457: How to Acquire and Grow a Food Blog with Parker Thornburg

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A blue photograph of two people at a desk looking at a computer with the title of Parker Thornburg's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'How to Acquire and Grow a Food Blog.'

This episode is sponsored by CultivateWP and Memberful.

Welcome to episode 457 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Parker Thornburg from Foodness Gracious.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Chelsea Clarke. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How to Acquire and Grow a Food Blog

Starting a food blog or business is hard work. It can take months (years!) of determination, practice, and consistency before you start to see results. So what if you just… skipped ahead?!

That’s exactly what Parker Thornburg and his business partner did when they acquired the existing food blog, Foodness Gracious. But just because the site was up and running (with thousands of recipes!) doesn’t mean the transition has been an easy or seamless one.

In this interview, Parker shares more about the process of acquiring a site, what the transition has been like, how they’ve navigated hiring and traffic drops, and have started to come out the other side. Whether or not you’re thinking about acquiring a site (or selling your own), there are lots of great lessons to be learned for anyone!

A photograph of someone pouring dressing into a salad bowl with a quote from Parker Thornburg's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast that reads: "What are the things we need to do consistently to see the end result."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • More about Parker’s professional background (including time at Yahoo and a start-up).
  • Why Parker decided to acquire an existing food blog.
  • About the process of acquiring a site and using a brokerage site.
  • What factors to consider when acquiring a site (including calculating potential profits).
  • How they hired their team and what the early days of the site looked like after acquisition (including lots of lessons learned).
  • How Parker and his business partner have navigated traffic drops since acquiring their site.
  • The importance of consistency and habits when trying something new.
  • How he balances his full-time job, family life, and growing Foodness Gracious.
  • What he wants the legacy of this site to be.


Thank you to our sponsors!

This episode is sponsored by CultivateWP and Memberful.

Interested in working with us too? Learn more about our sponsorship opportunities and how to get started here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Memberful. Looking to find sustainable sources of income from your blog this year that don’t include fighting against changing search engines and social media algorithms? With exclusive membership content, you can create a new source of income by turning your food blog into a membership business while creating the content you’re passionate about.

Memberful has everything you need to quickly get your membership program up and running with content gating, paid newsletters, private podcasts, and much more. Plus, Memberful seamlessly integrates with your existing WordPress website, or you can use Memberful to create your own Member home within minutes using their in-house tools. With Memberful, you can create multiple membership tiers, limiting access to certain recipes, meal plans, and cooking tutorials to better connect with your most devoted followers and monetize the content you’re already producing.

By using Memberful, you’ll have access to a world-class support team ready to help you set up your membership and grow your revenue. They’re passionate about your success, and you’ll always have access to a real human when you need help. Food creators are already using Memberful to foster community within their audiences and monetize their content. Listeners to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast can go memberful.com/food to learn more about Memberful solutions for food creators and create an account for free. M-E-M-B-E-R-F-U-L.com/food. Thanks again to Memberful for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there. This is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Parker Thornburg from the food blog, Foodness Gracious, they are chatting about a topic that we actually haven’t covered a ton on the podcast but is super interesting. We are chatting all about acquiring an existing food blog, which is exactly what Parker and his business partner did when they acquired Foodness Gracious last year.

In this interview, Bjork and Parker chat about what the process of acquiring a food blog looks like, what factors to consider when acquiring a site, including budget and potential profit, the previous owner, just all the nitty-gritty details that you might need to know, and then Parker shares a lot more about what it’s been like since they acquired the site. He did not have a background in food blogging, and so there’s been a really steep learning curve and he shares more about what they’ve learned, how they’ve navigated traffic changes at the site, and how they’ve re-imagine the site to make it their own.

Parker shares about how he is balancing this food blog with his current full-time job and what he wants the legacy of Foodness Gracious to be. Whether or not you’re thinking about acquiring a site or selling your own site, it’s a super interesting interview with just a new perspective on food blogging and running your own site. Without further ado, I’ll let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Parker, welcome to the podcast.

Parker Thornburg: Thank you so much for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, this is going to be a fun conversation because it’s an area that I’m really interested in and love reading about, love exploring, love talking to people who have gone through this process of acquisitions. A lot of times on the podcast we talk about, and remind people who are listening that one of the things that we’re doing is we’re building a business, businesses inherently have value, and that’s… For a lot of people, you build up this business and it’s one of the most valuable things that you own maybe along with your house, and you can sell it.

You sell it to somebody on the other end as a buyer, and you are a buyer of a food media business, of a website, and it’s going to be a great conversation because a lot of us don’t think about that as a way to step into our entrepreneurial pursuits. For you, it wasn’t something that you had always been doing or thinking about, it was really strategically looking at it as a business opportunity it sounds like.

Before we get there, I’m going to do a little bit of a trailer so people know it’s coming, but we’re going to rewind the tape. You had been working in the world of technology at Yahoo. I’m a Yahoo News guy, so I go to Yahoo Daily. Supporter of Yahoo in your previous career, so take us back to that and talk us through the origin of starting to think about being a business owner.

