Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
Sign up for the Blogging Tips newsletter and get (1) a free eBook, (2) free weekly blogging tips, and (3) updates on new FBP blog posts.Get Started for Free
For this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast, we're talking with Hilah Johnson and Chris Sharpe from the YouTube channel and food blog Hilah Cooking.
On the last episode of the FBP podcast, Bjork talked with Jason Leake from 100 Days of Real Food. Jason gave us a really great look into what it takes to run a food blog behind the scenes. If you missed that episode, check it out here.
Hilah and Chris did not get started in video with their cooking channel. It all started, in fact, with a "post-apocalyptic horror comedy" film they did together - which ultimately took a dive and failed.
But just a few years later, Chris and Hilah are a very successful and popular team in the Youtube video industry. They joined Bjork on the Food Blogger Pro podcast to talk all about their journey to YouTube success.
This interview gives some great insight into what it takes to run a YouTube cooking channel, and is a great resource for those thinking of starting to incorporate videos into their food blogs.
Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below:
Be sure to review us on iTunes!
If you'd like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode six of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. In this episode we are going to be chatting with Hilah Johnson and Chris Sharpe, the couple behind Hilah Cooking.
Hilah Cooking is a successful YouTube channel but they also have a blog, as well as all of the other social media channels, but we are going to be focusing in on YouTube today.
It is actually one of the things that I love to talk about but I do not really fully understand, which selfishly was really exciting for me to be able to talk to Hilah and Chris because they have done a really good job building their YouTube channel, so much so that it is now their full time job.
In this podcast they are going to share with us what it was like to build their channel into their full time job. They are going to share some advice on how camera shy people can start with video and they are also going to share what type of gear you need to get started, as well as what type of gear they use now.
This has kind of an aside, but video is really important today, and I think that it is becoming more and more important as more people have the ability to stream high quality video.
Before back in the day, I say with it air quotes, when the Internet was first developing, people didn't really have the bandwidth to stream videos, but now that is becoming more and more possible, it's becoming more and more important to use video in the content that you see, and you starting to see this with a lot of new sites, to have a video of the top, sometimes it will even auto play.
I think this will really be important for bloggers in general but also for food bloggers, and that's exactly what Hilah and Chris do, they have a cooking channel. I think you really enjoy this interview. Without further ado, Hilah and Chris, welcome to the Podcast.
Chris Sharpe: Thanks for having us.
Hilah Johnson: Thank you.
Bjork: Yes, we're excited about this. Before there were 250,000 subscribers, before there were paid, all-expense paid trip to Google, before there was working with brands, before there was any of this, there was, The Spider Babies.
Bjork: What is this spider babies and how does that play into your story?
Chris: The Spider Babies was a feature length independent film, kind of horror, comedies, post-apocalyptic horror comedy. I had written and directed it, and cast Hilah as one of the stars, and went out into the middle of nowhere, to shoot it and all fall apart.
Hilah: Then, it all fall apart and Chris had quit his job to direct it.
Chris: I basically quit my job, and spent all my money, getting the money, you spend all my money, raising my money to make this movie. It was a really ambitious project and it fall apart for several behind scene reasons.
Hilah: Nothing was Chris' fault at all.
Bjork: With that, one of the thing I'm curious about, to kind of build out of this story. Chris, obviously, you're interested in video and some in some ways. Is that true?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely, that's my background. I've been writing and directing and stuff for projects like commercials, short films and I had one feature film not before The Spider Babies. That definitely is my background, where I planned on going, it was just hard for me to make a consistent living, particularly since I never was in LA or Hollywood or any of that stuff.
I was working on projects in some places like Austin, where there's a film industry, but it's still a little tricky to make a grown up income.
Bjork: You wrap up on The Spider Babies. One thing that I'm so glad is that you have defined or have categorized. Post-apocalyptic horror comedy.
Bjork: Horror comedy. Just out of curiosity, would there be other well-known movies that you could maybe place in that category? Or were you defining a new niche?
Chris: It was inspired, one of the movies which would have inspired it would be "Night of the Comet" and "Miracle Mile", but those aren't super well known now.
Bjork: Great, if we wanted to watch one in that category, that's where we would go.
Chris: Probably Night of the Comet would be a good one.
Bjork: OK, Great.
Chris: Super dated now but...
Bjork: We'll add that to the podcast resources links. For people to check out. The Spider Babies, Hilah, you were acting on that, is that correct? Is that where you guys met for the first time?
Hilah: Not for the first time. Yes, I was acting in it, but Chris and I had actually worked on...we had been working together for a couple of years with a bunch of other friends in Austin, producing sketch comedy videos. One of the things that we produced before that was a short film about a Jerry McGuire tribute band. Actually, it's pretty hilarious.
Chris: Made for about $500.
Hilah: Yeah, my little brother produced it, meaning he gave us $500.
Chris: Actually, he gave us 1,000.
Hilah: Yeah, we probably spent 500 on beer.
Bjork: Great. Which is necessary for everything that was involved with it, I'm sure.
Hilah: We've been working together for probably a couple of years in that similar capacity, creative capacity. After The Spider Babies, I went back to my day job as a dental assistant.
Chris: I moved in with my mom.
Hilah: Yeah, Chris was totally destitute.
Chris: Drove straight from the wrap party to my mom's house, and tried to figure out what I'm going to do next. I'll think I'll learn how to do the Internet stuff. I signed up for an online how to do SEO class and just started teaching myself how to make websites, just because I had no idea how I was going to...
I wanted to get an actual job, rather than the on-and-off-again work that I've been doing. I learned how to do Internet stuff, websites, and SEO good enough to get a day job.
Bjork: What year was this, that that happened?
Hilah: In 2009, late 2009.
Bjork: You're wrapping up with this. Chris, for you, did you essentially say to yourself, "I'm done with this video stuff," or was it more of, "I'm going to take a sabbatical from this video stuff"?
Chris: I forced myself to not think about any new projects, or anything to do with film or video, for at least a year.
Bjork: At what point then do the two of you come together and say, "Hey, you know what?" Chris, you're saying, "I think I want to do another project here, giving video another shot after 'The Spider Babies'." You're saying, "I'm ready for round two." Hilah and Chris, you come together and say, "Hey, let's do a cooking show." Was it as simple as that, or was it an evolution? How did that come about?
