Cheryl Malik started 40 Aprons, a food blog, before she started law school. Her income grew by 400% and traffic by 1300% in one year. She had to overcome barriers and commit mistakes before she was able to do things. She pursued odd career paths, including music and audio sales, burlesque troupe, cupcake catering company, vintage clothing sales, TV producer, and digital marketing and web design. The narrator started a food blog as a creative outlet and saw its revenue skyrocket 400% in a year.
Cheryl Malik started 40 Aprons, a food blog that currently brings in $18,000 per month, before she started law school. Her blog’s income climbed by around 400% and its traffic by 1300% in only one year. She had to overcome considerable barriers and commit several mistakes before she was able to do things. Learn from his errors!
What is your background and what are you concentrating on right now?
I’ve left the law school, the cupcake shop, the burlesque group, and everything else. I was the editor-in-chief of the literary journals at my high school and university, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine to work in publishing. to be exact, when I “grew up.” However, I was informed that the industry was in decline, so I chose to enroll in law school. Obviously.
I decided early on that I did not want to attend law school, so armed with a useful philosophy degree, I pursued odd potential career paths one after the other, first working as an employee in music and audio sales, then founding a burlesque troupe, cupcake catering company, vintage clothing sales, vintage clothing TV producer, and finally settling as a freelancer in digital marketing and web design.
The one constant was my 40 Aprons food blog, which I started just before I started law school. I started the blog as a creative outlet as I entered a famously tedious, difficult, and uninspired procedure; it progressively evolved along with my writing, marketing, and photography abilities. My blog revenue soared by roughly 400% in only a year once I found my own niche and voice. From 71,279 page views in January 2017 to 1,059,000 page views in January 2018 (when my blog’s popularity was already rising because I had found my niche and was giving it my all), my traffic climbed by 1,300%.
My revenue from my blog is now twice or treble what it was at my previous agency employment, depending on the month. To help other food bloggers succeed, we are creating a coaching program for food blogging and photography. Additionally, my long-held dream of opening a design and marketing firm that caters to eateries, restaurants, and other food-related companies has finally come true: my firm Layer Cake is officially taking customers! Since our focus is developing digital experiences deserving of the food they represent, we are everything from a churn-and-burn agency. Together with my expertise in the culinary and food blogging sectors, we become an integral part of each client’s business and treat it as our own.
There is a lot of wobbling and waddling going on in our studio right now because I am also a mother of a toddler and am expecting another kid.
How were the forty aprons made? Which business model do you employ?
For many years, I didn’t think of my blog as a business; rather, it was more of a pastime. I recognized it was time to dedicate all the effort and expertise I was using to serve my customers at work to my blog after around seven or eight years, when I was on the edge of complete weariness from agency life. We moved into a new house, and I quit my job half-jokingly worried that we would soon go into foreclosure. This renewed focus on my blog as a business paid off greatly, as both my traffic and income increased significantly.
My business plan is very simple: I make the majority of my money from display ads that are shown to users of my site, thus the more traffic I have, the more money I usually make. It gets a little more complicated due to seasonal RPMs (revenue per mille, which is the amount of money I make per thousand ad impressions), but that’s really what it comes down to. Additionally, I run my own business as a freelance food photographer and digital marketer, sell items linked to my blog, make money from affiliate sales of items I promote, and work on sponsored pieces with different businesses.
The total income from these sources in December 2017 was more than $11,000. Due to seasonal increases in visitation and product sales, the revenue for January 2018 is more like $18,000. My ad income in January topped $13,000 despite year-long RPM lows, a sum I could not have predicted a year ago.
Which marketing techniques do you use to boost traffic?
My main and most important marketing tactic for boosting traffic is to concentrate on regular, high-quality content. I carefully analyze the material I produce that performs the best and receives the greatest interaction to identify the similarities and differences between these recipes. I deconstruct these qualities and draw ideas from them for upcoming blog pieces.
Along with concentrating on the content, I research each promotion platform’s best practices. To continually expand our email list, we put a lot of emphasis on Pinterest and high-quality lead generation, and I make an effort to be extremely active on Instagram while always adhering to the platform’s best practices. Facebook… I’m not a fan of Facebook. I do oversee a couple similar businesses, one of which is growing quickly and is highly busy.
A solid SEO foundation is another thing I make sure every article I create has, focusing on logical search rather than what SEMrush.com or Google’s keyword planner suggest. I regularly utilize the population of searches on Pinterest for real searches, and I find that it works quite well for me.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you get beyond them?
Giving 40 Aprons my complete focus has always been and will continue to be my biggest difficulty. I have always placed it on the back burner since it is enjoyable and has always been my passion. Today, client business and deadlines always come first, but I have to remind myself that the blog makes all of this possible. That should always come first for me!
Nowadays, there is so much material accessible that it might be difficult to stand out from the crowd. I spent some time on this and am still working on it. Today’s proliferation of culinary blogs, however, makes it challenging for the majority of people to stand out, establish a distinctive style, and get devoted readers who can identify with your work and your approach.
Until I truly zeroed down on my niche and then further defined it by studying the material that resonated most strongly with my audience, I didn’t feel successful on this spectrum. I’m working hard to create the content that my readers want while incorporating a voice that resonates with them (thankfully, that’s my regular voice, but I’m incorporating a more family-oriented perspective these days) in order to continue growing my presence now that I’m established in the niche and know what works and doesn’t work with my audience. I want my website and its content to be more than just a chance recipe I saw on Pinterest; I want it to be a community, a voice, and more of an endpoint than just a chance stop.
What are your biggest flaws, exactly?
I try a little too hard to avoid sounding too much like an interview. Too many things intrigue me. I constantly come up with ideas for new ventures or projects, and I want to put each one into action! This usually results in me being overworked, combined with my inability or unwillingness to say no to anything. I get to have a balanced life that’s based on my loved ones, experiences, and enthusiasm. Evidently, I work very hard to disprove that!
Fortunately, traits that would be seen negatively in other domains are unimportant in my industry. For example, almost all of us begin from the same point while preparing recipes with infants clinging to our legs and editing frantically during naps. There are so many reasons why I appreciate the community, but this is one of them: we all have the same viewpoint and goals. Although this can be seen as a drawback, I really find it to be incredibly inspiring and community-building.
It is important to know that I do not view my coworkers as rivals. The Internet is rich in every manner, yet I can connect to the Blue Ocean Strategy’s (quite nebulous in this context) idea. In other words, a new recipe doesn’t take away from an old one; rather, it gives customers more options to research that are always increasing.
It may, however, feel like “whoever gets there first” when it comes to items, especially cookbooks, because my specialty is so well defined. I feel unable to cover, or at least less successful at covering, a specific cookbook after it is produced by a single author, such as paleo Indian food or the paleo Air Fryer. How many of each cookbook are we going to need?
What were your biggest mistakes when building and expanding 40 Aprons?
Because 40 Aprons is so old, every mistake or utter lack of knowledge or talent may be seen as petrified layers. For a very long time, my photography was horrible, but at initially, it didn’t really matter. Unlike a decade ago, when cell phone images were acceptable, food bloggers today regularly produce magazine-quality photography. This obviously changed, therefore I made an effort to adjust.
And then there was the imaginative naming, such as “So Good They Named It Twice,” rather than the real name of the meal. It was less apparent and there were no real opportunities to learn excellent practices because large food places were always given priority.
The worst mistake, though, would have to be my propensity to leave 40 Aprons in the driveway idle, wasting resources and fuel. I witnessed quick progress after giving it my all, but to be honest, it took me a long time to develop the essential abilities.
What would you change if you had the chance to do it differently?
I wish I’d been good at food photography sooner! In addition to being a ton of fun, visual advertising of your work has always been crucial. I wish I had more faith in my ability to learn it at the beginning so I could have jumped in.
What additional learning tools than mistakes would you suggest for ambitious businesspeople?
Today’s food bloggers have access to so many amazing resources. Due to the amount of one-on-one time and resources you receive from me and my team, as well as the freedom to ask me whatever you want during that time, I highly suggest my food blogging & photography coaching program. When making advice or assigning projects, we take great care to teach best practices in specific contexts and create activities and assignments that complement the particular objectives of each blogger. We are now converting what we have learnt through one-on-one mentoring into a structured, participatory group program because the program is still in its infancy. This is why I urge food bloggers to sign up right now! Please let me know if you’re interested by clicking here to get in touch with me.
My eBook, Improve Your Food Photography, is highly recommended. For example, you could improve your food photography very immediately. The balance between theory, food and prop styling, useful tips for better inspiration and images, and style growth throughout the book is superb.
If you want to create a food blog and are looking for resources, take a look at my post How to create a Food Blog. It includes almost everything, from hosting and domain names to camera gear.
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