How I Turned my Food Blog into a Career.
*Disclaimer: I have a BA in marketing and a professional background in finance, but no formal eduction on food photography, website management, or food writing. Everything I know on the last three subjects is from my own experience.
Warning: this is a very long post.
The year of 2013 has been a whirlwind. I got engaged, signed a cookbook deal, wrote and fully photographed a cookbook within 5 months, quit my full time job in the corporate world, moved to the suburbs, and my blog quadrupled its size.
Let me take a moment to let it all sink in. Better grab a cookie as I do that…
Ok, I’m back.
Around March of this year, I came to a quick realization. I was making more from my food blog than my full-time job working in finance. (More on how I got to that point below.) I was really struggling to balance it all. I was cranky, tired, and drained. Spreading myself too thin between both jobs.
I began to think about what it would actually be like to quit my full time job and concentrate on growing my blog. Having enough time to produce top quality content everyday, rather than dedicating my entire weekends to it. (Read my thoughts on quality over quantity.) I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Be a baker just like my grandma. Inspire others. Be an entrepreneur. Grow something on my own. Build my own business. Even open a bakery!
And work damn hard doing it.
My dad always told me that no matter what I do, work hard and be irreplaceable. Stand out from others and show your worth. I knew it was time to make Sally’s Baking Addiction my career.
As I reach Sally’s Baking Addiction’s second anniversary in December, I want to take a break from the recipes and chat about food blogging. Running this blog is not all rainbows and sprinkles and cookies and love. With Kevin taking classes and working full-time, I am able to dedicate an enormous amount of time to my food blog. That may not be the norm for me in a couple years when we start a family, but for now – it works.
My food blog is not a hobby. It’s not my “work.” Sally’s Baking Addiction is my world.
And I thank my lucky stars every single day that I am blessed to do what I love. And thank YOU. Thank you a million times. And then a million times more. I would not be here, writing about my baking addiction, if it were not for you.
I get a lot of strange reactions when I tell people what I do for a living…
Excuse me, you do what?
I’m a food blog publisher. I develop recipes, take pictures of them, and post them onto a website.
I don’t understand. You don’t sell anything? All you do is blog?
Yes, but it’s more than that.
Still not getting it.
I supply Pinterest with content and am paid through the advertising on my blog.
Oh, ok now I get it.
Usually people begin to understand when I make a reference to Pinterest.
What I Actually Do for a Living.
There is a lot more to being a food blogger than making cookies and posting it on a blog.
(1) There is the constant connection with readers, which I treat as my #1 priority. What is a blog if you do not connect with your readers? There may not be enough time in the day to connect with every single one, but I certainly make an effort to pay attention to as many as I possibly can.
(2) Recipe development. Testing and retesting until I have the best of the best recipe to share. Surely you know how many Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies I made until I found the perfect (non-cakey) one? I am up to my arms in food every single day and luckily have Kevin’s coworkers, Kevin’s old coworkers, our neighbors, dog park friends (the owners!), family, friends, and church donations to help with the extras we do not eat.
If we ever meet in real life, I’ll probably bring you baked goods.
(3) Food styling and photography. Investing in a very expensive camera, lens, editing software, and lighting equipment that when combined – cost more than 4 months rent. I know pricey photography gear is not an option for everyone, but I wanted premier equipment for the shooting of my cookbook and the growth of my food blog.
- Also, keeping a variety of food props (there is now double that amount shown in the photo – I’m a food prop hoarder!) so my photos are interesting, unique, and complimentary to my food. And then learning how to actually style my food. That’s a whole other realm of food photography I’m still trying to master.
(4) Social media marketing, which is a beast in and of itself. Luckily marketing was my college major, so I am able use a considerable amount of those studies today in my career. The marketing of my food blog includes:
- Constant communication with companies who want to feature my recipes, or who want me to use their products (to which I usually say no – the products I use and feature on my blog are all those which I grow to love organically, not ones I am necessarily paid to love).
- Updating my social medias several times daily and answering as many of the Facebook comments that I can. I don’t speak all of the languages in the world, so some comments and questions are left unanswered, unfortunately. I have Kevin’s mom help me with any spanish questions I receive – she’s a spanish teacher.
- Responding to tweets and Instagram questions as soon as I can.
- Submitting my photos to sharing sites like Foodgawker, Tastespotting, and Tasteologie.
- Keeping my Pinterest boards updated.
(5) Answering comments, questions, and emails. Responding to questions that come through my blog as comments is very important to me. It takes quite a bit of time, but I try to check in as much as I possibly can. I also try to handle emergency recipe problem emails with grace and in a timely fashion. (Weekends are an exception – I’ve begun to take the day off from my inbox on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes I travel the weekends too, so I make sure to have an auto response so readers know that I cannot get back to them until the week.)
(6) The writing. This includes working hard to keep my content engaging, personable, flowing, and comprehendible. Here’s some information about my writing style:
- Last year I wrote a very detailed post about why I feel quality content is so important for my own food blog. I feel as though quality of content is more important than quantity of content. That post includes how I handle writer’s block, my two favorite words to use, and my least two favorite words to use.
