We recently received an email from long-time FBP members Dustin and Lacey Baier with a PDF blog post draft that Dustin wanted to share with us. In the email, he said,
"I was starting to write a post for A Sweet Pea Chef that was based off Food Blogger Pro – kind of a success story post. In part, because of the recent success we have seen and, in part, to be a good affiliate piece for Food Blogger Pro. Then I realized that, if I was in your shoes, I might want to use something like this as a case study on Food Blogger Pro or Pinch Of Yum."
Welp, we were definitely interested. We love to think that we help people here at Food Blogger Pro, but there’s nothing like hearing from bloggers who have found success through hard work, determination, and a tiny bit of help from FBP.
So without further ado, here’s the story of A Sweet Pea Chef.
On A Sweet Pea Chef, Lacey makes the content and I do the tech. Occasionally I’ll do a blog post about ASPC’s income for the month. If you’ve read any these blogging updates, you probably want the juicy details on how we went from a $187.82 hobby blog to making over $10k in a month in less than 2 years. While there have been many influences along the way, the first and probably most important was to get a business coach ( we work with Jason and Jeremy at Internet Business Mastery) and the second was taking their advice and finding a virtual mentor in our niche (enter: Bjork, Lindsay, and Food Blogger Pro).
I thought I would start off with a little story I don’t think I’ve ever told Bjork about. Almost two years ago, A Sweet Pea Chef was dying. Sure, it was up and running and we had traffic (around 60k visits and 80k pageviews a month) which, to a lot of people, seems like a lot. But, we had struggled to monetize it for years. We bounced from idea to idea, never finishing anything. From ideas like dishfolio (a food sharing site) to How To Start A Food Blog (a defunct membership site), we never had the follow-through. We would get discouraged too easily and could never focus on one thing, which made it really hard to be successful at anything.
A Sweet Pea Chef was at the point where Lacey had even gone back to work twice and we were using the site as a glorified recipe binder, trying to decide if it was worth keeping the lights on it. We knew a lot of people loved Lacey’s recipes and photos, but we just couldn’t see a way to turn it into a living. We stopped posting almost altogether unless Lacey wanted access to a recipe easily and, even then, it was lackadaisical.
Then, out of nowhere Lacey received a rather rude email from a random person who had been on our site. She told us that our site sucked and we were doing it all wrong – we had too many ads (we only had 3), and we should look at this site called Pinch Of Yum because they knew how to make it work and it was so much cleaner and better than ours.
So, we checked out Pinch Of Yum and were immediately annoyed. Here were these two people who had started a little after us, one the photographer and recipe developer, and the other the technical business person. They appeared similar in age and had even created this thing called Food Blogger Pro, a similar idea to our How To Start A Food Blog (even if their name was catchier!). Ugh.
At this point, we weren’t really considering diving back into it, but — still — what did they have that we didn’t?
Well, the short answer is they had perseverance. Where we had looked at a small incremental gain month to month and had been frustrated, they looked at it as a building block. If they could improve every month by 10% then, after a while, that would add up.
Shortly after we received that email, our 2-week-old son, Hunter, got sick. Real sick, rush to the hospital in the middle of the night, transported to a children’s hospital on icy roads in the middle of night kind of sick. I can still remember Lacey crying at the hospital, waiting for me while my mom rushed over to watch the girls. Not a pleasant experience, but it led to a conversation at the hospital with Lacey where we decided we didn’t want her to go back to work. As Hunter recovered (thankfully!), we talked about how we could turn this hobby blog into something that at least replaced part of her income. She would be able to see the kids more often and we could work together on the site. We had always enjoyed that part of the business, anyway. Working together made everything better. Luckily, Hunter is doing great now and we only have to bring him in once a year to have his kidneys checked. Phew.
So, when IBM offered their coaching program for people who already had a business, but wanted to learn how to monetize them better, we jumped on it. Then, when Jason said we should all find virtual mentors in our markets and study them, we started to digest what Lindsay and Bjork did, how they did it, and why they did it. How could we improve in each area, even if only by 10%? Luckily for us, they also had Food Blogger Pro which gave us real insight into what people who were making a living or at least a sizable side income from food blogging were doing.
Food Blogger Pro (FBP) has a lot of good stuff for food bloggers who are just starting out, such as technical videos on how to set up your site and photography videos on how to improve your photography. If FBP had existed when we first got started over 5 years ago, those early years would have been a lot better. Instead, we had to learn everything on our own and figure it out for ourselves.
So, at first, I resisted joining. What could possibly be inside that would be useful to me or Lacey? We had been doing this for 4+ years and I work on a large website for my day job and have a good handle on SEO, especially as it relates to food and people have paid Lacey to take photos professionally.
