Archive for the ‘Advice for Travel Writers’ Category

Productivity Tips For Freelancers

December 28, 2014

Like many freelancers I struggle to be productive.

It’s hardly surprising. No fixed timetable, no boss, no office, no hard division between our private time and our work time. I reckon I must spend an average of 9 or 10 hours in front of my computer a day. But I probably do a maximum of four or five hours serious graft in that time.

To a certain extent I am willing to accept that. I like checking my Facebook, commenting on a few photos and maybe toing and froing on one or two message streams. I don’t have any work colleagues after all, so this is part of my day’s social interaction. And as my mind takes a long time to wake up, I am also more than happy to kill the first half or full hour of the day reading Arsenal news, rather than cracking a whip over my own back.

Some light time wasting at the beginning of the day is enjoyable and part of the fun of not having to report to “the man”. Rather it’s the ongoing procrastination, flicking through Facebook photos of people I hardly know, or shamelessly letting myself get click baited by distraction machines like Youtube, Huffpost and gossips rags, that I am resolved to fight against. For me the issue has become more than just not getting as much work done as I should…. it’s that, by wasting as much time as I do, I’m effectively preventing myself from doing lots of cool stuff which I currently feel I don’t have time for. A more productive working day could see me finish at 8pm (I usually start work at 2 or 3pm, having got up between 12 and 2pm!), freeing myself for socialising, eating out, or at least watching a great film online in the evening. Right now my most productive working times tend to be from 10pm to 2am. That’s partly my natural nocturnal-orientated rhythm but it’s also partly because, during the afternoon, I can say to myself “relax, no need to hurry, you’re not going to bed before 2am anyway so you’ve still got hours to get this done… maybe there’s some important Arsenal news since you last checked 45 minutes ago…!?” In other words, because I’ve given myself all day to do things, these things don’t really get started on until night, when I could be at a dinner, concert, dance class etc.

Leaving things until the last minute is a terrible habit (that many suffer from!) which has an additional sting in the tail, at least for me, as doing these last minutes tasks often keeps me awake even longer that I planned. Maybe I wanted to go to bed at 3am, but suddenly it’s 5am and tomorrow’s day will start even later than usual and is likely to be less productive as well.

One remedy that I’ve noticed really works – and therefore one that I want to try to consciously implement much more of in 2015 – is setting deadlines during the middle of my working day. Ie. instead of aiming to complete tasks 1, 2 and 3 before going to bed, it’s much better to give each job an individual deadline so that task 1 needs to be done before lunch, task 2 before dinner and task 3 before bed. This method helps keep me focused throughout the whole day, not just at the end of it. Plus if you have something cool you want to do in the evening then it’s great to commit to that and use that as a final deadline… for example just now, as I was writing this article, my friend called and invited me to the pub at 9pm tonight. Suddenly this blog post, which probably would have got done around midnight is being bashed out at superspeed with a deadline of 8.30pm… whilst I know that a rewarding pint is waiting for me once this is published! Clearly for 2015 then I need to hardcode some of these regular rewards into my agenda, so that both the cool stuff and the work stuff gets done.

Another important tip for productivity I intend to implement in 2015, which comes very much from the Tim Ferriss school of thought, and was also rammed home to me during a recent TBEX talk by Tim Leffel, is the importance of hiring other people to do tasks that a) need doing but are not important / impactful enough for you to waste your own time on and/or b) you don’t have the proper skills for, so end up taking you a wasteful amount of time to achieve. The logic is simple. If for example your time is worth 25 GBP an hour, then you shouldn’t spend an hour doing something that someone else can do (often better) for 10 or 15 GBP an hour. Pay someone to do this work and free yourself up for doing the tasks that bring in the bigger money. (I completely agree with their thinking on this one, but with the caveat that this has to be balanced carefully… I am rubbish at Photoshop tasks for example, but if I have to spend an hour anyway finding someone to do it and then telling them what I need, plus paying them, maybe it is better for me to simply muddle through. If it’s a regular task it becomes different of course).

So far I’ve already found an assistant to help me on one of my projects, Barcelona Life travel guide (a franchise of Local Life), and by letting them take care of some of the basic tasks like keep our news and events calender up to date, and our social media profiles too, then I can spend more time optimising some of our key pages to be friendlier for search engines, or building business relationships. Both of which should add to the site’s revenue. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Right, I feel a bit fraudulent at the moment, because the title of this blog post suggested a long list of useful productivity tips… however maybe it’s best to keep it to two or three really good ones:

1) Set several task deadlines during the day to:
a) stay motivated, and get the important stuff done
b) avoid distractions
c) ensure reward / leisure time happens (after all without that why do we work anyway???)

2) Hire assistants to make sure that simple, routine tasks are handled at a low cost, and your time is spent doing the most impactful things that help achieve your goals.

