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Welcome to episode 92 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week, Bjork talks with Chelsea Lords from Chelsea’s Messy Apron about making $40,000 in her first year of blogging.
Last week, Bjork interviewed Joost de Valk from Yoast SEO about optimizing your website and your recipes for SEO. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Most bloggers start out with the long-term plan in mind: they probably won’t make much money in the first year or two, but it’ll pay off in the end. And while this path works for a lot of people (Bjork and Lindsay included!), other bloggers decide to do it a bit differently.
Chelsea Lords from Chelsea’s Messy Apron hit the ground running with her blog and ended up making $40,000 in just the first year. Today, she talks about the first steps she took on her path to success, how today is different than that first year, and what she would have done differently looking back.
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Bjork Ostrom: This episode we are talking to Chelsea from Chelsea’s Messy Apron about the things that she did to earn $40,000 in her first year of blogging.
Hey everybody. It is Bjork and I am excited to bring you an interview today with Chelsea Lords from Chelsea’s Messing Apron. And she’s talking about some of the things that she did to be really intentional about building her blog into a business in the very first year that she did it.
She’s going to be talking about the things that worked, things that didn’t work so well. She’s going to be talking about the different areas that she focused on and what they looked like as she grew the blog from the very first month until 12 months in and what that journey looked like.
It’s a great interview for anybody that’s in the early stages or getting started with their blog and really building that up and trying to be intent about building it into a business. So I think you’ll get a lot out of it. There’s a lot of helpful tips, tricks, and actionable items that you can apply to your blog and business.
Let’s go ahead and jump in. Chelsea, welcome to the podcast.
Chelse Lords: Hey, Bjork.
Bjork Ostrom: Hi. How are you?
Chelse Lords: Good. How are you doing?
Bjork Ostrom: Good. Hey, super pumped to talk to you today. We have been connected over a couple of years. We traded some emails back and forth. You’ve come to a Pinch of Yum workshop before. But never have we’ve been able to connect. So I’m really excited to talk to you today. Thanks for coming on the podcast.
Chelse Lords: Well, thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, I want to talk a little bit about your blog, believe it or not. That’s kind of what we do on this podcast. And one of the things I always love to start with is to hear how people started. And your story is a little bit different than some of the people that we’ve interviewed on this podcast because for some people they get started as a hobby and they kind of enjoy doing it and then realize, “Oh I’m getting some traffic and sponsors are reaching out. Maybe I can create something from this.”
But your story is a little bit different. When you started your blog, in some ways you knew you wanted to build it into a business and create income from it, is that right?
Chelse Lords: Right. Totally. From the start I wanted to make sure if I’m investing all this time while I kind of wanted to be something fun for me. I wanted to make sure my time would pay off in some kind of income.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, one of the things I thought was so interesting is I was reading through … You had created an ebook and in the ebook … The ebook is called “How I Made $40,000 My First Year of Blogging”. And I think that’s a great title and such a great number because for so many people that’s a salary, right? That’s what it looks like to have a normal job somewhere else and so you did that your first year of blogging. So I’d love to talk about that in a little bit. But one of the things you said in this ebook is that you created a business plan. And I thought that was such a cool thing. And something we’d never done before but probably should but I would love to hear what that was like and your reason for creating a business plan.
Chelse Lords: Right. So my husband is actually in, or he used to be in business consulting. And everything they do kind of starts with this overview of plans. What they want to do for a company? How they want to increase profits? Or whatever the problem is. And so he said, “If you think you need to invest money in a blog and your time, you should write a business plan.” And he gave me some things to think about. And so I started writing it up, what I thought my blog would be about, my mission statement, my theme, what I wanted my blog to look like, what I wanted to post on it, and even to what I wanted the expenses to be, how I thought I could make an income from it, and how long I thought that might take.
So I went in depth as possible to try and impress him and tell him like, I can do this. I can make this work.
Bjork Ostrom: When you created that, when you look back at that now, was some of those … Like you had said estimates … I created those estimates in terms of what the total costs would be going into it, potentially. What it would look like to create an income from it. Were those accurate when you look back at that now?
Chelse Lords: They are not accurate at all.
Bjork Ostrom: And what was accurate and what was? I’m curious to hear a little bit more about the specifics.
Chelse Lords: Yeah. So I thought it would cost me more to get started than it did. I kind of went way over thinking for a blog domain and a designer and just props to get started. I way over estimated that. And way underestimated what I’d actually make. So my goal, my ultimate goal and what I wrote in my plan was to be able to make $1,000 in one month by the end of the year. So -
Bjork Ostrom: And … go ahead.
Chelse Lords: So by the end of my 12th month of blogging I’d made over $7,000. So it was a huge difference from what I thought I can make.
Bjork Ostrom: And you include some graphs and they were really helpful in that ebook where you outline exactly where that was coming from. So you talk about advertising, you talk about freelance work, sponsor post, free products. The amount that you would get from the product exchange.
When you look back at what you had projected and what had actually happened in terms of the growth, where do you feel like was the thing that you underestimated what could be possible. Was it advertising? Was it doing some of the freelancing or sponsored post? I’m curious to know where you feel like you … Or was it traffic? What was it when you look back on it?
Chelse Lords: So it was actually freelance and sponsored posts. I didn’t even know what a sponsored post was. I’d seen them kind of pop up a little. I think they are a lot more common now but when I started about four years ago they weren’t super common. So I didn’t even know. I didn’t even think I’d ever get a sponsored post back when I started. I didn’t really know what they were.
So mainly my estimate was on the ads and I guess I maybe thought a little freelance. Maybe I could do some articles but I didn’t know too much about the freelance part back then.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah and that makes sense especially if it’s a category we’re not even familiar with what it is. You wouldn’t be able to build that into the business plan but then learning about sponsored posts and saying, oh actually there’s a decent amount that I could get from this if I can get connected with some brands or PR agencies or things like that.
