358: How Anela Malik Grew a Successful Subscription-Based Membership Community

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A person using a laptop and the title of Anela Malik's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Growing a Subscription Community.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 358 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Anela Malik from Feed The Malik and Magic at the Margins about how she built a subscription-based membership community.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Amanda Scarlati from Saporito Kitchen about how content batching helped grow her blog’s traffic. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Growing a Subscription Community

We’re really excited to share this episode with Anela Malik with you today! In addition to her blog Feed The Malik, Anela also runs Magic at the Margins, a subscription-based membership community. And unlike most content creators, her subscription community is actually her primary focus for revenue.

In this episode, she shares why she decided to launch her own subscription community, how she structures her pricing, how she promotes her community on social media, and more.

It’s a really inspiring interview that will encourage you to explore all the unique ways you can earn money as a creator!

A quote from Anela Malik's appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'My subscription community is my primary focus for revenue.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Anela became a content creator
  • What she learned after going viral on Instagram
  • What type of content she shares online
  • Why she decided to launch her own subscription community
  • How she promotes her subscription community
  • How she structures the pricing for her subscription community
  • How she measures the success of her business
  • Why she views herself as a video-first creator
  • Tips to make short-form videos more engaging
  • How she focuses on identity issues with her content


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: A big thank you to Clariti for sponsoring The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. You’ve heard me talk about Clariti before. It’s a tool that we’re building and using for Pinch of Yum, but also a really powerful tool for anybody who’s focusing on content that’s kind of one of the main vehicles for growth or revenue for their site. And we’ve been working on Clariti for a couple years, but it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve started to bring other people in to sign up and become a part of it. We’re doing an offer right now that we’re calling 25 forever, so the first 500 people who sign up for Clariti will get their account at $25 a month forever. We’re still in the early stages of offering this, but we’ll cap it at 500 people. So once we have 500 people who have signed up, then we’re going to cap that, and we’re going to move to a different pricing for Clariti.

Bjork Ostrom: So, it’s still in the early stages. It’s not going to be the kind of thing where at this point where we’d cap it and say, “Hey, you can’t sign up, you’ve missed your chance.” But slowly and surely, we’re moving to that 500 mark. So, if you’re interested in joining and checking it out, that would be a good time to do that. There’s no commitment, there’s no plan that you have to join and can’t cancel. So, you can check it out, you can see if it’s a good fit. And how do you know if you would even be interested in it? Well, Clariti’s for anybody who’s focusing on content, and also starting to focus on optimization of their existing content. So, we have this belief that any, and every site is going to be suboptimal right now. There’s going to be broken images, broken links. There’s going to be posts that don’t have internal links that could, or don’t have external links to helpful resources.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s going to be images with missing alt text. There’s going to be content that’s starting to perform worse, that if you looked at and kind of improved and enhanced, it would increase rank. We’re really just thinking about that for Pinch of Yum a lot. What are the ways that we could improve the content that’s currently on our site, as opposed to just creating new content? And we’re using Clariti as the tool where we track that and make those enhancements and improvements. One of the things that comes along with that is you can join the Slack community that we have of other content creators. And this just came up the other day, somebody posted and they said, “I had no idea that it had broken images on my site, but somehow, those images broke. So I need to number one, find out how they broke, and then number two, fixed them.” But they were just saying that they noticed that because of Clariti in some of the filtering that they were able to do.

Bjork Ostrom: So they created a project, they filtered first and said, “Show me all the broken images on my site.” And then it was like, “Oh, there’s some broken images.” Then they filtered, after filtering those, they created a project that was fix broken images. Now, you could then have somebody on your team, go in, make those improvements, make those enhancements. Or if you don’t have somebody on your team, that can be the type of stuff where maybe once a week, once a month, you kind of have this maintenance or kind of like spring cleaning mindset, where you go in, you block the day out to make improvements, make enhancements. You’re not creating new content. You’re just going in and optimizing, and improving, and paying attention to older content, and making sure that it’s at 100% as opposed to 70%, which if I were to guess, I would say all of our sites, Pinch of Yum included, would probably be operating at like 70% of their true potential value.

Bjork Ostrom: And we want to find ways that we can improve that. And we’re using Clariti as the tool to not only discover those things, but also to organize the tasks and projects that go along with improving them. So we’re still in the early stages of it, we’re excited about what it’s going to be and what it’s going to grow into. And we’re also excited to learn from you in the process of what you would want it to be, which is why we have that Slack community that we will welcome you to, if you are interested in signing up. So, you can go to Clariti.com/food, C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food if you’re interested in signing up. All right, that’s a wrap for this little ad read. Let’s go ahead and jump into today’s episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hello. Hello. This is Bjork. You’re listening to The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. But this isn’t about me, it’s about you and the people we are interviewing. And the hope for these interviews is always that we are talking to people who are doing interesting, creative, significant things in the world so that you, the listeners can learn from those things that those people are doing. That is the case today with Anela Malik who runs Feed the Malik, and has a community. That’s really her focus for what she’s doing is building this community. She’s not focused necessarily on sponsor content, or ad revenue, she’s really being creative and strategic about how she wants to build her business. And the way she’s doing that is by focusing on her community Magic At The Margins, and people sign up and they’re part of that community.

Bjork Ostrom: And she’s going to talk about what that’s like, how she’s done that, what that’s looked like over the last few years, and really just her thoughts around being a business owner, being strategic about content creation, and how she directs the followers that she does have, not necessarily towards a piece of content, or trying to get as many views as possible, but really thinking strategically about how do I speak to people who could potentially be members of my community? And that being a really different way that she’s approaching content creation and a different focus from a lot of people that think about building a food blog, or a food publishing site where they think strategically about traffic and monetization through ads and sponsor content. And this is really a different take on it. And I think it’s great to have these where we can look at different angles in different perspectives on how we can think about publishing content and the purpose behind that. So, it’s going to be a great interview, really excited to share it with you. Anela, welcome to the podcast.

