Want a masterclass in both online marketing and business?
Mar Pages is a former Google employee and founder of Solo Female Travelers who has built a thriving brand in the travel space.
And she joins the Niche Pursuits podcast today to share with host Jared Bauman all about it!
It all started when Mar and her business partner Meg decided to take over a Facebook group as a passion project for fellow female travelers.
When Covid struck, and their own travel blogs took a hit, they were pleasantly surprised to find that engagement in the group went up!
Recognizing the potential, they launched a website and an Instagram account to complement the group.
They also received funding from the Facebook Community Accelerator program which they used to turn their passion project into a full-time business.
They built a team and as Covid restrictions started to lift, they soon began to offer tours.
They’re now up to 12 destinations and host 25-30 tours per year. And in her discussion, Mar shares lots of great insights into what she thinks has helped fuel the success of Solo Female Travelers:
For starters, they place a strong emphasis on community moderation, ensuring a safe and high-quality experience for its members.
They take a long-term approach to building a community, understanding it takes time and effort to build trust and grow a loyal following.
They do this via various strategies to attract and engage with their target audience.
- They employ SEO efforts, maintain a weekly newsletter, and actively seek press coverage.
- The Facebook group serves as the top of the funnel, driving newsletter sign-ups and building trust with potential customers.
- The newsletter, in turn, serves as the middle of the funnel, providing valuable content and promoting the brand’s tours.
- And finally, the tours themselves represent the bottom of the funnel, where customers make bookings and experience the brand’s offerings.
Another great takeaway is Mar’s emphasis on data.
With her business background, she prioritizes data from surveys to best understand and serve their audience. This not only helps with content and even creating the tour offerings but also some great SEO benefits she gets into.
In short, Solo Female Travelers has grown into a thriving brand by focusing on safety, quality, and community-building. Their tours are designed to empower women and support female-owned businesses, and along with this, has become a significant source of revenue.
Don’t miss the full interview for some great insights from an undeniably smart entrepreneur!
Watch The Interview
Topics Mar Pages Covers
- How she took over and grew the Facebook group
- Working at Google
- Her experience with travel blogs
- Influencer vs Community Marketing
- Facebook Community Accelerator Program
- Why she started her tours
- Revenue Streams
- Importance of diversification
- How she finds topics to blog about
- Facebook group moderation tips
- Her in-depth marketing funnel
- Newsletter tips
- Sourcing her community’s experience
- Conducting surveys for insights
- And a whole lot more…
Links & Resources
Jared: All right. Welcome back to the niche pursuits podcast. My name is Jared Bauman. And today we are joined by Mar Pages. Mar, welcome. Thank you. I have to say, I’m excited. I think I got your name pronunciation right. You said it at the outset. So many people say it Mar Pages, which if you’re English, that is how it looks.
But hey, you know I hope I got it right. And I hope we, we, we, we did your name the way it’s supposed to be done here. Welcome to the podcast.
Mar: Great. Good job, Jared. You did a very good job, actually.
Jared: Well, I get so nervous about these things. So, hey, we’ve got a fun, fun episode today. I’m really excited about this.
You’ve built an entire brand. And we use that word a lot, but you really have built an entire brand around and inside the travel space. So we’re gonna just get into all the details, not just your website, but all your social work and the big brand you’ve created. Before we dive in to what you’ve created, maybe Give us a backstory.
If you can catch us up to the point where you started solo female travelers.
Mar: Yeah, sure. So the oldest part of our business is the Facebook community, solo female travelers, which is probably the oldest English speaking community on women who travel solo. And it was started in 2015. So it’s eight years old now.
And so that was kind of like the beginning and it’s It’s the heart of everything that we do. But then at the end of 2019 my business partner, Meg and I kind of took over the community from a friend of ours who had been the creator of it. She was going on a long term trip and was not able to, to take care of the group.
And so we thought like, why not? Let’s take it together. You know, it was just an opportunity to do something for female empowerment. We’re both very passionate feminists and very passionate about empowering women around the world. And we both travel a lot. We both had content blocks on travel, both of us.
Mine is nine years old. Max is 10 years old right now. And so we had the experience of the travel community, and we had the experience of being in the content space and, you know, online on social media. And we are both very passionate about this topic. So we thought, well, why not combine the two things and kind of take over the community?
And we didn’t have any Objectives in mind. We didn’t have a target. We didn’t have any business plan in mind. It was kind of like just take over the group and, you know, let’s see what happens. We’re passionate about this. The group was quite small at that time. I think it had 15, 000 members, something like that.
And we are about to reach 300, 000. Maybe when this airs, we will already be at 300, 000. So, you know, it had 300, 000. A very, very fast progression after we took over. But at that point it was just a small thing. Also, Facebook at that time didn’t have a lot of tools for admins like it does today. So it was all very hands off, very much, you know, it’s just a community.
People interact with each other and that’s it. And so when we took over, of course, as you can imagine, then immediately after we took over the pandemic happened. I live in Singapore. For the last 12 years. And of course, the pandemic in Singapore arrived before everywhere else. I remember coming back from Christmas holiday and already we were talking about it in January.
And so we didn’t know what was going to happen, but the pandemic arrived. And then what happened is that the group started to grow exponentially, right? We were adding 1000 plus members every day. And so it became it just like, Okay. You know, it got out of control, right? We couldn’t manage just imagine approving the members every day.
It’s manually done, right? We individually approve every single person. So it just got out of control in terms of work, in terms of growth. And then suddenly, you know, by June we were already at something like 80, 000 members, right? So great growth during that time, but nobody could travel. So people just got online and to talk about what they were most passionate about, right?
You cannot do that. So you’re going to talk about it. With everybody else and dream about it and reminisce and, you know, remember all your trips. So I guess this is why all online communities, but particularly travel related ones grew a lot during the pandemic. And so Meg and I decided that, well, why not launch a website that goes along with the group primarily because there are a lot of repetitive questions all the time.
And so we thought, well, we can write an article that combines all the, you know, Collaborative knowledge of the community together and kind of puts it all in an article so we can refer it when people ask the same question and we don’t have to keep approving the same post. So in May 2020, we launched the website and we also started our Instagram account related to the website.
