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Top Food Bloggers Share Their Ingredients for Success
Those with a passion for the culinary arts no longer have to rely on others to make an impact. No waiting around and hoping for someone to notice you, give you a book deal, or offer you a spot on a local TV show. Through food blogging, you can share their tips and secrets with the world.
The market for recipe blogs is booming, with amateur and professional cooks alike taking to their keyboards to publish their culinary masterpieces.
But is it all as easy as cooking up a storm, taking a few photos and waiting for the hungry hordes to flock to your site? We decided to get the lowdown from 9 high-profile bloggers. What makes for a great food blog? And how does one get started?
To provide inspiration and practical tips for our readers we spoke to:
- Professional chefs who extended or built a business on their blog
- Self-taught bakers and chefs
- Two illustrators who found a new outlet for their artistic passions via baking blogs.
1. Pro chefs turned bloggers
A blog that begins as a promotional tool may become popular and successful in its own right, attracting new audiences and new opportunities. To find out more about the challenges and inspiration for running a successful entrepreneurial blog, we caught up with three pro bakers turned pro bloggers ― Lindy Smith, Bobbie Noto and Helen Fletcher.
These entrepreneurs realize that a blog need not be an add-on to a business: a blog can crafted into a successful business in its own right.
Inspire and educate
Lindy Smith, an internationally renowned sugar craft expert, author, instructor and public speaker, explained why she started blogging on her Lindy’s Cakes website.
I started blogging in 2009 in response to requests from my fans and followers. I love to inspire and educate so I decided to give blogging a go, to see how it could work for me. I am absolutely passionate about what I do. I love being creative whether this be designing cakes, inspiring others through my teaching, my books or writing blogs. It is very satisfying and fulfilling. One of my motto’s is ‘Inspire – Create – Share’ and a blog is an excellent way of sharing.
For Bobbie Noto, who owns 5th Avenue Cake Designs and blogs on her company website, part of the initial inspiration was to share new skills she was developing.
I started blogging to share the confectionary techniques I was teaching myself, that was in 2010. As time went by I found myself teaching the unique designs for cakes and cookies that I created.
Helen Fletcher, who runs the Pastries Like Pro blog, shares a similar experience:
I owned an upscale bakery for 25 years focusing on wholesale to restaurants, hotels and caterers. We also eventually made a great deal of wedding cakes. In the process, I came up with quite a few of my own techniques for master baking and production, as I had no formal training.
Today I am the pastry chef at a very high-end restaurant and my blog reflects my love of what I do, the creativity involved and writing. Learning is something that should never stop, it is what keeps one current and ageless no matter the years one has lived.
Without a doubt, the biggest influence on my blog is the sharing of what I have learned along the way. I am constantly surprised at my readers thanking me for sharing my recipes and knowledge. I do not believe in secrets or secret recipes.
Key Ingredients: Passion & Enticing Visuals
Lindy, Bobbie and Helen are all in the happy position of possessing high class skills which are in high demand. But useful knowledge and the willingness to share it alone are not enough to make a blog thrive. So what is that extra ingredient for success ― or should we say, the icing on the cake?
I approach my blogs as though I am teaching someone who knows nothing about baking. ~ Helen Fletcher, PastriesLikeAPro.com
For Bobbie Noto‘s 5th Avenue Cake Design, passion is key.
I love what do! My readers know I honestly enjoy my craft and it comes across in my blog. In the beginning I did not allow my personality to be a part of my post, which is what makes a blog stand out.
I put my heart soul into each post, I take the time to answer my readers comments, and I value my readers! Also I give them the continuity of posting every Wednesday.
Helen Fletcher explained how she struck on a formula for demonstrating techniques to readers which she believes has helped make herPastries Like Pro blog so popular.
I am fortunate to be married to a retired professional photographer. He has shot for me from the beginning.
I approach my blogs as though I am teaching someone who knows nothing about baking. The photographs are literally step by step. They are also taken in such a way that if the reader is doing what my hands are doing, they should be fine.
Advice for Baking Bloggers
Of course, baking skills are not immediately transferable to web design or management, and Helen admits that she has had to go on her own journey to learn the craft of a webmaster. “The technical aspects were challenging,” she said. “I had been baking for a very long time and knew what I wanted to say and how. I am on WordPress and learning how to post was difficult for me.