Hilah: It was that simple, but it was totally Chris's idea. You did not actually give yourself a year off, it was more like six months. He moved back to Austin and was staying with me while he looked for a job.
Chris: I knew I wanted to get back to Austin, so I would drive to Austin for job interviews and stay with Hilah, and end up eating food that she was making. "Oh, that's what we need to do!" Super simple cooking show that we don't have to have a producer for. We can just use this little...
Chris: Junk camera that we have, and our junky tripod, and use a light from Target. We can totally have ownership over it. My idea then is, I've been leaning all this search engine optimization stuff, while I was hanging out at my mom's house with no money.
We don't have money to advertise or promote this, so let's see if we can use the YouTube search engine to get some traffic. We made a list of a hundred or more episodes. Then we narrowed that down to a hundred episodes that I thought there was some possibility to rank well for, that there was traffic for, but also not a lot of competition.
Then we started making episodes around that, and started to get some search engine traffic.
Bjork: Hilah, do you have a background in cooking?
Hilah: Not formally, I just have been cooking since I was a kid.
Bjork: My question for you guys, why a cooking channel? Why not a comedy sketch channel, or a review channel where you review different products or movies? What made you end up with cooking?
Hilah: I think it just made sense with the two of us, in that it didn't really take any money. We were going to eat dinner anyway. A lot of it was just, "Oh, what are you going to make for lunch? Oh, let's shoot a video about it."
Chris: For me, I wanted to do something where I knew that there was a market and an audience for that. I knew that there was brands in the cooking space and the food space. I knew there was a lot of people that looked up how to make different types of food on YouTube.
It seemed a little bit more like, let's make a smart business decision here. The cooking space on YouTube was a lot less crowded at the time, so it was a little bit easier to get some traction.
Hilah: We had actually tried out the sketch comedy on YouTube, and it didn't pan out very well.
Chris: We knew how hard it was to actually build an audience for that type of scattered content. The focus of our channel has been very tight for almost the entire time we've done it. Makes it easier to build an audience.
Bjork: What do you mean by, the focus of your channel's been tight?
Chris: First of all, it's focused in on cooking, and not eating, and not restaurants or any of the peripheral stuff. We've changed it a little bit recently. I'm talking about for the first five years that we did it. The first year was all super basic stuff.
It was all around the learn to cook the basics. Our first book was called "Learn To Cook," and it ties into those recipes. Then gradually started expanding it, but how would you describe it, Hilah?
Hilah: It's all home cooking. It's all stuff that you don't need any large amount of experience to make at home with pretty successful results.
Bjork: One of the things that I thought was interesting that you had talked about was your intentional decision with that. Was that part of it that you knew that you wanted to make really accessible foods? Or was it more that you know that you wanted to make foods that were fairly simple or easy for people to create? Was it chicken or the egg for that?
Hilah: I think I was just following Chris's lead at the first. When he shows up with this list of SEO terms that we can rank for, and he...I think it was your suggestion, wasn't it. That we go after this audience that was adults that had never learned how to cook?
Chris: Exactly. I had this idea based on some of the research I'd been doing and based on friends that I'd been talking to that there was an entire significant chunk of audience out there that had grown up on fast food and not really been exposed to cooking via their parents, and hadn't really learned how to cook.
It was like that was my imaginary avatar audience or whatever you want to call it, that I was envisioning as we made this list and produced these shows. A lot of it honestly does come organically from the way Hilah prefers to cook and enjoys to cook I think. Otherwise we'd be doing tons of cupcakes and our channel would be, go down a million subscribers.
Bjork: You guys would be miserable because you might end up doing it.
Hilah: Every time we try to do something like...
Chris: Our entire life would be horrible because Hilah hates...
Hilah: I've realized I really hate baking.
Chris: We have an idea, I think it's going to be something really popular but then it's really not worth it for how miserable our life is during the production of that episode. [laughs]
Chris: Hates baking the sweet stuff.
Bjork: Which I think is something that's really important and I'd like to get into a little bit later potentially is the idea of how much work it takes. Especially when you're building something and the reality that if you're doing that while also being miserable doing it then it's going to be really hard to sustain that for a long time.
I know that as you built your channel you had to work really hard and there's a long period of time where it was not just working essentially full time on the channel but also in your jobs as well. Before we want to get into that though, I'm really curious, Chris to go back.
You had mentioned that you had created this list of a hundred different potential videos. How did you go about researching that and figuring out which keywords would rank well, or which recipes would be really desirable. Was there a certain process you used?
Chris: There was a process but I'm not sure how. That was before the Panda updates. I'm not sure it would be something...
Chris: ...I'd advise people to follow now. Basically I would use the Google keyword to all to see what different...See what search volume there was for certain keywords and also what was being bid. What the estimated bid was for those keywords. Then I would go in and just do research using the equivalent of an incognito in there to see what sites were ranking.
Then I would go look to see how many links those inbound back...How many backlinks those pages had that were ranking. Then if it looked like those sites that were ranking in the top three were weak, but there's a lot of volume for the search term, I would go after those.
Bjork: I'm just going to go back here. For those that aren't familiar can you hit on two topics here? Number one, what is Panda and why is that important? Then number two, backlinks. Can you talk a little about that and how that's important and if that applies to YouTube videos as well?
Chris: Here's what's interesting. This is pretty interesting. Panda was...I'm trying to think, was it 2013 maybe? It was a big update to Google's search algorithm and knocked out a lot of content farms and a lot of websites that had been using this technique to get a lot of traffic through gaming the search engine rankings to a certain extent.
With Panda in 2013, a lot of the search engine optimization techniques that had worked up to that point didn't work anymore. In fact a lot of sites got knocked totally out, companies went out of business. It was a really bad deal.
On YouTube, for me it's still...I hate to go out in public and say this but YouTube seems to me...Their algorithm seems to be very similar to the pre Panda Google algorithm, if that makes any sense. It seems like the search algorithm in YouTube is a few years behind Google at all times.
What I was doing to rank pre Panda still pretty much works in YouTube as of the time we were recording this. It could change at any time.
