“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
This post is all about how to start a food blog that makes money so you can quit your job!
So you’ve always wanted to do it, start your own food blog to share your favorite recipes and eats with the world. That’s great! I wanna give you you all the information I wish I would have had years ago when I started my own.
Let’s be real though, it can seem really daunting and complicated to set everything up with all the tech and steps involved. I’m not even going to argue that it’s not because I think it’s important that you know what to expect. I mean, it’s a guarantee that you’ll face some challenges and probably have a few headaches through the process. On the flip side, I’ve never done anything that I enjoyed quite like creating and sharing on my own platform and I really think it’s worth it all.
Now, there are some basic steps that you have to accomplish to even get your site going before you can focus on reeling in all your new dedicated followers. I’m going to do my best to lay out everything you need to know to get started and we’ll go over the other stuff in a future post. Also, this page isn’t only for food bloggers. The steps and tips we go over are perfectly useful in starting just about any site you want.
Okay, are you ready? Let’s do this!
When I first decided to start a food blog when I was 17 and living in a small cabin with my family in South America. There was ample time on my hands and I had some stir crazy inspiration to create something and connect with people. I was also cooking ALL the time because it was my go-to pass time and I love to make food for people. Let me tell you, I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I wanted to do it and that was enough.
Of course, because of that I relied heavily on pages like this explaining what to do and how to start. I’ve always dreamed of the day when I could share my own experience and help others who are just starting out. I truly hope this tutorial is helpful in your journey!
Note: This guide contains affiliate links which allow me to earn a small commission, it helps support this blog and keep the recipes coming. I am only recommending products I am using and actually like. If I stop using a service or product listed here, I will make sure to update this guide accordingly. See my disclaimer here.
1. DOMAIN NAME & HOSTING
Choosing a Hosting Site:
The first thing you have to do to start your website is to decide where you’re going to be hosting it. There are so many options out there but it can be confusing trying to decide what is right for you. I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction based on what your needs are.
Now, before choosing where you’d like to host your blog it’s important to note the distinction between a self-hosted blog and a free blog. If you’re looking to grow an audience and make money with your blog I highly recommend going with a self-hosted blog. The upfront costs are going to be a little higher but the future flexibility to grow and change are so much better. You’ll most likely be saving money in the long run.
Why You May Want a Free Option
However, if you’re just wanting to start a hobby blog to share with friends and family and have no plans to turn it into a business then a free option might suit you fine. For the purpose of the rest of this post I’m going to assume you’re choosing to go with a self-hosted blog but I’ll list some free options here really quick. (Please note that, while the startup is free, these options will probably still have you running into charges if A: You you want more design options. B: Your audience grows and you need more bandwidth. Or C: You decide to later switch to a self-hosted blog for any reason.)
Bluehost has a great post HERE about the differences between Wix and WordPress if you’d like to read it. I found it really helpful.
Again, I just want to reiterate that as good as “free” sounds it definitely comes with it’s drawbacks. I only recommend going this route if you truly don’t have plans for growth. Takeaway: If you want to make money blogging, choose self-hosted. If you just need a creative outlet, free is a good option.
Don’t forget that if you choose to go with this route you’ll have the option to buy a hosting plan and domain name but you’ll also be able to choose a free site with a wordpress.com extension. As mentioned before, this might still be a good option if you are only interested in small scale blogging for friends and family.
There are many options out there for starting a self-hosted blog but my top recommendations are Siteground or Bluehost. Both are recommended by WordPress for their awesome customer support and reliability. If you aren’t familiar with what web hosting is exactly, think of it like your online rent for your little home on the internet. If you’re just starting out the costs are really low and you can even get your domain name free for the first year with bluehost.
Alright, you’ve got to come up with the name. If you’ve got a clear goal in mind this might be the easiest part, but if you’re not quite sure of your direction I’d recommend giving it some thought. I’ve learned from my own experience with past blog names that it’s best to pick something versatile to your niche. In fact, it’s been very recently that I went through changing my own blog’s name. It really is a difficult process that I wish I could have avoided.
