How to Start a Food Blog & Make Money With It! Because that’s what you really want to know, right? Okay – maybe not everybody starts out hoping to make money but most bloggers either start out with hope of earning income or get there eventually.
I’m not necessarily an expert on the things I’m about to share… but I would consider myself a success at this point and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’m a cake blogger with a math degree and I’m a fast learner – and I am now making full-time income from blogging (as of January 2016) and I’ve learned a few things along the way.
Let me first tell you a little of my story. I started blogging at AdventuresinSavings.com way back in 2009. I was heavily into extreme couponing (before that was even a thing) and shopping all the deals and I was reading tons of blogs about those subjects so I figured I’d start my own blog to help out local folks getting in the coupon game (I even taught coupon classes!).
It was fun, but I was on the computer all.day.long. with not a lot of money to show for it. I was making a fraction of minimum wage and I was burning out fast. I think I made around $3 my first month and by the time I stopped blogging at Adventures in Savings in 2012 (3 years later), I was still only making maybe $200-300 per month (I had high months and low months – that’s my best guess average).
That was all fine and dandy and I was thankful for the extra income, but it wasn’t enough. I was investing way too much time for so little income.
On top of that, we moved back to my hometown shortly after I started the blog, and due to location, I was doing very little “deal shopping”. Instead, I found myself with a very unexpected real-life cake business that seemed to explode overnight (you can read my “cake story” here). So in addition to the deals, I started sharing posts related to my cakes.
It was a complete surprise to me when my cake posts became more popular than my deals! As I was took more and more cake orders and experimented with more recipes & desserts – starting a cake blog seemed like the next natural thing to do.
After much thought, I finally took the leap, gave up my frugal blog and went all-out with a cake blog.
This new blog, Rose Bakes, grew exponentially faster than Adventures in Savings ever did and I immediately knew I had made the right decision!! That’s not to say everybody will make a zillion dollars blogging about their passion, but you’ve got a much better chance at success if you love what you’re writing about (and you’re being authentic)!
Before I get too far, I know many of you want the cold hard facts. How much money are you making? How much money can you make? Well – the sky is the limit. While I’m not earning 6 figures (yet!), my own income has far exceeded my expectations and I’ve learned to dream big and shoot for the stars.
I’m not sharing to brag but to encourage you and give you real numbers you can think on.
Okay – here it is. I’ve gone from earning $55 in my first month at Rose Bakes to currently averaging more than $3000 per month! This is my blog income only – not including my real-life cake income. Here’s a chart of my income growth for my first 4 years:
(this is not exact – most companies pay earnings the next month so I’m assuming everything is delayed a month. That is not an exact formula but you get the general idea)
As you can see, it didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been blogging here for 4 years this month (January 2016) and I’d say April 2015 was the first month I topped $3000 in income and felt like I really was earning full-time income for my work. Honestly, I still have to pinch myself to believe it, but it is very exciting!!
I’m officially calling my income now “full-time” but it’s still not enough to support our family of 8 on it’s own (thank God for an amazing husband with a great job), but it’s surreal to me that I’m earning what I am from home, while still being able to homeschool my kids and I love it!
Now the nuts and bolts. For starters… get help if you need it! I had a meltdown when I was trying to switch from Blogger to WordPress and I don’t recommend doing that or starting a blog on your own for most people. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and/or you’re already really knowledgeable about the back-end of websites, I really recommend investing in your blog and hiring some help to get it up and running.
I tried – earnestly tried to set up Rose Bakes by myself. But after days of crying and pulling my hair out, I had to make a decision. Either I was going to learn to build websites (which I’m confident I could do – but it was going to take a lot of time and devotion) OR I could pay someone who already knew how to build websites and I could start blogging!
I chose the latter.
Note: Many of the links listed below are affiliate links, meaning I will earn a small commission or referral fee if you use my links (at no extra cost to you, of course). Those commissions help support this blog and my family… so thank you for using them if you can! Psss… I’m going to tell you about earning money with affiliate links below… keep reading!
Ready to get started?
I will say that if you can start at WordPress – it’s best! It’s so much more versatile than any other free platform and you’ll be happy you did in the long run. It’s pretty much the industry standard for blogs and I don’t think you’ll regret it. Note: from here on out when I say WordPress, I mean WordPress.org – NOT WordPress.com. With WordPress.com, you cannot earn money!!
