Launching an Indiegogo Crowd Funding Campaign

The Map

If there’s anyone still reading my sadly neglected blog, then hello to you! I’ve been a bad blogger who’s been busy with a zillion things who hasn’t made time for this site. Lame, I know. But I’ve got a good post for you now, I think.

As longtime readers will know, I’ve been working on a printed tourist-style map of Kigali, Rwanda, where I’ve lived for the past four years. I’ve been working on it for over three years, off and on. I’ve alternated between extreme motivation and extreme discouragement and how much work I had ahead of me. But I’ve been going strong on the project for the past six months and I’ll be ready to send it off to the printers in about a month.

But this is sort of a risky project. I have no idea how many to print, how much to sell it for, or anything, really. Plus, word on the street is that some other folks are making another (way less sexy) map as we speak. So that sort of sucks. But I believe in the product I’m making and I think it’ll sell itself because of how incredibly useful it’ll be with the added bonus of it looking great, too. A practical souvenir! But getting this thing printed will cost a lot up front and it would be great to mitigate the risk a bit. So that’s where crowd funding comes in! The idea is to get enough together to be able to print and ship the first run with maybe a bit extra to make an app too.

I launched my Indiegogo campaign yesterday morning and it’s off to a pretty amazing start, I have to say! I thought it might be interesting to write about my experiences so far, what I expect, why I’ve made some of the decisions I have, and then keep you updated as the campaign progresses. So, here goes…

My Hopes for the Campaign

I’ve hoping to raise a minimum of £3,000 but, in reality, I need to raise closer to £5,000 to print this thing without too many worries. But besides hoping to raise a substantial amount of start up money, I thought a crowd funding campaign would also act as a great way to gauge interest in the project. I’d like the campaign to act as a way to pre-order The Map, so if I can’t manage to ‘sell’ any during my Indiegogo campaign then I’ll probably re-think my demand estimates and print fewer. Likewise, if things take off and I pre-sell loads of maps, I’d be encouraged to print more. So I’m hoping for cash money to get started and also for an indication of the popularity of the project.

I decided on a very long 60 day campaign because of the pre-order aspect of this project. There are always a lot of new arrivals in January and, with the program running until January 10th and expected delivery a week or so later, I’m hoping to get some last-minute funding through orders from these folks.

Why I Think This Will Succeed

Running a crowd funding campaign is hard work! Before starting I did a bunch of research and got a whole bunch of lists of what to do and what not to do. A common piece of advice was to treat the campaign like a full time job. I’m lucky because I’m in a position to do just that! So that’s one positive thing right from the start.

The most important reason is that I have an existing and engaged community through my Living in Kigali site who have been anticipating this product for a while. I’ve been talking about it for years, occasionally posting updates of the design work I’ve done, and anytime a friend or new acquaintance asks me what I’m working on, the answer is always ‘The Map’. I was talking last night to a guy who runs Impact Hub in Westminster who gave a good piece of advice for success: ‘You need to bring your existing community to your crowd funding campaign.’ This makes perfect sense to me and, while I think campaigns can be successful without this, having a Facebook page of 25,000+ people and a popular website aimed squarely at my campaign’s target market is what, I hope, will make this process enjoyable rather than like pulling teeth.

Why Indiegogo and not Kickstarter?

This was an interesting question for me! One that I had to give a lot of thought to. Kickstarter was my first choice, mainly because of that site’s popularity and I like that it’s only for creative projects. They’ve also got a good system set up for adding shipping costs and it would have made a better choice since their shipping section allows for a bit more flexibility that would have come in handy since I’ll have lots of people collecting the map. Plus they’ve got an all or nothing model and, believe it or not, that’s what I would have preferred to use.

Indiegogo’s shipping section is quite limiting and the site’s audience is much smaller than Kickstarter’s, but I chose to go with them for one very  important reason: ease of paying. Kickstarter asks users to login to an Amazon account to be able to pay. It seems like pretty much everyone has an Amazon account these days… except for my target audience. My campaign is aimed at people living in Rwanda… not a place so well-served by Amazon. Sure, many people will have had accounts before they moved to Rwanda but the threat of forgotten passwords was enough of a deterrent for me to choose to avoid this hassle.

Indiegogo is a bit more straightforward – you can pay with credit cards and Paypal, and this is the key, for me. I’ve always done things with myself in mind as the target market and this is no different. I know how many times I’ve been about to donate to a campaign like mine but didn’t have a credit card handy. I was frustrated that Paypal wasn’t an option and abandoned the idea altogether. Seeing that Indiegogo offered Paypal as a payment method sold me on the immediately. Plus I like their interface a bit better and, possibly because the projects at Indiegogo aren’t of as high a quality (or possibly because my project it truly super and amazingly wonderful) it seems to be trending in the design category after less than 24 hours. I have no idea how useful that is, but it cant be bad!

Plans to Get the Word Out

I launched the campaign yesterday and within 24 hours had already reach 25% of my funding goal. About 5% of that was me putting my own money in to get the ball rolling, however. And with my actual goal being closer to £5,000, I’m still a long way off but it’s a pretty great start and I’m feeling very encouraged!

