Welcome to episode 113 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Ashley Walterhouse about working with brands, building her following,and growing her Instagram account to over 90K followers in two years.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork talked to Taylor Mathis from Photographing FOOD about lighting, consistency, and his go-to equipment. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
How to Gain 90K Instagram Followers in 2 Years
Yep, that says 90K. In two years!
If you’re anything like me, you randomly post to Instagram whenever you remember to in hopes of gaining followers and getting some click-throughs to your website.
But Ashley’s social media success is proof that it’s helpful to have a strategy when growing your social media presence. Posting at the right times every day, engaging with comments, and sharing the right recipes all play into growing your Instagram account.
Ashley has cracked the code on Instagram growth and engagement, and she’s sharing how she managed to grow her two-year-old blog, Fit Mitten Kitchen, into a full-time job.
In this episode, Ashley shares:
- Where her blog name comes from
- How she got advice about blogging
- How she keeps organized
- How many times she posts on Instagram per day
- How to she recycles recipes on social media
- Which big accounts she tags on her Instagram images
- How she landed her first sponsored post
- Why you should always have a contract when you work with a brand
- How she got involved in blogging groups
- What has helped her with photography
- Fit Mitten Kitchen
- Fit Foodie Finds
- The Healthy Maven
- The Feed Feed
- 099: Sponsored Content and Getting Paid What Your Work is Worth with Danielle Liss
- Nicole Culver
- Blissful Bites Podcast
- Follow Ashley on Instagram & Facebook
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: In this episode, we talk to Ashley Walterhouse about building her Instagram following to 90,000 in the first couple years of her blog, some of the mental hurdles she had to overcome as she started to get into building her business, and how our college experiences were kind of similar. Hey, hey, hey. Bjork Ostrom here and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I’m excited that you’re here today, because we are talking to Ashley Walterhouse from Fit Mitten Kitchen. Very early on in the podcast, we learn where that mitten comes from. It was me trying to explain something, and her saying like, “Hey, that’s actually my blog name. That’s where it comes from,” which is kind of a funny conversation to kick things off. You will hear, right away, in this podcast episode.
But we had Ashley on because I was excited to talk to somebody who’s in their first couple years of building their blog. We hear from a lot of people that give us feedback on the podcast. One of the common pieces of feedback that we hear is, “Hey, we would love to hear from people who are in the early stages of building their blog.” A lot of the people that we talk to are in the year seven, eight … You know, people that have been blogging for 10 years, and that can be kind of intimidating for people that have maybe only been blogging for a few years. One of the themes that I think you’ll see is a lot of times, it takes four, five, six years to get to a point where you’re at a really substantial place with your blog and with your brand. But it’s also really valuable to hear from people that are in the early stages, that have found some success, and Ashley is an example of that. So, let’s go ahead and jump into this interview. Ashley, welcome to the podcast.
Ashley Walterhouse: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Really fun here. We were chatting a little bit before we got started. First of all, I don’t know if I’ve talked about this in the podcast before, but we kind of have a similar degree. Your official degree … This is me crawling through Linkedin. You had a degree from Michigan, Central …
Ashley Walterhouse: Central Michigan.
Bjork Ostrom: … Michigan.
Ashley Walterhouse: Yup.
Bjork Ostrom: And so, where’s that in terms of … Don’t they say, with Michigan, that they would say it’s the mitt? Is that what they say for the hand? Is that right?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so, mitten, which is where my blog name comes from.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, yes.
Ashley Walterhouse: Michigan. Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. I didn’t know that and it’s a great time to begin the podcast. Cool. Okay. Where in the mitten is Central Michigan University?
Ashley Walterhouse: It’s pretty much …
Bjork Ostrom: Central, I suppose.
Ashley Walterhouse: … dead center. Yeah, Central Michigan, CMU.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah. I’m holding up my hand right now, by the way.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I can imagine that.
Ashley Walterhouse: It’s just automatic. But yeah, it’s kind of like in the middle, where your finger would meet the palm of your hand.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Yup.
Ashley Walterhouse: It’s just straight in the middle there.
