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Blogging: Behind the Scenes

{Note: Blogging: Behind the Scenes is a series I write for fellow bloggers out there, to provide insight into the methods I use to grow, improve, and monetize the Pretty/Hungry blog.  Below is a list of resources I recommend for bloggers who are hoping to grow and improve their own sites!}

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InMotion Hosting and other tips for bloggers.

InMotion HostingI cannot say enough good about InMotion hosting!  I used Bluehost for the first year that my blog moved away from a free platform, but I was sorely disappointed due to the amount of outages I experienced with them and the customer service.  It wasn’t that they were rude… just that they never actually helped get my blog back up in a timely manner!  InMotion has been such a breath of fresh air.  The servers are not crowded so I don’t have nearly as many outages.  And the customer service is truly is top-notch… beyond compare!  I cannot recommend them highly enough.

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wordpress-logo.

Free Themes for WordPress– Currently, I run the Pretty/Hungry blog using a free theme called Customizr.  I’ve been very happy with the look, the responsiveness, and the features it includes that allow me to customize the blog exactly the way I want it.  I’ve also had great success using their online support forums for assistance with any questions about making modifications to the look and function of my site.

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crash plan logo

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Crash Plan– I use Crash Plan to securely back up all my files on an ongoing basis.  It is a great way to make sure that all my photos, recipes, spreadsheets, etc. are safe and able to be fully restored if my computer ever crashes and burns.  They offer varying plans to suit your needs, and currently I use the Crash Plan for Home FREE plan.

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hellobar logo.

HelloBar HelloBar is a handy tool that I use to collect the e-mail addresses of new subscribers.  It is a no-frills, easy-to-use tool that allows a reader to enter his/her e-mail address and request a blog subscription.  I can then go to my Hello Bar account and add any new e-mail addresses collected there to my list of subscribers.

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BBTS2 for Insta.

Pretty/Hungry Income Reports– The Pretty/Hungry Income Reports are published quarterly and describe the various income streams of this blog.  I always include helpful tips about the successes and failures of my blogging journey and the ways I have been able to grow/improve the blog and increase my traffic that quarter.  The first of these reports, from November 2013, can be found below (just scroll down!)

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Canon 50D.

Canon 50D– I use a Canon 50D to shoot all the photos you see on the Pretty/Hungry blog.  I love this camera!  Since it is a DSLR camera, it allows me to control the settings for my photos and manipulate the light and focus so that I can create tantalizing food images with minimal warping, noise, and color distortion.  If you’re looking for a camera that works well at a lower price-point, I’d also recommend the Canon Rebel T3i.

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50 mm f 1.8 lens

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Canon 50mm, f/1.8 lens I LOVE this lens.  It is a great lens for food photography because it works especially well for close-up shots and allows me to control exactly where I want to see the “crispest” details in the dishes I cook for the blog.

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Picasa Free Photo-Editing Software.

Windows Photo Gallery and Picasa Editing Software–  I use both of these photo editing programs for post-processing of all photos for the Pretty/Hungry blog.  The software is free, easy to use, and perfectly adequate for my needs since most of my photos do not require extensive editing.  I shoot all Pretty/Hungry recipes in high-quality format with natural lighting and use these programs for minor touch-ups or to make photo collages.

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wordpress-logo.

WordPress Plugins

The Pretty/Hungry blog utilizes the following WordPress plugins (along with some others not listed): Easy Recipe, Akismet, Limit Login Attempts, Pretty Link, JQuery PinIt Button for Images, Fast Secure Contact Form, MyBookTable, TweetHerder, and WP Attention Boxes.  I have found each one to be uniquely helpful for running my blog.  Details about these plugins can be found by searching them in the WordPress Plugin Directory.

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{Below you will first the very first Income Report in the Pretty/Hungry Blogging: Behind the Scenes Series from November 2013.}

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Hi there!  Today’s post is a little different.  Those of you who come here for the food may have no interest in the things I’m sharing today… and I can assure you that the holiday cookies, steamy soups, and budget tips will resume asap!  But for those of you who are curious about blogging as a profession, this just might make for some interesting reading.

Only recently have I ventured into “monetizing” this blog of mine.  I’ve been blogging about food for 4 years and, to be honest, I had no idea anyone did it as their actual job until about a year ago.  As my husband and I thought it over though, it seemed to make sense, considering the amount of time I already put into it on the daily (just cuz I love it!)  Why not see if it had some earning potential for our fam?  And the fun news is that so far, the answer to that question has been YES. :)

But when I tell people that my blog is our family’s second income, I’m usually met with confusion and the question, “How exactly does that work??”

So today I thought I’d share a little “Behind the Scenes” with ya!  Maybe you’ve considered starting a blog of your own.  Or maybe you already have one and would like to know more about the income streams available to you.  Or maybe you’re just curious!

