Answers to the most common questions I get about blogging full time as a career.
How, exactly, do you earn a living?
When you’re self employed, it’s always smart to have a diversified income stream since you never know what the future holds and no single income source is guaranteed in the long term. I like to think of my salary as one big pie (pumpkin please) and each income source is a different sized slice of pie. Throughout the year, the size of the slice will change. For example, advertising revenue is highest in the fall around the holidays when companies have larger budgets for advertising but other times of the year it will be much less.
Other ways in which I make money include long-term brand ambassador programs, sponsored blog posts, TV segment appearances, speaking engagements, recipe development, recipe video creation, sponsored social media posts, freelance food photography, social media consulting, etc. You have to be a bit of a “jack of all trades” when you’re self employed in order to keep that pie plate filled.
What is your schedule like and how many hours a week do you work?
One of the most wonderful things about being my own boss is that I can create my own schedule. As a result, this question is hard to answer because I don’t work set hours. On average, I work about 3-4 hours a day, 6 days a week. Mornings are held sacred for my kids and my daily workout which is why I rarely schedule client calls before noon. Additionally, I like to spend the evening with my family and husband so I rarely work after 5:30PM.
This is possible because over the years I’ve developed strategies to work more efficiently. For example, I photograph all of the recipes for my blog in just two days a month. One morning a week, I write a weeks worth of blog posts in one sitting (about 2 hours.) Exceptions to the rule include travel days and photo/video shoot days. On those days, I work 6-10 hours a day.
Like most business owners, some weeks I work more, other weeks I work less. If I want to meet a friend for lunch in the middle of the week, I can work a couple hours that morning to make up the time. If my laptop dies like it did recently, I may go five days without working. There truly is no set schedule when you own a business but I feel very lucky to have so much flexibility in my schedule.
Unlike so many of my working mom friends, I get to take my kids to school, volunteer in the classroom, chaperone field trips and pick them up from school. They’ve never stepped foot in a day care facility which is something I don’t take for granted because it has saved us thousands and thousands of dollars over the years. Does it mean I sometimes have to work a little on the weekend? Maybe. But truth be told, when your job doesn’t feel like work, you don’t mind working a couple hours on a Saturday. Having the flexibility to travel whenever I want, meet a friend during the middle of the week or read to my son’s class on a random week day makes the sacrifice worthwhile.
How much of your travel is sponsored and how did you incorporate the travel writing into your business?
As you may or may not know, I graduated from Boston University with a four year degree in Hospitality Administration and Marketing. Prior to blogging full time, I opened the JW Marriott Grand Rapids. In total, I have over five years experience in hotel sales working with Marriott International. I have also worked for two different tourism boards: the Boston CVB and Experience Grand Rapids.
Needless to say, travel is a huge passion, second to cooking. If I’m being honest, I work to travel and I would choose a travel experience over a material item any day of the week. As a result, I have been travel writing on The Lemon Bowl since it’s inception in 2010. In the beginning, none of my travel was sponsored but that never stopped me from photographing, writing and sharing my travels with my readers.
Over the years, more and more travel clients began reaching out to me and I’m fortunate to say that most of the travel writing you see now is sponsored. To be clear: sponsored travel doesn’t mean I am paid for my time away from my family or business. Nor does it mean that I was compensated for the 2-3 months of planning and coordination that most travel stories require before you even step foot in the airplane.
In fact, I’m usually working for free to photograph, live social share and write about the destination I’m promoting. From there, I have a whole other set of tasks that take place to make sure that blog post is promoted for weeks and months to come. Sponsored travel usually just means that my lodging and some meals are paid for during my visit. More often than not, I pay for my own airfare, transportation and at least a few of my meals. If you’re ever curious, just look for the disclosure at the bottom of my blog post. I will always disclose whether the travel is sponsored. Always.
Additionally, I often pay for a freelance photographer to capture the trip so that I can take in the experience which allows me to write a more useful story for my readers when I return. It also lets me appear in the photos and still have time to post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.
Lastly, one BIG reason you don’t see much non-sponsored travel on The Lemon Bowl is because I like to travel with my family and NOT have to work. It is worth it to me to pay for travel so that I can be present with my family and not have to worry about taking high quality photographs, sharing on various social media platforms, etc. As a result, that’s why you never saw a story about our visit to NYC last winter or our week in Toronto last summer. That said, I know how much you love my family travel stories which is why I try to do a mix of sponsored and non-sponsored family travel.
How far in advance for you schedule your content?
Due to my busy travel schedule and limited office hours (I only have childcare 4 hours a day), I work about 10-25 days ahead of schedule. About 3 weeks before the blog post goes live, I will photograph it during one of my bi-monthly photoshoots. Then, about one to two weeks before the post date, I write the blog post and schedule it. It’s very rare that I will write a blog post that will go live within a one week period. For example, at the time I’m writing this post, it won’t go live for 10 days. This afternoon I will write two more blog posts that won’t go live for two weeks.
How long did it take you to get to where you are today?
My first blog post, Roasted Beet & Wheat Berry Salad, went live in June 2010. For the first two and a half years, the only people reading my website were my close friends and my mom. In fact, I didn’t receive my first $100 check for advertising until I had been blogging for almost three years. I repeat: I didn’t earn a single cent on this website for three years.
The blogging industry has changed immensely since I first started. When I began blogging, no one was blogging as a career. No one was making a living from blogging. Quitting my day job and blogging full time was not only not on my radar, it wasn’t even an option. In fact, even several years into blogging once I was making a little cash, I never in my wildest imagination imagined that I would make more money than a typical day job.
Fast forward to today, endless bloggers and influencers create their website and open their Instagram account with one main objective: to earn a living. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I started when I did. While there is no right or wrong, I feel so grateful that I didn’t have the pressure of “making it big” to cloud my true passion and desire: to share my healthy recipes, travels and weight loss tips with my readers. I know that my brand is stronger today because of my journey. I’m so grateful that I never had the temptation of creating recipes I would never eat myself, just because they’d go viral or be “Pinterest-worthy.” Spoiler Alert: Smoothies never go viral. But I would never bake a poke cake and feed it to my family so I will never pretend to do so just to make a buck. That is my promise to you.
How did you make the transition from working in exchange for free products to being paid in actual cash?
In 2013, about three years into blogging, I attended Food Blog Forum, a conference for food bloggers. During that conference, Jaden of Steamy Kitchen spoke about defining success as a blogger: what it means and what it doesn’t mean. You can read more about Jaden’s speech here but looking back, that talk was certainly a turning point in how I approached my business.
If I were to continue working in exchange for free food, I would never be able to grow my business, hire help and take on new clients. Additionally, as more and more brands began approaching me with paid opportunities, I found myself with less time available to work for free (or in exchange for food.) It simply wouldn’t be fair to my paying clients if I were producing comparable high-quality content for other clients free of charge. As much as I love free food, it does not, in fact, pay the mortgage so I can’t consider it a form of payment. I’d rather go buy that $5 granola bar than get it for free in exchange for a blog post which takes hours of planning, photographing, writing and promoting. Just as the client sending me the email is likely getting paid in cash, it only seems right that I also get paid in cash.
There’s a second motivation to this story: keeping my brand strong. On a daily basis, I receive at least 10 emails from companies offering to send me products for free in exchange for a blog post or social media share. If I shared a photo of every free box of cereal I got in the mail or every free apple peeler or case of cheese, I would literally have zero brand authority. Imagine if one day I was talking about one brand of hummus and the next day talking about another. What if one day I was sharing an organic, craft-made granola company then two days later a big box of sugary cereal from a big brand? How much faith would you have in The Lemon Bowl? What sort of expert would I be?
In order to keep my brand strong, I have to decline 90% of the opportunities that come my way. Just this past week I turned down two opportunities that would have paid my mortgage for the next three months (possibly more – I didn’t even begin the negotiations.) If any of you reading this are self employed, you know how hard it can be to turn down business. When you don’t have a set paycheck, it cane be quite nerve-wracking to turn away money. What if the offers dry up? What if nothing else comes my way and I can’t pay my bills?
Guess what: I have never once regretted saying no or turning down an opportunity that wasn’t the right fit for me. (In my case, that usually means a product made with ingredients I wouldn’t feel comfortable consuming or feeding to my kids.) As my dear friend Kristen puts it so perfectly: I will always choose temporary discomfort (having to say no to a client and turn down money) over long term resentment (sharing a product you wouldn’t eat or buy yourself.)
Last but not least, this doesn’t even include the local businesses and restaurants right here in West Michigan that reach out to my on a daily basis. Every time a new restaurant opens up in town or a new shop around the corner opens up, I often receive an invitation to attend an event or dine at their restaurant “for free” in exchange for writing about it on my blog or sharing it with my social media followers. Other times they offer to pay me but I still usually have to turn it down.
Why? Most of my readers do not live locally. In fact, less than 7% of my readers live here in Michigan. At the end of the day, I have one goal: to share useful content to my readers. As much as I’d love a free date night with my husband, it simply doesn’t seem helpful to share about it with my readers who don’t live within driving distance of the restaurant.
How do you make the connections you needed to be successful?
The best way to meet other bloggers or perspective clients when you’re first starting out is to attend a blogging conference. In fact, many of my closest friends to this day are bloggers I met early on at conferences. A few of my favorite conferences over the years include BlogHer Food, Chopped Conference and Indulge Conference. Over the years, I’ve attended fewer and fewer conferences preferring, instead, to host or attend a more intimate blogger retreat. Most recently, I hosted a blogger retreat in the Hamptons. If you’re curious about why I see so much value in blogger retreats, I encourage you to read 7 Reasons to Attend or Host a Blogger Retreat.
Is it too late to get started in today’s over-saturated blogger market?
Absolutely not! There is only one you and no one else will blog about that chocolate chip cookie or write about that recent family vacation the same way you will.
What is your best piece of advice for a new blogger?
Stay in your own lane. I repeat, stay in your own lane. Don’t worry about what others are doing with their blogs or what others are thinking about you. If you’ve ever struggled with other people’s opinions (I certainly have!), listen to this podcast immediately. Simply stay in your own lane and do what sets YOUR soul on fire. Authenticity is a hot word these days and for good reason. A little authenticity goes a long way in today’s “Instagram-Worthy” world.
Don’t blog about a poke cake just because you know it would go viral if you wouldn’t, in fact, ever be caught dead shoving boxed pudding into a boxed cake. Just as I appreciate it when my baking blogging friends don’t post healthy recipes once a year in January to capitalize on the healthy living season, I’m sure they appreciate it when I don’t post cookie recipes that I’d never actually eat just to make extra cash in December.
Lastly, surround yourself with people who want to see you reach your goals. If you put positive out into the world, you’ll get positive back. Guess what happens when you surround yourself with people who love to gossip or complain? You’re going to find yourself gossiping and complaining just to fit in and bond with that person. Cut the fat and set boundaries. Life is too short and you have too many goals to achieve. If someone is jealous of your success that means they have their own insecurities to work on in their life. It’s about them and not you but unless you set boundaries, they’ll eat you alive. Find your people and keep them close. (Love you Rachael and Lauren!)
What are the best financial investments for a new blogger?
While I’m sure most people would say to invest in a DSLR camera (fun fact: I don’t own one) or fancy lighting and equipment, in looking back I believe the best money I ever spent was that to attend a conference. While it can be a bit pricy to pay for air fare, lodging, meals and registration, you really can’t beat an opportunity to spend face time and build relationships with other bloggers and clients.
Additionally, when you’re just starting out, conferences are a great way to learn more about growing your blog and they allow you the chance to ask other bloggers any burning questions you may have about blogging. If you’re nervous to attend one on your own, find a blogging buddy to go with you. As an added bonus, you can share a room which will help keep costs down.
Ok friends – there you have it! Your top 10 questions about blogging as a career answered! How did I do? Was this helpful? Did I answer any of your questions? Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you! You can also shoot me a note over on Instagram.
Head over to my Pinterest board to see all my recipes!