Chelse Lords: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: At what point did you have your first sponsored post and how did that come about?
Chelse Lords: Oh gosh. I’m trying to remember. I think it was about six months after I had started blogging. And someone actually reached out to me just with an email. And offered me a free product in exchange for a post. And I remember thinking, oh this is pretty cool but I don’t think … I think they’re willing to pay. I’ve been reading. Researching enough and I was like, I’m going to go back and ask for money for this post in addition to this product that they were going to send me. And I was so nervous and I did it. And they came back and they’re like, okay great. We can pay you that. And that to me was just huge. That kind of changed everything. I’m like, oh my gosh. That was a lot of money for me. I kind of laugh at the rate now but it was a lot when I was starting and wasn’t making a ton. And so I was so excited. I think I re-shot the post 3 times. I was so nervous for it.
But that kind of changed everything. I recognize companies are willing to pay. They know that I have an influence that they are willing to pay for. And that’s when I really started researching more and trying to learn more about sponsored posts and what I could charge.
Bjork Ostrom: How did you formulate that at first and what did that look like? Because that’s how a huge questions that we get from people a lot of times is when you’re working with a brand or when you’re working with PR agencies, how do you formulate exactly what you would ask for a sponsored post? What did that look like then? And then how have you changed that as your blogs grown?
Chelse Lords: Oh that’s a great question. So then I was still pretty naïve. I remember just trying to research it. And that’s been pretty much the story of my blog. I spend a lot of time researching and learning what works for other people and adapting that for what works for me.
So I did run across an article. I’m trying to remember who’s site it was on but she breaks it down what you should be able to charge for a sponsored post based on your page views. It was just like a formula I found. So I did that. Back then I think I was getting like 200,000 page views. And so I did that based off … I think it was $100 per 100,000 or something like that.
So I charge $200 for that first sponsored post.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And it looks like it was a wooden spoons kitchen. So -
Chelse Lords: That’s right. That’s right.
Bjork Ostrom: Melissa from Martha and Aaron at Natural. And the equation that we had was … and we can include this in the show notes for this. The actual post isn’t there any more. But it was time spent times hourly rate plus, and this is hard to explain a math equation over a podcast but I’ll do my best. So time spent times hourly rate plus page use divided by 1,000 times advertising rate. So we can put that in the … You can see what that looks like in the show notes if you go to foodbloggerpro.com/blog. There’ll be the show notes for this. For those that are listening. But its nice to have some type of equation at least to start with. And so you can come back to people and feel relatively confident saying, well I would love to do this but here’s the reality. There’s time that’s involved with it. And I have influence as well. And all of those things add up to value for the brand. So feeling confident saying that. And then giving them what your price would be.
So how has that changed over time for you as you continue to to build your blog. Do you still use kind of an equation like that or do you have … And you don’t have to share numbers specifically, but do you have a set price and you say, hey I know supply and demand. I only want to do one sponsored post a week so I can ask this much. How do you formulate that now?
Chelse Lords: Yeah. And you explain that equation better so thank you. It’s really changed over the years and I have continually changed and really studied and thought about what I want to put on my blog and what I want to charge with that. So I’d say lately its been a supply and demand. I don’t want every post to be sponsored. I have two kids. I want to write what I love. And not that I don’t love doing the sponsored post. But if feels like more of a job than writing a article just that I want to write.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup.
Chelse Lords: And so I’ve really done … I really jacked up my prices and not to anything I don’t think is fair but to the point that only so many companies will align with that rate. So I’m not posting a ton of sponsored posts.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. And we’ve heard from some other people that we’ve been interviewed on the podcast that take that same approach where they say, we don’t want to be doing a ton of this so we’re going to be really intentional to say either a brand really, really aligns with what I’m doing and then they’ll be more flexible with that, or I can have this high price point where it helps to filter out so I’m not having to do that as much because like you said it is a lot of work and a lot goes into it.
One of the things you said that I’m curious that have you talk about is you said you’ve been really intentional think about what you do want to put on your blog and been intentional about maybe … well just the content that goes on to it. So does that tie back to the business plan. Like when you first created that business plan, one of the things you said was, you know you’re intentional to think about what the blog was going to be in. What the theme was going to be with it? Has that stayed true from when you first started or has that evolved?
Chelse Lords: It’s definitely evolved. I think when I started my blog I wanted it to be a little more health food oriented. I even though adding a fitness section. I had just graduated from a exercise science or gotten my degree in exercise science. So I was really excited about nutrition and fitness. And I still am. Like I love it but my blog’s definitely evolved and I definitely tried to make my recipes more family friendly. Like I have kids that just won’t eat some of the things that I enjoy. And not that I don’t give them the opportunity to but I’ve tried to become and re-themed my blog to be more family focused. You know, easy 30 minute meals and still keep it having a healthy aspect. But its not as health and fitness oriented as I first set out my business plan to be.
It’s definitely evolved. I share plenty of desserts and not so healthy meals but I do still have a lot of healthy content on there. But I am very, like you said, very intentional about the content. I spend a lot of time thinking what recipes that I want to share and how I think they’ll do well with my audience or why I want to share it. I spend so much time brainstorming what I want to share.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk a little bit about what that looks like? I know that’s one of the things you had said in your book was just how important research is. What does that look like for you?
Chelse Lords: So for me I like my content to be a bit original. So while I have recipes that are similar to other sites, I always like to add a twist. So for example, I recently posted a entire Easter dinner on my blog. And it’s nothing revolutional. It has ham and I gotten potatoes and some side dishes. But I kind of put a twist making it all on sheet pans and you can bake two sheet pans of dinner at the same time. Have it ready in under an hour. It was kind of an idea for college kids or smaller families. And so to me it wasn’t nothing … it wasn’t anything revolutional but it was unique. And I really tried to have all my recipes have a little bit of a twist. But still common ingredients, things that people are familiar with, things that people like. Some very intentional trying to find things that I think people will like and things that I like and my family likes. And then really thinking, how can I change this? How can I make it worth people’s time to read this recipe or spend time on my site?
