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Oh wow… Five years? When did that happen???
Well… approximately 2 weeks ago apparently.
It’s officially been over five years since I published my very first post on Adventures Around Asia, and I almost can’t believe it!
Five years ago I was sitting on my bed in Seattle waiting for my study abroad adventure in Beijing and Xi’an to begin. I was crazy nervous. I’d never been to Asia before. I spent my spare time reading books about Chinese culture and random China study abroad blogs I found through friends of friends. I had no idea what to expect!
If you had told me five years ago that I’d STILL be living in Beijing, writing my blog, I would’ve laughed in your face. I don’t know why this lifestyle was so inconceivable to me back then. I was always obsessed with travel, and the idea of living abroad.
When I was four-years-old I used to look at the photos in our child encyclopedia and imagine what it would be like to live in Africa. When I was in grade school, I used to daydream about life in Ancient Egypt. In high school, I wandered through the old town of Dubrovnik and imagined what it would be like to live in one of the tiny city apartments.
I guess you can say I was always a bit weird.
What I’ve Learned After Five Years of Blogging
But after five, long years of living in China (minus one year back in DC), and writing about my adventures, I’ve learned a lot of things. My blog, my business, my travels and my life are all still a work in progress, but when I look back on last year, I can already see how much has changed.
So, whether you’re a blogger or you’re just curious about this strange job I’ve created for myself, here are the five biggest things I’ve learned in my 5th year of blogging!
1. “Turning Your Blog Into a Business” is a Terrible Business Strategy
Most travel bloggers are idiots, including me.
Yeah, you heard me. Turning your travel blog into a business isn’t smart, and yet so many of us try to do it. Do you know how many travel bloggers are making almost zero money? A lot.
So many people use the phrase “turn your blog into a business”, and I’m pretty sure I’ve uttered it once or twice myself. The problem with this phrase is that it implies writing a blog for months or years with no return, and implementing business strategies later. This is what most of us do, including me, because we have a passion for writing and then find out through the grapevine that we can actually make money.
Well, unless you have traffic like Nomadic Matt or Adventurous Kate, it’s pretty hard to make a large passive income off affiliates. I make around $500 a month with a tiny audience, but that’s only because the things I promote are kind of unique.
cough TEFLs and VPNs cough
So What Did I Learn?
If you really want to make money from a blog, the best thing to do is to start it as a business from the beginning. Pick a very niche topic that no one else is covering and become an expert. Guest post on bigger blogs with an audience similar to what you want. Only link to products and services that your tiny niche group of readers will really want. Write a set of targeted articles that will rank well with SEO.
But instead, most of us, including me, are too creative
and self-obsessed to actually run our blogs as efficient businesses. We want to write about our thoughts and feelings, and our crazy stories. We don’t have a business strategy behind everything we post. I mean seriously, I’ve written about the global period taboo, and even showed you a collection of my most unflattering travel photos.
Why? BECAUSE I FELT LIKE IT.
Overall, I’m glad I wrote my blog the way I did, but I’ll be honest, it’s not the best way to make money. Had I known a lot of what I know now, I would’ve done things much differently, but then again, I didn’t even know professional travel blogs were a thing until I’d been writing mine for over two years!Turning your blog into a business is a terrible business strategy https://www.adventuresaroundasia.com/five-years-blogging/ Click To Tweet
2. You Can’t Make Vague Goals
I started my job as a college counselor in China with the vague idea that I’d spend the next two years “making my blog a business” (there’s that phrase again!) and eventually I would pay off my student loans (almost done!) and “be making enough off my travel blog to support myself”. I just assumed I’d figure it out, and that making money would happen organically as long as I kept doing what I was doing.
Well, just over a year into my job in Beijing, I realized that I was wasting my time on stupid things like answering a million emails, and writing blog posts about whatever I felt like. I had no monetization strategy and a million ideas for products and services that never got done. I didn’t have a strategy behind my blog newsletter or basically anything I posted on this site, and I thought writing about “Asia travel” was specific enough to be considered a niche (it’s not).
So How Did I Fix It?
It wasn’t until I did Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Blog Challenge this summer (which I didn’t actually complete… whoops), that I realized I was being way too vague with my goals. She asked us to write about our biggest blogging challenges, but then told us we weren’t allowed to place any of the blame on time, money or freedom.
That’s when I realized: I don’t have a business plan. I don’t have a “brand” and I’m not efficient.
Since that day I’ve been working to change all of that. I’ve started writing much more China content. I created targeted email newsletters and mini-courses. I even started making some subtle changes to my homepage, which you’ll be seeing over the course of the next few weeks!
3. Not Everyone Will Like You, and Some People are Very Mean About It
This year I was lucky enough to have my first article go viral! I wrote a piece on How Travel is Ruining My Love Life for Huffington Post, and it was just as popular as I not-so-secretly hoped it would be. The article made it onto Huff Post Women’s front page and was then shared on Facebook by New York Mag. Soon after it was republished on Matador Network!
