343: Blogging with a Full-Time Job (Part Two) – How Focusing on SEO Led to $2,000 Monthly Earnings with Cree Carraway

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An image of a notebook and a computer and the title of Cree Carraway's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Blogging with a Full-Time Job (Part Two).'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 343 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Cree Carraway from Cooking With Bliss in Part Two of our Blogging with a Full-Time Job series.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with David Crowley from Cooking Chat about optimizing your time when balancing a full-time job with blogging. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Blogging with a Full-Time Job (Part Two)

Welcome back to our Blogging with a Full-Time Job series! In this three-part series, we’re interviewing a few Food Blogger Pro members about what’s working (and what’s not) when it comes to balancing a full-time job with blogging.

And today, Bjork is chatting with Cree Carraway from Cooking With Bliss. From sharing content on her blog to working her full-time job to raising her family, Cree has a lot on her plate (both literally and figuratively!) all the time.

In this episode, you’ll hear how she strategically focused on SEO to increase her traffic and join an ad network, how she started doing keyword research, and what the impact of earning an income from her blog has been on her life.

It’s an inspiring conversation that will encourage you to reflect and make progress on your own goals. Enjoy!

A quote from Cree Carraway’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'I had to really hone in and focus on SEO because, in my mind, that was the one thing that could get me into Mediavine.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why Cree decided to launch her blog
  • When she decided to really focus on growing her blog’s traffic
  • What business lessons she has learned over the years
  • Why she decided to focus on SEO rather than social media
  • What it felt like to start earning money from her blog
  • How she started doing keyword research
  • How she balances her blog with her full-time job
  • How she narrowed her blog’s focus and started sharing content more authentically
  • How she’s been strategically growing her email list


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!

With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.

Sign up for the Clariti waitlist today to receive:

  • Early access to their $25/Month Forever pricing
  • Optimization ideas for your site content
  • An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
  • And more!

You can learn more and sign up here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: Big thank you to Clariti, the Clariti team, for sponsoring this episode. It is C-L-A-R-I-T-I. And Clariti is a TinyBit company. TinyBit is the parent company over Food Blogger Pro, Pinch of Yum, Nutrifox, WP Tasty, Curbly. So we operate multiple businesses, but those businesses sometimes work together, as is the case with Clariti and Food Blogger Pro. And we built Clariti because we wanted a tool to help us run Pinch of Yum. And so much like some of the other tools we built, we built Clariti as a way to replace essentially the spreadsheet we had, the massive spreadsheet to keep track of a bunch of random different things, and kind of see how can we level that up? What are the ways that we want to make it even more easier or more easy to manage the content that we have and make decisions?

Bjork Ostrom: And I’ve talked a lot about Clariti on the podcast. So we thought we’d have some other people who are using it talk about how they’re using it. And one of the really early users who understood the benefit of Clariti early on and jumped in was Ashley from Big Flavors From a Tiny Kitchen, and she’s going to talk a little bit about how she uses it. So let’s roll that clip.

Ashley Covelli: Hi, this is Ashley Covelli from Big Flavors From a Tiny Kitchen. I’m online at bigflavorstinykitchen.com. And as somebody who’s been writing about food and recipes online since 2006, I’ve got a ton of content, and there’s a ton of tools and spreadsheets and Google docs that I’ve used over the years, trying to keep track of what I want to update or revamp. And nothing has really been able to make it come together as easily for me as Clariti has. Basically, I’m able to create campaigns. So for example, posts that I want to update, I can just put all the posts on my website that I want to update at some point in a campaign in Clariti, and then I can assign tasks that I want to do.

Ashley Covelli: So say I want to update the photography or the recipe card or reshoot something, do a video, I’m able to then take everything within that campaign and sort it by any parameters I want. So maybe it’s something that’s got the most traffic. And then I’m able to make informed decisions about which things to tackle first. So maybe I want to work on things that have been the most popular in the last six months. I’m able to easily see that information so I can work on the things that are going to give the biggest results for my website.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s two parts that Ashley talked about. I don’t need to dive into additional examples because she did such a great job of talking about how you might be able to use Clariti. But the big takeaway here for me in that clip was she talked about there’s two pieces that were related to each other, informed decisions that have the biggest results. And that was really what Clariti was about. How do you make informed decisions when it feels like you have all of these different variables? We wanted to make it easier. And that’s what Clariti is about. We want to make it easier to make those decisions, so you can have bigger results, because one of the variables that you can’t get more of is time. So how do you make the smartest decision for the things that you are working on and the time that you have? And we hope that Clariti can be a tool that can help you do that.

