027: Committing to a Niche and Building a Brand with Ali Maffucci from Inspiralized

Welcome to episode 27 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This is the last episode of 2015 – crazy! This week on the podcast, Bjork is talking with Ali Maffucci from Inspiralized!

Last week on the podcast, Bjork interviewed Kate Ahl from Simple Pin Media. They talked about how you can use Pinterest Analytics to guide your content and fine-tune your Pinterest strategy. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Committing to a Niche and Building a Brand

When most bloggers start out, committing to a specific niche can seem scary – we don’t want to turn anyone away from our new blog! However, finding a small niche that you are really passionate about can help propel your blog into success.

Ali Maffucci has certainly found a small niche with Inspiralized. She posts recipes that all use a spiralizer, and she loves it! She’s been featured in many magazines, has her own product to sell, and has really captured the love and attention of fellow spiralizers.

In this inspiring interview, Ali shares:

  • Why she decided to start a blog all about spiralizing
  • How she got the Inspiralized name out there with “self PR”
  • How she approached her brand even when it was just getting started
  • Her advice for creating and selling a physical product
  • How she stays organized and gets the most important things done

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Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 27 of “The Food Blogger Pro” podcast. Hey everybody. This is Bjork Ostrom. You’re listening to “The Food Blogger Pro” podcast, and believe it or not, it is almost 2016. As a matter of fact, depending on when you’re listening to this, it might be 2016. If you’re thinking about your blog, and building your blog, and maybe what you want to focus on this year, I want to recommend real quick an eBook that we have, and it’s actually free. It’s an eBook that is actually interviews, or really quick snippets of a device from other food bloggers, and we’re calling it, “The Number One Thing,” with the tagline of, “What 30 Top Food Bloggers Are Focusing On In The Coming Year.” If you want to download that, and check it out, you can go to FoodBloggerPro.com/1, and that’ll bring you to the download page.

If one of the things that you want to focus on this year is building a blog around a niche, then this is the podcast for you. We are talking today with Ali Maffucci from Inspiralized.com and she’s going to be talking about how she has built this empire around spiralized vegetables and noodles, and the entire spiralizing process, and how she’s done it in 2 and 1/2 years. She’s published a cook book, she’s released a physical product, she has an app, all of these things around spiralizing, and she’s done a lot in 2 and 1/2 years, and she’s done it all in this very specific niche, so I’m really excited to have her on the podcast, and to talk about what that process has been like over the past few years, so without further ado, let’s jump in. Ali, welcome to the podcast.

Ali Maffucci: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me, Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’m going to be really digging in here right off the bat, talking about your story. Looking around, doing a lot of research, and I found this little snippet here from your about page, and I would love to read it off, and I want to hear what was going through your mind at this point, and this is the quote. “On June 25th, 2013,” this is you saying this. “I quit my job in corporate America, and that evening, I bought the Inspiralized.com domain, and on the morning of June 26th, 2013, I walked into Starbucks and started blogging, taking a stab at pursuing my dreams,” and then you say, “Thanks for taking part in my journey.” Can you tell me a little bit about that, Ali, that moment between June 25th and June 26th? How did you come to decide that you were going to jump into this world of blogging? That’s a huge, huge commitment.

Ali Maffucci: Yes, of course. Well, first of all, I’m happy to hear that people actually read the about pages on blogs. That’s great.

Bjork Ostrom: I did at least, so you can track that 1 visit down to St. Paul, Minnesota, if that’s what it was.

Ali Maffucci: Perfect. One’s good enough for me. Yeah, so basically what happened is it all actually started with my mother. She is a Type 1 diabetic, and she was trying raw veganism as a way to help with her blood sugar levels, and through all of that, she discovered spiralizing, and discovered zucchini noodles, so she actually was the one. I give her the credit. She found about it, and she invited me over for dinner one night, this is March or 2013, I guess it is, and she invited me over, and she made me a raw vegan zucchini noodle dish. I remember, still like it was yesterday, I took a bite of the noodles and I just couldn’t believe how much it tasted like actual spaghetti, and I grew up Italian American, so for me, this was pretty revolutionary.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. It’s not like me, somebody who’s Swedish, who’s like, “Well, this takes like spaghetti.” Like, it was the true filter for you, the true test.

Ali Maffucci: I immediately thought about all the years I spent eating spaghetti and feeling bad about it, and I’m like, “Oh, this is going to save me.”

Bjork Ostrom: “All to waste.” Yeah.

Ali Maffucci: Right, so I basically, like a light bulb went off and I thought, “Oh, if you put some meat and cheese on this and make a classic bolognese or something like that, I bet it would be amazing.” I actually took her spiralizer from her that night because I was so excited, and the next time I went to my apartment, and I made a simple tomato basil shrimp dish for dinner. It was the next night, so Monday night, for my husband and I, and he took one bite and he said the exact same thing. He had the exact same reaction. He was just so amazed by how much it tasted like pasta. We immediately went online, and we searched spiralizing, zucchini noodles, all those sort of things, and we found nothing on the internet. We found a couple of raw vegan recipes here and there. There was a raw pesto recipe in the New York Times, but there was no recipes. Right at the point, I was kind of like, “Wow, this is amazing that not that many people know about it.”

Basically, the next two months I spent just getting really excited to cook something spiralized, and I was basically coming home at night, getting really excited, and I wasn’t happy with my day job. That was whole other story, so I was sitting there at work, writing recipes on napkins, and just getting so excited. Pretty much two months later, I just built up the courage, and I thought to myself, “Okay, well, if I just start this blog and I give myself 10 months to a year, if I can make some sort of a living and sustain myself, then I’ll come going, and if not, whatever, I’ll go back to corporate America. It’ll be fine.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That takes a lot of guts to do that, so I commend you on making that leap, and it’s worked out well, and that’s one of the reasons why we have you on the podcast today. I want to hear specifically, so you decide to take this jump into blogging. Did you have a vision of what it could be? Or, did you know that you were so passionate about this specific product that you’d be able to create content around it, and kind of the idea of if you work in area where you’re passionate and you work at it long enough, then eventually, you’ll be able to build a career or a job around it? Or, did you kind of have an idea of what that might look like as a career, or as a job to build this?

