Monetising my travel blog: traffic and income report May 2014

It’s been two months since I last wrote about my travel blog’s monetisation journey and I thought that made it time to check in again. You might remember that last time I listed quite a few bloggy tasks to do and I have definitely made some progress but at the same time, the monetisation progress does seem kind of slow. Probably also a consequence of having not many spare hours to spend on it, but anyway … here’s the news!

Traffic not growing

One of my not-so-favourite things this time round is that the traffic to my blog seems to have stagnated. I’ve not done anything super-spectacular to promote my blog more, but at the same time I’ve kept up with a lot of the regular stuff (such as tweeting and Facebooking archived posts). You can see the stats below and if you compare to last time you’ll see it’s not an exciting comparison!

Not A Ballerina traffic statistics – at a bit of standstill at the moment!

I’ve been joining in with a really nice link-up called Instagram Travel Thursday with a bunch of other travel bloggers and I know I’ve had some extra traffic through here (plus it’s a lot of fun) but obviously it hasn’t made much impact! However, I am working on a not-so-secret weapon this month which I’m hoping will help with this traffic situation, and it is:

Using Pinterest to build traffic

I have seen heaps of articles and heard from fellow bloggers lately that of all the social media, Pinterest is the one that actually drives a lot of traffic to your blog. This makes perfect sense because it’s a very different social media platform – one that’s based on finding information rather than finding people.

So, I enrolled myself in the Practical Pinning course to get this figured out (not a sponsored link! I can tell you I’m enjoying the course a lot so far, a week and a bit in). I must be doing something right as over the last week my follower numbers both on my business Pinterest account and my Not A Ballerina account have been rising rapidly, and I’m hoping that in the next couple of months I’ll be able to see these impacting on my blog traffic – fingers crossed!

Not A Ballerina on Pinterest at pinterest.com/amandatravels

This Pinterest section should come with a warning though: it’s crazily addictive 😉

Sponsored posts

There is a lot of discussion in the blogger world about sponsored posts (just google it and you will disappear into a rabbit warren of opinions). I don’t do them very often, and when I do, I insist that I write a normal post that would appear anyway on the blog and then include the sponsorship at the bottom. If the brand doesn’t agree to that, then I don’t do it. And I hope it goes without saying that I don’t do any from irrelevant, unrelated brands. The reason I do any at all is because thanks to the longevity of my blog and its reasonably high page brands are interested in the link and because, quite frankly, I need to pay my mortgage! I would say I do less than one a month on average.

As an aside, I had an interesting email conversation with a potential banner advertiser who told me that their requirements were 20,000 page views/month before they’d consider an ad deal. (I’m rather a long way off that at the moment!)

Income

And so, to income. I did promise to talk about this right back at the start of this series, not just traffic. My big, big must do in the next couple of months is to finish work on the e-products I want to promote though the blog because I’m very keen to diversify (and increase) the income sources. In the meantime, this period included:

Adsense: $25
Nuffnang: $113
Sponsored posts: $550
Total: $688

This is just direct income; the existence of my travel blog is also the reason I’m able to run blogging courses and have a consulting business, so in effect it earns much more for me, but this is the online, purely blog-based income.

What’s next for Not A Ballerina’s monetisation journey?

So I have just had a look at that long to do list from last time, and I’d say the three most important points are:

  1. Continue working on building up my mailing list (with giveaway – now in place – etc)
  2. Complete the Pinterest course and develop strategy to grow traffic to blog from Pinterest
  3. Complete work on e-products.
How’s your blog going? Or do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments.

Alfalfa sprouts and my entrepreneurial journey into social media and blogging

I’ve been thinking about this post for ages. I even got my Mum to look back over old pictures in case we had one of me with alfalfa sprouts (don’t worry, it’ll all make sense soon) but alas, back in the olden days we didn’t take photos of every single second of daily life, did we! Then my friend Jo wrote about her journey to having her own business and I found it so interesting that she, too, had really been headed in this direction since she was a kid, too – and finally today I have got around to writing this post!

Are entrepreneurs born that way?

I didn’t actually intend to start this business; I didn’t intend to start an income-generating travel blog. Both things happened by accident, or so I thought – or have I been headed in this direction all my life?

