Mar Pages is a Top Singapore Influencer and an accomplished travel influencer on Intellifluence who specializes in luxury travel, food and wine in addition to running the very successful Once in a Lifetime Journey luxury travel blog which also covers topics ranging from digital marketing for brands and influencers to wine tourism and reviews as well as Mar’s personal hobbies and inspiration.
Mar is a former telecoms strategy management consultant who one day decided there was more to life than fifteen hour working days, seven days a week. A year after taking a sabbatical in the South Pacific, Mar decided to quite her job and open a café in addition to starting her blog. She eventually took a job at Google for a season then recently left to focus full-time on her two blogs (the second called Singapore n Beyond) and consulting business.
So how did you get started as an Influencer?
I started around four and a half years ago. After that sabbatical I came back to work and then I did realize that I wanted to quit my consulting job. Not quit any job, just my consulting job – It was far too demanding, far too many hours, always traveling… Which I love, but, you know… When you cannot choose how much you travel and you travel practically seven days a week, always long haul, always far away, always 15 hours, never weekends, never holidays…
I love my job but after eight years, I thought: maybe it’s a good time for me, you know at age thirty-two, to think about doing something a little bit more [conducive to] work-life balance-friendly. So I did leave my job and it took me about a year to start at Google again, so during that year is when I started my blog. I also opened a café so [laughs] it was a bit of an interesting year…
I was making coffee so it was quite interesting to be an expat in Singapore leaving a very senior job in management consulting to make coffee and write so you know, when there were no clients or at night I just started to write in my blog. Mostly in the beginning, more for myself and I didn’t even tell anybody I was writing it because I always remember my Grandpa saying, “You know, you should keep a diary, keep all the stories of all the places you are traveling.” I specialized in emerging markets as well as a consultant so I always worked in [certain places within] the Middle East, Africa, Asia – places that you would never go on holidays, you know – especially thirteen years ago. Some of them were not even possible to go on holidays to…
I started to write and I started to realize that people were reading my things and I didn’t even know who they were. It was not that I had told anybody but they found me on Blogger and traffic started to increase and six months later I decided to move to a normal WordPress site and continue writing but not really in a serious business spirit. Not really to make money or turn it into my day job just because I enjoyed writing and continued to travel fifty percent of my time so it kind of grew and grew and then I attended a blogging conference and then I realized there were a lot of people making a full-time living out of this (and it was actually possible).
I am a businessperson, after fifteen years in the corporate world so [there was] that temptation that I could maybe be doing full time, where I want, in my own terms and make a living out of it. So then I began putting a little bit more focus into turning it into a job. At Google, I had taken a job that was relatively easy for me to do based on my experience, and you know, Google has great work-life balance and encourages you very much to do other things and pursue other passions, so everybody knew that I had a blog (from the moment I joined).
Everybody was supportive and was asking “Where do you go on holidays? Where can we go? We have two kids… We want to go here, what do you suggest?” I built myself a business plan, because again, I am a businessperson [laughs], so I built myself a business plan and when I hit the revenue target that I was comfortable with, I left my job at Google…
In reading your blog, it appears you are a wine connoisseur as well?
Yes, I grew up in a winery. My father makes wine – quite a lot of it. I kind of grew up with this culture. Not really knowing the whole world of winemaking and so on- just working in the farm and helping my father and so on… My dad’s business grew and grew and here in Singapore, a couple of friends of mine wanted to become wine certified, like from the wine appreciation point of view, tasting wines and knowing where the wines are from so I took a couple of courses with them as well. So yes, now I’m also certified apart from obviously knowing it because I grew up with it all my life.
The founder of our company loves wine, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about it [laughs]
I mean I live here in Singapore and I’m around it. You have new latitude wines, which is interesting… Wine being made in Thailand, wine being made in Bali, Vietnam, Myanmar… These sort of places where most connoisseurs will [ask] “What is this? What do you mean this wine is made outside of this latitude where wines should not be made?”
