How my part-time food blog side hustle made $1,469.13 in January 2019 — all while having a full time job! I’m sharing my tips and strategies for building a successful food blog and taking your blog from hobby to business one step, and one month, at a time.
Welcome to the first monthly Fork in the Road income report! If this is your first time here, my name is Kristina and I am a registered dietitian and the face behind this seasonal recipe and sustainable living blog. Find out more about what we do at Fork in the Road here.
I recently shared my 2018 food blog side hustle income report, which recapped why and when I started Fork in the Road and my journey from taking this food blog from hobby to a thriving side hustle.
Starting this month I’ll be sharing monthly recaps of Fork in the Road’s growth, how it makes money, its wins, and its struggles. Because believe me, there have been many struggles.
Ready to learn how this little food blog grew in January 2019? Read on for my income and traffic report, and my analysis of what worked, what didn’t, and what I’m looking forward to in the future.
Why would you share how much money you’re making from your food blog?
You might be wondering why I am sharing how much money I made from my food blog with the world. Why would I want to put myself out there and share the nitty gritty details of what I’m bringing in?
The main reason for sharing this information is to inspire you to start taking your own blog seriously. I found other food blog income reports from bloggers like Pinch of Yum, Making Sense of Cents, and Root + Revel very inspirational in my own food blogging journey. Their posts have been invaluable over the last year when I was low on inspiration and needed a push to keep going.
I especially wanted to share because so many blog income reports are from established bloggers who are raking in tens of thousands of dollars, and I want to show what realistic growth looks like when you’re also working a full time job. No one starts out bringing in the big bucks, it happens with time and consistency.
The other reason for sharing is a bit more selfish: while I’ve done well creating new content and mastering food photography, I haven’t been great at tracking my own progress and setting attainable goals. I have a ton of ideas for the blog, but sometimes not a lot of follow-through due to time restraints and not knowing where to start on everything I want to accomplish. So sharing my monthly food blog side hustle reports with you is a way for me to stay accountable.
Moving forward I’ll be sharing a month-by-month analysis of what I’m working on, how the blog has grown, what’s working and what isn’t, and my goals. So I can stay accountable and hopefully you can learn and be inspired to keep going with your food blog journey as well. Are you just starting out as a food blogger? Check out how to set up your food blog for success here.
Ready to see how Fork in the Road fared in January 2019? Let’s do it!
JANUARY 2019 INCOME REPORT
TOTAL INCOME: $1,469.13
- Display ads: $9.28
- Google Ads: $0
- Gourmet Ads: $0
- Chicory: $9.28
- Affiliate Marketing: $59.85
- Amazon Associates: $58.10
- Earth Hero: $1.75
- Sponsored Posts: $1000
- Freelance Writing + Photography: $400
TOTAL EXPENSES: $268.19
- Website Upkeep: $150.25
- Photo + video editing: $30.98 (Adobe Creative Cloud)
- Email service provider: $9 (ActiveCampaign)
- Content + social media management: $48.96
- Learning + Courses + Conferences: $29
- Food Blogger Pro: $29
NET PROFIT: $1200.94
Income + Expense Review
Let’s talk about income…
If you’ve been reading other food blog income reports, you’ll know that no two blogs monetize in the same way. Some are high traffic with high display ad earnings, some are killing it at affiliate marketing, and some sell their own products and courses. And some are doing a little bit of everything.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into the way Fork in the Road created income in January 2019.
In 2018 I had a few Google Adsense display ads on the site, but I was bringing in maybe $3 a month. I then applied to Gourmet Ads once I hit 10,000 pageviews and brought in between $15-$30 a month. A bit better, but still nothing to write home about.
After a few months I started to realize that the Gourmet Ads were severely affecting my site speed. All display ads will slow down your site load times, but this was ridiculous: I went from a 3.5 second load time to 28 second load time! In the end I decided the $15/month wasn’t worth the slow site speed if it was turning off readers from staying on my site, and possibly causing Google to stop featuring me in search because my page speed was so low. I had the ads removed and decided to just go without ads until I reach the 25,000 sessions needed to apply to Mediavine.
So in January of 2019 I did not run display ads, except one in my recipe card through Chicory ads, which is an ad company that displays a “click here for ingredients” ad. This brought in about $9 for the month.
My main goal for display ads is to grow my traffic to the amount necessary to apply to Mediavine (25,000 sessions). Until then my only goal is to create good content and increase my pageviews. As they say, if you build it, they (ad income) will come.
Affiliate marketing is when a blogger promotes another brand’s product or service and receives a small commission if the reader purchases after clicking through an affiliate link.
I didn’t pay much attention to affiliate marketing in 2018 except to join Amazon Associates and link to ingredients and tools that my readers may find helpful when preparing my recipes.
However, at the end of 2018 I took the Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course by Michelle from Making Sense of Cents. It was a deep dive on how to find, join, and promote affiliate programs that fit your brand and also solve problems for your readers.
I put the lessons into action and in November and December of 2018 I wrote two posts that were relevant to my readers and included affiliate links to programs that fit my brand: Your Zero Waste Kitchen Start Guide and 20 Eco-Friendly Stocking Stuffers Under $20.
Between these two posts I brought in over $140 in December by readers who clicked through and purchased eco-friendly products through links I suggested. And in January 2019 these two posts were still going strong and I made close to $60.
This solidified to me that affiliate marketing does work and can be a great way to bring in income if you are truly providing your readers with content that solves a problem they are experiencing. Almost all of my traffic for these posts came through Google, which means that many people were searching for eco-friendly gifts for the holidays and my post provided them with ideas for their shopping lists.
I’m looking forward to exploring affiliate marketing more in 2019, and I will update my progress in future income reports.
A significant amount of the money Fork in the Road made in 2018 came through brand sponsorship of blog articles, food videos, social media posts, and emails directly to my email list.
How do brands find me? If I had to guess, I would say that 90% or more brands initially find me on Fork in the Road’s Instagram and then check out the blog, which just goes to show that you don’t need a lot of followers on Instagram to make money (I had between 2500-3500 Instagram followers in 2018). I also am on a few mailing lists with agencies that connect brands with bloggers; they send out emails about opportunities and if I think the brand fits Fork in the Road’s mission, I apply.
In January 2019 I had two sponsored post partnerships that came from one of these mailing lists that brought in $1000. Both included full blog posts and social media posts on four different platforms for $500 per post. To be honest, this is lower than I would have normally negotiated if I was speaking directly with a brand but I liked both brands enough to give it a shot.
While I think brand sponsored blog posts are fine occasionally, I have decided to be more selective in 2019 and instead work on increasing more passive income streams, like ads and affiliate marketing. This may mean a drop in income at first, but hopefully it means a more consistent increase later. Stay tuned to see how this pans out throughout the year.
Freelance writing + photography
The biggest portion of my income in 2018 came from freelance writing and photography. Even though this type of work means that the content never ends up on Fork in the Road itself, I still include it in these income reports because without the blog serving as my portfolio, I would never have secured the work.
At the end of 2018 I decided to cut back on my freelance photography clients significantly. I was taking photos and writing blog content for three different publishing sites, which was a great way to make money on the side, practice my photography skills, and create relationships in the food industry.
However, at the end of 2018 I found myself overwhelmed and overworked. I was working full time and trying to fit in many tiny odd projects into my nights and weekends and I was honestly plain burnt out.
I took a step back and looked at everything I was doing and realized that I needed to cut back somewhere. My end goal is grow my own blog, but taking on this client work was preventing me from doing that because I was spending my limited time outside my full time job creating content for other websites.
So I cut two of my clients and kept one that I’ve worked with for awhile and that I have a great (and consistent) relationship with. So in January 2019 I made $400 from freelancing, and had a lot more time to devote to building content on Fork in the Road.
January 2019 was a pretty average month for income from the blog if we’re comparing it 2018 monthly income. Not much in the way of ads, a small but consistently growing amount from affiliate marketing, and the majority from sponsored posts and freelance photography.
Let’s talk about expenses…
What you can see from this breakdown is that running a food blog means spending money to keep the blog running. I consider these costs of doing business, because I work full time so I use tools to automate some things like social media and my emails to my mailing list.
I mentioned in my 2018 report that I made a few common newbie food blogger mistakes and learned the hard way that sometimes it’s better to pay an expert to do things that you don’t have the knowledge or time to do yourself. I’ve DIY-ed almost everything on Fork in the Road, but after experiencing a few website issues I decided to hire out my tech and any tools that help me reduce the amount of time that is not devoted to creating content.
Many of the expenses you see listed in this expense report are things that I pay annually, so I have divided out the monthly cost to give an idea of what it costs to run the blog each month. Before doing this for this income report post, I actually had no idea that it costs me over $250 a month to keep the blog running.
I’m not sure how I feel about this, considering some months when I do not have sponsored posts I’m only bringing in maybe $600 from the blog, which means about one third of the money I bring in is for expenses. I think there is some fat to trim, so to speak, on some of these tools because if I’m honest sometimes I’m not using them to their full capabilities.
The amount I spend monthly is probably pretty standard for most bloggers with a site my size, however after laying out the expenses here I think there is some room to combine or cut back on some spending. I will continue to monitor to see how I can improve my expense to income ratio in the future.
JANUARY 2019 TRAFFIC REPORT
JANUARY 2019 TOTAL TRAFFIC: 26,816 pageviews (+25% over December)
Top ten traffic sources for January 2019
Top 10 Posts on Fork in the Road in January 2019
- Pozole Verde Chicken
- 5 Dietetics Personal Statement Mistakes You Shouldn’t Make
- How to Make Colombian Ajiaco without Traveling to Bogota
- Nut-Free Chickpea Basil Pesto
- 4 Things to Do NOW as a Dietetics Student
- Pasta with Clams
- The Lowdown on the Dietetic Internship Application
- Homemade Bloody Mary Mix
- Mexican Three Bean Salad
- Ginger Soy Tofu Bowl
In the food blogging world December is usually a great month for comfort and indulgent food bloggers, and January is great month for health food bloggers. Thankfully my site brings in a good amount of people in both months, but you can see that I had a 25% increase from December to January.
One of of the reasons for this beyond just having a plethora of healthy recipes is that I also have specific niche content, my resources for future dietitians, that does very well from January to March. This content is strictly for nutrition students who are trying to match to a dietetic internship, and the application period ramps up in January — hence the increase in traffic to those blog posts in my top posts of the month.
As far as traffic sources, it’s not surprising that Google is once again at the top of the list, bringing in about 75% of my traffic. I worked very hard in 2018 to create new and update old content that is optimized for search. This means that I researched topics that my audience is interested in, optimized my images, completely filled out my recipe card plugin (WP Tasty Recipes), and wrote blog posts that were thorough yet enjoyable to read (I hope anyway!).
My second biggest traffic generator is Pinterest, which I still have not cracked the code on but it is growing. I treat Pinterest as a visual search engine and not a social media platform, like Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I would like to put more effort into Pinterest in 2019 to keep up the traffic growth, this area deserves more of a deep dive in 2019.
Email List Growth
EMAIL LIST GROWTH: 178 subscribers (+38 subscribers, 27% growth over December)
I was collecting emails for years but never actively communicated with my subscribers until the end of 2018. At this point I had a few hundred subscribers but it was a cold list, meaning they had never heard from me and likely forgot what Fork in the Road is and why they signed up.
However, at the end of 2018 I decided to take the advice of other big food bloggers and put more effort into growing my list. I switched from ConvertKit to ActiveCampaign and began setting up templates and systems to tag my email users so I can target them with specific posts that interest them in the future.
In the fall I sent out an email letting them know that I would begin sending them weekly emails the following week and giving them the option to opt out. A few did, but most stayed and then over the course of the next few months I also culled my list down after checking my analytics and seeing that many people had never even opened my email (I don’t want people on my list who aren’t engaged just for vanity metrics).
In January I had 38 new subscribers join my list, which was a 27% increase from the month before. I find email marketing and list growth tactics super interesting and in 2019 I would like to shift my focus from growing my social accounts to growing my email list.
One reason for doing this is that I really struggle with staying active on social media consistently. And as the experts say, you don’t own your social media followers, but you do own your email list. I want to put more effort into providing value to my list subscribers throughout 2019.
What is RPM? RPM is Revenue per Mille, or the amount of revenue per 1,000 pageviews. The formula for RPM is: (estimated earnings / number of pageviews) * 1000. In January 2019 I earned $1,469.13 and had 26,816 pageviews, which means my RPM was $54.78.
This means that for every 1000 pageviews I received, I made $54.78. This is good considering my pageviews were not very high, which means I’m bringing in decent revenue compared to how much traffic my site brings in. This just goes to show that pageviews are not everything and you can build a business around your blog even if it’s not a large traffic site. If we take expenses into account the site’s RPM is $44.78.
January 2019 Summary
If I had to to sum up the month in a few words they would be: consistent growth. I posted consistently throughout the month both on the blog and through my email list, and kept up with social media as well. I was also building on growth from a very consistent November and December, which showed me that a little bit every day can go a long way.
However, at the end of the month I received some tragic news: a very close friend of mine passed away suddenly. I will write more about how this affected my work on the site more in next month’s February 2019 income report, but suffice it to say I did not find posting recipes and witty blog posts to be appropriate when I was mourning the death of a close friend.
So if I learned anything in January 2019 it’s that consistent work pays off, but there needs to be a plan or buffer to keep the blog and business rolling when life gets in the way.
I have been the sole writer, photographer, videographer, day-to-day tech updater, social media poster, email list grower, and all the other things that comes along with having a food blog. And this became very apparent when I was no longer willing or able to work on the blog with as much energy as I had up until this point. When you can’t keep going, the blog and business suffer.
More on this in next month’s report.
2019 Goals Update
Instead of making concrete numbers goals for 2019, I decided to define focus areas for the year. Below is a summary of the goals and an update on progress.
- Content, content, content. I intend to create a lot of content around my niche topic, green eating and sustainable living, in addition to the usual recipes.
- Update: In January I created 15 new and update pieces of content, which is actually a lot for me (this came out to 4+ posts per week, when I usually do 2-3). This was not sustainable in the long run, but I did see a consistent jump in traffic from pushing out lots of new content.
- Consistency and work ahead. Work 3-4 weeks ahead on content (blog posts and emails) so when life gets in the way the blog doesn’t suffer.
- Update: haha, nope. I was usually 1-2 blog posts ahead in January, and this has been a goal for awhile, however I’ve never been more than a week head (3 posts) in the history of the blog. Not sure how possible this is considering I work full-time, but I would like to be at least a few weeks so if life gets in the way I have a content buffer so I can take time off.
- Grow email list. Grow my email list, the Green Living Community, by sending weekly blog recap emails and share featured content not available on the website.
- Update: I did great sending out my weekly email, but I found it hard to sit down and create content only for the email list when I was pushing out so many blog posts.
Thanks for sticking it out and reading Fork in the Road’s January 2019 journey! Make sure to check out the Food Blogging Resources page for past income reports and blogging tips, and sign up to to receive emails when new reports and blogging resources are live.