Beneath the sparkle of sprinkles and powdered sugar, the world of food blogging is deceptively competitive. To make it, you have to hustle.
“It’s a very saturated market at this point,’’ said Sarah Fennel, a Boston native and the creator of the baking blog Broma Bakery. “There are tons of food bloggers out there doing great stuff. It can be really hard to make yourself known and have people choose you.’’
Fennel’s right; What started as a niche pastime for Internet-savvy foodies in the early 2000s has exploded into roughly 2 million blogs today dedicated solely to food. Many food bloggers aren’t just blogging for fun; it’s their career.
Luckily, people are choosing Fennel. She’s only 24 years old, but the blog she started in 2010 already garners 300,000 pageviews per month and has landed her a partnership with sugar producer Dixie Crystals. She’s also contributed to foodgawker, TasteSpotting, Honest Cooking, and POPSUGAR, and her recipes have been featured on websites like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and Country Living.
Fennel attributes her blog’s success to her site’s heavy emphasis on photography, and her newfangled twists on classic recipes (favorites include her snickerdoodle donuts and caramelized banana upside down cake), but it also to do with business basics like branding, marketing and seriously hard work.
Fennel shared the story of Broma Bakery’s burgeoning success with Boston.com, and provided tips for aspiring full-time food bloggers.
The first thing to know?
“You’re constantly working,’’ Fennel said. “It’s very fluid, but I think it can get a little repetitive. The thing I find most exhausting is keeping up with all of your social media channels.’’
Broma Bakery (a play on the Latin word for cocoa, ‘theobroma cacoa’) started as a fun WordPress project for Fennel while she was away at college. She missed indulging in Italian pastries from the North End and her mom’s cookies, and she wanted a new outlet for photography. After graduating and realizing her initial dream of running a restaurant wasn’t right for her, Fennel began focusing on the blog full-time in 2014. She hasn’t looked back.
She starts working at 9 a.m. every day and spends the next few hours commenting on other food blogs, scheduling posts on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and developing recipes for the week. Then, Fennel said she might take a quick yoga/lunch break before baking a recipe, photographing the results, and editing photos.
“By the time I’m done editing, it’s 5 o’clock,’’ Fennel said. “But I still have to write a post.’’ Fennel posts three times a week, but pointed out that in order to make money, food bloggers have to do far more than that.
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Recipes from Broma Bakery:
Much of her income comes through advertising revenue and sponsored posts. Fennel contacts companies whose products interest her, and asks if she can develop recipes for them to share or tease on her site. Companies pay bloggers anywhere from $100 to upwards of $1,000 per post, depending on the amount of traffic a site gets, she said.
Many food bloggers have side businesses, Fennel added, as photographers, or personal chefs and bakers. Others become so popular they can develop cookbooks. Fennel recently began offering private baking lessons, and hosted a mother and daughter at her apartment for two days, teaching them how to make the perfect dough and frosted layered cakes.
“You’re doing five different jobs at once,’’ Fennel said. “Photographer, PR and marketing, baker and chef…you have to do all these things that come together in one job to be successful.’’
The sweeter side
There are plenty of perks to her job, Fennel admits. As her own boss, Fennel’s hours can be flexible, and she has the ability to travel as much as she wants. She also gets a ton of free swag.
Recently, one company told her they don’t do sponsored posts, but still sent Fennel six jars of nut butters and 40 large peanut butter cups. “It’s insane,’’ Fennel said, laughing. “They gave me a spatula. You get a lot of free stuff.’’
And then there’s the joy of baking and photographing delicious treats, which for Fennel, can’t be undervalued.
“I love developing a recipe and getting it to taste like something that makes your eyes go wide and you sort of do a little ‘ohmygod—it’s fantastic,’’’ Fennel said. “But even more so, I like being able to take that and put it on film. Even looking at it makes your mouth water.’’
Despite the hard work that goes into her job, Fennel urges ambitious bloggers not to take themselves too seriously.
“Writing-wise, always speak from the heart,’’ she said. “It sounds so cheesy, but people don’t want to hear about how perfect a recipe is. They want to know what it tastes like, what you liked about it, what you didn’t like about it. They want to hear your thoughts and snippets from your life. And they want to laugh. That is a big thing I’ve learned throughout the years- people love to laugh. I often remind my readers that even though a recipe may look picture perfect, I most likely made it in my PJs, got flour all over myself, and then ate the remnants as I photographed it. If you can be real, admit to faults, and not be afraid to be a little kooky at times, you’re on the right track.’’