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. And is that research process that you’re doing, is that you literally just thinking through things, or do you have any type of formulised process where you’re writing stuff down and then, lets say, crossing out half of that and dwindling it down to the stuff that you know that then you want to post. Or are you looking at Pinterest to see what’s popular. Or what does that look like in terms of the research phase. Or is it mostly inspirational things that you’re thinking about and then filtering that through brand alignment for your site?
Chelse Lords: Yes. I actually avoid Pinterest but it’s kind of -
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about why that is? Just as a quick -
Chelse Lords: Yeah. I just respect all the content creators so much. There are so many bloggers that have just become my best friends. And I just know that if I’m on Pinterest a lot I’m going to be influenced by other people’s recipes. And those are generally blogger’s recipes. I just want to be sure I’m really careful to not copy other bloggers. Not that I’m not inspired by them because I absolutely am but I just try to avoid having things that are too similar. And I’ve noticed that if I’m on Pinterest a lot that a lot of my ideas or coming from other people’s recipes. And I just I want to be a little careful about that.
Bjork Ostrom: So do you have somebody that manages your Pinterest account?
Chelse Lords: I do. Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And is that somebody that … is that a company or is that somebody that you know and have connected with through your site? Or how did you find that person?
Chelse Lords: So it’s a VA, just like a virtual assistant. Lots of bloggers have them. And that’s how I found out about it. So I just hired her from another friend’s site. And she does my Pinterest and some other social media for me and just kind of…
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And this is all rabbit trail stuff but its all really interesting. So about how much time does that equal for her about every month? Or does it depend?
Chelse Lords: It kind of depends. She spends about 10 hours a week though on doing social media for me.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Great. Pinterest, Facebook as well?
Chelse Lords: Yeah. She helps me schedule Facebook … I’m in some comment groups that she’ll take over comments. She does some updating on my old posts to try and make them more friendly for google. So just a bunch of little tasks. She’ll kind of do whatever I send her way which is so nice.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And the other thing that’s nice about that is then you can opt out some of those areas that are important to be a part of, like Pinterest for instance, without feeling like you’re losing out on the benefit of that. Which would be traffic and engagement and building up that following. That’s something that has been super important for us too is knowing that there are these areas. Pinterest would be an example. For me it’s Instagram. Knowing that these are areas that are important to be a part of. But also feeling like personally I know that if I spend a ton of time on Instagram that my brain would be in an entirely different space. And its not going to be a good one for me. That’s what I’ve learned.
Chelse Lords: Absolutely. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Pinterest I know is true for some people. Facebook, whatever it would be. So its a strategic, smart decision I think to bring people into things that you know are important but also that you don’t necessarily personally want to be behind.
Chelse Lords: Right. Well it really freeze me up to what I enjoy doing and what I think is the most important which is creating new content. If I’m doing so much time on other things, my contents gonna suffer, as in how often I can post or … I just don’t have that much time.
Bjork Ostrom: And can you talk about contents specifically? What is that look like for you in terms of how often you’re posting? Has that been consistent for the duration of your blog? Have you tried to post a certain amount each week?
Chelse Lords: Yes and no. When I first started and on my business planning I had a goal. And I was really good about the first two years. But my kids come first. I do put them above my blog and so its gotten busier and I now have two little boys. They are crazy. They’re so fun. But my posting has become less and less over the years. Just because they are the most important thing to me and they come first. And so now I’m about 1 to 2 posts a week. I used to be 3 to 4 so.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And can you talk about what that looks like when you do a post? Especially I think people would be interested in what it looks like when you are balancing the reality of raising a family, for you two boys that you have. And knowing that you’re doing 1 to 2 posts a week, which is really incredible. What does that look like in terms of finding the margins and space for that?
Chelse Lords: Yeah. Well its hard. And I’ve told a lot of people like I … my blog is my business but its also my hobby. I don’t really have time to do other things. If I want to put my kids first and make sure that I can get 1 to 2 posts a week. So that means a lot of late nights working and editing. I don’t do a lot of things for myself because I find the blogs for me. So I’ve also made it become something I’m passionate about. So that’s okay with me. But it’s a huge sacrifice. I really think you have to make sacrifices and how that looks on a day to day basis, it’s pretty different but usually in the mornings is when we bake or cook. And luckily my boys love doing it with me.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh nice.
Chelse Lords: My toddler. He’s hilarious. He knows every kitchen tool. He has his own set of kitchen tools. He has a mini microwave. Like everything. He loves it.
So we have so much fun doing that together. And that’s when I’ll test my recipes or try out new things. I like to test everything at least twice before it goes on my blog. So we do that in the mornings and then I get really good afternoon light. So I photograph in natural light in the afternoons. And that’s when they go down for naps. So I lay then down, make whatever I’m going to be photographing that day, and take the pictures. And I can usually edit them before they wake up.
I’m pretty lucky I’ve heard. They take really good naps. So about about three hours.
Bjork Ostrom: And it sounds like you’re relatively efficient with it too which is also a huge thing to be able to shoot and edit and to get all of that stuff done within three hours. I’m guessing it helps to have the time restraint where you know you have to get through it so you have a hard deadline. So there’s no wasting of time along the way.
Chelse Lords: Yeah
Bjork Ostrom: So I want to go back to that first year. When was the first month that you did your blog that you officially launched?
Chelse Lords: So it was November 2013.
Bjork Ostrom: 2013. Okay. So going back to that month, you share this in the ebook and you start 30,000 page use and then by that last month which would be October 2014 had just under 600,000 page use. That a huge jump. And a really quick build in terms of traffic and engagement to your blog. So what do you tribute … if you had to do only three things in that first year, what would it be that you would do in order to get from that starting point to just under 600,000 page use within a year.