Pre-Launch - I’ve been posting updates about my map periodically over the years with more of a focus on the actual design and content work I’ve been doing. I only recently decided on crowd funding, so that wasn’t mentioned at all until recently. A couple of weeks before the launch I posted about my upcoming campaign on Facebook, telling my readers there to expect it as a way to both pre-order The Map and also to support me. I also warned them about it… that I’d likely be posting a lot in the coming weeks and to be prepared. I have a very positive relationship with my readers so it was well received. I did this again a few days before launching. I also went through old emails to my Living in Kigali website and compiled three lists. One of friends that I have in Kigali (who are also mostly connected n Facebook), one of businesses that I have a relationship with or who I’ve promoted or helped in some way over the years, and one giant list of anyone who has ever contacted about anything to do with Kigali who might owe me one, so to speak. I haven’t done anything yet with these lists but expect to soon.

  • Day 1 - The first day was nerve wracking! I put a lot of work into the campaign and there’s a lot of stress that the whole thing will fall flat on its face. So I was nervous! Day 1 saw me send a post to my Facebook friends (about 600 people, maybe 150 to 200 of those who are in Kigali or have lived here) with the video and a link to the campaign. Shortly after that I posted a similar thing to my Living in Kigali Facebook page with just over 25,000 readers. I then paid £13 to boost that post for a week and within 24 hours it’s reached nearly 20,000 people. Or so the Facebook stats say. I raised 25% of my goal doing just these few things.
  • Day 2 - I want to keep the momentum going and I’m hoping to raise half of my funds at least within the first week. I’ve just sat down to work so first things first, this post on Nerdy Nomad. After, I’ll add an image to the top of the sidebar on Living in Kigali that links to the campaign and I’ll also publish a post about the map, its progress, the Indiegogo campaign, and lots of images. At the moment there’s no way to go from the site to the Indiegogo page so I think these two additions should bring in a good number of steady sales. There are a lot of people who find the site purely through Google and have no idea about the Facebook page until later, so this is a good way to reach them.
  • Day 3 - I’ll likely send emails out to those lists I compiled before the campaign started. I have great relationships with a lot of people and businesses in the city and I’m going to make an effort to do as many personal emails as possible for those people who I think I’ve been especially good to over the years. I’ll also approach people who are part of large networks or groups and ask them to pass the link along to their people.
  • Day 4 - I have a newsletter with around 1,200 people subscribed so I’ll craft something and send it out to them. Many of these people will have already left the city, I think, so it could be a good way to reach people who might want a nice souvenir of their time here. Or it might just be sending a message to people I’ve already reached. I’m not sure! I also might ad a referrals contest of some sort to the Indiegogo campaign and publicise it on Facebook.
  • Day 5 - I’ll probably do another naggy post on Facebook to see if I can rope a few more friends and family into donating. This was never a part of my overall plan but I’ve got a few perks that might be of interest to people who don’t care about maps of obscure African cities, so it might get a few more contributions and every little bit helps!
  • Day 6 - I’ve written an article for Living in Kigali which is similar in style to one that went mini-viral on my Kampala site. I’ll post this and boost in on Facebook (doing pretty much the same as with the Kampala article) and add some Indiegogo info at the top of the article so that, if lots of people see it as I hope, many might be tempted to check out the Indiegogo campaign page, too.
  • Day 7 - I’ll probably work at reaching out to a few bloggers, map making websites, and forums. I don’t think I’ll spend too much time on this but it could be a way to reach new people, especially in the maps crowd.
  • Onwards - I guess those are most of my plans… after the first week’s push I’ll likely just keep reminding people about the campaign through Facebook. I’ll be working on the map still for the next month so there will be reasons to update people on Facebook that will have information that isn’t just me nagging and reminding. I might also approach some business owner friends to see if they might want to stick up a poster or something with a link to the website. Kind of a ‘get your map here’ sort of a thing.

Surprises So Far

First up, I’m surprised at how quickly things have gone in the first 24 hours! It’s far more than I expected! But I also know that these campaigns tend to do very well early on and then towards the end. So with a 60 day campaign, especially one spanning Xmas, there could be a lot of slow days in between so getting out of the gates quickly is essential for me. So far, so good!

Setting up the perks can be tricky and I’m surprised at how popular the ‘Be on The Map’ perk has been. I have another friend committed to a spot which means only one left after one day. It’s a fun perk and I’m happy that people are into the idea but I wasn’t expecting to sell all of those to be honest. The idea for the cartoon print came a few days before I launched the campaign and ‘The Map and The Print’ perk at £18 has been a popular choice so far. So I’m glad I added it in there! Once I finalise the cartoon print I think it’ll be really cool and I’ll start to promote that a bit more on my Facebook page and I think that will be quite well-received.


It’s far too early to say whether I’ll exceed my £3,000 goal and sneak my way up tot he £5,000 I need but I think things are off to a wonderful start and I’m hopeful! I think putting in a few weeks of research time before launching a campaign is good advice and I’m happy I familiarised myself with things before starting the process.

I also realise how good of a position I’m in to run one of these crowd funding campaigns. It helps immensely to already have a loyal and engaged ‘crowd’ who are anticipating the product. It’s the sort of things that sells itself, especially since nothing of its kind already exists, and I know how good I have it. I would think seriously about going down this funding road if I didn’t already have these pieces in place. It would be a lot more difficult although not impossible, I don’t think. When you have a good product that people want, it’s just a matter of getting the word out. I’m lucky to already have the means to do that easily and I think that that’s what will be the difference between stressing and struggling the whole way and having an enjoyable experience.

