I hope you guys are ready for today's blog post because I have some exciting news to share with you!
Today, I am featuring my first. ever. guest. blogger. Whoooooohooooo!
*cue applause and extensive whoops*
Jessica is the founder of Well Planned Adventures , a travel and lifestyle blog based in southwest Michigan. I have been following her over on Instagram where she shares her travel tips and adventures with all of us.
She recently got into blogging and I thought she would be the perfect person to answer some of your questions and share her own experience with starting a blog and all things travel.
Everyone's blogging journey is going to look a little different but almost everyone will tell you that yes it's scary, yes it's unknown, yes you're literally starting from square one, but that it is so, so worth it. With a whole lot of planning and hard work, you can create something that will truly help others, and that my friends is something really special.
And so, without further a-do, everyone I am so excited to introduce you to Jessica!
Hi Jessica! Tell us a little bit more about yourself.
I'm Jessica - PR girl by day and travel and lifestyle blogger by night. I've been a Michigan native all my life and absolutely love this state. I moved to southwest Michigan after college and have lived here for the past 5 years with my husband and the newest addition to our family, a mini golden doodle named Wrigley.
How long have you been blogging?
I've been blogging for almost 6 months now and it's been such a fun adventure and a HUGE learning experience.
Why did you decide to start a blog?
I've always had a passion for writing and although it makes up a huge portion of my career I was also in search of a way to use my skills as more of a creative outlet. At the same time, I love to travel and explore new places and wanted to document those experiences in a more meaningful way than just uploading my photos for my friends and family to see.
The idea of starting a travel blog had been on my mind for over a year but I was always too scared to take the leap. I didn't really have any idea where to start or if anyone would want to read what I wrote. It's also so easy to get caught up in the comparison game and compare yourself to all the other bloggers who are killing it when you know you'll be starting at zero.
But in the end, I truly thought other people would benefit from my travel guides and itineraries because I know how much I rely on them when researching for my own trips and decided to just go for it. I started by choosing a web platform to create my site on (Weebly) and the social media channel that I thought would be aligned with my brand (Instagram) and went from there.
What 3 tips would you tell someone trying to start their own blog?
#1) Decide what you want your niche to be up front and narrow down your focus as much as possible. It's easy to want to write in a way that is going to appeal to everyone but you're better off defining your target audience from the very beginning and catering to their specific needs as much as possible. I still have to remind myself of this on a regular basis as I tend to want to take every opportunity that comes my way but instead, I need to stop and ask myself if it makes sense for my brand and is going to truly serve my audience. A good place to start is by thinking about the things people are already asking you for advice on and then just start writing.
#2) There will never be a perfect time to start. You can't grow and learn unless you put yourself out there first. Once you have your niche narrowed down start with a list of potential topics or ideas that would interest you to write about. Even if your first few posts aren't 2,000+ words with tons of great photographs you'll learn as you go along. The first few posts I wrote were based on past trips I had taken so I was confined to the photos I already had which were mainly for personal use back then, but it gave me a good starting point and now when I go on trips I know more about what photos or experiences I'm looking for and my content only continues to improve.
#3) Always provide value for your audience. This has been so important for me in growing an engaged audience both on my blog and social media. People need a reason to read your content. Yes, travel can just be pretty pictures and bucket list experiences, but people also want to get something out of your posts or there's no reason for them to read in the first place. Think about how you can solve a problem they may be facing or make their life easier when planning their own trip, or simply inspire them. Find a way to truly connect with your audience and be authentic in the way you engage back with them (aka - ALWAYS respond to all comments and messages). I'm a huge fan of longer posts on Instagram that tell a story or share more of what's on my heart. I also always include a call to action or something I want my followers to do to encourage them to be more engaged with whatever I'm posting.
What do you enjoy most about blogging?
For me, the most rewarding part about blogging is knowing that my words are helping someone else or inspiring someone who may be looking to travel to the same destination as me. I love knowing that because someone saw one of my photos or read about an interesting experience I had that they would want to pursue it for themselves.
I also really love working with brands which was my goal from the start. I never really saw my blog as a way to quit my 9-5 job as I love my career. But I was interested in how I could work with travel-related brands to creatively share their mission and vision with my followers. I love being able to take a product or location and put my own unique spin on it. This is also an area that, while it's important to niche down, once you have that niche it's also key to think outside the box. For me, that means not just writing solely about trips, but instead thinking about products that make travel easier or apparel and accessories that I want to take along on my trips.
What has surprised you the most while blogging?
I think the thing that has surprised me most about blogging is how much work goes into it for even one single post or campaign. Originally I just thought all it took was a passion for writing, but in order to be successful, you really have to have a well-rounded strategy in terms of SEO, social media, promotion, photos, etc. While it may not take me very long to write a post, in the beginning, I was quickly overwhelmed with all the other steps that needed to be done.
What has helped me overcome this is focusing on one big goal each night. Since I work full time I have a limited amount of time in the evenings or weekends to get things done. So I try to break it into small chunks. For example, one night I might actually write the post. Another night is dedicated to engaging with new accounts on social media. While another might be all about creating and posting on Pinterest to promote my most recent blog post. This has really worked well in preventing burnout and the feeling like I'm getting a win each night no matter how small.
