Blog income report for July 2018 main

Welcome to my blog income report for July 2018!

W Singapore - Sentosa Cove

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 the W Singapore on Sentosa Cove. In July I enjoyed a couple of short staycations in Singapore.

This blog is four and a half years old and is about luxury and out of the ordinary travel. If you are keen to read about one of the 100 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 and handed in my resignation for my job at Google. 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 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 had a full time job until February 2018 so revenue was 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 was 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.

In August 2017, I decided to pause the sponsored stay work for a while and pay for my trips. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to avoid the very significant extra work that comes with having to fulfil 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 became 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.

In the second half of 2017 I paid for almost all my trips and in the first half of 2018 this has continued albeit with some selective collaborations now that I have time to travel more flexibly.

But this has not changed my approach to working with brands and this 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 if that is the hotel I want to showcase on my blog.

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 a few 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 July 2018

July was a quiet month with no travel. Yes, you heard it right, the first month this year and in a few years, that I spent at home.

The pool area and swim up bar at the W Singapore - Sentosa Cove

Even on s staycation, there is work to be done, this is of the pool at W Singapore – Sentosa Cove

I had decided that I was not going to travel for a while ago. I wanted to have at least one, but ideally two, months without any distraction so I could focus on growing the basics and fundamentals of the blog. It is very difficult to work while I travel because I am trying to make the most of it and because, well, I am already working when I travel: taking pictures, shooting video, interviewing the staff, exploring the area for writing later, etc. So there is no time to actually do other basic tasks or to write.

July was going to be all about the foundations. But then, a huge opportunity came along and I could not say no. So there went the time spent on the fundamentals, right out the window, as this project took me all month and most of August to complete.

Travel in July 2018

So there was no travel in July. But I did want to make sure that I continued to build my content around Singapore, the city I live in. So I decided to revamp my article on the Best Luxury Hotels in Singapore and add in a couple of staycations.

For those who don’t know, staycations are a very Singaporean thing. While I never fully understood how they came along, they are very popular. Some say it has to do with the facts that the locals live with their parents, or that there are no in-country getaway options since Singapore is so small, or that the majority of the people don’t have pools at home (expats live in condos with pools, locals usually live in social housing subsidized by the government but without any facilities).

The sun-kissed verandah bathrooms at Hotel Fort Canning

The sun-kissed verandah bathrooms at Hotel Fort Canning

Either way, it is common and not strangely seen, to book yourself into a hotel for one or two nights over a weekend. And this is what I did. I booked myself into the W Singapore on the premium Sentosa Cove estate and then also at the Fort Canning boutique hotel. The two experiences could not have been any more different.

The W was a complete disaster. So much so that we didn’t even stay to enjoy the huge pool. There were children everywhere, the resort was crowded, there were traffic jams at breakfast and the constant family feel with splashing and noise made it a very unrelaxing affair. The service was also appalling.

It was extra disappointing because W is a brand I had come to like and enjoy. With a very specific branding and positioning, I thought this was the right place for a couple like us to enjoy and indulge. Turned out this was a paradise for families. You can read more about my experience below.

Fort Canning was a very different story. Located in a heritage building on top of Fort Canning Park, in the middle of the city, this was a relaxing and great stay and I loved the rooms. We had originally booked the Intercontinental Hotel which I had stayed at before several times, as a Royal Ambassador level guest when I was still in consulting and not living in Singapore. I had great memories of the hotel. But this time it was a complete and utter disaster.

The check in was lengthy, no recognition of my Gold status or any privileges given, the concierge didn’t even mention it until I asked and she said the hotel was full. The check in took 15min with no explanation about why that was happening.

We were given keys, got up to the room, got changed and were ready for the pool when we couldn’t find it. We asked and were told the pool was closed. No notification, no excuse just that the pool had an issue so they closed it. We were given the offer of going to Naumi Hotel for the pool. I loved Naumi (here’s my review) but if I wanted to use its pool I would book there, at half the price of the S$500 a night the Intercontinental was charging.

So we checked out. They were clearly unfazed, gave us no issues and refunded us completely. On a spur of the moment, I booked Fort Canning and what a great outcome that was.

