When I was in college, a local businessman who’d sold his business for over $200 million hosted a class where he taught us how to be entrepreneurs. He invited other successful people, of which there were many in Santa Barbara, to talk to us about how to think outside the box, how to ask questions, and how to challenge the status quo.
I’d never considered working for myself prior to this class. But it planted a seed that 5 years later, would sprout as I embarked on this blogging career. Be My Travel Muse started roughly 10 years ago and has grown to become one of the most-read women’s travel blogs in the world, with 2 full time employees and revenues in the mid six-figures. 10 years on, these are the things I’ve learned from 10 years of being a female entrepreneur.
10. Overnight Success is a Farce
Over the course of the past decade, I have observed many new players appear to rocket out of nowhere, and burn out just as quickly. If someone in the blogging world has experienced “overnight success”, especially if they tout how quickly they’ve done it, it’s usually bullshit.
You will find abundant opportunities to cut corners, buy followers, manufacture influence, and may even get sucked into shiny courses promising overnight success. But building a dedicated audience, which requires trust and showing up consistently, takes time. There’s no way around it. It’s worth it, though, because it’s sustainable. That’s how you last for 10 years as opposed to just a couple.
9. The Most Important Quality is Grit
I am not the smartest person to break into this industry. I’m used to being a B+/A- type of student – good, maybe even honor roll, but never top of the class.
But the beauty of being an entrepreneur is it isn’t school anymore. There’s no standardized test we’re all taking at the end. I might not be the smartest in the room, but I’m scrappy as hell and will keep looking for ways to make something work. It took me 3 years to be cash positive on my blog, and I had many 11th hour moments.
Your taste and abilities are going to take time to hone. For 99% of successful people, it took many unseen and uncelebrated years of hard work. One of the greatest commonalities amongst those who succeed is that they just don’t give up.
8. Success Leaves Breadcrumbs
One of my secret weapons has been doing occasional deep dives into other successful bloggers – sometimes in my industry and sometimes in completely different ones. What I mean is going back to the beginning, searching through their archives, and combing through their evolution to see when they hit it big, and how. Sometimes they will even leave comments or interviews about how they’ve done things on other peoples blogs or podcasts. If you put in the time and dig deep, you can often figure out how someone has made something happen.
Though I wouldn’t use this information to copy anyone, I’ve taken what I’ve learned from a lot of different places and put it together to make my own formula.
7. You Must Commit to Being a Perpetual Student
Throughout my career, during pretty much every long bus ride, drive, and train journey, you could find me listening to a podcast or audiobook about building as an online entrepreneur. Personal development and continuous learning have always been a big part of my growth strategy.
You can find a book or podcast for any topic that you are curious about whether it’s a specific social media network, SEO, or just getting inspired by other people’s stories. Sometimes listening to a podcast would plant an idea in my head that was completely unrelated, yet somehow it just got me thinking in the right direction. Even now as I get ready to become a mother, better believe I’m doing the same thing for parenting. Having all of the information at your disposal helps you make the decisions about what’s right for you. Commit to being a perpetual student and you’ll do well.
6. Network, Network, Network
I could not have gotten here without networking. It was the friends I made in the travel blogging industry who gave me the first paid opportunities that I had. From bringing me into paid tourism board projects to recommending me for projects that they didn’t have time to do, it has been my connections with others that has sped up this process immensely.
Sometimes it’s big things, like writing the column about solo female travel on nomadicmatt.com, or little things, like sage advice someone gives you because you’ve made friends, you trust each other, and it’s a symbiotic relationship. Whether it’s just online or even better, in person, make strong connections and friendships. The more meaningful the better.
Most fellow bloggers I’ve met at conferences, or met up with when we were both in the same place at the same time after months of online interactions. It’s always been more about building a friendship than getting anything out of them.
5. Embrace Failure
I went through a four year period where I was constantly launching new projects and while some of them were quite successful, like BMTM Adventures, others, like my short-lived clothing line, took a lot of time and money but didn’t yield great results.
Other ventures included writing books (very successful), launching courses (mildly successful), a short-lived travel planning service (not a great reward for my time), and many more I’m probably forgetting about.