However, starting on WordPress does require an investment (time and/or money), but if you can afford it – go for it!
1. To get started, first you need a domain.
To get started with blogging on WordPress, you’re going to need to buy a domain. That’s the literal “http://rosebakes.com” with whatever name you want between the // and the .com (or .net or .me or…. there are so many options now). Take time and choose a name you’re ready to keep for the long haul!
I switched to Name Cheap a few months back and I haven’t had any complaints with them. That means that RoseBakes.com and RoseAtwater.com (those are my domains) are registered with and paid for through Name Cheap. I don’t have any cons, but the pros are that they were super helpful in transferring my domains and they’re less expensive than other options too… so Name Cheap would be my #1 recommendation for hosting. .
I haven’t been with Name Cheap for very long though – I originally bought my domain name (ie., http://rosebakes.com) through GoDaddy. I never had any real complaints with them (strictly talking about my service with them) but last year they had some seriously tacky, offensive Super Bowl commercials (update: I’ve been told that’s been going on for more than just last year) and I really didn’t care to put my money into a company that felt the need to advertise like that.
I know that may not seem like a good reason to everybody, but I decided I’d prefer to put my money elsewhere. That aside, from a business point of view, I don’t have any other reason I wouldn’t recommend them.
You absolutely have to have a domain name if you’re going to do a WordPress blog (and you are, right?), but if you don’t… I still highly recommend owning your own domain so you can have that “.com” on the end vs. “.blogspot.com” or whatever … it just makes you seem more legit and professional.
2. Next… you need hosting. UPDATE: I’ve written a very detailed post here with 3 Easy Steps to Start a Blog that includes step-by-step instructions for buying and setting up hosting!
Assuming you choose to go with WordPress, you have to choose where to buy space to keep your blog. This blog is currently hosted with BigScoots (more on that in a minute). For the majority of the time I’ve been blogging here though, Rose Bakes was hosted on BlueHost.com.
I don’t really know how to explain hosting to you – except to say that all of my stuff, my blog posts and pictures and formatting and design… all of that “stuff” is saved on the servers at your host. For beginners, I can wholeheartedly recommend BlueHost.com. It’s inexpensive and reliable in my experience.
My hosting service with them only went down a handful of times in 5 years and it always come back up very quickly. Also, the customer service was good with BlueHost.com. Again I’ll mention, if you’re starting out and want very low cost, reliable service – BlueHost would be a good place to start and I have step-by-step instructions to do this HERE!
Why did I switch? Well, as my blog and blog traffic grew, I guess the best way to describe it is I “outgrew” BlueHost. I needed hosting that was more powerful and faster – something to meet the demands of the traffic I was gaining. Joy of Five J’s Design (she did my redesign in December 2015) highly recommended BigScoots – so I went with it and I have not been disappointed. I could immediately see that my site was loading faster and their customer support has been out of this world!
What’s the difference between WordPress and a free hosting site like Blogger?
Well, with WordPress – you own that space, so your blog posts are on property you own. If you choose to blog on a free platform, then your blog is hosted on their property, so if they decide to change things, you could lose it all!
OH – one other hosting site that I’ve heard great things about is HostGator. I don’t have any experience with HostGator personally but I think you’d be happy with them and again – they’re a great company if you’re on a shoestring budget starting out!
3. Last step to set up your blog (and this is the fun part!)… you want to make it work and be pretty. For me, that meant a designer.
Once you have your domain and hosting – you’ll need a design and all the pretty details added. I can’t tell you how to do that! If you’re super smart, you might be able to figure it out on your own, but if you read my story here, you’ll see why I think hiring a designer is your best bet!!
It’ll save you hours and hours of time and tears and you can do what you really want to do – start blogging! But again – this is an investment so you want to be committed!
My blog is set up on Genesis Framework and the current design was done by Joy of Five J’s Design. She is a premium designer and I never could’ve afforded her services when I started my blog.
In fact, my first blog design cost me around $400 (I’d tell you who did it, but she’s no longer in business). After that first design, I upgraded to a design by Jennifer from New Season Design. I think I paid $600-800 for the initial design from her (she did some tweaking and changes later as well). Sadly, she’s also no longer doing blog design work.
