In episode 344, Megan chats to Cheryl Norris, creator of Bakes by Brown Sugar, about why we should treat our blog as a business from the beginning, the importance of SEO and investing in yourself.

We cover information about why you need to ask yourself, what is your audience looking for, how to prioritize SEO and keywords, the importance of investing in courses, conferences and masterminds and you really can’t and shouldn’t do everything at once.

Listen on the player below or on iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast player. Or scroll down to read a full transcript.

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Guest Details

Connect with Bakes by Brown Sugar
Website | Instagram | Facebook

Bio Cheryl has been a food blogger since late 2018 at Bakes by Brown Sugar. Even though she started her blog as a hobby, she learned the importance of treating it as a business and investing in it and myself. Whether it’s a conference or a new course, she is always learning something to improve my business and content for her readers.


  • There are so many things that bloggers need to do, it’s important to prioritize in them.
  • Know you have to invest in education. Figuring out what is important and different for each person.
  • Allow yourself to prioritize a specific learning piece for a period of time, i.e. SEO so that you are all in and taking advantage of what it can do for your business.
  • Figure out how to create food you are interested and how your audience will find that useful and how to teach Google its important.
  • Be a resource to your audience. Post the competitive recipe even if its a high score so you can give your audience a one stop shop.
  • Even if blogging is a hobby for you, treat it as a business from day 1. When you invest in something, there’s advantages to it growing and down the line you may choose to grow it more vigorously.
  • Invest what you earn to really get value for your business.
  • Track your expenses and file your taxes so you can take advantage of the benefits of being a business owner.
  • When you know what you spend on content creation, when a brand reaches out about a recipe or post, you’ll know your value in costs and time you spend.
  • When you decide to invest in a course, ask lots of questions. If you aren’t getting feedback or answers, keep looking for a place to spend because you want a business to care and be responsive.
  • Free will cost you money so look at what an investment will buy you now and down the line.
  • You don’t have to do everything at once.
  • Speaking words of life over yourself and your business is so important.


Click for full script.

EBT344 – Cheryl Norris

Cheryl Norris: Hi, this is Cheryl Norris from Bakes By Brown Sugar and you’re listening to the Eat Blog Talk podcast. 

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Megan Porta: Hello, food bloggers. Welcome to Eat Blog Talk the podcast for food bloggers, looking for the value and confidence that will move the needle forward in their businesses. This episode is sponsored by RankIQ. I am your host, MeganP orta, and you are listening to episode number 344. I have Cheryl Norris with me here today. She is going to talk to us about things she wishes she had learned and known when she first started out as a food blogger. I think we all have those things that we wish we would’ve known back then.

Cheryl has been a food blogger since late 2018 at Bakes By Brown Sugar. Even though she started her blog as a hobby, she learned the importance of treating it as a business and investing in it and in herself. Whether it’s a conference or a new course, she’s always learning something to improve her business and content for her readers. Cheryl, super excited for this chat today with you. But first we would love to hear what fun facts you have.

Cheryl Norris: So first of all, thank you so much for having me on the show. A fun fact for me is that I was on the fourth season of the Great American Baking Show. It’s the American version of the great British baking.

Megan Porta: Oh, my goodness. How did it go? 

Cheryl Norris: I didn’t do as well as I wanted. I was eliminated after the second episode, but I had such a blast doing that and I always tell people that it was the most stressful fun I’ve ever had. 

Megan Porta: Oh, I always wonder because they make it look like, oh my gosh, this is so stressful. So I never know if it’s curated stress or if it’s actual genuine stress. 

Cheryl Norris: No. It’s stressful as far as you’ve chosen to put yourself into that position. But it really is that stressful. Because one of the things we term that we coin is called tent time. So first of all, a lot, what a lot of people may not know is that we know what we’re gonna bake. So we’ve already practiced at home and they’ve given us the time parameters and things like that. So you practice at home and you’re like, oh yeah, I can get this done in three hours. No problem. You get into that tent and three hours goes by, oh, unimaginably fast. Your bake is still in the oven. That whole thing where people are like down on the floor watching? That really does happen, because they’re like 15 minutes left and you’re like, why is my cake still in the oven? It should be done by now.

Megan Porta: So what do you think are the factors there? If you can do it at home easily, what makes it so difficult to fit it into a certain time there?