Bjork Ostrom: No, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Cool. When you were there, you weren’t pursuing a degree that had to do with food, but rather apparel merchandising. I went to the University of Minnesota and I have a retail merchandising background. Really like the … Or degree … I really like the mix between design and business. But I’m curious to know what that was like for you, getting into it, and what your hope was as you were starting out, pursuing that path?
Ashley Walterhouse: I mean, it’s kind of a long story. But I grew up dancing. My mom owns a dance studio. Throughout college, I kind of just knew right away I wanted to get into apparel design. Right from the get-go, that’s why I went to Central. I had this idea that I would somehow find a way into designing dancewear or activewear. It just happened, where I pursued different companies that I knew of from different dance costumes I had had growing up, because I had that process of selecting the costumes with my mom and picking out different costumes for different dances and different age groups and all that. So, I just searched out a company, one that I had personally liked a lot of their styles, and got an internship with them my junior year, during the internship requirement, and they happened to have an opening. I graduated in the December timeframe, because I studied abroad, so it kind of pushed me back another semester. After I finished my internship, I had that one more semester left. They happened to have a job opening and so I took it, and I started out as a dance costume designer.
Bjork Ostrom: Interesting. Yeah. This is obviously a little bit different. But one of the jobs that I also thought was so interesting is Lindsay’s cousin is a costume designer. She does a lot of the sewing and putting it together, but it’s for Broadway musicals. It’s like Lion King. And so, they’re designing these massive, human costumes for lions that are … They have to move, but also look lifelike. I’m guessing it wasn’t that type of path.
Ashley Walterhouse: No. Not at all. Very different. When you go into an apparel design or a fashion design degree, people will always ask, “Oh, so you sew?” And I’m like, “No, not really.” I mean, I can sew, but I kind of don’t like to. They’re like, “Oh so, do you draw all the designs?” I’m like, “I actually use Adobe Illustrator,” so I’m doing stuff a lot on the computer and just kind of how it’s progressed.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you go into that role … So you had this role, and in some ways, it was you realizing your hope for a job after college. Did you immediately know, “Hey, maybe this isn’t for me or it isn’t where I want to be?” What did that progression look like, as you spent some time in that role?
Ashley Walterhouse: It was a combination of things, actually. The company that I worked for was out in Pennsylvania, so my husband and I relocated there right after we both graduated. He ended up finding a job out there, in his field. For a long time, I was doing really well. I had good sales on my designs. I think there was never a long-term commitment to being out in Pennsylvania. My husband always wanted to come back. It was really hard for me to pull him out there with me, so there was always going to be that time, like, “When is it time for us to go back to Michigan?”
In 2015, we got married in May. That summer, we were talking, like, “Okay, maybe it’s time. We kind of miss our families.” Our companies weren’t really headed in the direction that we were hoping for, just big picture-wise. And so, at that time, I had really found a passion for healthy eating and fitness and just sharing that with other people. At that time, that was about three years in when we were in Pennsylvania, after we’d moved and started our careers.
Three years in, I was just really finding this passion for spreading positivity for health and wellbeing. Reading other peoples’ blogs and looking at their recipes, and I’m like, “Well, I could do that.” It just kind of naturally progressed where I had that passion. I was thinking about it at work all the time. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about dance or costumes while I was at work. I started thinking more about recipes and food and workouts. And then, my husband was offered a job, about six or seven months later, and we just said we would move back. It happened a lot sooner than we planned. But at that time, I had started my blog. It was about eight or nine months in, as I was working full-time as well and working on my blog. I just kind of said, “Well, I’m not going to design dance costumes from home. But I can work on my blog as much as I can and just see what can come of it.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s an interesting decision that you have to make. I’m looking at your Linkedin profile, which I need to … When I look at yours, I’m like, “Oh, you have all the dates correct and stuff.” I have the worst Linkedin profile and that’s maybe one of my goals for the next two months. I think mine … It was inspired by this guy who … He was a real estate guy, and it was a photo of him that he was taking … It was him sleeping on the couch, with a pizza box and the remote on his chest. I think, kind of poking fun at the professional Linkedin. I thought that was kind of funny. And so, I put, for my profile, the descriptor, it was Internet Marketing Ninja In Training. Number one, any time you use ninja, it’s a little like, “Uh …” It doesn’t really sit right. Then, it still shows that I work at the non-profit that I used to work at. Just last week, there was a bunch of people that were like, “Congratulations on your nine-year work anniversary.” I was like, “Oh, shoot. I need to update that.”
