In January 2013 I started an Instagram account to share the daily meals I was making. This was just a hobby and something that I thought could be a fun way to share all the new healthy recipes I was creating. At this point I had changed my diet around, but hadn’t fully cut out all grains- just gluten and dairy. That came about a month or so later. After a few months of daily instagram posts, which consisted of a bad iphone photo with the recipe written out below it, my Instagram had hundreds of followers and was growing quickly into the thousands.
A number of followers asked if I had a place where they could find all of my recipes organized, and the blog slowly developed from there. You can read more about starting a blog here, and how to do it in 5 simple steps! I also share there a few of the mistakes I made starting out, so you can avoid them for yourself!
After a little over a year and a half of blogging, which is an extremely short amount of time, I have consistently grown my blog to about half a million visitors monthly. I’m not saying this in any other context but to share with you the growth potential for a passion or hobby! Blogging takes WORK but more than anything it takes passion, love, motivation and dedication. If you show up, your readers who begin to trust you will continuously show up, too!
The importance of social and which ones to spend time on
Likely, if you’re reading this post, you’re starting a blog or have a blog that you’d like to grow. You know social media is critical, but you’re struggling with growing the different networks and you are spending a lot of time as it is on them already. Therefore, you already know that social media is huge. Not only is it a way to connect with readers on a daily basis and attract them to your new content, but it’s a way to connect with brands, other bloggers, and other get to know the people who follow you!
Now that we all agree on the importance, which should you spend the most time on? Which drive traffic? What’s the difference between them and why should you be on multiple?
Instagram // Facebook // Twitter // Pinterest
Each of these are special in their own way. For example, Pinterest is huge. People love it! There’s also opportunity to join group boards which reach a ton of people. Instagram doesn’t have clickable links, making it hard to track people coming to your website, but has been huge for me in connecting with my readers and seeing remakes of my recipes. Giving a little glimpse into your daily life through instagram shows people you are REAL! Twitter is fantastic for connecting with brands. Brands just love Twitter. Period! Work with the different networks to reach your audience and adapt as the networks themselves change (ahem… Facebook).
Lastly, although not a social network per say, set up an email list from the start and direct people there! People often miss out on things via social media, but your readers and subscribers will always see what you share in their inboxes!
Social media can be a full-time job! How to keep your sanity:
Log out of social media and your email everyday.
Scheduling posts ahead of time will be your friend.
Utilize your time and focus on what matters most to you, your brand, and your audience.
Know your brand and stand behind it. I.E. Don’t take the well paying sponsored post that doesn’t fit whatsoever with your brand. It’ll make you lose credibility with your readers!
Make some you time. Don’t forget to shut off. Read a book, book a massage, make dinner plans with friends. Aside from this, get on a schedule. Maybe that’s not going on social media after 9pm, or not checking your emails first thing in the morning, or not blogging on the weekends. Figure out what works for you (and your sanity) and really work hard at that you time!
TIPS: I asked a few of my blogger friends about their success, and here’s what they had to offer for you!
Network with other bloggers, brands, and with those who are masters in what you aren’t:
“For me success has come because I’ve always asked everyone “How Can I help you?” Also, I’ve worked my butt off improving the skills that are valuable in this career and hired people to do the things that are my weak points.” Kelly from A Girl Worth Saving
“One tip that has always helped me is engaging your favorite brands on social media. We all have favorite products that we buy at the grocery store. Mentioning them and tagging them appropriately ensures that the brand sees you are a fan. Don’t wait for a brand to approach you, make sure they know you exist. On the other hand, if you notice a brand follows you on social media, chances are they are considering you for a potential campaign. Send them a thank you tweet and maybe a link to a post if you’ve mentioned them before. Don’t assume they have already done their research.
Some of my first breaks came through my relationships on Twitter that I built through basic tweets and replies.