Blogging: Behind the Scenes (Pretty/Hungry Blog)

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When I first started blogging back in 2010, I had browsed around the internet quite a bit, gathering inspiration from the bloggers I really admired.  I knew nothing about food photography, but was excited to start sharing all the goings-on of my kitchen with others.  It’s a good thing I had other bloggers’ examples to learn from, or else this site might not have made it past Day 1.  :)

Fast-forward to 2013:  My blog is almost 4 years old and I’ve learned about a bazillion things.  (And I have twenty bazillion things I still need to learn!)

-I now understand that photographing bread pudding at 10pm under a fluorescent light is like trying to go jogging while eating Oreos.  (Aka: a waste of time.)

-I now understand that I need to post a printable recipe, even on posts that include step-by-step instructions.  (Speaking of which, sorry if you’ve been frustrated when trying to cook from some of my earlier posts.  One day I’ll have them all updated with a printable!)

-I now understand that it’s crucial to triple-check my recipe before posting it, and that leaving out a key ingredient on accident can be a MAJOR bummer for someone who is counting on one of my recipes to come through for a special occasion.  (And hence, a MAJOR bummer to me too!)

… And I understand a lot of other things now too, but you get the idea!

A Behind-the-Scenes Peek at the Pretty/Hungry Food Blog

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I’ll be the first to say that I am by NO means a blogging/technology expert.  (If I could go back and do college all over again, I’d fill my schedule with web design and internet marketing courses.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda!)  But without question I have learned a TON as I’ve chugged along… and if by sharing the insights I’ve gained I’m able to help even one of you in your own blogging journey, I’ll be so glad!  I hope to publish posts like this periodically as I continue learn more, so that I can pass the helpful knowledge along to you.  Would you find that valuable?

So from my completely non-expert but experience-driven point of view… I give you my “Intro to Blogging… For Dummies.”

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Intro to Blogging (for Dummies!)

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1)  You can blog for free, but if you expect/hope to see your blog grow, you will likely outgrow what the free platforms (wordpress.com & blogger) have to offer.

WordPress.com and the basic (free) level of Blogger are free blogging platforms.  They have a slew of free “themes” (blog designs) you can choose from.  You can literally create your blog and be posting new content within 5 minutes!  This is great if you have a small audience and a small-medium amount of content.  But if you are posting numerous high-quality photos/videos, for a long enough period of time, and/or your traffic numbers get too high… you will surpass what the free platforms can offer you.

That is the point I found myself at earlier this year, which leads me to…

2)  A self-hosted blog (the opposite of what I described above) provides more space for high traffic and large content, and can be very affordable!  And (BONUS) it gives you the freedom to earn an income from your blog!

I own my blog domain (prettyhungryblog.com), and pay a very reasonable $5 per month to my hosting company, in exchange for complete freedom to do what I want with the site.  Some free platforms (like wordpress.com) put limits on what you can do with your blog.  (Specifically, they don’t allow you to insert any affiliate links, ads, or other revenue-producing components.  A major bummer!)

If you’re ready to start your blog and you don’t want your income-potential to be limited by one of the free blogging platforms, then your first step is to choose a hosting company.  I use InMotion, and I highly recommend them!  Both for their extremely reasonable prices and their stellar customer care.  I never experience the outages I used to when hosted by Bluehost.

3) Starting on a free platform and later moving to a self-hosted blog is definitely possible, but it requires some strategy…

This is what I did, in fact.  I spent about 3 years blogging on a free platform and used that time to get comfortable with my food point of view, my style, & my posting pace.  That time also helped me gain a readership of sweet, wonderful people who never cease to send me words of encouragement.  It also was time well spent improving my atrocious photography skills.  {Inward cringe}

If moving to a self-hosted site is also going to involve changing your web address, then you’ll need to do some critical thinking.  Remember that your readers are used to your old URL… Pinterest links to your old URL… Google Search recognizes your old URL and doesn’t immediately pull the new one up in web searches.  In changing web addresses, you’ll inevitably see a temporary dip in traffic, and so my advice to you is this:  Make the move to a self-hosted site and new URL as soon as you feel comfortable investing in it.  The more established your blog is, the more difficult it is to round up all those traffic sources and point them to your new site.  (In my case, I had to notify Foodgawker, Tastespotting, Pinterest, and numerous blogger friends who refer readers to my site.  It was NOT easy… and in the case of Pinterest, not entirely possible.  There are a lot of  “Pins” floating out there now that link to my old blog and Pinterest flags them as spam.)