Anela Malik: Thanks so much for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This is going to be a great conversation. We’re going to be able to go in a lot of different ways. I feel like one of the things that as an interviewer, I always need to be careful about doing is like, we’re going to go down some rabbit trail trails, maybe it’s ant trails. I had an ant farm growing up, so like going down ant trails, but I’m always going to try and come back and then go down the other ant trail, or rabbit trail, because you have a lot in a lot of different conversations that we can explore, and places that we can go. But as we often do, we’d love to roll the tape back to a point where you were starting to think about what it looks like for you to be somebody who publishes content online. And maybe like you can start with what you consider yourself. Do you consider yourself a publisher, influencer, creator? How do you describe yourself when you meet somebody who’s new and doesn’t know what you’re doing?

Anela Malik: That’s so hard because I think there’s a lot of stigma still around the word influencer, but I do think that’s the most accurate. I’m an influencer and writer. Depending on who I’m talking to, I might say content creator who focuses on food and travel.

Bjork Ostrom: Hmm. Nice. So, at what point would you have said like, “Hey, I am a creator, I am an influencer,” whatever the word would be, when did you kind of settle into that as in terms of like, that’s who you are in the world? Is it five years ago, six years ago?

Anela Malik: A year ago.

Bjork Ostrom: A year ago.

Anela Malik: You said six years ago, and I’m like, oh no.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Anela Malik: So, I started blogging as a hobby, and I never ever expected it to be anything other than a hobby. And so, because of that, I think it took me a little bit longer to once I started doing it full time, and once I started taking it more seriously to start considering myself as a content creator, or an influencer.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When was that that you started to do it full time? And were you like, “Hey, I know I want to do this. I want to build it into a career so I’m going to focus on doing this full-time and bridge the gap,” or was it like, “Hey, I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can do this sustainably as a full-time career, as a full-time job.”

Anela Malik: So, neither.

Bjork Ostrom: Neither one.

Anela Malik: I love-

Bjork Ostrom: Option C, or other.

Anela Malik: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Anela Malik: So, once upon a time, I think I’ve had Feed the Malik for four and a half years, and I always expected it to be a hobby blog. I was a diplomat, and I was serving abroad, and I actually started my blog to practice skills that I might need for my career. And so, in the foreign service, as a diplomat, my specialty was public diplomacy. I needed to learn how to make social media content, how to edit videos, how to speak to people, how to write marketing copy. And all of that was part of my career, so I thought, “Oh, this hobby blog will be a way for me to practice as a junior officer.” And then, frankly, after a few years I needed to leave that behind. It wasn’t working for me and my family, and so this was-

Bjork Ostrom: When you say that, what do you mean? That career?

Anela Malik: I needed to leave the foreign service behind.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. How did you know that you needed to leave it behind? That you’re done?

Anela Malik: So, I don’t know how much people know about the foreign service, but when you’re a diplomat, you give up a lot of control. Similar to being in the military, you don’t have very much control over where you live, it’s very, very hard on your spouse. So, my husband followed me overseas. And depending on where you’re assigned, you might be assigned in a country where it’s illegal for your partner or your spouse to work. So, they’re really giving up a lot. And so, for my marriage, it was not working.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Anela Malik: And my husband was incredibly gracious for a few years, but we both realized that we needed a change. So this was two years ago now. And I was living in Washington, DC. I was there for training, and the COVID 19 pandemic hit, and we just realized if we’re going to make a change, we have to do it now. And so, I quit, and I thought I had some inklings that Feed the Malik could be a full-time thing, that I could make it work as a sustainable business, but I didn’t actually know. And I just knew that I needed to find something and I hadn’t really monetized my platform before. And so, it was just a leap of faith. And I always knew that if it didn’t work out, I would just have to find a job.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Anela Malik: Thankfully it did work out.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And I’m excited to hear kind of what that looked like. What were those inklings? Like when you said there was something, my sense is like, you kind of had an idea of there was something there, like when people would go and pan for gold, for instance, and you start to see little flex there. You’re like, “Maybe there’s some nuggets that I can discover.” It sounds like that was kind of happening. What were those little clues that were around that it could potentially be something?

Anela Malik: So, I’ll be really Frank in June 2020, I went viral for work that I had been doing for a long time, because I’d always been sharing about like black-owned restaurants, and black food folks on my platform, but it was June 2020. So suddenly, the world’s attention was turned to that and my platform exploded. I think I, on Instagram, went from a few thousand followers to 20,000 followers in a week. And I kind of expected it to die down. And during this process, I was also considering leaving my job already. But it didn’t really die down. And I realized that I was starting to get more inquiries that could legitimately pay our bills. And I was also writing on my website at the time, and I still am. And my work started being reshared by editors of major papers. And I realized maybe I’m onto something here, I just never considered that this could be a serious thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think what’s exciting about that, or encouraging is you were doing the work, it’s not like you saw this and you’re like, “Hey, I’m going to go in this direction,” you were doing the work and you were there when there was a need that arose, and you obviously, were somebody who was creating content that resonated with people. And I think sometimes, it can seem like, man, we’re showing up every day, we’re doing good work, why am I not getting any traction? And I think sometimes it’s like, if you stick with it, good work is good work. And when you show up every day, and publish that, and put that into the world, I have the strong belief that eventually good work will get discovered, and it seems like that was the case for you. Also though, it’s like, while it’s exciting, sometimes it can also be kind of intimidating, or like a lot of pressure, especially around something that is so deep and meaningful like the conversations that people were having around race in June 2020 continue to have.

Bjork Ostrom: What was that like for you to navigate that? And did you feel this pressure around that? Or was it just pure excitement to be able to share and have people that would listen? What was that like?