Also, always think of your social media game as a job interview. You want to be yourself and have opinions but be careful of overdoing it. Bitching about flight delays and airlines every time you fly may get you a quicker rebooking but you make yourself seem volatile. Always be proud of your work because the internet never forgets.” Sarah from Sarahfit
“Network, network, network. The blogging community is full of amazing, knowledge people. Embrace the community and build relationships — with your readers, fellow bloggers, and brands (if that’s of interest). Leave genuine and thoughtful comments on other blogs, respond to reader comments and emails, engage others on social media and reach out to people via email to create connections and collaborate. This is the by far the fastest and best way to grow your blog, in my opinion.” Brittany from Eating Bird Food
“The biggest thing that worked for me with growing my FB page was showing all the true parts of myself – the ups and the downs, my hopes and passions, and mostly just that I was a real person and not a robot behind a computer. It is the one thing that I have received the most positive feedback about over the years” Kyndra from Peace Love and Low Carb
People eat with their eyes, work on your photography!
“I think one of the most important for me has been to improve my photography skills. You don’t have to start out as a superb photographer, but start honing that skill early on is my advice. If you are going to blog seriously, you need a DSLR camera. An entry level model from Canon is perfect to start with. Most bloggers I know use it. If you get really into photography, it’s really easy to sell your camera on Amazon and upgrade to a more professional model. That’s what I did!” Arsy from Rubies and Radishes
Stephanie from Stupid Easy Paleo released an eBook on how to grow your Instagram. She breaks it down into three categories: 1. post quality photos, 2. connect/network, and 3. talk to readers! Find more in her ebook here.
“I take my shooting skills pretty seriously at Pure Ella and go out of my way to perfect my shots and create great posts! Why? Because we eat with our eyes first! If the recipe you’re sharing isn’t appetizing in the photo, unfortunately you could be loosing traffic on your blog because it doesn’t have that delicious lifestyle appeal. I know that doesn’t sound fair, but it’s a tough blog world out there – and good photos get noticed! With that said, I am sharing my 4 secrets of making your photos screen-licking-good!
1. Always choose natural light!
Shoot right near a window in indirect light (which means that the sunshine rays don’t actually shine at your shooting area) but it is still bright in the shade. You may have a great kitchen but if your kitchen is dim and dark the photos will look lifeless… So find you sweet spot for shooting and move the surface; cutting board, marble slab or backdrop into the window area. Get to know how the light falls throughout the day so you prepare for the best shoots at that time. And if it gets too close to sunset, or you make a stunning dinner at 8pm and it’s already dark out – don’t bother. (when that happens I usually save some of that dinner for the next day and shoot it then).
Natural lighting is also great because it’s free! Which is another point that you don’t need fancy equipment to shoot great food photos.
2. Less is more!
I know shots with unique props and interesting details can be gorgeous. But too much going on can also ruin a photo, especially in food photography where you want the eye to do one thing – make the meal food stunning and appetizing! If all the props and things detract from what you want to stand out in the first place, then it ruins the whole purpose. My advice is to work with less props! Maybe a single neutral colored linen napkin and a unique or even antique piece of cutlery on a white painted wooden background is perfectly enough. And before you shoot, just glance and edit once again, maybe it already has too much going on – shoot as is, then remove one or two things from the photo and shoot again, then compare in post.
Perfect the lighting and practice great clean shots and then start reintroducing more detail and props in the shot. I love adding fresh fruit and a sprinkle of herbs as extra details that make the food look fresh and delicious and I keep the props simple and minimal.
3. Your final shot is never the final shot!
It’s so worth to spend a little extra time to edit your photos in post. Even simple things like brightening the photo, adjusting the ‘curves’ in photoshop makes a huge difference. I work in Lightroom and pick my favourite shots, then I usually brighten them and maybe increase the saturation. No one ever sees my original shots! There’s lots of editing programs like Picassa that are free and get the job done.
4. Keep practicing!
I always loved photography as a hobby and a camera was always by my side. However as a professional, I am actually completely self taught. Although I taught myself a few things before blogging and offered my services to my graphic design clients, it was always about practice and it still is today.
