441: FBP Rewind — Blogging with a Full-Time Job – How Focusing on SEO Led to $2,000 Monthly Earnings with Cree Carraway

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A blue photograph of a cassette that reads 'FBP Rewind.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

Welcome to episode 441 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, we’re rewinding back to our episode with Cree Carraway from Cooking With Bliss, which was part 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.

How Focusing on SEO Led to $2,000 Monthly Earnings

For today’s FBP Rewind episode, we’re bringing back our February 2022 interview with Cree Carraway.

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 photograph of tacos with a quote from Cree Carraway's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast that reads, "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


Thank you to our sponsors!

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

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Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode!

Sign up for Clariti today to easily organize your blog content for maximum growth and receive access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing, 50% off your first month, optimization ideas for your site content, and more!

Interested in working with us too? Learn more about our sponsorship opportunities and how to get started here.

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

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti, C-L-A-R-I-T-I. Here’s the question, are you manually keeping track of your blog posts on a spreadsheet or project management tool? Maybe it’s like Airtable or Asana or maybe you’re not even keeping track of anything at all. When it comes to optimizing and organizing your content, how do you know what to change?

How do you know what you’re doing is actually moving the needle? With Clariti, all of that stuff is easier. It’s easier to keep track of things. It’s easier to know if the changes you’re making are having an impact, and that’s why we built it. We realized that we were using spreadsheets and cobbling together a system, and we wanted to create something that did that for you.

Clariti brings together WordPress data, Google data, like Google Search Console and Google Analytics, and it brings all of that information into one place to allow you to make decisions. Also, inform you about the decisions that you’ve made and if they’re having an impact. I could talk on and on about the features, but the best way to understand it is to get in and to work with the tool yourself.

The good news is Clariti’s offering 50% off of your first month if you sign up. You can do that by going to Clariti.com/food. Again, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food to check it out. Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. This is our last episode of 2023. The next time you tune into a new episode, it will be on January 2nd, 2024, which is just crazy to think about. We are wishing you all a really Happy New Year, and rounding out this awesome year of podcast episodes with an amazing Food Blogger Pro Rewind episode.

This will be our last Rewind episode, and it’s a really great interview with Cree Carraway from Cooking with Bliss. This was the second part of our Blogging with a Full-Time Job Series, and this episode really resonated with listeners. We wanted to bring it back and make sure that everyone got a chance to listen to it if you haven’t already. Or if you listened to it when it was first released, you might enjoy listening to it again.

We find that you always get something different out of these episodes depending on where you are in your own blogging journey when you listen to them. In this episode, Cree shares more about how she balances her full-time job with blogging, and how she prioritizes different aspects of running her business in order to avoid overwhelm.

For example, she strategically focused on SEO during this time to increase her site traffic in hopes of joining an ad network, but she decided not to focus on social media instead. She has a really great perspective in terms of balancing everything that’s needed as a blogger, and it’s just a really inspiring episode that we hope you’ll get a lot out of. Without further ado, I’m just going to wish you a Happy New Year and let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: 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. 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. Now it’s like, “Okay, this is a legitimate business.”

We’re going to talk about that, what that looks like, the mechanics of it. But before we do that, I want to hear about November 2019 when you were at this inflection point. 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. I had, as you mentioned, so much burnout. I had taken a three-month break. At one point, four months, five months. I remember in November 2019, I decided to make a peach cobbler recipe. Excuse me, during that time, I hadn’t been really consistent, but I figure, “Okay, Thanksgiving is coming around. I’m going to make a peach cobbler recipe.” At that time, I hadn’t really focused on Google Analytics.

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. I was shocked that I had for that month from November 1st through, I don’t know, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, I had 15,000 sessions. I was shocked because I was usually used to seeing maybe 75 sessions, 150, and then it jumped up to 350 at some point.

But November 2019, I felt as though it was a turning point for me. With 15,000 sessions, I’m thinking, “Okay, now I feel motivated. I can really focus on trying to get into Mediavine.” At that time, that was my goal. 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. I just really just focused on just trying to get into Mediavine. In June of 2020, I was at I think 24,000 or so sessions, close to 25,000. I decided to apply to Mediavine, and I was so happy that I had reached that goal.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. At that point, you apply, you get accepted, and you’re able to then start running ads, where I feel like there’s a couple steps along the way. 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.”

