FamiliesGo! founder Eileen P. Gunn reflects on her initial ups and downs.
I recently wrapped up FamiliesGo!’s second month. Now, I’d like to take stock, note the small victories and inches of progress, and see what needs more focus going-forward.
First, the good news.
People Are Finding FamiliesGo!
I’ve been keeping my eye on Google Analytics and am seeing some nice trends. The portion of people coming directly to FamiliesGo! is going down while the portion finding it through organic search has nearly doubled. I take this to mean that people who don’t know me are coming to FamiliesGo! because they are finding out about it and are interested in the content. This is better than coming to the site because you are me friend/sibling/colleague/classmate and I sent you an email asking, “Please go look at my website.” Better still, nearly 30% of my visitors have come back two or more times, so they like what they see.
Google Helped Me Out
Some kind (or at least PR-savvy) soul at Google saw my recent Inc.com post about my frustrations with AdSense and helped fix my problem. So my Google Analytics and AdSense accounts are now tied to a single FamiliesGo-related email address. I’m pretty sure my YouTube account is looped in, too, though I don’t have any ads popping up yet. I think I have to get more videos up and more people viewing them before the powers at YouTube/Google will consider me ad-worthy.
A Cruise Line Responded To My Blog
I wrote two blog posts about taking a cruise with a toddler; one on things we liked and another on things we didn’t. Norwegian Cruise Lines took the trouble to post a lengthy response to my complaints on my website, which means they actually think other parents are likely to find it and that it could influence them. This isn’t anything I’ll make money from, but it’s validating (and great for my ego).
We’re Expanding Beyond AdSense
I’m an email or two away from sealing a marketing partnership with a staffing agency in Chicago that offers family travel services. And a daily deal website offered me an affiliate relationship (I promote its travel deals on FamiliesGo! in exchange for a percentage of sales that come through my site).
I need to build a sizeable audience to make real money from these. But when I do send business their way the compensation will be dollars, anywhere from $12 to a few hundred per transaction, which is a step up from AdSense, where payment so far has ranged from five cents to maybe $2 per ad click.
Of course, I have plenty of areas to work on.
From roughly 1,300 visitors to the site I’ve managed to harvest maybe two-dozen names for a newsletter list. I figure I need 100 before I start sending a newsletter out. Clearly I need to be more clever about getting people who visit the site to hand over their email address. (Ideas from smart and resourceful Inc.com readers welcome).
I’m still not clear on how to create new pages for my Hotel Guide and there are a few new regions—Texas and Canada, in particular—I need to add ASAP. My developer sent me some video tutorials and written notes. But I think having her come in for an hour and walk me through it will take less time than the self-teaching method even if it means getting over my entrepreneur’s aversion to spending money for it. I’ve sent her an email to schedule this.
My total visitors dropped between August and September. I expected seasonal dips like this. In August, parents are in travel mode; in September they’re in back-to-school mode. The monthly numbers are ticking back up in October, but my base is still small enough that I need bigger and steadier growth. I want to see some gains as people plan holiday and winter break travel in November, December and January.
Marketing to Parents
Speaking of growth, my biggest priority right now is more aggressive marketing about FamiliesGo! to parents.
The goal here is lining up a regular writing gig with a major parenting website. It’s something I’d like to have within a year but these slots are coveted and not easy to land.
In the meantime, online parenting communities are one of the key elements to my marketing plan. In sizeable metro areas you can reach anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 parents at a time through them and they can lead to good word of mouth. But each group has its own rules regarding what kind of commercial information you can post for free, what you need to pay to post, whether they let outsiders post at all, who can join, etc. It’s difficult to scale.
Once I get a handle on it all and develop posts that work across the board I can set a budget for joining or advertising with some, take advantage of free posting on others and get into a seasonal routine with them. But figuring all that out is time-intensive and monotonous, the kind of work that sends me scurrying to just about anything else.
EILEEN P. GUNN is the founder of FamiliesGo!, a travel website for busy parents planning family vacations. She is also an independent journalist and author whose work has been published widely. In her Inc.com blog Start Me Up, Gunn shares the whys and hows of building a business as she does it. @familiesgo