So much advice in business and entrepreneurship tells you to be the very best at what you do, or to get a big first-mover advantage to stand out. Much of that advice also tells you to focus on one line of business and don’t try to juggle too many things.
For the creative class who makes a real living, however, much of that advice should be ignored. For those of us working as travel writers and bloggers, success in multiple areas is what keeps the bills paid. The multiple streams of income from things we’re “pretty good at” contribute to an overall whole that enables us to sleep at night.
Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash
Few of us are #1 at anything, but we’re competent enough and different enough in some areas to stand out and get noticed. Show me a creative person who’s a big success in the modern world and I’ll show you someone who has 8, 10, or 12 income streams going. From rappers to directors to musicians and yes bloggers, there are very few one-trick ponies who got great at a single thing and said, “I’m set.”
A Combination of Skills Can Trump Excellence at One
When I was in middle school and high school, I wasn’t anywhere close to the best in any sport I played. On the track team, I wasn’t even the best at any particular event. But there was one track & field contest where I totally kicked ass: the decathlon.
Still a major event at the Olympics, this is the contest where you add up the scores from 10 different events and whoever has the overall best score is the champ. I rarely won any of them individually: not the high jump, not the discus, not the pole vault, not the 110-meter hurdles. I was “pretty good” at almost all of them though, so in 8th, 9th, and then 10th grade I got first place by a fairly wide margin, beating out all the jocks who were really good at one or two things. This P.E. class string of victories didn’t exactly turn me into prom king, but it did teach me a lesson that keeps coming back to me now.
Being “good enough” at a bunch of things and getting them done is a lot better than getting extremely good at one narrow skill.
I’ll admit, this kind of general competence won’t get you very far if you want to make $200K programming Ruby on Rails, be lead violinist in an orchestra, or be a world class big wave surfer. It’s extremely useful though if you want to make a real living as a travel writer.
There are not a whole lot of advantages in being the best at any aspect of travel writing, blogging, or TV hosting. Even if your new book is showered with glowing reviews calling you “the best travel writer of the contemporary age,” you’re probably going to be making half the amount of money of a competent blogger covering a profitable niche. A top-of-the-field professional travel photographer will pull in less cash than some bikini-clad Instagram star using her phone to take selfies. A host with a nationally broadcast TV show that wins awards is often earning less than a reasonably successful YouTube vlogger making goofy videos in one take.
Let’s be honest, there are some pretty crappy writers and photographers out there who have blogs bringing in six figures annually. Even in the freelance world, most editors would rather commission a decent writer who meets deadlines than a brilliant one who doesn’t. Quality only has a loose correlation with income. What does have a correlation with income is a strong professional work ethic and a willingness to keep banging out what you’re working on, week after week.
#1 is Overrated
You don’t even have to be “the best” at covering a certain subject to succeed as a blogger. Maybe when my Cheapest Destinations Blog launched in 2003 I could claim to be the best budget travel blogger—there were only about five of us, after all. But back then “the best” was lucky to get 300 visits a day. Now I get 10 times that many visitors many days, even though there are at least 200 times more travel bloggers talking about traveling on a budget. My blog is different enough to have an edge.
It’s more a matter of meeting a need than dazzling everyone with skill. There are bloggers pulling in a nice chunk of change just talking about overwater bungalows, food at Disney parks, a single state, a single city, or full-time travel in an RV with kids. The #1 travel blog in the world is about…frequent flier miles.
At the same time though, there are lots of bloggers with general travel blogs who do quite well, even though there are 500 others doing roughly the same general travel thing. Each one that stands out is different enough to make an impression. The pie keeps getting bigger, so there are plenty of slices to go around. It’s easier if you’re covering a specific subject area that attracts a tribe, but if you just give pretty good advice about a whole bunch of different things, that’s okay too if you keep at it for years and are competent.
You don’t need to be #1. You just need to show up and do good work, consistently and over the long run.
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