Blog income report February 2018 main

Welcome to my blog income report for February 2018!

Me on the Golden Chariot Train

If you are new here, my name is Mar and I am the Owner and Editor of Once in a Lifetime Journey. The photo on the left is me on The Golden Chariot luxury train in the south of India.

This blog is four years old this month and is about luxury and out of the ordinary travel. If you are keen to read about one of the 97 countries I have been to, check out my Destinations page. Not all countries are represented there because some of them I visited long before I started this blog, but a fair few will be.

If you are an avid traveler you may also want to check my Travel Resources page with my recommendations for the best apps, tools and websites I use when planning, going on or returning from a trip.

It all started with a post about How Travel Bloggers make Money. It then followed with a book expanding to all niches and to all online channels.

For the book research, I scrutinised in detail, over 50 blog income reports from top earning bloggers. And it got me thinking.

Should I also publish my own blog income report?

Deciding to do so was not an easy or obvious choice. But like I always say with everything in my life:

What is the worst that can happen?

So I took it with a “try and see” approach: let’s try to publish a couple of income reports and see if it brings me and my readers any value.

If it doesn’t, I will stop.

If it does, I will continue to share them.

You will be asking, why am I sharing such personal and private information with a world of strangers and what value do I expect this to add to you or me?

That is precisely the same question I asked myself a few times before taking the leap. The answer is similar to the rest of the bloggers who share their income breakdown and it is two-fold:

1. Firstly, I feel it will be valuable for me to reflect and track my own progress and it will aid in keeping myself accountable to my priorities. I am a big fan of data-driven decisions and of analytics, so looking at graphs and trends is something which has always been in my DNA.

2. Secondly, I hope it will also help give others looking to make money online new ideas on ways to monetise their blog, because I am not doing what most people do and have a diverse and varying monthly income which will reflect in a different income report to the majority of the very successful bloggers.

3. Thirdly, although there are lots of bloggers publishing income reports, there are very few in the travel niche, and outside of the US, so I felt I could add something into the conversation

All too often, the more popular bloggers on the list of top-earning blogs I looked at draw too much of their blog’s revenue from streams that are hard to replicate by other bloggers in the short-term. I am referring to things like large advertising amounts or affiliates in very competitive niches with lots of available content. At the lower end of the scale, a lot of bloggers earning $1,000 to $2,000 are just doing the obvious things like ads and some sponsored posts. It is hard to draw too many learnings from that and, as the world of blogging becomes more and more saturated, these revenue streams will only become more scarce.

Why am I different from them?

I am pretty special 🙂 No really, I think I can bring in something the rest of the bloggers publishing income reports can’t.

 I had a full time job  – For the first 4 years of running the blog and for 15 years in total, I had a full time job for various corporations. This was up until January 2018, when I decided to focus my attention on the blogs and influencer work completely. Also, I am open to trying out all sorts of different ideas, testing them, learning what works and what doesn’t and moving on from failures. I was never afraid to fail, but I always feared not trying.

 I am in the travel niche  – Travel is an interesting niche because not a lot of blogs publish income reports and because a lot of the value received is in kind. This type of “income” is not usually reflected by other bloggers and I want to make a point of adding it in because it is a saving that I would have otherwise incurred.

I hope I can share these insights and also remain more relatable than the larger bloggers who publish blog income reports running in the thousands of dollars every month.

Previous Income Reports

If you are not new to my Income reports or to this blog, you can probably skip the next two sections about how it all started and what makes me and my blog unique.

If you are new to Once in a Lifetime Journey and just stumbled upon my blog income report, let me give you the lowdown about my background and how I got here.

I started my blog in February 2014 as a repository of my travel experiences. It was mostly an online diary of sorts and I tried to keep the blog as hidden as possible. I did not tell anyone I was writing it for the first few months as I was writing for myself.

Blogging was therapeutic for me, akin to meditation. I had just quit my eight-year long management consulting career and was taking a break, experimenting with opening a cafe, investing in some startups and even running a travel company.

You can read more about my background in my About page, where I tell you why and how I travelled 80% of my time and how I decided to start a blog.