Backlinks are links that point into your site or to your page or to your video, so the more sites...Say the "Huffington Post" links to one of our videos, that's a backlink. The more of those that you have, the better your videos tend to rank in YouTube.
Bjork: We're going to go back to the beginning story. You wrapped up on some of the other projects you had. You had started these more traditional jobs. A lot more traditional than what you're doing now. That was January of 2010. Is that right? Is that when the first video for Hilah Cooking launched?
Bjork: Tell me about that first video. What was that like?
Hilah: What was it?
Chris: It was teaching essentials or something.
Hilah: Oh. Yeah.
Chris: Those first videos are really rough around the edges and...
Hilah: Real bad.
Chris: I was figuring out...Because we only had one camera. Traditionally you would shoot with two cameras to get a close up or you would make the food twice. You have one take that you do all your beauty shots and then you have one take that's all the talking and prepping but we were so...
Hilah: We couldn't afford that.
Chris: Yeah, we would only make each thing once so anytime when we wanted to get a close up we would stop the camera. I would walk in, get a close up then we would stop the camera. I would walk back and get our wide shot again and we would continue.
It was a really strange way but that was all that we had. That was all we could do at the time. Then also the computers were really slow so it took forever to edit. It's pretty rough around the edges, but I need to go back and watch.
Bjork: Yet nonetheless you continued to do it each time. Which I think is awesome, and I think it's so important for people to hear. Myself included because you get in the habit of thinking, "Oh I need this. I need the Canon 6D. It will auto focus and then it won't be out of focus. I need really good lighting so I'm going to save up until I can do that."
What you did is that you shipped and you pressed send, you pressed publish and it was out to the world and then you recorded another one. You continued to do that. Two years later, right? There's a lot of stuff in between there but two years later...Two and a half years later, you were doing this as your full time job.
I'm curious. What happens between that first scrappy video where you were like, hey here's this extra video camera in the junk drawer and you grab it and let's do a video to making the decision of this is going to be our full time job and being able to do that. What happens in between there? Those two years. What did that look like?
Hilah: The first six months, three months, I'd didn't even look at the YouTube channel. I still was imagining that YouTube was just this barren wasteland full of mean people and trolls.
Chris: She was actually very skeptical about the entire...
Hilah: Oh, yeah.
Chris: All of social media, Twitter...
Hilah: I think I literally laughed in your face.
Chris: She totally laughed in my face.
Chris: That was actually a very hard thing for me to get over, was the...How crappy I knew everything was coming up because I was used to shooting with real cameras and had too much...I was so perfectionistic that...I knew what I wanted it to look like and I couldn't get that.
I couldn't get it to look the way I wanted it to look. It was actually incredibly painful but I knew that if...I knew that we would never do anything if I was caught up in that perfectionistic mode. I personally made it a goal to improve just one thing every time we shot a new video even if it was super tiny. Gradually I got better.
The first six months we totally ignored YouTube. Our idea was just to not turn this into a business, but get our work out to TV producers or somebody that would see it. Then we could make a TV show some day.
Our goal wasn't to turn this into a business right away. We uploaded to everywhere we could. We weren't concentrating to YouTube. We didn't have ads turned on until...
Hilah: A year afterwards.
Chris: Easily a year, may have been two years before we even turned on YouTube ads.
Bjork: Was that an intentional decision?
Chris: We didn't think there was that much money to be made. I really wanted to build the audience.
Hilah: When we started you still had to apply to be a YouTube partner to even be able to turn on ads.
Chris: True. Yeah.
Hilah: Now anybody can turn on their ads as soon as they upload video.
Bjork: Would you recommend somebody that's just getting started to keep their ads off as they are in that beginning stage?
Chris: No I don't. This is another thing I can't prove, but videos with ads on them tend to get seen more. Based on my experience on my channels.
Bjork: Idea being that Google is also creating an income from that.
Chris: Right. I think they are less motivated to show videos without ads.
Bjork: One thing I want to go back to, and also do a virtual tip of the hat to you guys for doing this. You had mentioned the angst that you'd felt with showing this art to the world when you were like, "We're going to show this and we hope lots of people watch this!" Yet at the same time nobody watches it, right?
Hilah: Exactly. Yeah.
Bjork: It's this weird tension. There's a great Ira Glass quote. For those that are unfamiliar, Ira Glass is...I don't know if his title would be "producer." Do you guys know?
Chris: I think he's a producer.
Bjork: "This American Life," which is an incredible podcast and radio show. I'm not going read the entire thing here, this is a snippet of the quote.
He says, "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff," and I think this is what you guys were talking about.
"It's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste," and this is what you were saying Chris, "the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you."
He says, "A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this." And he goes on to talk about that a little bit more.
For you, as people that have strong taste that you have sharp skills for video or acting, how do you push through that phase?
Hilah: I push through it by ignoring any feedback. Not that I ignored it, I literally didn't read comments anywhere on the website, on YouTube. I let Chris upload it, and then hid my head.
Chris: I kind of hid my head too.
Bjork: It's the ostrich approach, right?
Chris: Yeah. We're going to put this out there, and I knew that we needed to cultivate the Facebook page. That was the first community. We started getting a lot of positive feedback there from our friends, at first.
Then it started to grow. Totally ignored YouTube. At some point, I think when we got approved by the partner program, and some of the other places we were uploading to, we could sense that they were on their way out.
Hilah: They don't exist now.
Bjork: Do you have examples of what those were, just out of curiosity?
Chris: Blip was a big one. That got bought by Maker Studios, which got bought by Disney.
Hilah: Now, I think you have to apply and get approved to upload to Blip.
Chris: Yeah. When we first got started, it seemed like they had the potential to be the YouTube competitor. The quality was high, their CPM was way higher. We pushed all our traffic to Blip. Things changed over there, so we got into the partner program at YouTube and started investigating things there.
I realized, "Oh, wow! These comments are actually pretty good! It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be." We actually had an audience there. If someone said something inappropriate, it was our audience was taking care of it.
Hilah: It was a self-policing group.
Chris: It was great. Around our second season I think...
Hilah: I started really jumping in and responding to people's comments. That's when it got a lot more fun for me, too.
Chris: That's when you really delved into it. It's YouTube first, and everything else is secondary.
Bjork: One of the things we recommend is talking about user controlled analytics, which sounds like a big cooperate-y term. In a sense it's what you're saying here.