Parker Thornburg: I’ve worked at a variety of different companies of varying sizes, from small insurance companies to publicly traded companies like Yahoo while I was there at the time. My background is pretty diverse, I consider myself more of a generalist from an operational perspective with project management, business analysis, and things like that.

While I was at Yahoo between 2011 and 2019, I met Scott, who at the time, was my manager for seven of my eight years there. In 2019, just before COVID, I had this entrepreneurial itch that needed to be scratched. I said you know what? I’m going to try my hand and join a startup. When I say startup, I mean four employees and no customers, no revenue actually at the time.

Bjork Ostrom: So this is a startup that had raised a round of money, had a burn rate?

Parker Thornburg: They had a burn rate, but not a lot of seed money or anything like that. We were really scraping for customers, just very down and dirty in terms of from a startup perspective. When I went to Scott and put in my notice and he said, “Where are you going to go?” I told him I was going to this startup that was in Omaha, where I’m located, and Scott said, “I think you should totally go because I’m just getting ready to invest in that company.”

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, really? Oh, my goodness.

Parker Thornburg: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Is he from Omaha as well?

Parker Thornburg: He’s from California originally, but he actually moved to Omaha to help build up the Yahoo presence in Omaha, which included all the whole finance area of the United States for Yahoo. That’s how I met him. I thought he was going to beg me to stay, something like that.

Bjork Ostrom: He’s like do it!

Parker Thornburg: He kicked me right on out the door. Through COVID, we kept talking and we laughed to each other and said, maybe our paths will continue to cross, maybe we’ll even run a business together someday. We laughed about that and then after COVID, I was getting into more cooking and things like that, and we started looking at content websites and digital websites and digital companies that we could possibly purchase together. We knew that we didn’t want brick and mortar, we knew that we didn’t want to have a huge number of employees, we wanted some flexibility in terms of contractors or VAs to help us to run the business.

We looked at about 200 companies over about a two-year period. Some we looked at really deeply, that were a couple of offers made that ended up being declined or chosen other offers, but this one was one that we were really excited about for this food website called Foodness Gracious.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Number one, are you still with the startup? Is that something that you’re still working on?

Parker Thornburg: I actually worked for that startup for a couple of years and COVID was a very difficult time for a lot of startup companies, including that one. I actually was in Vietnam for a sales pitch the second week of March 2020. My wife was calling me saying, “They’re closing schools. You might want to come home.” And so I did.

I currently work a full-time job at a medical staffing company here in Omaha, Nebraska. Scott also works a full-time job. He’s more on the financial side, he’s a controller, and we just put our passion and all the time we have on the side into Foodness Gracious.

Bjork Ostrom: I love that. One of the things that I love about that is you’re in a stage of life, similar to us and a lot of other people, where you have this passion, you have maybe a little bit of the entrepreneurial spirit, and you also have a family. What does it look like to serve all of those things well, your family, your wife, your kids, and your own desire to be creative and build a thing.

It sounds like you’ve found a pretty cool outlet for that in not having to build something from scratch because it takes a lot of time, and to be at a place in life where there’s always the time, money equation. For us, when we look back to our early 20s, we had a lot of time, but we didn’t have a lot of money and so it made sense for us to say we’re going to spend a lot of time getting started with these things.

Over time, sometimes that changes, sometimes it doesn’t, but if you’re in a season of life where maybe you have a little bit more disposable income, you can start to trade some of that and fast track and say okay, there might be a scenario where in this season of life, it doesn’t make sense for me to build something from scratch, the risk involved, the time involved, but instead to take some of this money that you and your partner in this case have and to go out and look to acquire a business.

You talked about this search phase where you’ve said we want to do this, we want to figure out a business to buy. Tell me about that stage. Did you have parameter, like a buy box? Sometimes people would say that where you have a certain size of business, a certain type of business, a certain category of business, and then if something is outside of that buy box, you can discard it. Did you have that when you were in that two year search phase, looking at those 200 businesses?

Parker Thornburg: We did. I would say more so we knew what we didn’t want versus what we did want, which sometimes is almost even more valuable in the search process. We knew we didn’t want brick and mortar, so that cut out quite a few businesses even though with the baby boomer generation, there’s a lot of small businesses that will be coming up for sale. We knew that was not something that we wanted.

Bjork Ostrom: And they’ll eventually just go away if nobody buys them, they’re these in between-

Parker Thornburg: Correct.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s such an interesting time.

Parker Thornburg: Yeah, so we knew we didn’t want that because I’m in Omaha and Scott at that time had moved back and he was in California again. We knew that it was going to be a lot of pressure on one or the other, and it just wasn’t fair to our partnership.

We knew we wanted to go online, we wanted to stay in the digital space because there’s a lot of flexibility and a lot of learnings out there already, whether it be if we went content, we had a lot of learnings to do and a lot of experts that we could tap into from an SEO perspective or something like that.

We looked at some companies out there that were maybe a little bit more on… As you would see, if you go to foodnessgracious.com, you’ll see that we’ve added a pillar around reviews, different cooking product reviews. We looked at businesses that were based solely on that. There was one that we looked at that was around products for cats, that was the entire business.

