The Ultimate Guide: How To Start Your Own Food Blog & Earn A Side Income

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The untold story of MariasMenu

So you want to start a food blog and make money!?

Welcome! My name is Jose and I’m Maria’s husband. The self-less, hardworking and behind-the-scenes husband who loves solving problems… I got my first (and last) chance to guest blog on MariasMenu. Then I became the Chief Tasting / Technology Officer.

Ok, if you’d like to get to the meat (pun intended) click here. Or sit back and get the back-stage pass to what goes on at MariasMenu…

Are you excited to get started?

Maria wasn’t.

Yep, that’s the truth.

You see, before MariasMenu, there was a poor guy almost hospitalized thanks to his wife’s cooking. Yep, the poor guy is me… and the wife is Maria.

I still recall that time so clearly, we just got married and love was blind.

Anyways, Maria was trying out Kerala a fish curry recipe she got from her Aunt Tessy… yes, how could that go wrong? Well, it did… apparently the instructions weren’t so clear…

Place the kokum across the bottom of the clay pot…

What someone didn’t tell her, was she should put a few… her definition of a few was around 20-30 pieces.

Those days, we had an older gentlemen clean our house – Sunny Chetan. I don’t want to call him a help, because he was more like a very older brother who worked for us. Seeing her cooking, Sunny Chetan was surprised at the amount of kokum she put in… and suggested that it was too much.

Maria… loving as she is, is hard to teach!

So in the afternoon, I had this dark fish curry… was it spicy… hmm… tasted great? Heck yeah… I even asked for the same thing to be served in the evening!

Couple of hours later… I find myself down and out with diarrhea. Yep, the curry did the trick!!! My bowels were clean.

I still remember the day, because the then Pope was on his death bed… and I was not sure if I’d see him in heaven as I lay on mine!

After the 1 week recovery, I had to let her share these wonderful recipes with everyone. Yeah, why should I be the only one to suffer… :p

Well, that is the real reason why MariasMenu was started… to ensure recipes were available, with clear instructions and definitely clear measurements!

I told her to give it a shot, so we bought the domain and I set up a site for her. At worst we’d lose a couple of dollars. The objective was to at least try for one year, if it didn’t work – we’d scrap the project.

You see although I’m an ex-management consultant turned trader & investor… I did learn a lot about websites, hey, I grew up on the Internet through the dot.com boom – and I had a hidden agenda of ensuring Maria would be busy enough so I could have my free time!

Jose: Why don't you start a food blog? *grin*

Maria: "There are hundreds of food blogs... so what will make ours different?"

Jose: "Just start."

Ok, let’s get started. The following sections will guide you through the entire process…

Just Start

And that’s how I approach most of my projects, we will fail… but we’ll learn. I’d like to quote Tim Ferris (the famous author who introduced us to The Four Hour Work Week)

“I’m building a snowball the size of continents. The catch: it sometimes moves at a glacial pace. Big things take time, but that’s OK — almost nothing can stop a glacier from moving once it reaches critical mass.”

And that’s MariasMenu today… serving over 1 million page views a month! (Check out the stats from Google Analytics below)

Google Analytics - 1 MILLION Pageviews

And that’s what I want you to do… just start. And I’ll show you how. I can’t guarantee your success. Only you can… if you put in the effort, you might realize that success was always yours.

“Everyone will have an audience of 1.”

When you start, as we did, you’ll probably be the first person to visit your site, followed by your mother, spouse, siblings, friends. That’s Ok, that’s how all blogs started.

Ok, so you want to launch a blog and make money eh?

There are numerous ways of starting blogs, you can even start one for no-money down – but I’m not suggesting that if you’re really serious about making money. Think Loonnng Term.

Let’s start with the basics…

Get An ALL-IN-ONE Solution

A blog is nothing but a chronological order of posts on a website. It came from the word web-log. It’s also a web site.

