One of the most frequently asked question we get from FBC members and other food bloggers alike is "how can I make money food blogging?" Today we're going to show you how and you might be surprised by some of the answers!
Editor's Note - this is a long post!
Shortly after FBC launched back in 2011, chef and blogger Cameron Stauch (and now a James Beard Award nominated cookbook author!) wrote an article for FBC called Thinking Outside the Bowl: Food Bloggers Making Money where he interviewed several bloggers about how they make money food blogging. The article is still on the site in its original form and it's a fun read especially when you see how much has changed for each of those bloggers in the last 8 years! But given that it was 8 years ago and that we still get asked this question weekly, we thought it was time to revisit the topic through a 2019 lens.
Food blogging can be a pretty lucrative career and, as with any business, there are multiple ways you can earn a living food blogging. Some people choose to make their blog the centre of their revenue generation. Others consider their blogs as just one part of their overall business.
There are the obvious blog revenue streams, like ad revenue and sponsored content, but they're really just the tip of the iceberg! However, no matter how you choose to earn your living through your blog...
You Have To Treat it Like A Business
We need to be very clear - there are no shortcuts to earning a full time income blogging regardless of how you choose to earn that income. It's a business and you need to treat it like one. If you've been lured by stories of bloggers who magically start making six figures a year after just a few months of blogging (and want to sell you a class telling you exactly how to do it for yourself) then I have some ocean view property in Saskatoon to sell you!
Like any other business, you're going to put some blood, sweat and tears in. You need to build an audience, serve them and grow their trust. You're going to need to learn your craft: improve your photography, understand how SEO works, become a better writer, have some basic tech skills, be able to adapt to a rapidly changing field that requires you to always be learning... the list goes one. You are going to have to learn some business skills that have nothing to do with food or food photography or SEO. This is going to become your job, not your hobby.
SIDE NOTE: you may have been tempted to buy followers on social media or purchase likes to grow faster. DO NOT DO IT - it will ultimately fail in the long run and can do a lot of damage to your business and your reputation.
So lets get started. But before we dive in too far let's address two big elephants in the room...
Can You Earn a Full Time Income On Your Blog Without Ad Revenue?
In a word, yes. We'll get to ad revenue in a minute but before we do, we want to point out that you do not need to be a "big" blogger to earn a full time income from your blog. Most ad companies won't work with you until you have at least 30K sessions per month and it can take a new blogger months and, more realistically, a year or two before they hit that milestone. If they're extremely niche or overwhelmingly general, it can take even longer! But that doesn't mean you have to put your income dreams away until you hit those numbers.
Other bloggers choose not to run ads even though they have the traffic to do so. FBC Member Meghan Telpner has been very upfront with the fact that she earns 7 figures a year (gross) without belonging to an ad network. Here at FBC the only ad network we belong to is Google Adsense, which we use for filler in our sidebar on desktop when needed. And yet we're able to support 2 people. So yes, you absolutely can earn a full time living without ad revenue.
The Importance of Income Diversification For Food Bloggers
Income diversification is important for all bloggers, regardless of how you earn money from your food blog. We really can't stress this point enough.
If you've been blogging long enough then you know that some of the best known revenue streams - like ad income and sponsored content - can have some significant ups and downs. If you don't have other sources of revenue that can pick up the slack, it can cause some panic the first time your revenue from one of those sources drops and doesn't recover!
Ok, now we've covered those two items we can dive in for real!
1. Ad Revenue Via an Ad Network
Ad revenue via an ad network is currently on a high and is undoubtedly the main source of revenue for most full time food bloggers. It's not unusual for high traffic blogs to earn anywhere from mid 5 figures to even as much as 7 figures in a year from their ad network but bloggers with less than 100K sessions per month should expect to make considerably less.
Some of the more popular ad revenue platforms for food bloggers include Mediavine and Ad Thrive but there are many others out there. Some will have a minimum monthly traffic amount and/or exclusivity requirements. Some are better for blogs with less US traffic.
