Welcome to my first blog income report!
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.
Deciding to do so was not an easy or obvious choice. But like I always say with everything in my life:
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 have a full time job – Despite having been blogging for over three years, I still have a full time job and have only just started to put emphasis on monetising my presence and reach. 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.
- Blog Income Report for September 2017 – How it all started
- What makes Once in a Lifetime Journey and myself unique
- Blog Income Report for September 2017: Focus and priorities
- Blog Income Report for September 2017: Revenues
- Blog Income Report for September 2017: Interesting statistics
- Blog Income Report for September 2017: Focus for October 2017
Blog Income Report for September 2017 – How it all started
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.
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.
What makes Once in a Lifetime Journey and myself unique
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 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 Instagram and part of my Facebook posts.
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 a full time job and I have not changed, nor do I intent 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.
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.
Blog Income Report for September 2017: Focus and priorities
Let’s get down to business, shall we?
In September I did not travel as much as I was supposed to due to the last minute cancellation of my Macau and Hong Kong trips as a result of the devastating typhoon (this was my second trip so I already had the content). I am going to Macau in November anyway, for work, so this trip was just an add-on.
This meant that after August, I could focus on certain things I had been procrastinating about for a while.
The only time I traveled was towards the end of the month when I spent a weekend with Secret Retreats and Sutera Sanctuary Lodges in Manukan Island, off Borneo, in Malaysia, to join my writer for Singapore n Beyond who was on a 12 day trip in Sabah. I have a long standing relationship with Secret Retreats and we collaborate regularly on sponsored stays.
I also went on a girls only weekend getaway with Marisa and Kate to Batam, an island near Singapore, 30 minutes away by ferry, to a spa resort called Tempat Senang. I do not consider it travel because there was not a lot of travel involved, but I was away from my laptop for the while weekend.
This was my birthday present and it was a bliss to visit a place so close by and have a long weekend of pure pampering and down time. As I did not work with the resort nor did I have to review the property (we already reviewed it for Singapore n Beyond in the previous month), this was the first true holiday I had in a long time. A good old fashioned type of holiday where I didn’t have to take photos, write reviews or snap images of the food. It was refreshing and slightly confusing as I truly did not know what to do with so much time on my hands! 🙂
I spent the month doing a lot of research for the book on how to make money blogging and online and also thinking about priorities and learning a lot about SEO. It was an investment month which I very much needed.
My focus for September has been on the following:
Improving the SEO rankings of Once in a Lifetime Journey
I decided in August that me and Cal would focus on optimising the content we already have on the blog for the remaining months of the year and we put this strategy in place from this month on.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I never paid attention to SEO. This near-rebellious attitude emanated from the origins of the blog, when I was trying to actively hide it from anybody. But with time, I realised that while I kept adding new content to the blog, the traffic was not increasing proportionately because the posts were not optimised or written with SEO principles in mind. So after being promoted on social media, they were buried in my site.
In fact, a few months ago, I noticed a drop in traffic despite the fact that new content was being added every week. This was a wake-up call for me and forced me to change gears and drop my stubbornness.
I did a lot of analysis and not all was driven by SEO, but also my social media strategy was not yielding what I thought it should. So I relooked at it all and came up with new priorities.
In September I started to put the foundation for this work to be critical in the months to come. I attended trainings, I read a lot about the subject and I absorbed as much as I could from others to come up with an action plan which I will put in place starting next month.
Making the 100 Trips of a Lifetime book available on Amazon and the blog
This was the first book I wrote and it took a very long time to get it ready. It started with a wishlist of the trips that I would love to take in my lifetime. I had written this as a post on the blog almost two years ago.
Naturally, the list changed and grew to 100 ideas and it evolved from a post to a downloadable freebie to those signing up for the newsletter. Finally, I decided to turn it into a book with over 110 pages filled with photographs and very in-depth inspiration for the best trips of a lifetime.
The fact that it took a lot of time was not because the writing took long. I had my list done quite early on. Sourcing the photos however, was an arduous task. This is because a lot of the destinations are remote, unknown and receive little visitors, so finding photos was tough. We had to contact over 15 companies to use their photography and that took quite long to follow up on.
Lastly, I became a bottleneck. Despite the book has been finally completed mid-September, I haven’t been able to find the time to publish it which is disappointing. I hoped that October will be the month for it to go live (UPDATE: The book is live, click on the image above to check it out!)
Continue to work on the book How Bloggers and Digital Nomads Make Money Online
This is a book which started with an article about 28 ways travel bloggers make money.
In September I spent some time expanding the book and complementing it with more case studies and examples. However, half way through the month, I realised that it would be much more enriching if I did not focus on travel only but expanded the scope to any niche. And so this is what I spent most time on in September, particularly during the second half of the month: identifying possible examples of successful bloggers monetising some of the potential revenue streams I listed then reaching out to them for insights and learnings.
The ongoing research for the book inspired these income reports.