Chelse Lords: Okay. So I’d say top three things. First, is content. I feel like I worked really hard at the start and I’ve only worked harder on my content. Like trying to make it … every time I would publish a post or before I’d say, is this helpful? Is it worth someone’s time? Would I want to read this blog post? Or would I want to have this recipe? So it’s kind of always a focus and I’d say that’s the number one thing is content. And that goes from the actual recipe, to the photographs, to how it’s written, everything. And I feel like I’m so embarrassed of my first post, but it’s a huge evolution. I still … back then to me that was the best content I could create. And so I really tried my hardest. I would even re shoot things at the beginning and that’s embarrassing looking at my photos now but that was my whole mindset. Like, this post has to be worth it. There’s so many posts online. There’s so many recipes. Why is this worth it?
And its funny. The most common question I get is, How did you get 30,000 page use your first month? And I get that question so much. Anyone that’s read my book, I get the email. And for me I didn’t know that this was uncommon but I’ve figured it is. And I really looked into that and tried to figure it out and give a good answer. And one of the posts that I published like my second week. It’s still one of my most popular posts.
So you’d get a little lucky and hit a really good post that just for some reason hit a vibe with people and so it got immediate traffic. It was in November which is a busy month anyway. Its thanksgiving and it was a thanksgiving related recipe so -
Bjork Ostrom: And was that traffic through Pinterest or … when it got popular, was it organic? What did that look like?
Chelse Lords: It was Pinterest and organic. It actually ranked high in SEO. I have no idea how. Everything I know about SEO now, I think that was total luck, but …
So it did well. It was top … well not top but on the first page of google search. And then did really well on Pinterest.
And going along with that. My second thing after content is really engaging with other bloggers. So from the start I was commenting on so many blogs. I was trying to get to bloggers, trying to get to learn from bloggers. ’Cause I thought that’s super important. And I found the more people I comment on their blog, they interacted with me. Or they would share my things. I say in the first month, I commented on a certain blog that’s very well known, very big. And she actually shared one of my new recipes on Facebook. And I got 5,000 page use in one day. Which is crazy for your first month of blogging.
Bjork Ostrom: So can you talk more about that because I know that’s something that people are interested in doing is connecting with other bloggers. But its kind of a hard thing to do. And its kind of scary. So what worked well for you in terms of connecting with other bloggers? Commenting, was there other things that you did?
Chelse Lords: Yeah. So I think commenting is not as big now but it was really … I think it was really important when I started. And that was just kind of a way to say, hey I’m blogging too. You know, I’m supporting you. Maybe you can come see my blog and give me some support. ’Cause I think the food blogging community is just … It’s amazing. People are so supportive. And they want to see you succeed. And so helpful. And so to me that was commenting and trying to talk to as many bloggers through their blogs as I could. And to try to develop friendships, comment on their social pages. And it was a lot of work, a lot of networking. But I think it was so important.
And now to me that kind of looks like Facebook groups. So I have close friends or just even blogging acquaintances, people I’ve not met but met through their blogs. And a bunch of Facebook groups and we can give each other advice, vent, talk about things, you know just anything. And its so helpful and these have become some of my really really good friends. Even my best friends. And I think I owe so much of my success to that networking.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We’ve thought about that too. So much of what we’ve done and what we’ve seen other people do has to do with people that you know and that you’re connected with.
Chelse Lords: Absolutely.
Bjork Ostrom: And the common question is then, How do you get to know people and connect with them? And what I hear you saying is, well you have to be intentional about being a friend to those people first. And it just makes so much sense when you think about it. But so often I think people want a quick and easy answer, which is never the best way to formulate friendships or connections. It takes time. It takes energy. It takes intentional effort. So it makes a lot of sense to hear you say, it wasn’t easy. It takes time. It takes energy.
But the benefit of that is you both have friends that you’re connected with in real life and also if they are in the same niche or industry that then there can be some support that goes along with that, which is awesome and I think important for people to hear.
So work hard on your content, engage with other bloggers, and then what would number 3 be?
Chelse Lords: Number 3. Lets just say its luck. And i say this in my blog. I actually don’t believe in luck. But I think its when your hard work meets opportunity. And so I think … well I look back and I still do think I’ve had a lot of lucky breaks. But I also feel like because I was working hard and trying my best and trying to learn as much as I could, that I was able to meet an opportunity that gave me good luck.
And I think its when someone big shares something of yours. Or when you can make breakthrough on social media and figure out something that’s working for you. Like to me, those are things I can’t take credit for. But I also feel like because I was working hard, I was able to find the opportunity or figure it out. If that makes sense. I’m not trying to give myself credit but I do think that comes with hard work.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure. Its both end. And the harder you work, the luckier you are. I think part of that ties into it too, where working really hard and being intentional to show up everyday in whatever way that looks for you results in more potential for lucky situations to happen.
Chelse Lords: Yes. You said that so much better.
Bjork Ostrom: I know. Its because I totally understand it and believe the same thing. And its interesting to hear you talk about the post that you did really well and was really popular because one of the things that we talk about and really believe is this idea that 20% to 30% of the traffic and engagement that you see from a website, whether its a food blog or another blog, any other blog, comes back to … well, 70% to 80% of the traffic and engagement comes back to 20% to 30% of the content.
And I like to compare that to musicians. A musician will have 100, 200, 300, 400 songs that they’ve written over their life. Of which 12 to 15 will actually make it on an album that they produce. Of which if they are lucky, one will become a hit and kind of drive their career. And I think that’s often true for building a content based business, like a food and recipe website where you have all of this content that you’re producing. A handful of that would be really successful. Then you’ll have 1, 2, 3, 4 of these really stand out pieces of content. But you can’t get to those unless you continually produce that other content and refine your craft.