My first food photos were a disaster! But I kept learning and challenging myself. I believe that all skills can be created with practice. If you feel like you don’t have the talent maybe, but it’s something you enjoy anyway, keep doing it! Look for inspiration from others to feed your creativity and keep creating beautiful photos.
And just remember to have fun! I usually shoot when I’m in a good mood and happy and I think that energy really comes across in the photos. You’re more creative and more confident when you’re happy! That’s a fact ;)” Ella from Pure Ella
Above all, love what you do!
“Stick to what you love, what you know and what you love most, rather than falling victim to trends or following someone else’s path to success. Your passion will always shine through in your content when you are speaking about and sharing what you are not only living, but what are also most passionate about sharing with the world. If you don’t love sweets, don’t force yourself to share dessert recipes simply for traffic sake. Authenticity is easy to spot and your readers will very quickly be able to connect with you and your content when they see that you are being true to yourself. Your brand, though it may ever be evolving, should always be a true reflection of the real you. Your words and your content should always be your own.” Beth from Tasty Yummies
“Think of your blog as a journey, not a destination. With so many noticeably successful bloggers out there, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing things well enough. But each thoughtfully crafted post, each recipe that you commit to bettering, and each time you practice developing your photography skills, something is shifting and changing. My friend, Laura, once commented on this journey as being partly about a slow refinement of her craft. And that is the real truth. Where you are today is not where you were a week/year ago, and it won’t be where you are in another week or year. I’m proof of that every day. If you enjoy doing it, it’s exactly where you’re supposed to be right now.” Kris from 80Twenty
“Love what you do more than you thought possible — Anyone who is running their blog full-time knows how much work goes into it and how all-consuming it can be. You have to love it with everything or your motivation will wane. And with that, always remember to take breaks. People won’t forget about you that easily, so make sure you step back and give yourself some time away from the blog to live your life. It’s in those moments where you will find the most inspiration the will set your blog apart.” Davida from The Healthy Maven
Do you use wordpress.com or wordpress.org?
I talked about this more here, but I use wordpress.org. I started my blog on wordpress.com and switched over as it grew. My advice: do it right from the beginning!
Was it hard to initially set up your website?
Setting up your blog will take time. You’ll have to get your logo and design to a place your happy, along with customization, plugins, and your various pages organized. Once that is done, you’ll find your flow of posting and things will calm down a bit (until your next big idea)! Follow these steps and you’ll be set up in no time.
How many recipes did you have when you started out?
Good question. I initially threw up a ton of recipes in week one, about 10-15 or so. I later rephotographed or took some of them down. I really believe in quality over quantity. You want someone to make your recipe and trust you because it’s GOOD. Instead of posting 5 days a week, post 2-3 and make sure they’re quality. From the actual recipe (of course), to the photography, text, and context (what’s going on that month, etc.).
What are your top tips for growing Instagram and engaging an audience?
Be genuine, post often, have some good photographs, and let your readers into your daily life as much as you feel comfortable.
Where is a good place to host my blog?
How do you get people to pin your recipes?
Good question. I have a pin it button on each image on my blog. This allows people to easily pin your recipe directly from the page. Here is the plugin I use. Don’t forget to pin to various boards throughout the day and days to come!
Were you always good at photograph or did you have to learn food styling/photography?
I did study photography in college, but if you go back, my photos were really not strong at all. In fact, they were pretty bad! I’ve really worked on my food styling and photography, and using my camera manually. I’ve invested in resources, I do a lot of research, and I practice all the time! I’ve created/invested in props and boards, too. So many props! Right now I shoot with a Canon T3I with a Macro Lens. This is a really good starter that is pretty affordable and I highly recommend a macro lens for food photography. I do plan on upgrading my base and lens in the near future.
What are the next posts in this series?
You’ll see posts on… SEO, switching from wordpress.com to wordpress.org (a guest post from my tech team, J Louis Technology), blogging essentials, 10 things NOT to do when starting a blog, things they don’t tell you when starting a blog, and more! Stay tuned!
New to blogging or looking to start? What would help YOU?