That’s right! I’M TAKING BUTTERNUT BAKERY FULL TIME!! If I could I’d write this entire post in all caps to express just how excited I am, but I don’t want you to think that I’m yelling at you. So instead, I’m sharing a somewhat short (and lowercase) breakdown of how I was able to quit my full time job just 2 years after I published my first recipe on Butternut Bakery.
Why I started my food blog
When I created Butternut Bakery, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. It started with my Instagram account, sharing it with my friends on my personal account to let them know that I will now be sharing all of my food photos over @butternutbakery…because my personal account was quickly turning into a full on dessert feed.
This was around July of 2017 and for about 6 months, I shared pictures of the things I would bake and create. Whether it was a recipe I found online, or something I whipped up myself, I made an effort to take as good a photo as I could with my iPhone 6.
I took a photography class in high school and another in college, but besides that I had very little knowledge about how to take food photos. I knew that bright natural light was the best, but that’s about it.
During this time, I had maybe a hundred followers if that. My posts were sporadic, probably once a week, and I just baked whenever I had time.
After a few months, my followers continued to grow and I had a few requests for the actual recipes. That’s when I decided to go for it and start a blog…really only using it to share recipes with the people who requested them.
I have a blog post all about the technicalities on how to start a food blog which is very helpful for anyone just starting out. I had no clue what I was doing, so I created a Squarespace site. It was OK for the time being because of how easy it is to set up, but WordPress is definitely the way to go. Luckily I only had maybe 10 recipes to transfer over when I made the switch.
So it was done! In January of 2018, I shared my very first recipe for puppy chow marshmallow treats (which has since been updated) and Butternut Bakery was born.
My first year of food blogging (2018)
Lol at that picture. I remember I needed photos for my website so I made Nick (my fiance) take pictures of me and I felt so awkward, hence the “idk what to do with my hands so I’ll put these measuring cups over my eyes” pose.
In my first year of blogging, I just made recipes, took photos, and uploaded it to the blog and Instagram. That’s about it (mainly because I still wasn’t sure how the whole food blogging thing worked). But it was also a VERY stressful time for me because I had just moved across the country, landed a job that I hated, and felt so stuck.
I was listening to so many podcasts and reading so many articles about food blogging but always felt like I wasn’t enough, that I’d never get the hang of this, and that I’d have to work for someone else for the rest of my life (my actual living nightmare).
But I used that fear as my fuel. I kept pushing forward, ignoring that self doubt (as best as I could) and actually started making money from my food blog. This absolutely blew my mind.
A couple months into blogging, I decided to add ads to my site using Google Adsense. I maybe had 15 people visiting my site per month, but I figured what’s the harm. I remember I made around $3 one month and thought I hit the jackpot.
It was also around this time that I splurged on a used camera I found on Ebay. I believe it was a Canon 5d (which they don’t make anymore…it was that old) with a 50mm lens. So $250 later, I went to work practicing my lighting, settings, and angles.
Then, about 6-8 months in, I landed my first paid sponsorship. They somehow found me and sent me an email which then snowballed into an annual partnership the following year. I remember not knowing what the heck to charge, so I leaned on a couple food blogger friends to help navigate this new territory.
I had also significantly grown my Instagram following. For my first sponsorship, I believe I had around 3,000-5,000 followers. I’ve written a post all about how to grow your Instagram following which is full of helpful tips on how to get the most out of your account.
BUT I should also mention you do not need thousands of followers to land a sponsorship. Before that point, I didn’t even think about reaching out to brands. Had I done so, I likely would have had a sponsorship sooner.
As 2018 was coming to an end, I rounded out the year with around $3,000 total from the blog. This was mostly through sponsorships and ad revenue and a majority of it came in the second half of the year.
My second year of food blogging (and final year of working a full time job)
This was a HUGE year of me, and I didn’t even expect it. At the beginning of the year, I remember I set a few goals that I thought were very fitting for my situation. First, I wanted to make at least $20,000 for the year. I also wanted to end the year with 50,000 Instagram followers (I think I had about 25,000 by the end of 2018) and 100,000 monthly pageviews on my website (sitting at around 50,000 when I made this goal).
But by the end of 2019, I made $65,000, grew my Instagram to 80,000 followers, and reached over 200,000 pageviews. I remember I hit my initial goals around the middle of the year and thought “ok, I did it”, but if it wasn’t for Nick I don’t think I would have ended the year as I did.
Every goal I hit, he kept telling me to make a bigger one. That if I’m already hitting my numbers, I need to be thinking bigger…that I’m capable of more and I can really turn Butternut Bakery into a full time income this year. He believes in me so much, more than I do myself, and his continual support is what pushes me further and further to achieving things I couldn’t even imagine.
