All of us aspire to accomplish our professional dreams, no matter how conservative or out of reach they may seem. However, the number of people who work to make their dreams a reality is significantly lesser. And the number of people who achieve this success is even fewer, with uncontrollable aspects such as luck and timing being crucial factors. Jen Ruiz, a millennial lawyer turned travel blogger, is one of those lucky few to have made such a transition and to have done it so succesfully. Read on to know how she did it.
Why did you make the transition from lawyer to travel blogger?
I started a blog in 2014 as a way to have a creative outlet. My first article was published when I was a volunteer contributor at Elite Daily. After some articles got traction, a travel editor reached out to me about paid work. Then the year before my 30th birthday, I took a ‘12 trips in 12 months’ challenge while I had a full-time job. I realized I enjoyed traveling a lot more than being in a courtroom. I was determined to make a meaningful income online, which I kicked off by publishing my first book. Once I saw I could develop online income streams, I quit my job to devote my full efforts to growing my online business. I matched my attorney salary with online income within the first year.
You are a travel blogger, a social media influencer, an Amazon author, a keynote speaker, and a consultant. Was it a conscious decision to take on diverse roles?
As a digital entrepreneur, you end up wearing many different hats. You will never be bored because there is always something to learn. I ended up diversifying my income streams and finding diverse ways to share, market, and monetize my core expertise. It happened organically in my search for financial security.
For instance, I have a core skill set in travel — finding affordable flights, traveling solo, etc. I also have entrepreneurship skills. I looked for different ways to share the information I knew, from blog posts to ebooks to webinars. People learn in different ways, and you’re providing your audience with more options to absorb your content. You’re also adding new income streams along the way.
I’ve seen a lot more freelancers online due to ‘The Great Resignation’. However, even as the industry becomes flooded, professionals will stand out. For example, there is a big difference between writers and creators that know how to briefly and efficiently correspond with editors and pitch marketing proposals to brands versus those who give away freebies and fail to state their value proposition.
How do you ensure you find good, well-paying work consistently? Especially as you travel frequently and work remotely?
I have a mix of consistent monthly income, like social media management and blogger revenue, as it takes the pressure off finding sponsored campaigns or freelance articles every month. When it comes to freelance writing assignments, I like to peruse Twitter since editors are active here. I search for specific hashtags like #JournoRequest and #WritersWanted to find more work. I also follow a lot of editors and freelancers to see their updates in my feed. As a travel blogger, I also get paid for the photos that I contribute to an article.
Be it freelance writing or working with brands on campaigns, your pitching game has to be strong. I make it a point to follow up two weeks after sending the first pitch. If the response is not favorable, I approach another editor or brand, and so on. Giving up is not much of an option in this life.
I also attend travel conferences regularly. In a world of pitching to mass inboxes, meeting with brand representatives at conferences helps establish a personal connection. Doing this is also a great way to collect business cards for future reference and find potential partnerships.
As a digital entrepreneur, you have to keep hustling. I’m always looking for more publicity, collaboration opportunities, testimonials, and awards to help raise my rates. I stay on top of social media trends to create the next viral video or land a bigger brand deal. It’s a lot of work, and it helps to have a community of like-minded people to discuss problems that may come up and help each other succeed.
Building a personal brand is vital today, and you have mastered that. Could you share some tips on how to grow your social media?
Many creators will refuse to admit this, but social media today is as much about quantity as it is about quality. This secret is what helped me grow my TikTok account to 194k+ followers since April 2020. Of course, quality matters too. Also, the kind of content you put out will attract similar followers. For example, if you want to speak to young professionals, cringe content will not interest them. It will probably appeal to teenagers, who are not your target audience.
That said, the best way to know what will work is to produce often and always test your ideas. I try to post every day. You also need to give people a reason to follow you. Be clear on the value you offer. Instead of obsessively growing your followers, focus on engaging them. Also, always have a clear call to action; make sure to ask viewers to follow your account.
Go ahead and check out your competition; it won’t make you any less authentic. Identify 2-3 accounts that you want to emulate. Study what made their top content popular. Identify trending sounds and hashtags. Find a way to be entertaining, informative, or inspirational. Your content should be something that people will not only like but also share and reference later.
You have worked with major brands like Samsonite, Airbnb, and Celebrity Cruises. What is your secret?
I make it a point to be professional throughout my brand campaigns. In the beginning stages, I share media kits and case studies with brands to show them what I can do. I then identify their goals and send a full-fledged marketing proposal. And after the campaign is over, I send over a detailed case study.
I also gather testimonials from brands and screenshots of feedback from followers. Having happy, positive reviews to exhibit helps establish trust with my clients.
Your blog, Jen on a Jet Plane, encourages people to go on budget trips. Are young people your target audience?
A lot of people think travel is cost-prohibitive. However, by finding an affordable flight, the world becomes much more open. It’s easy to find budget lodging and food options almost anywhere you go — the flight is the biggest challenge because it is expensive. Choosing the right flight is even more crucial for young people. They are the most overworked and underpaid!
Some of my favorite ways to save money on flights are to sign up for flight alerts, fly with budget airlines, and use miles. Budget airlines make travel a lot more accessible to many of us.
Speaking of challenges, what do you do to ensure that you switch off from work while traveling?
Even though it is far from easy, unplugging is a must. To enjoy my trip, I like to take care of any important deadlines or content before I go. If I have any deliverables due during my trip, I only have to hit the post button.
I prioritize rest and build free time into my itineraries. I also recommend having an away message sharing what you’re doing, especially if you’re attending a conference in your field or are on a press trip. It sets reasonable expectations about how long it will take you to reply and simultaneously promotes your endeavors.
The pandemic had a severe impact on the travel industry. How did you manage to stay afloat?
I adapted. I pivoted from sharing travel content to talking about remote work. TikTok also helped me gain new followers and publicity. And I wrote two books about remote work that did well, given the timing of their release.
Further, I did a lot of virtual speaking events and said “yes” to almost every opportunity since I was doing them from my home office without any travel requirements. I got creative about digital press trips and campaigns. I did cooking classes with the Thailand Tourism Board and promoted Bentonville, Arkansas, in a virtual conference appearance.
While you are living the dream, a lot of work goes into sustaining it. Tell us how you unwind and prevent burnout.
When I’m not traveling, I follow a routine as much as possible. I start my day with an audiobook to learn something new and get in the right mindset. Then I work out. I am an early riser and do all of this before 10 am.
I do priority tasks in the morning and post and engage on social media later in the day. I like to cook, especially since I’m always eating out while on the road. I also think it’s important to prioritize self-care, so if I need a day to watch Netflix and relax, I honor that.
On average, I work about 7 hours a day. But if I’m on a press trip, I have to work a lot harder, sometimes 15-18 hours/day. I might work on weekends, depending on what projects and deliverables I have. I sometimes do more leisurely travel on weekends so that I can generate content to post.
What does it take to be a successful digital nomad in 2021 and beyond?
You have to be okay with failure, rejection, and slow growth at times. All of this is a part of the process and the self-employed life. You need the drive to stay consistent even when you fail to see results.
Diversify. The more income streams you have, the more secure your finances will be. Diversify so that you don’t have to depend on a single client or source of income. Focus on passive income streams. In my case, they include ad revenues on my blog, book royalties from Amazon, and course sales. Once you have substantial passive income, you can stop trading your time for profits.