Bjork Ostrom: We’d love for you to be one of the first 500 users, as is the case with Ashley. And a big thank you to Ashley again for sharing her story. Thanks. So you can go to clariti.com/food if you’re interested in signing up, getting a little demo of how it works, and seeing if it’s a good fit for your account or for your site. And would love for you to check it out. Let us know if you have any questions, and again, it’s clariti.com if you want to learn a little bit more. That’s Clariti with an I. All right, that’s a wrap for this little ad read. Let’s go ahead and jump into today’s episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hello, hello, hello. This is Bjork Ostrom and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We are having a conversation today with Cree. She has a blog called Cooking with Bliss. And one of the things that is most important from this conversation, she’s going to be talking about this, but it’s all about focus. We talk about this here and there on the podcast, but I really love that in November of 2019, she had this moment where she just thought, you know what, I’m going to focus. And in an effort to avoid overwhelm, said, I’m not going to do Pinterest, not going to do Instagram, not going to do TikTok, Snapchat, not going to do all the things. I’m just going to focus on my blog. And she had a goal and she wanted to get to a point where she was working with an ad network, with Mediavine.

Bjork Ostrom: She got to that point, and she talks about what it was like to earn her first thousand dollars, $2,000, as that started to become a real thing, a real side hustle, as she was earning a significant amount of income from her blog, while also working within her full-time job. She likes her job, and that’s a good spot for her. Not that you would never transition out of working within that role, but she talks about what that’s been like, and that’s what we’re doing for this series. This is number two out of a three-part series, all about working with a full-time job. Cree talks about what that’s like, not only to be working and building a blog successfully with a full-time job, but also with her family. She talks about what it’s like to have commitments outside of job and outside of her blog, like making sure that her kids get where they need to get for athletic events and school things.

Bjork Ostrom: And it’s a lot to juggle, but she’s done it and she’s had success with it. And that’s what we’re after, right? We’re after slow but continual growth, showing up every day, and focusing on work that has an impact. And Cree’s going to talk about what that was like for her, some of the decisions she made along the way, what it was like to hit this point of feeling burnt out and what she did to reset and focus in, and how she found success out of that. It’s going to be a great conversation. I know you’re going to love it.

Bjork Ostrom: If you want to join in on the conversation, a good way to do that would be going to the Food Blogger Pro or joining the Food Blogger Pro Facebook podcast group. You can just search Food Blogger Pro Podcast and it will come up as a group. You can apply to be a part of that. We ask questions before somebody comes on, and sometimes after a podcast goes live, we ask folks to jump in and leave a response for any follow-up questions that might have come out of the episode. So be sure to check that out at foodbloggerpro.com/facebook, and that will redirect you to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast group. All right, let’s jump into this conversation with Cree. Cree, welcome to the podcast.

Cree Carraway: Thank you for having me, Bjork. I really appreciate it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s going to be a fun conversation about this series that we’re doing. It’s a series focusing on what it’s like to blog with a full-time job. And you’re in this interesting position where you have your work and you have your side hustle as your blog, and you’ve had some success with your site and you’re getting some traction. And now it’s like, okay, this is a legitimate business. We’re going to talk about that, what that looks like, kind of the mechanics of it.

Bjork Ostrom: But before we do that, I want to hear about November 2019 when you were at this inflection point. And it sounds like it was this point where you had some considerations around, do I do this? Am I burnt out? Is it too much? Take us back to that point and where your headspace was at.

Cree Carraway: Yes, Bjork, for sure. So I had, as you mentioned, so much burnout. I had taken a three-month break, at one point four months, five months. And so I remember in November 2019, I decided to make a peach cobbler recipe. And excuse me, during that time, I hadn’t been really consistent, but I figured, okay, Thanksgiving is coming around. I’m going to make a peach cobbler recipe. And at that time, I hadn’t really focused on Google analytics. And so one day after making, or I think it may have been a week or so after making the peach cobbler recipe, I decided to look at my analytics, and I was shocked that I had for that month, from November 1st through, I don’t know, a couple days before Thanksgiving, I had 15,000 sessions. And so I was shocked because I was usually used to seeing maybe 75 sessions, 150, and then it jumped up to 350 at some point.

Cree Carraway: But November 2019, I felt as though it was a turning point for me. And so with 15,000 sessions, I’m thinking, okay, now I can really, I feel motivated. I can really focus on trying to get into Mediavine. So at that time, that was my goal. So I decided, I’m just going to focus on SEO. I’m not going to try to do all the things. I didn’t know what was going on with Pinterest. So I just threw that out the door. I felt as though I was spending too much time on Instagram, but I just felt like the return on investment was not great at all. So I just really just focused on just trying to get into Mediavine. And so in June of 2020, I was at, I think 24,000 or so sessions, close to 25,000. And so I decided to apply to Mediavine, and I was so happy that I had reached that goal.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And so at that point you apply, you get accepted, and you’re able to then start running ads. I feel like there’s a couple steps along the way. So when you’re in the very beginning stages, it’s like, wow, somebody came and they visited my site. I still remember that in the super early stages for Pinch of Yum, when we’d post something and be like, wow, 10 people yesterday. And I have friends who aren’t in the food space, but like a mentor of mine who writes about philosophy and faith, and helped him kind of early stages get set up with a blog. And he’s like, there’s somebody from Indonesia who visited my site. And it’s just really exciting in those early stages.

