food blogging as a career
I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not to write this post. I suppose this is for several reasons: 1) I am not an expert in food blogging by any means (though is anyone, really, in this dynamic field? If you are, please introduce yourself so I may learn your ways); 2) I don’t feel like what I do for a living is a job as much as it is a passion and a hobby that I love in that deep-down, forever and ever way; and 3) because food blogging as a career looks so different depending on the person and his/her circumstances.
But I do sit here, today, in my yoga pants (#fancy) at my dining room table (a.k.a. “office”) and I’ve called myself a full-time food blogger for nearly two years, so I guess I’d better own it already and go forth.
In all seriousness, the reason I thought to write this post is because I often get asked what I do for a living and how I made food blogging a career for myself. It’s not like I don’t want to get another e-mail or message ever again about what I do and how I do it — please, puh-lease don’t think that! I like you. E-mail me. — but I thought it might be helpful for those who haven’t asked the question yet or, more likely, don’t want to receive an e-mail response from me to the tune of 2,000 words with a lot of “yay!”s and exclamation points (basically, I’m a long-winded tween in e-mail form). So instead, you get a blog post to the tune of 2,000 words.
Let’s do this.
1. How did you get started writing a food blog?
The answer to this question is given in more detail on my FAQ page, but basically, I was bored and unemployed and I needed somewhere to spout my thoughts and energies other than on my new husband, lest he head for the hills. I love writing and baking, so I combined my two loves into this lovely little space o’ internet.
P.S. If you’re interested in starting your own food blog, here is a handy three-step guide to help you out.
2. What is your background?
My degrees are in journalism and anthropology: journalism, because I was convinced from age 13 (yes, that young) that I wanted to be a newspaper reporter, and anthropology, because I ended up taking all of the classes for it (which allowed me to travel to Amsterdam and India during college, so no regrets). After college and a year of not-so-fun jobs at two coffee shops, I was hired as the arts and entertainment reporter for an Iowa City paper. I worked there for a little more than two years while also blogging, all the while slowly falling out of love with what I thought was my dream job (reporting) and slowly falling in love with what I discovered was my dream job (food blogging).
Not going to lie — there were many a night of ugly cries and many a morning of wanting so badly to call in sick because I did not enjoy my day job (for reasons partially related to the low-morale environment of that paper itself: reasons that are not uncommonly found in many newsrooms these days) and I just wanted to stay home and blog all day, but alas, I had to pay the bills so my husband could attend graduate school and we wouldn’t have to live in a cardboard box.
3. When and how did you transition into full-time food blogging?
To answer this question, I have to back up a bit. I started blogging in August 2009. By April 2010, I signed on with the Platefull ad network (my first-ever source of income via the blog) and was approached by Tablespoon to write for their website on a monthly basis. By the summer of 2011, I was also hired on by Betty Crocker and Pillsbury to write for their websites on a monthly basis (if I remember correctly, I found out through Platefull that they were hiring new blogger contributors and applied for a position). I maintained these partnerships, along with a few sponsored post opportunities through Platefull, through May of 2012, when I went full-time with the blog.
At the time, I was working at my job at the newspaper, writing blog posts in the evenings, and working doggedly on the weekends to develop and photograph recipes (sometimes up to eight in one weekend). It was… a lot. But I loved blogging so the extra hours of work were worth it to me.
That said, things kind of hit a critical mass in the spring of 2012: My husband was about to graduate, we were planning to move away from Iowa, my blog work was taking up more and more of my time and I was still working at the paper. So when my husband graduated, I decided to quit my job at the paper and take the plunge into full-time blogging. Loooooong story short, we moved away, my husband got a job after six months of searching and I worked my bum off/prayed every second of every day that my blog would grow into a viable career (because at that point, we were pretty broke). Between ad revenue (by now, I was with both Platefull and BlogHer), sponsored posts and my contributor positions, I was making nearly what I made as a newspaper reporter. Those of you in the newspaper business know this isn’t saying much, but at the same time, I was proud of where I’d come from and what I’d accomplished and that somehow, seemingly out of nowhere (though it wasn’t out of nowhere, hence the late, long nights of blogging, weekends of recipe development and lots of aforementioned ugly cry sessions), my hobby had turned into a profitable business.
