February 2015 Valerie & Valise Income Report

February seems to fly by, but to be fair, it is a lot shorter than the others in the year… so you’ll forgive me for being surprised that we’re already 1/6th of the way through 2015. Who’s freaking out yet?

In its own way, February was successful: I feel like I’ve started to build a community of followers (even though many of you don’t comment on posts, I know you’re reading from our conversations on Twitter), I increased my time-on-site and the countries from which visitors are reading, and I published 14 posts in 20 content slots — given that I was traveling for 10 days, I’m pretty happy with my rate of content creation.

Blogging Lessons Learned This Month

Focus On Two Things: Content & Community

If you can’t show that the content you create and share is valuable to your audience through numbers such as “replies per post,” “shares/retweets per post,” or “likes/favorites per post,” then you can’t prove you’re valuable for brands to invest in/partner with. I’m not saying I’m knocking it out of the park, but I am trying to keep my focus on the right things: new followers make me feel like a thousand bucks — your comments make me feel like a million bucks. I’ll take the latter any day, as long as I keep focusing on them.

While Your Responsibility is to Create Value for Your Readers, Keep Your Focus on #1

Don’t write about something just because your readers might find it valuable, and especially not if your sole purpose is to try and create viral content. Virality occurs by magic — very few brands in this world can artificially create it. Instead, focus on what you know and love. Write for yourself, keep yourself passionate about your work, and it will never feel like work. Even if it doesn’t pay you a dime, at the end of the day, you’ll feel much better about your “artistic” and “creative” integrity. Trust me — I don’t make a dime off this site, but I sleep very well knowing it’s exactly what I want it to be.

Never Stop Learning

Every morning, I try to spend 30-60 minutes reading “the newspaper” — this is my name for the Feedly folders I’ve created that give me news that is relevant to me (and my paying clients). I follow blogs about blogging, sites about social, and community managers who moonlight as creatives. I get some of “my” best ideas from the brilliance of others, and I test things I read constantly: what works better: this or that? and I wonder what happens when I do (blank)? In my quest to give you value and remain true to myself, I’m learning to never stop questioning my own assumptions through experimentation and feedback.

Blogging Costs This Month

Another month, more expenses! In this ongoing series related to the financial side of running a travel blog, I’m diving deep into my spending to give you insights and lessons; this is the real cost of running a travel blog. Read on for the raw numbers, specific spending trends, and finally lessons learned. As always, please feel free to reach out directly if you have questions I haven’t answered, or would like more information.

February Expenses

ItemRaw Amount% of Total
Facebook Ads$16.206.1%
Google Ads$0.000.0%
Pinterest Ads$8.003.0%
Twitter Ads$0.000.0%
Total Spent in Month$266.94

Line Item: Administration

No expenses here. I think my domain expires in 2015, and my hosting in 2017. I don’t pay anyone else to work for me. Maybe this category isn’t very informative right now? Oh well!

Line Item: Facebook Ads

I decided to test something new on Facebook this month, and I’m really happy with the results — this experiment cost about half as much as the campaign I ran in January, and yielded over twice as many target results, plus tons of other engagement. Basically, instead of running a “Like” campaign, I boosted a couple posts in countries based on the results of some Google Trends research (i.e. “jet lag cures” in Singapore, Indonesia, etc.). I kept my budget super low and campaigns short — $5/post over 2 days — because I know the Facebook algorithm likes to run inefficiently when you give it too much time or money. Not only did I get Page Likes at half the cost, but I also got comments, shares, and likes on my posts — including some on posts that I didn’t boost!

Line Item: Pinterest Ads

In addition to testing Facebook ads for specific posts, I also ran a campaign on Pinterest for my “jet lag cures” article last week. I kept it small and short — $1/day for 8 days — to start testing Pinterest promoted pins more (I ran a test as part of their advertising Beta back in August and had great results). As of now, I’m nowhere near as pleased as I am with Facebook ads: my past campaign cost $0.09 per engagement and this one is about $0.21 per engagement. That said: each platform requires time and testing. I like Pinterest, and want to improve there.

Line Item(s): Google, Twitter Ads

Similar to last month, I didn’t run any ads on Google or Twitter. I’m not spending time on it right now, but I think I’d rather work in coming months on SEO instead of SEM, so that’s what my mind is on: how do I get valuable content to show up at the right time when my potential readers search? For Twitter, I’m still not convinced A) Twitter has any idea how ads really work on their platform, or B) that they can help me construct campaigns at a low enough cost to justify spending.

Line Item: Giveaways

As you know, the Somi Apparel giveaway runs through today! This was my expense this month. So far, it’s performing pretty well… about $5/signup. Given that entrants are signing up for two email lists, that cost is actually really reasonable. Not as effective as my Blogiversary giveaway, but another lesson learned!

Line Item: Travel

You’ll notice I didn’t include any of my London expenses in this total. I realized that costs like food, transit, etc. are actually day-to-day expenses: I spend them whether I’m traveling or not. But things like train and airplane tickets, baggage fees, etc…. those count in this category. I had to book a somewhat last minute flight down to Denver next week, and I think that was my only travel expense for February. Naturally, this is still the dominant category; where’s my Ryanair or EasyJet for the U.S. already?!

Line Item: Other

Like last month, my two main expenses here were for Buffer’s Awesome plan (which has made my life so much more awesome, I can’t even tell you), and Tweepi’s Silver plan. Turns out Tweepi bills through Hong Kong so my bank charged me an extra $0.55 for the service this month. I guess that’s just the price you pay for an excellent product! (Seriously, I’m hooked on Tweepi’s systematic Twitter tools. Where’s my referral code, guys?)


Regarding my spending this month, here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Never give Facebook too much money! I’m no expert, and I only do small tests, but I’ve had good results every time: by giving Facebook $5 or less per day, it seems to be much more efficient. I would never give any campaign on Facebook a $500 budget, unless it were running for like, six or twelve months. Hold me to this if I ever get big enough to have $500 to throw at a single campaign.
  2. Know where to promote! Let’s be honest: U.S. fans/likes/comments are too expensive for most of us to afford. Luckily, there are tons of countries around the world where excited, eager, wanderlusting folks love travel and anything about it. Do your research using a tool like Google Trends, and target your ads to capitalize this. It will keep costs down.
  3. Be flexible for days when booking flights! Everybody knows this, but the point was drives home for me this month: I saved $40 by booking my flight for a day later, and am arriving at a normal hour for humans to be awake, rather than the middle of the night. Score!

Predictions for March

For next month, I predict:

  1. At least one big travel expense. Mum’s the word now, but I think you guys will be almost as excited as I am!
  2. $30/mo on Facebook and $10/mo on Pinterest. More testing. More data. More learning. Rinse. Repeat.
  3. A break from the Giveaways… unless someone’s looking to partner with me, and then I’m totally interested in giving my awesome readers awesome stuff!
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Valerie has been blogging since 2001, and has been running her oldest travel blog for a decade. You can find her across the internet on her various niche sites, but she started Site School to help fellow bloggers grow and create better content.

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