Now, that we got the basics out of the way… here are some sites where you can start blogs (for FREE):

  1. WordPress – is the #1 Blog Publishing Platform, free and easily customizable with wonderful support.
  2. Blogger – this company started the revolution of blogging, by making it so easy to publish, easy as sending an email. This is now owned by Google.
  3. Tumblr – this was recently acquired by Yahoo for a few BILLION dollars.

There are plenty of others, but I wouldn’t waste your time on them for now. I also wouldn’t recommend Tumblr for its questionable content (and you have no control over your content) – but you can be the judge of that.

I wouldn’t recommend Blogger. It may be easy, but it doesn’t look professional – plus there are so many limitations – you wanna make real money right?

Why I recommend WordPress.com is because, you can start for free – then as your blog grows, upgrade to a premium package with all kinds of nice benefits and features, including having your own domain, and serving advertisements.

But what I ultimately recommend for you, is to migrate to the self-hosted version of WordPress which is what MariasMenu runs on. You can download the software at http://wordpress.org/ (notice the different domain name from above – .com vs .org).

If you’d like to know the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org i.e. hosted vs self-hosted check out this infographic

Remember… “Just start.” That’s all you have to do… go on, take 5 minutes and signup on WordPress.com

Ok, that was really difficult… right?

Get Serious!

If you’re really serious about blogging and making money – we have what you want… so let’s start… you’re going to need a few things, so get your act together:

  1. A Domain Name – hopefully something simple, and unique.
  2. A Credit Card – yep that piece of plastic.
  3. 20 minutes of courage.

Get A Domain

If you need a domain (and I would recommend getting your domain name independent from the website hosting company – this will give you more control) – you have two sites worth checking out:
25% off your first purchase! New Customers only!

  1. GoDaddy.com – the largest domain name manager
  2. Name.com – another one worth checking out for those unique domain name options.

Get A Blog Hosting Provider

To host your site, you’ll need a website (blog) hosting provider. Whilst there are hundreds out there, I only recommend these:
Blue Host - Unlimited Hosting

  1. Bluehost Hosting – is HIGHLY recommended for beginners because it’s incredibly easy to use with 1-click automatic WordPress installation AND we have this excellent step-by-step guide for you to get started in less than 15 minutes!
  2. Inmotion Hosting – what MariasMenu is currently using. So why recommend BlueHost? Well, whilst Blue Host is good to get started… as you grow and get huge amounts of traffic, then I recommend going for Inmotion Hosting. But hey, if you’re confident – jump on Inmotion and get started today!

People assume that the process of setting up a hosting service and installing WordPress is complicated and time-consuming. It’s not.

Now that you’ve learned how to get your domain name, set up a blog / website hosting – we’re ready to blog!

I’m a good mind reader… I can hear you: “I don’t think I’ll have time for all this. How much time will I have to put in? I’m not sure if I can do this… yada yada” – to which I would gently ask you… “How much time do you spend each day or week watching TV?” :)

Now that you have your blog up and running… your blog might not look so good now. WordPress comes with a default theme which is good… but if you’re serious about creating a brand and making your blog look unique, I suggest spending some money on getting a “Premium Theme (& Framework)”.

Get A Cool Blog Theme

There are hundreds of companies that provide themes from $10 to $200. But there are only three I highly recommend:

  1. StudioPress Premium WordPress Themes: Foodie ThemeStudio Press Themes & Genesis Framework – we use a customized version of the Genesis Theme for MariasMenu – we don’t have a single complaint! If you’re starting a food blog, there are two themes that are becoming very popular for food bloggers: Foodie Theme & Crave Theme.
  2. Woo Themes – theses guys were the first to come out with the idea of “Premium Themes” I believe. Today, they are ultimate resource for premium looking WordPress themes.
  3. Tumblr Themes – this is one advantage of using Tumblr, they have hundreds of free and paid themes.

