When I started this blog back in 2010, I started it entirely as a hobby. I never expected anyone except my parents to read it, and I certainly never dreamed that one day I would make money from it. And that was perfectly fine with me – I just needed an outlet for my travel stories, and a blog seemed like as good an option as anything else.
But as time went by and my audience miraculously began (and then continued) growing, I was faced with a decision: Was my blog going to remain just a hobby, or was it time to start thinking about it as a business and eventually a career?
It's not a question anyone else could have answered for me as every blog/blogger's trajectory is different. And I didn't make a decision right away. I kept traveling. I kept working. I eventually went back to school with the goal of getting a job in tourism.
But after I finished grad school in 2013, I decided that I DID want to keep traveling and blogging and I DID want to work towards making a full-time living as a blogger/freelancer.
It was one thing to make that decision. It was another entirely to put it into practice.
After grad school I traveled a bit more before finally settling down in Ohio and finding some contract work outside of the travel sphere to help bolster my bank account while I experimented with different ways to make money. I wasn't ready to fully dive-in and rely on just my blog and freelance work right away – I had tried that once while traveling and it had been a massive failure. Instead I took my time and slowly found my way to viewing my blog as a business.
Throughout the long process of going from hobby blogger to professional blogger, I did many things wrong. But I also did quite a few things right and thought now would be as good a time as any to share them with you:
1. Teaching myself things along the way
I didn't go to school for marketing or to get a business degree. I studied journalism and then tourism – I knew absolutely nothing about running a business when I started. But I'm a curious type of person, and I'm always up for trying and learning new things. One major thing that I did right was being open to learning skills along the way. I taught myself about SEO and affiliate marketing. I learned how to leverage and grow my social media accounts. I did my research on how and where to find freelance gigs. And I was okay with the fact that I didn't already know it all.
Could I go and teach a business course now? Well no, probably not. I still have a long way to go and lots more to learn – but I'm willing to do it.
2. Constantly trying new things
As with anything new that you're learning, you have to be flexible and open to trying new things. I started to monetize my blog back in 2011/12, when selling text links was the ideal way to make quick money. Most travel bloggers I knew did it, and back then it wasn't viewed as unfavorably as it is now.
As Google has updated its rules, though, selling text links for cash has fallen by the wayside; it's no longer a sustainable monetization method. This has meant that I've experimented a lot when it comes to ways to make money as a blogger. I've sold branded posts, tried different affiliate programs, joined countless influencer networks, written courses about travel blogging, and have been toying around with the idea of products (like ebooks).
It can be exhausting always trying to come up with new ideas, especially when you're relying on those ideas for your income while still wanting to please an audience of travel lovers who really don't care if/how you're making money. But you can never find out what works without trying a lot of different things.
3. Diversifying my income
Trying new things year after year has helped me diversify my income streams. The number one question I get asked when I tell people that I'm a blogger is “How do you make money doing that?” And the answer, of course, is not a simple one. I don't make money in just one way any more – but that's actually a really good thing. Having a series of income streams means that if I lose one, I won't go broke or have to stress too much about how I'll pay next month's rent.
These days, I make money the following ways:
- Affiliate marketing (I use Amazon, Booking.com, CJ, and am an affiliate for some blogging courses)
- Branded content on my blog (i.e. a company pays me to write about a product, destination, campaign, etc.)
- Freelance writing (for other travel websites)
- Influencer campaigns (usually on social media)
- Course sales (my TBS course about working with brands/tourism boards)
- Advertising (I still accept to odd ad here and there if it's a good fit for my blog, and also sell blogger ad spots)
Some months I may make a few hundred here and a few hundred there, but ultimately all those hundreds add up to an income I can comfortably live on.
4. Not undervaluing what I have to offer
When I first started to monetize my blog, it was really difficult to know how much to charge for certain things. How much should a sponsored post be? What about a banner ad? Are you supposed to charge to do giveaways? Again, it was an educational process for me, and one that I'm STILL learning about. Thankfully my fellow travel bloggers have always been willing to help and offer guidance along the way.
In the end, I settled on the sorts of advertising/income streams that I felt comfortable with, and then had to consider how much each of those was worth based on the time/effort involved on my part, the size of my audience, etc. The toughest part has been not undervaluing myself. When I went on my first paid campaign for a destination, I WAY underpriced myself simply because I had no benchmark to set my price against. Similarly, I have to remind myself to update my advertising/branded content prices as my audience continues to grow.
5. Learning when to say no
Especially when you're first starting out, it can be really tempting to say yes to everything – every press trip, every text link, every offer of a free product to try out. But you have to learn when to say no. Like no, I will not place a link to your spammy online gambling site even if you are willing to pay me $800. Or no, I am not interested in writing a sponsored post about a destination I've never visited, no matter how easy it would be. Or no, sorry, that super luxury food-focused press trip just isn't quite the right fit for my audience.
Even though it would be great to say yes to everything (and potentially make quite a bit more money), you do have to decide where to draw the line and then stick to it. It's not always easy, but is so important to running a healthy blog-as-a-business.
6. Investing in my website
I was just as cheap as every other travel blogger out there when I was first starting out. I got the cheapest web hosting possible, was using a free WordPress theme, and was reluctant to shell out any money that I didn't think I could immediately make back. Why? Well because I wasn't *making* much money, of course, and so it was difficult to justify spending any.
But as time has worn on, I've learned what every business owner at some point learns: you have to spend money to make money. In the past year alone I have purchased better web hosting, a new theme, a couple online courses, premium social media plugins and tools, and more. Sure, it stings a bit when some of those automatic payments come out of my Paypal account, but I've learned that it really IS worth it to spend more for quality products and services, especially since my site is now my lifeline to a full-time income.
7. Staying true to my voice (even as it has evolved)
Lastly, through all the experimenting and learning and monetizing, I've tried really hard to stay true to my voice and ever-evolving travel style. When I was strictly a backpacker traveling around Europe, I wasn't accepting super luxury press trips or hotel stays. Now that I'm a bit older and enjoy more comforts when I travel, I still focus on realistic travel – meaning I go to destinations and book tours and stay in accommodation that the average reader of my site can still afford and enjoy.
And I always keep my readers in mind when accepting anything sponsored on this site. If I'm going on a free trip, you'd better believe it's going to be one I would 100% pay for myself. If I'm going to write a branded post, I'm going to write it my way, in my voice, and in a way that (I hope) my readers will still enjoy. I try to stay real – hopefully it comes across!
Travel Blog Success
If you want to start out (and continue) on the right foot, then you have to invest in staying educated about what’s happening in the blogging world. I’ve been at this blogging thing for nearly 6 years now, and yet I’m STILL learning new things every single week.
A good place to start is with Travel Blog Success, which is one of the most comprehensive travel blogger membership programs I’ve come across. TBS membership gets you two different full-length courses (one on travel writing, and one on travel blogging), as well as access to a kickass secret Facebook group, perks and discounts on conferences and blogging tools, free webinars, and more.
If you're interested in turning YOUR hobby blog into a business, then now is the perfect time to take advantage and do it. Get started now!
(And yes, if you buy through my affiliate link I’ll get a commission from your sign-up. But I legit think TBS is awesome – and I’ll see you around in the Facebook group!)
Do you have questions about turning a blog into a business? Leave them in the comments below!