I am not sure when I gave in, but at some point I decided it might at least be a good networking opportunity to meet other food bloggers and the man behind the curtain (Bjork). Immediately after I joined, I could see the community was a great place and that there were lots of ways to learn new info. There were people helping others with Pinterest (an area we have always neglected), and some SEO and video stuff I could help with. It just felt like a great place to meet other food bloggers trying to get started or getting their act together. It’s a great place to share new things. In addition, when Lacey found out about the nutrition info generator, she demanded we keep FBP forever, saying that alone was worth the price of the membership.
FBP also gave me new hope and patience. If other people were slowly figuring stuff out, then we could, too.
Since I wanted to improve our site and learn from people who were successful, I made a list of things that could be improved and then highlighted the main three main takeaways I got from Bjork:
- Ads. Pinch Of Yum actually had more ads but were both more strategic with them and the site was designed cleaner so they didn’t seem cluttered.
- Sponsored posts, which we had never done before.
- Products, which we had tried, but had struggled with a little.
So I dove into the forums, the FBP videos, and researched online to learn everything I could about these 3 main topics, and how to improve them on our site. I’ll delve into them a bit here.
Diving into the ad units on our site was a huge undertaking, but having the forums there to point me in the right direction was super helpful. I was able to increase the number of ad units, optimize the ones we had, find the best ad networks to join, and, overall, improve our revenue from around $200 a month to $500 with very little effort. Then, we added in some more complex things like waterfalls, where one ad network calls another if it can’t deliver an ad. We also started on-boarding with AdThrive which I’m hoping will increase our revenue here even more.
Sponsored posts is where we saw the largest increase in revenue. Before we joined Food Blogger Pro, we didn’t even know these existed. But, when we realized that other bloggers were making a living by promoting products that they believed in, cooked with anyway, and that would also be valuable to their audience, it seemed like a good fit. We also had a nice differentiator with our high quality video content that we show on YouTube. Now, 70% of our income usually comes from sponsored posts and videos.
We also looked to improve our product offerings. In the past, we had created products and then just left them alone. FBP taught us to improve on our products, offering new and better versions, to learn how to promote them better, and to position them better. Plus, we learned how to research what our audience actually wanted.
While I was improving the process and back-end for A Sweet Pea Chef, Lacey was hard at work, also. There were a few main takeaways that Lacey pulled from the way Lindsay was doing things.
- Make sure to pay attention to what is working and what isn’t and always improve.
- Don’t be afraid of to call out why a recipe is useful (i.e. "healthy" or "skinny").
- Don’t be afraid of light.
Lacey had a tendency to get in a rut, whether it was with her writing or her photos. She would get comfortable with what she was doing and stop looking for ways to improve. After watching how Lindsay was always improving, Lacey decided to try to emulate that. She started to test a new blog post style or social share and see if people resonated with that, then iterated on what worked and figured out why it worked. She learned to try to look at each piece of content as, "Why would someone want to look at this or read this and how is this valuable.? How do I make it more valuable to my readers?" This process has really paid off with our branding and social media engagement.
Promote the Benefits
We have always struggled with saying something we produced is "useful," even if we strongly believe it is. Not sure why it’s a trait that both Lacey and I share. We noticed that Lindsay would say, "This is healthy," or "This is great." Once we got over this fear, it made it easier to brand our site and content and to create themes that people resonate with. Our blog theme is No-Fail recipes that are easy and healthy. So, we started pointing out why they are no-fail and why they are healthy. This allows us to take pride in what we are producing and also to help solve a big problem for our audience.
The Importance of Light In Food Photography
Lacey has been a good photographer for a while now, but never was really fully comfortable with her camera at all times. So, over the last two years, she really made it her mission to know when to use what settings and why. She learned how to use lighting as a tool and to set a scene and mood rather than just hoping for the best lighting or trying to always shoot in the exact same light everyday. This has made a big difference in traffic, shares, engagement, and her confidence in her own ability.
It’s been a fun ride the last 20+ months or so. It seems crazy that we almost shut down our site, but instead went from a $ 187.82 dollar a month hobby blog to almost doubling Lacey’s work income. I hope, if there is one thing that you take away from this post, it’s that perseverance and iteration will payoff. Lindsay and Bjork are great role models in that regard and you don’t need to know them personally to learn from them.
Isn’t that such an amazing story? We are so proud of Dustin and Lacey and all the work they’ve done for A Sweet Pea Chef, and we can’t wait to see where they go from here. Be sure to check out their website at asweetpeachef.com and give them a holler down in the comments below!