Lexi from Crowded Kitchen is on the blog today to share her amazing journey of going full time with her food blog. Lexi hits home on the importance of slow growth, taking breaks and making small, consistent efforts every day.
Welcome to the 15th interview of Full Time Foodies with Lexi from Crowded Kitchen!
Full Time Foodies is a series which shares stories from full time food bloggers around the world with helpful resources, recommendations and advice.
Now, without further ado – over to you Lexi!
Let’s Get Started
How did you come up with the idea to start your food blog?
Back in college, I (Lexi) was a track & field and cross country athlete at a very small school with one dining hall, no off-campus living, and several food sensitivities (dairy and gluten, specifically). I decided to start an Instagram account (formerly @superfoodrunner) to chronicle my dietary challenges and hopefully inspire others with similar backgrounds.
Just a month or two after launching, I decided to study abroad for the first semester of my senior year. My mom, Beth, who coached me in high school and happened to be taking an online nutrition and photography course at the time, helped me continue posting on the account while I was abroad. From there, we continued posting our creations on Instagram, learning photography along the way and grew our audience to about 20k within the first year.
Just after graduation in 2016, I started my first full-time job at a food media startup (now very successful) in NYC. At the time, we were a very small team and with my very little experience with photography and social media, I was suddenly thrust into a position where I was creating professional content for well-known, worldwide food and beverage brands. After a year, I was able to take my newfound experience with professional content creation and social media/influencer marketing to make my fledgling side business a full-time endeavor.
From there, I moved back to Michigan to be near my mom, since we would be working together full time. We came up with the name Crowded Kitchen because it truly reflects our brand as a family business – my husband now works with us as well, and we often have 4+ people and 2+ dogs in the kitchen on shoot days. Our blog came a bit later and officially launched in 2019. Our story differs a bit from most bloggers, since we got our start on Instagram before venturing into the blogging world.
We’ve always preferred eating plant-based, so we really leaned into that niche and made Crowded Kitchen a mostly vegan blog. We absolutely love sharing plant-based recipes both with long-term vegetarians/vegans, as well as those simply looking to reduce meat consumption.
What does your day to day look like?
These days, I head up all of our styling, photography, videography, and copywriting for social/blog posts. My mom, Beth, heads up all recipe development, and my husband, Brent, handles business development, back-end web development and does the bulk of the work on blog posts.
In addition to publishing content on our own blog, we do quite a bit of content creation for food and beverage brands, as well as other bloggers. Custom content typically takes up more than 60% of our week, so on the average shoot day, we’re photographing anywhere from 6-12 recipes or product shoots. Since we have a pretty heavy workload for custom content, we try to batch work as much as possible, so we have 2-3 days of only shooting per week, and 2-3 days of only editing/computer work. This has definitely helped with organization and efficiency, which has been the key to growing our business!
When it comes to working on content for our own blog and social channels, we typically dedicate 1 full day a week to shooting blog and sponsored content. Now, with the growth of reels and tiktok, my husband and I also try to fit in several casual video shoots per week on computer days to break up the shooting.
What task gives you the biggest joy with blogging?
For me, it’s all about the creative aspect of recipe development and photography. There’s nothing I love more than seeing a recipe come to life. I genuinely enjoy styling and editing, and it allows me to constantly improve my skills, which in turn improves the business as a whole.
My mom and I also love hearing feedback from our readers! As you know, there’s so much time and effort that goes into recipe development and blogging, so it’s always gratifying to connect with people that truly appreciate that effort and take the time to leave reviews and feedback.
Do you celebrate your achievements? How?
Definitely! That being said, instead of celebrating after specific achievements, we prefer to celebrate by prioritising free time, travel, and all of the other benefits of owning your own business.
My husband formerly worked as a financial analyst and couldn’t stand the rigid corporate lifestyle (read: 10 vacation days a year and no work from home policy!). Early in 2020, we decided that it was most important for us to enjoy our life together outside of work, so he quit and joined Crowded Kitchen. We’ve worked really hard to build a successful business, so we always make sure to appreciate that. We try to book trips as often as possible (tough during at the moment, of course!) to recharge our batteries and wind down after big projects.
What’s the most difficult aspect of blogging for you?
Balancing blog growth and our custom content business is always a challenge. Since our blog is still relatively new, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to SEO and consistent growth. We make a lot more income from sponsored content and content creation for brands, so it can be hard to prioritise working on the blog when it’s not currently generating as much income. That said, we’re starting to think about having kids and want to eventually be able to lessen our weekly work load, so we know we need to put in the work now to enjoy the passive income later on!
Have you come across any challenges or pitfalls? If so, how did you overcome them?
All the time! When it comes to the content creation side of the business, that definitely took a hit at the start of the 2020, when brands weren’t able to spend as much on marketing and advertising. Instead of panicking, we took that time to continue improving our skills so that when the time came, we were able to increase our prices by offering higher quality and more efficient work.
On the blogging side, there are too many challenges to name (as I’m sure all bloggers can understand!). We had very little growth in the first year or two because we were trying to do everything on our own instead of investing in valuable resources and services. At the end of 2020, we finally invested in an SEO audit with Casey Markee, and last year we hired NerdPress for upkeep on the backend of our website. We realised it’s SO much easier to spend the money to have other people tell you exactly what you need to do to succeed going forward. Of course, there’s always the challenge of actually implementing those changes, but we’ve also come to realise that it’s the slow, daily growth that really matters. Nothing happens overnight!
How do you stay motivated?
To be honest, a lot of my motivation stems from the fact that I know I’m building a stable future for my family. It’s incredibly challenging, but also very rewarding to be a small business owner. I can’t see myself in any other job, and it’s been incredible to see our team grow from just me and my mom, to us, my husband, a new full time employee starting this spring, and 2 other part time employees.
