I started Little Grey Box on the floor of our London flat one very cold evening. At the time, neither Matt or I knew what we were starting. For me, Little Grey Box was just an outlet for my love of writing. I had no clue it could be a career or that it would eventually grow to be our full-time jobs and completely change every aspect of our lives. Now, five years on, the world of blogging has changed completely and being a travel blogger is, strangely, a real job. With so many amazing, talented creators out there and a lot of people thinking about starting or growing their blog, I want to share 17 things I wish I knew before I started my travel blog. If you’ve got a question for me about travel blogging, don’t hesitate to ask! Just pop your Q in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.
1. You can’t make everyone happy
Perfectionists and people pleasers (me) need to know they will come up against a lot of negativity and hate. No matter what you do or how you do it, there’s going to be negativity. The best thing you can do is see that thought as a positive! I mean, it’s liberating, right? You don’t have to worry so much about doing things perfectly or creating content that makes everyone happy because it’s impossible. Don’t just accept it, own it!
2. Beware the bullies
You’ll quickly learn it’s not worth your time to engage with online bullies as you’ll never change them so just ignore the haters and focus on what makes you happy. Remember, it isn’t actually you that upsets them – you simply reflect something that bothers them. I also want to say this – bullies come in all different forms, so learn to spot them. Sometimes people pretend to be your friend and, once they’re in, they start saying sly, manipulative and nasty things hidden in conversation. You gotta take care of yourself, okay! The internet is a wild place and you need to be careful.
3. Create from the heart
While there’s benefit in creating content you think people need and will like, I always find the content that performs best is that which comes from the heart. As your business grows it can start to blind you a little and you can lose sight of why you started. Sometimes you may even find yourself changing your work, like changing your photography style because it doesn’t get enough likes on Instagram. Always be true to your heart and your expression – create exactly what you want to create and when the timing is right, what you want to happen will happen. Always be true to yourself and your expression, no matter what.
4. Honesty is always the best policy
Whether you’re negotiating a contract, writing a blog post or talking to your followers, honesty is always the best policy. It’s also important you’re honest with yourself every step of the way. Your audience will connect with you best when they feel they truly know you so don’t try to fake it.
5. It’s okay to take risks
It’s not just okay, it’s imperative! There’s a saying that goes something like, ‘if you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always gotten.’ Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and take risks, try something new and forge a different path. There’s no rule saying, ‘To be successful you have to take a sexy bikini pic on a beach with a coconut cocktail and a floppy hat.’ There are so many people in this world and not everyone likes the same thing so listen to your heart, take risks and always question the process.
6. Your blog is a business
A blog isn’t just a blog. It can be a full-time business, as it is for Matt and me. That means you should see it as a business and operate accordingly. For me, accepting Little Grey Box is a business, not just a shitty travel blog, empowered me. It gave me confidence and a deep sense of self-satisfaction. It also gave me license to be tough, make hard decisions, push for more and question everything!
7. It takes time (a LOT of time)
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have started a blog with a motivation and excitement. When I check-in with them 3 months later, they’ve given up on it. Most of the time it seems to come down to things not growing as quickly as they would have liked. Often, they find it’s hard to find the time to work on a blog when they still have all the responsibilities of their everyday life (I went through all of this too). I would say it takes around 3 – 5 years for a blog to mature, unless you get lucky and go viral or something similar. So, know this in advance, settle into a routine with your blog that you can stick to (i.e. posting twice a week) then be consistent. It will grow.
8. You’ll need to pay your dues
When I first started I had to do a lot of things for free and, in some cases, I lost money. It was rough and, at times, a little disheartening. Even now, I will still do some things for free for new clients. I do my absolute best to produce amazing content and build a solid relationship with them. It can take months or, in some instances, years but eventually, I earned my place at the table and get regular, paid work. Be prepared to slog it out and play the end game.
9. It’s important to be professional
This is the most important thing on this list. I have spoken to so many other bloggers, PR and marketing people as well as journalists who have had negative experiences with travel bloggers. Trust me, people talk. It is absolutely essential you are professional in every aspect of your work. You should always be polite, respectful, kind, considerate and courteous. Most of all, you should be thankful and appreciative of everything that comes your way. This job is a blessing and acting like a spoiled, whining, entitled brat will not have positive outcomes.
10. You should figure out what you want out of it
I started Little Grey Box because I wanted to write but had no clue it could be a career, so I floundered for a long time with no direction. I would recommend taking the time to sit down with pen and paper and working out what it is exactly you want to come out of this. Do you want to be paid to travel? Paid for your photographs? Do you want to help others learn how to blog? Do you want to have your blog as a side hustle while still maintaining your existing career? Once you know where you want to end up you can plot a course to get there.
