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A Recipe for Success: Jessica Holmes’ Story of Sweetest Menu
Written by: Esther Strauss
Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.
Published on December 19, 2023
Updated on December 21, 2023
In the dynamic and delicious world of food blogging, few stories resonate with the warmth and inspiration of Jessica Holmes‘s journey with Sweetest Menu. Founded in 2014, this delightful online destination has risen from a passion project to a full-time vocation, blending the art of baking with the craft of storytelling.
Jessica Holmes, the mastermind behind these mouth-watering creations, graciously sat down with us to share her insights and experiences. From humble beginnings as a side hustle to becoming a go-to resource for baking enthusiasts worldwide, Jessica’s story is one of passion, perseverance, and the sweet taste of success.
In this interview, we delve into the layers of her journey, uncovering the inspirations, challenges, and triumphs that have shaped Sweetest Menu into what it is today. Join us as we explore the recipe behind Jessica Holmes’s remarkable venture in the world of food blogging.
Inspiration and Beginnings
SBS – What inspired you to start Sweetest Menu, and how did your previous career and skills contribute to its creation?
Jessica – I started Sweetest Menu in 2014 — a lifetime ago! At the time, I was working full-time as a copywriter and studying graphic design at night. Obsessed with food blogs, I started my website on a whim just for fun.
Working in digital content, I knew the basics of writing and publishing online, but I had so much to learn about SEO (search engine optimisation), recipe writing, food photography, and all the technical bibs and bobs that come with running a website.
Transition to Full-time Blogging
SBS – You transitioned Sweetest Menu from a side hustle to a full-time job. What were the key factors that influenced this decision?
Jessica – I enjoyed my day job as a copywriter and wasn’t initially pursuing food blogging as a career. That said, I absolutely loved everything about Sweetest Menu.
Even in my work meetings, I’d be secretly brainstorming recipe ideas in my notebook and counting down the hours until I could go home and start testing recipes.
I worked on Sweetest Menu before work, after work, and on weekends. Eventually, it became a solid, profitable business. Once it overtook my day job in earnings, I knew I could safely transition to become a food blogger full time.
After six years as a side hustle, Sweetest Menu became my full-time job in 2020.
Content Creation Process
SBS – Could you walk us through your process of creating and testing new recipes for Sweetest Menu?
Jessica – This is the fun part! I dream about new recipes constantly. My inspiration comes from travel, eating out at restaurants and bakeries, and requests that come from my readers.
I do some keyword research to make sure people are actually searching for the recipe or something similar. But even if there is little search volume, I don’t let that necessarily deter me. If it’s something that I know my audience will love and I’m excited to create it, I’ll go for it.
When I start recipe testing, I usually have a visual picture in my head of what I want the final recipe to look like. I can often start by adapting one of the recipes I’ve created (since there are over 500 of them) and begin my testing.
It’s always a surprising process and I try to let my audience see the behind-the-scenes testing and fails that I have in my kitchen — they love it.
Challenges in Blogging
SBS – What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced while growing Sweetest Menu, and how did you overcome them?
Jessica – There are two challenges that have always pulled me backwards — the first is time. Since I worked on this business as a side hustle, I’ve always been strapped for time.
When I went full-time, I had my first child a few months later, so I’ve never truly had the chance to work on this business for 40 hours a week.
But this process has taught me how to prioritise and how to make use of the time I do have. It means my progress has often been slow — but I make sure it is slow and steady. If nothing else, I’m consistent and always working on things a little bit at a time.
The other challenge is how volatile and ever-changing the online space is. As soon as you get your head around something, there’s a new skill or platform to learn.
Over the years, I’ve tried to embrace the change. It does mean this job is never boring! There is always something new to learn.
SBS – How did you manage to balance your full-time job and blogging before going full-time with Sweetest Menu?
Jessica – Side hustles can be great fun. They provide a break from your day job and give you something different to put your mind to. If you love something or have a passion for it, it’s fairly easy to make the space and time for it.
I woke up an hour early each morning and did some work before I took the bus into the city. During my lunch break, I would often do my grocery run and pick up any ingredients I needed. And then (since I didn’t have kids at the time), I could come home and bake into the evenings.
I also carved out time on the weekend to do blogging. I was usually trying to follow the daylight for food photos, so I would do things with friends on Saturday afternoons or evenings — but considered the morning “work time.”
Despite all this, there was still so much I couldn’t do. And I had to make peace with that. I didn’t want to burn out — I still wanted to enjoy it. So I made the choice to accept what I could get done and leave the rest.
For example, while other bloggers were publishing 2–3 recipes a week, I could only manage one recipe a week. While others were publishing across five social platforms, I could only focus on two — and that was that.
Growth and Audience Engagement
SBS – How have you seen your readership evolve over the years, and what strategies have you employed to engage with your audience?
Jessica – I might be biased, but I think I have the best audience in the world. There are some amazing readers from across the globe who have made my recipes for years and followed me from day dot — and others have joined in the last few years since the COVID baking surge. I’m so grateful for them!
My audience has grown over the years, mostly due to SEO and social media. I love to engage with my audience, so I still read and answer every single comment and question that comes through my website.
I also love to interact with my audience on Instagram and do polls and stories to get feedback on new recipes.
I try to view everything I do as a two-way conversation. Rather than just always doing the talking (publishing posts and content), I like to encourage my readers to engage with me as much as possible. That might be replying to my emails, sending me DM’s or interacting with my polls or questions.
The best part of my job is when a reader emails or DMs me a photo of one of the recipes they’ve made. It’s a true delight!
Learning and Development
SBS – You mentioned being self-taught in several areas, like baking and photography. What resources or practices helped you the most in honing these skills?
Jessica – The best way to become a better recipe writer is to make lots of recipes from different recipe authors. I have an ever-growing cookbook collection, and I love to take a break from what I’m doing and make a professional chef’s recipe.
I love to see how they write and how they describe ingredients or processes. I’ve found it’s the best way to help me hone my recipe writing skills.
Photography is something I have learnt by doing — and I am very much still learning! I purchased Pinch of Yum’s Tasty Photography ebook to help me get started.
Most recently, I enrolled in The Bite Shot’s Artificial Lighting course to help me learn how to use artificial lighting.
And then whenever I meet a photographer in real life, I always pepper them with my questions!
Food Photography and Equipment
SBS – Can you tell us about your journey in food photography and the equipment you currently use for Sweetest Menu?
Jessica – I didn’t even have a DLSR camera when I started. But I saved up for a basic Nikon camera and used that for a good five years. A few years ago, I upgraded to the Canon 6D Mark II.
I have started doing a little video for social media, using my iPhone and an Arkon Mount tripod.
Collaborations and Partnerships
SBS – You’ve worked with some significant food brands. How do these collaborations come about, and what do they involve?
Jessica – I keep my collaborations purposely small.
I’m extremely picky and protective of my brand. I only work with brands if I genuinely love and use their products and think my audience would also love them.
Brands often reach out to me via Instagram. To be honest, most of them aren’t a good fit for Sweetest Menu. But occasionally, when they are, it’s wonderful!
Recipe Selection and Curation
SBS – How do you decide which types of recipes to feature on Sweetest Menu? Is there a specific criteria or theme you follow?
Jessica – My recipe to-do list is a mile long! I love to dream up new recipes, fill content gaps on my website and create reader-requested recipes. I also take into account seasonality when filling in my content calendar.
It’s also really important to me that all my content is the best it can be. So much of my time is also spent re-testing older recipes and updating old posts.
Feedback and Community Interaction
SBS – How important is reader feedback to you, and how do you incorporate it into your work?
Jessica – Reader feedback is everything! My business has been built on the ideas and inspiration of my readers.
Over the past (almost) ten years, my readers have constantly provided feedback — whether that’s via email, a comment on my website or from social media.
I try to take note of common queries so I can formulate posts that (hopefully) answer most questions. I also like to occasionally do a survey with my readers to gain their feedback.
Personal Favorites and Recommendations
SBS – Do you have any personal favorite recipes from Sweetest Menu that you’d recommend to someone new to your site?
Jessica – Oh yes! The most popular recipe on my site EVERY year is my Cinnamon Apple Cake, so that’s a wonderful place to start.
My Copycat Levain Bakery Cookies are also a reader favourite — and one that I bake all the time in my own kitchen.
Most recently, I tested a recipe for Honey Cake. It’s gone straight to the top of my favourite cake list.
Future Plans and Aspirations
SBS – Looking ahead, what are your future goals or plans for Sweetest Menu?
Jessica – I can’t wait to create more foolproof recipes next year! I’m also looking to lean more into video, and I hope to release my first product soon. Stay tuned!
Advice for Aspiring Food Bloggers
SBS – Based on your experience with Sweetest Menu, what key advice would you give to aspiring food bloggers or entrepreneurs who are just starting out in this niche?
Jessica – Treat your blog as a business from the start. Be as professional as possible, but don’t let perfection stop you from starting.
And never underestimate the power of consistency. Be in it for the long haul, and just keep showing up! Good luck out there!
A Recipe for Success: Jessica Holmes’ Story of Sweetest Menu
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