Raymond Cua decided to leave a successful career in software development to pursue a passion and he’s definitely a lot happier now. Let’s face it; choosing between a successful career and following your passion is an ancient dilemma that still troubles the minds of employees all over the world. The stakes are high as only a handful of lucky entrepreneurs immediately manage to make the transition – in the case of Raymond, he’s one of the lucky ones. He’s now a full-time blogger, content creator, and consultant. He’s the food and travel blogger and content creator for “Travelling Foodie” which features food and drinks, travel and nature, lifestyle, as well as events from all over the world.
He has worked with various brands, restaurants, and travel destinations/tourism in different types of marketing campaigns including Nestle, Microsoft, Amazon and Visit Florida. Raymond and Travelling Foodie have also been featured by some of the top travel and food sites in the world including Global News, CTV News, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel, Matador Network, Expedia, TravelZoo, Intrepid Travel, Huffington Post, Spoon University, Daily Hive, Narcity, and more.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Raymond to discuss his journey to entrepreneurship and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
I am Raymond Cua, and I’m a full-time blogger, content creator, and founder of Travelling Foodie with experience traveling to over 25 countries and more than half the United States and Canadian provinces. I was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to Canada for university. I studied Computer Science and was a software developer when I started Travelling Foodie in 2014 as a passion project to document the places I’ve visited and things I’ve eaten. I travel and eat a lot so it made sense for me.
Even before I started the blog, I was traveling at least three times a year for a personal vacation, and I typically eat out multiple times a week. I was already taking photos and videos even before I thought of running a blog but was privately sharing them on Facebook since 2007. In fact, I was in the USA on a 2-week road trip with my siblings when I started posting because I was seeing all these beautiful things and thought why not share them with people who might be interested/inspired by them.
I left my corporate IT job in 2017 to run this as a full-time business. I haven’t looked back since.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
I’ve been watching talks, seminars, and courses from experts on how to improve and grow aspects of my business. Now that I’ve been blogging for a while, I’ve learned a lot and also came to realize a certain structure on how I want my posts to be so I’ve been updating all my old posts to apply these learnings.
I’m still regularly posting content on all platforms while also learning ways to improve on the content I’m creating. I’ve been more active on TikTok since it’s the newest platform so I want to build a presence there too.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
I use all social media platforms for Travelling Foodie: 2 Instagram accounts (1 for food, 1 for travel), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and TikTok. I believe being part of all platforms is important for brand awareness because you get to tap into the user base of each platform.
Out of those, I am most active on Instagram @TravellinFoodie since this is the first account that started it all and where I have the most followers.
You can find all my social media platforms here:
Food Instagram: https://instagram.com/travellinfoodie
Travel Instagram: https://instagram.com/journeytraveler
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
I’ve only done paid advertising as a content creator where I create sponsored content for my clients to share on Travelling Foodie. From what I’ve done for clients, paid advertising does work, but it depends on a lot of factors like how creators are chosen, the purpose and goal of the campaign, success metrics, etc.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
I try to add a personal touch to my writing, and I also reply to everyone who messages and comments on my posts despite there being a “like” button for comments nowadays.
When traveling, I try to be a bit “real-time” in social media, especially on Instagram Stories. It’s funny how being “insta” on Instagram is uncommon nowadays. I would typically share my day on my Instagram stories, whereas other creators post all the content post-trip. Doing so gives me quite a bit of interaction from both my followers and the locals (who sometimes end up being followers).
A great example was when I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and had a local commenting on my Instagram post saying “I think we saw you dancing yesterday in the Art Walk just in front! Welcome to this beautiful city. Such a good vibe you all bring to the street.” It’s not a comment you’d get if you post after the trip.
What makes my business stand out is all the years of experiences and knowledge in travel and food that got me to where I am today:
I don’t claim to be a food expert nor have culinary training, but I eat and travel A LOT, more than normal. I’ve been traveling since I was a kid. I’ve been to 4 continents, more than 25 countries, and have explored half of the United States and Canadian provinces.
My range of food is very wide from junk food and cheap eats to Michelin-starred restaurants and World’s 50 Best restaurants. In fact, back in 2008 when I was a 2nd-year university student and before I was even blogging, I went to Chicago to dine at Alinea which was No. 17 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants at that time, and is a 3 Michelin-star restaurant. Imagine a student going all the way to Chicago for a USD 150 meal (at that time). It didn’t seem normal to most, but it was for me. I’ve eaten in a lot of Michelin Star and World’s Best Restaurants at an age that most people weren’t aware these restaurants existed nor would they care to try.
