“I don’t miss the 9-5 grind and the commute everyday, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic all the time.”
What work were you doing previously?
I was working in an analytical laboratory as a Principal Scientific Analyst, having completed a PhD in Organic Chemistry.
The company I worked for did analysis within various industries, the main one being bulk cargo (think big tankers carrying gasoline, fuel oil, crude oil, etc around the world’s oceans). They carried out inspections on cargo for insurance purposes when a receiver at one port claimed the cargo was “off-spec”.
Samples would be taken and it was my job and that of my colleagues to investigate if the cargo was in fact off-spec and if so, what was the source of contamination.
What are you doing now?
I'm the author and owner of three blogs.
My main blog is Travel Around Ireland, a destination website dedicated to helping people plan their future trips to Ireland.
I also have a family travel blog, and a third blog about exploring Wales with kids.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?
It was a job that was varied.
We never knew what was going to come through the door from week to week, and I loved it.
Why did you change?
The main reason for my career change was our move from Wales to Portugal a few years ago.
My parents had just retired to Portugal and we hijacked that move. We landed shortly after they did, to start a new life in the sun.
There were no jobs similar to my last one where we now live in Portugal.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
My parents had bought a small place in Portugal and were making preparations for their move.
We had a second house in South Wales which we were renting out and at the time had had a change of tenants. They turned out to be nightmares within days of moving in. We decided to put the house on the market. We just didn’t need the stress.
We decided that we would invest anything we made on the sale of our letting house in a small holiday home near my parents in Portugal and use it during all the school holidays.
But one night, chatting with my husband who was now working entirely remotely in his job, we made a crazy decision to sell up and move from the UK to Portugal full-time and join my parents.
We'd both been living away from Ireland (where we’re from) for 15 years at that stage and only saw our family once or twice a year.
Moving to Portugal meant our then three-year-old son could see one set of grandparents as much as possible while they were still alive and I'd have family nearby for support if my husband ever needed to travel for work (which was averaging about once a month).
It was that decision, ultimately, that led to my career change .
How did you choose your new career?
I'd loosely been keeping a diary-type blog from the time my son was ten-months old.
With my science career on hold, and more free time once we arrived in Portugal with our son in preschool, I decided to invest more time and effort into blogging, to see if it was a viable option for a career for me.
So, you could say I fell into it.
Are you happy with the change?
Overall, yes, but there have been times when I’ve wondered whether to continue or not.
Google can be hard on bloggers with updates, especially when we're trying to reach a certain number of pageviews in order to qualify for ad networks or to increase our earnings through the blog.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I don’t miss the 9-5 grind and the commute everyday, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic all the time.
I had to go as far as to negotiate reduced hours to make sure I wasn’t late collecting my son from nursery and to claw back some quality time with him.
However, I do miss some of the work itself. I loved not knowing what we could be doing from one week to the next.
And I miss my colleagues as blogging can be quite a lonely and isolating career, especially when you live in a foreign country with few English-speaking bloggers around you.
How did you go about making the shift?
As mentioned, I'd been keeping a diary-type blog but it had been in the parenting niche.
However, I started to feel uncomfortable writing within that niche about my son’s development.
But I really enjoyed writing about our travels, so I made the shift into the travel niche and went from there.
I also needed to learn a lot about SEO (search engine optimisation) in order to grow my blogs. Social media can, at times, help to gain you traffic, but the best form of traffic is that which comes organically through search engines such as Google.
How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?
There were two skills in particular I had in my previous career that have stood me in good stead when I changed to blogging full-time.
Firstly, I was well used to writing reports for analyses I carried out, so writing a thorough blog post came naturally to me. I can write in-depth, well-written articles full of information that my readers will find helpful.
The second set of skills that have been invaluable are my research skills, from both my PhD and then tricky jobs in my previous career. These experiences taught me how to research ways to carry out certain analyses, and how to carry out research into topics or areas where my knowledge may have been lacking.
That’s not to say I always enjoy it, but I know where to look and how to research a subject well and how to present it to my readers.
What didn’t go well? What wrong turns did you take?
Initially I had no idea what I was doing when I started blogging.
I wrote what I wanted with no real thought into how it helped my readers or how it might gain me both traffic and earnings.
I finally did a course on SEO and that was a real turning point for me.
I’ve since done another course in which I’ve learned how to do competitor analysis and better keyword analysis, and as a result my Ireland blog has become more successful than my family travel blog ever was. Learning these new skills were invaluable.
Other things that haven’t gone well for me have been Google updates. A few years ago there were two major updates by Google that decimated the traffic to my family travel blog and it has never recovered properly.
Add a global pandemic into the mix and my family travel blog has taken a backseat.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
I'm in a fortunate position in that my husband earns enough money to support us as a family.
In Portugal we found the cost of living to be slightly lower than the UK, especially in our first few years before we bought our house.
So the shift in my career hasn’t impacted us and we realise we are very fortunate to be in this position.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
The most difficult things about changing have been learning to manage my own time and deadlines.
Without a manager or director waiting for me to finish a report, it’s been a steep learning curve to manage my time effectively.
I’ve also had times of procrastination and low motivation, and they can be hard to push through.
But when it’s just you, you have to find a way through.
What help did you get?
Doing a few SEO courses have been the biggest help in my blogging journey.
I learned from two different people who have very different styles of approaching SEO and keyword research. By combining both of their methods, it's helped grow my blogs and put them on the right path to success.
I also have some blogging friends who are there for me no matter what. It can be difficult explaining to people what you do and how you fill your day. But these ladies do exactly what I do, so they get it.
We can moan about things together, give motivation when one of us is lacking some, and we share ideas, opportunities and more. Without them I’d be lost and feeling very alone again.
We met through another blogger but when that one left our little group, myself and these ladies carried on and they’ve become my rocks. So, to that one blogger, thank you. You helped me find my tribe!
One day we will meet in person but until then we have our daily chats, rants and moans.
What resources would you recommend to others?
I'd recommend people take an SEO course if they are going to start a blog, especially if you want to set it up for success.
I’ve taken two courses which were quite different but have been invaluable. Neither were cheap but they’ve been worth it.
Join blogging groups on Facebook as well, such as the DNW (Making Money from Blogging, lead by Sharon Gourlay). They are free and you can get lots of ideas and advice from those who have done it already. And there is no such thing as a stupid question.
What have you learnt in the process?
I've learned so much.
I’ve learned that despite moving away from the scientific industry, my admin, reporting and research skills have been transferable and invaluable.
I’ve learned that you don’t need to feel alone. By finding a like-minded group of friends, even if it's only online, you can get incredible support.
I’ve learned just how important SEO is to an online website or business, and just how fickle social media is.
I’ve also learned that the blogging world can be just as cut-throat as any other industry. There are some who will support you in any way they can, and there are others who will just use you or stab you in the back for their own gain. It’s no different to any other career path.
And I’ve learned that I can adapt and take on different challenges that I may not have come across in my previous career.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
I wish I'd learned SEO from the start.
I spent more than three years just bumbling along, wondering why I wasn’t gaining much traffic. Had I known about SEO from the start maybe my family travel blog would have become more successful.
I'm just grateful I’ve learned from my mistakes where my subsequent blogs are concerned.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Two things: to learn SEO from the start and make it a priority over social media, and to find your tribe.
SEO will set you up for success through organic traffic that you don’t need to keep chasing, while a tribe is hugely important for support.
Find a group where you can share ideas, get motivation for the hard times and most importantly, who you can have a laugh with, even if it's through a computer!
To find out more about Catherine's work, visit www.travelaroundireland.com