Most blogs begin as a sort of culinary journal, a place for a blogger to record favourite recipes and food experiences. And while making money was never part of the plan, the different advertising programs you’ve signed up for leave you dissatisfied with the nickels and dimes you receive for space on your site.
It then may not surprise you that there are only a couple of handfuls of food bloggers who have enough traffic on their site to make a living solely via advertising. Sounds disheartening but this post will help you discover potential income streams, highlighting several of these streams, including the rewards and challenges of fellow bloggers. I spoke to fellow bloggers Eatboutique, Travel Bloggers Success, Dan’s Good Side, Guilty Kitchen, and Cookin Canuck who generously shared their time, some secrets of their success’ and some lessons learned.
Being A Brand Ambassador
It took a while for Dara from Cookin Canuck to define what her blog was about. She was originally known for her unique flavour combinations but changes in her lifestyle and diet helped her focus on offering healthy recipes and advice on healthy living.
Fostering relationships has been instrumental in helping her build a solid foundation. Dara had done some posting for food blogger advocate Casey Benedict on Kitchen Play. Her work was engaging, professional and delivered on time. So when it came time for Casey to approach bloggers for an OnDiva ambassadorship she knew that Dara would provide reliable posts offering a unique point of view.
She also pitches to brands on her own. Having enjoyed her first post for OXO, she decided to approach them about a three post series offering healthy eating tips. Again, because of her reputation from that initial post they immediately said yes.
But it has not always been this easy. Initially, Dara cites some early mistakes, like sending single line emails such as “hey it would be great to work with you sometime” to companies she wanted to work with. Nowadays she is much more specific explaining to companies the type of post she is planning to write and how it benefits their brand. She always includes a media page to share more demographic information. PR agencies/ companies want a bang for their buck. They are putting faith in you to help promote their brand so they want to make sure it is in their best interest.
A current challenge with brand partnerships is that there is a learning curve for the brands. Many are not sure how to work with bloggers in partnerships and they also expect a lot of what the blogger does to be for free. During the 3 years of blogging, her income has steadily grown. Currently her income is almost evenly split between advertising and sponsored posts.
Elizabeth of Guilty Kitchen, where she teaches her readers how easy it is to prepare handmade seasonal pantry items as opposed to using prepackaged industrial products, has experienced that e-books are an interesting and extremely rewarding way to generate income from your blog.
Unlike traditional publishing, in which a cookbook can take a couple of years to get to the market, an e-book can be produced in a short period of time and you have complete creative control over the product you put out. It took $150 dollars (recipe ingredients) and three weeks of intense work to fully develop, Holiday Bites, her e-book. Once a PayPal button was set up all she had to do was send finished copies to buyers.
On the other hand, Elizabeth discovered that trying to be play all roles in the publishing process (recipe developer, tester, food stylist, photographer, editor, marketer and so on) can be very challenging. She also had to make sure that the e-book could be read on different e-readers/tablets. But because of the low cost of doing the book it only took a month or so of selling the book to recoup the production costs and she does not have to share any of the profits with a traditional publisher. The money she is bringing in from her e-book sales and advertising is just enough to cover activities for her blog and occasionally subsidize some of the fun things in life her family likes to experience.
Dan from Dan’s Good Side originally just wanted a place to post recipes and provide high quality writing about the exciting and unique Calgary food scene. Somewhat ironically, he never intended to make money off of his site but has recently quit his regular ‘day’ job to become a full time freelance writer.
Dan now considers his blog more of an evolving online resume. Metro Calgary and Avenue Magazine offered Dan a flat rate to write a regular column due to his engaging and unique content. He has also developed a relationship with Food Network Canada due to his initial realization that their Calgary content was outdated. In exchange for the exposure he receives, Dan has two ads on his site which has a decent revenue share with FNC. FNC broached the subject of working together with Dan for season 2 of Top Chef Canada. He proposed a unique interactive project where viewers can vote on which one dish from the challenges in each episode Dan should try to recreate at home.
Recognizing the need for university students to learn how to cook from scratch Dan helped develop a non profit cooking program called Start from Scratch. These free classes are supported by community sponsorships and his and his colleague’s free time. He is currently writing a couple of e-books influenced by his multiple projects.
The Online Store
A strong thread through Maggie’s life has been a serious interest in food, community and social media. Maggie established Eatboutique, a site that celebrates pure local and comforting handmade foods, as a way to share her discoveries and tell the stories of the food artisans who are often not included as part of an online retail experience.
Since her site celebrates small family owned businesses she has not pursued any sort of ads as generally the type of companies that would be advertising on her site would most likely be large multinational firms whose business philosophy does not match with Maggie’s or the people she supports. Similarly, she wanted Eatboutique to have a specific feel and felt ads would infringe on its design. That being said, Maggie is currently investigating a mutually beneficial advertising program with some artisans or craft groups who share a similar philosophy.
So far, her biggest regret is that she did not start the online store earlier. She sat on the idea for a few years as she was not sure that the market was ready for it but also because she lacked the self confidence to take the leap. Having worked in tech starts ups since graduating from college Maggie learned that if she is not making mistakes then she is not trying hard enough to make Eatboutique a success. Since her site does not fully support her she continues to write food guides, offer tasting tours, host special events and is interestingly, investigating the possibility of having a bricks and mortar version of Eatboutique to make ends meet.