You can get someone to install one of those premium themes for you. Really, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you my service to MariasMenu was peanuts :)

Start A Food Blog – FAST!

Learn how to start and grow your food blog with Food Blogger Pro.

Ok, if you’re particular about food blogging only, then I can’t recommend this more than enough. I really wish Bjork had started this years ago – well before MariasMenu was started. We would have saved money and time! Sign up for Food Blogger Pro – and let’s just say, you’ll make history!

Get These Features

Next, there are a couple of bells and whistles that help Maria manage the site, and make the site better for readers to use. They’re called “Plugins”… these are like add ons or extensions of the site features and specific to WordPress blogs.

MariasMenu Plugins

If WordPress is the engine of your car, plugins are the options you get… some free, some paid. Here’s the current list of plugins that we use on the site. (I’m not listing all of them, only ones that I recommend you get if you’re into food blogging).

    1. All In One SEO Pack – your site has to be found by search engines (our favourite friend is Google) – I’d recommend this plugin if your serious, over Yoast’s plugin which has just caused too many headaches in the past. I guess over 1 million others think so as well. You can use the free version (which is more than enough imho). AIO also features XML Sitemaps so you don’t need another plugin. Over 50% of MariasMenu traffic comes from Google. You want to make money, you’re going to have to play nicely with Google, make them your friend and do what they say! This plugin allows for your entire blog to be indexed in their search results.
    2. Adrotate Pro – you’ll need a way to rotate your various ads within the limited virtual real estate you have. You can call this an ad server – where we rotate our affiliate ads or even ads to sections within MariasMenu. We use the paid version of this, and it’s been serving us well.
    3. Ad Inserter – one of the things we really suffered with, is being able to serve relevant ads to various devices – desktop, tablet, mobile – whilst this gets the job done, it hasn’t been updated in a while and it is a bit resource intensive. In anycase, it’s worth a try…
    4. Advanced Ads – I’ve heard a lot of good things about this plugin – although I installed it and looked great from a UI pov – I just felt it was missing something – and couldn’t figure out what. It’s probably your best best if you want a free version as against Adrotate Pro.
    5. iThemes – Backup Buddy – I really love iThemes because they create products that are easy to use, and must haves!did you know your site can crash? You could lose all your data? A small change by a unruly designer (in this case it was myself) could destroy the entire site… have a backup. Security should not be seen as expense, but an investment. My experience with backups and crashing databases have been renowned – so I ensure we’re taking regular backups now. Another option is VaultPress.
    6. iThemes – Security – the last thing you want is some malware on your site, trust me – been there, suffered that. WordPress is not secure by default, get this plugin and rest in peace.
    7. WPDiscuz – connecting with your readers is important, Maria manages over 11,000 comments personally. We used to Disqus Comment System but for some reason it would slow the site load time (and your readers as well as Google want fast loading websites).
    8. MaxCDN - Content Delivery NetworkMaxCDN – If you’re going to be using the above, and especially if you’re a food blogger – then you’ll be happier with a Content Distribution Network (CDN) – which is nothing but a way of hosting your photos in special locations around the world for faster downloads. Nothing technical here, MaxCDN support team is amazing.
    9. W3 Total Cache – People don’t like a slow site, neither does Google. As your site grows, traffic will increase, and more people visiting at the same time, can crash your blog / website hosting servers. We’ve experienced this… and trust me… this is a growing pain. This is why we ultimately moved to a professional web hosting company.
    10. Easy Recipe – this allows to present recipes in a nice format, ready for print and ready for Google to pickup in their search results by following an Hrecipe format. Go for the paid version Easy Recipe Plus (it’s well worth it!)
    11. EWWW Image Optimizer – if you’re hosting a blog with lots of images or pictures (particularly a food blog) – when you upload your pictures, they may be large – this slows the site down and your visitors might have attention spans of a pigeon… and click somewhere else. This plugin reduces the size of those images. Another one you could use is WP Smush-it.
    12. Gravity Forms Plugin for WordPressGravity Forms – whilst there are free plugins for creating forms so your readers can contact you. Since we use this across all our sites, and its extremely flexible – I highly recommend this. It’s a paid plugin but again… highly recommended.
    13. SumoMe – we’re going to be touching upon building your email list… this plugin will help with that.
    14. Yuzo Related Posts – after each post, you’ll see other related posts – this plugin allows us to show those nice pictures. By using this plugin, I guess you could at least triple your page views. We used to nRelate till they closed shop. Then we used Yoast, again – changing to Yuzo has doubled our page views, with less load on our site.

