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Wow, can you believe I’ve been running Adventures Around Asia for six years? SIX YEARS. Holy cow!
A big part of me is super proud to have been working on something for so long. While a smaller part of me is kind of embarrassed to admit that I’ve had this blog for that long, especially when I see a lot of bloggers who have only been blogging for a year and have twice as much traffic as me…
When I first started Adventures Around Asia in January 2012, I was planning to write a study abroad blog about my adventures living in Beijing and Xi’an. I had no idea travel blogs were “a thing” and had absolutely no idea that you could make money from writing online.
If you had told me 6 years ago that I’d be working writing Adventures Around Asia full-time, I would’ve laughed in your face.
What’s Changed in the Last Year
Before we go over biggest blogging lessons, let’s talk a bit about what has changed in just one year!
I Took My Blog Full-Time
In the last year, I quit my job working as a college counselor in China to take my travel blog and related projects full-time! This was a huge step for me, and something I’ve been working towards for at least 3 years now!
Working for myself wasn’t always as easy as I imagined it would be, and leaving my college counseling job was pretty bittersweet, but I know I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t at least try.
I Left China!
After five years of living and working in China, I finally left this November 2017. This was a huge change and another slightly bittersweet move for me. I really love China and it’s become my home over the last few years, but I did really need a break.
Many of my readers were a bit surprised and confused when I decided to leave China, especially since I produce so much China content! However, I do still plan on writing about China no matter where I am in the world.
I Got Engaged!
That’s right! I’m getting married! This isn’t really a blogging change, but it is a huge life change for me. My travel blogging boyfriend Chris from Aussie on the Road proposed about three months ago, and now we’re planning our wedding in Australia!
It’s been really amazing to have a partner that not only loves to travel but also has the same lifestyle as me. We travel together, work together, bounce ideas off one another, and of course, proofread each other’s posts.
6 Lessons and Challenges of Becoming a Full-Time Blogger
Just over a year ago (okay… one year and four months ago) I wrote 5 Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Years of Blogging, which I think are still 100% relevant. So, if all my general travel blogging lessons haven’t changed, what could I possibly write about this year?
The one major change for me was that I took my travel blog full-time, which I know is a major dream for many travel bloggers. So for this blogaversary post, I figured I’d go over the six biggest lessons I’ve learned transitioning my blog into a full-time job.
Hopefully, these lessons will be not only enlightening for those of you who do want to blog full time, but also interesting for the people who literally have no desire whatsoever to create a blog.
Today will be a little sneak peek into the world of blogging, so buckle up people. It’s about to get real.
Lesson 1: Income is Sporadic and Taxes Are a B****
When I was working a full-time job in China, I knew my blog income wasn’t as high as a wanted it to be, but I figured I’d be able to make more money when I finally was able to give my full attention to my blog. While that is true, I have been making more money, it’s not as consistent as I would like.
Literally every month I look at my financial spreadsheet (yes, I have one of those), and I have a mild panic attack. How is it possible that I do so much work, and no money rolls in?? Why is it that I can have a great month in September, but a HORRIBLE month in October?
I think most people who’ve read posts like these know that income can be really sporadic, especially if you’re doing cash accounting, and the money comes in when it comes in. However, it can be pretty scary to see it in action.
So… now that you know this is an issue, what should you do about it?
Have a Huge Cash Cushion
By the time I quit my job as a college counselor in China, I had just over $20,000 USD saved up and I’d paid off all of my student loans. Yes, I did save $40,000 in 2 years working as a college counselor in China without really even trying. (Working abroad in China is amazing).
This cash cushion is the only thing that keeps me from having panic attacks on the regular. I suggest having a bunch of money saved up, even if it means making your blog a side hustle for 3 years… Then keep track of how much of your savings you lose per month.
Last month was actually the first month for me that I didn’t lose any of my savings! I think this is the best way to see if your career is sustainable, rather than looking solely at income and blog expenses. Sure, you can make a profit on your blog, but if your lifestyle is too expensive for your income, then you’ll start having problems if you don’t have a lot of money saved up.
It took me about 7 months to level out, which is why having a cash cushion is so important.