It has taken me almost forty years to realise this but it shouldn’t be too surprising that I’m now running my own business and can’t really imagine ever working for someone else again. As a child, my mother ran her own small real estate company. In fact, she was one of the first women in Western Australia to have her own real estate licence (this is back in the era when, because she got married, she had to leave her job at the bank – not because she had kids – we came later – just because she got married! It seems preposterous to us now). I spent quite a lot of time as a child seeing the inside of other people’s houses (I loved it!) and watching my mum do business. There were no mobile phones either so we had to answer the phone especially nicely in our house, because it was often a business call. So, there we are – my mother the role model!

Alfalfa sprouts: back in the days before blogging and social media were invented (image Frédérique Voisin-Demery)

My mother also helped my sister and I start our own small business when we were aged about 10 and 12. I’m not sure how it all began but we started growing alfalfa sprouts (and got more exotic later) and selling them to the local greengrocer. We had to set up the punnets, water them, package them, and my mother would help us deliver them on the way to school a couple of times a week.

Next stop for me was tutoring. A little-known fact is that I studied mathematics at university. This made me an ideal candidate for tutoring primary and high school kids in maths and during my university years I’d built up a huge number of students – I still have some of the paperwork today, as I carefully kept records of the payments and the topics covered. I made about four times as much per hour doing that as I did working at the local KFC so I quit there to do even more tutoring.

Working for a boss

Despite this record, it never occurred to me until very recently that perhaps starting a business might be something that suited me. Instead, my CV lists bunch of jobs working for others which, most of the time, I enjoyed – I worked as a research assistant in mathematics education, then as an instructional designer for distance education units at the same university, and later as an academic helping medical and dentistry lecturers to teach and assess in more effective ways. All of these jobs were really interesting and I got to meet some really amazing people, but they weren’t enough, somehow – which led me down the path of going overseas and teaching ESL.

Teaching ESL to kids and adults; but photos with the kids are cuter! This is Momoko, in Osaka.

During all these years, though, I’d been plugging away at something that I’d always really loved: writing. Even before I moved abroad I had found some websites that would pay me to write – not very much, but enough to encourage me to keep at it. When I was travelling so much while living abroad, I got into writing for travel magazines, and eventually from that into writing for big travel blogs and websites. And when I came back to Perth, I was determined to keep generating an income online, because we wanted to started a family and I wanted to be at home when my kids got home from school each day, just like my mother was (unless we were whisked off straight from school to take someone through a house!).

The aha moment: working for myself in social media and blogging

I would like to say that I then cleverly and carefully sat down and created a business plan and started up this business. However, the truth is nothing like that at all. I pitched a course on blogging to UWA Extension, because I really loved teaching adults and I could think of nothing better than combining that with my other passion. Using my own experience on social media – developed through the writing I did and the various travel sites I worked for – I filled that first blogging class very quickly and the delightful Bill at UWA Extension had the bright idea of hiring me to do the same for all their courses. He even sent me my first client, suggesting I might be able to help her out with some social media strategy too, all while my son was still a tiny baby and I was up all night to him, but those midnight hours actually got me ready for that first client meeting. (So yes, Bill, thank you SO much for everything!)

The aha moment didn’t really happen – I just suddenly found that I had a business and it keeps getting bigger. Over the last couple of years I have learnt to get more strategic about it although that’s still a work in progress, especially while my time is limited to my son’s kindergarten hours plus some evenings and weekend work. So however it really happened, I’m grateful, and I love it, and have met so many fantastic people through it, which is the biggest bonus of all. You know, sometimes I look at interaction on my business Facebook page and think, “Oh, but it’s just all my friends who are liking and commenting, not proper clients,” but then I take a second look and realise that most of them are former students and clients and “real” business connections, it’s just that they’ve come to feel like friends. What better clients could I ask for?

Which brings me, finally, to the YOU part of this post. Lots of my clients run their own businesses: what made you do that? Tell me your story!

Preparing for Problogger (or any conference) – four months out

Anyone who follows my Facebook page will know that I was ultra-excited when I got a ticket for the next Problogger conference in late August this year. The Problogger event is “the” conference for people in my industry in Australia and I was lucky enough to attend Problogger for the first time last year; until then, the long trek to the other side of Australia had been too tricky to navigate with my small son. Now he’s bigger and attending conferences is easier.