So…how did I do it? Here is what I really focused on:
Food photography – In 2019, I practiced and put in the work to sharpen my photography skills. I’m at a point now where I’m really proud of my photos, which is a far cry from how I felt at the beginning of the year. I upgraded my camera (here’s a link to all my gear), experimented with my angles and lighting, STOPPED trying to make my work look like the pictures I saw on Pinterest or Instagram (this was a huge turning point for me), and just had fun with it. My shoots turned from an hour of frustration to a whole morning of excitement. It’s through my photos that I was able to grab people’s attention and make their mouths water. That’s what really helped grow Butternut Bakery.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – Ahh, the dreaded three letter acronym. Some people hate it, and some people are fascinated by it. I lean on the latter, so I spent as much time as I could learning all about it. I cannot recommend the Hashtag Jeff course enough. He explains SEO in a way that’s so easy to understand and helps you nail the basics. After his course, I noticed a jump in my search traffic and began sharing with intention rather than throwing spaghetti at the wall. You can see my traffic progress below, the orange is 2018 and blue is 2019.
Content – This goes hand in hand with SEO, but about halfway through the year, I shifted the way I thought about the recipes I shared. I knew that I wanted to become a RESOURCE for bakers and not just a place with pretty food photos. I started sharing high quality recipe blog posts with process photos and in depth explanations as to how to get the recipe just right. This is so much more helpful for my readers which in turn, benefits me and my brand.
For example, here is a recipe that I posted before I made this shift, and this is after.
Sponsorships – 2019 is the year that I was actively and consistently reaching out and pitching to brands. Because of this, the money I made from sponsorships made up the majority of my income. In my emails, I would state who I was, why I loved their product (because I only work with brands and products I actually use) and the value I had to offer..or the amount of exposure they could gain from a sponsorship with me. I would do some digging on their websites and Linkedin to find the right contact and send out my pitches. Not all answer back, and you have to continually follow up, but the ones that show up typically turn into multiple sponsorships.
Research – Never stop learning! It’s such a cliche but it’s so true, I spent so much time researching everything I could. From photography and lighting, to keywords and content. There are tons of resources out there, but I recommend starting with a Food Blogger Pro membership. Everything you need is condensed into really easy to follow videos and articles from some of the best in the industry.
How I did all of this while working full time
This post could go on forever and ever because of how much work that ACTUALLY goes into a food blog. I’m just touching on the basics for now, but running a food blog while working a full time job is HARD. I gave up my weekends, my nights, date nights, sleep, my sanity, but I am also SO happy I went through it all.
My biggest tip is to stay organized. Seriously, write everything down. Create a content calendar that outlines what you’re working on that week, what’s going up that week, and where you’re sharing that content (socials, website, newsletter..etc). I did this all in Google sheets because I could take it with me wherever I was.
If I was having a slow day at work, I could check on all my blog documents right in Google drive. I also spent my lunch breaks picking up ingredients from the grocery store and answering emails.
It also helps to get into somewhat of a rhythm. Create a format for your newsletters and just drag and drop what you need to change out each week or month. Write up a general outline for your blog posts so you aren’t just staring at a blank screen every time you go to type up a new recipe. Be consistent in your days. For example, I did all my recipe testing Thursday and Friday nights so they’d be ready to shoot on Saturday and sometimes Sunday (depending on how my Thursday and Friday tests went). All other days were dedicated towards writing blog posts or other admin tasks.
Now, this didn’t come easy. At first it was really hard for me to sit down every night after work to continue to do more work. I love lounging on the couch and binging Netflix and much as the next person, but slooowly over time it just became my routine. And once you start seeing your numbers go up and watch others enjoy your recipes, that motivation carries you through.
Above all, you have to keep believing in yourself. Coming from someone who is full of self doubt and thought I’d be stuck in a full time job forever, anyone is capable of achieving what they REALLY want out of life.
So whether you have a blog already or are thinking about starting one, know that it IS possible to make this your full time job no matter how tough it gets. And if you’re reading this thinking that it’s all too much…I was in the exact same position. Reading something like this would have inspired but also terrified me. Lean into that inspiration, because look where it can lead you!
Congrats, Jenna! That is SO exciting! I can’t wait to keep following along on your journey!
Kendall Smith says
Thanks for this post and congratulations! It’s resonating SO MUCH with me! Every bit of it.
I just launched my blog in January and would love to see this grow to a place of full time employment after the second year!
Keep up the great work 🥳
You’ve got this!! Thank you so much!
Thank you so much for sharing your expérience.
And bravo for your hard work.
I havé à question. Why have you switched for WordPress?
Thank if you havé Time to answer.
You have a lot more flexibility in the design of your website and it’s also MUCH better for SEO.
Kathryn Donangelo says
That is so awesome! You are an inspiration, Thank you for sharing this post! xo Kathryn
Thank you Kathryn!!
