Food is one of the most popular blogging topics. In this post thirteen popular food bloggers share their best tips, advice and stories for newbies who want to enter the field. First a quick introduction to our foodies:
- Deeba Rajpal (DR): The author of Passionate About Baking.
- Lori Popkewitz Alper (LP): Groovy Green Livin inspires readers to live a healthier, greener and more sustainable lifestyle.
- Dori Story (DO) is a very passionate writer at Riches to Rags.
- Peef and Lo (PL) are two food lovers from Milwaukee writing about seasonal cooking and local eating.
- Debi Wayland (DW) is a food blogger at Life Currents.
- Michael Natkin (MN): Herbivoracious presents vegetarian cuisine through flavored recipes, techniques and mouth-watering images.
- Christine Chitnis (CC): Rural life, farmers markets, art events, good food, crafts and photography are some of her favourite topics.
- Anne-Marie Nichols (AM): This Mama Cooks! On a Diet where she inspire families to live healthier with a minimum of fuss.
- Sophia Breene (SN): Greatist is focused on health and fitness advice for “young, savvy and social”.
- Catherine McCord (CM): Weelicious features a prominent search bar that gives easy access to recipes tailored to family needs.
- Jenny McGruther (JM): Nourished Kitchen promotes sustainable agriculture and nutrient-dense, whole foods in everyday kitchens.
- Kiersten Frase (KO): Oh My Veggies is a vegetarian food blog with focus on easy recipes.
- Sarah Zinkel (SZ): She shares her experiences on how to balance healthy living with a grad school and a newlywed life.
- Thanks to Daniela from Food Recipes HQ for doing the interviews.
How and why did you start?
DR: Armed with a new digital camera, I began blogging in 2007 in an attempt to record recipes I was trying at home. At the time, it was just a personal site, something I was too intimidated to share. A handful of beautiful food sites were my constant source of inspiration.
LP: My passion for natural, non-toxic living began after seeing first hand how living an organic, non-toxic lifestyle can directly affect your health and well being. I began sharing information with my family and friends. I decided to learn everything I could about blogging and what it meant to have an online presence. I started off knowing nothing. I took a leap of faith and decided to trade in my day job as an attorney and dive head first into creating a site.
DO: I started my site at a time in my life where we had been going through a very difficult time for years. I was depressed and my sister told me that I needed to find a passion and do something that I loved. I LOVED social media, cooking and food so I started the site and I have been doing it ever since.
PL: I’ve always had a passion for cooking and creating new recipes in the kitchen. I’ve always been passionate about writing. Blogging brought those two worlds together. We really didn’t expect that we’d have any readers beyond a few curious family and friends. But, as our readership started growing, I realized that there was a market for our story – and it opened up a whole new way to create community with not only local Milwaukee foodies, but also foodies from across the world.
DW: I started my site because so many people would ask me for recipes of things I make. Whole foods. Real foods. No trans-fats. Less high fructose corn syrup. I didn’t want my recipes to be too out of reach or weird for most people. Despite how healthy I think most people are trying to be, I know that some people still rely on processed convenience foods and fast food restaurants that can be high in bad fats, calories, or sodium.
MN: It was literally a snap decision. I was sitting on my couch, lamenting the fact that I wanted to switch to a cooking as a career but not sure how to leave the software world, with its predictable paycheck and reasonable work hours. You can’t start without a name, so I launched that same night as “The Vegetarian Foodie”, but I hated it. A friend texted me the single word: “Herbivoracious”, and I knew that was it. It captures both the idea of being vegetarian, and my insatiable, voracious appetite for everything related to food.
CC: I started my site by taking a free class at my local library that taught the basics of using Blogger. I had left my job behind and I was looking for a creative outlet. I had worked in the non-profit sector and in working 50-60 hours a week I had lost my creative spark. Blogging was a way to get it back.
AM: I started my blog eight years ago to document my Thanksgiving plans. Since then it’s morphed into a healthy lifestyle and food blog.
How did you choose the name for your blog?
CM: I sat for 6 hours with a friend trying to think of names that made you just get it from the title. After trying 50 plus names my best friend called me and said “aren’t kids just wee ones.” Weelicious was available so I got it!
JM: Nourishment calls to mind a sort of fuller and rounder expression of health than other keywords. I also knew “Nourished Kitchen” is short enough to be memorable.
