10.03.17

All about Blogging: how I got started + tips and tricks if you want to start one!

One thing I get asked a lot is How did I start blogging and how did it grow. Well, its been a quite a process and still is. I’m always learning more and more and bettering my blog and hope to continue to do that and I hope you all will continue to learn and grow with me. You’ve been the best followers ever. But let’s get to the good stuff, shall we, and talk a little more about my ‘blogging’ career.

How I got Started:

This little blog here started out as a fun duo that I did with my sister, Madison, back in the summer of 2014 (shout out to all of you original DD sister followers ;). My sister has a big passion for fitness and exercise and me, well, I love to cook obviously so we thought, hey let’s put two and two together and start a fun blog… which is how “The Defined Dish” came about. It was all about food and fitness and we had the best time starting it together! As we started to grow and we realized, wow, blogging is a lot of work. Things changed quickly. Madison moved, she got a job, and she just wasn’t into it anymore so she said “goodbye” to her role here and I thought… hum, to continue blogging or not? That is the question. But that was an easy decision for me.  I LOVE channeling my creativity in the kitchen and sharing it with the world. It gives me so much joy, which is why I decided to continue  my journey here on The Defined Dish…solo.

This was a turning point for me. I talked to my husband about my desire to continue the blog solo and he encouraged me to put more effort into it. Make the site more user friendly, make the branding more “me”, and basically just STEP UP MY GAME. I immediately got in touch with the fabulous web designers and branding guru’s over at Blog-Doo, and it was the best decision I’ve made thus far for my blog career and money well spent! 

Stepping it up:

Making my site and branding simple, sleek and easy to use was the best thing I could have done.(I used Blog-Doo for my site makeover). I hesitated on spending the money to do this because at this point, I was starting to tell myself I’d never make a dime back on this whole blogging thing. The second that I released my new site the numbers of monthly visitors to my site TRIPLED. People were staying longer, scrolling through pages and finding recipes more easily and they loved it! I was so excited! 

Here’s the thing about blogging. Everyone thinks that it is easy and doesn’t require much work and, maybe that’s true for someone slapping together content and throwing it up on the web but are people visiting their site? Probably not. If you put in the time and hard work…. you will see results and, for the first time in my blogging career I started putting in some major time. I scoured the internet for tips on food photography and spent way more time making my food look pretty. I bought a calendar and started a content calendar to layout what I would post and when. I stopped waiting around for brands to come to me and started sending emails and instagram messages asking them if they’d want to collaborate and you know what? To my surprise, people do want to work with me. All the blood, sweat, tears and money were worth it to me. Sharing my passion with others can bring me a little something in return! 

Getting better at photography:

I also knew that to make it in a world filled with bloggers, my photos needed to look more professional. Nobody wants to check out a recipe that looks nasty, right? And, let me tell you guys a little something.. making food look pretty in photos is very challenging. I scoured the internet for tips and tricks on food photography and photo editing and kept practicing, practicing, and practicing…and hey, my photos might not be noble-prize worthy but I think they look nice. They make people want to cook the recipe, which is exactly what I am trying to do here. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful:

  • First off, I use a Canon Rebel T4i and I love it. There is a newer canon that I want.. but priorities, right? haha
  • Natural light, it is KEY. you can have the fanciest camera of all time but the most important thing is to take your food photos outside in a shaded area, or inside by a well lit window. I struggle with food photography during daylight savings because typically, my recipes are our dinner; however, I do have an artificial light that does help, even though its just not the same. Here are some great tips I read for using artificial light., which are good for if you do have to do your blogging after hours or if you don’t have a good spot to take photos in your home.
  • That marble I use for the backdrop of my photos is not my kitchen marble. My kitchen doesn’t have the right lighting so I went to a granite scrap yard and had them cut a piece of white marble for me and I can move it wherever I please to take beautiful, well lit foodie photos. I also recently purchased a more concrete looking backdrop from Erikson Woodworks that is great quality. They have tons of different backdrops to choose from and I highly recommend them.
  • download Adobe lightroom… it’s a game changer. I waited so long to do this and I used to just edit my photos on my iphoto and boy, was that a mistake. Lightroom is inexpensive and makes your photos go from zero to hero. Food photography can be so so tricky… especially depending on what dish you’ve created, but just look at this before and after of this simple salmon dish I did? The colors looked dull and muted, and BAM, I little contrast edited and color enhancement and it looks like a brand new, fresh dish. Pretty crazy, right? 

