Jessica Holmes was working as a copywriter when she decided to start a blog as a side hustle. As she was teaching herself to bake, she thought she’d start sharing her creations.
Over the years, Jessica built up a solid fan base through a combination of consistent posting, high-quality recipes, and lots of engagement with her followers. During lockdown, her traffic went through the roof, and after the pandemic, her readers stuck around. Eventually, she was able to quit her day job.
Today Jessica is earning 6 figures a year from her baking blog, Sweetest Menu, which allows her to work part-time and stay home with her son and newborn baby.
Keep reading to find out:
- Why she created her blog
- How she made her first dollar
- What happened when Covid hit
- How long it took for her to be able to quit her day job
- Her top marketing strategies
- Her views on SEO
- How she approaches keywords
- How she creates content
- Her favorite tools and resources
- Her greatest challenge
- Her biggest accomplishment
- Her main mistake
- The advice she would offer other entrepreneurs
Meet Jessica Holmes
My name is Jess and I’m the self-taught baker and writer behind the food blog, Sweetest Menu. I live in Melbourne, Australia, with my husband, Josh, my two-year-old daughter, Lucy, and my newborn son, Jack.
I graduated from university with a degree in communications and worked for over a decade as a copywriter. In 2014, I created my website, Sweetest Menu as a side hustle.
After six years, my blog started to make more money than my full-time day job. I decided to pursue blogging as a full-time career in March 2020—quite a time in the world to make a big change!
Why She Created Sweetest Menu
Rewind back to 2014.
I was working full-time as a travel copywriter. I was also finishing up a diploma in graphic design and was looking for somewhere to channel my newfound creative skills.
It was also a time when food blogs were taking off. Since I was dabbling in the kitchen and teaching myself how to bake, I decided to make my own food blog, without any intention of creating a business.
I started publishing and sharing my own dessert recipes. They were very basic and so were my photography skills, but I was having the time of my life.
After 18 months, I was completely obsessed with blogging and had cultivated a small readership online. I decided to put some ads on my blog and in the first month I made $50. I was in awe that I could make money doing something so fun.
My growth was slow and steady from that point, growing gradually year after year. Once I began to really understand SEO and the concept of creating good-quality content, my growth began to accelerate.
And when Covid hit and much of the world was in lockdown, my growth hit the roof, with millions of monthly pageviews.
How Much She’s Earning
I currently make over six figures a year almost entirely from ad revenue. It took six years to get to that point, but I have managed to sustain that level of income for over three years now.
The downside of relying on advertising revenue is that it’s very unpredictable. You earn different amounts throughout the year, which can make it hard to plan and budget your income.
Bloggers typically earn more in quarter four with higher RPMs. And if you’re a baking blogger like me, Christmas is a particularly profitable time of year.
I used Google AdSense for a few months but I already had enough of a readership to apply for Mediavine. I heard great things, so switched over as soon as I could.
I’ve been a member of Mediavine since 2016 and they manage all my advertising for me. I can’t speak highly enough of their amazing customer service, I see them as part of my team!
I’m currently on maternity leave so I only spend around 15 hours on the business a week. Prior to that, my work hours would be around 20-25 hours per week.
As for traffic, my blog receives about half a million page views per month.
Jessica’s Top Marketing Strategy
So much of blogging and content creation is focused on SEO and social media. But one thing that I have always tried to do is make time to prioritize my audience.
I love connecting directly with my readers and I plan in time and space to do that regularly. Answering comments and questions in a timely manner is one really easy way to do that. I read and answer every blog comment or question on my website myself, and I chat with my readers every day on Instagram.
Even in the content creation process, so much of our time is directed towards keyword research and SEO. But if I get constant reader requests for a certain recipe, I will definitely add it to my plan.
At the end of the day, if SEO and social media went away, there’s still a strong cohort of readers who come directly to my website when they want to bake. And at the core of it, they’re the people I want to create content for!
The Importance of SEO
SEO is the lifeblood of my business and currently accounts for over 65% of my traffic.
For social, I focus mainly on Pinterest and Instagram as they are the biggest traffic drivers and the best places for me to connect with my readers.
My strategy with both as changed significantly over the past few years, and I’m still learning how to use video to best connect with my audience.
My favorite thing to do is teach readers how to bake, so I love to use step-by-step videos to show my readers how to make my recipes on Instagram Stories.
