“Work harder than anyone else you know”

Sally McKenney, '07, of Sally's Baking Addiction shares her recipe for success

By Abigail Vitaliano, '17  |  Photos courtesy of Sally McKenney, '07

Sally McKenney loves sprinkles—a passion she began sharing on her blog, Sally’s Baking Addiction, in 2011.

“I started my blog to document my life after college, mostly to share the recipes I baked on the weekends,” McKenney shares on her blog. “I was in my mid-twenties, working in finance, and felt a little lost in both my career and life. I tapped into my memories from the kitchen when I was younger, picked up a camera, and the rest is history.”

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pa., she settled in the Baltimore area after graduating from Loyola in 2007 with a B.A. in communication with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. McKenney said her Jesuit education at Loyola transformed her work ethic, instilling values and lessons for a lifetime: “Work hard for what you want.”

With a following of 152,000 on Instagram alone, McKenney has expanded her brand from the joy of dessert to basic cooking and baking tips, guides for food photography, and lifestyle content.

The writer, photographer, and baker, who is currently writing her third cookbook, spoke with Loyola magazine about professional baking and blogging and what it’s like to turn a family tradition into a career with a cult following.

How has Sally’s Baking Addiction evolved from a blog to a business and your career?

I began blogging in December of 2011, and it has continued to grow for several years. I recently hired two assistants, who help manage all of my social media and scheduling. It’s great because I can spend hours on that stuff, but it gives me so much more time to focus on creating the best content that I can. My schedule can fluctuate a lot depending on how much extra work I have outside of my normal blog work.

For the past six months, I’ve been writing my third cookbook. With cookbook recipes, you need very few step photographs—just final products. So I bake and recipe test a lot at night after dinner, and photograph the final products the next day.

Where do you find inspiration—for your recipes, for your photos, for your content?

It isn’t difficult when you spend several days a week baking. My social media accounts (Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr) also repost older recipes to help drive readers to my site. It works well with seasonal and holiday specific recipes.

I have a long baking bucket list and I think it keeps getting longer at a faster rate than I can cross things off. I get so much inspiration from cooking shows, magazines, and especially from my readers. They always email and ask me if I have a specific recipe, and that gives me inspiration.

Your photography is a large part of your social media following. How did you master your craft?

Everyone eats with their eyes online, so if your photography doesn’t reel them in, they’ll skip right over you online.

All my photography is my own, and I’m a self-taught photographer.  I’m always learning and constantly developing and evolving my style. I’ve attended photography workshops and read books, but most of what I have learned is trial and error…

My days usually start with computer work followed by baking and recipe testing. I typically photograph step shots during the process and finished shots afterwards. In the afternoon I’m usually back on the computer editing.

It’s true you are your own worst critic. I feel I get stuck in create ruts sometimes, and I try very hard to always make progress with my photography.

You seem to form personal relationships with your followers and readers. What has that been like?

The most rewarding part of my job is interacting with my readers.

I get emails every day from mothers who say they love baking my recipes with their children. I get emails from people who use my recipes to bake their own wedding cakes and birthday cakes. Desserts really bring friends and families together, and I feel blessed my blog can play a small role in that.

What is one thing you wish you had known before you set out to build a baking empire?

I spent countless hours beyond my 40-hour workweek trying to build my business and brand before I made it my full-time job and career. One thing that is difficult in an online-based business is how fast trends change. You could invest a lot of time and effort putting content onto new social medias that could end up flopping. You need to stay on top of what is working for your business while testing the waters in different areas to see if there is actually potential or not.

What advice would you give someone who wants to go out on his or her own and pursue a passion as a career?

If you’re working towards a career goal, taking the first steps might be the hardest, but there is no way around it. Work harder than anyone else you know. Free time is a luxury.

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