How to Build a Food Blogging Career from Scratch

sally in the kitchen whisking dry ingredients

It’s been years since I wrote a post about food blogging! Right now, in 2019, I’m in my 8th year of food blogging and as I sit back and reflect over this time, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that this has been my path. That we both show up, influence, and inspire each other in the kitchen. This baking community is not only what I’ve built, it’s what I cherish. In a world that seems increasingly negative each day, how incredible that you and I are connected through something that brings us so much joy: baking. If you weren’t here, none of this would be possible. Thank you. So much.

That being said, I want to bounce off last year’s Sprinkled series where I shared a behind-the-scenes look into my everyday work. I receive a lot of questions about my career path and I’m happy to share this crazy food blogging roller coaster experience with you!

This post is divided in 6 different sections:

  1. Don’t Start a Food Blog for Money
  2. Talent is Not the Key to Success (and what is)
  3. Grow Your Audience
  4. The Blogging Shift
  5. SEO
  6. How Do Food Bloggers Make Money

And when you’re finished reading each, check out my other blogging posts. In the past week, I updated most of them with new information, including my Food Photography Basics page!

2 images of muffins on a plate and a stack of muffins

Don’t Start a Food Blog for Money

Build your product before selling it. Do not focus on the money.

When I started Sally’s Baking Addiction, it wasn’t to earn money. In fact, very few people earned an income from blogging back then. I started a little hobby blog so I could share recipes with my friends and family. That was the purpose: a love for baking. During that year, I realized that I could begin to earn money for the work I publish. After 8 months, I received my first paycheck: $80!

Fast forward 7 years and I’m still doing what I love: baking. I’ve also picked up two more passions along the way: food photography and blogging. And these are the reasons I’m still doing it today. Because I genuinely LOVE it. And, what’s more, when I hear from YOU that my recipe was part of your Christmas dessert, Thanksgiving meal, son’s 1st birthday, wedding, or Sunday morning breakfast– it’s just more fuel to keep this fire burning.

It takes a lot of long hours, concentration, sweat, blood (ouch! oven burn!), and tears, but at the heart of it, if there’s passion there… if you truly love it… none of it feels like work. It’s just… 2nd nature. It’s what you do.

Talent is Not the Key to Success

You don’t need any sort of background talent or secret skill to start a food blog. When I first hit publish in 2011, I had never picked up a fancy camera before, never wrote professionally, never owned a business, never wrote a book, and knew nothing about website coding (still don’t). I was a regular 20-something in a 9-5 job at a financial firm. But I had passion and grit– and I believe both are the secret to food blogging success.

  • What is passion? Passion is an intense love for something.
  • What is grit? Grit means courage, endurance, strength, and determination. The willingness to work your tail off doing something you love. And I don’t say that lightly. I mean literally work harder than everyone else you know… combined.

Passion counts for something, but effort counts twice. It’s absolutely crazy how much work goes into this blog. And I’m not saying that to brag, I’m telling you that I didn’t build this overnight. I’ve worked on it every single day since December 11th, 2011. Every day. And if I told you I spend over 50 *working* hours on ONE blog post– I bet you’d be shocked! (Recipe testing, dishes, photography but only on a sunny day, re-shooting it because I didn’t like batch #1 of photos, editing the photos, videos, writing the recipe, writing the blog post, scheduling on social.) It’s just… a lot!

Think about starting any other job. On your first day, you have no clue what you’re doing… right? You’re new. As the days, weeks, months, and years go on, you learn a little something. We all have to start at the bottom and that’s no different for food blogging. You just have to be willing to work really damn hard. Practice makes progress.

When I was growing up, my dad always said “work hard and be irreplaceable”. And it’s always stuck with me. Stand out from others and show your worth.

Don’t be the best, be the only.

sally on set in the kitchen

sally in the kitchen with camera equipment

Grow Your Audience

Here are two crucial ways to grow your audience:

  1. Be consistent. Whether that means posting every single day or 1x a week. I don’t care if your blog is called Super Cute Pictures of My Dog (lol!) and you post 1 super cute picture of your dog everyday– as long as you show up consistently, people will know what to expect and will likely stick around. It builds trust.
  2. Post quality content. This works off of #1. While it’s important to show up regularly so readers know when to expect you, it’s not the quantity of content you produce. You could publish a new blog post every single hour, but if it’s not quality content– who’s going to read it? Here is my entire blog post about quality content.

