MustDoCanada: Building a 6-Figure Travel Content Business

Please tell us about your business. 

I started way back in 2013 before embarking on a cross-country road trip with my family. I have family all over the country, especially in Newfoundland and in Montreal, so I’ve always felt a connection to the entire nation. However, this blog was a hobby and I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have until 2017.

Basically, thanks to the crumbling economy in Calgary in 2016, which meant not being able to find a job, I took the idea of Must Do Canada to another level. I came up with a plan to do a 150-day road trip across Canada for Canada’s 150th anniversary, creating a video series about what makes Canada special.

At the time, we weren’t doing video, and so we reached out to a young videographer we knew and pitched him the idea. After making a pilot episode and pitching it to hundreds of companies, Best Western became our main sponsor and away we went.

If I remember correctly, Best Western gave us about $75,000. In exchange, we had to produce 8 videos for their own channel and marketing needs, featuring hotels in various cities. We also gave them photos, social media, etc.

We also worked with a variety of travel companies, restaurants, and tourism boards along the way which helped cover some expenses. Without this sort of help, it never would have happened as we would not have had enough to cover the trip. 

Six months later, we had 12 videos on Youtube, each representing a province or territory, in addition to interviews we did with CBC, Global News, and so forth. Our plan was for this to be a one-time project, but now that our Youtube channel was growing fast, we decided to learn how to record and edit video ourselves and keep digging deeper and deeper into the country. We now have close to 200 videos and almost 100,000 subscribers.

It became a full-time business for us in late 2020, mostly through sponsorships and/or being hired by tourism boards to create content. However, we’ve been building up ad revenue a lot lately in addition to affiliate sales.

How do you make money?

Our income comes from sponsorships, content creation, ad sales, and affiliate sales. Here is the break down:

  • Sponsorships (40% of Revenue): In terms of video, we often work with sponsors such as hotel brands, vehicle brands, or other products, featuring them in our videos.
  • Content creation (30% of Revenue): Essentially, tourism boards or tourism companies hire us to come out and make a video about their region, in addition to other things like articles, photos, drone videos, etc.
  • Ads (25% of Revenue): We have ads running on the website through Mediavine, and we sell individual ad placements in our newsletter. We also have ads on our Youtube videos.
  • Affiliate sales (5% of Revenue): This is something new for us, but we’re starting to intertwine affiliate offers into our website, including hotels, tours, and products.

Sponsorships and content creation make up the bulk of our income, but our ad revenue is growing fast.

Our revenue since 2021 has been approximately $150,000 per year. We’ve been growing pretty quickly since 2020, maybe around 30% each year. However, we expect a bit of a dip this year as we won’t be taking as many video projects until we get settled in as new parents.

Having more subscribers and more views definitely helps get more sponsors. However, I think our brand name and being known for one country also helps quite a bit. It’s not just about us. 

One thing I’m noticing though is that there’s a bit of a cap on what we can charge. Perhaps with major tourism boards and major sponsors, the number can go up with traffic and subscribers, but for smaller locations, they really do have tight budgets.

What works to grow your audience? 

Our website is growing like weeds and is currently getting close to 150,000 sessions every month, all of which come from organic SEO or direct traffic. We’ve never spent money on ads, but we’ve invested a lot in SEO, both in terms of education, links, and occasional help.

Our Youtube channel is finally starting to reach the 100,000 subscriber mark, and all of this is also organic, coming in from Youtube as people watch our videos.

Our newsletter is also sitting at roughly 90,000 subscribers. We’ve grown this through website opt-ins, giveaways, and collaborations with other newsletters such as The Gist and The Peak. Giveaways have worked well for us over the years, even though many of the subscribers are only there for the giveaway. For the giveaways, we’ve either partnered with companies or used paid ads to drive subscribers to the giveaway page.

What has been your most popular content? 

Our #1 video in terms of views is the first video we ever made. This was our first video introducing the Road to 150 and it features Newfoundland. It has more than one million views now: 

Our Britsh Columbia episode and our Nova Scotia episode are the next most popular videos from that series. However, we have many videos since that have done well since then, some of which really surprised us, such as this video about the winter in Canada and this video about Canada’s most luxurious train.

For, our top articles are usually our travel guides. Here are some examples:

Have you had any major inflection points on your creator journey?

I don’t think we’ve had any major boost from the press, but we’ve had some high-quality organic links over the years, which has helped us a lot in terms of SEO and DA. 

I cold-emailed all the major press in Canada like the CBC, Global, etc. Although we didn’t get featured in the big cities, we did get coverage in places like Saskatchewan. I think it’s easier to get features in smaller areas rather than in big cities like Toronto.

Even though we have been featured in places like CBC, Toronto Star, etc, none of them produced much traffic for us. However, the backlinks help a lot for SEO.

All in all, everything is basically slow and steady growth organically. 

How did you get started?

I think the two biggest things we did was focus on a niche (Canada, in our case) and do something very big at the beginning, which was our 150-day road trip across Canada. 

Looking back, I would say our Canada 150 project was crucial. At the time, we thought it would be a one-time thing, but when Youtube started growing, it suddenly became our biggest income source as we learned how to shoot and edit videos ourselves, turning it into a business. 

In terms of Youtube growth, it was that road trip that really gave us a major boost at the beginning thanks to piggybacking on the popular 150th birthday and getting featured in major publications.

How much content do you produce each week or month?

Right now, we produce an article every week, a newsletter every week, 2 videos per month, and social media as well. We hope to ramp up the article productions as we slowly bring on more writers.

How many hours per week do you spend on the business now?

I would say we spend a minimum of 40 hours per week. When the busy season hits, such as the summer, I wouldn’t be surprised if we work closer to 90-100 hours per week, including being on the road shooting video. Last year, I felt like we didn’t have a day off from June to September. However, we love to travel and we enjoy making videos, so I can’t complain. At the same time, we’re hoping to ease off a bit.

Do you have any employees or assistants?

None. I manage most of it as a one-man show, with the exception of Youtube. For that, it’s my wife and I. We both shoot the video, we’re both the hosts of the travel show and then my wife is the editing wizard.

What are the key apps, software, or tools you use in your business?

  • Canva has been a great tool for light editing of photos, finding photos, and creating both media kits and social media content.
  • Final Cut is what we use for video editing on our Macs.
  • We also use Tubebuddy for some assistance with choosing keywords for Youtube.
  • Keysearch has been good for finding keywords for the website.
  • We’re currently using Beehiiv for the newsletter, after switching over from Flodesk. However, it’s getting more expensive, so we might be switching again soon.

If you were starting over today, what would you do differently?

For the website, I would definitely learn and focus on SEO right from the beginning, in addition to niching down as much as possible.

I would also try to determine potential income sources as early as possible so that I have a roadmap going forward. This goes for the newsletter as well. Do you want to make money from selling ad placements, selling subscriptions, selling products, etc? Is your niche full of people willing to pay money for something?

For Youtube, it’s more challenging. I’m always lost on what to say to people aspiring to make videos. Choosing a niche is still important, but unlike websites and newsletters, it’s much more focused on you. There are some channels that have been successful without showing their face, but for the most part, Youtube is about being in front of the camera. It’s also extremely time-consuming and very difficult to make a living with the ad revenue, which means you again need to rely on sponsors or have to sell something.

Overall, whatever I do, I would be thinking about something I’d be interested in doing as well as who that customer base might be. I’d also think about the income angles faster. If it’s sponsorships, who would potentially sponsor such a niche? Knowing all of this upfront can help make the process smoother and faster.