Cheryl Norris: Part of the issue might just be nerves. You’re not trying to be a little bit more careful as you’re going through, just make sure it comes out right. But also it’s a completely different oven than what you’re gonna have here in the United States. So that could be a factor too. But yeah, we just call it tent time. 

Megan Porta: I love that. I love that fun fact. So cool that you have that experience. I’m sure that you can carry that over into this job being a food blogger and just round out your experience here. 

Cheryl Norris: No, I definitely did. Because one of the things we had to do in preparing for the show is we had to send them the recipes that we had created for our bakes. So that gave me really good practice in actually just writing recipes, recipe testing and writing recipes.

Megan Porta: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I can see where that would round out your entire baking profile. So that’s really cool. Okay. That kind of ties into your journey. Because I wanna hear about your blogging journey, when you started, why you started and how your blog has evolved. 

Cheryl Norris: Okay, thanks. So it actually started with me just sharing food photos on Instagram. That’s what kind of sucked me into the world of Instagram initially. I think way back in 2016, I was like, oh, I’ll start sharing my food photos too. Then just following various bloggers. Just, when you’re looking for recipes and I got to the point where I said to myself I wanna share more than pictures. I wanna share recipes also. So that’s how the idea for the food blog started. In late 2017, my first thought was, okay, I’m gonna get better at photography. For seriously, three months, I just really focused on photography. Learning how to take pictures. Posting some of those to Instagram. So as an engineer, I’m a planner. So I’m like, okay, what are the things I need to have in place? So my original intent was to practice my photography and launch my blog in March of 2018. You know how plans go? They don’t quite happen. So you’re like, okay, I’m not gonna get done in March, but I’ll do it in the second quarter. Then my husband and I went on vacation and when I got back, I got the call from the producer’s Love Productions Studio for the Great American Baking Show. I got that call at the beginning of May. Basically my life was consumed with that until the end of August when we finished filming that.

Megan Porta: That’s not something you can pass up, right? 

Cheryl Norris: No. Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not. Obviously the blog work got delayed because I was focused on that. So then I thought, oh, okay, I’m gonna really focus on launching this by the end of September. It’d be ready to go. So I had I think three or four recipes that I was working on to launch the blog and September 29th, I tripped and broke my right wrist. I’m right handed. Just that first week, I really couldn’t do anything, but the basics. So I was like, how am I gonna launch my blog? Because I couldn’t cook anything. So I was like, okay, get the cast off. I’ll launch it at the end of October. 

Megan Porta: Oh, that was such a bummer.

Cheryl Norris: I know it was. I laugh about it now, but it’s just one of those things where you just look back and say, okay, it happened. It’s humorous now ,wasn’t at the point, at that time. So I launched it at the end of October. Sent out the notice to friends and family and different things like that. Then once I launched it, I realized, oh my gosh, there’s so much I don’t know. Because then I’m like, how am I supposed to use social media? Do I have to be on Facebook? I had a Facebook account, but I was never on Facebook. So do I have to use Instagram? What’s this Pinterest thing? I was using Pinterest, when I was searching for topics and things like that. But I was like, how am I supposed to use Pinterest? What am I supposed to post to Pinterest? All these questions I had once I started. How do I tie this whole ecosystem with the blog and different things like that. I was researching stuff and this term SEO kept popping up and I didn’t know what it was. I seriously thought to myself, I don’t need to worry about that. Because I’m not trying to make money. I’m just like, I just wanna share my recipes because really that’s what it was. It was started as a hobby for me, because I’m like, I just wanna share my recipes. When I was practicing food photography earlier in the year, I found that I absolutely loved it. Even though my initial pictures were total crap. I absolutely loved it. So I was like, I just wanna share my recipes and my photos, not realizing that, Hey, if I’m not using SEO, then people aren’t gonna find my recipes.

Megan Porta: I remember hearing that term first and I was. Oh, my gosh, what is this? What are these letters? 

Cheryl Norris: Yes. Search engine optimization. What? 

Megan Porta: It’s something that is a deterrent. You hear those words and you’re like no. As a creative person, no, I don’t want to go there. So I feel like you’re not alone. A lot of people fight, that’s very normal. How long did it take you to get to the point where you’re like, okay, I need to learn this SEO thing. 