Many other factors play into this and the reality is that growing a following doesn’t happen overnight. Work on your food photography (people eat with their eyes!), let your personality shine (isn’t it nice reading a blog post that feels like a one-on-one conversation?), be kind, and solve problems. These guarantee you’ll eventually find your flock.

collage of cheesecake images

collage of cheesecake images

The Blogging Shift

Food blogging’s changed… drastically… over the past 8 years. What used to be an online diary and simple way to connect with others has shifted into an online conglomerate. Most food blogs are now recipe websites where there’s recipe ratings, reviews, and search engine rankings. SEO (search engine optimization) is heavily valued and not to be taken lightly, even though where we end up in search rankings isn’t really in our control. Frustrating. Email marketing can be a beast. To the average eye, food photography outshines text but video rules all. Most internet users skim, so visually friendly text is preferred. There’s now Pinterest, Facebook pages, Facebook groups, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Instagram stories, and IGTV. Managing social media is like having a 2nd blog!

The blogging world is constantly changing and it can be exhausting trying to keep up. You don’t have to change how you run your blog, but in order to stay relevant, you must be willing to adapt to the revolving world wide web.

Today, bloggers have to wear so many hats– photography, food styling, editing, videography, writing, cooking, baking, time managing, website managing– and the reality is that it can feel very heavy. When it begins to feel unmanageable, my advice is to (1) hire help and/or (2) step back and choose your priorities. I had a major turning point after my daughter was born and quickly realized that working 24/7 wouldn’t cut it anymore. Priorities shift– it’s a fact of life. Stick to what you love and know.

I absolutely LOVE testing recipes, so most of my time is spent in the kitchen. Food photography is a close 2nd, so you can usually find me behind the camera and editing photos. I’m not the biggest fan of video because it’s super stressful and time consuming, but I feel video is important to the content I produce– like showing how to shape croissants or how I decorate a cake. Since it’s not my favorite, I only spend 4-5 days per month shooting videos. My assistants help me with things that don’t necessarily need to be “me” such as testing a recipe in their own kitchens, PR emails, brand contracts, organizing giveaways, adding tags to posts, scheduling on social media and Pinterest, adding links to blog posts, organizing photos, etc. Lots of little things make up the business.

Speaking of SEO…

I want to preface this section by admitting that I am NOT an expert on SEO and there are thousands of other bloggers who understand much more than I do about search rankings, but let me share the small bit of knowledge I have. This is a very amateur explanation and if you have any questions… ask a search engine or a pro because I likely won’t know the answer!! SEO (search engine optimization) is a practice you can apply to the way you deliver your online content. For a food blogger, applying SEO friendly practices to your blog posts can help them rank higher in search results. Search engines see your optimized content and think “hey, this person is an expert on the subject so they should be ranked higher.” This means more website traffic and if that’s your goal– awesome! What I don’t enjoy about formatting posts to be SEO friendly is that it can remove the personality from the blog posts. SEO friendly posts should load fast, include headers, lists, keywords, and concise information on the subject. Driving traffic to my blog is one of my goals, but so is connecting with readers. I try to find a balance between informational (SEO friendly) and personal (connecting with readers).

Here are a few resources I use for SEO (not sponsored):

  1. SEMrush: I literally only use this to see how my keywords rank. I had no idea it existed until the blogger retreat I joined last year. It’s a really cool paid service with so much available to members, but I don’t have time (or understanding) for most of this stuff!!!
  2. Google Trends: I use this to determine which keywords people are searching for. For example, “vanilla cake recipe” or “homemade vanilla cake.” You can compare to see which search is more popular.
  3. Answer The Public: Sort of like Google Trends. You can type in a keyword and this program populates which questions people are asking on it. For example, type in “banana muffins.” You will see people ask “how to make banana muffins moist” and you can make sure you answer that question in your blog post.

Food Photography

Oh, this beast! Here is my completely updated Food Photography Basics page.

Top of a vanilla cake with raspberries

How Do Food Bloggers Make Money?

If you’re publishing free content, how can you earn money? There are plenty of ways to make money from food blogging and each depend on how you want to run your business.

Here are a few:

  1. Display Advertising
  2. Brand Sponsorships
  3. Affiliate Commissions
  4. Selling a Product, eBooks, or Cookbooks

I list display advertising as #1 because that’s the majority of my income and it also pays for website hosting, email hosting, my staff, groceries, equipment, photography props, monthly tech support, domain renewal, advertising campaigns, workshops, blogging conferences, among other business expenses. My advice with regards to the amount of display ads is to always remember that user experience makes or breaks user loyalty.

Working with brands can also earn you a paycheck, but this goes back to how you want to run your business. I don’t work with a lot of brands and that’s just my business choice. Publishing organic content, on my own terms, is really important. Not saying that working with brands can’t be a natural fit– it totally can and other bloggers do this VERY well– I just prefer to keep my annual brand partnerships to a limited number. Do you. (I am not an expert on working with or reaching out to brands so I’m a really bad example here!)

You can also sell a product or recommend a product. For example, I use Silpat baking mats on my baking sheets all the time. I created an affiliate link to this product and include the link in some of my recipes. I don’t work with this brand, but I will happily endorse their product. Selling or recommending a product should not be overseen; it’s a method of earning money that also provides value to your audience. That’s big.

A lot of food bloggers/food photographers/food videographers can earn money from photographing/video shooting for other bloggers or brands. Isn’t that incredible? Reach out to brands or bloggers you love and offer your food photography or videography services.

pouring chocolate ganache onto profiteroles

Ok, I think that’s it…? I really hope this has been helpful for you! If you’re craving more posts about blogging, I recently updated each of the following:

More Food Blogging Advice

Thank you for being here! xo

33 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Sally! Blogging is definitely a full-time job and you have done a great job rising to the challenges… especially with a toddler in tow! Lol! But in all honesty, as someone who has been following your blog for years, it’s amazing and so impressive to see how you have grown this blog over the years to add new features and consistently wonderful content which continue to make the blog my #1 trusted source for all things baking.
    Good luck in all things for the future!
    X

  2. Gayatri Shrikhande says:

    So helpful and so encouraging Sally! Thank you for being such an inspiration always 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for writing this Sally…..you are so amazing and talented and the best food blogger there is!!! The way you and your blog have grown so much since you started is an absolute inspiration…thank you!

  4. Thanks Sally, great post! I can see you work and connecting with your readers as much as you do because you care and genuinely want to. And I appreciate your content both for its innovation and presentation. Also thanks for keeping your website post commentary postive and real. Keep up the great work Sally and team!

  5. I always love the behind the scenes posts. I appreciate all the work that goes into every post you publish. I often forget how much work all you bloggers out there put into the content you create. Especially the true authentic bloggers like yourself. Thank you for loving what you do and continually bringing us such genuine recipes/posts every week.

  6. Thanks Sally for always being so genuine; that’s what always brings me back to you! You are the only blogger I ever followed for recipes which always turn out great! Thank you for all your hard work; it makes making your recipes that much better knowing all the hard work and effort you put into it before the recipe is presented, and I know it will always turn out superb!!

  7. Thank you SO much for sharing all of this, Sally! Every single point you brought up was incredibly helpful! I find that whenever I get caught up in the little details and begin to stress, I always have to go back to my “why.” Why am I doing this in the first place? What’s my mission and goal? I find that always helps to not only center me, but also help me produce better and more valuable work!

    You’ve been such an inspiration to me ever since I discovered your blog back when I was a senior in high school (now I feel old haha!). Thank you for all that you do!

  8. Sally, thank you again for giving us background. I do not spend oodles of time searching the internet for “stuff” and as I read this I tried to remember how I found your BLOG in the first place. That aside, I am grateful every day that I did find you because my baking skills certainly have improved since I began following your recipes and suggestions. Today I will bake the new Vanilla Cake recipe and you are still my favorite chemist!!

  9. Dear Sally,
    It has been such a pleasure to get to know you by reading and looking forward to your emails everyday. I was first introduced to you via an instagram post on 08/21/18 by “theBakefeed” with a stunning picture of your cookie cake (that I made for my husband’s birthday). Since then, I have made many of your recipes both from your cookie book and your blog, your pumpkin muffins are my youngest son’s favorite and your skillet warm cookie is a total crowd pleaser.
    Thank you for all your hard work!

  10. Sally!! This was such a joy to read! You are as sweet as sugar to share all of your tips of the trade and I am sure that you will inspire someone with this post to change the direction of their life. I have looked up to you for such a long time- you have helped me become a better baker- and I just really adore you. You are always there to answer questions, your posts are written from the heart, and you truly make all of feel like we know you. I love the connection we have shared over the joy of baking and I am so thankful that you went for your dreams. Love you!! Keep up the great work 🙂

  11. Thank you for always having such quality content! And while I’ve never met you in person, I feel like we’re best friends!

  12. McKenzie Page says:

    I loved this! I always love your posts. I go to you first for all my baking needs and read your cookbooks like they’re novels! I’ve never been disappointed with any recipe ive made from you, only inspired to keep cooking! Thank you!

  13. Christine Markwart says:

    Sally, this couldn’t be more timely. At about 11 pm last night I told my husband, it’s time to start my blog. I’ve been talking about it for a long time – and had even started one about 7 years ago. Then your email came thru shortly after; if that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is! Thank you for all of your inspiration and dedication! You’ve built an amazing community! It’s hard to imagine the amount of work and time to get you from corporate world to where you are today – and I’m so glad you did that!!
    xoxo -Christine

  14. This was such an interesting read! Your story is truly an inspiration! Thanks for sharing! The only thing I’d love to hear/see more about is what your pantry looks like and how you maintain the ingredients for all your baking and testing! We’ve seen glimpses in Sprinkled videos and it looks amazing! Allllll the bags of chocolate chips!

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and wisdom! I stared a blog in August and while the holidays brought more traffic than I had ever seen, it has since slowed. The holiday groove and excitement also motivated me but now am trying to find a new rhythm that works for me. I admire you and love making and featuring your recipes on my blog!

  16. Sally, thank you so much for this post. I honestly rarely read your blog but subscribe to your email for cookie recipes. Our small business is at a point where a blog would help support it and should drive more customers to us. Your honest, no-nonsense blog post was unbelievably helpful in deciding what and how to work on our own posts. THANK YOU.

  17. Hi Sally, I appreciate you sharing your success story with us. I’ve been writing my blog, Scotch & Scones ( www.scotchandscones.com), for almost 2 years. I am still working to grow my readership using a lot of the “tip and tricks” you’ve suggested above, from SEO techniques to improving my photography. One takeaway I can say is that, regardless of how many people read my posts, I’m blogging for myself. It’s a huge time commitment and I agree consistency is key, but it’s a labor of love that allows me to meld my passions for baking, whisky, and writing. Your posts are an inspiration to me, and I have used many of your recipes as stepping stones for my own post ideas. Thanks for all your quality content and dedication to your craft!

  18. Sharon Roodhuyzen says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! It certainly shows throughout all the content you share that you are the hardest worker in the room!

  19. Patty McGuire says:

    I so admire and respect you Sally! Your blog is beautiful and your recipes are always good. I work on a crafting blog, and I get burned out on the SEO and trying to build the traffic to get the ad placement. Even having a small blog is quite expensive, so I would like for it to pay for itself someday and put a little something back in my pocket! Craft supplies don’t grow on trees. LOL! Thanks for sharing your story. I know how hard you work, and you deserve every success.

  20. Great post, Sally! I’m new to your blog—discovered you via the iced oatmeal cookie recipe over the holidays—and boy, were they GOOD! Your attention to detail and your audience is excellent. Happy to be a new follower!

  21. Margo Pillischer says:

    Sally you’re the best! Love this post and all the behind-the-scenes posts! Thank you for being so genuine and accessible!

  22. I don’t really comment on blogs (more of the silent, faithful reader type) nor do I have any interest in creating one but I just have to say that you are the hardest working food blogger I’ve come across. You post consistently without taking long, mysterious breaks. You worked your butt off before your daughter was born to have plenty of posts throughout your maternity leave and even after her birth you STILL come up with quality content without missing a beat. It’s obvious you test these recipes multiple times (I can tell you’re the perfectionist type) and I can’t stress how nice it is to know I can rely on your recipes. I’ve truly had better outcomes with your recipes than the most “famous of famous” food bloggers (though you’re getting up there yourself!). You give this job the respect it deserves by treating it like your career – not a hobby, which I believe is the mistake many other bloggers make. Oh, and it is SO appreciated how your sponsored posts are few and far between, and the few you do work with are brands I actually seen you use. I admire the respect you have for your readers’ time, your recipes, and your family. You do all of the above so, so well, all while being a mother.

    Just wanted you to know you’re doing a really great job.

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your kind words! They mean so much to me- and connecting with readers like you is simply amazing. I’m thrilled that you’ve had great success with my recipes! Thank you for your loyal readership! Hope you have a great weekend 🙂

  23. What a beautiful and honest post Sally! I really love the way you broke down every step and made the journey look so seamless, though I totally understand the amount of work it takes to be there. I look at your blog everyday 🙂 and the recipes are simply divine. I wish tonnes of success and hope you keep up this fantastic blog ever!!

  24. Hi Sally. I have been following you for a long time and love reading your blog posts. Thank you so much for sharing this information and shedding some light on the process. Your recipes are AMAZING!! I don’t think there is one that I have not loved and I have tried many. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re a huge inspriation to wannabes like me:)

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Julie!

  25. Sally, this is such an honest and beautifully written article! I’m a longtime follower of your blog (though I rarely post comments) and I just wanted to tell you that I’ve made 30+ of your recipes and they’ve all turned out brilliantly — which is a rare success rate for a food blog! I won’t mention the names of some of the other food blogs I originally followed 10+ years ago, but often their recipes didn’t turn out, and I started to notice that many of the comments they received weren’t “I made your sugar cookies, and they were delicious!” but rather “your sugar cookie recipe looks amazing — can’t wait to try it!” and then a link to their own blog below that. 🙁 I remember that when I initially found your blog after a Google search on how to make a giant monster cookie, what impressed me so much and convinced me to give your recipe a try was how many people made your recipe and took the time to write how well it actually turned out. Ever since that first “Sally” recipe, I’ve been hooked, and pretty much my entire Pinterest dessert page is Sally recipes. My husband will often hear me say upon baking a new dessert recipe, “It’s a Sally, and she’s never let me down!” And indeed, my entire holiday dessert spreads are typically “Sallys”. 🙂 Sorry to be so long winded…but from the bottom of my heart, and from one baking lover to another, THANK YOU for all you do, and for providing me and all of your readers such joy and success in the kitchen!

  26. Hi Sally, re-reading this post..mostly because I wanted to understand why so many food blogs these days are losing personality, repeating content, and/or starting to read in the same voice as other blogs.

    I understand staying relevant in this industry; a blog = business = livelihood. But THANK YOU for not losing the balance between being a Google all-star and putting yourself out there with expertly crafted recipes.

    Thank you for maintaining such a GENUINE, trusted blog… (and still the best brownie recipe on the Internet. Why do I even bother auditioning new ones?…since I always come back to THIS home base 😉 )

    1. Thank you so much for these incredibly kind words! So sweet! I really appreciate it and I’m glad you love those homemade brownies. They’re my favorite too!

  27. Hey Sally, thanks for the informative and honest post! Food blogging has been an idea I’ve had on the back burner for a while so this is just the motivator I needed.

    One question I have is how do you go about your recipe developing/testing?

    Take care, and thanks for the excellent recipes!

    1. Hi Brandon! It’s a wonderfully rewarded career. For testing– there’s no formal process I follow, but I always test my recipes at least 3 times. I have scheduled “kitchen days” where I’m usually working on 2-3 recipes at once. If a recipes comes out perfect the first time (it usually doesn’t!), then I’ll test it one more time before it’s made again for photography and video. All the test recipes are eaten at some point, usually by friends, family, neighbors, my freezer (ha!). My baking days are based around our social calendar so I have somewhere to bring test recipes. If they are true recipe flops that are ruined (trust me, there are lots of those!), they are tossed. It all comes with trial and error.

  28. Hi Sally! First I just want to say how grateful I am that you are such an amazing person and baker. I’m 14 years old and LOVE to bake. You have inspired me so much to continue to keep baking and trying new recipes. I have read all of your food blog posts and every recipe of yours that I have tried has just blown me away! Without your blog I wouldn’t have gotten were I am today. I’m well known in my extended family and neighborhood as “the baker” and I sell cakes to my neighbors and I owe it all to your recipes! Every holiday and family get together we have I am baking another one of your recipes and they turn out amazing every time. Some day I want to start a food blog just like you and share my own recipes . Just want to say thank you and thank you again and thank you a million times for all that you do and how much you have inspired me and many other bakers too!

  29. Hey Sally! Reading this post, I tried to remember how I first found your site. It was back in 2013 when I searched ‘chocolate chip cookie recipe’ online. The recipes I found didn’t look very trustworthy, and some of them had over 4 cups of sugar in them. But then I found YOUR chewy choc chip cookies. I made them with the fantastic help of your video, and from then on, I always used your blog. Now in 2021, here I am, still baking with your amazing posts! Thanks so much for all the love and support and hard work you put into this ♥ Leah

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