(Phew, yes… you may be thinking that’s a lot of work – well, what people see on the outside is a simple site, behind-the-scenes it’s real effort. Think of a duck paddling on the lake… looks like he’s gliding… no, he’s paddling like his life depend on it! This is not to discourage you, just get started – and you’ll find a way!)

Track Your Progress

Hopefully, you’re starting to learn a lot. Now how do you know if what you’re blogging is being read by your visitors? How do you know which posts or articles did well? Well, we track all this with an analytics program.

The advantage of this is you can track quite a lot… where your visitors and readers are coming from, which country, which pages they are reading the most, which keywords brought them to your site, which links they’re clicking… and a whole lot more.

In order to track effectively, we use two programs – one is free, one is paid.

  1. Google Analytics – Google’s free website tracking and analytical tool. A must have for anyone with any type of website.
  2. Clicky – Clicky is just like Google Analytics, except it’s easier to use, and you can view how many people are on your site (and what they are doing) in real time! Your first site is free but we recommend upgrading!

Remember, you can only manage what you measure. Analytical programs like the above will help you focus on writing better posts for your site. Better posts, means you’ll have more traffic, and more traffic means more money :)

Wanna Make Money?

There are a couple of ways you can make money. I’ll list out the most common, and you can figure out what’s the best way to start.

  1. Make money with advertisements (easy, most common, good)
  2. Make money with affiliates (easy, doesn’t have to be your product, not the best)
  3. Make money with an email list (not easy, but good money)
  4. Make money with your own ebook or course (difficult, but the best)

Advertise. Advertise. Advertise.

Did you know that Google bought Adsense for around $ 20 million dollars, but this single purchase made Google the BILLION dollar company it is today. Yes, BILLION… that’s how much revenue is generated from Google Adsense for them.

Ok, before you jump on the Adsense bandwagon with dollar signs in your eyes – please, I repeat, please spend your money wisely and buy “How To Monetize Your Food Blog” – there are so many tips and nuggets here, I wish I had this ebook when I started out – we’ve improving our income because of some of the ideas in this ebook. This ebook is priceless!

“Money is in the list”

And what that refers to is creating, nurturing an email list.

If tomorrow, MariasMenu was down or taken down for whatever reason – we can just send out an email to over 25,000 subscribers and tell them how to access the new site as we start all over again!

We have a number of email lists which you might also be a part of, for example if you bought the chicken booklet – you’re on another list. If you’re an affiliate of MariasMenu – we have you on another list. We like to segment and ensure we send you emails that are specific to your needs.

But you can also sell your products to your email list. And that’s where the phrase “Money is in the list” came from. That’s how we sold over 100 ebooks in the first few weeks of its launch.

And we built the MariasMenu list over 10 years… we respect that list, we don’t wan’t to bombard readers with useless stuff. There’s a mutual respect… you have to nurture it, and I’m guessing that nurturing paid off as many of you have trusted us and signed up.

