Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 167 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Jessica Gavin about investing in your blog and yourself.
Last week on the podcast, we shared the Q&A from our recent Pinterest Traffic Bootcamp. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Jessica’s career has taken her to a lot of different places: attending culinary school, becoming a food scientist, writing a cookbook, creating an app, working with her husband, learning photography, and meeting other bloggers at conferences and workshops.
And even with all of that going on, Jessica understands a lesson that’s sometimes tough to grasp: the importance of investing in yourself. Sometimes it’s necessary to buy that extra lens, attend that workshop, or join that group because you’ll grow through that situation.
You’ll hear her talk about how she manages her time, how she formed her posting strategy, and why she chooses to reinvest in her blog and herself in this episode. Enjoy!
Thanks to our Reviewer of the Week, Katams! If you’d like to be featured, leave a review for us on iTunes and include your name and blog name in the review.
We’d like to thank our sponsors, WP Tasty! Check out wptasty.com to learn more about their handcrafted WordPress plugins specifically made for food bloggers.
If you'd like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Alexa Peduzzi: In this episode I talk about a fun and helpful way to diversify your income and Bjork chats with Jessica Gavin about her new cookbook, and finding unique opportunities in food blogging.
Hey, hey wonderful listeners, you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I’m Alexa the general manager of Food Blogger Pro, and the editor/producer person behind the Food Blogger Pro podcast.
If you’re a bit confused by hearing my voice right now rather than Bjork’s I get it, you typically hear from me at the end of each podcast episode, we call that the outro, and that’s when I feature our listener reviewer of the week. You’ll be hearing my voice at the beginning for the next couple of weeks because Bjork will be taking some time off to spend with his and Lindsay’s new baby girl. We are all just so incredibly excited for Bjork and Lindsay, and we’re just completely thrilled that they’re taking some time off to snuggle with their new little bub.
That being said, things on the podcast will continue to run exactly like they have in the past. Bjork recorded a bunch of really exciting and helpful podcast episodes before he left, so it’ll be smooth sailing until he comes back. With all of that being said, I’d like to take a second to thank our sponsors for this episode of the podcast, WP Tasty. WP Tasty is our plugins for food bloggers business and each plugin, there are three of them now, they’re focused on structured data, SEO, and affiliate income. You can learn more by going to wptasty.com.
I want to focus a bit on that last topic that I mentioned, affiliate income. If you’ve been in the blogging space for a bit chances are you’ve heard of affiliate income, and it’s just a way to get paid for promoting products and services that you love, which is pretty cool, right? There are tons of considerations to think about when starting affiliate marketing, and the fine folks over at WP Tasty wrote just an awesome comprehensive guide about it for you. You go to wptasty.com/affiliate-marketing to learn more about common affiliate marketing programs, how to disclose your affiliate links, and so much more.
Now, the episode. I had the complete pleasure and honor to meet Jessica Gavin in person at a conference earlier this year, and she was just so much fun to hang out with. She’s sweet, and friendly, but she’s also a total boss. First of all, she’s a food scientist, how cool is that? She also released a cookbook earlier this year, runs a successful food blog, and is constantly learning new skills and techniques to help her readers. I’m so excited for you to learn more about her story, and how she got to where she is today in this episode. Let’s dive in.
Bjork Ostrom: Jessica, welcome to the podcast.
Jessica Gavin: Thanks for having me, Bjork.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m really excited to chat, and this is a fun podcast interview because we’ve met in person, and I actually think the last time that we connected it was this brief interaction at a conference, and we were both sitting at the back table, and I looked over, and I was like, “Oh, Jessica.” I don’t even remember if we were able to connect, but we saw each other and did a little ways, so it’s good to connect again.
Jessica Gavin: Yes absolutely. Thank you for inviting me to your show.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. We’re going to talk a little bit about your story, and talk a little bit about your blog. Knowing that we’ve been connected for a while here online, and have interfaced with your husband as well on the Food Blogger Pro forums, and have interacted back and forth before. Excited to connect with you and hear your story a little bit.
We do origin stories a lot on the podcast, and you have a really unique story in that your blog, and your online business wasn’t a shift into food, you went to school for this. Your background, your expertise, and your story has always been around food. Can you talk about how you decided to go into the field that you’re in, which is being a food scientist, and even what that means?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah absolutely. I’m from the East Bay area, which is part of Northern California, from a small town called Alameda, and it’s a huge melting pot of just different cultures and cuisines. I’ve just immediately always known that I’ve had a passion from food from a very young age. Actually, my grandfathers, when they immigrated from China in the 50s, were actually rival chefs in the same Chinese kitchen.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh my gosh.
Jessica Gavin: Yeah so I almost feel like it’s ingrained in my DNA a little bit. My mom and dad ended up meeting and they became high school sweethearts, so they essentially had to break bread, and put the guards down, and make it work for the family. Really, for me, food has always been not something for nourishment, but also just an essential way to connect with others and cultivate bonds, so that’s something that I learned, and we carry on throughout my family. We’re all really passionate about food.
