Every time I see a colleague share a blogging accomplishment on social media, the usual chorus of voices soon follows. More often than not, among those voices are a few statements from non-blogging friends along the lines of “wow, I should open a blog!”
Ignoring the fact that these statements often come from the same people who do not know the difference between the words their, there, and they're, I have to take a moment to chuckle to myself because to the outside observer looking in, blogging is easy. For anyone who actually runs a blog for a living (and even those attempting to do so), its pretty safe to say that the exact opposite is true.
Today I am going to share with you every single field I had to become an expert in to get this website to where it is now. Keep in mind the word expert, because there are also countless other topics I only stumble through out of necessity just to grow the site.
If you think it is easy to start a travel blog, you're not going to like this.
Blogging is a Business- And I'm My Own Team
There is a misconception about running a professional blog (or in our case, several blogs) in that all you have to do is write a blog post, hit publish, and call it a day. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Sure, writing a handful of blog posts a week is easy when you are your own boss. For the most part you have no deadlines and can do whatever you please (I often spend under five hours a week actually writing), but this is a small drop in the bucket on what a professional blogger does on any given week.
Case in point, I've had weeks go by where I haven't published a single post at all, but I was still working 40-60 hours on our websites.
How does that happen?
Well, every few months I spend a fair bit of time on site maintenance where I have to look at page speeds, troubleshoot plug-in compatibility issues, investigate new plug-in options, work on CSS coding to make the site look pretty, remove broken links, delete old posts, and overall do everything I can ensure the site runs the way I want it to.
Don't know HTML and CSS? You better learn fast!
This is completely ignoring search engine optimization, which also requires periodic work through optimizing keywords in articles to ensure they are placed high in Google's algorithm to actually be read by others. This is a science people earn six (and in some cases, seven) figures on by itself and takes years to understand.
If you want in, you better learn this one as it will control everything you do.
We also run no fewer than four social media channels for each blog, and every network has its own audience we have to reach on a daily basis to stay relevant. Some are easy (we set Twitter on auto pilot) while others require daily attention (such as Facebook where we take a very hands on approach). Then there is also advertising and figuring out how to stay ahead of the ever-changing algorithms the networks put in place to limit your organic reach.
Suffice it to say, posting an update is the easy part. Building an audience and getting value out of it, not so much.
And while we're on the topic of social media, you tend to only do well on the networks if you take amazing photos which means spending countless hours learning photography (read our Sony a6000 review here), buying thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars of equipment, and becoming a master at editing photos in Photoshop or Lightroom.
I've probably spent more money on cameras in the last ten years than some of my friends have spent on a house down payment, and spent enough time learning to have completed a Bachelors degree program in Photography.
Oh, I'm also a travel blogger– so at some point I have to do that too in addition to exploring Pittsburgh for my city blog (a great travel blogging niche). We'll see where I can fit all that in, because I haven't been on a real trip in 1.5 years, and yet I'm still working.
Oh yeah, traveling is expensive too, so unless you're living off comps be prepared to wave goodbye to another $5,000-$20,000 per year just to generate your content!
This is all before earning a single penny through working with partners, where I have to fight just about every single time to get the money our ad package is worth (a good percent of which goes to paying the bills to keep the website online in the first place- not money in my pocket).
You try arguing with someone who is offering $20 for something you normally sell for $1,000.
I'm sure there is a whole lot more I'm missing, but the point of the matter is that writing is not the only thing that matters in blogging. To be honest it is probably the least important thing in blogging, and we've seen countless great writers go absolutely nowhere as they did not have the necessary skills to get their amazing content noticed.
To truly succeed, you have to be a skilled computer programmer, marketer, social media manager, SEO expert, photographer, and salesperson to make it all work by yourself and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Where large companies have huge budgets to hire a team of experts to fill these roles, you have to do it all yourself (unless you have a budget to hire others as well), and in many cases you have to be just as good, if not better than their teams just to get by.
Are you second guessing yourself yet? You should be.
Why Most (Travel) Blogs Fail
Ignoring every single point I mentioned above, there is actually a huge problem in blogging in that most open up their websites with a goal or project in mind. For us, as is the case with nearly everyone in the travel blogging field, this was taking a long-term trip with the hopes of becoming a digital nomad along the way.
It is easy to open a website and say “I want to write about my trip and turn it into a business,” but there are a few problems with that.
First, when you're on the road you are too busy traveling to put the necessary work in to get the site where you know it could (and should) be. Want to become an expert in all the above topics we mentioned while traveling? Good luck! We couldn't do it while traveling, and nearly all of our knowledge of those areas came in the months and years we were at home.
Second, and perhaps more depressing, is that most blogs grow cumulatively over time. This means that you'll be more popular today than you were yesterday, stronger this month than you were last month, and so on. The best time for your site will almost always be the present.
So what happens? Would-be bloggers who don't hit their goal of digital independence return home, finally have a decent following as well as a few new skills, and then quit because they don't know what to do once they run out of content.
We've seen this happen hundreds of times, and that is only from the bloggers we know about.
Of those who don't reach their goals before their trip ends, only those who are bull-headed like us succeed. But let me tell you something? I'm only comfortable using that word now- after eight years, two long-term trips, over $125,000 spent (admittedly, over 90% of that was actually spent traveling), and countless days writing about travel (all without actually being on the road). We are only now starting to see a good return on our time and investment to where I can safely say this site is a success.
Considering you could have a PhD in any field you want or have significant investments in the stock market over the same period of time with the same initial investment, you really have to take a moment to ask yourself- is it worth it?
For us it is. But for beginners there is a long road ahead that most are simply not prepared for.
It Is Still My Dream Job
Now that my rant is over, I really do need to take a step back and say that blogging is a dream job- if you can make it work.
Nothing beats opening your email and seeing an ad inquiry request (for real money) or getting a notification from an affiliate program you are apart of that you just made a $10, $25, or $150 sale. Even better is when it happens every week or, as we're now targeting, every single day. That's when you know you're in business with something great.
If you are sitting there at home with the dream of being a blogger just because a friend of yours received a comment from a stranger on a random article of theirs, they made $50 last month, or even got invited on a press trip, stop right there. There is nothing wrong with blogging as a hobby, but if you are wanting to turn one into a business I can guarantee you that 99.9% of us are still behind where we should be after all of the time, money, and effort we've put into our sites. For those looking in from the outside, those odds aren't great in the slightest.
Can you make money blogging? Hell yes. It is actually quite easy to open a blog and, with some degree of luck and persistence, make some money from it (read our Mediavine review to find out how we make the bulk of our income). But can you make it your career? Probably not, and you'll likely get bored with it before you become an expert in any of the fields we mentioned above and see any real return for your effort. For me, I'll continue to chug along until I make it happen- I'm just too persistent to have any other alternative.
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Blogging Resources We Love
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