Dave and Deb were working in Canada’s film industry. As the industry was only active a part of the year it left them loads of free time to travel. In 2008, they decided to do The Tour d’Afrique, a quick little bike ride from Cairo to Cape Town.
They did it for the adventure, but they also did it to film their experience which they ultimately wanted to turn into a TV show. When they returned to Canada they were hooked on traveling but could not, in the end, make their TV show go. With time, they realized they needed to build their name and brand and started looking at the blog they had created during their African trip.
Today they have built themselves as The Planet D and Canada’s Adventure Couple. They have tens of thousands of followers around the world and companies who pay them to travel.
As I am someone who is constantly trying to erase the line between life, work and travel myself I had to hear more about their story and share it with The Delicious Day readers who are trying to do the same.
Here is a bit of what they had to say.
It seems like half the world wants to do what you are doing, very few of them actually do it and then a very, very small percentage of them actually succeed. What do you think separates you from those that fail?
Deb: I think it is being fearless. It is sending out that Tweet. It is about not apologizing for yourself. When we really want to work for someone we put ourselves out there. We have no fear with emailing people. It is a scary thing to ask. But what is the worst thing that can happen?
Dave: Confidence is 90 percent of the battle. If you have the confidence to go in there 90 percent of the time you will get it. You just have to have the confidence to ask.
What percentage of the time traveling do you consider yourself working and what percentage of the time do you consider it what most consider a holiday or a vacation?
Deb: That is a really good question. We don’t consider it work and that is how it feels when you love your job. Traveling is our career. I feel like we are always working while we are traveling. We are always taking photos and doing videos and posting on social media. It is just really fun for us to do it.
Dave: I think most people try and draw that line between their job and what they love and I think we have done a good job at erasing that. Work is fun. To me I am always traveling and always working and I don’t look at it as too separate things.
Deb: I used to look at these actors and musicians and they said they had the best job in the world and I always wanted that. I always wanted to love my job. That is how I feel now. We love our job. We are always working. It just does not feel like to work.
How much do you travel?
Deb: We travel a lot -probably about three quarters of the year.
Do you get sick of it?
Deb: We are lucky because we are with each other. We are not alone. Last year I think we took on too many press trips so we made sure we are not doing that this year. When you make mistakes and take on travel that is not true to you that is when you get tired. If you travel the way you want you have a great time.
How have your challenges evolved over the last four years?
Dave: Building an audience was such a huge thing at the beginning and it is still a part of it. Now it is more about how can we benefit our readers more and where can we go that is even more off the beaten path.
What are your different revenue streams?
Deb: We are ambassadors for American Express. We work with Expedia. We are brand ambassadors for Intrepid Travel. We bring brands to life.
Is the idea of an ambassador something these companies already had in place or is it something you created and presented to them?
Deb: American Express came to us.
Dave: We had spent years building our audience. We had built the trust to promote things that we believed in. Once you do that finding companies that embody what you believe in is easier. Corporate ambassadorship is a big part of our revenue stream.
And you do onsite advertising?
Deb: We still do advertising. We have done it since the beginning. Sometimes we also write for other publications. We try to spend most of our time on The Planet D. I do believe you have to have your hands in a lot of cookie jars. We are going to start promoting Planet D original tours. I think we are going to put our hand back into affiliate sales again. We tried it before and it did not work.
Do you think affiliate sales did not work before because you did not have a large enough audience for it?
Deb: One thing was that we did not have the audience.
Dave: Our audience has also changed a little bit in what they expect out of us. We did a survey with our readers. We will never go away from our story, but what we found is that our readers want more tools in planning their own trips. With that we might be able to leverage more affiliate sales.
What recommendations do you have for others that want to approach companies to be ambassadors?
Deb: We approached Intrepid Travel. We had done a couple of campaigns with them previously. They were our sponsor for the Mongol Rally and for a couple of other campaigns. We brought them a package to show how well all of those campaigns did and how they could get value in working from us. We love their company.
What advice do you have for bloggers who want to approach advertisers or sponsors?
Deb: I think you really need to know what your brand is. Companies want to work with a strong brand. They do not want somebody that will be wishy washy and work with anybody. When you know your brand it is easy to find brands that fit with you. As you build your online popularity companies start to find you. Advertisers start to come to you.
Dave: Be selective from the very beginning. Make sure the people you go after and who you target make sense to you and your audience which will mean no matter what you introduce or what products you bring they will be accepted because you already have the trust of your audience instead of peddling stuff you do not believe in.
As far as getting advertisers or sponsors goes do you have any thoughts on how many visitors, page views or other metrics websites should have before approaching a company?
Dave: I do not think there is a magic number. I think the days of measuring things the traditional way may be over. There is a lot of value in blogs that do not have 100,000 unique visitors a month if they have a great connection with their audience. When you feel you have a great connection with your audience, approach an advertiser. Do not be afraid to approach an advertiser or a sponsor; just be prepared to show them the value that you offer.
How has your content evolved since the beginning days?
Deb: Initially, it was like a diary. I think it was more for our family. Now, we think of it more as a column, a newspaper story. It has is more information about how others can do things themselves.