For that first six months to a year, you were really focusing on the work itself versus the numbers or the comments or interactions. I think what that allows you to do is to control your metrics. Like you said Chris, "I'm going to make this one thing a little bit better. I'm going to improve on this a little bit."
Would you recommend people that are just getting started do a similar thing, where when they first getting started they maybe ignore comments? Or don't check their subscriber numbers? Lindsay does this with Instagram occasionally because it's the same thing for her.
If she pulls up an Instagram photo, sometimes she'll put her thumb over the "like" number. She doesn't see how many people like it, because it will kind of throw her off. Do you recommend people do that for YouTube as well?
Hilah: I would say definitely don't sweat the subscriber numbers and the view counts. When we first started we would get really, really excited if we got 100 views in 24 hours.
Chris: That was our initial goal to get 100 views in 24 hours.
Bjork: You'd go out and celebrate?
Hilah: We'd be high-fiving each other. It was awesome. Checking the comments is different. Check analytics and getting too involved in that can definitely be detrimental. But checking the comments, unless you end up with a bunch of trolls, which is unfortunate...
Chris: I think you're on to something really good. People get way too hung up on all the numbers. When it comes to YouTube that's a slightly different thing than engaging in the comments.
I feel like that's part of the deal with YouTube. It's as much a social network as it is a video uploading platform. Engaging in the comments is very important. It will glue people to your content a little more, but also make the quality of your comments way better.
If you keep an eye on your comments for the first 24 to 48 hours after an upload, in particular, we've seen that definitely will increase the number of view and increase the activity around the video. Google tends to rank those higher.
Bjork: Interesting. Stuff like that is so valuable, it's these little insights. We don't know for sure if that's true or not, but you guys develop a kind of sixth sense after doing this enough. My wife Lindsey, she's the author behind "Pinch of Yum." We're trying to figure this out with comments on her food blog.
If there's a post and a lot of people comment on that, or you have a video and you have a lot of comments. How do you go about responding to those? Do you go in and say, "I really like this one. I'm going to respond to it?" Or do you say, "I'm going to try to respond to every single one?"
What is your process for that?
Hilah: I try to respond to any questions that come up about the recipe for the first probably 24 to 48 hours. After that I really don't check comments at all. There's too many of them. I try to respond to regulars. People's whose usernames I've been seeing on there since the very beginning will almost always get, "Hey! How are doing? Thanks for checking in!" Or whatever.
Bjork: Those types of followers are so incredibly valuable. You'd said before there's the potential for people to kind of fight for you. It's not just random people showing up and think, "Hey. I want to be nice." It's those people you have really sought to develop a relationship.
Much like in elementary school in the playground if you have a close friend and somebody picks on you. That person is going to come over and help you out. It's important for people to understand that with YouTube.
It's a learning thing for me that it is a social network. People follow along in that way. With any type of social setting, you could have really positive or really negative interactions. It's interesting to hear how intentional you are about developing those positive relationships. That's really insightful.
Chris: We know people all over the world that we've met through YouTube. Fans and other who like the show...
Hilah: Other YouTube...
Chris: YouTubers. That's been...
Hilah: ...really fun.
Chris: It's a huge thing. That alone is enough reason for some people to start a YouTube channel. Forget all the money side of it. All of the relationships that come out of being involved in YouTube is amazing.
Bjork: One of the places I saw you guys had developed some relationship was YouTube headquarters. Is that right? Like a Google HQ? YouTube HQ? Was it called YouTube "Next Chef" or, I'd also heard you talk about YouTube "Creator Accelerator?" Is that where you connect with some of those people? Can you talk a little bit about what those were? How you got invited to those?
Hilah: The Next Chef, I think was 2011?
Chris: That was when first got a good camera.
Hilah: It was a thing you could apply to. I hadn't even heard of it. One of my longtime viewers sent me a message to YouTube and said, "You should apply to this. YouTube is doing a competition thing."
It was a two-page form. We maybe had to send in a little bio video. We got into that along with 20 total. We got some mentoring with some other larger food YouTube channels and some guy from "Top Chef."
Chris: And a box of equipment.
Hilah: And a box of equipment. Yeah
Chris: When we got into this we were stoked. It was crazy. Finally we got this box of equipment. In addition to finally having some good equipment, it was interesting to see this is what YouTube people think is a great kit for making food videos.
Bjork: Could you talk about what was in that?
Chris: It was a Cannon 60d.
Hilah: Which we still have.
Chris: We still have and still use it.
Bjork: Is that your primary camera?
Hilah: That's my still photo camera now.
Chris: The 60d was a big deal because I had no idea how to shoot video with a DSLR at that point. The video DSLR stuff had come up while we were making this. When we were first started it fine to just use a video camera.
Hilah: It was a soft box.
Chris: Lighting came with two soft boxes.
Hilah: A seamless white background for food photography.
Chris: A little road video, MikePro?
Hilah: Might have been it. It was a pretty basic piece.
Chris: There may have been one other piece, but I can't remember what it was. A good tripod finally. We finally had a good tripod. We had been using a photo tripod rather than a video tripod. We could move around.
Bjork: I'm interested to talk about some of the logistics of shooting and also the equipment stuff in a little bit. Hilah I wanted to ask you one more soft skill kind of question.
I know one of the things for people that are thinking about getting into YouTube that we hear, and I'm sure you hear, is the idea of, "Ah, camera. This red button pointing at me. So intimidating and scary!"
I know you have a background in acting. For a lot of people interested in creating food related content for YouTube are in whatever video format. That's a really scary thing. Even for actors I know it is to get in front of people and to do your thing.
Hilah: It is.
Bjork: I'm not saying you don't face that fear. My question would be, how do people, whether actors or not, that want to get into creating videos, how do they start and continue to be able to press record, knowing that it's a scary thing?
Hilah: One thing that we did at the very beginning that I thought was helpful for me, and probably for Chris too, but more for me I think, was we shot a couple of practice videos that we knew were never going to be aired. It gave me a chance to experiment.
I feel like acting in front of a camera is vastly different from "being yourself" in front of a camera. In the first few months I was really uncomfortable being myself, and I think I was trying to find a character to play, and that's why those first videos to me are just so cringingly awkward.