What’s interesting with your story is if you compare it to the musician, you had that hit relatively early on. And its like you can’t predict that and you don’t know if that will happen. Like you said there’s a little bit a luck involved with it. But also there’s really intentional effort in trying to produce really good content. So I think that makes total sense what you said. And I’m right there with you.
I want to go back to that number 1 thing you said where you said work harder on content. That would be your number 1 recommendation. What does working hard look like? And how has your content improved from when you first started to where it is right now? Like what are the very tangible ways that you’ve changed it and improved it?
Chelse Lords: That’s a great question. I’d say with my first content I was maybe spending two hours on it to get it up and everything.
Bjork Ostrom: From start to finish for a post.
Chelse Lords: Yeah. I really did think I was trying my hardest. And it was my hardest then. But now I’d say at least 15 hours for each blog post that comes up on my site. Maybe 20 if I add a video, definitely more.
And what’s changed is I’ve done whole lot of brainstorming to come up with the recipe concept. And then testing. And I really try to test my recipes. Make sure they work. Make sure they make sense. Is this have a good prep time? Are they good ingredients? Like does it make sense? Or is it just trying to get page use. So really a lot more goes into brainstorming and testing it. And then honestly I photograph things. And I will rephotograph things. I think you eat with your eyes first and so that’s been a huge focus. I rephotograph all the time. And I know some people think it’s not efficient and probably the first photograph was fine and no one would notice. But to me, its about trying and pushing myself and just trying to have a little more better content.
And then I spend a lot more time writing. My recipe I read over and over and make sure it really make sense. I’ll have someone else read it over for me. And then video. And video would be my last step after I’ve got it all. Then I’ll remake it based off of my recipe. Filming a video and then editing it, that takes me so long.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about that? Because I know a lot of people are interested in video and what that looks like? So what is your process for video?
Chelse Lords: So like I said I’ll have my recipe done and the photos done. Then I will print off that recipe that’s in my draft box or whatever. Print it off. And then make it like I’m making it as if I was just cooking it in my kitchen. ’Cause it really helps me to see the recipe from a different eye. But also its a good opportunity to also make a video. So I’ll have this recipe that I have tested and made and photographed. And then I’ll make a video of it. And that looks … so I’ve finally moved over to artificial light for video. I used to do natural.
Bjork Ostrom: And what is your reason for switching over?
Chelse Lords: Natural was just so hard to work with.
Bjork Ostrom: Because is changes.
Chelse Lords: The sun is coming in and out. Yeah. Its moving over you. And especially with winter. My time was so limited with natural light that it was just getting exhausting. Also I shoot photos up in my bedrooms. Like doing videos up there, I was carrying trays of food up and down stairs all day. I’m like, I can’t do this.
So an artificial lighting set up and that was amazing. And so I’ll usually shoot my videos either in the morning or at nap time. Nap time works best or even late at night. So, and I’ll just shoot it. Start to finish takes me about an hour to shoot. Maybe two hours.
Bjork Ostrom: And are you using a DSLR or a phone?
Chelse Lords: Yeah. I have two DSLR’s and so I just have an overhead angle and then a side angle. And two artificial lights. And so I’ll just shoot it. It’s editing that takes me the longest. And I know a lot of people hire that out. And I really want to learn it. And I want to get faster. So for right now, I’m doing that.
Bjork Ostrom: What program do you use for that?
Chelse Lords: I’m doing premiere pro.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Great. And how long did it take you to learn premiere pro?
Chelse Lords: I’m still learning it. I bought an e-course. And it was like a 20 hour e-course or something. It was on udemy. I don’t know if you’re familiar.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup yup.
Chelse Lords: So I took that course and it was awesome but now super helpful because food videos are different than film or other videos. And editing you kind of edit it a little different.
Bjork Ostrom: Stylistically and the cuts and everything. yeah.
Chelse Lords: Right. Right. Just kind of different. But it was super helpful. That was the only thing I did, try to teach myself. And then now when I’m doing it, if I have a question or I want to do something. Like last week I’m like, I want to learn masking. So I just kind of googled it and researched it. Found a video on youtube.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk, for those who aren’t familiar, can you talk about what masking is?
Chelse Lords: Yes. So a lot of my videos now in the text it’ll appear when I move the bowl or disappear when I put the bowl over it. And that’s just hiding the text with an object or showing the text when the object’s moved.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So those who are familiar with Photoshop, its kind of like a video layer that you create this little layer that can go on top of text and creates more of a dynamic video, which is cool.
Chelse Lords: Yeah. Its fun.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice. So is that something that you’re trying to do in every post? How do you decide if a piece of content will have video in it or not?
Chelse Lords: Yeah. So that was my goal to have a video for each post but it was not attainable.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Its so much work.
Chelse Lords: Not right now.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup yup.
Chelse Lords: But so right now … so I was doing it for all new content. And I kind of shifted. What’s doing the best on social media is my old tried and true post that I know would do well. So I kind of shifted and started doing more videos for older posts that always perform well for me. And that’s just done better on Facebook and Instagram for me if I do videos that are proven. Whereas sometimes you do a new content and a new video, and its just almost a flop. Like it doesn’t do well anywhere. And so I felt like I’ve spent all of this time making a video that no one really saw.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have an example of what that would look like when you look for what’s performed well in the past in order to decide what you do for video?
Chelse Lords: Right. Yeah. So I call them my virals. They are not really viral, but its if I share a photo of a recipe that does really well on Facebook. And for me and my page that’s like if it gets a hundred shares, to me I call that a Facebook viral, for my Facebook page.
And so that to me is a post that will perform well than in video. So for instance, like last month I shared a photo and it got 200 shares. And for my page that’s really good. For just a photo. And so I switch that into video and then it got 2 million views on that video. Whereas a post that was just brand new that I thought would do well on Facebook, I created a video for it and it just tanked. Didn’t do well at all. So I shifted what I’m doing for video.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It makes sense to look at the performance of previous content even if its a different medium. So it could be a post that’s done really well in search or maybe its your example of social media, which was maybe the best place in which to start and say, oh this photo got lot of shares on Facebook. Its probably worth looking at this a little bit deeper and saying, okay maybe I can create a different version of this, that in this case, a video that I can also then share on social media. Because there’s obviously something here that’s resonating with people.