So if I look at this, it shows that you left your role as fashion designer April 2016, and then you had started your blog June of 2015. Obviously, like you said, you had been working on the blog for a little bit and it had a little bit of momentum. But at the same time, that’s pretty early on, in building a blog, to make that jump and to say, “You know what? I think I’m going to transition this into something that’s going to be my full-time gig.” Now, it makes it a little bit easier when you have that deadline of, “We’re moving, and so what’s next?” It’s like, “Well, I could search for a job, or I could have this kind of transition area period, where I really invest time and energy and focus in on this.”
But I’m curious, for you, how you went through that decision making process, knowing that it was early on in your blog’s life.
Ashley Walterhouse: I think it was just kind of a leap of faith. There was really no option for me to find a company, a corporate office, in Michigan for me to continue designing dance costumes. At that point, I just wasn’t really sure I wanted to continue that path. And so, I said to my husband, Drew, I said, “Well, I’m just going to work my butt off on the blog this whole summer. I might have the chance to freelance for my old company, but if that’s not on the table, I’m going to have to make this work.” There wasn’t really … I didn’t give myself an option. I knew it could be done. I had a few different mentors that were saying, “You have the talent behind the blog you’ve got. Great content. You can make this work. Just spend the time, the energy, on it. I’m sure you can handle it.” Yeah. I just really didn’t give myself another option. I said, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to try to grow my traffic and work with brands and see where it goes.”
Bjork Ostrom: Those mentors, were those people that had been in your life for a long time, or were these people that you had connected with online, that had maybe built a business, and were kind of advising you? Who were the people that you were connecting with, that were encouraging you?
Ashley Walterhouse: I’m sure a lot of people are going to know who this is. But Lee, of Fit Foodie Finds. I had reached out to her and I said, “You know, I really …” Back when I was going to start my blog, very early on. She kind of just gave me the push to just do it. Just go for it. If you’ve been thinking about it for a long time, why not?
Also made a connection with Davida of The Healthy Maven, and she was also a big advocate for just jumping in. She’s like, “I’m proof it can work. I’ve had my blog for …” At that time, I think it was three years, and she had been blogging full-time for a full year and doubled her income and all that. I was just like, “Okay. Well, I guess if they can do, I probably can do it too.”
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. How do you … And not that everybody should then inundate these people that you mentioned … But how do you make those connections? What was it that you feel like you’re able to do, in order to then have this genuine conversation back-and-forth with people who are, assuming, pretty busy with their business already? What does that look like? Because I think a lot of people are interested in connecting with other people that are maybe a little bit further on the path.
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah. I mean, I was just already reading their blogs. I was like the blog fangirl reaching out, all nervous. People are a lot more casual and down-to-earth than you’d expect. You know, we’re all just normal people. I think you put these full-time bloggers, these OG bloggers … You know, Lindsay included …
Bjork Ostrom: OG, like original gangster. Yeah. Okay.
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah. Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: I just learned that term three months ago, which makes me not OG for anything.
Ashley Walterhouse: Well, no. Lindsay’s an OG. She’s, for real, an OG. But, yeah. I mean, you put all this people up on a pedestal and you don’t realize that, really, we’re all just normal people, having a career. It just happens to be really awesome and connecting with a lot of like-minded people. I just had made a genuine connection with them by reading their blogs and commenting as a reader, not even a fellow blogger, interested in their connections. Lee and I actually have similar backgrounds. She went to the University of Minnesota and she had started in design, so I was like, “Oh, well, I graduated in design.” Then, Davida is Canadian, which most people know this. I just have a thing, because my family’s from Canada, so it’s one of those personal connections, that you just realize you’re a lot more alike than you’d originally think.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think there’s something to be said about the simplicity of connections working because you’re a friend. It sounds so obvious and simple, but it sounds, in some ways, like what you’re describing. You were a friend of these people before you ever reached out and were like, “Hey, can I get some advice on blogging?” That point had come, but it was a natural result of the friendship that you had in intentionally reaching out and supporting those people before that time ever came. I think what sometimes happens is people will get into it, and they’ll think, “Oh, I need this thing. How do I connect with this person?” It’s like, “Well, there’s a really long front end, a lot of times, to that pivot point, when you are able to come to somebody and ask for advice, or something like that.”
