Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters, my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And, just for the sake of transparency, this is take two. We accidentally lost our connection and lost the first version of this interview which only had one question in it, so we’re all good. And this interview is about how a 4th grade teacher who wasn’t really into reading blogs ended up building a profitable blog herself. Her name is Lindsay Ostrom. She is the founder of Pinch of Yum, a food site that features delicious recipes that are accompanied by stunning photos. The site is monetized through ads and affiliate programs and a little bit through a membership site which her husband runs. We’re going to find out how she does the whole thing. Lindsay, welcome.
Lindsay: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: The first and only question that I got off before is a question I usually save for later in the interview but we’re going to start off for a reason which I’ll explain in a moment. And the question is, what’s your revenue?
Lindsay: Yeah, well this is a repeat of what I just said but, when we started we decided that we’re going to track monthly how much we could make from the blog and it was kind of an experiment to see if it was even possible to monetize a food blog. Actually, my husband had started to get interested in online business and online marketing and read something that said you could never make an income from a food blog. And so he said, let’s experiment with this, let’s play around a little bit and just see if it’s possible because I think he was also following Gary Vaynerchuk at the time who is very passionate about whatever it is that you’re doing you can make an income online from that. So he started that.
Just to give you a little of the back story, in the first month that we put ads and started trying to monetize we made $20 in that first month. And we put it out there in an income report. Now we are about 3 years later from that first income report and these last 4 months have been $20,000-$30,000 for our income in a month and that’s with our expenses taken out and everything. So we have that out there on the blog too, publishing those income reports so it’s a very detailed documentation.
Andrew: That’s why I brought it up because if anyone goes to PinchOfYum.com they’ll see right at the top navigation bar along with Contact Information and About and Recipes and everything else that we are used to on a site like this, there’s a link that’s called Income where you break down your monthly income in detail and along with it you’ve got these beautiful photos. I love the design of the site and I love the design of the income statement that you have on there.
Lindsay: Thank you.
Andrew: One more thing before we get into the actual story. There’s also a membership site which we won’t get too deeply into because your husband runs that. You run the main site itself, he runs the membership site which we’ll talk a little bit about later. How does the revenue compare from that to what we’ll talk about here today?
Lindsay: So, you mean from the membership site? How does it compare?
Lindsay: It’s growing, which is fun. We only started it in 2012, 2013, so it’s really only about a year or two old. And, I don’t feel confident enough to say a specific revenue number as far as monthly.
Andrew: They don’t need a specific number. But is it more or less?
Lindsay: No, no, it’s less. Yes, it’s less and I would guess it’s maybe about a third of what we’re at for Pinch Of Yum.
Andrew: A third? Okay.
Lindsay: But it’s definitely growing and it’s been really fun. It’s always fun because one of the metrics that we use is that the daily number of [window rolls] and subscription renewals so, you know, that number at the beginning we had 2 people renewing, 3 people renewing. And it’s $25 per month to renew. But, now we’re getting to the point where it’s, you know, more like 10 people, 15 people, 20 people… so, that’s really fun to see that grow.
Andrew: All right. You were a teacher. Are you someone who dreamt of teaching your whole life?
Lindsay: Yeah, when I was getting ready to go to college and I was choosing a career path, that was just it. That was just such a good fit for me and I think it’s in my nature too. If you would take all these [??], do all these personality inventories, my natural self is talking to people, teaching people, helping people get new skills and all that kind of interaction that happens in teaching. So that’s always been me and what I’ve wanted to do. So when I graduated from college I was able to get a job at my dream school which is a local school here in St. Paul and I really loved the school and I became a 4th grade teacher and I was doing that for basically the whole time that Pinch Of Yum was starting. Pinch Of Yum was really just a hobby blog on the side and teaching was really my main thing. Five years ago if you had told me that I wouldn’t be teaching, I would, you know, just absolutely…
Andrew: And in many ways you are teaching on the side right now too.
Lindsay: Right, right. For sure.
Andrew: The reason that you started the blog was because that you felt that you were annoying your friends on Facebook. How were you annoying them?
Lindsay: Well, I just think you know I love to find recipes online and share them and a lot of times what I would do would be go to a blog or go to a you know website. I really like Cooking Light. So I would go to their website and then whatever I would make I would upload a picture or like you know share the link to my friends and say hey this is what I made. It was so good. This is what I like about it. This is what I changed and I just wanted to talk to people about food was what I was finding with that but you know when you’re following somebody and they just kind of…on Facebook and they keep sharing all the stuff I thought, oh people are probably getting annoyed that every single night, look what we had for dinner, you know look what I made.
Andrew: I know what you mean.
Lindsay: Yes. So that tension was kind of what you know inspired me to just jokingly one day I said, ‘maybe I should start a blog so I quit you know I’m not annoying all my friends so much.’ But I can still get that outlet of sharing you know what we’re making and what I love to cook and we did. We went for it. So..
Andrew: You went from Facebook to what platform to launch the blog?
Lindsay: Yes we started on Tumblr.
Lindsay: So at the time, I mean I don’t know where Tumblr is you know considered now like in you know ranking of all the different blogging platforms but at the time it was really kind of like the hot new thing and so we felt like it would be a good fit. It could be kind of quick little snippets of things being published and so it was a good place to start. I also feel though, you know that’s one of the regrets we have if we were to go back, if we were to do it again we would start on WordPress right away just because it’s a more I think system, it fit our means better as far as like developing a blog that was a business. But Tumblr was a great starting place so..
Andrew: You know one of the reasons why I like Tumblr as a starting place is because it’s so easy that it eliminates the friction of sitting down and trying to pick the perfect design, of deciding what plug-ins, of deciding all of this other stuff. At least, you get started and then you can always transition over to another site which you did. You took, in the early days one post would be a photo, the next post would be the recipe or I think it might have been vice versa. Why did you do it that way?
Lindsay: Well, I think I was just so curious about blogging and new blogs and how people consume them. I mean I would use blogs for searching for recipes and finding them but I really didn’t follow any blogs like I wasn’t a blog reader and so I don’t think I really understood you know how people want to consume content and that it doesn’t make sense to separate those in two separate posts. Also in Tumblr you know and in a lot of blogging platforms I think it is you know there are these different bells and whistles and buttons and things where it’s like, do you want a publish a quote? Do you want to publish a photo? Do you want to publish text?
And so I was just very straightforward like now I want to share a photo and then that’s its own post and now I want to share a text and that’s its own post. So I think I was just so clueless about the whole world of blogging and how people consume that that that was just what made the most sense to me at the time which is kind of funny, but…
Andrew: Was your goal at all to make money from the side back then or was it just to share recipes?
Lindsay: Absolutely zero thoughts about money at the beginning. I mean I didn’t even know that was possible and I don’t even know if really Derick was thinking about that at the time. I mean he’s the one that kind of inspired that to get started but in the beginning it was I mean I didn’t even have a concept of like growing traffic or anything like that. It was just like I’m going to have this fun place where I’m going to put things and then you know then they’re going to be there and that was about as far as my understanding or goals went. So no, definitely not. That was not a factor when starting.
Andrew: And then what got you excited enough about it to continue?
Lindsay: You know I think one of the biggest things for me was, there are these food sharing sites that you know will kind of curate all these different blogger’s photos and they’re recipes and then link out to them so food lovers can go to these sites. One of them is called Food Gawker. It (??) about anything. It’s kind of like a Pinterest but just for food and then they will you know feature different things that they like and even though my blog wasn’t that popular I would get featured and because of that I would start to see more people coming to my site and that was so motivating to me. I mean like we’d go somewhere and I’d get a live and quick run of the computer and check my analytics and see how many more people had come and I think when you know that people are responding to what you’re doing, it’s all the more motivating to keep on doing it. So that was really the first motivator even before money, was just people like this and I want to keep doing it because I get more comments. I get more visitors to my site.
Andrew: So this is all Tumblr showing you all that analytics?
Lindsay: Actually through Google Analytics we were doing that.
Andrew: At that point you already installed Google Analytics?
Lindsay: Yes. Yes. Yes, but not at the very beginning but yes it was pretty early on that we had the Google Analytics.
