Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Bonjour! My name is Claire Robinson; I am French, and I am the founder of StructurInfo. My main business is Travel Blogging. But I am not your typical travel blogger. I do not work with sponsors or tourism boards. I select and pay for my own trips. I will not share with you how ‘to be paid to travel’. However, I do travel a lot and enjoy writing about it :-)
My strategy has been to develop my own collection of travel guides. The typical guides list thousands of places but offer hardly any pictures. They try pleasing all kinds of travelers. And in the end, you still don’t know where you want to go… My eBooks are written for travelers who prefer going on road trips to discover a destination. My content is curated and organized to make the planning much easier.
I now cover over 10 destinations in 3 languages: English, French, and German. You can find the English ones at ZigZagonearth.com.
And people say things about them like: “So excited to find something so useful compared to the other books I’ve purchased!”
Pre-quarantine, my revenue averaged $9,000 per month. And 2020 started with huge growth before all travels stopped. I am still working hard to deliver practical information because travel will start again, and I love it when customers share how much fun they had planned their trip with my guides and how wonderful their road trips were, for example in New Zealand:
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Well, this started as a hobby. I never would have thought it would become what it is today. I am blown away.
My original career was completely different. I have a Master’s in Engineering, and I had an international career in Quality Management for medical devices. I’ve lived in France, Germany, and Australia and traveled all over the world for work. This is the reason why I caught the travel bug.
I did not scatter and try doing all the social media platforms. I made choices. This is really important. You can’t do everything well. And depending on your strategy, not all the options are pertinent.
At one point I was frustrated not to be able to find the information I needed to plan a trip, so I started my own blog. I thought other people may be looking for the same things (I love planning with a lot of details).
2 years after starting that blog, I realized my readers had the same frustrations with travel guides as I had (you know, the thousands of places but hardly any pictures). This is why I launched my first road trip guide. It was about Iceland. I must admit I did not really validate the idea, I had an audience that seemed to be looking for such a product and I wanted the challenge of creating it, so I just did it.
At the end of 2016, after the sudden death of my brother and a change in management at my work, I decided to go full time. I left my comfortable, highly paid corporate job to try and see what could happen.
At that point, the English website had grown a little as my side hustle and was generating $500 a month. So, I knew it was possible to earn money from it.
And, thanks to my family’s advice, I decided to launch the French version of it at ZigZagvoyages.fr. Translating content is much faster than creating it, and, as I knew what I was doing, the site grew faster.
Since then, in 2018, I have also launched the German version at ZigZagreisen.de.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
To create my first travel guide it was just me, my computer, and PowerPoint. I created a structure for each stop so that I could share all the pertinent information for planning a visit: GPS coordinates, distance to the main towns, location, how long to plan, presence of restaurant and toilets, access difficulty level (types of roads), difficulty to get around…
Then, I selected all my favorite places and filled in the structure with the information. The structure changed as I was trying to complete it. I added big pictures for people to be able to decide if they were interested or not.
But I wanted more. I wanted people to visualize where all the stops were to make it easy to plan the itinerary. So, I added maps I had drawn myself so that they remained easy to read but had sufficient information to make the decision.
This is what it looks like for my last eBook, Iceland in Winter:
Describe the process of launching the business.
I did not ‘launch my business’. I had started my blog before. I was adding articles regularly. And when I finished my first eBook, I simply added links to the sales page from all my articles about that destination. No big fuss.
People visiting my website were searching for specific locations, they were in the planning phase already and they started buying it.
For the English website, I started in mid-2013, launched the sales of the first eBook in mid-2015, and started seeing a lot of customers at the beginning of 2018.
For the French version, I launched at the end of 2016 and it grew to the 2018 level of the English one by the beginning of 2019.
I did not have any costs except for basic website running costs. At the time, the platform I was using to sell the eBooks was free up to 5 eBooks. They were just taking a very small percentage of the sale for the Credit Card payment system.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
My strategy is very straightforward: I don’t have complicated sales funnels or ad strategies. I could if I wanted to grow faster, but I am happy with my process.
