Two years ago today The Sweet Life was born.
It came to me in the airport on a return trip from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had recently given birth, quit my baking job, and while totally thrilled to be hanging out with my infant all day, needed an outlet for my creative energies that nursing and changing dirty diapers were not. So I was in the airport, thinking back about all the amazing food I had just eaten in my quick weekend trip and thought to myself, “How cool it would be to have a place on the internet to document that kind of thing?”.
Turns out there was already a place on the internet for that. Thousands of places. Ten or maybe hundreds of thousands. They are called food blogs.
I’ve said it one hundred times in nearly as many ways and I’m going to say it again – when I started blogging I knew NOTHING about it. Up until that point in my life I had purposefully kept myself ignorant of technology as I was inherently skeptical of all things that needed to be plugged in, turned on, or recharged. (Okay, I’m exaggerating – kind of.) So, as you can imagine, the last two years have been quite an adventure and I am totally blown away by all that has happened with this little blog I started, The Sweet Life. It is really a dream come true and each and every one of you are part of that dream. Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and helping me become a better blogger through it all.
What have I learned in two years? Everything. But I’ve reflected on 5 specific lessons that have helped me develop this blog into what it is today.
1. Be involved in the community. My instinct, for nearly all parts of my life, is to fly solo. I’m not sure if this is for lack of confidence, trust, or just another result of my steadily increasing introversion. And so it took me a long time to understand the acute importance of being involved with your online niche. This means following other blogs, reaching out to those you love, commenting, sharing, link-loving. And not for the sake of self promotion but because the relationships that are built through blogging will bring you encouragement, they will rally behind you when you need it the most (like when you have two babies in two years and feel totally crazy), they will inspire you, and they may be some of the most like-minded people you meet. I can say with confidence that the community I found in vegan food blogging is my favorite part about this job and it’s likely I would have given up on several occasions if it wasn’t for these amazing friends.
2. Quality not quantity. It is clear that in the early days of The Sweet Life I had yet to learn this. For the first months I eagerly put up a new post nearly every single day. In my kitchen I would whip up veganized versions of cookies and candies, take dimly lit photographs at night, and scramble to write a sentence or two before sharing the recipe. Those posts are long forgotten, buried in the archives, and too poorly done to have reached very many people (thankfully). I had in my mind that to gain and keep readers I needed to be constant. I learned, largely due to Jason’s voice of reason, that consistency was way more important than constancy. I now spend more time on 2-3 posts a week than I did on 5-6 but I feel very proud of everything I publish, knowing the amount of love that went into each recipe, picture, and written word.
3. Be real, really real. It took me awhile to find my voice. I tried on a few that didn’t really suite me and eventually I discovered that my best option was being me, really me. As I started following more and more food bloggers I discovered that the ones I kept coming back to were those who honestly share themselves with their readers by being vulnerable, transparent, humble, and real. For me writing is, by far, the most difficult piece of every post. I spend more time re-writing and re-wording than I want to admit. But through finding my honest voice and opening myself up to be known by my readers, I have engaged with this community on a whole new and far more rewarding level.
4. Get to know your camera. Not everyone is a photographer, and that’s fine. But understanding your camera, lighting, props, and styling is key to getting people talking about your (food) blog. Just as you might read a book on recipe development, I recommend reading books on food photography to help understand the art that can be created behind your camera lens. Nothing will get people trying (or not trying) recipes like good (or bad) food photography which, of course, is one major reason for returning visitors. And if you are looking to increase traffic (which most of us are), it is important early on to get your photographs accepted into the big food porn sites like foodgawker. I still remember my first submission that got accepted by foodgawker. At the time I was getting a couple hundred views a day, but after that submission my numbers jumped like crazy.
5. Love doing it. You have got to love blogging. In large, blogging is a labor of love. Although I make some money doing it, it certainty does not equate to the amount of time I put into my website. That may change some day if I continue to grow, but that hope cannot be my motivation. Nor can recognition, free stuff, or book deals. All of that distraction will take away from the art of the blog itself. I am always walking the line between making my blog sellable and personal. What kind of reviews will I accept? How many ads should I display? How much promotion should I do? These are all questions I have to face and evaluate. I’m not going to hide the fact that I want a sellable blog. Of course I want to make money, I’d LOVE to get a book deal (in a few years when I’m not raising two babies), and free stuff cheers me up like nobodies business. But if my main motivation is not spreading the vegan word and making veg cooking/baking more accessible to everyone, then it’s time to do some serious self-evaluation.
And with that I will blow out the candles on my Esty birthday cake clipart that I bought for just this occasion and make a wish.
What about you? What tips do you (dear blogger friends) have that you’ve picked up along the way?