Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Shelley — and I’m a travel blogger. I started my first travel blog in April 2020, and by April 2023, I had grown to have four travel blogs and a blog about blogging… and they are all profitable.
Just like anyone starting out, my first year as a blogger, I made exactly $0 — however, I was DETERMINED to make money from this. I read articles by seven-figure travel bloggers, and kept telling myself “If they can, I can.”
From 2021 to 2022, I grew my income by 3,113% and decided I had to teach others how I did it, so they could too.
You should feel confident about a business idea because you’ve done some due diligence, but then you just have to go for it.
I started creating courses to help bloggers learn to scale the same way I have, and I’m so thrilled that they have been so well received in the travel blogging space. I also take on 1:1 client work when I can because I know personalized mentorship is the fastest way students get results.
From January to April 2023, I averaged $55,688 per month from my blogging business. While I haven’t hit that six-figure month (yet), my highest month-to-date was March 2023, when I made $75,196 (gross) from blogging and teaching.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After 15 years in corporate America, I decided that enough was enough. I had to be own boss, though I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. My first thought was an online business because of the lower barrier to entry, and small(er) financial commitment.
My first venture was a drop-shipping store called Pockets On My Dress. I sold dresses with pockets — and if you’re a woman (or dress-wearer) reading this, you know what a huge hole in the market that is! While I love dresses that have pockets, I truthfully didn’t care enough about fashion in general and lost my passion quickly.
In April 2020, when we went into lockdown and no one cared about whether or not their dress had pockets, my sales went to $0 — not that they were in the millions before that, but still, it took the wind further out of my sails.
I decided to start a blog about my solo travels through Mexico, where I was now living full-time. Before starting the blog, I had been traveling around Mexico by myself, so I called the blog Travel Mexico Solo, as I wanted to inspire other women to travel alone.
In year one, 2020, I flailed around and tried to find all the free info I could online to learn how to monetize a blog. Not surprisingly, I made no money that year, I probably lost a lot more than I needed to trying to figure things out on my own instead of investing in courses or a mentor.
In 2021, year two, I wised up and did just that. I spent $1,000 on a course but ended up making $8,490 that year. Not too shabby of a ROI for a one-year-old travel blog, and a first-time entrepreneur.
In the year 2022, everything changed for me.
As any blogger will tell you — blogging is a marathon; not a sprint. My 60+ hour workweeks in 2021 FINALLY started to pay off, and my Mexico travel site took off big time. By the end of 2022, I made $272,769 gross ($177,325 net), which was A 3,113% INCREASE in just one year.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
In mid-2022, after I was officially a six-figure blogger, I decided to start teaching what I know and how I managed to grow my business by 3,113% in one year.
I now teach bloggers how to scale quickly, using the exact techniques I did to achieve six (and soon seven) figure success, all while being my own boss and working on my own terms.
With blogging, you can get started for very little money, which is one of the reasons I chose it.
I currently have a few courses out, which I write and produce myself, and the one I recommend most to start out is called Affiliate Marketing 101. I wanted to make this accessible to as many bloggers as possible, so I keep the price low at just $49.
While there are several ways to make money from blogging, affiliate marketing has been my biggest money-maker, and has the lowest barrier to entry, so I always recommend bloggers start there. I also have additional courses on affiliate marketing and an SEO course in the works.
For me, there were only a few costs associated with course creation, though all creators will work different.
I make the courses as Canva presentations (Canva Pro is about $15 per month), screen-record myself using Loom (Loom is about $10 per month), then edit the videos into the courses, also with Loom. All my courses are on ThriveCart, which cost $500 for a lifetime membership.
Describe the process of launching the business.
While I am a course creator who sells digital products, my first “launch” was probably the launch of my blog (not the courses or products). Without the blogs, I wouldn’t have the courses — and it’s only because of the success of my blogging business that I thought to create my courses.
In my former corporate life, I was a travel magazine editor so I had some idea of the travel space. I also have a degree in journalism so I've learned how to write very fast, and I had built some websites in the past — you might say I was suited to be a blogger!
With blogging, you can get started for very little money, which is one of the reasons I chose it. When I started out, I chose one of the cheapest website hosts, and as they say, "you get what you pay for."
This was one of the biggest business lessons for me: Don’t use the “cheapest” of anything (when possible).
While I saved with the upfront cost of the said cheap host, they then proceeded to nickel and dime everything to the point that they no longer became cheap — and on top of that, their customer service was abysmal, and one of their tech support guys really messed up a bunch of things on my site.
Another thing I learned was that readers/users care more about the speed of the website than an award-winning design.
I started out with a $300+ website theme, and have since ditched it for an amazing free theme called Kadence. (That’s right, I run a multi-six-figure blog on a free theme!) If I could do it all over again, I would not have wasted so much of my time and/or money on an elaborate site design.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
After becoming a six-figure blogger just two years after starting my blog, other bloggers started to take notice of my success. I was invited to speak at a blogging conference, and the conference organically asked me if I was going to have a product on offer.
“A what?” I asked. The organizer told me I should get a course together so I can pitch it to this very warm audience of travel bloggers who will want to learn from a six-figure blogger. I decided to do a live Master Class because it was the lowest barrier to entry into teaching.
I assumed no one would take it, but to my surprise, it sold out for the 50 spots allowed in the Zoom meeting room. I decided to add a second class and sold about half the spots.
From these 75 students, I started a Facebook Group called Affiliate Marketing for Travel Bloggers, which grew to 1,200+ members in five months. Not long after, I was featured on the Niche Pursuits podcast, and I directed listeners to join my email list, which in just three months, grew to 1,100+ subscribers.
