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Wow, what a year. Does anyone else feel like their head is still spinning after the crazy year we have all had? It’s been a year like no other
It was the year which started with Australian bush fires and ended with Christmas flooding in the UK. It was the year which saw the UK leaving the European Union, Trump got beaten by Biden, Harry and Meghan remove themselves from the Royal family and the world become obsessed with the bizarre Netflix show; Tiger King.
It was the year which highlighted how far we have to go to end racism. A year where the Black Lives Matter campaign prompted business owners to reflect upon their privilege and take steps towards a more diverse and inclusive world.
And, of course, it was the year where our world was rocked by a little virus called Covid.
This pandemic has touched every single one of our lives. We’ve lost friends, families, jobs, businesses and our freedom. Things we took for granted like being free to travel or even the simple things like meeting friends for a coffee suddenly felt like the most precious of luxuries. Some communities became more divided, others were united. It’s bought out the best in some of us and the worst in others.
So sitting down to write this 2020 blog review hasn’t been easy – in some ways, I’d like to forget 2020 ever happened! But it also seemed a fitting way to end the year by reflecting on the hardships, the ups, the downs, the wins and the losses before moving into 2021 with the hope of better things in store for us all.
How the pandemic affected blogging
It’s unlikely that the pandemic hasn’t touched your blog in some way or other. Some niches exploded – recipe and homeschooling blogs got a lovely traffic boost but other niches like travel, struggled with over 90% traffic losses and affiliate income coming to a screeching halt in March.
Bloggers who have children had to learn to juggle homeschooling and working from home and had less time to dedicate to their blogs. Others found themselves furloughed with nothing but time on their hands.
Those who blogged for a hobby were suddenly pushed to become professional bloggers when their 9-5 jobs fell through the cracks. Others found themselves returning to their day job to financially support themselves when their blog traffic dried up.
So good or bad, your blog has undoubtedly been affected by the shit storm that was 2020.
My own experience.
Prior to March 2020, my travel blog was my main source of income. Passive Income Superstars was just a side hustle, intended to be a slow burn project, very much in the background.
I still did a few shifts as a GP doctor to keep my skills up to date. Until that point, I was in a fortunate position where I didn’t need to rely on my medical shifts but it was comforting to know that there was never any shortage of work if I wanted it.
That all changed in March in a way I hadn’t envisaged. The travel blog unsurprisingly, fell off a cliff when the world went into lockdown. But what shocked me was that I couldn’t get any work as a doctor either! Weird right? Given that we were in a pandemic!
But GP surgeries seemed to batten down the hatches and manage as a small team, reluctant to bring outsiders in, even when they were swamped. As a locum GP who just did ad-hoc shifts to keep my license up to date, I didn’t have a regular surgery to fall back on. My asthma also prohibited me from working at a field hospital and so I found myself without work for the first time since qualifying.
It was a stressful few months until I found a few shifts manning a medical triage service during out of hours. But those few months, pushed me to get Passive Income Superstars off the ground. It went from low key side hustle to my main source of income virtually overnight. I spent many a 15 hour day in front of my laptop, determined to make it a success – and quickly!
They say to make lemonade when life gives you lemons and the one real positive I can take from 2020 is that Passive Income Superstars has come further than I could ever have imagined. You could say my new business is my lemonade.
Travel blogging during a pandemic
In March, like most travel bloggers, I experienced over 90% traffic losses. In January I earned almost $6000 in passive income but by March, it started to dwindle. The world was in lock down, trips were being cancelled and the only place people travelled to was their local supermarket.
Take Awin, for example, one of my most lucrative affiliate network. In January, I earned $4.6K with them (or £3.4K.) In March, it had dropped to $1.4K and in April my income was just $12! Owch!
Things picked up a little in the summer with a few hotel bookings and by the end of 2020, there were some longterm 2021 tour bookings starting to show in my dashboard. It’ll be several months before the money is in my bank account but at least it shows a little hope that things are improving for the travel industry.
One of my biggest regrets in 2020 is that I didn’t have as much time to pivot with my travel blog as I would like.
