Elaine from Dishes Delish serves up some excellent advice when it comes to growing your food blog and moving to full time. From outsourcing social media to listening to your readers and creating the content they love – even when it’s not the direction you may have had in mind!
We love Elaine’s goal to grow her blog to support both herself and her husband’s salary as we’re aiming to do the same thing. We also liked the tip to check your new or updated post once or twice before clicking publish!
Now, without further ado – Elaine, take it away!
Let’s Get Started
How did you come up with the idea to start your food blog?
I was working as a medical secretary after a colleague launched her own optometry/eyeglass shop and asked if I’d come work for her. Since it was a new shop, we all knew it wouldn’t be busy straight away, so she allowed the optician and myself to surf the web when there weren’t tasks to do.
I started looking at food blogs since I love to cook. I found a bunch of blogs like Pinch of Yum, Cookie and Kate and Brown-eyed Baker and saw that they were making money at blogging, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. It was purely a business decision from the start.
When I chose the name, I really should have picked something different because of Delish dot com. If I’d only known then what I found out within the first year of blogging, I’d have picked something different. How could I even compete with Delish? It took a really long time for my blog to even appear on the first page of Google, even searching specifically for Dishes Delish. I’ve wanted to rebrand but since I’m well established, it would be like shooting myself in the foot.
At first, I didn’t really have a niche, unless it was comfort food. But after about 6 months, I started publishing cocktail recipes every week along with comfort food and they are the posts that really defined my success as a blogger. I understood it on some level because I used to bartend and love to make cocktails for people, but I felt disappointed because although my cocktails are fun and delicious, I’m a really good cook (if I do say so myself.) ☺ So, after having my tantrum, I embraced that cocktails were going to be a big part of the blog.
What does your day to day look like?
I work Monday – Friday and hardly ever work the weekends. I’m an older blogger and like my time off to spend time with family.
At the moment, I publish on Mondays. I used to publish two times a week but I have a couple of projects in the works and feel that since the blog is well set up, I don’t have to publish as many posts. I’ve been re-publishing older content with new photos and re-writing the copy with a few new recipes thrown in to keep it interesting for me. So:
- Mondays – Publish a post, share it to social media and then hand it off to my VA so she can do the weekly and that day’s social sharing threads on Facebook. The rest of the day, I write posts. I can get at least one post done that day if not two and some photo editing.
- Tuesday – I edit photos and try to get another post written.
- Wednesday – I’ve been working on getting all the alt text fixed on all the photos on the blog as well as fixing the featured photo to 1200 x 1200 pixels. I also make fresh pins with the photos from the post. Once that is done, I will do more editing and writing posts.
- Thursday – This was my learning day where I took courses and tried to watch videos on subjects like photography. But lately, I’ve been continuing to do more of the fixing of alt texts. It’s a process as I have 450+ posts but I’m 2/3 of the way done. Once that’s done, I will get back to learning on Thursdays.
- Friday – I cook/shoot for the blog. I start at 10:00 a.m. and end around 2:00 p.m. I’m finding with all the new pins we need to do (which means I have to take more hero shots), I can only manage 2-3 recipes on that day. I look forward to hiring a kitchen helper. I’m thinking that will happen once the pandemic calms down and everyone is safe again.
What task gives you the biggest joy with blogging?
I would have to say that my biggest joy is the photography. I really enjoy it. I also love to see people’s comments once they’ve made my recipes.
Do you celebrate your achievements? How?
Hubby and I are big on celebrations. We try to celebrate all the big wins (and even the little ones.) We mostly go out to dinner, which is something I LOVE to do.
What’s the most difficult aspect of blogging for you?
Social media. Honestly, if I didn’t have the blog, I would not participate in it. I have many reasons for that but the top two are:
- I do not like how manipulative it is and, as a result, I fear for the future of the children in America, and,
- I don’t like how extreme it is. By that I mean people publishing photos of extreme foods that if consumed would compromise good health. For instance – a chocolate shake with a donut, a piece of chocolate cake, a Reese’s Cup or other sweets sticking out of it. Yes, it can be made to look good but it sends the wrong message. Another extreme would be how perfect everyone’s life looks on social because everyone shows only the best of themselves and it sets an unnatural ideal to the public. I’d rather see people being real and looking normal without all the filters because that makes young people (and old alike) think they have to look perfect.