Talk to me about the … You know, you said, “I decided I’m going to go for it. I’m going to go all in. I’m going to make this happen.” What does that look like? What does that look like the day that you don’t get up to go to your job, you get up to work on your blog? In that space, there’s 9000 things that you could be doing, so how do you pick the thing that you start working on, as you’re in this growth stage and saying, “I want to build this into my thing?”
Ashley Walterhouse: I think, for me, it was a lot about the recipe development and just getting that content up. I had kind of set myself a schedule. Even when I was still working full-time, I had tried to stick with a schedule as much as I could, as far as days a week I said I was going to post. So, I tried to stick with that as much as I could, and just said, “This day’s going to be this recipe, and Wednesday’s going to be this.” I would set up my calendar of, “I have to work on these recipes today and these recipes the next day. And then, this day’s writing, and the next day’s writing or editing photos.” It’s hard to say, because I just kind of had to pick those things. For me, it was really just the quality content I was focusing on, and then the sharing off the social kind of just fell in with that.
Bjork Ostrom: First and foremost, it is the content that you’re producing for the blog and saying, “I know that I want to produce this amount. I want to do it this frequently.” And then after that, kind of the trickle-down then, is, “How do I share that off of social media or into social media?”
Ashley Walterhouse: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is, maybe, a good tie-in to one of the things that i wanted to talk to you about, and I think people would be interested to hear about, is focusing specifically on Instagram. I know that you’ve been able to grow your Instagram following pretty significantly. At this point, it’s at 98.7 thousand. By the time that people hear this, it’ll be more, because you’re adding a couple hundred people a day to your Instagram following. If you look back, back to the beginning of the year, it’s over 50,000 people that you’ve been able to add in half a year, and that’s really significant, especially for a platform that’s really important, being Instagram. It’s an important platform in general, but especially for food and recipe content.
Obviously, you have experienced a lot of success with that. Can you talk a little bit about what your strategy is or how you went about intentionally growing that? Even if it’s as simple as, “Hey, I consistently post content.” What does that look like? I’m curious to know.
Ashley Walterhouse: I think when I started seeing a lot of growth … I want to say it was after … A significant, rapid amount of growth … it was after probably 25,000 or 30,000. That’s kind of when I made that conscious effort to say, you know, “I’m going to post three times a day and I’m going to post in the morning, in the middle of the day.” And if I don’t get in the middle of the day, because sometimes I don’t, I’ll say I’m going to post around dinnertime. I post in the evening, like right before bed." Go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: No, that’s … Is that something that you still do today? Is that kind of the frequency that you shoot for, more or less?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yes. Yes. Yeah. I do try to shoot for that. Morning would be … I’m on Eastern Standard Time, but I still feel like the morning is usually anytime between 8 and 10. For the lunchtime, it’s between 1 and 3 at the latest. That’s EST. If I don’t happen to hit a lunchtime, because I honestly just get caught up and I’m in the middle of a recipe shoot or something, I’ll try to post dinnertime, and that’s between 5 and 7. Summertime’s a little different. I’ve been playing around with times there. But evening is usually between 8 and 10 or something.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For those times, is that something that you’ve just noticed other people doing, or was there an article you read that was like, “Hey, this is a really good amount to share on Instagram and a good time to share those?” What’s the strategy behind that?
Ashley Walterhouse: It could have been an article, but I feel like, initially, it was one of those things where I was paying attention to some bigger accounts that I was following and interacting with, and paying attention to when they would post. I said, “Okay. Well, maybe I’ll post in that kind of timeframe.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting. I think Instagram has changed, in that … Originally, I feel like there was kind of this idea where you’d post maybe once a day, or once every other day. But now, I see it being something where, pretty frequently, people are posting multiple times a day. I think it makes sense, especially given the fact that there is a correlation with the amount of content. So if there’s less content, you want to be intentional to maybe post less, because then it will look like you’re posting more. But as content increases on a platform, I think it makes sense to post more, because the ratio changes as there is more activity and content that people see. I think that makes sense and really interesting.
