This is my journey of how I became a full time blogger and turned my passion into a business!
I can remember reading through a blog post exactly like this one 3 years ago and thinking… I WANT TO DO THAT, TOO. There was a fire in my belly and I had never wanted something so badly in my entire life. I saw all of these people who loved food (just like me) taking amazing photos, creating amazing recipes, and sharing them with the world. And making money while doing it! But how? I was determined to figure it all out. I am so incredibly excited to (finally) write this post, because I know you can do it, too! And I want to help you get there.
April 2017: We had just moved back to Maryland after living in Charleston for a couple of years, and I had just been diagnosed with Celiac Disease in January. I was working as a Recruiter and trying to balance working from home while being a mom to 2 young kids. I had started posting different kinds of gluten free recipes I was making on my personal Instagram feed (at the time @MaryLiz929), and sharing about my first round of Whole30. After my diagnosis, it felt like my entire world had been flipped upside down. I was so overwhelmed with having to make the overnight switch to a 100% gluten free diet, and somehow sharing about it made it all a little easier! I decided to switch my personal IG handle over to @maryswholelife. The thought process behind it was that I would share wholesome recipes while still being able to share my family and life in general. As of right now, I’m still happy with that name!
May 2017: My brother Tom is a graphic designer (so clearly I expected him to have all of the answers LOL), and I emailed him saying “Hey – I want to start a blog. How do I do it?!” He replied and told me to check out this blog post from the Minimalists. “How to Start a Successful Blog in (then 2017 but it’s been updated)”. I followed along with their recommendation to choose a domain name (www.maryswholelife.com) and get it registered with BlueHost. I can’t stress enough how important it is to set up a blog through WordPress.org (not .com), not Square Space or anything else. You WILL eventually want to switch. Trust me. I am so glad I went that route from the beginning.
I highly recommend using BlueHost as your host in the beginning. They are affordable and helpful when you are just getting started. I downloaded WordPress, then purchased a Theme (which is still the one I use today!)- Daily Dish Pro on Genesis Framework. I ended up switching to Big Scoots as my host this year (to support a traffic increase), but BlueHost definitely worked well for a couple of years.
I remember staying up until like 3 am the first night that I installed everything because I wanted to learn it all RIGHT THEN. I quickly realized that was virtually impossible and that I had quite a challenge ahead of me. But I was going to do it! I officially had a blog!
The rest of 2017: I kept consistently posting photos of my gluten free and Whole30 creations on Instagram, posted a few my own recipes on my blog with horribly lit photos, and worked on it during the very little amount of free time that I had. I watched a ton of You Tube videos about how to set up a blog behind the scenes, and also enlisted the help from a tech-savvy friend from high school. I’m pretty sure nobody read my blog during those first 6 months. Well, maybe my mom and dad. But that was it.
Beginning of 2018: I continued to do what I could with the blog while working a demanding job and taking care of the kids. My Instagram following started to increase the more I was engaging with likeminded accounts, using relevant/popular hashtags, taking better photos, and consistently posting. I was using my iPhone 7 to take photos at the time and editing them right in Instagram. Brands started reaching out to me and asking if they could send me products. FREE STUFF?! Yes! I was onto something here. I signed up for Broma Bakery’s Foodtography Course, and realized I should probably use a real DSLR camera if I was going to get serious about this whole blogging thing. I dusted off my old Nikon D3100 and attempted to follow along. But I still ended up using my phone for most of the photos.
I met up for coffee with my friend Molly from Spices In My DNA to chat all things blogging. She helped me figure out which plugins to install on my site and answered a ton of my questions. I am so grateful for all of her help!
I also decided to dive into learning more about Pinterest. I purchased an e-book called Pinterest Ninja and it was SO helpful. It helped me set up my business account and learn how to create long pins using Canva, and how to drive traffic to my site.
May 9, 2018: I shared a quick skillet Brown Butter Sage Gnocchi with Chicken, Mushrooms, and Spinach with a hack for cooking Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi on my IG page, and @traderjoeslist (an account with over 1M followers) re-shared it on her page! 13,632 people liked that photo. This is right when the cauli gnocchi became all the rage. I remember I was sitting at Sweet Frog with the kids, lacking sleep (Liam was 1 month old at the time), and my phone was blowing UP. I got 3,000 new followers that day! In ONE DAY! I was literally jumping for joy. Best day ever. I was at around 5,000 at that point.
