345: Building Long-Term Relationships with Brands – Running a Creative Production Agency with Alisha Cohen

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An image of a person typing on a computer and the title of Alisha Cohen's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Building Long-Term Relationships with Brands.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 345 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Alisha Cohen from LISH Creative about running a production agency and shooting content for brands.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Sara Mohr and Louisa Williams from Real Meals Modified about how they’ve been growing their blog while working full-time jobs. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Building Long-Term Relationships with Brands

As content creators, a great way to earn an income doing what we love is to partner with brands that we love. But how do we find those brands, and more importantly, how do we work with them on a long-term basis?

That’s what we’re chatting about today with Alisha Cohen!

Alisha is the founder of LISH Creative, a creative production agency that produces colorful, eye-catching photography, video, and stop motion for some of the world’s most distinguished brands.

In this episode, you’ll hear how she launched her business, what it’s like running a production agency, how expanding her social media presence has helped her book clients, and what some of her best tips are for nurturing long-term relationships with brands.

A quote from Alisha Cohen’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'The important thing is treating your clients really well and doing really amazing work and making their life easier. When you do that, they will hire you again and again and again.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Alisha launched LISH Creative
  • How she grew her photography skills
  • Why she recommends shooting in manual mode
  • How she decides on the color palettes for her shoots
  • Why she likes using strobe lights for her shoots
  • How creators and brands can use stop motion
  • How to shoot a stop motion video
  • What she teaches in her course Slay the Flatlay
  • What it’s like running a production agency
  • How she grew her TikTok to over 400k followers
  • How her social media presence helps her book clients
  • How to build long-lasting relationships with brands
  • What tools she uses to run her business


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!

With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.

Sign up for the Clariti waitlist today to receive:

  • Early access to their $25/Month Forever pricing
  • Optimization ideas for your site content
  • An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
  • And more!

You can learn more and sign up here.

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

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is actually sponsored by our sister site, Clariti. I’ve talked about Clariti before on the podcast as a tool that we use, so it’s just come up naturally, but also as an official sponsor, as an official advertiser on the podcast. The reason that we’re advertising on the podcast is because it is a perfect fit for the people who listen to this podcast, people who are thinking about how they can optimize and improve their existing content. That’s why we built Clariti. It really came out of this need for us, as we were working on Pinch of Yum, to have a tool that would facilitate our projects and the work that we needed to do on posts in a way that we were doing but with a giant and spreadsheet.

Bjork Ostrom: We created this tool called Clariti. It’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I, so it’s Clariti with an I. The simple premise of Clariti is to build something that will allow you or to have an… It’s a software app that will allow you to look at your content at a high level, and you can filter and organize and understand your content, and then you can build projects around the things that you need to do. What does that look like? How does that practically work? I can give you some specific examples of what Pinch of Yum is doing right now. One of the projects that we have is adding internal links to posts. The reason why that’s important is because you want to make sure that the content that you have on your website, on your blog, links to other places on your site.

Bjork Ostrom: Now, of course, you want it to be relevant content, content that makes sense to link to. But if you don’t have any internal links on a post, that potentially could be an area for you to optimize. It could be something for you to look at and to add internal links. For Pinch of Yum, what we did using Clariti is we filtered and we said, show us all of the content that doesn’t have any internal links, or in your case, you could say maybe just one internal link. You might want to add two, three internal links to that post, so you could filter using Clariti. And then you could take all of that and add it to a project called add internal links.

Bjork Ostrom: Another project that we’re doing is simply adding alt text to images that don’t have alt text. We have 772 different posts on Pinch of Yum that have an image that is missing alt text in some way, so we’ve filtered using Clariti and we said, show me all of the posts that have at least one image with alt text missing. And then we took all of those posts. Using Clariti, it takes 30 seconds, we said, create a project where we are going to look at these pieces of content and find those images and add alt text to those. There’s lots of different things that Clariti can do. We’re still early stages with it. Because of that, we’re offering what we’re calling 25 Forever campaign.

Bjork Ostrom: We’re allowing the first 500 users who sign up for Clariti to get their plan, to get a subscription to Clariti for $25 a month Forever. We’re not going to raise that. Even down the line when Clariti becomes more full-featured, and it’s already pretty powerful with the things that you can do. But even when it becomes more full-featured and we increase the pricing, maybe we change it based on how many page views you have or how many posts your site has, whatever it might be, anybody who signs up in this early stage will continue to get that $25 a month Forever plan. If you’re interested in doing that and getting that deal, you can go to clariti.com/food.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food, and that will bring you to a page where you can sign up and we’ll follow up with you once you’ve signed up expressing your interest. We’ll talk through how you can do it, how you can sign up, and really what comes with a Clariti subscription. Thanks to Clariti and the Clariti team for sponsoring the Food Blogger Pro podcast. We have… It’s kind of a tight family here with the TinyBit companies, but it is an official sponsorship. We want to thank the Clariti team for sponsoring the Food Blogger Pro podcast and for building an incredible tool that we’ve been able to use across the TinyBit brands. You can check that out by going to clariti.com/food, and thanks to Clariti for sponsoring the podcast.

Bjork Ostrom: Hello. Hello. This is Bjork. If you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast, really excited to share this interview with you today with Alisha Cohen from LISH Creative. She also has a course called Slay the Flatlay, and she has a lot of experience in the things that we want to be good at. We want to be good at creative media. We want to be good at growing a social media following. We want to be good at working with brands and businesses. Alisha has done all of those things in many different capacities, and she’s going to be talking about that, sharing her journey as, not only a creator and a creative, but also as a business owner and the things that she has learned along the way.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m going to keep the intro as short as possible because I want to jump into it and make sure that we get as much time with Alisha as possible. But I did want to share one last thing. We are actually hiring for, speaking of creative and creativity, a content specialist at Food Blogger Pro. Maybe you’re in the stage of your journey where you still want or need a full-time job, or in this case, it would be part-time. It’s 20 hours a week, but you want your side hustle and you also want another hustle, but maybe you want that hustle to be in a space that is aligned and overlaps with your interests.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s a really good chance that this job could be that. You can find out by going to foodbloggerpro.com/job, and you’ll see the listing there for the content specialist. Essentially this person is somebody who should be really good at understanding the things that we talk about, social media, WordPress, the ins and outs of the business of publishing, blogging and social media, and also a talented writer. The other thing that you would have the potential to do that would be great would be creating content for Food Blogger Pro. That could be written content, as I talked about, but also potentially video content.

Bjork Ostrom: So, pressing record on your screen and using a screen recorder to talk through some of the things that you know or that you are learning. You can go to foodbloggerpro.com/job. Again, it’s called a content specialist. It’s starting at 20 hours a week. You can read more about the specifics of what’s included with that and what the position looks like. But I think there might be somebody in this audience, the podcast audience, that could potentially be a good fit for that. We would love to work with you, and my hope would be that you would also love to work with this team at Food Blogger Pro and TinyBit. A quick little plug for that.

Bjork Ostrom: Now let’s jump into the interview with Alisha. She’s going to be talking about all of her work as at an agency, but also of course creation and photography as well. It’s going to be a fun interview. Alisha, welcome to the podcast.

Alisha Cohen: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We’re going to talk about all things business building, as you’ve built an agency, and all things photography and branding, because that’s a huge part of what you do. But what I’m curious about is, number one, the name of your agency. When you kicked that off, when you said, “Hey, you know what?” My guess is you yourself had some experience in doing this. You could do more freelancer contractor-type stuff, but you said, “Oh, I want to evolve this a little bit,” my guess is. It still has a little tie into your name. That’s a foreshadow on explaining the name, but really building a business around that. When did that happen? And what was the reason for doing that?

Alisha Cohen: Sure. The name comes from my name, like you said, Alisha, but the thing that’s funny about it is that most people pronounce my name incorrectly. And so, most people say Alisha. And so, by going by Lish, Lish has been my nickname forever back when I played sports, all through high school, so it’s a foolproof way for people to say my name correctly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s like a forcing function. Here’s the part that you need to say that usually people say incorrectly.

Alisha Cohen: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: At what point were you like, “Hey, I want to create a… I want to use this nickname as the inspiration for a business,” and said, “I want to really lean into this.”

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. I was working in the advertising industry after I had graduated college with a marketing degree. I always freelanced on the side, even when I was in college. I was freelance writing, freelance social media. Not really photography back then, it was mainly copywriting and social media. But then when I was working my full-time job, I started post thing on Instagram just for fun things that inspired me. My day job wasn’t allowing me to be super creative or colorful, so I was like, “Oh, I’m just going to take pictures of sprinkles and donuts and fun things that bring me joy.” It started to take off.

Alisha Cohen: This was back in 2014, I want to say, maybe 2015. Eventually, brands started reaching out to me asking me to take pictures for them too. I didn’t even own a camera at the time. I was just using my iPhone being a little bit of an art director, I guess you could say, but I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I really just never said no, asked for help when I needed it, took a couple of online classes here and there, watched a ton of YouTube videos and just kept creating photos for clients until I had enough business that I was able to leave my full-time advertising agency job, which was almost exactly six years ago from today.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Congratulations. It’s awesome. Coming up on the anniversary, was there an actual date? Do you remember what that was, your last day?