Digital Marketing consulting
I had been meaning to formalise consulting services in the digital marketing space for a long time. In 2017 I have shared a lot of coffees and drinks with brands in the hospitality world and entrepreneurs in startups in various niches discussing how best they could leverage their digital marketing efforts. I gave away a lot of great free advice and established strong professional relationships and I enjoyed very much every discussion.
These conversations made me realise there was a huge opportunity to provide consulting and digital marketing services to companies who are too small to have their in-house social media and digital marketing team but too big not to care about it. So I started to charge for my consulting work and started to manage some of their social media accounts.
In September I had formal conversations with some brands and continued to engage with the ones I was already working with. I spent a lot of the month setting up the foundation for this new revenue stream. I also had to review contracts, terms and conditions and other frameworks and prepare two business development presentations which was very time consuming but which is essential for the future of the blog and my online marketing efforts.
It felt as if I was back into the consulting world.
Blog Income Report for September 2017: Revenues
All of the above was mostly geared towards long-term passive income build up and creating the foundation for the future, both of which are key objectives for the last four months of the year for me but which kept me away from short term income generation.
That is fine, and I can afford it, because I have a full time job so I do not depend on the blog’s income to pay my bills but it all ended up in a lacklustre month in terms of revenues.
I feel that September 2017 is a good time to start publishing my blog income reports because it represents an inflection point. It is since this month that I am going to focus on genuinely growing and monetising the blog.
Here is the breakdown:
-> S$70 Hotel Affiliates
-> S$168 Ad revenues
-> S$810 Photo sale
TOTAL blog income in October 2017: S$1,048
TOTAL blog value in October 2017: S$3,548 (see next section for what I include as value)
Things to note:
– All amounts are in Singaporean Dollars which fluctuates around 1,3 times the USD. This is because my accounts are in SGD and so is my accounting.
– I include 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.
In September most of my income was passive and I did little to generate any income beyond the sale of some photos for a brand I had previously worked with on a campaign. They liked some of the photos and wanted to use them on their website and social media so I sold them the rights to do so.
I have only just started to add affiliate codes and write posts to rank for this and I was very happy to see some initial revenues from the tweaked posts, although they are of course very minimal. I will be focusing on this more, probably from November, to see if we can crack the code.
Blog Income Report for September 2017: Interesting statistics
There are a few other statistics and elements of the blog that are worth tracking and noting.
My Domain Authority (DA) for Once in a Lifetime Journey remained stable at 36. This is used to determine the value of my domain to those who are looking to place links just for the pure SEO value. When it crosses the 40 mark, I see an avalanche of posts, so it is always good to keep it as high as possible and Cal does engage in trying to build it up every month.
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 the previous section I told you how I have put this on hold for now, but I still drew some value this way thanks to Singapore n Beyond.
In September 2017, I received about $2,500 in value for comped stays in exchange for coverage provided on Singapore n Beyond and Once in a Lifetime Journey. For Singapore n Beyond, the value was actually enjoyed by my freelance writer. If I had not taken these brand collaborations I would have had to pay for the content written at the rate of S$125 per article so this was not only a relevant value but also a great saving for a cost I would have had to incur otherwise amounting to S$725 for the five articles written.
The agreement with the brands we engage with is to promote the destination and mention them as the place to stay at. I only do that if my writer feels he or she would recommend the property to his or her friends so professionalism and honesty are maintained. It has never happened otherwise because I carry out thorough due diligence.
We recommend places to stay in all price ranges so we work with brands in all segments, from affordable to luxury.
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.
Business opportunities I declined
I said no to a lot of business opportunities for partnership and sponsored posts or links. This is because I have very limited time to work on the blog so I decline offers that do not reach a minimum hourly rate and can match my sponsored post fee.
This is a common situation for bloggers and not unique to me, we all say no to a lot of lower paid opportunities. The threshold is unique to everyone’s situation but in September I found myself saying no to over 20 brands. Mind you, these are often standard automated emails with no real substance just fishing for bloggers looking to accept very low amounts, sometimes even in the ridiculous range of $15 for a post.
Blog Income Report for September 2017: Focus for October 2017
Next month will be firmly into the SEO world. I will fulfill the commitments from the sponsored stays and focus on improving traffic and domain authority of both blogs.
1. SEO: Continuing to improve the SEO of old posts at about a rate of 3 per week, so hopefully we can optimise 12 posts per month
2. Books: Finally publish 100 Trips of a Lifetime book on the blog and if possible, on Amazon’s Kindle. The book on how to make money online will follow and I hope I can almost close it in terms of content.
3. Affiliates: I am going to try a new formula for affiliate posts and see if it works.
4. Increase traffic: Before year end, I want to reach the minimum threshold required to join MediaVine and finally push through the next level of advertising revenues. This is a huge objective which I hope Pinterest and the SEO efforts will support. This should mean that the revenues from advertising multiply by between four and six times to reach between S$700 and S$1,000 per month. I am almost there!
As this is the first income report I am publishing, 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