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Musings: Blogging, Business + Rebranding

While trying to find a good freelance work/life balance (is that possible with freelance work?) the energy to do business with my blog just isn’t there. Because I felt that’s what my blog was there for, it’s been neglected.

But wait. A business was never what I intended my blog to be.

I started this blog back in 2012 as a hobby. I’m a natural born creative who loves to write, photograph and cook, so having a space for those things collectively was a total dream. I’d heard about making money through blogging, but I’m not business savvy in the least so it didn’t interest me. Also, as they say — don’t turn your hobby into money, because then it becomes a job and no longer a creative escape.

Of course, I had a hard time saying “No” in 2015 when a few opportunities fell into my lap. Before I knew it, I had ads on my site and I was working with a few low key brands. Awesome. But It was at that point when my focus shifted and turning my blog into a business became a goal — especially since later in the year I’d be moving to the US, the land of opportunity for food bloggers. (Depending on who you are and who you ask.)

I had no idea how disappointed I was going to be. Taking full advantage of the opportunity to work on my blog full time once I’d moved, I completely drained myself. I overthought, over-planned and got completely lost between who I am as a blogger and who I thought I had to be in order to maintain the business aspect of it.

That last part? Yeah. To hell with that. Seriously.

This had been on my mind for the greater part of last week and I was completely torn on what to do. My gut was telling me to scrap the idea that food blogs are only worthy if they’re making money. I’m making money with freelance work, anyway. I don’t need the blog as a source of income! But there was that other pesky part of me — the part that has been brainwashed by the nagging blogging groups and their sad motivational attempts with “28 things you’re messing up with your blog that keep you from being a success” — that has been looming over me like a dark cloud. Success? I want success. But for me, thriving on creativity is success; creating beautiful content that will make people hungry, healthy and happy is success.

And on Monday night, while laying in bed and scrolling through Facebook posts, I found an article (and amazing comment on the article) that flipped a switch in me. 

It was about Saveur’s food blog awards and the sour grapes that inevitably come with being competitive in the food blogging world. You can read it here if you’re interested. It’s a fantastic read and I highly encourage you to take a gander.

In a nutshell, what resonated with me most was when Michelle said that one of the things she dislikes most about blogging is that as bloggers, we’re all at the mercy of larger entities that can seemingly make or break us.

#RealTalk.

What struck me even MORE though (and when I say struck I mean lit a huge blazing fire under my ass to stop giving a funk about things that truly don’t matter), was a comment by Ashlae from Oh, Ladycakes:

WORD, lady. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone still gives a shit about the Saveur awards. While I was guilty of drinking the kool-aid the first two times I was nominated, I quickly realized – while I was sitting in a courtyard at the Bellagio being talked at (by the companies who sponsored the awards) for a good three hours (and being urged to post on allllll my social channels 18323x a day) – that the awards are just a clever way for Saveur to gain access to our audiences, and then use that to reel in sponsors for their own monetary gain. Which is, admittedly, brilliant on their behalf – but tacky as fuck.

The sipping of the Kool-Aid (guilty); the smoke and mirrors of working with big brands; the gloomy pressure of having to share things on social media every minute of every hour every single day.

I don’t want that. I don’t want any of it.

This article by Michelle, in addition to the raw and honest comment by Ashlae, were obviously very timely for me. I’ve been contemplating a rebrand for a while; one that would hurt my traffic but represent me and my love for food in a more suitable way.

At the beginning of 2016 I was full of high hopes; I reached for the stars, landed on the sun and got burned.

A thorough breakdown on my thoughts and feels:

I’d have to be a sellout to succeed.

Cool your jets — I’m not calling people who blog for money sellouts.

When turning your blog into a business, it’s imperative that you stick to your guns and work with companies that are a good fit for your brand. If you’re an avid shopper at big box stores and buy big brand products, those things are a good fit for you. However, if you’re like me and opt to shop local and support the small guy, they’re not a good fit. Unfortunately it’s rare that small independent companies can afford to shell out enough cash for a sponsored post. Sponsored posts don’t come cheap — they’re a lot of work and they’re a food blogger’s bread and butter. It’s how they put all of that pretty food on the table.

The biggest eye opener for me was when I was approached by a big brand name to write a “How-To” post on hosting a food bar party with a bunch of their products. I had nothing against this particular *big brand* so I was pretty into it until I read further into the proposal. What really chapped my ass was the part where I would have to purchase said products from a certain *big box store* — one that I loathe. I mean, I never shop at this store. I hate it. It’s unethical and I refuse to support it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I’d have to take photos INSIDE the store to document the “shopping experience” and chat about how I love shopping at this place. (I mean, what the actual shit? People do this and are okay with it?) So basically, I’d have to place my morals and beliefs on the shelf so that I could rake in some Benjamins. For someone who digs shopping at this store, it was a great opportunity with a hefty payout. For me, it seemed downright ridiculous.

