they are still alive while travelling.

Whatever your reason for starting a blog, I learned that it’s important to keep in mind why you’re doing it and make sure that drives your actions. And that hasn’t always been easy for me.

18 months ago I wrote my first post – I’d been freelance for a month and decided to start a blog mainly to ensure that I kept up a discipline of writing SOMETHING every day. That first post was probably the most pointless thing I’ve ever done. How many people read it that day? Probably no-one. Actually looking back on it, that’s probably just as well.

Then, after 5 weeks, my first freebie. What did he want? He wanted a link to his website on my blog and was offering free nights in one of his city apartments in return. So I flew off to Tallinn with my wife for five nights.

Lesson one – opportunities can appear from the most unusual places. PRs, business owners and marketing folks don’t always do their homework before contacting you about press trips. You might even just happen to benefit from a ranking blip (we’ve all had them). Be prepared!

I soon found that in this game there are so many people out there who will approach you and make very tempting offers – most will sound very appealing but very few if any will bring you any income. I took two blog trips this year – one to Valencia and one to Galway. Both were very enjoyable and in both cases I met a good bunch of people. How did these jaunts benefit my business? I have to honest and admit that I didn’t give that more than a cursory thought as I jumped on the plane. There may be a link between the increased awareness of my blog and a couple of the projects I’ve got as a result; I don’t know.

Lesson two: Remember why you’re blogging and what you want to get out of it. Ask yourself: how will this trip help me achieve what I want? If it doesn’t, that’s not to say you shouldn’t go. It might be a trip to the place you’ve always wanted to visit. But there should be a clear benefit for you, even if that benefit is seeing a place you’ve always wanted to see.

Then I had my first big holiday since starting my blog. We spent a month in SE Asia and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to hone my blogging skills. I intended to post three or four times a week. But very soon, guess what? The holiday was too much fun and I didn’t want to waste big chunks of it staring at a computer. It became a chore and the frequency of my posts dropped off rapidly.

Lesson three: I learned that the life of the professional travel blogger is not for me. I prefer to travel with my wife on our own terms and worry about the blog when I get home. While my site traffic may suffer in the short term my holiday is a damn sight better as a result. What’s more important to me?

Before I end, a short word on standards. I have had several careers in my relatively short life, but all have required me to cross some qualifying threshold before I could start; whether it’s an academic qualification or passing a strict selection process. But here is one ‘job’, one label that we can attach to ourselves with absolutely no barrier; anyone here who is not a travel blogger can wake up tomorrow and decide “Today I am going to be a travel blogger”

So is that it? Can we just start writing what we want with total impunity? It’s very hard, even impossible to impose a set of standards on an unregulated activity. But there are some basic rules that all bloggers would do well to follow:

1. Don’t steal – Most of us have probably found our content on another site at some point – and it’s not nice. But maybe the part of stealing from other bloggers is too obvious to dwell on – what about those who just lift content straight from Wikipedia or elsewhere? Some of those I have observed don’t even offer a clue that the content is not theirs. It’s your prerogative to choose what to write about – but if you use other sources it is basic honesty to accredit them or you will get found out.

2. Give credit where it’s due – if someone has inspired a blog post, give them a nod in your article. It adds weight to your material and most people will appreciate knowing that another blogger has continued the debate that they started even if they have disagreed with them. We all get inspiration off others and that’s a good thing – but giving credit is important to maintaining your own integrity among the blogging community and fostering goodwill.

3. As bloggers we’re living in a glasshouse – and you know what they say about glass houses and throwing stones. We talk about blogging being a generous, supportive community and by and large it is. But there are examples of spats that start in blogs and then turn nasty in the comments and on Twitter; the original point of contention nearly always gets lost and the only thing that people remember is who was fighting. Accuse one person of doing something wrong or badly and you can be sure that there will be hundreds who will take great glee in letting you know when your halo slips and you make the same mistake yourself. Yes, sometimes it’s right to call another person to account in public; but many times a quiet personal word is better for all concerned.

In summary, the most important tip I can offer for the person who is thinking of starting up a travel blog is to work out what you’re doing it for, and keep that in mind so that your overall motive drives the decisions that you make along your journey. Beyond that, make sure you have fun with it – there’s really no excuse not to enjoy writing a travel blog. Oh, and if you’re serious about doing it for a living: marry someone rich.

