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9 Lessons about blogging and hiking (And a quick update on our blogs)
I got philosophical while hiking the other day, and here’s the end result. Nine lessons about blogging, hiking, or taking any long-term project, really. Also included is a mini-report of our traffic and revenue for the month of November.
I don’t usually share personal stories here on Yeys, but I’d like to make an exception today.
A few years ago I learned about the three long trails of the US: The Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, and The Continental Divide Trail. Each of them will take you across the US from south to north (or the other way around), over a magnificent mountain ridge. If you hike the AT, you’ll be traversing the Appalachian mountains. The PCT takes you over the Sierra Nevada and then the Cascades. The CDT – the most challenging one to take – goes across the peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
I was captivated by the concept. Trekking each of these trails is a gigantic project that takes about half a year to complete. Hikers literally immerse themselves in nature and the wilderness for months on end.
At the beginning of 2020, I was recovering from ankle surgery. I couldn’t walk for more than half an hour at a time. But I still set myself a couple of goals for the year. The first was to make $20,000 a month in revenue. The other one was to get to the point where I could hike 20 kilometers a week. I called this my “20-20 by the end of 2020” plan.
If you’ve been reading my reports, you know that I’ve achieved the first goal (actually, very nearly doubled on that). I’m happy to say that for the last three weeks, I also hiked for more than 20 km every week! In fact, two weeks ago, I started to hike sections of The Israel National Trail. That’s our local long trail, at 1,100 km or 683 miles (this is a small country). I’m not planning a thru-hike, and we’re only doing short sections not far from home, but hey, I’m hiking! And my ankle is taking it very well so far!
Achieving my goals took a LOT of work. While training today, I was thinking how in some ways, long-distance hiking and blogging are very similar.
If you’ve been following this blog, you already know quite a lot about how I run my web publishing business. As for hiking, here are my stepping stones for getting from zero to 20 kilometers a week –
I worked with a physical therapist on a plan which consisted of increasing my mileage by 10% every week. Starting at just 1 kilometer per hike, three times a week, the first weeks were extremely frustrating. But I preserved.
When COVID started and we were under lockdown, we were allowed to get outside and exercise only within 200 meters/yards from home. So I found a tiny patch of dirt in our neighborhood and trained there. It’s 50 yards by 50 yards in size. Tiny. I basically walk in circles when training there. This is what my Garmin watch documents –
A bit like walking in a jail yard, isn’t it?
During the last lockdown, I had to walk in circles like that for 8 kilometers at a time to keep to my training schedule. I still use this route these days, in between hiking on the real trail. I go there because a. there’s no one around and b. the terrain is like that of a proper trail. I don’t want to walk on asphalt during my training.
Some people think I’m crazy for doing this. How can you walk on and on on the same tiny patch of dirt? Well, here’s the key –
So today, while “hiking” on my little patch of dirt, now muddy with recent rain, it occurred to me that this continuous slog has a lot in common with my web publishing or blogging path. Yes, there are a lot of fun parts, but there’s a lot of hard repetitive work, and if you really want to get places, you have to preserver and stick to it.
When you keep walking the same 50 yards back and forth, you have plenty of time to think, so I came up with other similarities between my training for long-distance hiking and what I do as a web publisher.
Lessons Learned From Hiking and Blogging
Here’s my list of lessons that can be applied to both of my 2020 challenges. If you’re just beginning your own journey as a blogger, or web publishing entrepreneur, I hope you’ll find them helpful.
1. Plan ahead
Having a clear plan with a weekly mileage increase helped keep me on track. The same goes for my blogging business. We created a business plan three years ago on a simple spreadsheet. The plan includes the number of posts we’ll be producing each month and how much that would cost (based on a rough per post estimate). The plan then projects revenue from all of our existing posts, taking into account the time it takes for new posts to rank.
We keep going back to that plan all the time. The ability to predict our revenue really helps with planning the coming months and years. It also helps me stay motivated when my daily repetitive tasks get boring.
2. Adjust and adapt
Adjustments are always necessary.
We kept adjusting our business plan with new data as it came in. For example, we now have a far better estimate of pageviews and RPM rates than we did three years ago. We’ve found that some things worked very well for us. Others, not so much.
The ability to adapt and adjust in real-time is one of your best assets as a small business, so make the most of that.
In the hiking sphere, that would be like adjusting to a new type of terrain or climate. Things change, and you need to adapt and keep on moving forward.
3. Stay the course and have patience
When I started my hiking training in early 2020, I was very frustrated with my slow progress. My trainer’s plan called for a 10% increase in distance each week. When you’re starting with 3 kilometers per week, that increase is tiny. A month after starting, I was still at under 5K!
