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Thinking about setting up a website or blog? Here’s what I use at the Friendship Bread Kitchen, plus some resources and tips so you can get started blogging today! Note: Some of the links are affiliate links, which helps support the Kitchen. I only share information about products I use and love. Thank you!
Coming Up With YOUR Great Idea
If you’re thinking about becoming a food or lifestyle blogger, or if you have something to share and would like to get it out in the world, setting up a website and viewing yourself as a small business owner is the first step. I won’t get into the legal issues about the different kinds of business entities that are out there (check with your accountant on that), but lots of people just start with a single idea and test the waters. As it grows, you’ll know when it’s time to take it to the next level.
This is a big one, because it’s not just about parking your site somewhere, but having great 24/7 customer service, tons of tools like automatic backups, http to https conversion, CDN, SSD storage and more (by the way, don’t be intimidated by all this — this is why good customer service is critical — they explain everything). Easy access to your account and usage reports are super important. Plus, it is a huge pain to move so I recommend choosing the best company for you, even if it is a couple dollars more.
I have been with Siteground since 2008 when I first started with websites for my novels. I am so happy with Siteground that I believe it’s the best place for both new and advanced bloggers to host their site–they’ll grow with you over the years. I’m also seeing other well-known bloggers migrate over, so that’s a good sign. They are also very reasonably priced, another big bonus.
Friendship Bread Kitchen has been running on StudioPress themes for the past four years. I had a custom design before, and lots of people are drawn to the idea of a site that’s exactly the way they want it, but the truth is you don’t know what you want until you start seeing how well the design works. Going with a tested theme that can be modified is the best way to ensure that your design is mobile-ready and SEO optimized, too.
I love StudioPress because I can switch themes whenever I get bored. I do have a web designer who helps with complicated tweaks for Friendship Bread Kitchen but I’ve done my author sites all on my own. I also work with third-party designers like Pretty Darn Cute Design.
I currently use Drip for email and marketing automation. I recommend MailChimp for people starting out, BUT if you have a strong platform and plan to generate lots of content and downloadable products OR if you already have a strong following from other social media channels, it might be worth considering Drip. At the 2,500 mark, the costs are similar to MailChimp or Constant Contact but you have way more functionality (like generating a sales funnel if you have an ebook or pruning defunct subscribers). It integrates with LeadPages, too. I started with Constant Contact but eventually moved to Drip and I am so much happier there. The customer service is awesome, too.
Friendship Bread Kitchen is on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. We are kinda/sorta on/not on Instagram, and not at all on Snapchat. We also have a YouTube Channel. Our handle is usually @fbkitchen across all platforms (except for Instagram).
My advice here is a little against the norm. I think you should only be on social media channels you like, and to automate as much as possible so you don’t spend all your time posting and cross-posting. I use Tailwind to schedule and organize my Pinterest pins. Pinterest is the primary source of my traffic, so easy pinning of images from my blog is key. They also have an Instagram platform.
I use Evernote and Dropbox for pretty much everything. Evernote lets me categorize notes, share tasks with other people, and create notebooks of information. Both let me share files or folders. I also like that I am not storing everything on the hard disk of my computer (both sync up in the Cloud) and I can access both programs from my phone or any computer if I’m on the road. I’ve tried other productivity apps and storage systems but these are by far my favorite.
I use Scrivener for all my books, including my novels and e-cookbooks. You can compile directly from Scrivener into a .mobi file (for Amazon Kindle) or export your files as a PDF or Word doc or .epub. It works for both Macs and PCs. I also have the app for my phone, too, and it is totally worth it.
If you’re a one-gal show like me, you might want to consider Grammarly, which checks anything your write (posts, ebooks, etc.) for grammatical errors and suggests phrasing that might work better. It can even proofread and check for plagiarism. In other words, unless you’re a copy editor by trade, you’ll need this.
If you’re savvy with Photoshop or InDesign, you’re all set, but if you’re like me, I need something easy (and fun) and that means PicMonkey. It’s come a long way and is packed with tons of features, templates, cool fonts, an alignment grid, and a storage Hub so you can save your creations or templates.
I used the plug-in Easy Recipe for years and it stopped being supported a couple years back. Luckily it still works but I am migrating over to either WP Tasty or WP Recipe Maker. Like the hosting and email decision, you’ll want to consider this one carefully and weigh all the pros and cons. None of them are free but offer functionality like SEO, recipe ratings, degradation (which means that if a plug-in goes belly-up your recipes still work), and schema/JSON markup. All offer easy printing options, and some include nutritional information and unit conversion as well. Update: It was a tough call but I went with WP Recipe Maker and Brecht was awesome in responding to my (many) questions! Things are always changing in the food blogging world so I’ll keep my eye on WP Tasty to see how it grows over the next couple of years, too–it was created by Bjork and Lindsay at Food Blogger Pro and I think they’re pretty amazing!
Here are the other plug-ins I use at the Friendship Bread Kitchen:
When I switched from http to https, I knew I was going to lose the social likes and shares I accumulated over the years because technically people would be going to a new address. Fortunately, Social Warfare saved the day–it combines likes and shares from both your http and https addresses, among other things. It also offers a ton of other functionality, like a special place to upload a Pinterest long pin with each post, and offers a lot of social network options. It was totally worth it to me to save those shares, and I’m glad I did.
Google Analytics and Quantcast help you understand the traffic that comes to your site–where they’re coming from, what posts they like, and so on. I also use a host of Genesis plug-ins, which are theme-specific to me so I’m not listing them here (but feel free to reach out if you’d like to know!). The rest of the plug-ins can be found in your WordPress plug-ins dashboard (“Add New”).
- Social Warfare
- Google Analytics
- BNE Testimonials (a way for people to leave testimonials on products they buy from you)
- Contact Form 7 (a way for people to contact you without giving out your email address)
- FacetWP (this helps me organize my posts into a searchable database for the Recipe Box)
- WooCommerce (this helps me with selling items in my store)
- Pin It Button for Pinterest (shows a “Pin It” option when you hover over an image)
- WP Smush (optimizes photos)
This will vary depending on the subject of your blog, but if you want to generate traffic to your site, you’re going to need to include some great photos and videos. Here’s what I use:
I have a DSLR (Canon Rebel) but I mostly use my iPhone 6 Plus for both video and photos. I do break out the Canon for big shoots or when I want really crisp close-ups, in which case I’ll use this must-have 50mm lens. Pinch of Yum’s Tasty Food Photography ebook taught me almost everything I need to know about shooting food, so I highly recommend it. Diane Jacob’s book, Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Memoir, Recipes and More, is legendary.
This selfie stick helped with overhead shots and let me snap pics with a remote, but I just bought a tripod extension for my phone from Overhead Pro (so excited!). I know it’ll take the guesswork out of staging my shots (and the occasional drops that occur when you hack a solution selfie stick!). Overhead Pro also sells an overhead tripod for your DSLR if that’s what you’re using.
My house is pretty dim so I bought a pair of Lowell Ego lights from B&H Photo and Video. I’m sure there are cheaper options out there but I know lots of food bloggers who swear by their Ego lights and I especially like that they don’t require set up each time I want to shoot a photo–they are truly plug and go.
I use iMovie to edit my vids, mostly because it came with my Mac but I’m pretty happy with it.
- Canon Rebel
- iPhone 6 Plus
- Tasty Food Photography ebook (Pinch of Yum)
- Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Memoir, Recipes and More
- Selfie stick
- Overhead Pro
- Lowell Ego lights
Continuing Education/Community Support
You can’t do this alone. Well, you can but it’s super hard and frustrating, and it’s so much better with mentors and friends who have been where you are. Two huge resources for me when I started were Food Blogger Pro (here’s a coupon) and The Blog Village. Choose whichever one suits you best (or try both for a month) — both have awesome training videos and an active community of up-and-coming bloggers who are happy to share what they know.
Monetizing Your Site
For the first four years I didn’t monetize Friendship Bread Kitchen, and to be honest, I wish I did. It was discouraging to see money going out the door, even for something I loved, and if the blog was paying for itself or even making money, I would have been encouraged to do more earlier. I felt like accepting ads was akin to selling out, but I finally realized that my hobby had become a business and I needed to start acting like a business owner if I didn’t want to go belly-up.
Food Blogger Pro and The Blog Village have great resources and information on setting up ads, sponsorships, affiliate links, and creating downloadable products like ebooks. Here’s what I do at Friendship Bread Kitchen:
- Install Google Analytics and Quantcast on your blog (these are plug-ins). Both are free. They track and manage traffic and will give you valuable insights that you’ll need for different ad companies and sponsors. Plus it’s cool to see your website grow!
- Ads: I started out with Google AdSense, Sovrn, GourmetAds and Swoop. At the end of 2015, I joined AdThrive (it required a 100,000-page view minimum when I joined) which runs all the ads on my site. I love them! I still keep Swoop, mostly because it’s easy, but AdThrive does all the heavy lifting for my site. They usually match up ads with what your users are already looking at online, so you don’t have to worry about offensive content (and you can always report something or request to have an ad removed).
- Affiliates: Affiliate income is income you get for referring someone to a product or service (like this post). I use the Amazon Affiliate program to generate links inside of blog posts. I also have a store. If people click on the link and buy the product, I get a small commission. If they don’t buy the product but purchase something else during that same shopping session, I still get a commission. I also work with Share a Sale, which has a list of affiliated companies you can choose from.
- Sponsors: Sponsored content usually takes the form of a brand reaching out to you (or vice versa) and paying you a certain amount to write a post about them. Most bloggers only work with brands they normally like and can recommend unequivocally (this would be different if you had a review site). Two resources to consider: Social Bluebook and Social Fabric. They provide leads and/or tools for putting a valuation on your website.
- Downloadable Products: I currently sell three e-cookbooks on the website, plus I have an account at Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing for the Kindle versions of the cookbooks. They bring in some supplemental income that’s nice, but creating the cookbooks took a lot of time. I still think it’s worth it in the end. I also have some downloadable products that I give away for free.
- Google Analytics
- Google AdSense
- Amazon Affiliate
- Share a Sale
- Social Bluebook
- Social Fabric
- Kindle Direct Publishing
A Final Note
Don’t give up! If you’re in this for the long haul, or at least willing to give it a fair shot, you need to be ready to weather the ups and downs. This means scheduling your time and making it work with the rest of your life, otherwise you risk burnout. There is a learning curve here, and while some people might advise you to line things up before you launch, I’m all for jumping in with both feet when you’re ready and learning as you go, or at least not overthinking or overplanning to the point you hit inertia. Give yourself a month to do some research and come up with a game plan, then go for it. You can do it!
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