Starting a side hustle food blog, while keeping a full-time job!
[Are you a foodie? Want to start a side hustle blogging about it?! Today’s guest Brett started his blog FoodTruckEmpire.com in 2014 and has grown and maintained it even with regular full-time employment! Brett shares what it’s really like running a food blog on the side, annual revenue numbers, ups and downs, and advice on starting this type of business if it’s something you’d like to try.]
In the summer of 2014, I hit publish on the first post of my little food blog out of my one-bedroom apartment. The post was an interview with a successful hot dog stand vendor. I remember being nervous about every step of the publishing process and even delayed publishing for days because my blog design was bad.
Eventually, I worked up the courage to hit that publish button and kick off my part-time food blogging career. My goal was to make an extra $500 per month. I planned on paying off some student loans with the extra money.
I got the idea to start a blog about food trucks sort of by accident. I was looking for side-hustle opportunities I could run on the weekend while maintaining my employment. At the time there was a television show called The Great Food Truck Race on the Food Network that caught my attention and got me interested in the business. I thought opening a food truck could be the perfect business opportunity since most trucks make the bulk of their sales at weekend events. This would allow me to keep my job, make some money on the side, and I could keep my truck parked during the week. It was the perfect business model!
Naturally, I headed to Google to learn more about the food truck business. But back in 2014, I couldn’t find much information online about the subject. Since The Great Food Truck Race was one of the most popular shows on cable television at the time, I thought there could be an opportunity to create a blog to help other people interested in starting a food truck. This is how I got inspired for the topic idea of my website.
During this time, I was also listening frequently to the Entrepreneur on Fire podcast. I was amazed how the host of the show would ask the same set of 8 – 10 questions to guests on a podcast that became super popular. I decided to use a similar approach to develop content for my blog, too.
So I started to reach out to food truck owners by email or Facebook asking for an interview. I asked a few questions and published the answers on my website in text and audio format. This was my entire content creation process for the first two years of the blog.
Can food blogging be a profitable part-time hustle?
Want to make money as a food blogger? I’ll admit it sounds like a sexy way to make side cash. But based on my own experience, it’s going to take two to three years of unsexy work to get there.
Whether you decide to write a blog, start an Instagram account sharing food memes, or create tutorials on how to bake for YouTube, it’s going to require consistent publishing before you’ll get and start to make money. Your chances of making a part-time income with blogging in less than a year is slightly better than winning the lottery. It can happen, but it’s rare.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to put on the blinders and publish content for two or three years without much of a financial reward, you can get the payoff for the hard work you’ve put in. Here’s what my annual gross revenue numbers look like since 2014 to show you what my journey has been like:
- 2014: $0.00
- 2015: $2,300
- 2016: $15,400
- 2017: $32,400
- 2018: $54,400
- 2019: $80,200
Note: I didn’t list any expenses here. These expenses will include website hosting, buying a domain name, paying a developer to make a website since I can’t do it, and of course paying taxes. Food blogging is a low-cost business, but it isn’t free to start.
I want to point out that a blog by itself won’t get you more income year over year. You need to continually blog more (to increase your traffic), but also test new ways of making money with it.
For example, I released an online class called Food Truck Academy in 2017 that added the majority YOY revenue increase. I charged $297 per student for an online class that guided students through the process of starting a food truck. If I wouldn’t have released this class, I would have had flat revenue between 2016 and 2017.
In 2018, I joined an advertising platform called AdThrive that bolstered the revenue by running ads on my website further. I was skeptical about making money through advertising, but I was pleasantly surprised after getting accepted into the program. I’m thankful that I decided to give it a try.
There are many other ideas that never worked at all. As an example, I released a $7 book about starting a vending machine business that has sold 5 copies total in three years. Most of the ideas I’ve had to make more money with a blog haven’t panned out.
Don’t beat yourself up over the ideas that don’t pan out with a blog. It’s not a big deal! Just keep testing your ideas until you find the few that work for you.
How much time will it take to be a profitable food blogger?
I believe it will take the majority of new bloggers 2 – 3 years before making a meaningful amount of money. I’m defining “meaningful” as $1,000 – $3,000 per month in revenue. In the first six months of a food blog, expect to lose money while working a lot of hours each week to produce content.
Everyone’s results blogging will be different. Starting a blog isn’t like going to college where you can input a certain amount of time + money (4 – 5 years of time + tuition) and get a consistent outcome (a bachelor’s degree + fun experience).
While I can’t predict your personal timeline for success, I’ve been amazed at how many other bloggers invest three solid years blogging prior to making a respectable income (defined as between $20,000 – $40,000 annually). This timeline lines up with my journey earning $32,400 in 2017 after 3.5 years of serious blogging.
The grind of running a blog as a side hustle
For me blogging is pretty fun. I enjoy writing and went to college with the intent to become a journalist. I think it’s important to find some level of joy running a blog to stay motivated. Still… There’s a limit to the number of words I can write in a given day and I need a break like everyone else.
For me, the most productive hours are in the morning… not unlike 5am Joel who runs this website. I used to read about entrepreneurs who worked tirelessly from 9 p.m. at night until 3 a.m. in the morning to start their business. For some reason, late nights are celebrated in the entrepreneurial hustle community.
I’ve always been impressed by people who can work late, but have never been productive then. I need my sleep. On the other hand, I can wake up at 5 a.m. and bang out focused work throughout the morning until say 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
No matter if you’re more productive in the evening, afternoon, or morning, you need to establish dedicated times to work on your blog. Optimally, establish blocks of time when you won’t be interrupted for 2 – 4 hours. These uninterrupted blocks are essential to be truly productive writing, video editing, or testing recipes for a food blog.