The grand entrance to Hotel Fort Canning

The grand entrance to Hotel Fort Canning

Fort Canning is a boutique hotel managed by a real estate company with other assets like malls and was a true oasis in the city. Surrounded by lush greenery in a peaceful area, away from the traffic, yet about 5min down to Bugis. The moment I walked into the room I was happy. Light was flooding in via the terraced bathroom and I just felt great with our choice. Check out my reviews of both the W Singapore – Sentosa Cove and For Canning below.

Progress on the blog in July 2018

I wanted this month to be all about the blog and, while for the first two weeks it was indeed about that, my focus had to shift to a new project afterwards. You will read more about it later and in my income breakdown.

I had laid out this plan for the month with everything I wanted to improve but I had no time for it and once all the Fiji content was done, the new project kicked in. While I am very disappointed about this, I am also happy that my income was so high thanks to this new opportunity which I hope will repeat as the client expands.

But not all was lost. I put together a large collaborative post with other bloggers which turned into 6 posts and which I am sure you will all love. The best beaches in Southeast Asia. You can see all the blog posts below for some heavy doses of wanderlust.

I also improved a couple of posts, like the Luxury Hotels in Singapore post I mentioned before, and a post on things to do in Brunei I had a little bit abandoned but which was still very useful.

A month ago I told you I was doing a little experiment on my Instagram. Well, it yielded no returns. I wanted to see what sort of photos did best and whether a whimsical filter like more travel accounts have, would make a difference. But in the end the conclusion is somewhat sad. My best photos are those which feature me in bikinis. It is silly but apparently those are the ones people want to see, or are most curious about. By far. I am not too interested in Instagram so I will continue not to pay any attention to it.

Consulting opportunities

This revenue stream and type of work continues to grow and grow organically. I am not going out actively to find new work, so far everything has been via recommendations and referrals and through people who met me at conferences. It is also not difficult to book me out since it is just me and I am already very busy as it is, so just with one or two projects a month my time is filled.

This month most of my work was focused on a large blogger outreach and program management work (see next section) but there were a few referrals that came through and which generated some revenue and a couple more which will materialise in September when I have some bandwidth.

I also continued to work with Andaz Singapore which was great, and started a short collaboration with a restaurant chain in Singapore that needed help with digital marketing which will come through in August as revenue, and another small online startup which needed some once-off support.

My ongoing work with digital marketing agencies on blogger outreach is now separated from pure consulting to differentiate the work I do myself vs. the work of sourcing bloggers and helping with outreach which is an entirely different business line requiring a different set of skills.

Blogger outreach and program management

Aside from my ongoing work with a few clients (4 recurrent ones) on blogger outreach, there were two new clients that came through this month and a new large program management/content management project with a new client.

This project came through a referral from a friend and it has me occupied 15-16h a day for the end of July and most of August until I go on my real holiday.

It consisted in a large program and content management effort involving outreach and editorial review plus the management of tight deadlines and lots of moving pieces for a new service launching soon that provides local tips to travelers.

Project scope

The mandate was simple: find writers who are knowledgeable about one or more of 20 cities on a list and get them to submit entries on Insider activities or experiences for these cities. The requirements were pretty straightforward. There were clear deadlines, editorial guidelines to follow, processes and payment details.  

I shared this opportunity in a few groups and got 120 people applying to participate in the effort.

Of those 120, I selected those who seemed most knowledgeable on the cities they were volunteering to write about and reached out to just over 80 writers and bloggers from across the world with all these details in an email.

The results of this experience were interesting from many points of view but perhaps what stunned me the most was how terribly good and bad some parts of it were.

The results

There were some great people who partnered with me on this and worked to make it a success. They were on time, they were flexible and they genuinely wanted to do a good job. They hustled, they wanted the job, they were professional. They were people I would love to work with again and I will, without a doubt, recommend them to others.

There were some people who were fine. They read half of the guidelines, followed half of the requirements and half-delivered, late. But they did. They were not ideal and I would not profusely recommend them to others but they were not crossed of my list. If I needed to work with them in the future I would not jump at or run from the idea.

And then there were quite a few who were absolutely terrible by any standards. They delivered late, not by a day or two, but by two weeks, without any reason, they just kept exchanging emails, telling me they would do it the next day then I would follow up and the following day they would say the same again. There were some who simply stopped answering to my correspondence, half way through the discussion on the deliverables. No answer, no explanation, no apology.