Ali Maffucci: Great question. You know, I wish that I had a plan when I went into it. It was 100% pure passion. I had this gut feeling the second I took a bite of that pasta at my mothers, and I just knew that there was something there and I just was so excited, and everyone who I made the food for, I would invite friends over and make it, and they had the exact same reaction. I still think that I have a 100% success rate with people who actually try spiralized food, and they’re just so blown away. From the get go, I had the idea of eventually launching my own product, but at first, I was like, “I will focus on creating just really great quality content, and teaching people how to spiralize and how to eat healthy with the spiralizer.”

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. What did that first year look like for you? What did your average day look like? If you had an average day.

Ali Maffucci: Yeah. Well, when I first started, you obviously read the about page. I had bought my domain name the night I quit my job, and then the next day, I went to the Starbucks, and I started on my social media channels and …

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a great domain name, by the way. Did you have that as an idea, or did you come across it that night, or that morning when you walked into the Starbucks? How did that domain name brainstorming process come about?

Ali Maffucci: You know what? It’s funny, because about a week before, I was really, really flirting with the idea of quitting with my job. I was talking to my husband, and I was just telling him, I’m like, “Ah, gosh, I’m just so inspired to spiralize,” and I was just like, “I’m inspiralized.”

Bjork Ostrom: And that was it.

Ali Maffucci: Yeah. I wish I had a better story and it was just total word vomit. I was just really, really excited and passionate about it, so it kind of …

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.

Ali Maffucci: Yeah. I really, really just flowed. It’s great when you are so passionate about something, because you don’t consider it work and it’s just something obviously fun, and everything comes to you.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, okay, so back up. I interrupted. You’re talking about the different pieces that you were putting into place and the average day for that first year.

Ali Maffucci: Yes. I really, really spent time on two things. One was obviously, as you know, developing really good recipes, and I would do about two in a day when I first started, two recipes, and I had to teach myself photography, because I had never held a DSLR camera before, and actually, your food photography course is very helpful.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, great.

Ali Maffucci: I spent my days obviously with the recipe development, but then the other part, honestly, was getting the name out of what I was doing, so getting Inspiralized out, and I did a lot of, you know, self PR. Whether it was reaching out to a health magazine, or reaching out to a fellow food blogger. I spent a lot of time doing that and prospecting bloggers, and prospecting media outlets to try and pitch people on why they should feature Inspiralized or why I should do a guest post on their blog or something like that.

Bjork Ostrom: I want to go back to the photography. What was one of the things with photography that you feel like you learned that really helped things click? Pun intended on that, but some of the things you feel like you didn’t know before, and then you learned and started to apply, that helped improve your photographs?

Ali Maffucci: Definitely, so like I said, I’d never held DSLR. I only had a point and shoot camera, that sort of thing, so there’s maybe like 2 or 3 things I would say, that I learned. One was shoot always in natural light, unless obviously you have a certain style. I’ve seen gorgeous photos at night time, but always natural light, and I didn’t know that. I didn’t know how important light was, and obviously how to use the camera to capture that light, and learning all the words like aperture, and shutter speed and all those things.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, and how they all play together?

Ali Maffucci: Yes. Yes, very important. It’s kind of like a science. Then, honestly, where to place everything, so I guess is that composition? You would call it composition, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yep.

Ali Maffucci: Where to place, so don’t just place the plate in the center. Do interesting angles and things like that. I actually spent a lot of time on Pinterest, studying photos that I liked, and sort of looking at that, and saying, “Well, how can I make my photo look like that? What am I doing wrong? What angles?,” or things like that. Then, obviously how to arrange food. That was a big one, because especially with Spiralizing, when you cook certain types of noodles, like zucchini noodles, they lay really flat and they get really soggy, and they look kind of gross, so then I started learning, “Okay, well, if I just cook them slightly, so they’re not fully cooked, they look better,” so learning really, honestly, how to work with the food and make it look pretty. Those were the main things I think I really learned.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Lindsay’s talks about that. That’s one of the pieces of advice that she gives to people that are just starting out with photography. She says, “Hey, create a little board on Pinterest,” and if you don’t want it public, you can create a private board, and just pin the stuff, whenever you see a photo that you think, “Man, this is awesome,” pin that to your board, and then study it and say, “What is it that I like about this?” To hear you say that is cool, because I think that’s such an important process, kind of the inspiration to go back to that word, for different food photographs, so it’s really cool. I want to talk about the second thing that you talked about, that you were really intentional about in that first year, and that’s the self PR, you called it.

I think this is one thing that gets lost in people communicating about kind of the hustle of working hard to build a blog, and people think first about content and creating good content which is so important, and hustling to get content out the door, but then there’s this other piece about promoting that content, and you can obviously do that through social media, but one of the things that you did, or it sounds like you did, was to use other channels, as well, which I think is something that’s oftentimes forgotten, and it’s because it’s hard. It’s hard to make those connections, and those relationships, and then to actually get that content in front of people. Do you have any advice for people that are looking to do kind of some self promotion, or to be their own little internal PR agency?

Ali Maffucci: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s kind of the whole “chicken before the egg” thing, because if you don’t have great content, and you’re pitching yourself to someone, and that someone looks at your website, and it doesn’t look great, and it doesn’t obviously look quality, then they’re not going to be interested in you, and you’re not going to get a response, so I definitely struggled with that at first while I was learning food photography and how to write recipes. When I finally paid for a nice design for my website, all those sort of things I had to get in line for people or media outlets, excuse me, started taking me a little more seriously. I’m very calculated about it. Every month, I make a list of at least 15 contacts that I want to target, and I find out their contact information, and if I can’t find an email or something like that, or even a mailing address, I’ll find a social media handle, and I’ll reach out to them that way.