We knew that we wanted to stay with a very small number of employees or even potentially zero employees, we wanted something that had lasted and had some social media following, and of course then we had a budget as well that we wanted to make sure that we stuck within our budget and we didn’t overextend ourselves because we both have families as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so you have these general parameters around what you don’t want. You don’t want brick and mortar, you don’t want something that’s going to overextend yourself. How did you find these businesses? Where were you getting these 200 different businesses to look at? For anybody else who’s like maybe this would be something I’d be interested in doing, how do you go about sourcing the deal flow for looking at these potential acquisitions?

Parker Thornburg: It’s a great question. Scott actually saw someone speak at a conference and his name is Walker Deibel. Walker Deibel has a book called Buy Then Build.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep, I was going to mention it. Yeah.

Parker Thornburg: Yep. That was one of the foundational aspects. Scott actually told me, “You’ve got to get this book. Read this, and this could be kind of where we go with our business search.” We started with Walker’s book, it talks a lot about the success rates of starting from scratch versus buying and then building from there, something that already has some value to it already, as you mentioned.

We started from there and then Scott actually was able to reach out to Walker and we got involved in… He has a little class that he puts on where he teaches people about deal flow and what to look for. He calls it creating your buyer profile. It’s almost like a resume for your self and what kind of a buyer you are. That helped us to really get down to what exactly it was that we wanted and what we were looking for.

There were a couple of really large online brokerages for businesses as well. If you are looking, the one that we purchased through is called QuietLight. There is another one called Empire Flippers, and there are probably a handful of others that are online brokerages, but QuietLight was the one that we found Foodness Gracious on, and you reach out through the brokerage website and the discussions begin and you start to… It’s really vetting each other. We’re vetting them just as much as they’re vetting us to see if we have a good match here.

Bjork Ostrom: Did you work with Chris on that, by chance? Was he the broker?

Parker Thornburg: I would have to go back and look and see the name. Everything is a blur over the last year now.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Chris has been… I’m trying to think, I don’t know if he’s been on the podcast before. We’ve had Mark who’s the founder of QuietLight on a couple of times because Mark is actually based in Minnesota so pre-COVID, I saw him quite a bit. Chris is on their team. I think Walker is as well as a broker, just as I think Chris has gotten plugged in as somebody as a go-to for the world of food and food sites.

Talk about the idea of a multiple. I think it’s helpful for people who are buying or building a business to understand the inherent value that they have, but also for anybody buying a business to understand what it is that you’re buying and how you think about that as it relates to profit within the company or cash flow or whatever you want to call it.

Parker Thornburg: I think a lot of people, and there are a lot of websites that have different philosophies around how you assess a business’s value. Obviously Scott and I talked a lot about what was the amount that we were willing to pay, and if you’re looking at a business to consumer, a physical product company where you’re selling a product, whether it be through an Amazon affiliate, there’s a lot of those types of businesses for sale where someone has built up an Amazon affiliate product that they’re selling to the consumer that will have a different multiple and the calculation could even be different.

When we’re talking multiple, in this case with content, there are very few expenses really to a content website. The multiples might be different just based on… It could be gross revenue times a certain multiple, if they call it a 3X multiple, and your revenue… Make it nice and easy, let’s say that your revenue is $50,000 a year and you do a 3X multiple, then you would be paying $150,000.

The beauty of having these online brokerages is you can see the type of business, how they’re doing in terms of revenue, and you can see the multiple that they’re asking. So you have a lot of knowledge at your fingertips without even really having to talk to anyone to really understand as you’re looking at a business before you dive into the financials and the operation, you can really get a good understanding of does this even make sense, the multiple that they’re asking?

If you see a content website with a 3X multiple over here and these other 10 content websites have a 2.2X multiple, that’s a very big difference. You would really be able to be equipped to ask the question to this one, why such a high multiple over here compared to all of these other ones that I’m seeing that are in a similar space, same type of business, but a much lower multiple. It really does equip you to ask some really tough questions.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. The idea, as you were saying is with the content site, there’s not a ton of expenses. Maybe you have email, you have hosting, these services. People might be taking a salary out of that as the owner, but that’s something that you would add back in. Let’s say you have a site, for easy math, that’s making $60,000 total in revenue from affiliate and advertising, maybe there’s $10,000 of expenses, you could say that might be worth $150,000 as a business.

Parker Thornburg: Yes, correct.

Bjork Ostrom: Did you guys have an idea of how much you wanted to spend on acquiring a company and what did it look like? Did you have that from savings or sometimes people will get a loan, a business loan to do that? What was the thought process with that?

Parker Thornburg: Scott and I both had savings and part of our buyer profile was we knew we did not want to do a loan. Part of the beauty of buying a small business in the United States is there’s… In Walker’s book, he talks a lot about the small business administration, the SBA, where for as little as 10% down, if it’s SBA approved, you can buy a business for as little as 10% down.

Scott and I knew we didn’t want to mess around with that. We didn’t want to go through the loan process, so we took our savings and we both said, “Okay, how much are you willing to put in?” We had a max amount, and then of course we wanted to get the best deal possible. Everything was from our personal savings.

Bjork Ostrom: Talk about why you didn’t want to go through the process of getting a loan or specifically with SBA, why you avoided that?