Anela Malik: I think people… Content creators often want to go viral. And I’m always really honest that for me, at least, it was the worst experience in the world. It was like overnight, everyone wants something from you. And some of those opportunities are great, and opportunities came my way that have changed my life, but there’s no way, as one person, you can manage that flow of information. So, you just feel like you’re drowning until it subsides. And for me, it was like three to four months until it subsided. It was incredibly overwhelming and exhausting.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I can imagine. What do you feel like you learned from that process? It’s kind of trial by fire. You’re thrown into it. It’s not like incremental, little by little, it’s jumping quite a few stages along the way.

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, I learned to say no, which at first, I wanted to do everything to be everything. And I had to learn very quickly to just say no to opportunities if they weren’t kind of 100% in alignment with what I wanted to be doing, or with my own interests. And then I got really, really good very quickly, at least, I feel at contract review. Because suddenly, I had never really monetized my blog or my website. I had never expected to. And suddenly, for example, like National Geographic came calling, and they were like, “We want you to write a book for us,” and I was like, I don’t know anything about book publishing.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah.

Anela Malik: I don’t know anything. I don’t know what a good deal looks like, I don’t know what a good contract looks like. So, of course, I got a lawyer, but I feel like that process taught me to be unashamed about asking questions. Pushing back and asking, what does this mean? What is the purpose of this clause? And that, I think, has been really important for me now that I’m really treating my work as a business.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s one of those things I was actually just having a conversation with Mary who’s an executive assistant on her team, and she’s like, “Man, it feels like from the outside, you think entrepreneur’s this like glamorous thing, and it’s like so awesome, and you’re like snapping these photos, and posting the Instagram,” and she’s like, “There’s just a lot of taxes, and contracts, and paperwork.” And it’s like, oh yeah, that’s just so true in this world. And there is a lot of really cool things, and positive things, and potentially things that would be viewed as not glamorous necessarily, but just cool things that come from it. But a lot of it is like, oh, you got really good at contract with you. Like, that’s a thing that you do when you’re creating and publishing, and working with brands. It’s like, it’s a skill that you develop that nobody really puts in their Instagram bio.

Bjork Ostrom: So, when you look back at that time, my guess is you’re also… You’re quickly refining these skills and abilities, you’re learning how to do things like contract review. But I’m also guessing you probably are refining, or maybe not, maybe it didn’t shift, I guess that’s a question, like what you’re publishing content about in the mission of what you’re building. Did that shift and change for you, or did you find that stayed pretty similar throughout the last two years really?

Anela Malik: So, it’s shifted a little bit. I’d say my core mission is kind of the same. So, on my platform, I really try to explore nuance. So history, culture, politics, I have a political science background. So, that kind of informs my way of looking at the world, and share joy embrace kind of the sense of wonder that we get from exploring the world. And I was really hyperfocused on food for a long time, and that was really just the result of the pandemic. And I didn’t want to travel or showcase travel in my account until I was fully vaccinated. I made the personal decision that I didn’t think it was super responsible. And now, of course, I’m vaccinated, and in the past few months I’ve started to do more travel again. So, I’d say my core mission is the same, but the ways that I engage in those topics is a little bit different.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense. And wanting to make sure the decisions you’re making in what you view as a responsible decision is reflected in the content that you’re producing. I know for a lot of travel bloggers, man, what a hard thing, whereas for food, it’s kind of the opposite. Everybody’s at home making food, travel bloggers, people who talk about travel, and going to different places is kind of the opposite. Like everybody’s at home. So, it’s like people aren’t searching for things to do in Austin. It’s like things to do in my basement, right? So, it’s like this shift that happens. What has that been like for you to introduce a new type of content on your platforms? And have yo had to be strategic about what that looks like to introduce it?

Anela Malik: I just kind of went for it. I figured if this is something I wanted to do, I had to just plunge. I had to just jump in and see what happened. And so far, the response has been amazing, but I feel like with my audience, the responses I feel has been so good, and they’ve resonated so much with the content because I’m still telling kind of the same stories. I’m still focusing on the same elements. I still kind of have the same content pillars. I’m just now doing it through travel. And if you think about food, food is so related to travel. What is something we all want to do when we’re in a new place?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Anela Malik: We want to go out to eat, we want to go find the best cocktails, we want to try this place we’ve heard about. So, I feel like the two go hand in hand, and there’s not a huge gap for food folks to also be interested in travel.

Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh. There’s this great Jim Gaffigan bit that I often refer back to whenever Lindsay and I travel, and he’s like travel is just eating in places you’ve never been before, which is like, not entirely true, but almost entirely true. Obviously, there’s like a thousand good things that come along with travel, but to your point, one of the main things is eating in a new place. And so, those go hand in hand pretty well. I’m curious to know what you’ve discovered. You’ve talked about contract review, working with brands, and things like that. But when you look at your business, what are the kind of areas that you’ve experimented with for kind of building streams of revenue? And I know you’ve done some unique to this space. You’ve looked at some unique opportunities and created income and I think are really smart ways that a lot of people aren’t thinking about. So, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that, and for you to share a little bit about that.

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, I was coming from a very stable financial background, having been a federal employee. And when I took Feed the Malik full time, I immediately was like, “I need to invest in multiple streams of income.” That was first and foremost for me because I knew that brand partnerships were fluid, the ebbs and flows, and I was like, “I don’t have space for that much ebb and flow right now. I really don’t.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah.

Anela Malik: So, I invested pretty early on in building a subscription platform. I was using Patreon, and then I moved it actually recently over to my own website, which was scary, but was really successful just to have more control over the content. And-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. What did you not like about Patreon that made you decide that you wanted to move?

Anela Malik: Oh, so many things. So-

Bjork Ostrom: How much time do we have?

