A Sweet Pea Chef: A Food Blogger Pro Case Study | Food Blogger Pro

A Sweet Pea Chef: A Food Blogger Pro Case Study

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Sponsored posts, which we had never done before.
  3. 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.

Improving Ads

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/Videos

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.

Products

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.

  1. Make sure to pay attention to what is working and what isn’t and always improve.
  2. Don’t be afraid of to call out why a recipe is useful (i.e. "healthy" or "skinny").
  3. Don’t be afraid of light.

Always Improving

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!

If Dustin’s story inspires you to join Food Blogger Pro, we ask that you click this link, which gives Dustin & Lacey credit for the signup: foodbloggerpro.com/dustin

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51 Comments

  1. Wow such an inspiring story! Especially since Lacey and I have the same cooking style πŸ™‚ Great article guys, thank you!

    1. Thanks Marie. Thats cool to hear Lacey loves cinnamon like way to much sometimes I wonder if she would choose cinnamon or me lol.

  2. This was very inspiring! Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been stuck in the same spot for awhile so I hope I can make some progress like Dustin & Lacey.

      1. Hi Dustin! Well, my guess is, it has a lot to do with posting consistency and commitment (treating it like a hobby and not a business) but my traffic has been in the same spot (about 24k unique visitors per month) for the last year. Just sort of plateaued.

        1. I would say consistency is key but it doesn’t have to be often once a week or every other week is fine if the posts are focused and well done when you publish them. We defiantely went through a phase of trying to post to often and our content suffered and I think people realized that.

  3. Congrats. While I’m making more than $190/mo, my blogging income has fallen by 50% in the last year – a heart breaker, and I feel like I’m losing grip on what’s going on. I am rebranding, reworking things now, as my last attempt to save this business of mine. Perhaps I will give FBP a go, to see if I can get another surge of business creativity.

      1. To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve looked at everything. My ads are slightly diwn, but not as much. However, my direct sale of my in house products (ebooks and services I offer directly to my audience) just dried up after 3 yrs. I feel like I lost connection and am not touching the heart of my readers. I am at a point now that I’m going to scratch off completely what I’ve been doing and reposition/rebrand myself to reconnect. I’m in a more peculiar niche as it is, so, I’m going to broaden my reach.

        I also need to find better ad networks, because up to now ad revenue was always a marginal part of my income…and that needs to change.

        I wish my Hubby was a techy… that would free me up to do other work, but I have to wear all hats myself, which spreads me thin.

        THanks for listening

        1. We started focusing on really identifying what we were passionate about which was eating healthier even more so than cooking from scratch and that helped us really resonate more with a specific audience.

          1. Thank you for that. And definitely. Each year I have a re-evaluation period to reign myself in to see what works and does not work and what I want to do. It gets harder when you are passionate about too many things, so I have to really zero in on only 1-2 things that I want to help people with. I just have to refine the process and reconnect with my audience. I am going to give myself the next few months to do it–do or die :), and see if I have any future in this… I worked on it for so long and so hard that it would be hard to let it go, but if I must, I am willing.

          2. I would say it helps if you focus in on what your audience resonates with as well. What do you love to do that you get emails, comments or shares for. When Lacey shared a post on eating healthy or losing weight after the baby she got a lot of positive feedback and that helped her realize she really liked helping people eat healthier and make positive food choices.

  4. Nice job Dustin, great story. Congrats to you and Lacey on your continued success. I can definitely relate to your early struggles, as I help my wife with the tech side of things at jessicagavin.com however, your story is very inspiring and is the motivation we need to keep charging ahead. Thanks!

  5. This was a very interesting read for me, and I commend you both for sticking with it. How rewarding to see it pay off for you! I’ve been blogging for almost 4 years and feel like I lack direction. I have the pageviews plus some that Dustin and Lacey have after FBP, but only bring in about 1/5 of what they do each month. Something is not clicking for me. I was so inspired after listening to Bjork speak this past spring at SNAP… perhaps it’s time to jump on board with FBP.

    1. We definitely learned a lot by breaking down Bjork’s income reports and then trying to replicate each section for ourselves. I would start there look at each piece of the income puzzle and see what you can improve on.

  6. Dustin & Lacey–I LOVED your story! I feel we have so many similarities. My husband and I work together on our website (Deals to Meals) and our blog (Deals to Meals Blog). We have been doing this for over 7 years now and our website is doing great (our service) but our blog STINKS! We have been at 85k views for nearly all 7 years. I feel like we have the SAME people looking at it for all 7 years. We feel like no matter what we try, we stay in the same place (about $300 a month income). Running a blog can be so frustrating!! I have wanted to quite so many times (even though I still LOVE what I post and do), I really appreciated your honesty about your journey. You have motivated me to keep trying and I will be joining the FBP. I’m not one to usually do things like that, but perhaps that is what we need? Thanks again for sharing your story! Both of your sites (Pinch of Yum) are amazing!!