And there were lots of cases in between. People who dropped half way because they couldn’t meet the requirements (which were laid out from the beginning), wasting my and their time. Some people even flat out lied to me.

This got me thinking about the travel blogging industry as a whole, as almost all the people I interacted with were bloggers themselves.

2018 has been particularly mean to bloggers and influencers as a whole.

There have been notorious cases like the Singaporean photographer and Sony ambassador who passed stock photos as his own. The study about fake influencer numbers published by Adage that highlighted the astonishing percentage of fake followers large IG accounts working with the biggest brands had (the Ritz Carlton topped the list with the influencers it worked with having 78% fake followers). Articles from hotels talking about the nightmare that Influencers are. And so on.

To me, this isn’t news.

I have been working with bloggers since October 2017. Even before starting this project, I had worked with a few hundred bloggers so I knew what to expect and had a benchmark for professionalism. Knowing doesn’t change the fact that this is disappointing, as this benchmark is the same one that brands I deal with have in mind when they meet me or consider working with me, and it ain’t pretty. We should do better.

But this project was far worse than anything I have seen before.

The question is, Why?

Before we delve into the reasons, I wanted to start with the facts.

I have decided to write some statistics below to put a few of my frustrations and realisations into perspective, before I reflect on what they mean and what I learned. The numbers speak for themselves.

Blogger chart

Let’s look at each of the categories above in detail.

Bloggers who didn’t answer

About 9 (11%) of the people I emailed, people who willingly gave me their contact details and expressed their interest to work with me on the project, never even replied to my email. Granted in some cases my email may have ended in the Spam folder, as it sometimes happens when I send a few emails at once. But I know for a fact my email did reach some of the 9 people, some of them probably read the guidelines and decided it wasn’t interesting or doable for them and never replied to me.

To put numbers into perspective, I would like to use an analogy. Let’s use the example of buying custom-made curtains.

When I moved to Dubai in 2006, the city was in full expansion and there were 25% of the world’s cranes there. I was essentially living in a massive construction site surrounded by thousands of towers going up.

My condo was one of the few finished ones and in front of my bedroom there were two towers going up at the rate of a floor per week. Workers were working through the night, 24/7, and my bedroom had floor to ceiling windows. On the first morning, I woke up with a few workers leaning on the railing of the floors that were already up and staring at me in my bed. I knew I needed curtains, blackout ones in the glaring Dubai sun, but I didn’t know how urgent that was until that very first morning.

So I tried to get curtains made (IKEA didn’t sell blackout curtains, at least not then). And it was the most frustrating experience.

Dubai back then was not what it is today and the entire industry around expats, real estate and interior decoration as such was not able to cope with the demand, so getting curtains was a nightmare. I went to many stores, most promised but didn’t deliver or dropped half way or said they could do it then told me they couldn’t. I knew exactly what I wanted, laid it out for each staff member. It was clear and it was straightforward. But it was a mission. Ever since then that experience has been in my memory. This project reminded me of that.

The 9 people who didn’t answer were like the stores who said they could make my curtains then never responded to my emails or phone calls. It was frustrating, but I have to give them the benefit of the doubt because I don’t know if my email went into spam.

Bloggers who declined

Around 35% of the bloggers I emailed declined to work on this when given the details of the offer. More than half of those declined for reasons they knew upfront. They said they could not meet the deadline or the money was not good.

Both of these had been specified in my call for applications and there was even clear mention to please not apply if you were not able to commit during the following 2 weeks. This was the first level of frustration.

If I went to order a set of customised curtains, it would be like making me go all the way to their shop after telling me on the phone they could make curtains, only to tell me they don’t sell made-to-order. I would be quite annoyed if they didn’t say this to me over the phone after I made the effort to call ahead.

But, at least, they read the guidelines and realised they would not be able to deliver so preferred not to move forward with it, rather than promising and then under delivering, which is far worse.

Bloggers who didn’t deliver

The next group are the ones that I found deeply troubling as a blogger myself. There were 13 people, the ones in pink at the far end, who dropped half-way through the process, that is 20% of the bloggers I reached out to simply did not deliver.

They didn’t read the guidelines or committed to things they knew they could not deliver, and when I asked to see photos meeting certain requirements or asked them to meet the deadline, they realised they couldn’t.