I actually really wanted to go to culinary school, that was my straight path. I worked at this incredible European bakery for four years in high school, every day the pastry chefs would produce fresh brioche breads, and focaccia, and Opera cake, and croissants. I was just so inspired every day, but they’d always tell me, “Jess, do not get into this industry. You’re going to break your back, you work so hard. It’s so hard running a small business especially a retail store. Just keep this your hobby or your passion,” but being as stubborn as I am I took their advice a little bit, and I was thinking, “You know what, maybe culinary school is not a no, but maybe just not right now, not right out of high school.”
One of my family friends, as I was talking to my parents about what I wanted to do for college, they said, “Have you heard of food science,” and I hadn’t. I heard of home economics, and things like that, but no one had introduced me to food science before. I did really feel like I was so curious about how does flavors interact? How do ingredients interact together in a recipe? How can I troubleshoot it and make it better? Just going beyond just following the steps of a ready designed recipe. As you know, sometimes if those aren’t defined very well there’s failures. In your own kitchen you have your own setup, so you just never know. It’s a gamble every time in the kitchen.
I was really excited when I heard about food science, and I actually learned so much more about food in a really different way. For food science that’s different from culinary arts is you’re really focused on delivering food products to the masses, and you’re using food science and technology, and the study of the physical side, biological and chemical compositions of food, and its commercial application.
I don’t know, what is your favorite product that you buy in the store, Bjork?
Bjork Ostrom: Food related?
Jessica Gavin: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: I would say, I’ll say this because it’s sitting right in front of me, it is La Croix.
Jessica Gavin: La Croix, I think now they have probably over 10 SKUs of different flavors, but the base is the same. It’s a bubbly, sparkling water with no calories, but it has different flavors for what mood are you in. Are you a coconut person or a mango? Essentially, a food scientist would design the formula, select different flavors for that product, and help to commercialize it. That’s something in a different aspect versus culinary arts where you’re in the kitchen, and you’re making food for people who are immediately dining in your facility, it’s a little bit different.
I’ve been able to see the food industry from a lot of different perspectives, and especially from the farm to fork perspectives, and supply chain. It’s definitely helped me get a bigger insight about what consumers want, and then using that also in my blog, but actually being able to interact with the consumers, which I don’t get to do that all the time.
Bjork Ostrom: That was actually going to be the next question that I was going to ask because so often what happens for people who start a blog, or an online business that has to do with food they’ll make this shift because they just are so passionate about either cooking, or baking, or a certain subset of that like maybe it’s a diet that’s had a big impact on their life. You have an interesting story in that you were already doing the thing that you set out to do, and it was in the food space, it was food science.
In some ways I felt that you had checked this box like, “Hey, I’m doing it,” but yet there was still this part of you that wanted to do more with that, or maybe it was something beyond that, and so you started your site. Can you talk about, for you, the moment when you said, “Hey, I want to go a little bit deeper, or explore this area of creating my own thing,” and launching your site? What was the reasoning behind that when you started it?
Jessica Gavin: Absolutely. I was really fortunate that while I was working full-time, my company supported me to actually go to culinary school, so I actually realized my dream. Actually, that was part of my negotiation for the job, I literally said, “Do you support me eventually going to culinary school? Because I really think, if I can get a global perspective of how to create food for people it would help in our product development,” and they said, “Absolutely.” About a year after I started in my career I started going to culinary school at night, and when I finished culinary school about three years later, which happened to be about a year into being married to my amazing husband Jason, we were on our anniversary trip in Napa and we had just gone to The French Laundry, bucket list item, Thomas Keller is one of the most influential chefs that I studied in culinary school.
We were just having a conversation about, “Okay, what’s next? You’re working full time as a food science professional, you have this culinary degree. Do you want to shift paths?” I said, “You know what? When I was 14, 15 yes, I wanted to be this master chef and work in the kitchens and on the line, but at this point I don’t feel like that’s where my heart is right now,” and also I just realized after stogging, which is working for free in kitchens after culinary school, that I wasn’t really very fast at prepping, so I was like, “You know what, I’m going to slow the business down,” but I was really good at recipe development, which I learned so many skills for my current job.
When he suggested, “Do you want to start a food blog,” and I honestly looked at him with crazy eyes like, “Babe, you know I’m not a technical person in terms of computers and back end coding.” Jason had already two online businesses going and stuff that he had started as a tech entrepreneur in college. I was like, “I know that’s your wheelhouse, but it’s really not mine,” and he was like, “All right, let’s just make a deal you focus on content creation and what you have to do, and I’ll make sure that the site’s running smoothly, and I’ll teach you what you need to know to get the posts up.” At that point too, he was doing photography for his business, so he said, “I’ll do the photography, and you can pick up whenever you’re ready.” That’s how that started in about July 2012, about six years ago.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. One of the questions that I love to ask people that have a similar story to what would be the story for Lindsay and I, which is similar where I have this interest in the entrepreneurial tech side of things, and you’re able to jump in and do the content. Jason was super supportive, I was super excited about Lindsay doing a blog, but also knowing that there are people who either have somebody that’s a spouse or a significant other that isn’t technical, or sometimes even people that aren’t supportive. I always love to do a little break down in real time brainstorm and think about what those things are for those people who maybe aren’t in the same situation.
