I’m excited! My three major projects of the past year (an update to The Underground Guide to International Volunteering, Eating in Kigali, and The Map – Kigali) have finally been finished and I’ve got a whole lot more spare time on my hands these days. I’m not really even sure what to do with myself since finishing the map. I seem to spend a disturbing amount of time staring blankly at my computer screen. Oh, and I’m reading more books. I guess that’s a good thing.
But one thing I think I’ve decided is that it’s time to get this sad, neglected blog up and running again. The best way I can think to kick things off is with a 2014 year in review style post. Since I didn’t do one last year and since it’s a great way to summarize what I’ve done as well as what I intend on getting up to in the coming year. They’re fun for me to write and hopefully fun for you to read!
Oh and my earnings reports are coming back in 2015. Yippee! I’m not going to be quite as specific and have more of a focus on my Africa-related businesses, but I think you’ll still find it quite interesting. I really love that I’ve been able to move away from the shady link sales side of things and towards a revenue model on websites that I’m proud of and, though I’m not earning nearly as much these days, I think the potential is there to grow. Holding myself accountable by publishing earnings reports is a great way to motivate myself to keep working hard and increasing sales. So… keep a lookout for the first report in awhile during the first week of January.
Ok so on with my 2014 yearly wrap up. (Let’s just forget about 2013… I didn’t do much, anyway!)
- Rwanda – I spent this year living in Kigali and taking occasional trips abroad and to the lake.
- Nairobi – My parents visited Rwanda and we went to Nairobi for four days. They went on a safari and I hung out with a friend who was living in South Sudan.
- Norway – I spent a week hanging out with a couple of friends in Oslo and on an island about three hours away.
- Scotland – I hung out with my family and attempted to do a cycle trip which didn’t quite go as planned but I did get to do a bit of exploring by bike.
- Beirut – I visited my Norwegian friend who moved here in July and we ate a lot of hummus.
Things I Learned in 2014
My closest friend in Kigali left after four and a half years and I learned that people leaving doesn’t start to suck any less the more it happens. It’s not something I think I’ll ever get used to and I really do think it makes me a bit apprehensive about meeting new people, for better or for worse.
But I also know that making close friends who leave means that it gives me places to visit! I was able to take advantage of that with Norway and Beirut and hopefully I’ll get a few more visits in in 2015. I’m always eager to host friends in Rwanda and, while parting ways isn’t enjoyable, it’s just the beginning of something a bit different.
I’ve also figured out that buying a bicycle is easier said than done. Holy crap… buying a touring bike was a three week ordeal in Scotland. First I got one I didn’t end up liking (you have to order them into the store in order to give them a test ride) which wasted a week. Then I waited another week only to be told the bike arrived damaged. Then, finally, three weeks later I had my hands on the bike I wanted but by this point I’d wasted so much time that I didn’t get to do the trip I wanted. Instead I headed up to Oban (a few hours north of Glasgow) and spent a few days riding around the area using my aunt’s cabin as a base. It was nice, but it wasn’t the touring trip I was hoping to do. Related… I learned that I really love biking and I’m hoping to take a longish trip soon.
I learned that I don’t like fly fishing. At all.
And that the lemonade in Lebanon is the best in the world.
It was also really great getting a chance to hang out with my parents and family in Scotland for so long this year. My parents visited Rwanda for six weeks in February and I spent another five weeks in July and August with them in Scotland. It was nice to have some hanging out time and to be able to show them my life in Rwanda, finally.
As far as work goes, 2014 saw a definitive shift away from paid links and other scammy website behaviour and towards earning a more honest living (at least one I’m more proud of) with my Kigali and Kampala websites. Both sites are earning an income from advertisers and, I think, there’s still a lot of room for growth. It’s nice to create a community of real people that eventually attracts businesses that are trying to reach them. It’s not about climbing Google’s rankings, it’s about making an actual connection with potential customers, and I really like that.