Cheryl Norris: So I started my blog in October and when January rolled around at that point, I decided, okay, I’m gonna treat this as a business. I still didn’t quite know everything I needed to do, but okay. I need to treat this as a business. Unfortunately, my husband also had a stroke in January, so that kind of delay. He’s much better now.

Megan Porta: Oh my goodness. 

Cheryl Norris: Obviously with everything, helping care for him and making sure he was getting everything he needed, while I was still doing some recipes, I wasn’t really focused on the research part of understanding everything I needed to know. So I think I probably started getting into SEO about June. I was doing some basic stuff and I thought, oh, okay. I got this SEO thing nailed down. Then I listened to another podcast where they had a guest on, who was an expert on SEO. They were talking about what you need to do. As I’m listening to this podcast, I’m thinking, oh yeah, I thought I was doing SEO, but I’m really not. I was using key search a little bit but basically after I listened to that podcast, I’m like, okay. I thought I understood, but I evidently don’t. So let me dig into this some more about what I need to do.

Megan Porta: There are clearly layers here that I need to explore.

Cheryl Norris: Yeah, exactly. 

Megan Porta: So you dug in more and then how easy was it for you to learn once you just really dug your heels in? 

Cheryl Norris: Part of it was understanding. Again, not paying as much attention as I should, but still trying to figure out this. At least I knew enough to invest in Keysearch and use that as a tool to say, okay, does this even get any traffic? So at least I knew that much to do so I was using Keysearch to do that, to make sure that the right terminology I was using. But also what I didn’t understand was, when you’re writing the content, writing it from the end user viewpoint, and then also using those keywords so that you’re signaling to Google what this blog post is about. So you’ve got the title obviously, but then making sure that you’re having the right keywords in your post that tells Google, oh, this post is about peach pie. Because she’s got all these terms in here. I knew a little bit about the SLI keyword. Or LSI words enough to include those again, just sending that signal to Google, but I still wasn’t quite clicking until I took the Cooking with Keywords from Aleka Shunk. That opened my eyes and okay, now I know exactly what I need to do for every single blog post. 

Megan Porta: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a journey. If you ask any average food blogger, their journey with SEO, it’s very similar to what you’ve just said, Cheryl. It’s like we don’t go get into it and automatically oh, this makes sense. Of course. SEO. It’s like we hear the words. We get resistant. We finally realize we have to do it. We think we know. We figure out, we don’t know. We dig in more. It’s like a journey. So for anyone listening, who is on the front end of that journey, just keep going. Do you have encouragement for them, Cheryl?

Cheryl Norris: So this might sound harsh . So I was actually talking to someone and we were talking about this and they were like, but I wanna write what I wanna write about. I just said, you know what, but it’s not about you. That’s one thing that you of have to keep in mind it’s about what your audience is looking for. But at the same time, if you got this great idea and you look at it and then there’s no traffic, or there appears to be no traffic for it, think about how you can either describe it. Or what keywords you can use to signal to Google that this is post that’s worth promoting or rolling up to the top or fits into a topic that gets a lot of traffic. Maybe you wanna do? I don’t know. I’ll just off the top of my head, lavender strawberry pie because you love that taste combination. I’ve never tried that so I don’t know if it tastes good. 

Megan Porta: Yummy, sounds good.

Cheryl Norris: But yeah, but you look at it, there’s no traffic for it. So then maybe you’re putting mainly your emphasis on the strawberry pie part, your keywords are around that. But yeah. So the encouragement is, really think about why you got into this. If you’re wanting people to see your recipes, think about what your audience is gonna be looking for. It can be by quarter, it can be by, if you have a really narrow niche, you’re just doing gluten free cakes, what is your audience gonna be looking for? What kind of questions are they looking to have answered? It could be like, Hey, how do I convert all my old family recipes to gluten free or something like that. But yeah, just really think about what your audience is looking for. You do get a lot of satisfaction from that because I know I also get a lot of satisfaction when people try my recipes and they respond back to me and say that they really loved this recipe or they had tried other versions, but I really love your version because it did X, Y, Z for me. Or it made me look good at the latest family party or, I brought this to my mother-in-law’s birthday party and she loved it. Think about what your audience is looking for and what your audience needs. 

Megan Porta: I think once you start creating for the user, you start hearing from the user. That gives you so much satisfaction that maybe you just get filled up more and you have more ambition to actually do this, right?