The Pitch

And yes, I know I’ve been crap lately (something that will change!) but I’m going to give you guys the same line I gave to my Kigali site readers: If you’ve been helped or entertained by Nerdy Nomad over the years, I hope you’ll consider either making a contribution (for some cool perks!) or sharing the campaign around. Things are off to a great start but I’ll need a lot of help to accomplish my goals.

I’m really proud of the map that I’ll be putting out there into the world and I hope you’ll help me reach my goals so I can make it a viable reality!

Here’s the campaign link again: http://igg.me/at/mapofkigali



My eBook Promotion Strategy

Well… I’m done. The Underground Guide to International Volunteering is wrapped up into nice PDF and Kindle packages and it’s out there in the world. Now what? Sadly, it’s not flying off of the shelves. I’ve sold three copies of the Kindle version (two to friends) and the PDF isn’t doing much better.

But it’s ok because I haven’t actually tried to sell it yet. After finishing the book I was sick of thinking about the thing and took a week away from it. I stuck it up on Amazon and made a half-assed attempt at building a book website (which is mostly done but not really) and then I started working on other things.

But the time has come to make a reasonable attempt at selling something I worked so hard on for so long. Fortunately I think it’s a good resource that a lot of people will get a lot of use out of. Now it’s just a matter of putting the book in front of those people’s eyeballs and hoping for the best.

Kindle Marketing

I’m completely new to the world of eReaders. I only bought my Kindle a few months ago and, while I’m in love with it, the Amazon Kindle marketplace isn’t something I know a lot about. But I see the potential in having a Kindle version of my book up on the Amazon marketplace. It’s used by millions of people and is essentially a search engine for people who are already looking to buy a book. The trick is having my book rank for the relevant keywords and to figure out a good price, among other things.

I went into the world of Kindle pretty blind but picked up Making a Killing on Kindle along the way and I have a bit of hope. It sounds like a scammy book, promising ridiculous things. I don’t want to make a killing… I just want to sell a couple of books a day. I’ve got a good product and, based on the competition, it’s not unreasonable for people looking for volunteering info to pick it up. It does have a nice cover, after all!

The book is a step by step guide to using Amazon’s Kindle marketplace to your advantage. It doesn’t advocate blogging, Twitter, Facebook, or any social media, really. It makes sense… learn how to rank your book and do the rest of it right (reviews etc) and you’ve already got your book in front of people who are poised to buy. Why would they be searching on Amazon if they didn’t want to buy something? Well… lots of reasons, I suppose, but the point is that these are the people you want your book in front of. Especially when a sale can be a single click away.

I’ve been working through the book and it all makes a lot of sense. I’m not seeing any success so far but I haven’t done much besides upload it and choose a price. There’s a lot more to perfecting things and I’m looking forward to tinkering with everything and seeing how this works out.

So for Kindle… it’s not really a promotion strategy as much as it’s a strategy for getting the most out of the Kindle marketplace and Amazon interface. I’m going to try to have all of the steps followed by the end of next week… so it’ll be interesting if things improve or if it’ll be a big fail.

PDF Version

The area that I’m more familiar with is promoting the book online through other people’s blogs and websites. This worked reasonably well for me the first time around in 2009 and this time there are far more quality blogs to contact and I’ve added an affiliate programme.

The idea is to send off as many emails as possible to blogs and websites that seem like  a good fit for my eBook. I’ll start with the people who’ve already written about the original version – only about 30 people. I need to get in touch with them first to ask taht they change the charity information. A portion of the sale of the first version included a donation to a charity but this time around I’m splitting the profits with affiliates. So I want to make sure people change that so nobody is misled. Then I’ll check up to see if they want to review the new version or want a new guest post. Reviews are less work for me so they’re ideal, but I’m very happy to put together guest posts.

The next step is to contact new people who have blogs or websites with an audience that might be interested in a book like this. This means scouring the Internet and making a huge list. So far, after a bit of scouring, I’ve got a list of about 120 sites to work through. I’m taking a very personalised approach, first reading their blog for awhile to get a feel for their site (to see if it’s a good fit) and then writing a personal email saying why I think my ebook would be a good fit, explaining the affiliate program, and saying that I’m open to suggestions on how we could work together. I’m not in any huge rush to find zillions of partners all at once (I want it to be a slow release sort of approach) so I think this personal touch works well.

It’s been ages since I’ve read blogs. I spend so much time online that I don’t really read much from my computer. So I need to get back into the world of travel blogging. It’s actually been pretty fun to catch up with bloggers I used to follow and to see how the industry has evolved and what sorts of new sites are out there. It’s great to make new contacts and it means that Nerdy Nomad might get back on some people’s radars as well.

So the idea here is to reach out to good blogs and website to find partners willing to sell my ebook either through a review, a guest post from me, a link in the sidebar, or a shout out in a newsletter or social media. It’s a long, time-consuming process but the good part is that, once I form partnerships, these links stay out there in the Internet world for people to continually find. I was selling 5 to 10 of the old version of my ebook without having done any promotion for about three years. It’s because those links are out there and people interested in volunteering will find them. My idea this time around is to space out the posts but to also continue looking for new partners over the years, rather than doing it for six months and then stopping.

Who knows if it’ll work! But if I can sell 10 ebooks a month without doing much of anything, then I’m hopeful that being a bit more aggressive will bump that number up a lot. Hopefully combined with Kindle I’ll be able to bring in my goal of a consistent $300 per month. I don’t think that’s being too ambitious… so lets see how it goes!