11. It’s important to say no
Each week we say no to jobs. It may seem like everything we do is positive and it usually is, because we’re very selective about who we work with. If I get a funny feeling or my intuition tells me something isn’t quite right with a job, I won’t do it. If I feel like the brand isn’t of any value to my audience, I say no. If I feel the brand is getting more out of it than I am and they’re just using me, I turn it down. In fact, all the things I’ve said no to have come to be more important than those I’ve said yes to. You might notice there’s no banner advertising or affiliate marketing on Little Grey Box, that’s because we say no. Never be afraid to say no.
12. There are no rules
You can do a million google searches about starting a travel blog and you’ll get a million different tips on what’s right and what’s wrong. Truth is, there are no rules! I was constantly told it was essential I develop an email subscriber list, develop a newsletter and take care of my email subscribers. I don’t. I hate subscribing to emails and getting spammed with shitty emails all the time. I mean, if I wanted to read ya shit, I know your URL, I’ll go there and read it. My blog is still a success so I guess an email list isn’t the be-all and end-all, right? You make the decisions for your blog. Don’t be afraid to skip things others deem essential. Forge your own path.
13. You gotta love it
This is a big one. There are a lot of challenges with this job. When people are commenting on your website or photos telling you you’re ugly, fat, annoying, pathetic, sad and much worse things too, you’re going to need to dig deep. It’s going to get on top of you and you’ll want to quit. So, it’s important you love it. If you love it, nobody or nothing can take it from you because you’re doing it for yourself. There will be times you’ll be so fed up with it, frustrated and annoyed that you’ll want to delete it and quit (me). But, if you love it, you’ll never give up because it drives you.
14. It’s important to keep learning and evolving
Matt is the best example of this cos I’m a lazy turd. He’s always on YouTube watching new tutorials, learning how to improve his filming and video editing skills. He’s always scouring the internet, picking up information on the blog life from news articles and blog sites. Not only does he read this stuff, he actually uses it! You know what, he keeps improving and because he keeps improving we’re able to stay ahead of the curve and offer the very best product possible to clients.
15. Success isn’t limited
There will be times when it will seem like every other blogger is getting opportunities and you are not. You have to trust you are on your own path and are exactly where you need to be at this point in time. Success isn’t a limited thing, there isn’t a specific amount of success in this world. It is infinite, which means there’s enough to go around for everyone, especially as each person’s idea of success is different. Trust what is meant to be is coming to you in this moment. You’ll get there, just keep working at it.
16. You need to learn to negotiate
When I started I had no clue how to negotiate. I was too scared of offending the person on the other end of the email and missing out on the opportunity so I wouldn’t ask about terms and conditions, payment or anything else like that. I was often even too scared to ask for money! It was a learning curve and I’m grateful for it because I now know how pissed off I feel when I have to work for free cos I’m too scared to ask to be paid. I’ve learned how to negotiate and it’s important you do too. You need to know your value and truly appreciate your worth. Don’t be afraid to question the contract and stand your ground when needed.
17. Keep your circle small
It’s a sad truth that as your blog grows people will see your success as their opportunity. Success can often be perceived in funny ways and I’ve found a lot of people come out of the woodwork with their hands out, wanting me to take them on trips, arrange free travel for them (Ummm how???) or promote their business or product. These people are not friends. Your true friends will support you, laugh with you and call you on your shit. They’ll tease you and keep you grounded. They’ll protect and uplift you. It’s very important, as your success grows, you keep your circle of trusted friends and family as small as possible. Learn to spot a user and don’t be afraid to cut people out who aren’t bringing positivity to your life.
18. There’s a lot more work involved than you probably think
Publishing blog posts is one tiny part of running a blog full-time. You will need to be your own accounting team, publicist and manager. You’ll be the face of your brand and brand manager. You’ll be dealing with clients and negotiating deals, writing blog posts, editing photos, updating social media and responding to comments. You’ll be learning new things constantly, filming and editing videos, creating thumbnails, researching tags and putting together quotes. I can’t even list all the things Matt and I do, but it really is a full-time job. So, if you want it to be yours too, you need to be prepared to work your ass off. Trust me, it is definitely worth it. We have the best jobs in the world and the sense of satisfaction and happiness you get from knowing how much you achieve through your hard work is unbeatable.
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.