Alisha Cohen: It’s January 23rd, I think was my last day.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, almost six years of doing this.

Alisha Cohen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: When you were in the process of the education process, and we’re always in that stage. But really in the early stage of learning and refining your skills, what type of content was it that you were consuming? How was that most helpful in those early stages?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah, it was as basic as it gets. It was like, what’s the best camera for beginner? And then it was like how to learn manual mode. What is ISO? I literally knew nothing at that point. I would say… And then I started experimenting with some lighting, and it wasn’t… I think it was three years until I actually started using better, more professional lighting. Like you said, I’m still learning to this day, but I would say probably the first three years of my business was really, really learning. And then once I got to know lighting better, I feel like there was a turn in the work and it just got a lot better. And then I was able to attract better clients because the work was better.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Don’t you feel like lighting was really an important piece to the puzzle?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah, I think that… Well, I think the first piece was shooting in manual mode. I feel like that was a huge turning point just right at the beginning, right when I was starting. And then the using artificial strokes was the next turning point for me and adding the stop motion capabilities to our services was huge.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about why manual mode was helpful? For those who are in those early stages, what is manual mode and why is it important to understand how to use that?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. The problem with auto, it’s great if you’re just a hobbyist. But if you’re trying to get photos that are worthy of a blog or a cookbook or just really beautiful stuff…

Bjork Ostrom: Product for a brand…

Alisha Cohen: …product, it just helps you manipulate the light better and it gets you to the point where you don’t even have to know editing that well. I think that was it for me. I would get photos right off the camera that looked great that barely needed editing. That’s a difference with manual mode. You can get it exact to your lighting conditions.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, so you have… Essentially, it’s more control. I think of in the world of an analogy would be like in the world of construction, there’s probably people who could come in and use a saw and the hammer in a certain way. But if you really know the tool and the ins and outs of how to use that tool, you’re going to be able to create things much better than me who’d come in and be like, “Oh, I know a saw.” But in actuality, all I know is how to turn it on and off. It’s just kind of like what auto is. It’s like you’re turning your camera on, but you don’t know how to actually use the tool other than just pressing the shutter button, which is okay to your point if you’re going to shoot pictures of your kids or friends. Or you’re traveling and you just want to document.

Bjork Ostrom: But if you want to get to the point where you’re really fine-tuning to the vision that you have in your head, you need the ability adjust all those different settings. So, that’s a really important piece of it. Speaking of the vision that you have in your head, photography is really two pieces. One is the mechanical hardware, and two is the artistic representation of what you’re capturing. How much of that do you think is just within somebody? People say, “Oh, I’m not a creative person. I’m not an artsy person.” Versus how much of that can be something that you learn? Was that part of what you were learning or do you feel like you had some of that stuff innate?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah, I definitely had some of that. I did a little bit of set styling, set design in my advertising agency job, and I always had a vision for photos. But the problem was my skills were lacking. Like you said, it really just depends on the person. Sometimes they have the technical and not the artistic side, but I really do believe that everybody is creative in one way or another. I think it’s really important for people to find that style that really speaks to them and that represents them, and that’s something that had me standing out. Even when I wasn’t very good technically, the fact that I had a very bright, colorful, clean style, that was attractive to people even if maybe the technical side wasn’t there.

Alisha Cohen: Maybe they didn’t even notice that the technical side wasn’t there because I was using all these bright colors and styling and props and everything like that. It’s definitely something too that you develop over time, like your taste level, your style. You can be influenced by a lot of things, like you can look at a lot of Pinterest and stuff. There’s some… It gets tricky sometimes with the lines between inspiration and copying, you know how that goes, but I think it’s good and healthy to look at work and to see what really speaks to you. Maybe you’re taking pieces of things that really represent your style.

Bjork Ostrom: The analogy that I use often is I think a lot of musicians start by learning other songs. If you’re learning the guitar, the first thing you’re going to do probably isn’t going to be a song that you write, but you learn how to play your favorite songs. Usually what you’re trying to do is like, “How do I do this exactly like this artist wrote this song?” That is a tool for learning, but it’s not… You might even cover it and go out and play and say, “Hey, here’s this Free Bird. I love this song.”

Alisha Cohen: Absolutely, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: But what you shouldn’t do is be like, “Here’s this song I wrote, Free Bird.” People are like, “That’s not your song.”