Blogging was therapeutic for me, akin to meditation

My efforts to hide my online presence were quite successful and although I kept adding new content, the Google magic only helped at the beginning, bringing me lots of strangers that were interested in reading about my shenanigans. But once the world of blogging became so crowded and everyone started travel blogs, the additional content started to bring me no additional growth in views or readers.

This inflection point happened just a couple of months after I attended a travel blogging conference in October 2015 in Bangkok. I had not tried to monetise my blog at all until that point, in fact, I had only just started telling people I had it over a year after it started.

The conference opened my eyes to the possibilities of earning a full time living from a blog. From that moment onwards, my entrepreneurial and business mindset could not stop me from at least trying to make it happen.

I also realised that my personal blog, this one you are on, was a good avenue for my trips but that my niche and personal preferences were very unique. I visit either very remote and off-the-beaten-path destinations which receive little to no tourists or go on luxurious vacations. I have a few friends who enjoy the same type of travel, but this dichotomy did not help my positioning as it was slightly schizophrenic and almost an oxymoron.

 Do you know what The 10 Least Visited Countries in the World are?  -> I compiled my own data in this article

In order to have a more niche-oriented blog, I decided to start Singapore n Beyond which is entirely focused on Singaporean residents, providing them with long weekend trip itineraries curated by local experts in and around Asia or beyond. I started Singapore n Beyond because I realised this was an unanswered need. Singapore is small and residents tend to travel a lot, in fact Singapore ranks among the 10 best travelled nations. I intended to start the blog with the intention of monetising it.

However, I have had a full time job until today so revenue has never been an objective of mine. I have a very financially-oriented mind and I create business plans for everything I do. I have also invested in a couple of startups as an angel investor. But I did not truly look at the blog as a business until 2017.

I am telling you this so you understand my frame of mind.

I never sought maximum monetisation from the blog so I declined a lot of offers from brands looking to collaborate that were not in the price range I was willing to accept. I priced myself at the higher end of the range to maximise my hourly rate not my total income.

Had my income depended on the blog, I would have accepted a lot of subpar offers and increased my monthly earnings, albeit at the expense of my hourly rate.

Although a lot of my learnings and experiences will be relatable and replicable, I need to point out a few things which make my blogs unique:

I outsource

I am a strong believer in outsourcing for two reasons. I believe in specialisation and in maximising productivity as a whole. Hence, it makes no sense for me to do something I am not good at and will take long to solve when I can hire someone who will do it better and faster (hence cheaper).

What this means:

1. I hired a Content Manager early on to take care of Singapore n Beyond and help me with the management of the two blogs. He takes care of uploading articles into WP, managing all the SEO related stuff, some social media and also editing videos and photos and he has a two degrees in English and Multimedia respectively.

2. I engage paid freelancer writers to produce the content for Singapore n Beyond. This is not just for efficiency purposes but because I wanted the content to be provided by a writer who knew the destination very well, not just me after a 2-3 day trip. So the content there is curated by local experts.

3. I have a part-time social media manager who handles Pinterest.

4. I hire freelancers for a lot of other tasks that require a skillset.

5. I use an IT and WordPress expert who I found on Fiverr long ago to handle all the WP related stuff, changes, fixes and anything. She is awesome and she is quick and very affordable.

You may not have the financial ability or agree with the mentality of outsourcing, but for me it is key and it allows me to be where I am and do what I love while letting others do what I am not good at. Having a virtual team also helps me feel better as I have someone to discuss things with, brainstorm and feel a sense of belonging.

I am very 80/20

This refers to Pareto’s principle that 80% of the value is driven by 20% of the effort and so 80% of the effort brings only 20% of the value. I strongly believe in this.

What this means:

1. I am happy to live with things being 80% perfect. I am a perfectionist and have my pet peeves, but I am comfortable doing things that are not 100% perfect. This allows me to be really fast and try things out, then iterate and improve. It is probably something that was part of my personality and got further emphasized by working for Google where this is very much the philosophy – launch, iterate and learn.

2. This also allows me to be very efficient as I rarely delve into something for too long. I assess pros and cons then just try it and see so I churn out a lot of output leading people to believe that I am super human because it seems that I do more than the average person. This is just because the last 20% takes a lot of effort and I prefer to complete it while something is live than delve on it for too long.