Should be easy enough right? As I move into 2015, with a lot of potential opportunities in front of me, I also have to decide what I’m going to focus on and what will have the most impact, but I guess that’s a post / problem for another day. Finally do check out the link above to Tim Leffel’s talk as I went through it again last night, and it’s a really good one for keeping things in perspective and helping you achieve your goals. I nearly didn’t attend the talk I must say, but it gave me a very valuable kick of the backside in terms of eliminating bad work practices and hopefully moving forward with my various projects, to bring in more income – and more leisure time! The two don’t have to be incompatible if you are smart.

Making Money Travel Blogging

October 23, 2013

Remember when I wrote that post about the (un)truth on making money travel blogging? Well that was 2.5 years ago and things have changed a fair bit since then.

Firstly the bad news. On top of all the struggles that bloggers face trying to surface in an overcrowded sea of information, Google is pro-actively working towards removing the one source of revenue that many small and medium-sized bloggers relied on to keep their blogs going: which was cash for links.

Why? Well there are plenty of reasons Google is against this, some more legit than others, but the bottom line is that Google doesn’t want companies spending their advertising budget with small websites/bloggers just so that those companies then appear (un)naturally in Google’s organic results. It’s understandable… those advertisers are not interested in traffic or “eyeballs”, only SEO effect and increasing their website’s visibility in Google’s search results. And of course Google wants that companies get their traffic by investing their money directly with Google on adwords. (Google argues, coherently, that companies who purchase weblinks are cheating in the search results. Although this moral superiority is also a major convenience for them, bearing in mind that if they can control their own search results exactly, with more accuracy, they can for example tweak them time and time again to force more companies to pay for their traffic via Adwords…. or so a cynic would argue at least).

Whether you hate or love Google (or a bit of both), one thing is for sure as Google’s monopolisation of the web and online advertising continues it will become harder and harder for anyone to make a living through creating content alone. Those bloggers who had some visitors but essentially relied on accepting dough for linklove are likely to lose their income in the coming months/years (sites who break the rules will be punished and removed from Google’s index, and Google, a bit like Big Brother in 1984, is getting pretty smart at guessing who is breaking the rules, partly by encouraging companies to tell on one another) and thus be forced to stop blogging altogether or become amateur bloggers only. So only those websites with very high viewer numbers will be of any value to brands who might want to engage with those readers genuinely (ie. not for SEO purposes as has often happened in the past).

Partly because this has already started to happen, and partly because there was never much money in cashing in on link advertising, travel bloggers have been forced to become quite entrepreneurial in their outlooks, effectively using their blog as a CV/tool to provide other services or sell their own products. Those services might include freelance writing, copywriting, SEO or social media consultancy, branding or destination marketing, to name but a few, whilst typical products sold by bloggers include books, e-books, prints, comics and photos. It’s probably fair to say, just as I argued in 2011, that this not “making money through travel blogging” in a precise sense, but whilst it might involve a lot more than uploading photos of your holidays and scribbling a note or two about them, using your blog to live a self-employed entrepreneurial lifestyle would still allow many to enjoy the freedoms they dreamed about when they first left that much-maligned cubicle.

It’s hard to know how these new threats and opportunities are going to pan out for the average (travel) blogger, but definitely a versatile skill set and flexible and entrepreneurial attitude will be required for the average Joe/jotter/jetter to survive… if you’re one of them say hello and let us know what you’re doing to survive in this big bad world of (travel) blogging!

Freelancing: Pros and Cons

May 22, 2012

Many people dream of the day they can go freelance. No more bosses, no more alarm clocks, live anywhere in the world you want… there’s a fantasy about freelancing that many office workers subscribe to, but – a bit like a week’s holiday in Faliraki – the reality is rarely up to expectations.

On many levels freelancing sucks, and here are some things you should consider before you decide to chuck in the corporate gig, with its free gym membership, health insurance and generous pension.

1) Money. Many freelancers think that they will earn more if they leave their job and service their clients directly. In fact the chances are they will earn considerably less. What you have to bear in mind when you go freelance is that you won’t get paid a single cent for work you haven’t done… unlike with standard employment where you get 25 days holiday, bank holidays, bonuses, benefits, pensions etc. etc. And sick leave. And just days when you can’t be arsed. Your boss may not be impressed if you do bugger all all day, but unless you get sacked you’ll still get your full pay at the end of the month… hangovers, colds and even bad moods are all expensive if you’re a freelancer. To have the same perks and bank balance as a freelancer you’ll probably have to earn at least 25% more than you did as an employee (statistic sourced from the Duncan Rhodes School of Rough Guessing), and if you ever get seriously ill/injured, you’re completely screwed.

2) Admin. Imagine a world where you go to work every day, bust your balls, and then at the end of the month the money owing to you appears in your bank account. Now imagine a world where you go to work every day, bust your balls even harder, and then look at your bank balance to find no one has paid you. In fact you still have invoices outstanding from 6/12/18 months ago. Imagine a world where every day you get up knowing some mofos owe you money and it’s gonna be a major pain in the arse to get it from them. Welcome to my world!!! Not only that but you know those nice girls in accounts. They don’t give a shit about you any more. You’re going to have to try and work out, despite a complete lack of training, how much tax you owe the government every year. And yes it’s a lot more painful paying it back to the tax man in one lump sum after Christmas, rather than have it arrive, minus the amount owing, every month. As time is money, you’d better go back to point one and factor in how much extra time you’re now going to have to dedicate to arduous, tedious, soul-destroying invoice-chasing, general admin. and tax returns.