Bjork Ostrom: And then comes a point where you think, okay, what does it look like to have a new mile marker? So a thousand people in a month, whatever it might be, and having these markers along the way, do you feel like in the early stages you had those? What were you anchoring off of? What was your goal in the early stages that you were shooting for? Or was it kind of like, hey, I just know that I want to create some money from this and build this into something that is a business? And that was a little bit nebulous. Where did you land in the early stages?

Cree Carraway: Well, are you referring to before November 2019?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right. At that point, you’re like, hey, I know that I want to build this up to a point where I can apply to an ad network. Was that always the case, always something that you’d wanted to do?

Cree Carraway: Well, a little bit of an interesting story. So prior to food blogging, I had an online boutique. And so to make a long story short there, I wasn’t working with the best people and it just felt like work. I actually ended up hating it so much. And I just decided to just let that business dissolve.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So this was a business that you had started.

Cree Carraway: Yes, it was a business I had started.

Bjork Ostrom: And what did you learn in going through that with starting a new business?

Cree Carraway: Well, a couple of things I learned was, well, the thing that I learned the most was when you’re hiring someone, to try to understand why you’re hiring them. And what I mean by that is I remember I hired a company to run Twitter at the time. And so I really didn’t know about Twitter. I really didn’t know how to manage it. I really just didn’t know too much about Twitter. And so I hired this particular company to run Twitter for me. And so one day I had gotten like thousands of visitors, or not visitors, I’m sorry. What do you call it when someone, I don’t know, what’s it called when someone…

Bjork Ostrom: Like a Twitter follower?

Cree Carraway: Yes. There you go. I’m sorry.

Bjork Ostrom: Like suddenly there’s this huge increase in your followers on Twitter.

Cree Carraway: Twitter followers. Yes, exactly. So I was really excited about that. And as days went on, I felt, well, actually as weeks went on, I felt as though no one was engaging. And I’m thinking, well, at least one person should be engaging. And so I did my research, and so I realized that a lot of the followers were from India. And as I looked at the accounts, it seemed as though those particular accounts were not active.

Bjork Ostrom: So it’s like you get these followers, but it doesn’t really mean anything, because it just-

Cree Carraway: Exactly, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Like a vanity number.

Cree Carraway: Right. Exactly. And so once I realized that, I’m thinking, gosh, had I known a little bit about Twitter or how to manage it, maybe I could have caught that early. And so basically, I decided to let that company go, but in the meantime I had dished out quite a bit of money to them. And so then from that point on, I said, when I hire someone I’m going to know a little bit about what I’m hiring them for, so I can intelligently ask questions and things of that nature. But in any event, I decided to dissolve that company. And I felt like such a failure, because Cree does not just let things dissolve and not do anything about it.

Cree Carraway: And so once I did that, I felt as though a load was lifted. However, I still wanted to build a company. And so I did little bit of research online and I looked up lucrative online businesses, and somehow Pinch of Yum showed up on the list. And so I thought, wow, I really do enjoy cooking recipes. And so from that point on, somehow I came across Food Blogger Pro. And so at that point, I figured, okay, this is something that I really enjoy doing, and this is something that I think I can make into a business if I stay focused and do research and things of that nature.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So you knew, hey, this is something, and that combination is such a great combination, where you are passionate about it and you want to hustle to build it into a business. And sometimes people are just passionate and they don’t have the hustle. And sometimes people have a lot of hustle, but they don’t have the passion for what it is.

Bjork Ostrom: If you can combine those two things, what a powerful thing that can be, and yet, can still be overwhelming. And so at that point in November of 2019, it’s kind of like, gosh, this is a lot, there’s endless things for me to do. So how did you make the decision to say, you know what, I’m not going to do any social media, I’m just going to focus on search?

Cree Carraway: Well, because I knew that SEO would somehow get me to where I needed to be. I felt like that was the only thing. I knew that just doing Instagram or Pinterest was not going to get me there, so I had to really hone in and focus on SEO because in my mind that was the one thing that could get me into Mediavine. I mean, because I just knew, just doing Instagram alone would not even get me there at all. So I had to focus on that one thing.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. I had a conversation with a friend, friend of a friend, who does just Instagram and TikTok, and he does like birth order humor. So older child, middle child, younger child, and how they respond to homework or whatever it might be. His name is TJ. And anyways, what’s interesting about it is like, oh, he’s in an industry doing work where he doesn’t think at all about traffic. All that he thinks about is followers and engagement. And the income that he produces is through sponsored content.

Bjork Ostrom: In our world, where you’re thinking about advertising dollars, if you’re not thinking about sponsored content or working with brands, it really is about traffic. And with the changes in Pinterest, one of the main ways to get that traffic is through search. There’s also direct. You can get featured, things like that, but it really is, in our world, a huge driver of traffic is search. And that being so important if you are looking to monetize via ads.

Bjork Ostrom: And so if I’m understanding your story, you have this inflection point. November, you’re like, wait a minute, this is something where if I improve this, these numbers a little bit, then I can actually go through the process of applying to be part of this ad network, to start to create some significant income in a way where you’re also not having to have inventory, right?

