Part III: How I Quit My Day Job and Became a Full-Time Food Blogger!
Here’s the ULTIMATE guide to food blogging — tools and resources (plus some helpful hints and tips) that allowed me to quit my day job and make full time blogging my career!
Today, there are bloggers left and right — food bloggers, travel bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, etc. But for most, the blog is a side hustle. This blog right here was my side hustle for years before it became my main hustle. I wouldn’t even call myself a totally successful blogger or anything, but bloggers often ask for tips on how to make their blog their main gig.
What’s the number one thing people don’t know about full time blogging? It ain’t a cakewalk!
Heh, get it? 😉
In all seriousness, though, food blogging is probably one of the best jobs out there and I’m so lucky that I get to do this for a living. It’s gratifying, liberating, and just a tiiiiny bit indulgent. I mean, if you’re like me, of course (a food-loving homebody who thrives with freedom. I can’t stand sitting for hours on end, in a cubicle, being pressured by a hawk of a boss, trying to survive a cutthroat work environment). The road to blogging as a career is long and complex, but a road worth taking if your blog is your baby. It really is like a baby — it’s hella needy, will freak out randomly, and half the time you have no idea why or what to do or how to fix it… but it’s also incredibly fulfilling, ever-changing, and most certainly never boring.
If you want to blog full-time, your blog shouldn’t be a passion project. Because a project is temporary. That obsession phase in the beginning will fade quick, especially when things get tough. Like when a spike in traffic crashes your site, when you get negative comments, when you realize it’s actually very costly to blog, etc.
The number one question I get asked when I tell people I’m a full-time food blogger is, “Oh that’s awesome! *pause* So, uh, how do you make money?” Oh boy… I laugh so hard on the inside. Every time.
Before I get to the money-making part, let me explain that I’ve been blogging for over 7 years now (that’s a long ass time, people). I started my blog as a freshman in college back in April 2011. I was so unhappy in school that I needed something fun in my life. I was already baking a ton and wanted to share my healthy baking experiments with people (because honestly, when you make food so healthy AND so good, you need to share that with the world).
For 7 years straight, I posted anywhere from 1-4 blog posts per week. No breaks, even during my busiest semester in college, even when I traveled to Japan and Mexico. I heard this quote at a blogging conference:
“The great thing about blogging is that you don’t have any Mondays. But then again, you don’t get any Saturdays either.”
This is SO true. You’ll need to work weekends, super early mornings, and very late nights. Blogging isn’t a 9-5 job.
ANYWAYS, let’s get started shall we? But first, a little background is always good, right?
Full Time Blogging:
The Good, The Bad, & “In Betweens”
- Never ending supply of food (and it’s freaking awwwweesoooome, my fridge and freezer are never empty)
- Ability to connect with amazing readers and fellow bloggers from all over the world
- Partnering up with brands
I’ve been approached for freelance recipe development, photography jobs, magazine articles, cookbook publishing, even TV segments! It’s so great to work with the companies you’ve loved and supported from before you started blogging.
- Low income for how many hours are put in (or at least that’s the case for me)
- High expenses (again, maybe that’s just the case for me)
- No 401(k), insurance, or benefits
- Dealing with copyright infringers and online trolls
Occasionally, an online troll will feel the need to rip my heart out through the computer screen. Over the years (and lots of venting to my friends and family), I’ve learned to take a deep breath, shake it off (like Taylor Swift!), and move the hell on.
- Ability to work from home
FREEEEDOMMM!!! This sounds great at first, but it can be to your benefit or your detriment. You’re 100% in charge of our own schedules, so it suffices to say that we better be on top of our sh*t! You are your own boss — you choose your services, your rates, who you agree to work with, etc. You are also the boss of whether or not you shall work in your undies and pajamas (DON’T JUDGE US) 😉
- Overwhelming number of emails/comments/messages
My inbox is NEVER empty, but thankfully, most of the emails and comments I get are amazing and uplifting — each and every one brings a smile to my face. I literally just hired a virtual assistant to help me with emails (welcome to the team, Eileen)!
- Constantly evolving technology
Always gotta be up to date with new algorithms, social media updates, FTC guidelines, etc.
- Social and antisocial at the same time
Blogging is a highly social profession, although it’s mostly via online communication. We’ve gotta make an effort to get out of the house (wow, I sound like a hermit).
