Carol Borchardt’s culinary education began at home, and although she initially held several office jobs, she couldn’t ignore her passion.
She eventually launched an extremely successful personal chef business, but after an unfortunate accident, she had to stay off her feet. So she did what any food-loving, recipe-sharing chef would do: she launched her food blog.
From a Chef’s Kitchen is now earning up to $12k per month, and Carol’s just getting started. When many people her age are retiring, she’s excited to be “reinventing” her future once again.
Keep reading to find out:
- Where Carol’s passion for cooking began
- What happened when she started a business
- Why she created her first blog
- Where her income comes from
- How she markets her blog
- Her thoughts on SEO
- How she approaches keyword research
- Her content creation process
- Her thoughts on having an email list
- The tools and resources she uses
- Her greatest challenge
- What she wishes she knew when she started
- Her main mistake
- Her advice for other entrepreneurs
Meet Carol Borchardt
I was raised on a picturesque farm in central Wisconsin, red barn and all.
The farm-to-table, free-range, and wild-caught concepts so important today were a way of life growing up. Milk didn’t come from a carton, it came from the barn.
Until a few years ago, my amazing 96-year-old father tended a huge garden, foraged for mushrooms and berries in the woods, and hunted and fished. Almost everything we ate and that my mother cooked came from the land, the barn, or the chicken coop.
We had a large family (I’m one of seven) with many uncles and cousins that came to help on the farm when it was time for bailing hay or threshing oats. Feeding all those hungry, hard-working men a hot meal was a major undertaking my mother pulled off regularly, but we were expected to help.
She was a prize-winning cook (including being a finalist in two Pillsbury Bake-Offs) who developed original recipes while feeding our large family.
So, as with so many passionate cooks, chefs, and food bloggers, my background in the culinary arts began at home.
From the moment I discovered my mother’s old Betty Crocker cookbook as a child, I’ve been fascinated with food and cooking and I’m always dreaming up new recipes the way my mom did.
Carol Follows Her Passion
It all goes back to needing a creative outlet while working in various office jobs over the years. College was something the women in my family didn’t pursue (except for one but she waited until after she had children.)
After high school, we went to work in an office until we got married. Cooking became my creative outlet because I loved it and people told me I was good at it. I honed my culinary skills through self-instruction, various classes, and practical experience working for a caterer on weekends.
In 1994, I met the love of my life, had a whirlwind romance, and in 1995 moved to the Memphis, Tennessee area.
After helping to raise two stepchildren and experiencing mind-numbing burnout in yet another office job, I decided in 2002 it was time to pursue my passions.
On a leap of faith, I quit that job and, without any clients to replace my income, I went all in with a personal chef business I named A Thought For Food Personal Chef Service.
It took about two years to get a full calendar of clients, but it wasn’t long before I maintained a continual waiting list for 16 years.
Cooking for my personal chef clients kept me extremely busy and I wasn’t looking to do anything different or in addition to it.
As a personal chef, it’s necessary to alter recipes and develop dishes that fit your client’s needs, so I learned how to develop original recipes.
One original recipe I submitted to the Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, for a feature they were doing caught the attention of the food editor. She liked my style and asked me to write a column with a recipe for the food section entitled “Dinner For Two.”
I just thought it would be a good way to advertise my personal chef business, never thinking it would lead me down the path I’m on now.
Until the newspaper cut its freelancer budget, my column enjoyed a 7-year run. Writing recipes for publication taught me a lot about how to write a recipe.
As part of the arrangement, the newspaper was going to send a photographer out to photograph the dish for each column. However, with my cooking schedule and where I live, scheduling the cooking, styling, and photographing of each dish was impossible.
After two complicated sessions, I decided to take the photos myself. The first photo I took was not very good; however, it passed and the newspaper was happy to let me take all photos after that.
Suddenly, I was a food photographer too, which was pretty interesting because my knowledge of photography, in general, was quite limited.
Why She Created Her Food Blog
In an effort to learn how to do food writing better, I read Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write For Food. Because of that book, I became intrigued with food blogging and wanted to start a blog, but didn’t have any extra time.
Then, in 2014, after fracturing my kneecap from a fall in a client’s kitchen, and with six weeks of recuperation time, I started a blog called A Cookbook Obsession (I’m an avid cookbook collector).
However, that name caused a lot of confusion from people so a year later I rebranded to From A Chef’s Kitchen. I knew I had done the right thing when someone said, “Now THAT tells me who you are.”
From A Chef’s Kitchen is a general recipe blog where I share easy, creative chef-inspired gourmet recipes from my kitchen for the home cook.
My recipes are inspired by ingredients I already have on hand or what’s in season at the market. I include plenty of tips and information to help readers succeed in making each dish. One reader recently told me: “Whenever I’m in a cooking rut, I come to your site for inspiration. You never disappoint.”
I’ve been slowly downsizing my personal chef business for the past couple of years but at the end of this year, I will retire it and become a full-time food content creator with the goal of starting an additional niche website or two.
How Much Carol is Making
I average between $10,000 and $12,000 per month with 95% of that being ad revenue through Mediavine. The rest is affiliate sales, ad income through syndicating my content on the Newsbreak app, and occasional photo sales.
I haven’t done sponsored posts in several years because I want to create my own content in my own way. My first month with Mediavine was July 2016; I made $160.
I reached six figures annually in 2020 and have maintained that while continuing to cook for personal chef clients.
In terms of traffic, I currently average between 350,000 and 375,000 page views per month.
And for how much I work on my business, the days I’m cooking for a personal chef client, I get up early and put in about two hours on my blog. When I’m not cooking for a client, I put in an eight-hour day on everything from cooking and shooting to social media.