Chelse Lords: Right. Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: And it doesn’t have to be deep data where you’re looking at analytics within Facebook or engagement or total watch time or anything like that. Even just a simple metric like shares can help guide you in terms of what works and what doesn’t work.
Chelse Lords: Yup. Absolutely.
And I have found, it’s kind of different for each social media channel. Sometimes something would do really well on Instagram but not on Facebook. So it is kind of like looking at individual platform and what your goal is. Like to me right now I have a huge goal to grow my Facebook and to really get content that’s going there. So I really am focusing more on Facebook.
Bjork Ostrom: That was one of the things I noticed when I was reading through the ebook when you publish this and it was 2014. That was kind of the year that you were reviewing. You had talked about your Facebook following and there was at the time you had 11,000 or 15,000 depending on when it was you’re looking at it, followers. And now you have a huge Facebook following and that’s a relatively short about of time to grow that. What’s been most effective for you as you’ve grown Facebook?
Chelse Lords: So part of it was networking. I really picked brains with people that have done really well on Facebook and learned from them. So I could not give myself credit. Like I really learned from some of the best from Facebook and I feel really grateful for that. And then its just been a lot of trial and error. I’ve changed posting schedules. I changed how I share pictures, when I share it. And the biggest growth reason I would say is video. Video has been super hot and if you can get a good video, you can get quite a few likes from that.
Last Christmas I posted a video and it got 15 million views. And that boosted my Facebook page at 50,000 likes from one video.
Bjork Ostrom: And that’s a video that you created that you posted to your Facebook page and essentially that video went viral?
Chelse Lords: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: And one of the things that I see that you’re doing is sharing a lot of other people’s content. Is that something that is a strategy that’s working well?
Chelse Lords: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: And sharing a lot of video as well that other people are creating.
Chelse Lords: Right. I’m trying to share mostly video right now. And then I do 70–30. I try to share 70% of other people’s content and 30% of mine. Because I’m really looking for virals on Facebook. Like what is doing well for people and how can I help my page too.
Bjork Ostrom: So video that’s doing really well that then you share to your page.
Chelse Lords: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. That makes sense.
Interesting. Facebook is so interesting to follow along with and it changes so quickly too.
Chelse Lords: Well everyone has a different strategy too. So some people are like, if I share that much of other people’s content my page suffers. So its a lot of trial and error, and what works for you.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, its fun to hear from people that has done it and done it well, like you for instance because obviously there’s something there. There’s something to look at and to understand.
Chelse Lords: Thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: So when you are building that page, are you viewing it as then potential sponsorships, where they would say, if you create a video for me and post it on Facebook it has a lot of potential for exposure? Or is it traffic back to your site? What is the primary value? Obviously there’s likes. What does that translate into for you?
Chelse Lords: So my primary goal is traffic. I want to grow my Facebook page so that I grow my traffic. And I think sponsorships are a bonus but its not what I’m focusing on. But I’m very intentional about how I’m growing my Facebook page because I want to eventually bring me good traffic. I think sometimes you can grow your Facebook page but then when you post something of yours you have a bad reach on it. I’m trying to find my group that myself would do well with and similar content to mine so that it can pay back to me and bring me more traffic.
Bjork Ostrom: Is Facebook one of your primary traffic sources?
Chelse Lords: Its actually not. Pinterest is my primary.
Bjork Ostrom: Pinterest and organic search and then Facebook?
Chelse Lords: Yup. That’s right.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
One of the things that I hear from people is, so there are all these Facebook conspiracy theories, right? So like if you include a link within the description then its not going to be as popular. Or there’s this ability now to include shop products within a Facebook post so that you can integrate in things that you can sell. And people are saying that doesn’t do as well if you do that. But have you noticed any of those to be true for you as you do a side by side comparison. You share a Facebook video without a link to encourage people to leave and go to your site versus one with a link. Do you have any kind of gut reactions to that or feelings about it?
Chelse Lords: Well here’s my theory. Facebook loves Facebook. And they just love themselves so much that if you can keep them on Facebook, they’ll be happy with you. So I know a lot of people would post links to their youtube channel. And Facebook hates that. They are trying to compete with youtube so they’re going to kill that post. Or even having like, here’s a pin it link. So I avoid any links to alternate sources. I also have a theory they don’t like shortened links. They just keep them on Facebook but obviously I’m not going to get traffic so I do add my links. And I’ve played around a lot with posting a video and then adding my link later or in the comments. And I haven’t actually noticed a huge difference. So I now just put my recipe link in the description.
But I won’t share posts that have tons of other links. If someone puts a post in a shared group, I’ll take out their short links and find the real one. I’m just careful with links and Facebook.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Its really interesting too because you don’t … with any that you don’t really know, the only thing that you can do is go off of your own experience and your gut on it. And the people that know them are the people that consistently posting and you’re one of those people so I’m always interested in what people have to say.
Chelse Lords: Yes, I post a lot. Facebook.
Bjork Ostrom: So I’m looking at the … in your ebook you talk about my first year and do a little breakdown here. And so 42,000 just a little over 42,000 that you were able to make from your blog in the first year. The breakdown is 15,000 from ads, 11,000 from freelance, 14,000 from sponsored, and then 25,000 from product comparables, or comparable costs for that. So if you get a $500 knife set then that’s what it would be worth.
What does that percentage breakdown look like for you now? You don’t have to share numbers. But has that stayed relatively consistent? Are there parts that you have cut back on or areas that you’ve double down on and have really invested more in?
