So, I have spent the last couple days doing extensive research on blog set up AND I have reviewed every cookie blog possible to see what they are doing. In the next week, expect A LOT of changes on here. Man-o-man, setting up a hobby, business and website is no small feat, let me tell you.
Here is the list of my to-do:
- Change Linking Structure/Permalink Structure: which means when you click a link it the future the article name will show, instead of funky junk.
- Fix Some Security Issues.
- Set Up Discussion/Comment rules: include email and name options, automatically close comments after a certain amount of days, break comments into pages, email me whenever people post and approvals.
- Allow linking notification/Pingback: this tells the world I updated the blog automatically.
- Sign Up With Feedburner: Manages RSS subscriptions so people can follow the blog.
- Set Up Analytics: I already have this set up with Google. This allows me to track the attendance of the website.
- Set up Webmaster Tools: I already have this set up with Google. This gave me an easy way to check all my emails in one place.
- Submit the blog to Google for Indexing.
- Install Plugins: These are basically apps that do all sorts of cool things. One I already installed was the contact me form under About Me.
- Akismet: Spam Filter
- Permalink Redirect: Keeps only one URL for duplicate pages aka… it’s good for search engine performance.
- All in one SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Pack/ WordPress SEO by Yoast: Again… this has to do with search engines being able to see the website.
- WordPress Automatic Upgrades: Duh… it upgrades the blog automatically.
- WP Super Cache: Makes the blog load faster.
- Google XML Sitemaps: Sitemaps help users and search engines navigate quickly.
- No Self Pings: AKA fix a flaw in step 4.
- Feedburner Feedsmith: Install the Feedburner that we set up in step 5.
- WP BD Backup: Back up the blog in case I ever get hacked… PLEASE DON’T HACK ME.
- Better Internal Link Search: Makes search engines search entire blog not just titles.
- Dynamic Widgets: Gives access to move items in the sidebars.
- Login Lockdown: Keeps other people out of the blog dashboard.
- WP Optimize: Keep the blog running smoothly.
- CommentLuv: Gives commenters the ability to leave links to their own blogs.
- Digg Digg: Social Media Buttons, I need Facebook for sure.
- Subscribe to Comments: Allows people leaving comments to be notified whenever other people leave additional comments.
- Broken Link Checker: Scans blog for links that end up broken over time.
- Aweber: Subscription via email and email list controls.
- Total Page Views – This is fun to encourage people to repeat visit by incorporating give away products for hitting special marks.
I am sorry I don’t have a clear understanding why I need to do all of these things… I just know that multiple expert bloggers say I do. Figuring out what I need to do and how to do it, seems to be easier than understanding why. But I have been assured that once all these steps have happened, I will have the BEST BLOG EVER!! Well, maybe not, but Google Search should find me at least.
In addition to all of that, I need to start reaching out and branding/marketing my sight in order to find readers. The following are the tasks I must set out to do:
- Blog Commenting: Comment on as many blogs as possible related to cookie decorating
- Article Marketing: Leaving links to my articles where ever appropriate
- Link to Others/Buttons: There is a boomerang effect of traffic when you link others blogs on your own page. I need to place my “button” for others to grab & grab all the buttons of related sites too.
- Guest Blogging: This might take a while but both my guest blog elsewhere or a known blogger guest posting on my sight are very important marketing tools.
- Forum Marketing: Find forums to post on and insert the blog line on my signature.
- Pintrest: I need a PINit button, I am not sure if I should create an account myself or not.
- Twittering: This shows up in many lists as a must do. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think it’s me…
- Company Facebook and linking back to the blog.
Once all of this is incorporated and I get some traffic to my sight, it will be time to add ways of making money:
- Incorporate Google AdSense: I already started the signup process and just need to install.
- Affilate Sales: Clickbank and Amazon Associates Program are two. These makes sense to me, since I already buy all of my supplies online and link to Amazon.
- Federated Media Publishing: I noticed a lot of cookie bloggers us this. It is a lot like AdSense.
- BlogHer: A female blog area that also links to advertisement opportunities.
- Etsy Shop: This is to actually sell my cookies. We are a bit off from that.
Lastly, there are a couple things I need to work on that are not cookie or technology related:
- Business Cards: I am going to be meeting a lot of amazing cookie decorators at CookieCon. I want to be able to ask them to visit my sight and give me input.
- Aprons: Again for CookieCon, my mom and I are going to where a logoed apron to the banquet.
- Photography: The more and more I look at other peoples blogs, I realize that my iPhone just isn’t going to cut it for pictures. That means borrowing, then buying a nice camera… and taking a class or two.
- Design My Own Name Tag for CookieCon
By the way, keep your eyes out for a fun blog on my first cookie class that takes place October 8th!Read More
I have already compiled a list of the most amazing cookie decorators and their blogs. I am in serious awe of what they can produce, and it is because of them that I am doing this now.
1. Callye aka. Sugarbelle – www.sweetsugarbelle.com : Sugarbelle was the very first blog that I happened upon. She has by far the best how to’s and descriptions for all sorts of decorating needs. Check out these Owls she recently made.
3. Sue aka. Munchkin Munchies - www.munchkinmunchies.com : Sue doesn’t just make cookies, but the ones she does are very different. I love that she makes hotdog cookies, interesting BBQ platters and neat cookie kits. Look at this Bag o’ Bones kit. Isn’t that a neat idea?
4. Melissa aka. Honeybee – www.simplysweetsbyhoneybee.com : I love Honeybee because she recently started blogging in the last year. Her cookie idol is also SweetSugarBelle. I am inspired that she is making such great cookies already. I am also inspired that she works all day, like I do… so she keeps me energized to practice at night, instead of sitting on my butt watching TV. Check out these pumpkin cutter owls she made, as part of her first cookie decorating invitation from SweetSugarBelle… I hope one day to be asked to participate too!
5. Shoot! I couldn’t decide who I liked the best. So, number 5 is shared with Glory aka. Glorious Treats – www.glorioustreats.com AND Lisa aka. TheBearfootBaker – www.thebearfootbaker.com. They both have easy to navigate blogs, with lots of great photos. Sometimes, all you need is pretty cookies to look at, and these ladies deliver. And no, Halloween is not my thing at all… but tis the season.
By the way! I am totally excited that I received an email yesterday notifying me that there were some openings at CookieCon!! Yes, CookieCon, a convention in Salt Lake City that is all about Sugar Cookie Decorating. And, yes, you guessed it… most of my Top 5 Favorite CookieMasters will be teaching me something new and special or at least be attending. I am even more excited because my mom will be joining me on this adventure. Yahoo! Click here to read all about CookieCon.Read More
Last night was my very first try in actually decorating cookies with Royal Icing. Let’s walk through my very long evening.
First, I made the royal icing. I chose to use The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle’s recipe since she had really detailed instructions on how to make it. You can find that informative post here. I did not halve her recipe and found out that two bags of powder sugar come dangerously close to overflowing into a dust cloud once the whisk starts its work. Poof! But overall, the process really surprised me… I had perfect Royal Icing in 10 minutes. I did run out of almond extract, so for my last tablespoon of flavoring I opted for plain old vanilla. In the future I will buy all my extracts in the clear version, since the brown vanilla turned my icing a little tan. Look at this, stiff as can be:
Oh, by the way, I have to share my FAVORITE tool in the kitchen. No, not my awesome raspberry colored KitchenAid stand mixer… It’s the Rev-A-Shelf that holds it … amazing . It helps to keep my counter clear and give me more space, while solving THE problem, that is, how to lift that stinking heavy mixer onto the counter . You can get your own Rev-A-Shelf here.
Once my icing was made I quickly covered it with a damp towel and a top. You can use a plate, but I happened to have an old casserole glass top that fit exactly right. What an unexpected coincidence. This is how Sugarbelle stores her icing. She says it will last a month like that. You can read more here.
The next step was to choose the colors I would create and mix them up. The color chart and mixing guide I used is from The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle, also. Can you tell yet, that I consider her to be a CookieMaster.
I chose to make white, purple and lime. This is where things got a little wonky. First, I should have listened and mixed my colors in my Pyrex measuring cups. They have little spouts, which is absolutely necessary if you ever hope to get the flood icing into the bottles. The next issue I came across was getting the icing into the piping bags. Since I used the neat plastic wrap idea, in order to keep my bags clean, my outlining icing looked like this.
It took me 20 minutes to figure out how to get the tail of the plastic wrap through the hole in the pastry bag. I ended up putting the coupler on the plastic wrap, then dropped both into the bag together, then I used tweezers and pulled it through. I felt really powerful once I figured it out.
I also had to watch this video. It was not intuitive for me on how to put the coupler and cap, bag and tip, all together. Now, the purple bag ties, those were must buys and made life so much easier than rubber bands.
I practiced a couple lines to see if I did it right.
Then I made my other colors, put everything together… and thought… this is it!! The hard part is done… I will now create my masterpiece.
Boy, was I wrong.
I now know a few things. First, piping is hard to do. I need to practice just using and holding the bags. For the next week, I am going to just pipe on parchment paper, until I can learn how to keep a straight and even line. I also need to build up the muscles in my hand… squeezing is hard work. Second, because I worryied that I would make the icing too soupy… I think I made both types too dry. The flood icing was more like 20 second icing and it had to be pushed around on the cookie. Third, I think even the masters plan on making more cookies than needed for each project… there is just no way every cookie will turn out okay.
But what do you think? Is it an improvement on the Christmas Cookies yet?Read More
In my mind, the goal at the end of the day is to become a master decorator of sugar cookies. Therefore, they can taste awful as long as they are beautiful, right?!? According to my wonderful, inspiring mom, apparently not! Thus began last weekend’s endeavor to find the perfect sugar cookie.
So, I chose three recipes that I liked and went shopping for supplies. A lot of supplies…
Flour, sugar, butter, etc. – Vons $27.20
Meringue Powder – Amazon.com $17.32
Option 1: Follow what the master decorators do.
My favorite and most informative blog find thus far has been Sweet Sugar Belle. Her recipe is here.
They were by far the easiest cookies to bake. Simple ingredients and no chilling before rolling. They are a little lack luster in taste, but great for the purpose of decorating. The dough was easy to roll and held together great! A win in my book for sure.
Option 2: Follow what the master bakers do.
My mom found the following recipe and asked that I try it. It is from the America’s Test Kitchen. Click here for the complete details of why they think their cookie is the best.
I quickly learned that not all sugar cookies are meant for rolling out and cutting. This one is greasy, so I imagine there will be a lot of color bleeding when I get to the decorating part of the project. They also spread during baking, which made all my neat shapes turn into ugly blobs. The tops cracked too! Again, a very ugly look. On the upside, my hubby assured me that they were the best tasting sugar cookies he had ever had. So, I will be keeping the recipe in my handy box with a note that they are worth making again… just not for the purpose of decorating.
Option 3: Follow family tradition.
Lastly, I tried to make my family recipe:
1/4t Almond Extract
2C Flour (up to 1.5C more to get the right texture)
1/2t Baking Soda
1t Cream of Tartar
Cook at 350 for 7-10 minutes.
I have to be honest here, I added all 3.5 cups of flour at the same time and the dough ended up dry. I then put it in the refrigerator prior to rolling it out like we normally do. Unfortunately, when I came back to the dough it had turned into a rock and crumbled into pieces. Rather than re-make the dough I decided to do a comparison from what I can remember from last year’s Christmas cookie party. Basically, the cookies taste the same as option one, but take longer to make and take more ingredients. They also get some browning on the sides, which I don’t really like when I am considering making pretty cookies.
So, it is decided, for now I will be going with Cookie Option 1. I am so excited to have lots of cookies to decorate. My piping materials came in last night, so I can finally get started!
By the way, if you would like to make my family recipe for Christmas cookies with the original Cream Cheese Frosting, here is that recipe:
8 ounces Cream Cheese
2C Powdered Sugar
But be warned, they are delicious and addicting. I can understand why people gain so much weight around the holidays.Read More
Never one to start anything halfway, the last week has been spent researching, learning and buying a LOT of supplies. I have noticed that people don’t like to talk about money. I’m sure that does not surprise you. Well that’s not me… when I start a new venture, even if it is just a hobby, I can’t help but think of the possibilities and growth that might take place. And since I am always looking for an opportunity to make money on MY time, I am going to treat this new hobby as a business and run it as such. Therefore, I figure, I might as well have you dreaming AND spending right along with me… step… by… step… how else can we fully grasp the business potential behind the project?
These are the steps I have taken so far:
I am not a techy person… and I never will pretend to be. I have had a lot of help getting this website up and running, from my friends and family. I have also read a TON of blogs on creating websites and I have watched a TON of tutorials on the topic too. My favorite (and by far easiest to follow) is Retireat21.com. The section on “Starting a Blog” is extremely helpful… and exactly what I followed to create what you see today. I am also not going to pretend here, this is no secret -part of running a Cookie Decorating Business is making money off of your blog. There are three parts to that, none of which I have actually started doing:
- Selling your own products online
- Selling affiliate products online (for a commission)
- Selling advertising on your site, also known as Monetizing
Retireat21.com talks all about it. I plan on trying these out one day, and will take you on that adventure when we get there.
For now, here are the costs:
Domain Name (aka TheCookieMaster.com) – Godaddy.com – $6.17 (a year)
Hosting – HostGator.com – $66.72 (a year)
Theme – Elegantthemes.com – $39.00
Total Website Costs: $111.89 and unlimited practice cookies to all those that helped.
The Decorating Shopping List:
Every cookie decorator needs to have a certain amount of startup decorating supplies. I was lucky enough that a wonderful master cookie decorator already made a handy list for us. You can find The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle’s post and printable list here. This list is only what you need to decorate, and therefore, does not include the shopping list for actually baking the cookies. That will come in another post. Also, I did not have to buy everything on the list because I already had a few things. I did a bunch of research on where to buy the products for the least amount:
Wilton 3 Piece Decorator Brush Set – $5.37
Silicone Mini Spatula and Spreader Set – $6.98
2 Wilton 9 Inch Angled Spatula – $11.16
Wilton 101-Piece Cookie Cutter Set – $14.93
Ivory Gel Color – $1.79
Egg Yellow Gel Color – $1.79
Warm Brown Gel Color – $1.79
Tulip Red Gel Color – $1.79
Americolor Student Color Kit – $13.99
2 Black Food Pens – $4.29
2 Squeeze Bottles with Coupler – $4.99
3 Regular Squeeze Bottles – $4.50
8 Couplers – $5.52
50 Count Disposable Bags – $9.99
Icing Bag Ties – $4.49
Accent Tweezers – $.79
2 #1 Tips – $2.58
2 PME 1.5 Tips – $9.78
2 #3 Tips – $2.58
6 #2 Tips – $7.74
Boo-Boo Stick – $.69
Total Cookie Decorating Kit Cost: $117.14
Other things to think about:
When I was choosing my company name, I made sure to check that no other company was using it. Specifically, I checked my local county’s Fictitious Name Filing or DBA database. I also checked online to see if the website would be different enough from all the others, so it stands out on its own and that no other product was “TheCookieMaster.” I checked the Federal Trademark and Copyright registry also.
For my CookieMaster logo, I made sure I was not stealing anyone’s image exactly.
The name of my company, the logo and tag lines I choose are going to be around for a long time and very difficult to change if some issue should arise in the future, so I was extra careful to make sure I liked them and was following any laws I needed to.
Finally, in the future, once I start selling cookies, I will need to look into Department of Health requirements, Seller’s Permits, and Tax information. I already know I don’t need a Business License where I am. I am also aware that there are local hourly bake shops, where you can rent space to bake, which could be a way around setting up my own kitchen. But, for now, we will make my kitchen work!
Oh! And by the way, I am keeping all of these receipts! Tax man is around the corner… and who knows, I might need them for business deductions. (Again though, let’s cross that bridge when we get there.)Read More