3) Escaping the office… not as good as it sounds! I always used to think to myself if I ever went to jail I can’t see why solitary confinement would be that bad. I’d rather that than be shut in a cell with a load of rapists, madmen and murderers. But if you’ve ever read the Count of Monte Cristo you’ll realise this is simply not true. Man is a social animal and even bad company is better than no company. Freelancing is a lonely world, and whereas I enjoy sleeping in in the mornings, what I wouldn’t give for a few colleagues I could joke with, flirt with, gossip about etc etc ever day of the week. The office is also useful for helping you maintain a work life balance. You’re in the office you’re at work. You’re out of the office. Fuck work! When you work from home (as with most freelancers) it’s hard to know when you’re at work and when you’re not… and for me at least, I tend to feel I’m always at work. There’s always something important I could be doing. It may sound strange, but the office and the office environment is the thing I miss most about my previous life as an employee. No cuties wear a short skirt around my house, no one cares about the latest Arsenal results and there’s no one to call me “Rat Boy” and throw paperclips at my head when I’m on the phone.

I guess the proof is in the pudding though. Despite all of the above I’m still freelancing, and not planning on changing any time soon. I get to spend a lot of time in cool cities, like Barcelona and Krakow, I can go on (working) holidays whenever I want (even if I rarely do), I can sleep in, I am always available to party if some hot girls want to go out on a Monday night. I am free to work on the projects that interest me most, and take them in the direction I want to take them in… without having to ask anyone for permission. Freelancing = freedom, basically. But the life of an employee is a cushdie life of slavery alright and that’s something you should bear in mind when you’re taking a corporate cockshafting this summer. You may have sold your soul, but chances are you got a damn good price.

Interviewing Celebrities

November 3, 2011

There comes a time in every journalist’s life where he has to interview someone rich, famous, successful, talented etc. and generally – apart from the “guess who I got to meet?” factor – it’s a pretty unenviable task.

(There is actually some practical advice at the bottom of this rambling article by the way, if that’s what you came looking for!).

My number came up earlier this year when, on the back of the Barcelona cocktails article – which I nailed – the editor of Easyjet Magazine called me and said he wanted me to go and interview Ferran Adria and sample the cuisine at El Bulli, arguably the world’s best restaurant of all time. Hahaha, I actually told the Editor I was pretty busy and I’d have to think about it… but of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity in the end… even if the food I was to eat was not the avant garde stuff that made Adria and El Bulli famous, but rather the staff or ‘family’ meal.

So up I go to Roses, hitching a ride with the photographer, her assistant (how much can a freelance photographer earn that they can afford an assistant for f@ck’s sake? One thing that pisses me off about travel writing is that the photographers always seem to get paid much more money than the writers, whose work takes far longer. And with the amount of photographers kicking around I really can’t believe there’s a skill shortage of snappers vs. talented writers), plus an interpreter. The interpreter spent most of the journey noisily filing her nails, and making sure we all understand how much better she knew Ferran than all of us (having worked with him before) and I half fancied she thought she should be writing the piece.  She also emphasised, as the photographer’s assistant proceeded to get us lost, how much he hated people being late. So I was more than a bit pissed off when she then insisted – with 5 mins before the interview was due to start – that we take a 25 minute break for a sandwich.

She was right. Adria was pissed off that we were late. When the photographer didn’t seem to know what the assignment was (we’d been invited to talk specifically about the Family Meal and she was supposed to be photographing the process) he got a whole lot more pissed off. And so it was that I finally sat down with an irritable Adria and the interpreter to start the piece. Adria turned out to be a complete nightmare to interview. He is a nice enough and respectful enough guy, but he clearly has no idea what a journalist wants from him… or doesn’t want to offer it… and getting anything vaguely quotable seemed almost impossible. We weren’t helped by the fact that I was terrified he would end the interview prematurely, on account of his bad mood, and I so I rushed through some of the most important questions on my list.  Things settled down after a while and we managed to get a bit of rapport going… but overall the exercise was a bit of nightmare trying to balance what a) Ferran and the publishers of his new cook book, the Family Meal, wanted to talk about and b) the Easyjet Editor wanted me to write about, all through the medium of a translator and with an irate subject with an aversion to concrete answers and a love of vague abstractisms.