Congratulations Jenna! Hardwork does pay off and I can’t wait to be like you when I grow up. Hahaha
Haha thank you so much!!
Jenna, this was a wonderful read! Thank you for sharing and for being such an inspiration. So happy for you and can’t wait to see what you come up with in 2020.
Thanks Sam!! Same for you! I love seeing your creations 🙂
What an inspiring story, Jenna! I’ve been following since early 2018 and it’s incredible what you’ve achieved.
Thanks for all the tips and inspiration! 🙂
Thank you so much Paula!!
This post just made my day 🙏🏻Thanks for sharing! Congratulations 🎊🙏🏻🙌
Thank you so much!!
Congratulations!! So happy for you!
🙂 THANK YOU!!
Congratulations never give up
Allow me to add my congratulations with all the others! Thank you for sharing the details of the process, too, it’s very generous on your part. Your photography is wonderful – it’s what pulled me in in the first place and continues to do so. I don’t want to be impolite but how can you bake so much and not put on weight? I had to stop baking completely in order to bring my weight back down. That’s not to say I ate complete cakes, pies, or entire cookie batches – that wasn’t the case. Instead I baked every week so that there was always something around and I liked what I made far too much for my own good! I really miss baking but know I will balloon back up if I start again. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from READING about baking, haha! Do you have any secrets or tips for that? Thanks!
Hi Peggy – Thanks so much! I actually can’t eat anything I bake right now because of leaky gut, I wrote all about it here. So instead I taste test by taking a bite and spitting it out. I know…so sad! But I’ve actually lost a ton of weight since finding out about my leaky gut issues, mainly because I have to cutout all inflammatory foods (sugar, gluten, and dairy) and feel so much better after doing so.
oh, man, that was not the kind of reply I was expecting. I can understand taste and spit (yes, so sad!!) but the inflammation issues (for YEARS and not entirely gone yet) knocked me over. I went back and read the Nov 2019 posts. I’m positively floored you’ve worked full time, launched BB, and now do BB full time with all THAT at your forefront. Kudos were already yours for all you’ve done and continue to do with BB, but now they are increased manifold! Healing blessings to you.
Tasia ~ two sugar bugs says
I’ve loved following along on your journey Jenna! Your hard work is so admirable and I look forward to seeing you continue to soar!! Looking forward to seeing what’s to come.💗
Thank you for this post!!!
Lisa Chen says
First of all ccongratulations on achieving your dreams thus far!! Second thank you so much for making this post, I’m reading this after feeling rather down in the slumps about what I’m doing with my food journey. And reading this has only lifted my spirits.
Keep up the good work! I love your posts and although I’m not much of a baker your work inspires me to learn to bake more!
Hi Jenna. Often when I am baking, I have typically reviewed several recipes and along the way tweak, combine, in some way modify. But in doing so, if you were to start a blog I would think most of the time you have started as some recipe as your base. Where do you find the rules around copywriting or having used someone else’s recipe as a base or inspiration? I have noticed since I look over recipes so much they are often incredibly close if not identical. Is it “anything goes” in blogging or do you need to credit other bakers? I have seen some websites/blogs reference others but more times than not, they don’t. Sorry for the long winded question but was hoping you might be able to point me in the right direction? Thanks very much!
Hi Susanne. Good question! There’s really no written rule, or at least none that I’m aware of, but with so many recipes out there there’s bound to be some similarities. I would hope that everyone is doing their due diligence to test their OWN recipes and not take from others. If you find that you started with someone else’s base recipe and tweaked it to your liking, it would be a good idea to acknowledge that within the recipe (maybe in the notes section) and link to it there. I hope this helps!
Thanks Jenna! I don’t have a blog but have thought about it many times. The detail you provide is helpful!
Taleen | Just As Tasty says
Congratulations, Jenna!! Your story is super inspiring and I appreciate the resources and income reports you’ve written. Would you ever consider doing a dedicated post on landing brand sponsorships? I’d love to hear more about your pitching strategy, tips for newer blogs, etc. Thanks!
Thanks! I’ve kind of steered away from resources but it’s definitely something I’d like to get back into.
Anita Beyond The Sea says
This is probably the most honest and true how to turn a blog into a full time business I have ever read! I’m so tired of all the b* other bloggers write. I’ve been blogging for 6 months now and I’m just starting to get traction to my blog now thanks to SEO (I’m in travel niche). But I’m extremely tired of people writing how to go full business 3-6-9 months after starting… So thank you I usually don’t read these titles but I wanted to congratulate and thank you for sharing your story! Oh and how did you get a canon 5D for 250$???? :O
Thank you! And I honestly can’t remember it was so long ago haha but the model and body that I got was about that price range.