I do that every month, and then, I always set reminders to follow up with people, and I think that’s really important, because it’s one thing to send 50 emails, but if you don’t follow up. You know, everyone knows they get all these emails coming through, and things fall through the cracks. It happens with me, it happens with everyone, so I’m really diligent about following up and making sure that when I am pitching people, it’s not just sending out the same blanket email, it’s targeted towards that person, so if I’m reaching out to … I used to actually work for the Trump’s, so one of the first places I wanted to be featured by was Ivanka Trump, because she’s a young woman entrepreneur and I wanted to capitalize on that part of my story that I am a young woman. You know, I’m 28 years old, and I’m starting this business, so I targeted towards her, and my email is targeted to her and her team, were more towards the entrepreneurial side, less the food bloggy side.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. I did a podcast interview with an individual name John Cocoran, and the whole podcast was focused on connecting with influencers, and that was one of the biggest pieces of advice that he gave in that podcast was that in that interview he said, “Be really intentional about who you want to connect with,” and he said, “Make a list of who those people are,” and it’s exactly like you said, because if you don’t, then you don’t have any direction, in terms of connecting with those people, so I think that’s really wise. This is totally an aside, and I’m really curious, you said you worked for the Trump’s, and I know that people are going to be like, “What does that mean?”

Ali Maffucci: I shouldn’t have said that.

Bjork Ostrom: And, “What does that look like?” It’s such a …

Ali Maffucci: It’s a hot topic right now.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. I want to ask, for the people that are curious, what was that previous life like for you?

Ali Maffucci: Right, it’ll be funny. If it does happen, it’ll be a funny thing to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s my old boss, the President.” Not that I’m saying that I support him or anything, I’m not going to even touch on that. I used to actually, when I first graduated in college, 2009, my first job right out of college was working for the Trump organization, and I did event and hotel management, so I worked at a golf course, and there was a boutique hotel and property, and then I ran all of the private member events, assisted with weddings, and I handled all the VIP guests that came to the golf course, whether that was the Trump’s themselves, or his cronies. That kind of thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, so have you met them? All of them?

Ali Maffucci: Mr. Trump was my direct boss, and I was Melania’s assistant while she was on property, as well as Ivanka’s when she would come. The place that I used to work was their Summer home, so every weekend they were there, so I would report to him.

Bjork Ostrom: It must be so fascinating for you to see everything that’s happening right now. I mean, you have such a close connection to it, which I think it makes the news even more fun for you to watch, I would assume.

Ali Maffucci: Oh, yeah. I always say, “Oh, he’s up to his old tricks again.”

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I talk about occasionally on the podcast is that even if you are just getting started with blogging or building a website, or even building a brand, chances are that there’s a small piece, or maybe a big piece of your previous work that you can transfer into what you’re doing right now, even if it doesn’t feel like you worked in IT, for instance. An example would be, Lindsay was a 4th grade teacher, and you might not assume that would directly transfer over into blogging, but like, you had mentioned before that you had read Lindsay’s eBook on food photography, so the reason why, I would assume one of the reasons why that eBook is popular is because she knows how to teach really well. Do you feel like your previous job, that there are any skills or abilities that you transferred over into building a blog and building a brand, and if so, what are those?

Ali Maffucci: Definitely. I mean, when I worked for the Trump organization, I had to teach myself. Well, they obviously helped with course to teach me how to use the Adobe Creative Suite, so that’s been the biggest blessing I could ask for. If I could take one thing I learned from that job, it would be that. That was the most valuable thing, because I designed my own eBook, and I used Adobe InDesign, and I actually, and I know we’re going to talk about it later, but when I launched my product, all of the marketing collateral that I had to design for it, and even the box itself, I had designed in Illustrator.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, you did it all?

Ali Maffucci: Yeah. I did it all.

Bjork Ostrom: Wow. Awesome. That’s incredible. That’s one of the things while I was watching it that I thought it was really well done.

Ali Maffucci: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Watching the video for, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit, but really cool.

Ali Maffucci: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s all InDesign?

Ali Maffucci: Yeah, the box that I designed was actually through Illustrator, but then, I did PR internships while I was in college, and those really helped with what I was mentioning before, with reaching out to the media and knowing how to follow up and really honestly knowing how to ask for something, and that’s something that I’ve been working on, as I’ve grown as a business person, and targeting those people and being prepared to ask, and not being afraid to ask.

Bjork Ostrom: What does that look like? How do you think people maybe do that a little bit wrong, and what are the ways that you do it a little bit differently?

Ali Maffucci: I mean, I kind of touched on it before with obviously being very targeted, but also, when you follow up with someone, one of the main things that I do is I kind of provide them with a little update, so it’s not just, “Hey, I wanted to just check if you’ve seen this email.” It’s, “Hi, I’m checking to see you’ve this email, but also I want to let you know that this and this has happened, and I’d love to talk to you about it.” Even if they weren’t interested before, maybe that’ll pique their interest, or I’ll share a feature. I was featured by Food and Wine in an article, so when I followed up with some related media outlets, I would say, “Well, you can check out this feature,” and that really helps.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the first podcast episodes we did was with Jason Leake of “100 Days of Real Food.” Jason and Lisa have that blog, and he talked about this idea of, I think he called it like an “upward spiral,” where you’re featured in one, maybe a local news media outlet, so then you follow up with, for us, it would be our small town newspaper, and then we follow up with the Minneapolis StarTribune, so you go a little bit higher, and then if you get in the StarTribune, maybe you follow up with New York Times or something, and say, “Hey, we were featured in the StarTribune,” so I think adding on that little tag is almost like a little credibility piece, or like you said, to add a little update, “Hey, here’s something new that’s happening with the blog,” which I think is great, and really cool.

