Welcome to episode 49 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! In this episode, Bjork chats with Allison Schaaf from the meal planning service PrepDish.
Last week, Bjork interviewed Dustin & Lacey Baier about how they took a blog on the verge of collapse to a thriving business. To go back and listen to their story, click here.
The Power of Accountability
Allison Schaaf started her entrepreneurial adventure with two key components: a focused goal and great branding. But what has kept her going in creating a business that brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars every year was something else entirely. In a word:
Allison found a while back that working with business coaches has helped her business skyrocket. And while the coaches helped her get to where she is today, she also discovered that accountability of any sort, from a coach to a friend to a dedicated group, is what helps her set and achieve her goals.
In this episode, Allison shares:
- The very first step she took when starting her new online business
- What set her apart from other similar businesses
- How she worked through struggles at the beginning
- How she gets the word out about her business
- What she learned from her business coach and how it’s helped
- How an accountability group helps her reach her goals
- The process she uses to set strong, realistic goals
Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on iTunes or Google Play Music:
- Entrepreneur on Fire episode 1310 with Allison
- SPI episode 201 with Allison
- 047: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results with Jay Papasan
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Be sure to review us on iTunes!
If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number forty-nine of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast.
Hey there, everybody. This is Bjork Ostrom. I’m coming to you live … Well, not live, recorded, from St. Paul, Minnesota. Today I am interviewing Allison Schaaf from PrepDish.com. I love Allison’s story because she’s a great example of somebody that had an idea and didn’t just work on it for a couple weeks and then let it fizzle and not really take it anywhere. She really stayed focused and continued to build PrepDish for a long period of time even when it wasn’t easy, and along the way she continued to figure out ways to get a little bit better and improve and build her business. It’s a really fun interview for me because it’s a really great case study in one of the things that we talk about often, which is this idea of 1% infinity, or continually getting a little bit better each and every day over a long period of time.
As Allison did that, as she’ll share in this interview, she eventually got to a point where she solidified PrepDish as a really solid business. She shared some of her numbers and some of the things that she learned along the way. Before we jump into the interview, I wanted to do another quick reminder to those that are listening before June 2nd. If you’re listening before June 2nd, it means that we are in the enrollment period for Food Blogger Pro. For Food Blogger Pro, we have two really big public enrollment periods that happen like a university, where we open the doors and people can sign up and become a member of Food Blogger Pro.
What is Food Blogger Pro? It’s a membership site for people in the food space. Not the entire site, the entire site isn’t just food bloggers, we have some people that are in other spaces DIY or people that maybe have a parenting blog. We really focus on the food space. We focus on the niche of food and there’s so many different things that you can talk about when it comes to food in terms of how to build a business online in the food space. We cover everything from photography. Lindsay does all different courses on photography. We just released one on food styling, but she’s also done artificial lighting and lighting, natural lighting photography.
We focus on plugins, so if you use WordPress and you’re trying to figure out how to use different plugins like how to use the SEO plugin, Yoast SEO to help your post show up higher, we cover stuff like that. Then we also have community forum. One of the things that I’m so excited about is recently we’ve started to add on experts into the community forum, and you can see who some of those experts are by going to foodbloggerpro.com/experts. We have them showcased there. It’s really become a vibrant part of Food Blogger Pro. A lot of people interacting, helping each other out, meeting, and it’s been fun to hear the stories of the connections that have come out of that.
The reality is blogging can be a loamy thing. We love the community forum not only for the functionality of helping people, but also for the reality of that connecting people from all around the world or people that didn’t even know, but they actually live close together and they’ve been able to connect and meet because of that.
I just wanted to do a quick reminder, Food Blogger Pro is currently open for enrollment, and would love for you to check that out. You can go to foodbloggerpro.com and then there’ll be information all about signing up. What is this interview with Allison all about? We’re going to be talking about PrepDish. We’re going to be talking about recurring income, what that’s like to have that recurring income, and how she’s built that up over a long period of time, what those first few years were like and how she really got started in this industry and how she found the motivation to continue going as well. It’s a really great interview. I think you’ll really like it. Without further ado, Allison, welcome to the podcast.
Allison Schaaf: Thank you for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I’m super excited to be talking to you today. As I was doing some research for this episode, it’s funny because I got into it, and I saw that you’ve actually recently done some other podcast interviews with podcasts that are in a similar space, entrepreneurial at least. Entrepreneur on Fire, which is a really popular business podcast and then Smart Passive Income, have both of those been released? Are those out and available for people to listen to?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, it was a lot of fun talking to both of those guys, especially because I listen to their podcast regularly, so.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. That’s funny because I feel like at this point, usually when I interview people they’re like, “I’m nervous coming on,” and I feel like it’s the opposite now because you’ve done these other podcasts, so I’m like, “Am I up to snuff on my podcast interviewing?” You can give me critical feedback after and let me know if I can refine that after all of your podcast experience.
Allison Schaaf: Oh, man. I’m just thinking about myself, sorry.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, good. That could be said about the world in general, I think.
