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Conversations with Kiersten Rich

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kiersten Rich.

Hi Kiersten, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I never really considered there would be another path for me — you go to college, you get a job, and you live happily ever after. I worked through college, got a 4.0, and immediately after graduation, I started a job in corporate finance in Los Angeles.

I was in my early twenties — leaving to work at sunrise and not getting home until well after dark. I was working 12+ hour days, one of the last ones to leave the office, and it was pretty soul-crushing.

To no surprise, I ended up going through what I call a “pre-quarter life crisis,” so I reached out to different mentors and peers, and the overall consensus was that, “Why don’t you save some money, take some time off, and go travel? Maybe you’ll find something else that you’re more passionate about.”

With the few thousand dollars I had saved up, I left my job and went on a 4-month stint to Australia and SE Asia. I wasn’t really sure what was going to come of it, but I needed to find that spark again and figure out what made me happy.

It was in a little cafe in the Sydney Harbor, when the idea of The Blonde Abroad was born. In its beginning stages, it was more to keep my family back home updated on where I was in the world and sharing photos of the adventure with them.

When I got home from Australia/SE Asia, I had intended to find a new “real” job, but that intention quickly shifted. I began taking every odd job I could — catering, modeling gigs, you name it — and that money went right back into planning new international adventures.

I was always saving up for the next plane ticket.

After a couple of years of hobby blogging and hustling paycheck to paycheck to afford whatever travels I could, I was exhausted and realized I needed to figure out how to monetize my blog. I was investing so much time into my blog, and it was what was truly making me happy, but I knew unless I could monetize it, I would have to face reality and start looking into another career.

So, I put my head down in the sand and spent several months learning to code, shoot manual photography, create graphic designs, edit videos, and put SEO into practice. It wasn’t easy wearing so many hats, but in those early days of blogging, there weren’t a lot of resources for blogging or people doing what I was doing.

I started publishing new blogs every day, increasing my reach on social media, and focusing on SEO — I truly began to treat my blog like a business.

It only grew from there. From that point on, every partnership — whether it was with a brand or a tourism board — was treated as a professional experience.

Fast forward to 2015 and I had my first 6-figure year as a professional blogger.

In 2016, I hosted my first all-female blogging retreat in Bali where I taught an in-depth course on blogging and all the things I’d learned since I started (and wished I had known sooner!).

Based on the response from the blogging retreat and from tuning into what my audience was asking from me, TBA Escapes was born—my all-female tour company. I was living in Cape Town, South Africa at the time, and received so many questions like “Is it safe to travel to South Africa?” or “I wish I could travel Africa but I don’t even know where to start.”

I’d been living there for over a year and I thought this could be a really cool opportunity to share a part of the world I fell in love with.

It started with one group tour in South Africa. I announced it with a single post on Instagram and it was fully booked in 24 hours. It was so positively received that I planned a second one immediately.

TBA Escapes grew from our flagship tour in South Africa to destinations all over the world: Morocco, Jordan, and The Galápagos, and we’re getting ready to launch new tours in Egypt and Kenya!

And you know that pre-quarter life crisis I mentioned earlier? One of the coolest parts about everything that’s unfolded since then — whether it’s the blog, or TBA Escapes, or any other facet of my businesses, is that spark I was looking for turned out to be a fire. I never imagined my life would be like this, but today I’m able to impact the lives of so many women and inspire others to not only travel, but live a life they love. And that’s pretty darn cool.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I started a blog in 2012, this was before everyone was on every social media account, so I think the biggest challenge has been evolving as social media has as well.

There are quite a few challenges, one is having a business that’s dependent on global travel — there are high costs involved and in terms of having an efficient work/life balance, it’s pretty all over the place.

It took me a long time to figure out my groove and figure out what works best for me. I wanted to jump at every opportunity that came my way and it was really difficult to say no to anything — but that also led me to being on the road for 10 months of the year and I was always coming and going. While it was very cool and I’m so thankful for that, I also missed out on a lot of family events, birthdays, and baby showers.

I realized that I needed to learn to say no for my own mental health and well-being as I was seriously struggling with that work/life balance. This was really tough, especially because I wanted to ride that wave and the “success” I was experiencing.