While this was all very exciting and I received a lot of congratulations and support from so many people, I knew the article was a bit controversial just from the title alone. Despite this, I was extremely unprepared for the amount of hate I got on social media.
I have extremely thin skin and never had to deal with much hate before. I’ve had some trolls and “mansplainers” on articles, but never to this extent!
The worst article ever. This girl is not ready / does not mean to commit to anyone, and doesnt seem able to build genuine friendships either.
Hold on a second. I am searching for some sympathy. I am sure I left it around here somewhere. starts rummaging through things Nope. Can’t find it anywhere.
But when I really started to look deeper, I realized that most of these people didn’t even read the article! Seriously, who comments just based on a title? Apparently, a lot of people do.
Now when I look back on it, I laugh at all these comments. For every hater, there were at least 20 people voicing support.
Developing a Thicker Skin
I’m still not great at dealing with hate comments, but I’ve gotten a lot better. I used to keep myself up at night RAGING over the words of some miserable a-hole, but now I don’t really care.
Just this last week I had a MAJOR hater/stalker rage all over a post from 2014 about Breaking Up to Travel the World. At first, I had some fun trolling him because he obviously
was dumped by a girl who wants to travel has some major issues, but after a few days I got annoyed and blocked his IP. Some may call it “censorship” but if you comment on a post 10+ times to trash me and my fellow commenters, I call that spam.
People like you remain single forever. You’ll be 52 one day and still blogging about some “amazing locals you met on some awesome backstreet alley way in some remote village”. Little do you know that they are just living their lives. They laugh at your sense of wonder at people going about their day to day business whilst you do nothing but capture selfies of yourself with them.
4. You Have to Invest to See Return
For the longest time, I refused to spend any money on my blog. I thought I could do everything myself. I had a lot of time and not very much money, so I spent hours learning how to do things on my own and refused to pay for help, even if I needed it.
Eventually, when I started my job as a college counselor just over a year ago, things changed. All of a sudden I had money and no time! I was having panic attacks trying to do everything myself (literally). So I hired a Virtual Assistant to help me with Instagram and Twitter.
Even after her, I refused to invest in anything else. My cheap hosting provider, Bluehost, kept crashing because I had too much traffic for their shared server. I had the free email host Mailchimp, and absolutely no idea how to use it beyond sending a massive newsletter once every… six months or so.
What Happens When You Start Investing
In the last year I realized something: If you want your blog to be a business you have to treat it like a business.
Businesses require investment and upkeep costs, and by paying the bare minimum, I wasn’t getting what I needed to succeed.
I also realized that my time is valuable. Why should I spend hours scheduling social media when I could be spending my limited time developing products, improving and fine-tuning my brand, or making big decisions on the future of this site?
I’ve also realized that there’s some stuff I’m just not great at, and it’s better to outsource than to spend weeks of my life trying to become a “jack of all trades”. I recently hired a graphic designer to help me with a few bits of the homepage, and possibly help me improve my business cards and media kit as well.
I think back on the 10+ hours I spent making my own media kit and I kick myself, I could’ve just paid someone $30 to do it for me!If you want your blog to be a business, you have to treat it like a business https://www.adventuresaroundasia.com/five-years-blogging/ Click To Tweet
I purchased multiple blogging courses like the Travel Blog Monetization Summit, Secret Bloggers Business and Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. I also switched my host to Siteground and invested in the “Grow Big” plan. But in the next year, I’ll probably need to upgrade to their “Go Geek” plan, which I’m fully prepared to do.
I also switched my free MailChimp hosting to Convertkit, which I pay a monthly fee for. This was probably the best decision I’ve ever made for my business! I can actually create mini-email courses that run on autopilot, and I can categorize everyone into different groups based on your interests.
With a small, but dedicated group of people who want to teach abroad in China, and a larger group of people that want China travel advice, and an even LARGER group of people who just want updates, it’s important to be able to keep track and send the right emails to the right people.
Morale of the story: treat your blog like a business and invest in it.
5. Stop Being Intimidated
I always thought I wasn’t very “businessy”. I suffered from “imposter syndrome” when it came to complex topics like SEO and email marketing. Seriously, every time I read an article on email marketing I felt exhausted and confused.
I think a lot of people, especially women, are quick to think that they’re “bad at something” or that things are “too hard” before we even really try. I just assumed I wasn’t naturally business savvy. It was easier to keep doing what I was doing, writing blog posts in inputting a few affiliate links. I didn’t have the time or mental energy to learn a new email system, or research how to make an e-book!
But then once I finally put my head down and got to work, I realized that with a little bit of real research, things aren’t actually that hard. I realized that Mail Chimp isn’t a good platform for email marketing, and once I switched to Convertkit, everything became easy!
What’s the Takeaway?