KO: Before my site was called The Type A Housewife. It was a joke, but no one understood that. The name had nothing to do with vegetarian cooking – it was confusing. Other writers told me that changing the name was the worst thing I could do, but I did it anyway and my site has only grown since. I brainstormed and came up with several different names and asked around to see what people thought of them. Definitely get feedback on your domain name before you commit to anything!
SZ: I always joke that I’m a professional student. I’m finishing up my 4th year of graduate school now, but even if I don’t have any more formal education after my Ph.D., I don’t think learning ever stops. I learn something new every day!
What are the usual tasks you do?
DR: I spent 2-3 hours on my site on good days. Ideally would be happy to spend a couple more, but home, kids etc all demand their share of time. My usual tasks are the birth of a food idea, making it with substitutions which are almost always the norm, photographs along the way, recipe notes, then a draft in place as my thoughts are fresh at the time. Then it is scheduled for posting and I return to ‘pretty up the post’ a day before posting date.
LP: I spend 20-25 hours a week working. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m blogging on my site during those hours. I am running a business and my site is the platform. I am very active in social media and devote a chunk of my day to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. I spend time working with advertisers, brands and PR agencies trying to find products that my readership would enjoy learning about.
DO: I started out as part time. I was having to work full time because my husband was injured at work so I would work on the content while cooking dinner and then after the kids went to bed I would work in the evenings. Now I am fortunate to be able to stay home and work full time on these two sites.
PL: We spend 5-10 hours on the site every week. The most time goes into creating and testing recipes. There is the time spent setting up and photographing the food. It’s as much about timing as anything. We depend almost entirely on natural light, so have to make sure to leave enough daylight time to get a good shot of the finished product. Then it’s all about sitting down, choosing photos and writing the post. It’s quite possibly the part I enjoy most – as it’s the mechanism by which we connect with our readers.
DW: I only post about things that we actually eat, so it is time that I would spend cooking anyway. Some posts just flow out and I’m done in a matter of minutes. Some take much more time and effort. I do a little processing on the picture, like sharpen it or brighten the colors. I write out the post in Word first so that I have a backup of the recipe as well as my thoughts about it. Then, I copy it into my site, and add in the links: links to Amazon, other sites or for recipe links. Then, it’s off to share it on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Punk Domestics, etc.
MN: I’ve never kept track, but I’d say I spend at least 10 hours a week on it. There are a lot of tasks – developing recipes, photographing them and processing the photos, writing up the recipe steps and headnotes, submitting my posts to sites like Tastespotting and Foodgawker, hanging out on Twitter and Facebook, maintaining the site itself and so on.
CC: I plan photo shoots around crafts and recipes which can take a few hours. I photograph my daily life and travels. I post around two times a week, and usually spend about an hour per post editing pictures and writing content. I don’t have to spend time on the back-end of my site thanks to my web designer. It was so time consuming and frustrating to try and figure it all out myself. It was a small investment but well worth it.
AM: I have a terrific team, so I spend very little time doing anything more technical than adding ad code in my sidebars. I spend most of my time cooking, writing, photographing, posting, promoting my content and being active in various online communities that fit my niche (mom bloggers, foodies, healthy folks, etc.) Blogging is a full time job for me, but that also includes social media consulting work I do with agencies and brands outside of my blog.
SN: It is my full-time, 9-to-5 job. That sounds pretty basic, but I do way more than just cranking out content. In addition to writing, I brainstorm with the rest of the editorial team during meetings, do tons of research, edit photos, hunt down recipes for roundups, test out workouts from trainers, and help work on larger editorial projects.
Which qualities make you a good blogger?
CM: I’m a homebody at heart, so that helps because you’re definitely in front of your computer a lot. I also love the social interaction with readers and fellow bloggers. Thank goodness I’m typing, though, because as much as I like to write my throat would really hurt if I was talking that much.
JM: I was able to delve into my niche early, and was one of the first few blogs covering the topic when I started in 2007 so that helps. I also research my subjects impeccably and seek to provide real, workable solutions for my readers.
KO: I think being determined and focused are two qualities necessary for all bloggers, no matter what genre you’re writing in. When I want to accomplish something, I let nothing stand in my way. I’ve been this way with everything I do, but it’s especially served me well in the competitive world of blogging.
SZ: I think that a lot of people can relate to me. I’m just a normal, busy woman, trying to balance all of my responsibilities with having a life and staying healthy. I think it’s really important to have something in common with your readers and target audience. A lot of people can relate with my struggles.
