10 years and more than 10 million readers. Those are the milestones A Dangerous Business celebrated in 2020. Wow!
It's no secret that the trajectory of this website was unexpected. When I started this blog in 2010, it was purely as a hobby. I was longing for a creative outlet, and for somewhere to write; never did I expect that A Dangerous Business would someday become my full-time job!
I've already rounded up some of my favorite travel memories and blog posts from the last 10 years, so today I thought I'd focus on the business side of things.
When I started this blog, I was a fairly recent college graduate with a BA in journalism. The classes I'd taken in college revolved around journalism and literature and editing; I knew absolutely nothing about running a website, let alone my very own business.
But here we are today, with me running a very successful business and loving it.
I'd like to share some of the lessons I've learned from my decade of travel blogging. But first, a quick history of A Dangerous Business and how it transformed from a hobby into business.
Blogging as a business timeline
- February 2010 A Dangerous Business was born as a free WordPress site; it was purely a hobby while I worked full-time as a newspaper editor.
- July 2010 I decided to take the blog seriously, and purchased the dangerous-business.com domain name.
- Early 2011 Made my first $100 from the blog, and got my first comped tour.
- August 2011 Quit my newspaper job and went back to school to get a master's degree in tourism management.
- January 2012 Partnered with a destination for the very first time.
- Late 2012 Got invited on my first big press trip with traditional journalists.
- May 2013 Finished grad school and decided to try becoming a digital nomad.
- July 2013 Began a round-the-world trip that was meant to last 6-8 months.
- October 2013 Discovered I hated being a digital nomad and went back home.
- Early 2014 Got a part-time remote job with a SAAS company.
- November 2015 Became a full-time travel blogger and freelancer.
- April 2016 Landed my first paid campaign with a destination.
- April 2017 Gave in and added advertising to my site and immediately regretted not doing it sooner.
- September 2018 Won an SATW award for my blog.
- November 2019 Hired contractors for the first time; giving over some control of some aspects of my business was tough, but it was absolutely the right move!
Now, in 2020, my blog is not only my career, but it's a career more successful than I ever imagined it could be. In the last couple of years, it's gone from being a way to pay (most of) my bills and help me travel to a full-fledged business that not only allows me to travel independently, but that also allows me to save for retirement, make philanthropic donations that matter to me, and support others in this industry, too.
I want to reiterate, though, that this has literally been a decade-long process. Success didn't come over night, and I'm STILL learning things as I go.
Here are some of the most important things I've learned:
10 lessons from a decade of travel blogging
1. The only constant really is change
When I get interviewed about my career as a blogger, people are always curious to know how the blogging landscape has changed since I started. My answer? Everything about it has changed; in this industry an industry that didn't even exist 15 years ago the only real constant IS change.
Whether it's changes in how we write, how we design our sites, which social networks are in demand, how you work with brands and destinations, or what various algorithms are doing to help or hinder our content, it's all always shifting.
A requirement of being a full-time blogger in 2020 is being able to adapt and to adapt quickly. As human beings, we can be very reluctant to change in general. But in an industry that's always changing, you either change or you fall behind.
2. Diversification is essential to survival
Speaking of changes, the ways in which bloggers make money has changed drastically in the last decade. When I started blogging in 2010, I didn't even know that you could make money as a blogger.
Back then, the majority of people were making money selling text links and sponsored posts for $100 a pop. Some of the very biggest bloggers were perhaps dabbling in things like affiliate marketing and display advertising, but it certainly wasn't the norm. And, in those days, getting paid by a brand or destination to create content was basically unheard of.
The ways that I've diversified my income streams has changed so much in 10 years. When I first started making money, it was through sponsored content and freelance writing. Today, I mostly make money through display advertising, affiliate marketing, and brand campaigns/partnerships, though I also earn smaller amounts from things like my blogging courses, consulting/speaking, and social media. Maybe one day I'll add tours or merchandise to the list.
RELATED: How I Make Money as a Blogger
I've dabbled in a lot of blog-related ways to earn an income in the last 10 years; some have worked, while others weren't right for me. But the key has been trying different things. If the current pandemic situation has highlighted anything for bloggers, it's that not keeping all your eggs in one basic is the key to survival.