Cree Carraway: Right. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: So if you have an online boutique, you might have $2,000 in revenue, but then you have 1500 or $1000 in expenses. That looks different than what in some ways can be pure profit. You have to buy food and do the work, and sometimes you’ll maybe hire pieces of that out, but that’s one of the great things about this and one of the reasons why it makes it lucrative, is because you don’t have a lot of back-office overhead or cost of goods.

Bjork Ostrom: So when you first applied, when you got to that point, what did those first few months look like? And was that motivating to start to see 300, 400, $500? What did that look like, that amount? And then did that encourage you to work more on it, once you saw the possibilities?

Cree Carraway: Yes. So, okay. So as I said, I applied June 1st. June 30th, I was actually approved. And so I believe I received my first payout in September. And so it was for $431. And I’m like, oh my gosh, for some reason I just expected $100, possibly $100.

Bjork Ostrom: And the best part about this is you have a cheerleader in the background. What is the name of your dog in the background? Any time that a dog can make an appearance, it’s a wonderful thing.

Cree Carraway: Right? Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. Her name is Ebony, and she’s a Chihuahua mix. She’s actually in the backyard, and I didn’t realize the window was cracked. So my apology for that.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s okay.

Cree Carraway: Hopefully she’ll stop soon.

Bjork Ostrom: No, we all get it in this work-from-home reality that we live in.

Cree Carraway: Right. Exactly. So as I mentioned, so my first payout was $431, and I was blown away by that $431. So I assumed, okay, so my next paycheck will be around $431, maybe $500. And it was for $1061. And I just could not believe it. I was so encouraged, and I felt even more motivated. And so I remember saying to my mom, gosh, what if one day I can pay my mortgage through my payout from Mediavine if I wanted to?

Cree Carraway: And so my next payout was $2,550. And so it just went from there. However, then when you reach January-

Bjork Ostrom: It changes.

Cree Carraway: Yeah. I’m like, oh my gosh.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s not so exciting.

Cree Carraway: Right, exactly. So I remember January of 2021, yeah, 2021, my January check, I believe it was 1500. Oh my gosh. But after the first quarter, it gets better.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And for those, most people are educated in that world right now, but the idea being January, advertising budgets reset, scales way back. So even if you have more traffic, everybody’s suddenly interested in cooking and eating well and your traffic might go up, but earnings usually will go down in that first quarter. So you see that. And even quarter to quarter, you see that, like the end of a quarter money spend within advertising budgets will go up and reset. So quarter three into quarter four, you’ll see that. So that’s why that sweet spot is really December, at the end of the year, November into December.

Cree Carraway: Yeah, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: November and December. So what were the things that you did, and what were the things you didn’t do that were most helpful for you to get to that point where suddenly you’re creating a substantial amount of income from your site?

Cree Carraway: You know, I went through the SEO, I can’t remember the actual course name that’s on Food Blogger Pro. And I went through, I went back and read through the SEO threads. I mean, those can actually be overwhelming too, because there are so many, but I just tried to just every day, just take in what I could. And I listen to a podcast. I pretty much listened to all of Casey’s podcast.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, Casey Markee.

Cree Carraway: Yes, Casey Markee. Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Who’s a Food Blogger Pro expert, you’ll see him in the forums in those SEO threads.

Cree Carraway: Yes, exactly. And I pretty much did that and I started to be more intentional about my title. And so yeah, that’s what I pretty much did. I just really just, I just really dove into SEO, whatever information that I found was reliable, was valid. I mean, obviously all of Casey’s information is valid, and things of that nature. So I just really, really focused on his different podcasts or podcasts that he was on.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So do you remember anything that was a significant learning piece for you? Like, oh, actually I need to spend time in Google search console or keyword research? Was there anything along the way that for you was significant in terms of a moment where you didn’t know something and then you did know something and applying that new thing was impactful?

Cree Carraway: Right. Yes, totally. So I started with Keysearch. I think they have a free version, I believe, if I’m not mistaken. But anyhow, I remember using that for, or maybe they have a trial period. I can’t remember. But anyhow, I used their free service for I believe two weeks. And so I found that to be very, very valuable.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s the keyword optimization research tool, Keysearch.

Cree Carraway: Yes. For sure. Yes. And so I felt as though I would really benefit from their paid version, so I purchased their paid version. And so I decided to really focus on a monthly search that was around, I don’t know, 2,400 at the time. And then-

Bjork Ostrom: 2,400 in terms of volume?

Cree Carraway: Yes. Yes. I’m sorry. 2,400 in terms of volume. Yes. And so then I started joining-

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about why you picked that number, just out of curiosity?

Cree Carraway: Yes. Well, I believe I recall Casey mentioning in one of his podcasts, maybe 2000 or so monthly searches is a good point to start with. Don’t quote me exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. But the idea being that you don’t want to start, like if you’re in the early stages, you don’t want to start with chocolate chip cookies, which might have 100,000.