Allison Schaaf: I know. I think that’s usually how it goes.
Bjork Ostrom: I actually found out about you, because recently I did an interview with Jay Papasan and he co-authored The One Thing, and that was a really helpful podcast episode for people. He said, “Hey, you really have to get in touch with Allison. She has a business in the food space and would be a really great interview,” and I looked into it. Sometimes people will suggest podcast interview and some are like, “Not really good fit,” but in this case, I was like, “Yeah, this is a really good fit and would be a great interview,” so I’m really excited to have you on to chat about some of these things.
Just curious, your connection to Jay, you said that at the time you lived in Austin so you were connected with him and get together with him every once in a while, is that true?
Allison Schaaf: Yup, so I lived in Austin for six years and gosh I’m not sure how I originally connected, but I just love his book The One Thing, it makes so much sense to me. He’s big into the entrepreneur seeing there and Keller Williams, I’ve done some trainings with them. Yeah, just he’s a great guy.
Bjork Ostrom: Thank you, Jay for the introduction and excited to have you on Allison. Take us back a little bit, and before PrepDish what did life look like for you? I’d love to dig into what we call your origin story a little bit to hear what brought you up to this point?
Allison Schaaf: I was always interested in food and cooking. If you want to go way back in high school, I was cooking in the summers. My home instructor connected me with a family in town. I grew up in a small town in Kansas, and was cooking for a family run business in the summers and really loved it. Every morning, I’d go to the store, pickup what I wanted to make and then make the food. I thought it was awesome. It inspired me to go to culinary school, so I went to culinary school. I also always really had an interest in nutrition. I just felt like you’re going to take the time to prepare food. It should really be something that’s healthy for your body and makes you feel better.
I also got a master’s in nutrition and became a dietitian, all along knowing that I wanted to pair culinary nutrition, but not in the traditional work in a hospital or not in the traditional work in a kitchen. That’s what I did. For the first few years out of grad school, I had a job promoting almonds, where it’s pretty fun. I got to travel around with the almond board talking about the health benefits of almonds, which was … it was awesome, but just I always was an entrepreneur at heart. I really miss being in the kitchen and really working with food, because a lot of that job was more science and communications based.
I decided to move to Austin and start my own company. I went back to what I knew, which was that Personal Chef business of cooking for people. I started doing the same thing I was doing back in high school. I just charged a lot more for it, and really enjoyed it. That was my first real business was there in Austin that Personal Chef company. As I was doing that work, it got to the point where I wanted to move online for multiple reasons. I didn’t see myself cooking all day everyday for the rest of my life. I’d love to have a family someday and that Personal Chef work didn’t seem to quite align with that goal. I was like, “I really wanted to get into the online space,” and started thinking through what would that look like. That’s where I came up with this idea for PrepDish, which is an online meal planning website.
Basically, what I did was took all of the menus and resources that I was using with my Personal Chef clients. Because with the clients, I would visit them once a week and prep all their food for the week. I started doing that for myself, because I got really busy and I wasn’t wanting to prepare meals at night. It’s like, “Gosh, this process really makes sense. How do I translate this for the masses?” That’s what I sat down and did. I put together PDFs, they were grocery lists and instructions on how to spend a few hours over the weekend doing all your meal prep for the week. I put that together and PrepDish is formed.
Bjork Ostrom: I think when people hear that the connection makes sense, but in between those words, I think there’s a lot of stories and a lot of hard work and hassle, and I’m guessing some mistakes and some wins. I’d really love to dig into that, because I know that so many people are in a place where maybe they’re even doing a job that they love. That was the case for Lindsay and I, we were both doing work that we really loved. She was working as a teacher. I was at a nonprofit that I felt really good about and felt like it was a good fit.
Like you said, you have this thing inside of you that knows that you want to move in this direction and that’s that entrepreneurial bug, or gift, or whatever you want to call it. You had said that you had that, and you also had a job that you enjoyed and was paying the bills, and you knew as you looked out potentially it wasn’t sustainable especially as you thought about maybe building a family or shifting what your work might look like.
One of the things I’m curious to hear right away is at that point when you came to the realization that, “This isn’t something I can do forever,” what was the first step that you took in order to start moving towards that goal. Did you know what you wanted to do? Did you still have to refine that? What did that initial step look like?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, I think the initial step, at that point I already had a business so it’s up and running. I kept that up and running and was basically doing both of them at the same time. The first step was just coming up with the idea. I was like, “I think there’s something more out there,” and so I just sat down and brainstormed. I think I signed up for some E-courses and I was like, “What can I do online?” I was focused on that online. I had this inkling that that’s where my next step was.
It probably was a few months of figuring that out. Then once I did figure that out, one of my initial steps was actually meeting with a designer to come up with the branding and the logo, and the website.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah and we actually just finished an interview. We don’t know when it’ll go out yet, but we talked about that branding process and how important that is, so I think that you’d mention that for those that haven’t listened to it. I would encourage you to check out that. It’s with the founder of your brand week. I’m talking to him about, his name’s Aaron, I’m talking to him about the branding process, so it’s interesting to hear you say that.