Camera: Canon Rebel t3i and Canon Rebel t6i (I used the t3i since day 1 of this blog, it’s even discontinued now because it’s so old lol. I bought the t6i December 2017 and use this for photography now. I use both cameras simultaneously while shooting videos for different angles)
Lens: I use a 50mm lens, 100mm lens, and 35mm macro lens
Photo-Editing Software: Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom
Video-Editing Software: iMovie, Premier Pro CC
iPhone Photo-/Video-Editing Apps: PS Express, Photoshop Fix, Photoshop Mix, PicFlow, Blur Photo, iMovie, Add Text to Photos-Fonts Art, GIF Maker, Layout
Backdrops: Wood Pallet Boards (I paint my own and have a total of 7!), Marble, Antique Wood Table
Aids: Tripod, Camera Shutter Remote, Foam Boards, White Bounce, Diffuser, Artificial Light Studio Set (plus 2 additional bulbs and sockets)
Props: Target, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma, IKEA
MacBook Pro 2013, 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB Memory (UPDATE: died November 2017) MacBook Pro 2017, 3.1 GHz Intel Core i5, 16GB Memory, 1 TB Storage
Web Hosting: I personally use Flywheel (another good option is WPEngine)
I started out with GoDaddy, but as my blog grew, I suffered from numerous terrible experiences, including site crashes, 404 error pages, slow loading time, etc. Never hosting with them again…
Blog Platform: Wordpress
WordPress Plugins: Imagify, PopupAlly, Shareaholic, Swiftype Search, Yoast SEO Premium
Backups: Backups are automatic with my hosting provider (Flywheel), but I used to use Vaultpress, Google Drive, and Dropbox
Spam/Security: Akismet, SSL Certificate
Web Design: Hired designer, StudioPress (I used to use the Foodie Pro Theme)
SEO Strategist: Hired individual
Social Media: Tailwind, MeetEdgar (I used to use Buffer and HelloBar, and have heard good things about CoSchedule and MiloTree), Later (the linkinbio option doubled Instagram traffic to my blog!)
Email Newsletter Service: MadMimi (other good options include OptinMonster and ConvertKit)
Giveaway Platform: Gleam
Sponsored Content: Clever Girls, Linqia, TapInfluence, Collective Bias, Ahalogy, Social Fabric, Activate by Bloglovin’ (the following networks are ones I have heard of, but do not personally use: Acorn Influence, Cafe Media, Babbleboxx, Collectively, Influence-Central, Everywhere Society, Izea, Massive Sway)
Ads: I recently implemented ads back onto my blog early 2018 through the AdThrive Network (I’ve heard great things about Gourmet Ads too). I used to use Sovrn, Google Adsense, and ads from AOL’s Kitchen Daily network and the BlogHer network… unfortunately, the ad quality and pay structure on these platforms have seriously declined over the years 🙁
Affiliates: Amazon, Thrive Market
Tips For Working with Brands on Sponsored Content
1) You MUST use “no-follow” links for ALL sponsored links and affiliate links (or you will suffer Google penalties and get manual actions and fined $$$)! This requires you to go into the HTML and edit code. For example, here is the code before and after (the red text is the change):
<a href=”http://amzn.to/2cVQvy4″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener“>DIY Protein Bars Cookbook</a>
<a href=”http://amzn.to/2cVQvy4″ target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener noreferrer“>DIY Protein Bars Cookbook</a>
2) You MUST stay up to date with (the always-changing) FTC guidelines (or you will be fined $$$! But, it’s also just good practice to be honest and disclose with your readers).
3) Create long-term relationships with the brands you work with! It’s a win-win for both parties.
Make campaign reports, even if the brand doesn’t ask for one. It shows initiative, and proves that you truly care about the campaign’s success rather than just a paycheck. Include: Objective/Purpose, Content Samples, Analytics (blog post pageviews, Instagram stats, Facebook stats, Pinterest stats, Twitter stats, etc.), and Results and Observations. I usually send a report one month after a sponsored blog post and 1 week after a sponsored Instagram post.
Business Cards: Moo
Conferences: Everything Food Conference, International Food Blogger Conference, WordCamp, BlogHer
Online Summits: Nicole Culver’s 2017 Food Entrepreneur Summit (I started this late 2016. It not only helped me improve my blog, but it inspired to quit my “real life job” and take the plunge into full-time blogging!)
