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Today nitchCraft features its first non-video content site. This distinction goes to a blog that serves as a written content resource several thousand pages strong, frequented by hundreds of thousands of women looking to travel smarter. Journeywoman.com was started by the intrepid Evelyn Hannon waaay back in a little decade called the 90s and it continues to grow today with the help of one of our new friends, twitter, and a continued commitment to respecting her loyal audience. Without further ado, I give you, Journeywoman.
nitch*: I love the brand of “Journeywoman” – almost superhero-esque, really. Every good superhero has a compelling origin story. What’s Journeywoman’s?
Evelyn Hannon: My story goes way back to 1982. That year I was divorced after 23 years of marriage. Women weren’t travelling by themselves then and I was petrified both of going out on my own and also of perhaps, never traveling again. Finally I gave myself a challenge — if I could travel solo for five weeks and not die of fright then that would be the metaphor for the rest of my life. I put a backpack on for the first time when I was 42 and went off to Europe. I didn’t die. I learned to love solo travel and from there the concept of Journeywoman.com was born.
nitch*: Originating an industry is definitely a great story! How did your own travel experiences influence you to create this resource? Why did you choose to get on the internet in those early days of the world wide web?
EH: When I began to travel solo ‘as a woman’ I was a pioneer. I had no mentors and I had to learn budgeting, safety tricks and avoiding the loneliness all by myself. Gradually, I went from 35 days away to four months of backbacking in Europe. The web was my gateway to the world.
nitch*: So with this “gateway to the world”, how long did it take you to build your audience? As we discussed, you were a pioneer so what were some of your early milestones?
EH: In 1994 with $1000 I started publishing a 24-page mini magazine. Advertisers and marketers wouldn’t even look at me because they thought any women who travels without a man must be a male-hater. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth but I had to look to subscribers to keep the dream alive. But, the press loved me because I was the first person to write travel reports from a woman’s-point-of-view. By year three I had one thousand paid subscribers and I was on my way.
In 1997 with my same $1000 investment I went on to the web (even though I didn’t really understand the difference between email and surfing). That opened a whole new world for me. And the press went crazy. I was on Good Morning America, People Magazine did a feature on me, TIME choose me as one of the 100 innovative thinkers of this century. I got a gazillion awards for thinking outside the box. Those were easy awards to win. I never studied computer sciences so I never learned to think inside the box. Today, 66,500 women in 168 countries read my monthly newsletter and about 900,000 visit my site to do travel research from a woman’s point of view. I am the consultant to Foreign Affairs Canada on women and travel and write the booklet, Her Own Way given out in passport offices across the country.
nitch*: A great story to illustrate the idea that when you find a true niche, you have the opportunity to make your market – even on a limited budget! What advice would you have for someone beginning to grow a niche website looking to get their message out to their audience / the press?
EH: I think that in order to be noticed by the press you’ve got to stay outside the box in your approach. Be sincere in what you tell your audience, be truthful in what you tell your advertisers and keep the press informed of all your new innovations. Enter every competition you can and shout from the rooftops everytime you get an award. There’s no place for understatement in marketing.
nitch*: I think we might be kindred spirits, Evelyn – I’ve shouted from more than a few rooftops in my day! That said, through all of this, Journeywoman.com has remained largely unchanged since the 90s. Can you talk a little about the responses you’ve had from your audience encouraging you NOT to change your site?
EH: My site looks almost the same as it did when we launched in 1997. For women (young and old) it’s perfectly simple to navigate. Women are multi-taskers. They want to get in, find the information they want and quickly go on to their next job. It’s easy to do that at the Journeywoman website. Also, I’m told that coming to my site feels like visiting your grandmother. It’s warm, it’s welcoming and the return visitors know exactly where everything is.
nitch*: Excellent points about the importance of navigation, often lost by Flash-y (pun intended) developers today. More to the welcoming and engaging nature of your sites, how has twitter impacted your business? It seems like you’ve naturally transitioned into this world, please tell us a little more about your approach to this new medium.