Ali Maffucci: Yes, definitely. Definitely.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. All right. You’ve started Inspiralized.com, and from the get go, you knew that it was going to be a blog and a brand, is that true? Or, did you think that it was maybe going to be specifically a blog and then kind of grew into a brand? What was that like, in terms of deciding what the focus was going to be for the site?

Ali Maffucci: Great question again. You’re really great at these questions, Bjork. You really get the …

Bjork Ostrom: It’s easy because I’ve just got to ask and then I stop, right? Podcasting is like the best, because I just get to ask questions. It’s a beautiful thing.

Ali Maffucci: Yes. I definitely, when I first started Inspiralized, I saw it as a full-fledged business, and I never wrote a full business plan, necessarily, but I knew in my mind, and I had this vision of what it would be. When I first started, I actually honestly didn’t know much about the monetization of blogs, so I never truly thought I would be able to make a living off of the blog itself, which now I realize, obviously with traffic and advertisements, and sponsored posts, and those sort of things, those can almost amount to more. I didn’t know about that going in, so what I thought about was the product, and when I first started, my initial idea was I’ll start Inspiralized, and I’ll build up this bank of recipes, and this resources, and then I will sell a spiralizer. When I first went into it, I thought that I would simply stick my logo on the spiralizer that I was using back then and sell it, just as obviously almost like a licensing sort of thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, like a white label.

Ali Maffucci: Exactly, yes, and I actually met with the president of the company, which is Paderno World Wide, and I met with him. One of their headquarters is actually 20 minutes outside of where I live here in Jersey City, New Jersey, and I met with him and I talked to him about the idea, and I got a really bad feeling from the moment I was in that meeting. I just felt like I was selling myself short, and I was like, “I know how I can improve this product. Why would I go this lazy route when I can just start fresh and design something that I really am proud of?” In that meeting, I was just starting off, so the person didn’t really take me seriously, so I actually have his business card, and it’s in my mirror in my bedroom, and I look at it every day.

Bjork Ostrom: Motivation.

Ali Maffucci: Yeah. Then, eventually, I decided that I would design my own, but just to go back to your original question, I immediately, from the day I started Inspiralized, I knew I would have a product.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and would you consider that your main focus? And I’ll say this, so you have a cookbook, you have a physical product, you have an iOS app, you have the blog. Would you say that your primary focus is the physical product?

Ali Maffucci: You know, I wouldn’t. If I could build a pie chart of how I spend my time, it’s still mostly on recipe development and photography, and building that, but, everything goes hand in hand, so for example, when I do my PR outreach, I’m promoting my spiralizer while I’m promoting Inspiralized. It goes together, but day to day, I spend more time on social media, and recipe development, and just the blog itself, like maintaining the blog.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, which makes sense, as that’s the primary marketing avenue for all of those other pieces.

Ali Maffucci: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m really curious about physical product. I think it’s something that so few people are doing, and even fewer people are doing well, and you do both. You’re doing it, and you’re doing it well.

Ali Maffucci: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: What are the things that surprised you along the way with creating your own product?

Ali Maffucci: Well, I was very blessed because the way I launch the Inspiralizer, I had a great business partner, so he led me through the entire process, and it made it much easier in the whole manufacturing side of things, because that was the biggest surprise. How intense it is to create a product, and get it basically into a fulfillment center, and all those logistics around just manufacturing it, and getting it to a fulfillment center, sending it out. I’m so blessed, because my business partner handled all of that, and I sketched out my design, and basically, he helped get it to an engineer and manufacture it. I was on the calls all the while, but I just couldn’t believe. If someone doesn’t have someone to guide them through that process, I don’t know how they would really do it.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. You designed it?

Ali Maffucci: Yes. When I first started to think more seriously about the product, and it was probably about I would say right when I, maybe 6 months before my cookbook came out, that’s when I really was starting to really take those next steps, and I think one of the reasons that my business partner decided to do business with me was because I did receive this cookbook deal from the world’s best publisher, and that sort of gave some validity to what I was doing. I’m not sure what you’re … Were we still talking about what surprises?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Well, maybe another way to say it, or another way to ask the question would be, what advice would you give to somebody that is interested in creating some type of physical product? Obviously most people are listening in the food space, but it could really be anything. Do you have any advice for them, in terms of, even if it’s something really basic like you talk about fulfillment center, or maybe it’s working with a business partner. What would be things if you were to go back and do it again that you’d say, “I’m going to make sure to do this?”

Ali Maffucci: Definitely. There’s a couple of things. I mean, you don’t have to think so big, and I didn’t at first. I actually thought once I was building Inspiralized as a brand, I, myself wanted to have a tote bag with my logo on it and the name of my blog to bring to the farmer’s markets, and people that shared that similar passion, I was like, “Well, maybe they’ll want a tote bag,” so I actually started, I think the first product I ever actually sold, aside from my self published cookbook was a tote bag that said “Inspiralized” on it. They sold out almost immediately, so I think when people ask me this sort of question, I always say, “Think of basic consumer products that someone would be proud to carry along, that has your logo or your branding.”

Or, if you don’t think you have a very brandable name or logo even, then it’s something as simple as, “Do you cook a lot of vegan recipes?” Well, come up with a clever, vegan saying and put it on a bag and sell it, with your URL at the bottom. Thinking of little things like that, or water bottles, or just small things that people use all the time. I think that’s a great way to start, but if you’re thinking bigger, I definitely think, obviously depending on what product you’re manufacturing, the first question is where do you want to manufacture it, and my business partner was an expert in importing and exporting out of Asia, so I went that route, which is a big step. He guided me through that process, but that’s the first thing. I would definitely recommend find a business partner who has experience, because you want to focus on your blog and your brand, and if you’re not, then things are going to go down, and then when you do launch that product, you won’t have the following or the support that you need to actually present and sell that product.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, and that was actually going to be one of the questions that I wanted to ask you, because one of the things that we so often hear from people is, “I don’t know how to get it all done. I don’t have enough time.” It’s a reality for everybody, right? We all have 24 hours in a day, and some people are able to get an incredible amount of stuff done in that, and other people will maybe struggle to get the items on their “to do” list. You’ve done a lot of stuff, Ali, in 2 and a 1/2 years, and number one, congratulations, it’s really cool to see.