4. How did your blog grow into a sustainable career?
So this is a very subjective question, because “sustainable” to me looks very different than it does to other people, depending on life circumstances. But here is my situation. I’d say it took me nearly a year of blogging full-time until I realized I could make this a sustainable, long-term career. Because I had more time to devote to the blog, I was able to throw myself more intensely into improving my content, building my readership, reaching out to brands and companies I wanted to work for, promoting myself like a crazy person on social media, networking, etc. And I was seeing results. I wouldn’t say it was exponential growth by any means whatsoever, but it was enough to where I felt like all of my hard work was paying off — in terms of both analytics and income.
I’ll be honest — in those early months, I took everything I could get. I was more concerned about making money and less concerned about how I was making it, meaning I was less discerning than I am today about what work I took on, who from and how much they paid. But that was the nature of the beast — if I was going to do this full-time and really make a career out of it, I felt I had to take whatever income opportunities came my way. I know this isn’t everyone’s approach and I completely respect that. And I am able to say today that I do not take on any work that I don’t feel is a good fit for me and my brand, BUT — for me that took time.
So fast-forward another year, more paid opportunities, networking, improving my content, yada yada yada, and I am now taking in an income that is able to sustain my blog expenses, pay some of our bills and then some. And here’s the real-deal truth: As it stands, I would not be able to support myself AND my husband AND our current way of living on my blog alone in the long term. But I do make enough to give us a comfortable boost of income for expenses like groceries, restaurants, vacations, mortgage, etc. and for savings. Here’s the breakdown of where my income comes from:
2. Sponsored content — that is, when I develop and photograph recipes and write posts on my blog using a brand’s product in the recipes, as well as some giveaways and reviews. You can see some of the brands I’ve worked with before in my Portfolio.
3. Contributor content — that is, when I develop and photograph recipes and write posts for brands and companies on their websites. You can see some of the brands I’ve worked with before in my Portfolio.
4. Affiliate links — that is, commissions from links I have on my blog set up through affiliate programs. I currently am an affiliate for Skimlinks, Liquid Web, Thesis Theme and Elegant Themes. I was an affiliate for Amazon before I moved to Minnesota (it is not allowed in this state).
5. Ziplist — This is the program that runs that thing called a Recipe Box on my blog’s main bar, where you can save recipes from my blog or any other blog for grocery lists and menus. I receive revenue from the ads on that page.
6. Consultant work — This is semi-unrelated to blogging, but by way of my work as a blogger for General Mills brands I was hired last year as a consultant in the Kitchens at General Mills. So every few weeks, I go to the General Mills headquarters and help with events, recipe development, etc. in the Kitchens.
5. So those are your sources of income… what are your expenses?
GOOD QUESTION. Because it’s not like I don’t got ’em. Here’s the breakdown of where I have to pay the bills, bills, bills for my blogging:
1. Server fees — that is, paying my webhost (Liquid Web) to keep my blog up and running so I don’t have a hissy fit when it goes down for like 10 minutes and call them every 2.5 seconds until it’s back up again. Not that this has happened. Ahem.
2. Groceries — so. many. groceries, you guys.
3. Props and kitchen supplies
4. Photography equipment — that is, anything from a cheapo whiteboard I got at Michael’s to my camera lens.
5. Website design
6. Taxes — I know everybody pays taxes, but I include this because when you are a full-time freelance anything, you have to keep in mind that you’ll be paying a pretty penny on all those checks you received throughout the year that had no withholdings.