I also bought my first ad over on Almost Fearless. It shows up in the sidebar of their internal pages. Good investment? Who knows! But it wasn’t expensive and their readership is large and I think they’re the type that could be into volunteering.

Email me and info@internationalvolunteeringguide.com with your website or blog address and if it looks like a good fit, I’ll send you a review copy. Or we can discuss a guest post. If you’d like to join up as an affiliate, here’s all the info: http://www.internationalvolunteeringguide.com/affiliate-programme

As always, I’ll keep you updated!


Volunteering Ebook = Updated!

Yay! YAY! It’s done! After several months of work on what was supposed to be an update but ended up turning into a rewrite, my second version of The Underground Guide to International Volunteering is done and ready to be shipped out into the world. Well, in PDF form, at least.

The thing has gone from 60 pages to just over 100 and I’ve added a tonne of new information, anecdotes, interviews, photos, and I’ve increased my recommended free and cheap volunteering opportunities from around 25 up to 80. I’ve been keeping a list of recommended places over the past four years and I’ve finally added them into the ebook. Places that I’ve come across in my travels or been recommended by other travellers, with a major focus on Africa. I’ve got some excellent interviews including a guy who supervises volunteers, a 75 year old couple who travel and volunteer for six months out of the year, and a dude who runs an orphanage in Africa.

It’s taken me a lot longer than expected but I’m proud of this new version! It’s funny how a simple edit to include a few more volunteering suggestions has turned into nearly doubling the size of the thing, but there you have it! I think I’ve been inspired a bit by the potential I see in self publishing for e-readers. I think there’s a great opportunity out there to reach a lot of people through Amazon’s Kindle marketplace alone, and that’s pretty much the only e-reader I know anything about. If you can produce a good book, set a good price, and figure out how to promote it within Amazon, then I think there’s a lot more potential for sales. Much more than flogging a PDF ebook on my website alone, which is what I’ve been doing so far.

Up until now I’ve been selling about 5 to 10 PDF versions of my ebook without doing anything at all. When I launched the ebook way back in March 2014 I did a little campaign of writing guest posts and soliciting reviews. So I guess I the ebook is out there on other people’s sites as well, but really that’s small potatoes compared with being able to have my book pop up on Amazon when people are actually searching for a book on volunteering. Plus I’m introducing an affiliate program (if you have a travel blog, you can join the affiliate program here) with a 50% share in the sale, so I’m hoping that will encourage a few more people to get on board and add the ebook somewhere on their site.

I’m not really sure what to expect with this new version but it’s part of my new earnings plan since paid links and guest posts are on their way out. So it’s one piece of the puzzle and I think it could potentially be a big one. I’m keeping my expectations modest. If I can earn around $100 a month on my old ebook without doing anything or having an affiliate program or having it on Kindle then I feel like I could reasonably hope for $300+ per month in sales. That would mean getting a lot of affiliates on board and figuring out how to market on Kindle. The Kindle version is nearly ready to go so once I get that version online, I’ll start posting about my experiences there. I’ve picked up a couple of ‘how to’ ebooks about selling on Kindle so I have a few ideas to try out and I’m excited to get started.

The Kindle stuff isn’t quite as straightforward as just busting out a PDF. That, I know how to do… Kindle is very new to me as a user and I don’t know anything about it as a publisher. But I’m learning! I bought How to Make a Killing on Kindle which seems to be the standard for information on selling your book on the Amazon platform. Plus I’m using a formatting guide from Smashwords which, so far, seems pretty straighforward. The formatting is almost done and then I’ll have to tackle the uploading part which will take a bit more research because, as the moment, I’m clueless. But the whole process seems very logical and, with a bit of time and patience, it’s not something a person really needs to outsource. At least, that’s what I’ve found so far. I could be ripping my hair out in a couple of days when I get to the uploading and troubleshooting stage.

I’m hoping to get the Kindle version up by early next work and I’ll start exploring the Amazon platform at that point. There’s a bit to it… it’s not only about putting a good book online on Amazon, there are some tricks and tips to getting your book seen and I’m looking forward to experimenting with them. One thing I think I’ll need to do is have a new cover designed. Something that’ll work better on a small, grey scale Kindle screen. So, still a bit to do before I launch on Kindle and that’s where I’ll really see the sales, I think. So I’m anxious to get it up there.

This stage is also a bit scary because I’ve been working on the new version for months now and it’s a pretty important piece to my new income puzzle. I’m nervous that I’ll put it out there and won’t really see much of an increase in sales. Which will make me lose faith in my second book idea for a Kigali-specific guide. In my mind I know I’m producing good books that will be very useful for their target markets but there are always the fears that maybe the markets are too small, or maybe I won’t be able to figure out how to get the book really ‘out there’, or maybe it’s not something that people will even like or find useful, despite the positive feedback I’ve been getting. I think that the writing part is half the work and this is where the fun and potentially frustrating promotion stage has to start and that’s not something I’m particularly experienced in. My strategy has always been to make something useful and let the quality speak for itself… but there’s a lot more to it and I’ll need to tap into my inner promoter to really be successful with this and that makes me nervous.

