26 April 2012

Making Money from your Food Blog

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... 

...It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."

Albert Einstein

Do you wish that your blog made money?  Monetizing your blog is known as pro-blogging.

Conferences that claim to teach you how to do this are an increasingly common money spinner. It reminds me of Pyramid schemes. Make money by teaching others to teach the same thing. Follow the hashtag streams from some of these events via twitter and it is evident that they’re not saying anything new or mind blowing. 

So here are my genuine tips. For free.

In life, if you want to make money, you either become an employee or you start an enterprise. Deriving income from a blog needs to be approached in the same way as beginning an enterprise. There are some blogs that have evolved seemingly naturally from being a hobby to an enterprise but they have a few things in common:

  • ·         The blogger was filling a popular yet unexplored niche
  • ·         They put in very long hours to achieve it
  • ·         They made sure they stood out from the crowd
  • ·         They are very credible and well researched
  • ·         They were good at self promotion beyond the blog

Early in my career I was fortunate to have mentors and in return, I do the same for others, including assisting with business planning and helping my clients to stay on goal. I also help with self promotion and personal branding. 

Some of this knowledge is what you need to build a blog that is a commercial enterprise.

In any enterprise my golden rule is “It’s not about you”. Every business services a customer. Therefore it is all about the customer’s needs and their point of view, not yours. This must permeate every decision you make.


The first step for anyone considering starting out is the business plan.
  1. Set your goals – what are you aiming to achieve? What amount of income do you realistically expect to achieve in the long term?
  2. Set your exit strategy – when you have achieved your goals what will you do next, sell out, merge with another or evolve to another level? In some cases the exit activity is to become a Blooker (to self publish a book based on your blog or secure a contract from a publisher)
  3. Define your focus – every business needs a specific focus. Every commercial blog needs a set theme. To have too many themes in a blog will not serve those who could monetise it. To stand out you also need to discover and fill a unique niche. If your blog does not offer a point of difference it becomes just one in the crowd
  4. Define the personality of your brand, ie. The look, the style of writing or ‘The Voice’ you use to communicate. Imagine your brand as a person, not necessarily yourself, in order to be objective about how it comes across to others
  5.  Identify your typical reader, what they want to read, find out how frequently they read blogs and how they discover them in the first place, find out what else they read and what social networks they use. Knowing this will ensure your content always has meaning and value for the reader
  6. Select a revenue stream by looking at how you can monetise your blog. This may come via eCommerce, subscription services, syndication, advertising or writing for brands and other websites. Decide what your fees will be, create a rate card of what you will charge. Use a system that measures your online influence/reach so that you can quantify your fees
  7.   Create a marketing strategy, no blog is going to attract readers or income in isolation so publicity is very important
  8. Create a calendar of activity for posts, marketing, advertising and publicity. This not only keeps you on track but is invaluable for showing investors or advertisers that you mean business
  9. Cost out in man hours and dollars what it will take to set up and to acquire the tools to achieve a high readership and interaction with followers. You may find that you need professional help in some areas which could require a financial loan or venture capital
  10. Ascertain whether you have the time and commitment to see it through, based on examining the previous steps of discovery

In this process, Step Ten can be the biggest hurdle of all. Many enterprises fail early on because they haven’t bothered to go through the groundwork of the business plan. Working on a plan can save you a lot of disappointment.

Remember that your plan is not cast in stone. Your blog can, and will, evolve organically, but make sure you take time to revisit that plan periodically to see if you are still on track.


Probably the hardest question in a business plan for bloggers is determining Step Six, identifying a revenue stream. The answer usually will stem from the kind of niche you aim to fill.

There is the obvious such as advertising on your site, placing Google, FoodBuzz or Nuffnang ads etc, but this will not earn you a great deal. Another consideration is that the CMS of your blog needs to be flexible enough to allocate adequate real estate to ads while still maintaining easy navigation. If viewing is hampered by ads you will surely lose readers.

There is already a successful commercial model in subscription services. Essentially the blogger offers their site as a paid advertorial space, with notification of updates distributed via a subscription email service. This model makes money from advertising and from commissioned advertorial posts. 

The reason the email subscription is involved is to assist in establishing who your readers are and demonstrating your reach online, by quantifying return on investment for Advertisers spending money on your blog. If you have associated social media accounts also with a large following or reach, this can further bump up your fees but you will need to be using an effective monitoring engine in order to measure the reach of your influence.

Some Pro-Bloggers are also charging readers a subscription fee. But as per the experience of newspapers moving into paywall territory, this model will impact on the numbers of readers. If you follow this path, the quality of your content ought to be professional magazine standard, and your site should not appear amateur in structure. There should be a pay-off for subscribers such as access to exclusive or premium events and non syndicated material.

