I started this blog in June 2010 and named it 2Summers on a whim. I was moving from the United States to South Africa and I would experience two summers in the same year.
Two summers, I thought…2 summers. 2Summers. It had a nice ring to it. I opened up WordPress, fiddled around a bit, and in minutes I had a blog. My first post was called Two Summers in 2010.
The first photo to appear on my blog, in my original 2Summers header: South African and American flags in Melville during the 2010 World Cup. (Photo: Jon Hrusa)
I never planned to become “a blogger”. I was a writer, sure, and later I became a photographer. But a blogger? No. I blogged as a hobby — to keep friends and family informed about my life, and maybe help other Joburg newcomers/visitors find their way around this awesome but confusing city. Blogging wasn’t a career; in fact it was the opposite. After 15 years of working nine-to-five copywriting and editing jobs, blogging provided a new opportunity to create my own personal content. No deadlines, no one telling me what to write or when, and certainly no paychecks. Blogging was something I did when I wasn’t working — it was my anti-work.
I was surprised and flattered when people I didn’t know began to read my blog. My daily page views increased. The response encouraged me to write more, to take more photos, and to get out there and do more so I had more to post about. I occasionally received a free trip or meal in exchange for a review, but blogging was a passion, not a job. I made a living as a freelance writer and photographer and identified myself as such. I was blogging more and more but I wasn’t “a blogger”, at least not in my own mind.
My first paid blogging gigs — as in, I blogged about something and got paid actual money for it — came in 2014. Gumtree (the South African version of Craig’s List) contacted me and asked me to do a sponsored post. I offered to sell some stuff on Gumtree — something I’d been meaning to do anyway — and review the experience. I asked for what I thought was a reasonable amount of money and, to my surprise, Gumtree agreed. I enjoyed the experience and I got to write about something that I knew would be helpful and informative for my readers. Win-win.
Around the same time, South African Tourism invited me to be part of its 2014 #MeetSouthAfrica campaign. This, my friends, was a break. I was hired to travel around South Africa with a bunch of other bloggers, write and Instagram and tweet about the experience, and I got paid a daily rate. Not a very high rate, but a rate nonetheless. There was no denying it anymore: I was “a blogger”. I still earned most of my money through other projects, but blogging had become a part of my job.
I started accepting fewer “free” trips. I’ve always been careful about the free trips I accept, only participating when I’m pretty sure that the trip is something I’ll enjoy and that my readers will enjoy reading about. But I slowly began to realize that free trips really aren’t free. Blogging is hard work and free travel — no matter how fun and luxurious it is — doesn’t pay the bills. I also had less time for free trips because I was devoting more time to paid work.
Over the last year or so, it has slowly begun to sink in that I can make a living through my blog (combined with my Instagram account, which has also gained a large following over the years). I’ve always been hesitant to take that leap into “professional” blogging. My blog is intensely personal. I do write a lot about travel, and food, and quirky things to do in Joburg. But I also write about my cat. I write about my boyfriend. I write about happiness and sadness and addiction and grief. I know that my readers like my blog because it’s honest and personal and spontaneous.
I don’t want to sacrifice that, and I won’t. But if I can keep it all — the travel, the food, the boyfriend, the cat, the happiness and the sadness and honesty — and still make a living, then why the hell not?
As of now, I’m going for it. If you read my blog regularly then you know that I’m already writing quite a few sponsored posts, which I always disclose at the bottom and often elsewhere in the post as well. I will continue to write sponsored posts, selectively, promoting brands and travel experiences that I personally like and want to recommend to others. I always maintain full editorial control of my blog content and no one ever tells me what to say. I will continue to write non-sponsored and personal posts with the same frequency that I always have.
I’m also going to start experimenting with advertising: subtle banner ads for products I like (coming soon, hopefully), and another form of advertising called affiliate marketing (more to come on this in a future post). I’ve always been hesitant to pursue advertising because I don’t want my blog to look tacky. But now I realize that tasteful advertising can help me to do more of what I love to do, and produce more great content for my readers. It would be silly not to do that.
A note about disclosure: As I said before, I will always put a disclaimer at the bottom of every sponsored post. “Sponsored” means that I’ve either gotten paid to write the post, or I’ve received something for free. As of this week, I’ve also started to include disclaimers on my Instagram posts if I’ve been paid or received something for free.
Marketing myself has never been my strength, and I have a very long way to go. I’m leagues behind most other professional bloggers when it comes to earning money and there is still a part of me that is highly resistant to the idea. But deep down I know this is what I’m meant to be doing. I’ll try my best to do it right.
Dramatic portrait by Roy Potterill.