Because I certainly believe it is possible to make money with a travel blog even during a pandemic. It just involves being a little savvier, switching to promote products and experiences which help those missing trips abroad to have a little travel experience closer to home. Think travel decor or travel-themed subscription boxes or ways to enjoy staycations such as hiring a campervan or an Airbnb in the countryside…
In fact, my affiliate marketing students have shown this to be true. Many are in the travel niche so we have been working on some pivot strategies and they have been doing an amazing job. One of my students made back 8x the course investment in her 1st month and now pays her mortgage and bills with affiliate income via a travel blog in a pandemic! I couldn’t be prouder!
I conducted a poll with my students in the travel niche. I wanted to know if they were pivoting to Covid-friendly affiliate products or just focussing on creating evergreen content that would start earning money as travel resumed. It was a 50/50 split.
Those that did continue creating evergreen content were placing themselves in a strong position for when the travel boom occurs. There will be many travel bloggers who felt so demoralised that they quit altogether. So kudos to all those travel bloggers who kept it together and had faith that travel will resume one day.
I wish I could say that was me. I wish I could say I pivoted and started promoting fresh products or that I continued to produce evergreen content letting it slowly rise up the Google rankings.
But sadly, my travel blog did get neglected this year for a number of reasons.
My health made juggling 3 businesses tough.
Firstly, I had some health problems. I’ve suffered from depression before but usually, I get MORE productive and a little obsessed with work when my mood dips. It is usually manageable and when it happens, I identify and address it pretty quickly.
This year was tough, especially living alone, and like many people, my mental health was affected more than ever before. Running 3 businesses has always been a challenge but it was harder than ever this year and something had to give. I had to learn to be kind to myself and put my mental health ahead of my blog and my business.
I missed travel so much
I’m sure I’m not the only travel blogger who is feeling a little lost right now. Travel is more than a hobby for me. It’s my identity, my passion, my business and my therapy. Writing about travel actually makes me miss it even more.
I was lucky enough to manage one trip this year. I spent 2 weeks exploring Scotland in a campervan. It was just me, my hiking boots and my camera – the perfect socially distanced trip. I started to feel like me again.
But just weeks after getting home, Cardiff (where I live,) went into a local lockdown again and it was clear that Scotland would be my last trip for the foreseeable future. Suddenly trying to write travel content felt really difficult.
Maybe you can identify with this?
For the first time, I struggled with writer’s block and I started to dread writing about Scotland even though campervan style travel was booming and it was a great potential affiliate opportunity.
In the end, I stopped putting pressure on myself to write the planned articles, allowing myself to come back to it when it feels right. I didn’t quit, I just hit pause until I’m in the headspace to start writing about travel again without it making me feel so sad.
Passive Income Superstars kept me very busy
Back in March when travel came to an abrupt end and GP shifts came hard to come by, I had to make a success of my newer blog, Passive Income Superstars. So I threw myself into it spending all hours of the day creating new content. But the result was that it took off a little faster than expected and it has been a total whirlwind ever since!
My career has always had a way of working itself out and taking me in directions I hadn’t considered. My travel blog was started as a hobby and distraction from a breakup. It only became a business when someone told me it was impossible which prompted me to prove them wrong. The events of 2020 pushed me in a new direction and I uncovered a new passion for teaching.
I realised how much I loved both teaching and brainstorming strategies, helping my students to pivot and make a success of their blogs in the middle of a pandemic and in some ways I thrived on the challenge. Where I struggled with writer’s block with my travel blog, I am always buzzing with ideas for this site and for other people’s sites.
Becoming a blog coach gave me a focus this year and helped me get through the year from hell.
Various collaborations and speaking opportunities cropped up which has been great for growing my brand but has kept my schedule pretty busy. Every time I schedule creating new blog content, something else crops up like presenting at a virtual summit or being asked to contribute to a bundle. It’s a good problem to have but I think the time has come to start working with a virtual assistant to help me find a little more balance!
What went well in 2020
So whilst my travel blog has stayed pretty static this year, there have also been many wins.
Firstly, my Facebook group became a main focus this year. Community has become more important than ever in 2020 and I wanted to create a safe space where people could ask questions, seek support, celebrate their wins and vent when things weren’t going right. The group has grown by 450% in 2020 and I feel really lucky to have so many loyal, supportive members happy to help each other out.