When I first got started, there weren’t really any examples of anyone who had become hyper-successful via blogging or Instagram or social media at the time, so I’ve sort of been on the forefront of things as they’ve evolved.

Whereas now, if you were to get started today, there are plenty of examples and blueprints to success. There’s that reassurance that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Explaining the business side of what I do isn’t the easiest thing as it’s very multi-faceted. The simplest answer is that I own an entrepreneur and travel brand and have made diversification a key point in my business practice.

Not many people understand how bloggers and “social media influencers” make money. The reality of it is that every platform has different income opportunities. Here’s a rundown of the different facets of The Blonde Abroad:

Blogging: The actual blog, The Blonde Abroad, is what started it all. There, I provide guides and tips for traveling around the world. Its targeted audience is solo female travelers. The blog brings a significant portion of passive income through ads and affiliate marketing.

Travel Partners: Working with airlines, tourism boards, hotels, etc. is also a bulk of my business. Because of the size of my audience, these partners allocate a portion of their marketing spend on individuals like myself to create content to promote their product/destination/experience.

Brand Partners: In the same way I work with travel partners, I also work with brands in lifestyle, fashion, beauty and home spaces to promote products and services. I hold a high standard to the companies I work with and only promote brands I know my audience would love.

Products: I earn sales on my own products that I sell on my blog—like my line of Lightroom Presets I created, so others can mimic my photo editing style. I’ll be launching a print shop soon too!

Product Partnerships: One of the coolest parts of what I get to do is partner with brands to create product collaborations. I designed my “Jetsetter” Bracelet Pack with Pura Vida, I launched a capsule swimwear collection with L*Space and did a limited sunglass collection with Blenders.

Social Media: Social media is always the most work to earn an income. There aren’t any passive income opportunities on platforms like Instagram, so I constantly have to create content and pursue partnerships to earn a profit. However, each social media platform is different. I actually have a massive reach on Pinterest and it’s hugely vital to the success of my business, but it doesn’t earn me money directly—it just drives traffic to my blog.

Entrepreneurship/Blogging Resources: Because educational blogging resources weren’t available when I first started, I’m very passionate about helping others establish themselves in this space. I’ve sort of positioned myself as an expert in Blogging and have done public speaking, retreats and courses to educate others about the business of blogging. My Blogging Masterclass will be launching soon!

TBA Escapes: Having a mostly female audience made it easy to start my all-female tour company, TBA Escapes. TBA Escapes grew from our flagship tour in South Africa to destinations all over the world: Morocco, Jordan, and The Galápagos, and we’re getting ready to launch new tours in Egypt and Kenya!

Quest Creative: After launching a new website design and getting countless requests for referrals, I put my personal creative team under one roof and launched a digital creative agency, Quest Creative.

Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
It’s so important to regularly ask yourself what your driving force is — what’s it all for? Financial Success? Pleasure? Quality of life? Having the means to live a balanced life? Spoiler: It’s probably going to change throughout your life. My advice is to get into the practice of regularly coming back to your WHY throughout your life. Then, to think about how you’re going to attain it…

If I were to ask myself what my “WHY” was when I first finished college and moved to Los Angeles to work at a wealth management firm, it was to achieve financial success.

If I were to ask myself my “WHY” back when I first started my blog, it was to travel the world for free.

I revisit this question frequently because it’s really is the key to happiness. Perhaps I’m a little bit older and wiser. But it now feels that I’ve come a bit full circle. What I thought I wanted out of blogging in 2012 was to be able to travel for free. Now, I’m back, closer to where I started when I left my career in finance. I still work my butt off but now, what’s most important, is having the time and resources to pursue my passions.

Its taken time, but I’ve actually learned that my “WHYs” are not financial success or even travel.

Loving what I do for work. Loving the people I work with. Sharing my life with people I love, and who love me in return. That’s my WHY.

I’m passionate about travel. And I LIKE running a business. I like being able to afford my own travel lifestyle, and I have realized that I get the most joy out of helping other people travel.

Over time, I’ve found that my WHYs are actually some of the most simple pleasures in life. Good food with friends. A cozy bed to come home to. Sharing my life with the people I love. Travel actually taught me all of those things. And has helped me live a happier and more fulfilled life.

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