Bjork: Especially if people are watching them with the assumption that you are yourself.
Hilah: Right. They're like, "Wow, that girl is an idiot." I think that really helped me get used to it, and I think I would suggest that to anyone starting. Also, I don't actually do this, but at this point I'm comfortable enough telling people what I'm doing in the kitchen that I don't need to.
But I think if you were just starting out, I wish that when I had started out, I had taken some time to maybe just rehearse what I'm going to say and how I'm going to explain why I'm doing what I'm doing with the ingredients.
Something I was talking to Chris about the other day is that when we've done video interviews with people, the people that are best on camera, even if they have no experience being on camera, are the people who teach classes.
They've got their spiel. They're rehearsed. They know exactly how to explain how this cheese is made, or whatever they're talking about. They come off really confident and likable and it's great.
Bjork: Because they have that framework, or the outline, that allows them to fill in the gaps, maybe. They don't know exactly what they're going to say, but they can be personable and relatable, because they know where they're going in a sense. Is that what you're saying?
Bjork: What would that look like, to rehearse that for somebody?
Hilah: What I used to do sometimes is just talk to myself in the kitchen. While I was cooking dinner, I would just talk to myself and talk myself through what I was doing. "Now I'm going to dice up this celery. You want to cut it down the center of the stalk and then," whatever.
That probably made a lot of our early videos way too long, [laughs] because I was just talking so much. I think that would be a good place to start. Or even have somebody, your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your friend or whatever, stand in the kitchen with you and watch you while you're cooking, and you could explain to them as you go what you're doing.
Bjork: Just for practice, to have somebody there. The other thing, when we've done similar type work that we've found is important is to try and do that without stopping. In order to have that road map, you have to get all the way to the end. Then you can go back and you know where you start and where you end.
So often those are the really important things, is the start and the end. If you know the general area where you're going in the middle, I think that helps a lot. Really insightful. I think like you said, the practice thing is such a big deal. I think that's so cool. I think that will be really valuable for people.
We've talked a little bit about your story, where things have been for you guys, and we're kind of going to get into where they are now. I want to know about that switch time. We talked about two years, two and a half years, and eventually this business turned into your full-time job, for both of you. Is that correct?
Bjork: When did that happen and how did you know when to flip that switch from the regular job to Hilah Cooking business?
Chris: Hilah went full-time...
Hilah: Sometime in 2012. Middle.
Chris: Winter fall of 2012.
Hilah: We had started dating at that point. We were almost married.
Chris: It was getting really stressful because we had ramped up our production. We were doing a lot more work. It was to the point where we were going to need to hire somebody to edit so that we could still do all this stuff. It just made more sense for Hilah to quit her day job and do more editing at home during the day.
Then, that really ramped things up. That is also during the time of the "YouTube Next Chef," and all of that. Our channel started to really grow as we're implementing more of these more high-level strategies and treating everything more like a business.
Then we started making more contacts in California with different companies and we lined up...California and New York. The potential was always there for us to produce shows for other people. That was something that we always wanted to do. We ended up lining up two of them that were scheduled all at the same thing.
One was a cooking with kids show for Scripps Networks' Ulive channel. The other was a "Hilah's Texas Kitchen" show. That was a travel show around Texas where we would go to a different place in Texas each episode and talk about food from that area.
Then it was like, "Man, I have to go full-time too," because we had to travel all around Texas and produce that show and produce a show called "Cooking With Kids." Plus our main channel was really blowing up.
Hilah: Plus you had just started "Yoga with Adrian" around that time.
Chris: I had started another channel called Yoga with Adrian around that same time, and there was just no time to go to work anymore.
Bjork: At that point, from the business, were you earning enough to replace your full-time job, or did you say, "Hey. We're going to take the leap here," seeing where things are projected, in terms of the growth?
Chris: We weren't making enough on a regular basis to replace our salary but we did...
Hilah: We got lump sums for the two shows that we produced for other people, so that was enough of a cushion for us to just be like, "OK, let's do it."
Chris: They gave us a runway, but at that time we would've eventually not been making the same amount. A few months later, after doing it full-time, I think we had replaced our salaries.
Bjork: That was about three years after you had started the channel? Is that right?
Bjork: Great. At that point, and maybe you can talk about a little bit now too, but at that point, what were you doing in order to create an income from the channel? Was it all ads on the videos? We've talked about some production work, so people would hire you for not necessarily freelance, but they would hire you to do a job.
Were there other things that you were doing? Did you have a blog, social media things like that to also help replace that income from the full-time job?
Hilah: We have a few cookbooks that I've written and we've self-published. We've got a website that brings in a little bit of ad revenue.
Chris: It's essentially the YouTube ad revenue, our own products, which like she mentioned are one print book and then several eBook's, a little bit of revenue from the website and production jobs.
Hilah: I've started getting just talent jobs recently too, where we don't produce it. Which is a lot easier, obviously. [laughs]
Bjork: You are yourself and you show up and you do your thing, and then it's like, "We don't have to edit it? What a luxury."
Chris: Recently, brand integrations have become a bigger part of things.
Bjork: Can you talk about what that means?
Chris: That just means when there's a brand that wants to not necessarily do a media buy, but they want their brand to be featured or their product to be featured.
Hilah: It's a product placement.
Chris: Yeah. A lot of times we will say, "This episode is sponsored by Budweiser."
Hilah: According to FCC guidelines, you have to make it very clear that it is a sponsored video.
Chris: We're making it much more clear now.
Bjork: How do you connect with those brands?
Hilah: A lot of them contact us. We got a couple of them through the MCN that we're a part of.
Chris: Which is a YouTube network, multi-channel network.
Hilah: A lot of them contact us directly now with their ad agency.
Chris: We're totally independent now.
Bjork: You said multi-channel network. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and what that means?
Chris: A multi-channel network is a company that essentially aggregates a bunch of YouTube channels to make a network. Instead of having a few hundreds of thousands of views, they have million of views, so they can better sell advertising against that network. They are a middleman between the channels and brands.
Bjork: The advantage with having a multi-channel network is then they have bigger numbers that they can bring to a brand, and they can say, "We can get you this much exposure," as opposed to maybe just a smaller channel.