I am not afraid to fail

I really am not afraid to fail, do things wrong, be wrong or appear as I have failed. This is very much my personality. I am ok with a high risk of failure. I prefer to try myself and learn from it and I strongly believe it is better to try and fail than to have never tried.

And hey, I am here right? 😉

What this means:

1. I try things, I am not scared or ashamed to admit when I fail, learn and improve or move on. It is probably fair to say that I care less about what others think than the average. This is not to say that I do not listen. I have a group of trusted advisors I refer to, and I always listen to my readers, but I am not worried about the “what others might think”. If I think I am doing the right thing, I will go ahead.

2. This also makes me open to try new things even if they may not work and gives me the chance to learn from myself.

3. At the same time, that may also bring some inefficiencies as I like to try things for myself before reading about other’s failures as I often think one size does not fit all in the world of making money online. So I may waste some time trying something instead of learning from other’s failures.

I am proactive with hotel collaborations, rarely reactive

I have not changed since monetising my blog, nor do I intend to change, my travel style or spirit regardless of how much I monetise my blog or where my income comes from.

I rarely take up hotel/destination offers to go on press trips or stay with them in exchange for coverage unless they are trips I wanted to take anyway and a property I was looking to stay at.

So, I reach out to properties I want to work with after very thorough and in-depth research to ensure I will be 100% happy to recommend them afterwards.

My process for approaching a brand to work together is as follows. I first decide where I want to go, what property will fit the luxury niche of my blog, then conduct detailed due diligence on the options available and finally reach out to them if I am convinced they are a brand I will honestly recommend.

As a result, I work with very few brands and I rarely take up offers I receive for sponsored stays.

This differs to a lot of other bloggers who will include reviews of a wider range of accommodation options and hence can work with many brands. I only review the top of the range as I want to maintain my luxury travel niche positioning.

Since August, I have decided to pause the sponsored stay work for a while and pay for my trips. This is for two reasons. Firstly, I want to avoid the very significant extra work that comes with having to fulfill a contract requirement. When your holidays become work, you never take rest or disconnect. This is what happened to me. In order to spend free quality time with my partner, I decided to pause on sponsored work. That does not mean that I do not review properties, I still do, but I do not have anyone to respond to beyond my readers so I do not need to spend hours taking photos, wake up at sunrise and pose endlessly until I find the right photo. Secondly, I have also become quite disenchanted with luxury hotels. I had a string of three very luxurious properties which were billing themselves as the best of the best and turned out to have very mediocre service standards. I never want to find myself in the situation where I work with a brand I have to write a lot of areas for improvement about. So I was glad I had paid in full for those trips.

From August on I have paid for almost all my trips to Azerbaijan, Nihi Sumba and El Salvador and I received no sponsorship.

My approach to working with hotel brands not only ensures that I can be honest with my reviews and remain true to my luxury travel niche but also that, when a brand is not interested in working with me, and that happens 50% of the time, I most likely still book a room and pay for it myself 100%.

What you see in my review section is therefore 100% legitimate and honest. But the value I extract from sponsored stays is lower than I could have got and than most travel bloggers enjoy, so I consider it to be at the lower end of the range.

I can currently afford this approach because I can pay for my luxury travel but it also makes me quite unique in the world of travel blogging, especially in the luxury segment where a lot of the brands only work with bloggers that have a very large reach.

Maybe one day I will not be able to continue paying for luxury hotels charging upwards of $1,000 a night and I will have to succumb to my principles. But I genuinely hope I never have to sell my soul to the Devil and can remain independent and writing in the luxury travel niche.

What this means:

1. While the above applies to Once in a Lifetime Journey, that is not the case for Singapore n Beyond which is not segment focused and which recommends brands in all price ranges. For Singapore n Beyond, I make sure the brand is reliable in its price range, its a brand I would recommend and then look for a writer that will be keen to cover the destination and has an affinity for it and I send them on my behalf. I have three writers who I have engaged this way with.