In my opinion, you need 20 hours per week (minimum) to eventually generate a part-time income with a blog. This business model relies on you producing content that attracts visitors from Google, YouTube or social media. The more quality content you produce, the faster you see results.
This sounds harsh, but I believe you need to protect your time at all costs to be a successful part-time food blogger. You’ve got to approach it with the mindset that you’re starting a business, not a hobby. I’m lucky to have started blogging prior to having kids. It would be really difficult for me to start a new blog right now with a couple girls under 5 years of age.
Also, if you’re married, you’ve got to discuss starting this business with your spouse. If you start a blog, you’re going to be in front of the computer screen a lot and not helping out with chores or other stuff around the house. You must have your significant other onboard with the idea and be supportive.
Most people don’t have a long term vision for starting a blog or any kind of business. I understand it. Your spouse might only see you working long hours, not getting paid for it, and question your decision. Again, I was kind of lucky in the early days that my wife was working at a retail job on the weekends. This meant a big portion of my Saturday and Sunday was free to put in work.
Pro tips on finding time to blog
Don’t think you have the time to build a food blog with a regular job? Here are some of the best jobs for starting a blog or any business on the side. I would consider taking any job that gives you more time freedom or flexibility over your time like the ones listed below. The goal is to maintain the safety of your full-time employment and keep the bills paid while building an owned asset in your spare time.
- Work from home: There are many businesses offering work from home positions now, including major companies like Amazon. Even more roles provide the option to work from home a few days a week. Use the time you used to spend commuting to and from work to start the blog. This is the approach I used and can lead to significant results in your blog if you replace a 1 – 2 hour work commute with blogging. I turned down a couple higher pay job opportunities because of this advantage. These roles would have paid me a few thousand dollars more per year in the short term, but required me to drive into an office five days per week. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t opt for short-term thinking.
- School teacher: You won’t get rich being a school teacher, but you do get more time off than most other professions. As a high-school teacher, you could literally spend June – August each year full-time on your blog. You also have spring breaks, winter breaks, and vacation time that could be leveraged. Plus, as a teacher you’ve already got presentation and storytelling skills that will help you out as a blogger.
- Firefighter: I have a friend who is a firefighter in California. My friend’s schedule is five days on and seven days off. This means my pal has two full weeks off per month. This would be another terrific role to start something on the side.
- Bartender: Bartenders or servers can make respectable money working a few nights in the evenings and weekends. I had a friend that could pay her monthly rent after only two or three shifts during college. If you’re young or expenses are low enough this is another option that opens a lot of free time.
My internet buddy Pat Walls, the founder of StarterStory.com recently wrote a post on the subject of publishing a blog. Pat started this blog on the side while working full-time as a developer about 3 years ago. Pat would visit Starbucks in the early morning to work around 5 a.m. on his blog then go to his day job. He also used half-days on the weekend to get even more work done. This meant sacrificing attendance at a few parties so he wouldn’t be too tired.
In this post, Pat does an excellent job articulating the mental challenges you must overcome to become a successful blogger. A blog post published today may not deliver a traffic return for 6 months. Most people can’t handle a 6-month lag to wait for the results. They think they are doing something wrong and freeze up. If you’re one of the rare individuals that can delay gratification far into the future, blogging might be a realistic option for you. In fact, being okay with delayed gratification could be your biggest asset.
Is blogging truly passive?
You may have heard that you can make money while you sleep or go on vacation as a blogger. This is 100% true.
My blog earns money through advertising and selling digital products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sometimes I forget how amazing this is.
While these fantastic claims are true, I don’t view blogging as a passive. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a blogger who says that operating a blog is a passive income opportunity… unless they’re trying to sell you on a paid training program.
I view blogging as a time flexible business. You don’t need to clock in and out of a blog like you would a day job. But investing a lot of time the first few years of a blog will be required to grow an audience and generate a solid income.
I’ve been running a blog for over 5 years now and I couldn’t stop publishing on my blog and hope to maintain the same income. Eventually, the income would start to dwindle and decline. I don’t know exactly how long it would take to start losing traffic, but if I didn’t do anything for a year, I would expect to see a clear downward trend.
One big reason I would lose traffic and income is my Google rankings would eventually decline. My website gets a lot of traffic from Google and every day other websites publish new content on the same topics I cover. Eventually, the competitor posts would beat out mine in Google and I’d lose traction.
If needed though, I could take a break from the blog for a few weeks or even a month and income would likely stay the same. In this way, I suppose a blog can be viewed as partially passive after you’ve put in the hours to build an asset on the front end.
If you’re currently working at a job that can cover your expenses, I believe starting some type of side-hustle is one of the best long term investments you can make. You’ll learn a lot and will eventually start making money if you pick a business that’s practical.
In my opinion starting a home-service business (maid service, window washing, lawn mowing, garage door repair, blind hanging company) are some of the best options to get started on the side. I love this pet waste removal service business idea featured previously in the side-hustle series too.
These businesses will get your hands dirty learning marketing, sales, and providing a valuable service to customers. Most of these options don’t require a lot of money to get started either. You can get cash flow positive much faster with this path than being a blogger too…. Trust me on this!
If you start a business on the side that doesn’t cost much money to open, there’s virtually no risk to you financially. If your initial idea doesn’t work after 6 – 12 months of legitimate effort, try a different approach or move onto the next opportunity until you find something that clicks for you.
By the way, I started (at least) six different websites before gaining traction with my current blog. To use a sports analogy, if you don’t hit a home run on your first at bat, don’t give up. Keep trying.
If you have any questions about starting a food blog, feel free to enter them into the comments below. I’m happy to share my perspective with you on the subject. Enjoy the journey!
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