A celebration! I baked myself a Botanical Barbara's First Anniversary Cake! You can find the cake and icing recipe in The Essential Book of Vegan Bakes. I relive the laughable day-long baking experience in the caption on Instagram. The cake was chocolate with vanilla buttercream icing and decorated with forest green cake moss and marzipan mushrooms that I created by hand and painted. I'm proud of how it turned out. It was the perfect way to celebrate this occasion.
This post is my first year in review, and I plan to make one annually. I started working on building my blog in October 2022 and published Botanical Barbara with 10 recipes on December 22nd, 2022 (I've got a thing for consecutive twos - okaaay?).
Use this section to jump to areas of interest within the post:
Since you're probably reading this for the juicy details of what it's been like starting a blogging business, I’ll start with the numbers...
When entering the blogging space, you’ll commonly see people sharing that they built their blog by throwing new content at it three times per week, minimally. My initial goal was to publish 150 posts by the end of the year, which meant three posts a week. This was the only project I worked on this year, and I achieved 92 written posts six months in.
You might read that thinking I fell short. Technically, yes. Although what happened was...
At the halfway mark, I joined Food Blogger Pro ($350/annual), an online platform run by food bloggers who share up-to-date information on blogging, courses for newbies, and a community forum to network and ask questions. I started by listening to Bjork Ostrom's podcast Food Blogger Pro and found the information highly valuable. It was a no-brainer.
Free YouTube education is great, but you make more significant jumps by paying for superior information. I discovered I needed to shift my focus to higher quality, meaning three recipe posts per week took up too much of my time.
I invested in the course, Eat Your Words ($175) by Wandercooks, and the biggest takeaway was understanding competition rankings and choosing keywords that I could compete with. I started carving out time to intentionally find recipes within my competition (or Domain Authority score) so that I had higher chances of making it to Google’s first page of search results. For those wondering, I have a score of 1 out of 10, which is understandable for a new blog. I use KeySearch ($17/month) to find keywords and track my progress.
After reviewing all my posts, I found that over half needed to be removed since they were outside my competition, effectively lowering my overall SEO score.
I spent over three months redoing my site and all posts; here’s a list of what I invested in.
A complete overhaul & more investments
Better hosting service
Early on, I fell into the Bluehost trap and quickly understood why it was not the superior choice. There were many outages, and they showed inferior customer service when I couldn’t access my site. I switched to Site Ground for the lower cost ($125/annual), but once my site gets more traffic, I know I need to change from a shared service to a more expensive cloud hosting service.
A theme is the “base design” of how the website looks. Food Blogger Pro taught me that selecting a theme should not be based on aesthetics, which was my main focus when I initially launched the site. During the second go-around, my choice was based on page speed, updates, and customer support. I chose the Feast Theme, Cook’d, and added the additional Feast plugin ($250/annual). This revamped my blog by giving it a sharper look, making it more accessible, and making it easier to find recipes. It took three months to set it up and transition my recipes over.
Food Blogger Pro
It provides me with a network of food bloggers where I can ask questions on the community forum, review courses, and I have access to exclusive video content. I most benefitted from top experts that regularly contribute to the community, like Casey McKee, an SEO expert. I could branch into other online spaces I wasn’t aware of and consume specific content by reading through posts and joining live calls within the platform. The annual subscription is $350 – worth every penny.
After understanding more about SEO and how massively important it is for your website traffic, I invested in a few plugins for my site, like WP Rocket ($49/annual), Yoast Premium ($99/annual), Feast plugin ($250/annual), WP Recipe Maker ($99/annual), and Tasty Pins ($29/annual).
Using an LED light, tripod, and tethering to my computer MASSIVELY up-leveled my photography skills. While it’s true that all these pieces are not necessary from the get-go, it was essential for me to gain photography skills, and I wanted the gear. I repeatedly consumed The Bite Shot by Joanie Simon. Her videos on YouTube focus on understanding your camera, lighting techniques, and photography tips and tricks. Photos make up a good chunk of a blog; therefore, they must be high-quality. It’s a skill I continue to practice and can see improvement in!
There is so much content on the internet that providing high-quality images is critical to standing out. Prepping and planning for each recipe shoot has made the process easier. I plan the types of shots I need and the props I’ll use ahead of time. I started making backdrops for specific color themes and building my prop cabinet with high-end dishware and fabrics.
On computer-heavy days I head to the local library. The beautiful and quiet environment allowed my mind to focus on the tasks at hand and I got so much done.
Now into the nitty-gritty numbers…
Analytics: My numbers
When starting a blog, you quickly discover the importance of analytics. Luckily, a handful of free tools help you get into the weeds of how your website is being used. I connected Google Analytics to my site on March 5th, 2022, and uploaded the year’s results above.
The main goal of tracking analytics is to see consistent growth. The plan is to reach a specific number of sessions to be accepted into an ad management partner. One of the most common partners is Mediavine. Their requirement is 50,000 sessions per month. I average about 800-1000 sessions per month, which is predictable for a new blog.
Things I am focusing on to gain traffic:
- Creating a strategy to gain more email subscribers. I can’t speak to this much since I haven’t sent an email yet! It quickly became a tangled mess, and I set it down. But alas, I am picking it back up and committing to updating on new recipes.
- Submitting posts to sharing sites like Foodgawker and FoodBlogs. I also partnered with One Green Planet and was featured in Best of Vegan and Plant-Based Magazine this year.
Moving forward into next year, I plan to step away from emailing recipes to sites for a feature. They didn’t drive as much traffic as the directly linked sites like, Foodgawker and FoodBlogs have.
Social media is also a traffic diverter, but not as much as I initially thought. Pinterest is better than Instagram; it’s a search engine, so that makes sense. With that noted, a few months ago, I decided to stop spending time creating content for Instagram. Reels and video became a significant factor for “views,” and the amount of time it takes to put together one video snip didn’t match the traffic. Very few people click on links within the app in general. I plan to continue to engage but with much less pressure and time involved in creating content specifically for the app.
My vision of starting a blog was to create a space I was in control of. I own it, and it’s all mine, my internet property to market my vision; social media is not the same.
So now that we’ve got all the statistics and specifics out of the way, let’s talk about the other side of creating and entrepreneurship…
The Work vs. Resistance….
It’s the voice in your head telling you you’ll start fresh tomorrow; you’re too tired right now, this headache is killing you, you must be somewhere at five, etc. Whether you’re starting a business, a diet, or a creative endeavor that requires consistent work over a period of time - resistance creeps in.
As described by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, resistance is that voice in your head keeping you from your work. It rationalizes with you and wards off the shame we’d feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not showing up to do the work.
Here’s a potent excerpt from the book:
“Resistance must be fought over and over… you must kill it every day. The more you do, the easier and faster you’ll get through it”.
After being in a task-oriented profession for over a decade, becoming my own boss was more complex than I imagined. There’s always something that can keep you from working, and procrastination is the biggest symptom.
My resistance tells me I’m too tired, that it’s not what I want to be doing today, or that I can work on it tomorrow when my mind is fresh. It shows me how messy my house is and nags me to find pointless tasks to complete, so my brain will think I’m accomplishing something.
I’ll escape into my phone, making a task so difficult to complete that I don’t have enough time to finish it, so why start today? Or it’s the weekend – let’s relax and hit the ground running on Monday.
My 2023 theme will be the battle with resistance—a committed consistency to this project. I show myself daily that I am here to work for my future.
What I accomplished
While the resistance showed up throughout the year, it didn’t beat me every day. I logged 100s of hours of work! Not only did I spend my time tending to this newness, but I created tons of recipes, photographs, and scenes. I gained skills in photography, editing content, understanding how search engines work, and how to optimize a website. Skills that I’ll carry with me through any project I take on. I don’t feel like an amateur within the space.
I’ll feel accomplished if I continue to get a little bit better every day.
What I've made ($)
Nothing. Was it because the blog is brand new? Maybe. Was it because my mindset was, "let's just have fun, relax, calm my nervous system, and learn some new skills" - probably.
I started this December by typing out a business plan with income-based goals and building energy around 2023 to reach them. Next year I'll share where I made money and how much.
Goals for 2023
I won’t share specifics; I prefer to keep them private out of protection. But as noted above, you’d probably guess that one of my goals is to reach 50,000+ sessions per month and be accepted into an ad management partnership. This is a goal all bloggers focus on in the early years, and I’m no exception. To achieve this in under two years is “fast,” per the experts.
In 2023 I see myself creating new content focused on how to slow down and turn mealtime into a meditative transition. This year, I've had many people request "quick meals." While I see value in preparing fast food, I see more benefit in slowing down with food. Conveying that slow food can be easy, effortless, and valuable is something I preach. Stay tuned; it's going to be sensational!
I also see myself cooking more with mushrooms, which I am passionate about. There is a large gap between Americans’ versus other countries’ mushroom consumption, and based on the trends I’ve seen, it makes sense for me to create content in that area.
My other goal is to transition this blog into an income-generating business through plant-based product partnerships, digital goods, and ads. The details I’ll keep to myself until they are ready to be released, but I’m excited to enter this new chapter of earning income through blogging.
Awards: top visited recipes
My Lion's Mane Nuggets continue to be the top post every month, gaining more and more views. Followed right behind them is my healthy, beta-carotene-rich soup so easy to prepare, I make it weekly! Here's a list of my top-viewed posts this year:
How to stay in touch with me
I am tremendously grateful for the support from friends, family, and followers who have trusted my recipes in your kitchen! It means the world to me that you cheer me on, share my recipes, and give me support. Thank you from my whole heart! Happy Holidays & cheers to 2023!
Best wishes to you Botanical Barbara! Thank you for the healthy recipes and beautiful photos. I’ll be watching to see what the new year has in store for you!
Barbara Zackey says
Thank you! I'm so grateful for your support.
Dawn Haake says
Wonderful Article. Congrats 🎉