So that was kind of like the beginning and how we just got started, right? We didn’t have any business plan in mind. We didn’t have a way to monetize it. We didn’t think we would need to monetize it either. So it was like a passion project, something on the site that we were both doing. Yeah. A
Jared: couple questions for you on the back of that.
Number one, we’ve interviewed a number of people that were in the travel space when the pandemic hit and they experienced a lot of hardship, right? Because nobody was traveling. And so their website, their brand was built on traffic, you know, ad traffic and revenue affiliate traffic and revenue. You on the other hand, it’s so interesting because people couldn’t travel.
They flocked to groups to talk about it. That is so interesting. And what a dichotomy. And it kind of dovetails today’s episode so well. You started with a social platform, you started with a Facebook group, and then moved into a website. What, like, you had, you said you had a website prior to this. Did you have a lot of experience building a website, and did you have experience building social communities?
Mar: No experience building social communities. Both Meg and I have had travel blogs that were relatively big, and we were both full time living off the blogs. So, you know, I used to work at Google, and I left my job at Google to live full time from my travel blog while living in Singapore, so it was… Paying enough to like you know, not as well as Google, but you know, I also had full time flexibility and it, it was getting there.
So it wasn’t too far from it. It was good enough for me to live in Singapore, which is the world’s most expensive city. So it was good. So we both had experience running blogs that were reliant on advertising basically and affiliates. Yeah. We had, you know, social media channels and you know, we got started 10, nine years ago.
So back then social media was very different from what it is today. So we did have some experience having like more love. Influencer type of channels, if you know what I mean. And communities, online communities are completely different, right? It’s a completely different space. It’s not one to many, it’s many to many, right?
And it’s not so much about me and Mac. The community has nothing to do with me and Mac. They know who we are because we make comments, we make posts, we will occasionally post, mostly me more than Mac. But I will post about our tours and we will leave admin notes where there is a discussion in a group or when we close a thread or something.
So they know who we are. But it’s not about us. It’s not about us giving advice. We rarely respond to posts because we just don’t have time and there’s enough experts in the community to do that. So it’s a completely different dynamic, right? It’s not so much about us. And for me, that works much better because I’m not the influencer type of person.
You know, I hated being in front of the camera. I hate that all of this. Sort of content that I thought was superfluous and wasn’t adding any value. And I refused to get into that kind of like trend and that get onto the train of doing that sort of thing. So the community just worked naturally for me. It was more about us fostering an environment and creating a community that was conducive and safe for everybody to have interactions rather than all of it being about us.
So it just worked much better and I could still share my expertise in the website and on the social media. Like Instagram, we share a lot of our tips and expertise and of course the newsletter, right? The group helped us build a newsletter that now approaches 70, 000 subscribers That you know, it’s a question we ask when you join the group Do you want to join the newsletter?
And through that I share tips and advice every single week So, you know that has a very high open rate And so there is where we share our knowledge as solo female travelers with it experience, but the community is all about them, not about us. So it’s completely different from running a blog or a content creator type of platform where it’s all about you.
Jared: It’s a good distinction. You just made. I hope people heard that the difference between like an influencer marketing approach, which does heavily rely on you versus a community approach, which certainly you have to play a part in, but really your community is what runs itself now at this point. So you’ve teased a couple numbers.
Maybe people love to hear where you’re at now, so then we can start unpacking and people have that in the back of their minds. Just give us like a fly by of where this brand now is at, because you’ve talked about your, you know, anything you’re comfortable sharing, obviously. But you’ve talked about your newsletter, you’ve talked about your group and where it’s at now, but you have a website, you have travels, you have tour, you have a whole brand.
Like, tell us where it’s at. And then I have just a myriad of questions on how you built it.
Mar: Sure. So just to add the background that maybe I haven’t shared yet, which is the fact that around 2021 we applied for the Facebook communities accelerator and this gave us funding 80, 000 because we were also shortlisted to receive additional funding.
So that kind of gave us the funding to bridge between. Having a website and a content platform that is generating minimal revenue. At that point, it was generating nothing in advertising. We were not even on Mediavine. We were making very little revenue. Meg got pregnant, so it was urgent that we would expand the team to cover for her maternity leave.
And at that point, the opportunity, I don’t even know what I found it, but we found the opportunity to join the communities accelerator. So we joined, we got the funding and we expanded the team. And when we expanded the team from just Meg and I to. Two people, full time and one part time thanks to that funding and the accelerator.
Then the accelerator lasted a full year and it was enough for us to bridge the gap between not making any revenue and launching our tours. This was still 2021 middle of the pandemic, right? So plenty of countries were still closed in singapore It was still full lockdown, right? So it lasted for more than two years in singapore So I was living in a country where I couldn’t leave and we kind of were forced to launch a way for us to find revenue.
And the most obvious way for us to build revenue that will help us sustain the community was to launch tours. And how did we come to the conclusion of launching tours? Because we run an annual survey every year with 5000 responses among Our community and beyond about solo female traveler trends and preference, and that told us that one of the there are many challenges that women face when wanting to travel solo, but one of the ways in which you can kind of mitigate all of these challenges is by joining a tour.
And so we thought we can fill in a market opportunity. And also, when we launch tours, support women in the travel industry so we can make it full circle, right? We help our guests go on a solo trip, and we help women in the travel industry. Because we will employ women only on our tours, right? So we kind of launched tours and the Facebook communities accelerator helped us bridge this gap in the financing stage, because tours are a business that takes almost.
It can take 12 months right from the moment we launch it until we receive the full income from it. So it’s a very long lead time. You need to manage cash flow, but we needed to hire the people today. So that kind of helped us reach this financial. And then in September 2021, I left Singapore without knowing if I could return to join our first tours, which were Iceland and Tanzania.
So we had two tours in Iceland, two tours, one tour in Tanzania in 2021. And then. Mac had her, her baby on at the end of our third tour. And so she was on maternity leave and the team helped us you know, with everything that went on after that. So now we have the website, which generates income from advertising and affiliates and all the usual other sources of revenue that the website has.
We occasionally do campaigns like an influencer would do through our platforms. Like we will, for example, have a partnership with the Korea Tourism Organization and launch a partnership Combining the newsletter with our group, but we are very, very selective in those campaigns. And we only do the ones where we can be sure that we will provide the impact that they have the budget, that they understand what we do and that they have, they give us the assets to, to be a successful campaign.