But was *I* being ridiculous? Pretentious, even?

I sat in quiet contemplation for a good hour. On the balcony. With a vodka soda or three.

These were my thoughts as I sipped away:

  • Is this how most sponsored posts go? Is this how it really is?
  • Would I be stupid to turn this down?
  • Doing this would make me feel yucky.
  • But it’s a lot of money.
  • It would probably set my foot on the right path.
  • No, no. It would be the WRONG path. Supporting a company I don’t believe in would definitely be the wrong path.
  • Is it possible that blogging for business just isn’t currently on par with my beliefs and vision?

I can now say that you LITERALLY cannot pay me to shop at *big box store*. I turned the opportunity down and, for days, wondered if I was completely daft.

Despite the fact that there wasn’t an ounce of me that doubted my decision, it sure made me think. It made me think, overthink, explore and get completely freaking lost in my purpose.

Then I took things a step further and removed all ads.

Back in the day, when I was first approved to put ads on my site, I thought I was legit. Having ads on your site seemed like the first step into money making madness but, for me personally, they just don’t bring in enough income to justify the real estate they take up (not to mention they interfere with a blog’s aesthetics and, depending on the type of ad, can make your site run slow or crash thus creating a bum experience for your readership).

Because so many bloggers have ads on their site (and hey, if it’s worth it for you that’s amazing — you keep doing you!) I always felt it was necessary; I thought that a blog without ads wouldn’t be taken seriously.

I’ve since learned that that’s complete and utter bullshit.

Fear of change and consequence. 

It’s no secret that I’m pescetarian now; I have been since the beginning of 2016. Despite the fact that I’ve been running a pesco-vegetarian focused blog for over eight months now, I still have meat dishes on my blog (and an awkward explanation of why on my Start Here! page which will be rewritten soon) because some of them are really popular. One of them still brings in my highest daily views and it is old AF.

But the truth is I hate looking at them. I hate seeing them on my site. I don’t eat these things.

(But… the traffic.)

Well, what about the traffic? At the end of the day, who cares. My blog should be a reflection of who I am, not a pile of attempts to keep traffic high. I’m confident in my upcoming content anyway. SERIOUSLY IT WILL BE SO GOOD.

Plus, my most viewed recipe is a hangover sandwich for crying out loud. Get that bunk outta here. I’ve got better.

And then there’s that whole censoring yourself thing.

I have a blog voice that I’m comfortable with and one that is contrived; you’re currently reading the former.

All year, I’ve been afraid to speak. Like, really speak. I’ve had to watch what I say in case brands be lurkin’. Sure, it’s important to be professional — and I’ve never planned on using super foul words (is shit even a bad word anymore? Let’s go with no) — but when I have to cover up my playfully caustic wit, borderline inappropriate one-liners and the odd use of the word shit in my own space for fear that a brand might see me, consider me and then opt out because they can’t lighten up… [insert peace sign here] bye.

I have a personality; I’m exuberant, unswerving, funny and loving with a sparkling dash of misanthropy.

So Basically, I’m just gonna be.

There seems to be this lingering pressure as a food blogger that you have to earn an income from it eventually, and if you don’t, you’re doing it wrong. This pressure inevitably sucks the joy out of something you once loved and that, my friends, is the most tragic part.

I can’t deal with that.

Killing Thyme is my baby. Killing Thyme is where I’ve grown as an amateur cook, as a writer and especially as a photographer. My personal progress has been remarkable and you can’t define my worth with a dollar sign.

I want to love this space again. I want it to be an escape, not something I feel the need to escape from.

And I can’t even begin to tell you how free I feel right now.

