Step one: start publishing, stat.
It’s all-too-easy to look at your favorite food blogs and think of them as a hobbies and not the well-oiled and very often money-making machines they are. Look no further than Pinch of Yum, however, to see the financial potential behind so many blogs. At one time, Pinch of Yum was very open about what it earns, and it earned a lot. In November 2016—the last time the blog published an income report—Pinch of Yum says it brought in $95,197.34 through all its income avenues. If nothing else, that proves a food blogger can make a very lucrative living posting recipes and other food content online.
Of course, not all food blogs blossom into full-time, well-paying careers—nor should they. Blogging for fun and to share recipes with the world is a worthy cause on its own, potential income aside. But if you're looking to make a living as a food blogger, there are a ton of lessons to heed from the lot who have been successful.
Take Sweet Potato Soul blogger Jenné Claiborne, who worked for years to reach a level of success that allowed her to walk away from her full-time gig as a personal chef and dedicate more time to her camera and computer screen. If you’re willing to take the risk and put in the work—working 40-some hours at a day-job only to come home and cook, take and edit photos, write recipes, and post your content at night—Claiborne has some excellent advice on how you, too, can make quite the good living as a food blogger.
1. Start, stat.
Here’s a well-known fact about food blogs: many credit their visits to Google searches, i.e., you type in “cauliflower soup” and Google returns a result from Cookie + Kate, a new-to-you vegetarian food blog. Now, Cookie + Kate has a new reader—but it might not have attracted your attention had it not been for that Google search. By starting now, even before you’re in love with a blog name, you can build up a cache of content that will help elevate your site in Google search. “You can change the name, buy the domain, and refine the look later,” Claiborne points out. With your new blog, try to “post at least once a week, especially in the beginning so you can build search engine traffic to your site,” she advises.
Now, Claiborne publishes one blog post, one video, and one newsletter each week, and she supplements her online content with social media extras. “I post this often because it works best for my partner and me,” she says. “If we had a bigger team, we might do more.” While Claiborne doesn’t think of her work in terms of “how many sponsored posts will equal a living expense,” as she puts it, she is aware this schedule allows her to pay both herself and her husband a monthly salary from their business income. (She declined to disclose those exact numbers.) “Our salary allows us to pay our expenses and save,” Claiborne says. Expenses include groceries, which can range from $50 to $100 each week, as well as hosting and maintaining the website, which can reach about $1,000 a year, Claiborne shares. Savings, she says, pay for taxes and investments into the business, among other savings goals. Plus, “we have monthly business income goals that we strive to increase yearly or quarterly,” she says.
2. Start a newsletter.
“More than Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, a mailing list is the best way to stay on people's minds and let them know about your work because you go straight to their email inbox,” says Claiborne. The more readers you have—and the more visits your site gets—the more attractive you become to potential advertisers and sponsors, and the more money you can hope to make from affiliate links. Claiborne uses MailChimp, which is free to use if you’re sending emails to fewer than 2,000 subscribers. (GetResponse, Emma, and Constant Contact are a few other paid alternatives.) “Send your newsletter at least once a week, and be sure to send your subscribers valuable content,” Claiborne instructs. “In my newsletter, I include an introduction with a personal note, a link to my most recent video and blog post, my upcoming events, recipes, and several links to my social media.”
3. Sharpen your SEO skills.
We can’t say it enough: the more eyeballs you can get on your blog, the more you can (theoretically) earn as a food blogger. Another way to attract more readers is by making sure all of your content is search-engine optimized. “I use a simple plugin in for Wordpress called Yoast SEO to help me improve the SEO quality of my posts, so that I can be ranked higher on search engines,” Claiborne shares. “Also, I use Google Trends to research how well certain keywords will do. And I use a free Chrome plugin called Keywords Everywhere to improve the quality of my keywords used for my blog.”
4. Look for diverse sources of income.
That cool $95,000 Pinch of Yum earned in a single month? It came from 14 different sources. Claiborne also earns her food blogging in many ways. She offers sponsored posts on her blog, YouTube channel, newsletter, social media platforms, and more; she often accepts ambassadorships for products; and she also earns money from affiliate programs and links. Any of these sources can add up—but only after time, Claiborne warns. (Her first sponsorship only paid a few hundred dollars, hardly the kind of money you want to make in a full-time job.) She suggests using Social Blue Book, a tool that will help you to calculate how much you can expect charge for your services based on your current readership, page views, social media engagement, analytics, and more.
5. Become friends with other bloggers—and collaborate with them.
“I've used this method to help grow my Instagram and YouTube platforms,” which can in turn help grow your bottom line, Claiborne points out. “Having blogger friends is also helpful because they're the friends who understand your job—and you can support and help each other along the way,” Claiborne adds. “Being friends with other bloggers is great for networking too. My friends and I recommend each other for paid work with brands all the time.”