So we’ve done with tourism boards and things like that. So that’s another revenue stream, similar to what a blogger or a content creator would have, but very minimal, because again, it’s not about us. It’s not about me traveling to Korea. It’s about. Korea, right? So I talk about Korea. We talk about Korea, but it’s not about Margot into Korea.
It’s not a first person campaign, right? It’s very different. And then the third one is the tours. So these are sort of like our revenue streams. We also have a course on the website that’s like priced as only 10 on solo female travel safety. So people can buy that course as well, but that’s a small revenue stream.
So then in terms of numbers, we have we make. You know, like so sort of like 1000 to 2000 a month between like a passive income, let’s say something like that. And then we have around trips to 12 destinations, I want to say now, and around 25 to 30 trips a year. On average you know, our trips are between 3, 000 to 8, 000, so you can kind of do the math.
Our tours are between 8 and 14 people depending. Except for our sailing tour in Greece, which has up to 37 guests. All the other ones have maximum 14, some of them have maximum 10. So it’s relatively small group tours. For our community, and also for other women who travel solo. Most of our guests come on their own around 80%, but we also have people who come with their friends or with their mother, with their daughter, with their aunt, we have people coming in pairs, but the vast majority come on their own to kind of fulfill this mission that I talked about earlier, which is helping our guests travel on their own.
And maybe that’s their first solo trip. And then from that, they build the confidence to do it on fully independently the next time.
Jared: So if I get my math, right, the, the business, the brand itself looks like a seven figure a year business in terms of revenue. And it looks like the majority of that is on the back of tours, which just launched a couple of years ago, basically.
Is that right?
Mar: Yes, we are a tour operator, just that we have all the other things that tour operators don’t have.
Jared: So in a nutshell, and then we can kind of start to unpack this, you’ve basically taken over a Facebook group, grown it to over 300, 000 members, and then used that community to start a website and start offering tours.
It’s all behind kind of a larger purpose or a larger brand message than just, Hey, come travel and we can help.
Mar: Yeah, that’s right. We started with the Facebook group. That was the heart of everything. And then from that, we started to build all the other things that would help us diversify because we’re very obsessed with diversification.
Both Mac and I are very prudent people, and we are very obsessed with diversifying our, you know, basket and not putting everything in the same place. We are both very aware of the fact that we rely on social media and particularly on Facebook fully for our business or for a lot of our business. So we have always been very focused since day one in having other avenues.
So, you know, not all of our bookings come from the Facebook group. The Facebook group is only a small part of our bookings. It is true that it’s a major source for us to build our newsletter and that, you know, that helps us reach a bigger audience that we would if we just. Didn’t have that. But most people find us on Google and through press because we get quoted on the press quite a lot.
And that’s because we run the survey and because people look, journalists will always look for experts on a topic, right? And when you Google, you find us, right? You find us no matter what variation of the keywords you use, you will eventually find us. So, It’s likely that they will reach out to us. So we do get this sort of like 360 approach that has always been very much the focus of all our efforts, right?
We have the community and it is great, but the community could disappear overnight, right? And we know lots of people who woken up. Without a group anymore, right? And Facebook can do that. And you have no recourse. You don’t even have a person to talk to. One of the main benefits of joining the accelerator was that we would know people at Facebook, right?
However, with the layoffs that happened at Facebook, most of the people that we were in touch with are no longer there. But for us, this was sort of like an insurance, right? So we have always been very aware of this, and this is why we built everything else. We have an Instagram account that’s relatively small.
We have a newsletter that’s growing quite a lot, and that is very important for us. And I send a weekly email. Every week since 2020 so without fail every single week, I make time to write the newsletter and now I started to send to a week. So the Friday one is more focused on like a very specific tip is very, you know, very specific and very like focused on that one thing only.
And then the Tuesday one is the one that is a bit more general. We talk about our tours. We talk about lots of things happening in the travel industry, but I make those five hours a week that it takes me to write a newsletter are very important for me. And I. I will never miss that because that’s a channel that is ours, right?
And people know me and if they, of course, when they read me every week, they eventually feel like they know me, right? Just like people listening to you every week, right? They feel like they know you. They feel they are closer to you. So the newsletter is very important, but also our SEO efforts. Always since the beginning, because Mac and I were both content creators before, we’ve been very focused on writing content that can be found that is useful for our members, that answers questions that our members have.
And we see that in the group, right? We don’t need to do any keyword research. I know what, what bothers all the female travelers because they ask in the group. All the time, right? So I don’t even need to go into keyword research tools to find volumes. I know that this is something they look for. So we write pieces of content that can answer their questions and can help them.
But also that can help us be found and it can help us be found by women who are looking to travel solo or who are looking to go on a tour, right? So if you google keywords related to tours, you will eventually find us, right? So that has always been very much our strategy. This 360 approach and this assumption that the group could be gone tomorrow and if the group was gone tomorrow, well.
continue to survive.
Jared: So I want to break this up the next part of the interview into into three parts, your Facebook group, your your, your website and the traffic you get from Google and then your newsletter. Cause all three of those topics, you guys do very well. And so I want to ask some, some questions about each of those.
Let’s start with the Facebook group. What I feel like a lot of people listening probably have. Whether it’s a website or a SaaS product or maybe a YouTube account or like, I feel like everybody listening might be leaning in and going, you know, I don’t have a Facebook group. I haven’t started a Facebook group.
I’m not a part of any Facebook group. What tips do you have for people to be successful in either creating a Facebook group around their niche or in growing a Facebook group around their niche?
Mar: I think it’s never too late to get started, but it’s very important to come up with a specific niche that you think is going to be useful and that you’re going to be knowledgeable in because at the beginning it’s all going to be about you.
I would say the keys to our success has been ever since the beginning to make sure that we are very strong in upkeeping our rules. So we have very strong moderation for us. It was never about volunteers managing the group. It was always about full time people who had a commitment and who would be there so that, you know, they are always there.
So there’s always one of us 364 days of the year because we take Christmas off. Every day of the year, 24 7. There is always somebody. And so our team is globally distributed so we can follow the sun. So Mac starts in the morning, then I or my colleague Stella, who is also in Greece or when I’m in Singapore, I take over and then Gabby, who is in El Salvador, takes over and like this we continue, right?