Ali Maffucci: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Number two, my question for you is, what does that look like for you? How are you intentional about structuring your time, and what is your priority? I’ll just say that, I’ll leave it there. How do you structure a day, or a week?

Ali Maffucci: Of course. Well, I’m still learning, but I would say honestly, I watched these videos by Marie Forleo, and I suggest anyone check them out. She has an online business school, but I didn’t do that online business school. I just really watched her videos that she provides for free on her YouTube channel, and I was watching one day. She has a great business resource, or for entrepreneurs in general, and she said, it was a quote that she gave and it was, “Schedule your priorities. Don’t prioritize your schedule,” and that was such a revolutionary phrase, because I feel like when you sit down every day, if you look at your “to do” list and you say, “Okay, well I need to get all this done.

This is what I’m going to do,” things fall through the cracks, and the major things that you need to get done that are really going to push you forward, those big projects you tend to push to the side, because it’s easier to tackle your inbox, or those little things. I started basically doing that, and scheduling my priorities, so the big projects, even if it took me 3 days to do, I would do those, and I wouldn’t do anything else. That really helped, but also, I mean, I couldn’t do this without Evernote, and I don’t know if you’ve ever talked on your podcast about Evernote before.

Bjork Ostrom: We haven’t, no, I would love to. I’m going to save that, because I think that’s a really important thing. I’m going to ask about that, but before we get too far away from it, I’m curious, do you actually, so when you say schedule your priorities, will you go into your calendar and will you schedule those out and say, “2 hours I’m going to work on this.” Or, is it more of a concept of, “I’m not going to focus on a to do list. I’m going to focus on what I need to do.”

Ali Maffucci: I’m a big list person, and I’ll make lists of the things that I have to get done in that day before I tackle. I do a tier 1, and a tier 2, so before I tackle the things on tier 2, I have to accomplish the tier 1, and sometimes it’s really frustrating, and things pop up all the time, and I want to put my attention towards those, but I don’t let myself, unless I tackle those tier 1’s, and I don’t usually put an hourly limit to it, I just say, “I have to get it done.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. I think the idea of prioritizing the most important thing, it sounds so obvious, right? But there are so many days that I go through and I’m like, “Well, I have inbox zero, and my desk is really clean, and did I really work on the most important thing? Probably not.” It’s hard, because you put off those things that feel so urgent in order to do what’s important, but if you don’t do that, then you’re always going to be working on the urgent things that aren’t important.

Ali Maffucci: Right, exactly, and that’s, I’m also writing my second cookbook right now, and that’s something that I’ve had to say no to things that … Everything’s important when you’re working on your brand, or your business, or your blog, or whatever it is, so it is really hard to say no to things and work on things just exclusively, but even now, when I’m writing my second cookbook, you have to, if it’s something that you can’t move, that will pretty much cause everything else to fall apart, then you should really focus on that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Okay, so I think that’s a really good take away for people, and really important, but I want to talk about Evernote a little bit. Talk to me about how you use Evernote, and maybe just do a high level overview of what it is, and then how you use it?

Ali Maffucci: Sure. Evernote is pretty much a desktop application. They also have a mobile application, and there are paid subscriptions and there are free ones. Honestly, I use the free one, so I don’t pay for the other one, so I can’t talk to that, but it’s pretty much a way to organize yourself electronically, and if you think about if you have a day planner, and you work off of day planners, it’s basically that, but on a desktop, electronic, virtual capacity. You have notebooks, and then you have notes, so you can organize. Basically, you open it up and you have notebooks, and those are sort of your higher level topics, I guess you could say, and then within those, you make notes. I have, for example, I’ll just go through some of my notebooks. I have my daily “to do” notebook, and within that notebook, I make each note as a separate day, so I organize the notes by day, and I start on Sunday.

I always make my 7 … Or, it’s 5 day, I guess. My Monday through Friday notes, and then in each day, it’s really great and user friendly because if you’re organizing yourself and you don’t get something done, you can easily just copy and paste into the next day. It’s really user friendly and keeps you so organized, and apart from obviously the “to do” side of it, I have a notebook with all of my passwords. Something as simple as that, that can cause you to go crazy. You search your emails for 10 minutes looking for a password, so I use Evernote for that. I have a notebook entirely for recipe ideas, and as a food blogger, you’ll see something and say, “Oh, that’s a great idea,” and you just write that down, but if you put in your Evernote notebook and your recipes ideas, it’s just so great to always refer to that, and copy and paste things in, even if it’s a link that you see, it’s just a great way to remember things. Just general content, doesn’t have to be recipes. You don’t have to be a food blogger, obviously.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.

Ali Maffucci: Then, it was really, really helpful organizing my … I have a YouTube channel, so I organize how I’m going to film my videos. It’s pretty much just a great way to organize your thoughts, and Evernote is just super user friendly.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. We’ll link up to that on the show notes, on the blog, so people can check that out. One of the things that I love about Evernote is, well, there’s many things. Two things that I think are worth pointing out, and I use it. I don’t think I use it to its full capacity, but as probably nobody does, because it’s so capable, but it’s really easy to search through stuff, and I think that it also searches, like if you put an image in, right? Like, it scans the image and I think it recognizes words within an image which is so cool, or PDFs, so you can search through those.