- Sally’s Baking Addiction’s writing is focused on the food, but I do feel that sprinkling some personal tidbits from my life into my posts helps readers and I connect a bit more. There’s more to my life than baking cookies, so it’s so wonderful to find things we all have in common. After all, I’m not a robot – I’m a real person. Starting a conversation about non-baking things is an easy way to keep readers intrigued.
Food Blogging is Not All Sunshine and Smiles.
- It’s a 24/7 job; finding a work/life balance is tough.
- Not everyone will love your recipes, and they will tell you that. Hey, we all have different tastebuds right?
- Not everyone will love your photography, and they will tell you that.
- Not everyone will love the way you write, and they will tell you that.
- Food sharing sites will reject your photos.
- You will make 10 vanilla cakes before landing on the best combination of ingredients.
- You will take 207 photos of dark chocolate cookies and none of them will look good.
- People will steal your content and all of your hard work.
- A lot of your time will be spent washing dishes.
- You will stalk the weather channel hoping for a sunny day when you need to shoot an apple pie. All you see is rain.
- Trying to understand SEO. (still don’t)
How I Make Money From my Food Blog.
When I first began Sally’s Baking Addiction, it was not to earn money. The purpose was to share my recipes with my friends and family. Within time, I was able to start earning a salary and quit my job in the corporate world to dedicate myself full time to SBA.
Do not start a food blog for money, do it because you genuinely love it. Creating an income from a blog isn’t something that happens easily or quickly. It takes a lot of time, hard work, and focus. I did not earn a single check from my blog until 8 months after I first hit publish. And it was for only $80.
Here are my current income sources (with the exception of my cookbook advance and royalties, since those are not feasible options for all food bloggers):
(1) A large majority of my income is through advertising. I am able to host advertising on my blog because my website is self-hosted. Read more about self-hosting here. All of my advertising pays per impression. This is called CPM (cost per impression). I make anywhere from .50 to $25 per 1,000 page views. The $25 is quite rare though. Some ad networks are based on CTR (Click through rate), which is calculated on how many clicks the ad gets.
As of today, I have 5 advertising networks filling ad space on my website:
- BlogHer - BlogHer Publishing Network is the largest source of my advertising income. Their ads must be featured above the fold. I began working with BlogHer in 2012. Sometimes BlogHer will offer its publishers (you) extra revenue earning opportunities, like working with one of their companies for a sponsored post or campaign.
- Lijit - I run a few Lijit ads on my sidebars. Lijit is wonderful, they are very easy to work with.
- Technorati Media - Technorati holds a small ad below the fold on my sidebar.
- SAY Media - I reached out to SAY Media earlier this year and host 1 ad for them.
- ZipList – I use the Ziplist recipe plug-in to format all of my recipes. It allows readers to save recipes onto a personal meal planner and shopping list. I’m able to earn revenue from hosting ZipList ads. Contact their partner program for more information on implementing ZipList onto your food blog.
(2) I accept paid sponsorships for some products on my blog. However, I am very strict with what I feature on my blog. Products I feature on my blog are those I love organically and are not forced to use. Sometimes readers can tell if you’re featuring a product just for money.
- A few companies I’ve been paid to worked with – Chobani, Red Star Yeast, Raisinets, Werther’s, Nestle Toll House, Bozzuto Real Estate (the owner of my old apartment building), and Fab.com.
- If there are companies that you want to work with, contact them. Tell them who you are, what you do, and what you can offer them. Send them a media kit which holds basic information about your blog, stats, press and any associations you have with brands, your contact information, and social medias. Kind of like a little resume.
- If companies want to use your blog to feature a product you love, always ask for monetary compensation. Since my food blog is how I pay my bills, I cannot simply work for exposure or a bag of chocolates. Don’t be afraid to be ask for payment. Your hard work deserves it. Be confident and know your worth!
(3) Creating content for other company’s websites. This means writing content to be published for other websites, companies, magazines, and blogs. I have earned money from creating recipes and writing content for Bed, Bath, & Beyond as well as Peanut Butter & Company. There may be one or two more – I can’t remember. I need more coffee!
- Approach companies you want to publish content for by using the same bullet points that I mentioned in #2.
(4) Affiliate commissions. I am an affiliate for BlueHost, who was the website server for the first 9 months of my blog’s life. I highly suggest BlueHost to host your blog if you have under 25K views per day. It’s so affordable! Read here about how to become a BlueHost affiliate. I don’t earn much, but a little paycheck every now and then is nice. I know a lot of bloggers who are affiliates for Amazon and their Thesis theme or Genesis theme for WordPress.
Other Ways to Make Money from a Food Blog.
- Publish an eBook.
- Product sales (t-shirts, magnets, notepads, stickers, mugs).
- Participate in local bake sales and bring a few business cards for your blog.
- Contact local coffee shops and see if they allow local bakers to sell baked goods.
- Private advertising (working directly with companies).
- Write a cookbook (read this amazing, thorough post about how to get published).