But it’s also exciting to try new things and I’m looking forward to learning! At the very least, I’ll learn how to format files for Kindle which is kind of cool. Cool for geeks, I mean. Do any of you have experience publishing for Kindle? Tips welcome!

Ok so that’s all from me! If you’d like a review copy of the ebook, please email me at info@internationalvolunteeringguide.com with your blog’s URL and I’ll check it out and send you a copy.

If you’ve bought the old version of my ebook, send me an email to info@internationalvolunteeringguide.com with the email address you used for the purchase (so I can verify) and I’ll send you the new version.


The Beginning of the End

Well it’s been a great ride but it looks like the ‘magic money’ gravy train is coming to a screeching halt. I’ve seen it coming for awhile now with my earnings for the second half of 2013 being a lot less than in previous years. And now, things have gotten really serious with me earning only $875 in February and on track to do only slightly better in March. But all is not lost! And, in a weird way, this is all actually pretty good news for me. Sure, it’s slightly stressful seeing the bottom drop out of my main income source, but I think I’m actually well-positioned to move on to bigger and better things.

The Bad News

  • My earnings have dropped fairly drastically, fairly quickly. I only earned $875 in February and $1,646 in January as compared with $3,174 and $5,000 the previous year. I’m on track to earn less than $1,000 again this month with my guest posts, affiliate sales, and Adsense.
  • I get more emails these days asking me to remove links than I do inquiries for new deals so it seems like this latest Google crackdown is the real deal.
  • I don’t see things improving in the world of paid links and guest posts anytime soon, if ever.

The Good News

  • While my traditional way of earning money is on the down slide, I’m starting to earn with my Kigali and Kampala city guide websites and I have my Kigali restaurants guide mostly finished so once that gets going, that’s another spot to sell ads. So far I have six advertisers on board for my Kigali site and we’ve just signed up our first for the Kampala site and I’m earning around $500 per month at the moment.
  • Businesses that want to advertise on these sites don’t know anything about SEO at this point. They’re actual businesses that want actual clicks from my actual readers so I can ‘no-follow’ the links. Google-proof.
  • Businesses still approach me to advertise and I haven’t had to do a hard sell to anyone. I hate selling things, so this is a good sign,
  • This type of a business model is based more around building a community who trusts my opinion and interacts with me, rather than dealing with nameless, faceless, people trying to trick Google. I’m filling the internet with great content instead of rubbish and it feels good.
  • Having my income drop off has been a huge kick in the arse for me to start working on other ideas that I’ve been putting off for the longest time. I have three products that I’m working on (also Google-proof). An update to The Underground Guide to International Volunteering which I’m going to put on Kindle this time around, my Kigali map which I know will sell well, and a downloadable Kigali PDF ebook (and maybe a version for Kindle eventually) that I can sell from my website.
  • With everyone asking to remove links, my sites will eventually be back to their squeaky clean, non-Google-scamming roots and maybe I can sell them or start adding genuine content and improving them.
  • I have some savings, so there’s no huge sense of urgency just yet.
  • The costs of running my business are very low and can be temporarily reduced to almost nothing, if need be.
  • I can live very well in Kigali for less than $2,000 per month (and even on $1,00 a month, if I have to) and I think that, with all of the different components I have brewing (including earnings from my ‘old’ methods – affiliate sales, Adsense, the occasional paid post) I’ll be able to reach and exceed that amount in the coming months.

So while things are getting a little scary as far as monthly earnings go, I’m not worried as I think I’m really well-positioned to move away from sleazy guest posting to something that’s a lot more real and satisfying.

As I mentioned above, I don’t need to earn loads of money to sustain myself and save a little. My priority is to never work for anyone else again forever and ever. I’m not interested in striking it rich, just in sustaining a good quality of life while being able to stash some money away in the bank and travel a few times a year. I think I’ll be able to pull this off and do it in a way that leaves me proud of the work I’m doing, allows me to create and communicate with a great communities of people, and lets me partner with lots of interesting businesses.

I’m nearly finished the update of my volunteering ebook and I’m excited about it! It’s been greatly expanded and improved upon and I’m really excited to get it onto Kindle and explore that world. I’m not expecting huge things out of the ebook, in fact it’s probably going to be the smallest earning for me, but I don’t think a couple of hundred a month is unreasonable. Just another piece of the puzzle!

How are you guys finding this latest Google crackdown? I’d be surprised if anyone out there isn’t feeling the pain! I’m getting a lot of emails from other bloggers that are attempting to sell ads for cheap which is something that’s never happened before. I think a lot of people are going to see their earnings and maybe their entire way of life effected. What’s your backup plan?

Well… wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted.


Kigali Map Project Update

Anyone who has followed my blog for awhile (and who hasn’t jumped ship since I stopped publishing income reports) will know that I’m attempting to move away from a Google-scamming link selling method of earning an income and towards something more sustainable. I’m hoping to transition from shady activities that I’m not so proud of (filling the internet with crap, essentially) to websites with a focus on East Africa, starting with Rwanda because I live here.

This idea has grown from the kind of accidental success of my Kigali website. I didn’t expect to be here for so long and like it so much so I wasn’t sure how long the website would be useful, but it turns out that I’m here for the long haul and the site has been a huge success. Seeing this, I’ve also launched a Kampala expats site and a Kigali restaurant guide website. Basically, seeing a need and filling it. These markets aren’t yet overwhelmed with information like most places and building the best site in town and getting it to rank isn’t difficult due, mainly, to a lack of competition. This has meant that I’ve been able to position myself as a Kigali expert and any new arrivals will find my site without much effort from me. Being considered a city’s authority is huge and I’ve been thinking about how to leverage this.