Allow your personality to show. ~ Bobbie Noto, 5thAvenueCakeDesigns.com
Lindy Smith, who was already a well known personality in cake decorating before she started the Lindy’s Cakes blog, also had to work hard to master her new medium. “I remember teaching myself how to blog from a book about ‘blogging for business’ – it was my bible! In 2009 a book was my only option. How things have changed.”
But Lindy’s perseverance has paid off, and her blog now creates business opportunities she would not have had previously.
My blog is often how people discover me, I have some very popular posts that are linked time and time again. It helps my business be and stay successful.
Asked what advice they would give to an aspiring blogger, Helen urges patience above all, especially when it comes to earning from your blog.
I would advise them to think of their potential readers, those they wish to attract. If you are blogging just for the money your blog will soon be consumed with ads.
If you know you have something of value to add to your potential audience, keep at it. Don’t give up because it isn’t an instant success.
“Find your own voice,” says Lindy. “Talk from your heart, be yourself and don’t try to please everyone – you can’t! Most of all, enjoy exploring your creativity.”
And to sum up, Bobbie concludes: “Be honest, have fun, and allow your personality to show.”
2. From Self-Taught Bakers to Leading Ladies of the Blogosphere
Some of the most successful food blogs have been started by hobbyists who simply loved to bake and loved to share that passion with others. Whether they are conjuring up new culinary delights or making concepts easy to understand, these bloggers will delight you with their individual stories of how they started, what they’ve learned, and what they would do differently if they started over again.
Alexandra Azary of Bright-Eyed Baker says the inspiration for her blog came from her own love of food blogs:
After I got out of high school, I started baking for fun in my free time. Initially I just enjoyed trying out recipes I found online or in cookbooks, but as time went on, I discovered the world of food blogs and got really inspired by the idea of turning food into an art form, so to speak.
I finally decided to take the plunge and start my own blog, thinking it’d be fun to share the recipes I was trying out. Little by little I learned how to develop my own recipes and improve my food photography, and eventually my blog became a mini business of sorts.
Daniëlle Todd, a francophile half-American, half-Dutch cake lover who indulges her passion for French patisserie at Paris Loves Pastry, agrees that other food blogs gave her the initial inspiration:
When I caught the baking-bug, I would spend hours online reading baking blogs for recipes, tools, tricks, and inspiration. As my baking skills got better and better, I figured I could start my own blog. I had experience creating websites, so it seemed like a logical step to me.
Liz Berg admits to a lifelong love affair with all things sweet, and initially launched her blog That Skinny Chick Can Bake so she could post her own recipes somewhere. “I wanted to share some of my favorite recipes with friends and family,” said Liz. “Granted, I had no idea what I was doing or what it could become!”
For Stef Pollack of The Cupcake Project, her own journey to earning money from a cupcake blog started with a surprise promise to friends.
At dinner one night in early 2006, some good friends mentioned that they were trying to decide where to buy cupcakes for their wedding. I surprised myself and others at the table by offering to bake for them. I had never baked a cupcake before ― ever!
My friends surprised me by accepting. Their wedding was Dec 31, 2007, and I had exactly nine months to learn to bake wedding-worthy cupcakes. I baked a new cupcake for them every week and let them choose their three favorites for the big day. I began the blog to track that journey.
Nastassia Johnson has a passion for cake and travel, and uses her blog Let Me Eat Cake to post recipes and tips for where to get the best dessert on the road. “I started blogging to share my love of desserts,” she explained. “It was a great outlet to showcase places I like and sweet recipes.”
How does Nastassia stay motivated? “This is really a passion for me,” she said. “So I am inspired everyday to share. If your blog showcases something you really love it’s not hard to stay motivated.”
Stef Pollack says the evolution of The Cupcake Project has provided its own inspiration, especially as she has learnt more and more about running an online business.
Blogging is never boring. There is always something new to learn. If I lose motivation in one area, I can always pour myself into another aspect of the business.
Even though I’ve had the same blog from the beginning, I feel like my job has changed 10 times. In the beginning, the focus was 100% on the blog. These days, it’s about so much more. I have a heavy focus on Instagram and developing brand partnerships.
Asked how, as a busy mom of three, she has found the motivation to build her hobby into a home business, Liz Berg explains that it has been a combination of pure love for what she does, and support she has found from the blogging community:
My love of cooking and especially baking keep me supplied with content. Plus, meeting and interacting with other bloggers has helped keep me sane if I’m ever overwhelmed.
My relationship with other bloggers is key. We share tips, encourage each other, and give feedback when asked. My real life friends encourage me, but only other food bloggers ‘get’ the challenges we face.