RESOURCE: Check out this article on the Best Ad Networks for Bloggers and Others on CMS Critic to get started with your research. (Mike Johnston, the man behind CMS Critic, is also the spouse of FBC Member Karlynn Johnston of the blog Kitchen Magpie where he is also a contributor)
- an ad network is mainly passive income and doesn't require a lot of hands on time other than occasional tweaks
- it can be extremely lucrative if you have good traffic
- you will most likely need to meet a minimum traffic threshold, especially for the better paying networks
- your revenue will directly rely on your traffic and the time of year - if your traffic dips, so will your income. 4th quarter (October-December) will usually see the highest income with January, the heart of summer and the first week of any new quarter seeing the lowest revenue.
2. Other Ad Revenue
It's also possible to earn ad revenue without joining an ad network. You can do this by selling ads directly to brands and small businesses, creating ads for affiliate programs you belong to and inserting them in your content or, you can run ads for your own products (i.e. courses and classes, ebooks, your own line of food products etc).
- you have complete control over the ads on your site and the content in them - this can be ideal if you're a very niche site
- great if you have very close relationships with a couple of brands that are mutually beneficial
- promoting your own products over other people's products is always ideal!
- selling ads directly to other companies is a tough slog and can be a lot of work. If you're a high traffic blog it may not be worth your time at all but if you're a low traffic blog in a niche it can work
- You will have to do all of the ad management, unlike when you work with a network. You'll need to use a plug-in or software that can track performance of the ads
3. Sponsored Blog or Social Media Content
Sponsored blog content is another very popular way to earn direct income from your blog. There are MANY variations on how sponsored content works but the basic premise is that a brand purchases content on your site or social media, usually to promote one of their products.
You will create the content after being given a set of specific guidelines (or what's known as a brief) and may be required to promote that content on your social media channels (as we mentioned - there may be many variations on this theme).
There are multiple ways to land sponsored content contracts:
- you can directly pitch brands that you want to work with
- in some cases brands, or their PR agency, will come directly to you (this is a less likely scenario if you're a low traffic or brand new blogger)
- you can join influencer marketing platforms that specialize in partnering brands with bloggers for paid campaigns. FBC is an example of an organization that does this but there are many others out there like Izea and TapInfluence
Influencer marketing platforms can take a lot of the stress of pitching away but, if you go this route look out for some common pitfalls:
- payment is often less than if you made the connection with the brand yourself or worked with them directly or through their PR agency. This isn't unfair - the platform is removing a big piece of the work for you.
- read your contracts very carefully - more and more platforms are requesting ownership of any sponsored content you create (yes, even if it's living on your blog!). You can push back on this and ask that it be removed
- the opportunities for bloggers outside of the United States are often limited
4. Brand Ambassadorships
This is a variation on sponsored content but there are some differences. The most noticeable one is that a Brand Ambassadorship is a long term commitment - anywhere from 3 months to a year or more. It should be viewed as a mutually beneficial partnership between you and your brand partner.
In its most basic form a Brand Ambassador will usually be required to create content for their blog and social media channels in the form of multiple sponsored posts over the term of the contract. Other requirements of a brand ambassador may (or may not) include:
- creating video content for your blog, Youtube channel or social media
- creating original content specifically for the brand's website or social channels - this content may or may not have your name attached to it
- making appearances at media or promotional events
- appearing on tv or radio
- you may be paid an additional fee for the use of your name and likeness
- travel to conferences or trade show events
Brand ambassadorships can be very lucrative but they're also a lot of very hard work.
WATCH OUT FOR: when you become a brand ambassador you will most likely be prohibited from working with any of the brand's competitors during the term of your contract and for some time after the contract expires. You might be surprised who is considered a competitor so it's important to be very clear before you sign anything that you:
- know exactly who is considered a competitor
- that you are compensated fairly for any potential lost income
- be 100% sure that this brand/product is a good, natural fit for you and your content. You will be working with them for an extended period and your audience will be seeing a lot of their product.
