Starting any blog is daunting. It took me a year of thinking and dismissing before taking the plunge with Books and Bao. I could think of so many reasons not to: ‘the market is oversaturated’, ‘why would anyone read what I have to say?’, ‘there’s a lot to learn, do I actually have the time to put in?’.
Eventually, it got to the point where I thought ‘so what’, it might not work but I’m not going to get the lifestyle I want without one. Eight months in and we’re going strong and I already have that lifestyle that seemed impossible.
Why take the plunge?
This isn’t my first blog but this certainly the one I’ve been most passionate about and therefore wanted to invest in and that’s where the first secret lies.
Only take the step if you’re really passionate. It’s a lot of work, a surprising amount of work and people are going to be way less interested than you think.
You have to put yourself out there, get to know social media like your life depended on it while also finding time to write, learn (learn a lot), and create.
There are going to be people who like what you do though, and that’s when it becomes worth it. Free hotel stays, complimentary books, products, and tours are lovely perks too but remember that you’re working for them, it’s not free, and some times it can get overwhelming. It also means being ok with rejection and a willingness to send out a ton of emails.
There is hope though, I’ve been working with brands since Books and Bao was a month old. Eight months in and my next holiday is almost totally funded through Books and Bao. Don’t let numbers stop you!
But, there’s no way I would have been able to achieve what I have so far without the tools I’m going to talk about below and I’m sharing these to save you some of the hours of research I put in and help you avoid the mistakes I made.
In my next article, I’m going to create a guide for the best affiliate programs for travel bloggers. Sign up at the bottom to get notified!
Tip 1: Host your travel blog in style
I use wordpress, I knew that’s what I wanted going forward for the sheer freedom that the platform offers. So I needed hosting. I read all of the reviews and everything pointed to Bluehost, it was advertised all over my Facebook and it seemed like the logical way to go.
Unfortunately, for me, this is one of the first mistakes I made. Not that there aren’t some massive perks to Bluehost but I’ll outline my experience below.
I’d never needed hosting before and was scared of laying money down for what generally seemed an overwhelming task. I signed up for Bluehost, totally freaked out at how non-user-friendly it was and cancelled straight away. I couldn’t find the support I needed and panicked.
There also isn’t a monthly payment plan so the initial investment is bigger. Something I definitely couldn’t afford.
Not the case with Siteground. It took me a while to work up the courage again but I signed up, it was ridiculously straight forward and, thankfully, had monthly payments.
There are so many reasons to choose Siteground. The wonderful customer support (including phone support), excellent deals for their plans, daily backups (which is becoming more rare), they also include a load of features to speed up your site and generally make it a smooth and easy experience for your readers.
I’ve crashed my blog entirely no less than three times and Siteground have recovered the unrecoverable.
It’s all managed from a simple user panel. If you don’t like it, it’s easy to cancel. I honestly wouldn’t chose any other host, they’ve been perfect.
Tip 2: Pick a fantastic theme
In some ways this is the most fun part and also the most frustrating. Finding the perfect theme for you is so important. It took me ages to settle on the one I wanted that was also within my price range.
Questions to ask yourself include: ‘Does it offer all the features I need?, Is it easily customisable?, Is it giving off the vibe I’m looking for.’
Not all themes are built equal and some are a lot more user-friendly than others. It’s best to go with someone who is willing to be contacted afterwards in case you need some support.
After much searching, here are some great sites for themes:
Creative Market – Creative Market is just fantastic. Full of talented people creating amazing things, and weekly freebies. You’ll find some amazing themes here and once you’re done with themes you can find everything else you might want. Social media buttons and tools, presets, graphics. It’s all there.
Theme Forest – Theme Forest is equally extensive. Bursting with amazing themes, you’ll also find custom code to add to your site which is amazing for customisation. There are also plenty of tutorials, graphics.
Bluechic – Beautiful responsive themes, ongoing support, lovely people and lots of freebies on offer. You’ll find everything here to help you get started and lots of advice.
Apply the theme and start customising!
Do I need to know how to code?
You don’t need to learn to code to start a blog and I would suggest just starting your blog and enjoying (particularly as there’s so much else to learn).
But if you are interested in code and would like some basic skills to help you going forward (Good HTML and CSS skills can be a real asset to a blogger) then I would recommend just hopping on Yoututbe. It’s free and there’s so much help.