Even when I can’t devote a lot of time, I try to do something every day that will help push my site forward.
Her Top Marketing Strategy
First and foremost, I try to create the best recipes that will make people happy and they’ll love. I want my readers to look like culinary heroes when they’re with their family and friends around the dinner table.
But, I realize a great recipe doesn’t get you found in a sea of other food blogs and major food sites like AllRecipes. So my strategy in order is SEO, my email list, Pinterest, and Facebook.
I devote the most time to Facebook and Pinterest because that’s where I feel my readers are. For Facebook, I publish something daily that includes a custom graphic.
For Pinterest, I upload between two and five fresh pins per day. I recently pulled back from Instagram because I wasn’t seeing much of a return.
The Importance of SEO
SEO is absolutely key.
My overall SEO strategy is to find topics with the keywords people are searching for. However, I don’t let that stop me from posting a good recipe I think my readers will enjoy.
“Smashed” potatoes are a super popular recipe with a high search volume but no one was searching for “smashed” turnips. I came up with a recipe and method using turnips, published it anyway and now it’s one of my most popular and copied recipes.
This depends on whether I’m creating new content or refreshing old content.
I use KeySearch for keyword research, so when I get a new recipe idea, I enter various keywords to see what the approximate volume and difficulty are.
I try to use at least five different keyword phrases in each post with the highest volume/lowest difficulty being #1.
I spend some time on it, but I focus more on my content. I try to publish one new post and refresh one old post per week.
The last old post I republished went from being on page 2 of Google to page 1 in one day. I used a link building service at one time, but my traffic actually fell during that time.
I currently network with other food bloggers to get links into roundups.
Carol’s Content Creation Process
My husband and I really hate wasting food, so quite often my content/recipes start with what I already have in my freezer, refrigerator, or pantry—the way everyone else starts a meal.
It also depends on what is in season and what looks good at the market. For example, I can’t plan to shoot and publish a recipe for artichokes if I can’t find good artichokes.
If I come upon beautiful artichokes, other recipes I have planned will get pushed back. I may not publish the artichoke recipe right away, but it gets worked on while they’re still fresh.
Once I have the topic, an idea of keywords, and the ingredients, I get to work. I prep the ingredients and cook the dish with a photograph for each step. I then take final hero shots of the finished dish. After that, I edit the photos, upload the photos and begin writing and putting the post together.
The entire process takes two days: one for cooking and shooting the photos and another day for editing and writing the post. Right now I’m doing it all myself, but I have been screening photographers to reshoot old posts for me.
Her Email List
I haven’t been that assertive in growing my list and resisted a pop-up on my site until recently. But, with the changes coming I mentioned, I realized how important an email list is because those are your most dedicated readers/fans.
Grow by Mediavine has been instrumental in helping me grow my subscriber list to almost 9,500 subscribers. I send emails out to my subscribers at least once a week, sometimes two.
Her Favorite Resources
My favorite resources are as follows:
- Podcasts: Food Blogger Pro, Eat Blog Talk, The Blog Millionaire, and Niche Pursuits
- YouTube channels: The Bite Shot with Joanie Simon for improving food photography
- Books: Any food photography book you can get your hands on
- Websites: TopHatRank.com
Carol’s Go-To Tools
I use KeySearch for keyword research and SerpRobot for monitoring keyword ranking.
I used to use schedulers for social media and Pinterest, but it’s just as easy to upload directly when I want to post something. Other than that, I’m a pen-and-paper kind of gal.
Her Greatest Challenges
There are two:
–Time and running two businesses myself. While I have to hand it to young moms who start online businesses and become successful at it, finding time is just as challenging later in life because family commitments never stop.
–Social media. Although I was already pretty computer savvy from all the years I spent working in offices, I went into social media kicking and screaming. I’m a private person and was raised in an era where you didn’t tell the world every intimate detail of your life. I still don’t care for it, but it’s necessary.
Her Main Accomplishment
My greatest accomplishment has definitely been achieving a 6-figure income on my blog part-time.
Although there’s always room for improvement, I’ve reached a level in food photography that I never thought I could based on that first photo I submitted to the newspaper all those years ago.
Things She Wishes She Knew When She Started
I wish I had known more about SEO and how to apply it when I first started out. In fact, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t start paying attention to SEO until I attended a food blogger’s conference in 2016 (Everything Food which is sorely missed by many food bloggers) and an SEO expert presented a segment on how to write a meta description.
The following year, at the same conference, another SEO expert gave a presentation and talked about ALT descriptions. At the time, no one was including ALT descriptions in their photos. Even big bloggers were having to play catch-up on those.
I was applying SEO but it didn’t start to take root until I had a site audit by a well-known SEO expert two years ago. Then, last year, I did another audit by an SEO expert with a different approach that focused on keywords and finding the low-hanging fruit in your existing posts. That’s when the process really gelled for me.
I still have a lot of catching up and work to do because learning SEO is ongoing and because it’s constantly changing. With over 500 recipe posts on my site and running two businesses, there’s still a lot of catching up to do.
Invest in an SEO audit. I’ve never heard anyone say an audit was a waste of money.
Carol’s Biggest Mistake
My main mistake would be thinking that people would flock to my website and that it would be easy. Food blogging is HARD.
It’s constantly changing and you have to pivot and adapt. Food blogging is something that can’t be taught; it can only be learned.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
No matter what your start in life or background is, believe in yourself and believe that you can do it. Follow your passion and your dreams.
If you quit, you’ll never know what could be. Growing up on a farm, I learned the value of hard work and not to fear it.