Sofie Couwenbergh of Wonderful Wanderings helps people plan worry-free trips by providing them with detailed travel itineraries. Find out how she was able to take it from a hobby to a full-time gig.
Revenue of $4,300/mo
Email list size of 2,000
Founded in 2012
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
Hi! I’m Sofie and I launched my travel blog in 2012 because of a need for my own create outlet. I’d graduated from university with a Master in Western Literature and one in Cultural Management and while I was working at an international publishing house (very fitting), I was a bit bored and felt like something was missing. Combining my love for travel with my passion for writing seemed like the logical thing to do.
On WonderfulWanderings, I help people plan worry-free trips by providing them with detailed travel itineraries based on my own travels as well as practical travel information and how-to’s.
I’ve always been a bit of a control-freak myself and noticed that thoroughly researching everything makes me feel more confident to visit new places and try new things.
I’m hoping that by sharing my research and travel experience, I can help others feel more confident to explore the world as well.
While the blog started as a hobby, I quickly saw there was business potential and so I worked on growing my audience and getting my name out there. I was able to quit my job at the start of 2015 and now earn more than I did when I was still working a regular 9-to-5.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
As I mentioned, initially it started out as a creative outlet. My goal was to use the blog as some kind of portfolio to go after freelance writing gigs. The idea to write about travel, though, came from my parents first.
They remarked how it had always been a passion of mine and suggested I’d start writing about my own experiences.
As I’d studied literature and linguistics, had worked at a press agency before and was doing copywriting when I launched it, I had a solid background in writing, but none in web design on online marketing. As many people in this industry, I think, I taught myself everything as I went.
Because I was still working a “traditional” full-time job when I launched the blog, I could experiment with things and take my time to figure things out as there was no financial pressure. As the blog grew and I kept getting more and more opportunities, I decided to officially register it as a side-business (that’s a thing in Belgium) at the start of 2014.
Although I didn’t nearly make enough money to sustain myself that first year, it did show me that if I put my back into it, I could probably make this work. At the same time,
I knew that I’d want to quit my job at some point and so I’d set myself a saving’s goal of €30,000 ($37,000). That may seem like a lot, but I’d been saving all my life – I’m Belgian, it’s in our blood – and I knew it was an amount I could reach by the end of the year.
Those savings were my safety net. When I became a full-time blogger at the beginning of 2015, I knew that if everything would fail, I’d have more than enough money to live off for a year. Luckily, I didn’t have to use any of it.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
I’ve always had various income streams and to me that’s very important. The online world is a volatile place and things that work today might not work as well anymore tomorrow. At the same time, I might get sick of doing something or I might want to try new things and devote time to those. By having various income streams, I’m more flexible to respond to changes and to try out new tactics.
The first money I made from blogging probably came from publishing sponsored posts, some kind of advertorials. I think the same goes for many bloggers out there. I quickly supplemented that by doing freelance travel copywriting and as my audience grew, paid marketing campaigns for mostly destinations followed.
Aside from that, I also do affiliate marketing, have advertisements on the site and offer consulting both to brands who want to learn how to more effectively work with bloggers, and to bloggers who want to learn how to work with brands. I also give workshops and take on speaking assignments related to those topics.
Lastly, I have a custom travel planning service for people who either don’t like researching their trip or who simply don’t have the time for it.
Based on what I’ve learned making money blogging, there’s two things I’d say to aspiring entrepreneurs:
- Do what works for you
- Don’t compare yourself to others
I’ve wasted a lot of time doing things that were successful for other people, but that really weren’t my forte or that I didn’t enjoy doing. It took me a while to realize I wasn’t going to get there (wherever “there” is) if I didn’t do my own thing.
At the same time, it’s important to realize that a lot of people show only their best side on social media and that entrepreneurs aren’t an exception to that rule. That one person who seems to have it all figured out might actually be a complete mess behind the scenes.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
When I started blogging, I focused on networking with other bloggers and getting myself in front of their audience. That meant commenting on other blogs, joining Facebook groups and guest posting – a lot. This helped me get my name out there and established me within (a certain part of) the travel blogging community.
While the link building done through guest blogging probably did help my site to rank better, guest posting didn’t really get me a lot of traffic.
Initially, social media got me more. I’ve always been on all the big channels, but have focused my efforts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and later also Instagram.
While I still like using these platforms to connect with my audience and potential new readers, I don’t focus on them anymore to build traffic. Algorithms change constantly and all these platforms want is for people to stay there. They don’t want you to send people to your own site.
About 70% of my traffic today comes from Google. I think that’s partly because my site is 6 years old now and has a lot of content, and partly because I’m constantly trying to work on SEO.
