I first heard the word "entrepreneur" when I was in college, where I studied biomedical engineering. I never thought I'd actually become one.
But in 2018, when I began my engineering career at age 23, I found that writing Packs Light, the travel blog I started in college, was what I most looked forward to each day. I realized then that I wanted to travel the world and create content for a living.
So, I moved slowly and strategically from working as a full-time engineer to now a full-time content creator. And I've found a lot of success.
I wasn't making any money off of Packs Light at first. But in 2018, it brought in $2,000 through a few small social media campaigns. The following year, I made close to $8,000.
In February 2020, after saving money and coming up with a plan, I quit my $69,000-per-year engineering job to work full-time as a blogger and consultant. Last year, my gross income from Packs Light was over $170,000.
My brand and social audience have grown a lot since 2018. Today, I have 252,000 followers on TikTok and 50,000 followers on Instagram. I've already secured $30,000 in deals for January alone, and my hope is to double or even triple my 2021 earnings by the end of this year.
Thanks to scholarships and grants, I was able to graduate from college debt-free. To feel secure about leaving my job, I needed to save at least $15,000 (for startup expenses and an emergency fund).
I took on side hustles doing virtual recruiting, dog-sitting, freelance writing and social media managing for extra cash. I also lived at home with my parents — then with roommates — to save on rent.
When I wasn't working any of those jobs, I created a catalog of articles and social media posts to grow the Packs Light audience. During my commute to work, I'd "write" blog posts using a voice-to-text app. I spent lunch breaks interviewing young travelers to feature in Packs Light's "Young Travelers Network" series.
I also expressed interest in traveling more for my job. On my work trips, I'd use my food stipend to try local Black-owned restaurants or unique pop-ups to feature on my blog.
Securing partnerships was essential to monetizing Packs Lights. So in 2018, I began reaching out to brands to find out what they were looking for in an influencer partnership. Then, I'd pitch them based on their answers. This is still my strategy for finding partnerships.
For example, GetYourGuide.com, an online travel agency, was looking for influencers with an American audience who would buy their tours and activities. Even though its top-selling activities were in the U.S., I pitched a campaign to market their activities in Mexico City, where I was based at the time.
I conducted an interest survey from my followers and presented research showing how Mexico was booming a top travel spot for Americans. Our campaign ended up being a success.
During my first year of full-time business, I worked on six partnership campaigns — each worth an average of $3,000. In 2021, as travel became easier, I landed 12 contracts and increased my income to about $10,000 per project.
My campaigns, which often consist of sponsored social media posts, blog content and business-to-business marketing consultations, make up the bulk of my business earnings.
I have supplementary streams of passive income, too: Blog ad-income, paid membership communities and digital products like online courses for aspiring digital nomads.
Since taking my business full-time, I've worked with major clients, including Facebook, The North Face, Delta Airlines and Adidas.
I credit my success to three major lessons:
1. Your 'why' is an important part of any business pitch
It's more important to establish your "why" early on. I have a deep and genuine love for traveling. I'm passionate about showing young women from all walks of life how they can find joy and meaning through travel — without all the planning stress that it typically comes with.
Someone who knows their "why" is more authentic and attractive to clients and customers because it makes clear that they enjoy their work and are motivated by their mission.
2. Be decisive and embrace mistakes
As an entrepreneur, you're making all of the choices, and it's so easy to waste time waffling between different options and potential outcomes. But we advance so much further when we try and fail.
Being decisive allows you to hop on last-minute opportunities, and to put 100% of your effort and attention into the choices you make. Even if it turns out to be the "wrong" choice, the lessons you learn push you closer to success, especially when compared to the paralysis of perfection.
I always like to say, "Done is better than perfect."
3. Study your targeted clients and audience
Identify and get to know your core customers and followers. What are their interests? How and where do they spend their time?
I serve Gen Z and young millennials with my travel content, and since I'm 26, I have an advantage in understanding their social media behaviors. But I still experimented with posting content on multiple platforms — TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
I got the most relevant engagement on TikTok and Instagram, so that's where I'm continuing to focus my efforts.
This principle rings true when finding business clients, too. Remember how I mentioned earlier that I'd ask brands what they were looking for in a partnership? That was me figuring out what customers they wanted to reach and how they wanted to reach them, then finding a way to meet their goals with my product.
Gabby Beckford is a digital nomad and travel expert, content creator and TEDx speaker. She educates and empowers young people to seek risk, seize opportunity and see the world through her website, Packs Light. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok.
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