What’s going to make you a successful travel writer or blogger in 2015?
I’ll answer that question in more detail when I put out an updated second edition of Travel Writing 2.0 mid-year, but in the meantime here’s a quick index card version.
Kristin and I have interviewed a few dozen more writers and bloggers this past year so we have their wisdom to start with, and we see the patterns and the themes that keep coming up. I encourage you to spend some time in the archives to really read and absorb. I’ve also spent time with probably close to 100 travel writers and bloggers this past year at two TBEX conferences, three other conferences, and some group press trips. I see who is successful, who is not, and the why of both.
The big reason that I feel like I know what I’m talking about though is that my cash flow is looking pretty good these days. Living in Mexico helps, for sure, but I will likely be past the $100K mark for the year when I tally up earnings at tax time. That makes it possible to actually support a family with this gig and put some money away. Those of us who are doing that as the main bread winner are a rare breed it seems.
If you’re serious about becoming a six-figure writer, blogger, or web publisher, there’s no short cut to success. Here’s the path though, with a few maxims to heed:
This is a sales job
“I’m a writer, not a salesperson,” says the poor travel writer who is always traveling but always broke. Sorry, but you can’t be one without being the other—not if you ever hope to make more than a pittance.
If you’re a freelancer, you need to be pitching new story ideas regularly, often to people you’ve never met. (In sales, this is dubbed a “cold call.”) If you’re a blogger, you’ll never make anything beyond three figures if you’re relying on passive sales methods where you just paste in some code and hope for the best. You need to strike deals, form alliances, convince partners to spend money with you. That requires things like pitches, presentations, negotiations—in other words, sales. If you’re an author, you either need to sell to an agent/publisher or you need to sell to a tribe of followers.
If we’re not working for a corporation and getting a salary just for showing up, we’re salespeople. Embrace that and you’ve got a shot at success. If you think that’s odd or icky, go get this book: To Sell is Human.
The hustlers get the spoils
Those who sit around waiting for things to fall in their laps generally don’t do very well. Bloggers who completely rely on passive income methods (Adsense, network ads, affiliate sales) are usually not going to make enough to pay a mortgage and put away money for retirement. They’ll be constantly just getting by instead of getting ahead.
Hustlers send invoices. They ask for orders. They pitch deals. They create products that people pay for. They know that if it’s a real job or business, that means asking for money. Otherwise that’s called a hobby.
Professionalism often trumps skill
Ask me which writers I like working with the best as editor of multiple websites and group blogs, and I’ll tell you it’s the ones I know I can depend on every time. They meet deadlines. They hand things in already formatted correctly. The links in their blog posts work because they’ve checked them. They don’t give me excuses about why their photos are crappy. They don’t make the same stupid mistakes a half dozen times after being corrected twice.
Sure, I love a brilliant bit of prose as much as the next guy and since Perceptive Travel is a narrative publication, I want great travel stories, not just so-so ones. If that brilliant writer is a pain in the ass who can’t get the basics right, however, I’ll gladly pass on the potential award winner and go with someone who is easier to work with. Ask 100 editors out there and probably 95 of them will tell you the same thing. Do what you said you’ll do, in the manner the boss wants you to do it, and success will follow. It’s not really that complicated.
If you’re a blogger, it’s a given these days that you can string sentences together, avoid typos, and take good photos. It’s also a given that you will deliver what you promise to PR people, your readers, and people who buy what you sell. That’s the starting point, not some lofty goal.
Being unique is required, not optional
Your angle and your ideas are your main currencies in the freelance writing world. Increasingly they’re the secret sauce in what makes one travel blogger stand out over another. This is a very crowded field with no real barriers to entry. Each TBEX conference has anywhere from 500 to 800 travel bloggers attending. And that’s just the ones willing to invest the time and money to come!
If you’re a freelancer pitching the same ho-hum stories we’ve already seen a hundred times, you’ll get a lot of ignored or rejected queries. If you’re yet another blogger writing about the experiences of you traveling around the world, yaawwwwnnnn. Give us a unique angle, a niche that you can own, a point of view we haven’t see before. Be different and be memorable.
Multiple income streams make you strong
You’ll hear a lot of entrepreneurs and success coaches pound home the word “focus,” that you should concentrate on one thing and do it really well. OK, fine if your goal is to launch a new product or put out an app that’s going to go viral. If you’re a writer though, throw that advice out the window because focus is overrated. As a freelancer, blogger, author, or (preferably) all three, you can’t rely on one thing to pay the bills and get ahead. You need to be constantly tweaking, trying, testing, and pitching to cobble together enough streams to add up to a nice income. Unless you go get a cubicle job with a salary—which comes with its own set of problems—you need a portfolio or joblets that are going to keep the cash flow going.
But hey, that’s not a bad thing. I’ve been reading this heady, philosophical, and intense book pictured here, Antifragile, where in one chapter the author celebrates the life of a freelancer and the self-employed. Corporate jobs are fragile, but these are the opposite. They can actually benefit from upheaval and chaos. Sure, you might have a terrible month now and then, but you’ll have others that make up for it. When the corporate person loses that editor’s job, which happens every week, their income drops close to zero. (And opportunities open up there for freelancers/contractors.) When you lose one gig, you just go get another gig. It’s a roller coaster, but your income doesn’t drop to zero unless you’ve made a very bad career choice. Your future is in your own hands, not someone else’s.
Investing in your business (and your sanity) is essential
I put this slide below in my TBEX Europe presentation on productivity for bloggers. Over and over again, I see that the writers who struggle the most are the ones that are the cheapest when it comes to their own business. They don’t pay for that premium theme, that software service, that graphic artist, or that web design expert. They try to be a superhero and do everything themselves, even though that brings their hourly income from where it could be down to barely above minimum wage.
If your time is worth $20 or more an hour, which is pretty much needs to be if you’re living in a developed country with high expenses, then you shouldn’t spend your time on things you could farm out for less. There are experts around the globe who are more than willing to take on those tasks for a fraction of what you should be earning as a content creator. Part with some of your hard-earned money to invest in your business and you’ll almost surely earn more this year as a result. If you want a jaw-dropping look at why you shouldn’t be spending time figuring out how to change hosts, install a new blog theme, convert your e-book for Kindle, or design a logo, surf around Fiverr.com for ten minutes. Follow this link and get a free $5 gig on me!
You don’t know everything: keep learning
How many books did you buy and read last year? How many self-improvement/knowledge gaining articles or reports did you read? How many conferences or courses did you attend?
Now, compare that to how much time you spent farting around on virtual water cooler platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Are you really spending your time learning and getting better, or are you just coasting along hoping your luck will turn? Here’s a clue: having 5,000 more social media followers is not going to double your income. Getting advice from people who are already earning six figures will.
So start here: sign up for the free Travel Writing Success Newsletter
Let’s rock the year!