    Shandra
    Owner, Deals to Meals

    1. Glad to see we motivated you πŸ™‚ that means a lot to us. we were hoping by sharing our story other long time bloggers would maybe see there are others out there. We definitely saw progress when we started being more deliberate with what content we chose to do. Having specific keywords or goals targeted for each post or video. Good luck and see you on the inside.

  7. This post was truly inspiring! I’ve been a food and fitness blogger (I’d Rather Be Eating) for nearly 3 years and am only just now starting to grasp the true work and skill that goes into making a blog profitable.
    I do enjoy it as a hobby, but not seeing any monetary rewards or improvements can be frustrating. I’m especially interested in how you guys started with the sponsored posts! That is my next step I believe.
    Thanks again,
    Na’Tasha, RatherBeEating(.)net

    1. Once you start seeing the pieces that need to fall into place to make the business more profitable and view it as a business then it really helps grow your site. Repeat the things that work don’t keep doing the things don’t lol. The tricky part is recognizing when you are stuck in a loop that isn’t working. For posts we reached out to brands and sent them a media kit and we worked with a MCN for our Youtube sponsored videos.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this. CONGRATS Dustin and Lacey!!! You have done a fantastic job with your blog. This is both inspiring and SO relatable!

    Bjork – I would love to see more case studies like this one on FBP.

    1. Thanks so much. Bjork and Lindsay do such a good job teaching and on the inside of FBP we see everyone successes it is cool to share them with everyone else πŸ™‚ Hope it was useful.

  9. what an amazing post! I must admit at times, I’ve felt unfocused and wanted to hang up my whisk-our numbers are much lower than yours when you consider quitting. perhaps, it’s possible for us after all. so glad you stuck with it!

  10. I love this post. I really really love this post. Thank you SO much Dustin, for taking the time to share your story with us. You have no idea how much of a cloud it has lifted off my day. Legend. Anna

    1. Love the name Food Prep Sundays lol we love prepping our weekday meals on Sunday πŸ™‚ makes it way easier to eat healthy during the week. I’m glad the post helped.

  11. This is so inspiring you guys! It’s so easy to get caught up in the small month to month growth, and not just be proud that the business IS actually growing. I feel like I’m always looking for ways to “hit it big,” but I’m learning that slow, consistent growth is key in this business. Patience and baby steps are key!

    1. Thanks Trish πŸ™‚ Yea focusing on always taking steps is key rather than always looking backwards wondering if the steps were large enough.

  12. This is so encouraging. Congrats to both of you Dustin and Lacey. Your site is absolutely gorgeous. I’m just starting out and preparing myself to put in the necessary work for success. I just joined FBP and am very happy with the resources they have. It’s a great place of community for me to be since I’m usually such a loner πŸ™‚ Congrats again.

  13. A great post – I’m feeling so inspired now! I’ve been following Bjork and Lindsay for a while now and love hearing success stories like yours… Keep up the great work, Dustin & Lacey!

  14. Thank you SOO much for posting this! I was nodding my head reading Dustin’s post. This is why I joined FBP. I want to grow. My blog has been up and running in it’s current form for almost 5 years now. In this past year I really hit a plateau, not growing struggling to post, struggling to stay inspired through family crisis and tragedy (two of our parents died). Plus I landed (yeah!) a big freelance recipe development project that took a lot of time, energy and mental space. But I just. Could. Not. Quit. I love blogging, and I love sharing my recipes and info with readers. Thank you for the inspiration to keep going and growing!

    1. Thanks Sally. Learning what other people are doing and what is working is always super helpful. It really helps to make sure that you don’t wind up doing the same thing and not seeing results.

  15. So, I’m a little curious now. I loved your story. It was more than inspiring and I think you do an amazing job on your blog. When I read that you went from $187/mo to $10K a mo, I thought WOW (and then I think my brain went blank. I just visited your site and saw that you have an income report up and your last report (from September) had an income of just over 3K. Still very impressive, but about 7K off from 10K. Just curious of you have more than one blog you are using for income earning or if I missed something.

        1. For some of it we reached out to a bunch of places we wanted to work with and sent them a media kit with examples of what we have done in the past etc. Video allows us to charge more too which is nice. We also got asked to participate in large push from our Youtube MCN which was in this month also.

          1. I don’t think so yet although that’s a good idea. I shared a copy of it in FBP I think somewhere.