When you were first starting what were the things that you were not doing that were essential to the business? I feel like it’s helpful to name those, so people can have an idea of hey, these are the things that would be on the technical end that either I can find somebody to help out with, and there are people that can do that. We have one of our Food Blogger Pro experts is Andrew from Blog Tutor, and that’s what his business is, is he handles the technical stuff. What were some of those things that were most helpful that Jason did, so people can have an understanding of what that looks like from a technical perspective?
Jessica Gavin: Absolutely. I could just when we first got a very basic WordPress site, it was just understanding how to use WordPress, how to use Yoast. I think we were still figuring out how to do the alt text, everything that you need to add in, so that your pictures are picked up, and understood in Google, and categorized.
Bjork Ostrom: For those that aren’t familiar, can you explain what Yoast is?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah, it’s a search engine optimization tool built into WordPress, so as you’re writing your blog post it’ll tell you is the ease of reading good on your site, have you hit your major keywords that you had assigned in your post without it being overly keyword stuffing. Then, just the ease of readability, and just a way for you to have hit the basics on what would essentially would makeup a decent post, and make it easy for the reader to understand, and for Google to pick up and to scan.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it, cool. For those that are newer to the podcast if you scroll back in the archives last year we did an interview with actually the founder of that company, it’s episode number 91, which you can get to by going to foodbloggerpro.com/91. He talks about some of those things that you talked about optimization and specifically SEO for a food blog, so you can be sure to check that out, really important plugin.
Basic idea being, getting that stuff set up, getting things implemented. For those that feel like they’re at the point where it’s overwhelming, and they don’t know who they can turn to for that I would encourage you to, if you’re a Food Blogger Pro member check out some of the courses that we have, go through those. If you’re not, make sure to check out any of the communities that exist. Or, if you have the budget, and you’re serious about doing it, it’s worth finding people who have a business built around supporting people who don’t want to do the technical stuff. Like I mentioned before, Andrew from Blog Tutor, who is a Food Blogger Pro expert would be a good resource for that. Anyways, a bit of a rabbit trail, but I as much as possible want to address that when that comes up.
You guys had worked together, and you say, “Hey, this is something that we’re going to do. We’re gonna start off, we’re gonna be building a site together,” and you were handling the content. Eventually, I would guess, that you took over the photography, or is that something that is still something that Jason is doing?
Jessica Gavin: Absolutely. I took over the photography about two years ago. Actually, it was one of those things where I would be making the recipe, and get it where I want, but perhaps unless it was weekend Jason wasn’t there, so I’d have to wait and the food was starting to look stodgy and just not fresh. It just felt so disjointed, but I have to give him so much credit for him not being a food photographer, and literally opening up books, and just going online, and doing the research to essentially help initially train me to take it over.
We, essentially, do all of our posting … or photography at night, so we started with artificial light, so we became very proficient in that. Then, one day, I don’t know, I think I was like, “Yeah, I think I want to learn photography,” but just half kidding. He’s like, “All right, take this apple and make it look good.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? No, give me some more instruction.” He’s like, “You have to just hold the camera, touching through it, and start playing around, and taking the photos, and seeing how to utilize the light, and manipulate the light.” I started there, and so as time progressed he would partner with me on the photos, and give me some direction. Then, I was like, “All right, great, done.” He’s like, “You need to do post production.” I’m like, “What?”
Bjork Ostrom: “You are only halfway there, in fact.”
Jessica Gavin: I was like, “Well, you know, I don’t want to do white room or Photoshop, that’s crazy talk,” and he was like, “Okay, you could be behind the camera and take the photo, but understanding your photo, and the quality in which your perspective is, is really that editing piece.” Then, he started to train me on that, and that was about up until May 2016, right before we went to the very first Everything Food conference, and you and Lindsay were there. I was very excited because I had just signed up for her Tasty Food photography workshop in June.
At that time, I was still very intimidated and not sure, and I had finally published a few posts with my own photography, but I was just really looking forward to that specific, set, focused time over in you guys’ studio in Minneapolis. That actually was a huge turning point, going to that photography workshop. I’m not just saying it because I love you guys.
Bjork Ostrom: I’ll let Lindsay know as well.
Jessica Gavin: I think on day two I literally I was taking photos and I was using the artificial light, and playing with the different surfaces, and pops in food, and I just had that butterfly moment, and that glowing of, “I love food photography. I’m not good at it yet, but I want to be, and I want to learn more.” I think just being able to have a set time for a couple days with people who are passionate about what you’re passionate about, and learning as well, and having someone like Lindsay who’s such a great teacher be there one-on-one to guide you, and to show you her process, and then you try to re-create it on your end. You guys have the most amazing light in your studio, so also getting the confidence to build up doing natural light photography as well just really was a huge, huge game changer for me.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Would there be things that, whether from that workshop or from after experimenting and iterating, would there be things that you could distill it down to that really made a difference? It could either be really tangible things, like a certain setting, or it could be maybe concepts that you developed as you became more confident with your photography. For those that are in that place of still feeling like the ultimate beginner with photography, what advice would you give them, having recently gone through that transition?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah, absolutely. I think really keeping it simple, I think because when I first started doing it, I started blogging, but I wasn’t doing the photography, I would just kind of load up the set. I would put everything on and like, “This looks great. Okay, take the photo,” and Jason would start pulling things away. I’m like, “Are you crazy? I just spent time”-
Bjork Ostrom: Putting it all in there, yeah.