What is the lesson you’d like to share with people starting out?
DR: Be original and find your niche. Take inspiration yet build your own style, and do add photographs. Nothing holds the reader more captivated. Good pictures must connect to well written prose. Please respect copyright. There is no room in the world for plagiarism.
LP: Set boundaries and stick to them. If you have 2 hours to write a post devote those two hours to writing and be careful not to get sucked into social media. I’m going to have to reread this one myself. I’m still not very good at setting boundaries and sticking to them! Work in progress.
DO: It is very rewarding, it has taught me that I have a lot more to offer people and has become a therapy. Don’t do it for the money. Start out doing something you are passionate about and love because that passion will come out in your writing. Be patient, it doesn’t happen over night. There are so many people that need what we as bloggers have to offer. There are people who need this connection and many friendships have been made.
PL: Write about something for which you have a deep-rooted passion, and recognize that it’s something that takes work to maintain. We didn’t anticipate experiencing periods during which we didn’t feel like cooking anything, or the writing just didn’t come easily. Have a back-up plan – maybe a cache of recipes or posts that you can use when you get busy, go on vacation, or aren’t feeling particularly inspired.
DW: Do what makes you happy. Write about things that interest you. If you’re just doing what “sells” it isn’t you, and people can tell. Writing about healthy food isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me, and it makes me happy. I see other bloggers struggle with the concept of keeping the followers happy. They talk about how they lost followers because of something they said or something they did. But, you can’t make everyone happy, and above all else, it’s really important to be true to what you love.
MN: That is a big topic! A few things that I think are really important when starting out:
- Choose your platform wisely; moving is a non-trivial exercise! I’ve moved to self-hosted WordPress now and I’m super happy with it. But whatever you choose, realize it has a big impact on what will be easy or hard to do.
- Be patient. Those first few months are hard, when you are lucky if you can get your brother-in-law to read and comment. You have to be in it for the long haul, be consistent about posting, and don’t be in a rush to monetize. The money you can make with 300 or even 1k page views per day isn’t going to buy you much more than a few cappucinos a month anyhow, so don’t even bother until you’ve got an audience.
- Focus on quality. There are lots of things you can do to bring people to your site once. But if you want them to keep coming back, they have to think that they will find something wonderful and relevant to them whenever they visit.
AM: Sit down and figure out if your blog is a business venture or a hobby. Once you’ve figured that out, everything else from goals to what email address you’ll use will fall into place.
CM: Find your passion and niche and stick with it. Keep your interest narrow at first and build an audience. After that you can venture out and those who love reading your blog will follow as you branch out.
JM: Make your work meaningful. Before you write about random things in your life, focus on how it might sincerely help and support someone else. Take the time to write well and grow your audience before jumping ahead of yourself to monetization strategies.
What is your best advice on how to grow traffic?
DR: Once you’ve established your niche, find ways to improve the content. Listen to your readers and build that most important relationship. Read other related sites, blogs, magazines, look at trends, or set a trend. Innovate and post regularly.
LP: When I first began blogging a well-respected blogger gave me some good advice which has stuck with me: “write from your heart”. When I’m writing I always think about what I like to read or what catches my attention and try to apply that to the piece that I’m working on. Also, form community. Visit other websites, comment, compliment and be sincere. Add your powerful and important voice to the discussion.
DO: Constantly feed it. Use Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. Everyone loves a giveaway and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Be real and answer questions from the visitors and they will become loyal followers. Be kind, honest and don’t allow any negativity on your site.
PL: Think hard about what you can bring to your site and then put everything into making it happen. Blogging doesn’t work if it doesn’t contain a piece of you. Readers want to know there’s a human being at the other end. Engage your readers on Facebook and Twitter. Join a Triberr tribe or create a Pinterest page. Keep in mind that being an active part of a food blogger community is always key when you’re looking to expand your influence.
DW: When I first started blogging I would post and no one would see it. I got some traffic from search engines, but I didn’t really understand what being involved in the community would do for me. Play around on Facebook and get to know other bloggers; they’ll be the ones who help you grow your site the most. Go to linky parties. Submit to websites like FoodGawker. Make comments on other people’s pages. Link to others bloggers. Share.
MN: Time, patience and quality are the biggest factors, as is developing your unique voice. That is what will bring people back to you. You need to learn about SEO, but don’t spend too much time chasing it. Build relationships. Through social media and commenting on people’s sites. Try to find ways to get out and physically meet other bloggers and readers. That will lead to deeper and more gratifying relationships, and maybe even opportunities like speaking engagements.
