Over the weekend I went to Girona, Spain to give the closing keynote at TBEX, a gathering of travel bloggers. After missing the only flight out of the Seychelles on the night I was supposed to travel, I almost didn’t make it.
I had to regroup and reroute the whole trip as quickly as possible, and ended up flying through the night the next day and then the morning of the day after that.
Fortunately, I made it just in time. I wasn’t able to sightsee in Girona itself, but it was fun to catch up with old friends and speak to an engaging group of enthusiastic people.
The topic of my talk was on success, specifically how people can expand their platform in an authentic way. Here are a few points I touched on.
I became a traveler more than ten years ago, when I first arrived in Sierra Leone. I remember landing on the shores of Freetown on board a hospital ship that had sailed from the Canary Islands. Over the next few months, and then the next few years, I began to love seeing and experiencing the world.
Every day was an adventure, and as I traveled more, I began to love the process of travel. I enjoyed the challenge of getting to difficult places, and the more I explored, the more enthralled I was.
A few years later I moved back to the U.S., but I kept traveling. I wanted to share my journeys with other people, so like many others have done, I started a blog. There was a long process of trial and error, and when I started I had no aspirations of turning it into a business, but within a year I found I could earn a good living through it.
I don’t think of myself as a travel writer; I think of myself as a writer who travels. When I read travel writers who produce in-depth destination content, I appreciate what they do… and then I go back to focusing on what I do well.
II. Story of Success
Most people with a blog or website want to have more readers who appreciate their work. How can you find them?
Success in travel writing or building an online platform doesn’t come from anything technical or tactical. People often ask which things have been the most important in creating success as a blogger, and they are usually referring to tactics: which email provider to use, how to incorporate RSS, and so on.
These things are largely irrelevant to success.
Real success comes through strategic intention, and through building something over time. I have three suggestions, and I hope that at least one of them will be helpful to you.
*Do something interesting.
I hear from a lot of people who want to “get noticed.” They write in to ask, “How can I become more known?” Whenever I hear this question, I’m reminded of something that John Mayer said in a talk at the Berklee College of Music. As best as I recall, the quote was:
“The world doesn’t need more mediocre musicians who are really good at Twitter.”
His point was that musicians should focus on honing their craft instead of working on getting followers or mastering social media. I’d say something similar: the world doesn’t need more mediocre bloggers or writers who are really good at Twitter. What the world does need is storytellers. We need people to challenge us. We need people to explain how travel can be a force for good.
As you venture beyond your comfort zone, what do you see and experience? How were you changed? How is the world changing? In some ways the world is increasingly integrated, but at the same time there are still a lot of people who lack clean water or can’t send their kids to kindergarten.
What is that like, and are there ways you’ve seen that one group can help the other group? Tell us.
In other words, start with something to say.
*Self-discovery is overrated!
A lot of blogs begin with the premise of so-and-so finding their way in the world and being inspired to travel. That’s not a bad start—but it’s just a start. What comes next? What’s the message? The minutia of our lives is not nearly as fascinating as we might think, so be specific and put forth a real opinion.
Don’t tell a story that isn’t yours. You have to remember that we live in a world of skepticism, so our task is to be authentic and congruous. There are blogs about making money online from people who have never made money online. There are blogs about being “location independent” from people who live in their parents’ basement.
Lastly, don’t write with your colleagues in mind; write with your readers in mind. If you want to be a travel blogger, your audience is not other travel bloggers. Your audience is people at home (wherever “home” is) who travel through you.
Your goal is to inform and inspire them. Tell them the why of your adventures—go deeper. How has travel really changed you? As you engage with the world, what do you learn and how are you impacted?
*Don’t forget to care.
Care about your work, and care about the people who support it.
Success will not happen by accident. Think of your blog as a real commitment, not a hobby. Have a schedule. Define specific outcomes that you hope to achieve. Set goals. Write and build projects with the end in mind. Focus on deliverables, not the time it takes to complete them.
Just as you write with your readers in mind, care about them. Treat people like they’re important, because they are. Show kindness. Be accessible and transparent.
Community is a powerful thing. The best decision I ever made was to start meeting my readers in person. It changed the entire trajectory of my work.
III. You’re in the right place!
It’s easy to overlook how much the world has changed because of connectivity and connection. We have a world of possibilities, and it’s never been easier to create your own space in it.
When I haven’t been getting stranded in the Seychelles or flying to Spain, I’ve been touring North America to talk with readers about small business. Over the past two years, I’ve heard from more and more people who have embraced creative self-employment, whether through online writing or something else.
I really believe that this revolution of independence is just beginning. The possibilities are endless and expanding. When I was getting started 14 years ago, I didn’t know anyone else who worked for themselves. My family didn’t understand what I did, and my friends thought I was an online gambler.
Now, it’s more and more common. There’s never been a better time to do this—to travel the world and share stories about those experiences, even crafting a business around it if you want to.
That’s where I think you’ll find your own unconventional success.
I returned home to Portland late last night after another long day of flying. Since I combined the Seychelles + Spain trip with several $100 Startup events in the U.S., the itinerary over the past 16 days has been somewhat intense:
After all that, I’m happy to be home for two weeks before the next adventures: attempting to run the Chicago Marathon and then heading to Australia.
But first, back to work on other projects.
Question: Are you working on a blog or other project? What are your goals?
Feel free to share with other readers in the comments.
Image: Gary Arndt