Thanks also to SoMaFusion for the image that I’ve linked to above. Check out other great photos from the evening and from World Travel Market.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

21 Responses to “The business of blogging: Travel Blog Camp speech”

  1. A very good speech, and especially interesting for us, on the other side of the table. Dohop is always looking at ways to become involved with travel bloggers as it is you guys, and your readers, that are our target market: people who travel, and have a passion for seeing new places. Whether this be by buying advertising, sponsoring a trip or getting a review posted.

    We should really have been at Travel Blog Camp. We’ll make sure to go next year.

    November 11, 2010 at 10:51 am
  2. Great post! I really hope a lot of travel bloggers (and want to be travel bloggers) read it. I laughed reading about your holiday and blogging intentions – that’s me lately! I guess I have just had to think to myself ‘why did I take this trip?’ I am an ‘amateur’ blogger, so I had to remember the trip was something I was doing for fun, not something I was doing for business, so my priority was the fun, not the business.

    November 11, 2010 at 11:08 am
  3. great speech – so many lessons learnt in there, thanks for sharing :)

    November 11, 2010 at 11:32 am
  4. Brilliant post Andy, I hope the speech went well and I’m sorry to have missed it. Thank you for everything, I had a great couple of days meeting you and the other bloggers.

    November 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm
  5. Excellent speech Andy! Thanks so much for sharing it here – I almost feel as if I was in London with you guys. 😉 You’ve had me nodding my way through the post, especially the part about blogging while traveling. It’s hard to keep a balance and being clear about your direction as a travel blogger. I sometimes find myself stuck – not sure which way I really want to head to. At this point, I think I’ve fallen into the category of young 20 somethings traveling the world on paid-for trips and not considering whether it’s effective as a long-term plan. Thanks again for giving me a nudge just when I needed it (as always), I’ll be writing to you soon!

    November 11, 2010 at 12:37 pm
  6. I totally agree about the professional blogger’s life. If you spend half a day blogging, tweeting, uploading photos and videos, then you are not experiencing the destination as the potential travellers, you are writing for would. Just because something is possible, does not automatically make it good.

    Live reporting is best used when something time sensitive happens in the place you are visiting such as an earthquake or revolution. Otherwise a trip report is probably best read once it has all been edited and you can get a grasp of the complete story. Who for example can possibly follow everybody’s moves on a trip when they are in a different time zone. Some of the most boring Tweets (apart from mine) were from special hash tag trips. #Followmeatsea was a case in point. Although it helped me decide never to set foot on a cruise ship, even if it was unlikely before the trip.

    November 11, 2010 at 1:42 pm
  7. You make great points. I’m trying to find a balance between blogging when travelling yet having the time to enjoy the place I’m visiting. Sometimes I’ll write a few notes and then finish the blog posts when I get home. Although I’m starting to feel like that’s not the way to go because when I’m there, I have so much more to say at the time, especially if it’s a place I’m loving. My initial enthusiam sometimes wanes if I’m writing about it weeks later. I’m currently blogging just for fun but I would love to make a business out of it at some point.

    November 11, 2010 at 2:16 pm
  8. Hi Andy
    Thank you so much for sharing these points with us. Your thoughts on this subject are very refreshing and it’s great to get an insight to another Blogger’s world.
    Kind of wish I was a foot-loose-and-fancy 20-something!
    Good luck with your continuing journey.
    Gracias, Anna :)

    November 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm
  9. Lea #

    Very good points! I know from my own experience that travel blogging is a lot of work and so many people think it’s just a holiday with a little writing exercise. And, I fully agree with on the fun part – if you’re having fun writing, the post will be fun to read.

    November 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm
  10. It was a great speech during an awesome event! I would suggest all travel bloggers – no matter if just starting or with a longer experience – to read it. There’s a lot to think about, and sometimes it’s good to stop for a while and wonder if we are still on the main path and in the right direction.

    November 11, 2010 at 5:35 pm
  11. Thanks to all for the kind comments. Interesting to speak to so many folk at the event and hear many bloggers who start their blogs for fun and then develop a desire to monetise as the months pass and traffic picks up. Looking forward to the next get-together already!