Cree Carraway: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Because that’s going to be super competitive. So you want to find this kind of sweet spot, and you can start to think about, okay, if I can rank number one or two or three for a hundred pieces of content that get 2000 searches, you can start to play the numbers game a little bit and say, so if you’re in spot number one for 50 of those, and then you get a thousand of those clicks, that might be 50,000 page views in a month. So you can start to be kind of strategic and think about how you can get those lower volume, but less competition keywords. So that’s kind of what you were thinking about.

Cree Carraway: Exactly. Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Super smart.

Cree Carraway: Exactly. Yes. And so then eventually, I got a little brave, and so I started going for, I think the highest during that time I went for was 4,400. But even still, I still stay within that range. Sometimes I get a little bit more brave and I may go for 6,000 monthly search, but that’s pretty much the tool that I use. And sometimes I’ll go to Semrush just to kind of gauge numbers there because when you look at these different keyword tools, sometimes the volume can, I don’t know, it’s a bit different in terms of the keyword that you would like to aim for. So sometimes-

Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s one of the realizations that is important within this world, is like the data is isn’t a hundred percent accurate. It’s the best guess. These tools don’t have direct access to Google necessarily. Sometimes they can pull in information via API, but it’s like, eh, it kind of is a general, it’s like if I was here and somebody was like, how do you get to Duluth, Minnesota? It’d be like, well, directionally, you kind of go north and if you get to Grand Marais, you’ve gone too far. Like that would be… It’s that versus an exact calculation of this is exactly how many searches it is. So did you have a paid account for Semrush?

Cree Carraway: No, I did not. However, recently I decided to use their paid version for a couple months, but I didn’t see a huge benefit, so I decided to cancel that, but I still stick with Keysearch. Oh, and you know what I did recently, also, which was so valuable, I took, what course was that, it’s called Cooking with Keywords, with I believe her name is Aleka, if I’m not mistaken. But that was a really valuable course, as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. And the idea with that is all-around keyword research for food bloggers.

Cree Carraway: Yes. Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things that I love about your story, Cree, is two pieces, one of the things that I heard you talk about was this idea of continual progress. So it’s not like you’re going to try and do everything. You’re not going to try and do Pinterest and Twitter and Instagram. You’re going to focus on one thing and make a little bit of progress on that, which we love that idea. The other thing that I think is so great is continual learning. Not only are you showing up every day and doing the work, but as you’re doing that, you’re also being intentional to learn along the way.

Bjork Ostrom: And what happens when you combine those two things is you get to the point where you are right now, where you see success, you see growth. I’m curious to know when you look at today, we’re recording this in January, and when you look back to November 2019, what has the progress that you’ve made with your blog, your business, what has that done for you? What is the change that’s happened because of the progress that you’ve made? Do you feel like you think differently? Are you acting differently? I’m curious to know what that’s done for you.

Cree Carraway: Actually, it’s kind of more on a personal level. And what I mean by that is when I see, well, I have two kids, and so they see me work really hard to build this thing. And so it’s so interesting that, I mean, well, my husband, he’s a big cheerleader of mine also. But so are my kids. And for example, when they see me working really hard to create this recipe or working on the blog post to have out during a certain period of time, my son, he’ll come up, he’ll pat me on the back. He’ll say, “Good job, mom.”

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, that’s awesome.

Cree Carraway: Or my daughter, she’ll say, and so I sometimes I’ll look at my Google analytics, and in my mind, I’m always trying to beat my number from the previous week. And so I’m like, “Oh man.” And then she says, “What’s wrong?” And so then I said, “Gosh, last week I had, I don’t know, 2,500 sessions on Saturday, but now I only have 2,400 sessions.” And she’s like, “Mom, but you have 2,400 sessions, Mom.” And I’m like, “You know what, you’re right.” And so she’s like, “Mom, you’re doing great.”

Cree Carraway: And so when you have kids and you encourage them in school, you encourage them in their sports or whatever extracurricular activity they may have, I encourage them so much, I’m their biggest cheerleader. And when I hear them saying the same thing to me, I’m like, okay, they were really listening, because sometimes you think, are your kids really listening? And so when they actually use the same words that I use for them, I’m like, okay, I think I’m doing a pretty good job as a mom.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Yeah, totally. It’s an opportunity for you to do a hard thing and your kids to support you in that.

Cree Carraway: Exactly, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: And what a cool thing for the relationship that usually is like us as parents supporting our kids in hard things, to give them the opportunity to support us or to support you. That’s really cool. I love that.

Cree Carraway: Yes, exactly. So it just makes my heart melt because if they see me working really hard and trying to build this business, I feel as though that’s going to always stick with them and they’re going to do the same thing as they get older. They’re going to remember, well, mom and dad worked really hard to build this business, or whatever it may be, but just to just stay motivated, keep going, and just keep thriving.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Love that, Cree. So you’re at the point now where you are making multiple thousands of dollars monthly from your blog, unless it’s January. But also, as far as I understand, have you transitioned this into your full focus, or do you have a full-time job that you’re also working on? What does that balance look like, and how are you making decisions around where to allocate your time?

Cree Carraway: Well, this is a side hustle. I do have a full-time job. And a couple things. So I have a full-time job, and my son, he’s a high school athlete. And so his schedule is-

Bjork Ostrom: Bonkers.

