One year ago today, I made public this little blog of mine to the world (aka Facebook.) I created an Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook page dedicated just to my blog. Food blogging had always been something I wanted to do, even though I didn’t know it for awhile. When I was 16 years old, I was taking pictures of practically every meal I made, experimenting to see what I could come up with. I was a self taught cook who learned through trial and error. Then I transitioned into healthier eater which was a whole new way to cook, so I was always experimenting and learning. In the summer of 2014, my fiance finally gave me the push that I needed…and Blue Ridge Babe was born! (Fun Fact – Robbie is the one who came up with my blog name. I got inspiration from Food Babe aka Vani Hari. I wanted a name that wasn’t strictly food, as I wanted to do lifestyle posts as well. I worked behind the scenes for several months, playing with designs and trying to learn as much as possible….there was so much to learn. My awesome friend Seth was nice enough to help me get the tech end going, and on October 19, 2014, I shared the link to my first recipe.
Looking back, I’m surprised I got any posts up at all those next few months. I’d just gotten engaged in August, and we were planning a December wedding – all while going to school and working part time. I don’t remember much except that life was crazy!
My hubby surprised me with this as a gift for my blog anniversary! Seriously though, I’m married to the greatest guy ever. And also, how awesome is this?! It looks like something straight out of Pinterest! He thought of it himself and made it in less than an hour – my uncreative self is in awe of him!
I have really grown and learned so much in the last year, so I thought I would share 20 things that I learned in my first year of food blogging!
1. Blogging Makes Me Happy
I just want to start off on a positive note by saying that blogging makes me happy. I get excited when I create new recipes and photograph them to share on the blog. You know that high that you get when you’re doing one of your favorite things? That’s what I get when I am cooking and creating and blogging.
2. Don’t Compare Yourself To Other Bloggers
I can’t stress this one enough. If there’s one thing I learned, comparing yourself to other bloggers will only end badly. I can’t count how many times that I said “But he/she has only been blogging X amount of time, and they already have so many more views than me” or “Her food photography is so good. I don’t know why I even bother. I suck compared to her.” The truth is that there will always be someone better than me. Always someone more talented, more successful, and more popular. But that doesn’t change the fact that I love blogging. You can’t compare yourself to other bloggers because it’s not fair to you. What I’ve learned is to focus on MY blog and how I can improve myself as a blogger. That’s how I measure my success.
3. Blogging Can Make You Feel Isolated
Although you shouldn’t compare yourself to other bloggers, it always helps to have someone to talk to about tech issues, or anything blog related that you’re struggling with. I have found Food Blogger Pro to be a great resource for any questions I might have. It’s easy to feel isolated if you’ve never talked to another blogger. You might feel really lost with everything that you have to learn. It can be very overwhelming. Having a forum on which you can connect and learn from other bloggers will be a valuable resource.
4. Growth Will Happen
When I first started my blog, I couldn’t imagine ever hitting 8,000 page views. But slowly and steadily, I’ve continued to grow my blog. For the first time ever, I’m sharing my page view stats:
As you can see, growth doesn’t happen in a straight upwards line. I’ve gone up and down in page views, but ultimately they have increased and continue to do so over time. I might not be close to where some bloggers are in a year, but again, see point #2 above. I’m proud of how far I’ve come in a year! It’s a huge improvement for me, and that’s all that matters!
5. Pinterest Is Awesome
One of the biggest tools that I’ve used to grow my blog is Pinterest. I love Pinterest because it’s a great way to get exposure, and it’s free. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. You see, I really like Facebook, but they only show my posts to a tiny percent of people that like my page. I currently have almost 800 likes, and if I don’t pay money to boost a post, it may only reach 15-30 people. How lame is that?! Pinterest is a great way to delve into social media. I joined lots of group boards (time consuming process) and started to create long pins for my posts.
These are a few examples of the pins I’ve created for my recipes. I’ve found that long pins on average get much more engagement and repins. Plus, now that I know how to make them (I use PicMonkey), I can usually make one in 5 minutes or less, which I do when I edit my pictures for a post.
6. It’s Really Convenient to Google Your Own Recipe
Now this isn’t to sound braggy (because I’m really not), but I love the convenience of being able to google my own recipe whenever I want to make it! For example, I have been making my Best Ever Veggie Enchiladas a LOT lately. I’m seriously in love with them…but that’s another rabbit trail. When I make the recipe, I just google “Veggie Enchiladas Blue Ridge Babe” and it’ll pop right up! I’ll then screenshot it on my phone so that I can go straight off the recipe! I love this convenience. I’m bad about keeping track of recipes, so I love that I have it in an online place that is always accessible!