Anyway the article got published this November, but it kind of sucks. Some ugly editing didn’t really help… I hate being edited! (But not quite as much as this guy;). Even if an article is flawed, adding new stuff in or changing things around always throws out the rhythm of the piece and 90% of times makes it worse.  Anyhow if you can be bothered you can go to the fancy online reader thingy at the EJ magazine site to read the piece…

http://traveller.easyjet.com/

So there you go. Celebrity interviews. Don’t do them! Ok do them, but just be prepared… here’s some advice for interviewing not just celebrities, but ordinary mortals as well:

a) Do your research! I scored some brownie points with Adria by at least having read all about him and going through the El Bulli website in detail (clearly most journalists he’d spoken to hadn’t!)

b) Know your assignment! Editors can be vague bastards at times, so pin them down about what they want. Obviously you should have a question list before you go. It helps to have the questions in a logical order and to memorise them, to minimize panicked flicking through notebooks.

c) Check your equipment at least two days before the interview. This means you have some time to repair/replace anything that doesn’t work, or buy batteries or whatever for your voice recorder (you should carry some spare anyhow! Once mine ran out mid-interview and I had to go back and do it all again… embarrassing and a complete waste of everyone’s time!).

d) Don’t be nervous. Who cares if they’re famous? They’re not saving the planet and you’re probably smarter than them anyway. Just look them in the eye and ask them the questions!

e) Let them talk about what they want. Never interrupt them if they’re on a roll, even if it feels irrelevant at the time. So many times I’ve been typing up a transcript only to hear myself stop someone talking at just the moment things start getting interesting, to steer them back on course. Let them go off course and bring them back when they run out of steam.

f) Turn up on time;)

Ok if you yourself have any more sagely pearls of wisdom on the art of interviewing then allow me to refer you to the comments section below…

My Reputation Precedes Me…

August 31, 2011

Apologies for the pretentious post title, but if I was inclined to feeling smug (which I might be if I wasn’t so poor. It’s hard to be smug when you are 33 and still can’t afford to pay off your student loans) then I might be doing just that now.

For this summer, rather than spend ages desperately coming up with new ideas about Barcelona and frantically polishing pitches to submit to the usually deaf inboxes of various impossible-to-contact editors, for a very welcome change they have been coming to me. It started with the Editor of Easyjet Magazine, who heard about me through my regular work with Ink (the media company that seemingly publish half of all budget airlines inflight magazines) contacting me and asking me to research a piece on Barcelona’s cocktail revolution. In fact the said revolution had pretty much passed me by up until now, but thankfully some research did reveal quite a few new places, most famously Albert Adria’s new venture 41 Degrees. And then continued when the Editor of Yeahbaby (also by Ink) asked me to pitch her some summer-themed stories. Hey pronto two feature article commissions and half the effort as usual as I hadn’t had to come up with five different pitches just to land one piece.

The cocktails article was particularly fun to write as it meant checking out some of the most exclusive and expensive places in town, and blagging quite a few free drinks en route. Luckily – after find this post online I was able to track down a knowledgeable and extremely polite gentleman by the name of Albert Montserrat, who kindly agreed to help with the article purely out of his love of cocktails (what a guy!). He promptly introduced me to Jordi Otero of Banker’s Bar – the city’s most prestigious bartender (and younger than me I might add), as well as taking me to Muti’s, a speakeasy cocktail bar known only to a lucky few. Anyway much merriment ensued and you can possibly track down the article here. (Unfortunately the Easyjet Magazine website keeps getting worse). Naturally I also used some of what I learned to bash out a handy text on the best cocktail bars in Barcelona for my own site.

The article that got commissioned in the end for Yeahbaby was about street parties or ‘festes majores’. Basically during summer every district in Barcelona has its own ‘Festa Major’ or Grand Festival, which is usually little more than 4-7 days of drinking on the street, live music, dancing and the odd street decoration. Cheap, authentic and fun for me they are definitely some of the best festivals in Barcelona (hint: La Merce is biggest and best!). I had to write it from memory, which is always tough, but luckily I had the good sense to make just a smattering of notes one year which I kept on my phone and miraculously still had. It’s good to have those first hand concrete details… personally I find them hard to replicate using my imagination alone (guess I’ll never make it as a novel writer after all!). To read the piece you’ll have to navigate their website’s tricky ‘magazine reader’ thingy. Good luck – http://bmibabymagazine.com/.

So there you go prospective travel writers. Get your foot in the door, build your expertise around a destination (or several destinations) and do a great job on every commission and after a while it seems the editors start to come to you… in fact since then Easyjet have come back to me and sent me up to El Bulli to interview none other than Ferran Adria… now that’s what being a travel journalist should be all about!

Travel Websites Franchise

April 6, 2011

…which brings me, untimely, to my next post. If making money with travel blogs is next to impossible, what’s the alternative? (Apart from selling your soul to some Blue Chip monster of course).

Well the people that make money in travel are not round-the-world bloggers rattling off peremptory posts about the status of their digestive system from far flung corners of the globe. They are people who live in great cities/countries and take the time to build a fantastic resource for tourists/travellers to use whenever they plan on visiting.