Cree Carraway: Crazy. It’s crazy. So I feel…

Bjork Ostrom: What sport does he play?

Cree Carraway: Basketball.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, great.

Cree Carraway: Yes. And so I feel as though-

Bjork Ostrom: And basketball’s like a year-round sport. You’re traveling, you’ve got practices.

Cree Carraway: Training.

Bjork Ostrom: It just never ends.

Cree Carraway: It never … Right, exactly. And so I feel as though I have two full-time jobs, and obviously he’s priority. And so I try to, when it comes to my blog, I kind of balance it around his schedule, unless my husband is available to take him to practice, to training, to traveling to games, to this and that.

Bjork Ostrom: Whatever it is.

Cree Carraway: Exactly, exactly. But I really try to do what I can on the weekends, but I mean, he has games on the weekends too, but I really do try to sneak in one or two recipes if I can. I really, to be honest, I have no set schedule. I try to, but it doesn’t always happen because of his schedule or because of my work schedule. I work from home, but still, it can be challenging just trying to focus on the blog. And what I have done, if I can, if my workload is pretty manageable, during my lunch, I may sneak in a quick recipe. And then on the weekends, I’ll write the post about it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I remember when I was working at the nonprofit, I would do like a lunch sprint work. I’d go to Subway, I’d sit down with my computer, and I’d get in, if I was taking like a one-hour lunch break, which would be on the longer end, I’d get in like a 35-minute sprint. And so it ends up being early mornings, lunch, evenings. A lot of times I’d get home and I’d work evenings and weekends. And I think it’s one of the advantages, one of the advantages being that it is, you can slot it in where you have time.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think for some people it’s an issue, like, ah, it’d be really nice to be scheduled and to follow a schedule, but one of the advantages is different than other side hustles, is maybe you’re just totally gassed on a Friday night and you don’t have the kind of mental or physical bandwidth to invest in it. So you just say, you know what, I’m not going to work on Friday night, but then you can on Saturday morning, and you can figure out when it works for you. So do you have thoughts…

Cree Carraway: That’s typically what I do. And sometimes I’m up at two, three in the morning and sometimes I get my best work done because everyone’s asleep.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that by choice that you’re getting up then, or you just can’t sleep?

Cree Carraway: Well, it’s both. It just depends. Bjork, it just depends. That’s all I could say.

Bjork Ostrom: We have somebody, Daniel on our team starts his days at 4:00 AM, and I’m always just trying to wrap my head around that. I think I’m doing well when I get up at six and get everything in order. And then people like you and Daniel get up at three and start your day.

Cree Carraway: Right. Exactly. Exactly. But so it really depends. And so I look at it like this. Building a business takes sacrifice, hard work, and if I need to get up at two, three in the morning to get something done, and it’s out of my brain, I just want it out of my brain. That’s one less thing in my brain. You know, I do it, I feel good about it. At least it’s done, and I could just go on about my day. And if I want to work on it again, Sunday morning or something like that, I’ll do that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. I love that. So in this series, we’ve talked to people about what that’s like, to build their business while also having a full-time job, and it’s kind of a spectrum, where some people are like, you know what, I love what I’m doing in my day to day job. And I also love blogging, and that’s a really good balance between those two things. And other people would say, you know what, I would love to do this full-time and that’s kind of my pursuit, and my hope would be to eventually build it into a full-time thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Where do you land on that spectrum? What would your hope be when you look out two, three, four years, one, two, three years, whatever the timeline is in regards to what this represents for you and for work?

Cree Carraway: So first I want to say that I have a really good position. I get paid very well. But I would like to turn this into a full-time. I would eventually like for this to be my full-time job. I don’t think I’ve reached my potential doing the food blogging. I have so many ideas as to what I want to do. So ultimately, that’s my goal, is to one day soon turn this into a full-time job.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And how you’re doing it is a really great way to do it. It’s similar to what we did, which is fitting it in when you can. Maybe the thing that you sacrifice most is time. It’s not like you have these like weekly spa days where you’re taking four hours on a Saturday to unwind. Because you have family, you have your full-time gig, and then you have this. And not that you never get to the place of having more margin, but what that allows is for a more kind of smoother on ramp into this potentially being your full-time thing. And as much as possible as you can draw that out, I think that’s great.

Bjork Ostrom: As opposed to sometimes what people do, and to each their own, would be like, hey, I’m going to do this, I’m going to make it my full-time thing, and I’m going to start today, even though I don’t know what it will look like or where the income will come. But if you can get to a place where you build something where it replaces your full-time income, which that was the case for Lindsay and I, she was a teacher, I worked at a nonprofit. So we didn’t have this huge lifestyle that we had to accommodate, but we were able to get it to the point where we said, you know what, we’re at that point where we feel comfortable then making that switch, and we have some history with knowing that that’s been the case. That becomes a great switching point.

Bjork Ostrom: So what about for people who want to go on a similar journey? They’re interested in following a similar path and saying, gosh, that would be really cool, if I could get to the point where my site was making a thousand, $2,00, $3,000 a month, that would be life-changing for me. You’ve gotten to that point. What would you tell them in terms of advice and insight that you have, being on this side of that initial journey?

Cree Carraway: So what really worked for me, once I realized, well, a couple things. So for me, what I had to do, I had to really stop focusing on the big bloggers. So I had to really just stop following, because I felt as though that was a distraction for me. And of course, the comparison game comes into play. And so I would say just really focus, and I know this may sound cliche, but just really focus on what you see as your vision. And once you see your vision, I think that everything else will kind of fall into place and that you would really come to a place to where it feels authentic.

Cree Carraway: Because I know for me at the beginning, I felt like nothing was working because I wasn’t being authentic. I mean, I felt as though I was trying to write the way other bloggers were writing. I felt as though I had to kind of just create recipes based on what other bloggers were doing. I felt nothing was coming from me, really. And I struggled with that so much. I just felt like I was not moving forward, until the moment I’m like, you know what, I just need to stop following other people and just focus on what I really want to do with this blog. And like I mentioned to you earlier, I had to pivot so many different times, because nothing seemed right. But now it does. I mean, but it took time. It took time. Once I realized this is my thing, I’m the director of this show, and I’m going to do it this way.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. So how would you describe your vision right now?

Cree Carraway: As far as where I want to take the blog?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Like one of the things I heard you say was just really understand what your vision is and align with that. And I’m curious to know what your vision is.

Cree Carraway: Right. Okay. So basically, well, earlier on, I wanted to have a niche, but I just couldn’t find the right niche. And so I tried to do the healthy food route. At the beginning, I felt as though everything was focused on quinoa. I made a couple quinoa recipes, but I don’t really like quinoa. And so I remember a few years ago, I think it was in 2017 or so, somewhere up in there, I did Whole30. But I just did Whole30 because I had a sweet tooth and I just wanted to challenge myself to see if I can go a month without sweets and cutting all this other stuff out.

Cree Carraway: And so then during that time, I’m like, oh, maybe my niche will be Whole30, but then I’m thinking, why would I do that when there are so many more successful Whole30 bloggers, and Alex of The Defined Dish, she was just killing it. So I’m like, okay, that doesn’t make sense for me to do that. And so then I thought, you know what, I’m just going to post based on how I eat. I mean, I eat healthy already, but I don’t have to focus on quinoa and all these other dishes, you know?

Bjork Ostrom: And these are all the pivots that you were talking about along the way.

Cree Carraway: Yes. And so then right now, my vision has been to just focus on how I cook for my family, whether it’s a healthy dish, a dessert, some type of bread, whatever it may be. So my vision is just to stick to how I cook for my family, because that’s what I do. And because that’s what I do, that’s going to be easier for me to create posts around how I feed my family, if that makes sense.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And what’s great about that is it doesn’t require you to kind of bend in a certain way exactly to get somewhere.

Cree Carraway: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s like, hey, if you stopped blogging tomorrow, this is still who you would be.

Cree Carraway: Exactly, yep.

Bjork Ostrom: I feel like if we can reflect the closest version of who we are, and I feel similar in a way where if you and I were hanging out and the record button on this podcast, it wasn’t flashing red, but it was just you and I having coffee, I think I would be curious about the same things and be asking you the same questions, because it’s just a world that I’m curious about. And so point being, I think for us as creators, the closer that we can get to how we operate normally, the better, and it doesn’t mean that you kind of are willy-nilly and just do whatever you want.

Bjork Ostrom: Like for me, it’s not, I’m not going to do a podcast episode on self-driving cars, even though Lindsay has this theory that if you talk to me long enough, no matter where we start in conversation, like you and I could start talking about quinoa, and if we talk long enough, it would come back to self-driving cars. But idea being that, hey, as much as possible, how can you get closest, your content reflecting who your truest self is, which is what I hear you saying, which is a really cool thing. Yeah, that’s great.

Bjork Ostrom: So as we come to a close, I’d be curious to know, well, we’ll talk about where people can find you and follow along with you. And the great thing is you’re starting to do a little bit more on social, which you can talk about, but we’ll talk about that, but let’s say you were having a conversation with yourself. This is something that, talking about the coffee shop conversation, you were sitting down with yourself in 2019, and you had a minute and you’re like, here’s what Cree from the future is going to tell Cree of the past. Here’s my advice for you. What would that advice be that you’d give to yourself of two, three years ago?

Cree Carraway: Right. I mean, pretty much what I just stated about just really focusing on your own vision and just staying true to yourself. And I say that because that’s what got me over the hump, really just … And to me, I feel as though, I believe I had mentioned this to you also, is that there’s so much noise out there on the internet, in the food space, here and there on social media, Pinterest, and it can be so overwhelming.

