In two years, I've built this blog from nothing to one which gets well over 100,000 page views monthly. In the beginning I didn't invest much. But as I did, my traffic grew. Here is my story of my investment in this blog.
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My Blogging Story- A How to Start A Food Blog from Budgets of Zero to One Thousand Dollars
This isn't my first blog. It's the first blog that I've actually stuck with. I've been blogging for the better part of three years. I had wanted to start one in 2011, but didn't know enough to even get started. And I don't view my previous blogs as a failure either. The most important thing is that you learn something from each of your mistakes. Now, I've mentioned my mistakes previously in a page called Ugly Bettys.
Those are my kitchen mistakes, misjudgements, and failures. I found all of them something to sort of look back on and laugh at. Some people might take me less, seriously. That's ok. I'm trying to reach the people who are like "OMG me too!!" The reality is that I started food blogging after a series of personal losses in my life. I remember having the passing thought of "I never wrote down Dad's sauce recipe."
I figured if nothing else it would be a digital record of the things that can be forgotten. So after almost 10 months of blogging I figured I had some advice to share. Blogs can be time and money pits, so here is my advice on how to start a food blog from budgets of zero to one thousand dollars.
I've spent hours reading through different webpages advice. Some of it seems the same and pretty consistent. What I chose to do with my blog, was to read the advice, and take things with a grain of salt and share what I've learned so far. This is all my own experiences, yours might be different.
But here is some advice at all different levels and budgets of the blogging process. If you are wondering, I've hit over 1.3 million page views in about 24 months of blogging. So far, not a bad first year. I know someone out there will tell you that they had a way better first 9 months. However, this is my story and how things have progressed.
So here is the list of best advice I would give to any food blogger just starting out. Like most of my other writing, I try my best to be fair and say the good and the bad. If you don't have a budget set in mind, read through all of my advice, and see where you think you should be. It's very easy to overspend on this hobby, so use your resources wisely.
Final Takeaway: If this woman can build a house after watching untold hours worth of Youtube videos, you can start a food blog from budgets of zero to one thousand dollars.
The advice below is a mix of what I've learned, a reflection on what I wish I had done differently, and the product I've found along the way. There are many free resources listed.
Before you get started some things to consider
Odds are you will be thinking of the name of your blog first and foremost. You will want to give it a catchy name. Do yourself a favor. The best thing you can do before this journey is make sure you can not only get your desired blog name, but also the social media accounts with the same name. Namech_k is a great resource to see if what you desire is even available.
Now, I'm not an attorney, nor should you construe this as legal advise in any way, but you might also want to check a few other places to confirm that your name is available (and not infringing upon anyone else). The United States Patent and Trademark Office also have a search feature. There is nothing worse than getting your blog name just to realize someone has something similar and might try to shut you down or sue you.
Again, I'm not an attorney and don't know much on the matter, but there are plenty of resources out there to help guide you. If you are willing to pay for a good e-book to get you through some of the basic, then Think Like a Lawyer, Blog Like a Pro is a good investment before you even get started. The blogger behind it is an attorney. And yes, the same disclaimer is in that book that it should not be construed as legal advice and when in doubt contact an attorney.
Your niche is also important. Aside from writing about what you enjoy, you might also want to consider what people want to read. If you've ever done a Google search on a topic and nothing shows up for a particular idea or recipe, you might have a good shot at traffic. Why? Clearly there is a lack of information out there.
Blogging with a $0 budget
Most sources I've read will encourage you to choose Wordpress. The struggle is whether to use Wordpress.com or Wordpress.org. I would say 90+% of the advice out there will steer you towards Wordpress.org. When I first started blogging, I was engaged. I was planning and paying for a wedding. There was literally no room in my budget to handle any more expenses. Plus, I knew I could write and had no interest in learning the technical aspects of blogging. I chose Wordpress.com because of the budget and it was as simple to use as any publishing software. They had free themes that for what I was using them for are just fine.
Now, with a $0 budget, you aren't going to get much here either. You probably won't be able to make much money from your site as Wordpress.com uses advertising to cover the costs of hosting your site. If it's just a hobby blog, then you are fine. You'll have access to other bloggers who may or may not appear in the first page of a Google search. You can read other bloggers who are writing about similar topics as you. My favorite aspect was the app on my phone. I could take pictures and upload them to Wordpress. I could edit my posts. Best of all, there is a bit of instant gratification here: Stats. I could see how many page views I was getting.
This option was fine for my first three attempts at blogging. Why did the first two fail? Easy, I did not write on my blog consistently. I had really great intentions. But my follow through was lacking. Why? I was busy and I put things off. I did not invest enough time and did not get an audience. Now, I will say that recipes will likely show up higher if you are on something like Wordpress.org because they used various plugins that make things more friendly to search engines, but if you have no budget, then you'll have to wait this out. You an always switch later.