It is now just over four months until Problogger 2014 and first up, I have a confession to make: I actually had a post title in my editorial calendar called “Preparing for Problogger – five months out” but I’m obviously not as organised as I had hoped to be, and four months will have to be enough. This is in some ways a selfish post – it’s a public to do list of what I want to or need to do to get ready for the ultimate Problogger experience – but I hope it also helps others (especially solo business mums like me) as they head to a conference, be it Problogger or something else.

The people of Problogger

Meeting Valerie Khoo

For me, meeting new people and catching up with people I’ve met before is the top reason to be at Problogger. (The stuff I’ll learn rates a very a close second, but the people are #1.) Last year, I set myself a goal of speaking to three people: Darren Rowse (Problogger himself), Valerie Khoo (famous to me for so many reasons) and (even though she also lives in Perth) Kelly Exeter (of A Life Less Frantic and Swish Design and general all-round clever thing). I’m very pleased to say that I managed to meet all of them. I also met numerous great bloggers in person who I knew from Twitter and other places online and it was brilliant to see them in real life; plus I met people who were previously complete strangers but have now become online friends.

This year, I have planned to stay a little bit longer both sides of the conference (last year I was insanely nervous about leaving my son for the first time and kept my trip short) and hope to have some more in-depth catch-ups with some great fellow bloggers. I haven’t yet made my “must meet” list (adding that to the to do list now) but it really helped to have that (kind of crazy) little goal last year. One of my major personal heroes will be there, Pat Flynn, and I would like to figure out how to have a normal conversation with him without me going all fan-girl crazy. (Although his keynote is all about creating “ridiculously supportive raving fans” so I guess I might just fit right in!)

The knowledge of Problogger

Oh, the learning, the learning. I was nearly overwhelmed by everything I learnt at last year’s Problogger and my blogs are still living off some of the ideas for posts I generated during those two days. There are still items on my long-term to do list (like SEO stuff, for example) that I haven’t yet done. One of the other reasons I’m going to stay a day longer is to get some of them done! Someone I met there was staying about three days longer and hadn’t explicitly told anyone back home the length of the conference in the hope that nobody would disturb her and she’d have a few days to implement some of her new ideas. SO clever. If my Mr4 was a bit more self-sufficient I would do the same.

This year I plan to be a bit more strategic about my “knowledge gathering” and for a start, be a bit firmer about the choices I make for which sessions to go to. Last year I was so busy just trying to get there that I didn’t really think this through ahead of time. If I know which sessions I’m attending I can think a bit more about what I plan to get out of it, set some mini-goals perhaps. I’m also in a different kind of place in regard to my business(es) this year compared to last year so it’ll be quite different.

View from my Gold Coast apartment, nice ocean but so much under construction

The nuts and bolts of Problogger

Given that the conference is taking place on the opposite corner of the country, the logistics of getting there and being away from home for so long is no small feat. I never even wanted to return to the Gold Coast and was hoping it would be in a more accessible city like Melbourne again but I’m sure it’s karma, because I blogged about how the Gold Coast didn’t grab me and now I’m being forced back there to find its good side! Anyway, getting everything organised is not my favourite part but it is supremely necessary.

My personal pre-Problogger to do list

So much to do, and … well, there may be four months to do it in, but I know this time will absolutely fly by. I reserve the right to add to this list as well as cross things off!

  1. Book my flights!
  2. Confirm accommodation arrangements.
  3. Figure out school pick-ups, drop-offs, etc etc for my son.
  4. Make a list of the three people I most want to meet. (I already know one of them will be Emma Grey of WorkLifeBliss as I have “known” her online for ages but never met her.)
  5. Figure out which sessions I want to attend and what I want to get out of them (they already have some details of the schedule online).
  6. Message/tweet/email/courier pigeon all the attendees I know (virtually or otherwise) and want to meet up with.
  7. Check if I have enough business cards.
  8. Gather some clothes that will work for the Gold Coast in late August.
  9. Block out time in my schedule for September/October to work on stuff arising from Problogger (a big downfall last year).
  10. Lose a few kilos in preparation for all those desserts and afternoon teas.

Are you going to be at Problogger? I know lots of people from Perth who are going this time – very exciting! Let me know if there’s something else I should put on my list.