Even if you have a very specific goal in mind for your content you never know when things might change and you’d like to go a new direction. For example, say you go with a name that’s very specific to chocolate desserts. Well, if in the future you’d like to try blogging about savory recipes or even something totally different like fashion it might be hard to fit that into what your readers are expecting.
Some key things to think about when choosing a name:
1. Keep it as simple as possible (and easy to spell).
2. Make it relevant to your topic.
3. Try to make it easy to remember. (You can do this by choosing a witty name or simply making it a variation of your own name.)
You can buy your domain straight from your hosting company or buy it from a site like GoDaddy.com and move it over. If you buy your domain through Go Daddy, then you will need to connect your domain to your hosting account. Go Daddy has a full support page for Setting nameservers for your domain names.
2. CHOOSING A PLATFORM & A THEME
Now, assuming that you’ve chosen to go with a self-hosted blog, you’ll need to install a blogging platform like wordpress. It’s really easy if you’re using Siteground or Bluehost because they’ll be able to auto-install it right after you get started. If you’re feeling a little confused about the difference between hosting and a blogging platform right now, that’s totally okay because I was too when I first started. Think of it like this, if hosting is your business rent then your blog platform is like your office and the tools you’ll need to work with everyday.
I’m going to highly recommend WordPress here. They really are the golden standard of blogging platforms. Over 35% of the internet is built on WordPress believe it or not. Now here’s another distinction. WordPress.org and WordPress.com are very different even though the names look so similar. Both are free and open to use but WordPress.org is what you’ll be installing to your self-hosted site. It will give you the freedom and flexibility that every blogger should have. While WordPress.com, liked mentioned above, is a shared hosting site that allows users to create blogs but your options will be very limited.
I wrote a whole post just discussing themes and theme options, but I’ll mention some favorites here.
Okay, now it’s time for the fun stuff! Choosing a theme is like decorating your new house online, so to speak.
Divi is not so much a theme, as a completely customizable canvas that makes it simple and easy to create the look you’re trying yo achieve. I’ve never used Divi on my personal website but I spent a lot of time using it on a client website and I fell in love with it’s user friendliness.
This has been one of the greatest tools for adding design flexibility to my website. I remember starting my blog years ago and wishing there was an easier way to create the look I wanted when I didn’t have any of the skills. Well, Elementor is that answer. In fact, I’m currently using it to design this page. It’s the perfect bridge between having no web design skills and having a proffesional looking site.
This plugin protects your blog from possible security attacks, malware, and automatically backup all your data every day. So if anything ever happens to your stored file backups you can always restore them from Jetpack.
WP Recipe Maker:
For creating all your recipe templates inside your posts you definitely need a recipe plugin. There are quite a few but I’m currently using and loving WP Recipe Maker.
If you spend any amount of time looking for blog advice I’m sure you’ll come across people talking about email lists. It’s the best way to help stay in touch with all your readers and keep them coming back for more. MailChimp makes email lists so much easier and gives you a ton of options for your email campaigns.
This is my most used tool for blogging. I use Lightroom everyday and it makes all the difference in the world for making good photos look incredible. I honestly can’t recommend it enough. There are lots of free photo editors out there but none compare to Adobe Lightroom in my opinion. It also allows you to organize and sort your photos which is so helpful when you take tons of photos every month like I do.
Premiere Pro is definitely not as essential as Lightroom but if you’re planning to do any type of video content I think it’s one of the best options out there. I personally haven’t messed around with video much but every video I’ve made has been using Premiere. It allows you to create professional looking videos very easily. There is definitely a learning curve to all the Adobe products but you can find some really great video tutorials that will help make things way easier.
So recipes. Obviously if a food blog is your goal this is gonna be a little bit important, lol. By this step you’ve set up your site, installed a recipe plugin, and now it’s time to share all your delicious creations so that others can enjoy them.
My typical routine from start to finish is something like this:
1. Get inspiration!
I draw my ideas from all over the place. From real life food experiences, online bloggers, seasons, cultures, social media, and food sharing sites.
2. Test, Test, Test.
Once you’re ready to go with an idea, you’ll want to make sure that try them plenty of times so you can test and tweak until you get the final results that’s ready to tell the world about.
