Biz Tips for Writers & Wanderers
Amanda Mouttaki is the savvy writer behind “Maroc Mama” a delectable travel blog for foodies. She also partners with her husband “Maroc Baba” on Marrakech Food Tours, an enterprise that has helped launch Morocco’s culinary experience craze. She’s been featured in Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Marie Claire, USA Today, and Africa.com to name a few. During our retreat this past October, she sat with our writers and wanderers to discuss her blog, business, and life’s many balancing acts. Test her tips below to thrive in your creative travel and entrepreneurial pursuits in the coming year.
#1 Ask yourself, ‘is it time to put work away?’
I’m in such a transitional moment right now. We have an eleven-year-old, a fourteen-year-old, AND a five-month-old. I had all these pieces running really well, and now that I have this little baby, I have to reconfigure how to do it all. It’s been really fun to work for myself and not have to go to a job everyday, to do my own thing. But it’s also super stressful and I gotta make sure money’s coming in and all that. I don’t know that I’ve found a really great balance yet because I am very much a workaholic. I know and understand that about myself. I find a lot of fulfillment from working. I do have to tell myself, ‘Time to put work away. Time not to talk about it.’ I wish I felt like I’ve achieved that balance, but I don’t think I have. The baby just threw a wrench at everything.
#2 Understand your strengths in partnerships
Working together at the start of our food tour business was really stressful, but now that we’ve made it through we’re both like, ‘These are what your strengths are and you should own those strengths and do those things. And these are what my strengths are and I’m gonna own them and I’m gonna do them.’
My husband handles most of the forward facing stuff, our guides and vendors and payments, all the interactions with the Moroccan side of things. And I take care of the PR and social media. We have a virtual assistant that handles our booking, emails, and all things administrative.
The tours came about because blog readers would ask me, “Where should we go and eat? And where can we find this?” And I’m like, ‘I can’t tell you where these places are. There are no street addresses. There’s no street. There are no names. I can’t tell you, but I can show you.’ And that’s how we came up with the idea to do the food tours. We really thought the tours would just be our little side hustle. We planned to do one or two food tours a week. We thought maybe we’d make enough to pay for the kids' school fees. We went from running two tours, twice a week, and I was leading or he was, or we would do them together. And now we have seven guides that work with us and we run about fifteen tours a week. It’s a full time thing. It’s kinda put a hold on my blog, but the blog is at a point where it’s self-sustaining. I don’t have to do a lot unless I want to. When I took a maternity leave I had to ask myself, ‘Do I put the blog on hold and focus on the food tour business? Or do I keep trying to run both of them at the same time?’ Physically I can not. So the blog is on time out and the food tours is what we’re gonna focus on for a few months until we get it where we want it to be.
#3 Find your niche
We offer English language guided tours in the Medina of Marrakech. They’re walking tours where we take 6 to 8 guests, small groups or private groups, to eat local food in places where locals would go and eat. Not restaurants. Places my [American] mom would not walk into, but my [Moroccan] mother-in-law would love to go to eat. That’s our defining characteristic. We’re now doing more custom, bespoke kinds of things for chefs and food professionals who want more in-depth experiences.
#4 Blogging is good business
We could live off my income from the Maroc Mama blog if we needed to right now. It’s all passive earnings from advertising, affiliate income, and partner agreements. So if I put a link to Amazon or [to an accommodation] and you buy a book from the link or if you book that hotel, I get a percentage from that sale. Then I have other agreements with different businesses in the country, if I send them leads, they pay me a set amount. So if the food tour business went away and no longer existed tomorrow, I earn enough from the blog that we would still be OK.
#5 Earn media attention
Make yourself available. Put yourself out there. And pitch. I speak at a lot of travel conferences. Conferences are really searching for unique ideas and what I do is so niche. When I pitch, I try to figure out what the conference is about, what the themes are, and what my audience take-aways will be. I tell them that I’m gonna teach the audience how to do one, two, and three. They want people to hear their speakers but they also want them to walk away with something. That’s the key to pitching.