Then, the other thing that I really appreciate about it is, David Allen wrote a book called “Getting Things Done,” and he talks about how terrible our brains are for holding information, and Evernote is a great place to just do the brain dump stuff, which is what you talk about. Like, “Oh,” if you have an idea, write it down in there. I think it’s so wise to get that stuff out of your head and into a holding place so you don’t feel like you have to hold it in your brain.

Ali Maffucci: Oh, I couldn’t agree more, and also, just from the basic, and I know we’re getting lazy with physically writing things, but if you’re just typing, you can type a recipe within Evernote, you can use it like a Word document, and it’s just so easy to delete, and erase, and sub things in, because it’s all online, and it saves it automatically. Then, also, from a day to day use, mobily, you can open up an app and if you’re out and you’re at a restaurant, and you’re eating some delicious recipe, you can take a picture of it and save it into Evernote, or you can type out “Need to develop recipe with short ribs,” or whatever. Whatever you ate that night, which I really love and I use very often.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool, that’s great. One of the things I want to talk about, Ali, we’ve hit on this a little bit, but you’ve been really intentional to go in a niche. You’re focusing on spiralized foods, and I think Food Blogger Pro’s a similar example of that, in that we’re content based site, or a membership site with some free content, as well, just for food bloggers, and there’s something that’s kind of scary to that, because you’re really committing to a niche, and there’s positives and negatives, and I know what those are for us, but I’d be interested to hear you talk a little bit about the positives, as well as the negatives, of really committing to a niche.

Ali Maffucci: Definitely. Well, people often ask me if it’s difficult to come up with recipes just for the spiralizer. That’s usually the first question that I get, and I find it almost easier, because you’re not just sitting there with a blank canvas, you’re sitting there with a canvas of only things that can be made with the spiralizer, so just to clear that, I’ve never felt that restrictive.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I can imagine almost having some boundaries on what you can create allows you to more easily create those, because you know that there are these restrictions that you need to play within.

Ali Maffucci: Yes. It’s like a budget.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, right. For sure.

Ali Maffucci: I would say the one thing that basically is a limitation to being in a niche, and this will happen with obviously other food bloggers like me, it’s very seasonal, so I see right now, when everyone is searching “holiday cookies,” and everyone is searching “big Christmas casseroles,” and things like that, I can’t contribute. I see major dips in my traffic at certain times of the year, but then on the plus side of that, it’s great January through mid Summer. I have the best traffic. I see that definitely. It’s a plus and a minus.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Ali Maffucci: And it balances it out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. In terms of the creating content for the site, so you said you never run out of ideas or anything like that, in long term, do you think, “Well, what would that be like if someday I wanted to start including cookie recipes or something like that?” Or, do you feel like it’s not really something that bothers you and you don’t really think about?

Ali Maffucci: I haven’t thought about it much, but what I have thought about is as it naturally has happened with being a food blogger, and being a healthy food blogger, and being someone that, and I don’t know if we are going to talk about this later, but I’m very transparent with my personal life, I’m very transparent with my health journey. I have separate actually social media account just for my fitness journey, so with all those in, I’ve definitely given thought to, when I post something on Instagram that isn’t spiralized, people ask, “Oh, are you going to post this recipe? This looks amazing.”

Sometimes it’s frustrating because those posts get more likes than some of my spiralized ones, so I have 100% thought, “Okay, maybe later down the line I’ll build into the tagline of my brand,” because Inspiralized to me can mean a lot of different things. It can mean just being inspired to be healthier and creative with your food, so I kind of have that in my back pocket. I’m like, “Well, okay. If I ever do want to transition, I know that I can,” but I don’t see that happening in the next few years.

Bjork Ostrom: You had mentioned this earlier and I’d be interested to hear you talk about. One of the things that we often share is that one of the biggest competitive advantages that you can have as a blogger is let your personality come through on the blog, because people connect with other people. Depending on where a blog or a website lands on that spectrum, it could be almost like a lifestyle blog, or it could be just like strictly a brand where you don’t really even see the person behind it. I know that like you said, you’ve been intentional about having some of your personality come through on the site, and at the same time, it’s also a very strong brand. Do you have any thoughts or insight on why you decided to do that, and things that you’ve changed along the way, perhaps?

Ali Maffucci: Definitely. When I first started Inspiralized, I had this intention of obviously writing into my blog posts, and I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve always loved sharing things. Before I even started Inspiralized, I had a personal blog. I don’t even remember the platform I used. When I studied abroad, I had a little blog that I would document everything. I always loved sharing. I think it’s the curse of being a millennial, you just love to share, but I always knew that would be part of it, and what I really loved is when I would start writing personal things, the feedback I immediately got was stronger than a post that didn’t have anything personal in it. It was just, “This tastes delicious. You can serve it with quinoa. You could boil this.”

I just immediately started capitalizing on that, and the more and more I shared, the more and more people would share my content or get just basically emotionally invested in my journey as an entrepreneur, and as a woman, you know, with our body and all of these sort of other things that I talk about on my blog. I encourage people who, if you might be timid about sharing that stuff, just starting with a small, little piece. Maybe it’s about your weekend or something like that, or a moment you shared with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and test it out on your readers and see how they react, and most likely, they’ll react really well, and they’ll want to engage with you and sort of talk to you about that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Was that hard for you?

Ali Maffucci: No. I think it’s hard not sharing everything. I struggle with almost I want to tell everyone everything I’m doing, and everything I’m working on behind the scenes, and it’s also a great community. Not only with fellow food bloggers, but with people who read food blogs. They love to tell … Food is such an emotional thing, so people love to share their stories about food, or if you say, “What’s your favorite memory during the holidays, surrounding the food table?” And you get people really engaged, and I think that that’s something special with food in general, and why food bloggers tend to open up a little more personally.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, sure. That’s great. I mentioned this before, and I think it’s really inspiring to use that word. I’ll try and use that word more often, because I feel like it’s so close to the brand, but you’ve done a lot of stuff and it’s 2 and 1/2 years, right? From when you started your blog?