So with these wines, I find it interesting to go the wineries to [gain an understanding] of how they make the wine, how they have two harvests a year or even three harvests a year… So this is interesting, but if you just want to go for “proper wines” (I hope nobody feels offended), a little bit more traditional wines, the New World wines…
The closest ones to me are in Australia. So Perth – I very much love the Margaret River region of Perth which is around five hours from Singapore so I have been three times already and you can go for the weekend (it’s a little bit of a stretch) but you can do it for the weekend because the flights work well. So I would fly there and rent a car and go down to the Margaret River region and what is beautiful about that region is that it [is home to] Australia’s most premium wines.
They make only four percent of the wines but twenty percent of the premium wines in Australia so the majority are very premium wines and very Bordeaux-style wines and it is by the sea so it’s beautiful. It’s the Western Coast of Australia, there are massive surfing waves, beautiful beaches and Kangaroos jumping around the vineyards. It’s just all very scenic and very beautiful. You have everything – great food, fantastic people. It’s just great!
As a successful Influencer with a lot of specialties and interests, how do you structure your day?
There are two types of days… The days that I am on the road and the days that I am at home. When I am at home, my days are relatively easy and simple. I get up, I sit at my desk, I work and then I usually have meetings. Because I am not nomadic, I actually have a base and I live in Singapore. There are lots of businesses and my clients are local so I do have a lot of face-to-face meetings. If you’re always on the road you may have meetings but they will be this type of format (video conference). So I do have calls but a lot of times I also have face-to-face meetings with clients here so maybe one day a week I would spend at home, not actually going to any meetings but the rest of the days I either have networking events because I am very involved in the entrepreneurial community and everything that has to do with the online world in Singapore and also client meetings so usually I try to put them all on the same day so I only have to go into town and have all the meetings once.
If I don’t have any meetings or events or anything (family or friends gettogethers), I just work through the night. I might have dinner, stop a little bit, watch a little bit of TV and then continue working, maybe on the things that require me to be less concentrated [such as] scheduling on social media or if I need to read things or keep updated on stuff or do more mechanical, administrative work, I keep it for the evenings when I’m less fresh – I’m a morning person so in the evenings I am less concentrated.
If I’m on the road, it’s completely different. I will get up at sunrise. I always make sure that I don’t miss the sunrise because the light is very important. That’s a little bit difficult in Asia because the sunrise can be at five thirty or at like five [laughs] so it’s like really early. But I still do not miss it, and then through the day I get all the photos that I need to take. My work is really content-driven, like a lot of other people in the travel industry. So it’s very important to get the right photos. I always fly the drone, so I’m very dependent on the weather. So I’ll constantly be keeping my eye on what’s going on. Whether the sun is coming, whether there are clouds.
I just take a lot of photos and go around the place and figure out what to take photos of, who do I need to talk to in order to understand certain things, what is it that makes the place unique. I am obviously talking about the cases when I work with the hotel, which is usually the type of Brands I work with. So this is how the day would go normally. If I am in a place where there are excursions I can go and do outside of town, then I will also schedule that. I usually have a good idea before arriving. A lot of my time basically gets spent on taking photos and talking to people. There’s not a lot of laying around the pool-time.
How do you see influencer marketing evolving? How do you think a brand might be interacting with you in five years or so?
I see more and more, because I have been doing this for a while and I also help certain brands work with Influencers because of my background in the corporate world. A lot of brands approach me with, “I want to work with Influencers but I don’t know [how to get started].” So I have a wider perspective than just my own channels from brands that just may work with other influencers. I see, obviously, a clear trend towards video. Although in Asia, it’s not the same as in the U.S. – it is a little bit lagging. It comes later, I think, here. So brands, in general, are far less sophisticated, far less knowledgeable, far less experienced in working with Influencers, so there’s a lot of them that have never worked with Influencers and don’t know where to start or how to make the most of it or maybe make mistakes… They ask for the wrong things and ultimately get the wrong return. But I see more and more, even in Asia, asking for video. So even myself, I focus more these days on (rather than just selling them my influence, point-of-view and reach – the people that might actually see my content) selling an asset which might be the content that they are getting. So again, moving more towards video. I see that happening.
I think it’s slowly but steady. In five years, we may still be talking about the same thing here [in Singapore]. It just takes a bit of time for people to learn it. There are a lot of smaller hotels that are more boutique – they will take time to get there (far more time than brands). Even international brands in Asia – they sometimes have rudimentary, very old fashioned processes for working with Influencers that are still tied to how they used to work with PR companies and journalists. The same thing… “Can you please give me the advertising equivalent. Can you please give me…” all of these things that are clearly (like, “What is the circulation of your publication?”) I get asked these questions all of the time.