Anela Malik: Yeah, so, I actually, I won’t say that Patreon is all bad, right? It’s a purpose built solution. So you can get on Patreon in like 30 minutes, you just type in the information you’re good to go. But I found that for the fees they take, so, they were take… It depends on the tier you’re in, but up to like 13% of what you’re making on there gets eaten by fees. And to have such a high fee structure, I found that the just functionality was really lacking. The releases, the content you can create in there, it doesn’t look good and it’s not easy to input into their system on the backend. And again, you’re not in control, so you don’t manage customer service, which if people are paying you money, you do want to be in control of that in my view. So, I opted after about a year, I think, 14 months to transfer off of Patreon. And I am now hosting my community on my own website, which has been great.

Anela Malik: I mean, it was a big push to get people to transfer, and to make sure we didn’t have a huge drop off, but it looks better, it feels better. I have way more engaged audience on my website now. So, I think it was ultimately the best decision.

Bjork Ostrom: And it’s interesting. I feel like one of the things behind Patreon is kind of like, Hey, you’re supporting this person, whereas, you can kind of… Like Patreon has branded what Patreon is, whereas, when you shift, you can brand what it is, versus an example would be like supporting a creator artist, versus a community of people. Did that tie into it at all in terms of reasoning for switch as like just branding what it actually is?

Anela Malik: Yeah. And I actually think that even some of Patreon’s features are designed to go along with what Patreon views the platform as being for, like a space for people to support their favorite creators, which is great. If you want to sign up for my subscription, just because you want to support me, please do. But I wanted to build a community where people were engaged, where we… So it’s a food focused community. We have weekly drops where we go deeper on food and beverage, and I want people to ask questions. I want folks to feel like this is a space where we can learn, we can get better in the kitchen, we can… One week we’ll dig into the history of American barbecue as an indigenous kind of technique that was then shepherded into what it is today by black people who were really the stewards of American barbecue. That will be a topic one week, and then the next week, we’ll have a cooking class led by a virtual cooking class led by a chef.

Anela Malik: So, Patreon didn’t have features to kind of support all of that in a way that felt organic. And I think it’s because they view it as, oh, this is just a place for people to support their favorite creators. Not necessarily as a space to build a community.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What did you use to build it out? So, my guess is are you on WordPress for your site?

Anela Malik: Oh, no.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re not?

Anela Malik: And yeah, so I am on Wix, and I love my Wix website. And Wix has-

Bjork Ostrom: And did they have a membership component within that? Nice.

Anela Malik: They have a membership component, and it didn’t cost me any additional money. The processing fees are really low, and it didn’t take me very long to put together. And so, I always… I know most food bloggers they really, in this niche, we invest in our websites, right? And SEO, and page speed, site speed, and all of that. And I fundamentally made a choice very early on that I did not have that capacity. And I made a bet that if I put really good content on my website, it would be fine. And so far, that bet has been accurate. So-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I love that.

Anela Malik: … Wix and Squarespace tend to load slower, all of these other things. And I still have many pages that rank on the first page of Google, I still have a website that people seem to enjoy and come back to. And so, one day maybe I will pay someone to build a new website and transfer me over, but for now, I’m not interested.

Bjork Ostrom: I think what I love about that is you had this vision of what you wanted, and you said, you know what? Like a lot of people might say this is best practice for this thing, but here’s what I’m trying to build. And then the great example of where some of the other types of content management systems, Squarespace or Wix, would be a better solution would be like, “Hey, I want a membership component.” Like, I want this to be really easy. I don’t want to have to like pay a developer to custom build it. When we look at Food Blogger Pro, there’s a lot of custom building that we did with that we could, because we had been doing it for eight years. But if you’re just looking to get up and running and started, it’s like, “Hey, let’s do an analysis of all the different options, and which one fits best with the solution that I want to have,” which I think is great. I love that.

Bjork Ostrom: What have you found to be the biggest impact? So, you have your membership component, the thing that’s great about that with the community is like, it’s predictable, right? So, it’s not like you… With sponsor content, you have a huge successful month, and then it goes away. And then like two months later, you have somebody else reach out. There’s a predictable element to that, which I think is really nice. But anything else that you’d point out for the different kind of revenue strategies that you have, knowing that you’re doing it in unique and creative ways that has worked well?

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, okay. A couple things about… My subscription committee is my primary focus for revenue because it’s predictable. And because I really like the space. So, if I’m interested in it as a creative, then I just find I have so many more ideas for that space. I want to invest in it, but to get into the nitty-gritty that might be useful for other folks, for example, if you’re interested in building something for yourself, and I always wonder when I look at other food bloggers websites, why they don’t do this. So, a lot of food bloggers that I see, I know they want to wait to build their traffic up to a certain point until they can maybe run ads with Mediavine, or something.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Anela Malik: And I was like, “What if I just built ads for myself?” So, I made some graphics in Canva that looked nice, started embedding them in various pages of my website, and basically just looked at like Bon Appetit, and other food magazines, and see where they’re placing their ads, whatever. And so, that actually is how I drove a lot of traffic to my subscription, and to my newsletter. Just by being like, well, I’m not going to wait until I’m on an ad network. I’m going to put ads on my website for things that I care about now. And that’s been really, really successful for me. So, that’s something I always try to put a bug in people’s ear about that you can wait for Mediavine, but you can also prioritize whatever you want to prioritize. And like, Canva is right there. You don’t even have to use Adobe, you can go in there and make a graphic that’s clickable, add the link that it directs to, and you’re good to go.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s another example of just thinking strategically, like there’s this playbook, so many people follow this playbook, Hey, I want to build a bunch of traffic, gets search optimization. All these things are really good. Get an ad network, start to monetize, but it’s like, wait, there’s like so many other options out there in terms of how you can be doing this. And I had this conversation at a conference last week where somebody was like, “I’m trying to build up this following so I can create this amount of income from traffic.” I was like, “Oh, there’s a lot of ways you can do that.” You can do that through service-based content, you can do it, in your case, like sponsored or community. And so, to think critically about like, “What am I after, and how do I get there?” And there’s a hundred different paths that you can take, this being a good example of one of those.