CC: Write about what excited you, and what is authentic. Don’t try to be someone else. People will appreciate your honesty and come back for more. Building my site has been a ton of work. Some sites are overnight hits, with tons of commenters and readers, mine is not one of those. I have built it through hard work, time and effort. I am constantly striving to make it better and more original. Here are a few ways that I have managed to get the word out about my site:
- Link – you should always include your link in your email signature
- Comment – the more you comment on others sites, the better your chance that someone will like your comment and click over to your page. Think of links to your content as breadcrumbs. You want to create a trail of breadcrumbs all across the internet, so that people from all over will find their way to your contnet.
- Flickr – If you take good pictures, join Flickr, once there, link your pictures back to the post where you posted them, join groups, get your pictures out into the Flickr world. Again, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. And finally, keep at it….building an audience takes time.
AM: Spend time creating great content and knowing SEO, of course. Then find time to promote content on social media sites like Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook by being active in those communities as a helpful person, not a promoter. If people like you and what you’re saying, they’ll come to your blog for more.
SN: Stay in touch with your readers. Keep your finger on the pulse of what they want to see more of and what they love/hate/need/want. It’s always good to read opinions other than your own! Have your own message and don’t be swayed by what’s trendy or popular at the moment. These two pieces of advice seem to be in opposition, and that’s pretty much correct. Maintaining a successful site is all about balancing between writing what you are passionate about and making content that’s interesting and accessible to all kinds of people.
KO: Trust your gut. Most of the missteps I’ve made were because I went against my instincts; you’ll find that as a writer, you’ll get a lot of well-meaning advice from your fellow writers, but ultimately you need to decide what’s right for you. Never publish something on your site that you wouldn’t read yourself. You need to be willing to look at your site with a critical eye. You need to offer your readers something unique and compelling that will make them want to come back again and again.
SZ: Be true to yourself. There are so many blogs and bloggers out there and it’s easy to try to imitate someone’s style. Really listen to your gut and do what feels right to you. That’s how you will get the most out of your blog and so will others!
What are best and most challenging aspects of your lifestyle?
CM: The most challenging part is keeping up with everything. When I started there was really only my site and the comments. Now with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and more there’s just a lot more ground to cover in a day. The best part is meeting incredible people (mostly women) who I’ve met over the internet. Some I’ve gotten to meet and become true friends with which has been a gift.
JM: It’s a struggle for me to manage the needs of readers. Blogging is my full time job and it supports my family, but it’s a constant struggle to write the posts, prepare the premium content that supports my family, answer emails, manage social media outlets, forge friendships with other bloggers and still maintain a semblance of a personal life.
KO: I love being my own boss. The flexibility of working from home has completely spoiled me too – if I’m sick, I take the day off. If I want to go on vacation, I schedule posts ahead of time. When I worked as a librarian, I used to spend the entire weekend dreading Monday morning; now I can’t wait to dive in. The biggest downside is that it can be difficult to find that all-important work / life balance. This is something I’m working on – I’d like to get to the point where I can turn off the computer at 5pm and be done for the day.
SZ: It has definitely been the community of readers and other bloggers that I’ve met through my blog. It’s funny how quickly you can begin to “know” someone through their blog. The most challenging aspect of blogging for me is achieving a balance. Blogging and the social media that comes with it can be very time- and energy-consuming. Not everything needs to be documented for my blog or posted on Twitter. It’s refreshing to take a step back (or a weekend off) and just unplug for a bit.
What is your biggest success?
DR: My proudest moment was when my site began to get noticed and got it’s very first blogging award from Abby – ‘Best Kept Secret’! I was elated!
LP: The incredible connections I’ve made through blogging. From brands to bloggers, there is such an amazing group of men and women out there filled with humor, intelligence and passion.
DO: All the wonderful friendships that I have built. Wonderful people all over the world. I would have never had a chance to talk to these people without the site. My site has connected me with families that have and are in need of the same thing as I was. The fact that I am able to stay home with my children and still work from home has been priceless as well as the confidence I now have in myself because of something I created.
PL: We’ve made an amazing number of connections and been able to share our expertise with others through presentations at area festivals and libraries. We’ve found our place in a community of individuals who really care about great food, local eating, and sustainable living. One of the best things that came from blogging is a wealth of freelancing opportunities.