I want to go back to the first part that you were talking about there where you said, “I actually at some point decided what I was going to do.” How did you refine that process? Was it something internally you were just thinking about and said, “Hey, I want to give this a shot.” Did you ask people and compare notes and say, “What do you think about this?” How did you refine down to that idea? How similar is that idea you started with to what you’re actually doing today?
Allison Schaaf: I did a lot of research to see what was out there, but then also what are my strengths. Then I also started talking to my target. I have a lot of friends that were what I foresaw as the target, which is busy moms. I put together some prototypes and send it to them and ask for their feedback, ask them to dig in and do it. I really tried to talk to my audience as much as possible. Also, I saw it was out there and there wasn’t anything … There were meal planning sites that had been successful at that point, there were some big ones out there, but none of them had this little prep ahead key. To me, that’s really where my expertise was, because I’d spent the last several years doing exactly that. Here, I have this unique skillset that was different than anything out there.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a great takeaway regardless of what people are interested in doing, is the takeaway being even if there’s something that is already out there that maybe overlaps a little bit with a general idea you have, a lot of times it’s not necessarily … That doesn’t necessarily mean that, “Oh, you can’t do it.” It means refining it to a point where it really meets what you had said was your specialty or your expertise along with a need in the marketplace and I feel like PrepDish is a great example of that.
Another example could be for instance Food Blogger Pro. We have a membership site for food bloggers. There’s lots of different training sites online. There’s lynda.com and there’s Team Tree House for people that want to learn how to develop, but there’s not one that’s nuanced for people in the food space. I think what you did is another example of that, a really good example of finding that match and knowing that you don’t have to reach eight billion people, right?
Allison Schaaf: Yup.
Bjork Ostrom: You can sustain yourself on thousands, or in some cases depending on the business, hundreds. At that point, you have an idea of what it is that you want to do. You take some steps forward, you meet with the designer, and you say, “Let’s take some steps forward with refining the brand.” What comes after that? Do you reach out to those initial friends and family and say, “Hey, let’s give this a shot,” or do you go and have the advertising budget and advertise on Facebook and Google AdWords? What comes after the design and the concept that’s there?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, so for me, my meal plans in general are a lot of development that’s backwards, because I know that’s like, “Gosh, I spent so many months and months developing them,” and I still do, but that’s what it takes to create a quality product. Then part of it was, “Okay, how do I set this up?” That took me a long time to figure out and actually has evolved up until this past December when I just jumped into Infusionsoft.
Bjork Ostrom: What did you start right then? I’m curious to know what that process look like. This has ended like a Geekzone with tools and stuff, but I’m so fascinated.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, and it’s interesting because like you said, in order … When you jump in, you’re just going to make mistakes if you don’t want to take … You have to balance it between jumping in and giving it a go, and being okay with making mistakes. Because if you research it, it could be five years before you launch, if you have it all in place. When I first did it, my website was designed, I got it up, I sent it to some friends that was in Austin. I had some techie friends and they’re like, “Is this a custom website?” Not something I’d thought to ask and I was like, “Yeah.” They’re like, “No, this is completely wrong. You need to have this on a WordPress site or one of these shopping sites.”
I went back and looked at it, and they were exactly right. I basically spent all this time building this gorgeous website and then had to pay someone else to put this exact same website up on a WordPress site.
Bjork Ostrom: I want to pause there, because I think that’s a really important takeaway. We just spoke at a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah that’s called, “Everything Food.” One of the things that I spoke on, we were talking about really big takeaways that we’ve had over the years as we’ve built the things that we built. One of the things that I said was, “It’s important to start and then learn as opposed to take forever learning and then start.” Like you said, there’s a balance, right?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: You just don’t want to go in totally blind and be stupid about it. At the same time, you have moved towards your goals and made progress, and you’re running this business and have a team. What happened at the start was, you hit some hurdles and it wasn’t just necessarily like you go hurdles, there’s also a cost with it. I think that comes with a territory as you build your thing, you’re going to hit hurdles along the way, and that you have to move through those and continue to move forward. Sometimes it comes at a cost of time, sometimes at a cost of money, and it probably depends on where you are and how willing you are to put money into it in terms of which one of those that’s going to be. I think that’s a really important takeaway.
You shifted your onward press, you set that up on WordPress. Then the other thing that you had said is, you had started using Infusionsoft. Can you talk about what you’re using before, why you didn’t like it, and then explain what Infusionsoft is?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, so I should mention, so the very first I was back in 2012. That was WordPress and then I think I had it connected to Blue Commerce for like a year. Then I switched to a platform that made more sense if you have a subscription model where it’s automatic payments either monthly or yearly. There was a startup and they’re big business now called, “Cratejoy” in Austin and they specialize in subscription, which was awesome, but there are subscriptions like the monthly boxes that you receive and mine is digital product, so it was this combination of a WordPress site with the Cratejoy shopping cart, and then I would send things out through MailChimp. Those three things for the most part would communicate, but not exactly.