I have friends who aren’t in the food space, but a mentor of mine who writes about philosophy and faith, and helped him early stages get set up with a blog. He’s like, “There’s somebody from Indonesia visited my site.” It’s just really exciting in those early stages. Then comes a point where you think, “Okay. What does it look like to have a new mile marker, so 1,000 people in a month, whatever it might be?”

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 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 29th?

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. Prior to food blogging, I had an online boutique. To make a long story short, there I wasn’t working with the best people.

It just felt like work. I actually ended up hating it so much. I just decided to just let that business dissolve.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This was a business that you had started?

Cree Carraway: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. 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. 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. I hired this particular company to run Twitter for me. One day, I had gotten thousands of visitors, or not visitors. I’m sorry, what do you call when someone, I don’t know, what’s it called?

Bjork Ostrom: Like a Twitter follower or?

Cree Carraway: Yes, there you go.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, sure.

Cree Carraway: I’m sorry.

Bjork Ostrom: Suddenly there’s this huge increase from followers on Twitter.

Cree Carraway: Yes, exactly. I was really excited about that, and as days went on, well, actually as weeks went on, I felt as though no one was engaging. I’m thinking, “Well, at least one person should be engaging.”

I did my research, and so I realized that a lot of the followers were from India. As I looked at the accounts, it seems as though those particular accounts were not active.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s like you get these followers, but it doesn’t really mean anything because it just could be any number.

Cree Carraway: Right, exactly. 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.” Basically, I decided to let that company go, but in the meantime, I had dished out quite a bit of money to them. 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. Once I did that, I felt as though a load was lifted. However, I still wanted to build a company. I did a little bit of research online, and I looked up lucrative online businesses, and somehow Pitch of Yum showed up on the list.

I thought, “Wow, I really do enjoy cooking recipes.” From that point on, somehow I came across Food Blogger Pro. At that point, I figured, “Okay. This is something that I really enjoy doing. 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. You knew, “Hey, this is something.” That combination is such a great combination where you are passionate about it, and you want to hustle to build it into a business.

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.

If you combine those two things, what a powerful thing that can be, and yet can still be overwhelming. At that point in November of 2019, it’s like, “Gosh, this is a lot. There’s endless things for me to do.”

Cree Carraway: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: 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.

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, because I just knew just doing Instagram alone would not even get me at all. That 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 birth order humor. Older child, middle child, younger child, and how they respond to homework or whatever it might be. His name is TJ. 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. 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. 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. That being so important if you are looking to monetize via ads. 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 these numbers a little bit, then I can actually go through the process of applying to be part of this ad networks to start to create some significant income in a way where you’re also not having to have inventory.”

Cree Carraway: Right, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: If you have an online boutique, you might have $2,000 in revenue, but then you have $1,500 or $1,000 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.

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. When you first applied, when you got to that point, what did those first few months look like? Was that motivating to start to see $300, $400, $500? What did that look like, that amount? Then did that encourage you to work more on it once you saw the possibilities?

Cree Carraway: Yes. Okay. As I said, I applied June 1st. June 30th, I was actually approved.

I believe I received my first payout in September, and so it was for $431. I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” For some reason I just expected $100, possibly $100.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah. The best part about this is you have a cheerleader in the background.

Yeah, what is the name of your dog in the background? Anytime 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. 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. As I mentioned, so my first payout was $431, and I was blown away by that $431. I assumed, “Okay, so my next paycheck will be around $431, maybe $500,” and it was for $1,061. I just could not believe it. I was so encouraged and I felt even more motivated.

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?” My next payout was $2,550, and so it just went from there. However, then when you reach January, it changes.

Yeah. I’m like, “Oh my gosh.”

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

Cree Carraway: Right, exactly. I remember January of ’21?

Bjork Ostrom: ’21?

Cree Carraway: Yeah. 2021, my January check, I believe it was $1,500. Oh my gosh. But after the first quarter, it gets better.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For those, most people are educated in that world right now, but the idea being January, advertising budgets reset, scales way back. Even if you have more traffic, everybody’s suddenly interested in cooking and eating well.

Your traffic might go up, but earnings usually will go down in that first quarter, so you see that. Even in quarter to quarter you see that. Like the end of a quarter, money spend within advertising budgets will go up and reset.

Quarter three into quarter four you’ll see that. That’s why that sweet spot is really December at the end of the year, November and December.