And so weekends, it’s only Mac and I. And so we’ve been doing this ever since the beginning, right? So this has always been very important for us. I know a lot of groups rely on volunteers. For us, it was very important that we had the commitment of whoever is managing the group to be able to moderate and manage the group.
And it’s very important that you moderate and you keep the group safe. And by safe, I mean free from spam, free from self promotion, free from people messaging each other, free from bullying online, free from arguments, free from insults. All this sort of stuff that we have enough of. Already on social media, we wanted our group to always be free from that.
And that means that you need to be super on top all the time. Right? So I would say this is like reason number one. And this also comes from the flip side, right? If you’re starting a group now know that this is not a sprint. This is a marathon. It’s going to take you years. Our group is eight years, eight years and two months, right?
It’s taking a long time. It’s true that. A lot of it has to do with Facebook recommending us, so I cannot take credit for it. Facebook decides to recommend our group. But why does it recommend your group? It recommends it because you have a safe space, because you have a high quality group without a lot of reporting, without people reporting your group when they leave, without warnings on the quality, which Facebook will give you if people share fake news, or they insult each other, or they say things that go against the community standards.
So all of this helps with them promoting it, right? So in the end, it’s all about the quality. And I say safe space because In our type of topic, this is very important in general. They should, people should feel like they can contribute and they can contribute freely without being attacked and, and that they do so in a polite way, you know, like that people are not going to be ended up getting into an argument that is pointless.
Right? So this is very important. So it’s a marathon. If you’re going to do it, consider it that you’re not going to see any results for probably 12 to 18 months. Right? a bit like with a website, right? We know that it’s hard to do it overnight. Groups are the same. And you know, find somebody who will do it with you because it can be very lonely to do it on your own and it can be very frustrating and there are days when somebody will start to bully you online and will message you with nasty things to say and you want somebody to be next to you and you also want somebody to celebrate when things go well, right?
So I would say find somebody because you cannot do it alone. This is a 24 7 job. Find somebody who has Who is as passionate as you about the topic and who has the same long term view on this, right? At the beginning, it’s not going to be any revenue generating source. For us, it’s not even a major revenue generating source now either, right?
Because we always keep it very free from promotion. We rarely even promote our tours. If somebody asks about going on a tour in a destination where we have a tour, we will mention it. If somebody asks about a women tour, we will mention our company. But in general, it’s pretty free from all sorts of promotion, even us.
We may make a post or two a month and that’s it. So we keep it very much like all about the members and all about them. So it has to be win win for everybody, right? Like for them, they are there because they are learning something. When we promote something, it’s useful for them. And that’s sort of like the principle with which we run everything, right?
Have rules that you upkeep always consistently and always for everybody the same way. And know that. This is a long term thing, like, you know, long run years to come kind of thing.
Jared: Right. So you don’t promote your tours much in the group, but you make
Mar: posts like when we have a new tour, we will post it when we have a new date, we will post it.
And when we have a tour that just finished, we will, we may share pictures of it. That’s about it.
Jared: Yeah. And I’m sure there’s lots of content that comes out of a tour. I would imagine lots of pictures and maybe blog posts and reviews and. And I know if I was in that group and you just went to Iceland, I’m looking at your website and jealous of the Iceland tour you have coming up and I would want to see pictures of it and hear all the, all the fun stories about it.
Now you said that it does drive it doesn’t, it does not drive much in the way of tour bookings, but it does drive a lot of newsletter signups. Is that right?
Mar: Yes, and of course, like, in the end, it’s like a bit like, it’s an attribution question, right? Like, we heard
Jared: about you here, they engaged with you here, and then they
Mar: booked here, they kind of found us through the group.
Like, that’s sort of like the top of the funnel, right? They find us through the group. And then maybe because they see us in the group and because they build a confidence and a trust with us. Through the group and trust is very important when you have an online community and when you want this to be a part of your marketing mix as a, as a company in general, but especially with a tour business, when it’s a person going alone, a woman going alone on a tour with a bunch of strangers, like trust is very important.
So, of course, the group helps us build that, but I think the newsletter is stronger in that sense, because in the end, it’s every week that I share things that are useful for them besides promoting the tours. And in the newsletter, I always promote the tours. In every week, there will always be a mention of it, but there’s always a lot of useful things and you can just skip the tour section, right?
So there’s other stuff. It’s not just, it’s not a banner. It’s not an ad. It’s not a promotion. It’s like this week, I’m going to talk to you about, I don’t know, the new ESTA equivalent visa for Europe and what it means to you. And then let me also tell you that we have this new tour that we launched or that we have only this availability left for the year or that next year, our calendar is ready.
Like there’s always something to do with the tour, with our tours, but it’s. is never the majority. And if you, if you discount that and you ignore it completely, you still get a lot of value with
Jared: it. You took the words out of my mouth. It really feels like you are doing an expert job of true funneling and not funneling like, you know, straight cold marketing funneling, but really understanding what the Facebook group the purpose it serves and that it’s very top of the funnel.
Understand the newsletter is very middle of the funnel and your tours are very bottom of the funnel, right? And in so many ways, having been a student of marketing and doing marketing for companies for decades, that it feels like such a wonderful example of
Mar: true funnel marketing. Yeah. For us, it was always about, you know, travel is a, is a product that you don’t buy spontaneously.
I mean, yes, sometimes it may happen, but usually it’s not like, Oh, I like this bracelet. I will see it on an ad on Instagram and I will buy it. People don’t do that with a trip. You need to get leave. You need to see if you have money. You need to maybe talk to some, to somebody else like your partner or somebody around it.
You don’t just make the decision on the spot. So they will say that there’s like, if there’s normally like six touch points for somebody to decide to buy something for, for travel, there’s maybe it. 20, you know, plus maybe it’s like, Oh, I really would like to go to Iceland, but I can go this year and I can go next year.
But I heard about you two years ago and two years later, I will book with you. Right? So it’s a very lonely time and it’s a very intense and very involved purchase. It’s also a high value purchase. Right? So there’s a lot of things that are related to you making that decision. So you’re not going to make a spontaneous.
You know, heat of the moment decision and book a 5, 000 trip. You’re most likely going to continue to do that. So they joined the group and then they hear about it and they maybe read a review of the other members and guests will post in the group about their trip. Right. So they do that. And, you know, I have pinned at the top of the group, the recap post.