Keep Track of Your Income and Expenses
Okay, I might seem like a giant nerd, but I have a Google Doc Excel spreadsheet of my income and expenses each month. I make a new tab every month and I keep track of EVERY. SINGLE. THING. I spend and receive for my business.
If you read my monthly recaps, The Freedom Life, you’ll notice that I know how much I’m making by category: sponsored content, affiliate sales, consulting, teach abroad referrals, etc. Well, part of the reason I know this is because of my excel sheet. I have the date on one side, and the categories of income on the other.
Not only do I keep track of every single thing I make and spend, I also have an “invoices” category to keep track of who still owes me what, along with a final category which is “expenses for tax purposes.” Because I’m a giant nerd.
Get On Top of Your Taxes
There are two main reasons I have that excel spreadsheet. One is to know exactly what I’m making and spending, which is pretty important. However, the other reason is for taxes! ** Screams in silent agony **
I can easily go through my spreadsheet at tax time and tell the government exactly how much I made and spent. While I don’t necessarily think of camera gear or fights as a business expense, they technically are, which is why my “expenses for tax purposes” are so important.
I might not include my new fancy camera lens in my monthly financial recaps, but I sure as hell do when it comes time for taxes.
Are you a blogger, expat, or digital nomad who needs help with tax season? I wrote this post for you!
Lesson 2: No One Will Understand Your Job
Seriously, I knew this was a thing, but man did I underestimate how hard it would be to explain my job to people. I’m pretty sure half my mom’s friends think I’m a homeless bum, and everyone at my dentist office thinks I’m a socialite.
Where do you live? What’s your job? How do you make money?
I actually got really into telling people that I live “nowhere”. The looks on people’s faces are absolutely priceless.
No One Believes You’re Actually Working
I’ll be sitting at the dining table cranking out an article for a deadline, and then all of a sudden someone will come up to me and tell me I should “go outside and enjoy the fresh air”, or ask if I can help out with something in the kitchen.
I get it, if I’m just sitting around on my computer in sweatpants it looks like I’m not doing anything, especially if I happen to be working on Pinterest or responding to Facebook comments.
If you work online, no one will ever believe that you’re working. People also think that because you can take a break from your job whenever you feel like it, you won’t mind dropping everything to go to lunch or halting your emails for a mid-afternoon chat.
I just bury myself in noise canceling headphones and try to look as intense as possible.
Everyone Thinks You’re Rich or Fancy
Imagine telling your dentist you really need to schedule that appointment because you’re leaving the country in a few weeks and you don’t know when you’re coming back, or casually mentioning to your doctor that you’re heading to Tanzania for a few months.
I have a really hard time explaining to people that yes, I am heading to Tanzania with my fiance who works for a safari company. However, no, I’m not a pampered woman who doesn’t work, I actually work online. Yes, I travel all over the world, but no, I am also not making much money.
For me, the “struggling digital nomad” concept is pretty easy to understand, but for most people in the US and Australia, they have no idea what I’m talking about. All they see is my fancy Instagram account – Not the me who is sitting here in sweatpants on a dirty couch with a three-legged dog barking outside, trying to wave the flies away from my third cup of coffee.
How Do I Describe My Job?
I am STILL struggling with this. How do I compactly tell people what I do for a living when I do approximately five things?
“Oh, you know, I have a travel blog where I write about travel in Asia… and I also help people find jobs in China… and I do some online college counseling and freelance writing… I also do social media for a safari company…”
No matter which one I pick, I have to then explain to people not only what my job entails, but how I actually make money. Imagine explaining affiliate sales and teach abroad recruiting at a dinner party… yeah.
Lesson 3: Most Bloggers Don’t Make All Their Money From Their Blogs
It might seem like there are a million “full-time” bloggers out there, but most of us are not making all of our income from our blogs. Many bloggers are also freelance writers, or Pinterest virtual assistants, or have a course on how to be awesome at Instagram, or run a second affiliate site.
It’s actually pretty rare for people to make $3,000/ month just off one website. Even huge bloggers like Nomadic Matt have courses, books, and a non-profit.
For me, the idea of making a full-time income off of my blog is actually pretty stressful. I’m happy to diversify with other income streams as long as they somewhat connect to my site and interests.