I think your marketing strategy should be:
- Adapted to your customers and where you can find them
- Adapted to what you enjoy doing
What is the point of becoming an entrepreneur, if you don’t have fun working?
I use SEO (for general search engines and for Pinterest) to attract people who are in the process of planning a trip. When they reach one of my articles about a specific location, they understand my love for planning and details and discover that I have a guide. Some of them visit the eBook sales page and purchase it.
I have a Facebook account, but I share just once a day a picture or an article.
I also have a newsletter in which I share tips about planning and enjoying road trips.
I have kept this strategy for several years. However, I have just implemented a change I wanted to do for a long time. I have opened the sales of my eBooks to some affiliates if their readers/followers are a good fit for my types of guides.
- I don’t do ads at the moment. I might do some on Pinterest later in the year.
- I don’t have funnels with several steps.
- I am not on Amazon, because my guides would not be readable on a Kindle.
- I am not on any other marketing platform.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The advantage of selling eBooks is that the profit margin is huge compared to paperback.
I also make money from affiliate marketing when I promote hotels or tours.
My expenses are mostly:
- My travels
- All the software I am listing in the following question
- Hosting of my website
- Fee for using the payment system
Otherwise, I have no cost of goods, and since I don’t run ads, I have no customer acquisition cost (except for my own time working on articles).
In regard to my new affiliate program, I offer 30% of the full price (the taxes and fees are deducted from my part. I have just launched it, therefore I have no return for the moment.
With the quarantine, my business is almost at a stop. People are not planning trips. But before, the year was looking very promising. With January and February sales, and bookings, I was looking at a 40% increase.
Now I just have to wait and see what traveling will look like post-pandemic. I am still creating new content on my last trips to go with my guides. I still want to help people plan unforgettable road trips.
Everyone will tell you that the first step is to choose a niche. I disagree. You have to choose a customer. Your content may span across different niches while still helping the same person.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I first learned that I am able to work without having a boss. LOL. I had always told my mother that I would never be able to do that. But it was during my previous career.
When you really enjoy what you are doing, this is not a problem.
I work more than before, but, except for a few tasks, it does not feel like work. And I love the freedom to work when inspiration is here, and not be stuck in front of a computer in the office when my brain just doesn't want to do anything.
I was lucky because I was naturally doing SEO before knowing what SEO was (in the way I organize information - I had subtitles with related keywords, articles trying to answer all aspects of the subject…). And once I discovered SEO, I think learning more about it has really helped me a lot.
I did not scatter and try doing all the social media platforms. I made choices. This is really important. You can’t do everything well. And depending on your strategy, not all the options are pertinent. For example, if I had wanted to work with Tourism Boards, a strong Instagram account would have been essential.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My favorite tools to run my blog and my business:
- My website host WPEngine – I have never had a problem and they are always quick to answer my questions
- Thrive Architect – I love being able to make my posts look well organized
- I was using Selz for selling my eBooks and I loved them, but they still have not launched the feature to have affiliates selling your products. Therefore, I have just switched to SendOwl in order to be able to have affiliates
- I use Keysearch to find keywords
- I create my pins using Canva pro
- I use Tailwind to pin frequently to Pinterest
- I process photos with Lightroom
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
At the beginning, I did B-school from Marie Forleo for another project. I learned a lot from the program that I applied to this business. I keep following her content because she can boost you whenever you need a push.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If you are looking to develop a blog as a business, my main pieces of advice are:
- 1. This is not about you – I don’t want to see another travel blog whose goal is to ‘inspire people to travel more.
- 2. This is about your customer. Everyone will tell you that the first step is to choose a niche. I disagree. You have to choose a customer. Who are you talking to? What does he/she need? Where does he/she hang around? How can you help? Your content may span across different niches while still helping the same person.
- 3. This is about your strategy – make sure your traffic and monetization strategies are aligned with both your ideal customer and their needs, as well as what you enjoy doing or what you can outsource.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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