5. Freelance Work
Freelance work is a big category that covers a lot of possible work. Here are just a few of the ways you can freelance:
- white label recipe development, food photography or food styling for brands (white label means that your name is not attached to it in any way)
- freelance food styling for cookbooks, television segments, films or tv sets, newspaper, magazine or website content, photoshoots and other bloggers
- freelance food photography for cookbooks, magazines and other online or offline publications or other bloggers
- freelance video production for online sites or other bloggers
- recipe testing for cookbooks and other recipe publications
- food writing for magazines, websites and trade publications of all kinds including food, travel, parenting, even home decor publications
- ghost writing cookbooks
- translating cookbooks or other food related publications
- food illustration
- menu development for restaurants and catering companies
- menu makeovers for restaurants who want to become more vegan/keto/gluten-free/allergy friendly
Freelance work is something a lot of bloggers do quietly behind the scenes. Much of their work will never show up on any of their channels. Some will have a separate portfolio site to showcase their client work. Others will include it as a service offering on their blogs. While we don't have numbers, we suspect a very high percentage of food bloggers do some kind of freelance work in the food space.
6. Working For Other Bloggers
While this is technically freelancing, we mention it separately because it's something that often gets overlooked. Not many bloggers think to offer their services to other bloggers! And yet, it happens more often than you might think. Who is going to understand what a food blogger needs more than another food blogger?
There are FBC members who create Tasty Style videos for other bloggers who don't want to learn video but appreciate how popular videos are. Others sell bloggers photography and styling services.
We've seen a number of FBC members teaming up in recent months to help each other out. One may do the photography while the other does the styling - each playing to their own strengths - to help each other produce their own blog content.
A number of food bloggers provide virtual assistant services to other bloggers - particularly with social media tasks.
I help other bloggers write their newsletters and, as a graphic designer, I offer bloggers Pin Packages where all I do is create Pinterest pins for them!
Do you have a skill or talent that may not be directly related to food but that you can use to help out other food bloggers?
7. Stock Photography
Stock photography allows you to make some extra money from your food photography. If you're not familiar with stock photography this is when you license photos that you hold the copyright to, to other individuals or businesses. It's different from freelance photography where you are usually photographing something to meet the specific requirements of a client who has hired you.
With stock photography you are usually licensing images you've already taken and that don't have any exclusive license agreements already in place. (for instance, if you gave a brand an exclusive license to an apple pie image you shot, you can't license that image for stock photography as the brand has exclusive use of it for the length of your licensing agreement with them).
You can submit your photos to stock photography sites and, every time somebody chooses to download your images from one of these sites for their particular use, you will receive a payment.
Sounds great, doesn't it? You could submit your entire catalogue to stock sites and make some money! You could even shoot specifically for stock websites if you wanted to. But like everything, there are some things to be aware of:
- there are many different stock photography sites with different business models. For microstock sites you may only make a few cents to a few dollars for a photo download and volume will be key to earning significant revenue. For bigger sites like Getty Images, you could earn some very good revenue with just a single image license.
- most sites will have specific technical requirements that your photos must adhere to
- your photos can be rejected if they're not deemed to be a high enough quality
- you will do better if you submit images for food items that are less common (things like cookies and tomatoes and top down shots of lattes are usually very saturated categories on stock sites)
- many people browsing stock sites are looking for images that can incorporate text so images with white space can be in higher demand than very busy images.
8. Teaching & Coaching
This is pretty self-explanatory! Teach a cooking class or workshop or even your blogging skills.
There are so many teaching scenarios:
- cooking schools
- on-line courses
- private classes for people in their homes
- after school programs for kids
- farmers market demos
- night school classes
- cooking demos at events or on tv
- in your own home
- private coaching or mastermind groups for other bloggers
If you've got a special skill that you're well known for like pickling, pie making, choux pastry or Instant Pot cooking, offer it up as a class or workshop to an established cooking school or rent some space and teach it yourself! You can also teach on-line through platforms like Skillshare, Kajabi or Teachable, to name a few.
Don't forget you can teach more than cooking classes. Think about the blogging skills you have. Can you teach those as well - either in a classroom setting or on-line or through one on one coaching?
9. Culinary Tours
If you know the food scene in your city then hosting culinary tours can be an interesting way to earn some extra income and meet people from all over the world who love food as much as you do.