Parker Thornburg: Number one, we knew the size of business that we were looking for and it was within the realm of our savings. That really made things easier. If we were looking to buy a million-dollar business, we would really have to figure out how are we going to do this loan process or the SBA process, depending on the business.

I will probably say the number one reason we didn’t want to do the loan process is we had such a fear of the unknown. We had never owned a business before, and there’s just an inherent fear of failure that okay, if this thing goes very poorly, then we wanted to make sure that we weren’t overextending ourselves, that-

Bjork Ostrom: You didn’t have to give your house up.

Parker Thornburg: We wouldn’t have to give our house up, my wife and children wouldn’t give up on me if I spent too much. A lot of those things go through your brain. We really wanted to make sure that everything was within what we were comfortable with. Almost like walking into the casino with $20 and you know you could lose that entire thing, we had to both be very comfortable with the amount that we were willing to lose.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting when you think about the numbers with that in a scenario where let’s say you want to buy a site and you’re going to buy a site that’s worth a $1 million. In a scenario like that, you could look at it and you could say okay, that site is maybe cash flowing, just to make it easy, $330,000 a year. You could potentially take an SBA loan and only put 10% down, so maybe you put $100,000 down to buy a million-dollar company that’s making $330,000 a year, and you’d be able to cash flow while still paying for the loan as long as the revenue doesn’t go down, and that’s the inherent risk with a business, especially businesses in our world where people listening know there’s just a recent Google algorithm update, and for some people the traffic goes in half.

In a scenario like that, you have a loan, you are able to make cash flow, but then if revenue goes in half because of a Google algorithm update, suddenly you’re underwater and then you’re having to cover those or you’re accountable to the loan. That’s where it gets messy and that’s where the risk is with any business acquisition. It’s interesting to think about, there’s a really opportunity there, and if you are able to execute and grow revenue or keep revenue the same, that could be really incredible. You could maybe pay it back sooner and then you have this incredible cash flow, but there’s also a lot of risk involved with it.

Talk to me about when you saw, Foodness Gracious, you saw this site, you knew that it was a good fit, what was the range of that? If you can share numbers on what the acquisition price actually was and then just what that process was like to actually get to the point where you signed the deal and closed.

Parker Thornburg: It didn’t take long for us to look at… Quietlight does a really great job of putting together a full packet of information. There’s a question and answer section on this 30 to 40 page PDF that you can receive, and you don’t have to pay anything to receive this information, you just send them your name and email address that you’re interested, and the PDF will come back to you almost immediately is the way it works.

If you want to go deeper, than you start setting up meetings through the broker and things like that. As we started to see the numbers and see what we thought we could do, and the asking price was within the realm of what we had budgeted for. What we did from there was we started meeting with the broker and setting up meetings with the founder. The founder’s name is Jerry Spears, he’s a wonderful human being. I really think that was a key part of our comfort level was that Jerry was going to work with us to make sure that the transition worked smoothly.

He cared enough about the business. He started it back, I believe 2011 or 2012, so this had been a longstanding passion for him. There are close to nearly 1,000 recipes on the website. He really wanted to make sure that it was going to a good home, so to speak, and making sure that someone was going to take care of it the way that he took care of it. Working with Jerry I think was a key thing. I think if we had met with Jerry and had a poor experience, even if the numbers were great, I think that we probably would’ve really hesitated on moving forward but not only did the numbers look good from our perspective, but working with Jerry and speaking with him and how we wanted to see the transition go also worked out well. I think it had both sides working positively.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, interesting. You go through this process, it’s within your buy box, you’re ready to close, you sign the documents. What is that first day like when the business is yours?

Parker Thornburg: The only thing I can say it’s similar to is when you buy the house and you step into your house and you go what did we just do?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, this is ours now.

Parker Thornburg: This is ours, so I guess we have to do something with it. We worked it out with Jerry where we wanted to do right by the followers of Foodness Gracious. Between Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, there’s around 150,000 followers on social media and they’re used to seeing Jerry, they’re used to seeing Jerry’s hands. Jerry’s got this awesome tattoo on his forearm and they’re used to seeing that in the photos, so we wanted to do kind of a handoff.

Scott living in California, I actually flew to California. Jerry is in California as well, and so we did a cooking handoff, so to speak, from Jerry to us where we actually cooked a couple recipes that are from my family and Jerry was in those photos and we did the handoff, and then it really got down to really the operational side of things and how are we going to do this?

How are we going to make new recipes? How are we going to get them onto the website? We don’t know anything about WordPress, we don’t know anything about SEO. It was really about identifying the strengths that we felt that I had and Scott had, which is more operational and financial, and then finding team members who we felt could complement those in the areas where we were weak.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. How did you do that? We’ve been doing it for 14 years, and it was interesting, I have some email exchanges with Jerry, which is fun.

Parker Thornburg: Oh my gosh, really? That’s amazing.

Bjork Ostrom: I didn’t know, but one specifically where we were talking about Pinterest and he had some awesome questions in the small world of food creators, but we know okay, we have this contact over here, we have this person over here, this person is really good at Pinterest, this person is really good at YouTube. When you’re just getting started with it, you’re just figuring all that out, so what was that like for you to try and source all of those experts in those different areas to come around you and to help?

