If you jump on Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook and Youtube, you’ll see a huge number of travelling families, couples and individuals who have some pretty serious travel setups, which look pretty neat from a distance.
Dig a little deeper though, and you’ll realise that a huge number of them are regularly pushing products, or spruiking discount codes, or promoting a lifestyle that might come across as a bit beyond the ‘normal’ (like ‘all you need is a Laptop’).
Now, I’ve had this post idea for a long time, but have never proceeded with it for a huge number of reasons, but I think it the time has come to share my perspective, as its becoming rather unethical and I really don’t take too kindly to it. Maybe you’ll feel the same at the end of this!
Some of you will know exactly what I’m referring to, and others won’t have any idea, and that’s just fine too. However, to give you a bit of perspective, we’ll start at the very beginning.
I started this very website 13 long years ago. It’s had two domain name changes since then, but I’ve striven to post at least one comprehensive post a week (now we are doing 5 a week!), and as of right now we are at nearly 3300 published posts.
Granted a heap of them are just photos from the early days, but there are more than 750 detailed posts helping people to travel, 4WD, camp and enjoy this amazing country.
13 years is a seriously long time, and I’ve seen things change in the online world like I would never have imagined. There are people who’ve legitimately created a business, and who have provided a lot of benefit, but there’s plenty more who have pushed (and continue to push) the ethical boundaries in their pledge to create an online travelling business.
Typical online work for those travelling
Multi level marketing and pyramid schemes
Let’s start off right at the bottom, scraping the barrel for the lowest that you can go in working online. This involves the promotion of products or goods in a layered arrangement, where you receive income for getting other people to also promote the same, and each product they sell you make a small (or sometimes large) commission.
If you manage to get 20 people working ‘under’ you, then all of their efforts make you money, and it continues to grow. If they then get others under them it pumps you up further, and so on and so forth.
In the interest of not making this too personal, I’m not going to name anyone, or anything, but if you have to comment a particular word to receive information, or you need to ‘PM me for more information’, then there’s a good chance what you are getting involved in is not something that is ethical or likely to survive long term.
Yes, this is a generalisation, but if you can’t post something publicly, then perhaps that should be the first warning sign?
In my mind, anyone who is involved in one of these schemes should be treated cautiously, but know that they themselves often don’t know that they are caught up in the whirlwind.
The next, and now hugely competitive area people make money on is YouTube. You create videos that are of value, or entertaining, and people will view them, subscribe and once you are at a certain level you can monetize the videos with the ads that you see pop up before, in between and at the end of the episodes.
Earnings are generally pretty average, and you really have to have a big personality, or stand out in one way or another to do well. You’ll likely earn about $3 – $8 (that’s Australian dollars) per thousand views, which is much, much harder than you likely imagine.
To make decent money, you need to be getting thousands of views every day, and in order to maintain this you need to be releasing high quality videos on a rock solid schedule that doesn’t change. If you stop releasing video’s for a couple of weeks, you’ll get hurt badly in terms of YouTube sending more people to watch your creation, which then hurts the hip pocket.
YouTube is hard work, but a legitimate way to make money, and anyone who has put the effort in to get more than 5000 subscribers is probably more than worthy of getting those to watch their videos. We follow a heap of travelling families and other YouTubers, and like to see what they get up to.
Some of them are doing it full time, and making more than enough (and in some cases far more) than needed to live off, and they make video’s as their primary source of income.
The bigger issue with YouTubers is what comes next, and the other, extra ways in which people make money, which we’ll go into further below.
People make a huge amount of money doing sponsored content. Some of the big names can comfortably make 30 grand for a single post on Instagram. Yes, I’m being completely serious, and this is where things get a bit interesting.
If you aren’t sure of what I mean by sponsored content, its basically any photos, words, video’s or general content that promotes something which you are getting paid to do (or the product has been gifted).
An influencer might put up a post of them using a product, and if they are being paid to do so, its considered ‘#sponsored’. They might stop mid video to introduce a new product, or just use it in the middle of a couple of episodes, and it can be considered sponsored.