We have also tried to influx a lot of inspiration into our content. We get a lot of emails about how we inspired people to do things. We worked with American Express as Real Life Potentialists, people who realize their potential. We try to let people know that if two regular people like us can do it – anybody can do it. Now we write more about how we feel about things and how others can do it.
Dave: We have guest stories as well. Some people have some really amazing stories which also help our audience.
Deb: Our audience now understands that we can do it. Sometimes hearing from others and seeing that others do it too, really resonates with people.
I am curious as to what type of content you found that really resonates with people?
Deb: I think people need to see they are not alone with their feelings and fears.
Dave: Photography posts do incredibly well. Inspirational content really works, as does content about our adventures. Our audience loves to read about our experiences. Those stories will never go away. We do not do a lot of Top 10 posts. We do them and they do well, but we do not do a lot of them.
How do you utilize social media? Do you find some channels work better than others?
Deb: We work really hard at social media. We feel it is really important. We do Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon and Google +.
Dave: Different social media channels can resonate with different kinds of people. The people who follow us on Twitter may not follow us on Facebook. You can have four different platforms to market to four different groups of people. Facebook is great. It drives a lot of traffic. We have a lot of interaction on our Facebook page. People, I think, are on Facebook more than they are on blogs. Regardless of whether or not Facebook drives traffic it raises the profile of your brand. It is also great because your readers want to talk. Our readers love travel and want to talk about their experiences. They do not just want to hear us talk about ours.
Could you give an example of how you use Twitter, Facebook and Google+ differently?
Deb: With Facebook we ask a lot of questions and put up a lot of visuals. We try to encourage a lot of participation. Even when we put up a post, we ask a question regarding whether or not someone would do this or how they would do it. On Twitter we tend to share a lot of other people’s posts.
Dave: Google+ is so hugely visual that it is basically all photography I put on there. I share other people’s photography as well. I don’t think half of the people on Google+ follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Generally speaking, there are some people on Google+ that do not particularly like Twitter or Facebook.
Do you have any feelings on the best times and days to post on social media?
Deb: We play around with it around. We follow our analytics and see what happens. We use Social Bro to see the best time to post on Twitter.
Dave: Just because Tech Crunch tells you, you should post on this day and this time does not mean that is what is right for your audience. My advice is to experiment. For us, we post everyday on the blog. We put a lot of content out there. That is what our audience expects and I do not want to change things up. When you change schedules that is when you start to test the patience of your audience.
Could you talk about some of the mistakes you have made along the way?
Deb: Where should I start? Before we worried a lot about everything. If something did not get done I would freak out. But now if I can’t get a post up because I don’t have Internet, then, well I can’t do it.
Dave: There were the typical mistakes of starting a website. We did not really think about our name. We would definitely change that. The Planet D is a bit ambiguous. You know it is not a good name when you have to explain what it is. I would have focused more on social media a little earlier. We should have focused a bit more on Facebook and dug into the analytics better and understood the best time to post. Time management has been a huge struggle. Now we space things out better. We used to do back to back trips and now we don’t do that anymore.
Deb: I would have hired someone to code our website properly. There were so many website mistakes. I would also say that we should have stayed more active on YouTube. We were active on our early videos and then we started the blog and left YouTube and lost the momentum. Now we are going back to it. It is hard to do it all.
How do you get press trips?
Deb: We had only been around for a year. I remember seeing something about a Princess Cruise trip on Twitter. I remember thinking, “We are not ready for that yet, but that has to be our trip.” I sent them a Tweet and told them that they had to invite us. A year later we got an email inviting us to join them on a cruise to Alaska. I always like to say it was because of our Tweet.
You have extensive press coverage. Could you talk about how you get that?
Deb: Now they contact us, but before we would contact them if we had a good idea. We hired a publicist when we went to Africa. I mean who has the nerve to hire a publicist when they have no name?
When you go on these trips, how are they being paid for?
Deb: We have been doing a series with Expedia and are continuing that relationship through 2013. We just got back from South Africa with South Africa’s tourism. We work with tourism boards, companies and big brands. We are really careful with who we work with. If we are working with American Express we are not going to work with another credit card company.
Do these companies cover your travel expenses?
Dave: Each one works on different models. We are paid a salary plus they cover our travel expenses.
Deb: All companies work differently. Some companies hire us to work a campaign.
What advice do you have for beginner travel bloggers?
Deb: Start slow. Do not give up all of your savings and go give it a try. We never touched our retirement savings. When we decided to do this we worked and saved. Have a plan and have some savings so you have a cushion and can really make it happen. Have a strong niche. I know everyone says that, but it is really important. It is saturated out there. Be true to who you are and what you love. Dave always says, “Find out what you love about travel and write about that.” People want to hear from your heart.
Dave: It is the person behind the blog which is the reason people come to your blog. I can’t stress enough that you have to have a plan. You can’t just go into this and throw things at the wall and see what sticks. If you want this to work you have to treat it like a business.
Anything else you would like to add?
Deb: I decided to be a make-up artist because it seemed like a cool thing. I did it because it looked cool, but I did not love make-up. Go into travel blogging for the right reasons – because you love traveling, blogging, taking pictures and social media.
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