Alisha Cohen: Yeah, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: But using that to then say, “Oh, they did verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge. Maybe I could do verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge if I write a song.” Finding inspiration in that way is almost like a vehicle to learn. What were the things that you… When you were doing set design, what were some of the things that you learned that you incorporated into how you shoot now?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah, I think just like a lot of the way colors work together, I realized I really love monochrome sets, so I kind of weaved that in. But again, I also wasn’t a trained set designer, so that was something that I really learned on the job also because I was a marketing major. But it really is just experimenting. I think the biggest thing you can do with photo styling is experiment and see what you like best. Move your props around 10 different ways and decide, what do you like best? And then pretty soon you start to just start. You get in that groove.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, that makes sense. Do you have any framework for making decisions around colors? I know there’s color wheel. My dad was an art teacher, so he often talked about colors and contrasting or complimentary colors. Do you have that? Does that exist within your decision-making process or is it more of like, Hey, I’m looking at these colors and these feel like they could go together in a creative, fun way? Or is it like, oh, these are… When I think of the color wheel, it’s here and here. A music example would be like, Hey, I know the keys in this. The key of C. Here’s what’s going to be the chords that I can play within that.

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. I would say it’s based for me mostly on my clients, so I always am going to ask for their brand color palette and then also based on the products or the food. If it’s a pink beverage, what colors are going to compliment the pink beverage? If it’s a blueberry pie, what colors are going to compliment the blueberry pie? Like I said, I love monochrome, so I would love to do shades of blue around the pie, sometimes mixing in textures here and there when appropriate. But I really do rely on the product itself, the subject that I’m shooting and then the brands and their guidelines.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense. The other thing you had talked about was artificial lighting and how important that was. I know Lindsay, my wife, our background is we have a food and recipe website called Pinch of Yum. She does all the photography for that. She started to experiment a little bit with using a strobe light for artificial lighting. Her friend, Steph, who has a site called Girl Versus Dough is doing a cookbook shoot. So, they got together and Steph was like, “Here’s how I use a strobe light.” Lindsay was like, “Oh my gosh, this is awesome.” Has never done that, so she started to experiment with it.

Bjork Ostrom: What is that like for you? If somebody’s interested in trying that out, do you have a recommended gear that’s your favorite type of gear? Why do you like that versus say natural light or a light that’s just always on?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. I do use continuous light, which is a light that’s always on, for some stop motion work that I do, but I really prefer strobes over everything just because of the amazing output that you can get for the price that the strength of the light. These are really, really strong lights. And so, having a stronger light gives you a couple of benefits. One of them is that you can shoot at any time of the day. It doesn’t have to be prime daylight. I was also living in Pittsburgh when I first started, and it’s a terribly cloudy city. I never felt like it was bright enough outside for me to get these photos that I needed.

Alisha Cohen: So, that was huge from that regard. But also you can set your camera settings a lot differently when you have a strobe versus natural light. Because when you have a strobe, you can get your f-stop really, really high. If you’re doing a really detailed flat lay with tons of props, you can make sure that all of that stuff is in focus. Whereas if you’re having natural light with… It’s less powerful. You have to do that blurred background look with a lower f-stop in order to get the lighting right. So, it gives you a lot more flexibility and focus.

Alisha Cohen: For me, that’s really why it’s a game-changer. You can also manipulate it a lot easier. It’s hard to put a modifier on the sun. You can’t add an umbrella to the sun. You could diffuse the window light somehow, but it’s definitely easier to just add an umbrella to your strobe or to simulate natural light by not using an umbrella at all, like a harsh, bright sunlight look. So, there’s definitely more flexibility there as well.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost like another element of manual mode, which is the layering in light as a controlled variable within your photography. Whereas to your point with natural light, you can maybe do some things. You can put in a reflector or you can maybe dampen the light somehow or diffuse it, but it’s more limited. It’s coming in from one angle, and you’re not going to be able to shift that unless you wait six hours. And even then, you don’t know if you’re going to get what you need to get. Do you have a favorite type of strobe light? Could you think of the brand of what it would be off the top of your head?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. I really like GODOX brand strobes. I like to tell people that the lower-end cheaper strobes are totally fine if you’re just doing photography just starting out. If you want to use strobes for stop motion, you do need to invest in a higher-end model because the higher-end ones will give you a more consistent output. I hear a lot of times people will buy the entry-level strobe and their stop motion, it gives you kind of like a flicker effect where one frame is a little bit brighter than the next frame. And so, a higher-end strobe helps even that out, so that is something important to know.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. The point with that is the light needs to be exactly the same with every frame in order to make it look more like that combination of a movie, but also still images.