3. Some people just suck
This is true in any industry, but especially in one where you put yourself out there again and again on the internet. I've always put a face and a voice behind my writing; connecting with my audience in a way that (I hope) they feel like they know me has always been my goal.
But the internet is dark and full of trolls. You're never going to be able to please everyone, and you do have to develop a rather thick skin to not spend a lot of your time totally miserable.
Within the blogging industry, too, there are people who only enjoy tearing one another down. These people are thankfully in the minority, but they still exist, and you have to learn how to spot and avoid them.
I've learned, too, that you just have to let some things go. Delete the nasty comments. Don't feed the trolls. Find the people who don't suck, and lift each other up.
4. You gotta spend money to make money
I didn't start my blog with the intention of making money from it, and I certainly had no idea 10 years ago that this website would someday be my entire career! So I get it if you've started a hobby blog and are looking to do everything free or for very cheap.
But if you're approaching a blog as a business, there's no way around it: you gotta spend money to make money.
Bloggers and especially a lot of travel bloggers, it seems are very reluctant to spend money. In some cases, this is because they don't have a lot of money, which I understand. But at some point, you need to look at the long-term investment of certain decisions. And yes, sometimes you just have to open up that pocketbook.
Things I've invested in over the years have included better website hosting, custom designs, paid plugins and software, going to conferences, and paying professionals to do things when I can't (including legal and tax/accounting professionals).
In the last year, I've also hired a virtual assistant and a Pinterest manager, which was a HUGE step for me but also a necessary one. Handing over control to my baby hasn't been easy, but it's freed up time and allowed me to do other important things (like work on a second website!).
All-in, I'm spending about $1500 per month just to keep my site running at this point, which isn't exactly small potatoes. But those investments are ones that I don't regret in the slightest.
5. Free is never really free
Speaking of spending money (or not), one thing I want to make sure to touch on here is that “free” very rarely really means free in the blogging world.
In the early days of travel blogging, bloggers eventually started getting invited on “press trips.” A press trip comes from the realm of traditional journalism, where a writer would be invited on a hosted trip to a place or event with the hopes that they might go home and write about it. These sorts of press trips have ALWAYS been unpaid, because a print writer would go home and sell their story elsewhere in order to make money.
Bloggers (me included!) clamored for these free trips, and also hustled like hell for free hotel rooms and tours and travel gear. The shiny free things drew a lot of people into blogging. But guess what, friends? Free is never really free.
Anyone who's ever worked an unpaid internship before can tell you that you often end up working a lot MORE when you're not getting paid. This is true in travel blogging, too. People are willing to put in a lot of work for a comped hotel room or discounted meal.
I'm not saying that this is necessarily always bad; I still go on the occasional unpaid trip if it's somewhere I really want to go but that's mostly because I know now that I can monetize the content later through other means.
But I'm much more likely to pay for my own travel these days. Even though many people assume that most of my travel is sponsored because I'm a blogger, in reality I pay for 75% or more of it out of pocket each year.
6. A little humbleness goes a long way
Yes, I've built this business from scratch. And yes, I'm really proud of that fact. But I'm also humble enough to realize that I've been lucky along the way, too, and that I have a lot of other people to thank for helping me.
Some bloggers go to conferences and look down their noses at people just starting out, or snigger at “basic” questions asked in Facebook groups. And while I understand getting upset at the people who give blogging a bad name by acting demanding or entitled, I don't understand this sense of superiority a select few people take on once they've reached a certain level.
I think this is more prevalent in the influencer industry, but I've seen it in bloggers, too. Bloggers who roll their eyes after fans or newer bloggers come up to talk to them, or Instagrammers who will no longer engage with former “friends” if they don't have a certain number of followers.
This happens in every industry, of course. But it's worth noting that it exists in travel blogging, too.
Don't be a jerk. Don't take for granted how little you knew when you started out. And be humble enough to acknowledge that there's ALWAYS something new to learn.
7. There's no one “right” way to write a blog post
When I started A Dangerous Business, blogs looked a lot different than they do today and I'm not just talking about the designs.