So I guess I’ve learned that this model works! I’ve also learned that it’s a lot of work. My advertisers need to continue to see value from their investment so I can’t just forget about the sites for a year (a la this blog) and expect that they won’t be pissed off. But I’ve really enjoyed all of the connections I’ve made with my advertisers. They’re all businesses I can highly recommend and I think, so far, everyone is happy.
Following on from that, 2014 has shown me how influential my Kigali website actually is! It’s kind of crazy… these days it seems like anyone I meet who finds out that I run the website takes a few moments to shower me in praise and to tell me how much the site has helped them. Plus I sometimes get feedback about how customers come to find certain businesses or events, with my site being the key reason. It’s really nice to feel like my site has been helpful to so many people and it makes me want to continue to grow it.
I’ve also learned the ins and outs of map making. Plus, in the process, I taught myself the basics of InDesign and Illustrator in which makes me happy. I’ve been mystified by both programs for years and now I can actually do a few things with them and look forward to learning even more. Plus I’ve run my first ever Indiegogo campaign and it’s been a success. Although my goal really is to raise closer to GBP5,000… I just got nervous so set a lower target. But I’m slowly making my way there and it’s been a nice experience overall.
2015 Travel Plans
Though I still love living in Kigali, I can feel myself getting a bit restless. I’m not sure if I’m just the type of person who will alternate between waves of contentedness at home on the back porch and wanting to sell all of my stuff and take off. I still haven’t rediscovered the travel bug (at least not backpacking for the sake of it) but I am a big fan of travelling for work, for events, and to visit friends and I think that’s what this year has in store for me.
- London, UK – I’ll be in London from January 19th to 23rd for a super short trip to collect 5,500 maps, mail out about 300 as part of my Indiegogo campaign perks, and then bring the rest back with me in 10 boxes. I’m a bit anxious about how all of this will go down but physically going to London is cheaper and easier than having these maps shipped. Yep… shipping to Rwanda is expensive.
- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – I’ve already set up Living in Addis Ababa as my third website in my growing little empire. I’ve been once before and really love the city. It’s a wonderful combination of safe, crazy, and it has great food and coffee. So I’m giving myself an excuse to get to know this great city and intend on spending a couple of weeks there at some point in February. I’d hope to have the forum ready and the beginnings of the website by the time I return from this trip. I’ll also do a bit of research to see if a map is a feasible idea here, as well.
- Kampala, Uganda – My second site is Living in Kampala and, while it’s been on the go for over two years, it’s never really caught on quite the same way as my Kigali site has. Which is weird since there are far more expats in Kampala. So my plan is to spend about three weeks there maybe in March or April to stockpile about 15 restaurant review articles, research the possibility of a map, and to get to know the city a bit better so I can be more hands on and hopefully make the site more interesting and successful.
- Cyprus – I’ve been interested in bicycle touring for awhile now but haven’t had a good opportunity to really give it a try. Rwanda is depressing in April so I might try to sneak away with my bike. It looks like Cyprus is good that time of year (ie. not horribly rainy or cold) so I might head there for a couple of weeks of exploring by bike. Lebanon is a cheap and quick flight away so if my friend is still living there I might pop over for a few days.
- Quebec & Ontario, Canada – My brother is getting married! In August. In the Niagara Falls area of Canada. I’ll nee to be home for most of August but I’m thinking about tacking on another month or two for some biking. A friend of mine lives in Montreal and Quebec has a pretty extensive network of bike trails (and my French could use a lot of work…) so that might make a good travel spot.
- Brisbane, Australia – A friend of mine is getting married in Australia! So this is when I seriously look at my bank account and decide what I can actually afford to do. I don’t really need to be in Kigali to run the website so I might consider taking some time away from Rwanda as part of a larger trip that continues on after Australia. Or maybe I’ll just head to Oz for a bit and then head back to Africa afterwards. We’ll see… I guess it depends on how many maps I can sell!
