In today's Customer Spotlight we are excited to introduce you to Clelia Mattana, travel blogger extraorinaire over at Keep Calm And Travel. Without further adieu, we turn it over to our friend Clelia!
Q: Hi Clelia! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm a 37 year old travel blogger and enthusiastic globetrotter born and raised on a beautiful Island in Italy: Sardinia. I started my career in the fashion industry in Rome at age 25 and then, at age 30, I moved to London to learn English. After one year I found a job at Burberry London, where I worked for five years until (much like the protagonist from The Devil Wears Prada) I decided to quit and follow my true passions: writing and traveling. I haven't looked back since.
Leaving a steady, well-paid job to follow your dreams is definitely risky, but we only have one life and I'm determined to live mine to the fullest! I love water, water sports, snorkeling and scuba diving but I'm willing to try any crazy adventure, as long as it doesn't involve jumping out of an airplane as, unfortunately, I'm afraid of heights. Time and freedom are our best assets in life and I didn't want to take part in the so-called rat race anymore.
Q: What's your most favorite (and least favorite) place that you've travelled to?
Being a beach and sea sport lover, any place with a beach, some snorkeling and scuba diving is my personal idea of paradise. As a traveler I also love to explore totally different realities and trying to live like a local. This last point is very important for the overall experience.
I have so many incredible memories from my previous trips that it's very difficult to pick a favorite. My heart would say the Philippines, where I stayed for four months, exploring some of the most amazing regions on earth, but also Myanmar had a great impact on me.
I seldom look at travel guides before my trips, as I love spontaneity and getting surprised (in a positive or a negative way, it doesn't matter. It's all part of the experience).
Myanmar definitely surprised me big time, for their traditions, for the lack of mass tourism and for the beauty of their landscapes. One of the best sceneries I've seen in my life is the sunrise over a temple in Bagan. I felt like I just entered the set of a movie. What an incredible view. Almost a fairy tale. I had to wake up at 3 am, sleep on a floor without a roof over my head, where the temperature fell to six degrees at night, but it was one of the best experiences of my life.
What got you into the travel industry?
I can say without a doubt that passion was the main reason why I'm in the travel industry right now! As I already stated on the previous question, I wasn't really living the life I wanted and I was trapped in a job that didn't represent me at all.
The 22nd of August 2012, I did two things that changed my life forever: I bought a one way ticket to Asia, and I pressed the “Publish” button for the first time on my blog. That day my life, as I knew it, was gone forever. Keep Calm and Travel was born: I had officially became a travel blogger.
In the beginning becoming a professional travel blogger wasn't in my plans. I started blogging because of my passion for writing and to document my upcoming trip. The switch from amateur to professional happened only one year later, when I realized that my blog was starting to gain a steady amount of visits. I invested a huge amount of time, countless sleepless nights and study to get where I am now. Having a professional website is not an easy task, especially if you have to deal with it all by yourself, and considering that I'm blogging in a language that is not my native language it's definitely the most rewarding job I have ever had. The job is very hard but totally worth it.
How has X helped you in your business?
When I decided to change my old theme and give a fresh and more professional look to my website, I went online and researched the best themes available out there and I'm so glad that I found the X theme! It is by far the best theme I came across on the internet.
In my specific case it helped me big time as it's highly customizable and because of that I was finally able to create a static home page that didn't resemble any of the other travel blogs out there. What is most important is that I felt it represented the core message of my blog: professional, without the “corporate” layout feeling on it. Not to mention that I was able to create it all by myself thanks to the detailed tutorial videos, saving me tons of money.
I loved the fact that there are so many Stacks available and you can upload and tweak them to create whatever layout you want. I also chose the X theme because it is fully responsive and nowadays this aspect is very important for those who want to take their websites/businesses to a professional level to increase the interactions with their readers and the conversions. I launched the new layout last month and I have already seen a big difference in terms of engagement, sign ups to my newsletter as well as a much lower bounce rate, especially for traffic coming from mobiles and tablets. I'm very pleased with it and highly recommend it!
Q: What are some key takeaways for people looking to build a following online?
Before having the following I have at the moment, including social media and traffic to my website, I read many marketing articles online and followed some of the most influential marketing “gurus” out there. I think it's very important to get a clear picture on the strategies to put in place in order to build a following online.