Cheryl Norris: Oh yeah, definitely. I have an orange upside down cake and I heard from a user that they tried it and they absolutely loved it. Now it is gonna become a family recipe. 

Megan Porta: Oh, there’s nothing more awesome than that. That’s amazing. 

Cheryl Norris: Yeah. That makes your week. Like, yes!

Megan Porta: Absolutely. See, and it just takes one line, one sentence that can make your week like that. There’s value in thinking through it that way. Okay. So we got a little sidetracked. So your SEO, you learned that you have to learn this, you dug in, you started creating content based around SEO. Then where did your journey go from there? 

Cheryl Norris: So I did start that last year about just really phoning in on SEO. This year it’s all about SEO, creating content that my audience is looking for, but is also going to drive traffic to my site. So to that, with that intent in mind, I’ve set aside a lot of other things, especially around social media and just really focused on SEO because as you all know, Most of us are not getting the numbers we used to do to stay around Instagram, but I’m okay with that because my main focus is SEO growing my traffic. So since I’ve focused solely on SEO this year, my web search traffic has doubled from last year. So when I look at those numbers, that’s really exciting. I’m probably doing it too often, but I look at the numbers every day. I look at Google search console and Google analytics every few days just kinda see where the traffic is. But it’s incredible to see that investment in time is really paying off. 

Megan Porta: I love your journey. Thank you for talking through that. That actually led to one of your points, which is to prioritize SEO. So for somebody listening, who maybe is not knowing where to go next or they’re on the front part of their journey, you recommend to them to definitely dig into SEO, figure out that SEO term pronto and dig into it. 

Cheryl Norris: Yes. Cooking with Keywords. I definitely recommend that course. 

Megan Porta: Okay. Anything else about SEO that you want to impart? 

Cheryl Norris: Yeah, so if it’s a recipe you’re really passionate about, you’re doing the SEO research, you’re doing Keysearch and it’s a really competitive topic, I would say, go ahead and post it anyway. That’s what I do also because yes, that’s a really competitive topic. It might take me a year to get to page one because it’s such a competitive topic, but I also wanna be a resource for my readers so that when they come to my site, if they are looking for a vanilla cake or a vanilla cupcake recipe, which I’m getting ready to post, yeah, that’s super competitive. I have a low what’s the word competitive score. I have a low competition score, but I wanna also be a resource for my readers. So it might take me a while to write that recipe. But that’s okay. Because I eventually will rank for it in some way. I will eventually get traffic from it. In the mean. It’s a resource for my readers. 

Megan Porta: Again, you’re looking out for the user and your audience and trying to provide them value. Yeah. That’s great advice. I love all of that. So if you could go back, what other things would you tell past Cheryl that you wish you knew?

Cheryl Norris: The other thing I would say, even if you are planning to do this as a hobby, I would say, treat your blog as a business from day one. That’s because you are making a monetary investment in it from the get go. You have your WordPress, but then you’ve also bought your theme. You’re also paying for plugins and just all these various things. Food blog has a relatively low cost of entry compared to a lot of other businesses, or say like a brick and mortar store where you’re actually producing a physical product, but you’re still spending money. So treat it as a business from day one, because there are tax advantages to that. Register it as a business, get that employer identification number and track your expenses. Then you can write those off on your taxes. 

Megan Porta: I absolutely love that you said that. This is something that is not said often in our space, but there is such a low cost of entry and almost take advantage of that and use the money that maybe you would have spent in another venture and invest that wisely. So how do you feel about investments like investing and learning and growing when necessary? 

Cheryl Norris: That would be the other thing. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. Don’t sell yourself short, because there are a lot of courses out there. Yes, you do wanna be careful about what you invest in because you wanna get the best value for your money, but do make plans to invest in yourself. When I got started in this, I was like, man, that’s a lot of money. I don’t know. Is it really necessary? Again, just that whole going back and forth. The first thing I invested in was a photography course with Footography School and that was extremely helpful for me in understanding, investing all the steps you need to go through to understand what your style is. Developing a kind of a template for what you like to do, but yeah, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. Ask questions. If you have a question about the course, write an email to the person who’s offering the course and ask a bunch of questions. Is it, this is it, will I learn this? I will say and this again comes from my engineering background with pre COVID when I used to go to conferences. It would look like a great conference and I would contact the person who was speaking and ask them, Hey, are you gonna be covering this and that? I will say this, if you’re asking questions and you’re not getting the answer, then you may not wanna invest in that course. Because this is a huge investment and if the person who’s putting out the course is not taking the time to answer your basic questions about the content and what it could do for them, maybe be a little bit cautious about that investment, especially if you’re concerned about money, but definitely make the investments.