After a trip, right? So when I post pictures or a video about the trip, it will be featured at the top so they can always see it there and people will ask about it. And then the other guests, our guests that are in the group will comment in other posts recommending us. Right? So this happens quite a bit.
So that sort of like, you know, it helps you with that touch with those touch points. Right? So it kind of like, just brings you closer to the decision point with all the other things that we do. And then maybe you follow us on Instagram and you see more posts from the previous groups because I do promote the groups in the in our Instagram channel as well.
I’ll post. Highlight reels on the trips or I’ll post testimonials or we will post photos or we will talk about the destination and then mention our tour. So we kind of like everything is related, right? Maybe you find us through Instagram and then you hear about the group and then you join the group and then you join the newsletter.
And then, you know, we. Tell you that. Hey, I’m in a mouth. You go and follow me on Instagram and see the stories that I am in a mouthy like it’s kind of like everything is related and then you’ll go and read an article on the website or maybe you’re an Instagram and you read an article of the website and then you subscribe to the newsletter through the website or you find us an SEO.
And then you see that we have we have a community because we mentioned it on the articles. And so you join Facebook or you fall, you know, everything. Everything is sort of interrelated on purpose because we wanted to diversify and because we believe that the more contact points you have with us, The likely you are to build trust and to start to, you know, be more associated or more likely to book something because you, you kind of what’s the word I’m looking for you, you your values align with ours and you kind of like, you know, you feel like, okay, we are the right company for you for those trips is likely that people will follow us for a while while they are deciding if we are for them.
And so in all these contact points and in these channels, we share different aspects of our life as a company of our. Personality as a company. And so they kind of feel like they get to know us through all these ways. And it’s on purpose.
Jared: Let’s move over the newsletter because you you send a newsletter out every week.
You’ve been doing so for quite a while. Where do you come up with the topics for the newsletter? How do you make sure to continually come up with topics that seem to hit with your audience and keep people engaged? Because like you said, and again, the big thing I’m thinking is like in the back of my mind, you get someone on your newsletter.
They might not even be interested in a tour for two years, and you’ve got to You’ve got to engage with them for two years worth of content, not letting them unsubscribe even once before they might be thinking about booking a tour. How do you, how do you pick these topics that keep them engaged and how do you nurture them?
Mar: So now, and I have been now for a little while again, I’ve retaken the practice of sending two a week. So the Friday newsletter is very focused on a specific solo female travel tip. So it’s like, a very specific tip. Like, an anti theft bag. Or, the manta sleep you know, eye mask that I’ve been trying. Or, how do I sleep on planes because I travel a lot, right?
So… Or how do we, how do I find the city center of a city using Google Maps? Because, you know, one of the questions that get asked a lot is, you know, how, where do I stay? I’m going to Paris. Where should I stay? And, you know, I always try to stay at the city center and I do that because I go to Google Maps.
I find the city center. I then compare it with my hotel booking and blah, blah, blah. So I just share my personal tips on solo travel. And I have plenty of those because I’ve been traveling by myself for 22 years. So, you know, there’s always something that comes up and I have a running list on my notes.
That we just ideas, right? And it’s very specific. It’s very targeted and it’s very much on just that specifically. And then there’s a small section at the bottom with like availability of our tours, last minute availability and these sorts of things. So just a very small mention of the tours. The Tuesday newsletter is longer.
And it’s the one that I have been sending since 2020. So it’s been more than three years that without the fault, I send it every week. And that one has more sort of like tips as well, but let’s say a bit more bigger tips. If if I can use that word, right, something that’s a bit bigger, like, for example, the ESTA, the ESTA that not ESTA, but the equivalent that the European Union will launch from next year, right?
So from now on, everybody who until now could travel to Europe without a visa or anything will now need to ask for a visa waiver, just the same way you do when you travel to Australia, New Zealand, the U. S. And so. That’s meaty. You know, it’s kind of meaty. There’s a lot to talk about. So I don’t want to make it into like a small tip, like how to fight the city center of a city.
I want to make it the core of an own his letter. So I will talk about that. I will talk about news that happen in the industry. Like I am writing the newsletter for it for this week. And I wanted to talk about, you know, Google flights has just launched a new a new feature that allows you to like It gives you like a price guarantee and it also allows you to find when is the right time to book a place and how busy it is so that you can, you know, like just find the right time to book a flight for.
For example, now they’re saying like you can book, you should book at the end of this month for December because, and these are the busiest places in December. This is the searches volume of searches that they are seeing for destinations. So it’s kind of like a new feature. So these I am debating whether to put it on a Tuesday or a Friday, but most likely it will go on to a Tuesday newsletter.
The Tuesday newsletter is quite long, so it will include Normally two to three main things. One of them is something to do with our tours. So in this week’s newsletter, I. I just sent it out today. It’s talking about our calendar of tours for next year. All of the tours for next year are now live. So I wanted to make an announcement.
So the entire newsletter is basically focused on that. And then there is a smaller section that talks about our new tours that we are working on. So that’s something that people are excited about. Even if you’re not interested in our tours, you are interested to know what are the new destinations that we are working on, right?
So I talk about the 2024 calendar. The new destinations that I’m scouting and that we are working on. And then a smaller section on pros and cons of traveling with a group, because it was a post in the group that got quite a lot of engagement of people sharing their experience traveling on a group tour, what they like, what they didn’t like, what companies they like, what they didn’t like, like this sort of things that is useful for everybody.
Right? Because. Tour travel is quite important, and so even if you don’t, you’re not interested in traveling in a group, you want to hear what other people have to say because maybe it changes your mind, or maybe it confirms what you already know, that tour travel is not for you, right? So these were the three sections of this week.
So the Tuesday one is just mid year. It has always a section about the tours, and there’s always A tip or a travel industry news or a new feature, a new launch or news piece. Or like, I may talk about the strikes in Europe in the summer, or I may talk about you know, something that’s a bit bigger than just a tip.
Jared: It does all come back together. Does it all? It all. It’s a 360 degree marketing thing you said earlier. Definitely rings true again. Okay. We’ve talked about Facebook. We’ve talked about newsletter. Let’s talk about your website. You said that, I have my notes, you started this in May of 2020, so it’s, it’s, it’s three years old.
