By the Fancy Comma, LLC Team
Here at Fancy Comma, we are interested in what it takes to establish and run a successful blog. That’s why we talked to Sarah Mark, a Scotland-based independent baker who, in January 2020, started her own baking blog, “A Spoonful of Vanilla.” There, she showcases her skills and passion for discovering and perfecting delicious new baking recipes.
We recently interviewed Sarah on baking, blogging, and life. Read a summary of our discussion below.
Sarah Mark, Scottish baker and author of the “A Spoonful of Vanilla” blog
Fancy Comma: Tell us about your blog. When did you first start blogging? Did you mean for A Spoonful of Vanilla to take off, or was it a side hobby that grew into a more established endeavour?
Sarah Mark: I started my blog in January 2020. I have always enjoyed baking for as long as I can remember. I was never very good at following recipes – I would always start following the recipe, but then I would get so far through making the dish, and forget all about the recipe and do my own thing.
Over time, I have developed many recipes. So, I decided to start my blog as a way to share these recipes. I also hoped that, by starting my blog, I would be able to help people who were either baking for the first time, or would inspire people to try different recipes. I started my blog as a hobby, something to keep me busy in the evenings, but it has begun to grow. I now have over 2000 readers.
FC: How has your blogging style changed over time?
SM: I think my style of blogging has changed since I started. When I first started blogging, I thought it was all about writing good quality posts and taking good quality photographs. I have since learned that blogging includes a lot more – it isn’t just all about writing quality posts. Interacting with people on social media is a big part of blogging, and I have made so many great friends on social media. I have also had to learn so many new skills such as SEO, coding, and photo editing, to name a few.
#Blogging advice from @ASpoonOfVanilla: Running a great #blog isn’t just all about #writing quality posts and taking good photos. Social media, #SEO, coding, and photo editing are also essential skills.Tweet
FC: What is your favorite thing about blogging?
SM: I have so many favorite parts of blogging but my ultimate favorite thing about blogging is helping and inspiring people, whether people come to me for help as to why their cupcakes always sink in the middle, or why their cheesecakes never set. I love being able to give them hints and tips. It is so rewarding when my readers are able to bake something and have it come out perfect.
“My ultimate favorite thing about #blogging is helping and inspiring people…It is so rewarding when my readers are able to bake something and have it come out perfect.” — @ASpoonOfVanilla #foodblogger #foodie #bakingTweet
FC: What about your least favorite thing about blogging?
SM: My least favorite part of blogging is when I create a recipe and it just doesn’t turn out how I thought it would be. Sometimes the image I have in my head of the recipe and how it ends up looking are nothing alike – and that can be so frustrating. My other least favorite thing about blogging is Pinterest. I just don’t understand it, and no matter how many guides I read or videos I watch, I just cannot get the hang of it.
FC: When is your favorite time of day to blog?
SM: My favorite time of day to blog is in the evenings. I am a complete night owl and I always find that when I sit down to write in the evening, everything makes sense. I remember everything I need to include in the post, and it flows. Sometimes when I try and write in the morning, the paragraphs just don’t make sense, and I forget key parts of the recipe, and it just tends to be quite rubbish.
FC: What is your favorite place to work on posts?
SM: I normally work on posts in the living room at home, but I can get so distracted by the TV. So my favorite place to work on blog posts would be in my office at home. I can put some music on and just switch my attention off of everything outside that room.
FC: What is a typical day in your life like?
SM: This depends if I am working or not. I work for the NHS, so I typically work between 10 to 12 hour shifts. When I get home, I will work on writing posts, editing photos, and my social media presence. It is normally too late to bake when I get home.
I dedicate my days off to baking and testing new recipes. If it is my day off, I will get up around 8:30 or 9 a.m. and get ready for the day. Once I have had breakfast and done some housework, I will then reply to any emails that have come in during the night. I will also reply to any comments and messages on social media. I will then plan out what I am baking that day, up to five recipes. I will decide in the morning which recipes I am baking and then get to work. Depending on the recipes, I can be in the kitchen for anywhere between 2-8 hours.
While I am baking my recipes, I write all the ingredient amounts and the cooking method in a notebook as I go so I don’t get confused. It can take me a few weeks after I have baked the recipe to write it up. Once I have finished baking, if it is still daylight outside, I will take photos of what I baked and upload the photos to my laptop. If it’s not daylight outside when I am done baking, I save the food photography for the next day when the sun is out. I have begun filming myself baking some of my recipes for my YouTube channel, also, which is coming soon, so I upload all the video footage to my laptop too.
For the rest of the evening, I will relax. I say this, but I normally end up on my laptop checking emails, social media messages and blog comments, and creating new images for Pinterest. I may even do some video or photo editing. I have been trying to step back from my blog for a few hours each night just so I can have some “me” time.
FC: What is the best blogging advice you have ever received?
SM: The best blogging advice I received was from another blogger not long after I had set up my blog, and it was simply: “be yourself and don’t compare your blog to any others.” It seems so simple, but it can be difficult not to compare yourself with the more established food and baking bloggers out there. I am just starting out with my blog, so obviously, I do not have as many followers as they do.
The best #blogging advice I received was from another blogger not long after I had set up my blog, and it was simply: “be yourself and don’t compare your blog to any others.” — @ASpoonOfVanilla #writing #writerscommunity #foodieTweet
Also, a second piece of advice is to “be yourself” when writing your blog posts – add a bit of your personality so that readers will be able to connect better with your posts. Readers who enjoy your writing style and feel connected to your blog are more likely to stick around and become loyal readership.
FC: What is your best advice for new or aspiring bloggers?
SM: My advice for new or aspiring bloggers would be to go for it! You will never know if you don’t give it a go. Most importantly, though, have fun and enjoy it. Also, you don’t need to know everything about blogging before you start. I certainly didn’t, and in the six months I have been blogging I have learned so much. I would also say, be open to learning new things; if you don’t know how to do something, ask on social media. There are so many great people that are willing to help out and give you advice.
Also, taking time for yourself away from your blog to do something else you enjoy is important. When I first started blogging I tried to do too much each day and there came a point where I had to take a week away from my blog because I was so exhausted trying to keep up with everything. Now I have found that doing a little each day is more beneficial and means still having time for self-care at the end of each day.
FC: What is the most challenging thing for you about maintaining a blog? How have you worked to overcome this challenge?
SM: I’m not the best when it comes to technology — though I have been learning about coding, there is still so much I don’t know. I was trying to set something up on my blog and it just wasn’t working. It was telling me to copy and paste a section of code into my blog and I just couldn’t find out where it was meant to go. It was so frustrating – the site I was getting the code from didn’t really have a great step-by-step guide because it was set up for people who had more of an understanding and were more experienced.
So, I reached out to a few people on social media for their help, but we still couldn’t figure it out. I ended up asking a family member who had studied computing at college, and even they weren’t 100% sure either. Between us we finally managed to work out what I needed to do and where the code needed to be. Although it was super frustrating, I took it as a learning experience, and if I ever need to do something similar, I will know how to do it.
FC: How do you come up with new recipes? Do you get random flashes of inspiration or do you base them off reader requests, or both?
SM: It is a bit of both. I sometimes ask people on my social media if they have any recipe requests, or what their favorite recipes or favorite sweets are, to get an idea of what recipes my followers would like to see.
Sometimes I can be eating a chocolate bar or sweet and think, “hmm, I wonder what that would taste like if I added it to a cake,” and the recipe develops from there. That’s how I came up with my peanut butter and chocolate drip cake. Peanut butter and chocolate is a delicious combination, and I had entertained the idea of turning it into a cake for a while before I actually made the recipe. Most of my cakes are three to four layers, so I got to experimenting. I ultimately developed a great recipe that called for two layers of chocolate cake and two layers of peanut butter cake, sandwiched between chocolate buttercream and a peanut buttercream on the outside of the cake. The recipe can be found on my blog.
FC: Do you have any writing rituals?
SM: I don’t have any writing rituals. I can write just about anywhere, in any room in the house, or in coffee shops (when the world was normal before COVID-19). I would even write blog posts on my break at work — the only thing I need is background noise. I hate being in complete silence, so I always have the radio or TV on in the background while writing.