Just as with any business, you need to track everything. You obviously need to track your income and expenses, but you also need to track your growth (as well as where you may be plateauing). On the 1st of every month, I track the following statistics (each bullet point has its own Excel document to graph):
- Pageviews, Unique Users, and Bounce Rate (via Google Analytics)
- Follower/Subscriber Count for: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Tumblr
- Newsletter Subscribers, Open Rate, and Click Rate
- Cookbook Sales (both Print and Kindle)
Okay, now we can talk about the money, money, money, honey.
Sources of Income for Bloggers
There are a number of ways a blogger can make money, many of which I haven’t even explored. The following is a list of everything that I have personally used to earn some income on Desserts With Benefits:
- Sponsored Posts and Recipe Development
In 2014, DWB made $7,000 from sponsored posts and recipe development.
In 2015, DWB made $8,980.77 from sponsored posts and recipe development.
In 2016, DWB made $12,588.93 from sponsored posts and recipe development.
In 2017, DWB made $37,007.38 from sponsored posts and recipe development.
In 2014, DWB made $5,649.78 from ads.
In 2015, DWB made $9,399.26 from ads.
In 2016, DWB made $6,797.65 from ads.
In 2017, DWB made $772.10 from ads.
- Affiliate Links
In 2015, DWB made $1,492.72 from affiliate links.
In 2016, DWB made $7,158.56 from affiliate links.
In 2017, DWB made $6,648.21 from affiliate links.
- Products (below are two of the cookbooks I’ve published, available on Amazon!)
In 2014, DWB made $602.79 from cookbook sales.
In 2015, DWB made $6,599.60 from cookbook sales.
In 2016, DWB made $10,390.21 from cookbook sales.
In 2017, DWB made $7,205.70 from cookbook sales.
This list does not include expenses from years previous to 2014 (as I wasn’t tracking my spending before then… big mistake, oops), such as my Canon Rebel t3i camera (discontinued because it’s so old lol), 50mm lens, 100mm lens, photo editing software, etc. This list does not include my utilities either (electricity, water, heat, AC, etc.), which are high since I use the oven and dishwasher A LOT. This list also does not include my quarterly business taxes, employment tax, and my personal income tax.
- Tech Stuff (Web Hosting, Domain Registration, Site Backups, Security, Apps, etc.)
In 2014, spent $2,222.41 on tech stuff ($2,016.41 of this was on a new laptop).
In 2015, spent $2,386 on tech stuff ($1,375 of this is on web hosting).
In 2016, spent $4,300.90 on tech stuff (again, $1,375 is from web hosting. Also started using MeetEdgar, Tailwind, and HelloBar).
Tailwind is a Pinterest scheduling app and it’s changed my life already. It makes pinning so, so easy (it pins what you want to pin at specific times throughout the day, as many times as you want to the boards you want. I pin about 50x per day thanks to this, whereas before I’d maybe pin 20x per week).
In 2017, DWB spent $8,077.27 on tech stuff ($3,169.55 of this was on a new laptop).
- Legal Fees and Accounting Fees
I actually have two lawyers — one who helps me with my accounting and helped me incorporate Desserts With Benefits into a business, and one who specializes in trademarks and copyright law (it’s how I trademarked Desserts With Benefits® and Baked With Benefits®)! We all know how expensive lawyers can get. The first lawyer is on retainer, but with the second lawyer I have to pay for every. little. thing… I literally get invoices for 15 minutes of his time for responding to an email *rolls eyes* but, I guess it’s worth it in the end.
In 2014, spent $1,430 on legal/accounting fees.
In 2015, spent $1,099 on legal/accounting fees.
In 2016, spent $4,100.25 on legal/accounting fees.
In 2017, spent $3,439.05 on legal/accounting fees.
- Advertising (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter)
In 2015, spent $997.12 on advertising.
In 2016, spent $2,241.51 on advertising.
In 2017, spent $1,602.96 on advertising.
In 2016, spent $510 on outsourced work.
In 2017, spent $1,577.24 on outsourced work.
- Cookbook Publishing Fees
In 2014, spent $602 on cookbook publishing fees.
In 2015, spent $832.11 on cookbook publishing fees.
In 2016, spent $586.54 on cookbook publishing fees.
- Blog Design
In 2014, spent $99.95 on the Foodie Pro Theme by StudioPress.
In 2015, spent $2,100.00 on a custom blog/logo design.
In 2017, spent $1,157.50 on blog design updates.
- Supplies (business cards, paper, tripods, diffusers, artificial light, props, cooking appliances, etc.)
