Want to sell more travel stories? Learn from the t-shirt business

Want to sell more travel stories? Learn from the t-shirt business

Why freelance travel writers need to think about ‘conversion’ in their quest to win more travel writing jobs


When people who sell stuff online discuss their success rates, among other things they talk about ‘conversion’. This idea can apply to various outcomes: signing up to an email mailing list, downloading a free ebook, buying the product. Every time a visitor executes the desired action, they are said to have been ‘converted’ – from a non-buyer, to a buyer, say.

I think it’s useful for freelance travel writers to think about this idea and apply some of the principles to their own attempts to sell stories.

Let’s take an e-commerce example.

T-shirt tactics

If we sold t-shirts online, and we convert at 1%, we will make one sale every 100 visitors.

For an online t-shirt company, that’s a pretty good conversion. We can write search-optimised content, pay for social boosts and write to our mailing list to get 100,000 visitors in a month, and at a conversion rate of 1% we’d make 1,000 sales. We’re in the money (probably).

But what if we really wanted to drive that conversion factor up? What if we didn’t have the time or money to try to attract 100,000 visitors a month? What if we only had the resources to hit, say, 20 potential customers in a month?

No t-shirt company is going to survive on 20 website visitors a month, but let’s imagine we’re in a competition where various online t-shirt companies are battling, not for sales and market share, but for conversion. At the end of the month the company that has the best conversion ratio or percentage, wins a deal with Levis.

What could we do to drive that conversion up?

Amazing product vs amazing pitch

One thing we could do is sell the absolute best tees on the planet. I’m not sure what that would look like, but I do know that whatever we created, we couldn’t do it every time. Whatever ingredients went into our first Absolutely Amazing T-shirt, they would be scarce – indeed, that’s probably what would make this particular tee amazing.

So, in the absence of putting out AATs every single day, what else could we do? Here’s what would make me consider buying a t-shirt: I get a personalised email along the lines of the following:

Hey James! Hope you had a great holiday (how is Sweden this time of year?)

I just wanted to check if you needed any new t-shirts at the moment. More specifically, do you want to be the only person in the world who gets to wear the t-shirt Richard Branson wore when he lost his Virginity?!

I recently came back from a holiday on Dickie-boy’s paradise isle, and he gave me this tee after a drunken night of strip poker. I know you recently wore a blue-and-red one, and have worn loads of amazing t-shirts in the past – that yellow one with long sleeves you wore at the creative writers’ ball in London was AMAZING by the way. And I think this tee will really complete your collection.

It’s a large (don’t tell me you’ve lost weight recently!), has the v-neck you like and also comes with free pictures of Richard wearing it too. Before, not after the dastardly deed thankfully.  

This is a one-of-a-kind tee that I’ve saved especially for you James, seriously, no one else will look right in it. Or left.

Ok, got a bit surreal at the end there, but hopefully you get the point. A tailored, personalised pitch like this, that offers something of genuine interest, shows evidence of my t-shirt-buying and wearing history and promises something that no one else will have, is far more likely to pique my interest.

And that’s why writers need to spend time on their pitch, find an enticing angle for their story, and research their target publications and editors.

Converting your editor

There’s no way a freelance writer can expect to hit 100,000 editors a month, or even 100. So to drive that conversion factor up as high as we can get it – converting 30-40% of your pitches into sales should be considered excellent, but also necessary and attainable – we either need to put out Absolutely Amazing Ideas every day (pretty much impossible), or we need to drive up the research and the personalisation of what we do put out there in the editorial wilds.

Your editor wants to feel that by buying your story, he will be able to show off to the world something a) that no one else has, and b) that everyone else wants to read.

That’s the bullseye we want to aim for.

So hunt down the world’s most unique, crazy, colourful, historic and story-filled tees, and write about them. Find an editor who loves t-shirts just like the one you found, and tell him or her about it. Your freelance life will fit like a glove. Or a t-shirt.

PS: After many requests my pitching workshop is now online, available at a huuuuge discount. Check it out here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share via
Copy link