In the travelling, camping and 4WD industry there’s a huge amount of sponsored content going on (generally not at that sort of price point), but its not always done legitimately. If you are sponsoring a product or post, it should be clearly marked. If you receive any financial gain, it should be clearly stated, as #gifted, or #sponsored.
If you receive a product (or get paid to promote one), and then rave about it on any social media platform, YouTube or your own website without making it very clear that you have received gain from the company, then you are in a grey area and actually breaking the law.
This is where things get really grey, as if you receive a product, or get paid to sponsor one, are we expected to believe that what you are saying is actually legitimate? There are a huge number of people in the niche that we work in who promote products because they have a financial incentive to do so, and not because they genuinely love the product. Of course, that’s not always the case, but how do you tell?
In the past, it was obvious who was promoting products and brands, but today, your average Joe Bloggs can be, and you might be blissfully unaware.
I’ve seen people raving about products that they are just unboxing (and have never used), and have to wonder how they can possibly give a fair review?!
Another hugely common way to make money online is to get involved with affiliate marketing. This can be as simple as sending someone to a website via a referral link, which results in you getting a small commission when they make a purchase.
These days, its commonly done in the way of ‘discount codes’, so its easily tracked. For example, if you make a purchase on a particular store, and enter a discount code from one of the ‘influencers’ you’ll get a minor discount, and they’ll also get a commission.
Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this if its done legitimately, but how many people are spruiking products that they make a dollar on, over what’s a good product? How many people do you think use one product, and move to another because they can make money selling it?
There’s other forms of affiliate marketing; you can send people to Amazon, eBay and other major online stores through a link and you’ll receive a commission for it, in the same way that some Australian businesses are offering referral payments when you let someone you know about a good product, and they also sign up.
Affiliate marketing can be a legitimate business, but I always question the sincerity of reviews when I see a link or discount code.
If you love to write, or make videos, or take photos, you can get paid good money for doing so. Some of the big 4WD publications are paying $300 – $1200 for a seriously high quality article with professional level photos, and there are plenty of other places you can submit content to and make money from it.
This is generally not recurring, and you get paid for the work you submit, but its still a common, legitimate and simple, ethical way of making money online.
Selling physical products
Like a normal, brick and mortar business, a lot of people make good money selling physical products. This is generally their own product line that they’ve created (or re-badged), and you place an order online, and the goods arrive in due course.
Most people start off in the clothing niche, with shirts, hoodies, singlets, hats and so forth, and then move into other items like stubby coolers, knives, towels and the list goes on.
If you are dealing with the physical product, its hard work as you have to manage stock, visit the post office regularly and make sure people get the right items. You can pay people to do this remotely, so you don’t ever have to be hands on with the physical products, but this is a pretty legitimate way of making money.
You really don’t have to be very ‘big’ to have companies offering to send you goods for testing, or for a review. I literally get about 20 a day to my inbox, ranging from solar panels to car door hooks, recovery boards, camping products and then plenty that are completely unrelated to my niche.
Whilst this is not technically an income, you are receiving some sort of benefit, and in many cases it can be significant.
As soon as you have a bit of following on one of the social platforms, its not uncommon for people to ask for items to be gifted, or to be approached with various brands. Again, nothing wrong with this, unless its done in a way that puts you in a bit of a grey area.
People are receiving big items in return for the publicity that they give them. We are talking 4WD’s, Electronics, Caravans, Camper trailers, 4WD accessories, extensive labour and the list goes on and on.
If you receive an item and you don’t make it very clear that you didn’t pay for it, you’re walking a fine ethical line!
Lastly, when you flick through websites (including all social media and news platforms) you’ll see hundreds of ads, and its become the norm. Each time one of those ads is seen, or clicked on, whoever is hosting the advertising makes a small amount of money.
If you have enough visitors, you can make good money, and the ads are usually controlled by a third party, and properly vetted.
It’s a slippery slope
If you’ve been watching the travelling families, couples and influencers for some time, you’ll probably have realised its a slippery slope. Many start off simple, realistic and balanced, and once they grow to a certain level and find out that they can make more money out of it, things change dramatically.
