Colleen Lanin, founder of TravelMamas.com, blogged her way to a new job.
Where were you when this whole thing started?
I had been taking writing classes for years but had never submitted anything for publication. I was taking a personal narrative class and in one of my stories I said something about wishing I could quit my job in marketing so I could fulfill my dream of becoming a full-time writer. My teacher wrote some encouraging words in the margin of my paper and that was all it took. A few days later I gave my resignation. I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and I decided I would write a novel before my daughter was born. I accomplished my goal but the book was not anything worth publishing. However, writing that book taught me something very important as a writer: you can’t always wait for the muse. I learned how to face an empty computer screen every day and write, whether I felt like it or not.
How did you come up with the idea for a blog?
I’ve always loved to travel, and after I became a mom six years ago, I looked for a book or website to teach me how to travel with a baby or toddler. Almost nothing was available at the time. So I started asking my friends, neighbors, fellow playgroup moms, and pretty much any parent I met for advice on traveling with a little one. After I had taken a few family trips, I started typing up tips I’d gathered from my experiences and from fellow parents. Pretty soon I realized I’d written about three chapters of a book.
A couple years later I had a second child, and my writing hobby/career was put on hold while I busied myself with changing diapers, scheduling the baby’s naps, and playing with a preschooler. I enjoyed being a mom, but I couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling that I was ignoring my passion for writing.
A friend asked me if I had any advice for traveling with a baby so I sent her those first chapters. She told me I had to write that book to help other moms, and she would be the first in line to buy it. That bit of encouragement was the push I needed to get writing again.
I decided to write a book about how to travel with babies, toddlers, and young children called “The Travel Mama’s Guide.” I gave myself three months to write a book proposal so I would be ready for the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference, which is where I met and eventually signed with an agent.
My agent advised me to build my platform as a travel expert before we sent the proposal out to publishers. That meant landing some freelance work with magazines, teaching classes on how to travel with babies and toddlers, networking within the travel community, and creating my blog, TravelMamas.com–a site for parents who want to travel with children…and stay sane!
Tell me about this new job. What is it, and how did it come about?
After nearly two years of platform-building, freelancing, and blogging, finally this past fall my agent sent my book proposal out to mid- to large-size publishers. We received a lot of “positive” no’s from editors who said they loved my writing voice and felt the book filled a void in the marketplace, but they felt (ironically) there was too much information about travel with children available online.
When I signed with my agent and started landing freelance opportunities and building my blog audience, I felt like I had found my true calling. For the first time in my life, things were coming easily to me. After the book proposal rejections, it was time to face reality and figure out my next move. I could step up my search for freelance print gigs and find a way to make more money from blogging, I could try to sell my book to small publishers on my own or as an e-book on my website, or I could return to the marketing/public relations field.
After the holidays I read an article in “O” Magazine about goal setting. I closed my eyes and visualized achieving what I truly wanted–to be able to earn money writing and editing travel stories without needing to play the freelance game of constantly sending out queries to try to land the next paid article. I wanted to find a steady job with a large print or online publication. Plus I wanted a part-time position so that I could continue to build TravelMamas.com and have time to spend with my two young children. I was dreading launching a job search so I envisioned the job coming to me.
The very next day I received a Twitter message from an online acquaintance. She had recommended me for a position with a large social media site. I followed up with a tweet to the editor later that day. After a brief phone interview, I was offered a contract position with Tree.com, the company that owns Lending Tree, RealEstate.com, and other businesses. This new social media site launches at the beginning of March and showcases 14 blog channels, covering topics from finance & money to sports & recreation. I am the channel leader for travel & vacations–doing exactly what I had envisioned, working part-time as a travel editor and writer.
To what do you attribute your success?
My dad (and mentor) recently said to me, “You’ve been acting like you were somebody before you were anybody. Keep it up!” When I first launched TravelMamas.com and started writing on a freelance basis, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never interviewed anyone. I didn’t go to journalism school. I hadn’t really even read blogs before, and I didn’t have a clue how to make one successful. But I went for it. I landed big contest prizes for my site and lined up interviews with travel writers and entrepreneurs I admired. Eventually PR companies started approaching me offering products to review and free travel. I had a dream. And I acted like I deserved it, even before I believed I did.
What first steps would you suggest for those who want career or life changes?
For writers, I don’t think blogging is just an option, it’s a requirement. Fiction writers, and especially non-fiction writers, are expected to have a blog and a following nowadays. It’s your entrance ticket to the writing community.
For anyone, I would recommend using social media to help with a job search. Whether it’s LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter–networking is the key to finding a job and social media opens up your world of contacts.
The biggest career advice I can give does not have to do with blogging or social media. It has to do with following your passion. It may sound like my latest venture with Tree.com fell out of the sky and into my lap. But it all started with defining my dream and a relentless pursuit of that dream. When the book did not happen for me, I did not give up. I just adjusted my vision to allow room for a new dream.
So start with defining what makes you happy and what you love to do. Then work every day to build your career around that.
Any other advice you’d add?
Only listen to those who believe in you and your dreams. There will always be someone who can give you a hundred different reasons why your dream is unattainable. I could have listened to the teacher who told me travel with children was too narrow a focus. I could have listened to well-meaning friends who told me to give up and get a “real job.” Instead, I chose to listen to my teacher who said I should not ignore my talent. I chose to listen to my friend who said my writing was worth reading.
Ignore the naysayers. They’re wrong. Surround yourself with positive people who know there isn’t a limited amount of success in the world–it’s infinite.