I have blogged in so many different ways over the past three years, and it’s fun to look back and see the evolution. I remember when I first had the idea, and I emailed two of my friends at work. To the first, I said “I think I want to start a blog and call it ‘Veggie Mama'”, and to the other, who is a business journalist, I asked “do you think it’s possible to make money blogging?”. They were both super-supportive and excited yet none of us envisioned what could possibly come of it. But I knew it would be useful to have to show potential employers that I was interested in food writing. But it was 2010, and all available food-writing jobs in newspapers and online went to ex-Masterchef contestants, and not to newspaper editors wanting to create a career around their kids.
I started off very simply – blogging recipes and (horror of horrors) taking photos of the resulting food with my iPhone. Here is my very first post, entitled “Not just a load of old lentils” (thankfully free of iPhone images!). I had heard of a cookbook by that name, and it struck a chord with me. Vegetarian food really isn’t just a load of old lentils – it’s a cornucopia of deliciousness that sometimes you sort of don’t see until you’re faced with it. I had found veggie food to be pretty awesome, to my surprise, and I wanted to share that.
I originally started on Tumblr (here) but once I found a whole horde of other bloggers to connect to, I realised my blog couldn’t easily be followed that way. So I switched to Blogger and spent countless hours finding a template that nobody else was using. Hola Veggie Mama 2010!
She didn’t last long. Although I liked her very much – summed up my vintage and veggie in one go. I spent more time fiddling around trying to find free templates that were cute and free! I was so inspired by Brenda’s blog header (although it’s changed now), and everyone’s blog looked SO professional, I realised I had to get in that game. Incidentally, this is when I joined Twitter, and the peeps cruising around the blogosphere were all the ones listed at that link – the top 50 bloggers in 2010. Twitter was like a nightly party, and I was on it constantly. To this day, it was the best thing I could have done for networking and getting my name out there, although it’s probably not the same in the blogosphere now. At the time it was just a lot of fun, and the benefits of traffic were a bonus.
I also joined the Digital Parents network right after I started my blog. It was very new at the time, but wonderful to find other bloggers to connect with and bounce ideas off. I even started a forum discussion for other people who were about to start the trying to conceive journey. The crew at Digital Parents also encouraged us to get a .com pretty early on, so I did so straight away. So sad I couldn’t have veggiemama.com, so settled for a “the” at the start. And had to have an underscore on twitter, which totally bummed me out.
In July, I stopped blogging for three months straight. I had fallen pregnant and was suffering some pretty hectic morning sickness, so I wasn’t cooking as much. In fact, I was coming home from work and passing out on the couch, before staggering around the kitchen for a Vegemite sandwich an hour later, moaning, then going straight to bed. I didn’t announce my pregnancy or anything – I honestly thought nobody would be that interested. All they were coming for was the recipes, right?
By December of that year I was already experimenting with ads on the blog. I used some American company that had emailed me so I signed up with their network. They still have never found me a single advertiser, haha! I took their ads down after a month or two. I also was still on the hunt for the perfect free blog template, but was never truly happy.
Enter Sass from MooZoo designs – she created my very first professional layout at the start of 2011 and it was money well spent. It looked SO cute. I asked her to have a look at Fat Mum Slim‘s layout and make me something in the same vein (back then, Chantelle’s was pink and had scrabble tiles spelling out her blog name. I thought she was the cleverest EVER). I looked a little more professional, and it was fun to have a theme that could carry over to other things – including my business card. Which I rarely use, but was told I should have for conferences!
I missed out on the first Aussie Bloggers Conference that year, because I was about to pop out Veggie Baby number one. I sat at home and followed the tweet stream and saw all the photos and wished I had gone, considering VB was 10 days late and I was still pregnant. But I made it to the Nuffnang conference that year, part of the crew of mums sitting up the back breastfeeding their babes while listening to the speakers. I got to see a bunch of bloggers I loved in real life and it was surreal and a ton of fun.
Still not realising readers would be interested, I announced Abby’s birth a full month after she was born. I never did post those hot cross buns that year, either…
In May of 2011, I did my first book review for Audrey Gordon’s Tuscan Summer (still one of my favourite collaborations ever). It was no small thrill receiving a book in the mail, and a free one at that. I marvel looking back at it now that I didn’t disclose anywhere that the book was sent to me for review. Man, how times have changed! We really didn’t know what we were doing back then, but soon wised up. This month was the first one where I was beginning to see the future of blogging and creating an income, and I was excited and ready.
A while later was my first brand collaboration, with Finish Quantum dishwashing tablets, which I still use to this day because of this post. Managed to figure out disclaimers by then! (Thanks, Pioneer Woman…)
May 10 was my first blog birthday, and I celebrated by running a competition. The first prize was a batch of cookies baked by me and express-posted to the winner. Those cookies (she chose raspberry and white chocolate) really are phenomenal… so the recipe is here for those who are interested! Back then I wasn’t aware of the laws surrounding blog giveaways, so the winner was chosen randomly. I miss that! Nowadays we have to make it a game of skill and not a game of chance to avoid having to buy a lottery permit. Which makes it harder for you guys to enter, and harder for us to choose a winner. Oh for the innocence of times past!
I secured my first (and funnily enough, only) conference sponsor in July that year, which I announced here. FOODO Online Marketplace worked with me to go to the Nuffnang Blogopolis conference I talked about earlier. I was SO proud of myself!
The end of the year saw a little spruce-up of this here Veggie Mama space, and I made my photos wider. I still am not the best photo-taker, and I suck at styling (mostly because I’m doing it quickly, stopping a toddler with one leg while photographing) but my fancy schmancy camera made my food look nice. You can actually poke around the blog as it looked back then right here. So funny!
When I finally changed up my layout, so many people were sad. I do still love it so, but there was more to me than pink birds! I felt like it didn’t really sum up on the first visit what to expect from my blog. Meanwhile, I still don’t know what to expect from it myself… but I knew it had already evolved to include crochet tutorials, kid food, and a little more (but still not very much!) mum stuff. I needed something that gave a pretty instant visual.
So in April of 2012, I debuted this new header and layout. I had taken the photo myself, and made all of the buttons and things on the sidebar, and Sass did the fonts and general layouty stuff. It still looks like this over on my old Blogspot site.
This year was also the one where brand collaboration really took off. I had a media kit I’d made the year before, and tried to keep updated with stats and things. I was still navigating prices and expectations and emailing others to find out what was the best thing to do and how to do it. My blog had never really been a personal journal or anything like that, so I was (and still am) comfortable with monetising it. It’s just a space where I share stuff that other people might like – including now stories of my life and bits and pieces like that. I found once I shared that aspect of my life on the blog it created such a wonderful response with readers and I totally enjoyed writing it. So I let people peek a little bit more behind the curtain and am so glad I did.
In March of that year, I secured my first year-long blog ambassadorship, with Gourmet Garden. I negotiated with them what it would cost for a full year (knowing very little, but valuing the time and effort I would spend on it and giving a figure based on that calculation). I had to negotiate waaaaaaay down, as they weren’t expecting what I was expecting, but I learned a valuable lesson! I started planning my trips to BlogHer Food in Seattle and BlogHer in New York, and was thrilled I was starting to be taken seriously. I ended up not being able to go overseas as I found out I was pregnant with Pepper, and my ambassadorship kind of fizzled out before we reached the end of the year. But I knew that it was just the start of my professional blogging career. Which I still was only half paying attention to, being very busy with babies and all.
Because I hadn’t really had much sponsored content on the blog and my readership had grown to include fresh eyes (and monetising was the buzzword of the year, everyone had an opinion on it), I asked you all in July 2012 what your thoughts were on increasing it in this space. And the response was overwhelmingly positive (sorry about the weird comment situation, the nested replies didn’t come over from blogger to wordpress very well! but hopefully you get the point). I never really reviewed products (i.e. I get sent one of a product in exchange for writing about it) because I didn’t like it. Often I was offered things that I would just be better off buying myself rather than plugging it on the blog so I could get it for free. I don’t begrudge ANYONE who does that, it just wasn’t for me. But if they wanted to sponsor a post and my time, and even better, offer that product to my readers in the form of a giveaway, then I considered that more seriously. Monetising is a subjective thing, but to be honest, I’ve only seen it be generally a positive thing.
I also started presenting at conferences and workshops more, and feeling a little bit more professional in my online space. I also changed my LinkedIn byline from “Journalist. Academic. Blogger.” to “Blogger. Academic. Journalist.” I was getting more and more freelance writing jobs from people who had seen or read my blog – and none of them from my journalism degree or the contacts I’d made in the world of newspapers. I still tell my students and anyone who will sit still long enough that having a blog has been the best thing for my career. It has given me an online profile that has been more visible and useful than all the resumes I could ever write. I was also excited to be working with brands on sites other than the blog, so I never felt like I was overdoing the sponsored stuff here.
In November of that year, I made the jump and switched myself to self-hosted WordPress. Why I did that within weeks of giving birth to my second baby (which I announced in a very timely fashion here), I’ll never know. but it was one of the best things I ever did. With some help from Kelly Exeter and random emails to another WordPress designer, I had my new baby up and running fairly fast. Like, overnight. I changed hosts within a month and couldn’t find a layout I liked for another couple of months, but I was on WordPress, and that’s all that mattered. I felt new and invigorated and inspired!
I worked with my friend Nicole at Nic Nac Design to make pretty buttons and things for my blog, and I commissioned Mel Stringer to draw my custom header. I had seen her work in Frankie magazine and knew I wanted her flair on the blog. She sent me the initial draft and I was smitten. I still think the little mini-me up there is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. And if you look closely, you can see she’s even included my tattoos – very clever!
I continued to write not only recipes and Meatless Monday linkups, but small pieces about things that interested me, and was thrilled to find they interested you too. I felt as though I could explore more avenues of content on the blog, and it would appeal to different people for different reasons. There probably are people who only come for the recipes, but I think that’s totally cool. I really feel now that the blog is more a reflection of me as a person, rather than just a searchable online database of recipes like it started as. And to be honest, that’s way more fun to write about! It took me a really long time to feel comfortable doing that, but now it’s probably the best thing I ever did.
I was also incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support I received when I announced in February of this year that I had joined blogging agency The Remarkables Group. Now someone else had the pleasure of my email inbox and dealing with the income side of things. And I thought back to that naive email I sent my friend right at the very beginning and had to laugh – yes, indeed, you can earn money blogging. And it is one of the most hilariously awesome ways to make a living.
So there you have it – my evolution from clueless newbie to full-time blogger. It’s been one hell of a ride, and I feel good about where I am. It’s also been a blast reflecting on all the things I’ve shared and done here. Funny stories I forgot I wrote, hundreds of recipes, pictures of my babes when they were small… a blog is a bit of a wonderful thing.