Bjork Ostrom: What have you found to be most successful in terms of surfacing that community to people, email? Can people sign up whenever they want? What are the things that you’ve learned just from like a marketing standpoint with that community?

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, from a marketing standpoint, I would say that you need to market relentlessly if you’re using social media as your primary means of marketing because as we know, algorithms don’t show your contents to everyone that follows you. And so, I’ve done some testing. For example, I do a feed post on Instagram about my community every week. I share about it on stories with clickable links at least twice a week. And then once a month, I’ll do a survey on my stories to say like, did you know this about my community? Did you know that polls, yes, no, etc. There’s always at least 15%, sometimes higher, of people who have no idea-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.

Anela Malik: … what my community is. And so, it just goes to show that you have to be really, really kind of like shameless in your marketing if you’re promoting something that you care about. And I have found that a couple things usually drive a lot of subscriptions. So, anything that builds a sense of FOMO, so we host events in our community, and every time I share about an event, people… I get a slew of signups, because they feel like they’re missing out on something. And the events are great, but they’re not in the primary focus of the work we do in there.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have an example of that? Like you have an event coming up within the community, and you share about it, “Hey, this is coming up at this point.”

Anela Malik: Yeah. And so, for example, this is one thing I did. And I would also say, for anyone who’s working on brand partnerships to think about the content you create for brand partnerships. Think about how strategic you are when you’re filming the videos or the photos you’re taking, and then apply that strategy to yourself, to your email newsletter even. So, we had a cocktail class that was hosted virtually for the community, and she sent the recipes in advance. So, I filmed the cocktail in advance as if I was filming a brand partnership, like a beautifully shot cocktail video. And then I just posted it with some text, and a little voiceover about how I can’t wait to make this cocktail in my community, we have these exclusive classes. Boom.

Anela Malik: And then after the cocktail class, I took that same video that I had already made, and layered in a few shots from the virtual class. So, like me interacting with the class on the laptop, things like that. And I’ll post that again in a couple weeks. And so, yeah, to take… All of that work you would do for a brand, you can also do for yourself.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right. And to think strategically, we’ve been… Even with the podcast we’ve started to think about this Alexa and Leslie, who are part of the Food Blogger Pro team, and do a lot of the behind the scenes work to pull off the podcast like, “Hey, what if we take a little clip of this, and we share it to Instagram, and YouTube, what are the different places we can share…” But to think strategically about marketing as well, and to say, “Great. So, I’m creating this piece of content. What does it look like to kind of weave in some…” It’s like gentle marketing. Like it’s not like sign up, sign up, sign up. It’s like, “Hey, this thing is happening, and it’s really cool, and you might be interested. Here’s how you can sign up for it.” And that feels like content marketing at its best because the content is still valuable in and of itself, but then you kind of layer on this ability to shine a light on this community, and the fact that people can sign up for it.

Bjork Ostrom: So, how about on the community front? Is there anything that you would do differently, or that you’ve learned after building this community that others should think about if they’re kind of interested in doing something similar?

Anela Malik: Oh, absolutely. So, first and foremost, I would say that the subscription space is changing. It’s getting more competitive because more creators, independent writers, just more people are launching subscriptions. They have various niches, various folk eye, but that’s more competition. And then we live in a subscription world. So, I’ve done a lot of polling with my audience about why they would or would not join a community, and they’ve said these are expensive when you add them up. So when you subscribe to two Substacks, two Patreons, and then Netflix, Hulu, HBO, at the end of the month, you’re looking at a few hundred dollars usually. So, I started with a model that I think was similar to how most people structure theirs, at least on Patreon, where you have higher tiers, where people get more benefits. And I opted to move away from that, and just make it so that everyone gets the same benefits. And then I reduced the prices to make it truly, truly affordable. I have a $2 a month option.

Anela Malik: And what I found is that very few people select the $2 a month option. And I’m assuming the people who do need to, but they’re interested in my work and they want to engage with it. And a lot of people still select the highest option, the $10 a month option. And it kind of evens out towards the middle towards five bucks a month. So, I would say that if you’re thinking about building a subscription, think about what your community can truly afford. And maybe if you’re a content creator that focuses on luxury goods, or a luxury space of some sort, maybe your community has more disposable income. But I think a lot of food folks, we’re talking to moms, we’re talking to like busy folks who just want to be better home cooks, or people who just have a passing interest in food, so I think it’s really thinking about accessibility and affordability as the space grows and becomes more competitive is going to be really important.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting when I scroll down and look at this, my assumption when I looked at the pricing, and looking at the pricing page here for Magic at the Margins, two, five, and 10, like you said, and I was like, “Oh, it’s like standard pricing where you get more if you pay 10,” but it’s not. It’s like, “Hey, what’s your budget? Like you’re going to get access to the community regardless.” And it’s encouraging to know that some people are like, “I can afford $10, and that’s what I want to do.” And that’s maybe aligns with the Patreon part of like, people would pay more even if they don’t have to, because it’s like, “Hey, here’s somebody that I want to support, a community that I want to be a part of.” Similar to services or apps, like you actually want to pay for those if you want those to continue to be around, same with communities.

Bjork Ostrom: How do you view the community in regards to like, are you kind of the central piece behind the community, or is it like the community is the central piece behind the community? Does that make sense? Like, are people buying into the community, or are they buying into like access to communicate and connect with you?

