I recently had a business crisis here at The Professional Hobo headquarters (which, at the moment, is in Tokyo Japan). I filmed a very raw and honest vlog about it (which you’ll find below), in which I actually call myself a “hack”. Although “hack” is probably a bit strong, I’ve come to realize some fundamental facts about my online business, which are pretty damn concerning.
This post was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Now, before I launch into how much of a “hack” I am, it’s worth noting that nothing about what I write is inaccurate or hack-like. From the start, I’ve been brutally honest about my life and lifestyle (to the point of publishing annual reports of my income and expenses, demonstrating that full-time travel can be financially sustainable.
I’ve also been brutally honest about the ups and downs of this lifestyle, careful not to sugar-coat it, and even delving into the details of all the yucky things that can happen on the road (for a breakdown of these icky things, check out Brace Yourself: Travel Isn’t All Roses and Lollipops).
Instead, my business crisis has been just that – a business crisis. One in which I’m seeing some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way that have now put me in a pickle I’m not exactly sure how to get out of.
This Business Crisis Has Been a Long Time Coming
In 2013, I wrote a post about the Evolution of the Travel Blogging Industry, and how I felt like I was missing the boat. I was in the process of changing my lifestyle to adopt a home base (which didn’t end up working out), and I was also recovering from an ultimately life-changing accident.
Re-reading that post, I see some themes that have come back to bite me…again.
I Lucked Into This Business
Back in the pioneer days of 2006 when I sold everything to travel full-time and started a blog, travel blogging wasn’t even “a thing”. Words like “monetization”, “location independent”, and “digital nomad” didn’t exist.
And for me, my travel blog was little more than a glorified travel journal, with no business plan. My business plan was much more about becoming a freelance writer – which I might add, I did pretty well.
Over the years as the travel blogging industry was built up around me, my website succeeded by sheer function of longevity. I never applied a science to my website. I didn’t analyze where my traffic was coming from. Split testing was as alien to me as my non-existent business plan. And, pay for ads to increase exposure? You’ve got to be kidding. I wouldn’t even have known where to start.
Now, back in 2013 when I realized my site had unrealized potential, I was smart enough to capitalize on it, in ways that luckily kept me in the game. I redesigned my site, started a newsletter list, and wrote some e-books.
But I stopped there. And in this ever-evolving industry that has become super-competitive, stopping hurt me.
I Got Tired of the Business
Shortly thereafter when my life in the Caribbean ended and I later arrived in Peru (in 2014), I knew a change was coming. Perhaps I even knew that the travel blogging industry was becoming more sophisticated than my innate capabilities at the time. Perhaps I was just tired of it (in my 20s I had a history of changing jobs/careers every few years, so technically I was overdue for a change given that I’d done this through most of my 30s). Either way, when shamanism entered the picture, I used it as an excuse to scale everything back.
At the time, it made sense. I had a gig in Peru that was a total life change that would provide me with an income, property, and promised to make me the beneficiary of a successful plant medicine centre. I even considered selling my site at that time, but decided against it since it was still my baby, and also a security blanket.
Thank goodness I did hang on to it, because when my life in Peru fell apart, I had something to fall back on.
Shortly thereafter though, I was led back to shamanic pursuits at a retreat centre in Ecuador that kept me very busy for the next nine months of assistant managing the place and facilitating ceremonies. Again, I scaled everything back to the bare minimum of activities that could keep my website alive and kicking out (some sort of) income.
After nine months, again I had doubts about my shamanic path and decided to take a break to hit the road again. Which brought me to my current location, house-sitting in Japan.
So Today, I’m Having a Business Crisis
I knew in coming to Japan that I would be putting some (long overdue) time and energy into my website and online business. My business crisis was inspired by the first item on my list: to change web hosts to a managed WordPress hosting platform that would supposedly increase my traffic. It was an investment that would multiply my hosting expenses by more than 10, but I figured it was time to take things to the next level. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
But while migrating hosts, I realized I was trying to play a game with the “big boys”, and that I no longer was a “big boy” in the game, as I had been for years. I mean, given my website’s foundations (like domain authority and backlinks and longevity), I should be a big boy. But my traffic is a mere fraction of what it should be given this foundation. And thus, my income is also a mere fraction of what it should be. Just take a look at some of my Financial Case Studies, many of whom are travel bloggers who are making six figures a year. Heck – if I really want to depress myself, I compare myself to Nomadic Matt, who is one of the few bloggers who have been traveling as long as I have. He has 800,000 visitors a month and makes over $1 million a year. Me…not so much.
I Deserve It
I mean, for the last three years, I’ve done little more than publish one post per week, respond to emails, keep up with Facebook and Twitter, and write little more than one measly freelance column. It has been enough to financially sustain me, but just.
So of course I deserve to not have a leading travel blog that appears in all the “top x” lists as it once did. But it still hurts. It hurts my wallet, and even more so, it hurts my ego.
So this is why I’m a hack. I stumbled into an industry that was built up around me as I pursued my lifestyle dream of traveling full-time. When people interview me about how to succeed in the travel blogging industry (and no, the irony doesn’t escape me), I talk about the need to treat it like a business, and to apply a science to it in order to differentiate yourself from the ever-increasing plethora of travel blogs out there. I admit in these interviews that I got lucky because of sheer time in the saddle.
But I never took my own advice. I haven’t treated it (enough) like a business, nor have I applied much of a science to the art.
And here I am. In business crisis central.
Business Crisis Vlog
In this video I’m at the epicentre of my business crisis, discussing how it has led to a larger lifestyle crisis. I also delve into a lot more than business stuff, talking about how much of what I’m going through is totally normal….for everybody. I even discuss how my last three years in shamanism have helped me to reframe a lot of this.
Check it out:
Can’t see this video? Click here to watch on YouTube.
How I’m Dealing With This Business Crisis
Since recording this video, I’ve done a few things to get my business back on track, including:
- I’m long overdue for another website redesign. I’m looking at designers (and budgets) right now. This will require a significant investment of both time and money that makes me nauseous.
- I’ve increased my posting frequency from once to twice per week, and breathed new life (again) into my YouTube channel. Every Thursday, posts on my website (like this one) will include a vlog.
- I’ve started looking at website analytics in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of what makes my website tick. (It’s less soul-destroying than I thought, but I still think if I want to get anywhere concrete with this I may need to hire somebody to help me).
- I’m upping my social media game by creating engaging short Travel Tips videos that relate to posts on my site. I’m active on Quora. I’m pitching products on Product Hunt. And every day I’m finding something new to do to increase my exposure.
And there’s a lot more I could do. In some ways I don’t even know where to start. I’m hoping the actions above will be enough, but I suspect it won’t.
This all means I’m working a lot more, but for the moment I don’t mind. I’m still getting out and “discovering Tokyo” at a decent pace, as you’ll see from my upcoming vlogs (stay tuned every Thursday!).
I Had a Crisis About Publishing This Post
I mean, I shouldn’t actually admit that my website traffic sucks and that I’m a business hack, should I? It’s not exactly good for prospective customers (readers and advertisers alike) to read. I should probably be faking it till I make it (again).
But in the name of being honest with you as I always have, my loyal and lovely readers (and yes, there are still quite a few of you, and I love you for sticking with me), I’m putting it all out there for you to see. Hopefully, through my own struggles, you can further identify with me, and also realize that traveling full-time does not require superhuman status – nor will it solve all your problems.
And publishing my business crisis is also perhaps a bit self-serving; if any of you are smarter than I am when it comes to website management and business planning (and you don’t have to be very smart to be smarter than me in this game), I welcome your suggestions below.