Now I’m off my soapbox. ☺
Have you come across any challenges or pitfalls? If so, how did you overcome them?
I’m not sure you could call this a challenge, but I tend to have lots of ideas and I need to take a step back to see if I should really do them. For instance, I started the podcast Dishing with Delishes and it was definitely the right thing to do and I’m glad I did it, but it took my focus away from my blog when I shouldn’t have let it. When I started the podcast, I was only making up to $100 a month on DD. I should have waited until it was established the way it is now.
I took a hiatus from the podcast in December of 2019 and I’m so glad I did. It gave me time to think about it and focus on DD so I could make more money. I’m toying with the idea of going back to the podcast but doing it every other week or even once every three weeks. I will also focus on not editing the episodes so much that a half hour interview takes me 3-4 hours to edit like it was before. Either that, or I’d hire the editing out.
How do you stay motivated?
I have friends that I speak with daily. We chat via Google Hangouts and when one of us isn’t ‘feeling it’, the others boost that person up. So, having a good support system is key.
Going Full Time as a Food Blogger
How old is your blog? How old was it when you transitioned to full time?
I published my first post on August 15, 2015, so it’s a little over 5 years. I went full time when the optometrist told both the optician and myself that she was selling the business and that we wouldn’t have a job with the new owners.
That was in 2016. Hubby and I discussed if I should get another part time job but decided I should focus on monetising Dishes Delish. I’ve been lucky because we could afford not to have me work when I wasn’t making money on the blog.
What’s funny about being let go of the medical secretary position is I was annoyed because I started the blog while I was working for her AND had been basically working the blog full time and getting paid by the owner of the business. I was bummed that getting paid for blogging in that early time was over and that I’d have to hustle and start making it on the blog alone.
I started making money on the blog in early 2017 but wasn’t able to join an ad network until November of 2018 – so a full 3 years of blogging.
Just remember that every blogger has their own journey and if you work hard and consistently, then you will make money. Don’t get discouraged hearing that someone else joined an ad network after 6 months. After talking to over 100 bloggers on the podcast, that is rare. More people get to an ad agency around 2–3 years.
Would you say your blog has grown at a faster rate since going full time?
Yes and no. In those early days of blogging full time, I was still in my tantrum phase about embracing the idea that the cocktails would be my money maker. Once I got over that, I succeeded enough to join MediaVine and within a short time had the traffic to move to CafeElite/AdThrive.
I also was lucky by having a few viral moments. Now whether working full-time at the blog was a catalyst in those viral posts because I had more time to think and make the posts that went viral, or if it was just right place at the right time, I’ll never know.
Do you outsource any aspect of your business? If so, what?
Yes. I outsourced my social media even before I was making consistent money and really couldn’t ‘afford’ it from blog revenue. I can’t even begin to tell you what a game changer that was and I’m glad I did it when I did.
For my VA’s, I use the husband and wife team, Vladi and Helena from LiL Creative Digital Agency. They do all my social media sharing threads. They take care of Pinterest and assist with any design and CSS work that I need done to the blog’s theme. Their help and friendship has been such a wonderful thing and I do credit it to my success.
I also hired Grayson Bell’s site speed service from iMarkInteractive. After seeing awesome results, I chose to add his monthly service plan, which includes daily backups and updating plugins. Now I never have to worry that doing those tasks myself will crash my site.
What is your biggest traffic referrer?
Pinterest is a little higher than organic search but I’m thinking that might flip-flop soon.
What is your income split between ads, affiliates, sponsorships or other?
- Average monthly views: 150k – 170k.
- Average monthly income ($US): $2k – 4k and up to $10k during the last few months of the year.
- Average monthly RPM: My RPM’s are low mainly because of the alcohol and fluctuates so much that it’s hard to give you a firm average but between $10 – $30.
Does your blog fully support you, or do you have other income streams?
The blog does not fully support me. It provides more than my part time medical secretary salary but I would like to earn enough to replace hubby’s income so he can leave his job.
