I would like to start off this article by saying that you absolutely MUST blog because you love it. You need to be doing it simply for the joy of doing it. If you are only in it for the money, you will never succeed. You have to honestly be able to tell yourself that you would do it for free forever simply because you enjoy it enough to do so. If you can honestly say that, then you have a chance at making money and a career with your blog.
That being said, I’m going to contradict myself a tiny bit by saying that you must absolutely treat your blog as a business from day one if you want to make it your career some day.
Can you really do both? Absolutely! In fact, it’s critical if you want to make a career out of blogging. (Grab a seat, this is going to be another long blog post!) Here’s how to monetize your food blog.
DO IT BECAUSE YOU LOVE IT
That first paragraph is a critical component of a blogging career simply because blogging can become monotonous and even lonely sometimes. There are no co-workers, no office gossip or powder lunches and no “clocking out” for the day and leaving it all behind you. It’s always there, in your office, living room or even bedroom depending on where you set up your work space. That all sounds a little dreary, but it’s the reality sometimes for many bloggers.
But there are many up sides as well, and these are the things you must focus on. These are the things you have to love. I mean, who wouldn’t love their commute involving the few steps it takes to get from their bed in the morning to their desk in the next room? Who doesn’t dream of a work schedule they can move and manipulate to fit their life, not the other way around? Who wouldn’t love to spend the day at the beach and know they still have money coming in? Who wouldn’t love to know that if an emergency comes up, there is nobody they are letting down, nobody to ask permission to leave, all the while knowing they can continue work again whenever they want or need to? I mean really, there’s a lot to love.
IT’S A BUSINESS BABY
But, if it’s going to become a career, you also need to treat this fabulous venture as a business. You must draw on all of your previous work experience and apply it to what you do on a daily basis as a blogger. Business is business and some things never change. Good customer service, marketing, balancing the books on a regular basis, and managing how you make your money are all part of publishing a food blog.
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
So today, we’ll talk about that last one. Blog monetization.
There are many methods for doing this and every blogger will need to experiment a bit to figure out what works best for their blog. And even when you do find that “magic combination” that gets the bills paid, you will still need to be open to readjustments as things change. And change they will!
There is a bit of uncertainty with a blogger’s income, so you have to be open to some fluctuation from month to month. Don’t quit your day job until your worst day of blogging (income-wise) still covers all your expenses with a little left over.
SO WHERE DO YOU START?
As I said before, there are many options. I will share with you here mostly the options I have employed over the past 5 years of blogging and a few I have not yet tried.
- Ad networks
- Direct ad sales
- Sponsored posts
- Underwritten posts
- eBook sales
- Membership sites
- Direct selling (products)
- Affiliate programs
- Write a cookbook
- And many more
There are many ad networks out there. The trick is to try enough of them that you get a good feel for how each network will perform on your particular site. Not every network will work for every blogger and most bloggers I know use several ad networks at one time. It’s simply a matter of applying and being accepted to the network.
Some networks will take smaller blogs, some will not. Some networks have very specific requirement, while others are far more flexible. Some will require that their ads be the only ads “above the fold” (seen without scrolling when the page first loads) and many now are moving towards wanting better “viewability”. Meaning, most people will quickly scroll past the photo at the top of a blog post, leaving the ads above the fold with a much lower view count than those that run along the content that people actually stop to read. In fact, viewability is becoming HUGE at the moment. So it’s worth learning about.
Here is a list of some of the networks I have worked with in the past and some I still work with now.
- Google Adsense
- Say Media
- Federated Media
- Foodie Blogroll
- Tribal Fusion
As I said, some I’ve tried and some I haven’t and there are many more out there. But these are the ones that I have found that seem to have the best reputations with food bloggers so far. Some will perform better for you than others, so it’s a matter of not only good placement, but also being willing to let go of one when it’s not a good fit and finding another to replace it with.
HOW DO NETWORK ADS WORK?
Each network can have it’s own approach, but so far, most of the networks I have worked with run on CPM. This means that you get paid a certain amount per 1000 views. So a particular ad may pay a $0.37 CPM and that means that for every 1000 views, you will get $0.37. That may not sound like much, but it ads up. And of course, some ads will pay more or even less. Talk to your network about a “CPM floor” if you are concerned about your ads going too low. This means that they will not display ads that pay less then the specified amount. But I have so far only found this necessary to request with one network.
DIRECT AD SALES
If you haven’t figured it out already, this would be an ad that is place on your blog because you either called up a company and convinced them to advertise on your blog, or they like what you’re doing and approached you. I have never sold this type of ad on my blog and frankly, don’t care for that type of approach. If you are a salesman at heart and can sell ice to an Eskimo, then by all means, go this route! With enough blog traffic, it can be a lucrative method.
SPONSORED BLOG POSTS
This is something I’m getting into doing more and more often on my other blog. It pays well (based on your traffic), and is a great way to get your name out there. Basically, you would work with any food related company from Kraft Foods to the California Strawberry Board. Any food company looking to get their name out there could be considering your blog if they like what they see. Blogs are becoming a popular way for companies of all kinds to advertise and sponsored posts are one of the main ways they do that.
