Wednesday, August 13

6 Things I've Learned from 6 months of Travel Blogging with Adventures around Scotland

In August my blog is 6 months old and what started out as an enjoyable hobby has now grown to such a point that I feel I have earned the right to call myself a travel blogger. I am not a full-time blogger as I balance my travelling and writing with my day job which pays my bills and funds my trips. However, I now believe this is something I could do, and more importantly want to do full-time and have started to build the foundations towards that dream. I'm no expert but my blog has received some recognition and gained some achievements lately, it has also opened doors to new travel experiences which I would not otherwise have gotten the chance to do. Everyone has their own ways of building their blog but I thought I would share what has worked for me so far and perhaps you might find a little bit of inspiration to help you and gain an awareness of a few of the traps to avoid.

1. It's hard work

Okay, it's very, very hard work if you actually want your blog to get noticed. Expect to put in alot of hours in your spare time either writing, doing admin, social media, design, guest posting, making contacts and improving the SEO of your blog (to list just a few of the many hats a blogger has to wear). Add in your actual travelling, working your day job and trying to have a life and your days seem to pass by! I want to do this for a living so I am prepared to make the sacrifices and I treat my blog as a start up business and put in time investment rather than money. If you don't want to make a living from your blog then keep it as a hobby. In the beginning research and teaching yourself the 'behind the scenes' bits of blogging will take up more time than writing but once you have laid the foundations for your blog you won't have to do it again. This is the stage I'm at but I'm assured by blogging professionals that investment at the beginning will pay off later and that makes sense to me! Many people that start out enthusiastically in the beginning soon realise that to get your blog noticed in a sea full of blogs is not as easy as they first thought and the novelty wears off. If you blog about your passion then you won't mind the hard work and are more likely to keep going until that all important breakthrough moment.

2. Social media is about quality not quantity 

Social media is currently where most of my blog readers come from and I have never got hung up about the amount of followers I have and truly believe that 10 followers that read your blog are worth way more than 100 that don't. I engage with my followers, always reply to or acknowledge a comment, I'm always polite and I try to post a range of things from photos, reviews, news stories and any other helpful travel related advice. I don't just bombard people with links to my blog posts. I do interact and have tried to become an approachable expert in my subject (Scottish travel). I genuinely appreciate every single person who takes the time to follow me and read my posts and you should too.
There are ways of measuring how influential you are on social media and companies can quickly find out if you have 10,000 followers that never interact or 1000 followers that do and this is why you should focus on quality not quantity.

Deciding on what social media channel works for you is a bit of trial and error, Twitter works great for me so I concentrate on that, I don't really enjoy Facebook as I find it limiting and I'm currently starting over on Pinterest as I had been neglecting it and needed to revamp my ideas. I'm also looking into Google+ and Instagram to decide what has the best potential for my purposes.

3. Be original 

When starting out it is a good idea to study the top travel bloggers and find out what type of things they post about, what elements they include in their blog and what form they write their blog posts in. What you will learn is they all have their own individual style, even though they are likely blogging about world travel they have found a way to stand out from the huge travel blogging crowd and most specialise in a particular genre e.g budget travel, luxury, backpacking etc. Get inspiration from those at the top but don't copy other people or compare yourself to other travel bloggers. Find your own voice and learn from the best but don't try to be like them. People will follow you because you're different; people won't be inspired to follow you if there is already an established blogger out there that has been doing the same thing longer and probably better. Finding your own travel blogging personality will make designing your blog easier as it will be a true reflection of your style and your writing will be more natural. Then find an area you can become an expert in and make yourself known as the blogger to go to for advice on that subject.

4. People want you to work for free

The one downside I have found is that blogging is not respected as a profession by many large companies who will send you e-mails filled with flattery about your amazing writing and your excellent blog and how they would love you to write for them blah, blah. Ignore this and skip to the part when they tell you unfortunately they have no money to pay you. I'm not talking about small businesses I mean big companies with big marketing budgets who are paying the person that has just sent you the e-mail! When you are just starting out you may have to write for free to build up a portfolio and guest posting helps get your name out there but choose who you write for wisely. Ignore big corporate companies wanting free marketers, instead work with small tourism businesses, travel sites that you respect or other bloggers and build a relationship with them. They will become useful future contacts and are much more likely to appreciate you and promote you to the right type of audience and they can open other doors for you. Guest posting for sites like this helps build relationships with fellow Scottish bloggers and I know ScotBloggers will actively promote me in return. Featuring on big sites and gaining a link will help with SEO but again look for the top travel bloggers and ask if you can guest post for them instead.

5. Don't compromise your blogging brand

Your blog is your business and your brand and if you are doing a good job people will want to work with you. I've turned down free gifts, sponsored posts and event invitations because they are not a good fit for what I write about. If something is not right it's important to say no, don't sell your soul or compromise the integrity of your blog for the sake of a freebie. It may be very tempting when press invitations come in for a non travel VIP event that has the added enticement of champagne and nibbles or someone wants to send you a free product to review that has a very tenuous link to travelling (yes these things happen!) but stop and ask yourself if it is really right for you. If not be honest and say no because if you say yes the company that has sent the product will expect a review and the PR that sent the invitation will expect exposure for their client. If you don't deliver you will earn yourself a bad name and especially in the close knit world of PRs this is not a good idea! If you do deliver for them you will be failing your reader, do they want to read about a fashion show where you enjoyed smoked salmon bites while viewing the latest collection for a high street store? The integrity of your blog is more important than any freebie, be patient and professional and the right offers will appear.

Also don't be fooled into entering competitions or posting press releases about places that you have not personally been to. This is a tactic I have seen quite often recently and disagree with; firstly you can't recommend something you haven't experienced, that goes back to the whole thing about readers trusting you. Secondly I refer back to lesson four, this company is wanting you to provide them free advertising, write a post about them for free all with the vague possibility that you could win their competition. It's a personal choice if you really want the chance of winning a prize but remember that what you publish reflects your blogging brand, be sure you're not compromising it.

6. Overdeliver

The more established my blog gets, the more opportunities I have been offered. Firstly, I did use the word 'freebie' above but this is where I should clarify that there is no such thing as a free ride, or free product or free anything when you are a travel blogger. Instead you have the opportunity to do an exchange or build business partnerships because anything offered to you is done on the condition that you will write about it. You get the chance to enjoy a travel experience and the company/destination gets some exposure in return. My pet hate is a travel blogger/writer who churns out a quick, bland and uninformative post in return for their 'freebie' and I read these sorts of posts time and time again by established bloggers and writers. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a great experience for 'free' then be professional and write a proper blog post, give the business the credit they deserve and probably expect, over deliver and people will want to work with you again. Don't just write a short trip advisor style review, add great photos and give people real information.

Most importantly be truthful, if it was terrible you have a choice, tell the company why it was not good, don't write a post but work with them by giving feedback on how they can improve things or publish an honest review saying you can't recommend it, just don't say it was great if it wasn't because your readers put trust in your advice. It is a good idea to let a company know your policy before working with them, personally I only post positive articles on my site. It is your blog and your brand, you decide what to publish, I take pride in having an honest blog and making sure I put at least 110% into every post.

I hope these lessons help you on your path through the minefield of blogging which I'm still muddling my own way through, hopefully I'll be back in another 6 months to let you know I've survived! Until then, love what you do, write with passion and follow your dreams :-)

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