7. Not Every Recipe Will Be a Success
This is something that was hard for me to learn. Not every single recipe that I create will taste good. Ironically, this often happens to something that’s either on a deadline, or that I was really excited about. I’ve just had to learn to accept that I can’t always get it right the first time. Often times it might take me a few trials before I get the perfect combination. A good example of this is my Peanutbutter Cookie Mug Cake. I had the idea for a mug cake, but the first two tries were a bust. The flavor was good but I just couldn’t get the texture. I started to get frustrated that I might not be able to get it just right. Well the third time was the charm!
The trials were totally worth it. This Mug Cake became my #1 most viewed recipe, which still holds today with over 22,000 views and multiple stellar reviews.
8. I Was Surprised By My Most Popular Recipes
This sort of ties into the point above. Some of the recipes that I was so excited to share didn’t get many views. I was sure that I’d just created something so awesome that it would be my new top recipe…and I was wrong. My top recipes are ones that I never would have thought would be – like my Gluten Free Chocolate Mug Cake that I made on a whim. Not knowing what will take off is one of the unknowns in blogging. I’ve tried to do better about not letting myself get down when a recipe doesn’t get as many views as I want. Ultimately, I’m doing this because I love it, everything else is just secondary.
9. It’s Really Easy To Get Discouraged
One of the most difficult challenges that I’ve faced in blogging is that it’s really easy for me to get discouraged. This could happen if I made a fantastic recipe, but the pictures sucked, I posted something and it barely got any likes…the list goes on. There has been more than one occasion that I just wanted to quit. I wanted to give up. I felt like I was going nowhere and that my work was sub par to everything else I was seeing. My sweet husband was my support during these times, always uplifting and encouraging me, and reminding me that I’m doing this because I love it. Which brings us to #10…
10. It’s Ok To Take a Break
It’s ok to take a break from blogging. There have been countless occasions where I’ve experienced “blogger burnout.” I felt like my creativity was sucked dry and that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. When this happens, I’ve learned that it’s best to take a step back, whether that means posting less or stopping altogether for a week or so. I have a very analytical mind, but I also have the need to be creative and to write. When I feel myself burning out on my blog, I will take a break and satisfy the analytical part of my mind, whether through working, or our family spreadsheets, or whatever it may be. When I start blogging again, I feel refreshed and alive, ready to be creative again.
11. Don’t Be Afraid Of What Others Think
This one is huge for me. I am a notorious people pleaser. It comes from feeling like I was never good enough as a child. I am constantly finding myself trying to make other people like me, and if they don’t (or I think they don’t), it crushes me. If someone says something mean about me, I could be upset for hours, or days. I don’t like this part of myself, but I was born sensitive. I’ve had several rude comments on my blog, as well as people I know who don’t understand what I’m doing. Ultimately, I try to focus on the fact that I blog for ME. I love going back to read old Monthly Highlight posts and read about our lives at that time. I love having an online blog of some of my best creations. I love creating, and tweaking and learning. And that’s what matters most, not what people think of me.
12. Food Photography Takes a LOT of Practice
Another big obstacle that I faced was food photography. While I’ve always loved taking pictures, I really knew nothing about photography. Nada. Zilch. I had to teach myself how to improve my photography. I read ebooks, I read other bloggers’ advice, and most importantly I practiced practiced practiced. Although I’m not where I want to me one day (I’d like a way nicer lense at some point), my food photography has vastly improved. Here’s an example of my photography when I first started my blog:
And here’s an example of my photography now:
I’ve learned so much in a year. My amazing husband is always helping me to get the perfect picture. I tend to have a short fuse when I’m trying to get pictures. I feel the stress that is if the picture doesn’t look good, people won’t want to try the recipe.
My hubby made me this light box which I use for 99% of my photography. It has really been a lifesaver. I hope to upgrade to a wooden box one day, and nicer lighting, but for now I’m thankful that I am able to get pretty good pictures with this!
13. There is Always Something To Learn
Food Photography is just one of the many things that food bloggers have to learn. Perhaps some people think that blogging is easy. I laugh when someone thinks this. Blogging can be anything but easy. Blogging means that I am my own writer, editor, photographer, designer, social media manager, sponsored post manager, email correspondent, and many other things. There is always something to learn, and I doubt I’ll ever feel like I know it all. Blogging is pretty much a full time job where you don’t get paid for the first year or so. Just in the last 4 months have I started to bring in income from my blog. This is normal for any new blogger. Blogging is by no means a get rich quick scheme, and it takes real dedication to stick with it even when you don’t see any rewards at first.