Whilst you can probably start sending via bcc, to your first few friends and family members. Get them to sign up to your site’s email newsletter… Here three that will help you with that:
Mad Mimi Email Marketing

  1. Madmimi – this is what we use for MariasMenu. It’s the easiest to use, and their customer support is above excellent. Don’t believe me – just send an email to [email protected] and see how soon they will respond!
  2. Aweber – The internet’s most powerful email opt-in service and email marketing/broadcasting tool. Sometimes this may be a bit too much for beginners, and definitely a bit expensive. But its the best around… and we have our reasons for leaving them – you can read that here.
  3. Sendy – when your list grows, you’ll soon start to see the monthly bill increase, especially with Aweber. Madmimi is good, but you still have to pay every month. What if you could pay once, have it installed on your own web host and never have to pay again… wouldn’t that be amazing? Well, what is more amazing is that it will probably cost you less than your usual one month fee.

Getting your visitors to subscribe is not easy… you have to offer something valuable. But you can always coax them to sign up to your email list.

We use a couple of plugins to do this, one I mentioned earlier is Hybrid Connect. Another one is Popup Domination.

How Much Can I Make – Blogger Income Reports

Some people produce their income report (details of their income and expenses) to share how much they’re making from their online ventures. Whilst we don’t do this at MariasMenu (we have our reasons, one being our embarrassingly low income) – we wanted to share 7 blogs / websites that inspire us to work harder and build great stuff…

Remember, this is what they earn in a month… (and cause for hope, even for us!)

  • EntrepreneurOnFire$166,284 in February 2014
  • Smart Passive Income$77,113 in February 2014
  • Dollars and Roses$17,756 in October 2013 (apparently stopped reporting – and I’m a bit skeptical about this site)
  • Pinch & Yum$13,114 in February 2014 (this is from a food blog husband and wife, something I hope MariasMenu can aspire to…)
  • Mathew Woodward$14,829 in February 2014 – I never came across Matt’s site before, but only found it because I was searching for Income Reports.
  • The Endless Meal$696 in December 2013

If you’d like to share this link with your friends and family – send them to http://j.mp/1jhgWdt

Another one I wanted to share with you is Timothy Sykes (Blogger & Trader) who made over $83,000 in December 2008 – he doesn’t report his income any more, but think about it… it was during the recession! I hear he’s making over $150,000 per month now. Check it out at: http://d.pr/kJGy

And if you’re still not convinced, check out this site – Income Diary (who’s a young 20+ chap, developer of some plugins we used to use).

The truth is, the possibilities are endless. The question is… are you ready for the challenge?

Don’t Be A DIY Blogger

Success cannot be achieved alone. I couldn’t achieve this success with MariasMenu if she didn’t do all the food photography, write the stories, recipes etc –  you’d be surprized at how long a single post takes, some times 6-8 hours (not including commenting, promoting). And I hope I can proudly say she couldn’t have done it without me for testing the food and helping with the technical side of the site in my free time (hey, its my job as CTO – Chief Testing / Technology Officer!).

Don’t do it alone… work with others. That’s why I left this to the end… get help from others or outsource! There are some great places to get stuff done:

  1. Elance – Hired service for just about anything you can think of.
  2. ODesk – this company was recently acquired by eLance. Another great outsource website for freelancers, IT companies, programmers and web designers from abroad.
  3. Fiverr – you’d be amazed at what people will do for $5 – just check out the site and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about!

Need a logo? I’d say this falls under notable mention: 99Designs – you submit the description of what you want, and designers will compete against each other to win money. If you have some cash to blow, then check out Sortfolio

When hiring someone, make sure you know exactly what you’d like done, how much time can be used to do the project – especially if it’s hourly based. If possible, ask for some sample work they’ve done – just to get a feel. Of course, check the ratings on that person.

When you’re young, you have plenty of time to do and learn things on your own. But as you grow older, time is going to be more valuable. If it costs less than what you’re making – then give it to someone else who can do it cheaper (and faster) than you.

* This site contains affiliate links, what this means is that we get a small piece of the cake when someone sells their products through our links. This does not increase your cost. It’s an arrangement we have with the affiliate partners. This is how we support the cost of maintaining this site… you’re help is always appreciated.

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