The Best Way to Make Money Off Your Blog
For me, I’m a big fan of affiliates because of the “set it and leave it” concept. If you find a few products or services that people already need, why not recommend an awesome one you have used yourself for a small commission?
I’m not a huge fan of posts that solely exist to make affiliate sales (like this one), however, I have found it pretty easy to slip affiliates into my regular content, especially stuff you need for China!
Find an Awesome Additional Income Stream
One thing that has been amazing for me is teach abroad recruiting. In the last few years, I’ve been getting A MILLION emails about teaching abroad in China and I never knew where to actually send people.
Well, I really put my head down and found some awesome companies that are not only great positions but are also willing to pay me to find them qualified teachers. For me, this is really a win-win-win as long as I’m super picky about who I recommend. Teachers find an amazing position, schools get an awesome teacher, and I get to help people while also being paid!
Whatever it is, finding another additional income stream that relates to your blog is a great idea. Whether it’s freelance writing, selling photos, working as a virtual assistant, or consulting. Teach abroad recruiting has been awesome for me, but only because I already had a ton of people reaching out for that specific service. Go with what your skills are, or where your audience is already leading you.
Lesson 4: Develop an Email Strategy ASAP
This lesson is actually two-fold. Firstly, I really had to learn how to make a strategy to deal with the thousands of emails I get on a daily basis. Secondly, email marketing is really important, and I put a lot of time and effort into that this year.
Dealing With All the Emails
I waste SO MUCH TIME answering emails. Whether it’s brands that want to work with me, people who want me to join their affiliate program, readers who want me to plan their entire trip to China for free, or applicants for jobs in China.
After a while, I realized that the amount of time I spent on emails was actually keeping me from making money and growing my business. It felt like in an entire work day, literally, all I would do was answer emails.
This is still a huge problem for me, but here are a few email lessons I’ve learned over the course of the year:
1. Make Form Emails in Google Docs
I realized I was getting a lot of the same kinds of emails, so I made a ton of form letters I can copy and paste depending on the situation. This has saved me SO MUCH TIME.
For example, when a brand contacts me about my prices, I copy and paste my price list. When someone sends me a resume for a college counseling job, but I think they’d be more qualified to work as a high-level teacher, I copy and paste my response.
Seriously I have 6 different copy and paste responses for people who want to work as college counselors depending on the resume they send me. It might sound shitty, but seriously, I was wasting hours of my life sending individual responses to these people.
The main thing is that your copy and paste responses should be good and they should sound like you. Make sure you personalize it with their name at the top and be sure it actually fits with the question they’re asking.
2. Say No!!
I am so bad at this, but it needs to be done. I can not say yes to every affiliate program request or guest post. I do not have time to plan someone’s entire trip for free. I can not physically accommodate every request for a Skype chat. If I tried to do it all, I would literally never leave my computer.
However, saying no outright is kind of rude. I would recommend coming up with a polite form email to turn people down for business requests. You never know if you’ll end up wanting to work with them in the future on another project or idea!
When it comes to people who want you to plan an entire trip for them for free, I do actually help them out as best I can. However, I try to create content I can link them to. I suggest they sign up for my Ultimate China Survival Guide, send them an itinerary I wrote for Y Travel Blog, and link them to a few relevant posts.
You can quickly answer someone’s question and link to relevant content without spending all day designing them the perfect itinerary.
3. Don’t Waste Your Time on Pointless People
And by pointless people, I mean those that send you form letters asking to purchase a link on your site. Personally, I value my content and my readers and I don’t want Google penalizing me for selling links.
I’m happy to work with brands, but I’ve found that these link buying middlemen are almost never willing to pay for your time and work. I am not about to put a bunch of sketchy links into my site for $50 a pop. Work with brands and cool up and coming websites and products that fit your site, not people who want you to throw in a link to some random hotel… or more likely, an escort site or online gambling service.
I’ve also stopped wasting my time accepting offers to affiliate programs for products and services I know I’ll never end up promoting. If it’s not a product I already use, it has to be something I really believe in and can easily promote to my readers. Accepting any and all affiliate program offers is just a huge waste of time.