In 2017, I had my first SEO audit with a professional consultant. It really helped me understand the purpose of SEO and how I could be more intentional when creating my content.
SEO is complicated, but when I finally understood that many of the rules are really just directing us to make the best possible content with the reader in mind, I was able to do a much better job.
When creating recipes, I currently use KeySearch to double-check traffic volumes and do a little competitor analysis. I’m usually looking to ask two questions:
- Are people searching for this recipe? And if so, how are they searching? (For example, what words are they actually using?)
- Could I rank for this keyword?
But as I mentioned above, even if I can’t rank for it, it doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t create and publish that recipe.
Jessica’s Content Creation Process
As a creative person, I love to create recipes and content that I’m genuinely passionate about. I always start with an idea that is sparked either by something I’ve tasted out and about, seen on my travels or has been requested by a reader.
After doing some keyword research and competitor analysis, I then go through the recipe testing process. This is one of the most time-consuming parts of blogging for me.
I try over and over to create a reliable recipe that works for everyone, whether they’re a novice or experienced baker. Amazing results for minimum fuss is my motto!
Once I have the recipe down, I’ll take and edit the photos and then craft the post. After it’s published, I’ll promote it using social media and my newsletter.
I try to publish one new recipe a week but sometimes it can take longer if the recipe is particularly challenging. I’m still consistently reminding myself that it’s not about quantity but rather, quality. So if I have to take a bit more time to publish the best possible recipe so be it!
I use Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook.
Her Email List
I do have an email list and I encourage readers to sign up for my newsletter in order to receive new recipes, baking tips, and ebooks.
I love to keep in touch with readers that way, and often encourage them to write back and tell me what recipes they want to see or what baking questions they have.
Email marketing is something I really want to prioritize this year.
At the moment there are over 10k people on my list.
Her Favorite Resources
I absolutely love the Food Blogger Pro podcast and Top Hat Rank webinars. They’re full of amazing advice for bloggers, whether you’re a novice or an experienced online publisher.
Her Top Three Tools
If I had to list my top tools, they would be:
Google Analytics and Google Search Console: Two free tools from Google that are so helpful in tracking analytics and keyword rankings.
KeySearch: A basic but affordable keyword research tool, KeySearch is great for beginner bloggers.
Canva: I use Canva to easily create pins for Pinterest and marketing materials like ebooks and media kits.
Jessica’s Biggest Challenge
For sure this would be time and trends!
In this blogging game, you never seem to have enough time to do everything. There is always more content to create, more improvements on your website, and more things to learn.
It’s a wonderful thing because it means it’s never boring, but I constantly have to fight the feeling of always being behind. It’s like having a to-do list that never gets smaller—it only grows.
Keeping up with changing trends is also a big challenge, particularly with the changes in social media we’ve seen in the past few years. How the platforms are responding to content can really impact your traffic and your content creation strategy.
To do this job well, you need to be flexible and agile—two things that don’t come easy to me personally.
As the blog has grown, I’ve had the ability to outsource a few tasks. I work with NerdPress to manage the technical side of my blog (they are incredible at what they do). And I have two amazing virtual assistants that help manage my Pinterest, Facebook, and email marketing.
Her Most Important Accomplishment
When I first started blogging, I was too shy to tell anyone about it. But when my blog overtook my day job in earnings, I was finally able to be really proud of what I had accomplished.
I also had my recipes published in one of Australia’s biggest food magazines. To walk into the supermarket, open a magazine and see my work—that was a highlight!
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
In many ways, I wish I knew that it’s possible to make a full-time income (and more) online. But at the same time, I’m glad I didn’t have that pressure on myself straight up. Instead, the business was born out of a genuine passion for creating and sharing amazing recipes.
I do wish I started my blog on WordPress. I began on Blogger, then moved to Squarespace, and then finally made the switch to WordPress. I immediately saw an uptick in traffic and had so much more control over the backend of my website. I regret not making the move sooner.
Jessica’s Main Mistake
My biggest mistake was not treating my blog as a legitimate business sooner. It’s very easy to feel like it’s just a hobby or a small side endeavor. But the truth is, it’s a real business and it should be given that respect, by you and those around you.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Never stop learning.
We need to keep up with trends and rules and not be afraid of change. So keep learning, keep listening to podcasts, reading blogging resources (like this one), and keep on top of what’s happening in the industry.
And make sure you take yourselves and your business seriously. It could change your life!