I do get money from affiliate programs, in particular Amazon. Even though they have decreased the payout commissions, I’m making more money monthly than I did before. Maybe that’s because more people are drinking and clicking on the items I list in posts. But I need to ramp that up in the coming months. I’ve backed off a little during this trying time.
I used to do sponsored posts through companies like Activate or Social Fabric, but it seems like lately the return was not worth the effort. I am beginning to reach out to companies directly to become an ambassador for their company. But I’m in the early stages of that.
What change do you think has made the biggest difference to your blog?
The three changes that have made a difference to my blog are:
- Hiring my VAs.
- Accepting that people want more of my cocktails.
- Getting a SEO audit from Casey Markee.
What skills have you mastered to get you to where you are today?
I try to learn as much about photography as I can. I’ve taken Joanie Simon’s Flash Photography course and that has been a game changer. I’ve always used artificial light from the beginning but working with Flash is fun and satisfying.
How many posts do you aim to publish per month? Do you schedule your work in advance?
This is new for me as I used to do 6 posts a month, but since the end of July, I decided to go down to 4 posts a month. The only time I will deviate from that is in November and December, I will go with 8 posts a month, then back to 4 in January.
I don’t schedule my posts in advance though I do have on average 10-13 posts ready to go. The reason I don’t schedule out is as I’m republishing old content, I don’t want to manipulate the recipe card until it goes live. Plus I have a tendency to want to read it ONE more time before I click publish.
Okay, okay, I tend to read it TWICE, before publishing.
Advice, Learning and Looking Toward the Future
What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self about to make the transition?
Don’t use the word Delish in the name of your blog. I actually cringe now when people say, “Oh, that was delish.” I did take my time thinking of the name, but in hindsight, I should have done more research.
Also, keep learning and evolving as the blogging world changes monthly. Stay as consistent as you can but it is okay to take time off. Everyone needs a break at some point. The last few years, I have taken 4 weeks off a year. Two in the summer and two right after Christmas. I have not seen any negative impact to my revenue.
Where do you go when you’re looking for blogging advice?
My blogging friends first, then Food Bloggers Central on Facebook.
If you offer advice to food bloggers as a coach or mentor, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you?
I do mentor other bloggers. I can be reached via email elaine [@] dishesdelish [dot] com.
What resources have helped the most, and had the biggest impact on your blog?
- Joanie Simon’s Flash Photography Course
- I was a member for 2 years with Food Blogger Pro – they have a ton of videos and how-to’s along with a very active forum where you can ask your questions. This is a really good resource for beginning bloggers or bloggers who like a forum they can read and ask questions.
- Kate Kordsmeier’s Six Figure Blogging Academy – this is a great course for all levels of bloggers.
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What’s your current focus or area of study for your blogging?
I’m always interested in learning about the business and about photography.
What current goal are you working towards?
Making enough money to exceed hubby’s income so he can quit. Like I said before, I have a few projects in the works to help achieve that goal.
Where do you see yourself and your blog in 5 years’ time?
Sipping one of my Cadillac Margarita’s on a beach somewhere. ☺ Just kidding, I see myself owning a few businesses, having more employees and hiring out a lot of what I do now. I also see myself helping other bloggers succeeding.
Now we have to ask…
What’s your funniest cooking fail?
We were at a relative’s house for a party. I forget now what the occasion was, but it involved a clam/lobster bake and I was making the clam chowder. I brought all the ingredients with me except the flour for the roux and used what was in our cousin’s flour canister.
It wasn’t pure flour. It was vanilla cake mix – why she put it there, I’ll never know, but the chowder came out with a sweet taste. I disliked it as it reminded me of the sweetness you get in corn chowder, but everyone else said they liked it and pretty much gobbled it down.
Which recipe do you cook the most from your blog?
Instant Pot Refried Beans – I literally make this every week.
Ultimate Cadillac Margarita – The best margarita – for reals.
Finally, where can people find and connect with you?
Thank you Elaine!
If there’s a question you’d LOVE to know from full time bloggers, feel free to email us with your suggestions. We hope you’ve learnt a thing or two today to help you with your food blogging journey. Make sure to comment below and let us know your favourite take-aways!