A few months later, Pederson’s Farms asked me to do a one-day takeover on their IG page which had about 50K followers. I was FREAKING out. I remember being so nervous that day, but it ended up being so fun. It was a great way to get some more exposure and get my name out there. I also got my very first paid sponsored post with Safe Catch Tuna that summer. They were going to pay me $500 for a recipe on the blog?! Incredible! I was so pumped.
In August of 2018, I had been a Beautycounter Consultant for about a year at this point, occasionally sharing my favorite safer skincare and makeup products on my Instagram stories and with family and friends. I decided to start growing my team and I put a ton of energy into that side of my business. I started to see my paycheck increase through my own personal sales, as well. I told my husband, if I can match my base salary of my recruiting job (which was pretty low since it was a mainly commission-based job), I want to quit and focus my energy on the blog. He was very skeptical, to say the least. I felt like the blog just wasn’t growing like I wanted it to, and it’s because I didn’t have the time to work on it. Something had to change.
I also decided I should probably link up my account to Google Analytics so I could start tracking how many page views my site was getting. As you can see from the stats below, I was averaging anywhere from 250 -1,000 ish views on my site per day in 2018. I was just so excited people were actually reading my posts!
Christmas 2018: My dad gifted me a brand new Canon Rebel T6i camera, and I literally cried tears of joy when I opened it. I was determined to put what I had learned in Foodtography School to good use and start REALLY learning how to use a camera. I purchased a 50 mm lens to go with it, and now I really had everything I needed to start taking quality photos. I learned how to edit photos using Lightroom and also purchased a few photo backdrops from Woodville Backdrop.
January 2019: I decided this was going to be the year that I would turn this into an actual business. I put a ton of effort into creating new recipes and quality content for the blog, and practiced taking photos of food every chance I got. There were a ton of late nights, a lot of tears, and a lot of discussion about what the next steps were going to be. I was feeling emotionally and physically drained trying to do all the things.
That month, I received an email from Jen Kendall at the Whole30 team letting me know I was officially invited to do a takeover on the @whole30recipes account! I think I jumped up and down screaming quietly after the kids went to bed that night. Getting to do a takeover on that account is like, as my friend Natalie from @tasteslovely recently put it, the Super Bowl Halftime Show for blogging! I was going to have the opportunity to share my recipes with 1.4 MILLION people. I couldn’t believe it. I had 6 months to prepare.
I started out running Gourmet Ads on my site at this point, as well. It might have only brought in $20 a month of residual income…but it was better than nothing!
My brother also helped me create a Media Kit and Rate Sheet around this time. These are essentially like your resume and pricing list that you send to companies when trying to pitch your services.
March 2019: My Beautycounter Income + the small amount of money I was making from the blog officially matched my base salary from my recruiting job, and we decided that I was going to put in my notice at work. It was really hard for me to do, as I was coming up on my 5 year anniversary with the company and really enjoyed working for them. But I knew it was the right choice.
This same month, I worked with a lawyer to turn Mary’s Whole Life into an official LLC. The more brand partnerships I received, I knew it needed to happen to protect myself if anything should ever happen.
July 2019: I did my Whole30 Recipes Takeover and it was the best. week. ever. It was so much work, but totally worth it! That brought over 15,000 new people over to my Instagram page, and I was now at 25,000 followers. I couldn’t believe it. I also qualified for Mediavine, which is an ad network that requires a minimum of 25,000 sessions (unique monthly visits) to your website. I could finally start making an income just from people visiting my site!
The rest of 2019 was pretty incredible. I continued to engage with other accounts on Instagram as well as everyone who DM’ed me or commented on my page. I shared content consistently and went back through and started updating old posts on the blog and learning about SEO. I signed up for Food Blogger Pro, and learned a TON. I was learning every chance I got – whether it was through Podcasts, courses, or You Tube Videos. My page views definitely peaked during my takeover week, but continued to be pretty consistent through the rest of the year.
