Our Journey to a Six-Figure Online Business
When we first started this blog back on February 17, 2012, we had no idea what it would become. Our initial goal was simply to earn $1,500USD per month from the blog, which would’ve been just enough to cover our expenses at the time, so that we could travel in a financially sustainable way.
Even that seemed like an unattainable goal when we knew nothing about WordPress, css, SEO, HTML, marketing or website design.
A couple of years later, as the blog started to grow, we heard of a few other travel bloggers who were earning six figures per year from their blogs. These “six figure travel bloggers” became our mentors (without them knowing it in most cases) and we set our sights on the goal of earning $100K USD per year from our travel blog.
At the time, the dream seemed distant and near-impossible. After a full year of working on Goats On The Road, we were only making around $1,000 per month, so it seemed that we had set the bar too high. Instead of focusing on the massive task of building a six-figure business, we started smaller and focused on other milestones first. Milestones like reaching 30,000 unique visitors per month, getting seen on big media like CNN and Lonely Planet and earning enough to at least be sustainable.
Surprisingly though, just 5 years after starting our blog, we reached our goal. 2016 was the first year that we made over $100,000 USD from our blog and online business and in 2017 we’re projecting an even higher income.
So why am I telling you this? Am I writing this post to brag?
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that we’re always 100% transparent with our income, not to show off, but to show others.
We tell people all the time that starting a blog was the best thing that we’ve ever done and everyone should follow in our footsteps. But why should you invest your time and money into starting your own blog if you have no idea what its potential can be?
It’s like if I was trying to convince you to invest in a stock, but I gave you no statistics, projections or hard data to back up my claims for an upside and help you make the decision. I’d be a pretty poor stockbroker wouldn’t I?
We’re transparent about our income so that we can inspire others to start a blog and live this lifestyle too. The fact that it’s taboo to talk about money in western society isn’t lost on us. It’s so ingrained in us that it still feels strange to talk about salary online. But clarity is the key to showing others what is financially possible in this industry.
Too many people still believe that travel blogging is nothing more than a hobby and that you can’t earn real money from it. Even a lot of travel bloggers still have full-time jobs because they don’t have faith that they can earn enough from their blogs.
That’s not true. If more bloggers were clear about their income, then more people could hop on the train and enjoy this life. This industry has exploded over the past decade and there are many people making a great income from blogging.
In this article I’m going to be completely clear not just about the overall income of our blog, but exactly where we earn it from and how much work it took to get this far.
Ever since we made our very first dollar from blogging, I’ve kept extremely detailed Google Spreadsheets to track our income and our progress. I’ve broken the charts down into categories and I’m going to use this historical data to show you our journey to a six-figure blog, from the first penny to today.
For More About Travel Blogging
Our Introduction To Blogging
It was on December 22 of 2011 when we first heard about travel bloggers earning an income. We were sitting at an internet cafe in New Delhi India at the time (as people did back in 2011), escaping the heat and surfing around looking for flights.
Back then, I was the planner (nowadays Dariece does more of the travel planning), so I was searching around looking for flights and trains to get us around India. Suddenly Dariece said:
“Nick come here. You gotta see this.”
She was reading This Post by Johnny Ward of OneStep4Ward and in it, he explains how he earned $3,000 per month from blogging. $3,000 per month! That was more than double what we were spending to travel around the world on a budget at the time.
“You have to start a travel blog for us.” Dariece exclaimed, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I knew nothing about web hosting, website design or WordPress. She knew that I was the nerdier one of the two of us and I could get it figured out.
A few months later we started our blog on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand. Looking back now, that was easily the biggest turning point in both of our lives.
We Almost Quit
After spending hours upon hours adding photos, writing articles, creating pages, editing menus and designing our blog, we were still hardly getting any traffic and nobody really cared. It was partly because most of our blog posts were just diary entries, partly because there wasn’t as much online blog help as there is today, and partly because we were terrible writers and photographers.
Like many bloggers, we were ready to give up… or at least I was.
Dariece kept up with the blog, while I pretty much quit at one point. We were teaching English in China at the time and I felt busy enough with the job and figured that the blog was going to die out anyway. Then, one day we had a big boost in traffic. 200 page views in a day!
That sparked something in me to keep going, but over the years there have been numerous times when the blog has felt stagnant and we weren’t sure if we could continue.
We stuck with it and today, the blog is our sole income source and affords us a life of full-time travel and experiences. This is why my biggest tip for all new bloggers is to stick with it. At times, it will feel like you’re not getting any traffic, or you can’t write, or you’re not getting any social media followers. That’s just the way it goes!
The First Penny
The very first money we ever earned from Goats On The Road was on December 6th, 2012 just nine and a half months after starting the blog. Dariece and I decided to open a little shop on Goats On The Road where we sold some T-shirts, calendars, notepads and pens with our logo on them.
Back then, only family and friends were reading our blog, but they generously purchased some items that amounted to $588 by the end of the month.
We don’t really count that as our first blogging income though, mainly because it was all friends and family feeling bad for us bumming around the world.
The first month that we count our income is when we joined an advertising Facebook group with some other bloggers and started earning some real ad revenue. That was in June of 2013, at the time we had 9,840 unique visitors in the month and we managed to earn $508.
Annual Income Breakdown
Our traffic, our newsletter subscribers, our social media following and our online presence has all gone up by the end of 2013, and with them, our income.
But the real breakthrough for our blog came in 2016 when we decided to scale parts of our business and really treat Goats On The Road like a company. You can see from the data below that our income has increased by 100-300% year after year until 2017. I’ve only estimated our income for 2017 based on a projection of our year-to-date revenue, so who knows, maybe it’ll be another 100-300% increase by the end of the year (fingers crossed ).
Hopefully by showing you this progression of revenue, you can get an idea of how long it takes to build a blog. Keep in mind that we knew nothing about blogging when we started and we took a few months off from the blog in the first year (a big no-no if you want to grow quickly).
- 2012 Income: $0
- 2013 Income: $8,264
- 2014 Income: $23,248
- 2015 Income: $55,318
- 2016 Income: $103,635
- 2017 Projection: $144,400
In 2014 we started to become sustainable with our income averaging $2,000 per month. This was fantastic for us at the time, especially because we were house sitting and therefore getting free accommodation to keep our costs down.
While we were in Grenada house sitting, our goal was to make it to $5,000 per month, which we managed to do by the end of 2014. Our income stayed around that level for more than a year, until we finally we had a breakthrough in 2016.
As our income changed, so too did our travel style. We found that we no longer wanted to stay in dirty double rooms with shared bathrooms and found ourselves opting for more expensive private bathroom double rooms in more boutique-style hotels. We still stay in hostels from time to time because we love the vibe, but if we’re not in a hotel or apartment, we always opt for the best room in a newer hostel.
We still love to have local experiences, eat local food and support local communities as we’ve always done, but we quickly realized that backpacking on a budget is great, but this is our life and if it’s going to be sustainable for decades to come, then we need to be comfortable.
Midway through 2016 we were starting to feel overwhelmed with the work that we had. We managed to get many clients on board with our side venture of helping other companies to grow their blogs and social media. But we had so much work to do that we couldn’t take on new clients, even if they were contacting us and offering us money.
We already had VAs (virtual assistants) for over a year at this point, but we mostly had them doing work on our own site. It was time that we hired writers and employees who we could train to help us with other aspects of our business.
This was a real financial breakthrough for us and it allowed us to take on more work and scale the business. In June of 2016 we had six employees hired on Goats On The Road and we hit our first five-figure month. We were over the moon about it and because we had grown this income from sources that were paying us consistently, we were confident that we could continue to earn $10,000 per month or more, every month.
As with all companies, Goats On The Road does have overhead expenses that seem to grow with our income over time. Currently we pay our writers and our VAs, we have an advertising budget, we pay a lot for hosting, email marketing, web design, keyword research and developement and some social tools as well.
Back in 2013 when we first started earning income, our overhead was next to nothing. But at that time we were doing everything ourselves. With a business like this one, run by only two people, doing everything ourselves simply isn’t sustainable.
Currently our total overhead costs hover at around $2,500 – $3,000 per month. We do consider a six-figure income to be gross income, however, having said that, our annual income over the past 12 months has been over six figures after all overhead expenses.
How Do We Earn Money?
I’ve read so many articles written by other bloggers about how much they make and I find them extremely inspiring (which is part of the reason I’m writing this one), but I have noticed that very few of them actually break down their income streams to show how they earn money from their blogs and online businesses.
I believe that if the goal is to show others how blogs can earn money, it’s important to not only show the numbers, but where those numbers come from. The below chart is a breakdown of 2017 so far and where our income comes from.
Our income streams are broken down into six main categories:
Press Trips (8.7%): Press trips are when we’re hired by a tourism board to explore a country. We are always offered complimentary flights, accommodation, food, travel and tours during these trips and lately, we’re also being paid a salary on top of that. The amount we get paid per campaign ranges from $1,750 – $7,000 USD, depending on the amount of deliverables (photos, social media shares, articles & videos) we’re expected to produce.
Affiliates (32.5%): This is by far our favourite earning method and luckily it is currently our biggest. Who doesn’t enjoy earning money while they sleep? Affiliate marketing keeps this blog running and it’s a win-win for us and you, our readers. We recommend cool products and services on this blog that we use as travellers. If a reader clicks on a link in our recommendation and ends up purchasing said product or service, we receive a small affiliate commission, but it doesn’t cost the reader extra. In fact, we often have special discounts for our readers as well. Around 70% of our affiliate income comes from Bluehost, and the rest is divided between World Nomads, Booking.com, Trusted Housesitters, Amazon, TEFL Courses and some random partners.
Product Sales (0.2%): I’m currently working on an epic 400 page eBook about (you guessed it), how to build a blog into a six-figure per year business. As of now we have one eBook for sale on Amazon for $20 and it accounts for a few sales each month, but really not much income. We’re hoping to grow this part of the income pie chart in 2017. Aside from eBooks, we don’t have any other products at the moment.
Advertising (11.9%): This is when a company contacts us and asks us to advertise on our blog. It can come in the form of a product placement or an ongoing partnership where we write about and share the product. We only accept this type of advertising if we believe our readers will benefit from it and we’re extremely picky, which is why you don’t see any ads on this website and it doesn’t make up for a lot of our income.
Freelance (25.5%): I currently write for numerous different websites and the odd magazine or newspaper and this makes up for a considerable chunk of our income. Most of our freelance is ongoing, so we write X articles per month for each company. This ensures consistent monthly income. Freelance also includes our content creation venture, which is when our team is hired by a brand to write posts on a regular basis. For this we have writers to help us with creating and editing content.
Social Campaigns (0.4%): This section is for when we’re hired by brands to take over their Instagram or do a Twitter Chat. We hardly ever get these offers as you can see by the tiny sliver in the pie chart.
Social & Blog Management (20.8%): This is when we’re hired to help grow a company’s social media and beef up their blog. We write posts, take over their social accounts and help them to increase their engagement. In 2017 we have had ongoing blog and social management contracts with six different companies.
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You’ll notice that from the chart above, we earn just over 53% of our income through our blog itself, and the rest is earned through our content creation and social media management efforts. We do still consider these outside methods part of our blog because it is closely tied into Goats On The Road.
We were hired for this work because the companies can see that we know how to grow an online presence. Goats On The Road works as a proof of concept, a writing portfolio and a media kit for these companies. We link a lot of the work back to our blog and vice versa and in many cases, we’re also paid by these companies to share their content through our own social media and blog channels.
Goats On The Road is a six-figure blog because of the earnings made directly through the blog and the income streams that branch off of it.
How Many Hours Do We Work?
Currently we work around 15 hours per week or less on average. This is only counting the time we’re actually sitting on the computer and writing articles, managing editorial work, editing photos or videos and creating social content.
If we’re hired by a sailing company to go out at sea for a day, eat a seafood lunch and go scuba diving, we don’t count this as hours of work because aside from taking a few video clips and photos (which we’d do anyways), we’re really just travelling and having a fun day out.
For the first 5 months of 2017 we were travelling pretty much non-stop, moving from place to place every 3 – 5 days. During that time we were probably working 4 hours per week or less (Tim Ferris would be proud).
But during that time, the blog didn’t really grow. If we only spend an hour or less per day on the blog, that’s just enough to keep it chugging along, but not enough time to get more clients, build our traffic, write new affiliate marketing articles or do any SEO. It’s just enough time to make sure a few articles go up per month (including ones written by our writers), share on social media and edit a video per week.
Now that we’ve (finally) paused our travels in 2017, rented a villa on Koh Samui Island in Thailand, and are getting caught up, we’re working around 20 – 25 hour per week on the computers. This has given us a chance to work on writing posts for press trips we’ve recently been on, and once we’re caught up with all of that content, we’ll have time to sign up new clients for our blog and social management package and hopefully finish our eBook and grow our affiliate income streams further.
Now that the site has a decent following and we have some employees to help us with the work, we’re able to work less and travel more, but that doesn’t mean that we can just ignore the site altogether. Luckily, we don’t want to.
We love sharing our travel experiences, our photos and videos and our entrepreneurial journey with our readers, and we would continue to do so even if it wasn’t as successful as it is today. We have an incredible passion for travel, writing, photography, videography and showing others how to travel more, and live a freedom-filled lifestyle.
As with every business, we did have some hurdles to overcome along the way. We were pretty confident when we reached that $10K / month mark in 2016, but things can change quickly. Some companies that we were working with for a long time decided to go another route and from time to time, we lost clients.
Luckily, the services we offer them (traffic growth, social media growth and online marketing) spoke for themselves and every time we lost one client, we would gain another, usually within weeks. Word of mouth and self-marketing has helped to ensure that we continuously have enough clients to keep a reliable source of income.
We also had to let some of our assistants go, and some had to quit. This was all a bit stressful, but we structured the business in a way that none of these hurdles were detrimental to our company or the companies who have hired us.
Our Plans For The Future
Over the years this blog has transformed from a budget travel blog, to a blog about turning travel into a lifestyle. We’ve learned dozens of different ways to make money, not just through blogging, but through interviews we’ve done with other full-time travellers in our Travel Jobs section.
We’ve interviewed teachers, scuba dive instructors, consultants, cruise ship workers, grape harvesters and much more. We’ve accrued a vast amount of knowledge about how to earn a sustainable income while travelling full-time and we want to use that information to create courses, guides and eBooks to help others learn how to do the same.
Needless to say, this will be a lot of work and probably won’t be ready until 2018, but we’ve already started mapping out our ideas.
As for the future of our income, we have to say that we’re very satisfied with where we are right now. We really couldn’t be happier with how far this blog has come, but it seems that it grows by itself at this point. We really don’t need more money right now, but if the universe sends it our way, we won’t deny it. So long as it doesn’t become a mo money mo problems type of situation!
We will continue to focus on creating as much epic content as we can and helping inspire others to travel more often. We hope to grow Our Youtube Channel to over 100,000 subscribers one day (we’re a long way away so our first milestone is 10,000) and hopefully monetize it down the road as well.
The Biggest Tips We’ve Learned
This journey has been an incredible one. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s been a difficult journey, because we’ve had so much fun along the way, but starting a blog and turning it into a six-figure business certainly isn’t easy.
It takes a lot of commitment, work and a bit of luck (universal attraction for those who believe in that), but if you really love every aspect of it, then it doesn’t feel like work. If you’re hoping to start a blog and grow it into a travel sustaining money-maker, here are a few things to keep in mind:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Don’t quit. You need to trust that your blog will eventually grow into something big. If you don’t have full faith in yourself, then it will fail. Go at it 100%. Don’t use that voice in the back of your head that says “I could always go back to working 9-5” as a safety net. You need to run full speed and leap off of that cliff of normality, close your eyes and see where it takes you.
Spend Money To Make Money
As your blog grows, you need to start hiring people to help you and you need to start spending money on advertising. You also need to spend money on a new design. As soon as you start seeing extra income coming in from blogging, you should to invest it back into your company. I think that when it comes to explaining the importance of investing in your business, Tim Leffel says it best in this post.
Roll With Your Brand
As your blog and brand grows and changes over time, so do you. Don’t force your brand to be something it’s not and don’t force yourself in a certain direction either. If you start your blog about being a solo female traveller, but then you meet someone, then start blogging about finding love on the road. If you started your blog as a budget backpacking guide, but you start to earn a decent income, allow yourself to indulge in the finer things in life. Don’t fight it.
Your brand is an extension of you and if you’re lying to your readers about who you are, they’ll notice. Embrace changes in your life and in your blog and allow your business to grow with you.
Only Work With Brands Who Get You
It doesn’t matter how much money you’re offered, you should only work with brands and companies that are in line with you and your readers. There’s no point in accepting a free flight if you’re all about travelling overland and it doesn’t make sense to accept a free ticket to a zoo if you’re against the captivity of animals.
Only work with companies who understand you and your brand and are happy to give you a level of creative freedom and work with you to share the best content possible.
We are so thankful for everything that has happened in our lives to bring us to where we are today. Not just with the business, but with our lifestyle, our relationship and our travels. The money is great and we’re happy that we have built a sustainable business, but the most important thing to us is our happiness.
This blog has brought us so much happiness and we really have to thank all of you, our readers, for helping this dream become a reality. We’ve had some hurdles to overcome along the way, but we’ve always had the support of this amazing Goats On The Road travel community and we’re often humbled when people tell us that they’ve quit their jobs to pursue a life of travel thanks to our posts.
We’ve heard countless success stories from readers who followed their passions and ended up being right where they were meant to be.
This journey has been amazing and we look forward to another 5 years of successful blogging, travelling, sharing and learning. We hope you’ll continue following us and coming along for the ride.
Thanks for reading.
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Source: Goats on the Road