(I’m no help whatsoever, right? Hang in there with me…)
Having said that, here are some affordable designers that I’ve come across and/or heard good things about (I have not used any of them… so these recommendations are not based on personal experience):
- Jumping Jax Designs
- Little Blue Deer
- Smitten Design
- The Posh Box
- Imagination Design
- Deluxe Designs
- Genesis Developers – lots of designers to choose from, different prices – check out each designer’s portfolio!
If you want to do your own design, there are hundreds of free themes out there or you can pay for themes! I’ve been tempted many times to buy a theme from Studiopress but I always talk myself out of it (for reasons previously mentioned). I still toss around the idea because my son wants to learn about web design, but so far I haven’t taken the plunge.
But if you go that way, there are themes and child themes ready to install… you just have to customize them with your own logo/header, colors, etc. Foodie Pro is one designed for food bloggers so if I were going to do my own – I’d probably start with one like that!
After you’re set up and ready to go, you’ll obviously want to start writing… and then of course, making money! I won’t tell you about the writing part – that’s another post for another day!
There are several ways to make money blogging: sponsored posts, selling private ads, selling related products (ebooks, printables, etc.), affiliate earnings, guest posting, and working with ad networks.
I’m going to break down each of those ways for you…
Sponsored Posts: A sponsored post, also known as a promoted post, is a post to any community-driven notification-oriented website which is explicitly sponsored as an advertisement by a particular company in order to draw a large amount of popularity through user promotion and moderation to the most active or most viewed page on the website. (definition from Wikipedia)
Basically, companies pay bloggers to write about their products and advertise for them. For me, that generally looks like recipe development using a specific product, then sharing and promoting that post on social media. I started doing more sponsored posts in 2015 and I’m slowly seeing my income increase in this area. See an example of a sponsored post here: Tiramisu Brownie Trifle.
Affiliate Earnings: “Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts.” (definition from Wikipedia)
Basically – when I write and mention a product or service for a specific company that I’m an affiliate for – I get paid if readers click through and sign up, make a purchase, etc. So when I tell you that I love the new Craftsy class I took and I link to that class (examples in this post) – when you click through and make a purchase, I make a commission.
Ad Network: “An online advertising network or ad network is a company that connects advertisers to web sites that want to host advertisements.” (definition from Wikipedia).
On my site, the long ads at the top and bottom of Rose Bakes and one (or two?) on the sidebar are from ad networks. I get paid for clicks and/or pageviews. If I have 1000 visitors to my page in a day, I’m paid “so many cents” per view or click. I’ll give you a little more info on that below.
Guest Posting or Contributing to another blog: For a few years I was a contributing writer at CakeJournal.com and that was a paid writing job. I quit that job a few months ago because it was no longer a good fit for me, but if you are interesting in writing for other blogs, do a quick Google search and there are lots of opportunities out there.
Does that clear it up a little bit about different kinds of income? I hope so! The takeaway is this: To make money blogging you’ll want to have multiple streams of income. So here are a few I can recommend for you:
My biggest affiliate income usually comes from Shareasale. Because of my promotion of Craftsy (classes), PicMonkey (Royal Membership), Pretty Witty Cakes, Cents of Style (cute clothes and accessories), Zulily (cake plates, aprons, and all kinds of fantastic), Flirty Aprons and other relevant companies to my blog that I really believe in, Shareasale is my largest source of income on my blog.
When I say, “that I really believe in”… I say that on purpose. You need to be authentic with your audience and not promote things just for the sake of promoting and making a dime. Your readers will see through that!
Anywho – Shareasale also has hundreds and hundreds of other companies in their affiliate network. I’m confident that if you want to do affiliate sales, there are companies you can sign up with via Shareasale!
My other top affiliate income is from Amazon Associates. You can link to just about anything you can think up on Amazon and if someone clicks through your link and makes a purchase – you earn a small percentage!
There may be a few others, but these are the ones I receive payments from on a semi-regular basis (most of them have a minimum payment threshold – usually $25 or $50, so I may not get payments from every one, every month).
Let me jump in here and say that several months ago, when I wanted to really start working toward a full-time income, I needed to up my game. The first thing I did to learn more is buy How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul.
This ebook is fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough!! In fact, it was so good that I also signed up for Ruth’s Elite Blogging Academy (EBA). (PS – this course is not available again until Spring 2016 but I’ll update when it comes back!)