Chelse Lords: Yeah, its very different now. I do pretty much no freelance. I just found the money is not worth the time for me. I feel like I can make more creating my own posts on my own site. And so I do pretty much no freelance anymore.
Bjork Ostrom: When did that change?
Chelse Lords: Probably about two years ago. I was getting enough traffic and I felt like I was getting enough sponsored requests and just enough sponsored post that were paying more than a freelance job, that I was like, well I’d rather do this sponsored post for x amount than this freelance for 1/3 of that amount. And so just slowly I just stopped doing it, stopped doing it. And now I charge the same as a sponsored post for freelance. And not everyone can afford that. Like it doesn’t make sense for a company to buy that.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So in terms of right now, is it the focus would be advertising and sponsor content? Is it like 50/50 or - ?
Chelse Lords: I make more from ads most months. So I’d say maybe like 60/40. And the others sponsored. And I guess there is one. I do a little bit a freelance still but its just video content and that is still makes it worth it, what people would pay. So I guess I still do a little bit a freelance but its maybe like one video a month.
Bjork Ostrom: So this would be a brand or another blogger that partners with you to have you help create a video?
Chelse Lords: Yes. Usually brands.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And that you wouldn’t post on your site, that they would use.
Chelse Lords: But not like on my site. Right. Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Okay.
And then do you do affiliate? Is that part of the -
Chelse Lords: I’m not awesome at affiliate. That’s one of my goals. So I make pretty little from affiliate. I did add a shop to my blog which I’ve noticed brings in an income. Nothing to write home about. But its good. I get to buy what I want on Amazon. So I guess that’s a nice little perk. But nothing crazy. I do make more from my ebook sales than my Amazon affiliate. So that’s like my third bracket of income.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Its interesting to hear about that and one of the things that I love is that you took that first year, where you’re really intentional about building these things out and then said, how can I create … its almost like an inception piece because you’re writing about these different ways that you’re intentional about building this into a business and then add to your business revenue streams by doing this analysis of what you did in your first year.
And I think that a great way for people to … in some ways we’ve though about that, like what are the other branches that exist. We have the food, we have the recipes. And that’s usually the first place that people think, but then there’s also these other things. Lindsey does workshops and she’s been really excited about doing those and intentional to say, how can I use my skills as a teacher to apply that to the niche that we’re in, that is food and recipe. But also maybe an untapped area within that. So for anybody that’s listening I would encourage you to think about what are the different ways that you can create, like branch off and not just think about the primary ways, whether that be ads or sponsored content, but what are the other things that you can do. And I think freelance is great example. Its a great way to take that step into working for yourself or working with somebody that you’re excited about in the niche that you’re excited about. And being intentional to look at it at multiple different angles. Which I think you did which is fun to see.
So if you were to go back. Lets say you were to go back to November 2013 and you were to start over again. You did a lot of things right and had a lot of success early on. But I’m guessing there are some things that you’d look at and say, hey I would love to be able to do this a little different, or to start doing things earlier that I know work really well now. What would that be?
Chelse Lords: There are so many. First I would’ve taken Lindsey’s workshop.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks. I appreciate that.
Chelse Lords: That was such a game changer. No seriously, it was my favorite thing I did last year.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about it not in a sense of what you liked about it, but what you took away from it? What the experience, whether it was a mindset change or a technical skill or ability that you picked up. What was it that was significant or helpful?
Chelse Lords: I think it was a huge mindset change. It was just amazing to watch Lindsey and to just get her perspective and how she thinks about the photography. To me that was just huge. I still, every shoot now, I think about it. She said something that really resonated, like look at the food to how to make it … I’m slaughtering this. But she said basically, take your ingredients. Look at your ingredients and say where are they the prettiest. Where are they going to show the best? Is that an ingredient shot, a process shot, the final shot, in a bowl, in a casserole dish? To me that was a huge mindset change. Where does food look its best? And its a little thing, but its really changed my photography.
And there was just few little tidbits she gave that have just changed my mindset. Made me more excited about photography. And I don’t feel like I was a horrible photographer when I went to her. But it just changed so much. And I just wished I had that earlier. And even just to see a demonstration earlier. ’Cause I read books when I was starting but its just I’m very much a visual learner. And so it was always hard for me to try and figure out photography like when I was starting I had so many questions. I didn’t know really what I was doing. And I was basing it off of books I read.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s something to be said about being in the same place with people learning something and just observing. I think its … it sounds so obvious but its such a natural way to learn.
Chelse Lords: Its so important.
Bjork Ostrom: its so uncommon because what is common now is learning from reading. Which isn’t … this isn’t bad by any means but like reading and podcasts, there’s only so much you can do versus sitting down and seeing somebody, even like how do they change the settings on a camera. They are going through it and you absorb some of that stuff versus just reading it or learning it on your own, which makes a lot of sense. And I think I’m similar in that way. But its hard to commit to something where you say, I’m going to block out the weekend or couple days and travel and its not very efficient but it can have a big impact.
I’ll pass that along to Lindsey and let her know you said that.
Chelse Lords: Oh she knows. I’m like a huge fan girl. Love her photography.
Bjork Ostrom: I’ll let her know. Thanks. That means a lot.
Chelse Lords: I would do it again.
Bjork Ostrom: So, for … Take away for those who are listening would be as soon as possible to start thinking about where the areas where I can invest some time and energy into learning and investing back into the things that I want to grow. And as opposed to repeating and doing the same things saying, how can I fine tune my craft and my skill little bit?
Chelse Lords: Right. ’Cause you can do the same thing over and over and over and think I’m doing it. Why isn’t something happening? But you might be doing it wrong. And so I think learning from someone who has success and to me, learning how Lindsey thinks about her photography and her whole work flow. That was a huge game changer for me. That was really important.