They start to take items freely from suppliers and don’t mention it, and then they start to tag businesses in their posts, promote discount codes, and before you know it a huge amount of content coming from them is designed to make money.
I’ve seen it hundreds of times, and the original audience that was once so attracted to what that particular content creator was doing moves on to someone else who’s more legitimate, until the cycle repeats itself.
Yes, there are those out there who are honest, and rock solid, but they are few and far between and they still have bills to pay, and would have deals going on behind the scenes that you might not be so pleased about.
I know its a slippery slope, and once you are on the ride good luck getting off. Where does that leave our audience though?
How does 4WDing Australia fit in?
This might land us in hot water, but like usual, I’m going to be completely honest and open.
We’ve been working (and seriously hard) in the online space for 13 years, on a couple of sites, and right now, just 4WDing Australia.
We’ve re-started our YouTube channel a couple of months ago, and are a while away from reaching the monetization threshold. We started YouTube again to share a different perspective that you can’t always do by writing, to build our brand and reach a new demographic and of course to diversify our income streams a little.
Asides from this, I write for a couple of publications, and the primary focus is on this very website, that you are reading now. We make money from the advertising that you see around this site, and we’ve decided that we want no part of ANY unethical (or even slightly unethical) money making schemes.
We don’t do discount codes. We don’t do sponsored posts. We are certainly not part of any MLM schemes, and we don’t even get involved with affiliate marketing. If we receive a product (which we are very loathe to do these days, and it rarely happens), its clearly displayed at the start of the post that we didn’t pay for the goods. We are honest in all of our reviews, regardless.
We rely on generic advertising to pay the bills, which allows us the freedom to work for ourselves, and not for any particular business, or product. We are not attached to anyone, which means we can speak freely, and not be concerned about potentially misleading our viewers by promoting something that might seem better because we make money promoting it.
If a product that we use is rubbish, we say that it’s rubbish. There’s no grey area, and we like it this way.
The only exception to this is the little Snowy’s logo you see in the sidebar. We’ve been advertising for them for a number of years now, and they pay us a small monthly fee to do so. We don’t get paid when people buy from them, or per click, or anything like that. We back them 100%, and if you’ve used them I’m pretty confident you’d also recommend them, but please don’t feel like you have to use them!
The generic advertising decision comes at a big cost; we need to work far harder than if we went down the other marketing strategies, because you need a huge amount of visitors to make any decent money, and that means we have to create a heap of high quality content, and that takes a lot of time. We’ve been at this for 13 years, and are still not doing it full time; what does that tell you?!
We write about places we’ve been, experiences we’ve had, and products that we’ve used, and don’t go outside of our scope of knowledge or skills.
Right now, I probably spend about 40 hours a week working on the blog, on top of raising a young family and working a full time job too, and Sarah balances a lot as well (and has recently started doing the YouTube editing).
However, I don’t feel we’ll move from this strategy, as I know in my heart that we are completely legitimate, honest and open, and we aren’t pushing people in directions they might not have gone.
Take our thoughts and opinions, and agree or disagree, and put them to use, or don’t. We aren’t here to steer you in any particular way, just to try and make things easier to understand, to showcase amazing locations and to provide some entertainment and education.
As you’ve probably recognised, this is a topic we are pretty passionate about, and I’m sure its going to create some interesting reactions. Our primary intention is to make others aware of what really goes on behind the scenes, and to make you consider who you take advice from, and what their hidden drivers might be.
We own our gear
I can proudly say that we fully own and paid for our Isuzu Dmax, and Reconn R2, and didn’t get #sponsored. In fact, I’ve concluded that we prefer to buy a product with our own cash, as it takes the ethics out of the question completely.
We have no plans on upgrading our tow vehicle and caravan every couple of years when new models, or gear comes out, and will never take a free van or car. Seriously; we are that fiercely independent.
We are self funded, and will keep it that way, even if we have to work much harder for it.
What do you think?
What do you think about the new breed of travelling families, couples and individuals working as ‘influencers’? Let us know below!