Anela Malik: So, I think it’s both. I think it usually starts… And this is because most of my subscribers come from social media. So, they’re coming to the community that they identify with me as the person they see on Instagram stories, or the person they see on TikTok, and they subscribe to be just part of whatever I’m offering. And then, the feedback that I’ve gotten a few months later, I always follow up with folks to see what you like, what you don’t like. I ask for testimonials, for feedback, and they always say kind of the same thing. I joined because I think Feed the Malik is a really dope brand and I want to see it grow. But then, what I found was this is a really incredible community space, and I feel like I can sample from the releases you have, from the events. Like there’s something for me, and the community itself is really welcoming. So, I feel like it starts with me, and then it kind of transitions to being the community aspect.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. That’s awesome. And really inspiring to know that there are people who are doing good work in the world, and then also figuring out ways to make it work in a typical ways, which the typical, like I said before, is like, Hey, search traffic, monetization, through ads, as much traffic as possible. And that equation just looks different for you. Traffic’s still great. Followers are still great. But what really matters is like how many people are engaged in getting value out of this community. So, do you think that when you think of your business, are the metrics that you’re looking at a little bit different, and what are those? Even like, I hear you talking a lot about asking your audience, or asking community members questions. Even that behavior is I think super strategic and really smart. But what are the things that you’re looking at in terms of, Hey, is there success within this business outside of just like traffic?

Anela Malik: Oh yeah. I don’t really track traffic. I mean, I’m working finally with someone on SEO, and he is like, “You got to get it together, girl.” Because he’s an SEO person. And I’m like, “Ah.” So, when I think of my business, I first think of the subscription community. What can I offer? And also what are we interested in engaging in together in the food and beverage space. And then I think of metrics for success for me even look different on social media, because a lot of my content on social media is sales content directed at promoting communities. So, for example, sales posts on social media never get the same engagement as other posts, but I view them as successful is if they even generate DMs, like with questions about the community, but I mean, ultimately if they generate sales, right?

Anela Malik: And so, those posts might have horrific engagement, but they always, if I post one, will it get at least one signup. Often, I’ll get a few, or a dozen. And so, I had to kind of divorce myself from these metrics of looking at likes, comments, and shares on social media because those engagement metrics do not matter for that kind of work. There are other posts that I’ll have where I’m like, yeah, I would like this to do well in a more traditional sense. I’m just starting to think about SEO on my website, and working to boost my web traffic through search because I’ve had a lot of success, but most of my traffic has always been direct. It’s always come directly from Twitter, from Instagram, or from my email newsletter. And I am just starting to be like, “Okay, I have the space now to work on this, so I’m going to work on it.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And what you did is really, you shifted things where instead of starting with like, “Hey, I’m going to get a bunch of search traffic and then figure out how to monetize,” you’ve figured out how to create a predictable revenue stream. And then it’s like, “Great. What can I layer on top of this that becomes an additional kind of entry point for people who are coming in?” And one of the things we’ve thought a lot about here with the team for Food Blogger Pro is like, things are shifting in a way where it’s not just blogging, it’s like it’s creators. And there’s a lot of people who are creating like social-first businesses that are supported maybe, with a blog as an afterthought, whereas 10 years ago, you’d have your blog and then maybe you’d have social as an afterthought. And I think that’s, in a lot of ways, it’s shifted where people will get their initial traction on a social platform, and then they’ll come back around and say like, “Great. What does this mean as I bring this into a website?”

Bjork Ostrom: So, it’s interesting to see that kind of existing for you. What are the other platforms that you look at? Like TikTok, YouTube, are you super focused on one? And you’re like, you know what? I can go deep on Instagram, continue to go deep here. Or are you saying, “I’m going to try and go to these other platforms and expand out as well.”

Anela Malik: So, I started on Instagram, and I think like every Instagram creator have a love, hate relationship with the platform.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah. Understandable.

Anela Malik: Not a single Instagram creator is like 100% for it, but I think it’s a great tool. I would say that my approach is usually to go deep on one platform until I feel like I really have it down, until I can kind of predict with decent accuracy, how something there is going to perform. When I feel like I really have figured out all the features, and the tools, and I can really talk to my audience there, and only then will I start to add other things on. So, I’m there with Instagram, and I started experimenting with TikTok. About six months ago is when I started taking TikTok seriously. And I think I had like five posts on there before and I did still feel like I don’t understand it. But TikTok’s my priority now because I want to learn it. And I think it’s less from… For my kind of business, it’s less this like drive to grow, but it’s more this I like video, and I like short-form video, and I find it fascinating.

Anela Malik: And so, TikTok to me is really stimulating, and I get a lot of ideas there. So, I want to continue to operate in that space. And I’ve learned a lot about video from just being on TikTok, right. Just kind of…

Bjork Ostrom: What are some examples?

Anela Malik: So, I would say that Instagram video still tends to have much higher production value, which is great, but if you’re someone like me who is starting out without a videography background, or photography background whatsoever, jumping into trying to make videos like Instagram creators are making videos was just not accessible. And I feel like TikTok is really, really good at taking videos with low production value, and still making them interesting. So, what I’ve learned from TikTok, is how to make me talking to the camera for 60 seconds interesting with no effects, with no fancy tools, with nothing but my phone. And I think that that has also made my Instagram content better. So TikTok, I felt like was a great place for someone who was new to video to try to figure it out. And I am just starting to experiment with marketing on TikTok as well. But again, for myself, marketing for my community, I know how to sell on Instagram, and for me, selling on TikTok is still very, very new.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think what’s so great about what you just talked about is like content at its core has to be engaging and captivating. And it’s such an art to be able to get to the point where like, Hey, you have 60 seconds, how do you make you sharing a thought, or talking into the camera captivating in a way where it keeps people around for 60 seconds? And that transfers to Instagram, it transfers to YouTube, it transfers to any platform. And really, the skill that you’re developing is like, how do you create engaging content? And it’s going to transfer to whatever platform is trendy in 10 years. So, it’s really this like skill that’s so hard to say, here are the 10 tips to create better engaging content, but also, you know when you’re getting better at it, because you see people being more engaged, or you see some of those metrics shifting potentially. But would you be able to identify a few things that you’ve learned, or have adapted, or have changed, when it comes to content creation that have kind of leveled you up along the way?