I’m like, “If I want to scale this to thousands and thousands of subscribers, it’s not going to work,” because you would have to manually cancel people and some little things like that. That just doesn’t make sense. That’s when I started exploring other options. That was just this year. In November, I made the shift to Infusionsoft and that’s taken a few months. We’re pretty much fully shifted now, but it’s still a learning process. Infusionsoft is an all-in-one, it does your shopping cart, it will handle the subscription, is an e-mail marketing like MailChimp, but it just has everything all-in-one.
All of our people are in Infusionsoft. You can tag them in a lot of ways. You can send out different e-mail sequences, depending on their behavior. It’s very powerful, but it takes time to figure out how to use it correctly.
Bjork Ostrom: Infusionsoft is what I’ve heard they called before.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, as of the picture.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah and just like you said, really, really powerful in being able to do multiple things like billing, or e-mail, or tagging people, so if somebody visits a certain page they’ll get a certain tag, but also very complicated. Is that something that you handle internally or do you have a team that helps you with that?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, so this year my husband’s actually been helping out a little bit. He’s on a pause with his business. He’s also an entrepreneur, so he’s been leading the pack with Infusionsoft, but yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Good for him.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, I know. You could ask him how he feels about it.
Bjork Ostrom: Just for context for those that are listening, one of the tools that we suggest starting out with right away when you’re in the beginning stages is just a simple MailChip, especially if you’re doing a content-based business, this obviously is a little bit different because you have those products hooked into it. Then we use something a little bit similar, but it’s called, “Active Campaign,” and that’s another example of something similar to Infusionsoft. One thing that’s different is that you can’t do billing within Active Campaign, which is one of the things that I know Infusionsoft does and it’s really nice that you’re able to do all that internally. You’re at the point now where you’ve been working on this, it was 2012 you said you had started?
Allison Schaaf: Yup.
Bjork Ostrom: During that time, was it a full-time thing for you the entire time or what did that process look like to call back a little bit earlier, switching from your Personal Chef business into this digital business?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, so I maintained the Personal Chef business up until, gosh like just last year, so 2015, or well actually it was the fall of 2014 I hired someone for the Personal Chef business. That business still exists today, I just no longer do any of the day to day work there, high-level, help manage the clients because it’s a lot of the same clients that I’ve had for years, but I now have a chef that does the cooking for that.
The beauty with keeping that Personal Chef business is through those first few years, I didn’t … 2012, 2013, I didn’t make anything, even 2014 I think it was probably a break even year. Those first few years, having that Personal Chef company is what kept me flow. That’s what paid the bills. That’s what paid for the advertising through for the website.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s the same one for Food Blogger Pro, so Food Blogger Pro Podcast, right, which people or something right now, free podcast. Then we also have the membership site, which people signup for in its forum, and videos, and things like that. For the first year and a half for sure, it was like, gal I was working on it all the time and it’s like if you ever jolt the dollar amount, it’s so sad. It’s almost like you can’t look at that and you have to maintain this hope that as things continue to build, that you’ll get to a point where it makes sense and break even and then after that where you’re able to bring team members on, and then it becomes profitable.
One of the questions I have for you is, as you were in the grind, how did you know that this was worth doing and at what point did you get to the point where you’re like, “Okay, this makes sense, I’m going all in.”
Allison Schaaf: Gosh, I don’t know. I always said that someone from the outside would think I was a crazy person, because when you’re just looking at the numbers, like you said the amount of work I was doing, it didn’t make sense, but I just inside of me, had a confidence. I knew it was big. Obviously today I really think it makes sense. I think it’s now showing me that it was worth all that time and effort, but in those early days, I don’t know. It just was something inside of me like you have to have a passion for.
That’s the other thing is the money in the side, I really love what I do and it’s when I read those customer e-mails, if you ever … If I ever have a down day, I can just go through. I have a whole file of all the customer feedback and how many people like, it saves them time and helps them sit down to family dinners and getting to read the feedback and the difference I’m making in people’s lives that totally makes it worth it. That’s what makes me really strive to make this big, because I know how much it can help people.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, there’s all different types of income that we can get from the work that we do. There’s the financial income, which I think is what people normally think about. I think the best jobs are those that are sustainable with financial income, but then also offer that additional income whether that’s relational or impact. You can have impact income or if you know that you know that you’re making an impact and helping people, that’s a type of something coming into your life that’s a benefit and a good thing. It’s a balance between all of those things, it’s not just one. It’s cool to hear you talk about that.
At this point, it’s something that you’re doing full-time. I’m interested, when you look back and you think about the process of growing it, what were the things that you wish you would’ve implemented right away in order to be able to build faster? Are there things that you can think of offhand where that would apply?
Allison Schaaf: I could think of things that I implemented early on that I’m glad I did, which one of those would be customer service e-mails, because it’s really easy to get bug down doing those. That was an easy thing to hire out early on.
Bjork Ostrom: When you do that hiring process, where did you find that person? What did that process look like to train them in?