Monetising my travel blog with a long list of tasks (and a stats update)

Well, it seems that there are plenty of you out there keen to see how my journey to monetise my travel blog goes, judging by the feedback I got to my first post inviting you along for the monetisation ride. I wasn’t planning to update monthly (more likely quarterly) but since I have other relevant stuff to mention I decided I would this month – and we’ll see how we go from here on in! If I have exciting enough news, I guess I will report in more often!

Why my blog traffic rose in February

Here are the stats for the second chunk of the year – following straight on from what I showed last time.

Not A Ballerina traffic statistics – all looking better since last time

Now there’s nothing majorly spectacular to report except that everything is going up. Visits, uniques and pageviews have all risen somewhere around the 40% mark. This, of course, would be super-exciting if I thought it would be a continuing trend every month, but remember that I had a blogging break in January so much of this is the result of simply blogging. (Oh yeah. Big reminder to self. Important to blog consistently!)

I have also tried to be a bit more regular with my social media promotion across all the major platforms but I am still struggling with having so few working hours now that my son’s at school (much shorter hours than daycare!) and I’ve been teaching UWA Extension courses left, right and centre.

But still, it is much better than the traffic going down, and next month when I’ll have been blogging and promoting a bit more consisently should be more telling and hopefully a bigger cause for optimism.

What I’m planning to do to improve my blog traffic in 2014

Oh goodness, what am I not planning to do? I have a rather long list. Some of it is stuff I have known about forever and only half-heartedly done. Some of it is new ideas. Some of it is quick stuff, some of it time-consuming. If my life was my blog, I’d have done it all by now but this blog gets worked on around the corners and edges of a rather full life, and that’s OK.

Anyway, there’s nothing magical or secret about some of the plans I have. In the hope that it might give you some ideas (or inspire you to tell me other things I should do), here’s my list, or at least the “so far” list as I keep adding to it. (In no particular order, I might add.)

  1. Make an editorial calendar and stick to it with minimum of 2 posts per week (this is working so far, yippee)
  2. Create a giveaway for those who sign up to my newsletter list (part way there, watch this space!)
  3. Work on an income-producing product (ebook of some kind)
  4. Create more postcards for good posts (especially for Pinterest but for promotion in general)
    Example of a Not A Ballerina postcard
  5. Update more of the old posts into the new categories (necessary after a revamp of direction/topic/theme from a year or so ago)
  6. Pin more of the archived posts to Pinterest
  7. Add “Tweet this” links into some of the best/most popular posts
  8. Schedule promotion (Twitter, Facebook, etc) for good archives
  9. List and contact more potential advertisers
  10. Follow up for more work with previous PR/sponsors/etc
  11. Do some guest posting
  12. Increase frequency of Instagram posts from blog (I’ve started this lately with Schedugr.am which allows me to schedule Instagram posts for the middle of my night, which is the time when the largest part of my travel blog’s audience – North Americans – are online, thanks to the time difference)
  13. Look at the pages (eg Country Guides) and re-do, revamp, delete, optimise
  14. Create an editorial calendar for the newsletter and ensure it is always sent on time
  15. Look at travel blogger groups on LinkedIn
  16. Update my media kit (great tips from Brand Meets Blog post)
  17. Add headlines and other SEO-related optimisations
  18. Continue to comment on the other travel blogs I feel are closest to my niche (something I do regularly at the moment but should still be on the list)
  19. Continue refining my ideal customer profiles
  20. Transfer the blog from Blogger to WordPress
Phew. That’s it for now.

What about you? Is there something on this list you want to do straight away? Or do you have any suggestions for me?

How to use our Facebook group for Perth bloggers – WABAK

One of my blogging students had the fabulous idea of starting a Facebook group for Perth bloggers who met in my courses, so that they could all keep in touch and follow each other’s blogging journeys. WABAK: Western Australian Bloggers Amanda Knows was born in a hurried fashion as a result, and the odd name seems to have stuck. In fact, Rae from I Opened My Mouth and It Ran Away Without Me told me one afternoon we should absolutely change it but then came back the next day saying the opposite, with this justification:

So here’s why I don’t think it should change:
Western
Australia – not discriminatory includes country WA
Bloggers – proud to be a blogger that is who we are
Amanda – Amanda is our founder and fearless leader
Knows – Amanda brings us together, gives us the opportunity to share and discuss via this group, alerts us as to what is happening in our blogging world
Sounded out Wayback – was way back when we started
I think that we should share and contribute as individuals such as what we are doing and how it has hleped us to either improve/change/direct/focus our blogging world be it either business or pleasure/hobby. Sharing journeys allows other members who are interested to see how we/they can develop should they be interested. I like being nosey!

