From Zero to Full-Time Travel Blog Income in 4 Years: Michigan Travel Blogger Shares Her Insights

From Zero to Full-Time Income in Four Years: Michigan Travel Blogger Shares Her Insights

“My business has given me a huge boost of confidence, strength and resilience that I am in control of my life again.”Sherry Trautman from www.travel-mi.com

For three years Sherry Trautman felt stuck in her career. She worked at an art center teaching glass art while managing their marketing and social media departments. She liked what she did but wanted more.

So it came in handy that she and her husband Chris shared a passion for travel, photography and their home state, Michigan. Over the past four years the couple spent more than 365 days in hotels while hiking, kayaking, biking, white water rafting and getting to know Michigan inside out.

While researching these trips, Sherry realized that all the big travel sites lacked personality. She wanted to hear about real-life experiences, about the beauty and the gritty side of travel. She wanted to read heartfelt stories, not glossy ads.

Their website, travel-mi.com, was born out of their common desire to fill that gap, to tell the stories untold and  earn travel blog income.

Let’s hear how this adventure into the online business world turned out for Sherry and Chris.

Full time Travel Income

Sherry and Chris exploring the wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with a 4-wheeler. Who held the camera?

1. Sherry, you and your husband started travel-mi.com in 2017. What were your reasons for creating the site? How did you know that the topic had business potential?

Chris and I are incredibly passionate about travel, writing, photography and buying local. For years, we talked about the noticeable gaps in local Michigan tourism and small business promotional opportunities.

We also wanted to start a business that would bring passive income into our retirement. Chris and I researched and planned a business formula for several years before pulling the trigger!

The SBI! Action Guide was very helpful for getting us on the right track when we started our business. I think it would be a good idea to go through it again now to fine-tune our site and discover new tips going into a new year.

TAKEAWAY #1: When we ask our most accomplished Solo Build It! members about their “success secret,” their answer inevitably is: “I followed the Action Guide.”

What’s so special about the SBI! Action Guide? Consider it your trustworthy online business mentor. It takes you by the hand and guides you through each stage of building your business, from finding and evaluating the right niche to attracting traffic to making money (like travel blog income) in various ways.

Sherry’s idea of going through the Action Guide again is a good one for two reasons: First, because we constantly update the Action Guide to keep it current with new trends and developments in the online business environment.

And second, because once you have a few years of experience under your belt, you’ll have many “a-ha” moments when reading through the Action Guide again. You’ll look at things differently. You’ll renew your commitment and take away new ways of growing your business.

2. Your site gets a lot of traffic. In fact, you told us that you get 9x the traffic today compared to a year ago. How did you achieve this phenomenal growth?

We worked for two years just finding our way and trying to figure out how to drive traffic to the website. It was frustrating and scary, but we were fiercely determined!

When we first started the website we were creating and naming pages without a lot of thought or intent as we were so excited to just get started! As with anything it takes time to learn.

We discovered how to use keyword research and now we take a lot more time creating our pages.

We try to answer any questions a first-time visitor might ask, so the pages are much more in-depth.

Developing headlines that get the click is very important, too.

Oh, and one more thing: I highly recommend following the SBI! Pinterest Action Guide step by step. Pinterest drives a lot of traffic to the website (a game changer for sure), more than any other platform.

TAKEAWAY #2: We totally get it. When you are so excited about your topic and brimming with content ideas, the last thing you want to do is spend time researching or learning how to do things the right way. You simply want to start writing and publish those pages.

However, as with most things in life, good preparation pays off in the long run. That’s why the Solo Build It! Action Guide is so comprehensive. And why we also developed Action Guides for the main social media platforms — so that you have a step-by-step roadmap for growing your business.

Sherry mentioned an important concept when she talked about “intent.” Did you know that keywords can have different search intents? To find out what that means, and why knowing the search intent before you write your page is so important, watch the short video below.

3. In which ways do you make travel blog income with your online business? Why did you choose these monetization methods, and how well do they perform?

Our website makes travel blog income with ads through Mediavine, affiliate marketing and local business partnerships.

We worked hard to obtain the required 50,000 sessions to apply to Mediavine, as our research indicated they were incredible to work with. This proved to be true. Integration was pretty easy, and their customer service is outstanding.