Asked about her own journey as a blogger, Alexandra Azary admits building a successful site like Bright-Eyed Baker is challenging. Developing a big audience takes lots of time and effort.
The tough thing about starting a blog is really just that ― starting. Things don’t take off right away and you can’t let that discourage you.
Building an audience takes time, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and sharing quality content, the audience will eventually come. And once that happens, and you get to hear from people who actually took time out of their day to try one of your recipes and share the outcome with you, it makes the work worth it.
But you definitely have to have a real passion for what you’re doing. Otherwise, it’s just work ― and a lot of it ― and it will be hard to stay motivated.
Daniëlle Todd says her own passion for food, especially pastries and baking, gives her all the motivation she needs to keep Paris Loves Pastry going. “I really don’t want to become another blogger who doesn’t update their blog after a while. I’m in it for the long run!”
Tricks of the trade
Asked if she has any secrets for which types of recipes draw more traffic than others, Daniëlle said:
For me, I often find that recipes from particular authors, such as Nigella Lawson, are a success. Vegan recipes get a lot of hits too. Not that it’s the reason why I post them. And I might think it’s because my photographs aren’t picture perfect and makes a reader think ‘Hey, that looks easy to make!’
Research SEO, or search engine optimization. ~ Liz Berg
Nastassia Johnson believes looking for a way to offer something different is important when there are so many blogs out there to choose from. “Let Me Eat Cake has a focus and a niche. That helps differentiate it in a sea of food blogs. It is highly curated and specialized.”
For Nastassia, search engine optimization, or “SEO,” was something she wished she had picked up earlier:
I wish I would have been stronger at SEO right out the gate. That really helps your blog traffic and search ability.
But the most important thing is, do what you love and love what you do. If it comes from a place of honesty and passion it will resonate with your audience.
Alexandra tries to keep her Bright-Eyed Baker blog fresh and interesting by making her recipes as unique as possible.
A lot of the posts I’ve written that have gotten the most traffic are posts for recipes that you won’t find tons of across the internet. Yet they are things that people are looking for.
For example, my DIY caramel sauce has been, by far, one of the most successful posts I’ve ever written. It’s a recipe for caramel made with just sugar and milk ― something you don’t see very often, and yet a lot of people want to be able to make caramel without using heavy cream or butter or some other ingredients that are going to add a lot of calories.
All you need is a few posts that really take off. But to make that happen you need to give people something they can’t find elsewhere.
Asked if she had any advice to give people interested in launching their own recipe blog, Liz Berg said:
Research SEO, or search engine optimization. Knowing how to format a blog post from the start will prevent having to backtrack to fix old posts.
Also, I wish I had worked on my photography before diving right in. A beautiful, in focus, well styled photo is what draws readers to the recipe.
For Daniëlle, bloggers should aim for quality over quantity, but also need to be realistic about the workload. “Really think it through. Do you see yourself blogging over the next 5 years? Do you have the time to do it? Otherwise it might be sensible just to read blogs, not write them.”
Give people something they can’t find elsewhere. ~ Alexandra Azary
Alexandra agrees that you have to treat your blog as your job if you want to make a success of it.
You should enjoy doing it for sure, but you should also realize that the more effort and consistency you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. It’s still hard for me to do this, particularly because I work full-time, but the most successful blogs are the ones run by people who show up every day, so to speak.
If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, don’t give up if things don’t take off as quickly as you’d expect. And if you’re not passionate about it, take a step back and evaluate why you’re starting a blog, because without that passion it’ll be hard to get anywhere with it. I truly think you need to be genuine to be successful in this world.
Quality over quantity
Stef Pollack believes that content has to be the first concern, but wishes she had focused on developing contacts for marketing The Cupcake Project earlier.
Start with great content. The look and feel and marketing strategies for your blog are all super important, but they are nothing without content. I would plan on having at least 10 pieces of great content before trying to market yourself.
That said, I wish that I had focused more on developing my email list. There is so much value in having your own list. Also, it would have been great if I had a crystal ball and could have realized how it important it would be to have videos of my recipes.
Erin Gardner, a self-taught pastry chef and cake decoration instructor, is the brains behind Erin Bakes. She agrees that success in blogging does not come easy, especially with a young family.
[You don’t realize] just how much time it takes! Developing concepts, planning, sourcing materials, creating the project, shooting images or video, writing and formatting the post… everything takes time.