And I think Rae sums up exactly what I’d like this group to be all about. (Although I am not sure about being a fearless leader.) The only thing she failed to mention was that one of the key results of coming together in our Facebook group is the ability to organise physical meet ups, which must include cake. Very important!

WABAK blogger meet up in February 2014

How to use our Facebook group for WABAK

Now, I know that some of our members have never had the cause to be involved in a Facebook group before, and I promised to give a bit of a how to guide to help them out. To start with, if you haven’t joined the group yet, head to WABAK on Facebook (assuming you have a Facebook account) and hit the “Join Group” button – I’ll be notified that you’ve asked to join and will approve you, unless I don’t know who you are, of course!

So, what can you do in this group?

  1. Respond to posts in the group – some of them are from me, some from other group members. You can “like” or comment just like any other Facebook post. However, only people who are in the group can see it (it’s a “closed” group).
  2. Post an update, a question, a link or an image yourself. Stick to posting stuff that is useful for other WA bloggers (if anyone gets too self-promotional we will get out a big stick). When we have meet ups I definitely encourage you to post any photos you take afterwards. Makes the fun last longer! 
  3. Edit files. Yes, we have files! Facebook groups give you the ability to have basic documents. See the image below for the spot where you can click “Files” – at the moment, we have just one document, a list of the blogs written by group members. When you open the document, there’s an option in the top right to “Edit” – click that and edit away, then click “Save” at the bottom.

Menu options for the WABAK Facebook group – using Files

So, those are the three main functions you can use in our group at the moment – simple, right? Oh, and before you ask, the arrangement of the members’ profile pictures across the top (you can see them in this graphic) is based on who has previously left a comment or made an update – the most recent updater is on the left. So it’s constantly changing.

Have you got some more questions about using our Facebook group? Let me know in the comments and if there’s something important that I’ve missed I’ll add it in to this blog post.

Why my Perth blogging courses make my own blog better

It has been a very bloggy fortnight.
(And yes, bloggy is too a word.)

In the last two weeks I’ve run the Becoming a Blogger beginner course AND the Better Blogging advanced course at UWA Extension and what with seeing so many of my old blogging students at the Perth Problogger Event as well, it has been blogs and bloggers galore here.

And I’m a tad exhausted, and have been rather busy, but guess what? I have been working harder on my own blogs than ever before! There are several reasons for this and it’s an interesting study in motivation, I think.

Checking my blogs practice what I preach

When I’m about to teach a blogging course, I double check that my blogs – which I’ll inevitably use to demonstrate stuff – are up to scratch. In the past I have had those terrible moments when I’ve been going on and on about the importance of your About page, giving lists of what should be on it, only to click over to mine and see – oops – my About page is in desperate need of an update.

Similarly, I make sure that my blogs have several recent posts on them before I confront a room full of blogging students. I can hardly answer their (inevitable) question “How often should I blog?” correctly if they can see very obviously that my blog has been inactive for a few weeks.

Getting inspiration for my blogging

During the courses, I get so inspired by ideas from my students, and often make notes about what I will write about on my blog after hearing what they have in mind. (And not in the plagiaristic way that sounds like, I promise!) The lunch break when we get to chat about how blogging fits into our lives, while enjoying this rather inspiring view, also helps.

The view from our favourite blogging course lunchtime spot, Perth

Immersed in blogs, working on my blog

Teaching my students “best practice” for running a blog reminds me of what I am actually striving for. I am a bit hit and miss, for example, on having an editorial calendar, even though I know that using one always makes me blog absolutely regularly, and spreads my content out across the right topics, and all kinds of other advantages which I rattle off to my students. Late on Saturday evening, after teaching the advanced blogging course all day, I finally got a properly-planned editorial calendar together again for both my blogs, and just a couple of days later I can report I am already a couple of weeks ahead on my blog plans. Perfect!

So yes, I might be a bit sleep-deprived, and I might have a head swimming with ideas to help a dozen different bloggers in all industries and niches, and I might even feel that I missed out on having a weekend, but all in all, spending a day with bloggers is always inspiring and invigorating, and that’s why I do it.

Why do you do what you do?

Learning MORE about blogging from the Perth Problogger Event 2014

I have lamented (often) that my lovely home city is the most isolated and oft-neglected city on the planet, but today, a megastar in my universe was here. Yes, “the” Problogger, Darren Rowse, came over to run a small Problogger Event (big shout out to Kelly Exeter for convincing him) and it was marvellous.

In all honesty, I was expecting to feel inspired by whatever Darren had to say, because he’s an inspiring speaker, but knowing that it was just a 2-hour event for bloggers of all kinds and stages, I didn’t expect to actually learn a lot. But I did! I have pages and pages of notes, and while most of it I “know” (and quite a lot of it I have even told my students and clients in the past), I don’t actually always DO it. (Which is a point Darren himself made in his talk.) I think that my new emphasis on my own travel blog and my plans to monetise it probably had me sitting there with a completely different perspective to usual and I really did learn a bunch of things that I want to share – both as a reminder to me and for those poor pals of mine who couldn’t make it today.

Darren Rowse aka Problogger speaking at the Perth Problogger Event

Darren shared a huge number of lessons and tips from his own blogging experience and I’m going to pick out the best – well, I’ll admit, the ones that are most useful for me, and are sitting in my notebook with a big asterisk next to them:

  • Your blog won’t become big overnight – it’s about lots and lots (AND LOTS) of small, consistent actions over a long time. (A tweet here, a Facebook update there, a connection here, and of course, a post there …)
  • Whatever your goal is for your blog (income generation, world domination, whatever), take it seriously and take the next step towards your goal (right now).
  • Take time to properly identify who your readers are. Darren suggested creating profiles/avatars of your typical readers and I can see how this would really shape the content you write and, well, pretty much everything you do with your blog. It made me realise (big whack in the head moment) that I actually have very little idea about the audience for Not A Ballerina and it’s intensely obvious that I should figure this out.
  • Darren talked about how a blog post should either inform, inspire or encourage interaction. Some might do more than one but I can see the value of focusing on just one at a time. And your particular blog might have a bias towards one of these. But he spoke about how they do this on Digital Photography School and on Problogger – eg a post early in the week which is a “how to” about a topic, a mid-week post showcasing an inspirational version of that “how to” (an interview; some amazing photos; whatever) and then a late-week post encouraging the readers to get involved – setting them a challenge, encouraging a discussion or debate, or something.
  • As usual Darren talked about what I call the soft side of blogging – the human side, perhaps – stuff like figuring out what really gives you energy about your blog and doing more of that. So important, I think.
  • And finally, another point about the readers – focus on the readers you already have, aim to have a big impact on them, and (basically) getting new readers will arise from a lot of those efforts anyway. A lot of bloggers are focused simply on getting more readers. Don’t be. Excellent advice.
Bloggy friends at PBevent
So, those are the big tips I got from this afternoon’s talk – but of course the talk wasn’t the only important part of the event. We all carried on to the sundowner part of the event and I got to talk to many of the almost a hundred bloggers who’d showed up. There was a big bunch of my former students (I confess, when I arrived I got slightly nervous that I had basically bullied about 20 or so people into coming to the event, I really hoped they liked it – thankfully, they did, of course), a bunch of people I knew from Twitter, and even a famous-to-me travel blogger who’s just moved to Perth (hello Chris!) yet I hadn’t caught up on that news! I think only fellow bloggers will really understand that there’s nothing quite like being in a room full of people who actually know what a blog is. I enjoy myself thoroughly every time.

And so – a huge thank you to Darren Rowse for making the trek over here – as Kelly mentioned in her introduction, we are so lucky (and proud) that one of the biggest bloggers on the world stage is just a normal Aussie bloke from Melbourne. She also made the point that she thinks it’s because of Darren that the blogging community in Australia is so friendly and cooperative, and I agree. Here’s to many more years of blogging and Problogger events!

How to: Add an Instagram feed to your blog

This post about how to add an Instagram feed to your main blog page is for my dear blogging friend Rae, because she asked nicely. And it’s for anyone else who wants to have a go at this. It’s funny, actually, how often people see my Instagram feed on my blog (somewhere over there —> or maybe down a little!) and ask me about it.

By the way, there are all kinds of different ways to do this (you know, like the whole skinning a cat thing, except without the animal cruelty) but this is the way I’ve done it. I use SnapWidget because someone recommended it ages ago and it has worked ever since. (I am big on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory.) So, here goes Rae!

  1. Go to SnapWidget and scroll down a bit until you can see the stuff about “Basic Widget”. I use the free version and it has been everything I need.
  2. Choose the options you want in the “Customize your widget” section. You can put in your Instagram username (eg @amandakendle) or you can choose a hashtag instead. Most of the time you’ll probably just want to use your username, and that’s what I do on this blog. Sometimes you will want to use a hashtag instead – like I do on my travel blog where (at the moment) I’m displaying photos from my Penang trip using the #amandaspenangtrip hashtag I used. If you do use the hashtag version then remember that if someone else uses the same hashtag, their pictures will show up too.
  3. You also need to choose the Widget Type; most of the names are self-explanatory really – if you want one to sit in your sidebar like mine then Slideshow works well. You might need to adjust the Widget Width (for example, mine is 300 pixels wide).
  4. Click on “Get Widget” and you’ll get a fancy chunk of html code. Copy it.
  5. Now you need to add it to your blog. If you’re using Blogger like Rae is, go to Layout, click on Add a Gadget in your sidebar, and choose HTML/JavaScript, and paste the code into it. The process is similar in WordPress.
  6. Voila! You should now have your lovely Instagram feed flowing into your blog. Here’s mine at my travel blog.
So, fingers crossed that has worked beautifully (especially for you Rae!). I’m still all excited about Instagram and its possibilities and you will definitely hear more about it from me this year. If you’re not on it, try it out quick – it is heaps of fun and has so much usefulness as well.

Monetising my travel blog – come along for the ride

I’ve got a big and important goal this year: to turn my nearly nine-year-old travel blog Not A Ballerina into something that doesn’t just sit there on the internet looking pretty, but actually puts a decent amount of food on the table.

I am really keen to monetise my blog properly – for lots of reasons:

  1. It is OLD in blog terms. Nearly nine years – that’s nearly retirement age in dog years, and positively ancient in blog years. All of those hours spent playing around with it over the years really should amount to something.
  2. I need to earn a bigger chunk of my income online (and preferably, passively – in other words, without me doing too much!). There are several reasons for that, but the main one this year is that my son has started kindergarten and between the school days being much shorter than daycare and the scary regularity of school holidays, I’m going to have a lot less working hours available to me for face-to-face consulting and training. I’m also looking ahead – I’d like to keep increasing the amount of travel I do (usually with my son, since I’m training him to be a star traveller!), and perhaps even spend a half a year or so back in Germany so that he can go to school there. To do that, I would definitely need to have a decent online income.
  3. I actually love my travel blog, and the messages I try to broadcast there – about why travel is important and what we can learn from it – are messages that I really want to spread. I actually believe lots of things about the world could be better if more people travelled, and did it in meaningful, open-minded ways. 
So, I’ve got lots of reasons, but do I have a strategy? Well, not yet, to be honest. But I thought you’d all like to come along for the ride and so I’m giving you the real behind-the-scenes info. First off, my travel blog has made me a decent (if irregular) income over the years. Initially, it was a basis for getting freebies (usually hotels and museum entries) when I lived in Europe. Later, before selling links was frowned upon, I did that and it certainly helped me pay the mortgage. In the last couple of years, I’ve done sponsored posts (but only (a) for companies that I deemed OK and (b) if I was able to write the post in my own normal style); I’ve experimented with some sidebar advertising; I’ve had a couple of affiliate programs running; and I’ve done a few reviews in exchange for lovely stuff that I actually needed. But in most cases, the sponsor/advertiser/link buyer came to me, rather than me going looking, so obviously, there are plenty more opportunities out there.
Now, I’ve long been a big fan of bloggers who are really transparent about how they monetise their blogs, especially because we can learn so much from them. My favourite is actually from a food blog called Pinch of Yum, where they publish a monthly post about income, traffic and blogging tips. Given that they’ve increased their monthly profit from around $5,000 a month to $17,000 a month in the past year, I figure they are onto something, plus they break it all down so you can see their diverse income streams, traffic sources, and more. My idea is to do something similar as I work on monetising Not A Ballerina – although I think I’ll report back on a quarterly basis.
So, some brief facts via Google Analytics so that we have something to compare next time round:
At first I thought – oh no, what a terrible month for my blog (my first post FOR THE YEAR! was just this week) but I’ve realised this is really a good thing: next time I report in, I should have (fingers crossed) considerably better figures than this and I’ll be able to demonstrate lots of improvements! But yes, to be honest, bear in mind that I’ve had a blogging break over the summer school holidays, so when my figures rise next time it may not be as wonderful as it sounds – it could just be a result of actually blogging! In any case, my traffic figures are really low for a PR4 (Google Page Rank of 4, if you’ve been in my classes but forgotten what PR means) and I would hope to really increase them during 2013.
In terms of income, given that I didn’t blog in January I haven’t made much money at all – I still have a unit of Google Adsense on (I don’t expect it will stay there long-term) but with little traffic it made less than $10 this month! My sidebar advertisers expired late last year and I haven’t done any sponsored posts this month. That makes for a quick and easy report!
Over the next few weeks I’m going to devise a more detailed strategy for monetising Not A Ballerina, and I’ve made some great bloggy friends to mastermind this with, both face-to-face in Perth and in other parts of the world – it’s so handy to be sharing our wisdom and exchanging ideas. So – check back in a few months and you will see the results of all these discussion and planning sessions!