You know, talk about the types of stuff that you published. You did talk about keyword research. You have talked about how you get a lot of ideas from your group, your Facebook group, and your newsletter and these sorts of areas, but I’m curious how you built out your website and you know, you have taken a bit of an SEO approach with it, so tell us about the website, where it’s at now, and how you’ve built it.
Mar: So the website at the beginning was just like, as I said, the repository for like the most commonly asked questions so that we had a place to refer members to and we didn’t have to repeat the same thing over and over again. So kind of like a compilation of expert advice from our experience, both Mac and I and the rest of our team and also the community.
And so we write articles that we think will answer those commonly asked questions, which obviously happened to be the ones that have volume. But sometimes no, sometimes there are questions that, you know, Key search may tell me have no volume, but then I know that it gets asked a lot. So I know that if I write it, it will have volume and it will have readership because it gets asked, it gets asked a lot, right?
So there’s a bit of both, but I tend to do like just normal SEO research. So I’ll, I’ll find a keyword. I’ll have, I’ll put it in the plan. I’ll find the keywords that, that the article should have. Then we write the article, we publish it. And I take care of updating the articles our most traffic articles every six months.
We don’t have a ton of articles. I’d say we have. 40 maybe something like that. But we do get almost a hundred thousand visitors a year, a month, right? So it does have quite a lot of traffic because some of the keywords we are expert, right? EAT really is true for us. We are experts on solo female travel.
So if you are looking for a topic, that’s. Specifically relevant for our audience. We are experts on it because it’s not just my experience traveling solo is 300, 000 women’s experience traveling solo. Right? So whenever, you know, I’m writing an article, I will post in the group or I will look at previous posts in the group and I will draw from their experience as much as from mine, right?
Because, you know, if we’re talking about staying in a hostel, I’ve never stayed in a hostel. So my team wrote that article and then we. It drew from the experience of members in the group who have stayed at two, 300 hostels, right? So it’s kind of like perfect for writing something that’s comprehensive and relevant.
And that has all the answers that pretty much all the other content piece out there wouldn’t have because it’s drawn from not just one person, right? So for us, this is very useful and very important. So we do just regular keyword research and then we write the articles. We keep the articles updated just like on a six months cycle.
And then my teammate writes the article and usually I review it and she publishes it.
Jared: Now, when, when did you get the concept of starting tours? And I’m just kind of going back now to the 2020 and 2021 time period, because, you know, this wasn’t very, this whole brand wasn’t very monetized yet at this point.
And, and how did you like make your way through those tough pandemic times and pay your bills? And then when did. Like where did you get the idea to start tours and how did that come about? And again, I’m thinking about the listener out there who maybe has a website, maybe has a Facebook, maybe has a brand, but hasn’t done something as involved as I would think a tour would be.
And I just want to get in your head about the things you evaluated, how you considered it and then how you got into launching it.
Mar: So for us, we I’m a very data driven person, right? I have an MBA. I have a business degree. I was a management consultant for eight years. I worked at Google for four years. So I’m a very data driven person.
And so for me, it was a bit like I was feeling like I was missing the numbers, you know? So when we took over the community and of course, the pandemic happened in our personal blocks. Dropped in traffic. Significantly. Mine was very focused on Asia, so you can imagine what happened to that. And Max as well.
So, you know, both of our of our blocks dropped in traffic a lot, and I was stuck in Singapore with not a lot to do is a very small country. So we had time, but also we had a bit off. I was feeling like. I’m lacking something, you know, I need numbers. My management strategy consultant self needs numbers to justify my decisions.
And I can base it on my experience and what I think, but I and Meg are not representative of the solo female traveler out there. I have many years of solo female travel experience in business class and five star hotel because of my job, right? I used to travel every week for work for nine years. So my experience is not representative of the average person out there.
So we kind of like Needed to get data to truly understand what our members said, right? And of course, managing the group every day, you can run a poll and get some answers, right? But we wanted something a bit more comprehensive and much more You know, statistically relevant, if you know what I mean, so we decided to launch a survey that would help us understand what our audience wants and how we could take the platform forward and how we could better help them, but also how we could find ways to monetize it because it was becoming apparent that it was a full time job for the two of us and it was not sustainable, right?
But we still wanted to keep As a non monetizable, not monetized platform and not full of spam and promotion. We wanted to keep it quite free from that because we feel that’s the secret for it to be successful. It’s that it’s free from promotion. It’s not a commercial enterprise. And we also wanted to do something, as I said earlier, that had a sort of impact beyond just Organizing great tours, which is fantastic, right?
But for me and Meg, we wanted something that had a bit of a purpose. So we wanted to create a business that had a social impact. So we are a for profit company with a social impact mission. And so we didn’t know exactly what that would be and what shape it would take. So we launched a survey and the survey got 5, 000 answers from the responders from 100 countries.
So it was pretty diverse in age and in nationality and in background. So it was quite representative and it was very insightful. It had 30 questions. It took almost 15 minutes for each respondent to answer the survey. So we were extremely grateful that we got so many answers and it gave us so many insights also because we had, we have, we still do it every year for Christmas or just before Christmas.
We have an open ended question at the end of like, what would you like the travel industry to do to help you better or something like that, right? We worded something like that. What would you like the travel industry? To do better or something. And so people give us lots of ideas. You know, we had like 2000 answers to that question.
So we had so many insights, right? We had a lot of data points and a lot of insights. And one of the things that came up is that there are a lot of challenges for women to travel solo. Solo travelers in general, but particularly women, around safety, the fear of boredom, the fear of getting lost, not speaking the language, of what other people will think, of what your family would think, like, there is, there are a lot of challenges that women have to overcome to travel solo.
And there are also a lot of benefits and a lot of reasons why women travel solo, and it’s not just because you don’t have somebody to travel with. Women travel solo for empowerment, to get away from their daily routine and for their responsibilities, because they are the main carers in most. In most cases, there are lots of reasons.
And so if you put the benefits and the challenges together, one of the main ways in which you can bridge those two, overcome all the challenges and also foster those, those main benefits is two groups, two groups for women, where we can also, and this is where. As I was talking about earlier, the full circle comes around for us, right?
Where is the social impact of that is that we support female owned businesses and we provide women with opportunities in the travel industry at the destinations we visit. So for us, we try to 100 percent make the trip 100 percent female hosted, female led and and female empowered. So our guests are women and maybe that’s their first solo trip, or maybe they have.