Cree Carraway: Yeah, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: 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: I went through the SEO, I can’t remember the actual course name that’s on Food Blogger Pro, and I went back and read through the SEO on Threads.

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. I listened to podcasts. That I pretty much listened to all of Casey’s podcast.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Casey Markee, who is the Food Blogger Pro expert. You’ll see him in the forums in those SEO Threads, yeah.

Cree Carraway: Yes, exactly. I pretty much did that, and I started to be more intentional about my title. Yeah, that’s what I pretty much did. I just really dove into SEO, like whatever information that I found was reliable, was valid.

Obviously, all of Casey’s information is valid and things of that nature. I just really, really focused on his different podcasts or podcasts that he was on.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. 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”?

Or 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. 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. I found that to be very, very valuable.

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

Cree Carraway: Yes. Yes, for sure. Yes. I felt as though I would really benefit from their paid version. I purchased their paid version.

I decided to really focus on a monthly search that was around, I don’t know, 2,400 at the time.

Bjork Ostrom: 2,400 in terms of volume?

Cree Carraway: Yes, yes. I’m sorry, 2,400 in terms of volume. Yes. 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 2,000 or so monthly searches is a good point to start with. Don’t quote me exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. The idea being that if you’re in the early stages, you don’t want to start with chocolate chip cookies, which might have 100,000 because that’s going to be super competitive. You want to find this sweet spot and you can start to think about, “Okay, if I can rank number one or 2:00 or 3:00 for 100 pieces of content that get 2,000 searches.”

You can start to play the numbers game a little bit and say, “If you’re in spot number one for 50 of those, and then you get 1,000 of those clicks, that might be 50,000 page views in a month.” You can start to be strategic and think about how you can get those lower volume, but less competition keywords. That’s what you were thinking about.

Cree Carraway: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s super smart.

Cree Carraway: Yes, exactly. Yes. 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.

Sometimes I’ll go to Semrush just to 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.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think it’s one of the realizations that is important within this world is the data isn’t 100% accurate. It’s the best guess at these tools don’t have direct access to Google necessarily. Sometimes they can pull in information via API, but it 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 go north and if you get to Grand Moray, you’ve gone too far.” It’s that versus an exact calculation of this is exactly how many searches it is. 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.

Bjork Ostrom: Keysearch, yeah.

Cree Carraway: Yeah. 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.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Cree Carraway: If I’m not mistaken. But that was a really valuable course as well.

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

Cree Carraway: Yes, yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This episode is sponsored by CultivateWP, specifically a new offering they have called Cultivate Go. As business owners, I’m talking to you, one of the things we need to get good at is thinking about how we invest in our business. As someone who publishes content online, one of your most important business assets is your website.

But there’s a problem that a lot of us run into when we think about investing into our website, and it’s that it seems like there’s really two options. You have the like DIY, figure it out on your own, get really frustrated, spend a bunch of time, or pay tens of thousands of dollars to have a fully customized design and theme developed. But what if you find yourself in between those two options?

You’re a successful and established blogger, or even a new blogger who wants to invest in the best options, but you don’t have a budget of tens of thousands of dollars. That’s where Cultivate Go comes in. Cultivate Go is an offering from a company called CultivateWP, co-founded by Bill Erickson. An incredible developer that we’ve worked with in the past before we had our own internal team, and Duane Smith, an incredible designer.

For years, they’ve had their calendar filled doing these fully customized sites, but they realize that there’s hundreds of bloggers who want that same level of technology but didn’t have that budget. That’s where Cultivate Go comes in. It’s a semi-custom theme design and white glove site setup. That means that your Cultivate Go site can compete on an even technological playing field with the biggest food blogs in the world.

You choose one of the core themes, you customize it with your logo, your brand colors, your typography. Then the CultivateWP team sets it up on a stage environment, and they can launch your site within one week and the cost is $5,000. It’s that perfect sweet spot for anybody who finds themselves in that in-between stage where you want the best of the best, but you don’t want to have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get it.

If you’re interested in checking that out, go to FoodBloggerPro.com/go or just search Cultivate Go in Google. One of the things that I love about your story, Cree, is that two pieces. One of the things that I heard you talk about was this idea of continual progress. 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. 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. 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 more on a personal level. What I mean by that is what I see, well, I have two kids, and so they see me work really hard to build this thing. It’s so interesting that, well, my husband, he’s a big cheerleader of mine also, but so are my kids.

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: That’s awesome.