Jessica Gavin: Yeah. He’s like, “No, it just doesn’t look right.” So, really just starting with a few basic things. The focus is the food, for me at least, so I try to make food look as good as possible. So, I think about styling the food first, so I choose a couple props, like if it’s a bowl or a plate. I don’t even think about silverware yet, but a bowl or plate and maybe a textile. I try to get the food in there and I try to make it look as fresh as possible. I just did a beef stew. Make sure I add a little bit of gravy so that there’s shine. What Lindsay likes to say is, “Kiss the light,” so that there’s dimension and vibrancy and kind of that glow in your shot.
So, just first focusing on the food. To me, that’s the most important thing because that’s what we’re trying to sell, and getting people to click on it and make the recipe, and then you start using your props and looking at the directions of the light and if you’re wanting to reflect on front, or if you like shadows, kind of how to do that.
It’s just a lot of experimentation and playing around. I put my surface on a kitchen table, whereas a lot of people put their surfaces on the ground. So, you kind of have to learn the lighting in your house. So, what I like to do is when I first start, do a couple test shots. I actually tether now so I can see on a bigger screen how the light’s looking and how everything’s positioned.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you share how you do that for those that aren’t familiar with the process, even just at a high level, the things you need and what that looks like?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah. I have a large tethering cable. It’s a USB cord that I hook up to my laptop and then it connects to the camera, and it connects to Lightroom. So, I don’t use Lightroom to edit. I know a lot of people do. Lindsay does, but I use Lightroom to at least pop up the photos and kind of artificially, it gives you a preview but it doesn’t actually save the photos anywhere until you actually export it, so it’s really like a viewing tool for me. There’s just a couple buttons you click to start tethering.
Basically, you’ll take a photo and then it’ll transfer that photo to the desktop and you’ll be able to see, “Oh, okay, is the bowl in the right place? Is the food in the right place? Is my exposure right? How’s the depth of field, things like that?” Then, you can actually star and select which ones you like and then for me, I can export that directly in the cloud that we have in our computer to start editing upstairs into Lightroom.
So, that helps kind of refine the process. I used to take probably like 200 photos every session looking through the small viewfinder. So, you can’t really tell granularity, like, “Oh, am I in focus?” So, tethering definitely has helped me for sure improve the quality of my photos.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Yeah, that’s one of those things that was a big change for us with the video. I’m not super involved with video anymore, but for the videos that I did help with early on with Pinch of Yum, we would do the same thing where it’s like I would climb up on a ladder and look at the viewfinder.
Then, when we started to do video more professionally, had a team of people working on it, at that time was Alana, now we have Emily, who’s our incredible video specialist, but Alana said, “Well, we should probably have a viewfinder so you don’t have to climb up on the ladder.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, mind blown. This is the greatest thing ever.” Same thing for photography, where you can hook that up and be able to see kind of in realtime and also on a bigger screen what you’re shooting.
So, you do a lot. So, you have a lot on your plate. You have two kids. You are working as a food scientist. You have your blog, and also, there’s an app that you’ve done for your blog. Would love to talk about that, and have also done a cookbook. So, before we get into talking about those specific things, we’re recording this early slash mid August, August 10th, and you have a post from the 8th, the 6th, the 3rd, the 1st.
So, you’re also publishing content consistently. I know one of the biggest struggles that people have is time and making time in order to continually produce high quality content and continually grow. That’s something that you guys have been able to do. Actually, you and Jason reported on that. You did a monthly income report, which is fun to follow along with. Not doing those anymore, but for people that want to look back, they can kind of track your progress as you grew your blog. So, you can see, okay, this is something you guys are doing. You’re building, you’re growing, and yet there’s so much that you’re doing.
So, I would love to hear you talk a little bit about your strategy as it relates to the time that you’re investing in the site and how you do that while still, number one, staying sane, and then number two, still having time for those other things, like whatever it might be, family, friends, and consistently publishing content on your blog. So, how do you do it?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah, absolutely. It definitely is a challenge, but I feel like blogging is like a muscle. So, when we first started year one, I think I blogged probably once a month. Obviously, that doesn’t give you a lot of opportunity to share content and get exposure, but I think I didn’t know what my purpose was and my focus was for my blog. So, as I started to get more of a followship and readers, I kind of started to understand, “Okay, what did they want?” Also, as my life changed from being married and being newlyweds and with a ton of time to spend, just kind of my content changed a lot.
So, we did a kind of proof of concept. We started with a very basic template on WordPress, and then finally after maybe a year and a half, we decided to update the site with Shay Bocks. She did a whole beautiful web design, what I have now, but because of that, I thought, “I need to create content. I can’t launch a new site and have only one post a month, like 12 posts. That’s crazy.”
So, then just decided to turn it up to two posts. For that whole year, let’s do two posts until we launch the site in January of the next year. So, there was these little points of a push, like, “Okay, you’ve got to do this. There’s a motivation. I want to be able to share something. I want to have some valuable content and something to share with the world.”
