How I Turned my Food Blog into a Career

 

Food Blogging As A Career -- tips and tricks from sallysbakingaddiction.com

2013 was 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.

This past March, I came to a quick realization. I was making enough money from my food blog to pay all my bills. And working 9-5, 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 quality content every day, rather than only the weekends. I knew that was my path: Be an entrepreneur. Grow something on my own.

And work damn hard doing it.

Life is what you bake it

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 sharing my recipes if you weren’t here too.

What Is a Food Blogging Career?

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. 😉 But there’s a lot more to being a food blogger than making cookies and posting them online.

  1. Connection: First, there’s the constant connection with readers. 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. I am fiercely dedicated to this!
  3. Food Photography: People eat with their eyes! Food photography is really important to the growth of my food blog. I’ve taken every single food photo on this blog and in my cookbooks. I’m so proud of the photography journey I’ve been on and know I still have so much to learn. Here is my Food Photography Basics post, including my current equipment.
  4. Videography: Recipe videos are the hottest trend right now and they’re not going anywhere. Setting up, shooting, and editing videos is a major piece to the food blogging pie.
  5. Social Media Marketing: Between all the social medias these days (Pinterest, Facebook pages, Facebook groups, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Instagram stories, and IGTV), social media feels like another full time job! Updated in 2019: I’m so grateful I have two assistants to help me manage this. If you have budget to hire, I recommend it!
  6. Comments, Questions, and Emails: Answering comments, questions, and emails is important because it shows there is a face/human/actual person behind the blog.
  7. Writing Blog Posts: This includes working hard to keep my content engaging, personable, flowing, and comprehendible.
  8. Cookbooks: Many food bloggers are also cookbook authors, myself included!

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 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 through Amazon and include the link in some of my recipes. I don’t work with this brand, but I will happily endorse their product. I earn a very small amount from this product recommendation at no extra cost to the buyer. Like, a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a penny but it can add up! 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.

Food Blogging Expenses

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 still run to the grocery 100 times a week.

Other expenses:

  • Monthly website server
  • Groceries
  • Monthly tech support
  • Website designing
  • Food props
  • Bakeware & kitchen supplies
  • Camera & lenses
  • Lighting equipment
  • Travel
  • Photography/videography editing software

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. My post about producing quality content and how to start a food blog are packed with more blogging advice!

Stay Grounded

Food blogging 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. It’s easy to get lost in it all. 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.
  • 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 or take the dogs for a walk.
  • Me time. Having time to yourself (or with a loved one, child, 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.
  • 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: baking and sharing my recipes make me happy. The moment I begin to feel it is a chore, I take a break.

My Last Piece of Advice

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.

Check out my other blogging pages:

551 Comments

  1. Sally, thank you so much for sharing all of this with your readers. I absolutely love your blog and your recipes are always amazing. As a fellow blogger, it’s so encouraging and motivating to read about how many of you made this passion into your career. I only hope to be able to one day do the same. I just want you to know how much I appreciated this post and it is extremely helpful!! Keep up the amazing work 🙂

  2. Sally, I don’t know if you will even get to see this comment, but I have to tell you, I made your pumpkin-chocolate-chip cookies this weekend, and my father-in-law FELL IN LOVE. I’m under strict orders to bring them for Thanksgiving too!

  3. Thanks so much for taking the time to put together this post and share some of your blogging insight Sally. I’m continually amazed by how quickly you made your blog a huge success, and I know it didn’t come easy! I only hope to get there myself someday. Thanks for the inspiration and advice!

  4. Sally, this is such an amazing and well-written post! You are an inspiration to me and so many others! I will be bookmarking this post and looking back on it whenever I need a pep talk <3

  5. This post just inspires me even more to keep working super hard on the growth of my blog! It is super hard with schoolwork and being on a swim team to fit in time to bake and blog. I just have to keep working hard! 🙂

    1. I was on a swim team for about 11-12 years, Shelby! Loved it. I miss it, too.

      It’s difficult to balance it all – growing your blog takes time, that’s for sure.

  6. I absolutely love your blog and your recipes are always amazing Sally! Such an amazing post,I don’t know if you will even get to see this comment but I have to say thatyou inspired me in many ways. LOVE YOUUU!

  7. Fantastic post, Sally! This seriously has to be one of my favorite posts of yours…which is really saying a lot since I’m drooling over your baked treats on a daily basis! It’s always so inspiring to read success stories about people following their dreams. Thanks so much for sharing this and for your honesty about everything that goes along with this job. Keep up the amazing work!