In 2010, most travel blogs were personal. Posts were diary-like. Photos were so-so or maybe nonexistent. People were mostly writing about the experience of traveling, and not about the practicalities of it.
Today, writing for a travel blog revolves more around search engine optimization, and how to optimize a post to show up on the first page of a Google search. In may ways, the writing has become more mechanical and less personal as we focus more on practical information and less on “storytelling.”
Some people (and I mean some travel bloggers) are very upset about this. There are conversations weekly bemoaning the perceived loss of some other era of travel writing. And I do understand this; long, beautiful travel narratives are not what's rewarded by search engines.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that SEO = bad, and storytelling = good.
I've personally always struggled with writing those narrative-style posts. Maybe blame it on my journalism background, but I actually prefer to write informative, fact-filled posts that can help people plan trips.
I don't buy into the storytelling vs. SEO debate; I don't believe that there's one RIGHT way to write a blog post. I think the best bloggers out there publish a mix of content styles, and are able to weave stories and personalities into anything they're writing even if it's something written with SEO in mind.
8. It's okay to say no
I'll admit it: I can be a bit of a people-pleaser, especially when it comes to work. It was tricky in the beginning for me to say no to things, whether it was an offer of a sponsored post or a free trip, or simply a request to do an interview.
“No” isn't something that most women are empowered to say very often and especially not in a professional setting. I remember in those early years constantly second-guessing myself and my decisions. Back then, travel blogging was the Wild West, and nobody really knew what they were doing.
We figured it out, though. And I quickly figured out that running a business isn't about pleasing everyone. You have to do what's right for you and for your businesses and sometimes that just means saying no.
As time has worn on, I've learned to say no to things that aren't a good fit for my brand or my readers; I've said no to partnerships that undervalued me and my work; and I've said no to things that I just didn't want to do!
Saying no is vital to running a business, so make sure you add it to your vocabulary.
9. Don't apologize for wanting to be paid
This is something that's really important especially for any female entrepreneurs reading: You don't need to apologize for wanting to be paid for the work you do.
I remember back to 2017, when I was debating joining an ad network to place more advertising on my website. I waffled back and forth over that decision for weeks. On the one hand, I wanted the chance to increase my income. On the other hand, I didn't want to alienate any of my readers because I really love you guys a lot!
At the end of the day, though, I came to the realization that it wasn't really about that. The vast majority of internet users are used to seeing ads on websites. What I was really doing during those weeks of indecision was waiting for someone to give me permission; to tell me that it was okay for me to want to make money from my work.
When you think of it that way, it sounds silly, doesn't it? I've been providing content on this blog for FREE for 10 years. I don't know anyone in any other profession who would happily work for 10 years without making any money.
There's a difference, of course, between wanting to be paid fairly for your work and demanding extortionate amounts. But I think most people know that difference.
Once I convinced myself there was no need to apologize for wanting to make money from the work I was already doing, my income exploded. It nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018, and increased again in 2019.
I'm more confident now in pitching paid projects, and saying no to things that won't provide enough in return for my time. I know that the content I produce has value people email me every week telling me they've taken a trip or booked a tour based on my site. That shows actual influence, and I know what that's worth. No more apologies.
10. Your definition of success will be fluid
The last thing I want to touch on is that elusive topic of success. What does success look like for a travel blogger? What does success look like for a digital publisher? What does success look like for me?
Success won't look the same for everyone. And it won't look the same from year to year, either.
When I first started making money with this blog (I made my first $100 in 2011), success to me was meeting my goal of making $1000 per month. I also had goals for site traffic, social media followers, and even how often I would travel in a given year.
Success is a fluid metric, and what looks like success for one person might not be success for another. And that's fine! Different businesses will have different goals.
And, even though success if often tied to money, success for me right now isn't as tied to income as it used to be. Instead, success for me in 2020 takes the form of helping people travel better. This has always been the goal of my site: to inspire people to want to see the world, and to help them figure out how to do it.
Every message I get from a follower saying I've inspired them to go somewhere, every email from someone saying they used my tips to plan a trip, every comment from someone saying I'm their favorite travel blogger (wait, what? really??)… those are all successes to me.
Here's to 10 more years of blogging, learning, and success!