Or even a bigger channel coming to a brand as an individual and saying, "We have this many subscribers." There's power in numbers for the multi-channel network?
Chris: Sure. Different networks have different strengths and weaknesses. Some networks are more positioned almost like a talent agency that also works to get you placement in order media. Some of them do direct media buys, which is great. Basically they'll sell ads across their entire network, as far as the pre-rolls and the other AdSense placements.
Those ads tend to have a much higher CPM. In a way, it's like with the ad revenue on a site where you have it cascading down to eventually get to the cheapest line. They're doing a much more valuable CPM at the beginning, and then it defaults back to regular AdSense.
Bjork: They're managing the ads in a way that are most profitable, essentially.
Bjork: Interesting. I want to talk a little bit about the nitty gritty of what it looks like to shoot a recipe video. Let's say that I have my own cooking channel, which I probably never will, because I'm a terrible chef.
Let's say I'm just getting started and I don't have anything, and I really don't have that much of a budget. What am I going to need in order to start from pressing record, to publishing to YouTube?
Chris: It's going to be great if you have a partner to work with. It's not absolutely required. If you don't have a partner, you're going to need a tripod and a camera. It can be a phone. It can be a point-and-shoot to start with.
I would suggest if you're working by yourself, that you make the recipe multiple times. At least twice, so that you can concentrate on getting all of the close-ups and the food beauty shots as good as you can get them.
Then I would record you talking directly into the camera to explain what you're going to do and explain the steps of the recipe that you're putting together. Edit that together...
Bjork: What would you suggest for an editing tool if I'm just getting started?
Chris: ScreenFlow works. ScreenFlow is the most basic thing that I would recommend. I know quite a few people that do pretty impressive videos with ScreenFlow. If you're on a Mac, my favorite is Final Cut Pro 10, which has been slightly controversial, but has become awesome.
It's saved us...I can't even tell. When we first switched to it, it probably cut six hours of work time out of our week. I'm already loyal to this thing, because it goes so much faster. There's a tiny learning curve, but once you're past that learning curve, it's super easy.
Bjork: Do you know how much those two software packages are?
Chris: I think ScreenFlow is around $99, but they have sales a lot. I think the default price is $99. Final Cut is $299. So far they haven't released a paid update to it. They just are consistently improving it and it never costs any more money, so it's been great.
On the Windows side of things, if you already have a food blog, chances are you probably are using Photoshop or Lightroom. I would probably go ahead and update your Creative Cloud subscription so that you can have Premier and use Premier. That's really heavy duty pro stuff. I don't know what the entry level video editor is on Windows right now.
Bjork: I think that with the Adobe package, one of the things that's really nice is they have per month basis. It used to be like, "$3,000 and you can have the Adobe Suite." They've recently within the last few years switched over so it's a monthly one.
For those that are listening that are interested, if nothing else, you could sign up and just check it out for a certain amount of time without a huge cost. We use ScreenFlow for actually...the original purpose is recording your screen, which we use all the time for Food Blogger Pro.
It's also a really great editor. It's super slick and easy to use. That's another great one. We use Final Cut as well, and really like it. Like you said, really quick, all things considered.
Chris: It's amazing how much you can do with ScreenFlow, though, and people don't realize that. It's almost an essential piece of software now. You could totally get started with that.
Bjork: Hilah, I heard Chris saying earlier that you also do some editing. When you would edit, would you use Final Cut? Is that your preference?
Hilah: Oh, yeah. Final Cut 10. I started editing on Final Cut 7 many years ago when we were doing the sketch comedy videos.
Chris: We used to hang out and edit together. [laughs]
Hilah: Drink whiskey. Smoke cigarettes on the porch.
Hilah: It was really easy to pick up Final Cut 10. I think Final Cut 10 is even easier to learn than Final Cut 7 was.
Bjork: I'm a huge fan of it and really like it. That was somebody that's just getting started. They're just getting their first few videos shot. Maybe they're using their iPhone. A tripod, obviously you need one of those. But really low budget, trying to get by with as little cost as possible.
Let's say you upgrade and you have a budget to purchase some things. What would you guys recommend, and maybe the best way to talk about that is, what are you using now for equipment?
Chris: I would say an intermediate step between shooting with your iPhone and shooting with what we have now would be a Canon T5i, the Rebel series. Actually even starting with a T3i, which I think is the first one with a flip-out screen. The image is quality is great on those, and they're fun to use for video. It's a DSLR, but it's a great entry-level DSLR.
Now we use a Canon C100. That is like one of their cinema cameras. The image quality is great, but the ergonomics of it...it really is like a combination of a DSLR and a video camera, because it has XLR audio inputs and it has great menus and all that stuff.
For me, I was shooting so much that it was really a lifesaver, and I really like the image quality on it. I'm still using the original one, but they have a C100 Mark II.
Hilah: Lav mics.
Bjork: Can you talk a little bit about why that's important and what you guys use?
Chris: We started with a $22 Audio-Technica wired lavalier mic.
Bjork: I know the one you're talking about.
Chris: It plugged right into the camera. I think lav mics are really good for YouTube, because it makes the voice really up close and intimate. There's a different quality that comes from the placement of the microphone, and I think it fosters that sense of relationship and intimacy that we want with YouTube videos. Now we use the Audio-Technica Evolution G3 system.
Hilah: It's wireless.
Bjork: It sounds like it's from the future by its name.
Chris: There's actually a new one that Rode has put out that's cheaper that I've heard is really good, but I haven't used it.
Bjork: We'll be sure to put all those in the show notes. One other thing. When you say "lav," what do you mean by that, for those that aren't familiar?
Chris: It's a lavalier.
Hilah: It clips onto your shirt. It's about six inches below your mouth. It's really tiny.
Chris: Easy to hide if you want to hide it. We made the decision that we were just going to let it show.
Bjork: One of the things I hear people talk about is, and I think this is true, that people will watch a video if it has poor video but good audio, but it's really rare for people to watch a video if it's really terrible audio that they can't hear, even if it's super crisp video. That mic thing I think is really important for getting started.
That's awesome. We'll be sure and include those in the show notes so people can grab a quick link on those. I have a few more questions for you guys. One of the things that I think is really important is process.
