My 2020 income report and reflections on this wild year

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My 2020 income report and reflections on this wild year

I ditched my corporate job and worked on my food blog full-time. Here's how it made six figures in its first year.

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2020 has been a rough year for most everyone.

But I had a really weird year. It was good. I actually thrived. And I feel guilty about it. My blog made six-figures in 9 months. In a really abnormal year.

I debated writing this income report because I didn’t want to seem braggy, or self-absorbed, or like “Look at me! I’m doing amazing sweetie.”

I know that it’s been a cruel year for most. I have been spared. I know that is literally just the luck of the draw.

But, some people don’t know that I’ve been blogging for over 10 years.

I started my first blog in high school on Xanga, and my last semester of college, I took a course in investigative journalism where we wrote a blog as our semester-long project (homework delivered in the form of published blog posts- it was wild).

In 2012 I started Tales From The Kitch, and I’m nothing if not consistent. Look at this branding! The pink and gray!

I didn’t tell many people about it because I didn’t want people to make fun of me. When friends and family started asking for recipes, I led them here!

I guess I’m saying this because I don’t want anyone to think this thing was an overnight success. This was blood, sweat, burns, nasty food and tears, baby.

All of this was built out of sheer determination. I had ONE person consistently read my blog.

Only she would hype me up and tell me it was good. Only she would share my posts on her pages.

Before getting recognized anywhere else, I had ONE reader. So keep that in mind if and when you want to quit.

I didn’t think that all of the blogging I’d been doing for the past 10ish years would ever lead to 2020 being my best year.

It was sometimes hard for me to believe it would lead to carving out a job for myself that I like getting up for every day.

It’s odd. Especially because I spent so much time in environments that didn’t nurture my talent.

For starters, I didn’t think it was possible to make more money than I did at any full-time job I’ve ever had, work at home, and be HAPPY.

We’ll get to that part at the end – I know you want to know! And yes, it can cost that much to run a blog.

Leaving my job and blogging full-time

Last year, on my way to thinking about becoming a full-time blogger, I started publishing income reports. Full disclosure – I didn’t do many.

Lots of people read them, but when I had to focus on actual content, this got pushed to the side.

Income reports were my way of solidifying my blog being an actual business and taking note about the ways I could actually grow it.

I also wanted to look back on what helped me succeed with blogging as a part-time gig.

My biggest motivation was to pay off debt (which I didn’t do) so I could quit and work full-time on my blog.

No debt meant freedom and way less money to make to stay afloat (which is still true, but I’m in a different position now).

I didn’t have money to hire anyone (although my brand manager, who is also my best friend) gets a percentage for negotiating my deals.

Working for myself seemed pretty “pie in the sky.” Especially if you know these very funny things about me:

  • I do not take risks. Ever. I have to know what’s going to happen at all times.
  • Having LADA means I need health insurance at all times.
  • I’m not organized at all.
  • I’m a huge procrastinator.
  • I don’t like promoting myself or talking about my wins. It makes me highly uncomfortable – sometimes to the point of getting hives.
  • Basically, my whole DNA screams “why are you a business owner?”

Really, just all of the worst things you could be as a business owner.

What I am good at outweighs those bad attributes (I’m creative, strategic, goal-oriented, quick on my feet), and I have a tiny and mighty team who helps take all of those crappy things that I am and helps the good things shine.

But, the opportunity presented itself to work for myself full-time. Despite all of my reservations, I thought it was the time.

After endless chats with Bryan and crunching the numbers several hundred times in my spreadsheet, we decided that it could be the right move.

It just had to sustain and grow.

In that time period I had a few strokes of luck:

  • I got an opportunity to community manage a diabetes app part-time.
  • 3 long-term partners agreed to work with me on a longer-term project (yay!).
  • I was losing sleep juggling one-off partnerships and trying to do my job well. So I was anxious, always getting sick and exhausted.
  • I felt like I wasn’t succeeding at work, and it was frustrating and overwhelming. I also didn’t think I could grow beyond my position. This led me to think about what else there was.

So, in March I went to Disney World (my last hurrah before the pandemic – so crazy), gave notice at work, and it was off to my own adventure.

My first, and probably last trip to Disney with my bestie!

And then literally the world shut down.

I’d been making the transition for a while from restaurant blogger to home cook (there’s a long story about why).

It ended up being perfect timing to focus on home cooking – we were all on lockdown, and happy to find some creativity in the kitchen!

Early on in quarantine, I had a huge break. I was featured in the New York Times about being a young person with a chronic illness and the fears of coronavirus.