3. Plate it Up
In the next step we talk about props and photography but, first things first, you need to have a little practice in plating up your different meals to look beautiful. Something I always do before plating and styling is to think about what ingredients are in the dish. That’s what we’re going to be highlighting. Grab a few handfuls of herbs to garnish and sprinkle on top, add a lemon wedge, or put a little sprinkle of colorful berries on top. If you’re not sure what your style is, don’t worry. As you practice and grow you’ll find your own style that looks best to you.
4. Picture time.
I love this part so much. Taking food photos, most likely, is going to be your biggest area of practice. This is a subject for a whole other post because there are so many tips I could give. For now, just focus on learning your camera, discovering your style, and getting familiar with editing your photos.
5. Write it up.
Last but not least you’ll need to write your recipes and posts to go along with them. I know that some bloggers prefer to keep their posts very short and concise, while others like to write about their whole lives. The sky is the limit here so it’s up to you.
Okay, photography. I’d say that photography is arguably the MOST important part of any food blog. Learning how to start a food blog is almost pointless without it. I mean, people reading your blog can’t actually taste your recipes before they’ve made them so you have to draw them in with their eyes. Yeah, of course they can imagine what your recipes taste like based on your description, sure, but without photos you’re missing a chance to really grip attention. For me it’s also the most fun part. I adore taking photos and sharing the finished shots.
I spent the first many years of my blogging career taking veeeeery bad photos on a simple point and shoot Canon camera in some terrible lighting conditions. I actually appreciate that now because it really helps improve your skills to have less to work with. I’ve come a long way from that and I’d love to share a future post with all the best tips I’ve learned from my own experience. Today we’ll just stick to the camera and gear I use right now. You absolutely don’t have to spend a lot of money for everything all at once. I’d recommend starting with whatever budget you have and maybe upgrading as you go and adding things to your setup.
When it comes to cameras I have to honestly say that I don’t have a bias towards one brand over another. However, the current camera I use is a Nikon and I’ve really loved it. I upgraded to the D750 a few years ago from my Nikon D3400. I really love that one as well and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a little lower cost camera to start with. The D750 is incredible though and I don’t see needing a change any time soon.
As for lenses, some cameras will come with them but they usually aren’t the top quality. My favorite lens for food photos is the 50 mm f/1.8G because it’s great for those professional looking shots that get that nice background blur.
I don’t use a lot of gear for my photos as I like to keep things simple and easily mobile. However, there are a few items that I find extremely helpful.
For all my food photos I use natural light but since I live in a Northern climate the Winters tend to be pretty grey with short daylight hours. That’s why these reflectors are a perfect, inexpensive tool that really helps avoid strong shadows.
A tripod may not be 100% essential but I can’t tell you the amount of times it’s made all the difference between a blurry shot and a perfect one. This is the exact tripod that I’m currently using and it’s been a huge asset in all of my photo shoots.
Props are one of my favorite parts of food photography. I always joke about how dangerous it is for me to walk past any dishes in a store because I’ll end up wanting to buy them all. If you’re looking for some unique items be sure to check your local thrift stores, yard sales, and online shops like Ebay and Etsy.
I do highly recommend to keep the colors of your props very neutral. (Haha, I learned this lesson the hard way). Too many colors and/or patterns from your napkins, dishes, and backgrounds are going to majorly distract from the food you’re trying to show off. Just say “no” to that cheetah print plate and that polka dot tablecloth. But most importantly, you do you. If you like how the end results look with lots of patterns then just ignore this tip and go for it.
When it comes to backdrops for my photos I really enjoy mixing it up. Some of my favorites are the simplest ones. For example, I once bought a black piece of poster paper and painted it with some shimmery silver paint and it’s been one of my favorite backdrops. In fact, it’s crazy how long I’ve used that one. I should probably throw it away and make a new one. You can use all sorts of things as backdrops for your photos. Some of the best places to get props are, again, yard sales, thrift stores, and online. Look for things like old baking sheets, wooden crates, small tables,and anything else that catches your eye. Actually, even hardware stores are great. Not every hardware store will have what you need but I once went into Home Depot and asked about scrap plywood and it turns out they have really good deals on miscellaneous wrong cuts of material. I got some boards and painted them with different colors paints to make some of my favorite backgrounds ever.