My main idea is one I came up with around 3 years ago and have been working on off and on since then. Kigali doesn’t have any decent map, period, let along a tourist and expat-oriented one. If I see a need, I tend to think about being the one to fill it and set out to create a map useful for new arrivals. Kind of an information dump from the website to a physical map with tips, info, loads of points of interest and Kigali’s winding roads. But, while tracing the city’s streets is something I managed to figure out in Illustrator, that’s about all I can do and I got stuck. For years! It’s gotten to the point where it’s kind of a joke. The map. The elusive map.

But I’ve FINALLY moved forward with this. I found a great designer who specializes in maps and we’re on our way. His work so far is good, our communication is excellent, and I’m excited to see how thing thing ends up. I think the key to passive income is products like this. Create it once, update it occasionally and figure out ways to sell the thing. Having a physical object to sell is a lot more tricky than a downloadable ebook, but with Amazon I think it’s easy to just ship a bunch to them and let them handle the details. Selling it here in Kigali will be an initial logistical challenge to set up and I’ll need to think about printers and shipping… but once I get the finished maps ready to go, I think they’ll pretty much sell themselves.

In case anyone is interested, here are some steps I’ve gone through already:

  • Came up with the idea way back in 2010. Traced the city’s streets into Illustrator and then realised that I really don’t know how t use Illustrator.
  • Looked at other maps for inspiration including the Nancy Chandler maps (I’ve since decided to do something different, but my initial idea was very similar to this) and A La Carte maps (which is probably closer to the style I’m aiming for).
  • Compiled a list of the sort of information other maps shared and chose the things I thought would work on a Kigali map. Brainstormed other sections that would work.
  • Wrote content for the information boxes (more detailed descriptions of restaurants, tips etc).
  • Plotted all of the points I was aware of and walked the streets of Kigali neighbourhoods I’m less familiar with to find other points of interest. Bars, restaurants, hospitals, clinics, schools, government offices, banks… and way more. I currently have more than 500 points on this monster.
  • Realised that I suck at Illustrator and attempted to hand draw the map. Soon realised that it would all be scanned back into Illustrator anyway and I’d be stuck again.
  • Eventually conceded that I can’t do this all myself and found a map designer on Elance (about three years after starting this project).
  • Felt all warm and fuzzy and happy with myself when the designer came back with a good first attempt at the design look and feel. Finally, something decent to show for all of this work!

Now I’m at the stage where I give new information (new points of interest, tips etc) to the designer and then he does the work and I check it out, come up with suggestions and more info and then send it back to him. I have most of the city’s useful spots plotted on the map… just need to take a few more walks to unknown areas of town to be thorough.

But this is a problem for me… how thorough I’m being. I’ve never been very good at putting in a half-assed effort. I see this as a great opportunity to make something amazing and I’m not really content with producing something mediocre. I seem to be attempting to make the best tourist/expat-oriented map ever. Of all time. If I don’t reel myself in a bit, this thing will never be finished.

I’ve loved the process, though, and learned a lot about Kigali. I’m already thinking of making a map for Kampala, a bigger city with more of a market for this sort of thing. It has a few crappy maps floating around but if the Kigali map turns out how I expect it to, then I think Kampala would be the logical (and profitable) next step. Then maybe total African domination? Who knows! There are a lot of cities in Africa still not really given much attention online so the need for information is there. Especially in map form.

So… the profits. Well, I guess I’m having so much fun making the map that I haven’t given too much though to the fact that I’ll have to actually sell this thing. I’ve opted to keep the ad free of ads and sell it. The other option would have been to sell ad space to cover the costs and make some money, then give the map away for free. I really think this thing will sell itself and I didn’t want to have to compromise anything by bringing advertisers on board. Plus the idea of selling ad space makes my soul sad.

So I’m thinking I’ll be able to sell this thing for around $10 a piece. With printing and shipping (printers in Rwanda are horrible and ridiculously expensive so I have a connection in China for cheap and cheerful or the UK for something better but more expensive) and giving a cut to any places who sell the map for me and the cost of actually having it designed (about $1500 so far but probably more), I think I’ll be able to come away with at least $5 profit per piece. No idea how many to get printed but the minimum print run is 1,700 for the UK place so I guess that’s a good starting point! My plan is to have something to print by the time I head home to Canada for Xmas. Maybe speak to some printers there and get some quotes.

Lots still to do and think about… but I’m really liking the process. Once I have a physical map in my hands, that’s another key to this passive income lifestyle. Add Kampala in next year, maybe a few more cities and suddenly I have a mini map empire! Well, that’s the idea anyway. If I can really nail the Kigali concept and design, copying it over to other cities will be pretty easy design-wise… the hard part will be finding the information which is what partners are for.

I’m excited to see where my map project is going and really looking forward to seeing what amazing things my designer can produce. I’ll keep you posted on the progress!


Starting a Destination Authority Site

Oops, it’s been a long time between posts! As usual, I suppose. I’ve been pretty busy working on trying to find a designer for my dining in Kigali site as well as coming up with ideas for my Kigali map designer as well. Lots of design stuff! It’s fun coming up with ideas though and letting the talented design folks do their thing so I’m excited to see how both of these things turn out.