Stop comparing yourself to others and be confident!

If you want to create a successful blog, stop comparing yourself to others. One of my biggest blogger insecurities is the fact that I am not a chef and that I didn’t go to culinary school. This means my cutting and cooking techniques aren’t perfect and, to someone that did go to culinary school, my recipes might not be impressive at all. Well wah, Alex. Get over it. You can’t win them all! I finally let go of that thought process (for the most part) and started thinking differently about my way of cooking. It’s quick, its tasty, and some people that aren’t super good in the kitchen can take my recipes and feel proud of what they created. I have my audience and it may not be a team of culinary experts… but it’s a place where food lovers and any level home cook can enjoy! 

Also, the whole thought process of “how does Sally have more followers than me? My recipes look and sound way better than hers” doesn’t get you anywhere, folks.. I’ve always been a follower and cheerleader to all other food bloggers. I hope we all make it!

How to start Monetizing your blog:

So this is tricky and I still struggle with this to be honest but here is the best advice I’ve ever received from another blogger that mentors me. PUT TOGETHER A MEDIA KIT. Literally, once I did this my life as a blogger went from me posting things as a hobby to a career. Now, when brands send me an email asking if they can send me free products, I respond with my media kit. Sometimes they want to work with me after the media kit, great! Sometimes… they say no. That’s fine! BUT, regardless, it makes me look like I take my site seriously (and I do) and it has led to a lot of wonderful partnerships with brands that I love! If you are interested in learning more about what goes into a media kit and how to create one, read this post from Blogging4keeps.com.  I purchased my media kit on etsy and customized it from there. If you’re super tech savvy, you could certainly create your own. 

On the other hand, when you do get to the point that brands are wanting to work with you don’t forget YOUR brand and don’t let the money influence you. You have to stay strong with your brand message and what you stand for. I have turned down countless opportunities because I know that if I post something that I don’t LOVE and people go and buy and they have the same reaction… you know what that does for me? Nothing but looses the trust of my followers I’ve worked so hard for. And once you lose their trust, your influence is lost. I love each of my followers and when they go to buy something I recommend, I want them to love it and say WOW! Alex has great recommendations what else does she like? Stay true to who you are and your message. Be patient and work with the right brand, it will all pay off in the long haul. 

Dealing with your friends when getting started. 

It’s true. You’ll probably have some friends or acquaintances give you heck for turning your instagram feed into a blog when you first start. This is why I suggest keeping your personal page separate from your blog page. Announce on your personal page that you’ve started a new endeavor and send them that way, but it gives them the option of following along with whatever you’re sharing. I have my own personal account that is private for all things not food. Why is this? Because (some) people got annoyed when I was posting about food on my personal snap chat when I first started. I had friends poking fun at me at the beginning like… “hey, It’s weird because I know everything you eat. How was that turkey burger last night?” or “hey, more kid and normal snaps please.. less food” and I would just say “well, I am really having fun trying to start this blog right now and I love cooking so you can just unfollow me if you want.” That shut them up real quick. Either way, those friends are jerks anyway. Once you start growing they are the first ones complimenting you telling you how great you’re doing and I’m just like *eye roll*. 

The thing is… you’re putting yourself out there if you are starting a blog. Own it. 

But, where do I start if I want to be a blogger?

Hello? What are you waiting for? Go buy a domain and get started. You don’t need to get your site perfect before you launch.. you just have to start somewhere. Post about whatever you are passionate about and people will see that passion and it will organically happen if you do it with passion and you work hard. You have to stay consistent though. Posting once one week, 3 times the next, and then skipping two weeks shows you aren’t dedicated to it. People see it as a silly hobby and not something you truly care about growing. You may only have 5 followers.. I was there once, trust me. But you have to start somewhere! When you post, pour your heart out to those 5 little, lovely followers. They’ll see the spark in your posts and they will be your soldiers in spreading the news about you. 

Thank you for being my soldiers and sharing my blog with your friends and family. I wouldn’t be where I am today with this blog without each of you and I hope you know how much I love you and how grateful I am for you. 

Now, go, if you want to and start a blog. You’ve got nothing to lose!

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  • Sara
    October 3, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Love this post, thank you for sharing. I still continually struggle with comparing myself to other bloggers and I didn’t realize how much work went into blogging but I love it and hope to be as successful as you someday ❤️ I love your page, I love seeing your recipes and the love you have for your sweet girls is a joy to watch. Thank you for all the work you out into this site for all of us!

    • Alex
      October 3, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Aw, thank you so much, Sara!! I so appreciate you saying that and yes!! Keep up the good work on your blog!! You’ll get there with time and work!

  • Glenda king
    October 3, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Loved this. I love your blog . I’m starting to make recipes and really digging it. I wish I’d had all this at a much younger age?But hey gotta start somewhere. Thanks Alex?

    • Alex
      October 4, 2017 at 11:29 am

      You’re welcome!!! And age is just a number! I know a few bloggers that are making a big footprint out there and they are well in their 50-60’s!! I honestly think there is a huge market for this. People of all ages are on instagram and I think older generations would love to follow someone their own age rather than a 20-something year old. Much more relate-ability there!:)

  • Stephanie
    October 3, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Such a great post. I started a cooking blog a few years back, but life and money and my teeny tiny dark apartment and old kitchen got the best of me. Recently I have had the itch to give it another go, now that I am in a better place…my one question is how did you grow your social media following? I had trouble with that last time and I know this is such a huge part of having a successful blog. Would love any tips you have! Love your blog and watch all your instagram stories…I mean does it get any better than good food, cute kids and a puppy?? : )

    • Alex
      October 4, 2017 at 11:27 am

      Social media can be tricky, and although it’s a huge part of it, it isn’t everything. My blog numbers alone are extremely important when working with brands– so be sure to focus on all aspects of your brand and not just instagram! However, yes, it is super important and it does drive people to your page. I would say to stay super active and try to post consistently, be sure to tag tag tag other brands and pages (reposts are key) and if you tag a brand enough and a relationship starts to form, offer to do a takeover, or a giveaway or something to generate some activity on both of your pages. (however, don’t turn your page into a giant giveaway platform, haha!). I also think a huge part of my growth is because of my lovely followers tagging *me* in posts. They make a recipe they love of mine and tag me, their friends see it and say hey! That looks great and I trust so-and-so’s opinion on food…and, like I said in the post, your followers become your soldiers out there spreading the word about you when they love your page!

  • Jessica
    October 3, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    I love this post! It’s so funny because I take my good photos by the window, or outside on the patio, too! And my husband and boy make fun of me all of the time. Lighting is so important! We recently moved and I’m bummed that our new kitchen doesn’t have the same kind of natural light our old one had. Love your blog & feel very inspired after reading this 🙂

    • Alex
      October 4, 2017 at 11:21 am

      I am so glad it inspired you!!!

  • Laura McCracken
    October 4, 2017 at 12:18 am

    Love your page..have no idea how I came across it, but as someone who also lives in Dallas, I really enjoy your local recommendations (how I discovered Kozy!!❤️) keep up the great work!

    • Alex
      October 4, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Thank you, Laura!!

  • Hannah Merrell
    October 4, 2017 at 2:44 am

    Thanks for the tips. We just started ours and it’s been so much more work than I anticipated. Yikes! But oh so fun!

    • Alex
      October 4, 2017 at 11:19 am

      Keep enjoying it, girl! and Good luck!!!

  • Justine
    October 4, 2017 at 5:34 am

    This is great. I am currently working on building a blogging site but I am really struggling balancing being a SAHM to a 1 year old, cooking and cleaning, and then finding time for me. Id actually be really interested in how you learned to balance motherhood. Love your blog and thanks for sharing!

    • Alex
      October 4, 2017 at 11:19 am

      It’s definitely been difficult, I am not going to lie. I’ve done it all by myself until August (when I hired at part-time nanny) which that has helped me a ton. Really? It’s about time managament and using nap time as work time to cook + photograph + clean up the kitchen. Then, I usually upload photos, edit, and write blog posts after bedtime or I’d wake up with a cup a coffee early (like I am doing now, hehe). You just obviously have to be flexible with this depending on your schedule. It certainly is a balancing act!

  • Pam
    October 8, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    Nice post Alex! And I agree – blogging is a lot more work than one might think! I loved your photography and consistency tips. Thanks!