  8. Sally,

    There are so many awesome things I love about your post today.

    You work so hard and yet, when I read your blog, I feel like it is all sunshine and sprinkles. Your demeanor and personality are engaging.

    And, I love that when I was having issues with my very vanilla cupcakes, a personal response from you solved the issue and I am now kind of famous (I always give you credit but with the same name, it can get confusing!) for those very vanilla cupcakes.

    I am a chronic dieter and drool over your site every day. But when I do need to bake something special, your blog is my “go to” for inspiration and recipes!

    Thank you for the “share” today. I can’t wait for the cookbook!

    xo
    Sally

    1. Sally, this comment really means a lot to me for a few reasons. First, that you are on a diet and still read my blog. Sure, I have the occasional healthier recipe post, but most of my blog is full of frosting and chocolate glaze and sugary cookies. So thank you! Second, I’m happy my very vanilla cupcakes made you famous. They seriously are so darn good. And finally, thanks for your excitement about my cookbook!

  9. the only thing still missing is your own cooking show!! I would sooooooooooo watch it!! HELLO…FOOD NETWORK…call this girl! grab her before someone else does 🙂

  10. thank you for sharing this post Sally! Your hard work shows…CLEARLY it is so hard NOT to compare yourself to other bloggers, but this was a great reminder to keep your head down and get to work

    1. I am the queen of comparing myself to others. Why do we even do it? It just brings us down. There was no way I could compare myself to professional bloggers at the beginning. I did the same thing when I first stared out in my office job too. It takes experience (and patience) to grow!

  11. Hi Sally
    So I’m not a blogger and don’t really see that in my future but I am a (beginning baker and a bit of a foodie 😉 I subscribe to your blog and have to say I think your doing a great job ! I’m a Huge Fan of Martha Stewart and in the last few months my husband has been hearing me talk about YOU twice as much ! (He’s pointed it out . ) And really its because you explain things really well, you go into the whys and hows of baking! Its super helpful .. your writing style is also really personable ! I know you work you butt off make the blog so awesome and I just want to say thanks… its why I follow you. Ive come across a million food blogs esp bc of Pinterest and rarely do I ever look at them twice… and never do i subscribe to them. Your stuff is consistently amazing to eat and your recipes/blog on the foods are super helpful! Ok I’m done now… =) Thanks! (btw I’m itching to make those mini pecan tarts you posted!)

    1. Hey Alisa!

      Thanks so much. I laughed when I read that about Martha Stewart/your hubs’ comment haha. I’m flattered you talk about me! When I first began experimenting in the kitchen, I always wanted to learn why I was doing this, why this works, why this doesn’t – and I feel that teaching others the hows and whys will help them improve in the kitchen as well as help them become more confident too. So I’m happy you appreciate that about my writing style! Thank you so much for subscribing to my blog and making my treats! LOVE those mini pecan pie tarts. I’m making them again on Thanksgiving.

  12. As a fellow baking blogger manager, this post was so incredibly helpful in teaching how to expand a blog and truly make it grow. I’m constantly trying to work to grown my own blog, and I can guarantee that I’ll taking a few tips from this post. Thank you!

  13. This is SUCH an inspirational post Sally! I love all of your posts about food blogging- they’ve been so helpful as I’ve started my food blog (right around the time you published them last year!) I plan on turning my blog into a source of income after I graduate college (In three semesters, yikes!) and this post is incredibly helpful for that. I love all the extra links too; definitely bookmarking this post.

    1. Good luck on the rest of your college education Faith! I’m happy you found this helpful – as well as my other blogging posts!

  14. Thanks for sharing such an awesome post Sally! You have always been such an inspiration to me! I have always followed along on your blogging tips and truly appreciate you sharing your experiences. I have always respected how much time and effort you put into connecting with readers and commenting on their blogs no matter how small they are! I am seriously so excited for your cookbook to come out and wish you all the best!

    1. YOU are the sweetest, Julianne. I seriously love your blog, especially all the poke cakes (funfetti!!). Thank you so much for all your kind words!

  15. Sally the details and info you put into this post are mind-blowing. You’ve pretty much said everything that 100 other sites combined (tried to) say; some of them didn’t really hit it on the head, or only scratched the surface – you did it all here. WOW. Pinning this to as many boards of mine as I can!