Parker Thornburg: It was tough. I’ll be honest, we made some mistakes along the way in terms of our expenses, we made some mistakes along the way in terms of… The first thing we did was we hired a VA who was located in the Philippines, and that person came to us with SEO, social media and website maintenance experience. The amount that we were paying versus the amount of revenue that we were bringing in, we realized very quickly we’re either paying too much or we maybe need to spread ourselves to some different experts and have someone who’s really good in SEO, keyword research, SEO, and then maybe we find someone who’s good on the website maintenance side and we have some smaller expenses across multiple people versus one person who we’re relying on everything. That was a change that we did make very quickly.

I would say my biggest learning was I had this vision, this dream that I had of owning this business was I’m going to have my wife involved, I’m going to have my kids involved, and we’re going to make these recipes off the keywords that our VA is finding for us and I’m going to make these at home, I’m going to take great pictures the way Jerry did, and we’re just going to add on and we’re just going to keep adding on. Each week, we’re going to have all these recipes. I will say I learned very, very quickly that making the recipes and planning for that is extremely difficult, but nothing harder than taking great food photography. Jerry is a food photographer… The way I would explain Jerry, I hope this is no disrespect to Jerry, he’s a food photographer who also had a food blog.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Was an incredible photographer.

Parker Thornburg: That’s his passion. That is what he did, and he did it so well, and people love the photography on the website. No matter what I did, and I’m fairly tech-savvy, I could not get the food photography I took at home to look like his. That was very frustrating. No matter what I did, I’d say… My wife is so supportive, and she would say, “That looks really good.”

Bjork Ostrom: That looks better than your last photo.

Parker Thornburg: It looks better than the last photo. But then my children would go, “That doesn’t look like Jerry’s.” I would go, “Thank you. I’m well aware of that.”

Bjork Ostrom: Tough love from the kids.

Parker Thornburg: Yeah, my kids are always going to be honest with me. It was a real struggle for me because this vision that I had for the business of me making more food and working with Scott from a distance, it didn’t happen and so we had to pivot. It was not working.

Bjork Ostrom: Before we continue, let’s take a moment to hear from our sponsors.

This episode is sponsored by CultivateWP, specifically a new offering they have called CultivateGo. As business owners, I’m talking to you, one of the things we need to get good at is thinking about how we invest in our business. As someone who publishes content online, one of your most important business assets is your website.

But there’s a problem that a lot of us run into when we think about investing into our website and it’s that it seems like there’s really two options. You have the DIY, figure it out on your own, get really frustrated, spend a bunch of time, or pay tens of thousands of dollars to have a fully customized design and theme developed. What if you find yourself in between those two options? You’re a successful and established blogger, or even a new blogger who wants to invest in the best options, but you don’t have a budget of tens of thousands of dollars.

That’s where CultivateGo comes in. CultivateGo is an offering from a company called CultivateWP, co-founded by Bill Erickson, an incredible developer that we’ve worked with in the past before we had our own internal team, and Dwayne Smith, an incredible designer. For years, they’ve had their calendar field doing these fully customized sites, but they realize that there’s hundreds of bloggers who want that same level of technology but didn’t have that budget.

That’s where CultivateGo comes in. It’s a semi-custom theme design in white glove site setup. That means that your CultivateGo site can compete on an even technological playing field with the biggest food blogs in the world. You choose one of the core themes, you customize it with your logo, your brand colors, your typography, and then the CultivateWP team sets it up on a staging environment and it can launch your site within one week, and the cost is $5,000.

It’s that perfect sweet spot for anybody who finds themselves in that in-between stage where you want the best of the best, but you don’t want to have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get it. If you’re interested in checking that out, go to FoodBloggerPro.com/go or just search CultivateGo in Google.

When you say pivot, you had this dream of what it was going to be, you also have this business and now are responsible to keep this business thriving and successful to yourself in a lot of ways, but what did the pivot look like? What did you pivot into then?

Parker Thornburg: That was when we decided okay, we probably need to redesign the website and we need to expand the content that we’re providing to our followers. We were only recipes with the primary driver of revenue coming from Mediavine and we said we want to expand the content and expand our potential revenue opportunity as well.

That’s when I sat down with a very good friend of mine who also happens to be my brother-in-law, and we tried to strategize on what does the mission of the company become? We knew recipes were going to be a key foundation point, and then I talked about how we looked at some businesses that were all about product reviews, and we knew that it was very easy to get an Amazon affiliate account and get that up. We said recipes and reviews, but then there’s always this tug of being more sustainable, being food responsible.

We said okay, recipes, reviews, responsibility. We liked how the alliteration of that and how that all worked together, and that’s what led us to the mission that’s on the front of the homepage right now, which is we empower, equip, and inspire home chefs. The empower is the recipes, equipping them is with the product reviews, and inspiring them is the responsibility side. That’s what led us to that, and we opened this up and we pivoted our newsletter as well with the redesign of the website in December 2023 and started finding that we have some new revenue drivers as well.