Ali Maffucci: Yes. 2 and 1/2 years.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and one of the things that I think is incredible is the amount of stuff that you’ve covered from content to things that you’ve produced, to physical product, all of those things, but also know that if you were to go back and re-do everything, all of us would say, “Oh, I’d maybe do this a little bit different.” I’m curious to know what that would be for you. If you could go back to June 25th, right? The night before you took that leap. What would it be that you would tell yourself? That conversation that you’d have and say, “This is future me talking to present me. Here’s what you should do different.”

Ali Maffucci: I think that’s such a hard question. I think that I would definitely focus more on quality, less quantity, because when I first started blogging, I said, “Well, if I don’t post 6 days a week, then no one’s going to want to come to my blog, because they won’t get enough content.” When I look back on some of my older posts, it only had maybe 5 sentences to explain a recipe, and it was a shoddy picture, and now when I look back, now I’m slowly rephotographing things and editing recipes and that sort of thing, but I wish I had taken more time and focusing on maybe just posting 3 days a week because I was just starting off and I didn’t need to put these pressures on me. I think food bloggers in general who are full time food bloggers, they do feel this pressure to just keep on all this fresh, new recipe content. It can get a little overwhelming.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure, yeah.

Ali Maffucci: Then you can’t focus on the things that could help you grow even more, like investing more time in social media, or learning more about food photography, or attending classes and things like that. Really investing in what you’re doing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Those margins are so important. The margins of life, and one of the things that we’ll occasionally bring up is this idea of if you have, in a week, enough time to let’s say create 2 pieces of content, 2 posts, it might be worth considering rolling that into just 1 really awesome piece of content. I don’t know if it’s true for you, but on Lindsay’s blog, Pinch of Yum, I would say maybe 70% of the traffic comes from the top 30% of the content. Part of that is just naturally that’s what happens as you develop a lot of content, but the other pieces, I think as you create really good, kind of pillar posts, or really content that you spend a lot of time with, that’s the content that gets shared, and that people bookmark, and that people save, and it might mean re-doing a recipe 4 times, or taking a little bit longer to photograph it, or taking a little bit longer to write, but once you develop those high quality pieces of content, those can really serve you over a long period of time, especially with food.

Ali Maffucci: Yes. I couldn’t agree more, and I think also, back to your point, if you don’t do a recipe right the first time, it’s okay if you have to re-do it the second day, and then you can’t post until 3pm or 4pm. It’s okay to miss your 7am post line. No one’s going to get upset with you. You’re not going to get angry emails. I used to fear that. I was like, “If I don’t have a post up at 7am then people are going to stop following me, so I’m just going to post this recipe,” and I look at some of my recipes and I’m like, “I wouldn’t even really eat that. Why would I post that?”

Bjork Ostrom: Right, yeah. One of the things … I heard somebody say this and I wish I remember who it was. Maybe it’s just a generic phrase, but that the internet has a really short memory, and I think that’s so true, where we feel like if we miss a certain deadline, or if we don’t post for a week because something comes up, then everybody’s going to fall away and we’re not going to have anybody following us, but the internet has a really short memory.

Ali Maffucci: Right, and then going back to the point about getting a little personal on your blog, when I was away on my honeymoon, because I also got married this year, so throw that into the mix of things that I’ve done in the past 2 and 1/2 years. When I got married, I couldn’t obviously … I did schedule posts for the time I was gone, but I didn’t post those nearly as much as I would if I was home, and I said, in my blog, I said, “Well, I’m getting married and I’m going on my honeymoon, so you’re going to all have to be okay.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right, yeah, just declaring it.

Ali Maffucci: Yeah, if you’re transparent and you say that in your last post if you’re going to be gone, and you don’t have time to schedule posts out, it’s really okay. I think that’s an important thing to sort of harness.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. Cool. Well, we’re coming to the end here, Ali, and I want to be respectful of your time, but before we wrap up, a couple of more questions. For somebody that’s just getting started, let’s say they’re in that phase, maybe they’re thinking about taking that leap that you did on June 26th when you decided to jump into this full time, or maybe they’ve been doing it for a year and they’re just kind of getting their feet wet, what would be the advice and/or encouragement that you’d give to somebody like that, that’s listening in?

Ali Maffucci: I would say that if you’re not in it 100%, then don’t pursue it 100%. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, and it’s not something that you want to live and breathe every single day, then maybe it’s a part time thing for you. Maybe it’s not a full time blog, and that’s okay. It can be a side project and a side hobby. I think that if you are just starting off and you’re jaded within the first couple of months, or you’re starved for content, or you’re really frustrated, then you can just reevaluate things. I would just say, when you’re first starting off … You know, when I first started off, I still remember the first day I got 400 page views, and I was so excited, but at the same time, I was like, “Oh, I’m never going to be the big food bloggers.

I’m never going to reach that point,” and I still, every day I work to get more followers and grow my social media following and get my page traffic up, so it’s going to be every single day you’re going to have high’s and low’s, and you should really be okay with that, and just get comfortable with some days, things aren’t going to go really well with your blog, and you have to have tough skin, and you have to just really be in it, because if you’re not, then it’ll show on the content that you create and the quality of things that you put out there.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’m going to do a quick follow up question to that because I think it’s important, but do you have any advice for those lows? Because even if it’s the most passionate thing for you, you’ll still probably hit those lows where you feel like, “Oh, this isn’t working. It’s not tracking. Is anybody seeing my stuff?” How did you talk yourself through those lows?

