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 about my story. I started blogging at a (now deleted) frugal/couponing blog way back in 2009. It took a few months before I had any readers and really didn't start showing even a penny of income until some time in 2010.
Back then, 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!).
I was passionate about staying home with my kids, but I also wanted to help support our family, so I hoped blogging would help me earn a little extra money.
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 the first month I made any income and by the time I stopped blogging at the frugal blog 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 taking 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 my frugal blog 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. My income hovers around $100,000 a year - sometimes more, sometimes less. But that number far exceeds what I expected to earn and I know I could easily earn more if I chose to work more.
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 around $7500 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 (click to enlarge):
As you can see, it didn't happen overnight. And it's continued to increase year over year. It took me close to 4 years to reach what I considered "full-time" income and maintain it.
Honestly, I still have to pinch myself to believe it, but it is very exciting!! I haven't written income reports in ages but I used to and you can click below to see a summary of 2015.
I earned almost $37,000 in 2015 - click here to see how!
I'm officially calling my income now "full-time" but it's still not enough to support our family of 8 on its 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!
UPDATE: I used to publish my monthly blog income reports HERE on Rose Atwater (my personal blog). I stopped that a while back but you can see the old posts. Click over to see them now!
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 "https://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 currently own five websites, with Rose Bakes being the primary one. I purchased all of my blog names at Namecheap That means that RoseBakes.com and RoseAtwater.com (those are my domains) are registered with and paid for through Namecheap. 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 Namecheap would be my #1 recommendation for domain registration.
Full disclosure: I originally bought my domain name (ie., https://rosebakes.com) through GoDaddy. I never had any real complaints with them (strictly talking about my service with them) but over the years, they've had some seriously tacky & offensive (to me) commercials 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 for 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). Again, full disclosure - that wasn't always the case. When I started, 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 over the years and it always came 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.
If you are starting a blog on a limited budget - by all means go with BlueHost.
Having said that, a while back my WordPress developer recommended Siteground and they were having a sale so I moved. Currently my other four blogs are hosted on Siteground. They are also very affordable and I've been happy with them.
I easily recommend either Bluehost or Siteground if you're starting on a budget. Or if you have more money in your budget starting out - it certainly would be beneficial to go ahead with BigScoots.
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!
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 Susan of One Happy Studio. Her work is beautiful and I am extremely happy with her work. I couldn't have afforded a designer like her early on in my blogging journey but I'm so glad I can now.
In fact, my first blog design cost me around $400 and I've paid as much as $2500. That may sound crazy expensive but I know bloggers who have paid 10X that so you truly can spend as much or as little as you'd like.
If you're looking for a designer, you can shoot me an email and I can give you a recommendation.
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've 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.
Some great companies that I've worked with for sponsored posts: IZEA, Social Fabric by Collective Bias, and Linqia.
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 CreativeBug class I took and I link to that class - 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 affiliate 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!
Those small percentages add up and BOOM... you're getting a paycheck! For the most part, if it's sold on Amazon and I mention it in my cake posts - there's a link with a potential to earn income!
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).
How to Learn to Blog & Make Money
Food Blogger Pro. If you have the money this is the single best resource I can recommend to become a successful blogger.
I wrote more about it here: Start and grow your food blog with Food Blogger Pro! I've learned SO much from FBP! 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 over $100,000 per month! With that kind of growth, I figure I need to hear what they have to say!!
And one more thing...
Let me jump in here and say that 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 was buy a copy of 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 all the time, so get on the waiting list if it's not open)
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 a serious investment. I cannot give you my honest opinion of the whole EBA course 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 what I did work through was fantastic!
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 but eventually, I wanted to branch out and now I added ads from 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 threshold of traffic to work with them) but as soon as you do - APPLY!!
While you wait, you might also apply for Mediavine. I've never had an account with them but their traffic threshold is lower and I have friends who swear by them!
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!
Here are some of the companies I've mentioned (affiliate links):