2. If you are looking to monetise your blog through sponsored stays, consider the value I get in the lower end, you can probably extract more value from a similar reach and audience than me.

What I was up to in February 2018

February was pretty busy because I was in India for two weeks on a trip with the Ministry of Tourism and then a few days by myself in Kerala.

Also, the month will always be known for being the inflection point in my career and my life:

 I left my full time job at Google to focus full time on blogging and digital marketing consulting. 

That is right, I left the world’s best company to join the unknown and blurred world of online entrepreneurship. So far so good, but ask me in six months and I will tell you if I still think it was a good idea 🙂

Most people think it is crazy to leave a very well paid job at Google to then go and work for yourself on something you still need to build from the ground up. The truth is that…

“We never regret the chances we take but the ones we didn’t take”

In a bout of bravery, I decided to leave my job and give it a shot.

I genuinely believe life is too short to do something you do not love and while I loved working at Google and it is an experience I will always cherish, it was not a job I loved and felt passionately about. This blog, consulting to brands on digital marketing and traveling are the things that I love doing so I want to do more of that and less of the things I do not love.

Travel in February 2018

I did quite a lot of travel in February and took pretty much every possible mode of transport there is: trains, tuk tuks, ubers, boats, cruises, cars and planes.

After my last day at Google, I went to India where I spent the rest of February. I was invited by the Ministry of Tourism to join another 14 bloggers onboard The Golden Chariot luxury train exploring Karnataka. I then tagged along a few more days in Kerala in Kochi and the backwaters. I was supposed to also go to the spice and coffee plantations of Thekkady, in Kerala, but I returned home slightly earlier because I caught the flu and was ill for a week.

This was my travel schedule for February:

 17th to 27th of February onboard The Golden Chariot for the India Blog Train campaign. I explored Bangalore, Mysore, Hampi, Belur, Halebidu, Pattadakal and Goa among other places on a truly incredible trip

 28th February to 4th March in Kerala, both in Kochi as well as on The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda boat in the backwaters

Progress on the blog in February 2018

Cal and I are full on devoted to improving the blog by updating and making all the old posts better while continuing to publish new content from my trips.

There are over 500 articles on the blog so that is a lot of effort. We are also doing the same for Singapore n Beyond. That is a major undertaking and it is probably going to take us the first half of 2018 to complete it, but we will get there. Slow and steady.

This has also brought up some interesting facts and information about my readers, like the most read posts on the blog which are as follows:

1. Fun, hipster and alternative things to do in New York

2. Honeymooning in Bora Bora or the Maldives?

3. 4 days in Barcelona

4. Luxury resorts in Bintan and Batam

5. Best things to do in Phuket

6. 4 days in Tokyo

7. 4 days in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka

8. 4 days in Central Vietnam: Da Nang, Hue, Hoi An and My Son

9. Wineries near Barcelona

I tried to understand what brings people to my blog for these posts and what made them successful as the above became high-traffic popular posts without me trying to game the system or plan any white hack tricks, these were posts that were genuinely well written with valuable information and so they attract a lot of readers. The question is, how to repeat the success of these posts?

This is what Cal and I are trying to do in 2018.

The book: 30 Proven ways to make money online with or without a blog

I am hyper proud to say that I finally received the proof for the book in February but since I went on the trip to India, I decided to wait until my return to publish the book. But the book is now out and available on Amazon! YAY! Click on the image below or here to check it out. 

30 Proven Ways to Make Money Online

I also updated the article which inspired the book: 28 ways to make money online. It is still one of the most read on the blog and one which provides invaluable insights into the digital nomad life.

Personal and life

February was a truly life changing month. I had my last day at Google and I also went on my first trip with Incredible India. It was a rewarding, scary and fascinating month. It had a bit of everything.

We will have to wait a few more weeks to see whether that was the right or wrong decision. In these situations, those who know me well know that I always ask myself “What is the worst that can happen?”

In this case, the worst that can happen is that I regret it and return to the corporate world. There is no shame in trying. There is no shame in making mistakes. I think it is far more shameful to be a coward and not try.

So here I am, a new chapter in my life.

And on that note, let’s look at February earnings.