Though I make great money from affiliate marketing, my main strength in blogging is SEO. I get close to 5,000 monthly page views on my TravelBlogging101.com site, which is only four-months-old with 8 published articles, and I also get course sales from there.
Aside from my Facebook group, where I post only about once per week, I do no other social media. I also send out a weekly email where I promote my courses from time to time, and that mixed with organic traffic from SEO, is how I sell.
To date, I have spent $0 on ads of any kind — but made a total of $48,041 selling my courses, coaching, teaching services, and digital products in just six months. I also still average $45,000-55,000 per month in passive income from my blogs.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
In 2022, my second year as a blogger, I made $177,325 net profit ($272,769 gross). In 2023, I am on track to triple that!
One of the best parts about being a blogger is that I can rely heavily on SEO, so customer acquisition costs me very, very little compared to many entrepreneurs.
Going forward, I plan to keep creating content for the blogs and also create several more courses. My email open rates are about 45-60%, so I have an email list of about 1,100+ that converts very well for me... and in fact, I get an email or two every week from people asking for more courses and 1:1 private coaching.
So I can focus on the courses, I hired a blog manager to oversee the operations. I also employ three writers, an editor, and a VA who handles the blog layouts. After only three years, the blogs are getting to the point where they run without me and I can focus on other revenue streams.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’d say the biggest lesson I learned is that I can’t do it all. I now have a team of eight AMAZING people, and I only wish I’d have hired out sooner. While I still have some of that “if you want it done right, do it yourself” mentality floating around in my subconscious, I have learned to quiet it because “done is better than perfect.”
Also, I heard early on that if you don’t know your finances, you have a hobby — not a business. For this reason, I keep meticulous records, as you may have noticed when I list all my financials to the exact dollar. (Seriously, even my accountant even says I am her most organized client.)
I never wanted a blogging hobby, so I treated my blog like a business the second I made money from it.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My blogs are all on WordPress, which is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world, and I’ve seen stats that say it powers more than 40%+ of all websites.
My websites are hosted by Lyrical Host which I love, and I buy all my domains through NameSilo. I have the basic plug-ins on my sites, including Rank Math for SEO, WP Rocket for page speed, and Short Pixel for image optimization.
For my courses, I use ThriveCart, which accepts payments through Stripe and PayPal. It was a one-time payment of $500, which costs significantly less than comparable products that bill monthly.
I make the courses with Canva Pro’s Presentation feature (which is similar to PowerPoint) and use Loom to record them. If I need stock photos, I use Canva and DepositPhotos, and for any promo materials I need to create, I use Canva.
I use and love ConvertKit for email. It integrates seamlessly with ThriveCart, which is a nice bonus. You can also sell products and coaching services through ConvertKit for quick email sales.
One product that I can’t live without for my blog is Affilimate. I call this the “Google Analytics for affiliate data” because it is the most powerful data-collecting tool of its kind. If you’re serious about making money from affiliate marketing, I'd highly recommend investing in Affilimate.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I listened to A LOT of audiobooks when I was first started my entrepreneur journey! I credit ALL of Brene Brown’s books with convincing me to be brave and go after my dream, also Marie Forleo’s “Everything is Figureoutable” book.
I listened to all the big-time money mindset books as well, like “Think and Grow Rich,” and “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” but what changed my money mindset to one of abundance was Jen Sincero’s “You Are a Badass at Making Money.”
Ray Dalio’s “Principles” book was a true game changer in terms of being in the business owner headspace, as well as “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek and “The Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris.
I also read news stories about any seven-figure blogger who was willing to share their income. Without role models I’ve never met, like Nomadic Matt and Kiersten from The Blonde Abroad, I would never have thought it possible to make as much as I do from blogging.
Today, I stay up-to-date on blogging info with podcasts like The Blogging Millionaire, Niche Pursuits, and Smart Passive Income… even though I'd really rather be listening to true crime podcasts!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If there was one big lesson that I know I needed to hear, it was this: GET STARTED. If you’re reading this and you so want to be your own boss, work in your PJs, and never use an alarm clock again — then stop thinking, and start doing.
If you're thinking to yourself, "I'll start when I get this perfect," then you'll never start. No one with success today waited till they had it perfect... or we'd still be waiting to get started. My business isn't perfect today, and it wasn't perfect when I started it.
You can’t get to step 2 unless you pass step 1, which is getting started. There is no such thing as a perfect step 1, so just "imperfectly" get started, and then adjust from there.
I know I waited too long to get started, and I also used my so-called perfectionism as a crutch. While I was telling myself “I don’t want to start until this is perfect,” what I was actually saying is “I’m so scared to try this and fail.”
I know now that you can be scared of something, and you can still do that thing anyway. You can start while scared! If I hadn’t taken step 1, as imperfect as it was, I wouldn’t be where I am today — and I certainly wouldn’t have been asked to share my story here.
Now, I don’t just mean sell the farm and go all in. You should feel confident about a business idea because you’ve done some due diligence, but then you just have to go for it. Every successful person who came before you did exactly this, and you can too.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I am not hiring at the moment! As of right now, I have a blog manager, three writers, one editor, a virtual assistant, a data analyst, an accountant — oh, and me, a course creator!
Where can we go to learn more?
- Travel Blogging 101 is where I blog about blogging, and have info about all my courses.
- Affiliate Marketing for Travel Bloggers is my travel blogging group with 1,200+ members, though it it only open to my students.
- You can also join my email list here, and get a FREE video mini-course on my Top 5 recommended affiliate programs for travel bloggers.
- Travel Mexico Solo is my top-earning travel blog. It brings in about $40,000+ per month in passive income, and averages 300,000 monthly page views. I also have other blogs like Travel To Oaxaca, Travel To Merida and Tulum Travel Secrets.
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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