If you have hopes of making some money off of your blog, then you'll have to invest a little to get a more. Blogging in the beginning like anything is a labor of love. If you do not truly love what you are doing, you won't stick with it. You don't have to post everyday. But you shouldn't go months without activity and hope for a good result.
Some of my earliest free resources I found are:
For creating a logo on your own: Free Logo Design
For editing pictures on a computer and creating pins for Pinterest. I now use Canva.com to help with collages. Plus they are free.
If you are editing pictures on a phone (or posting to Instagram) then check out: Snapseed for iPhone or Snapseed for Android
When I was getting a bit more traffic I upped the budget. I did not spend a lot right out the gate. Sorry, as a human being I'm a bit risk averse. There are some bloggers who are out there who were willing to sell their couch for a fancy camera.
Final Takeaways: If you love something, then get writing, build an audience, get started. I wished I had started sooner. You don't need a fancy camera or a web designer, just passion. At $0, you aren't losing anything, but be realistic. If you are blogging as a hobby, this is a great way to go. If you realize you have an audience and potential, then you can save up and make your next big investment.
Blogging with a $20 budget
For under $20 I invested in the most important thing a blog can have: a domain name. No blognamegoeshere.wordpress.com site I've ever seen has made it big. It just looks like someone's name or diary. Now, if you've read any of my posts, you know I write mostly about Trader Joe's. But Trader Joe's is nowhere in my domain name. I did that on purpose. I didn't realize my topic would turn that way. I never wanted to be tied to a specific brand. Why, lots of other people have domains that mention a brand? If Trader Joe's goes under, then my audience probably won't exist and the domain is useless.
First off, when I started blogging I had intentions of being another home cook sharing recipes (and adult beverages) and going through my cookbook collection to weed things out. Then, I was injured at work. I was told to escort the kids to the cafeteria on the last day of school, on the last period of the day at dismissal. I fell down a few steps and heard three distinct pops from my ankles. Yes, ankles, plural. Thankfully, nothing was broken, but I had two massive sprains in both of my ankles. I had a boot on my left and a soft cast on my right. Needless to say that standing for any length of time wasn't going to happen. Have you ever tried to cook with crutches? I did. It didn't go well. So, easy food (Trader Joe's) became the focus.
I had sought several different domain names. The one I wanted was available, but someone was selling it for more than $2000. So I chose "BecomeBetty". I double checked through NameCh_k and the USPTO just to be on the safe side. I lucked out. Now I had some old posts that I merged onto my blog, so I had some content to start with. However, being that I couldn't stand for any length of time, then I had to deviate from my path. I started blogging about the products that I was buying instead of cooking. Clearly, there was an audience for this.
Now, just realize with the domain you'll want to add in the privacy add on. There are websites like WhoIS that will tell anyone who searches your domain, your name and address. I don't think you want that out there at all. Especially in a world of Google Earth and Streetview. This is something that you shouldn't try to save money on. Just keep in mind this is an annual expense, as is the domain registration.
Final Takeaway: If all you can spare is $20 towards your blog, then get a real .com name. Just do a bit of research before registering anything and yes, you want to keep your name and address private. Make sure your URL isn't too long, have _ or - in them. Those are harder to remember. If you are willing to come up with a second $20 bill for your blog then I absolutely recommend this ebook: Think like a Lawyer, Blog like a Pro.
Blogging with a $100 budget
Now, there is a split here between what I actually did and the advise I'm about to give you. I opted for the premium Wordpress.com. I figured for the traffic I was getting, it would justify the price for the amount of traffic I was getting. Now, this is a tough reality that many bloggers will face: traffic vs. income. Yes, note the drop in March. That's when I made the switch to self hosted with Wordpress.com using SiteGround and yes, one of the bummers of starting with Worpress.com and making the switch is that search engines kind of "lose you." So here is my traffic.
Compare that to the same period what the advertising brought in:
With Wordpress.com you are subject their ad network, their payout (whatever that might be). I just wanted to point that out in case anyone out there is considering that path. Now that the information is out there, here is the advice I would give you on a $100 budget.
Ok, now is the point where you can be much more creative. Now, let's assume that the first $20 of your budget is spent on getting a domain. The next $80 should be to put your blog on Wordpress.org instead of .com. Yes, I started on Wordpress.com. When I was getting 30k page views a month, I felt like I had outgrown my free theme and was more restricted on what I could do with my 300+ posts.
You'll need to find a hosting company. Most hosts offer an introductory rate which is good for about a year or more. Start with a year and see if you are happy with the speed and loading time of your webpage. If you want a source to help you with this HostingFacts seems to confirm what I've learned so far. As for me, I've use Siteground. It's a little bit more expensive, but customer service is very responsive and the site has been loading much quicker.
Wordpress.org is a different creature. You can get all sorts of plugins and themes to further customize your site. Things like SEO, CDNs, image optimization, html, css, all scared me. Now, they are less scary.