Cree Carraway: So really, you have to just know what to take in, just what to take in and what’s going to help you progress slowly. I mean, perfection, don’t go for perfection. It’s all about just progressing slowly. And that’s another thing. I think trying to be perfect held me back at the beginning. And I still struggle with that, but I say just get it out there and I can try to perfect it along the way.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that idea of perfecting along the way, I feel like it allows perfectionists to have progress over perfection, when you say, you know what, like, let’s just ship this. If you really want to, six months from now, you can come back and improve it a little bit. But it doesn’t have to be perfect before you ship it.

Cree Carraway: Right. I mean, but I mean, that doesn’t mean that you put garbage out there, obviously.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. There’s a balance with that.

Cree Carraway: Exactly. Yeah. That’s my point.

Bjork Ostrom: And the other thing that I think is important to point out, as we wrap up here, is this idea of protecting yourself a little bit from the noise and chatter. And there’s a balance with that because it’s like you still want to know what’s happening, but I almost view it as opt-in content consumption. I think podcasts are maybe a good example of that. Courses would be a good example of that, where you’re saying, I need to learn and want to learn about this thing, so I’m going to seek that out.

Bjork Ostrom: But there’s something about kind of the mental gymnastics that you have to do to avoid being riled up in some way, if somebody’s like, hey, flashing red light over here, there’s this thing, be aware of this, or this thing over here, be aware of this. And it’s really hard for that to not grab your brain and then you to be consumed by that. And so there’s something about the sanity of dialing down the volume on inputs, especially inputs that you can’t control what the content is, and instead dialing up focus in on demand learning. Does that resonate? Do you feel like that was along the lines of what you were doing?

Cree Carraway: Yes, for sure. For sure. 100%.

Bjork Ostrom: So Cree, where can people follow along with what you’re up to, find some of those old quinoa dishes that you posted, and maybe some of the more recent ones as well?

Cree Carraway: Right. Well, you can find me at cookingwithbliss.com, on Instagram, cookingwithbliss. I archived all of my old posts as of yesterday. So I don’t have any posts there right now. My plan for 2022 is to, I don’t know, just brainstorm on some type of strategy for Instagram. On Pinterest, I’m at cookingwithblis, with one S at the end.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. I just want to point this out because you’ve done something that we’ve talked about a lot on the podcast and you’ve done it well, which is drawing a line in the sand and saying, we’ve mentioned this a couple times, but I think it’s important to come back to it, I’m not going to do all of these things, I’m going to do one thing and do it well. And what’s great about that in this last section, is it doesn’t mean that you don’t do everything forever, but it does mean that you get really good at that thing.

Bjork Ostrom: And then at some point you say, you know what? I think I’m ready to roll in this additional thing. And what I hear you saying is like, I think I’m ready to maybe roll in Instagram. Like to some degree, it’s not necessarily complete mastery, but you have some level of mastery of a certain thing. You know your plan, you’ve stuck with it, and now it’s folding something else in. I think that’s awesome and super wise.

Cree Carraway: And one other thing I wanted to mention is, I don’t know, maybe this will resonate with some of our food blogging friends, but I was always afraid of email. And so before, I guess around, I don’t know, maybe the second week of October, I decided to create a quick start guide around perfect holiday cooking. I created like a five day series. And so I did that.

Cree Carraway: And then the last week of December, I decided to create this January healthy cooking challenge. And from the second week of October till today, I have 118 extra email subscribers. So that was my focus. One of my goals in 2022 is to focus on email marketing. And my point in saying that, it isn’t as scary as I thought it was. And so to our friends out there, if they haven’t started email marketing, just try it, it’s not that bad. And I thought it was really, truly bad at first.

Bjork Ostrom: Bad meaning like difficult?

Cree Carraway: I mean, well, yeah, bad in terms of difficult. I just thought it was going to be so time-consuming. I mean, I’m still trying to understand it, don’t get me wrong, but my point is that I tried it and I got I believe 114 or 118 more email subscribers.

Bjork Ostrom: And the awesome thing about that is with email, it just layers. So now that you have that, you do the work once, and that becomes a new kind of multiplier on your content where people come, they’ll maybe discover that, they’ll sign up. Whereas before, that just didn’t exist. People didn’t have that option to sign up. And even if it’s a single digit percentage, which it is with most people of email, people who subscribe over email, it still is a multiplier on your content that has a lasting impact. So a great little note to wrap up on here. Cree, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. It was a joy to talk with you. Really appreciate it.

Cree Carraway: Thank you, Bjork. This was so fun. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s a wrap for this episode. Thanks again to Cree for coming on and talking about her journey to building up her side hustle. And it’s such a great moment when that work that you’ve been putting in starts to translate to in some ways passive income, it’s not completely passive, right? We all know that we’re having to continually invest time and energy and maintenance, but it’s the kind of income where maybe you have a busy weekend and you don’t work on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but maybe your blog earns a couple hundred dollars. What an amazing thing that is.

Bjork Ostrom: And Cree talked about what it was like for her to get to that point. And it’s always motivational to hear other people who have done it, and other people who have done it with the regular constraints of life, a full-time job, family, all the things that come along with that. So thanks to Cree for coming on and sharing her story, and thanks to you for tuning in and listening. We really appreciate it. Make it a great week. Bye-bye.

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