Because I own this business, there are quite a bit of expenses. If you decide to turn your food blog into a career, just know that you’ll be making some hefty investments over the course of time. Things I had never even imagined like… an increasing electric bill since I’m home and baking during the day… and while I thought I’d be saving money by not commuting to an office, I feel as though I go to the grocery 12 times a week.
- Website server fees
- Technical assistance
- Website designing
- Food props
- Bakeware & kitchen supplies
- Camera & lenses
- Lighting equipment
- Photography editing software
- Extras like Rafflecopter (for giveaways) & Viraltag (for Pinterest organization), business cards
How I Got To This Point.
I get a lot of emails from new bloggers asking me how I grew my blog overnight. The truth is, I didn’t. My pictures and written content were embarrassing in the beginning and not nearly as developed compared to those who had been food blogging longer. I constantly compared my baby blog to the “big leagues” and often felt bad about myself. Why compare apples to oranges though? It inspired me to just KEEP working hard.
I’ve been able to improve my photos, recipes, and content simply by of the amount of time I put into it. Learning, making mistakes, learning more, and always improving. It’s the perfectionist in me. From this work, I’ve been lucky to have my content featured all over social media.
Keep at it. Ask questions, read books (see suggestions below), make mistakes, enjoy the process of doing something you love.
I’ve written about the subject of blogging before and how to grow your food blog. If you’ve never seen them, check them out. If you have seen them, I’ve recently updated each post with more information:
- Year One: How I Did It
- How to Start a Food Blog
- Blogging Strategies: Being Present and Personable
- Blogging Strategies: Quality Content
- Food Photography Basics
How to Stay Sane.
As you can see, this career takes a lot of time and effort. I’m able to fit it all in because I try to manage my time as best as I can, keeping in mind that I should keep a practical blogging/real life balance.
I’m going to admit that I miss having a structured schedule at my office job (and the people too – my only coworker at this point has 4 legs). I was able to leave work at the office and not bring it home. That’s not the case with my blog. While I’m not complaining in the slightest, my blog can’t “close” at night and on the weekends.
Even if you’re not a blogger (thank you for even reading this post!), you know how difficult it is to disconnect sometimes. Put down your iPhone, iPad, tablet, laptop, Instagram, Facebook, twitter, etc. Real life is what is happening now!
Being a food blogger can be overwhelming. Learning what to do, what not to do, dealing with technical problems, coming up with content, understanding your camera, trying to gain readership, developing recipes, etc. Here are ways to stay grounded:
Have fun. Try to take a break from blogging and do something fun with friends, family, or loved ones. Have a date night, go out for a drink, a nice dinner, make Sunday brunch, get out of town, visit a friend. Your blog won’t go anywhere and you’ll feel instantly refreshed. I lean on Kevin, my family, and friends to have some fun. It was so nice to take a break and travel to some great spots like St. Lucia, Utah, and Deep Creek Lake this year.
Exercise. It’s totally cliche, but exercise can really help calm your nerves. I lead an active lifestyle not because of all the treats I bake, but because I genuinely love it and have since I was an energetic little kid. If I have a baking fail in the kitchen, it’s nice to go for a run, take a walk outside in the fresh air with Jude or break out my yoga mat.
Me time. Having time to yourself (or with a loved one – or pet!) everyday where you can truly disconnect will help keep you grounded. Turn off your phone, your email, your computer. Enjoy the simple pleasures. For me this includes things like planning our wedding, treating myself to a manicure, meeting a friend for coffee, watching my favorite TV shows, having a glass of wine, or taking Jude to the dog park.
Love it. I love being in the kitchen, baking a new recipe, and sharing the joy with others both physically and virtually. When I begin to feel overwhelmed from blogging, I remind myself why I do it. I grew up in the kitchen with my late grandmother, my parents and sisters. Baking and sharing my recipes make me happy. It’s important for me to enjoy my time doing it. The moment I begin to feel it is a chore, I take a break.
Have patience. You can’t expect to earn a salary from a food blog until you have a decent sized audience. Build your product before selling it. Do not focus on the money. Rather, the smartest things to focus on are (1) publishing quality content, (2) interacting with bloggers and readers, and (3) learning about food photography. The money will follow if you work your butt off.
Always remember that your readers come first. Sure, it’s nice to earn money from a blog. But I wouldn’t have this career if I didn’t have readers. Show your readers you love them.
Here are some wonderful articles on the subject of food blogging as a career:
- Pinch of Yum’s “Traffic and Income Reports” are so educational.
- How to Monetize Your Blog by I Heart Nap Time.
- Make Money Blogging by ProBlogger.
- How to Make Money Blogging by All Things Thrifty
- Turning Food Blogging into a Career by Skinny Chef
- So You Want to be a Successful Food Blogger? Here’s How by Bay Area Bites
Here are 4 books I own and highly recommend to all food bloggers:
- Food Blogging for Dummies by Kelly Senyei
- Plate to Pixel:Digital Food Photography & Styling by Helene Dujardin
- Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob
- Tasty Food Photography by Pinch of Yum
Q: What are your dreams for your blog? What are your thoughts on full time blogging?
Thanks for listening (reading!).