In my curtain example, this would be like cancelling an order already taken. Telling me they could make my curtains, coming to my house, taking my measurements, letting me choose the fabric and then giving me a quotation. Then, after I chose them among the few curtain makers and the promised deadline had passed, telling me that they can’t make my curtains or simply not picking up the phone anymore and moving offices.

I had not lost any money yet but I sure wasted a lot of time and the chance of engaging with a more diligent curtain maker who would have already installed my curtains. Meanwhile, I can’t sleep because the sun shines on my face at sunrise and I wake up with more and more workers staring at me.

A lot of bloggers often complain that brands don’t want to pay upfront for work they haven’t delivered, but can you imagine what would have happened if I had paid these people who never delivered?

The truly disappointing ones were the 6 people, around 8%, who simply stopped replying to me. What bloggers call “ghosting” to refer to PR or Media representatives from brands who simply stop replying to emails half-way through a discussion on a collaboration.

These ones made me waste the most time because I had to send follow up emails, wait, then send another one, and in the process, I couldn’t email someone else instead to get the work done because I didn’t know if they had an emergency and were going to deliver any moment. They were unprofessional and disrespectful, besides obviously not delivering on something they had committed to.

I understand problems arise and there are always unexpected things that come up and it is ok to have to decline something in case of an emergency but one should be able to take on only the work they can commit to.

I am sure that these 13 people would not have appreciated it if they were the ones discussing a collaboration with a hotel brand and after the brand had agreed on hosting them, agreed on the deliverables and on the dates, they suddenly got back to them and told them they were sadly not available on the dates they wanted to go. Or worse, if they simply stopped replying to them.

They would be disappointed and also wonder why the brand had not told them before they had said no to another hotel they now had to reach back out to.

But that is not all. Even the ones who eventually delivered, did not do so as expected and with the level of professionalism that should be offered.

Bloggers who delivered on time

There were 44 people who I eventually worked with on this project. But they were not all good to work with. The vast majority did not deliver on time or as requested and caused me to waste a lot of time correcting them and requesting they re-send and amend the gaps.

Some of the issues were blatant lack of care. If I state clearly what the needs are, I would expect the deliverables to be as requested. There were at most 10 people of the 44 who actually delivered on time and following the guidelines. Only 10! That is just 20% of the total sample.

The remaining simply did not put the care that is expected of a professional relationship. And the mismatched deliverables vs. expectations were not mistakes or misunderstandings, I classify those as delivered as requested, I am talking about:

1. Photos not meeting the guideline sizes

2. Photos without proper crediting, including some contributors who actually picked images from the internet with watermark and tried to pass them as having been given permission despite the submission form clearly stipulated this carried legal consequences

3. Write-ups ridden with typos and grammatical errors that don’t even pass the spelling corrector, they were even highlighted in red on the Google Doc so they had not even cared to review the write-up once

4. Missing information on address or URL to the business, items which had been requested

5. Not following the editorial guidelines

6. Wrong facts, dates, times, prices or more obvious ones like places not existing anymore

Then there were those, the vast majority I should add, who simply missed the deadlines, not by a day or two, but by up to two weeks. Notably, there was about 10% who dragged the project over longer than 3 weeks when the original email stated a deadline of 15 days. Only when they were given the final ultimatum and threatened not to be paid did they rush to meet the deadlines, and in doing so, sending me even poorer quality deliverables.

The learnings

I wanted to write a detailed post about this experience but I will not have time before going on a much deserved break (can you guess why?) so I wanted to at least reflect on it here.

The main question remains. I have worked with dozens of bloggers before, perhaps up to 200, did I see the same issues?

Actually I have. It was just not with such tight deadlines, or with such large numbers, but the relative percentages remain. They are the same I have been seeing since October last year. The blogging industry is indeed filled with lots of professionals who do not understand the word professional or have the minimum manners required to work with brands.

They want to make a living out of their blog or take the leap into full online entrepreneurship, but are not willing to behave as they should. Blogging, writing, being a social media influencer, is a career like any other. It is my career too. But I understand what it takes to be professional and I apply this to my everyday dealings with anyone. I wish the standards were different and I had different numbers to report but the reality is sadly the one above.

