Hey Woks of Life readers! Today, we’re going to talk about a topic we’ve never really addressed here on the blog, and that is, how to start a food blog, or really how to start a website in general.
June 2013. That’s when we started The Woks of Life, a food blog that has since become equal parts family recipe archive, creative outlet, and source of income.
More than 5 years ago, before we had published 772 recipes, conquered the mysteries of soup dumplings, and begun our monthly pilgrimage to my parents’ house for blowout 15-recipe blogging weekends, my parents were living in Beijing, Kaitlin was still in school, and I was a year out of college.
I was struggling to find a job that fell into any category other than “unpaid internship” and living in my parents’ empty house in Jersey, contemplating my next move. (I don’t know why I’m reviving this very old, diary-like post from that time, but I suppose it’s illustrative of how much things can change, especially for anyone currently trying to get out of the post-college unpaid internship vicious circle.)
The Woks of Life came into existence for a few reasons:
- I was unemployed. And bored.
- My parents were halfway across the world in China, which meant that home-cooked Chinese meals were few and far between, and I had no way of knowing how to make the recipes my parents made growing up. We needed a place to store all that knowledge.
- I thought that maybe, just maybe, we could turn the blog into a side hustle.
- We really, really, really love food.
It’s been 5 years, and I’m happy to report that:
- I am no longer unemployed. Woo!
- My parents are back in the US (we all are), but also, I use their recipes on the blog to cook Chinese food at home all. the. time.
- The blog HAS become a pretty enjoyable side hustle.
- We still really, really, really love food.
All four of us have thoughts on why we’re happy we started the blog (at the bottom of the post).
But enough with all this preamble. If you’re reading this, chances are you have at least some interest in starting a food blog or website. Maybe it’s not a food blog you’re envisioning, but a site about some other topic that you’re passionate about.
Whatever it is, if you’re looking for something similar, this post on starting a food blog or other website is for you, friend.
In this post, I’ll include the steps that I took to start this blog on that fateful evening in my parents’ dining room––and what I learned along the way––to make the whole process as easy as possible for you dear reader. You might be surprised, but it takes much less time to get started than you think. And you don’t have to have any kind of fancy technical know-how either.
How to Start a Successful Blog in 4 Steps (Emphasis on *Start*)
If we boil down the process of starting a food blog or website, it really involves 4 steps:
- Select your domain name (i.e. your blog’s name) and sign up for web hosting with BlueHost.
- Install WordPress.
- Choose how you want your blog to look with StudioPress themes (built on the Genesis Framework).
- Write and publish your first post.
At this point, you may be thinking, “BlueHost? WordPress? StudioPress? Genesis Framework?? What ARE these words?! Sounds like we’re entering the dangerous realm of fancy technical know-how…”
Rest easy. It might sound a little complicated, but I’m only calling out these names because they are what ended up working for us. Because there’s a TON of choice out there for different hosting services to use, blogging platforms, and blog themes, and it would take hours to research them all. Lucky for you, no further research is required!
Allow me to go into these 4 steps in a little more detail.
Step 1: Select Your Domain Name & Get Hosting with BlueHost
Step one is to choose your blog’s name, which will become your domain name (www.yourblogsname.com). My biggest advice here is not to take too long trying to think of the perfect name.
It can be a huge blocker to starting your blog or website, and ultimately, it won’t matter all that much. I thought of “woks of life” randomly one morning and registered it later that afternoon. The name has obviously stuck, as pun-tastic as it is.
The next step is to sign up for a web host. Think of a web host as your blog or website’s “home” on the Internet, or the place where all the files that make up your website live. That’s as technical as we need get on it.
I chose BlueHost to start our blog because it was very inexpensive (I paid $3.95/month five years ago, but BlueHost is now offering intro pricing at $2.95/month.) Having grown up at my mother’s knee, I love a good deal. They were also the #1 recommended web hosting service by WordPress.org, the open-source blogging platform that we and millions of other bloggers use to power their blogs and websites.
Other bonuses: they offer free domain registration (which means you don’t have to register your domain name elsewhere, which is nice), automatically install WordPress for you, and their customer support is pretty good (I used their live chat support quite a bit in the early days).
Sign up with BlueHost here. No need to go crazy with bells and whistles. Just start with the $2.95/month plan. (Full disclosure, you’ll be supporting us in keeping the lights on at The Woks of Life by signing up at this link, as we do get a small commission from sign-ups).
We moved to more expensive web hosting once our blog traffic grew past a certain point, but we stayed with BlueHost for the first 2-3 years of blogging, and it served us very well when our blog was starting out and beginning to grow.
Step 2: Open WordPress
WordPress is a free open-source blogging platform that powers 60 million websites across the Internet, making it the most popular website management system in use today.
I love using it, and I’m glad I started out with WordPress rather than a different platform like Blogger or other website builders like Wix or even the very pretty, polished Squarespace. WordPress is a great choice for the long-term outlook of your blog and the flexibility you might want down the line.
The fact that it’s open source means that there are hordes of WordPress developers out there who build awesome plugins, themes, and other tools to expand the functionality of your website. WordPress is also super easy to use, and there are a ton of resources out there in addition to this post about how to start a WordPress blog.
WordPress’s software, located at WordPress.org, is self-hosted. You set it up with your own web host and use it on your own website. WordPress.com, on the other hand, is a website platform built on WordPress.org software. You don’t have to host it yourself, but instead just sign up for a WordPress.com account and have a working website. The downside here, though, is that it’s not actually YOUR domain. Rather than www.yourblogsname.com, it would be www.yourblogsname.wordpress.com.