Andrew: On Tumblr.
Lindsay: Yes. Yes.
Andrew: Okay. So that’s where the point system started to come in and make it into a game?
Lindsay: Yes. Definitely. Absolutely. It was like, there was definitely something to say for that game mentality of. . . you know, this one has . . . this one . . .and in the beginning it was like twenty, you know, twenty people and I’m like, “whoa this place is so popular, twenty people, you know, have seen it” and then, that I’d say “oh look what I made” and that person would tried to replicate that, what other things about that people like and it’s like a puzzle, you know, trying to figure out how to keep getting the points up, so.
Andrew: What was one of the first things that you discovered that allowed you to get those points up?
Lindsay: Well I think those food channels sites were super important to me anyways, being that I didn’t have, I haven’t been doing it for that long and at that time I think those were really popular sites and now I think the popularity of those is waning because of Pinterest and people can have that need met through Pinterest a lot, in a-, in a bigger, you know (??) . . .
Andrew: Were you creating pho-, . . . well actually were you posting on those sites or were other people posting?
Lindsay: No I would submit my post, so I do a post, and then I would go over to this website, submit a photo and a little caption, and if they liked it then they would publish it on their site which had a lot of, you know, a lot of foodies who were looking for recipes and if they really liked it they would put it at the top of their page, you know, in the first row and you then get a lot of clicks, a lot of traffic from that . . .
Andrew: So what would you do to get them to really like it?
Lindsay: You know I think a lot of it is-, is the photos and making it look appealing because you can have an awesome food that if it doesn’t look that good . . . so it would be getting-, getting the photos to really . . . figuring out what photos resonant with people. Like this is really getting specific and foodie and kind of dorkie but . . .
Andrew: Do it.
Lindsay: Melted cheese. You know, it’s like people love melted cheese and so once-, once you figure out, no matter what it is if you can put melted cheese on it and kind of take of photo of it like stringing out, people are going to die over it.
Andrew: Ah, I see.
Lindsay: And they can click on it and they can love it. So it’s like finding those little things that, you know, people love and also just what the food itself is. So looking at, you know, what ingredients that people like and doing like a little bit of research as far as what’s trending with food and what are people, not just what do I like, but do people like and respond to the most.
Andrew: Your photos are still fantastic. Where did you learn to shoot photos of food like that?
Lindsay: Well, I . . . we started actually, Buork (SP). . . we had a nice camera which is totally to our benefit that we started with that. It wasn’t something . . . anything super fancy but it was a DSLR and Buork has always been interested in photography, not food obviously, but he would . . . I would cook it and he would take the pictures. That was probably for like the first 3 months and I was totally set on, he needs to be the one to do it because I don’t know anything about photography. He needs to, you know, he needs to do it, he needs to . . . and he was like, Linds, you can totally learn this, like, you can do this.
And so then it kind of takes somebody saying it and your, like, okay I guess I can. So I just, you know . . . he kind of taught me the basics of, you know, the manual settings and how to control, you know, the look of the photograph in terms of the technicalities but then you just practice. You know, in doing . . . I’ve done now over six hundred, you know, post and so over time you just continue to get better and looking at other people’s photography and seeing what you like about that and just trying to replicate that in your own. I’ve read a few books and taken a few classes but, you know, that’s about-, that’s about it. I don’t have any background in photography other than just what I have learned on my own.
Andrew: You know a few years ago I was invited to do interviews with food bloggers and I asked one of them about the photographs and I said what’s one thing the amateur doesn’t know that you as an experienced photographer do and they can replicate and she said “I take a lot of photos. I see most people if they want to take a picture of their food and have it look good they’ll take one, If they’re daring they’ll go to four. I take a lot more”. Do you have any tips like that?
Lindsay: Yeah, I mean, I definitely take a lot-, a lot for my. . .
Andrew: What’s a lot?
Lindsay: Like, I would take probably 150 for one post.
Lindsay: Because I’m trying to put maybe like 5 to 8 photos on my blog so if you think you know you take, you need 20 or whatever to get the one that you want and it’s a (??) lot of tweaking like taking it and then tweaking. For me I guess like in terms of actual practicality, like, the secret trick, the thing that really made it click for me was the lighting and figuring out how to, you know, how to get the lighting in a way that made . . . gave it a magazine like quality and all of a sudden it’s like “oh my photos can be just as good as the photos in the magazine just because of where I placed the light”. So that was a really big thing for me.
Andrew: I see. And that’s something I saw that you guys teach on your membership site.
Andrew: I got so captivated by it. As someone who sits in front of a webcam all day and I guess today we all do or if not a webcam then a mobile phone camera, I noticed impact of light. I never paid attention to that before. I know you look good on camera right now because you’re not flooding the light, you’re not flooding your camera with light behind you. There is probably light in front of you but not overwhelming.
Andrew: Those little differences are huge. Alright, so you started doing that and suddenly the points are starting to go up, as you’re getting more and more traffic. Then you started to see that someone else put ads on their site. Do you remember who it was and why that mattered to you?
Lindsay: Well, we had met another couple who was kind of getting a blog thing together. It was Alex and Sonja from “A Couple Cooks.” That’s the name of their blog, and it was one of those like early, for us anyways it was early on in the game, where they were like “Hey! You’re coming to our town. Do you want to meet us in person?” And it was, like, a big deal. Like, we’re going to… Don’t tell our parents that we’re going to go to this, you know, couple’s house that we met on the internet, and it’s so scary. But we went, and we talked to them about what they were doing. They had put some ads on their site. And they were… I think I had probably seen ads around other blogs at that point, but they were really the first people we had talked to about it in person and kind of got the wheels turning for us. Bjork [SP] was really… he didn’t really want to do ads at first. He thought…
You know, he’s much more business minded than I am, or at least has more of a background in that just from his own personal interests. So his idea was, we’re not going to go with a network, we are just going to advertise for our own products. But at that time we didn’t have any of our own products, and so it was kind of like “well, let’s just give it a try and see what happens”. We started with this, like, really lousy… I don’t even remember the name of it now, but it was some really lousy add network that was specific to food bloggers, and it made hardly any money, which you can see in the first income report was 20 dollars, or whatever.
Andrew: Why didn’t you give up at that point? Why didn’t you say “Hey, you know what? Maybe you really can’t make money with food blogging. You can only make money if you teach people how to make money. I should get out of this”? Why did you keep it up? I am looking at that first post. It’s 21 dollars and 97 cents. At that point, why didn’t you say “It’s not for us”?
Lindsay: I think when we started we had a long term mentality. It wasn’t… I think both of us knew that it wasn’t a “get rich quick” kind of thing. I don’t even think I had any concept that this could make substantial money, because I remember at that point thinking… I mean, honestly I thought, “If we could make 100 dollars a month, I will have arrived. That will be it. That will be amazing. I can’t wait until we make 100 dollars a month.” You know? So, I think for me, part of it was just being naive about it and not really understanding how low that was in terms of what the potential was. I think also we both just had the perspective from the beginning that this is like a long term game. This isn’t a “you go put adds on your site and then, poof, you’ll make all this money that’s enough for you to leave your day job” kind of thing.
Andrew: Yeah, it took me a long time too with Mixergy. And I’m seeing that first post where you guys are talking about… Is that Bjork who wrote this one?
Lindsay: Yes, he writes all the income reports.
Lindsay: That’s how we kind of share “Pinch of Yum.” I mean, really it’s like… I would say it’s really 90% me and then 10% him just doing those income reports, but it just makes so much more sense for him to do it. He really likes doing it, and I think it’s nice too, because with a blog there is an element of a personal connection. It is a little bit awkward to like, talk about money publicly, and I do get emails from people that, you know, they say “Hey, you’re really rude. You shouldn’t talk about that online.” But I think there’s something nice about the separation of, it’s not the voice of the blog saying “Here’s food, food, food, food and money.” You know, it’s like, I talk about food, and then he comes in for people who are interested and says “Hey, if anybody else is out there working with their spouse, or whoever, on monetizing their food blog, here’s how we do it.” I think that separation is helpful for us.