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, I think of myself as a video first creator now, which I think just a little bit over a year ago, I had never really made video. So-

Bjork Ostrom: Wow. Yeah.

Anela Malik: … I’m a video first creator now. We incorporate video in my subscriber community. We incorporate it on Instagram, on TikTok, and on my website. And now, when we’re thinking about video, it’s much more strategic than it used to be. I still kind of choose projects based on what I’m interested in the moment. I’m always going to be that creator who’s like, “Eh, whatever’s trending. Like I don’t care. I want to…” Like this sounds cool to me. But once we have the concept, it’s like thinking about a hook, and I will test hooks with my friends, I will text them various versions of the first sentence in the voiceover to see which one they like better. And so, I would say if you are working on content strategically having a hook, and even if you’re thinking about photo content, then really think about what’s going to be above the fold in that caption.

Anela Malik: And of course, the photo can help stop the scroll. You can have a beautiful photo, but I do think there’s kind of a TikTok effect on Instagram where people are looking for more than pretty photos. Now they’re looking for more storytelling, or more substance on Instagram. And so, having a hook, having a strong opening that really draws people in, but is also not like clickbaity, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right.

Anela Malik: Having a hook that’s relevant to the video, and relevant to your mission statement.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have an example of what that might look like?

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, I’m working on a series right now about black excellence in food, in Northwest Arkansas. And this is, of course, something that came to me unintentionally by my audience, from my audience. When I moved here from DC, they said, a lot of folks said, “Well, there’s no one black in Northwest Arkansas.” And like, yeah, it’s not DC levels of adversity. There are black people here I promise. And so, I’ve met these incredible local business owners that are doing just really cool stuff and food here, so I want to showcase them. And I’m thinking about this as kind of a video mini series. So, each episode I can showcase a different business owner, and have them tell their stories, and layer in great visuals, whatever. So, for the first one, I need a hook. And so, I was texting my friend group earlier to test out these hooks, and the hook for the voiceover is going to be just drawn from my personal experience.

Anela Malik: “People love to tell me that there’s no one black in Northwest Arkansas. That’s not true. We’re here. Check it out.” Like something like that, right? It’s honest, it’s relevant to the video that’s going to follow, and it’s going to draw people in because it’s either controversial, or it’s really funny, or it’s just something even really personal that people can relate to.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Interesting. And it has to be pretty quick too. Like you have to get there pretty quickly. You can’t bury that. And correct me if I’m wrong, but the idea with that is like, you have a hook, and then you deliver on the content. But also like the content itself after that has to be pretty engaging. It’s like major hook to get people to stay, but then like continually lots of little hooks to-

Anela Malik: True.

Bjork Ostrom: … keep people there. So, do you have any thoughts around when you’re creating content like how quickly you have to move, or like, do you have any rules around like, Hey, every three seconds, I’m trying to like shift to a different angle, or anything that you use as kind of internal rules for creating content?

Anela Malik: So, we don’t have any hard rules simply because I think that like, every video concept is going to be different. But if I’m doing something for TikTok, I’m going to try to have the visuals, each particular angle or scene move every second. Every single second. Sometimes, on the half second which seems ridiculous-

Bjork Ostrom: So quick, yeah.

Anela Malik: … and it does mean that for a 62nd video, the amount of footage you have is wild. But there are a lot of ways that you can make that more interesting without actually taking a separate shot for each second. So, for example, if I’m talking to the camera, we can do a jump cut. So we just jump, and then for the second second, we zoom in a little bit, so you get a little bit of difference, and then cut and jump and zoom out again, and just splice those together, so the perspective changes, but you actually are just using one video clip.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense. So, you have one clip all the way through, but you’re like essentially zooming in when you’re editing, zooming in or out. So, are you doing all of that on your phone, or do you edit from your computer?

Anela Malik: So, I film everything on my phone. I am a phone-only creator, still. The new phone’s shooting 4K, so really at that point I was like, “I’m not getting a camera.” And then I have an outside editor now who’s amazing. And she uses Adobe Premier. And I also do some of the edits myself, depending on how much time I have. And again, I use Adobe Premier. I don’t like editing on my phone because I don’t know, maybe it’s just like, I’m in my 30s, I need a larger screen to put together a video. I can’t do it with my thumbs. I cannot do it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense. One of the things you talked about was this idea you’re doing this series, and you’d said like, Hey, there’s some really… People doing really incredible work. Black creators or business owners doing really incredible work in North Arkansas? Where was it that you said?

Anela Malik: Northwest Arkansas.

Bjork Ostrom: Northwest Arkansas. But you also talked about as we were talking about some of the things we could talk about on this podcast, one of the things that you brought up was this idea of food blogging as a black food blogger, but also being outspoken about identity issues. And I thought that was a really interesting thing to call out, and maybe a interesting conversation to have. So, can you fill out kind the picture with that a little bit, and let me know, and the audience know like where that comes from, and what that means to you?

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, I mean, I think a lot of it comes from the fact that I studied political science in undergrad, and even my grad school education-

Bjork Ostrom: Your formal training is in-

Anela Malik: Was very steeped in that world, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Anela Malik: So, talking about power, that’s politics, that’s what you’re talking about. You’re talking about power. Who has it, what shapes how we view the world, how we talk about the world, the narratives we believe, the narratives we share. And so, even when we’re looking at food, we, for example, in DC, there’s a large black community, and there’s a long history of black entrepreneurship in the food space. There’s a lot of black-owned restaurants there, and they’re really, really great. But what we also know, if we’re looking at structures of power is that black business owners face particular challenges related to the history of racism and discrimination in the United States. So, discrimination in lending, lack of access to capital, and even redlining… There are many studies that show that like redlining also applies to businesses where you can end up opening your business is impacted by all of these other social and political factors.