Megan Porta: Oh, that is such a great little tip too. I’ve never thought of that, but I do that, I think not necessarily with conferences, but if I’m going to invest in a membership or a mastermind or something like that, and I reach out and the people are responsive and answering my questions and more than I know that they care. But if you’re not hearing back or if they’re not answering your questions, then that is a sure sign that it’s probably not the best investment. So I love that. 

Cheryl Norris: Oh, no, I agree. It’s probably a sign too that maybe they’re not still paying attention to this, that course. Because you know, a lot of courses, the things are pre-recorded and they put them out there, which is fine. I have no issue with that. I think it’s a great idea. But at the same time, if they’re not responding, it could also be that it’s still out there. They’re still selling it. But maybe they’re not investing the time and resources in it that they once did.

Megan Porta: Right? No, that is a super awesome tip. So investing in yourself, super important from the get go. I glossed over this because I got excited about what you said about just the low cost of entry.

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Megan Porta: You mentioned also registering your business, getting your EIN. It’s really not that hard. Just do a Google search. It’s super easy. Bank accounts, all of that budgeting, tracking your expenses, I think is really important to your income and expenses from the beginning.

Cheryl Norris: Oh, definitely. Yeah. I didn’t do a great job at that initially because again, trying to understand. Fortunately I did keep my receipts, so I did go back over those. That is a slog. If you’re trying to do it all, you’re working receipts all at once, but yeah, for some reason I kept my receipts. I keep all my grocery receipts. So I’m trying to get better at recording those on a more timely basis so I don’t end up with this pile of work all at one time. But yeah, keeping all your receipts, and setting up a system for keeping your receipts. So whether you’re keeping paper receipts, if you’re doing everything electronically, just making sure that you have a place for those, where to easily find them and you can easily retrieve them. 

Megan Porta: Here’s a little secret weapon of mine, that is recording everything. Literally every penny that comes into my business and goes out. I think that you can earn money more quickly that way, because if you know exactly what’s coming in and out, I just feel like it’s easier to earn. If you don’t have any idea, then, I don’t know. I would have no motivation to earn money. Do you know what I mean? Just having that knowledge, I think is power. 

Cheryl Norris: No, it is. Especially when brands reach out to you and they want you to do work in exchange for a product. If you’ve been tracking your expenses, Hey, if I’m gonna do that cake for you or cookie or whatever. I already know that I’m gonna have to spend this much on products. It’s gonna take me this long to do it. Nope. That’s not gonna work for me in terms of return on investment or even if they’re just wanting you to promote their product. What is your time worth per hour? Definitely don’t undervalue yourself with regard to that. If you wanna say, Hey, my time is worth $60 an hour, and it’s gonna take me two hours to create that Instagram story, Instagram post for promoting your product, another half hour to write a copy, et cetera, et cetera. Yeah. Just even start there as the basis of, at the minimum, that’s just my cost. That doesn’t include profit. 

Megan Porta: Oh, it’s so easy to work for free in the beginning. I think most of us have done that and think it’s a good learning tool. 

Cheryl Norris: It is. 

Megan Porta: Yeah. But do you have any other advice on that? Because this is a tough one. 

Cheryl Norris: It is. I do understand the attraction of working for free, especially, oh, you wanna gimme free stuff? Oh, OK. I like free stuff. I would say if you’re gonna do it, limit it to products that you’re really enthusiastic about. That where you could potentially see a long term relationship that would lead to paid opportunities. So I would maybe start there, if one company reached out to me, I’m not gonna name any names. They said, oh, this person is starting this company for this food product. The name of the person was someone who was well known, had a lot of money. So I’m thinking, oh, okay. This is a paid opportunity. This is not two friends outta college, just starting a business. Don’t have a whole lot of money. There’s some money behind this. I said I can do this for this price. They responded back with we don’t have a budget for that. I’m like, wait a minute, wait a minute. Okay. The person who’s investing in this has a lot of money. I don’t understand how you don’t have a budget for what you’re asking me to do. It just didn’t make sense to me.