Andrew: I like this analysis of the first one. He is basically saying “Yeah, we made a little bit of money. It’s very little, but also we lost a lot of the design of the site and we turned it over to strangers. I guess it’s okay that there’s an Activa add, it’s yogurt. Then this Spanish add suddenly appeared on our site and we had no control over it. I see the opportunity, and I also see the challenge.” By the way, I feel like there is something going on with my… Oh, I know what it is. I am wearing a thicker t-shirt underneath this shirt today, and it’s riding up in the back. I figured maybe my collar is turned up awkwardly, or something’s going on.
Andrew: Oh, alright. Good. I am glad I addressed it. That is an important thing for me to bring up. Alright, so you continue to do income reports. This running Spanish adds through this network wasn’t the solution, but you hit on affiliate programs. How did you discover affiliate programs?
Lindsay: Well, Bjork was a big follower of Pat Flynn. So, both of us, you know, were kind of were at that point. He was like, “Hey look at this. This is really cool.” I was like “What in the world? That’s so crazy. I can’t believe that’s real life, that people are doing that.”
Andrew: Pat Flynn was showing income reports too, and making a lot of money.
Lindsay: Yes, and I think a big part of that is his, you know, affiliate stuff. I don’t know. At this point, I don’t know what the break down would be. But I know that’s where the seed was planted it our heads. Like one really strong monetization strategy is when you start teaching other people and recommending products and this whole affiliate [??] thing. So that’s when we started. It’s a funny story, actually. Bjork, one morning before, you know he was working at a non-profit and before work one morning, he was, like, you know what, I’m just going to get up early, you know, get up at 4:30 a.m. or whatever. I’m going to go to a coffee shop and I’m going to just make this page.
It’s going to be all about how to start a food blog and teaching people how to start a food blog in three steps and I’ll put an affiliate link in for Bluehost, you know, so people can sign up to put their host name and their domain and everything. I mean, that page is the single-most income earner for Pinch of Yum and we joke about how he spent three hours on this one page and now all day and all of our time is spent on these other things that don’t even make a fraction of what that one single page has made over all the years. So, that was the start of it. As far as affiliate marketing, that’s the main thing. We don’t have a ton of affiliates. We’re in Minnesota, so as far as being an Amazon affiliate, we’re kind of cut out of that whole picture. So . . .
Andrew: Yeah, your number one affiliate program is Bluehost . . .
Andrew: . . . That’s something I think anyone can sign up for if they just go to Bluehost and become an affiliate, right?
Lindsay: Yes. Yep, yep.
Andrew: I think even for Pat Flynn, he kept showing his revenue numbers month after month. I think Bluehost, for a long time, was his number one source of revenue, his affiliate program with them.
Lindsay: Yep. Yep.
Andrew: And for you, today, it’s still number one, but it doesn’t make up more than even 25%. It’s roughly 25% of your revenue.
Lindsay: Right. Yep. Yep.
Andrew: Do you remember how you celebrated when you saw that that was actually producing?
Lindsay: I mean, I remember because I really did, honestly, I had that $100 a month benchmark in my head. I thought that was going to be the ultimate and so I remember the first month when we made that much, it was like, okay, now we’re go out for dinner and we get to have a nice dinner out. In my mind, that’s what it was. When we make this much, a month, then we’re going to go and spend it on a nice dinner out and that’s all it’s going to be.
Andrew: There was no sense of, when I get to this number, I’m going to quit my job because I hate it?
Lindsay: No, I think the time when that really started to enter my mind was when we were . . . We actually lived in the Philippines for a year, so during the year that we were in the Philippines, which was 2012 to 2013, that was when the income from the blog started to surpass my normal teaching income, here in the States, and it was like, oh, oh my gosh, we’re making more doing this than I am from going to work. How much more could that be if this was my full-time job and that was really when the idea first came into my head. Even after that did come into my head, I didn’t necessarily want that. You know, I’ve always liked teaching and it was really hard for me to . . . It’s just now, three months ago, that I left. I finally just said, I’m going to leave my job and do this full time. It was hard. It was a hard decision.
Andrew: Yeah. You know what, it’s not directly related to business, but I think it’s interesting to hear why you ended up in the Philippines. Do you feel comfortable talking about that?
Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely. So, my siblings . . . I have three siblings adopted from the Philippines and they were adopted maybe five or six years ago, they were older. All three of them are biological siblings and they were adopted from an orphanage in Cebu City, Philipinnes. It’s called the Children’s Shelter of Cebu. We had connections, you know, through our family and through our church . . . We’re actually high school sweethearts. We grew up in the same home town and then the . . .
Andrew: You and Bjork did?
Lindsay: Yes, yes. The town itself and the churches have a lot of connections to this orphanage, so they knew of us and we knew of them. They needed a teacher for a year. Obviously, they have a lot of Filipino teachers, but they usually look for at least one American teacher because many of the older kids are adopted to the U.S. and they have an American Studies course that they want someone who is an native English speaker and who understands the culture that can help the kids prepare for that. They asked us. We actually were planning to go just for a trip, for a visit, because Bjork had never been there and it’s a big part of my family.
We were going to go for two weeks and they called us about two months before we were supposed to leave and they said, “Hey, how about you guys come for a year instead of two weeks and you can teach and you can live here and work here?” So, we said yes and then we sold our cars, rented our house, and kind of, sort of quit our jobs and flew over there. We lived over there a year and worked. It was an amazing experience.
Andrew: And you were saying it’s where your siblings lived before they were adopted?
Lindsay: Yeah, yep.
Andrew: And then, they were adopted how long ago?
Lindsay: It was about five or six, maybe coming up on . . .
Andrew: Oh, you were about five or six when they were adopted?
Lindsay: No, no. I was an adult. I was grown, out of the house. Bjork and I were married already. You know, so this is like . . .
Andrew: That’s what I thought. And so your parents, at that point, said let’s adopt more kids. We’re ready to have more?
Lindsay: Yes, right. Right. My youngest biological sister was just getting ready to leave for college . . . Actually, my family had taken a trip there and met these three kids, prior to adopting them, and just felt connected and felt like . . . I think my parents were feeling like they were up for the challenge of continuing to do the parent thing and have kids around and so, yeah, so that’s how they ended up here and in Arkansas, so…
Andrew: That’s cool.
Andrew: You know, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of entrepreneurs that gone away somewhere and by being in a different place, they got to focus on what they cared about and they had a new perspective on life and that helped their business. Is that what happened to you? Did, beyond… Actually, what is it about the Philippines that allowed you to, to change course with this business?
Lindsay: Yeah, well, I think it was really interesting when we left, because the blog was starting to pick up, I was super excited about it and we had no idea how moving to the Philippines would affect it and if we would be able to continue that, you know, have it grow and what that would be like, so we really left for the Philippines saying, “Number one priority is teaching and working and like, kind of living life, you know, with, and working with this orphanage, but we would really like to keep the business going if possible.”
At that time, it wasn’t really like, a full-fledged business, but you know, like to keep the blog going if possible. And so, we got there and it was like, I had no idea. Are we going to be able to get the ingredients we need? You know, are we going to have internet? And are we going to, you know, am I going to be able to take the pictures? And it was really surprising to me how it continued to grow. I really, I thought, if I could just maintain it, I would feel really good about that, but it continued to grow and to get more traffic and more readers.
Andrew: Why? Why did being in a foreign country where ingredients were harder to come by, why did that help?
Lindsay: I think, I think a couple things. I think the story element of it was appealing to people and that’s when I really started to embrace that a little but more. After that point, I really hadn’t shared much about, you know, our personal life. It was all strictly recipes. And I think when we went, people started to say, “Oh that’s so interesting. I love seeing your pictures of the kids there,” or “I love seeing pictures of,” you know, “where you’ve been,” and it made me realize that, you know, part of having a blog, or at least for us, kind of the direction that we wanted to take it, isn’t just like, mass-producing recipes.