Allison Schaaf: Initially, with the Personal Chef company, I’d worked with some also a dietitian, and worked with some dietetic interns just locally in Austin. I had two girls that I’d really enjoyed working with. I knew that they would be a good fit and they’d already proven themselves to me. I already knew who they were and so those are my … I hired them just as contractors to fill in with the customer service.
Then last year, I did go ahead and hire Andrea and she helps with the customer service now. That process was really getting clear on what I wanted like very specific what are the tasks they want help with, what kind of person, what kind of personality? Then my husband actually sat down with me and we did a lot of interviews and really went back and forth, and have been just so pleased with the outcome. She really has jumped in and not only does customer service, but helps with the outreach and the relationship building, which is just so important to growing the business, so it’s been huge.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I totally agree. We have not a huge team, but I can say for sure that’s been true for us both for Pinch of Yum and for Food Blogger Pro. We have a small team for each, but I work closely with the team at Food Blogger Pro and they’re just such a huge asset not only obviously for the business, but just in day to day enjoyment. It’s so much better to work with somebody even if it’s remote than just on your own.
Then I’m assuming the relationships that you have with the … Or the working relationships you have are in some way, shape, or form remote, and I say that because home for you isn’t the continental US.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah. No, so I live in Puerto Rico and Andrea is based in Austin. I still go back to Austin. It’s where the Personal Chef company is. I go back there about once a month. I do see her sometimes in person, but yeah the job itself is a 100% remote. I travel a lot, so I work from anywhere and everywhere and a lot of planes. I do a lot with on airplanes.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure, yeah. I get that. What are the tools that you use as a remote team in order to stay in touch? Is it e-mail primarily or are there other tools that you like to use?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, we have been using just a lot of Google Sheets and Google Docs to track processes and status and everything.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the questions that I had and you had mentioned this a little bit earlier. You said that there’s the first few years where it was just break even or maybe you’re putting money into the business not knowing if you would gain anything back over the long-term. One of the things you had mentioned was the idea of paying for advertising. I’m curious to know what your approach is for building the business. Do you focus primarily on content marketing? I think that our listeners would really understand that, that idea of putting out blog post and recipes that people would come and look at. Do you do specific advertising like Facebook advertising or Google AdWords? Is it trying everything and seeing what works? What have you found works best and what are you doing right now?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, so it’s what you said. I am not afraid to try anything, so I try it all and see if it works. I don’t mind if it’s a loss in the long run because I think it’s worth trying it all out. The thing that’s really important, and I hired a coach last year that I worked with for six months. The thing I worked on with her was making sure I track every single thing I do, so that’s the most important part is if I’m going to try something, I have a way to track the numbers on that.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m curious to know specifically about that, what made you decide that you want to work with a coach and how did you find the person?
Allison Schaaf: Actually, I’ve worked with several coaches throughout my time as an entrepreneur and each one has been the right person for that time. I’m actually now close friends with all of them, because you form this bond and relationship.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, which it’s good people to be close friends with.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah and it’s you have to see where you’re at with your business and where do you want to be. You want to try and find that person’s going to push you to the next level. I think all of my coaches were good at doing that. I tend to be very motivated and countable, but in now, this year, I actually formed an accountability group that I put together and we have weekly calls. We just had our call this morning and they’re awesome at keeping me on track. It’s like you really can, as much as you can when you’re working on your own, it’s essential to find someone that you can be accountable to.
Bjork Ostrom: The coach that you had worked with for six months, what do you feel like was the biggest takeaway that you had from that? Was it the idea of being really intention about tracking?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, that’s where she really helped out was like how do you track every single thing that you do. I started using lead pages, so that’s where you can setup a direct list so then you can track exactly how many people visit that page. Infusionsoft helps with that too in figuring out where each customer comes from. Anything that I do I know how much it cost per for my customer acquisition basically, which is really nice to be able to look at those numbers.
Then going back, I think the question was, what do I … In terms of what’s working and stuff. I do use Facebook ads. It’s not a huge part of it, that’s a small percentage of it. I work with bloggers, so I have found working … finding that right fit of someone who has an audience that’s similar to mine, so that busy mom that’s wanting to eat healthier, and working with them. Early on I connected with 100 Days of Real Food, Lisa and their …
Bjork Ostrom: They’re great. I interviewed Jason in one of the first podcast interviews we did.
Allison Schaaf: Oh, good. Yeah, so they’re awesome. I started working with them early on and her audience is just amazing. Finding just other people like that, that that’s been really big for me is working with them. Then also when she worked with a blogger, it’s like, “Okay, what’s the best way?” There’s lots of different things you can do, an e-mail sponsorship, you can do a guest blog post. Now I’m getting ready to playing around with video stuff. There’s lots of different ways you can work with people.
Lately, I’ve been doing sponsored Instagram post with bloggers and all of that can work, you just have to test it and see. The thing I’ve learned too is it’s not okay, I did an e-mail with this person, it worked, so go and do e-mails with people like that. It’s not always that easy, because each person’s different. Maybe with Lisa, it’s like that’s how her audience responds well, but then with this other few blogger I found, using Instagram is really good because that’s how she really communicates with her audience.
