How a Software Engineer Makes Money With Her Food Blog

Valerie LaiFeb 13, 2018

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In this series, NerdWallet highlights people with great side jobs. We share how they landed the gig, what they’ve learned and their tips for getting started.

During the day, Maya Krampf works full time as a senior software engineer.

But when she’s not coding, she spends her time doing something completely different: growing Wholesome Yum, her low-carb, gluten-free recipe blog that has over 3 million monthly visitors.

Krampf, who lives in Maple Grove, Minnesota, switched to a low-carb diet in 2010 and discovered a variety of health benefits. In 2015, she began sharing recipes.

Since then, Wholesome Yum has grown into a business that gives Krampf and her family — her husband and two children, ages 9 months and 2 years — more financial freedom. And she does this all on the side.

Read how Krampf turned her passion for sharing healthy and easy recipes — like artichoke pizza and gluten-free mushroom soup — into a profitable side hustle, and find out what it takes to run a food blog.

A typical day as a (part-time) food blogger

Food blogging requires a ton of work behind the scenes, such as search engine optimization, research, creating and taking pictures of recipes, responding to readers, collaborating with brands and more.

“Some people think blogging is such a cushy gig, but the reality is that there is so much strategy involved. Cooking is only 10% of what I do,” Krampf says. “It really feels like another full-time job.”

To pull it off, Krampf wakes up about 6 a.m. every morning to exercise — yoga, Zumba or high-intensity interval training — and work on the blog before heading into the office. After work, she’ll spend another hour or so on the blog before making dinner and spending time with her family.

Juggling the blog with other commitments requires her to be disciplined about her schedule. She time-blocks her entire day, including playtime with her kids, so she doesn’t fall behind.

“I’ve never needed structure more than I need it now, and free time has been the biggest sacrifice,” she says. “I don’t have any unscheduled time ever. But I love being able to do this, so it’s worth it.”

Blogging as a business

Wholesome Yum wasn’t always a hit. In the early days, Kampf didn’t pay attention to social media, photography (her photos had “terrible kitchen lighting”) or SEO — the things that make blogs successful. And as someone with a computer science background, she underestimated the importance of marketing.

“I was doing it the wrong way,” Krampf says. “I was trying to put a recipe out every day — whatever I was making for my family that day — and I wasn’t promoting my content.”

In early 2016, she began to research recipes to make sure there was a demand for them and promote her content through social media. (Pinterest became a great source of traffic.) She also sent out the latest recipes in an email newsletter, which now has over 50,000 subscribers.

Within a few months of revamping her strategy, her audience grew and the blog started attracting advertisers. Today, 80% of the blog's revenue comes from advertising, and the rest comes from affiliate links, sponsored posts, her cookbook and meal plan.

For sponsored posts, Krampf typically works with a brand to incorporate its product into a recipe. To stay true to readers, she sticks with products she supports and uses, but it can be challenging to turn down opportunities that don't mesh well with her brand, she says.

“I was surprised when the blog started making money,” she says. “My husband and I both have day jobs and this blog is relatively new, so we don’t want to rely on it entirely, but it’s helped us out with our savings.”

Tips to start a food blog

Interested in exploring food blogging as a side gig? Keep these tips from Krampf in mind.

Pick a niche. After discovering that most people wanted simple and easy recipes, Krampf decided to focus on low-carb, gluten-free recipes with 10 ingredients or fewer. Your niche could be baking, vegan snacks or Asian fusion dinners. Krampf recommends finding something you’re passionate about that will resonate with your target audience.

Be flexible. To succeed in the long term, you have to adapt to evolving social media and SEO trends. Krampf points out that algorithms change all the time, so it's crucial to pivot your SEO strategy as needed.

Wear multiple hats, but get help when necessary. “I love getting to do so many different things: photography, writing, business strategy and connecting with my readers,” she says. But she also knows that she can’t do it all herself, so she hired a marketing assistant to help her with partnerships and social media while her husband does IT and accounting.

Reach out to other bloggers. Blogging doesn’t have to be a rat race. Although the industry is saturated, you can learn a lot from other bloggers. Krampf, who attends food blogging conferences and is close to a few other low-carb food bloggers, says that the community has been very supportive.

“We don’t view each other as competitors. We share ideas and we all grow,” she says. “There’s plenty to go around. We can all succeed.”

Photo courtesy of Maya Krampf.