Revenues in the month of February 2018

February was a slow month. Every time that I am away traveling, especially to a place with limited internet like India, I obviously have less time to work and so I earn lower income. It is a reality of being a self-employed entrepreneur and one which I am very aware of and I accept.

Here is the breakdown of February’s revenues:

–> S$ 0 From Brand collaborations

–> S$ 50 Accommodation affiliates

–> S$ 930 Ad revenues

–> S$1,000 Social media management

–> S$ 2,340 from Influencer marketing consulting like the one for Nustay

 TOTAL blog income in February 2018: S$ 4,320 

 TOTAL blog value in February 2018: S$ 11,000 

Things to note:

– All amounts are in Singapore Dollar which fluctuates around 1,3 times the USD. This is because my accounts are in SGD and so is my accounting.

– I included affiliate revenues which have been accrued even if they have not been paid because affiliates have a threshold for payments which can be as high as USD150.

– The above includes income generated from both blogs. It is time consuming for me to split the two so I will keep it together for now.

Advertising revenues

Mediavine advertising revenues have continued to grow and are reaching relevant and stable levels. I expect it to increase a bit more as I fine-tune some posts to reach a bit closer to S$ 1,000 but not more. I still have AdSense on my Singapore n Beyond blog but that is a fraction of my Mediavine revenues.

Social media management

My social media management work kicked off this month. I started to finally manage the facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram pages of a fine dining restaurant and private event management company in Singapore, Xin Divine and also to create and manage their AdWords, facebook and LinkedIn ads. These are not income streams I pursue but that find me through networking and word of mouth. If the client understands the potential and is ready to pay the right price, I take on the clients and work together to help them grow.

Influencer and digital marketing consulting

Influencer and digital marketing services is something which has been working really well and where I see my real value-add. My in-depth experience on both sides puts me in a privileged and unique position to help both influencers and brands. The more I work in this industry, the more obvious it is that setting up the practice is the right thing to do and I have no doubts I can be successful and better than most agencies in the market who are not influencers themselves and don’t really know the ins and outs of influencer marketing from the point of view of the blogger him or herself.

As this was a month when I was away, I had limited work but some new campaigns are in the making for the months to come based on negotiations in the month so fingers crossed they will materialise.

Affiliate revenues

Something interesting happened this month. After being with Hotels Combined for years and slowly growing my revenues and referrals, they decided to drop my rate to practically nothing. I had heard other bloggers sharing similar situations before but it sounded too dodgy to be true. Now it has happened to me. This is the graph of the visits, lead value and my earnings. Just when I thought that I had finally cracked the secret of the hotels affiliate revenues….

Affiliate drop from HotelsCombined

Affiliate drop from HotelsCombined

I emailed them to ask how come suddenly my earnings, aka what they pay me for every customer I refer them, dropped to cents even though the lead value didn’t and their response was that they reviewed my rate because they realised that I had lower booking rates.

It is interesting to see that happen when I finally make money with them. In February I should have made about $200 yet I made barely $50. The trend is even worse in March.

I do not like these sort of business practices when you feel you have been shorted so I have decided to change affiliate to Agoda instead because they are more professional and I have not heard of any other blogger report other questionable business practices. So far, just by adding their affiliates a bit, I am already making much more with Agoda so fingers crossed. Also, Agoda tends to have the best rates anyway so they are a good choice for my readers.

Interesting statistics for February 2018

There are a few other statistics and elements of the blog that are worth tracking and noting.

Domain Authority

Once in a Lifetime Journey DA

Once in a Lifetime Journey DA

My Domain Authority for Once in a Lifetime Journey stayed at 38 which is good news but I am also hoping that the numbers will start increasing soon.

I do not pay too much attention to Moz because it is becoming increasingly of less value with other measures like Ahref’s Domain Rank coming up as better alternatives but it still is a widely acceptable and valuable ranking system for the credibility and standing of your website, so something every bloggers keeps an eye on.

If you are keen to know how DA correlates with traffic or what it means, I wrote a very in-depth post about it. I was curious to understand how much correlation there is between DA and traffic of a site. DA is a very obsessive metric for bloggers and a sign of success and a source of pride. If your domain authority is high, you feel that you are a doing a good job. For a lot of people, DA is more important than traffic and for a lot of brands who are purely looking at placing a link, DA is all they care about.