Bjork Ostrom: What are those new revenue drivers? The affiliate obviously, so you introduce product reviews, anybody who’s the buyer intent of somebody who’s looking at product reviews is like I want to look at this review because I might be buying it, so the hope is that they look at it, they click on an affiliate link, they convert, so there’s that. Is that the primary one or is there additional revenue opportunities?

Parker Thornburg: We have that one, we are very thoughtfully considering guest posts onto the website, but that’s a very tricky area that I’m trying to learn a little bit more about, trying to make sure we’re choosing the right ones. I get a lot of emails because my email is the one right off the website, so we get a lot of emails for guest posts. We’re very particular about doing that. We’ve only done one at this point. Our newsletter was on a pretty legacy software application previously, and so we moved over to-

Bjork Ostrom: What was it, out of curiosity?

Parker Thornburg: It was called Mad Mimi.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.

Parker Thornburg: We moved off of that and we are now with beehiiv and we have found that to be a really wonderful change and I’m very pleased with how that is operating. They have their own ad network built in, they have an ability to do what they call boosts as well, where you can recommend other newsletters to your following. I haven’t tried that yet because I’m trying to not be so spammy with our newsletter. We want it to continue to be really good content.

Between the Mediavine, the product reviews, the newsletter now, potentially some guest posts, and then of course we have some other ideas for the future that are going to take some more diligent research before we jump into anything in the future, but trying to expand our potential revenue while providing more value to our followers.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. Looking at all the options, beehiiv, we haven’t used it before, but know a lot of people who do it, guest posting, kind of like Gray Zone, maybe a good way to make money, but potentially some long term risk.

Parker Thornburg: Correct. That’s exactly how we’re looking at it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Reviews of product, which is great. Also, I don’t know if you’ve seen this because you’re into it recently, but a lot of waviness in that industry with recent algorithm updates and a lot of review sites we’ve seen have been surpassed by Reddit threads and people are like wait a minute, I spent a bunch of time compiling this review and now there’s some random Reddit thread that’s showing up higher, but all in service of diversification, which I think is awesome.

We’ve been thinking about that even for Food Blogger Pro, people who have listened to podcasts for a long time know that we’ve started to do ads and you’ve heard those ads in a way that we haven’t done two years ago for the first seven years of the podcast, but it’s like oh my gosh, why didn’t we pursue that seven years ago as a revenue service? I think for all of us as business owners, it’s important for us to think about. We have this valuable thing, which is attention, and we have it across multiple different platforms. Email.

You talked about, website, obviously social, and there’s different ways that we can think strategically about how we capture the value of that attention, but like you said, doing so in a way where you want to be strategic, where you don’t stray too far from your brand, you don’t want it to be all the time, so thinking really strategically around absolutely how that works. Tell us about the redesign because that sounds like a fun dramatic story and things that you learned in that process.

Parker Thornburg: Sure. I went back and looked and I wanted to see the first time that we actually talked to the web designer. Scott has a daughter who is in grad school and she said, “If you’re going to redesign the website, you have to use this person. He designs my favorite websites.” He actually is in Europe, and she knows him and was able to connect us to him. We didn’t have a clue how much it was going to cost, what he might have in terms of vision. His name is Ayk, and we do have him linked at the bottom of our website in our footer at his request, so you can check him out.

Bjork Ostrom: Maray, is that… M-A-R-A-Y?

Parker Thornburg: Yep.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Parker Thornburg: Yeah, and his first name is Ayk, A-Y-K. He was fantastic to work with. Now, he doesn’t do WordPress, he built it in Webflow, and the volume of questions that he had to start was completely extensive. Everything about our brand, everything about what we were trying to accomplish, and then he came back with a design that we were really pleased with.

The first time that we talked with him was August 21st, 2023, and we launched the website December 1st, so if that gives everyone a little bit of an idea of timing. He continued to send us samples on a staging website for us to check out and come back with feedback. He was just wonderful to work with. I have no problem telling everyone what that cost. The cost for the website was about $7,000 going from our old version to our new one. We were pretty pleased with that amount.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I was going to say it’s an affordable amount. It’s interesting with some of the newer products like a Webflow where it just makes… I think it’ll just become more and more of this, but it makes design more accessible, I think. You can be somebody who’s designed forward but maybe not necessarily a super deep developer and you’re able to create something that’s pretty beautiful.

What did that look like just in terms of in the world of WordPress, there’s all of these considerations and I don’t know how deep you got into it, but around recipe cards and structured data and markup, is that all stuff that you were able to integrate into WebFlow in a similar way?

Parker Thornburg: I would say it is not like WordPress where there’s themes that you can use in WordPress and it does it… I don’t want to say does it for you, that is probably not the right word, but a lot of this was all built out of a template that Ayk created for us. We knew exactly how we wanted it to flow, we knew the color scheme that we wanted. We wanted to go away from the bright white that many of the other food websites have, we wanted to have that deeper green, we have a very strong female audience, and so we wanted colors that we thought might relate a little bit more with that female audience. We were pretty pleased with the attractiveness of the website. I will say the best part of the story outside of our traffic diving, which I can talk about too-

Bjork Ostrom: Best part in that it’s the best, most compelling, not necessarily-

Parker Thornburg: Yes, it’s probably best for everyone else, not for me. We said at the beginning when we designed it, we said we’re going to do what no one else does. Everyone hates they have to go down to the bottom to find the recipe card. We said we’re going to put it on social media and everything that our recipes are at the top. We were so proud of ourselves that we were the only one putting the recipe card at the top. We thought we were really smart.