Alisha Cohen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: I’m curious to know, you’ve talked about stop motion a couple of times. What is it… How are brands using that? And what does that look like in terms of a type of media that people could consider, creators could consider? Is that something that you see? For this podcast, it would be food creators. Maybe they have a following on TikTok or Instagram, a following on their blog. What does stop motion look like? Or is it more brands? Like Land O’Lakes wants to do a cool butter thing of the butter melting on a piece of toast or something. How do you see those being successful?

Alisha Cohen: I think both creators and brands can utilize stop motion, especially now that Instagram has told us that we are no longer a photo-sharing app. We want you to share videos. So, it’s a lot of brands and creators are using it on their feed instead of a static image. Some of these, it would be more considered like a Jiff, so it’s only a couple of frames. But just that little bit of motion can really make a difference and get you higher engagement. Brands are using them in ads mostly. Instead of still image ads, they’re using stop motion. Like a recipe blogger, there’s so many opportunities to do stop motion when it comes to food and recipes.

Alisha Cohen: You could show yourself adding all the ingredients to the bowl, the bowl mixing, snapping your fingers and the cake being made. There’s a lot of opportunities there. Not only is it just like stand-alone videos and the feed, but I see stop motion being utilized in reels and TikTok a lot. It’s not necessarily like the whole reel is a stop motion, but maybe just that part at the end, like I said. Like the snapping part is maybe the stop motion element. Now, Instagram and TikTok are making it so easy to just do that on your phone, so that’s something that is definitely more accessible now with these apps.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that? When you say it’s easier to do it on your phone, how do you actually do that? Somebody’s like, “I want to create that on my own. It’s just me.” They’re not going to be able to hire somebody. People know how to do a photo, edit in Lightroom. You know how to do a video, edit it in iMovie. Where do you do stop motion?

Alisha Cohen: So, stop motion on an app. There’s an app called Life Lapse App. It helps you put those still frames together. But the important things that you need to have, and this goes for on your camera or on your phone, you need to have your camera or phone on a tripod so that it’s absolutely not moving. They make tripods for phones. They also make those little clamp arms. I don’t know if you’ve seen those that hold the phone. And then you need a way to trigger your phone without touching it, so there’s little remote shut button that you can buy for $8 on Amazon that you click that button instead of touching your phone.

Alisha Cohen: Because when you’re touching your phone, you may move the phone and we don’t want that. And then the final thing goes back to lighting actually. You need consistent lighting or else you’re going to get that weird flicker effect. We talked about natural light. It is really hard to do with a stop motion, unless you have a super clear day without any clouds and you’re doing it fast so it’s not really moving in the sky. So, your best bet is going to be some kind of artificial lighting. There are some continuous lights that I recommend, like an LED.

Alisha Cohen: GODOX has an LED that’s pretty reasonably priced, and that’s going to give you a lot more power than a ring light. You could use something like a cheap ring light if it’s something fast, maybe for a reel or something like that, something small rather, but I definitely recommend more of a continuous LED for that type of content.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. I know a lot of people are interested in improving their photography. You talked about how important it is to learn along the way. You actually have a course. We’re going to talk about the business side. But before we get too far away from photography, you have a course that covers a lot of this stuff and the best practices that you’ve learned, a great name for it as well. I’ll let you talk about that.

Alisha Cohen: Yeah, thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: But if people want to dig deeper into that, can you talk about where that is and where they can find it?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. You can find it at lishcreative.com/course. The course is called Slay the Flatlay, so a little play on words there, and it is basically everything I’ve ever learned about photography styling and stop motion. And then there also is a course within it that helps you take better social videos. It’s going to cover everything on the camera, and then also how to take better videos on your phone, how to edit them and post them on reels and that kind of thing. And then it includes a nine-page gear guide with the exact links to all these products that I’ve been mentioning and also gives you a range, like low end, middle end, high end for a lot of those things as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. That’s great. We’ll be sure to link to that as well. How about the agency side? You said six years ago, you stepped out and you said, “You know what? I’m going to do this on my own.” What was that moment like when you… like your first day where you sat down and you’re like, “Okay, this is my job now.” What was that like?

Alisha Cohen: It was scary. It was definitely scary at first. I would say the first year was really just learning and trying to find clients and that getting by, that kind of thing. It was really just me probably for the first two years. And then after that, I started bringing in a lot of independent contractors. I still work with a lot of independent contractors, especially in the areas where I wasn’t super experienced in. I mentioned editing before, that was one of the first things that I outsourced because these people are much better than I am at editing.