14. Technology is Very Frustrating.
Let me just say that the tech side of my blog is the bane of my existence. If I had it my way, I would only blog and create, and let someone else design my website and fix any kinks. I’m very lucky to have a great friend that helped me with a lot of my tech issues, but I feel like there’s always something I don’t get fixed. Or something new comes along that I don’t understand. I haven’t even touched coding yet (the thought makes me shudder in fear.) Some things are just so far over my head. But I try to take it one step at a time and learn as much as I can. This is where I’ll say that it’s very important to back your blog up. If you ever do something wrong and crash your site (which is actually pretty common for new bloggers), a blog backup will save you. I personally use Vaultpress, and it only costs $5 a month. Worth every penny.
15. Recipe Submission Sites Are Your Friends
Another great way to get publicity for your blog is through recipe submission sites. There are so many of these, but the ones I use most commonly are Foodgawker, Tastespotting, Finding Vegan, and Potluck by Oh My Veggies. I was first featured by Finding Vegan in December of 2014. They actually featured me twice in that month. I got so many page views that it crashed my website temporarily. Finding Vegan was responsible for my page view jump from November to December (8 times as many views!) I’ve also been featured on several roundups on Oh My Veggies, and other websites, and these all get me more views as well as great exposure. I will say that when I first started submitting to Foodgawker, I had so many failures before I got a picture accepted. I just wanted to give up because everything I was submitting kept getting rejected. I felt like I just couldn’t get it right. Then one magical day, a few days before Thanksgiving, Foodgawker accepted 3 of my recipes in one day (!!!). I was on cloud nine. I still get rejected every few recipes, but most of my submissions now are accepted. This is all thanks to my food photography improvement!
16. Blogging Can Be an Investment
Just like most any business adventure, blogging can be an investment. When I first started blogging, I purchased a framework and theme, as well as several other things I needed. I pay monthly fees for hosting and backing up my blog. A lot of money went out before I started seeing it come in. For me, it was a decision that I made because I knew it would be worth it. Even if I never made another cent from blogging, I would still keep my website up. I have poured my heart and soul into this website and it brings me so much happiness and fulfillment. It’s one of the best things that I could have done for myself.
17. Content is Key
Another thing that I learned is that content is key when blogging. My main focus is on quality (and quantity) of my recipes. Part of the reason for the growth in my page views is that there were more posts which meant even if the older ones just got a few visits a day, it still translated into higher views overall. My goal is to post as many recipes as possible while still keeping my sanity and making sure I don’t burn out. I am slowly working on building my recipe collection, and I have big goals for the future.
18. People Will Reject You
This is another hard one. On several occasions, I’ve reached out to brands to see if they would be willing to work with me and they said no. It’s really hard not to take that personally. But this has only helped me to grow. On the flip side, I have been contacted directly by several brands who I was very excited to worth it! Ultimately, the truth is that people and brand will reject you. It’s just a part of blogging, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep blogging. It’s all worth it when you get that one email saying congratulations, you’ve been accepted. Just keep working hard!
19. You Will Have People That Will Make It Worth It
With all the rejection, failures, and just downright mean people, there have been people that made blogging worth it. On several occasions, I have been very vulnerable and opened up about struggles that I am facing. The responses that I got from several personal posts that I wrote blew me away. There were so many caring wonderful people that took the time to tell me that I’m not alone. I’ve personally struggled with a lot of issues in my life related to body image, self esteem, eating, and anxiety. It’s easy to feel like you’re alone when you are struggling. I always knew when I started blogging that I wanted to write about my struggles in the hopes that it helped one person. So thank you to everyone that was brave enough to say that you struggle to. I firmly believe that the world is a better place when we are honest, not when we pretend that everything is perfect all of the time.
20. Take It One Day At a Time
Last but not least, I’ve learned the importance of just taking it day by day. If I’m feeling particularly down and discouraged, I know I need to take a break that day. Some days I’m on a high, and some days I feel like I just can’t get it right. Food Blogging, just like anything else in life, takes time and commitment. It’s easier not to look at the big picture, but to instead just improve day by day, step by step. I never could have imagined what I would do in the first year of blogging, and I’m glad that I didn’t set any ridiculous goals for myself. I’m happy that I have improved in my first year, and I hope to continue to do so.
I just wanted to say thank you to all my readers who have read, made my recipes, and commented on my posts. Your support means the world to me. And if you made it all the way through this post, major kudos to you! Apparently I wrote a short novel…hah! Here’s to another year of delicious recipes, fun life recaps, and growing day by day!