The same thing is true of web publishing. Google seems to take FOREVER to rank new posts. Even when forever is just 3 months for an established blog, it’s still a long time. It takes patience and perseverance to stay the course. When you’re just starting out, and probably for the first couple of years, you also need to take a leap of faith, as you probably won’t be able to see the full extent of the results of all that hard work.
4. Be prepared for bumps on the road
Things don’t always go just like we want them to. With my hiking practice, there were two instances where I had to take a break for a week to let my body heal from a minor stress injury.
As for web publishing, or any business for that matter, hitting bumps on the road is built into the game. The two big bumps this year were –
- The Amazon rates slash
- The COVID slowdown in display ad rates during March
There were other smaller issues as well. I’m sure there will be more in the coming years. The trick is to try and be as mentally prepared for them and not let them bring you down.
5. Find Inspiration
One of the things that kept me on track with my hiking training was: inspiration. I’ve been reading hiking memoirs by veteran thru-hikers. I have several recommendations if anyone’s interested in thru-hiking, but even if you’re not a hiker, I think you’ll find this one by Heather Anish Anderson, inspiring.
In this book, Anderson shares an amazing tale of endurance. In 2013, she set a new Fastest Known Record for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She did that against all odds, with no support, breaking the previous record by four days. No one has beat her record yet. Can you imagine hiking 2600 miles in 6o days? No day off. Working against pain, fatigue, hunger, and thirst, Anderson pushed on and on.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I’ll ever manage to thru-hike any trail. I highly doubt I’ll manage to section-hike one of the long trails. All the same, this book and other hiking memoirs inspire me in my own small hiking challenges, and in my blogging challenges as well. They show just how far the human spirit can take you in meeting your goals.
And, of course, there are fellow bloggers and web publishers who inspire me. I should probably write a blog post about those as well. For now, I have to mention Jon Dykstra from Fat Stacks Blog. That blog was my main inspiration when I started out three years ago. It still is!
6. Invest in the right gear
That’s one more area where hiking and blogging are incredibly similar.
You can do either with a very small investment.
In the 1950s, Emma Gatewood set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. She was 67 at the time, but that’s not the only amazing thing about her story. Known as Grandma Gatewood, she went out there with no gear to speak of.
Whereas today’s thru-hikers invest thousands of dollars in lightweight backpacks and tents, and high-end hiking boots (or trail runners), Gatewood set out in a pair of tennis shoes and no backpack. She had sewn a sack out of some denim cloth that she had, and used that as her rucksack. Instead of a tent – which she couldn’t afford to buy – she brought along an old shower curtain that she used as a tarp.
And with that gear – or lack of gear – she became the first woman to thru-hike the AT. She hiked the entire trail three times, in fact.
That doesn’t mean that you should try thru-hiking with that level of gear. You could. It’s clearly doable and Grandma Gatewood proved that. But your chances of success will be far greater if you invest in quality gear.
The trick is to figure out what you really need.
For me, as a total beginner, I had to gradually figure out what helped me with my hiking. I invested in hiking boots, trekking poles, a Garmin watch, and a Garmin heart monitor.
For blogging, I started out investing very little, and gradually grew my investment, outsourcing more and getting various services, plugins, etc. I even invested in a good office chair this year! Well worth the investment, for me.
7. Learn from others
There’s a learning curve for everything. And you can move faster along that curve by learning from others.
I quickly figured out that I needed tutoring in hiking. After a couple of painful attempts on my own, I found a good trainer who helped me with a suitable training plan. For blogging, I’ve learned a lot from reading other blogs and from taking a few courses. I still do. In fact, I enrolled in the Authority Hacker course a few weeks ago, at the cost of $2,500. Still going through that one, so too early to give a final verdict but it’s definitely interesting and I don’t regret the investment.
As usual, I recommend Jon Dykstra’s courses for anyone who’s interested in doing what I do, i.e. set up a production line for quality web content with no link building.
8. Set realistic goals to measure your progress
Just as I monitor my hiking progress in weekly mileage, we monitor our business progress by the volume of content that we produce each month, as well as the traffic and revenue figures. I mentioned our business plan spreadsheet earlier. The spreadsheet has our projected revenue for each month, so we can use that as a benchmark for our progress.
Having weekly or monthly goals really helps. Meeting those goals gives me a much-needed boost of dopamine, i.e. a sense of success that fuels further progress. It’s very important to keep the goals realistic, and almost humble. It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised.
9. It’s not always about growing your numbers
I’m now at a “planned plateau” with my hiking. My current goal isn’t to keep increasing my weekly mileage just yet. I want to stabilize things a little bit and stay at the 20-25K weekly range during December. I want to give my body more time to adjust before pushing up again.