Megan Porta: Oh, my gosh. 

Cheryl Norris: So I was like, yeah, unfortunately I can’t do that. Sounds like a great product. I would love to try it, but I can’t guarantee that I’m gonna do an Instagram post about it or anything like that.

Megan Porta: Yeah. Setting boundaries, I think, is really key here too. If you just establish that boundary for yourself and stick to it, it goes so far. 

Cheryl Norris: It does. The thing is, if you’re investing in the things, like your recipes, the SEO, you got this traffic, you’re investing in your photography because the brands who understand the value of your work, they will notice the beautiful photography and they will eventually reach out to you with paid work. You do have to be persistent. It will take time. Then also the other thing, if you’re investing in SEO and building your traffic, you can say, hey, this is how much traffic I get on my blog. So when I do this blog post for you, highlighting your product, this is the type of traffic that you could potentially see for this product. It’s evergreen. It’s always gonna be on my blog. 

Megan Porta: That’s a great point. Okay. I had a question about if you could go back, would you change anything about the way you set up your actual blog? So I don’t know if you started on WordPress or plugins or recipe cards. Is there anything you would change there?

Cheryl Norris: So I did start with WordPress and I started with what eventually became the Feast plugin, Brunch Pro, which a friend recommended to me. And I’m so glad I did that. So I wouldn’t change that. So in terms of that initial investment, and this is where I would say, free will cost you money. When I was initially looking at buying the Brunch Pro and the Genesis framework, I was like, Ooh, that’s a lot of money. I actually tried taking a free template and reworking it. I was like, this is taking way too much time. This is way too much. I was watching all these YouTube videos and I was like, no, I will go back and buy that. That’s why I say free will cost you money because yes, it’s a free template, but you’re gonna be spending hours reworking that template to make it look like a food blog and where people can scroll down and either see your categories or these beautiful pictures of this food that you were taking. So when I say that free will cost you money, not only just in terms of just lost opportunities, but just also in your own time. Of getting stuff done and potentially too, if you don’t do the template, it will cost you money in terms of traffic. Oh, it may not be configured right and so when Google goes to say, Hey who’s offering the best banana bread? You could make the best banana bread in the world. Maybe your SEO’s on, but because of the way you’ve configured your site, it’s not rolling out. I have a story about that.

Megan Porta: Oh my gosh. If you need someone to fix it, that costs you money too. Yeah. So what’s your story about the fix? 

Cheryl Norris: As I got into SEO, I was looking at Yoast and it used to be a little bit more expensive, but I thought, oh, that’s a lot of money, so no. Oh, look, there’s this free version. It was called Rank Math. I thought, oh, this seems to do everything that Yoast does. So I used that because it’s free. So I’m using Rank Math, the way I know how to use it. Everything seems to be okay. I signed up for this mastermind course in, I believe, May of 2020. The next thing I liked about this is the husband and wife team and he handled the technical stuff and she handled the more friends and stuff. Like how do you connect with your audience? How do you determine what content to produce> how do you put yourself forward to help grow your traffic? So part of the mastermind is he did a technical review of everybody’s site who was in the mastermind. He came back to me. He said, yeah, I think there’s the issue with this Rank Math. So he went through it and so basically apparently what having that free plugin was doing was, it was preventing Google from seeing my content. 

Megan Porta: Oh, no. 

Cheryl Norris: Yes. So we fixed it together. I got Yoast. Got Yoast set up. I kid you not, the day after he took the Rank Math off, one of my original recipes is for a cranberry pistachio shortbread cookie. He took it off on Tuesday and Wednesday that cookie was appearing at spot number two in searches. 

Megan Porta: What? 

Cheryl Norris: My traffic doubled from May to June. 

Megan Porta: Oh, wow. That’s amazing. 

Cheryl Norris: When I say free will cost you money, when we talk about free versions of plugins, they can be attractive because they’re free, but in the long run, they may just actually cost you money just in terms of time and traffic. Trying to make them work or if it’s just not a very good product. Now, today, I don’t know how Rank Math is. It could be much better. So if you wanna try it, go ahead. But that was my experience in terms of, Hey, I thought I was doing a really great thing because this is free and I’m doing the SEO stuff and yeah, it was actually costing me traffic. 