The ebook is not only about affiliate sales and the stuff I’m talking about at the moment, but it also tells you how to promote your blog and how to really get your message out there. It’s an easy read and the information is very down-to-earth and doable. Also – How to Blog for Profit was pretty inexpensive.
After reading this book and implementing some of Ruth’s methods – I definitely saw growth!!
Alternately, her Elite Blogging Academy course will be an investment. I cannot give you my honest opinion of EBA because I bought it at a really busy time in my life and I honestly haven’t worked my way through it all yet, but so far, it seems great!!
I’ve always been impressed with anything Ruth Soukup puts out there, so I can say that I’m fairly confident you won’t be disappointed. But if you get into it and you are disappointed – she offers a FULL REFUND with no questions asked. So there’s that.
Now… about Ad Networks. For the longest time, I only worked with Google Adsense and it’s still solid source of income for me, but eventually I wanted to branch out and now I actively have ads for four ad networks: Google Adsense (one of the easiest to be accepted into!), Conversant, Sovrn and Gourmet Ads.
Update: In February 2015 I was approved for an Adthrive Account. They are an ad managing company and ohmygosh – they are amazing! Did you see my jump in income in April 2015 on the bar chart I shared? Yeah – my income almost doubled after they got my ads up and running and tweaked them for my audience! You do have to qualify (with a minimum threshhold of traffic to work with them) but as soon as you do – APPLY!!
Wanna learn more about this? I learned so much about using multiple ad networks and a lot of these ad networks from another ebook… How to Monetize Your Food Blog.
I had been making income for awhile when I bought this ebook. Again, it’s not a huge investment but it’s packed with information! Before reading it, I was mostly using the single ad network, but after reading this, I signed up with several others and significantly increased my income by creating an “ad waterfall”. Don’t even ask me to explain that concept to you…. just read the book or google it.
Honestly, the info in this ebook was a little above my head (technically) but I did manage to figure it out and it truly helped me. I think it would be beneficial for anyone in any niche (not just food blogs) if you have the time to dig in and figure it all out.
UPDATE: As I mentioned above, 2015, I no longer manage my own ads, but I am a member of Adthrive and they do all of that for me. After they took over, my income dramatically increased and my stress level dramatically decreased… win – WIN!! They still use several of the ad companies I listed here – they just manage and optimize and stack them in such a way to maximize my income!
I wrote more about it here: Start and grow your food blog with Food Blogger Pro! I added this here at the end, but this is something else I’ve signed up for and learned SO much!! It’s written by the same peeps that wrote the Tasty Food Photography ebook.
I don’t know whether to be proud of the things I’ve invested in or ashamed of how many of them I haven’t used to their full potential. But this is something that I’m SO glad I invested in!! The couple who runs Food Blogger Pro took their food blog income from a humble $20ish per month to sometimes over $30,000 per month (YES – THIRTY THOUSAND PER MONTH – that’s not a typo). With that kind of growth I figure I need to hear what they have to say!!
Now I’m getting a little off -topic but it’s still important, especially for a blogger who will have lots of pictures. Your pictures need to be GOOD.
With so much blog traffic these days being driven highly by Pinterest, having great pictures is a must!! One of the best resources I’ve found to help with taking better pics is Tasty Food Photography. It is an amazing ebook that will dramatically help you improve your photography!
The only other thing that helped me more was taking an in-person, real-life class. Here’s a small visual of my growth over the years:
Pretty big improvement, huh? Both strawberry cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and hot pink sprinkles. BIG difference in the photo quality (and the decorating quality, too, ahem!)! OH – I did a quick post here with My Best Tip to Improve Your Photography! Be sure to check it out!
Okay… so if you’ve hung in here to the very end – thank you. With more than 4000 words, this is probably my longest blog post EVER but I hope you’ll find it helpful in starting a food blog (or really any kind of blog!!) and then more importantly – making money from it!
If you have any questions, leave me a comment please or email me here. If I can’t help you, I’ll do my best to point you to somebody who can!
PS. If you’re not already subscribed to my blog, would you? You can sign up here for my free email updates and then you’ll never miss a cake or dessert or deal or any other quirky thing I choose to post here! 🙂
Here are some of the companies I’ve mentioned (affiliate links):