You could say they build a travel website, rather than keep a travel blog/diary, but then again the difference between a website and a blog is artificial at best… the main difference is that, by focusing on one place the websites of these (far smarter) travel writers become a useful resource which they can brand and sell, and one will perform much better on Search Engines for their niche (although ‘niche’ is a rather broad term for those that cover every aspect of visiting London or Paris for example). Write a 100 pages of content about a small town in Italy and you’ve quite possibly got a leading website on your hands (and suddenly every restaurant, hotel and bar owner in town will want to talk to you). Write one post about every night out you had in South America, Australia and South East Asia and you’ve got an enjoyable, but ultimately next to worthless, site.

The example I am going to cite of a successful travel site is one I used to work for – www.cracow-life.com. By learning a bit about search engines, and by ranking well for key terms like Cracow hotels, Cracow apartments, Cracow restaurants, Cracow stag weekends (the list is endless!) you can make money either from advertisers, or – slightly more complicated – via bookings. Eg. tourists book a hotel via your website and you make 5-20% commission (depending on how much work you do). If you’re top of the tree for the term ‘City Hotels’, you’ll be very very rich in no time at all. (Ok, maybe not for ‘Yerevan hotels‘ but for any mid-sized, vaguely touristy destination).

Unfortunately a lot of people worked this out a long time ago. Which is why with any major destination you’ll be swimming uphill… esp. on key commercial terms like hotels/apartments etc. Being a glutton for punishment that hasn’t stopped me from trying to take on one of the biggest tourist cities there is – Barcelona. I’ve been working on Barcelona Life for nearly two years now and it’s more less been paying the rent on a small room in the city (half the time I work in BCN, the other half in London) for most of that time. It’s been tough and I have been effing poor most months. Really effing poor! But now I have over 25,000 visitors to my site every month and I’ve got great positions on Google.com for loads of key terms like restaurants in Barcelona, Barcelona guided tours and Spanish courses in Barcelona, all of which are potential money earners if you can back that up with some sales skills. You can also make money on strange niche terms – like “Barcelona deep sea fishing” or “Opium Mar VIP guestlist“… the opportunities are, well not quite endless, but much more than selling a few links on a travel blog.

So there you go! The good news is that, back at the HQ of Cracow Life they’ve been busy working on a franchise model which means anyone can take advantage of their great brand, technology and know-how. Of course you need to pay a bit for the privilege (yeah, there’s always a catch!), but if you’re serious about making money with travel websites the headstart working with them with give you – over going it alone – is enormous! (Think a brand that already exists across Europe – check Berlin Life and Moscow Life; great technologies, including Google maps, social media links, embedded videos and, coming soon, iPhone apps; lots of links to help you with your SEO… your site will quickly be visible on Google.com, which is vital to your chances of success; and a community of other team members across the world sharing knowledge and tips).

My advice to anyone looking to start a business in the travel media industry would be to pick a city that is perhaps a little lesser known and get in contact – only an idiot like me would attempt Barcelona, but somewhere like Valencia even might be very lucrative much quicker. Drop me a line if you have any questions and I’ll put you in touch with the head honcho, who is looking for franchise partners right now:)

(Not) Making Money: Travel Blogs

January 28, 2011

Right, apologies once again for a chasmic gap between posts… the reason being that I’ve been busy trying to make money.

Whilst some travel writers might be blissfully content slumming their way through third world countries with only a hammock and a lucky charm to their name, I’m definitely of the variety who likes to be able pay rent on a flat, eat a meal that costs more than 5 euros occasionally and fly to the places I’d like to visit (rather than hitchhike). I do admire the hardcore travellers mind you. I’m just not one of them. Which brings me of course to the sadly considerably less than 64 million dollar question… how do you make enough money, not just to survive, but earn a living as a travel writer?

Yes it’s hardly an original question, and many column inches have been written in answer to the topic already. Most of those inches have focused on the rich potential of travel blogging (shortly before trying to flog you an expensive book on how to realise that potential). The emergence of a handful of ‘celebrity travel bloggers’, the prime example being Nomadic Matt, have got people thinking that it’s actually possible to survive by dossing around India and occasionally getting to an Internet cafe to scribble up your latest adventures… personally I don’t buy it. Some of what follows is conjecture, as naturally I’m not privy to the vast majority of travel bloggers’ accounts sheets, however I have dipped my toes in most of the travel writing revenue streams – and in my experience blogging is arguably the toughest way to grind out anything near a living.

So in answer to the thousands of posts about how to make money as a travel blogger, packed with encouraging comments about how ‘with a little luck and a lot of hard work you can do it too’, here are a few reasons why you can’t…

1) Who are you?

That’s not a philosophical question, but a football crowd style taunt by the way. No one’s heard of you. And the chances are no one but your Mum cares what you had for breakfast in Bali.

2) What can you bring to the already overcrowded table?

There are a billion travel bloggers out there. 99.9% of them aren’t making any money, 90% of them aren’t any good. But they are all standing in your way. Have you really got something that they haven’t? Apart from that venereal disease you contracted in Cuba.

3) How much savings do you have?