If you really want to do a new project, learn a new skill, or improve your business, you have to be ready and willing to learn. The trick is to outsource the little easy things, or the stuff you know you can’t do yourself, and then focus your time and energy on the big things that will really improve your business.
Bonus: Stop Comparing Yourself to Everyone Else
I’ve been writing Adventures Around Asia for five years, and it’s awkward and embarrassing when I compare myself to blogs who have only been around for just over a year that are already super successful, make more money than me, and have way more readers.
They say that comparison is the thief of joy, but it’s hard to remind yourself that when you’re busy wallowing in self-doubt.
Sure I’ve been writing for 5 years, but this blog started as a crappy study abroad blog where I wrote about my experiences in diary form. Don’t believe me? Go back and read some of my really old posts and you’ll see! I’ve actually started unpublishing and re-writing some of them because they’re just a waste of space.
While I used to love the fact that everything was there for anyone to read, I realized that no one is reading them, not even me! I’d rather have fewer posts that are good, then hundreds of posts that are awful. Apparently, Google agrees.
I also have to remind myself that I’m not a full-time blogger (as much as I like to pretend I am). I work as a college counselor five (sometimes six) days a week, and while I can get a few things done during my lunch breaks or gaps between students, I don’t have enough time to dedicate myself fully to this site, and I have to miss out on a lot of opportunities that could have helped me grow.
But you know what? People do things on their own time. Sure, it would’ve been easier had I started my blog as a business way back in 2012, but I was a college student just starting my study abroad adventure. I didn’t even know travel blogs were a thing back then!
In business and in life, use the success of others to propel yourself forward, instead of letting it drag you down.
So What’s Next For Adventures Around Asia?
In the spirit of year FIVE, I’ve got five big things coming up next year!
1. I’m Quitting My Job!
FINALLY. The plan is to quit my job and work full-time online when my contract expires at the end of August. I’ll finally be free to travel the world, and I’ll have all the time to focus on my business. I know I’m kind of idealizing life as a digital nomad, but it’s been a long-time coming for this restless girl.
2. Teaching Abroad Amazingness
I get so many questions about teaching abroad, and I have SO much information after living in China for four years, I figured why not share it with you all! I don’t want to turn Adventures Around Asia into a boring “teach abroad blog”, so I’ve come up with a bunch of ways to relay information without boring the rest of you.
But that’s just the beginning. I plan on making a teach abroad resources board with job listings, and I’ve already begun writing a Teach Abroad in China e-book. By the end of the year I hope to have a teach abroad e-course finished too!
3. China Off the Beaten Path
Soon I’ll be starting a China Off the Beaten Path series, where I’ll be talking in-depth about provinces and cities all around China, creating Ultimate Off the Beaten Path guides. When I say “off the beaten path”, I don’t just mean travel destinations. I want to show you all of the things that normal tourists miss. Whether it’s destinations, food, culture, or anything else!
Since I speak Chinese and have a lot of Chinese friends, it’s pretty easy for me to figure this stuff out. With my future unlimited time not chained to a desk, I hope to spend a significant amount of time traveling around China to discover the best stuff to share with you all.
I have a goal to visit every province in China, so I’m hoping to share everything I learn with you here!
4. A Business Outside of the Blog
I’ve realized these past few years how hard it really is to make a business out of my blog. That’s why I’ve developed a new business plan OUTSIDE of my blog that has absolutely nothing to do with travel.
While I’ll still be devoting a lot of time and energy to Adventures Around Asia, I’ve realized I have a lot of skills in other areas after living and working in China for so long. I’ll be starting a new site with courses and consulting that I’m 99% sure none of you will be interested in. However, if you’re curious I can let you know how the business is running, and fill you in on what it’s like running a business abroad that’s NOT a travel blog.
Overall, I think this will be a really great move for my blog. I won’t have to accept sponsored stuff just to stay afloat. I won’t spend all my spare time worrying about making my blog a profitable business while putting affiliate links EVERYWHERE. I’ll still take my blog seriously, but my primary focus will be on YOU, rather than raking in the $$$.
I can write what I want to write, partner with whoever I want, and live a location independent life without whoring my blog out for cash. Sounds good to me.
5. Some Travels Outside of Asia
Unless I change my mind, I might be spending a little bit of time in Europe and Africa in the next year. Just because I blog about Asia doesn’t mean I can’t see other parts of the world. right?
I still plan to keep this site focused on Asia off the beaten path, but I’ll be keeping you updated on my day-to-day life in my monthly recaps. I also might create a tiny “Adventures in Africa” section to share only the coolest and most interesting stuff with you. I definitely will not be writing a bunch of boring posts about Europe, I promise.
Last But Not Least…
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. For every hater, there are tons of positive words of support. Seriously, every time I get a comment, an email or a new newsletter subscriber it makes my day!
I’m so glad that you’ve found my blog a helpful resource or a source of entertainment for all of these years.
Here’s to another five more incredible years of blogging and Adventures Around Asia!