I’m not just a #ForTheGram foodie. I would try any cuisine and any dish. I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to eating as I want to try things I’ve never tried. Some of the most exotic ones I’ve had are: bear heart, tamilok (woodworm), balut (duck embryo), haggis, lamb brain, grasshoppers, agave worms. This makes my content unique too. I may not get the same amount of likes as a #ForTheGram foodie, but it’s different and interesting, and you might learn something.
On the non-culinary aspect, aside from the touristy things, I’m usually down to try anything unique and fun, having done skydiving, paragliding, and parasailing.
I also have two dedicated Instagram accounts: one for food (@TravellinFoodie) and one for travel (@JourneyTravler) so the content is very targeted to those niches.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
SEO and Social Media Marketing works really well since my blog is an online business and both forms of marketing are the bread and butter for a blog.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
The toughest decision I had to make in the last few months is: “What do I do during this pandemic?” My business took a huge hit due to COVID since travel is restricted and most businesses are closed. All my planned trips and campaigns got canceled. My blog and YouTube, where I have ad revenue, lost 90% in traffic. Worst of all, nobody knew when things would go back to normal.
When businesses, restaurants, and PR firms started doing virtual events, takeout, or delivery, they reached out to me for contra collaborations, noting the pandemic affecting their budget. I declined the majority of them. I had to decide what to do to make my blog survive and make it future-proof when something like this happens. Doing the contra collaborations does not help my business in the long term.
What I ended up doing was to pivot my content to more recipes and home cooking. Though I’m not getting paid to create those posts, it is still the best decision for my business:
1. It future proofs my business when something like this happens again. Recipes and home cooking content were in demand during the pandemic since most people had to stay home during the lockdown.
2. This opens the doors for a new set of potential clients: home, kitchen, and cooking brands.
3. This adds to my monetization strategy since products I use for the recipe can be a source of affiliate income (e.g. through Amazon Affiliates).
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
The biggest money mistakes I’ve made as a blogger is forgetting the value I bring to the table and not being able to say no to opportunities. It can be easy to get caught in thinking “free” is good enough or that you don’t want to lose a potential client. But you have to realize that, first, it’s not free because you are working for it too. Second, is it really worth your time and the opportunity cost you’re giving up to use that time on something else? You could be missing out on getting paid. When you keep doing work for free, you are signaling a message that you are not worth being paid.
I’m not saying never to accept unpaid work. Always think of the ROI of an opportunity for your business. If an unpaid opportunity has a potential long term return to your business, then it can still be a good opportunity to take them.
What new business would you love to start?
I would love to start a new business with an actual product to sell. I’ve been toying with an idea of selling merchandise for Travelling Foodie so that might be the best way to start.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
I would research the brand name I wanted and make sure I can get the name on all the platforms. It’s been a battle for me ever since knowing that most of my account handles do not match the actual brand name. E.g. @travellinfoodie on Instagram instead of @travellingfoodie.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
The best advice I’d ever been given is from my dad: learn to do everything yourself, at least once. As a kid, whenever I needed help or needed something fixed, I either had to learn how he did it or I had to do it myself as he guided me. He said that doing this guarantees I can survive on my own, and I will never have to rely on anyone.
This lesson was so important in my life because it made me knowledgeable about everything I do. It gave me confidence that I can survive on my own, especially when I started this business. When I left my full-time job in 2017 to pursue my passion, I had no idea how to run a blog as a business since I was only doing it for fun on the side. I learned all the ins and outs of blogging from scratch using only free resources and without hiring help. This kept my expenses very low and, at the same time, gave me incredible knowledge and advantage.
Learning to do all the work doesn’t mean I have to do everything forever. It showed me which aspects of the business are my strengths and weaknesses and which ones I enjoy doing. When I hire external help, I’m in a better position to review the work and costs involved instead of just accepting what’s presented to me due to a lack of knowledge. And in the worst case where I can’t find help, I know I can still do it myself.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
My advice to a new entrepreneur is to set up a business in an area you love and that you’re passionate about. When you first start the business, you won’t be making money for a while until it takes off. The only thing that will keep you going is your passion and love for the work. And when you’re not making money and don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it’s very easy to just give it up.