My big ‘ol mug on the site. I was also featured in the print edition. This website is mentioned in the NEW YORK TIMES.

That led to insane traffic, some growth in my email list, and better connections to people with diabetes.

From there, it just got better.

I released my first book, The Diabetes Food Journal and it landed in the top diabetes health books on Amazon.

I also got features in the LA Times, Shape, Prevention, and Oprah Magazine.

I filmed my own cooking show for Myabetic Diabetes TV called Simply Delicious.

Like, it was a really good year. And it’s hard to see how it can get better, or how I can do more, or have the same level of achievement.

I’m always thinking about the next thing.

My 2020 Goals

I wrote down everything I wanted – including 6 months of savings (a fall-back in case I failed at launching the blog and needed some time to sustain), and a cute little note that says I’d quit in December 2020 to go full-time.

LOL.

A little backstory: I never intended to quit my job in March. I wasn’t ready. December 2020 was always the goal if I didn’t chicken out and just stay.

But when something calls you, it calls you.

My goals were actually small, to be honest. I didn’t know what I was capable of.

My 2021 Blogging Goals

I have a ton of goals for this year:

  • Build up to 100,000 monthly pageviews here on HangryWoman.com
  • Grow my email list to 10,000 subscribers
  • Grow my YouTube Channel to 10,000 subscribers and monetize it
  • 4 videos a month for YouTube
  • Write something every single day (whether I publish or not)
  • Keep working on professional development
  • Double my 2020 income

I think all of these goals are possible, but it’ll take some grind to make it happen.

Breaking six figures

WOW. I would have never guessed I’d do that.

-Me, as I did that

I didn’t think my blog was going to break six figures. I had a goal of replacing my salary (and my 1 and a half hour each way commute) as a social media specialist and that was it.

That was my only goal and intention, and I smashed it. I’m pretty proud of that.

Here’s what I think helped me push me over the edge:

  • I rarely pitched this year, but when I did, I pitched multi-month partnerships. Brands who worked with me for multiple months saw a much larger reach and conversion than one-off projects.
  • I defined my niche, and started to focus on what my core audience wanted. That did mean leaving behind some, but the majority of my community came along with me.
  • I worked on projects I had a blast doing.
  • I spent time on freelance writing to reach new audiences. This also helped to boost my income a little bit.
  • Upping my rates slightly when I went full-time.
  • I learned to DIY, so I didn’t have to outsource much of my work.
  • You guys. If you’re reading this, you probably commented, or shared one of my posts. It’s possible that you encouraged me to keep going along the way.

No free work in 2020

I declined 78 partnerships in 2020.

Yes. 78. Did not take them. Why?

Because they required too much time, too many deliverables, and either wouldn’t pay my rate, or pay me at all. And my time is precious.

Getting free stuff was cool when I was earning a paycheck somewhere else. But, free stuff in exchange or my time doesn’t pay the bills.

To be fair, I certainly took partnerships well under my rate. I thought they would pay off, and I’m here to tell you, they won’t. And they never do.

I took a partnership with a big brand this year with the promise that it could lead to other, greater work. It didn’t, and it drove me crazy.

The deadlines were inflexible. The expectations were a little unreasonable. There wasn’t any room for creativity. It wasn’t a good experience.

AND I did it for less than I was worth.

The brands who looked at my work as worth it? They worked with a spirit of collaboration. They came back with ideas that totally fit what my readers want to know. And, they paid on time.

They were open to ideas, and wanted to know how I worked best. I’m thankful for both experiences because It shaped my expectations for the years beyond.

I would encourage you not to take work that gives you a logo in your portfolio, but rather partnerships that appreciate and support your talent.

What I invested in to help my blog be successful

Really setting myself up for a good blogging future did not come cheap. I was picky about the things I spent money on because it wasn’t just a corporate budget I could use anymore – it was my coins. But I think I chose wisely.

SEO Course

I took Stupid Simple SEO. While I’m still working on implementing it, I really learned a lot about SEO from this course, and have no idea how I have even been that successful as a blogger without the depth of knowledge I learned by taking this course over the year.

It’s a long course, but I got some foundational knowledge and I’m grateful I dropped some coins on it.

Site Speed Work

My site was SO incredibly slow before I quit. I hired iMark Interactive (and sat on the waiting list), and got some work done on my site.

There were some things I didn’t want to compromise on aesthetically, so is my site the fastest?

No, but I’m happy with the work and it still retained its beauty and custom features.

Advertising

I focused on Facebook ads this year. In March I had 2,500 Facebook followers. By December I was looking at almost 16,000.