“You have no idea how high I can fly.” – Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Sean
    August 18, 2016 at 1:42 pm DANA! Big smiles over here. Seriously, so nice to read this. I'm not opposed to commercial work, sponsored work, or trying to monetize your site, but I'm sick and tired for finding blogs that feel like they're putting that over and above any message, voice, or passion. It's like you were writing out my own feelings here. While I might love a product, and I might want to work with a brand, my voice is not for sale. I will not be told what to write. Nor will I violate the trust of my readership by allowing someone else to speak for me. I'm so glad to see Killing Thyme without ads, and I'm so happy to hear that you're really taking control back and embracing your passion here. You are an awesome blogger, with amazing content, and don't you ever forget it. Cheers.
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      August 18, 2016 at 3:17 pm Thanks, brother! I'm so glad this resonated with you in some way. I'm definitely not opposed to sponsored word and the sort either, but like you said, there are so many bloggers that are putting commercial work over and above themselves and, well shit, it's tacky. I mean, you *know* which type I'm talking about. There are so many gorgeous blogs out there doing great work with sponsors and companies and while still keepin' it real, you know? I wish I could have stumbled upon more of that and less of the former. I really lost my footing this year, but it's okay, because I *really* feel like I've found my footing and I clearly have the most amazing support system and blogging pals that a gal could ask for. I didn't even expect anyone to fully read this, let alone leave such wonderful comments. Thanks for being my blog-bro and thanks for *always* being an ear! :)
  • Reply
    Lindsey
    August 18, 2016 at 12:34 pm Bravo, my dear friend! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. How brave of you to share your inner thoughts and struggles with us all so that we can be inspired by them. Money, no money, ads, no ads, whatever--you nailed it when you talked about moving away from being caught up in doing what you feel you're "supposed to do" and just doing you. That we could all do a little more us and a little less what we feel we should, this world would be a bit brighter. You're a shining star, and I love you. I love your spirit and your recipes, and your blog has helped ME on my own personal amateur chef journey. I can't wait to see what you come up with in the joyous haze of your recent revelations. Big <3!
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      August 18, 2016 at 3:11 pm Oh Linds, thank you. Thank you so very much for this. Thank you for seeing me and this post for exactly what it is. I felt like if I just put it all out there and got everything off my chest, it would be more official. There would be no doubting my feels and no turning back and getting caught up in a needless hustle and bustle. I'm also elated that my blogging and my foodstuff has helped you! I love you to bits <3
  • Reply
    Justine
    August 18, 2016 at 12:08 am Dana, I really enjoyed this post. It makes me so happy to read it -- you keep doing you, because you is fantastic. Blogging for income is tricky and I totally feel you on that, but it sounds like you're headed in the right direction! I can almost feel your relief reading these words. :) It's important to stay grounded and reflect often on why we're doing what we're doing -- I'm so glad you were able to do that and come to some resolution. Oh and by the way, I love your rebrand. ;) Cheers to many more years of Killing Thyme success on your own terms!
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      August 18, 2016 at 3:07 pm Thanks, Justine! Your comments mean a lot. I found *so* much relief when writing these words. It seems as though all of these relevant things are surfacing now, too. Podcasts and articles that friends are sending me after reading this post that basically state that beyond a certain level of effort, there’s basically no correlation between the amount of work you put into something and how successful it is. That hit me most, because I totally killed my spirit this year with how much work I was doing, thinking it would bring me more success, you know? It's like the lottery. Some people win at the Internet and some don't. It's dumb luck after a certain point, but creating beautiful content is satisfying so that's what I'm gon' do! And now I'm more pumped than ever for our future projects :)
  • Reply
    Amanda
    August 17, 2016 at 1:46 pm Way to go, Dana! There is no doubt you will be met with success (your definition of success, that is)! As someone who is starting out, has an office 9-5 and no plans for monetization this article struck a chord for me. Why am I doing it? 'cause my mom and friends were always asking me what was my recipe and I never wrote a thing down! I am not truly doing it 'for the likes' or to eventually generate income. I am more focused on being a household name at my office job to pour every ounce of being into my blog, and that's okay. It's a hobby and for now, it's a fun one. Keep it up, I'll cheer you on!
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      August 17, 2016 at 9:07 pm Thanks, Amanda! <3 It sounds like you've got your head in the right place and I'm glad this article resonated with you. It's so easy to get caught up in what you think you're supposed to do rather than what you ~want to do. Sometimes, all it takes is someone else saying out loud what you've been thinking all along.
  • Reply
    Sarahd
    August 17, 2016 at 1:06 pm I can see how making money off of your "baby" could feel totally icky! Like being one of those dance moms or something. And I love recipes with a side of swearing. It's my favorite! Your plan sounds good to me:). Signed, Random New Reader
    • Reply
      Killing Thyme
      August 17, 2016 at 8:52 pm Hey, Sarah! Thanks so much for the bad ass comment. Haha, you know, some of the blogs out there that have sponsored posts coming out of the wazoo DO remind me of dance moms. Not all, but some. I'm glad you're into my new idea. It's time to be real, you know? So stoked to have you as a new reader <3
    • Reply
      Lisa
      August 17, 2016 at 9:52 pm Sometimes it's good to take a step back in order to move forward - this was a great read.
      • Reply
        Killing Thyme
        August 17, 2016 at 10:40 pm That perfectly describes ALL the feels right now. Thanks, Lisa! I appreciate it.

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