Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, photographer, and writer behind the successful food blog Sweet Tea and Thyme. Before the blog took off, though, she and her husband were homeless after losing their rental housing, and were running out of cash — fast.
“We didn’t know anything about investments, we didn’t know anything about side hustles, we didn’t know anything about passive income,” she tells Insider. “We were literally told ‘go to college, get a career, work until you’re retired,’ and that’s it.”
Westbrook and her husband had both been in the military, and after completing their service, felt alone in the civilian world. “The military, they take care of you, they help you out. You never have to worry if you’ve got food or if you have a home, medical, or anything,” she explains.
After they finished their service, they did what they were told: find a career and work. Her husband was working multiple jobs and she was at home with their young son. “We were working our butts off and nothing was happening,” Westbrook says. “We were barely surviving.”
Then, in 2016, they experienced a massive hardship. Their landlord foreclosed on his house and left the young family without a home over the summer, sleeping in hotels and their SUV for three long months.
“I was just sitting there thinking, ‘We have no help here,'” she remembers. “And nobody is going to come save us; no one is going to come help us.”
But spring of 2016 was also the year Westbrook started Sweet Tea and Thyme, ultimately changing everything about how the family earned, saved, and invested money.
“I thought, ‘We’ve got to go ahead and do this ourselves. How do we do it?’ Because doing it the way they told us wasn’t working,” she says.
Now, the family lives in a home just outside of DC, Westbrook’s husband — who was hospitalized in 2019 for a serious illness — is retired, and Sweet Tea and Thyme brings in over six figures annually.
When Westbrook was first thinking of ways to make additional money, food was at the top of her mind. She’d been to culinary school, but working in a traditional kitchen wasn’t appealing. “To work in a restaurant would mean working horrible hours in hot kitchens, making someone else rich,” she says.
But around this time, some of Westbrook’s favorite bloggers were sharing income reports, and she realized working with food was something that could be more than just a hobby or passion project — food blogging could be a career and a business.
“I said, ‘Okay, then I need to do this, this is what I love,'” she explains. Combining her culinary expertise with her passion for teaching others how to cook, Sweet Tea and Thyme was born.
Still, it required some initial capital. “We used $128 that we really didn’t have,” she explains, “but we knew the next month we were going to get our tax [refunds].” This initial investment covered the costs of getting the website set up.
It was a big move at a time where $128 could have covered a month’s worth of groceries, when “having to get money from the ATM (and thus incurring a $3 fee) made us have to pawn something to get that $3 back to pay our rent,” she explained in an Instagram post.
When they did get money back from the IRS the next month, she was able to invest further into her new business. “The tax [refund] got me the camera and the laptop that I knew I needed to make this real,” she says.
While being a skilled recipe developer and talented food educator brings visitors to her website, this alone doesn’t make her money. Westbrook has had to build up income sources and revenue streams, and learned to be strategic when it comes to monetizing her business.
Now, she earns money from ads on her website, affiliate marketing, brand partnerships, and her food blogging mastermind course, where she teaches others how to run successful food blogs.
“I think of my ad revenue kind of like a paycheck,” she says, mainly because it’s consistently paid every month. “I’m in a place where my ad revenue from the blog will always be more than enough to cover everything, so I take a paycheck from it and often keep the rest for savings, business expenses, etc.,” she says.
Better yet, she says, this income stream is pretty passive, meaning she doesn’t have to log on to her computer every single day to earn money. “I’ve taken months off of food blogging and still get paid,” she tells Insider.
Creating “evergreen” content — posts and recipes that people will come back to time and time again — helps maximize this income source. She also creates “ad-friendly” posts, something she teaches in her mastermind course. However, maybe most importantly, she knows her audience and how to create content they’ll want to read.
However, it’s not just strategic editorial practices that allow her to run a six-figure business, it’s a mindset, too. “I know how much my stuff is worth,” she says, particularly when it comes to brand partnerships.
When brands want to work with her, they’re getting more than just an iPhone shot of a meal, she says. It’s hours of recipe development, professional photography and editing equipment, and all of the time she’s poured into perfecting her craft — and she knows the value of this.
“These are usually million-dollar companies, and content creation is a multi-billion dollar business,” she explains. “So I don’t feel bad at all charging four, five, or even six figures.”
She only works with brands that respect her rates and her, explaining her worth is not just monetary but also her mental health. “I love creating dishes and shooting videos and photos, but I will not do it if I’m miserable or treated poorly,” she tells Insider.
Making money doesn’t always equate to having money. But for Westbrook, she’s determined to be strategic with the money in her bank account.
“We invest a lot of it into the stock market and cryptocurrency,” she says. “And in our son’s education.” They’ve set up a 529 plan for him and contribute to it regularly. “We’re not leaving anybody behind; we’re not having our son wake up and be 18 and then ask him what he’s going to do.”
About 60% of the blog revenue goes back into the blog itself, covering groceries, software, education, paychecks, healthcare, taxes, and other expenses. Another 10% is saved strictly for business “emergencies,” separate from personal savings. “You never know when your little kid may accidentally knock over your camera and tripod,” she says.
Another 10% is invested into the stock market, and her husband mines cryptocurrency. The last 20% goes “straight to the future,” putting it into Roth IRAs, her son’s 529, and CDs.”We’re making sure everything is covered now that we’re able to do so,” she says.
And because they know how important financial planning is, they’ve scheduled a meeting with a financial advisor to help with their long-term goals, “To make sure we are going on the right path,” she says, “and what to change now that our circumstances have changed so much.”
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