Phoebe Lee of Little Grey Box on Growing a Brand and Business as a Travel Blogger

At Little Grey Box, writer and photographer Phoebe Lee and her husband, videographer and photographer Matt Turk, inspire readers with their travel guides and videos. They’ve attracted millions of fans to their website and popular YouTube channel, and partner with companies to produce content and promote their brands. Here, Phoebe talks about how Little Grey Box has grown over the years, and her advice for making money while doing something you love.


Tell us about Little Grey Box. How has the site changed over the years?

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Little Grey Box has evolved a LOT over the years and, without intending it to, always seems to reflect where I’m at in my life. When I first started, I was really lost and felt like I’d messed everything up, missed my true calling, and wasted years of my life. The blog was an outlet for my love of writing, but it was haphazard. I shared stories from my day, thoughts or ideas, and the odd travel guide. I put no thought into the layout and it was really hard to find things or understand what it was about. At one point, the logo was a cat and I was posting about growing tomatoes.

It has been refined and is focused solely on travel with a specific spot for personal posts. Everything is organized with the reader in mind. I try to create consistent content the reader can rely on, and the layout is clean with strong branding. Things are are easy to find, and there’s thought behind every element.

We’ve promoted your site in the past, which gave you a boost. “But I fizzled out a bit and lost track of the bigger picture,” you wrote. What have you learned about growing your site? With opportunities for viral posts and “big breaks,” can a blogger really become a sensation overnight?

Being Freshly Pressed was a huge part of me having the confidence to commit to my blog and, in the end, become a travel writer. It made me feel like, just maybe, I might be good enough.

I’ve learned it’s important to trust your inner voice and share from the heart.

Having people from the WordPress.com community read what I wrote and say, “I’ve felt this way too,” or “this made me laugh,” gave me self-pride. You can definitely gain readers and attention from a viral post, but to keep going after the surge of click-throughs ends, you need to find a deeper meaning in it. For me, that was knowing if I wrote honestly from my heart and was just myself, I could really connect with people.

I’ve learned it’s important to trust your inner voice and share from the heart. It’s also really important to do what you love, for yourself, because it makes you happy. That’s how you’ll keep pushing once those “big break” moments start to wear off.

Exploring sunflower fields in Nobby, Queensland, Australia. Photo courtesy of Little Grey Box.

You’ve shared so many tips on travel blogging. What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned or best pieces of advice you’ve received that holds true to this day?

In all honesty, it’s likely to take years of hard work to get there, but it’s well worth it and knowing what you want will help you stay focused.

It’s really important to know what you want. After all, if you don’t know where you want to end up, you’ll just go around in circles and never get there. Take the time to sit down and have an honest conversation with yourself about your blog. Do you want it to be a full-time career? How do you want to earn money? What are your boundaries? What will you offer your readers, and why would they come to you versus another blog? What’s your niche?

Once you figure all of these things out, you can build every aspect of your blog and focus the work you do to get you to your goals. In all honesty, it’s likely to take years of hard work to get there, but it’s well worth it and knowing what you want will help you stay focused.

You’ve had over 1.3 million visitors to the blog, over 820,000 views on YouTube, and have healthy Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter followings. What’s your favorite platform to interact with your readers and fans? How should new bloggers decide where and how to invest their social media efforts?

Wow! It’s hard to believe those figures are real. I still remember how great it felt to get a healthy 100 views each day on the blog!

I love video content at the moment: it gives people a chance to properly get to know Matt and me and come along on adventures with us. When we’re filming, I’m always thinking about people watching and how we can make them laugh or feel like they’re standing there with us.

New bloggers should forge their own path and not feel pressured to do every single social media platform. Find the ones you enjoy the most and put your time and energy there. People can always tell when you enjoy something and that attracts genuine engagement. I don’t believe there’s a strict recipe for social media success — it’s more important to use the platforms you enjoy and feel inspired by.

When we’re filming, I’m always thinking about people watching and how we can make them laugh or feel like they’re standing there with us.

Cruising through the outskirts of Ubud, Indonesia, with creator friends Alamby Leung, Killian Pham, and Luke Durbin. Photo courtesy of Little Grey Box.

Here are examples of some of your post titles: “The questions you really want to ask a travel blogger.” “The advice I’d give my teenage self…” “How to plan the epic Bali holiday of your dreams!” What are your tips for crafting an eye-catching title?

I used to be so bad at creating post titles! Most of my blog posts would tank because I just had no idea what I was doing, and I’d often sit and stare at the title line for hours, drowning in my own thoughts and doubts.

Now, I tend to stick to consistent titles. I like to create the same content for places I visit, which makes it easy for me to stay on top of what I need to capture. These are posts like, “what to pack,” “must-try food,” “things to do,” “know before you go,” and “travel tips.”

For posts outside of this, I try to think of something catchy that inspires a sense of need-to-know urgency in the reader. I also use the Headline Analyzer by CoSchedule to run my title ideas through, which gives me a score based on how it’ll perform and tips on how to improve it. It’s such a good resource for bloggers!

I like to create the same content for places I visit, which makes it easy for me to stay on top of what I need to capture.

You’ve discussed earning an income from travel blogging and mention that you don’t dabble in advertising and affiliate programs. How do you make money? What types of people or organizations do you enjoy working with?

Yes, this is exactly what I was talking about when I spoke about how important it is to know what you want. I knew, from the start, I didn’t want to earn a commission by having readers buy something or placing ads on the site. I dislike ads myself — they crowd the page and make the content unreadable at times. How could I ever be objective about something if I earn money from readers buying something?

I wanted to be paid to do what I love: travel, write, and create. So, I said no to every other opportunity that didn’t align with that. Now, brands that want to work with me have no choice but to work with me in this way. Matt and I create written content, capture photographs, or create video content based on something we experience and are either paid to publish it on Little Grey Box or we sell it to the brand for them to use as advertising.

I love working with small businesses. We’re a small business ourselves and it’s great to support others going after what they love, too — they always offer the best hospitality. It’s also really cool working with big, well-known brands as it feels like you’re ticking off your dream client list. Singapore Airlines are incredible to work with — the trips they put together blow your mind and the people we work with are so lovely, they’ve become our friends.

Taking in the Southern Alps just outside Queenstown, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Little Grey Box.

What’s an example of a dream assignment?

A dream assignment for us is going to the kind of place we never would have had the money or time to visit otherwise. Those are the really special moments, knowing you probably wouldn’t have seen it in your life if you hadn’t taken the risk and gone after your dreams.

Why did you choose WordPress.com for your blog?

I didn’t know the first thing about blogging or even what a blog was! Matt was a graphic designer and suggested a blog. I, foolishly, went with another platform for a few days and struggled to understand it. Matt stepped in and told me about WordPress.com.

Phoebe on their blog name: “There are certain words I adore, like colors, textures, and shapes. I chose three words I love and made them into a name!”

We set the blog up on the floor of our London flat that night, naming it Little Grey Box on a whim. For me, as a novice, it was easy to figure out how it all worked and the support of the WordPress.com community has been amazing. Six years later, this is our full-time job and our dream career. We have no plans to leave WordPress.com — you’re going to have to pry us off the platform like a barnacle!

Matt and Phoebe floating high above the Gold Coast, Australia. Photo courtesy of Little Grey Box.

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February 20, 2018Exploration, Interviews, Lifestyle, Travel, Wanderlust,