I am glad that I tried so many different things. It helped me to realize that my greatest asset was what I enjoy doing the most – not creating products, but rather creating content. I couldn’t have known that without being willing to try things.
You must be willing to be disappointed. You must be willing to have a project fall short of expectations. But you also must set lofty goals so that you wake up every day excited. There’s no such thing as failure, only learning experiences. If you approach every project that way, the outcome doesn’t matter.
4. Be Willing to Kill Your Darlings
One of the other biggest mistakes that I’ve seem bloggers make is holding onto things the way they used to be and not innovating.
Instagram has become a short video platform? Then make video. Google just rolled a new core update out and your rankings fell? Then make Google happy. When I first started, Twitter was the biggest social platform. Then Pinterest came along and shook up the industry, along with Instagram and the rise of the influencer. Those who did not constantly innovate tended to get left in the dust.
All along this journey, I’ve noticed that bloggers love complaining when there’s a major change to a platform they’ve put their heart and soul into growing. I agree, it sucks, but don’t waste your time crying about spilled milk. You’ve got to be willing to part ways with what was once working because if anything is true in this industry, it is constantly changing and you’ve got to change with it.
3. Put Real Stock in the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule, or Pareto principle, states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. As an entrepreneur, I take that to mean 80% of your profits come from 20% of your efforts.
From 2016 until 2020, I was easily working 80-hour weeks. I felt like I had to do it all to be competitive, then I realized that I was a cog in the machine in so many instances. I was creating a lot of work for myself when what I really needed to do was look at where I was most successful, and double down on those things. I decided that 2021 and 2022 would be years where I launch nothing new, rather just focusing on what I love doing – content creation. It turns out these have been a couple of the most profitable years I’ve ever had, pandemic and all.
2. As Soon as You Can, Hire People
In the beginning, naturally you will have to do everything on your own. But a common mistake I see bloggers making is not being willing to hire somebody when the time is right.
I’m a huge fan of hiring out absolutely everything that I don’t want to do/that doesn’t have to be done by me. I did not bother to learn anything technical with my site, I have someone I frantically email when something breaks (thanks Andrew). Once dealing with my email inbox started to take hours each day, I hired a full-time assistant who has been with me for eight years now. I don’t clean my house either, because my time is much better spent doing other things, and I hate cleaning, anyway.
Many people are afraid to give up control by hiring new people. I take the opposite approach and hire new people a bit before I’m truly ready/can totally afford to. They contribute enough to make it worth it very quickly. I don’t look at hiring new people as giving up control, I look at it is inviting a new, bright person into the mix who will have ideas to contribute. Expanding my team has only made Be My Travel Muse better.
1. Overdeliver Whenever Possible
The writing and photography on Be My Travel Muse are what made it stand out in an otherwise saturated market. Traveling is a visual medium, and I knew that I had to be excellent at photography in order to be competitive. So I put in the time. To get the best lighting, I resist the seductive snooze button in the early morning hours, or am at the top of a mountain at sunset, meaning I am hiking back down, almost always alone, in the dark with a headlamp. Sometimes it takes me days to reach the place that I am photographing, and better believe I put in tons of research prior in order to figure out the best timing and angles. This is what it takes.
When I’m hired by a client, I overdeliver on our agreement if possible. Some people argue that if you do that, you’ll never get paid your worth, but I have not found that to be true. The same clients often hire me again, and for higher pay. I want them to be so happy that they work with me multiple times. I want them to be so happy that they tell others that I’m great to work with. In such a competitive industry, the bare minimum won’t get you very far. So overdeliver whenever possible, and make sure that your clients are making back the money they spend with you. This is why I never liked black-hat techniques like comment pods or anything that fakes influence. It leads to disappointed clients.
As I write this list, it occurs to me that I could fill a book with all of the things I’ve learned, all of the things I got wrong, which were numerous, and all of the things I honestly still have no idea about.
But these ten things I know for sure. Thank you to everyone for being here and reading this. There would be no 10 years without you, and I love you all to the moon and back in 1 millimeter zigzags.