191. Doni Belau of Girls’ Guide to Paris on Product Diversity & Collaborating With Competitors

Doni Belau of Girls' Guide to ParisEntrepreneur of Girls Guide to Paris, Doni Belau has over 9 years experience providing women with the best of all things French and Paris.

What is Girls’ Guide to Paris? I launched Girls’ Guide to Paris in 2009. Today it is a women’s Paris travel guide and exclusive Paris travel club covering French fashion, Paris blogging, shopping, restaurants, hotel reviews, and walking tours. Girls’ Guide to Paris has become the top-ranked, Paris-focused travel resource for women traveling to Paris with approximately 75k social media followers across Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter, plus over 15k readers signed up for our newsletter. Girls’ Guide to Paris averages over 100,000 page views per month and is read by over 1,000,000 expats and travellers per year from all the Anglophone countries and people both living in and travelling to France.

Behind the scenes, a small team of freelance writers and consultants cover everything from appartment rentals to walking tours, smart phone apps and books. Also, for travelers to France, we have created a unique GO-Card which offers VIP access and special discounts to over 250 locations across France.

Doni Belau of Girls' Guide to Paris

What business decisions contributed to the growth of Girls’ Guide to Paris? I had money saved up to ensure the site got off to a good start and reached my target audience quickly.

From the very start I made Search Engine Optimization (SEO) a top priority, and actually finding someone competent in SEO was critical, but I also did make a few mistakes at the beginning.

With monetization, I only offer advertising space to companies and brands relevant to our target audience. This helps cover the costs of running Girls’ Guide to Paris as well as set up future products and services without breaking the brand.

Also, I worked with Tristaine de la Presle, a customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing consultant who had previously created loyalty cards for both the Relais and Chateaux group and the Principality of Monaco. It took us 3 solid months in Paris to create the membership program Girls’ Guide to Paris offers today.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in my interview with Roc Chaliand of Ever Magazine that you should be picky with who you do work with; choosing people not because they can help you, but because they’re qualified in what they do.]

From there, our series of downloadable walking tours launched in 2010 and then our smartphone applications in 2011

offer an insider’s view of the best places to visit in Paris from a woman’s point of view as well as historical backgrounds on buildings and streets. They remain popular among our readers and offer a steady stream of revenue.

More recently, publishing Eat In Paris and being asked to participate in Paris Cocktails was a lot of fun. Currently I’m setting up organized Paris & France trips as well as a Paris guided tour. Our next guided tour and crawl is in Provence in September, and there are still a few spots available.

In terms of press coverage, Girls’ Guide to Paris has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, and The Boston Globe to name a few.

You mentioned earlier ‘mistakes’ you made at the beginning. What ‘mistakes’ and what would you have done differently? In 2009 I paid professionals to design and build the Girls’ Guide to Paris website from scratch. Looking back, it would have been less expensive and wiser to buy a professional template that I could have more control of myself.

Also, I would have spent more time perfecting a business plan before I launched Girls’ Guide to Paris. Lastly, I would have talked to and learn from more people early on. It’s always easier to learn from other people’s mistakes than to spend time and money learning from the mistakes yourself.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in my interview with Joseph Donyo of Canim Istanbul that one of his mistakes was not starting with a mobile-first approach. After a few months he realized that over 50% of his newsletters were being opened on a mobile device.]

There must be a lot of competition in your industry. How do you break from the noise and stand out? In the traditional, offline sense of the term, I guess my top two “competitors” would be:

  1. Hip Paris Blog, who targets French and Italian expats and tourists, and
  2. My Little Paris, whose main readers are Parisians instead of tourists.

But Girls’ Guide to Paris collaborate with almost all of the major expat websites, so I’d rather say that these “competitors” are the folks I collaborate with and learn from. In fact, other “competitors” that I frequently follow, collaborate with and draw inspiration from include:

What are a few of your favorite advertisments?

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs? In my experience, you don’t have to update your website and post content everyday, but you had better make sure that your website is up-to-date on SEO so that the posts and updates you do have on your site receive as much search engine attention as they deserve; this is of utmost importance!

After that, you need excellent photos and invest a lot of time on building and nurturing a large social media presence.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A few additional pieces of relevant advice for entrepreneurs from my interview with Karen Rudel of Sight Seeker’s Delight is to:

  • You have so much more to offer than the mere products and services you sell. Explore every niche and aspect at your disposition and research every angle you have to build a business.
  • Join meet up groups and do social networking. Co-publish a book. Don’t JUST do things only in your niche; contribute to projects complimentary to what you offer that broaden your exposure and build your credibility and trust.]

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