You'll need to forge connections with local restaurants, breweries, wineries, and other producers to ensure you can give your clients a good experience. You can market your tours through your own social channels but also on bigger sites like Air BnB Experiences or Eventbrite and your through your local tourism office.
You can also host culinary tours internationally if you have good knowledge of a country or region that people are interested in visiting.
10. Write a Book
A lot of FBC members have published cookbooks and there are so many options when it comes to writing and publishing a book in today's market. You no longer need to rely on a traditional publisher offering you a publishing contract. Here's a few ideas:
- a cookbook
- a culinary memoir
- a self-help book for those struggling with how they eat (this would be good for a dietitian, nutritionist or a meal planner etc)
- a culinary guide to your city or region
- a book related to blogging or a specific blogging skill like food styling or food photography
You can shop your proposal to agents or traditional publishing houses or you can self-publish (there are great resources on self-publishing here) or write an ebook that you sell directly on your website.
E-books that you sell directly on your website also lend themselves to brand sponsorships which can add additional revenue.
A book is a big time investment though, so you'll want to make sure you have an audience who will be interested. This is where having a tight knit community of readers can really make or break your sales!
11. Speaking Engagements and Appearances
If you enjoy getting in front of a crowd or a camera, speaking engagements or television appearances can open a lot of doors and get you in front of people you might never normally have contact with.
Unfortunately, in the food blogging world, speaking rarely pays well unless you are in the key note category. But it can be a great way to promote your work, your books and your services. If you can get gigs at conferences and workshops it can be a great way to forge solid connections.
Getting a regular television spot on your local station can pay well and if you're reliable, engaging on camera and pitch good ideas to the shows' producers, you can get invited back regularly. Morning programs, noon news hours and daily lifestyle shows all need a regular stream of relevant content in bite sized segments. Please note that compensation can vary widely by market. Smaller markets will probably pay less than the larger markets of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. You can earn additional revenue by partnering with a brand for some of your spots.
12. Creating Your Own Product Line
Creating your own physical product line is something we are seeing more and more bloggers doing - especially in the last 12 months! Several FBC members have launched products or are in the process of launching:
- Joy McCarthy has launched a line of teas and body care items.
- Deb Wong has launched a line of organic teas and tea related merchandise.
- Denise from Urb'n'Spice sells a line of her own confitures, compotes and jellies.
- Maryam Munaf has a line of vegan date based food products (and she teaches workshops on how to launch a food based product in Canada)
- Ilona from Ilona's Passion creates printables for party invitations and favours that are perfect for entertaining
There are more FBCers with products in development!
Product development can be a daunting option and requires research but there are a lot of resources out there than can help you. Several cities in Canada offer incubator programs for fledgling food businesses and each province offers small business resources that can be very helpful. Your local farmers' market can also be a good option for trying out your products and building a loyal following.
13. Affiliate Links
This is a relatively easy and passive way to earn additional revenue. Amazon affiliate links is the most common one used by bloggers but there are other affiliate programs and platforms out there like Commission Junction and Share-A-Sale.
You can also become an affiliate for other bloggers' programs if they offer an affiliate share program. Some brands may also offer you an affiliate link as part of their blogger campaigns. And if you work with brands regularly who sell directly from their website, ask them if there's an opportunity for you to become an affiliate.
While affiliate income can be passive, you do need to put some effort in to make it happen. For more tips check out our resource post:
A lot of food bloggers are already doing video for their blogs. But uploading your video content to YouTube and Facebook and having it be long enough to monetize can bring in additional ad revenue streams. YouTube in particular favours videos 10 minutes or more in length when it comes to monetization. Facebook is looking for videos longer than 3 minutes (as of this writing).
You may want to consider making long form video that you can monetize on other platforms but then edit down to shorter snappier video for Instagram or your blog.
YouTube can be another great way to build community. YouTube viewers are usually a completely different audience who will probably never come to your blog on a regular basis but they will watch all your video content. Building an actual YouTube channel with consistent content can become a solid revenue stream.