In the unlikely event that you are one of the world’s best travel writers (who has been cruelly overlooked by the well-paying travel press/newspapers/guidebook publishers) and you have the discipline to update your blog at the very least once a week (minimum!) and are able to slowly build a gathering of followers (I’m taking it for granted you’re an expert in social media and relentless comment spammer) then your dream still isn’t going to materialise over night. Google won’t even rank your pages for the first six months after you launch your site, and even posting two or three times a week your blog will still be relatively tiny and worthless for two maybe three years… meanwhile you’ll be haemorrhaging cash as you gallivant around here there and everywhere, probably not adding any new insight to what’s already been written about those places. In short don’t expect to make any cash for your first year, more than a few hundred dollars in your second and no where close to a (meagre) living before your third. Yep the life of the travel blogger is the preserve of someone with a large savings account to get started.

4) What do you know about SEO?

I’m guessing there’s a decent chance you don’t even know what SEO is… no shame in that, but it does pretty much put the nails in the coffin of your travel blogging career at its embryonic stage. Search Engine Optimisation is what (successful) bloggers apply to every page on their blog to give it the best possible chance to appear in search engines (ie. Google) for any given search terms. In truth it’s not overly complicated, but it’s absolutely vital to be much better than average at it in a very competitive market. Clever vs. rubbish construction of URLs, page titles, meta tags, descriptions, key words in your texts are the difference between actually getting a trickle of traffic and sinking without a trace. Good link building (from external sites) and internal linking are also vital.

5) Traffic does not equal cash

Even if you do get a tonne of traffic, how are you going to convert that into cash? Your followers might love your witty blog about your life as an Entomologist in Cambodia, but apart from the odd insect repellent manufacturer who is going to advertise with you? What’s your sales strategy? Google Ads bring in pennies not pounds.

This post isn’t supposed to discourage anyone from travel writing. It’s just supposed to put paid to the idea that fortunes are waiting everyone who kickstarts a travel blog. Let’s go back to Nomadic Matt’s website (even if that means giving him another free link! Oh well I’m sure he’s a nice guy). It doesn’t look like a website that’s raking in the cash to me… and here’s why:

1) His front page has a Google page rank of 3. Google ranks every page between 0-10. Pretty much only Google has 10, maybe Facebook and Twitter have 9, BBC front page 8, a big newspaper 7 etc etc. PR3 isn’t exactly embarrassing but I’d be surprised if he’s getting much traffic directly from Google… to put into perspective my friend’s local bike rental company has a PR3. (To put it into even more perspective I have two sites with PR4 and I’m still very far from rich! Even this little blog you’re reading now has a PR2, with all of its 14 odd posts!).

2) Looking again at his front page, the main products he sells are books which tell you about how to make money as a travel writer. What does that tell you? That he makes more money from writing books about making money as a travel writer, than he actually does as a travel writer. (I’m not saying his books are bullshit by the way, but there’s a difference between making some money as a travel writer, which is no doubt what he promises, and making an actual living).

3) He advertises, quite heavily, the fact that he offers advertising. Always a sign that you could do with some more advertisers!

4) He offers a consulting service. Similar to number 2) this. You’ll see he’s obviously developed a healthy sideline in SEO consulting and other blog-related fun stuff. Why? Well in my experience people only develop a sideline when the mainline (?) doesn’t pay the bills!

Overall you have to think that Matt is a guy who’s making some valuable cash from travel writing (he’s sold a few links – see bottom of home page, got a few banners on his travel guides, etc etc.); but at the same time one who has either been forced, or chosen (because of better profits), to branch out his operations, into book-writing and consulting, in order to make real money. That’s obviously completely speculative, but I’ll let you make up your own minds as to whether what I’m saying makes any sense.

This certainly isn’t a post about “dissing” another blogger (us writers are far too mild mannered for that), and I’d definitely say fair play to him – he’s definitely doing all right for himself! On the other hand (and I’m thinking now from the perspective of a would-be newbie travel blogger) this is the guy who’s often wheeled out as the top example of a successful travel blogger. His traffic stats – if true as quoted – are certainly fantastic (120,000 visitors a month. About four times my sites.) and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not making as much money from travel writing alone as a sub-editor at a lowly inflight travel magazine. In fact I’d be really surprised if he was making more. Plus he won’t get any paid holidays, pension, sick leave etc for his efforts. (And trust me that adds up to a lot of cash!).

So there you have it. Not a definitive, packed full of hard evidence, case that travel blogging = poverty, but some tough realities to consider if you’re thinking about going down that route. But what about other routes…

… well despite me arguing that there’s no almost money to be made in travel blogging, there’s the accompanying paradox that the online travel industry is VAST – and still growing. In fact there are thousands of people making small fortunes from writing online about travel. (And normally by writing really badly I should add!). How they do it, and – perhaps more pertinently – how I’m going about doing it (very slowly), is the subject of another post however…

Stay tuned kids:)

Travel Writing Workshops

July 21, 2010

There’s a common misconception among the general public that some people can write and other people can’t. That writing is a mysterious gift, like singing, or perhaps rolling your tongue, that is god-given and can’t be taught. Those of course are the very people who think that a) they could never be a travel writer or b) that they are too talented too learn anything from a workshop about travel writing.