If you can tell your blog is growing enough to eventually require private hosting, the general rule of thumb is to make the switch when you are consistently getting 500+ hits per day… but I say be bold and make the switch sooner than later!   That way you can benefit from that growth immediately and save yourself the headache of moving a well-established blog.  Besides, if you don’t end up making any money, you can usually cancel your hosting service and go back to blogging for free.  Bluehost even refunds the prorated remainder of your hosting fee if you cancel!  (That is, assuming you are unsuccessful… but we are NOT assuming that, because you rock and your blog will kick butt!)

4) Diversify your income streams.

Below I’ve listed and described the methods I currently use for drawing income from my blog.  The pie chart shows the breakdown of my blog-related income during the past month.

How to Turn Your Blog Into an Income Stream

The Pretty/Hungry 2014 Recipe Calendar– My earnings percentages are rather skewed this month because my recipe calendar has generated much greater revenues than what I earn on average.  Lesson to be learned from this?  If you can turn anything about your blog into an actual product, try it out!  Although I will say that the nice thing about blogging (in my opinion) is that you don’t have to experience the discomfort of trying to sell anything to your friends if you don’t want to, and they don’t have to feel any pressure to buy whatever you’re selling.  You’re just writing, and they’re just reading!  I’m waaaay more comfortable with that arrangement than with trying to push a product.

Bluehost Affiliate Program When bloggers choose Bluehost as their web-host based on my recommendation, the company thanks me for the referral with a commission!

Amazon Affiliate Program– I’m an Amazon fanatic and I recommend certain products from them on a regular basis often I use them in my kitchen constantly and I think Amazon has the best deals!  When readers purchase an Amazon product based on my recommendation, Amazon thanks me for the good review with a commission!

Google AdSense Ads – There are lots of ad services out there that you can use to generate income for your blog, and I’m sure they all have their merits.  But I like Google AdSense because it uses the extreme intelligence of Google to your advantage.   They put customized ads on your site so that readers see ads that relate to their interests and to the content of your blog.  More relevant ads mean more clicks, and more clicks equal more revenue… simple as that!

Private Ad-Space Sales– On occasion, private brands, companies, and/or individuals may purchase space on my blog to advertise.  More details about that here.

-One-on-One Budget Consultations- I offer a consultation service for families seeking to better manage their grocery spending!

Freelance Food Photography– A lot of work, but occasionally I agree to this if my schedule allows.

*Swagbucks – Although not directly related to my blog, I had to mention Swagbucks because it’s a worthwhile revenue source for anyone who spends significant time online (whether for work or for recreation.)  You simply create an account for free and start earning Swagbucks… there are tons of ways to earn them and they can be redeemed for useful rewards such as Amazon gift cards.  My favorite way to earn them is to let the videos play continuously on a separate internet tab (with the sound off) while I am getting other computer work done!  Why NOT earn money while you’re on the computer anyway, that’s my question.

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Whew!  That’s a lot of info!

I think I’ll save my other tips for a future post so that this doesn’t get too overwhelming.  Speaking of overwhelming, there is no need to try to implement fifty new things in your blog at once.  Building a successful blog is a gradual process and you are under no pressure to grow yours under a deadline.  Try out a few new things at a time and just see where they lead you!

I’ll just leave you with one final tip today because I think it is an important one:

5) Decide what message you want to send out into cyberspace and make sure everything you post is true to that.

Everything you put “out there” is essentially adding layers to your “brand.”  So be picky about what you put out there!  When I’m asked to publish a product review on my site, I only agree to it if I genuinely think the product would interest my readers and improve their lives.  Likewise, in the past when people have inquired about writing guest posts on my site, I generally decline.  It’s not because I mean to be rude… but because I believe readers generally return to a favorite blog to hear from that writer, and I want to give them what they came for.  To be honest, when I’m reading a blog there’s nothing that annoys me more than constant giveaways, link-ups, plugs for other bloggers, and/or guests posts.  Occasional plugs, giveaways, & guest posts are fine… but don’t let them overshadow your message and don’t ever put your “stamp of approval” on a product, site, or brand you don’t LOVE.

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I hope you found this helpful!  I’ll keep sharing my findings as I continue blogging and I hope you’ll share your own success stories and tips with me too.  If you would like to read Part 2 of this series, you can find it here!

All the Best,

-Carissa

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*Note: This post contains affiliate links.  See my disclosure here.

3 Responses so far.

  1. […] of you might be interested in reading the series I wrote about my blogging journey, called Blogging: Behind the Scenes.  My hope is that the tips there will benefit those of you who are fellow bloggers and would like […]

  2. Cindy Linsenbardt says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’m right in that time of transition and your advice is very complete and encouraging!

  3. […] of you might be interested in reading the series I wrote about my blogging journey, called Blogging: Behind the Scenes.  My hope is that the tips there will benefit those of you who are fellow bloggers and would like […]