They’re going through a traumatic event or they’ve just overcome something traumatic and traumatic event in their life, be it, you know, a death or a divorce or maybe your children just left and now they are independent and you’re an empty nester. And so there’s that, there’s that point and you’re, you’re, you know, your role is changing, right?
So there’s lots of reasons why women want to join a group tour, but it kind of like. Overcomes all the challenges to join a group tour, and it allows us to provide opportunities for women, employment opportunities in the places we visit. So it was, it kind of made sense. It answered all the questions. It filled a demand in the market, and it helped us with that purpose that we both wanted to, to do and to achieve with, with our platform and with our reach and with our efforts.
Jared: I should have known it was not started on a whim, but it was incredibly planned out. Actually, it was a bit
Mar: of a consequence, right? It was kind of like the data talked to us and told us this made sense, right? So it wasn’t like we sat down there and we thought we’re going to launch a tour company and then we will build all the other things to make tour successful.
It’s a bit the other way around is that we want to have a group that is free from, from promotion. We want to have, we want to empower women. We want to help more women travel solo. We want to provide employment opportunities to women. And so the tours is. So it’s a bit the opposite of all the other tour companies, right?
People launch tours to make money. We didn’t launch tours to make money. We launched tours to allow us to have things that don’t generate money. So it’s a bit counterintuitive, but it really is the truth. For what we are doing. What we’re doing it is so that we can employ trainees, trainee guides in Kilimanjaro that will have an opportunity to then go and work for G Adventures or Intrepid or whoever.
But we are the ones that provide them the, the training and we help finance their certificate because they are not gonna do that. But we can do that, and we can do that because we have guests who share our mission and who want to go there and are happy to have a trainee guide. Along with experience guides who are learning on the job and who then go off to have opportunities of their own, right?
So our guests share our passion and our mission. And so we can do those things by having tours. So it’s a bit the opposite, right? Of like the normal way in which people launch businesses.
Jared: Well, might I say it reminds me of Simon Sinek’s start with why concept there. So that’s a little tease for anybody who wants to dive a lot deeper into that.
If you haven’t. I mean, man, that’s probably, that, that book’s probably 10, 15, 20 years old now, but it’s such a classic. It’s so good. So you know, and by the way, I have to, I have to share this as I was preparing for this interview. I I stumbled across this study that you did and you talked about the study and the depth of the study.
And I will say that we’ve talked a lot on this podcast over the years about how coming up with your own stats. and your own research and then sharing it is actually a wonderful SEO strategy. And might I add that you published these on your website and I checked, that page has over 160 backlinks from some of the biggest sites in the world.
So not only did you learn all about what your audience wanted, but the statistics you managed to pull together and kind of group and gather with your data management experience turned into a fantastic study piece that people have linked to over the years. You got us.
Mar: This is our secret. No, but you know, like yes, it’s true.
We started to write content about tours the moment that we decided that, okay, tours make sense. It takes a long time before you can launch them. We started to write content that would help us draw eyes into our website that of people that were interested in tours. And the survey was for our own purpose, because I really needed that data to fully understand what our community wanted and decide what we wanted to take it forward.
But Megan and I sat down for like a strategy session at the beginning Of 2021 when we got the data from the results and kind of like started to think, okay, what How do we want to move forward? What can we do? And the data was extremely powerful. And of course, people, journalists look for data points, and there’s not a lot of data out there.
There’s not another another survey that is as big as representative as ours. Lots of people try to talk to tap into this into this segment because it’s fast growing and very relevant. So almost every week there’s gonna be some publication and some company that runs a solo female travel survey with some statistics that are click bait.
And, you know, it has a sample size of 200. You know, it’s just because it’s an SEO strategy for us. It’s beyond that. We wanted to provide the data to the industry so that they could also serve solo female travelers better. That’s why it’s public, and that’s why it’s all detailed out there, right? So as you can see in the survey page, there’s a lot of statistics, very detailed, very detailed analysis that normally a survey will not share.
And that’s because we want other companies to use it so they can better understand what women want and how they want it and what their challenges and worries are so that they can How they can serve us better, right? So it was that objective. That’s why we make it public. And also, of course, it’s a, it’s a great SEO strategy.
Like you say, lots of journalists find this because they look for statistics and then they realize that we have the credentials and the experience. And so they end up quoting us a lot. And so, yes, it’s a great avenue for people to find us, but it was an incredible business tool and kind of like the basic, this is what I would do as a consultant when I am hired in any company to draw a strategic plan for.
Multibillion dollar company. The first thing is have data, right? So this is what I was lacking in our case. And that’s why I wanted to run a survey. And of course, it’s secondarily also a great SEO strategy.
Jared: I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it because I don’t I don’t necessarily think the idea of the Facebook accelerator program really applies to a ton of people.
But I do want to hear from you. What? What was like the build up to that? And and then I guess, you know, Do you think people should be looking for opportunities like this, or is it more of a case where right time, right place, it landed in your lap and it turned out to be something that was really positive?
Like, how should people, as they hear you talk about being a part of that Facebook Accelerator program, how should they apply that to, to their business?
Mar: I think it was a great opportunity. Like you say, it was a bit of like, right time, right place. It was great for the financing. So for us, if you’re if you’re somebody who doesn’t have a business background and who doesn’t have a business idea and a business behind it, and at that point we were at the early stages, but we already had launched tours and we knew where we were going and we had a business plan.
And as I said, I have an MBA and a business degree and make is a lawyer. So we have all the expertise, both professionally and from a degree and, you know, university point of view to do that. And so that part of the training that the accelerator provided was not. It was useful for many of my cohort you know, community managers, my fellow community managers who maybe didn’t have that background because they would help you start from scratch.
You know, who is your audience? Who is your avatar? You know, how do you build a business plan? What is a marketing plan? What is your distribution model? Everything right for us? It was not that. useful because we already had that the financing was very useful and the networking as well. Of course, as I said, it’s very lonely to be a community manager at that point.
Also, Meg got into maternity leave and even though she was still managing the group because just had no choice, I was very much alone with the team. And so having other cohort managers and founders that we’re doing in, you know, we’re doing the same and we’re in the same place was. Useful and it was great, right?
It was a bit like a mastermind group. That was very useful. However, the, the version of the community of the Facebook community accelerator that I joined had very strict attendance, which was extremely hard for me to do with all the travel, with the tours, with Mac being on maternity leave, and it had to be.