Some FBC members who do well with YouTube include:
- Pailin of Pailin's Kitchen
- Teenuja and Kevin of Vegan Lovelie
- Eve Martel, who runs two successful French language channels, Top Yummy and Eve Martel
- Lisa of The Viet Vegan
- Lauren of Hot For Food
- Abbey of Abbey's Kitchen.
Patreon is unique platform that works especially well for those of you who are YouTubers and podcasters and is especially popular in the art community. You can use it for a traditional website as well, although that's less common. Patreon allows your followers to pledge a monthly amount to you in order to support the work you do - like a patron (hence the name!). In return you provide them with additional, exclusive content.
Like other crowdfunding platforms, you can have different pledge levels with different rewards. For instance your lowest level may be a $2/month pledge and anyone who pledges that gets a special "patron only" newsletter. Higher levels get more elaborate rewards. I support one of my favourite podcasters for $4/month and I get access to a special monthly, patron only podcast.
There are lots of creative ways to use the platform and we suggest browsing other Patreon users to see how they structure their rewards but it can help you build a sustainable and reliable monthly revenue stream.
16. Private Catering
People are busy and more and more of them want to eat fresh, healthy, home cooked food - if they just had the time! When they don't have the time to shop, prep and cook, they resort to eating convenience food that doesn't always taste that great or do much for them nutritionally. This is why meal delivery services are so popular right now.
Some bloggers do private catering (this is especially true of food bloggers with chef backgrounds) or meal prep services:
- Prep the ingredients, provide the recipes and instructions and deliver everything 1-2x a week as needed.
- Deliver fully cooked meals that can keep for 2-3 days in the fridge (or longer in the freezer) and simply need reheating.
- Offer shop and prep services where you do the grocery shopping and then deliver and prep the ingredients right in the person's home after shopping.
- Offer in home tastings - for wine, cheese, beer or anything you're knowledgeable about
- full dinner party menus
There are a lot of variations you can do here!
17. A Podcast
Podcasting has really taken off in recent years and it's become a very popular way for people to consume content. There are podcasts for everything. Podcasts can help you forge a very intimate relationship with your followers - even more so than your blog. Think about it... your voice is going directly into somebody's ear right to their brain. They can hear your emotions and your passion. It can forge a very strong connection and trust.
Like blogs and video, podcasts usually earn money from ad revenue, sponsorships and Patreon contributions. They can also open you up to a whole new audience who need to fill time while commuting, running the treadmill or doing the dishes. And google has recently announced that podcasts will now be showing up in search results which could be a game changer as more and more people use voice search. Because what's a podcast? It's people talking... not writing... talking! Our verbal idiosyncrasies will be a much closer match when somebody talks to Siri!
Some FBC Member podcasts to check out:
18. Farmers Markets & Bricks and Mortar Locations
Selling your products to a live audience can be intimidating but also a lot of fun! As we mentioned with starting your own product line, farmers' markets can be a great first step to selling your baked goods, spice mixes, jams, jellies, honey and even vegetables if you have a productive garden.
Taking that success to a bricks and mortar location is a much bigger proposition and this one won't be for everyone. But we've seen bloggers do it successfully. FBCer Sarah Huggins launched Mary Be Kitchen in Toronto to rave reviews. Fanny Lam of Oh Sweet Day! launched her own bakery in Vancouver this summer. Betty Hung became the new owner of Vancouver's Beaucoup Bakery with her brother after working there as a pastry chef for years! This is a blood, sweat and tears proposition but it can also be immensely satisfying getting to see your customers enjoying your food right in front of you!
One More Thing - Keep It Legal
We hope by this point you've got lots of ideas percolating in your head! There really are so many options to make revenue through or around your blog. But there's one more thing we need to mention.
Some cities may require that you have a business license - even if you work from home. Teaching classes or selling food may require insurance policies or specific certifications (like Food Safe) or that they be made in a commercial kitchen. You will have to pay taxes on what you earn and if you earn over a certain threshold you may need to charge taxes.
Do your research and ask others who are doing similar activities and learn all you can.