So with that, are you intentional to … Let’s say you post three times a day. Is each one of those posts something that you’re reusing content from a past recipe? Do you try and put a little bit of space in between every recipe you do? What does that look like in terms of the actual content you’re posting about?
Ashley Walterhouse: I do a little bit of a mix. Honestly, I’ll look at my feed. I want to make sure I’m not resharing the same photo and/or recipe really close to each other. I think outside people kind of have this perception that if I post on Facebook and it’s like, “Oh, that’s a new recipe. Did you just make that?” I’m like, “No, no. That’s months ago or that’s even last year.” Even recycling those older recipes and just kind of working them into my current feed and making sure they’re spaced out. I don’t typically post the same recipe, or same new post, two days in a row. I want those photos spaced out, but that’s personally just my feed. I see other people that have them close to each other.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. A little bit of space in-between content, so it’s like you don’t scroll through and see, “Oh, this recipe showed up twice.” You’d have to really commit to scrolling through to find a repeat. Even that, it would probably be a different photo.
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah. I do try to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. Got it. Then, what about hashtags? Are you really intentional and say, “Hey, what are the trending hashtags and ones that are really popular right now, so I can get into the feed of those different hashtags?” Are you intentional about doing that, or is it kind of like, “Hey, whatever comes to mind?”
Ashley Walterhouse: I’m pretty intentional. I do have this running list of hashtags, where … Honestly, the first half of my hashtags are usually all the same, always. I create a little note and I will copy and paste it into that second comment. I usually max out on the hashtags, which is 30. That’s just me. I know other people have kind of played around with putting a few hashtags in the actual caption, in the first caption, and then not using any hashtags at all the rest of the comments. Some people just put all their hashtags in the first caption. I mean, there’s a lot of ways to do it, and I think different people see different results, so it’s hard to say. But I do use those bigger hashtags with those accounts like Buzzfeed, and HuffPost Taste, and the Feed Feed are really big accounts that will, hopefully, see those, or come up in their feed where they can hopefully re-share …
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. For those that aren’t familiar, can you share a little bit about how that works? If you’re tagging a certain account, like Buzzfeed Food, what the hope is with that and how that can be beneficial?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah, so the Feed Feed, HuffPost Taste, Buzzfeed Food, those are really big food accounts, where hopefully, if you tag their picture … I like to tag the picture and use their hashtag … And hopefully, it’s that your picture will get seen and somebody from their social team will want to reuse it and repost it on their own Instagram feed, where they will tag you and give you credit. It’s not just taking it from you. They actually make sure you get credit and brings, hopefully, more followers over to your account.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s one of the things … I remember hearing somebody talk about this. It was like a business account that they had, but it was one of the things that they recommended was finding ways … I think this is true for social media in general … finding ways to partner with other people that are at a similar or, ideally, maybe a little bit further along than you, and cross-promoting. It’s kind of a built-in way to do that for recipe sites, like … You had mentioned Buzzfeed Food or … What were some of the other ones, that you had mentioned, that were …
Ashley Walterhouse: The Feed Feed is a big one that I’ve had a few different photos shared on, which has helped me gain some traction, so that is a really good one to just tag. You just have to make sure your caption has their account handle, @TheFeedFeed, and then their hashtag, #feedfeed.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Ashley Walterhouse: They explain all that on their website actually.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Do you know what that comes from, Feed Feed? Feeding feed? Feed feed?
Ashley Walterhouse: I mean, I figured that’s what it was. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that the idea? Yeah. Sure.