I’m mentioning it again because now you’ll need to decide what you’re going to use to edit those killer photos once you’ve taken them. There are a few free editors online and plenty of phone apps but I honestly can’t recommend my favorite editor enough. Adobe Lightroom is what I’ve used for the entirety of my food blogging career and I love it. If you are completely new to using it then there is a bit of a learning curve but there is a plethora of Youtube videos to help with all your questions.
6. GET TRAFFIC + SETUP SOCIAL ACCOUNTS
Alright, you figured out the basics of how to start a food blog. After you’ve reached this point you’ll want to set-up matching social media accounts with the same (or very close) name as your site. This allows more options for your followers to keep up with you and find out when you share new posts. I you’re as social media challenged as I am in some areas you can stick to what you know. I personally use mostly Instagram and Pinterest but I also post on Facebook and Twitter.
Another great way to drive traffic to your recipes is to use food sharing sites like Foodgawker.com, FindingVegan.com, and HealthyAperture.com. You simply create accounts and add a link and a photo whenever you share a new recipe on your blog. Getting links from other trusted sites on the web really helps Google start ranking your site.
The third, and probably most important, way you can gain traffic is to start making friends. Be active on similar blogs in your niche and leave thoughtful comments to show how much you’re enjoying their content. This can lead to so many opportunities and friendships that will pivotal to your growth in the long run.
As a food blogger, a huge portion of your traffic will most likely be coming from social networks (particularly the visual ones). Tailwind has been extremely helpful for allowing me to plan ahead and keep a steady stream of content on both Pinterest and Instagram. I use it everyday and I love it. Highly, highly, highly recommend! It has helped me go from a small amount of followers to nearing 15k.
If you’re like me and you have trouble remembering to poat to your social media channels then hootsuite is for you. I mostly use it for twitter and facebook but there are quite a few available social networks you can use.
I just recently started using this tool but it’s extremely useful if you post lots of recipes on your Instagram page. Instagram doesn’t allow links in your posts so this tool basically clones your page and allows your followers to find the recipes through the links you add to each photo.
If you haven’t heard of Canva, let me tell you, it’s incredible. It allows you to take any form of design you want to create and make it happen with very little effort. It’s great for designing logos, brand styles, and creating posts for social media. They’re basic tools are free to use, but I highly recommend their premium features. It’s very affordable and you get access to things like downloading images with transparent backgrounds, use of all of their stock images, vectors, fonts, and so much more.
7. BE PRESENT & PERSONABLE
After all the time you’ve put into setting it all up and creating something your proud of, it can be really easy to sit back and hope people start coming in droves to see what you’ve created. Well, hold on just a second because you’re in for a long wait. Even once you know how to start a food blog you still have to learn how to run it.
A huge part of being a blogger is learning to interact with your followers and be available as much as possible. Now obviously you’ve got other things in your life so I’m not saying you have to be there round the clock. However, it’s important to respond to comments, questions, and emails as soon as you can. This really helps establish your relationship with readers and gain their trust as a blogger.
Try to set aside some blog time each week that’s separate from all your content creation. Use this time to curate content and share your blogger friends posts. You might be surprised how many times they’ll return the favor or even hit you up for a collaboration.
8. SETTING EXPECTATIONS
I remember thinking I’d start being successful at blogging in no time when I first started. Starting off I was posting at least 5 times a week and doing everything I thought I could at the time and yet my traffic was growing at snail speed. Literally my first comments were from my mom and grandma. Also, I was posting the best photos, so I thought (they were horrible lol), and pouring my heart out about my recipes but still my success was slow in coming. I still have so much to learn and I’ve been blogging for 5 1/2 years!
So what’s my point? I just want to let you know that blogging is a huge learning curve and it takes a long time to get where you want to be. Learning how to start a food blog isn’t all cake. I’m not saying you CAN’T be successful right away. Like, you might be and many people are. I just want to be open and honest with you to so you can be prepared. It takes hard work, time, patience, and dedication, but I have confidence that you got this. The most important thing you have to do to be successful is to have confidence in yourself. If you can do that then there’s no obstacle that can keep you from reaching your blogging goals.