With two small kids at home, I definitely don’t post as much as I’d like to. I think the secret is to write about something that you truly love and are interested in. It’s got to be a subject that excites you. Also, don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t posted in awhile. Post when you can. I know some feel otherwise, but I think quality over quantity is key when it comes to blogging.
She advises: “Be true to yourself. It may be tempting to jump on a trend or blog about things that are popular, but not really ‘you’. Stick with what keeps you excited and eventually you’ll find your place.”
3. Strong Women Who Overcame Personal Challenges
Gail Dickinson of Chocolate, Chocolate and More shared with us the unique family story behind her blog.
My sister, Joan Hayes, started blogging to share her cooking adventures with her children. She recruited me to blog about travel because that’s what I mainly do (travel). But then she died suddenly so I took over content creation for Chocolate, Chocolate and More.
By the time of Joan’s death, Chocolate, Chocolate and More was already a highly successful blog with a large and loyal following. Keeping Joan’s legacy going, the blog is still very much a family affair, with Gail’s cousin Kim Roberson and daughter Becky completing the team.
Gail also shared the lasting inspiration her sister had had with her blog:
My sister was motivated by her fans. She developed a strong Facebook presence and really enjoyed the interaction with fans and other bloggers. I’m inspired by her hard work.
I think knowing our audience and really targeting them has been important. Most of our followers are older women in North America who have families and busy lives. They want decadent desserts that don’t take a culinary school degree to make.
For Betsy Eves, who balances running her Java Cupcake blog with caring for her US Army veteran husband who suffers from PTSD, it has been important to keep the focus on pleasure. That, she believes, and not treating it like just a job, has translated into success.
I have kept the voice and tone of my blog real and unique. I wrote to make myself happy. As long as I kept to those simple principles, my blog was a success. I take off when I need it and I make sure I keep a balance of work and fun.
If blogging wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it. Having a network of other bloggers to learn from is also very important in doing this for the long term. Teamwork makes the dream work!
Baking Your Way to the Top
Gail and Betsy agree that patience and a willingness to to learn is vital for any up and coming bloggers.
Betsy added: “The blogging world is always changing and there is always something new to learn. I’d say to other bloggers, be patient. Have a plan. Seek help from a mentor or another blogger who has done it. Learn as much as you can, and don’t give up!”
For Gail, who took over the already successful Chocolate, Chocolate and More blog, the learning curve has been sharper than for most, especially on the technical side. “I’d say managing all the social media has been the most difficult for me,” she said. “Also, be very careful how you name things because changing URLs hurts you in the long run. Understand Google search and SEO and name your posts to get the maximum exposure from the start.”
4. Artists Turned Baking Bloggers
New York City-based illustrator Daniella Da Silva runs the Chicky Treats website and said the starting point for her was simply a love of baking. “I went to school for art and felt that I wanted to use cake as a medium to express my creativity,” she said. “Since then, I’ve learned so much and have gained so much knowledge from just trying new things.”
Jessie Moore has trodden a similar path. She’s a trained illustrator from just outside New York who has published books on great cakes and desserts. She describes her CakeSpy blog as a “dessert detective agency,” scouring the land for the best and most beautiful cakes, sharing where to find them, and the recipes, with her followers.
“I wanted to start my own business, and I knew I wanted it to include writing, illustration, and baked goods,” said Jessie. “I had no idea how to make those things into a business, so I figured out I would start a blog while I figured it out. I never thought the blog would become a business!”
Not that the path to running a successful blog is straightforward. “It’s hard work, and it’s sometimes unrewarding,” admitted Jessie. “It can be difficult to slave over a post and then have it largely go unnoticed, or to have rude commenters.
“But it’s also a lot of fun! I have had a lot of opportunities for travel and work due to my blog that I probably would not have had otherwise.”
Daniella from Chicky Treats believes you also have to enjoy the challenge stick at it. “I think it’s important to constantly push yourself which is what keeps me motivated. I am a bit of a perfectionist at times and I am always striving to become a better baker and cake artist.
“I also think that being yourself and having fun with the content you are creating is what gives successful bloggers longevity.”
Jessie adds that focusing on what you love, and not what you expect your audience to like, is what keeps a blog interesting. “A lot of new bloggers ask me how to get followers,” she said. “My advice is this: focus on content first. Don’t worry about spending a lot of money on a flashy site or getting followers until you have content that is worth following. Focus on having something to say, then share it with the world.”