6. Enough about money. How do you grow your blog?
I don’t exactly love this question because for one, I don’t blog just because I want all the peoples to read my blog. I do it because I am passionate about it to my core and I can’t imagine anything else that would get me out of bed before the sun rises every day (well, besides waffles, maybe). Also, everyone grows their blog in different ways, so my ways may not work for you. But they also might. And I also understand that a good chunk of why I am able to do this full-time is because I have a readership — a.k.a., you lovely people. Can we take a pause for a group hug?
Here are ways that I grow my blog, today, as an established full-time food blogger:
3. Networking — This one is h-u-g-e. For me, networking has included, but is not limited to, interacting with other bloggers by commenting on blogs and sharing content on my social media feeds, as well as attending food blog conferences and reaching out to brands via e-mail or social media (or in person at conferences) to ask if I can work with them. I also like meeting other local bloggers in real life, but that’s not about growing my blog. That’s just because I like meeting other people who have a weirdly irrational love of making, taking pictures of and eating their food.
4. eCookbook! I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this earlier. But my eBook is yet another (exciting) way I am developing and expanding my career as a food blogger and a way that many other bloggers have expanded their reach, too.
7. What keeps you going every day?
An innate, incessant passion for writing and baking gives me the most get-up-and-go. Secondly, I’d say inspiration. I truly think if I didn’t follow so many amazing food blogs every day that wow me with their stunning photos and recipes and stories, I wouldn’t feel motivated to keep this blog running. It’s not a I-need-the-competition-to-be-motivated kind of thing, not at all; it’s more of a oh-my-garsh-those-doughnuts-look-so-tasty-can-I-grab-one-through-the-screen-oh-I-can’t-so-I’ll-have-to-make-my-own-dang-doughnuts-and-oooooh-I-really-love-how-she-used-that-cutting-board-as-a-background-I-might-fancy-myself-to-try-that-next-time kind of thing. Make sense?
You can see a whole list of blogs who inspire me daily on my Link Love page, but for instant gratification, I am often inspired by: Pinch of Yum, Bakers Royale, Blogging Over Thyme, FoodieCrush, Damn Delicious, Hungry Girl Por Vida, My Name is Yeh, Take a Megabite, Flourishing Foodie, The Moonblush Baker and Top With Cinnamon for photography; Sally’s Baking Addiction, Climbing Grier Mountain, Half Baked Harvest, How Sweet It Is, Southern Souffle, Table for Two and Tutti Dolci for recipes; and Bev Cooks, Joanne Eats Well With Others, Happyolks and Orangette for writing. These, of course, are just a few examples as I could go list eleventy billion more blogs that I love and am inspired by daily, but there’s a smattering for you.
And thirdly, you guys, my readers. You are the reason I work from wake time to bed time on this blog (and if I’m not working, I’m probably sorta kinda thinking about work… that’s what it’s like when you’re your own boss). You are the reason I enjoy doing this. You are the reason I decided to even attempt going at this full-time in the first place. So thank you. I might be tearing up right now.
8. So how do I do this food blog thing?
My advice, first, is to make sure it’s something you want to do because you really really love it: not because you want to make a career out of blogging, or even make money from a blog, but because you love getting in the kitchen every day to create and you love sharing it online and writing about it. Plain and simple. If you don’t have that motivation as the bones, it will probably never work in the long term. But if you do, then I say go for it. Keep at it, even when the numbers don’t grow. They will. Keep at it, even when you think this is stupid and you’ll never get better. You will. Know what your brand is, and remember your readers. They matter. Your journey will probably look very different than mine — it may take more time, or less — but if you’re willing to put in the work (and let me tell you, it is hard WORK, even in yoga pants), you can make a growing food blog happen.
I could keep going on and on, but lawdy, I think that’s enough for today (if you’re still even with me — if so, bless you). If you have any more questions or want to chat more in-depth with me about any of this, please ask me in the comment section below or send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). I promise my response will be far more succinct, though no less enthusiastic. You can also visit my FAQ page for more resources.
Ready to start your own food blog? Here’s my easy guide on how to get started.
Hearts and hugs.
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.