Naturally the opposite is true. Writing is by and large a skill. A very complex one, which is hard to teach, but one which we can definitely all get better at even bearing in mind a few basic principles. That being the case, doesn’t it make sense for all budding travel writers to do their best to access as much training as possible? That was certainly my approach when, the economic crisis having kicked in, I started considering my career options at the start of 2009. I’d already garnered several years experience writing for websites like Cracow Life, whilst working in Poland, and had even had one or two feature articles published, notably in Wizz Air Magazine and Click Air, and naturally a career in travel writing appealed – but was it really possible? When I saw (in The Guardian, I believe) that an established travel writer named Peter Carty was offering one day travel writing workshops in London I thought what the hell, maybe this is the push in the right direction I need … especially as it was only 115 quid! Even if I felt I might be a little advanced for some of the course’s content (with my typical over self-confidence!) I figured, at this price, I’d still get my money’s worth…

Anyway, if you haven’t guessed by now, this post is a plug for that very course and a big thank you to Mr. Carty for kick-starting my career in travel writing. I could tell you about everything I learned during the workshop, such as how to structure an article, the importance of kicking off a piece with a killer sentence, the sinister cliches a serious travel writer needs to avoid and – most importantly of all – how to get inside the mind of an editor and create a pitch that will have a great chance of getting commissioned. However the proof is in the pudding. Since taking Peter’s course I’ve gone from having one or two pieces published when an editor desperately needed something on Poland, to being able to sell regular articles to a contact list of editor’s I have slowly built up. The publications I have written for since the spring of 2009 (when I took the course) include Ryanair Magazine, Easyjet Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller (although they haven’t paid me yet… expect a post about them soon!), CNN Traveller, Jetaway and more. In fact I could have probably won many more commissions but I’ve chosen to concentrate more on my own web based projects for now (more on the very mysterious art form of making money from travel writing for the web another time. It’s not included on Peter Carty’s course, which concentrates on how to sell travel features – which is more lucrative in the short term and a great way to establish your career as a travel writer).

The timing of this post, quite a lot after I attended the course in question, isn’t because I’m the sort of ingrate who sends thank you letters to my auntie a full 15 months after receiving a birthday present, but rather because Peter has finally entered the digital age and launched his website… check it out.

http://www.travelwritingworkshop.co.uk

If you hadn’t guessed by now I can’t recommend his course highly enough.

Writing For Party Earth

April 3, 2010

Right, long time no blog! I’ve been meaning to post something for a while now about my experiences last summer writing for Party Earth, a US-based series of nightlife guidebooks to top European cities. As my first guidebook work it was a big learning experience… and not necessarily one I’m in a desperate hurry to repeat!

My Dad always says if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is, but as I set out for Barcelona in search of fame and fortune the tagline ‘writers wanted – get paid to party in Barcelona’ was inevitably going to arouse my interest. I duly sent in my application form, along with my CV, which for once suited the bill perfectly (I’d spent the last 3.5 years writing about bars and clubs around East Europe and had my own nightlife column in the Krakow Post). I was genuinely raring to go on this one, my perfect job – and barring my lack of knowledge about Barcelona (at the time) and lack of Spanish (errr, still) – I felt I was the perfect candidate. Anyhow to my delight I got offered the job and was looking forward to a hedonistic summer in Spain living it up by night and then penning a few ditties on the beach late in the afternoon.

Then came the shock… my remuneration. The 3,000 USD touted in the job ad was for a guidebook created from scratch. My role was to update an existing Barcelona guide of 60 odd venue reviews and add a handful of new ones… I was to be paid a mere 8 USD for updating an old review and 16 USD for writing a new review. And I was to cover all my own expenses! It was obvious then that should I even buy one drink at a venue that I was visiting for an update then I would have imbibed all the money I earned from reviewing it (a bottle of beer in BCN costs from 3 to 6 euros)! Have two drinks and I would actually be making a loss out of all my hard work!

I thought long and hard about it and was close to refusing Party Earth’s offer. But in the end I felt that it should at least be fun, the opportunity might be more important than money and that I’d be able to visit most of the places without having a drink – just making some notes. I also figured I’d be going to some of these places anyway so if I could recuperate some of the costs of a night out by writing a review that couldn’t be a bad thing either. Finally I thought that the research I was doing for Party Earth would come in handy at least for other purposes (such as writing the Barcelona nightlife page of my fledgling website Barcelona Life). A travel writer survives on their knowledge after all, and one of the keys to being a successful travel writer is making your knowledge pay more than once!