Look outside the obvious places. I was invited to a conference for North African hoteliers. They wanted me to come in as an expert travel blogger, as someone who lives and writes about the region, and talk to this audience of hoteliers as to why they should invest in this part of the world. If you’re a poet, literary conferences might not be the only thing you want to pitch. You might pitch a travel conference. That would be so cool. I’ve been to a lot and they’re the same things over and over and over again. The organizers want something different - people just aren’t providing it.
Connect with people. When I go to these conferences I meet so many different people. I always try to keep in touch to some degree and leave an impression. Then people are likely to recommend you. I got hired to do an in-flight magazine column because somebody I met at a conference said to the editor, “If you’re looking for someone to write about Marrakech, this is who you need to talk to.” So those personal connections, networking really. I’m kind of an introvert, so it’s hard for me, but making genuine connections goes a long way.
#6 Say, yesssss!
We started our food tour business with fifty bucks. And we didn’t have money for advertising. So I wrote guest blog posts to get our name out there. Then those same bloggers started coming to Marrakech and were like, “We wanna come on your food tour, we’ll write about it if you give us a free ticket or two free tickets.” I look at gifting bloggers with freebies as the cost of advertising. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. More often than not, it works out. So as long as somebody comes to me and it fits, then I will say yes every time. I’m sure I’ve had like fifty or sixty bloggers come through our tour. Part of that strategy was A, to get the word out there and B, if you type “Marrakech Food Tours” in Google, it’s my website and the twenty-five other top ranking blogs that have written about the tour. So you, as a consumer, can see we’ve got pretty solid credibility, if all these people have written about this experience.
These days we get approached a lot. And I’ve gotten a little bit more selective because sometimes it just doesn’t fit. Say you’re an Italian blogger and you blog in Italian and you wanna come on my tour and share it with your audience. It doesn’t really work because our tours are in English. If I have to say no, I’ll always write back and tell the blogger why, ‘I really appreciate you reaching out to me, but I had a look at your website and it’s beautiful, but I don’t think your audience will benefit from hearing about what we’re doing in Marrakech.’
#7 know your readers like you know the characters you create
Really hone in on exactly who your avatar [ideal reader or client] is so when you’re doing social media or you’re pitching to a conference, those are the people that you keep in mind. Talk directly to them. Google Analytics will tell you a whole lot about the people who follow you and Facebook Ad Insights will tell you even more. It’s scary, but fantastic!
#8 be yourself on social
Twenty-five percent of our bookings come from Instagram. If you want to grow your following just be yourself. Sometimes I’ll take a picture of the garbage because I want people to see that trash overflows here in Morocco and it’s not all resorts and mosaics. I try to be really real about it. Instagram Stories are way more popular for me right now. I go to bed watching Instagram Stories. I do think about what people would be interested in seeing or reading. I try to be who I am, but at the same time think, ‘Is my avatar going to care about this?’ I find that people are just curious about you. They’re very voyeuristic.
#9 be a part of something bigger than yourself
We wanted to start an organization that would advocate for travel bloggers and educate the industry. A lot of the travel industry just didn’t get it. The thought behind the Professional Travel Bloggers Association was to start this organization where travel bloggers could be members and have some credentials behind them. There’s the Society of American Travel Writers and the North American Travel Journalists Association, but [in the beginning] bloggers never really fit into those. We kind of existed on the cusp and “real” journalists turned up their noses at us. So the idea was that this would be an organization that could advocate, be a face, and a presence. And that’s the role that we play now. We try to educate the industry to give bloggers opportunities, but we’re not an organization that arranges press trips and paid campaigns and things like that. We’re pretty new and have around five hundred members.
#10 Visit Morocco
The Atlas Mountains are beautiful. Before the French came, the country was very cut off, it was difficult to travel around. Now, when you travel the country, you can see how diverse the different geographical areas are. I love the mountains. I also love the north of Morocco. Not a lot of people go, but if you love art, Tétouan is a fantastic place. It’s near Tangier. I prefer Tétouan to Tangier any day. Morocco was [a Berber country] quasi-colonized by the Spanish, the French, and the Germans. The Portuguese much earlier. So you have all of those different elements that make this place so unique.
Interview and Photograph by Malika Ali Harding.
The views expressed are those of the interviewee and are not necessarily shared by Story Rebels or its founder.