Megan Porta: Wow. That’s a powerful story and supports your point. You have so many great points here, Cheryl, these are great. I avoided WordPress altogether partially because of the money, because I would hear oh, I have to purchase this plugin and I have to purchase this. I was like, well on Squarespace, you don’t need to do that. You can just pay one flat rate a year. I wore that badge for, oh my gosh, nine and a half years. It was ridiculous. It cost me a lot. If I would’ve gone over to WordPress right away, I believe that I would be one of those bloggers who gets 5 million page views a month right now and I’m not yet, but yeah, it definitely cost me not only money, but so much traffic and traction. An insane amount of progress. I do acknowledge that’s my story. I don’t ever wish to change it because I don’t think I would have this podcast. There are so many things that are good that came from my story, but it definitely costs me 

Cheryl Norris: Yep. If you’re listening to this and you’re thinking, okay what plugins do I need, then there’s a really great series of SEO webinars hosted by Casey Markee and Arson Rabinovich from Top Hack Rank. You can go through these series of webinars and they have the titles and you can find the ones where they talk about plugins and different things like that to have, because there have been a couple webinars where that question gets asked what are the plugins that I need, at a minimum to run my site. 

Megan Porta: Yeah, that’s a really great resource. They do those free webinars that are super valuable. So take advantage of those. Yeah. Okay. What else would you go back and tell a previous version of you if you could?

Cheryl Norris: The other thing I would tell myself is the why I would tell my previous version is you don’t have to do everything at once. When I got into this, like I said in the beginning, I started my blog and it was kinda like, what now? Oh, I gotta do Instagram. I gotta do Facebook. I need to use Pinterest. But in reality you don’t have to do everything once. I’m at that place where I realize that, understanding what I need to focus on and focusing on that. Then as I have time to focus on some of the other things, do that. 80% of my time is focused on SEO and making sure I’m doing that right and getting that nailed down and then the other 20% are on these other things. Now maybe it might switch for one month where I’m primarily focused on social media and building that out and building relationships through those avenues. For right now I’m focused on SEO and either reposting old content, revising old content or creating new content. I’m at a place where I feel comfortable like that. Sometimes you can feel like, oh, I gotta do everything. Then I feel bad about not doing everything. This is my story. I had qualified for Mediavine last year. 

Megan Porta: Woohoo. Great achievement. Nice. Yay.

Cheryl Norris: Then a friend asked me how I was doing and they’re in the blogging world. I said, oh, I’m just so behind I’m not doing what I need to do in Pinterest and Facebook. They’re like, Cheryl, you just qualified for Mediavine. You should be celebrating. That’s a huge accomplishment. I said, yeah, you’re right. But I was just so focused on what I wasn’t doing as opposed to what I had already accomplished. So I eventually just got to the mindset and I wish somebody had told me this too, to understand what those things are and how you can use them to build traffic to your site. Also have that plan where, okay, this is what I need to focus on for this time period. Then when I’ve got that nailed down, then I’ll focus on this thing. You don’t have to do everything at once. If you are not on TikTok, if you’re not on Pinterest, because you’re focused on this other thing, that’s ok. 

Megan Porta: I think we need that permission. So thank you for saying that because we do have the food blogger guilt. We feel like we need to be everywhere. Then especially if you consume podcasts like this one where you hear all of the aspects of food blogging. It’s not a message that you need to do it all. It’s just delivering it to you when you’re ready or if you’re ready for it. But you don’t have to do it all. You can listen to an episode about TikTok, take it in, put it in the back of your brain and do it when you’re ready, but you don’t have to go and do it. So Cheryl and I are giving you permission to not do it all. 

Cheryl Norris: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is spend some time understanding what your goals and intent are. When I say spend some time, like if you like, you need to spend two, three weeks just jotting down ideas and coming up with that plan, understanding what those are, and then picking the platform or platforms that are gonna best serve those goals and that intent.

Megan Porta: Oh, my gosh, this is packed with amazing advice, Cheryl. This is so good. 

Cheryl Norris: That’s one of the things I learned from project planning as an engineer; that time that you spend on the actual planning part, it often gets short changed because we wanna get right into the project. But if you spend a good chunk of time and that just depends on the project, but if you just spend a good chunk of time on the planning part, it will save you so much time once you’re into the project, executing the project.