    “Since my food blog is how I pay my bills, I cannot simply work for exposure or a bag of chocolates. ” <— Among like 100 other statements that I was totally nodding in agreement with, that one jumped out at me.

    Thank you for saying it like it is here and not mincing words. And for your total honesty. I cannot imagine how many times you must have gone back and fine-tuned and re-edited this post to get all the salient points covered in such a concise, humorous, and spot-on way. Bravo!

    And clearly every point you touch on from me time to camera equipment to don't start a blog for the money and on and on and on….I am in 100% agreement with. Amazing job on the post AND of course for getting here and to where you are!

    1. Thanks Averie! And you know me too well. I started writing this post in September! And as always, thanks for pinning and sharing!

  16. I absolutely love this post and I think you deserve all of the fame and money and everything you have worked for. You do an AMAZING job at “customer service” aka responding comments and I think it’s one o the reasons why you are one of my favorite bloggers. I adore your blog and you are a huge inspiration as an entrepreneur (not just a blogger). Way to go Sally! xo

    1. My several jobs in customer assistance (financial advisor assistant, customer service at a bank, waitress) gave me enough training to be available to readers, that’s for sure. I think “customer service” is important when you’re in a field like this.

      Thank you so much for the kind comment, Kammie. Definitely made me smile.

  17. Sally,
    I’ve been “with” you since you were still fairly new at blogging, I believe there were only a few thousand followers on your Facebook page. It’s amazing, though by no means surprising, how quickly it has grown. Your recipes are great…my husband and sons have enjoyed everything just as much as I have. I remember commenting on Facebook, many, many months ago, how you should come out with a cookbook. You replied quickly, and said that you were looking into publishers. It feels nice when you actually get a reply to a comment or question. Some never respond in any way. I also love how you share “Bites of Real Life” and keep your fans informed about what else is going on in your life. Keep up with the good work, and I can’t wait to get my autographed book plate and my new cookbook. Thanks for all the hard work!

    1. Kristin, this comment means a lot to me! Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, but knowing that my replies are appreciated really helps. When I was a reader (not yet started my blog), I remember asking a popular blogger a few questions about a recipe. I desperately wanted to make her cookies for Christmas at the time. Totally ignored. My question wasn’t even that complicated or long! Frustrating. I try to answer as many readers as I can.

      Anyway, I want you to know how much I appreciate your comment. I’m happy my “Bites of real life” posts aren’t completely boring.

  18. What an awesome post Sally! I love reading all of your tips. You are such an inspiration – the way you’ve grown your blog and seem to stay so true to yourself. I really admire and aspire to do that too. You never seem gimmicky and it’s so easy to connect with what you write. Your descriptions and process are amazing.

    You are so right that blogging is a 24/7 thing. I never could’ve imagined until I started doing it. Balancing and turning it off is one of the hardest things. Especially working full time – I feel like I have a second full time job on nights and weekends. It’s worth it though. I just got my first check for advertising a few weeks ago and it was for $80 too 🙂

    I have a question if you’re willing to share. Do remember generally what kind of pageviews you had per month when you realized you were earning enough to quit your other job?

    Thanks again Sally! Love your blog! And congratulations on all the success!

  19. Thank you for putting this post together! It says everything that a hundred other posts I’ve read tried to say, but it actually clicks. You have such a wonderful way of explaining things.
    I have been blogging for 4 years now and have noticed considerable growth in my writing, photography, and recipes. Although it has been a long hard road, I’m positive that it’ll turn into something even more amazing in due time. I think the most important point you made was to not start a blog for the money, start it because you love it. I wouldn’t be 4 years in (with minimal paychecks) if I didn’t truly love it.
    Thanks!

    1. Exactly, Melissa. I can tell how much you truly love your blog. And that is important (and as a blog reader myself, readers can tell if you don’t even enjoy doing it!). Anyway, congrats on 4 years AND for always improving. It’s certainly a journey!

  20. You are amazing Sally! I love reading your blog and seeing all your fun recipes. I’ve made 5 of your recipes so far and they have all been AMAZING! I also appreciate that you take the time to respond to your reader’s comments. You are an awesome blogger. Thanks for all these great tips! I feel like there is always so much for me to learn to improve my blog.