Subscription As A Model
Visit most experienced travel blogger’s sites and it is apparent that they think outside of the box when it comes to posts and ways to generate income. David Lee’s sites Go Backpacking, Medellin Living and specifically Travel Blogger Success, a site which hosts an online course and community to help other travellers (or easily adapted for food bloggers) to blog on their own, offer much food for thought about how to make a living through blogging. It is working for David who brought in $44,000 in 2011.
After researching different options to supplement his blogging income, in 2010 David developed an interactive community based subscription website which he feels offers a greater value than the limits of an e-book.
Travel Blogger Success has provided around fifteen percent of David’s income over each of the last two years. Yet there have been some challenges to operating a subscription model such as the marketing and keeping a constant interest in promoting the site and driving sales. “It’s not enough to create a high quality product you also have to devote a lot of time and energy in marketing it”. Similarly, he initially started offering the memberships as a more expensive three month payment plan and a cheaper one-time fee for lifetime access. In hindsight he thinks it would have helped him produce a broader more solid membership had he offered a slightly cheaper one-time payment option only.
Where’s the Money? Income Streams & You
Having read about the experiences of several fellow bloggers determining which income streams are right for you requires further research to ensure successful implementation and results. If you're blogging as a hobby, then relying on one or two ways to make money is fine. However, if you want to try and make a living from your blog it's extremely important to have a variety of income streams. Regardless of whether you are making only a couple hundred dollars per month or thousands per month it's usually due to a combination of strategies. You need to cover yourself in case one source dries up, as often is the case at the end of each year when advertising budgets are tight. Below is a list of some of the main areas one can use to generate income:
- Advertisements (affiliate, banner, direct)
- Brand Ambassador
- Book deal or self publishing
- TV/ radio spots (local or national)
- Special Projects
- Online Storefronts
- Online Classes
- Developing an App
- Consulting/ Freelance (social media, photography, recipe development/ menu design)
- Videos (investment for licensing)
- Speaking Engagements
- Product Line (develop your own line
In spite of which income models you decide to employ several sage pieces of advice were repeatedly mentioned by these bloggers and are worth highlighting here:
Statistics – March 2012
The statistics below are taken from Google Analytics and Feedburner, unless otherwise noted.
- Unique visitors: 42,500
- Page views: 182,000
- RSS subscribers: 5,200
- Google Page Rank: 5
- Alexa Ranking (3-month): 45,000
- Klout Score (@rtwdave): 60
- 40% of visitors are from the USA (10% UK, 9% Canada, 5% Australia)
*Stats are from Gopacking.com
Having a Media Page
Whether this is something you intend on making public on your site or for your own planning purposes it is important to know who your readers are. Assembling a media page is critical to selling your skills and your site to potential advertisers and/or to crafting a product to sell to your readers. What makes a good media page? It should succinctly summarize what your site is about and the interests of your readers (ie why they keep coming back to your site). It should also provide monthly statistics including unique visitors, page views, number of RSS subscribers, number of twitter and/or Facebook followers, Google Page Ranking, Alexa Ranking, your Klout score and perhaps a few demographics about your readers.
If you want to start collaborating with advertisers or PR firms you first must build your traffic. First visit sites more popular than yours and examine what captured your attention. Was it the photos, recipes, writing style? A friendly reminder though - don’t copy someone else’s content or style! Use it as inspiration – something to emulate and translate for your blog. To increase and retain readership of your site you need to be committed to regularly writing quality content which is useful, engaging, entertaining and easily searchable for your readers. Participating authentically via social media channels such as twitter, Facebook and Pinterest will also help others learn about your work and site.
Are your five thousand monthly page views enough traffic to help you generate the income that you want? It may be enough for some pocket money. But if you are interested in teaming up with a major company for an advertising campaign you may need to wait until you have more readers. Case in point - some of the bloggers interviewed for this article started thinking about some form of commerce when they reached about ten thousand monthly page views while others did not consider it until they had more like twenty thousand monthly visitors.
A successful blogger has a support team behind them. It may be a spouse, sibling or friend who initially helps you with photography, editing or web design. But as you step up the content and offerings on your site having a team of respected advisors and support is essential in building a site which is trusted by readers for its quality content. Opening your blog to guest contributors can bring a fresh new perspective to your readers about topics which you may not have the expertise to share. Similarly, it can help increase the exposure for you and your guest contributor via links. Another benefit is the time this frees up which can be spent focusing on other site related activities. Money does not need to be exchanged for all of the team support you have. An exchange of skills/ expertise or future earnings can be considered when discussing the working arrangement. But the relationships need to be mutually beneficial for all parties.
Whether you are interested in generating income from your fantastic food blog to help subsidize rising ingredient costs, to update your camera or kitchen equipment or simply to cover the costs related to hosting your site or perhaps you are considering following your dream of making a living recognizing that varied income sources will be required. Paid opportunities are everywhere. Engage your entrepreneurial spirit and seek out new and novel ways of generating income to help formulate your own recipe for success.
For even more ways to earn income from your food blog, take a look at our review of Kiersten Frase's book, How To Monetize Your Food Blog e-book.
Discovering Alternate Blogging Revenue Streams was written by Cameron Stauch of India on My Plate. Further research for this post was done at a recent a conference held by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Cameron has recently started Vietnamese language lessons to facilitate his move to Vietnam this summer. Cameron can be found on twitter or Facebook.