*I don't talk about the business side of blogging much mainly because I don't have a lot to say on it and I don't want to bore you guys with the very unglamorous side of this travel lifestyle. So, if you aren't a travel blogger and can't imagine why anybody would want to turn this into a business, I highly suggest that you check out our recent posts on fabulous, yummy Istanbul. But, if you're in the biz or a newbie travel blogger (and I get a lot of emails from newbies so this post is largely for you guys), maybe you'll find this interesting.
A year or so ago, I firmly put my foot down and said that I did not want to be a professional travel blogger. I didn't want to be tied to my computer, forced to churn out blog posts and articles when I had other things I wanted to do, and required to take on shady advertisers and post sponsorers. And, frankly, I thought that being a professional travel blogger sounded awful silly. I couldn't imagine myself answering the question, "What do you do?" with "I blog."
But, this just goes to show that one should never make such firm foot-in-mouth sort of statements, because, here we are a year later, and, now, what do I do? I blog.
Okay, so, this isn't my full-time job but we are making a decent supplemental income from the blog. Yes, this blog (and also our other blog). And, if you're surprised, believe me, you're not the only one. I'm not entirely sure how this happened, either.
The Cash Bit
If you are a blogger, then you've probably heard a whole lot of screaming and teeth gnashing about how you should or shouldn't make cash while blogging. Some people say that e-books, apps, and products are the best way to make money while others swear by banner ads and sponsored posts. At TBU (where I did manage to do more than just eat), I met folks who make a living almost entirely on affiliate sales (that is, they provide a link to a company and the company gives them a portion of the sale in cash.) We do a little of affiliate sales, banner ads, and sponsored posts, but not all that much.
So, cash, yes, we make some of that --- somewhere around $1000 a month between our two sites --- but, we could and should be making a lot more if we properly monetized our sites. Why don't we monetize better?
- We have strange principles. There's a lot of talk about ethics-this-and-ethics-that, but the bottom line is that every blogger has to decide for himself/herself how comfortable they feel in accepting advertisements. The line that we draw is that we require any advertisements on this site to be clearly listed and labeled as such, either by calling it a "sponsor" or "advertiser." Lots of advertisers don't like this rule and won't work with us (and, yes, this means that we don't accept contextual text links.)
- We demand perfectionism. One of the best ways to make money as a blogger is to create static sites and sell them or use them for Google ads. We haven't done this largely because we demand that every site we produce be "perfect." Perfect means that we need to spend tens of hours fixing up the design, content, and material, so we don't have enough time in the day to work on more than a few sites. Perfectionism is a problem in a quantity-oriented business, which blogging is, to a large extent.
- We don't seriously consider this to be a business. This is, I think the biggest reason we don't make more money. At TBU this year, I listened to all these folks talking about how they leverage affiliate links and newsletters, partnership affiliations, and more, and, all I could think to myself was, "Gosh, Patrick and I are complete idiots. Why aren't we doing this?" A month later, we still haven't integrated more affiliate links into our site and I think that it's simply because we aren't serious about making money out of our sites. We have "real" jobs --- Patrick works as a software consultant and I work as a legal consultant and writer while we're on the road --- so any income we make on our sites is simply a nice little bonus. This money isn't for our survival and, because of that, we aren't so focused on churning out a lot of advertising sales and e-books.
In fact, I get this question all the time: "How do you make money blogging?" The very simple one sentence answer is "Treat your blog as a business." If you do that, then you'll make money (maybe not a lot but you'll definitely make some.) We treat our blog as a semi-business: it's a place where we make money and work with partners but it's also our creative playground. And, because we treat it as a semi-business, we only make okay money on it.
The Sponsorship Bit
If I had to choose between my advertisers and sponsors, I would choose my sponsors every single time. In fact, we've mostly oriented ourselves to working with sponsors --- we get somewhere around $1,500 worth of sponsored travel every month --- rather than relying on advertising because we love our sponsors.
Why work with sponsors? At the beginning, we started working with sponsors simply because people offered us sponsorships and we were so excited that people wanted to give us FREE! SPONSORED! things that we didn't stop to think about why we would work with them.
Now, we partner with sponsors because we enjoy providing value to companies who we value. You could say that we're getting free stuff . . . but, actually, none of it is free. We provide value for these sponsorships.
In fact, sponsorships are a LOT of work --- a lot more work than simply putting a banner ad or text link on our site. Whenever I take on a sponsor, we go in full blogging mode, meaning that I'm writing notes the entire time we are on a sponsored tour or activity and tweeting/Facebooking about it, and Patrick is taking constant pictures. A gear review means that we test the gear thoroughly and put it through its paces. Afterwards, I spend a lot of time crafting sponsored posts to ensure that we are honest, unbiased, and completely accurate, while also providing value to our sponsors. On average, I spend about six hours crafting a sponsored post (and if I go on a press trip, I normally allocate one to two weeks of coverage to that destination, meaning that I probably spend forty hours working on sponsored posts for a one week press trip) versus four hours on a non-sponsored post. I also bump sponsored posts up on our post calendar so we don't take more than a few sponsorships each month otherwise the entire site would just be one big sponsored party, which we definitely don't want.
What does this mean? This means that I try really hard not to take on a sponsorship if there's a possibility that we're going to hate the tour, activity, or product. I don't want to rip a company apart on our site especially if they've provided us a product to review. In the last year of working with sponsors, we were only once unhappy about a sponsored tour, which is relatively good odds.
We love our sponsors because we carefully choose them. Of the two or more emails I get each week offering me sponsorships, I only take one. I reject a lot of sponsorships because the company isn't focused on our target audience of food-loving travelers and I reject some of them because I can't see us enjoying their services. We don't take on sponsorships simply because they're there . . . we take them on because we believe in these companies and would be using them anyway.
Ahem, The Future
I'm going to say this straight out: we don't have a business plan (yes, I know we should) and we don't know what the future holds with respect to this blog. I suspect it won't change all that much from what I'm currently doing but I've learned better than to make firm foot-in-the-mouth statements that will come back and bite me.
The thing is, I love talking with y'all, sharing our stories and advice, and finding this amazing community of people who care passionately about food and travel. The money we make and the sponsorships we get are just a nice little bonus hiding behind something I would be doing anyway.