But enough of that! I’m writing this latest post as a response to an email I got recently from David from A Couple Travelers. He and his partner are looking to diversify their (quite substantial) income and came at me with a bunch of questions related to authority, destination-specific sites. As I seem to have the Kigali thing going well, I guess I’m a good person to ask! But rather than just respond in an email, I thought others would be interested in reading my responses. So here goes…

Do you think it’s possible to run such a website when you don’t actually live in the area?

Yep, totally possible. Just like it’s possible to run travel insurance websites without caring or knowing anything about travel insurance. The site will probably be pretty crappy, though, unless you have a partner or staff who do live there.

I built my Kigali site because nothing else existed that could answer any of my questions. I’m always in search of new website ideas and I was in Kigali slowly discovering the answers to all of my questions, so putting that information into a website seemed logical. My problem is that I often have grand plans with my websites and I saw the oppourtunity to make my Kigali site the best resource for the city… except that I didn’t really know much about Kigali at that point and I wasn’t intending on staying for longer than a couple of months.

So I somehow found two people who were into my idea and wanted to write for the site which got me motivated to work on making a good site with some features like a forum and an events calendar. Then they got busy with other things so couldn’t write for me but, by this point, I’d decided to stay longer than expected. A friend of mine helped write some things early on and the site grew fairly slowly and organically. As I learned more about Kigali, I wrote more.

I really think that living in Kigali and having an obvious passion for and interest in the city is something that readers can identify. Being here, going to events, meeting readers when I’m out, meeting business owners and all of that stuff is important not only to the perceived authority of the site, but also to making connections to eventually sell ads down the road.

Do you have experience with that?

Yep! On the back of the success of my Kigali website, I registered a bunch of domain names with the ambition of expanding this model to other African cities. The Kigali model, at that point, hadn’t earned any money, but I was convinced that being the main authority site for a lucrative market like expats and tourists will eventually pay off. Maybe not for awhile, but I’m a patient person. Plus it’s always great to be the first in and to be able to put really helpful info online for the first time and a lot of African cities aren’t really well-served yet with this kind of information geared at new arrivals who intend on living there.

So far the only other city I’ve launched a similar site in is Kampala. In my mind at that time, I could have gone one of two routes. The first was to find a partner who lives in Kampala, intends on living there for a long time, and has the writing and ad-selling skills needed to be a 50/50 partner. I do all of the nerd stuff and they fill the site with content and eventually approach businesses to sell ads. This would mean that the only up front costs would be time and that I could focus on what I’m good at and my partner, who would be an expert on Kampala (or an expert in the making), could focus on all of the things I have no idea about.

The second idea was to keep the site 100% under my control and hire writers, hopefully one or two committed people on a long-term basis. Then figure out the advertising and money-making part later. This would have meant up-front costs for me as well as the responsibility of managing writers and attempting to verify their content without knowing anything about Kampala.

Somehow I ended up with a third option that sort of just happened organically. I posted awhile ago on Nerdy Nomad that I was hoping to take my idea to Kampala and start a site there. A reader put me in touch with a guy called Tyler who lives there and has for awhile. I don’t know the reader and neither does he! It was a friend of a friend of a friend sort of thing. Anyway, I got in touch and we hit it off and have been on the same page since we started this little venture about a year and a half ago. But Tyler runs his own business in Kampala and is a busy guy so we decided to structure it so that I’d be the nerd and he’d be the manager and ad sales guy. We’ve split all of the costs 50/50 and when revenue starts rolling in, we’ll split that as well. Our main cost is our writers…

How did you find local writers?

When we started out, I had a friend living in Kampala who was unemployed and Tyler had a couple of friends who expressed interest in writing for the site. I think we were offering $20-30 per article, depending on length. Our first goal was to write a bunch of Kampala area guides and then we moved into more general articles and then restaurant reviews. We had some ok results with the area guides and, while the writing and insights were ok, it didn’t have a lot of personality and read like a guidebook. One of the reasons I think my Kigali site is so successful is that there’s a whole bunch of quirky personality hidden within the content that people seem to really like. So, while we were getting good content, it wasn’t great and the writers eventually lost interest in the project or got too busy.

We left the site for awhile and came up with a new approach to finding writers. We decided to look for people willing to give a year’s commitment and came up with a monthly salary based on the number of articles we expected and a list of tasks (posting to Facebook, forum posts, answering emails etc). We found two new writers, agreed to the wage and conditions (I think we pay about $250 monthly each for two articles per week and social media and forum stuff) and things have been going great since then. The writers are engaged, so a really good job, know their stuff, and are producing regular content that’s really useful to people. These two new writers are friends of Tyler, as well.

If you were taking this approach, how would you go about choosing a place?

This is a tough one for me to answer since I’ve always built my larger websites out of a passion for the topic. I was lucky because I built most of my early sites before anyone was making money online so I was genuinely motivated by sharing my knowledge. This was my motivation for starting the Kigali site, too – filling a huge void in information for the city. I didn’t start it with the intention of making money from the site. As the site grew, it became evident that it would be possible, but it wasn’t my reason for starting the site. I think it’s dangerous starting websites with money as the motivator because it will take a very long time to come (at least two years for this sort of site, I think) and if you don’t have a love for the city (or other topic), it’s easy to become discouraged and give up.