Alisha Cohen: So, not only is the work better because they’re better at editing, but it saves me time to focus on other areas of business. There’s like 10 or 12 editors that I use for different projects here and there. Photo editors. I now have a video editor on the team, and it’s just grown as I’ve seen a need for things.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. How do clients find you now? You talked about in those early stages having to figure out how to get clients. What was that like? And then what does it look like now? I know you have a social following: TikTok, Instagram. Are they coming in through there?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: What was it like early stages? And then what is it now?

Alisha Cohen: Early stages honestly was still Instagram. That’s what allowed me to start my business. That’s where people were initially finding me. I did reach out to some local brands. I got some retainer clients that way. I think I got a couple of my first clients through some Facebook groups for freelance female entrepreneurs, those types of places. But now it’s really just Instagram and more increasingly is TikTok. I started posting there last December, so about a year ago, and I have over 400,000 followers there, which is absolutely crazy to me.

Bjork Ostrom: What was that like? What do you feel like was the growth lever on TikTok?

Alisha Cohen: I think I was in it a good time. I think I was posting there early enough, and also I was super consistent with it. I did, it was a six-week sprint where I was posting four to six videos a week. Wow. And so, I think it was just like, I just dumped content in there. It was all good content too. That was really all I did, kind of an effect of the pandemic really. I had a really slow December last year and I was like, okay, this is what I’m going to do to try to drum up some business. I’m going to just create really awesome content and try to grow this channel. It really worked.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think there’s something to be said about, and it sounds obvious, but doing good work in the world. It wouldn’t have happened if the content you were putting out wasn’t awesome.

Alisha Cohen: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: So, it starts with that. It’s doing good work in the world, finding a platform where you’re able to put that work onto. It would’ve been a lot different if you were publishing those videos to Twitter versus TikTok. So, there’s some element of figuring out what that platform is, the best fit for it. And then the third piece would be knowing what you want that content to actually do. I’m curious in your case, did you know like, Hey, I want to create content that is like the content that I’m going to be doing for brands, and then hope that a brand would see it and say, “Hey, can you create this for me?”?

Bjork Ostrom: Or are you creating content to try and reach brands like, “Hey, here’s best practices for lighting when you’re doing a product shoot.”? Or was it like a product shoot of food that a food brand would come and say like, “Hey, can you do this same thing for me?”?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. A rule of thumb that I like to tell people, not just for TikTok, for any social media is to really only share the type of work that you want to be doing. Even if I do a shoot for a super masculine brand, I’m never going to put that on my portfolio. I’m never going to share about that on Instagram, because that’s not the type of work that I ultimately want to be doing. So, really, I just try to do really fun, really creative work.

Alisha Cohen: It’s almost like attraction marketing, I would say. I wasn’t trying to reach companies on TikTok. I don’t even think I knew that that was going to be an effect. I think I was more so posting on there for my course, teaching people things, and then the brands were just an added bonus honestly. I was trying to go after more of the education audience on TikTok, and then I found out that brands were watching that as well.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you think that looks like? Is that somebody who’s at a brand on the platform trying to understand it better and seeing something that aligns with how they want their content to exist in the world? And then they shoot you a DM and they’re like, “Can you photograph our stuff?” Is that essentially how it works?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. What people don’t realize is that these are just normal people with normal accounts. They’re not always following you from the brand account. They’re following you from their personal account as a personal human. For instance, one of the women who is on the production team at Bath & Body Works followed me on TikTok. Of course, I had no idea who she was until she sent me an email saying, “Hey, I’ve been watching your TikTok, and we want to start posting on the Bath & Body Works TikTok. We need somebody to help out with that.”

Alisha Cohen: I was the first person that they thought of for that. So, that’s how it works. It’s like somebody that… You won’t know that they’re watching. You never know who’s watching your social media, and that’s why I always think it’s important to put your best face forward for everything that you post online.

Bjork Ostrom: There was a blog post I wrote way back, and the title of it and the concept I think about a lot is who, not how many. It’s this idea that you could be really early, and you could feel like what you’re doing isn’t worthwhile because you don’t have a certain number of followers. Followers are important, and obviously it’s going to increase the reach of your content, but what you don’t know is who is consuming that content. If you’re creating really good content, people can understand that and see that and will respond to that even if you don’t have a lot of followers. There’s been people who…

Alisha Cohen: Right, absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: … I’ve been able to see early in their career and you look at it and you say, “This person is really good.” And you know if they stick with it, that eventually they’re going to have success. It’s just a sixth sense that you have after seeing content long enough.