Growing my email list was another focus this year and I found collaborating with others in my niche helped me grow faster than ever before, acquiring up to 600 new subscribers each month. But follower numbers are irrelevant if you don’t have engagement and so I focussed on providing a lot of value in my newsletters which has resulted in 40% average open rates and 8% click-throughs – numbers well over industry averages.
My biggest achievement for this year , however, was launching my first online course Affiliate Marketing Superstars. I poured everything into developing this course between March and April and was blown away by the response when I launched it.
I launched much earlier than planned and so my email list at the time was only tiny at 900 people and yet I had 35 new students sign up in the first 10 days. I have since helped 72 bloggers develop affiliate marketing strategies with the same course and had some brilliant feedback and students getting great results! ( My email list is also looking a LOT more healthier these days!)
I also released various other digital products throughout the year including Canva and Elementor templates, ebooks and my Affiliate Superstars toolkit which was also included in this year’s Genius Bloggers Toolkit. The result is that I now been able to help 1200 students with their affiliate strategies in a huge range of niches. That feels pretty good!
It also feels pretty good to be selling my own products after focusing on selling other people’s for the last few years. It’s a great feeling to know that other people are seeing results and benefiting from something I made. 😊
Other highlights in 2020 include being asked to speak at virtual summits for Blogosphere and the Blogger Breakthrough Summit. As a bit of an introvert, I was pretty terrified of the prospect of public speaking but as time goes on, it’s getting easier and I’m really proud of how far I’ve come. It’s also such an honour to be able to teach alongside some huge names in the industry like Jennifer Maker and Chelsea Clarke!
So 2020 has been a great year for building a thriving community, beating my fears, becoming a course owner, creating digital products and getting over my fear of presenting in front of audiences and I’m excited to see how things will continue to develop in 2021.
What didn’t go well
I do feel sad that I’ve not been able to dedicate as much time to my travel blog as I’d like. I hate that it’s been so neglected but I’ve had to forgive myself for this and realise that 2020 isn’t for thriving – it’s for surviving!
It’s okay that I haven’t created as much content as I’d like – it’s better that I took the time away I needed to stop myself from resenting my blog. My travel site will be all the better for it in the longterm.
If you have experienced similar and are feeling guilty for not creating more content, maybe try forgiving yourself for this like I did. You’ve done well to get through this year.
Whilst writing this article, I just received some great news – I’m getting my first dose of the vaccine next week. By the end of March, I should be fully immunised and it gives me hope that I may be able to resume travelling when it is safer, sometime during 2021. I’m so looking forward to dedicating more time to writing about travel when that time comes.
One of my main struggles in 2020 was finding balance. Unable to enjoy my hobbies (such as dance which has been banned throughout the pandemic,) my sole focus has been on work. Coupled with managing depression and living alone with few distractions, work has at time been more of an obsession. Trying to get some balance and make time for things like cooking healthily, getting exercise and doing things to relax like reading a book have at times been difficult.
Moving forward, I need to find ways to regain balance. For starters, the time has come that I need to start working with a virtual assistant.
I also don’t have a dedicated home office yet and have been working from my sofa in lockdown. This isn’t very healthy and means that the workday and evening have no separation which often means I work until the early hours. My next priority will be turning my spare bedroom into a study to help me regain focus and set healthier boundaries.
I also heard about the concept ‘word of the year’ where business owners choose a word to help guide their decisions throughout the year. For some that might be ‘consistency’ or ‘growth’ but for me, my word of 2021 will be ‘balance’ in the hope that it helps me make healthier choices.
If I were to choose a 2nd word, it would be ‘consistency’ as this is the other area I feel has been lacking in 2020. I’ve felt like I have just been winging it jumping from one project to the next but not showing up consistently with regular fresh blog content or a solid Pinterest strategy. So that’s definitely something I would like to improve on in 2021 and that might involve declining some opportunities. After all, sometimes that’s needed to achieve ‘balance.’
What I’d like to do differently in 2021
I have so many exciting plans for 2021 though there are still many unknowns so these will remain flexible.