Then, the next year, we decided we wanted to start having a family. I think for a lot of bloggers or a lot of friends that I have, too, when they’re in this position of, “Oh my gosh, I’m so incredibly busy with probably working full-time and working my blog. Can we have a baby?” which is really strange, because usually you don’t think of it as like, “Is that a priority or not?” They want to know can you do it. We just decided from that point was, “We really need to create a strategy and an editorial calendar about what we’re going to be posting.”
So, Jason acts as also a managing editor for me, so we collaborate all the time on what is our strategy for the website and what kind of content do I want to produce. So, we started to create a physical board that I have up in our office. That’s the calendar, and it’s a dry erase board. Every month, I change it and write in the days I want to publish something and what that would be, and then that’s my target for that week and then I can see it out through each month. Then, I use Google Calendar to do any future planning.
When I was on maternity leave with my daughter Olivia last year, we did it out for a year. It doesn’t mean that that’s something that I’m going to always stick to. It’s very dynamic, but at least I’m not wasting time thinking about it or sitting on my computer or researching. You spend like two, three solid days just thinking about editorial. That has really helped.
So, now I publish at least three times a week. That’s my goal. Of course, I give myself a little leeway. If it’s a big weekend like last weekend was my son’s fourth birthday, it’s like, “Okay, maybe we’ll publish two.” When I was on maternity leave actually for six months with my daughter Olivia last year, I decided that I was going to go five. I was going to go five times a week publishing content.
Bjork Ostrom: Crazy.
Jessica Gavin: I know. I just wanted to see. Something that you had said on a previous podcast episode was, “Treat these things like experiments.” You always want to have the best intention and commit, like, “Oh, it’s January 1st. I want to be healthy,” and then what happens a few days later, but if you treat it, like you said, as an experiment, you feel like, “Okay, this is research and development. We’re going to see if we can handle it. Let’s see what we can do,” because it does take a lot of mind space to go from three to five, but I wanted the business to grow. I wanted to see if that was an avenue to do so.
So, like I said, it’s kind of like that muscle of, “Okay, I did one. Now I can do two a week. Now I’m doing three and five.” For me, candidly, in terms of the balance, once I started going back to work in April, I did six months of five times a week with a lot of diverse content. It wasn’t just recipes. It was recipes, science, tips, how tos slash step-by-steps, things about tools, thing about ingredients and pantry items. So, I was really looking at my blog like a singular destination, a website that is like, “Hey, can I be the answer girl for anything culinary science and cooking?”
So, I just took a different perspective last year of how I was going to approach my editorial and how I was going to market my brand. That helped me lay things out, and being able to execute essentially themed weeks, which I want to eventually turn into themed months like a magazine. So, that’s how I’ve approached it.
Something that really helped me with that, actually, while I was doing the app and cookbook last year is we heard your podcast from Meggan from Culinary Hill. We got together with CookIt Media and I worked with Laurie Buckle for about three months doing an overhaul on my brand strategy. So, that helped me a lot, too.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh good, I’m so glad to hear that. I would love to dig into a few of those things. Let’s start with this. So, in the kind of experimental stage of publishing five times a week, what did you learn during that time? That’s a wide open question. It could be about content. It could be about yourself. What were the things that were the biggest takeaways that you are now implementing kind of in your day-to-day after doing a long stretch of producing a lot of content?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah. I started to think about my content differently in terms of cornerstone content. So, instead of just publishing a recipe that I think is going to be super yummy and people are going to think is great, it’s more, “Let’s build on content that I can interlink and help create a story about food.” So, for example, 300000 instant pots were sold during Prime Day a couple weeks ago.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that what it was? Oh my god.
Jessica Gavin: Yeah. It was crazy. Gosh. I should get some stock in that, but for us, understanding trends and how dynamic the food industry is and how people are so open to trying new things, new tools, new ingredients, just say if I had that awareness, and what I’ve already done is I created an electric pressure cooker 101. That’s my cornerstone content.
That way, for anything else I publish about pressure cooking, I could link to that, but I’m creating this great base of knowledge and education for my readers so that if they did want to take their understanding and knowledge about cooking to the next level, they could just read that basics and be like, “Okay, let me level set. Okay, now I know the basics of how to use it. Okay, now I have a little bit more confidence and curiosity to try a recipe.”
Then, you can start getting into tools for the instant pot or like, “Oh, I want to steam eggs. Okay, what are you going to need?” That turns into another story about eggs and all the things you can do with it, so just kind of interlinking and weaving things so that people do kind of get lost in your site and they want to stay because you have more reasons for them to not just, “Let me print this recipe and go.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that’s really a valuable concept for people to think about and apply, this idea of your content not being singular, siloed pieces of content that you hope a lot of people go to, but being this kind of spiderweb of content where everything is connected. Then, like you said, these pieces of pillar content which would be kind of the shining stars, the things that you would focus the most on and revisit and refine, and treating them almost as live pieces of content versus a one time publish and be done, something I’ve been thinking a lot about just across the board with all of the different content that we have in different places and how valuable it is to be aware of that content and to not just think about the next new thing. So, I feel like that’s a huge takeaway.