Alisha Cohen: Right, absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: My guess is that it’s a similar thing for you where, Hey, you know regardless of where you’re posting, what really matters is who is following. To your point, you don’t know. It’s somebody’s name. It’s not going to be Bath & Body Works corporate account because they probably have to go through this approval process. Can we follow this brand? Can we not? But for somebody who’s just using it offhand, they can follow whoever they want on their own personal one. Is that… If you were to rank order in terms of the most important platforms for you, would TikTok be the most important or Instagram or word of mouth? What does that look like, both on the deals with brands side, so for the agency, but also I’d be curious to know in terms of students who go through the courses that you’re creating?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. I think most of the students are coming from TikTok. And then usually, if they follow me on TikTok, then they may also follow me on Instagram and really start diving deep into the blog. And then they’ll get on the email list. That’s how we get them into the funnel of the course. For clients, I would say right now, it’s a mix between TikTok and Instagram. I think Instagram is still important because I have a lot of established clients and previous clients or potential clients that follow me on there already. So then when they see my stuff there, they’re reminded. But you mentioned word of mouth and referral, and that really has been huge for my business. I don’t think it’s something that we talk about enough.

Alisha Cohen: Everybody wants to know how to get clients, but the important thing is treating your clients really well and doing really amazing work and making their life easier. When you do that, they will hire you again and again and again. I now have some relationships with clients that I’ve been working. I’ve been working with them since 2018, 2019, long-term relationships. That ends up being the best for both parties because you get to know each other. There’s less of that learning curve. And then they also will recommend me to their friends. Or they switch companies and that new company needs somebody. That happens a lot too, especially marketing, PR. People don’t stay at those jobs forever typically. So, I do see a lot of that where people are moving companies and hiring me from somewhere else.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I have a friend who does video, and he works with a lot of agencies that hire him and then they work for bigger projects like for Facebook or Bumble or whatever it might be. He consistently says I did. He doesn’t have a website. He doesn’t really have social media. After seven years, it’s him and a friend. Just picked a name, Parka Studios, a Minnesota brand, but he says the same thing. He’s like, “What really matters is my connections with these individuals and me being somebody who they want to work with.”

Bjork Ostrom: That in and of itself is going to be… It enough to sustain his business without any online presence. Then you think of adding in an online presence. That becomes a multiplier. I’m curious to hear you reflect on, what does that mean to be somebody who’s good to work with and to make somebody else’s job easier? What does that tangentially look like?

Alisha Cohen: That means putting your opinions and creativity to the side and doing what’s best for the client and their brand. That took me a long time to learn, I think longer than I’d like to admit. There definitely have been some instances along the way that things don’t go well. There’s miscommunications here and there. And so, not only listening to your client and working for your client, but also adapting your process as you go so that you don’t have those miscommunications in the future.

Alisha Cohen: Here’s an example. When I first started, we do these highly detailed shot lists, and we tell exactly what the photo’s going to look like in the concept. But at the beginning, I would have a column that would say background color and I would just write pink. Well then I realized there’s a lot of interpretations of pink, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.

Alisha Cohen: And so, I need to put the exact Pantone colors of the background color that we’re going to be using. Because I once had someone be like, “Oh, well I thought it was going to be more of like a peach.”

Bjork Ostrom: This pink. Right, right.

Alisha Cohen: Yeah. And so, that’s an example of something in my six years of business that I’ve adjusted as we’ve gone along to make it easier for clients to know what they’re going to get and to meet their expectations.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. One of the things that I love about talking to you with your story is we try as much as possible give exposure on the podcast, even though it’s called the Food Blogger Pro podcast, give exposure to other ways that you can be building a successful business. Sometimes in our world, people think, “Hey, I want to create content online, monetize it through ads or sponsored content. That’s the avenue I want to go.” In your case, you’re using social. You have the agency branch. You have the course branch. You don’t need to do advertising because you have these other mediums, which is really, really cool.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m curious to hear, what were some of the things that you didn’t know about the world of having an agency doing creative content with brands that you now know to be true that you’d say, “Hey, if anybody else is thinking about starting a video business to shoot food video.”? Or maybe somebody wants to do restaurant photography. What are the things that you now know to be true about the world that you do that you didn’t know before?

Alisha Cohen: Oh, that’s a great question. I think… I don’t think I thought that my business would adapt as much as it has and adapt to fit the needs of my clients, which goes back to getting referrals and things like that. I thought once I learned photography, that’s great. Well now everybody’s asking me for video, so now I’m becoming a video production company too. And so, that’s something that I didn’t anticipate, but I’ve let happen. I think some people are just like, “Oh, I’m good at photography. I’m going to stick with that.”