4. Set an “Email Time” or “Email Days”
What do most of us do when we get to work? Check our email. I’m super guilty of this, and I’m trying to stop.
I designate a specific period for emails, and I don’t check my emails outside of this time unless I’m expecting something urgent. I’ll give myself two or three hours every other day to respond to all of the emails. On no-email days, I just do a quick scan for anything time-sensitive.
I turn off email alerts (and social media alerts) on my computer and phone, and I try to get one important or creative thing done a day. That way I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something other than tackling my inbox.
Finally, I recently separated all of my China job request emails into another email account. I think this will be huge for me because all of the recruiting emails do really clog up my inbox. I also made it clear that it can take up to a week to hear a response from me, which gives me the freedom to deal with all of the China job requests just once or twice a week. It’s been a giant lifesaver already!
Lesson 5: It’s Impossible to Travel Full-Time and Blog Full-Time
The funny thing about travel bloggers is that it’s actually impossible to do our jobs full-time and travel. When you’re traveling, you want to get out and see the place, not be cooped up in your airbnb. It’s the eternal struggle of every travel blogger and something that is WAY harder than I thought it would be.
When I’m traveling, I feel like I’m treading water. I do just enough work to keep my head above water, but I’m not actually going anywhere.
That’s why my current strategy is to base myself places for at least a few weeks (if not a few months) at a time and then take small trips. For example, I’m basing myself in Tanzania for three months, and then I’ll be off to Vietnam until October.
There’s so much of the world I want to see, but I know that if I just travel all the time I will A) have no savings and B) I’ll be so stressed about work that I won’t be able to enjoy it.
Hopefully, someday I’ll be making enough money that I can run my business on autopilot and actually travel, but now is not the time. Especially with a wedding to pay for…
Lesson 6: Don’t Do What Everyone Else is Doing
So many travel blogs cover the same destinations in the same style. So many bloggers are trying to make money by following the format that other bloggers have created.
The most successful bloggers got to where they are now, not by following, but by leading. If you base most of your content, blog style, and income streams around what you’ve seen other bloggers do, you’ll always be following in their footsteps.
Develop Your Own Unique Voice
A lot of bloggers say this, but it’s so important. No one should meet you in person and think “wow, she’s nothing like her blog.” If you’re funny be funny, if you’re super smart be smart, if you’re kind of a nerd be a nerd, and if you’re a great storyteller, then tell stories!
Be true to yourself and your own way of speaking when you write. Don’t feel like you need to write only “Top 10” posts because that’s what does well on social media and Pinterest.
The bloggers I always come back to are the ones that drop censored F-bombs, go on weird tangents, and actually open up to their audience.
My favorite example of this is Gloria from The Blog Abroad. This girl knows how to insert her personality into her writing:
I’m not ashamed to say I cried at Machu Picchu. Yes, I was also menstruating, but that’s beside the point. Stay focused, people. – I’ve Seen a Third of the World’s Countries: These Are My 10 Favorite
What if you don’t have a super strong personality? Well, you can still shine through your writing by what you choose to write about. Adventurous Kate writes posts about politics and controversial issues. I don’t always 100% agree with her, but it’s refreshing to see travel bloggers who actually have an opinion.
Whatever it is, just be you.
Pay Attention to Other Blogging Markets
Travel bloggers are sometimes behind the trend when it comes to making money, marketing and growth.
For example, email marketing is one of those areas where travel bloggers are struggling big time. You’ll still see tons of people asking you to sign up for their newsletter with absolutely no incentive. Why??
I’ve been going to the experts for my email marketing needs. Rather than a free newsletter, I now have a 7,000+ word Ultimate China Survival Guide. The people who sign up get awesome China-related emails from me. I also have a free Teach Abroad Mini-Course. These people get emails about teaching abroad. BOOM.
If you’re at all interested in developing an email strategy, I definitely suggest using Convertkit, which is my savior when it comes to categorizing all of my email subscribers.
It isn’t just email marketing though. Who’s rocking Pinterest? Who’s best at developing products? Who knows how to run a business? Which bloggers have the best homepage? Look elsewhere for inspiration.
Don’t be afraid to take courses that aren’t specifically designed for travel bloggers too! While my favorite travel-blogging course is the Travel Blog Monetization Summit (seriously, it’s amazing), I also take courses that aren’t just for travel bloggers.