Me who attended all those sessions, and I’m talking about 10 hours a week at specific times. And so it was kind of really hard for me to attend those sessions and make it happen. Sometimes it was middle of the night where I was, and that was contingent on the financing. Otherwise, you were not getting it.
And so we had to build a business plan. And so it was useful because we build a business plan, which, you know, we had anyway. And so we had to deliver on that business plan as part of the financing conditions, right? And so they have a third party company that manages all of that. And so it was good to have a goal and a specific, like, granular to the level of activity that everybody needs to do in my team.
Me and the rest of the team, and we all had very specific goals to accomplish within the eight months that the accelerator main development plan implementation lasted, and so it was good for that we could have probably done it on ourselves as well, because we are quite good mechanized, like being focused and having a strategic plan and delivering on it.
But I can see how for a lot of people, this is extremely valuable, especially the business background that many people don’t have. By training and by, by, you know, degree and certificate. So the financing was the most important thing for us and the most valuable, because as I said, we were also shortlisted for additional funding.
The version of the accelerator that happened last year, which was a year after us was already half the financing and it was a very different formula. So it was a complete, every year they change it. And I believe this year they’re not going to launch it again. If I’m not mistaken, the entire thing that was managing that.
is no longer in existence. I think it was part of the teams. One of the things that was with the layoffs kind of disappeared or was merged in other places. So I’m not sure that they would, they will launch the community exterior today again. But for me, it was useful to have this mastermind community around me and the financing and that sort of like focus to be able to have to deliver something for specific purpose that you cannot find excuses for was useful.
Jared: Where are like, what are the next steps? What are the big plans for you? I mean You seem to be launching more tours in the coming year than you had this year. Your, your Facebook group is growing all, and you’re diversifying across different channels. We didn’t get a chance today to talk about some of your other social media accounts, but maybe talk about what’s next in the next 12 to 18 months for for, for this, you know, solo female traveler’s brand.
Mar: For us, it’s about launching a few more destinations that we can continue to, and kind of honing in into this mission, right, of the fully female led and hosted, supporting women in places where maybe opportunities are not so available. So our tours, we have a lot of tours in destinations where women have a lot of opportunities like.
Most of Western Europe, Spain, Italy, Iceland, Greece. We want to start to focus on, and we need those tours, right? Because those are very popular. They sell well, they are fantastic. We can put together an amazing opportunity while supporting lots of female owned businesses. But we want to focus more on other destinations where women maybe don’t have as many opportunities.
So continue to launch other destinations that we know are. Places solo female travelers want to go on a group tour, be it because the logistics or because the safety component is very important places like perhaps Africa or the Middle East that have this perception that they are a bit more dangerous or cumbersome or challenging for women to travel solo.
And so in these places also coincidentally is also where we can have most impact by supporting female owned businesses because. It goes kind of hand in hand. Women have fewer opportunities or they are a minority or they are not in positions of power or business owners in these countries like they are in Western Europe, for example, and so in these places we can have a bigger impact by supporting female owned businesses.
So we want to start to focus more and more around those. And right now we never launched a tour that that’s not like practically 100 percent female hosted. So that is a very important part of our business expansion. Continue to launch a new destinations. And you know, we have members and undefined Previous guests and people in the group asking us for new destinations all the time.
So we don’t have a shortage of that. And people reaching out to us, tour operators and guides in countries, reaching out to us almost on a daily basis, pitching us their destination. So it’s kind of like, you know, we cannot sit still and I like to travel, right? I travel. 150 nights of the year. So, and I have for the last 17 years.
So, you know, I like to travel, so I like to scout new destinations all the time. So this will continue to grow and we will continue to add more destinations. We’ve also just had a new team member join us as an operations manager that I hope will help us offload a lot of the internal management of the tours, the tours operations.
And then just, yeah, continue to growing everything else and continue to diversifying and strengthening away from the community. Because as I said earlier, It’s not ours, so it could disappear overnight. So while it’s extremely important for us and we, it’s like a child, right? Like it’s very important for you and you want, it’s not, we nurture it and we take care of it every day, but we want to make sure that we are strong everywhere else, right?
So we will continue to add content to the website and we will continue to add destinations that can help us grow our tour business as well. That’s
Jared: a great perspective, good perspective to have. Wow, what a, I would love to do, I could spend the entire second hour just talking now about how you get everything done in a day.
That sounds like an entire topic in and of itself, but. I have little minions
Mar: in the back office, you don’t see them, but they are there.
Jared: No, I don’t see them, I don’t see them. You seem to have an unending amount of energy, I will give you that credit. So maybe that’s how you get it all done, but boy that’d be a, that’d be a full second hour if we had the time.
Where can people follow along with what you’re doing? Learn more about it. I’m sure some listeners will want to maybe, maybe you know, join your newsletter or something like that.
Mar: The website is the SDS place to find us solo female travelers dot club. And on Instagram, we are also solo female travelers club.
And then, you know, if you Google my name, all of these will appear as well. And then of course, if you’re a woman, you can join the group solo female travelers. There are a lot of solo female travelers groups. So don’t get confused. Ours is. The U. R. L. Solo female travelers. Everyone else has other stuff in it.
So, you know, there’s just a lot when you go to Facebook, you will find a lot. So the website solo female travelers that club and then there is where you can join the newsletter. And if you are a woman, you can join the group. And then you will also be asked when you join the group if you want to join the newsletter.
And of course, if you like to travel and you are a woman, Come join our tours. You will find them on our website. I’d love to meet your audience in person.
Jared: What an inspiring interview this has been. Thank you for coming on and sharing and best of luck to you in the future. Thanks.
Mar: Enjoy it. It was awesome to be here.
Since I’ve been a listener for such a long time, finally, I see your face because normally I listen to the podcast. I don’t look at the the YouTube video, so I didn’t actually know how you look. So it’s great
Jared: to see you in sorry. I’m sorry. You can go back to just listening to my, my voice and and not have to, not have to endure the rest of it.
So but yeah, we do have a, you know, a lot of people might be surprised to find that we, we do publish these to YouTube. So you can I guess see my face every week. If that’s a, if that’s a Hey, thanks so much for joining. This has been great. And we’ll have to catch up again and hear how things are going.
Thank you again. Thank you.