Megan Porta: I love that you’re taking tidbits that you learn from other areas of your life and applying it to food blogging. I think that’s super valuable. Is there anything else you would go back and tell yourself if you could? 

Cheryl Norris: I would say, definitely know your niche. Now, I was pretty fortunate in that, baking’s always been a passionate of mine and I love baking. So I knew from the beginning that baking was what I wanted to do. But one of the things I got caught up in, especially in that first year is looking at other food bloggers who had a little bit wider niche, they’re doing desserts and savory. I thought, oh, maybe I should be doing savory. How can I do savory? I should be doing savor. But really just honing down on your niche. What is the thing that you’re most passionate about and just focusing on that in the beginning. You can grow beyond that. I listened to one of your previous podcasts where they had started a second blog expanding beyond that. But I would say in the beginning just start small. Just really hone in on what it is you’re passionate about, what you wanna share, what you think are gonna be valuable to your readers. Cut out the noise of yeah, but that person is doing all these other things and they’ve got these three topics they’re covering. Yeah. Focus on that one topic. Then for lack of a better word phrase, once you get good at that, then start to add other things.

Megan Porta: Yeah. Back to the basics. I say that a lot too. When we get to that place where we see what everyone else is doing, we tend to overcomplicate our own situation. Sometimes I just have to just say that to myself. Back to the basics. Simplify and do what is absolutely necessary until you feel comfortable again. But it’s so easy to see what other people are doing and be like, oh, I should be doing that. Oh wait, I should be doing that. 

Cheryl Norris: Yeah. And it doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna eventually do it or you shouldn’t adopt new things or learn new things. Again, it goes back to that. You don’t have to do everything at once.

Megan Porta: Yeah. Amazing. Okay. What else? Anything else, Cheryl? 

Cheryl Norris: I would say also, I think this is just overall. This is just for the length of your journey. Just be kind to yourself. Be careful of the words that you’re constantly saying to yourself, because no one talks to you more than you talk to yourself. So just pay attention to the words that are constantly in your head and be encouraging to yourself and not discouraging to yourself.

Megan Porta: Okay. That was super powerful. Seriously, there’s so much power in the words that you use. Whether it’s saying them out loud or just thinking them in your head. So I think that has more power than anything we’ve probably talked about today. Just be very cautious about what you’re saying to you.

Cheryl Norris: The Bible says the power of life and death is in the tongue. So make sure you’re speaking words of life to yourself and about yourself. 

Megan Porta: Oh, my gosh. That’s a powerful way to end. Thank you, Cheryl. It has been such a pleasure talking to you. I absolutely loved our conversation. So thank you so much for taking the time for us today. 

Cheryl Norris: Oh, I’ve enjoyed talking to you too. I love your podcast. So this is such a treat to get to talk to you and have this conversation. 

Megan Porta: Oh, I’ve loved it so much. So glad to make the connection. Do you have an additional quote or words of inspiration to leave us with today?

Cheryl Norris: Yeah, this is a quote I got from, I went through a training section. It was about personal growth. So it’s the term personal growth is, so this is the quote from Emily McDowell. The term personal growth is misleading because it sounds like it’s going to be fun. But if we call it deliberately making yourself so uncomfortable, you’ll feel like you’re dying, nobody would do it. 

Megan Porta: Oh my gosh. I love that. Who said that? Can you tell me again? 

Cheryl Norris: It was Emily McDowell. M C D O W E L L. Okay. 

Megan Porta: That is the best quote ever. That’s so true. Oh my goodness. I’m gonna look that up and print it out. Okay. Thank you so much for that. We’ll put together show notes for you, Cheryl. So if anyone wants to go look at those, you can go to sugar. I was perusing your blog while we were chatting. It’s beautiful. Your photography is beautiful. 

Cheryl Norris: Thank you. 

Megan Porta: So tell everyone where to go to find you there and on social media. 

Cheryl Norris: So the blog is Bakes by Brown Sugar. On social media, I was fortunate. No one had claimed this name. So at Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook, I am at Bakes By Brown Sugar.

Megan Porta: Awesome. Go check Cheryl out everybody. And thanks again, Cheryl for being here and thank you for listening today, food bloggers. I will see you in the next episode. 

Outro: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Eat Blog Talk. If you enjoyed this episode, I’d be so grateful if you posted it to your social media feed and stories. I will see you next time.

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