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His Side Project Travel Newsletter Makes $12K Monthly

How this 50 years old monetizes his passion for travel with his newsletter side project

Hello! Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your business?

Hi, I am Tim and I run Nomadico, a one-pager newsletter sharing 4 tips for travelers who work remotely.

I'm not exactly new at any of this: I'm in my late 50s and have worked in multiple jobs and industries.

I've been running my online publishing company since 2006 though, making a full-time living at it, gradually adding more websites, books, newsletters, and other projects over time.

They're all related to travel in some way, though I do write a good bit about living abroad, which for some people is more of a financial or lifestyle decision than a travel one.

How did you start this business? Take us through the process.

I had traveled the world for three years, writing articles and teaching English, before my wife and I settled down and had a baby. I got a job in a software company and it was comfortable, but it wasn't very fulfilling and I kept doing travel writing work as a side hustle.

Eventually I got to the point where I was able to stop working for other people and run my own show, earning money from advertising, partnerships, and book royalties.

My first product was the first edition of The World's Cheapest Destinations book, back in late 2002.

It was mostly sweat equity, with less than a grand spent on production and a few hundred bucks on marketing. That one I self-published via a Print on Demand publisher, which turned out to be a good decision as it was profitable withing the first few months.

I started a blog to go with it in 2003 with more sweat equity, making me one of the first budget travel bloggers. The book and blog both got some good press and reader traction, which gave me encouragement that this online publishing business could be a real thing.

I launched several other sites in subsequent years, getting up to six at one point before I sold one for mid-five-figures.

I still run five, but will probably sell one in the next couple of years to pull out some equity. Along the way I started newsletters, published more books (both traditional and self-published), and launched other projects here and there. I continued to do some freelance writing also.

There was never one "aha moment" or sudden burst of success. It has been a continual building process and a lot of grunt work.

How did you get your first initial customers?

With the book I did the normal PR things like sending out press releases, e-mailing everyone I knew, and trying to reach out to journalists who covered budget travel.

Then the blog helped me reach more customers. I did a little advertising, though there weren't many good options in 2003, and did some in-person events and speaking.

Mostly though I think it sold because of my blog, the press mentions, and Amazon putting it next to similar books. I learned a lot and things happened much faster with the second edition on.

I’ve gradually monetized the others a bit more over time, but I try to make it subtle and well-matched instead of being a shill that’s putting the ads first, content second on the priority list.

With the blog it was easier to get ranked in search back then, with less competition, plus people used an RSS reader to follow their favorites, a much more efficient system than social media before Google killed it off.

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Since launch, what are your marketing strategies or channels to get new customers?

For Nomadico, which launched in 2022. Aimed at working travelers, for that we've promoted it on my sites, via the co-founders' Recomendo newsletter, and via the organic network effect of Substack.

If you’ve done your job right, a niche website will naturally segment the potential audience and gather the right people around you, those who are really interested in your subject. Then, ideally, the ones signing up for the newsletter are the ones who are the most interested and will keep returning. (This is why I’m not a big fan of putting a newsletter sign-up pop-up on pages that hit first-time visitors. If they’re coming to one page from a random search query, are they really interested in your angle overall?)

We have passed 9,000 subscribers in 70 weeks without any paid advertising or even a lead magnet. The open rate is crazy high still too.

For my five websites and accompanying newsletters, SEO is a major driver of course, plus the newsletters and blogs feed off each other. I do some promotion on social media, but that's a very fickle beast that always gets more disappointing over time, so it's icing on the cake rather than a big driver. Facebook groups can be quite effective though, as can in-person events like conferences.

For ad channels, I've experimented with Adwords and Bing's equivalent, but the only ones that have really had a clear ROI for the travel world for me have been Facebook for paid partnerships and Amazon Advertising for books.

Travel is such a long, multi-touch-point buying decision that it's better to cultivate long-term followers than try to convince people to buy something when they don't know you.

The exception to that is affiliate ads in content geared to people who are researching with a credit card in hand already. Those are more of a "right place right time" mechanism.

How does your business make money?

The Nomadico newsletter takes direct advertising and runs affiliate ads, earning from a mix of paid direct ads, Amazon affiliate ads, Substack affiliate ads, and a few other affiliates.

As for expansion, we'll probably run a premium option for Nomadico that stacks some other benefits on top, maybe after we pass 10K subscribers, we’ll probably add a paid offering that has webinars/conference calls or videos from the founder team. A more direct connection and Q&As. But we haven’t decided what that will look like yet.

My online magazines and blogs earn money from direct partnerships, display advertising, affliate ads, books, and courses. I ran a travel tour earlier this year and just launched one for next year. I also run a travel writing course that's connected with my Travel Writing 2.0 book.

Rather than expanding into new areas, I'll likely just try to up the income on ones that are going well and maybe add another tour or two down the line if this next one goes well.

Overall, I'm trying to attract the right readers for the particular website or newsletter and then match products or services to those readers that are items they're already likely to be interested in. I'm not trying to sell people something that they don't want. That's no fun and the travel business should be fun!

A passive income business is generally less erratic than a freelance one, but the monthly income can still vary quite a bit depending on traffic levels, current display ad rates, and seasonality.

Plus I run a content marketing agency for travel bloggers and when we get a big client deal coming in that spikes the gross revenue for a month or two.

The top-line number varies between $5K and $12K most months though. I would love that to be higher, but I am based in central Mexico, so I don't have to deal with the USA's high housing costs or the dysfunctional healthcare system costs anymore.

Where can we go to lean more about you and your business?

All my websites, books, social handles, and awards are displayed at TimLeffel.com and there's a sampling of my freelance articles there too.

You can find the Nomadico newsletter at https://nomadico.substack.com/. My oldest site, and one where I still write 100% of the material, is https://www.cheapestdestinationsblog.com.

That’s a wrap! 🌯

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