Not only that, but I always stress the point that having a big following is great but it's even greater when the readers and followers are engaged. So how can we engage more with your audience? In my experience the formula is: being real, honest and providing the best quality content. Always.
It doesn't matter if you don't post every week, as long as your articles are a great source of information/inspiration for your audience.
I think every business online should have a blog section, where the customers can interact directly with the company. There is nothing more reassuring for a customer to know that behind a name there are real people, ready to talk to you, reply to your questions and get help and assistance if needed. The old “customer service” model is a little bit outdated in my opinion. I bet that many people out there associate the word “customer service” with: Oh God no, I have to wait on hold for ages, only to get the “I'm sorry we can't help you further” answer.
Nowadays having a blog is the real answer to the followers' needs . It is so important that companies should hire a dedicated team to take care of their blog if they can afford it, to provide good content and to reply and engage with their readers. This will help prove that they are in fact listening to their readers (aka customers) and being responsive to their needs.
My website for example is not just a blog anymore. It has a blog section, but recently it has become much more than that: it is now a source of information and inspiration for travelers worldwide. I have many static pages and I am in the process of creating many more. Despite this turn on my business model, my blog is still the place where the majority of the engagement (and conversions) happen simply because my readers trust people, not names. This advice comes from direct experience with my website and has worked very well for me and for many other colleagues.
Be real, provide quality content and engage with your readers to give them exactly what they want. That's the key to success.
Q: How many “vacations” do you take on a yearly basis, and is it nice that your work is actually vacation?
This is actually an interesting question as I don't consider my job and my lifestyle as a vacation. I even wrote an article (or let's say more of a rant) about it. People often assume that long term travel and travel bloggers are on a permanent vacation. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Yes we are lucky enough to be location independent, and that we can travel wherever we want, but most of the times it is very difficult to combine travel and work. The solution to this “dilemma” is to find a place and settle down for a while to catch up with work.
Ironically, I can take a real “vacation” only when I go back to Italy. So my idea of holiday is to go back to those places I escaped from in the first place, when I decided to become a travel blogger. I usually go back home twice per year for a few months to catch up with my friends and family. But even in those occasions, sometimes I have deadlines to meet, so I am basically almost never able to take a real vacation.
At the moment I'm too focused on growing my business, and I think I will really be able to enjoy a proper vacation (without thinking about taking pictures for my blog or finding the right angle for an engaging story to write) maybe in a few years!
Q: What are 3 of your favorite tools in your business? (could be a certain camera, laptop, software, etc)
This is an easy question!
- My MacBook Air: For a travel blogger is essential to have a reliable yet lightweight laptop to use. It took me years to be convinced and switch from a PC to a Mac, and after only three months I can say I'm in love with it.
- My world clock application: Nothing super technological or fancy. I simply need to know what time it is in every part of the world in order to schedule my Skype calls with clients, interviews, or simply to avoid waking up my friends at 4am because I forgot where I am, and that there is a “thing” called “time zone.”
- Last but not least: My GoPro I can't even begin to tell you how much I love this tool. I just launched a new page on my website with my videos and now that I have the GoPro I will be experimenting and taking my video making to a professional level. It takes time, but the quality of the footage is so amazing! The only downside of it is that I bought the “old” model which doesn't have the incorporated screen on it and I have to try a few times to find the perfect angle for the shooting.
In addition to these three tools, I also created a resources page on my website (still work in progress) to add all the things I love and make my life easier on the road!
Q: Any last things you want to share?
Only one more thing. People often envy my lifestyle and think that I'm lucky to live the “life of my dreams.” I just want to say that I'm a normal person, just like anyone else, I simply decided to take a chance and change to follow my real passions in life. Everybody can do that. All it takes is passion, a good plan and a strong will to get wherever you want in life. Believe that you can, and you will be halfway there!
Thank-you Clelia for contributing to our Customer Spotlight Series and for showing a fun and enjoyable way to build a business: around travel! We encourage you to check out keepcalmandtravel.com (powered by X, of course) where you can keep up with Clelia's latest travels, news, and more. If you are a customer of ours who is interested in being featured in a future Spotlight, we'd love to hear from you.