Mimi McFadden of The Atlas Heart is currently based in Portland, Oregon where’s she’s preparing for big things in life and her blogging career. She’ll soon set off for 1-2 years of slow travel around Asia, but life is anything but slow. Mimi has been working hard to grow her following, connect with tourism boards, and participate in press trips to build her blogging business.
As August’s TBS Member of the Month, Mimi is sharing her tips on pitching press trips and building a blogging business. She showing us that you don’t have to wait for your big trip to make big moves.
When you first launched The Atlas Heart, what did you hope to accomplish through blogging?
I was one of those bloggers who started blogging as a way to keep memories of my travels for myself and friends and family back home. I had tried blogging once before when I studied abroad in Europe back in 2011.
When I started The Atlas Heart, I knew I wanted it to be more polished but still very much me; telling my stories from the heart, if you will. When I first started my blog, I had just graduated from university and was about to move abroad by myself for an indefinite amount of time. I think I was just looking for an outlet to share my adventures in a fun and creative way.
How have your goals evolved since your first started in 2013?
I wasn’t thinking about blogging as a career or even a part-time income when I first started. It wasn’t until about a year and a half into my blogging journey that I started researching the industry more and joined Travel Blog Success.
Even though I’d been blogging regularly for awhile, I had little to no social media presence and a fairly small following for my blog. I learned a lot within a year and started broadening my goals to reflect how I wanted to turn my blog into a business.
I didn’t realize that I wanted to focus on it full-time until I arrived back to the US last year and moved to Portland, Oregon, quitting my life as a bartender in the process.
What has been the most helpful thing you’ve learned so far, through the TBS course and the community?
The course goes over a number of topics I never would’ve thought about as a new blogger. It was a course that guided me on making my site and brand more accessible and professional.
The Facebook Group has been a great community to be a part of as well. Whether it’s feedback for my own questions that I ask, or other discussions that I can relate to — it seems like I learn something new on there about blogging every week.
Where did you take your first press trip, and how did that come about? What advice can you offer to people trying to land their first press trip?
The first sponsored trip I did was a wine weekend getaway down near my hometown in the Bay Area. It was one of those full-circle moments, sipping wine with my +1 (aka my sister) and looking out over the Santa Cruz Mountains, literally a 25-minute drive from where I was raised for 18 years. I heard about the opportunity in another Facebook group I’m a part of, We Travel We Blog, and the timing could not have been more perfect. I sent them an email and I was booked in for the trip within a couple of days.
My advice for bloggers that are trying to land their first press trip is to focus on growing your own brand and to network as much as possible, whether that be through events like TBEX or online via social media.
Opportunities will come to you if you have a quality blog and know how to promote it. Once you feel like you can bring something to the table, pitch your heart out to the brands, companies, and tourism boards that work well with your audience. When you start building up your resume of partnerships, other companies will notice and will start thinking of you for new campaigns in the future.
What has it been like, working with different tour operators and destinations in the United States, compared to those abroad? Have you noticed any trends that might help other bloggers pitch U.S. destinations?
I’ve actually only worked with US/Canada destinations and tour companies in the last year. It’ll be interesting to see how different it is when I’m abroad again!
A good piece of advice no matter where you’re based is to make your pitches as personalized as possible. It goes a long way when you find a tour company or destination whose niche fits with yours. It also creates more profound and fun partnerships when you find that kind of connection.
You recently took an InstaFAM trip through Washington. How was this different from a traditional press trip, and how have you positioned yourself as an Instagram influencer, on top of blogging?
It was so much fun being a part of a group of Instagrammers and photographers while traveling through Washington. Most partnerships I’ve done have been by myself, so it was a new experience traveling with a group and bouncing inspiration off each other.
I didn’t feel guilty taking pictures of everything, or setting up an “Instagram-worthy” shot because everyone else was too. Also, I lucked out with a hilarious group of people, both those on the tour and the tourism board contacts. We all got along really well.
I started seriously focusing on my Instagram only about a year ago, but I’ve been on it every day since I decided to make it my main social media. It’s a platform I knew I enjoyed, so I read every piece of writing about Instagram strategies, every chance I could get. I got into a regular posting habit of once per day around the same time, networked with other Instagrammers and similar hashtag users, and upped the quality of my photos.
For my brand, it’s important to tell a story with my Instagram shots, and to try and engage and get to know my followers as much as possible.
What has been the most difficult place to write about and why?
There have been a few places that have been difficult for me to write about. A lot of bloggers, including myself, try to focus on the positive and find it hard to write about the less than stellar places we may visit on our travels.
My visit to Christchurch was one of the hardest posts I wrote, because I felt guilty for not enjoying a place that had been through so much destruction and tragedy. It’s a city that is still trying to restart and rebuild after the 2010-2011 earthquakes, but I still found it an incredibly depressing place and I felt like I had to write about that side too.