We are still working on our strategy for better affiliate marketing conversions, which is our goal for this year.

TAKEAWAY #3: One question we often hear is: How do you make money with a blog or website if you don’t have a product to sell?

There are lots of ways to monetize (aka make money with) an online business. All methods require that you’ve established yourself in your niche, trusted by an ever-growing audience as an expert resource.

We highly recommend that you diversify your income streams rather than rely on a single one.

Start with advertising, like Google AdSense and – after you get enough traffic – switch to higher paying ad management systems like Mediavine.

Affiliate marketing is another passive income model that doesn’t require a lot of upfront work. Spend some time, though, to find the right products and services to recommend to your audience.

Whether you have personal experience with the product or not, strive to write a great product review that helps your reader make an informed purchase decision. When you have your readers’ and customers’ best interest at heart, the money will follow.

More advanced monetization models would be site sponsorships or business partnerships (as Sherry mentioned), creating and selling digital products, dropshipping, selling your own services or even creating your own physical products.

Sherry and Chris on a rope bridge

Who’s showing whom the ropes here? (Dow Gardens, Midland MI)

4. How long did it take to start earning travel blog income? Is it a full-time or a part-time income for you and your husband?

We just started earning an income in June 2021. So it took us a while. It is now a full-time income for me.

During the first few years, we earned a little affiliate income from Amazon but didn’t really know how to do it correctly. And we didn’t have enough links to give it a real chance in the beginning.

We also had Google AdSense ads on the site, but they didn’t produce much of a revenue until we increased our traffic significantly and began with Mediavine. We also joined two affiliate networks: Commission Junction and Awin. The affiliate commissions currently contribute only a small amount to our travel blog income.

We tried using Ezoic on my husband’s Corvette website as a test, but it severely slowed his page loading and didn’t pay very well. So we stopped using Ezoic.

TAKEAWAY #4: One of the main differences between freelancing and entrepreneurship is the time it takes to see your first income. As a freelancer you’ll earn money immediately (provided you have clients, of course).

As a (solo) entrepreneur, you first need to build your business before you can reap the rewards. There’s no instant gratification.

How long does it take to make money with an online business? That depends on your niche and your time availability. The more competitive your niche is, the longer it will take for your pages to rank. If you work full-time on your business, you’ll get there much faster than if you only have a few hours per week.

On the upside, once you’ve reached a certain level of content, which attracts a steady stream of visitors, an online business can make you money while you sleep. As a freelancer, you’re always selling your time for money. And that’s impossible to scale.

5. You promote your business on all major social networks. Do you outsource any of this work? If not, how do you manage to “feed” them all with fresh content?

Social media is extremely time-consuming. We’ve considered outsourcing this work. So far we haven’t done it.

This past quarter social media has taken a backburner as we focused solely on content creation and updating old posts.

Since there is only so much time in the day, we decided to focus our efforts where it would produce the most revenue. We hope to refocus our social media efforts in the future with more automation.

TAKEAWAY #5: Think of your website as the solid foundation of your business. Each article you write, each page you publish will keep attracting visitors for a long time, because most of your content will be evergreen.

Compare this to social media. It’s like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. You feed it fresh content every day, and it never seems enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should not be on social media. As a business nowadays, you have to. People expect it. And it’s a great way to build a relationship with your audience.

But use your time wisely. At Solo Build It!, we advise our members to focus on two to three social media channels. Choose the platforms that make most sense for your niche and commit to posting regularly. It helps if you have personal experience with the channel, and even better if you enjoy using it.

From Zero to Full-Time Income in Four Years: Michigan Travel Blogger Shares Her Insights

6. What role does email marketing play in your business success?

Honestly, we are still trying to figure out how to get better open rates. It’s definitely something we struggle with while creating emails.

At this point our mailouts drive little traffic to the website. We want to improve that! So learning email marketing is high on our priority list.

TAKEAWAY #6: Email marketing is another area that — like social media — requires time and consistency. It’s also the single best way to build a relationship with your audience.

If there’s one thing I regret when I think back to my early website-building days (I began in 2006!), it’s that I didn’t start an email list from the very beginning. Especially as Solo Build It! includes an email marketing system for free. No need to pay for an external service provider, certainly not when you’re starting out.