It really is a, “Okay, figure out what works and then try and do more of that, but you have to continue to track it, because it always is evolving and changing.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s an art and a science.
Allison Schaaf: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s the thing that’s so interesting about it is it’s not just about tracking, it’s about being creative in the process that you use to evolve the system that you have. Lead pages from Minnesota company. Great tool. A little bit expensive in terms of somebody that’s just starting out, but it’s a really valuable resource. They just went through this big update, and redesign, and re-brand, which makes it a lot easier to use. Do you use other tools for the tracking? I’m guessing Google Analytics?
Allison Schaaf: Yup, I use Google Analytics and then Infusionsoft, because once they’re in Infusionsoft, they’re all tagged. Those tags in Infusionsoft really helpful. Sometimes too, even when I was back on the other shopping cart, just using coupon codes like if each person uses unique coupon codes, depending on the system that’s a good easy way to track it is to make sure everyone’s using a coupon code.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you do an affiliate programs type thing?
Allison Schaaf: I do. Yeah, we’re revamping it right now, but it’s funny you asked. My husband, that’s his business. He has an affiliate agency, so.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, sure. Okay, yeah so it would make sense that you guys would be familiar with that.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, sure. I’m curious to know, one of the things that we’re slowly getting into the world of SaaS or recurring, we have Food Blogger Pro, which is a recurring product. How do you know when you’re building your thing, it doesn’t have to be recurring thing necessarily. How do you know or how did you fine tune the pricing process? Was that a gut feeling that you then evolved into proving it with that testing philosophy or what did that look like for you?
Allison Schaaf: I did some market research. I saw what’s standard price out there and once I set it, I haven’t really changed it. Actually, I think really early on when I first started and I think this is something that’s easy to … a mistake that’s easy to make is I price them super high. I don’t remember what it was, but I think it was each plan was going to be like $20. Because I saw how much time it took me to develop one plan and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to charge a lot for this.”
Then I looked around. I’m like, “No, that’s ridiculous.” Now it’s $14 for the month or $99 for the year, which ends up being $2 a meal plan. That was just based on the market, I researched with it standard was and I actually think I went slightly above just because I feel like mine, they’re really high quality. I put a lot of time and effort into developing them by hand and so I wanted them to not be significantly more, but be a dollar more just so people could recognize like, “Hey, these are higher quality,” I guess.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. I think that makes sense and also being that they are more niche as opposed to general, I think people will understand that and pay for something that’s specific to their niche or to their diet in this place I say niche, but meaning diet. That makes sense. I haven’t listened to the Entrepreneur on Fire or the SPI Podcast, but I’m just curious because I’m sure people do want to know. Do you share general numbers on that in terms of subscribers or where things are at? There’s zero pressure to share that, but is that something that you’ve done?
Allison Schaaf: Oh yeah. Right now, I’m around 2500 subscribers.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is incredible. Congratulations.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah. Thank you. I know it’s exciting.
Bjork Ostrom: This ties in maybe a little bit to question I’d ask before, but at what point did you say, “Okay, now I can relax a little bit. It’s worth my time. It’s worth my energy.” Was that three years in? Was that two years in? The reason I asked is because I know that a lot of people listening are wondering that and I think people expect it to happen sooner than it actually does.
Allison Schaaf: Oh, yeah. No, and that’s something, actually with both companies it’s like I always have these big lofty goals. I always reach them, but it takes twice as long as I think it will, “Oh yeah, this year I’m going to be this,” and then it’s three years later I’m like, “Oh, I’m finally here,” but you feel like you’ve climbed this mountain before you get there.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and it feels similar to what I would say would be like landscaping or doing a remodel. It costs twice as much and takes twice as long.
Allison Schaaf: You do get there and it’s awesome when you do. I feel like last, I think this just last year, I don’t know, I remember when I reached a thousand subscribers, to me that was a big deal. I actually … we were traveling somewhere and I think we were … I was monitoring it, because I was like when I reached a thousand, I’m going to have a champagne, a glass of champagne and do a toast. We’re at the Dallas Airport, I think, and I’m monitoring it. It’s at 999 and so we ordered our lunch and I’ve checked the stats again.
Bjork Ostrom: Refresh.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah and it gets to a thousand and it’s like, “Okay Brooke, bring on the champagne.”
Bjork Ostrom: Oh that’s awesome and then it was champagne, lunch, and then back to work I’m sure. It’s so classic the entrepreneurial celebration. That’s great. As you were going through that process, you get to this point, you get a thousand people. You say, “Okay, this is sustainable. This is the point where I’m going to be able to build this as a business.” At that point, did you have somebody helping with the customer support or were you still doing everything on your own?
Allison Schaaf: I think that was around the time that I hired Andrea. I had someone helping with customer support for sure. That was pretty early on, but I don’t know if I hired Andrea around that time. I felt like around that time, that’s when it was this is really taking off and it’s going to be something.