Interestingly enough, we’re at a similar point with our business. We moved from 150 posts a month to 350+ posts a month. We now aim to stay there for at least 2-3 months. Possibly longer. The point is, it’s not always about expanding and growing. Taking the time to establish a new achievement is important too.
So much for hiking and blogging.
November traffic and revenue update (the nutshell version)
Since I no longer publish detailed monthly reports, I like to try and sneak in short “In a nutshell” reports along with these posts. Now’s a great time to take a look at November.
November is one of the more interesting months of the year for web publishers. Traditionally, the coming holidays along with Black Friday revenue, make this one of the most profitable months of the year, if not the most profitable.
Let’s talk numbers
Traffic went down a little this month. From a total of 866,188 pageviews in October, we went down to 811,344. Nothing special happened there. Most of the sites actually went up in traffic, but we do have three seasonal sites that bring down the totals during winter.
Fortunately, November ad rates made up for the decline in traffic. Overall revenue went up from $29,672 in October to $32,615 in November. So, we’re still on track with our projected monthly increase of $2,000 in revenue, going above that by almost a thousand.
As for expenses. We added a new VA this month, so I would estimate our current fixed expenses at around $3,500. That does not include buying content (i.e. “words” from writers), which we consider to be an investment. We published a total of 354 posts during November, paying writers $15,726 for that content.
December is off to a decent start as well, so I hope there will be some progress to share next time. Right before the big January Slump.
In case I don’t get around to posting here again this month, I’d like to wish everyone Happy Holidays! Please stay safe! Oh, and Happy Trails!
Appreciate your blogs
Darlene and I are just getting started, so your articles are encouraging.
We live in Ohio, but were able to visit Israel in 2014 and enjoyed it greatly
God Bless Greg
Hi Greg and Darlene,
So glad to hear that you guys enjoyed your visit to Israel. Can’t wait for this COVID mess to be over so we can all get to travel again!
Great read, Anne. I like this analogy to blogging, especially the concept of “planned plateaus”. And nice to hear an update about your business success!
Thanks for the comment, Kristina! I will say that at least with hiking, these plateaus are difficult. Very tempting to just keep pushing on and increase the weekly distance. When I come to think of it, sometimes it’s the same with web publishing! you’re on a roll, so you’re just tempted to keep expanding.
About to hit the trail this morning, so this is a good reminder to myself 😉 Thanks!
Really enjoyed the read.
Thank you for sharing.
I’m a month or so behind you with my hiking target.
Still at the start line on the business front. Been wheel spinning there for years now. Inspired by your progress.
Hi Phil! How awesome to meet someone with the same two goals! Best of luck to both of us!
I never hike before (something I want to try), the pictures are beautiful (also those on Facebook)!
Thank you for sharing the November numbers, even though you stopped with the review blog posts.
Looking forward to your next post 🙂
I appreciate your insights in the web publishing industry and I really enjoy reading your posts. Thank for the great read!
Do you have any plans yet how to adjust to the “death of the cookies”? According to Google it is going to slash ~60% of the programmatic ad revenue.
I’m glad you like the blog! The Death of Cookies is definitely a concern but to be honest, I’m not panicking just yet. The way I see it, there’s too much money in this industry for it to just disappear. The traditional cookie may be discontinued but other tracking methods might go into place. This is a usability issue for users as well, and Google wouldn’t want their user experience to suffer that much. Advertisers will also want to reach the same audience as before and may rely on other factors for bidding. Things like context (what the page is about) and the user’s location may become more prominent. I’m not entirely sure how it will play out but I’m optimistic that the industry will adjust. I believe decline in programmatic ad revenue is bound to be temporary.
How did you go about writing the business plan?
Did you create the initial plan with a revenue/month figure and a certain date in mind of when you want to achieve it? Then came up with the number of posts you would need to get there based on the $/post you had at that time?
Your posts are always very motivating, especially seeing how you created your Workflow that allowed you to scale like you did!
Good question about the business plan. I guess there are formal approaches on how to do this, but here’s what we did.
We looked at the revenue from sites with X mature posts and based on that, estimated the monthly average revenue per post. We then estimated the cost of publishing a post (tried to include everything, including my own time).
We created a spreadsheet with these variables and used it to run different scenarios.
The scenarios included the number of posts to be produced and showed how much that would cost (investment) vs. future revenue and profit.
we then tweaked the variables to see what would happen if the cost of posts went up, or if the revenue per post went down. That helped us see what kind of profit buffer we had, and where we would stop being profitable.
We reviewed the various scenarios and decided on the amount of investment we wanted to risk. As time passed and we had more data – and more money – we changed our approach and began to invest more, with more confidence.
I hope this helps. I really think it’s a must-do if you’re going to invest in any business.