Bjork Ostrom: And then you realized that no one was looking at the ads.

Parker Thornburg: We were not. No one’s looking at the ads and your revenue will take a massive dive when you put the recipe card at the top. It took us about one month to say we need to put the recipes at the bottom. That was very naive and very ignorant on our part, and I’m more than happy to say the lesson learned there was that there’s a reason that all of these websites put the key item, which is the recipe, at the bottom. Looking back in hindsight, it’s just so clearly obvious, but at the time it wasn’t.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s not because you’re not in the world. One of the interesting things that we deal with as food creators is people being like why is there so much content on a site? Why do you have to go down to the bottom? It’s not obvious. If it was, people wouldn’t be asking why it’s happening, but the reason there is so much content is because that helps you perform better in search, so that’s why there’s more content. The reason that the recipe card is… As you learned, is because there’s strategy around it. I would say it’s actually not obvious until you’re in the world and you see the data, which you did, and then you’re smart enough to know I’m going to course correct based on this new information that I’m going to see.

That’s what so much of business ownership is you have an idea, you move forward with the idea, and if it doesn’t work, then you are like what’s my next idea? What have I learned from this? What do I change? Talk to me about that. When you are going through these different iterations of the site, learning about these new things, seeing data or metrics change, but instead of just being like whatever, sticking with it and being like okay, we need to make a change, we need to keep going because there are a lot of people listening who maybe have been impacted by an algorithm update and it’s super discouraging, or maybe they’ve made a change and it’s impacted their revenue and it’s super discouraging.

What was that like for you and how did you continue to persevere through that? I know that a lot of those initial metrics that shifted downward are now starting to come back up. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Parker Thornburg: Yeah. After we launched December 1st, December, January and February, I would say that our traffic and revenue dipped by about 50%. We are seeing some positive movement now in the month of March. Now that Google has re-indexed everything, the website seems to be back on track a little bit. We’re cautiously optimistic, I’ll just say that, but we’re seeing some good numbers coming in now for March, cutting into that 50% decline quite a bit here in March.

I read the book Atomic Habits, and I’m a big fan of that. A lot of what I think it’s James Clear talks about in that book is systems. It’s not about the end result, it’s about the systems. It’s not about the goal, it’s the systems. What Scott and I have talked about is what are the things that we need to do consistently on a week-by-week basis in order to see the end result? We may not see the end result today or a month from now or three months from now, but we’re going to post every day to social media. We’re going to put either a recipe, a product review or a responsibility article that we’ve newly released on social media. We’re going to look at our numbers religiously once a month.

I could sit here every day and run those numbers and run those numbers and obsess over them, that’s my personality. But we’re going to look at them together once a month and we’re going to see how we’re doing. I think our plan is more around staying the course of how many recipes are we updating every single week? How many product reviews are we putting out each week? How many responsibility articles we’ll do in a newsletter every Wednesday at 10:30 AM Central, that’s what’s going out. We’re going to just keep doing that, keep focusing on providing high value content to our followers and see what’s working.

We are making decisions, obviously some were pivots that we had to make, but in terms of more strategic type pivots, we are trying to stay the course, stick with our systems that we believe are what’s going to work, and if Google takes a hit on us or the newsletter doesn’t have the open rate this week that we wanted, we try to learn from it but guess what? We’re going to do another newsletter next week on Wednesday anyway, and we’re going to keep doing that, believing that these are the items, when you pile all those habits on top of each other, the end goal will happen.

Now, our goals aren’t crazy. Our goals aren’t to sell Foodness Gracious for $1 million someday. If that happened, sure. But there’s so much that we can’t control with that. We’re focused on each of these systems, each of these habits to achieve a goal.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. I don’t know how familiar you are with our parent company, but it’s called Tiny Bit. Tiny Bit is based on this concept we talk about, which is 1% infinity. Tiny bit better every day, forever. You just encapsulate exactly what we want to communicate to people and want to reflect in our own work is what does it look like to show up every day and say what is the one thing I can do today to move things forward?

Maybe it’s a tiny improvement that you’re making with the idea that you’re going to just continue to do that every day over a long period of time. Like you said, those compounding habits, they talk about it in Atomic Habits, stack and eventually get to the point where, I think it was Warren Buffett who talks about compounding as the eighth wonder of the world. It works in investing, but it also works in business, and it works in publishing, and social media. Lindsey’s in that right now, she has a friend of ours, Nate, and Nate and Lindsey are launching this show on Instagram and other social platforms and they have 5,000 followers and they’re in the beginning stages, but we know if you stick with it and if you continue to show up and you find ways to improve, eventually you get to the point where 5,000 is 10,000, 10,000 is 50,000. That compounds, those habits stack, those improvements stack, and the outcome is over a long period of time, 10 years, not 10 months, really significant.