How about with CookIt Media? What were the big takeaways when you went through the process of kind of brand identity and exploring who you are and what your brand is? What were the big takeaways?
Jessica Gavin: Absolutely. I think what I had learned or all the trials and tribulations of figuring out what the focus is was with the website, I found a home to put my creativity, but when I started talking to Laurie about who am I serving or what am I doing, who am I helping, that really helped me to realize, and she says it, this is still your home, but it’s not just your home now. It’s your readers’ home, so you have to really understand who your readers are.
So, each time we met, we kind of looked at a different piece of the brand strategy. So, of course it started with, “Okay, what is your purpose and what are you delivering?” For me, it’s like, “Okay, my goal is to teach home cooks how to excel in the kitchen and grow their confidence through science,” and then figuring out, “Okay. Well, how are you going to do that and how do we match it up to what they need?” What they need is tastier, easier, faster meals so that everyone can eat at the dinner table and not sacrifice on taste. So, how could I use my knowledge and my skills to help those people?
I think that’s something that I love about you and Lindsay is it’s always like, “How can we help people?” I think that’s kind of that key connection point is I felt I guess maybe perhaps selfish with my blog at first in terms of, “Hey, I’m just going to publish something that I like,” or, “Here’s a childhood favorite, but it’s very complicated to do,” or it’s just more of a passion project, but really answering needs.
For me, becoming a mom and not having time but still wanting to deliver delicious, healthy meals to my family really changed the type of content that I was also producing, so I felt like it finally was matching up, my lifestyle with the blog and what my readers were looking for.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and it’s kind of this Venn diagram where as much as possible you want to get those all overlapping, the blog, your readers, and your life, how can you get those things to overlap, and that being the sweet spot. The hard thing is that there’s always going to be those parts that don’t overlap and you kind of wish they could.
There’s going to be parts of your life that you wish could be a part of the blog and they’re not. Even though your readers might be interested in it, it doesn’t fit within the blog, or you might know there are things that people in general or your readers would be interested in, but maybe you’re not passionate about it, so it would feel like a stretch or it wouldn’t completely align with who you are.
So, I think that process of discovering that is so valuable because then you have understanding of the … This is getting into details with it, but the perimeter, the radius of the circle, or what would it be? What would the mathematical term be, the circumference?
Jessica Gavin: Circumference? Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, the circumference of the circle. Once you have some clarity around what that is, it gives you more confidence as to what lands where and what is okay to publish.
Jessica Gavin: Yeah, absolutely.
Bjork Ostrom: What a valuable thing that is. We did an interview on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast with CookIt Media, and I’m pulling up that. It’s episode number 132, so if you go to FoodBloggerPro.com/132, you can check out that interview that we did with Laurie. So glad to hear that you had good experience with that.
Jessica Gavin: Absolutely.
Bjork Ostrom: So, continuing down the line here to hear more about some of the things that you’ve been working on, tell us about the app. I think that’s something that a lot of people are interested in. I really like the idea of repurposing the content that you’re creating in other places. What is the app and how does that work and what was the process like in doing that?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah, absolutely. So, I was approached by a company called SideChef in I think July of 2017. They have a website and app themselves. The website has probably over 4000 recipes and they have hundreds of chefs and bloggers who submit their recipes to this site, and they really focus on step-by-step cooking and kind of teaching the readers how to cook.
So, that really aligned with what I’m doing with my business. And they were interested as like a beta test to reach out to some of the publishers and see if we’re interested to create our own app in their publishing network. For Jason and I, we were really excited because, well maybe more him because he’s such the tech junkie, but we were just really interested in how that would work because apps are exploding. Look at Angry Birds. I mean, man, that companies making millions off of kids and adults, I’m sure.
But it was more of seeing what’s new with technology? How can we stay up on what’s happening in the kitchens? We have an Alexa and a Google Home and just kitchens are becoming smart and connected and different and people do go online to websites but mostly people are on mobile now. And it was just an opportunity to get into tech space in a different way with us not having to lead the charge as much because they were offering to actually create the app, so we wouldn’t have to pay anything to do that. Create the technology infrastructure and do all of the maintenance for the features. And all we had to do with give them initial designs, what we wanted in our different filters in terms of do you want a filter for cuisine, diet, recipe type, popular ingredients, calories, or time, and then, provide the recipes.
So we started our launch with a hundred recipes and my caveat was I had to do voice recordings. So what I would have to do is every day, or not every day but as often as I could, try to get those a hundred recordings done. But for me, I liked that because as you’re building your brand, people want to hear from you. They actually want to perhaps even hear you in their kitchen and be cooking along with you and have this more connected, interactive experience while they’re cooking. So I just thought that that was really neat to be able to actually connect personally with my readers in the kitchen while they were cooking. So that was a really cool feature that I really liked.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool, that’s great. And The SideChef is a company that, like you said, they have their own app but I know they’ve also worked with a couple different bloggers, actually some bloggers we’ve had on the podcast, Cooking Kate and Budget Bites as well. And it’s fun to see those apps doing so well. So top is number 112 in food and drink for Jessica Gavin app which is awesome. And you think of however many, I forget what they say, but there’s millions and millions of apps and to know that we are connected with and know some of those people is really fun to see that.
