A guest post by Nicole Hunn
When I read Dianne’s post about blogging for 10 years (Happy aluminum anniversary, Dianne!), I realized that I ‘ve reached that milestone, too. And I’ve learned a few things about blogging for over a decade — successfully and sustainably.
After 10 years, there’s lots to celebrate. Most importantly, blogging works with my lifestyle, which includes raising three now-teenage kids. Second, I’m grateful to make a living while working from home. And third, I’m rarely bored because food blogging is so multi-faceted.
Luckily, I started with a big bang. The New York Times mentioned my blog when it was only six months old, in a news article about the cost of celiac disease. I got a literary agent and a cookbook deal in short order. And this was long before the plethora of blogger cookbooks.
I was so overwhelmed at the time that I let the blog wither as I wrote that first book. But since then I’ve always returned to it. My blog is the engine that drives everything else I’ve done, including writing five traditionally-published cookbooks, self-published books and online courses; plus creating a thriving email list that I cherish.
Algorithms may change, but I work hard to make good, necessary content and to create an atmosphere of encouragement and possibility. If you’re gluten free, you need that and it’s still in oddly short supply.
There are so many things I wish I knew. But just because I learned them the hard way doesn’t mean you have to! These are my top five lessons from a decade+ of blogging.
5 Lessons on Blogging For Over a Decade, Successfully and Sustainably:
1. Don’t bother doing every part of your work as well as humanly possible.
I have to repeatedly remind myself of this lesson, since I want to learn everything and be the very best at it. But at a certain point, my efforts bring diminishing returns. Going down the rabbit hole of perfecting your food photography and videography, for example, means something else will suffer, without any further benefit to your web traffic or reader engagement.
The trick is to learn when your skills are good enough. Because blog readers seem to accept and even expect a certain level of amateurism, I share work I’ve produced even as I build competency. Once I reach the point where I can enjoy and learn from my own content, and find it pleasant, I move on. That’s usually where the presentation is beautiful enough for readers to enjoy. They can still imagine themselves creating a dish that looks a lot like the one in the photo or video, but it’s still beautiful enough to aspire to.
There are always areas where I could improve, but I resist the urge by turning to another aspect or project. When I started in 2009, I was truly awful at food photography, but we all were. Yes, the threshold of minimum competency in photography on the Internet has increased over time. Now, after blogging for more than a decade, I take passable photos. If you aren’t there yet, hire someone else to do it until you reach an acceptable skill level.
2. You do need a working knowledge of every aspect of your work, though.
Enough, at least, to help you hire the right people for the job. I learned that principle many years ago from The E Myth Revisited, by Michael E. Gerber. Do the work yourself, no matter how menial, and decide upon the minimum degree of competency you’re willing to accept for that task.
This principle breaks down as the tasks become more complex, like with website design and coding. But I’ve achieved enough competence in even those areas to ask educated, intelligent questions of my coder. That way, I ensure that I get what I want, and I’m more likely to want what’s actually possible.
3. Write at the intersection of what interests you and what your readers want to read.
Many food bloggers say that they began their websites as a way to share their lives and talents with far-away friends and family. I’ve always thought of my blog as a service, not a journal. I never had to shift perspective to make it a business that serves my readers.
If you’re having trouble understanding who your readers are, you may have things backwards. First, define your intended audience. Then, serve them. It’s analagous to “write what you know.” Create content you’re skilled at for people who will benefit. Then evaluate your success on a regular basis.
The first indicator of whether your readers find your content engaging is likely to be their level of engagement when you share it on instant-feedback social media, like Facebook or Instagram. Once the content has aged, your website analytics (viewed through free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console, paid tools like SEM Rush, and through the analytics of slow-burn social media like Pinterest) can help you gauge success. Tweak, and repeat.
4. Be accessible, but your life is still your own.
Readers sometimes feel raw and reactive when they’re new to gluten-free baking. They can be demanding of my time and attention. They’re having a hard time, and I want to help. But that’s a very high-touch, private service for a single individual. I’ve learned that I simply can’t sustain it.
If you’re providing so much personal feedback to your readers that you’re resentful, it’s time to course-correct. Only take on tasks you can continue for the life of your blog. For example, I have an email address that I share on my Contact page. My assistant responds to emails there, and only loops me in when she’s not sure how to respond.
I do respond personally to all emails I receive in response to a weekly email to readers. I also respond personally to each question asked in a comment on the blog, because that content remains visible to all readers as a permanent part of the blog.
Another example of accessibility is Instagram Stories. I don’t want to feel pressured to do them, as it’s not my nature. I’ve never once taken selfies, much less published them. And I don’t want to invade my children’s privacy. So I don’t do Instagram Stories, even though it might be a business mistake.
5. Diversify your income as best you can, but don’t do things that make you uncomfortable.
That’s because you won’t do them well and your discomfort will come through in the execution.
For example, I hardly ever do sponsored posts. As a consumer of web content, I don’t mind sponsored content when it’s organic and well-produced. But I just don’t enjoy doing the work. I also find that the return on investment of my time is too low. I can make more money, over time, by continuing to create more of my own content.
Each of these lessons I learned the hard way. But these are just some common-sense guidelines that I wish I had learned more easily. So use your previous life experience to guide you as you create content, treat your readers with respect but don’t forget to take care of yourself, and work hard.
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Nicole Hunn is the author of the Gluten Free on a Shoestring food blog and cookbook series, which has been featured in the New York Times and MSN Money. Her work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Parents magazine, Parade magazine, and Epicurious. She lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband, three children, three dogs, and two cats.
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.)