What if you started with Wordpress.com like I did? You have two options: WPBeginner is a great and free resource: this page will teach you how to move your site for free. If not, you'll have to open your pocketbook and shell out $129 for the Wordpress.com people to do it. If you don't have the technical skill or it scares the life out of you, then it is money well spent.
I did use the service (again, avoiding the whole techie thing). I do have to admit they are very committed to customer service and get back to you very quickly with any questions or concerns you have. And no, your website won't be "down" for any amount of time. If I have anything bad to say it's this: search engines will struggle to find you. Traffic will be down and it will feel like the end of the world. It wasn't, I survived. Temporarily depressed and slightly regretful at first. Thankfully, both of those feelings have long since passed.
Final Takeaway: If you can put $100 a year into your blog, have a domain and have a good provider and yes, follow the advise out there, get on Wordpress.org instead. As a food blogger, it's going to be a while before you can really count food expenses into your budget (in case you were wondering why I left that big expense off)
Blogging with a $500 budget
At $500 which is a lot of money for most people, it also begins to give you some serious room to start playing with your website. This is when it is going to start feeling more "custom." To be honest, you still won't be able to hire someone to do it for you, but at least it will get you started. So here is what your budget might look like:
- Domain name: $20
- 12 months of hosting $60
- A theme $100-$150
- Food Blogger Pro $29 per month (or $279)
Well, now that I might be $9 over budget, and I've covered the first two items. The other two are important. Let's start with a theme. The theme is how people see your site. I use Genesis with a Foodie Pro child theme. It's the organization and how "professional" it looks. If you get Foodie Pro and have no idea what you are doing, then Minimalist Baker, who also uses Foodie Pro has a video Tutorial that I've sat and watched quite a few times. His page still looks better than mine, no lie. But one thing you'll find with a blog, there is always something broken or to be improved upon. I put a lot of emphasis on the writing. Everything else sometimes takes a back seat.
You can always check out another option at Feast Design, where it includes a theme, hosting and backups. You can check that out here. I've also changed themes in 2018 to the new Seasoned Pro theme.
Now, recommendation #4 is going to be a bit controversial. Let me explain. I've spent untold numbers of hours Googling the answers to questions. The answers are mostly out there. In fact, had I known about Food Blogger Pro before I got started, I would have way more time then I do now. It would be more time to work on content and improve things like photography and editing. It's a membership site designed for beginning to intermediate bloggers, but honestly, you'll get your moneys worth. I signed up for a year after they sent me the first 10 mini lessons while I was on the waiting list. Hands down, it was the best money spent so far.
Final Takeaways: While $500 seems like a big chunk of change, think of it differently. About half the budget here is building the blog, the other half is about building your knowledge about all things food blogging. Unfortunately, $500 these days seems to be the equivalent of a single college credit. Besides, college credits and diplomas are no longer a guarantee of financial success.
Blogging with a $1000 budget
Now, throwing $1000 at something the first year may be a waste of money. For my first two attempts it would have been a complete waste of cash that is vacation levels of cash. My third attempt I didn't spend $1000 all at once. In fact, each of these is a progression. Spend the money if you feel it is worth it. So here is the breakdown of a food blog with a $1000 budget:
- Domain name $20
- 12 months of hosting: $60
- A theme $100-150
- Food Blogger Pro $29 per month or $279 for the year
- A DSLR camera with lens. I took the plunge and got an inexpensive Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and a 50mm lens.
- Adobe Photoshop or LightRoom $9.99 per month or some plugins you feel are worth the premium
Final Takeaways: This still does not account for food expenses. One thing that most successful food blogs have in common is great (like magazine level) photography and a great web design. All bloggers have had to invest in their business at varying rates of success. It's helpful to have the right tools. As I invest more and (if) I see greater returns I'll update my purchases on the Blogger Resources page.
Final Thoughts, Reflections, and Takeaways on How to Start a Food Blog from Budgets of Zero to One Thousand Dollars
A few things I've learned but haven't mentioned above:
- My blog to do list has never gotten shorter than a single page in Microsoft Word.
- Something can always be improved. Yes, my earliest blog posts were terrible. Most bloggers are slightly embarrassed by their earliest efforts.
- I wished I had started my social media earlier instead of letting it sit for so long. Remember, anything that can bring traffic to your site is a good thing.
- If you are on a budget (who isn't?) and you want to learn the more technical end of html or css or things web design, there is a webpage called EDX.org. The courses are free (unless you need a certificate) and some are pretty good.
- Don't compare yourself to others. Look to them for inspiration and celebrate each others' success. Other bloggers can be your biggest supporters.
- Keep in mind, this is a collection of my experiences. Your experience might be different. If you have any questions, reach out to me on the Contact page.
- Blogs are time and money pits. Spend wisely, be choosey and I hope this helps you start a food blog from budgets of zero to one thousand dollars.
For More Blogging Advice
Here are a few more articles I wrote about Blogging: