How a substitute school teacher turned her kitchen table into a lucrative career
You know that moment when you decide to take on a new endeavor and you’re bracing yourself for the possibility that it might not go anywhere, but you take the leap anyway? Brooke Lark, elementary education teacher and mom-trepreneur extraordinaire, is one of those great success stories. In 2006, after becoming a divorced single mom, Lark found herself with some free time on her hands when her twins, the youngest of her four children, went off to kindergarten. After a discussion with a friend about how people were making money from blogging, Lark decided to start one of her own: Conversations with a Cupcake. “I had been really proud of myself because, at the time, I wasn’t squandering my time on blogs, I was just devoted to my family and being a stay at home mom,” Lark says laughing. “Then I thought, ‘well if I could even make, like, $500 a month, I could put my kids in soccer or something.’”
In the beginning, Lark had no idea about branding. She had very little vision about what she wanted her blog to be, and zero photography experience, but with a point and shoot camera she jumped in and starting blogging about what she was doing every day, which in her world, was making dinner. “Food has always been a natural language for me,” Lark says. “So, I just started posting about what I made for dinner. After a week of that, I realized that if I just write down what I put into making that dinner, then I had written a recipe.” After six months, Lark had a sponsor sign on and she began making money on her blog and reaching her financial goal. After a year, Betty Crocker hired her to be on a creative team with other food bloggers, and from there, the money kept coming in. Once Lark began working with General Mills, other companies reached out to her. She then shifted her focus to client work.
“If you had told me that my original goal of making $500 a month would have turned into a lucrative career, I would have never believed it,” she says. “My client list has expanded greatly and I also manage a food blogging group where I teach people around the globe how to take pictures of food and use food creatively as a career choice.” Today, Lark has another successful blog, Cheeky Kitchen, and an amazing career in food photography, as a copywriter, cookbook author, brand consultant and recipe developer. Her client list includes General Mills, Good Cook, Tablespoon.com, Nature Nate’s Honey and Coupons.com.
A day in life of a food photographer
Lark’s day starts with a few hours of computer work while the lighting isn’t great for shooting photos. After posting on her various social media channels, she’s off gathering last-minute props or supplies for the day’s shoot. Shooting starts at 10 a.m. and Lark typically preps and shoots all the food on the same day. That can be anywhere from two to five recipes a day, and she shoots until around 3 p.m.
“There is just about as much time spent cleaning up and editing as there is shooting,” Lark says. “I shoot three to four days a week on average. For most of my clients, I create recipes for their sites and manage their blogs. Others, they send me the recipes to use and I make them and shoot them. Same with products.”
Food: a love/hate relationship
Being surrounded by it so much on a daily basis has changed Lark’s relationship with food somewhat. Even with all the cooking going on in her house, the food created is rarely eaten by her family. “The kids are really used to weird foods being around, but they rarely like what I’m making so they eat typical kid stuff,” Lark says. “Being ahead of trends means you are making crazy stuff all the time. I pick all the Lucky Charm marshmallows out of the box and dissolve them in vodka to make shots. Who does that, right?”
Lark says she still loves food, but her job definitely makes her tired of it. Food is so much more a function and an art form to her now. Long days mean she has tasted it, touched it and staged multiple times, creating a sensory overload. For those food bloggers or photographers waiting to get started or maybe have started and things seems to be moving slow, Lark has this advice. “Locate as many resources for creative work that you can, brand yourself right away, and know that it can be a slow road, but that there is always room for creatives.”