I was filling out a form yesterday that had all the questions related to journalists and nothing to do with Influencers. So it’s going to take time, I think, in five years it will definitely be more video. It might also be more, you know, brands becoming more sophisticated and going more the SEO (search engine optimization) way instead of approaching bloggers and saying “please write a review about me.” Being a bit smarter… Figuring out what will get them [more] traffic. Maybe that’s not a review. Reviews are like the two page spreads in the newspaper… Every brand wants to have their two page spread in the newspaper. “Look how nice our photos [look].” But, who reads those things? After they’ve been published, it’s hard for a lot of people to actually – for that type of content to be found. Unless you really write those types of things. In my case it happens because I write a lot and that is my niche so I get found like that but for most people, that’s not where the brand will get their value. They might get the value if the influencer writes something that will actually be found, depending on their niche. By that, I mean guides (for example). If you’re someone who writes backpacking guides, it’s far better for a hotel to be included in one of these guides than for the blogger to write a review of that hotel. So I see them getting a little bit smarter and a little bit more ROI-oriented rather than the traditional, maybe five posts on Facebook and write me a review-type of thing which they would get from journalists and they come from that mentality but from bloggers, it’s a different medium. It’s long-term. It’s online. It’s a different type of animal.
Do you have any resources that you can recommend to aspiring influencers (and don’t be shy – it can be your book!)?
There are a couple of Facebook groups that I joined that are quite good for this. They are travel specific- well actually, no they are not travel specific [anymore]. Now they are pretty much all industries. There’s a blog by a blogger that is called Digital Nomad Wannabe. She (Sharon Gourlay) used to be a travel blogger (a family travel blogger).
She sold her blog not so long ago and decided to focus more on the part of making money and the business behind a blog. Her Facebook group is very active and very, very useful. It’s entirely devoted to making money. If, by an aspiring influencer you mean someone who wants to make a full-time living off of this, [that group] is a good place to start. I wish this group existed when I started. I came very late to the game. My blog was already three years old when I decided that I wanted to make it my full-time job. So I made lots of mistakes and then undoing those things is far harder than starting from scratch in the right way.
Nowadays I see people within a year, they have blogs that [have] a hundred thousand views. It took me a while to get there in my road [with mistakes along the way]. It’s much better to start well and this is a good group – Digital Nomad Wannabe. She has a blog as well that goes with it, where a lot of her case studies are and a lot of it focuses very much on monetizing your blog by affiliates – so that is her niche. So if you want to learn about how to start a blog that will make money through affiliates and buying guides (she also has a section on just pure niche sites), she’s very good. That is a resource I check almost every day.
I don’t really check other resources. My book that you mention (30 Proven Ways to Make Money Online with or without a Blog) is not necessarily just for Influencers, it’s more general: if you want to make money online. That can be anything. It could be a copywriter – and not have a blog or anything. Just being a copywriter. Or you could be a full-time, full-blown blogger and have a blog and a website and live off your website. So there’s thirty different ways you can make money online – it’s more targeted towards people who may not necessarily want to be a blogger (or maybe they do) but they want to have a job that is independent that they can do from anywhere. Some people say they want independence, they want to work from home, I want to work from the beach (although that is not really practical [laughs])… They want that but they don’t know how that works… It’s thirty ways with tips and tools that you can use to do that.
Sharon is for bloggers really more than just influencers. There’s obviously was you can make [money] online just as an influencer and you don’t need to have a blog but in her case it’s more like from an online website, how you make the most of it.
So what is the strangest influencer request you have ever received?
I get a lot of e-mails from people who want links and those are very weird requests, sometimes. Very, very weird requests. But I think – this one I didn’t receive myself, but the weirdest that I’ve ever heard was a friend of mine who is an Italian blogger who got an e-mail from a church [laughs] who was trying to get links in exchange for prayers. And I think that takes the top for the weirdest thing [laughs]…
Note: Intellifluence Influencer Spotlight interviews are edited for clarity and time.