Firstly, I have plans to expand on Affiliate Marketing Superstars and create more video content to cater for those with different learning styles. The time this will require will mean that there will be a rise in the price at some point in 2021 but I will let you all know before this happens.
I also have a few projects I’ve been working on which I will be launching very soon – watch this space!
I’m hoping to open up a few spaces for one-on-one coaching very soon. The focus of this will be on creating unique strategies designed around my student’s blogs and areas of expertise. I’ve realised helping many bloggers pivot during 2020 that ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ strategy planning is something that I thrive on and I want to help more bloggers refine their own approaches.
I also have so many affiliate article ideas I want to write for both websites. The downside to coaching is that I spend so long helping other bloggers with their strategies that it means a lot less time to focus on my own! But this year I really want to prioritise creating more content, even if it means occasionally turning down other projects.
Whilst I haven’t had as much time or energy to dedicate to my travel blog, I have spent lots of time re-imagining the direction I want to take my travel blog in during 2021. The plan is to niche down further and do more of what is working. I want to take the products I sell lots of and create more email funnels around them including writing an ebook on a related topic and potentially creating a very niche travel Facebook group.
I definitely see me working closely with a VA in the not-too-distant future. I find it really hard to hand over the reigns having been a solopreneur for so long but I’ve realised that for my blog to continue growing at the pace it is, I need help.
2020 was also the first year that I became an affiliate programme manager for my own courses and products which resulted in 19% more sales creating an extra $2300 revenue. My plan for 2021 is to grow my affiliate programme further and I’d love to start working with other blogging coaches to take a webinar ‘on tour.’
Tools and resources I discovered in 2020.
I am always on the lookout for tools and resources to help me run my blog more efficiently and I have found several that have really helped this year.
I switched my email platform from Mailerlite to Convertkit. I dragged my feet for way long because Converkit costs a little more than Mailerlite but as I crossed a new subscriber threshold, the price difference narrowed so I took the plunge. I haven’t looked back and wished I’d moved sooner. Deliverability has been great but most importantly, email marketing has become so much easier and more streamlined. I’m able to segment my audience more effectively meaning that I deliver offers only to people who actually care without annoying the rest. It has paid for itself many times over! If you’re considering switching, I can’t recommend Convertkit enough!
I discovered Podia which is where I host my courses and other digital products. It is much cheaper than platforms like Teachable but also allows courses, digital downloads, video masterclasses and memberships to be hosted in the same place which means the platform gives me space to grow my business. A membership isn’t part of the plan right now but who knows in the future?!
If you’re thinking of starting an online course in 2021, then definitely check Podia out!
I’m a massive fan of automating as much of my business as possible and so I love love LOVE Thrive Ultimatum which allows me to deliver discounts to my audience on their own timeline, when they are ready for them. It allows me to deliver a much more personalised experience.
I discovered the free tool Vocal Bird in just the last few weeks which I can see being a huge time saver. I pride myself on being generous with my support for my students and followers and can’t help but write whole essay responses to people’s questions. I love providing that personal touch but it is super time consuming and can be distracting from my own work. Vocal Bird is the best solution as it allows me to record audio notes in response to questions so I can continue providing lots of value but without it eating so far into my time!
The latest tool I am currently trialling is Group Leads to help me manage my Facebook group. It essentially does the work of a VA but without having to pay so much! I can automated welcome messages, auto-approve new members based on rules I set and send messages to those who don’t complete questions to help remind them to do so. But most importantly, I can automate the process of collecting email addresses and adding new Facebook members to my newsletter if they choose to join. I’ll let you know how this tool goes but I definitely think it has the power to be a gamechanger.
I hope you’ve found this 2020 blog review helpful. Maybe you can relate to my struggles with writers block or the struggle to gain some level of balance between business and self-care?
It’s been useful for me to reflect on the good, the bad and how I want things to change moving forward into 2021. With my vaccine on the cards next week and several projects planned for January 2021 is starting to look a little brighter for me, my blogs and my business. I hope you will also be able to enter the new year, feeling a little more optimistic and with a little more hope than we felt in 2020.
I hope 2021 brings wonderful things for you and your blogs. Thank you for being a valued member of the Passive Income Superstars community!
Happy new year! 🎉