EH: Twitter is fabulous, especially for travel writers, for quickly making connections around the world. In three months I welcomed 500 new newsletter readers and 3500 Twitter followers. This past week I was picked one of the ‘Top 50 Tweeple to Follow on Twitter’ because folks like the straight forward information I post. I try, always to give readers quality information. I share my expertise by posting one woman-centered travel tip every day. Those tips made the Toronto Star and bloggers in Brazil and Sweden posted them on their sites as well. I love that sharing. My mandate is to inspire women to travel safely and well and Twitter is a perfect medium to do that.
nitch*: Further to the idea of engaging directly with your audience, your newsletter (as well as your tweets) contain a lot of tips from your followers, which you attribute back to them. Can you talk about your strategy for user participation? Has it evolved over time? If so, how?
EH: I’m 70 years old now and the site has never been this busy. My philosophy is very simple and it has remained the same since the start of journeywoman.com. I don’t want slick PR reviews from paid contributors at my site. I want real opinions from real women travelers. A woman in New York is generally a much better source of information about NY neighbourhood restaurants than a guidebook written for the masses. I am truly heartened that on a continuous basis so many women around the world answer my call for good, solid travel tips. There is no other site entirely like it.
nitch*: With a site that focuses much more on the steak than the sizzle, how have the advertisers and sponsors that you work with been brought on board? Have you targeted ad agencies with your high level of engagement, or is there a disconnect as a result of your more traditional design and layout?
EH: I do little work with ad agencies. I don’t speak their language and they don’t bother looking beyond the facade of my website. Ad agencies have no idea of the loyalty afforded the Journeywoman brand and frankly I don’t have the time to chase them to tell them. Most of my advertisers and sponsors happen upon my site through word of mouth. Once they take the time to look around, read my newsletter and check out our numbers they become loyal sponsors who renew their support year after year. Some companies have been with us steadily since 1997 and they claim we’re still their ‘best bang for the buck.’
nitch*: Great insights into the reactions of the agency world. But with that in mind, how do you balance your desire to commercialize your site with your brand integrity and your commitment to being a trusted voice to your audience?
EH: There’s is no conflict. Anything that could challenge our integrity is passed over. Last week a company was willing to spend a lot of money to plant their hotel tips within our Best Hotels articles. Nobody would have been any the wiser if I posted those tips but I turned the advertisers down and had no problem doing it.
nitch*: And I’m sure your audience loves you for sticking to the integrity that brought them to you! Let’s end this off with a fun one! Where is your favourite place to travel to in Canada? Internationally?
EH: My favorite Canadian city to visit is Montreal. It’s where I was born and it’s where I go when I need a little bit of Europe.
Internationally, I love to visit Italy. The people, pasta and scenery along with their intriguing history are an unbeatable combination. Their gelato is darn good, too.
nitch*: Can’t argue with those choices! Thank you for your time and for sharing your many experiences with us, Evelyn.
The nitch* Analysis: It’s difficult to really give advice to a woman who’s been engaging audiences since I was playing with GI Joe’s, but Evelyn’s success story makes it all the more difficult! Essentially, Journeywoman is at a point right now where there are two potential paths to take. To maintain Journeywoman.com as it has appeared since its inception and to continue to build and maintain its loyal following, or to look to streamline the site in an attempt to attract new advertisers, at the risk of alienating audience. This is always a difficult tactical decision for a business in any space, but I believe it’s possible for Evelyn to renew her look without compromising the ease of navigation, wealth of content and high degree of audience interactivity that has seen her become a worldwide authority in women’s travel. It’s a delicate line to walk, but something tells me Evelyn has the know-how to ensure that this Journey continues to be a successful one!
If you have any thoughts or comments for Evelyn, or around the balance between maintaining authenticity with your audience and attractiveness to advertisers, please leave them in the comments below: