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The 5 Mistakes I Made When Starting My Food Blog

There are countless mistakes I made, and continue to make, but here are the top 5 that I hope you can learn from, so you don’t have to have as many “duh” moments as I did.

1. Forgetting about “The List”

This is the single biggest regret of my blogging adventure. Email / subscriber lists are KING when it comes to any business, be it bricks and mortar or online. Who doesn’t want a direct line to their readers who have already put their hand up to hear what you have to say? With the ever changing social media algorithm’s, where you have absolutely no control over when and how people view what you put out, email lists are even more important than ever. You control the narrative, the order people receive your content AND you have the best chance that your content will even be seen.

Once a reader has opted in to hear from you, they’re already way more invested than if they follow your account on instagram or Facebook. These mediums are nearing over-saturation levels, for example, how many times do you read a caption from start to end (scanning doesn’t count!)? I’m going to guess not often. Which is why you NEED to spend time building an offering that will make people want to subscribe so you can serve the people who actually WANT to hear from you.

This isn’t about “tricking” people into subscribing so you can blast them with things you have for sale, it’s about providing useful and quality content that your readers actually want. Much of this I have learned from email list guru Jenna Kutcher(who I stumbled across via Beth Kirbywho is currently on a content sharing rampage which I know will continue forever, thank god!). She’s all about “serving your tribe” most of the time, and selling to them only when you’ve gained their trust (and given them a punt load of stuff for free!).

This will look different for any business, but for me and my blog, it’s about sharing food, photography related content, editing tips and insights into blogging and the like. This is why I write this monthly newsletter and why I created my guide on 8 Ways To Make Your Photos More Moody and My 6 Favourite Props & Where YOU Can Get Them so you, my beautiful subscriber, can learn from what I’ve learned and fast-track your blogging and photography journey.

Don’t distress if you are like me and have completely neglected this important aspect of your blog, there are a lot of resources that will help you strategise building an email list. I can’t recommend Jenna’s List To Launch Labenough, this is where I learned basically everything I know about email lists (which is still not very much, but I am excited to learn more each day!). It’s overwhelming, but if you start today, you’re closer than you were yesterday.

2. Legal, shmegal

Ugh. Legal stuff can be boring and overwhelming but in any business it’s important to understand your responsibilities and your rights under the law. Did you know that you can protect the legal rights on your recipes?  I didn’t. Why put all this work into creating amazing recipes, only to have people fob them off as their own? This works both ways. If you are going to use someone’s recipe and make it your own, give credit where credit is due. Everyone’s recipes start from “somewhere” and it’s respectful to give that “somewhere” its deserving praise. No one will think less of you if you “adapted” a recipe, it just appreciates the work the author put in to creating that recipe in the first place.

Do you use contracts for all business transactions? I didn’t. You might think it seems a bit silly to send a contract to someone for a job you’re doing for free when you’re starting out, but I wish I did. Despite what stage you’re at in your career, contracts outline the terms of your agreement and helps to provide clarity over issues not discussed via email or in person. I got stuck once when I shared photos I took for a client without their “permission”. All photographer’s do it differently, but my general licensing agreement gives the client license to use my images for the specified use, however I retain the copyrights to those images and can use them for anything I see fit without client permission. A contract would have clarified that issue and there would have been no hard feelings.

Contracts also covers the uses in which the client can use your photos. I was once hired to take photos for social media, only to find out the photos would be used for a cookbook. Had I had a contract, it would have stipulated the use of the photos and I could have charged additional fees for publications (as I would have quoted more in the first place). I just learned this lesson the hard way and didn’t make the mistake again.

Whilst it would be best to have your contract drafted by a lawyer, if you can’t afford that, use many of the free online resources until you can invest in a bespoke contract. I highly suggest having a lawyer draft a contract that suits your business but anything is better than nothing, so get googling.

And…. If you’re working as an influencer, I found this post on 9 Elements An Influencer Agreements Should Contain post really helpful.

A lot of this legal stuff I learned from this postby Minimalist Baker, I only wish I read it earlier. If you’re thinking of starting a blog, or already have one, I highly suggest reading it.

3. Be you

When I started out my blog, I felt like I could only write about (and people would only want to hear about) the exciting and “blog worthy” aspects of my life. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Even though this felt SO unnatural, I thought it was important to “brag”, and make pole a bit jealous of my curated life (even if this wasn’t a reflection of reality). I thought this would make people interested and keep them interested. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Writing from your heart (sounds cliche but doesn’t make it less true) is probably the most important aspect of creating content. People who read your blog / book / article, want to read about YOUR experiences, YOUR views and YOU. Otherwise they’d be reading something else, there are countless other options. What sets your content apart from the rest is YOU. You need to infuse your personality into your writing, you can do this by using your experiences to shape the topic you’re writing about and offer your personal insights, which will be different from everyone else’s. Write in a personable, engaging and approachable tone, kind of like you’re sitting down with a friend having a chat.

We are all bombarded with the successful lives of people online, but for me, the people who share their insecurities, their doubts and their truths are the most empowering. I like a pretty curated photos as much as anyone, but what I love most, is when someone shares how they overcame (or didn’t overcome) something, how they get up in the morning and when they teach me something I didn’t already know. We all have struggles, so don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Sharing yourself can be very baring, but people will respect you for it and when someone can relate to you, they want to hear what you have to say.

Humble bragging has its place, you should always celebrate your successes, but there’s a relatively fine line between bragging and being a wanker (haha!). I always try to think about how someone will feel when they read my post. It’s true that almost anything you write could upset someone, but you know if you’re being inspiring or not. Everything you put out should have the intention of improving the feelings, mood, day or lives of your readers right?

Every time I write, I try to be authentic to what my life is actually like, the messy, the “un-blog’worthy” and all. Now this is a lot harder to do than you might think (and I still have a long ways to go), but with anything, practice makes perfect.

4. Not thinking too much about the “business side” of things

Whilst this isn’t THE most important aspect, I really shot myself in the foot starting out without a real strategy on the practical side of the blog. If I had my time over, i’d have thought about the nitty gritty of how I was going to grow my blog before getting stuck into the content and writing about whatever the hell I wanted to. I’m not saying it isn’t also crucial to see where your ideas and photography takes you, after all, blogging and sharing content online should be fun, natural and an authentic extension of yourself.  I’m simply stating that looking at numbers, monetisation strategies, plans for social media and growth are equally critical parts of the overall success of your blog.

Who are your readers?

What do they look like?

What do they want to read about?

What brings them to your site? Search engines, social media etc.

Does your content serve them? How could you serve them better?

Can this content be found elsewhere? Is your content unique?

What keeps people on your site?

What drives them away?

These are all the basic questions you should be asking yourself when you start out, because you will have to answer these questions at one point, why not put your best food forward and get an idea of this at the start?

5. Spending money on a design too early

Whilst this isn’t a mistake everyone has the luxury of making, I decided to spend a little bit of my savings on paying a designer to design and host my blog. There is nothing wrong with doing this, I just think when starting out, it’s a bit premature because you don’t know what your blog will actually be until you get into it a bit.

The first 12 months of my blog was really a travel diary and lifestyle blog (I started it while overseas) and then turned to be more of a food based blog once I was home and travelling took a back seat. Still not really making any money off my blog, I couldn’t really justify paying for a re-design, so I was kind of stuck with a design that didn’t quite fit the new direction, or how I felt the aesthetics should be.

What should you learn from this? Use many of the free blog designs to host your blog until you really get an idea of what it’s going to be, then you can invest and design a site that suits your vision and direction perfectly, and one that gives you butterflies every time you pop online.

I hope this has been a helpful guide. And please reach out if you have any questions.

Anisa xx.

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