So, make sure you have a newsletter signup box on your site or blog, even if you only have a handful of pages. Each time you publish a new page, let your subscribers know.

If you struggle with low open rates, put yourself in your subscriber’s shoes — what would you find interesting and worthwhile to read?

Take inspiration from newsletters you subscribe to. What made you join that list? Which subject lines appeal to you? Is there a newsletter you really look forward to seeing in your inbox?

That’s your ultimate goal: engage your subscribers in a way that they can’t wait to receive your next email.

For more tips, take a look at these 64 email marketing best practices.

7. What has been your biggest challenge so far with building your online business as a couple and increasing your travel blog income?

Chris and I are surprised how incredibly well we work together. It was a bit bumpy at first until we decided that each of us needed to focus on our strengths and work as a team.

Chris enjoys keyword research, determining the direction of our business (keeping us on course while looking for new business avenues) and taking care of the technical aspects of the website. I jokingly call him my technical advisor.

He also still has a full-time job as an aviator, whereas I work full time on our online business.

I enjoy keyword research, writing articles, photo editing and creating partnerships with local businesses.

We both love travel, gathering content, photography and video; so working on the website together has been great for our relationship.

The couple's most recent adventure: Ice climbing

The couple’s most recent adventure: Ice climbing and searching for ice caves in Munising, Michigan. Who says outdoor fun is only for summer time?

TAKEAWAY #7: “It was a bit bumpy at first until we decided that each of us needed to focus on our strengths and work as a team.”

Not much to add here. 🙂

If you build your online business with your spouse (or your friend, adult child or grandchild), figure out where each person’s strengths are and get cracking!

8. What do you enjoy most about being online business owners? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

We love that every day we are building our own business and providing for our own future.

We talk daily about where the business is going and how it has given us so much optimism and drive.

Personally, it has given me a huge boost of confidence, strength and resilience that I am in control of my life again. The corporate world can drain your soul!

It has given us a reason to travel, explore and get out into the community throughout all four seasons in Michigan!

TAKEAWAY #8: Sherry touches on many wonderful benefits of having your own online business, both for your finances and your personal growth:
  • Providing for your future
  • Being in control of your life again
  • Escaping the rat race
  • Boosting confidence, strength and resilience
  • Helping you grow, as an individual and as a couple

Sound too good to be true? Well, as we saw earlier, your business won’t magically appear overnight. There will be setbacks, frustrations and a lot of hard work.

In the end though, it will be worth it, especially if you follow Sherry’s top tip below!

9. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who’s just starting an online business?

I can’t stress enough that you should choose a topic that will provide endless writing opportunities, inspiration and depth.

It needs to be a topic you love and are passionate about.

Do your research, see who your competitors are and determine if you can offer something better or different than what’s already out there.

TAKEAWAY #9: Sherry is spot on with her advice about choosing the best possible topic for your online business.

It should be a topic that you

  • have personal experience with
  • feel passionate about
  • enjoy learning more about
  • can produce a lot of content about

It should also be a topic that has enough demand (i.e., enough people are searching for it) and not too much competition. Last, but not least, it needs to provide good monetization options.

So, how on earth do you find such a perfect niche? Start by listing all your interests, skills, hobbies, talents — anything you can think of.

If you need some help, take a look at these four steps to brainstorm yourself.

Once you have your list, narrow the topics down to your top three. Next, become a Solo Build It! member and use our smart niche brainstorming and evaluation tools to determine the winner out of your three ideas.

From Zero to Full-Time Travel Blog Income in 4 Years: Michigan Travel Blogger Shares Her InsightsFrom Zero to Full-Time Travel Blog Income in 4 Years: Michigan Travel Blogger Shares Her InsightsFrom Zero to Full-Time Travel Blog Income in 4 Years: Michigan Travel Blogger Shares Her Insights
Margit Streifeneder
Margit Streifeneder is the Marketing Co-Director at SiteSell. She works with a small but mighty team to spread the word about Solo Build It!, via helpful content, informative emails and eye-catching ads. She's passionate about helping solopreneurs achieve success, and enjoys interviewing SBI! members about their achievements. Besides growing her own online business, she loves exploring new places, hiking, dancing and spoiling her three cats.
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