Whenever I post a new article, I’ll do keyword research first, but I’ll also do these “SEO sprints” where I’ll spend one or two months a year optimizing old posts and deleting things that aren’t relevant anymore or that I don’t think will ever perform well.
I’ve only tried Facebook ads a couple of times but I haven’t really looked into them and those few times weren’t really successful. Other than that, I’ve never advertised anywhere.
My growth tip for an aspiring blogger would be to be patient. I know there are bloggers that have seem to shot up to the stars out of nowhere, but they are the exception. Try out various channels and tactics but realize that the only thing you truly own is your blog and your email list. All those social media channels can cut you off any time they want.
How have you grown the email list?
I have to admit I haven’t paid nearly enough attention to my email list. I’ve been hovering around 2000 subscribers for almost two years now and although I plan to work on that later this year (but don’t have a plan yet), I’m purely maintaining it at the moment.
I have a welcome sequence set up for new subscribers to get to know the blog and what you can find on it, and then I send out a monthly newsletter giving them some behind-the-scenes information on what I’m working on travelwise. Those newsletters also contain the posts I published that month.
How do you write great content that performs well?
I usually write in the morning. I find that’s when I’m most focused. I’ll usually start by creating an outline for the post, including headings and a few notes of things I want to mention.
As I mostly write about my own travel experiences, I then just start writing. Anything research-based (like addresses, opening times or historical information) I’ll add in later.
I choose the topics of my posts based on the trips I take and the questions I get from readers. As I travel 20+ times a year, I never run out of content ideas. Quite the opposite actually: there are a few trips I still haven’t written about out of lack of time.
I probably should pay more attention to editing and using captivating writing techniques, like optimizing my headlines for click-throughs, but those are the parts of writing I like least.
I’m someone who can spend hours crafting a text, but then when I’ve decided it’s done and I’ve had it, then it’s done and I’ve had it. I’ll actually do my final edit as soon as my post is published. The fact that it’s then public and people will read it, is that kick in the butt I need to clear away any final typos.
Editing your own texts is hard, though. I often miss clear mistakes simply because I’ve read a sentence 10 times already and know what it says.
When writing for the web, you always need to take into account both your readers and what The Google likes. Luckily, Google is moving more and more towards rewarding detailed quality writing as well. So if I’d have to give one tip, it would be to provide your readers with all the information you think they might need on your article’s topic, and to try and do so in a way that doesn’t bore them to death 😉
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
As I mentioned before, one of the mistakes I made was comparing myself/my blog to others for way too long. I was insecure and didn’t have a clear goal, which meant that I was trying everything and anything and quickly got side-tracked.'If I had to start over, I’d probably install one of those website blocking extensions from day one and block Facebook for most of the day.'Click To Tweet
All these online marketers keep going on about finding your niche, finding your unique selling point, defining what you’re all about… and they’re right to do so. The clearer you are on what you want to offer and to whom, the easier it will be to find out which strategies work for you and which shiny objects you should simply ignore.
If I had to start over, I’d probably install one of those website blocking extensions from day one and block Facebook for most of the day.
As helpful as all those blogger groups can be, they’re also the perfect place to get side-tracked and to feel bad about yourself as you’re contemplating how everyone else seems to be doing so great.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
What’s helped me most, I think, is being so darn persistent. For a long time and until this day, I don’t see myself doing anything else, so I have to make this work.
Being successful in travel blogging means putting in long hours and spending way more time behind your laptop than actually traveling. You need to be up for that and you need to be able to keep that up not for months, but often for years.'What's helped me most, I think, is being so darn persistent. For a long time and until this day, I don't see myself doing anything else, so I have to make this work.'Click To Tweet
I think my writing and language skills have definitely been helpful as well. I don’t struggle writing 4,000 words in a morning, and I do so both in Dutch and in English as my blog is bilingual.
Making it bilingual has also been a good decision as it has helped me not only to reach a larger audience, but to put me on the map as “that Belgian travel blogger”.
Writing in your native language can be great to get a native audience, but if you want to work with international brands and they don’t understand what you’re saying, that can be a problem. By doing things in two languages, I reach both the international community and the Dutch-speaking Belgians.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid and experiment with things for a while, but make sure to make a decision on what your focus will be sooner rather than later. It will help you take every other decision you’ll need to take afterward in regard to your brand.
Network, both with other bloggers in your industry and with brands. Go to conferences and trade fairs, attend press events and talk to people. It’s much easier to connect with someone and leave a lasting impression when you meet them face-to-face.
Lastly, read my post on how to start a blog and keep it running, as it has plenty more advice 🙂
Where can we go to learn more?