DW: It’s how much I’ve learned about photography. I love taking pictures. I look back on my early pictures and I can see right away how much better they are now. I still learn all the time. I read other posts and watch tutorials. It takes a lot of time. It takes commitment. But, it’s worth it to share your passion, your art. And, yes, I consider food to be my art. Whatever your passion, go for it.
MN: Well, I guess my biggest achievement is being asked to write a book. That would have never happened without the site, and it actually got me over the hump to quitting my day job.
CC: My site has been instrumental in building my career as a writer and photographer. It has helped me find my voice, and pushed me to take better pictures. I believe that my first book deal came about because of the confidence I found through blogging – so I count that as a big success.
AM: My biggest success was being hired to write a blog. When the call went out to the mom blogging community about the gig, many of us realized that blogging had become way of making a living and was no longer just a hobby.
SN: I always love hearing back from readers who loved (or even who didn’t love) my articles via comments or twitter. Knowing that something I wrote can help somebody make a healthier choice is always a huge plus, too.
CM: In the first year a mother wrote to tell me that her family hated the food she cooked and never said anything positive. The first time she made my recipe for dinner her husband leaned over and told her “dinner is delicious tonight” and she cried. I realized how powerful food can be and how thankless a job it is for moms.
JM: I loved it when I was featured on CNN, but my fondest memory is meeting a reader at a festival where I was speaking and conducting a demo on fermented foods. She came up to me and told me personally how important the content was to her and to her family and beautiful baby girl, and that meant a lot. Sometimes you feel like you’re a voice in the dark, and it’s nice to know your work means something to someone.
KO: My first press trip! I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect, but it ended up being a fantastic time. And I think that was one of the points where I realized just how influential bloggers can be and how many opportunities are out there for us.
SZ: My favorite blogging memories all involve meeting and hanging out with fellow bloggers in person! I feel so lucky to have made some awesome friends through my blog and getting to meet them in real life and instantly connect is very cool. It’s great finding other people out there with similar interests!
What is your biggest mistake or the biggest mistake to avoid?
DR: Not sure if I made any big ones as I am always careful of etiquette etc. Personally I regret that I do not always have time to visit or reply to each reader that takes the time to leave a comment on my page. I do hope I can manage that better soon.
LP: The list of mistakes is long. As I tell my kids, it’s how we learn. The biggest mistake I have made is letting blogging take away from family time. Sometimes when I am kissing my kids goodnight I’m also thinking about that long list of “to-dos” waiting for me. I let it get in the way of time with my kids and that’s not OK in my book. Everything else can wait.
DO: Not being consistent. People want results and money overnight and it doesn’t happen like that. It takes time to build a following, but when you do they will help you and share your content with others. Giving up too early on your site before it has had a chance to shine is a common mistake. There are going to be hard times, slow times, etc. but you charge through it and keep going.
PL: Don’t accept too many freebies. Taking every sample that someone offers you feels like a great idea. But, you often end up in a situation where your page looks more like an advertisement for products than a great place to go read about food. I don’t love pages that do too many product promotions, as I don’t find that they seem very genuine. It’s actually quite a bit of a turn-off. We have a pretty strict policy about what types of products we will write about. They have to be a good fit for the site, or we won’t take them.
DW: Don’t try to take someone else’s material and use it as your own. Give credit where credit is due. When people come along and crop my photos so that my watermark is no longer there, or they copy my recipe and photo without giving me any credit, it’s not cool. It’s stealing. Bloggers work really hard and they don’t make much money, so it hurts even more when people aren’t nice.
MN: I don’t really have too many regrets. In my very early days I wrote some pretty bad posts and took some pretty bad pictures, and I’ve left them all up there in the archive for hilarity purposes. Beyond that, blogging has been a whole lot of fun!
CC: As far as mistakes, I’m not sure I’ve made any mistakes. I certainly look back and cringe at my early posts, the pictures are terrible, and I had yet to develop a writing style. But it was all a part of the learning process. I guess my only real mistake, and this is something I work on still, is being envious of other bloggers that might have more readers, better pictures, or more achievements. I am learning to be proud of all that I have done, and stop the comparisons.
AM: My biggest mistake was not switching over to a self-hosted WordPress blog sooner! Once I did that, my traffic and opportunities grew.
Inspired to start your own food blog? See my step-by-step instructions here.