But it’s wrapping it up in terms of, like, developing the brand as our personality and our story and not trying to hide that, but showing that and kind of, like, letting people into that slice of our lives. And then people really responded well to that. So that was more in terms of like, the reader, you know, like, reader loyalty I would say, but as far as, like, getting more traffic, another part of that was that we really didn’t have much of a social life. I mean we’re like, you know, we didn’t have a ton of friends there. We were really busy, but it was kind of a way for us to connect to life back home, was to work on the blog.
Andrew: Ah, I see. So, none of the day-to day distractions…
Andrew: … that we might get bogged down by.
Lindsay: Right. I mean, there were challenges, but, you know, those distractions of, like, “Now I’m going to go on this trip,” or “I’m going to do this with my friends,”. It was kind of, like, come home and now this is what we do and this is our connection back home and so there was a different, it had a different kind of significance I think, at that point.
Andrew: I do see that even from the beginning, there’s a photo of you on the site with a description of you as a teacher a pug lover…
Andrew: … and a dessert enthusiast. There are photos of Bjork, your husband. You were very open.
Andrew: I also see that in the beginning, the design didn’t look nearly as good as it does today. It had, where was that, like a share button that was a little weird, but it also had really nice design, like the header had this script, ‘Pinch of Yum’ in it that looks well-designed, had drawings of fork and knife and spoon, but at the same time…
Lindsay: Was a…
Andrew: …with a picture behind. Where did you guys learn to design like that?
Lindsay: Oh. Well, I mean, that was like, that header, you know, with the fork and the spoon and the scripting, that was my first ever, like, attempt at I’m just going to do my own, you know, do my own little header. So I don’t know. I don’t know that I really, that there was anything learned about that was just…
Andrew: What do you… What software did you use to design that?
Lindsay: I used Photoshop.
Andrew: So, to know Photoshop, to me it means that you’re a designer in some capacity, right?
Lindsay: Well, I mean, I really, at that point, that was like, my first ever, you know, interaction with PhotoShop and Bjork, again, like he, a lot of this stuff was just personal interest for him, so he had a lot of the skills. And we had Photoshop already, which, you know, that’s a place to start. And I remember seeing, going to other blogs and kind of looking at the headers that I liked and then going around and searching around for like the little vector images that I could like, you know copy and paste and put together, but I was so proud of that. I mean, that took me forever to make that dumb little, you know, super simple little…
Andrew: No, it looks nice.
Lindsay: … split text. [laughs] Thanks.
Andrew: It is very simple. It doesn’t look nearly as nice as what you have today, but I thought it looked really good…
Lindsay: Thank you.
Andrew: … and I assumed that you had a design background. So, here’s what I’m getting from talking to you before the interview started and hearing throughout. I get the sense that you’re naturally creative but you work at it to get better and one of the ways you work at it is by seeing what’s out there. I get the sense that Bjork loves researching stuff.
Andrew: Right? He’s a Mixergy fan…
Andrew: … who loves studying Mixergy interviews…
Andrew: … and understanding what other people did. You guys both looked Pat Flynn and other sites. And you’re constantly hungry for new information.
Lindsay: Yes, definitely, and I think in terms of our partnership that’s really his strength as the research the, kind of like the directional thinking, and I’m more like the I’m just going to get in and do it, and actually produce something. So I feel in that way when we work together where we say he’s at the steering wheel and I’m the one pushing the gas pedal I’m the one doing the work, making it go forward and he’s really saying what’s a good strategic decision for where we’re going next.
But we’ve really, I feel like with Robert Paul, he’s posting every week and making things happen instead of just being the idea guy and I’m become more of an idea person by doubling in things like Mixergy or you know kind of getting more into that business side of it so it’s been a really good partnership and I feel like our strengths have come together and merged to complement each other, and I feel like that’s a theme that I’ve heard in a lot of the Mixergy interviews, as far as partnership goals to be able to complement each other and kind of spear each other forward and those things…
Andrew: Absolutely, most people are lucky if they spend a long time bonding, your know searching and they find someone who they can work with for a couple years like that and then you’re married to them.
Andrew: One of the experiments was an eBook on food photography, how did you know what, that was the first product you created right?
Andrew: How did you know that’s what you should create first?
Lindsay: Well actually it wasn’t, we first had the idea of let’s do this eBook on food photography, I’m self-taught, and because I’m a teacher I feel like I can teach, but I was really intimidated by it, I remember telling [SP]Derick that I don’t think I have enough credentials to really write this book. So then I was going to do an e-cookbook, and then actually what happened is I went to a photography class and I kind of realized wow I really know all of this stuff. I already knew this I just didn’t know that it was the knowledge that people needed to know. So at that point I realized I really could write an eBook and teach people what, not only what I know but just from trial and error and how , I feel like it’s very powerful to be able to show these are my ugly first photos and these are what my photos look like now. People can relate to that, people can relate to, like, this is where I’m at and this where you got to so you can help me do that too.
Andrew: Do you know that your audience would want to buy a book on food photography? As opposed to a cookbook which most people would assume.
Lindsay: You know I think it was kind of, looking back it was a smart decision because when you are doing an eBook you want to do something that solves a problem for people and the cookbook isn’t quite, I feel like it’s really hard to make that work on a food blog because people are already coming for free recipes and, you know, it’s just harder to market that, but honestly there’s was no strategy really involved with it, it was just kind of saying people comment they say that they like the photos, and it’s a skill that I have that I’m developing and I’m interested in it
And it just happened kind of luckily really to be this really awesome fit where a lot of people who were coming were interested in growing their own blog and improving their own photography and that kind of tied into the income reports because people were coming saying, “How are they making money?”, “I want to learn.”, and then it developed that learning section of the blog so it’s so funny to me when I think about where I was at when I wrote it and how far it’s come and how much income it’s brought in I mean for this one little eBook that I wrote on the nights and weekends of my life. It’s crazy.
Andrew: Is that the eBook that’s still producing right now? “Tasty Food Photography?”
Andrew: That’s the number 1 source of revenue on the site apart from the membership which is a whole different product.
Andrew: Number one above even Bluehost, so it seems to me that one of the reasons that you knew that would work is, I’m looking at your site from back then and there’s an ad for Bluehost. There’s a link, a beautiful looking designed ad that you created yourself that links to the page where you tell people 3 steps to start their own blog which again is an affiliate ad for “Blue Host,” and then there’s a “Thesis Theme” affiliate ad there. So it seemed like you were experimenting with revenue through affiliate programs and ad’s and when you hit with Bluehost and “Thesis” you might of realized, wait, we have an audience of people who want to start blogs like ours. That’s the market intelligence that wasn’t explicit but you did absorb the information and the knowledge and that’s what told you these people want to build a blog, they want to build a business like ours. In order to do that we needed to know photography, they probably will need to know photography too.
Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I feel like it’s, you know, it’s kind of that, and maybe [??] had more of that idea in his head, for me it was kind of like, well I’m just going to write an eBook, what should I write about then? I think that subtly was developing already with as far as what we were starting to talk about more and how people were responding to it because people did respond very positively.
And we were seeing income from people creating their own affiliate links and getting their own blogs started so that was definitely a factor in deciding to do that.
Andrew: You spoke with April, here on the Mixergy team, about what the launch looked like and when she asked you about that, you said “It was pretty lame.” I’m looking at her notes here. Why did you tell her it was lame? What was lame about it?
Lindsay: Your talking about [??] directly now, right?
Andrew: Yeah. The launch of that.
Lindsay: Again, I feel like I have been, it’s totally been learned through experience. It wasn’t like I did any research on how to launch a product or anything. It was like a couple weeks before it was done, I put a little post out and I said “Hey. Does anybody have any questions that you want me to answer? I’m going to be releasing a [??] book.” I got a few comments and, then, the two weeks later, I just pushed publish and was like “Hey, here’s where you can buy the book.” That’s that. We really didn’t do that much, as far as intentionally building up to it or even after it was launched, it was kind of like it just sat there for a while. I think the thing that has allowed it to continue to be successful, even though we were really lame about the launch of it, is just that affiliates portion of it. It is a helpful tool for people and it’Bluehosts so easy for people to share that because it’s truly valuable to them.
Andrew: Do you have any affiliate program and anyone who refers traffic to the book gets a cut of the revenue you make from the book?