Ali Maffucci: That’s a good question. I mean, I feel that if you’re having more high’s than low’s, it’s okay. If you’re having more low’s than high’s, then that’s when you have to sort of reassess your strategy, and that was something that I did when I was creating my content. I was finding that I was putting these things out and they weren’t getting shared, or they weren’t getting a lot of comments, and I really sat down and I thought, “Well, why isn’t this doing well?” It’s something I still do if something doesn’t do well on my blog, and then it sort of, you have to think. Yes, you want to be passionate, and yes, you want to put up things that you love, but you also have to, as a business person, listen to your customer, and if you’re a blogger, it’s listening to your reader, that’s your customer, so if you’re making these really great recipes but no one’s sharing them, then it’s not really going to help you progress any longer. I was posting things with, what was it?

Toasted breadcrumbs in them, and then I saw that most of my followers are paleo or gluten free, and so then I sort of reevaluated my strategy when I was getting frustrated, and I said, “Okay, you know what? I’m really going to transition to mainly paleo and gluten free friendly recipes,” and that’s really when I saw my blog take off. I’m very fortunate because paleoism and gluten free living is really taking off, as well, so it is great timing, and so was spiralizing, so that really helped, but I really think that finding out who, and again, back to your original question, I think in the beginning, I wish I had more quickly identified my target reader, and who that person was, and what they wanted to say.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. That’s a great piece of advice, and to have those conversations with them. This is again, one of the first podcast interviews that we did, was with the founder of a company called “Hot Jar,” but one of the things they do is audience or reader surveys, and that’s a great way to, if you’re just getting started out, to have those conversations with your audience and say, “Hey, what is it that you’re like? What are your goals? What are your passions? What are you interested in?” So you can understand that a little bit better.

Ali Maffucci: Yes. Those are very helpful. I do those reader surveys and every year I learn something new.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. Cool. Well, that’s great advice to end on, but before we go, obviously people can find you at Inspiralized.com, but where are some of the other places, Ali, that people can follow on with what you’re doing?

Ali Maffucci: Sure. I have something that I’m really working on growing is my YouTube presence.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.

Ali Maffucci: I have a YouTube channel and that is something that just real briefly, I went to a, if anyone’s afraid of starting a YouTube channel because they think that their content isn’t going to be great because they’re not a videographer, they don’t know a videographer, just like food photography, I researched it online and I figured out how to do it myself, so it’s not something that you should be afraid of.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can I ask, real quick, what is your … We’re going to go like 3 hours on this, so I promise I’ll end it here. I’m really interested in the video piece. Can you tell, just really quickly, what your process is? What do you use to record your videos?

Ali Maffucci: Yes, of course. I actually, some videos where you see me in them and there’s a lot of varying angles. I actually have my husband help me, and we went to an intensive 2 day course in New York City. It was like 6 hours on a Saturday, 6 hours on a Sunday, and we learned the basics of filmography, and I did that, and I actually reached out to the course leader and said, “I’m a blogger. I’ll feature it on my blog if you give me the course complimentary,” and they did, so again, don’t be afraid to ask and be resourceful. The ones that I do, I do everything with the same camera that I use to take pictures of my food. I use the 5D Mark III, and then, I edit everything in Adobe Premiere Pro, and that’s been tough, because I had to teach myself how to use Premiere Pro, and I’ve never had video experience.

It’s really user friendly, especially if you know Adobe Creative Suite a little bit, and the ones that I do, which I find actually are the more shareable ones, are two. They’re one is the one where it’s just your hands and you’re making something and it’s really, really quick, rapid pace. You’ll see a lot of those when you’re baking cookies or something. You see those viral videos. Those I just do, and I set up a tripod, and I duct tape it down until it’s at the perfect angle where it’s …

Bjork Ostrom: All right, yeah. For sure.

Ali Maffucci: I don’t have an arm extender or anything. I do that, and then, honestly, my most watched videos lately are my, I just started a “What I Eat” series where I bought a, it’s a small Canon point and shoot camera, and I just hold it and I follow myself around whenever I eat something in a day, and then I edit it in Premiere Pro, and honestly, my first one has already 18,000 views on YouTube, so those videos are really, really getting a lot of traction, which is interesting.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. You’re saying been focusing on that. Where can people find that, the YouTube channel?

Ali Maffucci: Right. My YouTube channel is YouTube.com/getinspiralized and the rest of my social media handles are all Inspiralized. Instagram is Inspiralized, Twitter is Inspiralized, Facebook is Inspiralized, and I have another, if people are interested, I have another Instagram handle for my product, which is @TheInspiralizer, and then I have my, as I was talking briefly before about my fitness journey, I have @GetInspiralized, so I manage a lot of channels.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Ali, really, really appreciate you coming on the podcast today. We’ll be sure to not only link up all of the different things that you mentioned as resources, but all the different places that people can find you online, and just really appreciate you sharing your story, and also all of the advice that you have, for people that are listening. Thanks for coming on the podcast today.

Ali Maffucci: Definitely. Thank you for having me. This was great to talk it out. I feel like I’ve learned things.

Bjork Ostrom: Good. Well, appreciate it, Ali. Have a great day, thanks.

Ali Maffucci: Great. You, too.

Bjork Ostrom: Bye. All right. That’s a wrap for episode 27. Thanks again for checking out the podcast. We really appreciate you guys tuning in, wherever you are, whether close by here in St. Paul, Minnesota, or in distant far off lands. It’s so incredible that we can do this, and we can broadcast this message out to all the different corners of the world. Thanks for tuning in. One more plug here for the free download, if you want to check out that “Number 1 Thing” eBook, you can do that at FoodBloggerPro.com/1 and again, that’s the eBook where we interviewed 30 different food bloggers, and asked them what their focusing on in the coming year, and it’s a great little resource and a quick read for anybody that is curious about what top food bloggers are focusing on in the coming year. All right, so if you’re listening to this in 2015, I hope that you have a good New Years celebration. If you listen to this after New Years, I hope that your 2016 is going well, and can’t wait to connect with you again in the next episode. Until then, make it a great week. Thanks, guys.

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