In 2014, spent $3,816 on supplies.
In 2015, spent $2,298.05 on supplies.
In 2016, spent $1,964.18 on supplies.
In 2017, spent $4,059.43 on supplies.
- Conferences, Travel, Hotels, Meals and Entertainment, Dues and Subscriptions
In 2014, spent $105 (this does not include flights or hotels).
In 2015, spent $881.69
In 2016, spent $1,078.77
In 2017, spent $5,189.25
In 2014, spent $2,701.64 on groceries.
In 2015, spent $3,582.56 on groceries.
In 2016, spent $2,160.86 on groceries.
In 2017, spent $4,551.43 on groceries.
- Home Office Rental Space (yes, your home office is a deduction!)
In 2016, spent $3,000 on home office rent.
In 2017, spent $6,400.00 on home office rent.
In 2017, spent $10,658.01 on employment (I’m finally on payroll after my 6th year of blogging!)
- Charitable Donations
In 2014, gave $840 to charitable donations.
In 2015, gave $1,002 to charitable donations.
In 2016, gave $960 to charitable donations.
In 2017, gave $342.71 to charitable donations.
~ ~ ~
To summarize, blogging ain’t cheap and it sure ain’t lucrative, but it sure is rewarding. I get to “meet” people from all around the world. People send me pictures of my desserts that they’ve made. AND I am blessed with a fully stocked fridge and freezer and pantry at all times.
My life couldn’t be any better. I love, love, love my job.
Even though full time blogging requires many hours of pure focus, hard work, and dedication, even though it costs thousands of dollars each year just to maintain, even though there are ups and downs, I would never trade this job for anything else. I think I’ll always be a food blogger. I may dive into another profession alongside this somewhere down the road, but for now, it’s just me and the blog.
I hope that this post gave you a better idea of what goes on behind the Desserts With Benefits blog — The Good, The Bad, And The “In Betweens” — and how bloggers are able to make a living. Thanks so much for reading!
If you have any questions, comment below or reach out via email! I’d love to hear from you! Becoming a full-time blogger was a (very) rocky road and I want to help anyone I can avoid some of the trouble I encountered. Of course, every road is different, but in this field, any insight is helpful, AMIRITE?? 🙂
With love and good eats,
PS: Be sure to read the other entries in this 4-part series!
PPS: Some posts worth reading from fellow bloggers include this one by Sally’s Baking Addiction and the income reports by Pinch of Yum! 🙂
Hi Jess, me again 🙂
Thanks for this honest and once again tell-all post. I greatly enjoyed reading about the behind the scenes secrets of food blogging, because I am a budding food blogger too. My dream is to make a living of it in the future, and you are a lovely inspiration, so thank you! 🙂
Hey Stella! I started blogging hoping to become a full-time blogger too 😀
Little did I know how complicated, time-consuming, stressful and expensive it was… but it’s so so worth it. I absolutely love blogging! I hope this post helped out a bit!
This was such a great read! So as long as you love what you do and you’re happy, then that’s all that matters.
Why on earth are these so high:
$1,375.00 for Web Hosting,
$511.45 for Domain Registration, Website Backups, Security, etc.
That’s crazy. I have 12 domains and don’t come anywhere close to that expense. This makes me doubt your whole income and expense report.
Because my blog gets so many pageviews, I had to upgrade my hosting service. Hosting DOES in fact cost $1,375/year (I use Flywheel hosting for my hosting). Flywheel isn’t even the most expensive hosting service… I was considering going with a company that costed $3,000 per year.
And domain registration + website backups + security, etc., it DOES cost $511.45. I purchased my domain for multiple years rather than just one (extra cost) and included search engine visibility (extra cost).
And ever heard of services that back up (and protect) your website in case of a coding error (spammers)? Like Vaultpress (and Akismet). Those aren’t free. Same as http://www.alexa.com and https://swiftype.com.
I am fully aware that my expenses are through the roof, but please don’t rush to judgment! These are my real life expenses and I’m not lying about any of it.
Hi, Sai From India. I totally respect your decision for deleting some of your recipes. I get it not everything is free.You have put a lot of effort and money into this blog. You deserve a profit. P.S excuse me for some wrong grammar.
Thank you so much for your comment! I truly appreciate it 😀
PS: Your English is perfect!
I love this post!! it is such a positive world and I enjoy every second of it! I love reading yours and other amazing bloggers. Thanks !
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