Alisha Cohen: My advice would be don’t be afraid to learn new things, to hire people to fill gaps that you have because we need to continually be meeting the needs of clients and change as the industry’s changing. Just in the past year, think about how much social media has changed and the type of content has changed. Even if you’re just blogging for yourself, you still need to know how to make reels now. Brands are asking influencers to make reels, and you got to learn. And so, that’s something that I didn’t necessarily expect to happen but that I’ve tried my best to embrace as we’ve gone along.

Bjork Ostrom: When you think of… I’m thinking of this as it relates to talking about working with independent contractors and the team that you have, which fluctuates based on the project, my guess is. I’m curious to hear your stack of tools that you use. With communicating with brands, with communicating with the team, just personally, would you be able to list off and say like, “Hey, these are the things we use and we love.”? Whether it’d be like Asana, Basecamp, Lightroom. I think people are always interested to hear what those things are.

Alisha Cohen: Absolutely. We use Airtable for all of client concepting, and we use Canva a lot. If we need to make a mood board for a client or if we want to lay out a mock-up of what the photo’s going to look like, we’ll use Canva for that. And then among my internal team, we’re using Asana daily to track tasks. Those are tasks related to client shoots, tasks related to the course, all on Asana. And then I have a social media manager also, and we use Plann, P-L-A-N-N, to schedule.

Alisha Cohen: All of the Instagram and TikToks that we have, we use Airtable for that as well to plan it and then schedule it and plan. So, really like Airtable, Asana and Plann I think are our three main ones. And then of course for photoshoots, we do in editing and things like that in Lightroom and Photoshop and those givens.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you like about Airtable? And how is that different than Google Sheets?

Alisha Cohen: Oh, Airtable’s the best. I like to say that it’s like a spreadsheet on steroids. I like that you can up upload images to it and not make the columns all crazy. You can customize the type of each field. One field’s going to be an attachment with an image upload, and the next you could do a multiple select feature and where it’s all color-coded. You can drag and drop cells, which I think is a huge game-changer. It’s just very user-friendly. I haven’t ever talked to anybody that doesn’t like it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. We hear that quite a bit. I’ve dabbled in it a little bit, but I know some people who are power users and they just think it’s the best. So, it’s cool to hear you talk about that. On the agency side, for anybody who’s interested in the education piece, I want to make sure they check out the course. There’s also folks who listen to the podcast who are brands, more product-oriented and then also just creators who might need help. For LISH, how much of that is brand work versus a blogger who wants to have somebody help with photography? Is it all of the above?

Bjork Ostrom: If you were to say your focus, you talk about producing the content that is similar to the brands that you want to work with or the content that you want to be doing, what would that in case people want to reach out and connect with you?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah, I would say our specialty is food, beverage, lifestyle and beauty brands. And so, that’s mainly who we’re working with to produce photography, stop motions, and short-form videos. That would be like TikToks and reels, even some YouTube videos here and there. That’s really our bread and butter, lots of social ads. Most of these brands are very colorful, feminine brands. Like I said, there are some exceptions. But for the most part, a focus on color is a big thing that you’ll see.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. You won’t be doing a photoshoot for Kiss, the band, probably. You could.

Alisha Cohen: No.

Bjork Ostrom: You could pull it off, but that wouldn’t necessarily be in the focus category for you.

Alisha Cohen: Right, right.

Bjork Ostrom: For folks who want to follow along with what you’re up to, obviously TikTok and Instagram would be great places. You can plug those. And then the best place, if anybody does want to work with you on the agency side, how can they get in touch with you?

Alisha Cohen: Yeah, you can email [email protected]. You can learn more at lishcreative.com. @lishcreative on TikTok, and @alishylishy and @lishcreative on Instagram. There’s a personal and a company one on Instagram.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. We’ll link to those. Alisha, thanks so much for coming on the podcast.

Alisha Cohen: Thanks so much for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Let’s wrap one more big thank you to Alisha for coming on and sharing her story. I just want to give one more plug for that content specialist position, foodbloggerpro.com/job if you want to check it out. I would love to hear from you. Like I said, I think there might be somebody here in this audience, a podcast listener, that would be a really good fit for it. We already know that you are a learner, that you’re motivated, that you’re interested in getting a tiny bit better every day forever because you listen to this podcast.

Bjork Ostrom: And so, if that sounds like you and if you’re interested in a position starting at 20 hours a week but it would have the potential to grow, head over to foodbloggerpro.com/job. That’s it. Have a great week. Bye-bye.

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