Bjork Ostrom: I was listening to a podcast today and it was … so its a business podcast called Mixergy. And the guy that does it his name is Andrew. And he interviews … It’s primarily tech and online interviews, or online business owners. But he was interviewing the guy that started … Its called Sumo and his name was Noah Kagan. Its like a social sharing and email list building application. He was talking about how he was really intentional about finding people … I think it was in this podcast … but intentional finding people that he appreciates or sees as successful and then looking at the path that they took and saying, what does that look like and … maybe I’ve said this in a podcast before. But the idea that success leaves bread crumbs, right?
You can kind of follow and see, and one of the best ways to do that is to get as close as possible, whether that’s doing like you said a workshop or reaching out and finding somebody online like you did. I know you that you were really intentional about doing that. Even just connecting with people via email of social media. Its sounds so easy but its such an important part of the process. And it sounds like you did that which makes a lot of sense for why it would be helpful.
Chelse Lords: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bjork Ostrom: Okay so, workshop. That would be an important thing or something similar to that where you really take time to invest in your passion or interest or skill. What are some of the other things that you would do differently if you were to go back?
Chelse Lords: Yeah. So I’m thinking of this questions. I keep coming back to something my husband always says. And he’s a big business guy but he says, you have to spend money to make money. And I think as a blogger I’m always … I really had a mindset shift but when I first started I’m like, well I cant spend this yet. I’m not making enough money to rationalize this. I can’t buy this new prop. I can’t pay for this book. I can’t do this. But totally shifted. And now I’m like I need to invest and make my business better if I want to continue to see an income. And so I hired an SEO guy a few months back and just had him walk me through things. Like teach me how to set up a post to be more google friendly. To me, that was a big expense but I wish I had done it honestly at the start. Because now I have hundreds of posts to go through and fix. And its like, yeah it’s an investment but I think my google and my search traffic would be better if I had done that earlier. So I think -
Bjork Ostrom: With that, what was one of the biggest takeaways that you had? Or changed you made?
Chelse Lords: With the SEO?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Chelse Lords: So this is embarrassing. But I never really used Yoast, and that’s a plug in. So I didn’t really use it very much. And he kind of walked me through it. I am so beginner on SEO but he kind of walked me though it and I’ve been adding that to all my posts. Being very intentional about adding keywords and a post description at the top that has my keywords, watching my slugs, and just all those little stuff that’s probably so obvious to most people.
Bjork Ostrom: But its the little things that are hard to do right? Whether its being healthy. Well, its really obvious that you eat healthy and then work out. But its same thing with something like SEO where its not necessarily some complicated voodoo, science thing. Its like, well it’s pretty simple. But the hard part is actually doing it right? So its getting in and actually making it happen.
Anything else that you would add to the list maybe one more thing you would say, hey if I were to go back start again this is something I would a little bit different?
Chelse Lords: Yeah. This last one is I just think care less about what other people think. I think a lot of times in blogging there is, oh don’t do that. Like its now … I don’t know how to explain this really. But just owning my business and being proud of what I do. Even though I make different business decisions than a different blogger than most bloggers. Being intentional and not caring what other people think. You blog for your audience, not for other bloggers. And I think a lot of times I’m scared or timid about certain things … like even to put out my ebook, like I was so proud of it but also a little timid. Are people going to think? what are people going to think about this? What are bloggers going to think about this?
I just think getting past that and just you own your own business. You cannot care what other bloggers or other people think and you do what’s best for your business.
Bjork Ostrom: It seems like a combination of self awareness and then business awareness. So who am I? And then who am I within my business? And who is my business?
And being intentional to be aware of that and know that, and not be impacted by the thousands of things that are coming in from whether it be social media or conversations or what you see somebody else doing. I feel like we can all relate to that little ping that we feel when there’s outside influence in whatever way, shape, or form that comes. And feeling like, oh maybe I should change this, or not do this, or maybe this isn’t good enough, or maybe I need to start doing this thing. And there’s so many of those that exist and can be totally overwhelming. So I think that’s really good note to end on. Because I think that’s really important.
But before we wrap up. Chelsea, I’m curious to know where can people find you and can follow along with what you’re doing and check out all the different resources that you have.
Chelse Lords: So blog is chelseasmessyapron.com and I have my ebook. Just the top there’s a tab that says ebook. I know we’ve referenced that a lot. And that’s pretty much my biggest resource for bloggers.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Great. Yeah, we’ll link to that in the show notes as well. And it was really fun for me to read through that. Its always interesting to see what the inside scoop looks like for other people. Especially for those in the beginning stages, getting up and running with their blog would be a super incredible resource. But also even if you have been doing it for a few years. I love going back and reviewing, hey what are the strategies that other people are using that I’m not aware of and that was helpful for me to look through so.
We’ll be sure to link to that and Chelsea thanks so much for coming on the podcast. I’ll tell Lindsey that you said hi ’cause I know that she would excited to hear from you.
Chelse Lords: Yes. And Sage.
Bjork Ostrom: And we’ll give Sage a scratch on the ear. So thank so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate it.
Chelse Lords: Thanks for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. Thanks, Chelsea.
Chelse Lords: Thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: One more big thank you for Chelsea for coming on and sharing all of her insider information about the things that she did in her first year of blogging to be really intentional to build that into a business. I wanted to say there were a lot of different things that we mentioned in this podcast. And any of those things that we mentioned would be listed in the resources area for this podcast or the show notes.
And you can get there by going to foodbloggerpro.com/blog. That would be all of the different podcast that we have. Otherwise you can go to the very specific link. And that is foodbloggerpro.com/92. And that can be either the words or the number. And that would redirect you to this exact podcast and the show notes for this podcast.
Big thank you to you wherever you are listening to this podcast. We really appreciate you and we are fast approaching 350,000 total downloads for this podcast, which we are super super excited about. It’s been a slow and steady journey but that’s what this is all about, right? Little by little. And each one of those counts and you are one of those people now that you have listened all the way through this podcast. So thank you very much.
We will be back here same time, same place next week. Until then make it a great week. Thanks, guys.
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