What are some of the biggest challenges you've had to overcome regarding your blog?
One of the biggest challenges I've had to overcome for blogging is trying to increase my page views. I had really quick success building a community for my blog on Instagram, but that doesn't necessarily transition into clicks to my actual blog. In the beginning, this was really frustrating but I quickly learned that it's important to drive traffic from a number of different sources. So I started putting more effort into Pinterest which is now where a majority of my traffic comes from. I also created a Facebook page to share my post links and made sure I was focusing on SEO for each post to help people find my content when using a search engine.
How did you pick your blog niche?
For me, choosing a niche was pretty easy. Mainly because travel is something I am naturally passionate about. I've never been big into fashion or beauty products or things like that so it would be difficult for me to write about those things and I would quickly lose interest. I am also a type-A personality to the core so before I even thought about creating a blog I was already spending a lot of time researching and creating itineraries for my personal trips.
Start with what you find yourself writing, photographing, or talking about in your everyday life and your content will just seem to flow from there.
How did you come up with the name Well Planned Adventures?
I played around with a name for a while before I found something that worked. I originally wanted to incorporate type-A into the name somehow but after researching it (which I highly recommend before you make a final decision) there were already a few similar accounts.
The main idea I wanted to portray with my brand was my passion for planning all aspects of my trips and how I was able to do the research so my readers didn't have to. With that in mind, one day it just sort of came to me and the social handles were available so I just went with it!
You focus on travel advice, what would you say to encourage people to travel more?
When people ask me how I travel so much I always tell them one thing - I prioritize it in my life. This may seem like a no brainer but most people don't live in this mindset and then wonder why they never seem to go on vacation.
For my husband and I travel, or experiences in general, is what we live for. We aren't big shoppers for materials "things" like clothes or shoes or whatever it may be. In fact, I would say about 80% of my closet is from thrift stores, clearance racks, or clothes swaps with my coworkers. Don't get me wrong, every now and then we'll splurge on a new pair of shoes or something we really "need" and there's absolutely nothing wrong with new clothes, or getting your nails done, or a great new pair of boots or the list goes on an on. We'd just much rather go on a trip or to a concert or a sporting event than have a bunch of material things.
At the same time, it's also important to change the way you think about what constitutes travel. It doesn't have to be a week-long all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean. It could simply be a weekend getaway, or a day trip to another city in your state, or even exploring a new area of your hometown. As long as you're getting out there and experiencing something new and making memories - you're traveling.
How does travel blogging impact your lifestyle?
When I first started blogging I had no idea how much it would impact my life and personal relationships. I'm the type of person that when I set my mind on something I go all in and that was certainly the case for the blog. However, in the beginning, it almost became an obsession for me and it really wasn't healthy. I wasn't present for my family and friends because I was constantly checking my phone or trying to build my brand on social media.
Shortly after I started my blog my husband and I went to Hawaii and our first day there we had to have a heart to heart because once again I wasn't living in the moment, I was only worried about getting the next "insta-worthy" photo. I soon realized that's not what travel blogging is about. I shouldn't be experiencing new places and adventures so I could show my followers how much fun I was having, I should be enjoying myself in the moment and then simply sharing that as a result. What really helped me overcome this was making a content plan in advance. When I was researching my destination I would make a list of three or four key places or shots that I knew I had to document and once I had those photos I was able to enjoy my time more and wasn't always looking ahead to what was next.
What does your content strategy look like?
For the most part, my content strategy is centered around the trips I take. After I get back from a trip I usually post about it for the next month or so. While I'm in the process of doing my research before we leave, or even while we're on our trip, I'll jot down notes about different post ideas. For example, Nashville had great street art so I knew I wanted to do a post dedicated to finding the best murals. Hawaii has so many amazing restaurants so I wrote a post with all of my favorite eats and treats.
In addition to these content posts, I always share my full itinerary breakdown of how we spent each day of our trip. I often try to save this for last because then I can link out to my previous posts which helps drive traffic within my site. I don't always have a trip planned so when I have a break at home my content strategy includes a mix of travel product reviews (shampoo bars, backpacks, etc.) as well as generic travel inspiration posts (saving money, packing tips, etc.)
How are you able to stay inspired and keep writing?
I've definitely experienced creative burnout from time to time. There are times when I'm just not inspired to write or don't have a great idea in mind. And that's perfectly okay. Instead of trying to force it, I'll just take a couple of days off and focus on things I enjoy in my life other than blogging. It's much easier for me to write and my posts are usually much better quality if I just wait until I'm more inspired.
Another tip for beating burnout goes back to having a content strategy planned out. If you are able to put together a content calendar for the next couple weeks or months, you'll know ahead of time what you need to be working on that week and won't have to constantly rely on your own creativity in the moment to come up with your next topic.
Whew! Wasn't that just great?
I don't know about you but I know I could see myself in so many of Jessica's answers. The starting, the unknown, the figuring it out as you go, and the whole creating something of value to help others along the way, it's all a part of a beautiful journey.
A BIG TIME thank you to Jessica from Well Planned Adventures for taking the time to answer these questions for all of you beautiful people. Be sure to show her some love by sharing a comment below!
If what Jessica had to share got you excited about starting your own blog, here's a few more you might like!