I do believe that for a lot of people, this lack of professionalism starts with the lack of a formal job to use as a benchmark for what is right and what is wrong. I have been meaning to put down a list with the minimum “blogging common sense” if I can call it that, to help those who don’t have a benchmark, I even have a document open where I jot down ideas. Perhaps I should add it to my yearly goals. The Google Doc with my draft bullet points is there, forever open on the top left tab of my browser, I just never have the time to complete it.

The usual critics will say that Brands and PR agencies are the same and that the same %s apply to that side of the industry. But that hardly is a justification or an excuse. Not because the first curtain store I approached was unprofessional should I be unprofessional to the next curtain shop. We should all stay professional always, in all our dealings.

Personal Life

With so much work going on, I had very little time for my personal life.

I moved houses (again!) because my previous flatmate is moving to Seoul and I now have my own apartment again with a lovely desk, my world scratch golden map finally scratched (it took us 3h to scratch off, serious hard work!) and a lovely balcony with lots of plants. I even have two frangipani plants, two bamboo and two palm trees. And there is even a lemon tree!

So I am very happy in Singapore and in my nice little home but there hasn’t been much else going on in the personal front.

Revenues in the month of July 2018

July was a great month as you can conclude from the above. I crossed the $10,000 mark by far, although I know this is a one-off that is not sustainable. August will be equally great because the other half of the project is also assigned to the month. In September we will see what remains.

Here is the breakdown of July’s revenues:

–> S$ 910 From Brand collaborations

–> S$ 454 Accommodation affiliates

–> S$ 46 Tour affiliates

–> S$ 1,434 Ad revenues

–> S$11,685 from Digital Marketing Consulting

–> S$30 from sales of my Amazon book 30 Ways to make money online

 TOTAL blog income in July 2018: S$ 14,521 

 TOTAL blog value in July 2018: S$ 14,521 

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 spent some time in June trying to optimise some of the posts and went through all the top-50 posts once again to see if ads were placed properly. This I am sure helped increase the revenues beyond the traffic growth. I still have AdSense on my Singapore n Beyond blog but that is a fraction of my Mediavine revenues yet still growing as that blog grows as well.

The eternal issue of time… if I had more of it I would focus on growing Singapore n Beyond to get it to reach the minimum level, but I don’t even have the minimum time to go to the hairdresser!

Content creation

There were two content collaborations this month. One is a two-post series with Macao Government and WeGo. You can see the articles below:

I continued to decline plenty because they were just not at the right rate or topic. I am very selective in what I write about and the above posts are from content I would have produced anyway because Macao is a city I very much enjoyed, so I frankly recommend it to others.

Influencer and digital marketing consulting

My work with Andaz Singapore continued this month. I also continued to work with a digital marketing agency for who I take care of influencer outreach. As they expand and get more clients, so do I.

The main project I talked about before is also included here. I have chosen not to break down the amounts because these contracts are all confidential and what makes is the type of work that  do and the overall value without having to enter into details of who pays how much and for what.

Affiliate revenues

It seems that the accommodation affiliate revenues are starting to take off. Since moving to Agoda I have seen a relevant increase in the value as Agoda pays a commission on the value of the booking and I am a luxury travel blog, however, since I am using Agoda directly via their own affiliate program, I also realise there is a very long lead time between someone booking and me getting paid.

For starters, Agoda only pays once the client has paid them, so they need to book, travel, check out and pay. And then there is a high minimum threshold of $200 before Agoda makes payments out so it is taking a while but I like the higher payout amounts and need to continue pushing for these posts to perform better so I can capitalise on the traffic.

HotelsCombined is there floating in an abyss of unprofessionalism. Just kidding, I do not appreciate their business tactics so I am certainly not happy about performance but they do have the largest inventory of hotels and I find their website practical so I continue to use them.

In August I will also start to add TripAdvisor. Historically, I disliked TA and the fact that they had plenty of tours on sister brand Viator that promoted animal cruelty. I also despise their practices and the fact that they have become so monopolistic and abusive they no longer provide honest and transparent results, instead showing you higher up those hotels who pay them more or removing negative reviews from hotels who pay them to do so, etc. But people always check TA and so this was a revenue opportunity lost. I will be testing them in a couple of articles next month and see if the hassle of adding them in is worth the money.

Interesting statistics for July 2018

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

Value from sponsored stays

I didn’t worked with any brands this month. I had two staycations but they were both paid in full so I accrued no value from sponsored stays.