In terms of, do you feel like for the business, and you don’t have to share numbers but I think people would be curious. Is that something for you where it’s like hey, this is awareness for our brand? Is it like a percentage of the revenue you’re able to make from the blog? If so, is it like 1%, 5%, or 10%? I think people would be curious to know from a business strategy, what does it look like implementing an app and what are the, not even necessarily, monetary things that you get from it but what do you view as the payback? Or for you guys was it this experiment to say hey, we want to see what it’s like to be in this space and get a little feel for what it’s like to take things not just online but to use an app as well as different medium to deliver content?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah, absolutely, what you just said. For us it was more experimentation with what is up and coming in our industry and things are changing so much. If we have the opportunity to do something that’s … Obviously, you want to make sure you identify if something is a distraction or not because that could be a huge distraction. And I still can’t believe we took it on at the time we did with all that was going on last year but I thought it was just such a unique opportunity and since they were in the driver’s seat, we were willing to put in the extra time if we had any allotted to do so.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure.
Jessica Gavin: But it was just more being in the forefront of kitchen technology. And they have more of a partnership model for revenue so you have your splits but obviously because they’re doing all the development and maintenance, you have to get that paid off first before you’re going to see any significant revenue. And we’re okay with that because everything that we make for the blog right now goes to R&D purposes and we’re trying to grow so we don’t worry too much about oh, I didn’t do that for the money. I did it for the experience and the potential to see what could happen in the future with food. And I’m always on board with that.
Bjork Ostrom: And you said something there that’s actually really interesting, you talked about being really intentional to take what you are earning from the blog and putting that back into it for growth. And that’s something that I’ve noticed with you as I’ve seen you at whether it’s a conference or you talked about attending the TC Food Photography Workshop. And it’s a theme that I’ve noticed with a decent number of people that we’ve interviewed on the podcast is that they’re really intentional to at least take a portion of what they are earning or in the early stages invest into what they’re doing.
And I’d be interested to hear you talk a little bit about that in your strategy and reasoning for that. Because I think some people would think hey, I’m working hard and taking the time and energy. It’s a ton of work to do this. I’m going to take whatever I can and spend it on something fun. But instead, and maybe some of this stuff is fun, but instead you’re saying hey, we’re going to invest back into growth. And what does that look like for you? And can you talk about some of the reasoning behind that?
Jessica Gavin: Yeah, absolutely. I think right now I have a very fortunate setup. It is a challenge but to be able to work full-time and run a side hustle which feels like a full-time hustle, for sure, is fortunate because I’m not thinking okay, I’m living paycheck to paycheck trying to run the blog and do this as well. It’s like I have what I need for stability for my family and then I have the blog that’s providing resources so that we can grow it and try new things and be more risky.
And over time, I am not a risky person but being with my husband, Jason, who is extremely risky and he’s like no, don’t worry, we’re going to buy you this camera or this lens because I really feel like if you can invest in yourself and the skills that you need to make your business better and to hone your craft, it pays off so much in the long run. I think it’s easy to say okay, for example, Lindsay’s course, okay, that’s a couple hundred dollars, I don’t know if I can afford it right now. But if you think about what you’ve made from your blog and maybe it’s stretched a little bit, think about what skills you’re going to be learning and practicing and how that is going to help explode your growth with your blog versus just waiting.
I always tell my friends who aren’t sure if they want to go to a conference or go to a workshop or buy something that’s going to help them with their blogging that what are you waiting for? Unless it’s a … I’m not saying go for broke or anything but if it’s a little bit of investment, I try to do a couple of those a year. I always try to go to conferences if I need to update some computer program or new lighting for my studio or a new lens. I’m open to investing in it because I know it’s going to make my quality better. It will refresh my passion for the business and get me going.
Because seriously, if you invest in yourself, no one can take away your skills that you’re developing and that you’re practicing and that’s really what is going to make your blog grow and your business grow.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that’s such a great takeaway. And I think it’s one of the things that because it’s not tangible and it’s kind of hard to track, the things that are easiest to track are all of the numbers which are sometimes the most distracting things. What is my traffic or how many social media followers do I have or how many likes do I have? But the thing that you can’t track as much is how are you as an individual developing your skills and abilities?
And I think this stuff that we’re talking about, the things that we’re doing, and the things that you’re doing, it’s one of the greatest ways to develop those skills and abilities. And like you said, those are things that can’t be taken away. And social media can change, traffic can change, but, for instance, your ability to understand a camera and take really good photos. That’s going to be core to who you are. You’re understanding of maybe if you like some of the more technical stuff. How do work that and interact with that. Maybe you start to understand WordPress and you find that you really like that. Those are skills and abilities that you can’t take away.
And to invest in that and to stay on the edge of your comfort level. You talked about that with photography, kind of being uncomfortable, but you’re at the edge. And then, your comfort level, it expands out. So then, you’re comfortable with more things. Such an important takeaway. And I feel like it’s a good note to end on because I want to leave people with that thought. And so, that will be … Well, I have one more question.