Cree Carraway: Or my daughter, and so sometimes I’ll look at my Google Analytics and in my mind, I’m always trying to beat my number from the previous week. I’m like, “Oh, man.” Then she says, “What’s wrong?” 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.” She’s like, “Mom.” She’s like, “Mom, but you have 2,400 sessions, mom.”

I’m like, “You know what? You’re right.” She’s like, “Mom, you’re doing great.” 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. 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?”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.

Cree Carraway: 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: What a cool thing for the relationship that usually is 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. That 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. 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. You’re at the point now where you are making multiple thousands of dollars monthly from your blog, unless it’s January, right?

Cree Carraway: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: 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 of things. I have a full-time job, and my son, he’s a high school athlete, and so his schedule is crazy. It’s crazy.

Bjork Ostrom: What sport does he play?

Cree Carraway: Basketball.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, great.

Cree Carraway: Yes. I feel as though-

Bjork Ostrom: Basketball is like a year-round sport. You’re traveling, you’ve got practices.

Cree Carraway: Yes, training.

Bjork Ostrom: It just never ends.

Cree Carraway: Right, exactly. I feel as though I have two full-time jobs. Obviously, he’s priority, and I try to, when it comes to my blog, I 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, yeah.

Cree Carraway: Exactly, exactly. But I really try to do what I can on the weekends, but he has games on the weekends too, but I really do try to sneak in one or two recipes if I can. I really have 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. 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 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 a one-hour lunch break, which would be on the longer end, I’d get in a 35-minute sprint. It ends up being early mornings, lunch, evenings. A lot of times, I’d get home and I’d work evenings and weekends.

I think it’s one of the advantages being that it is, you can slot it in where you have time. I think for some people it’s an issue. It’d be really nice to be scheduled and 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 mental or physical bandwidth to invest in it.

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. Do you have thoughts?

Cree Carraway: That’s typically what I do. Sometimes I’m up at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning and sometimes I get my best work done because everyone’s sleep.

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

Cree Carraway: Well, it’s both.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Cree Carraway: Yeah, 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 6:00 and get everything in order. Then people like you and Daniel get up at three and start your day.

Cree Carraway: Right, exactly. Exactly, so it really depends. I look at it like this, building a business takes sacrifice, hard work, and if I need to get up at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning to get something done, I just want it out of my brain.

That’s one less thing in my brain. I do it, I feel good about it, at least it’s done. 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, love that. In this series, we’ve talked to people about what that’s like to build their business while also having a full-time job. It’s 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. That’s a really good balance between those two things.”

Other people would say, “You know what? I would love to do this full-time and that’s my pursuit. My hope would be to eventually build it into a full-time thing.” Where do you land on that spectrum? What would your hope be when you look out 2, 3, 4 years, 1, 2, 3 years, whatever the timeline is, in regards to what this represents for you and for work?

Cree Carraway: Okay. 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. Ultimately, that’s my goal is to one day soon turn this into a full-time job.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. 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.

You don’t leave a lot of… It’s not like you have these weekly spa days where you’re taking four hours on a Saturday to unwind.

Cree Carraway: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Because you have family, you have your full-time gig, and then you have this. Not that you never get to the place of having more margin, but what that allows is for a more smoother on-ramp into this potentially being your full-time thing. As much as possible as you can draw that out, I think that’s great.

As opposed to sometimes what people do and teach their own would be like, “Hey, I’m going to do this. I’m going to make it my full-time thing. 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.” We have some history with knowing that that’s been the case. That becomes a great switching point.

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 $1,000, $2,000, $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: What really worked for me once I realized, well, a couple of things. For me, what I had to do, I had to really stop focusing on the big bloggers. I had to really just stop following because I felt as though that was a distraction for me. Of course, the comparison game comes into play. I would say just really, and I know this may sound cliche, but just really focus on what you see as your vision.

Once you see your vision, I think that everything else will fall into place and that you will really come to a place to where it feels authentic. Because I know for me, at the beginning, I felt like nothing was working because I wasn’t being authentic. I felt as though I was trying to write the way other bloggers were writing. I felt as though I had to just create recipes based on what other bloggers were doing.

I felt like nothing was coming from me really, and I struggle 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.” Like I mentioned to you earlier, I had to pivot so many different times because nothing seemed right, but now it does.

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. How would you describe your vision right now?