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 or post, rest assured I paid for it as I do in more than 90% of my travels.

Traffic and readership

Traffic continues an upwards trend inching closer to year end targets, but still behind. All metrics are up as they usually are in the Northern hemisphere in Summer when more people travel because a lot of my content is very summery.

This month the blog reached 111,000 page views, about 10% more than in June. My current obsession is definitively on traffic rather than on anything else and I am painstakingly working towards boosting it. Summer months will help as a lot of my content is seasonal, but the goal will be for it not to drop after the summer ends.

Page views July

You can also take a look at the split between active and passive income as that is something I am keenly monitoring.

Passive vs Active Income July

My objective is to maximise the red column there so that I can reduce the blue one and have the life that everyone thinks I have and which I don’t: Permanent holidays.

July was great but almost all on active income and with charging project rates that eventually translate into hourly rates, for me to make the same I was making when working at Google I have to work very long hours. Building my passive income is paramount. But sadly, while I had set aside July and August to do that, it turned out to be impossible because of the great project opportunity that presented itself.

Business opportunities I declined

The amount of unsolicited emails and spam correspondence I get is incredible, it truly runs in the dozens a day. I try to reply to almost all of them because I think it is unprofessional not to and because you never know what you might get. But some of them are “unresponsive”…

More than declining, this month I had to stop myself from accepting collaborations into the rest of the year because I am already booked out and I need to make sure I have enough time to focus on the business. So I did postpone a few opportunities to next year. There is no rush, I have the rest of my life to see the world 🙂

2018 Goals

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

AreaGoal for 2018January progress
TrafficBring traffic to 200,000 across both blogsWell well well, we’re getting there but need to up the game here
Domain AuthorityIncrease to 45Decided to stop tracking this and as I write this, I don’t even know what my latest DA is!
Influencer and digital marketing practiceSet up Once in a Lifetime Media

Build the revenues to $15,000 a month
The target is definitively possible, but I may need to hire someone to help me part time soon
Build Case Studies of campaigns (formerly TrustPilot)Create 5 case studies with impact and resultsDefinitely no time for this… 🙁
Press KitRevamp and improveYay press kit made and on the site, but we need to keep updating it because the numbers change all the time...
Affiliate revenueIncrease revenues to $1,000Almost halfway through to the target. Continuing with Agoda, with pushing hotel posts and with adding TripAdvisor. Fingers crossed
BookSell 100 booksI finally sent that email out and the sales keep trickling in at around 5 a month but that means it will take me 2 years to reach the target 🙂 so probably fair to say I may not get the yearly goal this year
Advertising revenueMake $1,500 a monthOn track, so short from reaching it in July, definitely for August!
Personal brandingBuild my personal brand
Interview filmed with an Influencer marketing platform and published here
Two conferences under my belt and more to come end of the year
Speaking slot at ITB confirmed. Attending WIT Bootcamp and WIT in October
Just been interviewed by another website about food in Macao
-Two conferences on my belt and more to come end of the year
- Currently working on slots for speaking or attending ITB and WIT in October
- Just been interviewed for another Influencer marketing network
Niche SiteBuild a site generating $2,000 a monthNot started, may not even start it at all.
AdWordsTest AdWords budgeting and monetisationAdWords spent was decreased in May and the traffic and revenues still continued to increase so I may test a few things here in the future
TravelContinue to travel and reach 105 countries visited. Beat my 140 days on the road personal recordSo far this year I have added Rwanda, Somaliland and Ethiopia and reached my 100th country!
Albania and Montenegro are planned
Currently working on Argentina, Tequila (Mexico) and Cuba (though I visited this one before)
So probably I will not reach 105 but stay at 103 unless I can sneak Bangladesh in or something new comes up (unlikely as my travel plans for the rest of the year are almost fully booked)
- Albania and Montenegro are planned
- Currently working on Argentina and maybe Dominican republic (or Cuba again)
- So probably I will not reach 105 but stay at 103 unless I can sneak Bangladesh in or something new comes up (unlikely as my travel plans for the rest of the year are almost fully booked)

Wrapping up July 2018

I am looking forward to a holiday. July and August have been mad (I am writing this in August), at the level of my consulting career times. Late nights working until midnight, forgetting to eat, waking up to work in the middle of the night, … very much looking forward to a well-earned break.

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.