I was very strategic with ads, and I think it paid off.

My own time

I recognized my time as being valuable, so I really tried not to reduce my rates unless there was a perfectly good reason.

A better website host

I moved over to BigScoots and it was one of my best switches. They did a really great interview about my motivations to switch and how it has impacted my site for the better (like 83% better!).

Canva

I minored in digital media in college. So, I learned a lot about Photoshop and InDesign, but I’m a one woman band over here. I NEED speed.

I signed up for Canva Pro and it’s how I get everything from Pinterest pins to YouTube thumbnails done.

Flodesk

Flodesk actually ended up saving me money, so it’s a worthy investment. I have had to do more manual work with my email list, but that feels like it’s for the better.

I also pay $19/mo for my email list instead of what was approaching $200/mo.

If you’re a newbie blogger I recommend 1) starting your email list ASAP (I list some reasons why you need an email list here).

2) Flodesk is both the most affordable and easiest to use software out there right now. Especially if you have a limited budget, but you want to make email marketing a priority.

Securing all of the Hangry Woman web domains

You have to protect your brand, so I bought every Hangry Woman variation possible.

Hangry Woman was also trademarked in 2018. I wanted to protect my child.

Groceries

Yeah. I spent a lot of money on food. It didn’t go to waste, but recipe testing for an independent and self-funded website isn’t cheap.

Donations & Giving

Mutual aid for insulin and diabetes supplies affordability is only growing as gaps widen. What I could give is never enough, but I do my best.

Trying out new things just because I’m the boss

I’m always fine with experimenting on new products. I tried Epidemic Sounds for music, Grammarly. I bought a Shopify store – not sure what I’ll do with that. To me, it just felt like the sky is the limit.

Everytime I fail, I learn. Every time I succeed, something good comes from it.

My two biggest support pillars

There are literally two reasons I haven’t lost my dang mind.

First, my husband. He loves his job, and he works the 8-5 so that I can have health insurance, and we have stability.

I really appreciate that he sacrifices creative freedom of his own to let me have mine. It’s incredibly selfless.

Fun fact: early on when I started food blogging, Bryan actually hated it. He said it was dumb.

In true scorpio fashion, I did not forget that and maybe set out to prove him wrong a little bit.

When I told him that I had this thought in the very back of my mind to work for myself, he actually had no hesitation. He never said it was a bad idea and encouraged me along the way.

He also knows I’m crazy and had 10 spreadsheets on the matter.

My second pillar is someone we all know and love – my bestie Katie.

If you don’t know the story of Katie and I – we met in 6th grade, were in high school yearbook together, college roomies, and now we live 4 houses down from each other.

Katie and I the day we got caps and gowns in high school. High School me did not imagine this life at all.

She was literally the biggest encourager of all of this.

Every time I tried to chicken out. Every time I said I couldn’t do it, she sat down with me with pen and paper and helped me figure it out (usually after a 1 a.m. text talking me off the proverbial ledge).

She’s also a really great brand manager and business partner and knows me and my business inside and out. We have always had a really solid working relationship. Everyone needs a Katie.

She was also my only reader for a very long time! She saw the bad parts, and the horrific recipe writing.

Streams of income for bloggers

While I wish I could share more about how much I made in each of these breakdowns, various NDAs prevent me from disclosing.

What I can share is the breakdown to help people understand where I focus my energies. Because I feel like this will be misjudged.

90% Food and Beverage
5% Restaurant and hospitality
3% Diabetes Care
2% Other (hodgepodge of stuff like kitchen tech/appliances, non-profit work, etc.)

But, you know the total earnings, so descriptions of this are just enough.

I think what’s important is that bloggers looking to go full-time have multiple, practical streams of income.

You don’t want one to go away and break you.

Some bloggers were hit by search algorithm changes, which de-ranked some of their blogs in search, and when their only source of income was ad networks, their blogs tanked. One of my most popular recipes went from #2 in search to #50 – and took like 40% of my traffic with it.

When social networks change their algorithms, or they all introduce stories (or *eyeroll*, fleets), we all have to adapt, and spend more time developing content for other platforms to be sure our regular content still gets seen.

Some bloggers in niches like luxury and travel were hit hard by people spending less and traveling less due to COVID. Their ad revenue tanked and took their blogs down because of it.

It’s not guaranteed, but having many sources of income can help you stay afloat. So, I tried my best to establish those areas to set myself up for the future.

Partnerships & monetizing my channels

Partnerships were my biggest category this year. I had around 60 partnerships this year that ranged from one-offs to long-term.

I did some stuff gratis, and I will always cover important issues whether or not the post is sponsored.

I had some amazing long-term partners, who are going to be my partners again in 2021.

All of them were understanding about my LADA diagnosis and so wonderful in allowing me to be myself with every post we dreamed up together. I’m so lucky in that regard.

Mediavine Ads

Mediavine is an ad network for publishers, and the display ads you see on my site.

Clicking on ads that resonate with you is a great and free way to support the and keep it going.

Mediavine was a tiny sliver of my earnings. I hope to grow that part of my blog in the future.

While my earnings here were good, they were not what I expected this year after I quit my job. I needed them to do more, but I made it up in other ways.

Affiliate Income

I use affiliate links as another source of income. From my Amazon Storefront, to the clickable links around my site, affiliate links earn me a tiny commission when you shop using my link.

It never costs you anything, but it can be so helpful.

Sometimes it’s like .5% of the item total, but it’s helpful and meaningful when you shop with these links.

They were also the tiniest part of my income. Literal pennies.

Some retailers cut affiliate commissions this year. So, they weren’t a hugely reliable income source.

Affiliate income is fleeting, however. It’s an area I could grow in, but isn’t my cup of tea.

Freelance Writing

I freelanced more than I thought I would this year.

I wrote for Healthline, DiabetesMine and filmed some videos for Shape Magazine and Prevention.

Lending myself as talent for videos, and taking on writing assignments was a nice boost that I didn’t anticipate. It’s also something I’ll be doing more of in 2021.

Social Media Consulting & Community Management

This is my last source of income and one I’m so grateful for.

I was a social media manager by day before I started my blog.

But for 5 years that job didn’t pay very well. I was also told a lot that I wasn’t good with strategy (which, *looks around at my blog and social media*). I was barely rising the ranks at work, or given more responsibilities, or better pay.

I took on consulting side projects to help shape my work. I loved getting to lead strategy on projects and show my expertise.

A couple of those projects became passion projects that I adore working on – even if they’re not completely food-related.

I haven’t let those projects go out of a sheer love of doing them. Best of all – I have a little more time on my hands for them. And I’m not pulling all-nighters anymore.

For my blogger friends wanting to make the full-time leap

My advice? Give it time. Write down your goals to keep them top of mind.

Work at it. Learn from others and ask questions. When you fail, ask what you can learn about it rather than being pissed about it.

Join supportive blogger groups. Ask people to share your stuff when you’ve worked hard on it.

Ask to be compensated for your work. Lift your blogger friends up along the way and pay it forward.

If you’re working your full-time job and blogging on the side, do whatever helps you get to your goals faster.

Also, you might have to leap before you’re actually ready. It’s scary, but necessary.

Lastly, if you’ve been thinking about starting and haven’t – start the dang thing already.

Anything is possible. Honestly.

If you asked me in January where I think I’d be today, it certainy wasn’t here.

via GIPHY

My hopes for 2021

I have high hopes for this little blog.

I hope it continues to be a place where people with diabetes can find non-judgemental information and a little hope from someone else living with the condition.

I hope I can bring more attention to misdiagnoses, medical racism, insulin affordability and diabetes shame, and stigma.

I hope I can deliver more delicious recipes than ever. Especially affordable and easy ones.

I hope, above all else, that I can do this for a second year in a row – then another, and another, and another. Really for the rest of my life until I need to retire.

Aside from my Bryan, this blog is the greatest love of my life.

I started it as a result of one of the darkest points of my life, and somehow it has become one of the things I’m most proud of.

I don’t think I’ve put my heart and soul into anything else this much.

Even when my reach was low on Instagram, or a TikTok/Story/Pin Story/Fleets didn’t take off, I still felt proud of the work I was putting out.

Did I grow as much as I would have liked? No. But I can be proud of what I did accomplish.

As odd as it is to say, I hope every year for this blog somehow tops 2020.

If somehow you made it this far, you’ve read 3,658 words. So, I’m going to stop talking. Please leave a comment and share your ambitions.

I want to support you. Just like you’ve done for me along the way.

4 Responses

  1. I want to thank you for the transparency and inspiration! You are literally one of the hardest working women I know in this blogging space, and in 2020 you have shined so bright!

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mil standing in kitchen setting table

Hi! I'm Mila.

I’m a millennial woman living with LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults) after a type 2 diabetes misdiagnosis.  I love food, travel and my kitchen!

Hangry Woman is for anyone with diabetes – regardless of type.

I’m here to help you live your best life possible diabetes by showing you how to create simple, blood-sugar friendly and delicious meals

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