Lindsay: Yes. Yep and we do 50%, so that’s, I think, hopefully, a good incentive for people. I think because it’s genuinely helpful to people and they get to the end of the book and there’s just a little blurb, at the end, that says “Hey, if this book was helpful to you, you on share it on your site and we’ll give you 50% of the sales.”
Andrew: And that was built in from the start?
Lindsay: You know, that’s a good question. I was just thinking about that. I don’t know if it was or if we added, maybe, a few months after. I don’t remember for sure or not, but I know for most of the life of “Tasty Food Photography” that’s been a part of it.
Andrew: Let’s not overlook what you said before, though. You said “Before I even sat down to write it, did a post on the site asking ‘Do you have any questions about photography?” That, I’m imagining, helped you uncover issues people had in a sense of where they wanted the book to go and how it fit in their lives. Did it get you the kind of information you were looking for?
Lindsay: Yeah. I think, at the time, it was like an afterthought. Now, if I were to do it again, I would do that- at the beginning and use that to help me guide the whole direction of the book, but I had really written the book, for the most part, at that point. Most of it was done. I was just, kind of, putting it out there to see if there was anything else that I’ve missed that anybody wants to know about. Maybe there were like three comments that I was like “Oh, that’s a good point. I didn’t put anything about that.” Then, I went and added something, but it really was an afterthought. It wasn’t a strategic part of the initial thing. Now, if I were to do it, I would do it right from the get-go and really be intentional about asking my audience.
Andrew: Why is it that if you were to sit down and write a book right now, before you started writing, you would go on to your site and say “What do you want to know?”
Lindsay: I think because I’ve experienced this with the last two e-books that I’ve done, which have just been e-cookbooks, it’s like “Why didn’t I ask people if they wanted that?” Now, I made this, it took me forever to make it, and nobody wants it. It’s not as successful of a thing.
Andrew: That’s what happened with the cookbooks?
Lindsay: Yeah and I don’t think it’s like an all hope is lost and that was such a waste of time because part of the process of doing that was learning how to make an e-cookbook so that we could teach people how to make an e-book or how to make an e-cookbook. It was really dumb. I feel like I got to the end of both of those and was like “Okay. Why?” I didn’t even really ask people what they were looking for. Then, you have to look at your reader and solve a problem for them or look at what’s a pressing issue and use that to guide the direction of your book, instead of arbitrarily picking what you think is fun to write about or what you think your readers want
Andrew: Okay. So it helps guide your book. It helps tell you whether or not you should even write it in the first place.
Lindsay: Yeah. Right.
Andrew: What about for hype, for letting people know? Kind of an ad without being an ad.
Lindsay: Right. Well, Yeah. I think that that’s a huge thing that, when you’re polling people and getting people excited about it. They’re thinking “Oh. This is a problem.” It kind of becomes a natural start of a sales form, even though you’re really using that as a helpful thing. I feel like with the e-books that we’ve done, it kind of happened by chance with Tasty Food Photography. I’m listening to these podcast now because I’m trying to just learn more after having these two e-books that are like “Okay. They’re fine. They’re good. I feel good about them”, but they’re just not selling really super well.
So, I’m listening so, let’s then try to be more intentional about how do you produce a good e-Book that makes a substantial money. And then, I hear things in that podcast that I did with Tasty Food Photography, or at least semi-did. Without even really knowing it. So it’s been interesting kind of interesting to compare notes with that and what I did, and kind of pick out the things that I accidently did right. And then try to think about how I would use them again in the future to do it right more.
Andrew: You know what? I was going back to see what I did with the first project with Mixergy, and I didn’t realize that I did that at the time, but I did that exact thing that you’re talking about. I went to the audience and said, I’m thinking of doing this, what would you want to learn? I remember actually the way I did it. One of the first products was how to create landing pages. And I said, I’m doing this because I want to learn it.
Lindsay: Yeah. Right.
Andrew: If you want to be a part of this, tell me what you want to learn from this program and why you should be a part of this. And that helped me understand what the program should include and who should be included in it.
Andrew: All right. So that would have been the top of your funnel. You did tell April though, even though you had a lame start, you did start to build up through, what you called, mini launches. What are mini launches?
Lindsay: Well, Okay. What is this in reference too? Is this in reference to a specific . . .
Andrew: I’m not sure. It was just something you happened to say, so she wrote it down so that I ask you about it. You said, “Look, the sales page and the blog page is all we’d done to launch the product. The sales numbers weren’t memorable, but it started snowballing since the launch. Then affiliates picked it up, and it really started growing when they started sharing it with their audience. Now we have lots of mini-launches from that.
Lindsay: Okay. Yeah.
Andrew: Is that not on your site? That means that affiliates were doing mini launches?
Lindsay: Well, yeah. I think yes, because anytime an affiliate picks it up, reads it, and really loves it and does a post, it’s like relaunching it into the world. I feel like what I was really trying to say with that is, the combination of affiliates constantly freshly putting it out there and putting it in front of people, and also because it’s an e-Book and it’s an electronic product. Which I love, because I can go in and revamp it, and change it, and add things to it, and then relaunch it.
Andrew: And when you relaunch after an update, what does that look like today? When you go back in and say, I’ve learned a few things that I can add to this, and I’ll add it now, I want the world to know. How do you launch it at that point?
Lindsay: You know, because we did, it wasn’t a major overhaul, but we did a pretty big update. Kind of like the version 2.0, or whatever, about a year ago. I just did a post on it. And again, it’s kind of embarrassing because I feel like it’s kind of a lame launch. But I just did a post on it, talked about the updates and talked about some of the things that were newer. And we updated the cover images, kind of gave it a new look. Updated all the affiliate ads. So that it wasn’t stale, you know, it wasn’t like this is still the same. People see the same little ads everywhere. We just gave it a fresh look.
And also, one thing that we did that I think was good, was we offered it to anybody who had bought could get the updated version for free. And I don’t know how most businesses normally do that, but because of the way that we have our sales set-up we decided not to automate that. So I had to take all the emails and manually send people the new file and stuff. But I think people feeling like they are getting the fresh new product, and then them going out refreshing their own launch, it’s kind of like a little waterfall trickle. Where we refresh, we make it really good, we make it really awesome, and then other people continue to be motivated to share that with their own readers as well.
Andrew: I see. Wow. And so, people who wanted to upgrade would have to email you, and you would have to look and see did they really buy? Yes they did. I’ll go and get them the document and send it over. Whoa. That’s a very manual process. What software were you using to deliver your content in the beginning?
Lindsay: So we use E-junkie for distribution and sales of the e-Books. I think the reason that we, if I’m remembering correctly, I think the reason that we didn’t just automatically have that go out was that was because it was going to be insanely expensive to send this file, again, through E-junkie. And also, not knowing if people are going to want it. I think that would be the ideal. And I think at the point we weren’t at a business level where we could say that was really justifiable, but still wanted to provide the best for people who had been customers. So that felt like that was that best option.
If we were to do it again, I think now we’re at a different level of business where it would be worth it to spend a good chunk of money to have that delivered out to people. But that was kind of how what it felt like. But that fit at the time.
And I got a lot of emails, and I sent out a lot of those e-Books. People I think appreciated the update and appreciated being able to get the newest, the latest and greatest of it.
Andrew: And you’re still using e-Junkie, right?
Lindsay: Yes, yeah, yep. We use it for all our e-book products.
Andrew: Let’s talk about confidence. You said that is one of the things that you learned through this process. Do you have an example of where confidence was especially shaky?
Lindsay: One particular time that I think of was when we were in the Philippines. Whenever you get a negative comment, whenever you’re putting yourself creatively and you get negative feedback, it’s like, there’s a little sketch on the Oatmeal that shows, oh I get all these positive comments, yay, and this is great. And you get one negative and it’s like, the world is ending, and I am the worst person ever. And so I think I’m really susceptible. I think I’m just a more sensitive person, and so one negative comment and feel like uh.
Andrew: When did you get more than one negative comment? What was the hardest time?
