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Do you struggle to find time for your food blog? Has technology been a knot in your apron strings? Do you compare yourself to other bloggers and come up short?
If you answered yes to these questions, food blogger Noel Lizotte of Apron Free Cooking has some words of encouragement for you. Find out how she finds time, handles tech, and keeps herself focused on her own improvement in our interview.
The credit for Apron Free Cooking really goes to my husband John. Before we got married, I’d been a single mom going to college full-time, raising children, working full-time. I had a collection of awesome recipes that were convenient and didn’t require a lot of time or money, and I thought that I could turn them into a cookbook.
John, a proud, card-carrying geek, said, “Why not start a blog?”
I didn’t know much about blogging at the time, but he helped me setup my WordPress site and gave me training and guidance. Once we got the technical pieces done, let’s just say the writing was off and flying.
I was writing for people like myself, who have families and all these commitments – kids, work, church, school, 4-H club, chess club. People without time. We watch these cooking shows on TV and love them, but we don’t have two hours to fix dinner every night.
We also don’t necessarily have access to the cool ingredients that chefs in New York and LA do. My town has a population of 10,000 and one grocery store. If I want special ingredients for fancy meals, I’ve got to go out of town to get them.
The goal of Apron Free Cooking was to offer recipes that can be made in a few minutes on a budget of a few dollars with easy to find ingredients so that busy people can feed their families healthy meals. That focus is still the same: to create recipes for the working person who wants to feed her family a decent meal fairly quickly. I really strive for recipes with just a few sets of instructions, a handful of ingredients – not a lot of complicated, complex recipes.
Like so many other bloggers, some of the technology has been challenging to me. I’m lucky I have in-house tech support, so I don’t have to hire that service out. It must be a challenge to find support you can trust to not monkey things up worse than they are or make things more complicated that you could ever hope to untangle.
My biggest challenge is time management. When do I cook the recipe? When do I take the photos? When do I edit them? When do we eat the food I’ve made? When will I find time to share recipes and posts on social media?
My children have moved out, so I no longer have all the extra-curricular activities. There’s no homework to check. I don’t have to do laundry every night. I’m lucky because of the time of life I’m in. But finding time is still an issue.
The biggest thing we’ve done to get more time back is to disconnect our cable TV. In the past, I would sit down on the sofa and watch a cooking show, for example. Now, I have a window of time I can fill up with other things. That’s when I do my blog work — when other people are watching TV.
Even before the blog, when the kids were home and we didn’t have time, I wrote in my notebook while sitting in the bleachers at Little League ball practice or in the parking lot when it was my turn to car pool. You can catch 15 minutes of time here and there, but you have to be creative.
There are so many pieces to blogging, and it’s not all done on the computer. Grab those 15 minutes. If you use mass transit, there’s a pocket of time you can use instead of playing a game on the phone or surfing the internet. Instead, you could be sharing your posts on social media sharing or sketching out ideas for an upcoming project.
You’ve said before that you believe we’re are all in a parade, following those who went before us, learning their lessons and sharing our knowledge with those who come behind us. Who has influenced you as a blogger?
I love that analogy because it is so true. I owe a lot of credit to The Pioneer Woman, Pinch of Yum, and Sally’s Baking Addiction. These are big names and people I have followed and modeled some of my practices on. Some started way before I did. Some, like Sally’s Baking Addiction, started at the same time but took a whole different direction in life that afforded opportunities that I haven’t had yet.
Nagi at Recipe Tin Eats has been tremendously influential for me and my photography. We have similar pre-blog backgrounds in the corporate world, and I understand corporate-speak. When Nagi uses words to describe her business goals, I can relate. Her photography book has been incredibly helpful as well. My photography has improved since I read her suggestions and followed her tips. I have a long way to go still!
While having mentors is a positive thing, comparing yourself to other bloggers can be downright depressing. How do you avoid the temptation?
In high school, I was on the swim team, and swimming – like running and tennis – tends to be a solitary sport. I learned to measure my accomplishments based on my own best performance. It’s a different approach than volleyball, football and other team efforts where everybody contributes to the team’s accomplishments. In solo sports, you’ve only got yourself to credit and to hold accountable.
I decided in my career I was going to take the same approach. I keep in mind that I have a goal, and as I’m making strides toward that goal, I’m accomplishing things. I take time and look back at the past three to five years to see how far I’ve come. If you don’t stop and review what you’ve accomplished, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged that you haven’t achieved things that you wanted to achieve.
John and I will sit on the back deck with our coffee and spend hours discussing what’s working, what’s not working, how things are going, where we’ve been and what’s next. I’ve got three cookbooks that I self-published. I’ve got an ETSY store. I feel accomplished.
I do sometimes have pity parties for myself and wonder why I haven’t done this or that yet. Sometimes you need to indulge and wallow in that self-pity for a little bit. But then go for a walk, get some fresh air, pour a cup of tea and have at it.
Decide on your goal and your niche. Apron Free Cooking covers a wide range of recipes and appeals to a wide range of people, but if at some point my goal was to make a million dollars, it’s probably not going to be from Apron Free Cooking. It’s too generalized, and it would take a lot of work and money to get enough people visiting for that goal.
It’s better to pick something you really love and run with that. As someone who’s just setting out into food blogging, I’d say choose a narrow niche but not so narrow that you end up six months in with nothing to write about. Find a way to have a narrow niche that’s going to appeal to the segment of the population that wants to use your recipes but that’s broad enough to give you room to grow. We love coffee and tea, so I launched a second site The Coffee and Tea Experience with a very narrow niche — coffee and tea recipes.
Also, seek out the free and low cost solutions when you’re starting out and don’t have much money to invest. Once you have a steady revenue stream, you can choose more costly solutions.There are a ton of free resources. You do not have to invest a lot of money in a blog. I see people all the time paying for expensive themes and plugins, and I wonder where are they coming up with $500/month to do this because I don’t have that in my budget.
Decide on a niche that suits your skills and your personality and go for it. A food blog is about sharing your passion and helping others first and foremost. If you keep that front of mind and cut yourself some slack as you learn the ropes, you’ll be happier and probably more successful to boot.