Bjork Ostrom: Residential and commercial. Yeah.

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, I take an approach where I’m going to talk about these black-owned businesses, or I’m doing a project, hopefully soon, about some of the, like these indigenous restaurant concepts that have gained recent acclaim, but like, this is America’s original food. So-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right.

Anela Malik: … gaining recent acclaim for something that has long been subsumed by our food culture. And my approach is that I will share their stories along with openly talking about other issues that intersect with their businesses, their identities, my identity, etc. And in the food space, I feel like this has become more common in the last few years, particularly since 2020. But there’s also been backlash, persistent backlash I’d say, against food bloggers who choose not to do this. And what we often see is when people with very large platforms that are recipe developers are accused of appropriation, right? So, making recipes that draw on longstanding cultural traditions, and not crediting those people. And so, I think that the topic of identity, race, class, gender, all of those things are going to be more prominent in the food space in the future. And it’s something that if we want to be content creators who are good at our jobs, we have to get more comfortable talking about.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. And I think one of the things that similar to the conversation we had before, where it’s like that conversation can be folded in, like, you have a conversation about this topic with folding in additional contextual conversations around that. Another great conversation that we had on the podcast with Zoe, from Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, kind of talks about that, and her understanding of what appropriation looks like, and what considerations we should have as food creators around that. So, obviously, it’s something you’re talking about. Are there other places that you’d point to as good places to go and continue to learn what that looks like to fill the picture out? Like if somebody’s coming to it and they’re like, it’s a picture of, I’m trying to think of an example. Like I think of my toddler daughter Solvi, she has a Paw Patrol, and she does like, she kind of scribbles on it. And it’s like, if that’s our understanding of it right now, where can we go to take our scribbles of understanding, to actually filling in the picture, and learning more, and continually downloading information around that?

Anela Malik: Yeah. So, I think for recipe developers, it’s actually pretty easy. And this is specifically for recipe developers. Every time you are Googling an ingredient as a recipe developer to learn more about it, and you’re going to include that ingredient in one of your recipes, put some of that context and background about the dish, about the ingredient into the recipe. And that adds cultural context, historical context, all of those things are going to come up on the first page of Google that’s going to be on the Wikipedia page. And so, that’s an easy way to layer in that context, and to continue those conversations. I’ve seen some really, really great work with restaurant reviewers who they’re going to restaurants, and they’re like, “I had never heard of this type of cuisine. Here are the five things I found on Google about it. Now let me introduce you to this incredible restaurant, and tell you why you should go there.”

Anela Malik: And it doesn’t detract from the video at all, but it adds a layer of context that then allows your audience to actually connect with this business, and to further conversations about where our food comes from.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. Yeah. That’s awesome.

Anela Malik: So, things like that. I don’t have like a playbook, and I think a lot of us are just figuring it out as we go.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Yep. And I think part of, if there is a playbook, it’s inserting the filter of consideration around that. Like it’s not like X, Y, Z, or A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, these steps, but just introducing that as like, Hey, this is a consideration when you’re going through the process of publishing content, publishing a recipe.

Anela Malik: And when you get it wrong, because we’re all going to get it wrong, just say, “I’m sorry, I fixed it. I’ll do better.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Anela Malik: I feel like every food-related PR disaster I’ve seen that’s related to like appropriation, or race, or any of those things in the last two years, has turned into a PR disaster because the person refused to say, I’m sorry. And I know it can feel like, especially if you’re saying, I’m sorry to like 50,000, 100,000, maybe even a million people, it can feel like this huge thing. Just say you’re sorry, and we can move on.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That’s great. Thanks for sharing that. And I think conversations like this are helpful to continually introduce that idea, and for people to think about that as like, “Hey, what does that look like for me to have that consideration as I’m going into my content creation?” So, I’m sure that people will be interested in following along with what you’re up to. Potentially some people that’ll be interested in joining the community. Anela, can you share where people can connect with you, and follow along, and obviously link to all those in the show notes as well?

Anela Malik: Yeah, absolutely. So, you can find me on Instagram, and TikTok, @feedthemalik. TikTok is still new for me y’all so-

Bjork Ostrom: Love it.

Anela Malik: … it’s super fun though, because it’s an experiment. So, I’m actually like, come join me on TikTok because I don’t know what I’m doing there either. And I really am quite enjoying being new at something again. And then you can find my writings, and my community on my website at feedthemalik.com. My community is called Magic At The Margins, and we go deeper on food and beverage, but we also do a really incredible slew of events, in-person and virtual. So, if you’re interested in food, it’s a good place to come hang out.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. We’ll be sure to link to those in the show notes, give them a little shout-out. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast.

Anela Malik: Thank you.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there, Alexa here, and thanks for tuning into this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We really appreciate you being here. And if you really like this episode, we would so appreciate you leaving us a review on Apple Podcast. It helps the show get in front of new listeners, and it just makes us really happy. We read each and everyone, and it’s just so great to hear from you what you’re liking and what you would like us to improve, or change in upcoming episodes. So, all you have to do is go and find The Food Blogger Pro Podcast on your Apple Podcast app, scroll down to the ratings and review section, and then you can rate the show, and then leave a written review if you want to be even more awesome. And while you’re there, we would really appreciate if you subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode.

Alexa Peduzzi: But maybe you talk about one of your favorite interviews on a show, or maybe you just talk about the show as a whole, but regardless of what you talk about in your review, we appreciate it so, so much. So, thanks again for tuning in today. We’ll see you next time. And until then, make it a great week.

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  1. I absolutely loved this interview. There are so many gems about really creating your own path and not using traditional methods of site creation and monetization. Thank you for sharing.