This is why, generally, I recommend going with your own self-hosted site with WordPress.org from the get-go. WordPress is free, and monthly self-hosting only costs about what you’d pay for a cup of coffee.
The good news is, getting WordPress.org up and running along with BlueHost is super easy, since BlueHost automatically installs it for you at sign-up.
1. Sign up with BlueHost.
2. Follow the steps, and you’ll be instructed to choose a domain (or designate one that you’ve already registered elsewhere).
After going through payment steps, you’ll create a password for your account:
3. Once your password is created, you will choose a theme for your website. We’ll talk about themes in the next step (Step 3), but you can choose one of these stock themes for now.
4. And you’re done! You can click the “Start Building” button to be taken straight into your WordPress dashboard.
5. Going forward, simply go to www.yourblogsname.com/wp-admin, enter your username and password, and log in.
That’s it! You have a WordPress blog/website.
Step 3: Choose How You Want Your Blog to Look
For me, this was the most fun part. Almost TOO fun. I must’ve gone through 6 WordPress blog themes before finally settling on the one that we use on our site now. But I was probably too focused on how the blog would look, and not focused enough on the architecture behind the themes I was picking. Because every time I switched themes, annoying things would happen, like site crashes. No bueno.
That’s why I’m recommending StudioPress themes built on the Genesis Framework. Long story short, the Genesis Framework is an underlying framework of clean, optimized code that developers build on top of to create a collection of “themes” for WordPress sites. Each theme has a different look and feel, but the underlying architecture is the same across all of them.
Before we moved over to Genesis, we would experience things like site slowness and crashes when we’d update to new versions of WordPress. Then we made the switch, and those problems effectively disappeared. Haven’t looked back since!
When you buy the theme, you can buy it bundled along with the Framework (there is also separate theme-only pricing if you have already purchased Genesis and want to build more websites with it).
Step 4: Write and Post Content
Once you’ve written and posted your first post, you’ve started your blog!
I wanted to emphasize the word *start* here, because it’s very easy to procrastinate on a thing like this. Heck, I procrastinated a ton on this very post (I think my dad told me I should write something like it…2 years ago now? Whoops.)
The point is, if you’re feeling excited about the prospect of starting your own blog or website, whether it’s to share your family’s recipes with the world, write about your travels, or explore a different topic of interest, don’t wait to start it! Outline some ideas on paper, start writing, and get your content out there.
I’m certainly glad that we started this blog five years ago. We all are.
It’s allowed us to do what we do best (cook and eat), share family favorite recipes with readers, and teach people around the world how to replicate some of their favorite Chinese foods in their home kitchens.
I asked my dad, mom, and sister what this blog meant to them, and I also did some thinking on it myself.
Hear from the four of us on why we’ll never regret creating the blog:
“I love that the Woks of Life is our family project. It keeps our family working together and keeps us close, as everyone is busy with doing their own thing. For me personally, I have learned a whole lot more about Chinese culture, ingredients and cooking.
I love sharing my knowledge, experiences, and favorite recipes with everyone so they can also enjoy them. Lastly and maybe most importantly, our family blog is a place where I can reference all of our favorite family recipes and re-live memories of our experiences and travels through our blog posts.”
“The Woks of Life has realized my dream of sharing clear, authentic Chinese recipes written in English for the kids of Chinese immigrants all over the world, as well as anyone curious about authentic Chinese cooking. I know every dish I share is near and dear to someone out there.
On a more personal note, this blog has also become a journal, where many of our fondest memories can be recalled and documented. It’s a creative platform where we can share our passion for food, travel, and life. Many thanks to our wonderful readers who cook along with us and make this blog so rewarding!”
“The blog has always been about the simple question of, “What did you eat?” Over the years, when we found ourselves in different parts of the world, that’s the question that we always started with. Whether it’s reheated leftovers or the dregs of the refrigerator transformed into something delicious, our family has always held dear the food we put on the table.
It’s also about who you’re eating with and who you’re asking those eternal questions. Who are the people you’re cooking for? What are the random conversations and old and new memories you’ll find in the warm afterglow of a bowl of noodle soup? Food doesn’t have to be fancy, and (as we say often) you don’t even necessarily need every ingredient to make a recipe. For me, the blog is a way to show people that all that matters is that you make food often, make food uniquely yours, and make it for the people that make you you.”
“The Woks of Life is a passion project for all of us. It’s a family album, cookbook, diary, and forum that we all contribute to in equal measure. But I think the real heart of the blog is in how we describe it––a culinary genealogy.
It’s not only recipes we’re sharing. It’s family histories––stories that can spark old memories and create new ones. I love that The Woks of Life isn’t just our family’s story. It’s also a reflection of so many family histories out there––kids of immigrant parents making dishes from their childhoods, expats discovering how to cook local cuisines in their own kitchens, families connecting on a different level with homesick exchange students, as well as home cooks simply looking to spice up weeknight dinners. The blog has become bigger and meant more to people than we thought it would when we started it five years ago, and I’m pretty glad we did.”
Thinking about starting a blog or website? It has been and continues to be, an awesome project for our family, and we’d definitely encourage you to try it out.
We’re excited to finally be sharing this rarely talked about topic on the blog. Good luck on your own creative adventure!