Basically, a company will send you a sample of the food or food product they would like you to blog about. If you like it and want to work with them, they pay you a set amount to use their food or food product in a recipe you create and photograph. You display the recipe and blog post as usual, but there will be a link to your sponsor’s web site in your post and you will talk a little about the specific food or product in your head notes (the conversational stuff you write before you give people the recipe).
I have read sponsored posts that felt very “sales-pitchy”. Don’t go that route. Talk openly and honestly about the product and give your honest opinion of it. (And if you don’t like it, don’t accept the job!). Unless you specifically build your blog on giving people the “down and dirty” bits of a product, it’s generally a good idea to just avoid blogging about something. It’s like that old saying goes, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” You never know, what doesn’t work now, could work a few years down the road. Don’t burn your bridges!
These posts are one of the simplest forms of a sponsored post you can create. Basically, a company that wants to align itself with your readership will come to you and ask you to put a “sponsored by” link to their site at the end of a post you have already written. Easy, right? That being said, they may want you to make a few other changes as well, but the idea is for a company such as (just as an example) Visa to advertise specifically to your readership simply because your readership fits the demographics they are after. You don’t see these posts a lot, but they do exist. Typically through an ad network (at least in my experience).
If you have been blogging long enough, you have content for an ebook. It’s that simple.
Understand that once you have been blogging for several years, you have more content on your blog than most readers will ever see. I have nearly 1000 recipes on my other blog and some of those are simply lost in the archives. But that doesn’t mean you can’t resurrect old content and still make money with it. A good portion of my ebook sales come from ebooks that are collections of recipes or information I already have on my blog. All you have to do is copy/paste into a document, make it look nice and put it up for a reasonable price, keeping in mind that the information is already on your blog. So keep your prices relatively low on this content and people will buy it simply because they don’t want to have to hunt down all of the recipes they can have in one place with an ebook.
And of course, you can always write new content to sell solely in an ebook as well.
I have never done this, but may consider it at some point in the future. It’s pretty much exactly what it says. People pay a membership price to access the content on your blog.
This can get tricky with so much free information on the web. But if it’s done right, it can also be quite lucrative.
DIRECT PRODUCT SALES
Again, this is just what it seems. If you have a product that fits with your blog, you can sell it directly through your blog to your readers. This could be anything from a t-shirt to a really yummy spice blend you created. Just keep in mind you have to deal with shipping costs and resale licenses, not to mention the ecommerce section of your web site and the security involved.
Affiliate programs are not going to make you rich quick, and you should run fast and hard from any program that tries to tell you otherwise. But they are a great way to bring in some extra money. Programs vary far and wide, so you will have to search for products you feel comfortable promoting. Once you do, you need only apply. Once approved, you can start promoting and selling those products for a percentage (which varies by company) of the sales.
WRITE A BOOK
Aside from ebooks, you can also write a book for publication. I have written 3 so far and I can tell you that the process is like giving birth to a two ton gorilla. It’s stressful to get through it and involves a lot of time and effort. But once you hold that book in your hands, you’re ready to do it all over again. That being said, finding a publisher is not easy and it definitely helps to have connections. So network, network, network if this is something you are interested in!
DON’T PUT YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET!
All this being said, it is important, no…. CRITICAL! that you do not put all your eggs in one basket. Never rely on one source of income as a blogger. I learned that lesson the hard way. Things happen, changes take place, and what once was a lucrative arrangement can tank really, really quickly. So as it is with investing, you should spread out. Use a few different options from the above list at any given time. Making money with your blog is like a waltz. When both dancers are on cue, it’s beautiful and graceful and it brings home the bacon. But if you only have one dancer, it becomes clumsy and a bit awkward and it definitely will fail at some point. Diversity is key in blog monetization.
DON’T EXPECT MIRACLES
So you get your blog all set up, you have some great content on there, you’ve got a little traffic coming in and you just placed an ad in your sidebar. At the end of the first day, you log into your network dashboard ready to plan what bill you’ll pay first only to get the shock of a life time when you see that you earned exactly $0.03 for the entire day.
This is not an uncommon occurrence for new bloggers. It can be a sobering experience to realize just how much traffic you have to bring in to make a decent living as a blogger. This is where the very first paragraph of this article will come into play. You have to do this because you love it. If you do it long enough, chances are you will eventually earn some money if your traffic continues to grow. But when you still have just a couple hundred visitors per day, it can feel like torture to try and earn any money at all with your blog.
Don’t give up! If you are delivering good content that people can actually use, your blog WILL grow, and so will your income. In the mean time, get those ads up there and earn those $0.03 per day for a while. The worst that can happen is that you’ll get a $20 check at the end of the year when your earnings have finally accrued enough for the network to write you a check. And let’s face it, that’s $20 more than you had when you started! Put it towards something for your blog. When I started, every cent I earned went back into my blog, and I have never regretted that decision. I kept a separate account and everything. Eventually, you’ll see your checks get bigger and bigger if you keep the content coming. I don’t have nearly 1000 recipes on my other blog from getting frustrated with low earnings in the beginning and only posted a recipe or two per month because I lost motivation over a few pennies. I have consistently posted a recipe every other day for the past 5 years. That’s how you build a blog and subsequent income. So ya, you have to love what you do. But in the end, it is completely possible to reap the rewards for all your hard work.