Tip 3: Selling on your travel blog
Looking to sell digital downloads? There are so many things you can sell on your website. Do you make themes, fonts, illustrations, presets? The easiest way to sell these is using Sendowl
Sendowl connects with the payment provider so you get paid plus it automatically delivers the files to the buyers once payment has completed. You can even set up your own affiliate scheme. It’s so easy and has owls, owls are cute! I honestly wouldn’t go anywhere else.
Fresh Books – Something that will definitely make your life easier as you go forward is some accounting software. You can keep your small business secure, send invoices, manage payments and you automate most of what you do. Definitely something to consider once you’re becoming a pro. It’s based in the cloud so you can easily access it anywhere.
Don’t forget Shopify if you want to set up an e-commerce site. The plugins are simple to set up and you’ll have a beautiful store in no time.
Tip 4: Plugins are your friend
But just like friends, you want a few really good ones who totally get you. Too many plugins can slow down or clutter your site so picking plugins that multitask is the way to go. That being said, here are some essential free plugins:
- Jetpack – Get all the powers of wordpress.com on your self hosted site. This provides a wealth of perks and one plugin that can do almost everything is super useful.
- WP Super Cache – There are a few caching sites,
- Yoast SEO – A must for me, this helps you with the SEO for your site to help you rank higher on google as well edit the metadata.
- WP Smush – Pictures can seriously slow down your blog, this plugin smushes them all down to size keeping thins speedy.
- Insert Headers and Footers – A simple plugin that can save a lot of time. This saves you from having to delve in to the code whenever you want to add something to your header. Sites like Google Search Console and Pinterest are going to want you to add tracking codes to prove your site belongs to you an the easiest way to that is just pop them in the header section of this plugin.
Tip 5: Write great content and market yourself
Here comes the fun part and the hard part. With changing algorithms (I’m looking at you Instagram), writer’s block, and time against you, this is sometimes going to feel overwhelming. Particularly in the early days when you’re not seeing as many rewards as you’d like.
Sticking with it is the secret and employing a few helpful tools will definitely make your life easier managing a blog.
These are my favourite. I’ll update as and when I find more.
Tailwind – Tailwind lets you schedule pins for optimised posting times throughout the day but what you really want it for is the super useful community feature called Tailwind Tribes. A group of people all repinning each other’s posts can’t get you exactly the exposure you’re looking for.
You get a month’s free trial so worth trying it out to see if it works for you! You can currently automate your Pinterest and Instagram accounts.
It can really help your posts gain some serious social traction. So far Pinterest has been one of my main sources of traffic and if there’s one thing you get off this list then let it be Tailwind. It was a game changer for me and amazing for time management.
Grammarly – If you struggle with spelling and grammar or just prone to a typo or two (me), Grammarly is one of the most helpful plugins I’ve found for catching those annoying errors that can easily make you look unprofessional.
Become a Photographer
Not as scary as it sounds but you are going to need to up your photo game. There are so many tutorials online and I love using Lightroom to edit my photos as there are so many great presets you can use.
I also recently upgraded my phone to a Samsung S8 since it takes amazing pictures and has a huge memory, it’s great for quick snaps. I use Bomgogo lenses to go with my phone which makes a huge difference in quality. You can use my discount code BOOKSANDBAO for an 18% discount.
Take a Blogging Course
If you’re looking for a fantastic course for photography, writing, or the business of travel blogging then I’d have to recommend Nomadic Matt’s courses. Lessons by industry experts, ongoing support, access to discounts and exclusive groups.
The knowledge you can gain from everyone involved with these courses is priceless.
You also get access to his tech team who can help you out with your site. Which is really special. You can pay monthly which makes the investment a little easier and it’s so utterly worth it for the guidance.
I hope these tips will help you on your way to getting started as a successful blogger.
Most importantly, have fun!
How can I help?
If you need help getting started with your blog, there are a few things I can do.
- Proofread and edit
- Create SEO rich, well-researched content
- Edit photos
I’m always happy to give advice so just get in touch via email.
Jess is the creator and editor of Books and Bao. She's passionate about the world, it's literature, food, culture, and people. She enjoys sharing her travel tips with others and capturing those perfect moments.