Switching off to switch on – batching your work for better productivity (and quality)

There is no better way that I know to batch the writing of blog posts than to get on an aeroplane, alone, resist the temptation to talk to the woman next to you who looks like she is probably interesting to talk to, get out your laptop as soon as they switch off the “No electronic devices” light (since when do they have this specific light? It’s new to me!) and then just write. There is no internet (and it’ll be almost a shame when all flights have WiFi – I know some airlines offer this already) and there is no toddler, there is no ringing phone and no tempting kitchen cupboard (fellow work-at-homers will understand that). There is just you, a big sky and lots of clouds out the window, your laptop and your thoughts. So you blog.

I’ve talked about batching before in various courses and posts but it is seriously one of the best secrets to being an efficient worker that I have ever come across. To summarise: batching means grouping similar tasks together and doing a lot of them at once. In other words, if your work involves a lot of phone calls, don’t make them ad hoc but set aside some time to make them all at once. If your work (as mine does) involves a lot of writing blog posts, sit down at a time and place when you know (or hope really fervently) that you won’t be interrupted and write, write, write.

Those annoying moments on the tarmac when you can’t use your computer …

The theory behind batching is simple and logical – once you are doing a particular task, and continue it, you will be much more effective both in terms of time and quality. You will be “in the zone” as they say, which will mean different things for different tasks, but as I sit on a plane above the middle of Australia writing blog post after blog post, it means that I have got my “blog voice” in my mind, I have got my text editor open (no extra time needed to open the right software or turn my computer on, compared to writing the posts one at a time on different days), I am really just ready to blog and keep blogging. (A bonus tactic which I may utilise again in the future: the nice white wine provided by the airline just before I started writing blog posts seems to help as well!)

Batching is made easier when you only allow yourself access to the stuff you really need to get the job done. I batch Facebook and Twitter posts, especially for organisations whose accounts I manage, which means I will have Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, bit.ly and the organisation’s home page all open, but I won’t let my email notify me of new messages or allow any other distractions. Right now, the beauty of no internet means I’m not tempted to “quickly” check on other posts I might reference or link to here – I can do that later, when I’m editing my post, rather than distract the flow of the writing. I know what I’m like – once I go to “check” something the whole internet opens up before me and the focus is lost.

So to summarise: switch off anything that’s not essential to the task at hand, switch on everything essential, and get to work. Obviously I can’t take a plane trip every time I need to write a bunch of blog posts (although that does sound like a rather enticing reason to “have to” travel more regularly – alone!) but when I’m at home, I usually pick a good evening, one when I’m not too tired by the events of the day (curiously, this is usually a working day, rather than a being-a-mum day) and set myself up at my desk with something nice – a chocolate or a wine – and get blogging. Or I settle down first thing on a Monday morning, perhaps after a run or walk, and pound out the social media posts for the week. It’s such a satisfying feeling to get such a lot of work done in a short time. It just takes a bit of discipline, but is so worth it.

Do you “batch” any kinds of work you need to do? Let me know in the comments.