I think one of the things that keeps people from shooting videos is knowing how much time is involved. I'm curious what you have done as a team to create a system for shooting videos. Not necessarily at the cost of quality, but how do you quickly create a quality video?
Hilah: Before we had a baby, we had a... [laughs]
Chris: We mixed everything up now. We had a baby and got a little bit burned out on the channel, so we decided to make it exciting again by completely breaking our format. [laughs] Which means it takes a lot longer. I would definitely recommend spending some time finding first of all a good format for your show.
You know each one of your shows is going...it can be whatever. Your audience likes this consistency, as well. Our traditional format has been an intro that ends with a joke. Maybe it's ideally a 10 second intro that ends with a joke, and then the title comes on. That's the stinger to the punch line.
We also always show the finished product within the first five seconds, so people know what they're getting into. We'll have a little intro where we show the finished product, punch into the title card, and then we'll make the episode.
In the past, we've shot that with two cameras, sometimes even three, and then edited that down.
Hilah: Three cameras is too much for editing. You don't really need it, and it just makes your editing take way longer.
Bjork: You just use two now.
Chris: Now we just use one.
Hilah: I was going to say, before we had a baby, we used two. We would have one on a tripod, still shot basically over wide, and then Chris would have a secondary camera and he'd be following my actions. We still would really only make every recipe once, unless there was a major problem. But then after having a baby, there's just so much more chaos in the house, like we may get interrupted at any moment.
We've started making everything twice with one camera. We'll make it once and get close-ups on all the beauty shots, just a really good looking food video, and then we'll do it again in a wide shot and then cut those two together. The editing process on that is actually really fast.
Hilah: Because you basically just cut together the wide, keep all the audio you want, and then just put these little video stickers on top of pretty food stuff.
Chris: Whereas before, we were editing like it was a multi camera TV show, where you would switch from camera to camera. In a way, that's the thinking behind the scenes. Now it's really different. It's really much looser, and that's made it quite a bit more fun for us. We still have a basic format.
Hilah: I guess what I'm saying is, if you're asking about minimizing your time or whatever, you could minimize it on the front end by using two cameras, or you could minimize it on the back end. We haven't really found a way to minimize both the front end and the back end.
Chris: One was is going to be faster than the other and if you switch to the other one then it's going to be faster than the other for the reason that you're slowing down on the front end then.
Hilah: I guess if you have more time for editing then you could do it that way. If you have all the time in the world to shoot stuff and limited time to edit then do it a different way.
Chris: It's true there is a balance somewhere, we haven't quite found that yet. We're starting some new types of shows and when we have to come up with a new format, it definitely takes a lot longer. But as far as our work flow, we'll shoot...I'll shoot, Hilah's on camera and then when we're finished shooting I'll back up all the footage and get the project set up and Final Cut 10. Hilah will do the rough cut, and then ideally limiting it to an hour.
Hilah: That's my goal is to spend an hour on each rough cut.
Chris: Then I jump on and do some color correction, and put in transitions. My goal is also to spend an hour on that. I'm not-sometimes I get a little carried away. But it's totally conceivable to turn the plus production around in three hours for one of our episodes.
Bjork: Do you schedule all your episodes ahead of time, or do you publish them kind of in real time?
Chris: We love the idea of having a lot of episodes scheduled at a time.
Hilah: We've done it before.
Chris: It was awesome.
Hilah: Right now it's just it's like we're--Yeah, with the baby and everything, we're just like," Oh my God."
Chris: On our computer at home is the one that will go up this Friday.
Bjork: Yep, real time. Yeah, we get that for sure, so.
A couple of more specific YouTube questions, just because I'm so fascinated by the knowledge that you guys have with this. You go into post production, you edit it down, and you publish it. Then when you're thinking about that next video, how do you decide what comes next? Is that based on user feedback or is that based on "Hey, we want to create this."
Hilah: It works best if it's an idea that either Chris or I has. Like, "Oh my God, you know what we should make?" That kind of thing.
Bjork: Yeah, fill in the blank. Whatever it is, yeah.
Chris: We have done entire, I mean we've done a lot based on user feedback. We've done stretches of the show- because we've done almost 400 videos now-but we've done stretches of the show where it was pretty much the episodes were conceived based on audience feedback, or what we thought the audience would respond to.
I'm not sure that's as effective as when we're like, "Oh, let's make this because it'll be fun." Because I think that because of the type of show, and because of the type of relationship Hilah has with the audience, people can tell when she's really into it or when she's...
Hilah: Kind of honing it in...
Bjork: Yeah, that makes sense, yeah.
Chris: As far as thinking about the next episode, we have kind of an idea of where we want this season of the show to go. I mean season pretty loosely. The show is impacted by what's going on with our lives and what we are feeling creatively. We kind of have a big picture idea of the things that we're working on but sometimes you just have to get an episode out because you've got to hit that weekly...
Bjork: Can you talk about the pivot that you made and why you made that with the show's content and your decision to continue with the show but with a different format?
Chris: For this particular channel we're not going to spend too much time on what I would call YouTube tactics. We got kind of obsessed with the keywords and the SEO and doing everything...
Hilah: Metadata, tagging...
Chris: It kind of felt like we had gotten rid of our day jobs for going to work for YouTube.
Hilah: It felt like we were cogs in the YouTube machine instead of doing something that we were both really excited about.
Chris: What we're much more excited about doing...I think the channel is great for all the stuff Hilah wants to do creatively as onscreen talent and as creative talent doing some of the other things that we have coming up.
For me, I want to experiment with some different things and different styles. I guess we aren't really concerned with the revenue stream that comes directly through YouTube. We just really want to build the relationship with our audience. That's our time to talk to them. We just want to do more creative fun stuff and they seem to be responding really well to that.
Bjork: That's awesome. One of the things that I think is so important to remember is that everything that we do online, or if it's a brick and mortar store it's a little bit more obvious in real life, but everything we do is relational.
There are numbers, in terms of views. Those are people. They may be sitting at their office or sitting at home or watching on their iPhone. They need to be able to feel like they can connect with you and trust you.
Even if you can have a video show up really high in YouTube, it might not mean that you're establishing those connections and that trust. I think that's kind of the ultimate bottom line. That's really cool that you guys are thinking like that.