Lindsay: When we were in the Philippines there were a few posts that I did where I was, I think I was being a little more vulnerable than I had normally been, and I had just been talking about some of the struggles of living there, and the things I was seeing and thinking and feeling. Basically getting more personal than just food. And having people respond to that and say, you, you know, this that and the other thing about you’re a bad person
Andrew: Why did they call you a bad person? What did you feel?
Lindsay: You know, I think I was really processing through a lot in terms of, you know, just living in a different culture, and feeling uncomfortable, and I think some of that was me wanting to share that and express that, but having it come out in a way. It’s just hard to communicate yourself online clearly. And I think people wanted to come to Pinch Of Yum and see that, this is awesome, life living in the Philippines is awesome, and I love everything about it. And that didn’t want to, that felt like I maybe that my own negative feelings, was a reflection on how I felt about living in the Philippines, and how I felt about the Philippines. And so people would, it was really personal and people would send me assignments, and I would just be really down.
And you know you’re alone, you’re isolated, you’re living abroad, and so you don’t have your normal support system. And I can remember that being a really low point, feeling like, people hate me as a person. They don’t just hate my stuff, like they hate me as a person, and having to, I think, having to move past that and say this is one person’s thought, this is a person online who’s trying to tell you something about your life. They don’t even know you. They don’t know, they aren’t here to talk with you in person, and they aren’t interesting in dialoguing with you.
Andrew: I am looking through the site to see what? I can’t believe I missed this in my prep.
Andrew: When you said something that would make people feel uncomfortable, you were not appreciating the Philippines enough, but I don’t see it. What was one post?
Lindsay: There was a post that I did that was, I can’t remember what the food was, but the premise of the post was there are kids playing out in the rain, and we were outside and we were taking pictures of the kids. And really for me it was like wanting to document just like, what our neighborhood was, and what our life was. And in one part of the post I made a joke, about how, like, part of Pinch Of Yum is, like joking and funny and stupid, I don’t know, like little sayings, you know and whatever. And I made this funny comment. Or what I thought was this funny comment about how I’m taking pictures of kids in my neighborhood, and their parents are thinking, you know, who is this weirdo American who is taking pictures of them.
You know, trying to be self-deprecating, you know, I am the weirdo, who walks around with the big camera, blah, blah, blah, but I think it came across the wrong way. And I think people, first of all, people didn’t realize that I was joking, and so they were like, why are you taking pictures of kids if their parents are like, and I was like, oh no. It was a complete misunderstanding, like I was totally joking and just making fun of myself. They are out there, they are waving at me. But it just came across totally wrong. And then I think that even though I knew it was a misunderstanding, it’s just such a public, personal attack, it’s just really hard to pick yourself back up, and um you know continue to put yourself out there and be vulnerable and share your real life, and share your real stories and so
Andrew: How do you get back in? Why don’t you just say, you know what? Screw it. It’s just too difficult; people are never going to get these jokes. I’m going to pull back on being personal here, and I am just going to focus on food?
Lindsay: I think I did. For a while, you know? I think it was like, okay, I am not going to talk about this stuff anymore, because I want to make sure I am coming across the right way and but really, I think it comes down to just saying to yourself, these are people. You don’t know these people. You can’t let, as a creative person, and as a person that puts herself out there online, you cannot let people who don’t know you, and don’t know anything about your life come in and have a say. It’s like having a complete stranger dictate what you do with your life. So you know to have like, literally two or three people come in and say something, and for me to say okay now I’m not going to do it anymore, and I need to go this direction. It’s just when you imagine what it really represents and that these people don’t actually know the complete
Lindsay: Imagine what it really represents, and these people don’t actually know you. They are complete strangers, and yet they are going to affect the whole course of your trajectory of where you are taking your business.
Andrew: That’s a very logical understanding. It’s not an easy leap to go from feeling to logic, and stick with logic. What allowed you to regain your confidence?
Lindsay: For me, honestly, having a partner in the whole thing; having work, it was huge. There have been so many times where I’ve said, “that’s it, I’m quitting. I’m not going to do it anymore.” But having somebody in my very close life who can understand what it is, and be interested in it, I think that –
Andrew: Give me an example of when you went to him and you said, “You know what, I’m suffering here,” and he helped you through it.
Lindsay: That was a huge time. I remember that was so extreme to me, that my family was calling and asking, “Are you okay?”
Andrew: Oh, wow.
Lindsay: And some were making comments.
Andrew: So what did he say?
Lindsay: He just would say the same things that I was saying before, “you can’t let people on-line, who you don’t know, dictate how you feel about yourself.” And also, he would always encourage me. And this is kind of a good thing for me, but he would encourage me to follow up with those people, and a lot of times they didn’t e-mail back or they didn’t respond back because they had a troll kind of mentality. But to be able to face it and say that I did not back down from it, but was able to rise up to it, face it, and say, “we might not agree on this, but I’m willing to look it in the face.” And to not just delete the comment, but to say, “Look, I’m sorry you feel that way, this is what I really meant.”
And I always feel better when I feel like I’m demonstrating someone’s inner feelings on top of it. But I always do that from talking about it. I always feel better when I talk about things. So, having someone both internally to talk about it with, and also going back to the source of the tension and at least trying to make it right helps me to feel better. Where I at least get to put some kind of word in, and not have it be a direct slight.
Andrew: I see. That’s a dangerous thing to do. To go to a troll, and contact them and say, “I want to explain to you.” I did that in the beginning. Where I got a lot of negative feedback to my interviews. And I remember contacting people who did, and I just said, “I want to learn here. The fact that you discovered my site means that you care about the start-up world. And if you care about the start-up world, then you’re someone who understands the need for feedback. So you know that when I’m asking you for your feedback, I’m really going to use it. What is it about my interview that’s turning you off?” And I remember discovering through those calls, I remember one woman specifically who put a word to it. She said, “You know, now that I think about it after this conversation, I think a big part of it is you’re coming at business from a very American point of view, where you talk openly about money.
And every time I hear you talk about money, it makes me feel uncomfortable, like that is not to be talked about. It’s like if you, frankly, just get naked on camera it would make me uncomfortable too.” And that helped me understand that when you’re doing interviews, you are talking to different cultures on-line; more than just the culture of tech in the city that I happen to be in, but the culture of business all over the world and how people handle it. And I could deal with some negativity, and there are also some things I could say a little bit differently because I want to appeal to people outside of the U.S. Did you learn anything like that?
Lindsay: Yeah. I think that just that whole experience, and how those comments were so personal and negative; I feel like it made me realize people care, and they are reading, and they’re thinking. And to go to those people, and I don’t really remember having a meaningful back and forth about how I can improve this, and they responded. I remember that I did contact them. But to be able to take that and have this kind of out of body experience, where you say, “I’m going to remove myself emotionally.” And maybe for me it’s more difficult with other people just because I am more sensitive, but to remove myself from it in terms of emotionally.
And then say toward these people, to look at what they are actually saying, and try to look at it objectively. And say, “What is it in my writing that’s making people feel that way? And maybe I shouldn’t do that anymore. And maybe it’s not that I should stop, but think about how I’m saying things.” And I really think from that point the posts, I hope, got better. And got to a certain point where they were as vulnerable as that other one was, but that I was really intentional about it not being draft and publish; but draft, edit, edit, edit, edit, publish. I really made sure that I was communicating myself clearly. And that’s a really valuable thing. So in that way, I’m really thankful for that because it helps me to think and really pay attention to the more serious things that I’m saying and how people might you know interpret them so..
Andrew: Okay and I also think just being open about how you confront the worst feedback we get encourages other people to say things like, someone might e-mail me and say, ‘Andrew you can get a better sound from your mike if you position it a little bit differently.’ They know that if I’m paying attention to the troll’s feedback people who are negative and hateful then I’m clearly open to feedback from everyone and so they are more likely to give it to me.
Lindsay: Right. Right. Yes.
Andrew: You then launched Pro, Food Blogger Pro.
Andrew: I know it’s Bjork who’s running it.
Andrew: Do we have him scheduled for an interview about how he did it?
Lindsay: No, but I would love to.
Andrew: I’d like to have him on.