Bjork Ostrom: The other thing I’m interested to hear talk about and that Lindsay and I talk a lot about is this idea of a personal brand versus just the company. Both of the things that Lindsay and I have done, which is Pinch of Yum for Lindsay, her food blog and in a lot of ways Food Blogger Pro, although maybe a little bit less, but still pretty present is our personal name, and brand, and face. I’ve noticed with PrepDish that it’s a little bit still similar. Not necessarily when you hit the landing page or the homepage, but let’s say you’re to go to the about page, it would be you talking about your story and it’s Allison’s handcrafted meal plans.
Is there a reason that you’ve leaned into the personal side versus going a little bit more faceless with just a brand?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah. I think it’s because so much of PrepDish, it is me. I really put everything into it. I know with my husband being an entrepreneur and I’m in his entrepreneurial groups and it’s like, “Yeah, you need to create it to where you can sell it.” That is something I’ve definitely thought of what that looks like and would be like. Right now, it’s just so much a part of who I am that I don’t think it hurts by doing that, because I don’t have any intentions of stepping back for a while. I think it helps for people to see like I really … This is me. I put my heart into it. I think when people see that they understand.
Bjork Ostrom: We talked about the personal element as being potentially a competitive advantage, that people connect with other people and while building something strictly as a brand, maybe it has more asset value like you talked about where you built something and then you sell it. There’s value in creating something that’s not really tied closely to an individual. It’s in a lot of ways potentially, not always, but potentially more difficult to get traction and definitely if it’s something like a content driven website or a blog.
Because people follow along with people and individuals a lot easier, a lot more quickly than they would with just a generic company, unless it’s something specific like let’s say lead pages is a great example. I think that makes sense and I think it’s a great way to get that initial traction as you move forward on things. That’s cool to hear, you talk about. One of the things that I’m interested to know is as people talk about all of these new things that are coming down the line, right? People talk about hey live video is really important. You should be doing Snapchat more often. As somebody who leans first towards building as a business as opposed to a content driven website, how do you process those internal conflicts of your time? For instance focusing on social media versus building the business?
Allison Schaaf: I think my friend Jay, with The One Thing, I think and you should review that book, but I’m pretty focused. Like I said, I have that accountability group and I have my goals right now for the year and so each week or even daily, I look at that. I’m like, “Okay, what are my goals?” My goal is make sure the customers are happy number one, but then increase the number of subscribers. Each time something comes up I have to look at it from that standpoint like, “Okay, is this going to help me reach my goal of getting more subscribers?” You can’t just always be distracted. You have to go with what’s working.
I communicate with my audience a lot. We have a private Facebook group page and I send out surveys. I asked them, “Hey, are you going Snapchat?” I’m curious to see that’s what that I’m actually sending out in a week. I’m not really on there yet, but I’m like, “If my audience isn’t on Snapchat, then I’m not going to go on Snapchat, but if they’re all on there and they’re like, ”Hey, Allison, we would love to see you on there,“ then sure then I’ll jump in and go for it. Some of it is just knowing where my audience is and where I can reach them and taking that … keeping it through that lens of like, ”Is this taking me towards my goal?”
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk a little bit about, you have mentioned a couple times the accountability group that you have. It sounds like that’s been a really beneficial thing. What’s been beneficial about that? Can you talk about how you went about structuring that and how it works?
Allison Schaaf: Yeah. Like I said, I’ve always worked with coaches. The last one was awesome, but you cycle you’re only setup for six months and so for 2016 I was like, “I think I’m clear on what I need and need to do, but I just … Having that weekly accountability is helpful.” I got together with one of my girlfriends who’s also an entrepreneur and we found four of us, we’re all different industries but very driven and successful entrepreneurs. We meet once a week and it’s on us, but I created a Google Sheet and we set three tasks for the week and you have to finish them by the next week.
We have weekly check-in calls where we each review our goals from the last week and report the status and then set goals for the next week. I set ridiculous chart. You get fined if you don’t [crosstalk 00:43:06]. Yeah, if you’re late for the meeting it’s a hundred bucks. If you don’t meet your goal I think it’s fifty or a hundred bucks.
Bjork Ostrom: I think I’m curious with that. How does that balance the goals that you set? Does that make you lean? I feel like that would be my goal is to drink three LaCroix waters a day, point being like setting a goal that’s really achievable so you don’t have to come and say, “I didn’t actually achieve this, but you find that balance has been okay?”
Allison Schaaf: Oh, exactly. Yeah, it really forces you to be like, “Okay, what’s in my control?” If it’s, “I want to get this template done,” but I’m not doing the template and the designer is, then my goal isn’t, “I want this template to be done,” my goal is, “I’m going to write out what I want the designer to do.” That’s my task. It really makes you think like, “Okay, what’s your task?” Also, I have my goals for the year written at the top. Each week, when I set my goals, it’s like looking at what are my overall goals for 2016? I then set my weekly task based on the goals for the year so that way I’m not getting off track.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think the idea of creating those actionable items is so important. It’s so easy to create really big goals that aren’t necessarily achievable. It seems like having in a weird way, having that fine allows you to create goals that aren’t as important or not aren’t as important, but are more achievable, but therefore you act on them and you move forward on it and are therefore able to get towards your bigger goals is a little bit easier because of those micro goals along the way. It makes sense. Do you meet with them in person or they … Okay.