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing was amazing for helping me develop an affiliate strategy. I’m almost finished with the Pinterest Avalanche Course and Create Awesome Online Courses was the best course I’ve ever taken.
Think Out of the Box
What is one way you can make money with your unique audience? What’s something that NO ONE ELSE is doing? Do that.
It took me years and years to figure it out, but I finally realized that I’m not going to support myself with Booking.com affiliates and freelance writing, and that’s great. I didn’t really ever want to do that anyway.
Teach abroad recruiting is a great example of something I could easily do that not many other bloggers are taking advantage of, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Did you know most of my referrals are actually people who want to work as college counselors in China? What?? Yeah… that’s about as niche as it gets.
While recruiting is awesome, my biggest out-of-the-box achievement isn’t quite finished yet. However, I can say that it is a course I’m creating and I’m super pumped for it!
While many bloggers create courses on how to blog, or make money freelance writing, or be awesome at social media, this course has absolutely NOTHING to do with blogging. Yep, this course is actually for my own readers, not other bloggers.
I honestly hope that this course will actually become my full-time job (I’ll still blog, I promise!). I’ve realized over the years that I actually love teaching, I just don’t love teaching English.
I like teaching, creating, and “helping people” (ugh… this girl), and developing a course feels like the best way to do all three!
My 6 Blogging Goals for Year 6 of Blogging
While I’ve been blogging for over six years, there are still a lot of things I need to work on. Here are my biggest “new years blogging resolutions” I have for myself in my next year of blogging.
1. Comparison is the Thief of Joy
I am the worst at this! I see other people who have only been blogging for a year or two, and are already way more successful than me, and it sucks. I really need to stop comparing myself to other people and just focus on growing my own business.
I don’t know how much work these other bloggers put into their blog, and I don’t know what their financial situations are. Just because they have more traffic or more income doesn’t mean that I’m a failure.
2. Time Management
Seriously, I need to spend less time on emails and more time actually working on my course and my business. Keeping my head above water when it comes to my emails, social media, and writing posts is not what’s going to make me successful long-term.
3. Develop a Content Strategy
I really need to do a content audit on this site. I have some horrible study abroad blog posts from 2012 that no one is reading (or will ever read), and I don’t have a major strategy when it comes to what I publish. I’d love to actually figure out what I’m doing content-wise.
I felt super comfortable with Pinterest… and then I fell behind and got lost. I feel like I’m doing so many things wrong, I don’t know where to start! I actually love Pinterest for myself and I’ve been using it constantly for wedding planning, so I’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into Pinterest for my site and it’s already starting to pay off! That Pinterest Avalanche Course was such a good investment.
5. Drop the Imposter Syndrome
About once a week I have a mild panic attack and feel like I’m not cut out to work for myself. I’m not making enough money, I don’t know what I’m doing, why did I quit my job??
Yeah… that needs to go.
6. Finish That Course!!
This has been my goal for over a year now! I need to actually put my head down and finish this bad boy. I’ve been working on it for FOREVER and I need to get that thing done.
Last But Not Least… Thank You!
Seriously. Whether you’ve stuck by me from the very beginning, or this is the first post you’ve read, thank you for coming here and supporting me. There’s no way I could’ve quit my job without all of you reading my posts, clicking on those affiliate links, and sending me the long emails.
Sometimes it can be hard to remember that those numbers on my screen are actually people, especially when I get caught up comparing myself to other bloggers with higher traffic and more followers. I want to refocus my blog on those people who are here for the long haul, not just the people who stop by from Google.
In this next year, I promise to make the content you’ve been asking for, and really try to create helpful and personal posts that will keep you all entertained!
Now Let’s Hear From You!
What did you think of these blogging lessons? Are there any major lessons I forgot? Let me know in a comment below!
I’m always checking back for new comments so if you want to get in touch or you have something you’d love for me to cover, feel free to leave me a message after this post. I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as humanly possible!
I am an affiliate of some of the courses, products, and services mentioned in this blog post. If you would like to help support me and keep this blog going, I’d really appreciate it if you use my affiliate links at no cost to you.