You’re planning a big move to Southeast Asia, where you’ll travel slowly and work from different countries in the region. What inspired this move and how does blogging play into this decision?
I’ve gradually come into my niche as a slow traveler on my blog and Asia just seemed to fit as my next destination. My slow travel mindset started with living and working in Australia and New Zealand for a year in each country. I grew to enjoy the low-key nature and more in depth cultural knowledge of slow travel.
I visited Southeast Asia back in 2013 for a couple of months and I fell in love with the vibrancy of the region. This trip, I’ll be spending 1-3 months in each country, and probably up to 1-2 years in the region as a whole.
In the past year, I’ve successfully become a full-time blogger & freelance marketing manager, which allows me to work remotely. Asia is a great region that is affordable and offers so much cultural inspiration as a blogger. Not to mention, they have a small craft beer scene that is just starting to blossom over there, so that ties into the craft beer focus on my blog as well!
Will your approach to blogging change, once you hit the road?
Even though I consider myself a slow traveler with a steady base for up to a year or two at a time, I’m still in constant motion as a blogger. I always have trips planned for next month, or even a weekend away, looking to get the most out of any one region before I move again. I’ve gradually learned how to balance life on the road, my freelance work, and blogging now that I’ve been doing it for awhile. The only struggle I still have sometimes is guaranteed Wi-Fi.
Southeast Asia is a popular destination for travel bloggers. What inspired you to pick that region and how will your approach to travel and content around SE Asia be unique to what’s out there already?
That’s very true. I’ll actually be starting in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and South Korea, before heading down to SE Asia so I’ll have a good variety of different Asian cultures and countries to talk about on my blog. Last time I was in SE Asia it was a whirlwind tour of a lot of countries, mainly sticking to the tourist hotspots. This time I want to pace myself, travel to lesser known destinations as much as possible, and also do a lot of overland travel by motorcycle.
Since I focus on slow adventure travel, there will probably be quite a few fun experiences I’ll be sharing on the blog, from eating unique foods to scuba diving off remote islands, hammock camping, tackling overnight hikes, and sharing all of the cultural quirks in between.
In what ways are your preparing your blog and your business for this transition to SE Asia?
This past year has been all about establishing myself as a freelancer so that I can work remotely and not only have to rely on my blog for income – although that could be nice in the future.
I’ve managed to find a way to support myself and my business through this work that I can now carry with me to Asia. I’ve also been looking at more of the business side of things for my blog before I leave, such as setting up my own bank account and credit card for The Atlas Heart, and potentially looking into an LLC.
What have been some of the most important career moves you made in becoming a full-time blogger?
I spend at least 30-40 hours a week on my blog, answering emails, responding back to comments, and engaging on social media.
The most important move I made in my career was actually when I moved to Portland last year. I immediately got a bartending job. I applied because I didn’t have the confidence to jump blindly into freelance work and monetizing my blog. I knew bartending and I knew I could make decent money at it. However, once I received the call that I had the job and passed my trial I knew it was a huge mistake. I quit a day later before my first shift and dove headfirst into my blog and freelance work. I haven’t looked back since.
What are some effective ways that you’ve discovered to build your audience while traveling less (particularly while you’ve been based in Portland, Oregon)?
Although I’ve been doing less “big” trips while based in Portland, I still have visited a lot of new states and even one new country repeatedly – hayy Canada!
The trick I’ve learned when you’re more stagnant is to make those once a month trips really count. I work with smaller tourism boards that fit well into my niche and have passionate locals that love their hometown. I’ve worked with Missoula, Grand Rapids, Victoria BC, all places that have vocal locals that love hearing about people promoting the place they’re from and hearing a new perspective.
I’ve had posts go viral just because people are proud of where they’re from. I love that.
In addition, I have more free time when I’m not on the road. I use it to my advantage to grow my social media channels, network, Snapchat, and engage as much as I can with my audience.
What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced in travel blogging and how did you overcome it?
Theodore Roosevelt once said that “comparison is the thief of joy” and I couldn’t agree more. I used to compare myself, and still do at times, to other bloggers who have been more successful or who seem to have it together much more than me. You learn pretty quickly how stifling that can be for your own writing and how bad it can be for your business.
To overcome these types of comparisons, I make a point to engage and support those bloggers who I look up to and let them know that they’re an inspiration.
What does success in travel blogging mean to you?
I would consider success to be when you have a voice in the industry that is respected and heard. When you have an engaged audience that follows along on your travels throughout the years. When you’re still just as excited to sit down and write a post about a new destination as you were back in 2013, when you wrote your first post.
I think being able to maintain that passion for travel, writing, and photography is a big part of finding travel blogging success.
You can keep up with Mimi’s adventures at The Atlas Heart or follow her on Twitter.