    November 11, 2010 at 6:55 pm
  12. You have a way of telling it, like it is Andy. My blog is a hobby for myself, and I reckon your spot on with your view on blogging on the road, and it cutting into the enjoyment of where you are. If someone is running a blog and goes away for a month or so, I recommend making the time to write 4-5 posts, before leaving and then que them up for a once a week schedule. This at least will keep the post’s flowing, until you return. For others on a long term trip, there will be times that they will be able to get away for a couple of days to write some material. On an open ended trip, there is really no pressure for you to have to keep moving all the time. As time is what you’ve got plenty of, it’s generally money that is in short supply on these kinds of travels.

    November 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm
  13. Nice speech Andy and full of great points and hard earned lessons learned. I had not idea that travel blogging was a part of WTM. I really liked your points about having a reason to blog in mind. Although i do think there are more business models than what you mentioned…they are just waiting to be discovered. With such huge investments in travel products and tour agencies there MUST be a place for travel bloggers to earn some money.

    I hate writing and posting while on the road, unless I don’t have a fixed return date. Then I can use my time more freely…which is the dream after all :)

    November 11, 2010 at 11:49 pm
  14. Excellent post. I have to say I belong in all four categories. If I fail in the first three categories I will not consider my blog an overall failure. I hope people read and I hope it has value for people, but if not it is a hobby, and I enjoy doing it.

    November 12, 2010 at 1:19 am
  15. A nicely balanced talk and post Andy. I’d say I’m in your camp, I hope that my blog is a writing and social media shop window, but I lean towards No.2 as well, with the slight twist being a loose plan to go on trips which I can also pitch multiple paid stories on the back of.

    November 12, 2010 at 1:42 am
  16. i am glad your wrote this post as it emphasizes on what people should do on their blogs. am really against people who lift stuff from other peoples blogs

    November 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm
  17. Great speech and great meeting you finally in the flesh. Andy looks much better than his Twitter profile picture – you should grab that excellent pic Guido took of you and use it on your avatar!

    Back to the business of blogging, adding to your v thought provoking comments-yes, I am one of those who started blogging as an innocent hobby but now beginning to contemplate the opportunites of making a living from it.

    My other significant half is self employed too so we are in the same boat of swimming against the tide…..I have a part-time day job which pays well but my contract ends soon so I am keen to see where I go from here.

    I think travel bloggers are playing a big role in helping raise awareness of travel brands-with decreasing marketing budgets- we are more attractive, cost effective and offer great exposure.

    Problem is that most travel brands are clueless about how to engage best bloggers- this is where we need to have more 2 way conversations. That’s why Travel Blog Camp, your speech Andy, the thoughts of the travel companies there- their thoughts-was a priceless event.

    I think monetising your blog-its tough to make a living alone from that.

    What it does give you is credibility and thats what we bloggers must maximise and use to our advantage.

    Bloggers must learn to value themselves more-whatever their motive.

    We are a very special set of people-quite tech savvy- take videos, do podcasts and also are SEO savvy-so we offer a range of skills that are highly valued.

    Remember that when you speak next to any travel company- the lure of press trips is great fun but your time has value, your blog has a targetted readership which has value, your multimedia skillset has value- so sell yourself high not low.

    November 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm
  18. pam #

    This is candid and honest. I’m for that. I also think you’ve got the groups of bloggers divided up in a fairly accurate manner — 20 something pay for my trip traveler, display my wares/skills shop front (that’s me), and hobbyist.

    I’m always wondering about that first group — the small handful of full time travelbloggers who aren’t 20 something travelers. Those making their living of a mash up of selling technique to other bloggers, traveling on other people’s budgets, ad dollars…

    I think these folks are the exception in travel. I know a few writers who do all right as bloggers, but they’re running freelance careers in parallel with their blog efforts. The full time folks, well, I’m always casting a questioning eye their way. What’s REALLY going on there? It seems to me that I could make a go as a full time blogger if I a) had married differently b) gave up having a nice place to live or c) had chosen a different tech start up as an employer in 1999.

    Those things? Also not a business plan.

    November 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm
  19. This post comes to me at a good time, thank you for writing it.

    your speech highlights and confirms many of my thoughts and experiences I have had about travel blogging as I continue my efforts on Stay Adventurous. But the one thing that energizes me the most – this is all brand new. Travel Blogging, Social Media… it’s new. We are creating the rules, why not create them in our favor. I know I am.

    stay adventurous, Craig

    November 15, 2010 at 2:55 am


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