September 2019: Page Street Publishing reached out to me about doing a COOKBOOK! I couldn’t even believe it. Me? A published author?! After much deliberation, I decided to go for it. I knew it was going to take a ton of time away from the blog, but I knew I would regret it if I turned it down. I signed the contract and began working on recipe development.
Here is where 2019 ended up. What an increase from 2018!
So how do you make money?
I get this question a lot. I still don’t think my family even really understands what I do or how this is actually a job. But I promise you it is! Writing one blog post from start to finish (including developing a recipe, photography, sharing to social channels, etc.) takes me 8-10 hours. It’s a lot of work! There are a bunch of different ways to make money when it comes to blogging:
Ads: Ad networks place ads on your site, and you make money when people visit your site and click around (not necessarily on the ad itself). I made the switch from Mediavine to AdThrive at the end of 2019, and my ad revenue increased over 50%. I can’t say enough great things about AdThrive! To qualify, you must have a minimum of 100,000 page views per month.
Affiliate Links: This is when someone partners with a brand and makes a percentage of a sale when someone uses their link or code. It’s really important to me that I only partner with brands and companies that I already use and love. No amount of money is worth losing anyones trust! My main affiliate partnerships are currently with Butcher Box, Nut Pods, Thrive Market, Primally Pure, and Beautycounter. Although Beautycounter is a lot more than just an affiliate partnership to me. It’s definitely one of my main jobs and passions! A little less than 50% of my total income comes from Beautycounter.
Sponsorships: A sponsorship is when a company pays you to create a recipe, blog post, ad, social media post or anything along those lines. Typically there will be negotiation and contracts put in place, and the companies like to see metrics (how many page views, likes, comments, etc) a post gets after it’s done. Sponsored work is something else I don’t take lightly. I turn down anything that I don’t think will resonate with my audience or that I don’t already use and love. I have definitely had to cut back on sponsored work during cookbook development!
So what’s next?!
Right now I am juggling having 3 kids at home (I know a lot of you are in the same boat), finishing up my cookbook (which will be out November 10th!), continuing to create content for the blog, and still learning everyday. My website is also getting a complete re-design in June, which I am so excited about. I hope that it will become more user-friendly and easier to navigate.
I am currently taking Hashtag Jeff‘s SEO course and trying to learn more about how I can make my posts more searchable.
My goal for 2020 is to work on growing my email list, because we truly never know what will happen with social media. I want to have another way to connect with people!
As far as I am concerned, the sky is the limit and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me next. I can’t thank all of YOU guys enough for your support, for using my links, for visiting my site and making my recipes, and for sharing them with your family and friends. You are the absolute best, and none of this would be possible without you!!
Tips for starting a blog/growing a social media account:
- Pick something that you love to write about or focus on. For me, it’s food. I love helping people figure out how to eat paleo meals that are delicious, easy, and comforting. I will never get tired of talking about (or eating and cooking) FOOD! I love cooking, and I love photography. While this job can be a TON of work, I love every minute of it.
- Be consistent. Consistency is key. I think I’ve only gone 2 or 3 days in the past 2.5 years without posting on Instagram. Not to say a break isn’t a good idea every now and then (because it is), but consistently posting at least once a day is key. I’ve averaged about 5-7 new blog posts per month, and that seems to be working well.
- Engage! Respond to DMs, respond to blog comments, figure out who your people are! And talk to them. Be real. Be authentic. People want to follow someone who they can relate to or who brings them joy, knowledge, and value. Comment and like photos on likeminded Instagram accounts in an authentic way (aka not just an emoji!)
- Connect with other bloggers. I’ve connected with a few different groups of super talented ladies in the blogging world over the last year. It’s so nice to have people to share your wins and frustrations with who actually GET IT! I talk to my blogger friends almost daily and we are constantly cheering each other on, collaborating on giveaways or posts or roundups, and helping each other. It’s so great. Collaboration over competition.
- Keep learning everyday. Listen to podcasts, invest in your business and take the courses, and practice, practice, practice.
- Just START. There will never be a perfect time to do anything. Just go for it using what you have. Learn as you go. Imagine where you could be a year from now if you started today!
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for all of your support. It’s because of you that I get to do what I love and I will never take that for granted. Thank you for trusting me and allowing me into your kitchens. I love you all!
*This post contains affiliate links. This means if you use one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting Mary’s Whole Life!