Domain Authority and Traffic Main

Value from sponsored stays

When I started monetising the blog, this was the main source of income and something which was very valuable to me. In September, I told you how I put this on hold until the right opportunities came up and this is the time.

In February I went on this great trip I told you about, The India Blog Train which took 60 bloggers in for luxury train travel across several parts of India.

I love, love, love train travel and have been on several long term train trips, including one through Rajasthan in India, onboard the Maharajas Express, also part of The Great India Blog Train. I have also been on Golden Eagle’s Trans-Siberian luxury train trip, a completely over the top luxurious experience, and on the Rovos Rail Pretoria to Cape Town train.

So when the opportunity to go on The Golden Chariot came up, I couldn’t pass up on it. Firstly, it is a perfect match to my luxury travel niche. Secondly, I know it is something my audience, you, would enjoy reading about because it is different, fabulous and interesting. Also, I got to experience a part of India that is lesser known and which receives less tourists than most of the famous parts. And well, there was a day in Hampi as well, which has been on my wishlist for a really long time.

So check out all the #IndiaBlogTrain posts on Instagram for a really good dose of wanderlust.

For really great reads on the journey, check out my posts below (more will appear as I publish them):

I conspicuously declare when the stay has been sponsored to comply with regulations, my code of conduct and the professional integrity I believe all bloggers should adhere to. If you see no disclaimer in a hotel review, rest assured I paid for it as I do in more than 90% of my travels.

Traffic and readership

February was a shorter month by three days from January so, expectedly, traffic should have been lower than January. March is showing the same upwards trend but February was a bit of a lower month.

Amount and Traffic graph

Amount and Traffic graph

Despite the total page views was not as high as January, the number of sessions continued to grow, mostly driven by the fact that the traffic is increasingly coming from organic Google search results which means more sessions.

Business opportunities I declined

As always, lots of funky, interesting and down right dodgy requests received. However, someone managed to make me smile even in the load of similar standard outreach emails. They included this gif in the email while telling me that, until my reply, they would be typing away.

At least it made me laugh and them to stand out, so good tip for those doing plain old email outreach.

Doggy typing gif

Doggy typing

2018 Goals

I set these goals in January so let’s see how we have progressed in the first two months of the year.

AreaGoal for 2018January progress
TrafficBring traffic to 200,000 across both blogsDrop in February, I don’t think it is anything to worry about but we are very focused on this
Domain AuthorityIncrease to 45No change in February but I am slowly focusing on writing pieces for other publications to increase authority on the matter
Influencer and digital marketing practiceSet up Once in a Lifetime Media

Build the revenues to $15,000 a month
No time to set up the practice website but it is something that I want to do before the end of the first quarter in 2018
TrustPilotCollect 15 reviews from clients and brands I have worked withI need to chase clients for this starting asap
Press KitRevamp and improveNot started
Affiliate revenueIncrease revenues to $1,000Massive drop on Hotels Combined so changing to Agoda
BookSell 100 booksReady to publish in March
Advertising revenueMake $1,500 a monthOn track
Personal brandingBuild my personal brand
- Interview filmed
- Spot at Mumbrella Asia Marketing summit confirmed
- Spot at Digital Travel APAC conference confirmed
Niche SiteBuild a site generating $2,000 a monthNot started
AdWordsTest AdWords budgeting and monetisationNot started
TravelContinue to travel and reach 105 countries visited. Beat my 140 days on the road personal record- Trip to Somaliland almost confirmed
- Trip to Fiji with Outrigger Hotels confirmed
- Trip to Bawah Island confirmed

Wrapping up February 2018

February was a slow month on the blog but a great one in terms of travel. Spending time with 14 other bloggers also meant learning lots of things about how others do their work, which is like going on a conference.

I need to continue working on building the blog as well as finally setting up the Digital Media practice website.

Let me know what your thoughts are, what you would love to see more of, less of and what questions come to mind. Also, if anything is not clear, drop me a line. My contact details are in the Contact page.

Looking forward to another great month.