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This weekend Matt Kepnes, otherwise known as Nomadic Matt, wrote a post that was a bit of a wake-up call. I told him I was proud of him. Matt has a caveat in his post that if your blog is your hobby that his post was not meant for you. The same applies here. If you are blogging for your own personal enjoyment, good for you. This post really isn’t for you. Have fun blogging and enjoy it.

If you ever ask for free stuff or try to sell something on your blog, then this post is for you.

I have been saying for years bloggers are like rock stars, and professional bloggers really are. Many people who think they are professional bloggers are really more like amateur wanna-be rock stars. They love the idea of fame and fortune and the rock star lifestyle, but have no clue how to achieve that goal – or they lack any work ethic to make it possible. This isn’t unique to travel blogging. It spans the entire blogosphere.

creative commons photo by Hervegirod via Wikimedia Commons

creative commons photo by Hervegirod via Wikimedia Commons

Even more lack the actual talent needed to deserve that success. I call it “American Idol Syndrome.” If you have ever seen the show, you know what I mean. Some people are completely delusional about their abilities. This isn’t unique to blogging. Music has always been this way. Most people who try to play the guitar suck, don’t they?

The difference is most sucky guitar players don’t go around calling themselves musicians. Although there are a lot more of them out there now with the advent of the internet.

Bloggers writing about their drunken escapades? Sounds just like wanna-be flash-in-the-pan rock stars – only these people are so dumb that they publicize their own bad behavior. At least rock stars try to hide it from the paparazzi.

Matt talks about bloggers having a menu of what they offer, like restaurants do. I would love to hear him expand more on this. What kind of menu? What kind of products and services should a blogger offer?

Again the music analogy applies. Did you ever notice all the merchandise Lady Gaga and other rock stars sell? They definitely have a menu. They sell their content to start with. They sell all sorts of products and services, and they definitely sell the equivalent of sponsored posts – they are called product endorsements. The smart ones, the good business-minded rock stars, sell sponsored posts that reflect their brand, that their fans can relate to and that don’t violate their fans’ trust.

Here is a reality check:
If you think travel blogging is about getting free trips and getting drunk and stupid, then YOU ARE NOT A TRAVEL BLOGGER.

You are a wanna-be. You are a poser. You give people who do want to be or who are travel bloggers a bad name. Either wake up and shape up, or do us all a favor and stop calling yourself a travel blogger.

If you don’t have a business plan (like Matt suggests), if you are not a talented story teller (regardless of whether your stories are told via print, audio, or video), if you are not constantly trying to improve your craft and provide value to your sponsors and readers, then you are not a professional. Again, if you are a hobbyist there is nothing wrong with that. Have fun. Just don’t represent yourself as a professional. In fact, you can be a hobbyist and accept a press trip, a comp, or a sweet deal, but you need to know that the moment you accept any form of compensation you have entered an agreement. That agreement includes the expectation that you will act like a professional for the duration of that relationship. If you think anyone is giving you a comp just because they like you, you are wrong.  These companies are in business to make money, and they expect you to help them reach more customers and do more business.

Professionals have talent. Professionals work hard to constantly improve that talent. Professionals also work on all the mundane things that separate them from amateurs. They learn about SEO and other technology that impacts their reach. They create a business plan and a marketing plan. Then they execute and measure the progress of those plans and adapt them when necessary to bring them closer to success. They act like professionals when they meet with potential sponsors and clients. Professionals disclose it to their readers when they have received compensation that may affect their opinion on a story. They disclose when links they provide are paid for or when a post is sponsored. They look for mentors and teachers from whom they can learn. They network with their peers, copy their successes, and try to avoid others’ mistakes.

So you should ask yourself – do you really want to be a travel blogger?

If the answer is yes, then start honing your craft and doing the things a successful professional does. I hope one of those things is attending an upcoming TBEX or other events that are geared toward professional development. Start taking a creative writing or journalism course, or start learning how the internet, SEO, keywords, and the technology you use every day works.

[stextbox id=”black”]Do you call yourself a travel blogger? Do you disagree with this post?[/stextbox]

Author Rick Calvert is the CEO of TBEX and CEO & Co-founder of BlogWorld & New Media Expo