Andrew: I’d love to do it with some kind of revenue milestone to celebrate here even if he doesn’t fully announce it here, but, announcing it here would be even better.
Andrew: I want to understand how he did it because I’ve gotten membership sites and I believe strongly in them. They’re not overnight hits but they are worth the effort.
Andrew: So open invitation to him especially around a big milestone but just to get an understanding of how you guys figured out what to put in there. I thought we can talk about that. How did you know what to put into Food Blogger Pro?
Lindsay: Yes, well, it was kind of a long time in the development and simmer stage. We had the idea probably a year and a half before we actually got around to starting it. It was just on a limb you know we were on a walk and we were like, “oh my gosh, we should do this. That would be so… you know…we had people even announcing for help about all these things. So really, it was really stemmed from like an overwhelming number of e-mails and people saying, ‘what about this?’ and ‘what about this?’ and not being able, just having it not be sustainable or useful to just continue to respond to these people individually. So I think based on, as far as coming with a master list, I think it was based on e-mail and also based on the things that we knew.
So there are definitely some things that we don’t have, that we could have more on Food Blogger Pro but if we didn’t feel like we fully knew it or had the time to learn it you know then we wouldn’t have that on there but like I took the photography so I mean I feel like it’s an 80-20 where he does 80% of the work and I’m like 20% involved on the forum in creating new courses and stuff but the photography was all you know my thing and so I took that and kind of broke it down based on how I felt like it should be taught to people and what would be the easiest to learn and I suppose the other big topics, I think we looked at what are the things and the incomplete parts that people have questions about, what are the things that we get the most e-mails about and what are the things that if you have to get the most (?) about like what is going to be the most helpful to people you know when starting a blog and then also (SS)
Andrew: What did you get in the income reports? What kind of questions would come up a lot?
Lindsay: A lot of times people will have specific questions about you know ad networks, how ad networks are set up or they would have questions about you know, I get a lot of questions about e-books, not necessarily in the comments but as far as, I guess somewhat in the comments of those posts but a lot of it is about the advertising. I mean it’s all monetization stuff for the most part and so I think taking those questions about advertising and about how the traffic ties in to the money and like different times of the year you know advertising rates go up and down and which networks are best, stuff like that.
Andrew: Which networks are best?
Lindsay: Oh, well I don’t know. I don’t think we’re necessarily like a part of the best networks to be honest. I think it changes a lot and actually it’s really interesting because pockets of bloggers have come up where they’re kind of compartment…maybe this has been going on forever and I’ve just been out of the loop but like we’ll compile all their data so that we can you know look collectively as bloggers which networks are performing the best. So you don’t have to personally try to figure it all out. Right now we’re with BlogHer but I don’t necessarily think that that’s the best. I think that there are probably other networks that are higher paid out there and we’re always looking for (?)
Andrew: So how do you resolve a question like that? When someone says, ‘I’m signing up because I want to know what network’s the best’ and there is no universal best and there definitely isn’t a best from year to year, how do you respond to them?
Lindsay: Well, I mean I think we really try not to over sell like what’s going to be given but what’s going to be given is information that will help you start and grow your blog but you know for questions like that there are no clear cut sometimes, a lot of times there are no clear cut answers but I think another thing that’s helpful in terms of selling it is the community aspect. So it is a combination of people’s experiences and you know their knowledge basically from their own experiences with their own blogs that can come together in that form in that community and it’s been so fun to see it. It’s become so active you know all these bloggers, we have something like maybe 500 or 600 members right now and so many people are active on the forum it’s just like, it’s very fun to see people sharing that information back and forth like what about this social media. What is the word I’m looking for?
Andrew: Same site. Should we use this, is this the next interest or not?
Lindsay: Right, and then somebody else coming in. So it’s not all just us, but it’s other people taking their own experiences to allow people to just put information out there, and not necessarily say, “This is the only way,” but to provide people with a wealth of information. That’s how we try to sell it, versus “We’re going to give you the one magic trick to start your blog and make money from it.”
Andrew: You know what? After years of resisting, and I finally created a site about how to interview called howtointerviewyourheroes.com. It’s not open right now, so I’m not promoting it, but I am going to say that I had to wrestle with that question, too. There are some answers that change from week to week, and I can’t give you a universal truth to that, and frankly what works for me today won’t work for me tomorrow or work for you today. I’ve noticed that because of the forums, people can get other perspectives and see what works. They can even disagree with me, and I like to see that because it gives people who are in the community other options that come from people who are like them. One thing that helped us get that was as an experiment I added points. I didn’t even announce it, I just gave points.
When people are thanked, they get more points. Because people are thanked, I noticed that it encourages them to go ahead and add more value and to teach more. Do you have anything like that that helped?
Lindsay: No, but we…well, I guess I shouldn’t say no. We have a star system, so based on how many times you’ve posted, your number of stars goes up. That’s a huge thing that we’ve had on the next big project thing is adding that notification factor to the membership site, and if you end up doing an interview…we can talk more about that, but being able to give little rewards or incentives to people when they…not only when they participate on the forum, but when they meet certain milestones on their blog. I think having that tangible digital reward, it’s inspiring to people, and they want to keep doing it, and therefore the site becomes more valuable to them. They stay on as members and provide more to other people. It’s a positive cycle, something that’s really powerful, and something that you definitely [inaudible].
Andrew: Go figure. I mean, not go figure. I knew it, I just didn’t realize it would be that easy to add, and frankly even for me it’s helpful. I had another community on another site we created, Truemind, where I couldn’t tell who was most active. It never stuck out for me that I would show appreciation to those whom I could see was most active. With the points, it’s a lot easier for me to see who is most engaged, who is publishing more, and it’s not just about who stands out for me. What else do I have? We talked about confidence. Here’s something that I still see that works for you: Buzzfeed. You guys are on Buzzfeed a lot. Are you doing anything to actively get on Buzzfeed’s lists of the best foods for Labor Day, the best foods for a Monday morning, or anything like that?
Lindsay: No, I would say, “No, we haven’t.” That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to actively pursue that, but for us with Taste Of Yum, it’s been being contacted by those sites and personally…I don’t know for sure, because I haven’t asked these people who are having to post…that’s sweet. They’ll email and say, “Can I use your photo for this, and your recipe?” “Yes, please!” Usually what I’ll say is, “Use it, you have my permission forever.” By using this blank form to give us the credit that we expect makes it as easy as possible for them to be able to share and get exposure that way. I do think that Pinterest and those food sharing sites, that’s where the people who write these articles and curate all the things, that’s where they are finding it.
Andrew: Are they going to Pinterest and finding you there, and then they post on their site? Got it.
Lindsay: If you’re thinking about, “How does somebody go about writing that article,” while you’re doing searching around, doing a Google search, maybe a [inaudible] search, maybe also a search on [inaudible], and so…again, this is just me thinking about it. It’s not like the person who emailed me from Best Foods said, “I found you on Pinterest,” or anything like that. I think the more places your content exists on the Web and if people can find it, the greater the chance is that somebody will find it that writes for Best Food or who writes for Huffington Post. It will get publicity that way.
Andrew: I just did a “site:Buzzfeed.com space pinchofyum.com” search. I see 70 results. It’s “24 Indulgent Ways to Celebrate National Garlic Day.” “27 Reasons Cauliflower Deserves Your Love and Loyalty.” By the way, the cauliflower one is a photo of a food with a link to your site to get the recipe and then another photo of someone else’s food linked to their site to get the recipe so it’s terrific links because it’s the specific kind of person who likes your food enough to want to come over and actually read the recipe. Twenty-seven delicious Paleo recipes for this… All of them have numbers. Twenty-four mind blowing ways to eat crepes, to eat crepes. I don’t want to click it. I don’t want my mind blown right now. But it’s huge for you and you mentioned that they’re searching for you online and finding you. Seems like search engine optimization, I noticed even early on as I looked at your post, was something you started to pay attention to. How much work are you putting in to S.E.O.?
Lindsay: I think for us, S.E.O. for me anyways at this point, it’s not necessarily like, now we do our S.E.O. work, it’s just embedded into the different things that we do for every post. So I have a little checklist that I go through for each post, and it’s originally naming the image which sometimes I’m not sure they would all be perfect but trying to really remember to name the images appropriately to your search term and putting in the title text and the alt text. And then we use Yoast as our S.E.O. plug in.