I think that's an important shift and hard to do once you get into the numbers and the metadata. In a lot of ways figure it out. It's hard to shift back to the more abstract relational stuff. That's really cool.
Chris: I think it kind of ties back to what you were saying about you think could start and ignore all the numbers. Man, I think that would be great. Because I do think that you can find success just by focusing on making something that you think is really great and that you're really excited about and sharing it with people. I think that's a long term view of what you're doing, a lot of people are ready to take and rather see if any [inaudible 59:00] numbers to go up every week or every month, and I feel that's good, and good to a certain extend but may distract you from really doing what you need to do.
Bjork: We're coming to the end here. The last question that I want to ask to each of you individually, so there's somebody that's listening to this and they're thinking about doing something creative, maybe its food related, maybe it's not, on video. What is the one piece of encouragement or one piece of advice that you would give that person? Hilah, I'll start with you. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Hilah: Oh, gosh, OK, encouragement, you can...?
Bjork: In three words or less.
Hilah: You can do.
Bjork: OK, great. [laughs] Now, you can do it, just you can do it. Yeah, just thoughts if that's your encouragement either...
Hilah: I guess just like what you said before, like, don't be too hard on yourself if your first several attempts are not what you envisioned. Maybe get some feedback from a close friend before you upload your video, and have them watch it. While they're watching it, watch their face.
Hilah: The minute they start to look bored, then you'll know you need to do something with that at there.
Bjork: It's great. Great. Chris, anything that you would give us for feedback or not feedback but advice or encouragement to somebody that's looking to just get started with creating some type of video content online?
Chris: This, the ease and the excess to equipment and the access to like, the ability to get your work to an audience like this has never existed before, so it's like a super exciting time. If you are on the fence just go for it and start making things and have fun with it and figure out, you know, how you're going to monetize it later.
That comes secondary because this really is like, a historic time for the access to cameras that we have, the excess to editing software that we have, the excess to YouTube, and you have started having before, so, yeah, jump in there and like, see if you like.
Bjork: It's awesome.
Hilah: Get your feet wet.
Bjork: Yeah, for sure. I heard and I don't know how true this is or I can't cite my source but, that 20 years ago a camera that we could buy, today, $4000 it would have been 50,000. I think that even if it's not exactly true, it's encouraging to know that we have excess to some really cool tools. I'm going to wrap up here, I could talk with you guys seriously for hours and hours, and hours.
Chris: Yeah, so it's so great talking to you.
Hilah: Yeah, it's fine.
Bjork: It's so interesting, but one thing I want to do before we wrap is, make sure that people know where they can find you and I want a point to point out Hilah Cooking obviously, and probably the best place to start with that would be a Google search because you have, you know, blog and Twitter and Instagram, and YouTube obviously.
But, then Chris, you also wrote a book called the "YouTube Black Book" and I was reading through that a little bit before the interview. When I was reading it, I thought, "This is so fun to read" and so not only helpful but it's also entertaining, and it's because you're a script writer. I was like, oh, that make sense. But, can you talk a little bit about that book and what people would find in that book if they search for that on Amazon?
Chris: Yeah, it's just a book that really goes into even more detail than this about our whole story and journey doing this and also the story online. The second channel launched was Yoga With Adrian which is...I wanted to see if I could kind of replicate the thing worked that it works so on Hilah Cooking but do it in entirely different niche, I guess.
Adrian was another actor from the Spider Babies, so I called her up and so it goes into the story of that channel as well, and it's got a lot of...There's a good strategy in there, let's continue to work, we use this strategy in that book for a big promotion what we did, and earlier this year, we got over a 100,000 subscribers in one month or less than a month.
It's still working, it's like, I tested it out this year I'm about to come on to the second edition, it has some new tweaks and [inaudible 01:02:58] few updates [inaudible 01:02:59] for free, I don't want to tell you about the blog. Just really the story of doing this crazy YouTube stuff and how you can do it too.
Bjork: That's awesome. I was reading through it and it was really fun and entertaining, so I'd encourage everybody to check that out. We'll include that in the show notes as well. But, I'm going to wrap up right now, really thank you guys both so much, Chris and Hilah, for coming on Super Valuable and I think that people would get a lot of it.
Hilah: Thank you, it was lot of fun.
Bjork: Thanks guys.
I just want to take a moment to say one more time, big thank you to Hilah and Chris for coming on the podcast today, some really awesome insights in the starting and growing the YouTube channel and I know that Lindsey and I will definitely apply some of those, both to the Food Blogger Pro, YouTube channel and Pinch of Yum as well.
Thanks guys for coming on. Two things before we wrap up for the day, first, we would like to thank our show sponsor, Food Blogger Pro. Hey, that's us. That's the nice thing about this podcast, we are actually just sponsoring ourselves. The reason that we're able to do this podcast is because we have this other branch and that is the Food Blogger Pro Community.
It's right around a 1,000 people there that are publishing food related content online. We have a place where everybody can get together and not only learn from video tutorials, we have over 300 video tutorials that cover everything from WordPress to SEO to food photography with artificial lighting.
Also these members can connect. We have a community forum, and we're starting to build in some other things like a deals and discounts page for different software tools, and we have exclusive discounts as well as different tools that food bloggers can use.
If you're interested in signing up we'd actually like you to use an affiliate link that we set up for Hilah Cooking as a way to say thank you to them for coming on the show. You can use foodbloggerpro.com/hilah, that's spelled H-I-L-A-H, and that will give them credit. Our interviewees volunteer to come on this show and share their knowledge. We love being able to provide that link as a way to say thanks to them for coming on the show.
Second, if you have a minute, we'd really appreciate it if you hop into iTunes and leave a review for the podcast. Chris talked in this interview about YouTube ranking factors and the reviews and the ratings in iTunes are ranking factors.
What does all that mean? Well it helps us show up higher in search results if people search for certain terms. The reviews and the rankings really are heavily weighted in there, so we'd appreciate that.
That would really mean a lot and then lastly just want to say thanks. We really appreciate you checking out the podcast. It means a lot to us and I hope you found it helpful.
We'll be back next week. Same time, same place. Talk to you soon.
Sign up for the Blogging Tips newsletter and get (1) a free eBook, (2) free weekly blogging tips, and (3) updates on new FBP blog posts.Get Started for Free