The logic was sound… but unfortunately there were some factors I hadn’t predicted or considered. Firstly I had no idea just how exacting the Party Earth editors would be. My approach at first was to take what was already written in the existing guidebook reviews and just flesh it out with a sentence or two and check all the factual details were correct – easily enough to earn my 8 USD in my opinion! However these reviews would be sent back to me with a long list of required amendments… every review had to contain concrete details of the decor, layout, crowd, music, vibe and also had to include a top tip for making the most of the place. (So you really had to get to know the places well!). In fact I thought these guidelines were excellent, but they were also very demanding and inflexible, and doctoring the often poorly-written existing reviews to fit the criteria was very time-consuming. What with travelling to the venue, being in the venue, travelling from the venue, writing/updating the review, writing the amendments, I must have been spending several hours on each place! It’s very likely I was averaging 2 or at most 3 dollars an hour for this work (in the most efficient case). Nightclubs were worse than bars because they are harder to pop in and out, in more distant locations, and Party Earth don’t cover the cost of entry – insisting that we should be able to arrange a free visit for the coverage we’re giving them. Sound in theory, but you try telling a Spanish gorilla who doesn’t speak English that you are here to review the incredibly popular club he is barring your way to and you won’t get very far. Organising guestlists for all the clubs was another (time-consuming) headache, made a nightmare by my poor language skills.

The whole experience seemed to be an endless project, structured around my weekly Skype meetings, with my line manager Dan. Despite Dan being a very nice guy, talking to him about an infinite roll of amendments began to drag after this two month project had entered into it’s fourth and even fifth month. (I should point out I wasn’t working full time by any means, but a sizeable chunk of each week got taken up, esp. in the initial three months… later when the research had been done it was just the amendments that kept rolling in!).

One thing that I have to commend Party Earth for was that they kindly agreed to renegotiate my contract so that reviews which involved extensive rewriting were credited as new reviews – and remunerated by 16 not 8 dollars! This was a bit of life-saver as revising the existing reviews was often taking longer than writing the new reviews! Unfortunately some of this good work by them was later undone when I had to pay a 50 dollar fee via Paypal just to receive my total payment from them (which came to 1277 USD)… that was the equivalent of three new reviews wiped out just to get paid for the work that I had done! That really pissed me off, and I think if you are contracting foreign staff you should be willing to pay the bank fees.

Overall it was an exciting project to work on, and I think together we created a great nightlife guide to Barcelona… but from a travel writer’s perspective it was a hell of lot of work and hassle for not very much money. Nor was it anywhere near as fun as you might imagine. A night out in a club because you have to be there (often my mates were all somewhere else!), with no spending money is obviously a far cry from an all-expenses paid booze up… the realities of nightlife journalism, even for a major US publisher, are not glamorous it seems!

I think, despite my gripes, writing for Party Earth worked out for me in some strange way. It gave me a reason and focus to be here in Barcelona for a couple of crucial months, and (a lot later than I would have liked) it paid out a bit of money; whilst the knowledge I gained working for them is helping me in compiling various city guides, be it for my own projects, like Barcelona Life or Urban Travel Blog, or for Easyjet Magazine or whoever….

If you’re thinking of accepting an assignment to write for Party Earth hopefully this advice will help you… you can always contact me if you need some more info! Meanwhile I’d definitely be interested in hearing about other writers’ experiences working for other travel guidebooks etc (you might find this amusing book by the now infamous Thomas Kohnstamm instructive too… an expose of life as a Lonely Planet guidebook writer! Very droll, I’ll get a review up one of these days!).

Candid Camera (Lomography in Barcelona)

February 13, 2010

One of the disadvantages in writing for bi-monthly publications is the long gaps that arise in between researching your article, writing/submitting it and then seeing it published. Why is this a problem? Well the obvious bugbear is that, if you only get paid on publication, it can lead to big cashflow issues! Whilst a smaller difficulty arises when there is a big gap between conducting the research and deadline day… for example by the time I’d finally got the go ahead for my piece on Lomo photography in Barcelona (some time in autumn 2009) I was having to stretch my memory several months to when I actually researched the piece (back to spring 2009) to recall vital info and set a credible scene. I do use a voice recorder to get the all-important quotes but carrying a notebook isn’t always practical and I do rely on memory for thoughts, impressions and details. Anyway I mention this as a caveat to aspiring travel writers: some ideas and articles will, whether you like it or not, take longer to materialise in published form than you’d ideally like, so try to be better prepared than I usually am to keep them fresh on ice!

Anyhow finally, a good nine months after I spent a very enjoyable weekend with Barcelona’s Lomography community, and four months after I submitted it to the editor, my article was published by Jetaway.

http://jet2mag.com/2010/02/01/candid-camera/

It looks better in print naturally, with a selection of mine and more talented Lomographers shots to accompany the piece! But anyway it was a great subject, and I think I just about did it justice!

This prodigious wait to see it in print did get me thinking that, much as I love both Jetaway and the editor, from a business point of view it does make more sense to submit ideas to monthly magazines first. Not only do they commission faster, get printed faster and therefore end up paying much faster, but there is less scope for things going wrong. If an article gets published a few weeks after it gets commissioned there is less chance of the article being canned because of some issue you have no control over… such as the airline going bust! It’s happened before, believe me.