Julie Falconer is the lady behind the famous travel blog A Lady in London. She started her blog in 2007 when she moved from California to the UK in order to explore more of the world. What started as a journal for friends and family grew soon into a popular blog for readers from all around the world who share her joy for traveling. Today her blog is the number one travel blog in the UK according to Feedspot. For our chat, we meet up in the cozy coffee place “White Mulberries”, surrounded by impressive yachts in the beautiful St Katharine Docks near Tower Bridge in London.
Julie, ever since you went into blogging full-time your career and business model has changed and adapted to the demands - and also to the opportunities - of the market. However, you managed to always keep the identity of your business the same. From the outside, this all looks like a very smooth and streamlined process. How does it look for you who is on the inside of “A Lady in London”?
It wasn`t as smooth. Instead, it was a lot of starting down one path, realizing it wasn`t going to work, going in another direction, trying a bunch of different things out, and seeing which one worked the best. So, it hasn`t been a linear development at all. But I think that`s probably true with most businesses. You have setbacks, you go in directions you never imagined. And random things come your way. A lot of times it`s either a random opportunity, or it`s trial and error: I get a crazy idea and decide to go down that road. Or I figure that since people are asking me about something anyway, I may as well make it part of my business. That`s what happened with the blog coaching and planning trips for clients. People kept asking me for advice about these things. So I thought “Why don`t I just offer this as a service?”.
What were such random opportunities that came your way?
For example, the public speaking and teaching I do came totally by accident. The education provider General Assembly asked me to give a talk at Social Media Week in London way back in 2012. I`d never done anything like that before, but I decided to try it out. It went well and they invited me to teach classes about it. That launched the whole public speaking and teaching wing of my business.
When starting a blog, a brand, or a business in general, people often don`t know what their idea will look like 5 years down the road. I mean, how could we: we learn on the way, collect experiences – we just don’t know some things that we will know in five or ten years’ time. What are the things that you wish you would have known when you started? Is there anything that you wish you would have set up differently from the start?
There are a lot of things. I named my blog “A Lady in London” and then I started traveling all over the world. So, it`s got London in the name but it`s actually about travel as much as it is about London. That`s something I would have done differently if I had known. Another thing is that in the very early days, I wasn`t sure social media was here to stay. It now seems crazy, but back then I thought Twitter was just some weird platform where people talked about what they had for breakfast. So, I wish I had invested earlier and more in social media when it was newer.
You did catch up pretty remarkably though! After all, you`ve got over 170.000 followers on Instagram alone...
I did catch up after a while, but if I had just done more to build a following earlier, it would have made my life a lot easier. And then there are other things. For example, if I had known from the start that traffic and SEO would be so important, I could have started monetizing a lot more directly on the blog. Back then I was just writing things that I thought my audience would like, but not necessary for search. That said, I had no way of knowing back then that display ad revenue would become something so important for bloggers. When I started it was taboo to have ads on a blog.
As an experienced blogger you offer coaching for other bloggers. How do you perceive blogging as you have witnessed the trend coming up and peaking from a front-row seat? Is blogging today still a thing when social media posts or podcasts seem so much more convenient and also faster to consume?
I understand why a lot of people prefer social media. It`s so much easier and it`s a lot less work since you don’t have to maintain a website in addition to creating content and building an audience. If you`re on a social media platform there`s a built-in audience and you just have to attract it. However, in my view, blogging is still more valuable. You own your own platform. If Instagram or TikTok went away tomorrow, you would lose everything if that was your only platform. My blog will always be there.
What`s your perception in terms of monetization?
In terms of the revenue model, blogging has come a long way since I started my first blog in 2002. The rise of display ad networks and affiliate marketing has been important. Also, with other ways of monetizing directly from the blog—whether that`s downloadables, printables, products, or anything else—there are large and consistent sources of revenue for bloggers. On the other hand, on social media you might get partners or sponsors on a one-off basis, it can be chunky income and unpredictable. With blogging, I own my own platform and I have a consistent income every month. That`s what makes it very attractive to me.
Social media seems to be so important to attract traffic to a blog. How did bloggers do that before Instagram or TikTok were a thing?
Before social media, it was really about SEO and being found in Google Search. People would find your blog and then they would subscribe. They might also find you if you were featured in other places – being featured on somebody else`s blog or if someone did an interview with you. For a long time, my blog was syndicated on the Lonely Planet website. I got a lot of visitors and subscribers through that.
If you had to choose one factor that majorly contributed to your success – this could be a mindset, a habit, or a character quality – what would you name?
That`s hard. I think there are a lot of things. I could take the easy way out and say that I`ve been successful because I got in early when there wasn`t as much competition. But I would like to think that hard work and determination had something to do with it, too. And I would say one of the things that is really key to success for blogging in general is putting the time in. Being consistent with publishing content, replying to comments, being out there, attending conferences and events – just putting in the time and work every day. That may not be very glamorous, but it does work well.
I hear that a lot when I talk to people who had success with any kind of creative endeavour: consistency is so important. Yet it seems to be the one thing a lot of people - me included - struggle with...
You have to be really consistent about blogging. But the nice thing is: you can schedule things. You can have a really productive month and then sort of drip the content out over the next month or two. So even if you don`t have as much time for a while, you can at least appear to be consistent.
Do you recycle your content?
On the blog, I don`t. I may use the same photos in multiple posts if they’re relevant, but I try to keep my content as fresh as possible. On social media, I sometimes share a photo or video a second time if it did really well before. But I try not to do too much of that because I personally find it more exciting and motivating to keep creating new content.
Do you do a lot of batching? For example, scheduling all of the same tasks, say photo editing, on one day?
I have a pretty standard schedule every week. A couple of days a week I write blog posts. On Fridays, I schedule all my social media for the next week. So, it`s some batching and some not – it depends. If I`m going to be away on a trip for a while I try to do a lot ahead of time so that I don`t have to work as much while I`m on the road.
How far in advance do you plan for A Lady in London as a business? Do you have a clear vision of where your business should go, or do you leave it open to opportunities?
For some aspects of the business, I have a visionary plan. For others, it`s more just seeing where things are going and adapting as I go. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about social media is how fast everything changes. Just when you think you’ve got a plan and everything is working, it all goes in a completely different direction. You have to change your plan again. I try not to have too much rigidity in my plans. Because that`s just a recipe for disaster and I’ll have to pivot anyway. But I do have a vision of where the business is going, what kind of content I want to create, what sort of traveling I want to do, and what platforms I want to be focussing on. There`s always room for flexibility and change, though. That’s the exciting part of what I do. I’m always learning and growing.
You can find Julies Blog at www.aladyinlondon.com.
On her YouTube Channel, she posts travel guides, for example, her famous walks in London’s neighbourhoods.
Here you can find out about her coaching for aspiring bloggers: www.aladyinlondon.com/blog-coaching-services
Julie has also written a book about blogging: “Blogging Basics: How to create a successful blog and build a loyal following”
Her Instagram Account is @aladyinlondon