So keep that taste in your mouth for people but also want to know, you’ve been doing this for six years now and you’ve learned a lot along the way, you’ve implemented, you’ve iterated, you’ve improved. What would your advice be to people who are maybe where you were three or four years ago. And what have been the things that have been most helpful for you on your journey that you’d recommend other people implement?
Jessica Gavin: Absolutely. I think the first thing that I didn’t do right away was just knowing your beat. It’s like a news reporter. I knew that for me, culinary science was what made me unique but I didn’t take advantage of it and I didn’t create a business strategy or a growth strategy around that. I just decided to just continue to post recipes but not with intention. It was just more like just to get content up. And I think that’s totally okay to experiment in the beginning but if you want to treat this like a business and really build your brand, you need to know what you’re passionate about, what separates you from others, and if you match it and exceed it with effort, then that’s the right … You’re on the right track to start off.
So just really thinking of a business plan. The cookbook for me, actually, and I felt better late than never. But the cookbook allowed me to sit down every day pretty much feeling like going to my masters and creating my thesis again. But what is my strategy? What is my game plan? And I realized, it needs to be about cooking techniques and then, building off from there. And being that educator and that trusted sourced and answer girl, essentially for home cooks. And so, that refined my beat and that refined my purpose. And it just has made me feel so much more connected to what I want to do in the future.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. You were going to say … I’ll let you finish that thought.
Jessica Gavin: No. I ended that thought. I was going to tell you other stuff but go ahead if you want to.
Bjork Ostrom: I just think the idea of, you’ve said that a couple times, of what’s your beat. And I follow a lot of tech podcasts and they always say … They’ll maybe talk about things in general but they say what’s your beat? And it’s usually things like a really specific subset of tech, like AI or self-driving cars or it’s a very specific subset. And I think the true is the same for our niche where there’s food, there’s recipes, but it’s like what’s your beat? What’s the thing? And it’s such an important takeaway. And so, just wanted to call that out as a really good point.
Jessica Gavin: Absolutely. Another thing that we had just touched upon was not being afraid to invest in yourself. You are your most valuable asset and you have to be willing to spend money to make money. And even building a strong team like we had talked about how do I balance it all? Well, realize that I can’t do everything so I definitely hired a VA to handle Facebook scheduling and I’ve hired out amazing food videographers who are also bloggers. And I’m supporting their business but they’re also helping grow mine being able to have video available on my site to further help others.
But also, going to those conferences and actually networking and meeting people, has been so huge for my growth just because when we first started, social media wasn’t huge and it was truly about connecting with your friends. And then, it started being used as a tool for businesses.
And I realized actually when I went to Lindsay’s workshop and seeing the other girls interact and talk and oh, we’re in these groups together. I was like oh my gosh, I don’t know anybody. I have no one to share with or they don’t know me. And one huge thing I’ve realized just in life is it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you. That’s what social media is for. That’s what networking and creating real, lasting friendships.
But I remember getting a book from Jason when I was first starting about Will Write For Food by Diane Jacobs and Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin. And I got to meet them at EFC this year and I ended up inviting Diane to my cookbook launch party.
Bjork Ostrom: How nice.
Jessica Gavin: And it was just like oh my gosh. They are such these goddesses in our industry and just being there and seeing them face to face and talking to them, it’s kind of totally fan girling but if I wasn’t there, I just would have never been able to network. And as I was thinking about my next cookbook, I would love to talk to Diane and work with her on a cookbook proposal, things like that.
Just little investments like networking and getting out there and going to the conference and meeting the people that you see online and talking to them really makes a difference and then going to the workshops or getting on Food Blogger Pro and being up on the forums and having a community to support you. Even though it’s a monthly investment, it’s so much more than just what that dollar is worth is having to build your business and having people support you.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. And it’s been so fun to see you do that through the years and to be connected as you guys are on that journey. So fun to have this podcast interview be a step along that journey as well. So thanks so much for coming on, Jessica. It was so good to talk to you.
For those that want to follow along with you, connect with you, where can they find you online?
Jessica Gavin: Absolutely. My culinary science website is just my name, http://www.jessicagavin.com. And all of my social is the same so it will be easy to find.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. And we’ll link to it in the show notes as well. Jessica, so great to connect and thanks for being on the podcast.
Jessica Gavin: Thanks so much, Bjork.
Alexa Peduzzi: And that is that, my friends. Jessica has such a cool background and story and we hope you enjoyed this interview. But before we wrap up today, it’s time for our Food Blogger Pro Podcast reviewer of the week. And this one comes from Kadams and I hope I’m pronouncing that right. This review says, “This is a must for any blogger, foodie or not. I am a DIY blogger and get so much helpful information from these podcasts. I always walk away feeling inspired and with a to-do list. Up your blogging game and Bjork can help. Episode 38 is amazing, by the way.”
So if you go to foodbloggerpro.com/38, you’ll actually find the episode that Kadams was talking about. This is actually a Bjork solo-sode and it’s about seven traffic tips for bloggers which is always a good topic to learn more about, in my opinion.
Thanks for tuning in this week, friends. We are incredibly grateful that you have decided to tune in and make the Food Blogger Pro Podcast a part of your day today. So from all of us here at FBP HQ, make it a great week.
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