  21. Oh, Sally, how I love you and your blog. I kid you not when I tell you that Sally’s Baking Addiction has helped and inspired me in every way. There are so many bloggers that are reluctant to share their tips and advice in a prideful manner, but you are constantly writing the best kind of real, practical advice, and always answering comments, emails, Tweets, etc. This is the kind of stuff that everyone loves and truly inspired me to start my own blog and help me grow it. It’s so refreshing to know that you started it just to share things with your family, and then with a lot of hard work, BOOM! I’m a senior in high school and I’ve been following you for a while, before I even had any concept of how to bake. Knowing that your cookbook comes out right before I graduate kind of put into effect how much your blog changed my high school career…So I know this is a lengthy comment, but I just wanted to let you know that I have an addiction to Sally’s Baking Addiction and you’ve helped me (and so many others) so much!!!

    1. Meredith, thank you so much for the tweet and this comment! I can’t even begin to believe that I inspired you to begin your own blog! And work hard at it. Thank you for that. I just checked out your blog and the boots you are wearing on your most recent post are so cute. Anyway, thank you for the genuine comment. I’m so happy that you enjoy my blog and blogging style/philosophy.

  22. Thank you for sharing all this! I still feel like it is way easier to make a blog a full time job in the US. Here in Germany it is not very common, I even heard we are the country with the least blogs per person. So I only hope for my blog to one day become known maybe nationwide, have some hundred readers or so. But before I will ever reach that goal, I will have to learn a lot more, especially on food photography!

  23. Hi Sally! Great post…thank you so much for all the great tips! I was wondering if you had any tips on growing a Pinterest following besides great content. The Pinterest search function also remains a mystery to me (how pins get ranked when you search for a specific term.)

    Can’t wait for the cookbook!

    Meaghan

    1. Meaghan, it’s a mystery to me as well. “how pins get ranked when you search for a specific term” – NO clue.

      I’m always working to grow my Pinterest following. I try to have a variety of boards and pin often. But not the same recipes over and over again. That can be annoying for followers. I know I hate it when I see the same pinned pin the same thing 10x in a row within 1 minute.

  24. Sally, I can honestly say I had never thought of the idea of blogging about baking until i came across your blog about a year ago. I have loved baking since a very young age however I didn’t think it was a possibility to make this love of baking into a career. I have had a tough year realising what i was training to become (a teacher) was really not what i wanted to do and am now working a full time job to tie me over for now. I want to thank you for your inspiring blog which makes me realise that I might have found my dream career after all! I do not currently have a blog myself but would love to start one soon! (When i figure it all out!) The way you write your posts and engage with us readers is just fantastic and I check your site at least 5 times a week and follow you on instagram. Thank you for your blog, your amazing recipes and your commitment to helping readers, you really are an inspiration! Congratulations for everything you have achieved!

    1. Hi Rebecca! I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life for awhile. When I started this blog as a hobby, I (in 100% NO WAY) ever thought this would be my job 24 months later. Anyway, you already have the #1 done to start a baking blog: you love to bake! That’s what is most important and don’t ever forget that when you are working. Anyway, thank you for following my blog and wish you the best with yours! I have a post about how I first began if you haven’t seen it: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2012/11/18/bites-to-grow-your-blog-getting-started-site-design/

  25. Hi Sally,

    I am a new food blogger, and very much appreciate this post! It has been tough for me to find a “balance” between my demanding full-time job and baking and blogging, but I truly enjoy both ventures, and am so happy to hear your take on things. Thank you so much for your valuable insight here!

    Caroline

  26. I don’t have a food blog but I read them constantly! I just wanted to say I really appreciate you responding to comments! It’s frustrating to ask a question and never get a response. I know bloggers are busy, but some don’t answer ANY comments. Whaaat?! Haha! Anyway, really happy for you being able to do this for your job!

    1. I know what that frustration is like, Stacy! While bloggers are certainly busy, yes – responding to a question isn’t very complicated. Unless of course you have a blog with over 10M views per month or something. At that point, I’d hire staff to help me with all the questions!

  27. Thank you for sharing your journey, Sally. I’m so thrilled that you have been able to turn your hobby into a career, and I wish you continued success!

  28. Sally – great post, very interesting and informative (and thorough). I’m not a food blogger, I actually make and sell jewellery (well, I’ve just started) but some points you make really apply to that too, so thank you for sharing 🙂

    PS, enjoy the wedding planning. I got married in July and between final year of university and a distance relationship wedding planning was a welcome relief – have fun with it 🙂

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