Andrew: A plug in.
Lindsay: Yes, S.E.O. plug in, and so that’s super slick. When we switched over to WordPress, we really hadn’t had any S.E.O. anything when we were on Tumblr so when we switched over to WordPress… Actually I don’t remember if that was right when we switched over or if it was when we did the site we designed and then we added that plug in, and I had to actually go back because we haven’t been always paying attention to S.E.O. so I had to go back to Post Number 1 out of 600 and go put in all the keywords and put in the excerpt…
Andrew: You have the checklist. The checklist says, if we have a photo, name it properly, not by Photo 1, 2, 3 or what the camera gives you but mind blowing way to eat crepes, I don’t know what that is, and then the alt tag. Then the URL I imagine is also on the checklist. What else is on the checklist?
Lindsay: I think those are really the biggies but also with Yoast it makes it so slick because it basically gives me a grade for every post, and it’s so slick. It’s like S.E.O. for dummies. It’s perfect for me so I can see how many times I said the word in my post. So this is just a little thing but it always makes sure that any time I reference the recipe within my writing, because I write pretty long posts, and so any time I reference it, I don’t just call it “the crisp” or “the dessert,” I call it the full term that I want it to be, “the blueberry crisp” or “the whatever with whatever sauce,” and I put the whole name in and that’s something that I didn’t always do, but I’ve tried to do more because when they give you that little tracker thing and it says how many times this search term happened in your post, and then you’re like, oh sweet, 20 times or whatever and then you know that. It just gives you a little bit of a self-picture.
Andrew: I don’t remember the tracker. Let me see where the tracker is. I’m going to go to my interview links. This is fantastic. I’m learning a lot here. Then I want to ask you about the final question. Where is that? The tracker, oh.
Lindsay: I see it. It’s just like a list of the different things and then it will say do you have it in your… It shows a number after do you have it in your URL, do you have it in the title, how many times does it occur in your post. And that’s the one I really pay attention to, how many times does it occur in your post especially because I am already writing such long posts that it’s like why not at least get 20 of those words to be my particular search term that I’m going for.
Andrew: So I see, page analysis.
Lindsay: Another thing that I do is I use Google trends, like a trends search, so if I’m trying to decide what to name it, a lot of times on the front end of publishing a recipe or developing it, I will go and search. An example would be at Thanksgiving time, we made a corn pudding thing and so I searched like “corn pudding,” “corn pie,” “corn porridge,” all the different things that I could name it to see which one has the highest searchability, and then I used that as my title. So I do that quite a bit too.
Andrew: You know what? I’m so glad that I asked you about that. I wouldn’t have realized that you did so much except I saw in older, older posts where you taught other people about search engine optimization and the importance of it. Anyway, I’m glad I asked. Alright, let’s finish up by saying this. We talked about the confidence that you got by doing this. We talked about your understanding of… Oh wait, two things. Before I get to the last question, books. April asked you if you have any books to recommend, and you had these good ones. One of them was “Steal Like an Artist,” a graphic book. Why did you recommend that one?
Lindsay: I really like that because I think as a person who creates and is creating quote, unquote, original stuff, it’s just helpful to see… They have so many… I can’t remember who the author is on that now.
Andrew: Is it Austin Cleaton?
Lindsay: Yes, it is. And he has like so many graphics, easy to consume things that feel like, oh, this is me like the life of a project graph and just to realize that some of the things that you’re feeling as a creative are. This is a normal thing. It’s half of the project and it was so exciting at the beginning like I wish I had never done this before you finish it or whatever.
And also I think just in terms of thinking about your own original work and defining originality and how do creators continue to be original even though we know that originality is sort of a subjective kind of thing because . . .
Andrew: Did you ever have an issue where you felt like what you were doing wasn’t original enough?
Lindsay: No, I mean, I think always. I think like with food, a different food combination, somebody’s already found it. There’s nothing like I’m inventing necessarily, but I think for me it’s redefining how I think about originality and that what’s original is the content that I’m creating not necessarily the food combination, the ingredient combination, but how I write, how I take my photos, and how I put it all together in a post.
I mean, that’s an original work., like nobody else has done that which I’d done did.
Lindsay: But I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m not necessarily an inventor of new food combinations, even if I don’t realize and I think I’m inventing, maybe I saw it somewhere else. And that came back into my mind without realizing it or something like that. [??] What’s that?
Andrew: I wonder how many people gave up on the whole food blogging thing partially because they think there were no revenue in it and the other part because they think well, I can’t so anything new. There are already so many other people out there instead of checking what you just said.
Lindsay: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I got a lot of emails about that.
Andrew: The second book. I’m looking at my schedule. We’re clearly over time. I’ll wrap this up in a moment for the audience, but I’ve got so many questions to ask you. I’m learning a lot from this interview. “Tribes” is the second book that you recommended.
Andrew: How do you use with Seth Godin wrote in that book to create a community that’s more than just a bunch of hits to your site?
Lindsay: Yeah. I think that I know while I was think about it is just not having people who bop in for a recipe and then never see them again. Really that kind of goes back to what I was saying before about sharing stories, sharing life and personality along with the brand, and trying to bring people around to something either a person or an idea or like a waiver of the brand so to speak.
So I think for me how I see that is not just making a recipe site but making it personal, like making it a blog, making it like this is a community, this is the style of the site, the style of the writing. It’s a person behind it, and it’s not just a generic recipe site because recipes are a dime a dozen, done at every corner of the Internet. But we’re thinking of what’s something special that’s going to make people come back to my site and check it out.
Andrew; Here’s what I think you’ve done there. Tell me if I’ve got this right.
Andrew: What you do is design to get people to know you so they root for you. The income statements, you can see people root for you to do better month after month. The posts are more about you personally and they lead us to root for you to succeed with this new site, with this recipe, and so on and so on.
Lindsay: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think we’d get the same response if we’d started with the income report two years in when we were making a not embarrassing amount of money, you know? It’s like when you start out vulnerable, you put yourself out there, and you’re like, “Hey, this is embarrassing. We made 20 bucks this month, and here’s how we did it. And here’s what we’re going to try next month.” It real, it’s vulnerable, and I think people appreciate that vulnerability and come around you more and want to support that, so.
Andrew: We didn’t get to email lists, but we talked about it in other interviews. That’s important for you even though Pinterest is so powerful.
Andrew: We talked about your growth as a person through this business the confidence that you developed, your ability to share your ideas, your ability to run it. Let’s talk about an external benefit which is something, a major purchase that you made recently. What is it? The house.
Lindsay: Oh gee. What is it, Andrew?
Lindsay: Yeah, we . . .
Andrew: I was wondering. How do tee that up so that you get to reveal it not me and then I said, you know what, let’s just say it, the house.
Lindsay: Oh my gosh, yes. We just bought a house. So we had actually, I don’t know if this was what I talked to April about before, but we bought this house with the intent of redoing the kitchen too to have it be something we could use for the blog and the business. And then it was, “Let’s go get a studio instead, and now we’re back to redoing the kitchen. So we’ve got this house that we bought. It’s an old house and it’s in St Paul and we’re going to be knocking out walls pretty soon here and making a little studio kitchen, I guess, but we’re redoing that and getting it all ready for videos.
We’re starting to do some videos and contribute to them and also just having a better space for me to work in.
Andrew: Congratulations on doing that, and congratulations on the business.
Lindsay: Thank you.
Andrew: The site for everyone who’s out there listening, first of all, I say if you find a way to get connected with the guest, the first thing you should do is say thank you. If you get any value, it’s always helpful to say thank you. And if you want to see the site and how you can connect and say thank you, just go to PinchofYum.com, PinchofYum.com. And if you’re not into the recipes, you will be once you click around. And if you’re still looking for more, looking for the business part, click on that income link. I think you’ll learn a lot from following that.
Thank you so much, Lindsay. Thanks for doing this interview.
Lindsay: Yeah, thank you, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye guys!