Lesli Peterson, Owner, Editor-in-Chief & CEO of 365AtlantaFamily, made her way to Atlanta over 20 years ago after living in Germany, Japan and six U.S. states. After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. She now serves as the Family Travel Ambassador for Georgia in addition to managing her blog. She joins us this week to talk about the benefits of finding focus, knowing your limitations and surrounding yourself with the right people.
How did you get started as a travel writer and what were the steps to launching your 365 Atlanta Family Blog?
I’ve always traveled. I even went to high school in Tokyo, but I never considered writing about it. Then college came, along with a 20-year career at a software firm. When I had my oldest child, I quit work and was bored out of my mind. We couldn’t travel the world every day, but we could hunt out local adventures…and we did so with a vengeance.
My first blog was a “baby book” for the family in 2008. Then friends started reading it. After that I tried doing it with another friend – that was short lived. I wrote for Homeschool.com and for Trekaroo (where they really taught me how to write about travel.)
That led to my current blog, which was the first time I treated my writing endeavors as a business. I think having a technical background (and a technical husband) has helped considerably. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else. But, I’m still a technical nerd at heart – I’ll always be better at the SEO side of the business than the writing side.
I’m constantly badgering travel bloggers to find a focus instead of trying to cover everything everywhere, but what they want to do travel-wise often trumps what is best for their future. What kind of results have you seen focusing on just one city and trips from there?
I focus on what’s best for the business. If I do that, then I can easily pay for the trips I want to go on with the cash that comes in from the blog (and I can visit without having to work the whole time I am there.)
We take an oil-slick approach to the Southeast, building expertise, credibility and intentionality in the eyes of Google as we grow. First, we focused on Atlanta…then Georgia…and now we are spreading to the drive markets.
This approach has garnered us a spot on the Top 50 Travel Bloggers list from Matt at The Expeditioner because of our reach of about 365K readers a month (and growing,) as well as a monthly income that affords me a great team and a salary. Our ad network revenues have grown so well that we’ve priced ourselves out of the local ad market….which is a good problem to have. No fear, though. As local experts, we reap the benefits of special projects with large organizations like Georgia State Parks, Georgia Aquarium, etc.
I would agree, Tim, focus is everything. It doesn’t have to be on a specific region, like 365AtlantaFamily. But long-term planning with precision is key.
Has your specialization led to any freelance opportunities writing for others?
I’m the Family Travel Ambassador for the Georgia tourism department (GDEcD) and for the world’s largest oceanic playground, Georgia Aquarium. I adore both of those freelance opportunities, and wouldn’t trade them for the world; however, it is not something I seek out.
A large magazine assignment last year prompted me to rethink freelancing. Most of my blog articles bring $1k-7K per year – every year. A freelance assignment can’t compare with that, so I generally turn them down. It’s financially advantageous for me to invest in my site (and my treasured long-term partners.)
I know you have several team members and contributors. When did you realize you couldn’t do it all yourself and how did you go about finding help?
Ha. I realized I couldn’t do it all about a year in…but it took me longer than that to be able to afford the help. I also wanted to be smart about it. I spend just as much time (maybe more) doing upfront SEO research as I do writing an article, so I needed team members who would be willing to work within those parameters.
The best move I’ve made to date was bringing Sue Rodman into the business in August 2016 as Managing Editor. She is brilliant….in all the ways I am NOT. I think the best thing any business owner can do is to know their weaknesses, and to partner with someone they trust to fill those gaps. The site is exponentially stronger because of our synergies.
Finding exceptional contributors is a difficult and constant task. When you find them, pay them as well as you can. The rate we pay our freelancers is hard on us. It could take a year to make back the money we pay, but I know that talent is hard to find, and that this short-term sacrifice will reap long-term rewards…so we do it.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to cover their own city or region in depth. Where do they start and how do they decide what to cover?
Chances are, there are multiple bloggers covering your city (plus the CVB) so you must find your own voice and your own style. I don’t mean a style of writing – I mean style of travel and exploration. Start with what comes naturally – what you love.
For us, it’s hiking, exploring the outdoors, and seeking out the weird stuff. Our audience base originated with that content. We began with articles about the state and national parks, hiking trails, outdoor adventure, roadside attractions, etc. Once we had a solid foundation, we expanded, but always with our roots in mind.
Now, when we write about an adventure (next door or next state over) we always include outdoor fun and crazy gems we find. It comes naturally to us, so it’s easy to continue in this manner. And we attract that sort of traveler. Our “brand” is unique, outdoor family adventure.
Bottom line: Start with what you love and build a base with that same passion.
I’ve got 3 days in Atlanta, 4 more days in Georgia, and a mid-range family budget. What should I do?
First, grab a copy of our book 101+ FREE Things To Do In Atlanta. It will save you money and time with tips on visiting Atlanta Metro’s favorite attractions for free. In addition, families can learn how to beat the heat with free pool time and splash fountains, or experience nature at places like Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Henry County.
Take in a museum (Fernbank Natural History Museum is our favorite for families,) climb to Skyline Park at Ponce City Market for delicious grub and fantastic views, or check out Georgia Aquarium. You can save a bundle by going after 4pm on their Imagination Nights.
Finally – don’t stop with just Atlanta. Georgia is filled to the brim with all sorts of exciting things to do. Be sure to check out our list of the 50 Best Things to do in the Peach State.
Stay overnight at Lenn Foote Inn, where you must hike 5 miles to get to your bunk near the start of the Appalachian Trail. Stay at an all-inclusive private island called Little St Simons Island, where naturalists will keep you busy on the beach. Take on the longest urban white water rafting excursion in the world in Columbus, or snorkel in the planet’s most bio-diverse river basin – the Conasauga River. Georgia is so much more than you might expect!
Lesli relishes the discovery of obscure, offbeat and unwonted places, and she will chat up any willing stranger to uncover a new secret locale. She has two kiddos (Cooper and Elliot) and two bonus teens, and she’s happily married to her soul mate. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand. Connect with Lesli on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Interview conducted by Tim Leffel, posted by Terri Marshall.