When I’m lacking motivation and inspiration in a creative sense, I’ve found that it’s really important to try something new. New styling, a new food/recipe, new and challenging client work – anything that forces me out of my comfort zone. And if that doesn’t work, I just take a week off of shooting to recharge. It’s so important to rest!
Going Full Time as a Food Blogger
How old is your blog? How old was it when you transitioned to full time?
Our blog officially launched in early 2019, but we have been publishing recipes on social media since 2016. We went full time in 2017, but for the first three years, we solely made money from sponsored partnerships and content creation. We officially qualified for Mediavine in October of 2019.
What made you take the leap to full time?
I spent my first year out of college working for a food media startup, and to be honest, realised that I could do something similar on my own and make more money (and enjoy my lifestyle more!). I took a bit of a leap of faith, but my now-husband had a full time job that was able to support us, and we moved back in with my parents for the first few months while we got the business going. Since my mom and I work together, it really allowed us to come up with a solid business plan and get things going while we built up a client base.
What does working full time on your blog mean to you?
I will probably never work full time on just my blog since I love the content creation side of our business so much, but I do always wish I had more time. Blogging is truly a full time job – there’s always more we could be doing.
Would you say your blog has grown at a faster rate since going full time?
We were full time before launching our blog. We started to grow at a faster rate once we started to focus on keyword research, SEO optimisation, site speed, and all of that good stuff. It’s also been incredibly beneficial to tag team blog posts. My husband gets a post outline going for each recipe, with all of the basic details, image optimisation, meta descriptions etc, and then I go in and fill out any other content that’s needed.
Do you outsource any aspect of your business? If so, what?
As mentioned above, we use NerdPress for basic back-end blog upkeep. Other than that, we have a few part time employees that help out with social media and shoot days.
What is your biggest traffic referrer?
What is your income split between ads, affiliates, sponsorships or other?
Custom content: 61%
(We don’t have any affiliate partnerships)
If you’re happy to share, what are your current:
Average monthly views: 240k
Average monthly income ($US): Between all sources mentioned above: ~$35,000/month before taxes. Just blog: $3-4k/month
Average monthly RPM (Mediavine) / RPS (AdThrive): $17-20
What change do you think has made the biggest difference to your blog?
Keyword research, for sure. Before we knew anything about blogging, all of our recipe development was driven by whatever we felt like making. We still try to stay true to that a bit on social media, but focusing on creating content specifically around keywords has definitely led to the most growth. We really just started implementing keyword research late this fall, so we have yet to see major impacts, but we’re putting in a lot of work right now!
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What skills have you mastered to get you to where you are today?
I’ve always focused most on photography and videography, since that is the reason for our early growth on social media, which allowed us to turn Crowded Kitchen into a full time business pretty quickly. Photography is our main source of income, so it’s very important for me to continuously improve my skills, invest in new equipment and props, etc.
How many posts do you aim to publish per month? Do you schedule your work in advance?
We don’t have a concrete schedule, because quite honestly, we are a bit unorganized at time 🙂
That being said, we typically have 10+ recipes finalised, photographed and in the queue so we can publish whenever we have time. We try to aim for 3 posts a week, but it definitely depends on the week.
Advice, Learning and Looking Toward the Future
What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self about to make the transition?
Focus on work/life balance! I had a hard time adjusting to the demands of owning my own business, and spent the first few years being way too stressed and anxious about every small decision. I’m much more laid back now and have realised that it’s truly about small, consistent efforts every day – it doesn’t have to all get done at once. It’s so much more important to prioritise mental health!
Where do you go when you’re looking for blogging advice?
To be honest, I usually end up handing it off to my husband, who’s much better at taking the time to learn and figure out how to actually implement any changes. He’s a lot more patient and detail oriented than I am, so he likes to delve into research and then give me the run down so I understand the basics!
If you offer advice to food bloggers as a coach or mentor, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you?
We occasionally take on clients for private food photography coaching. I typically do 1:1 sessions and focus on any areas that you need help with. If interested, feel free to email me at lexi [at] crowdedkitchen [dot] com.
What resources have helped the most, and had the biggest impact on your blog?
Food Blogger Pro was essential when I was just getting started! I listen to a few podcasts (Food Blogger Pro, Eat Blog Talk) and often read helpful articles (like Full Time Foodies!) as well as Facebook group threads.
What’s your current focus or area of study for your blogging?
We’re really just focused on putting in consistent work to update old posts and publish new posts that will help us grow traffic as quickly as possible!
What current goal are you working towards?
Other than hoping to double our blog revenue this year, we’re also just working towards seeing consistent improvements month by month.
Where do you see yourself and your blog in 5 years’ time?
Hopefully a bit more involved with the blogging side of the business, and slightly less so with the physically exhausting and demanding content creation side of the business. My husband and I are hoping to start a family in the next few years, so we want to focus more on passive income so we can spend more time enjoying our family.
Now we have to ask…
What’s your funniest cooking fail?
Oh gosh, there are too many. Since we do mostly vegan and gluten free baking, it can be really hard to create a complicated recipe from scratch. We’ve had some pretty hilarious fails with cookies, cakes and pie crusts, most of which go straight from the oven into the trash! Other than that, my parents have a very naughty yellow lab that occasionally helps himself to a taste of something we’ve prepped for a shoot, so that always makes for a funny scene!
Which recipe do you cook the most from your blog?
Our vegan lemon rice soup is my favourite. I even make it in the summer!
Finally, where can people find and connect with you?
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!