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

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

Cree Carraway: Right. Okay. Basically, well, earlier on I wanted to have a niche, but I just couldn’t find the right niche. I tried to do the healthy food route.

At the beginning, I felt as though everything was focused on quinoa. I made a couple of quinoa recipes, but I don’t really like quinoa.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Cree Carraway: 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. I just wanted to challenge myself to see if I can go a month without sweets and cutting all this other stuff out. 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?” Alex of The Defined Dish, she was just killing it. I’m like, “Okay, that doesn’t make sense for me to do that.” Then I thought, “You know what? I’m just going to post based on how I eat.” I eat healthy already, but I don’t have to focus on quinoa and all these other dishes.

Bjork Ostrom: These are all the pivots that you were talking about along the way?

Cree Carraway: Yes. 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.

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. Yeah. What’s great about that is it doesn’t require you to bend in a certain way to get somewhere.

Cree Carraway: Exactly, 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: If we can reflect the closest version of who we are. 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. Point being, I think for us as creators, the closer that we can get to how we operate normally, the better.

Maybe becoming it doesn’t mean that you are willy-nilly and just do whatever you want. For me, 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 talked 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 true self is?” Which is what I hear you saying, which is a really cool thing. Yeah, that’s great.

Cree Carraway: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: 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. 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. Pretty much what I just stated about just really focusing on your own vision and just staying true to yourself. To me, and I say that because that’s what got me over the hump really. 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.

Really, you have to just know what to take in, just what to take in and what’s going to help you progress slowly. Perfection, don’t go for perfection. It’s all about just progressing slowly. That’s another thing, I think trying to be perfect helped me back at the beginning. 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? 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. But 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: 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. 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.” But there’s something about 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.”

It’s really hard for that to not grab your brain and then to be consumed by that. There’s something about the sanity of dialing down the volume on inputs, especially inputs that you can’t control what the content is. 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.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great.

Cree Carraway: For sure, 100%.

Bjork Ostrom: 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 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 @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 of 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.

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. Then at some point you say, “You know what? I think I’m ready to roll in this additional thing.” What I hear you saying is, “I think I’m ready to maybe roll in Instagram.”

To some degree, it’s not necessarily a 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 that you’re doing.

Cree Carraway: 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.

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 a five-day series.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Cree Carraway: So I did that. Then the last week of December, I decided to create this January Healthy Cooking Challenge. From the second week of October till today, I have 118 extra email subscribers. That was my focus, one of my goals into 2022 is to focus on email marketing.

My point in saying that, it isn’t as scary as I thought it was. To our friends out there, if they haven’t started email marketing, just try it. It’s not that bad. I thought it was really, truly bad at first.

Bjork Ostrom: Bad meaning difficult or?

Cree Carraway: Well, yeah, bad in terms of difficult. I just thought it was going to be so time-consuming. 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: Yeah. The awesome thing about that is with email, it just layers. Now that you have that, you do the work once and that becomes a new multiplier on your content. Where people will 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.

Even if it’s a single-digit percentage, which it is with most people, of people who subscribe over to email, it still is a multiplier on your content that has a lasting impact. 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.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, hey, Alexa here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Thank you for tuning in. I wanted to let you know that we have a live Q&A coming up. We typically have a live Q&A every single month for our Food Blogger Pro community, for our Food Blogger Pro members.

If you’re not a member or maybe you’re a new member of the community, maybe you don’t know what they are. I wanted to give you a quick rundown on what you could expect from a live Q&A at Food Blogger Pro. Like I mentioned, we have one per month, and in these live Q&As, we typically focus on a specific topic.

Whether that be photography, SEO, WordPress, developing recipes, we cover everything and anything on these live Q&As. Then Bjork or sometimes Bjork and a guest and industry expert, come on and answer all of our community’s questions live. Our community submits questions and then Bjork and whoever is joining him in that specific Q&A, will answer the questions live.

All of our past live Q&As are available for all members. They are just such a great time, and we love being able to connect in a way that’s face-to-face in a virtual setting. If you’re interested in joining our next Q&A and you’re not already a member, be sure to head over to FoodBloggerPro.com/join so you can learn a little bit more about the community and sign up there.

Then if you are already a member of the community, hello, hello. We hope to see you at our next one soon, and you can head over to the live tab whenever you log into the site to get access and register for our next live Q&A. Thanks again for tuning into this episode of the podcast. We appreciate you so much, and we’ll see you next time. Make it a great week.

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