Goals for 2015
Ah… it’s funny to see my Africa travel site mentioned several years in a row as one of my goals. I might just leave that off of the list… I totally forgot it even existed! Here are a few more realistic goal for the coming year.
- Living in Kigali – I’m really happy with how far this site as come over the years. I’m earning around $1,000 from advertising without too much effort on my part in sales. I really need to start producing more consistent content, though. I’d like to be writing at least two articles a month along with a newsletter. This isn’t a crazy difficult target. I’d also like to reach out to advertisers to find some creative ways to work together. Whether it be offering coupons or events promotion or something else. I think there are some other unexplored opportunities for earning.
- Create a Living in Kigali & Map App – I don’t know the first thing about creating an app but I have a lot of good contacts who can point me in the right direction. I’ve already downloaded other useful city guide-style apps to see what I like and what I don’t like. I’d love to package all of the information on my website and also the map to create an app that I’ll sell for a few bucks. This would involve a lot of guidance from me in creating the app’s flow and look and the content, and I think that might take a lot more time than I expect. But it’s on my to-do list for sure! The beauty of this is that once I get the structure set up for one city, it will be easy to duplicate for others.
- Sell The Map – Kigali – After over three years of work, my map of Kigali is finally finished! It’s at the printer’s now and I won’t be truly relaxed until I have it in my hands, but the work is done and now it’s about selling it. I’ve got about 4,700 of these things left to sell but I’ve got a whole city full of potential buyers and I’ve given myself between 10 months and a year to sell this many. At that point the plan is to reprint. This whole process has been kind of fun so I’m looking forward to moving into sales mode and recouping some cash.
- Living in Kampala – My partner and I have started to make a bit of an income from this site but we still don’t have consistent writers and I think the overall quality of the site could be improved. I really want to work hard at getting the forum, Facebook page, and events calendar going so that we can climb up off of this 200 visits a day mark that we seem to have been stuck on for over a year.
- Create Other Maps – I’ve loved the whole process of making the Kigali map and so now I’m thinking of other cities to branch out into. The logical one would be Kampala because we already have the website but I hear there might already be a good map for that city. I was also encouraged to think about a map of Musanze which is a small city in Rwanda. It’s the tourism centre and the place people stay when they go see the gorillas. It would be a much smaller project and I’ll do a bit of research into whether it would work or not. I want to do another map and I plan to decide which one at some point in early 2015.
- Living in Addis – I’ve been sitting on a few ‘Living in …’ domain names and I think it’s finally time to roll out another site with Addis Ababa as my target. No other decent site exists to help new arrivals and I think it’ll be fairly easy to get a foothold in Addis. Plus it gives me a great excuse to visit! Making this site successful will mean finding writers and/or a partner within the next six months or so (anyone know anyone in Addis?) but there’s still a lot I can do before that point so I’ll spend a few weeks there doing just that.
- Learn GIS Mapping – Anyone who’s seriously into maps will be able to tell you what GIS software is. At this stage, I still don’t really have a clue. It’s the industry standard for creating maps. Or so I’m told. There are lots of different software packages and I’d really love to dedicate some time to learning a bit more about this. The advantage would be (or so I’m told) that I could hook all of my mapping projects together and have a more accurate end result. So, from what I understand, I could use the software to expand on my physical map and create an app and also then use the same data for my website. So that all of the map info is in one central location and then I can use that to update them all, in whichever style I want. This all seems magical and I don’t know if I know what I’m talking about, but I’d like to learn more, at the very least.
I think all of these are pretty manageable goals, especially given my sudden free time as the map project comes to a close. I’m excited to continually be moving in a creative direction with most of my projects and I really hope that my Africa websites continue to grow. Most of my efforts in the first half of this year will go into map sales and increasing traffic to my Kampala website. Hopefully everything goes as planned!
I’ll chime in again in early January with a 2014 earnings wrap and then from there on I’ll have something for you each month. My earnings have changed quite a lot since last I wrote about them and I hope you’ll find things interesting.
Happy holidays all and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing o things over here on Nerdy Nomad!