Allison Schaaf: Nope, it’s over the phone. Those girls, gosh, they’re all in Austin and I’m here. When I go back to town, we grab dinner and stuff, but no those are just 30-minute phone calls once a week. I try to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure, that makes sense. I’m curious, if you were to go back or let’s say this, if you were to meet with somebody and you were to play that role of coach, you’ve had a lot of coaches speak into your life and your business. Let’s say that you were coaching somebody and you are, because there are thousands of people that will listen to this, that will be where you were let’s say six, seven, eight years ago. What would your advice be to them as they’re thinking about starting this journey into building their own business? Whether it’d be a blog or something with digital products, or even potentially something like in the Personal Chef space, right? You’ve touched all of those. What would your advice be to that person that’s just in these early stages of getting started?
Allison Schaaf: You have to stick with it. I think it’s really easy to get into it and be discouraged. I think the key is just to keep doing it over and over and to know, once you’re clear, like first you have to get clear on what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it and how it makes sense. Once you can see that picture, you just have to stick with it. It’s like everyday I wake up and I do this. I don’t just wake up and like, “Yeah, maybe I’m not going to do this today.” Really, it sounds simple, but it really is just waking up and doing it consistently.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, there’s a huge benefit to continued action over time. We talk about this as 1% affinity, continued action over long period of time while along the way, continuing to find out ways to get a little bit better. In your story, I hear all those elements. The stick–to–itiveness, right?
Allison Schaaf: Yup.
Bjork Ostrom: Continue to stick with something over long period of time, but not just sticking with it and doing the same routine each and every day. It’s sticking with it while figuring out, “Hey, what’s working?” Looking at the analytics, or the metrics, or the numbers for the different strategies that you have. Also doing things that’s hard like paying a coach to speak into the business and say, “Here are the things that you can be doing and here’s where you can improve.” Then that last amount of time. It’s just oftentimes, it takes a lot of time and energy, and dedication, so I think that’s a huge takeaway and it makes a lot of sense to share that with the audience. Anything else that you feel like would be an important takeaway Allison for Food Blogger Pro listeners or things that you’d want to make sure to get a chance to share as long as we’re chatting here?
Allison Schaaf: Gosh, I don’t know. I feel like we’ve shared a lot.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ve covered a lot of territories for sure.
Allison Schaaf: I know. Good.
Bjork Ostrom: For those that aren’t familiar, where can people follow along with what you’re doing and potentially signup too, that’s the other part. Let’s see that before people talk about following on. Can you do maybe an elevator pitch exactly for what PrepDish is? We’ve talked about it around it a little bit, but can you speak to it directly and just say, “Hey, here’s what it is and what it’s all about?”
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, so PrepDish is a online meal planning subscription. I send out weekly meal plans. There’s three pieces, one is the grocery list. The second is very specific instructions on how to spend two hours doing your meal prep for the week. Then the third piece is just a really easy how do you finish off the meals at 6:00 when you’re busy? Just stick it in the oven really quick. The best way, I have a site setup, so prepdish.com/pro. If you go there, you can try it out free for two weeks and just see if it’s a fit. I think that’s usually the best way just to try it out and see.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Yeah, appreciate that. Will be sure to include that in the show notes and share that with people. Thanks Allison for coming out. I’m so glad that Jay made the introduction. Thanks so much for sharing all the stuff that you’ve taken and learn through the years and it’s a lot of stuff. I know that people find it really valuable. Thanks for coming on.
Allison Schaaf: Yeah, thanks for having me. This has been fun.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, appreciate it.
All right. One more big thank you to Allison from PrepDish.com and congratulations Allison on your success and continued success. As I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, we’re in the open enrollment period for Food Blogger Pro. That will happen until June 2nd. If you have a chance, check that out, foodbloggerpro.com. If you’ve ever thought about moving forward with your blog or website and you haven’t done that yet, or if you’re in that beginner or intermediate stage with your blog and you’re really looking to take it to the next level, we really think that Food Blogger Pro would be a good place for you to do that.
We’ve heard from lots of other people that have signed up that have said that they’ve really just enjoyed Food Blogger Pro and found a lot of value of it. This is a quote that I polled recently from an e-mail that we received from Stacey. She said, “I’ve been blogging since 2008 and have taken many courses, and read books, and gone to conferences, et cetera, but being a member of Food Blogger Pro is one of the most helpful tools I’ve used so far.” Let’s thank Stacey for that testimonial. If you want to check out other things that people have said, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com and check that out.
Again, June 2nd is when we wrap up the enrollment period here for the spring/summer. If you’re interested in joining, now would be the time. Thanks so much for listening. Make it a great week. Thanks guys.