However I guess choosing to start the Kampala site is sort of a similar situation except that my partner is passionate about the city and I’m passionate about expanding my little East Africa empire. Kampala was just the next logical choice due to the proximity to Kigali, the fact that it’s an awesome city that I don’t mind visiting, the fact that they speak English and I’d also like a resource for Kampala and since there isn’t one, why not build it myself? Uganda is a much more internet-savvy country and there are more businesses that are likely to understand the world of online marketing than in Kigali. Plus Kampala is a much larger city than Kigali with a larger population of both expats and tourists, so if what I’m doing in Kigali seems to be working well, it stands to reason that a site for Kampala would do even better. I never do keyword research stuff, I tend to follow my gut. But, as I said, I know the stats for my Kigali site and it makes sense that a Kampala site, due to numbers of expats alone, would eventually do much better as far as traffic goes.

If I were to put myself in your shoes, I would choose a place that has some sort of target market of a reasonable size (not sure what that might be, though) in a place that speaks English. The location might be as important as the target market. In my case, expats and tourists are a lucrative market with a lot of money to spend both on doing things and just spending it on everyday life. If you’re able to also identify a defined market that spends a decent amount then that would be ideal. It doesn’t need to be as general as ‘expats’… it could be people who like a certain activity or something like that. I’d also choose a city that you like and have an interest in. Maybe even a place where you would plan on spending a part of the year or one day settling in for awhile. At least to get the site going a bit. If you’re not interested in the city and have no connection to the target market, it’ll be tough.

How long would you say it takes to get something like this up and running and seeing results?

My Kigali site took a couple of years to become popular. Now it’s a very well-known website and people even often reference exact articles or things I’ve said… which is always surprising. When a site is the only thing people find in Google, it will become popular but it takes awhile to build up your content and for the site to start showing on Google. So I’d say two years at a minimum.

Your Kigali site has a really nice forum and it seems like some decent foot traffic. Also you have 20,000 Facebook likes. How did you go about achieving this?

The forum started very slowly with myself and my friend basically talking to each other under various aliases. It would have grown quicker but there’s a well-established Yahoo Group that has always been the go-to for any new arrivals. Probably because there was nothing else. It’s annoying to use and, while it once served a purpose, I think it’s obvious to everyone that it’s not the best format for this sort of thing. My forum filled a need but letting people know about and getting them to switch over it has taken a lot of time. I haven’t done anything special except let it grow organically. I did run a contest last year which got about 60 new people to register, but that’s about it. If there’s no other way for people in the same place and the same interest to speak to each other then starting a forum is great. If something decent already exists, though, it might be more hassle than it’s worth as getting people to change (even from using the crappy Yahoo Group, in Kigali’s case) is very difficult.

The site’s traffic mostly comes from Google, returning visitors and Facebook referrals. The Facebook page is something I’ve put a bit of investment into, paying to advertise with the main goal being more ‘likes’. I think it costs around GBP150 for 3,000 new likes which happens in about a month. For this type of site I see this as a great investment because a large Facebook following is a great thing to pitch to advertisers and also a great way to be able to reach a lot of people quickly. Having an advertiser post an event on their Facebook page, me sharing it and them seeing a large increase in the number of people reached and hopefully a good turnout to their event is something that is very tangible and therefore marketable. The small, square ad in my site’s siderbar isn’t that exciting… promotion on Facebook to a large number of engaged readers is much better. I’m going to put another ad up for Facebook soon to try to push the ‘likes’ up above 30,000. I think it’s money well spent.

Is there really that large of a Kigali following?

I’m not sure what you mean by following but Kigali is a city with a million people but with a large number of NGOs and save-the-world type organisations that are often partially staffed by foreigners. The city is relatively small and the target market is relatively small. Well, it started off small but based on feedback and interactions on my Facebook page, I really think that a lot of Rwandans are interested in the site as well. Plus there’s a lot of movement of people within the East African community (Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania) so I have plenty of African expats who enjoy the content as well. But I’ve kind of made the leap from ‘intro to Kigali’ type help articles to posting about Kigali events, reviewing restaurants, and having a reasonably active forum which I think is useful for all of the city’s English-speaking residents.

Where does most of your traffic come from?

As I briefly mentioned above, mostly from Google, returning visitors and Facebook. The Facebook traffic is mostly my own page. I don’t worry about posting in other forums or on blogs or on other forums. It might be a good idea to troll through other Africa-related forums to see if I can answer people’s Kigali questions and then promote my site but I really can’t be bothered. I think that when a site is the only option in town for a certain kind of content, people will find it. My site is all over Google… it’s hard to avoid if you’re looking for anything to do with Kigali. So I just stick with that. At the moment the site gets around 400-500 visits per day. Nothing major but it’s a very targeted audience, I’d say.

Ok that’s all from me! David, I hope this has answered your questions. Please add any follow-up questions into the comments. Hopefully a few other people have found this interesting, as well. I guess I’d finish with saying that I get a lot of joy from working on my Kigali website. The key to that, though, is that I love this city, love living here, love sharing my knowledge with new people and love continuing to learn about this place. There’s a lot of love! If I didn’t have such a passion for Kigali I really think that would come across in my writing and it wouldn’t be such a popular site. I think the key to a destination authority site is having knowledge to share in a passionate way so if you can’t do this yourselves, make sure you find a partner or writers who can.

Good luck!