For Bloggers whose focus is solely reviewing, a potential revenue stream can come from aligning yourself with a cluster of PR agencies. By negotiating an annual retainer from the agency, you agree to place product reviews on your blog. This can be for products, services, events or venue reviews. 

First you must do your homework and look at the PR agencies and especially what their client list is like. Only approach agencies where there is synergy between your point of focus and their clients. By law you must also state if your posts are sponsored or advertorial.

Another alternative is if you already have a large following on your blog, you may be able to bring your klout to a brand by writing paid content for online journals and branded websites. The aim is that you will drive traffic to these other sites in exchange for payment and a backlink to your blog.

In the cooking niche, you may have hard goods that you wish to sell. There are many e-commerce solutions available for your blog, as well as offsite, such as selling via Facebook or eBay. Small businesses are able to tap into a younger market and regional markets, where customers have the desire to find unique items outside of usual business hours. 

Appeal to their desire for convenience, offer good customer service and follow up on your sales to maintain cordial contact without the hard sell. This will increase your chances of repeat purchases and grow your reputation. If you’re involved in food selling, be mindful of the law, for example in OH&S, permits, licenses, transport and other handling regulations.

This is just a handful of examples of deriving revenue from food blogs. In all instances of the above, by law you must make it clear to readers if a post on your blog is sponsored or can be considered to be an advertorial. Of course there are also the usual business finance details to manage such as having an ABN, tax implications including charging GST. That’s best discussed with your Accountant.

Getting Known

Self promotion is the other major stumbling block for new businesses. After all, marketing and self promotion is a specialty area. The basic premise is utilising your personal brand for reputation building.

An analogy I use with my own clients is ‘wallflowers don’t get invited to dance’. Don’t expect to get discovered without any effort when there are billions of blogs online.

The first step is to write a short bio that introduces you. Use it as an opportunity to share your credentials and build trust. Next create a photo avatar or brandmark that people will associate with your personal brand. Create an email address just for that brand.

Publicity is super important – you need to let as many people as you can know that you exist online. Use personal networks, social networks and press releases. Build a profile on LinkedIn that will show your credentials. Join and participate in relevant LinkedIn professional groups, from Food Writing to Blogging.

It is also important to interact with fans through your comments section and social media. Chat is vital, as opposed to just broadcasting a link to your latest post. It is also vital to comment on other blogs. Use genuine interaction and contribution in your comments. Resorting to sock-puppetry is taboo and can destroy your reputation. Link farming isn’t as important as it used to be but it can be helpful to appear on blog directories and lists.

Guest posting is important. This is either via inviting other popular bloggers to post on your site or to submit a post to another site, community or blog with a very large readership. It’s basically all about discovery. Submit pieces to traditional media - you may not be paid, but if your content is used, request a byline and a backlink to your blog. Also comment on traditional media stories that have relevance to your blog and always include a backlink to your own site.

If you use multiple social media accounts ensure that your avatar and bio, as well as the tone of voice, are consistent across all of them. Make it easy for readers to follow your other social accounts by adding social media buttons to your blog and always add share buttons so that you content can easily be distributed by your readers to a wider audience. Facebook plug-ins are also a great way to get your content noticed around the web.

If you are a food venue review blogger, you can publicise yourself by having a presence on social platforms that specialise in reviews, beyond the obvious Urbanspoon and Foodspotting sites, consider travel review and booking platforms, Local Area Marketing sites such as TruLocal, Restaurant booking platforms and geo-spatial social platforms such as Yelp and LinkedIn.

Non-review food blogs or product review food blogs should consider submitting posts to Food aggregators such as Tasteologie, Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Also consider having a photo offshoot on Pinterest if it is relevent to your subject matter.

Remember to maintain the same avatar and bio wherever you post on social networks so as to be recognised. In this way you are not only discovered by more people, you also build your reputation.

The Gristle

My character ‘Sticky of Deep Dish Dreams’ - aka Stickifingers - has been a great way to engage with other food lovers. One of the best aspects is meeting people offline, some of whom read my internet musings and a few have become firm friends. Blogging is a great hobby.

Over time I have achieved a wide reach of influence by using multiple social channels, including Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Tripadvisor and LinkedIn to name a few, and am regularly asked by commercial interests why I don’t monetise this blog. 

The answer is that I already have a career in Social Media Strategy that keeps me on my toes with its daily changing processes, etiquette and platforms. To monetise a blog is to create another career path. And I prefer to use what I know, to get others on a happier path.

So if can leave you with one thing to chew over, if you aim to monetize your food blog, to achieve success it will cease to be a hobby and become a job that requires a great deal of concerted effort.
Do you have the courage to take that step? Only you can know.

If you wish to check my credentials or to discuss professional matters,
you can reach me at this link.
Please note that press releases and promotional material sent to me there
will be treated as spam in accordance to Australian legislation, as per the statement in the sidebar on this blog.

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