I love that as a theme for how you’re working and I think it’s super inspiring. Last question is what does that look like just in terms of fitting that in? Because you have a full-time job, you have family, three kids I think. They’re active, they’re busy, so how do you think about this within the structure of a day or a week and when do you fit the time into work on it?

Parker Thornburg: I’m a very early riser and I think I’m the only one in my house that is that. I have-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, which is maybe nice if you’re trying to get work done.

Parker Thornburg: It’s really nice. My kids laugh when they come upstairs in the morning for breakfast, they’re like, “Are you eating lunch?” I’m old and they like to joke about me being old. I have an 18-year-old, a 16-year-old, and an 11-year-old. The best thing for me is to be able to now, do they want to read food responsibility articles? Not really, but I’m having them read them.

I want them to read them, I want them to be a part of this because my vision isn’t to sell, my vision is that I can have this be something that maybe they get an interested in want take over someday or maybe we get it to a point where it’s earning enough revenue on a monthly basis where my 18-year-old who has a dream of going into elementary education, maybe this could be a nice little side gig. I know a lot of my teachers when I was in high school were painting all summer, painting houses and stuff. Maybe this would be something.

Bjork Ostrom: My parents were teachers, had those same side hustles.

Parker Thornburg: Yeah, so maybe this could be. I’m trying to show them that you don’t have to just do one job, you can do more than one job. This could be something that if one of them takes a real interest in it, I have them look at the newsletter, we’ve tried to do some fun things with beehiiv that our old newsletter platform didn’t have like with polls. Just a little bit more engagement from our newsletter with our followers.

I ask them every week to read the newsletter and to take the poll and tell me what kind of food debates should we be putting in our future polls. They don’t realize the psychology of what I’m trying to do is help them to see that this isn’t work necessarily, this can be fun. We can turn into something fun that we can all do together. I know Scott’s wife, Scott’s daughter was a key part of us changing our website, and that’s something that’s super important to us. Scott and I have an LLC that we used to buy the business, and the name of the LLC is Family First, Family First Capital. We’re both very family oriented and would love for our families to be a part of this as well.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s so cool. I love that. It’s almost less of… Unless it’s early in the morning when nobody else is up, it’s less of thinking of it as where’s my time where I go into a cave and work on it and more of thinking of it as collectively, what does it look like for us to experience this thing together? I used that example of my dad who’s an art teacher and then he had a greenhouse in the summers, and I would go and work at the greenhouse alongside of him and never did I feel like ah, my dad’s working all the time, he’s not available, because we were doing it together. When I look back on it, it’s some of my fondest memories and I’m really proud as now an adult to share these stories of working with my dad at the greenhouse.

If it was him going off and me being at home and being like I wish my dad would play catch with me, it’d be a different story, but what it was is we’re going out and he’s teaching me how to transplant and how to sterilize dirt. I just have such fond memories of that, and so it’s really cool to hear you talk about that being something that is giving in a way beyond just financial to your family. We often talk about what are the different types of income from the work that we’re doing? There’s relational income. There’s educational income, there’s family connection income, there’s financial income, all of those things. It’s really fun to hear you talk about that and to think about that because I think it’s something that we often forget about in a good reminder.

Parker Thornburg: Hearing you talk about your dad makes me think about my dad works at a food processing plant for 38 years, and I think there’s probably something deep down inside of me that likes to see a little piece of him consider having a heart attack when I talk about I just bought a business, or I’m leaving this good job to go work at a startup where I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s just something that he never did, and so it’s just showing me the differences between me and him, but the look of shock on his face is really fun for me when I say, “We just bought this business.” He can’t comprehend-

Bjork Ostrom: And this business is a website.

Parker Thornburg: Yeah, he can’t comprehend that you go to the job and you stay at the job and that’s how you do it and that’s just not how I do it and that’s okay.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. It’s a complete different path, especially from people who have had that corporate, or not even corporate, but just predictable, same company long period of time. If nothing else, it’s fun to have those conversations with friends and neighbors and family, like no, this is a business. This is something you’re building. That’s great.

Parker, I know that people will be interested in following along with what you’re up to, with connecting with you personally. Just really appreciate you telling your story. What’s the best way for people to maybe sign up for the newsletter to see how you’re using beehiiv or to connect with you personally?

Parker Thornburg: You can go to FoodnessGracious.com and we have a variety of ways… We do have a pop-up that we just added that you can sign up for the newsletter, you can also find the newsletter in the footer as well. You can find us on Facebook or Instagram @FoodnessGracious, and then we do have Pinterest, which is… They don’t like the long name, so it’s @FoodnessG. You’re welcome to email me as well. My email, if you go to the Contact us and email me through the website, it’ll come right to me.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Parker, thanks so much for coming on. Really appreciate it.

Parker Thornburg: You bet. Thank you so much.

Emily Walker: Hey, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and thank you so much for listening to that episode. We really appreciate it. If you liked this episode or enjoy the show, we would really appreciate you leaving a review or rating wherever you listen to your podcast episodes. Ratings and reviews help get the show in front of new listeners and help us grow our little show into something even bigger.

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