Ashley Walterhouse: Okay.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m discovering all of these things, like the mitten is Michigan, Feed Feed is feeding the feed of the feeding. This is all good. I’m checking lots of learning items off my list. That’s interesting. The things that I took away from that, that I think maybe are a little bit different than what some people are used to — it’s different for what I’m used to, at least — posting multiple times a day. I think being really intentional to connect with those other brands that have a big following, but they repurpose other peoples’ content, with the hope of them sharing that, and then tagging you and then getting exposure for you. And then, also the idea of … Like when you do reuse that recipe, using a different photo, obviously, and not being afraid to reuse recipes. I think that’s a really … Both personally and for people that are listening … a really big take-away is the intentional leverage of content, deeper than most people would.
I think most people think of content as the one thing that you do, and then you’re done, and you’re on to the next one. I think a huge group of content creators could really benefit from thinking about ways to further leverage the content they create. As opposed to thinking of it as a one-week thing, thinking of it as, “How does this fit within the year for my site? What are the things that I can do to integrate that in in other ways?” I think what you’re doing is a good example of that.
Have you noticed that, as your Instagram following has started to grow, that you have brands or companies that will reach out to you and be interested in working with you, because of your following on Instagram? Or do you notice that primarily with your blog? What does that look like, in terms of working with sponsors?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah, I have gotten quite a few different brands or companies reach out, I think partially due to my Instagram growth. I don’t want to emphasize that too much, because I’m in a few different business blogging groups where there’s a lot of talk from brands and companies, where … They look at the numbers, but they also truly value an engaged audience. So, you can’t just think about, “Oh, I just need to skyrocket my Instagram account.” You have to make sure it’s authentic, and you’re building a brand behind it, and you actually have people that are engaged and true listeners, and just followers that you bought. Because I think brands are getting smarter about that now and actually doing their research too.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. And so, what does that look like? How do you communicate that, as a content creator, that type of value in your blog or on your social media accounts?
Ashley Walterhouse: Making sure you’re responding to comments as much as you can. I get a lot of comments, where they’re just like a smiley face or, “Oh, that looks great.” I don’t always respond to all of those comments. But people that are asking questions, or they have an actual … Or I’ve asked a question, in my caption, and I get a response. I’m responding to those people that are engaging. I think we, as content creators, need to keep that in mind, that brands are watching us and just being mindful of your interaction. Not to say that you want to not be yourself, but just making sure that you are having that authentic communication with people.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. I think that’s a really important piece, that idea of your voice being a part of it. In so many ways, that’s the value that brands are looking for, is not just exposure for their brand’s logo. But it’s integrating their brand into the voice of somebody that is creating that content, and it sounds like, a little bit, that’s what you’re hitting on.
Ashley Walterhouse: Right. Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about your first sponsorship/partnership? What did that look like and how did that come about? How did you go about figuring out, like, “Okay, I’m going to charge this much.” You don’t have to share numbers, but I think a lot of people are curious. What does that look like to get into it and how do you establish those numbers and those relationships?
Ashley Walterhouse: I’m trying to think back to my first sponsored post. I mean, it’s a bit of trial and error, honestly, as far as numbers go. I think you just kind of … I mean, you can do research. There is research online about what’s your value and what your rate should be and those little calculators. You can look at that and think, “Okay, well that seems really low.” Or sometimes, you look at and you’re like, “Oh, that’s a little bit higher than I thought.” I honestly started probably somewhere in the middle. I didn’t have a big blog following. I mean, I was growing my traffic as much as I could. But when I first started, got my sponsored post, I didn’t have … I probably didn’t even have 30,000 page views or anything. I probably had 15, maybe. I honestly don’t remember.
But not being afraid to reach out to some smaller brands, because there are a lot of smaller brands that will be willing to pay for your time and your value, and just offering up your time and a little bit of, maybe, a smaller budget on their end to work with them.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I was thinking about that this morning, because we get that question all the time, where people are like, “How do I figure out where to price things or get that … When that first sponsored opportunity comes by, how do I go about approaching it?” I think there’s so many things that go into it, that it’s so hard to concretely say, “Here’s what it should be.” A for instance is do you have time to do it? If you don’t have time, naturally supplying … The supply and demand of your time will result in that being more costly for you. And so, therefore, that influences the number. I think the biggest thing is landing on something that you feel good with. And then I think, as you get into it, you’ll develop this gut feeling of, “Is this worth it or is it not?”
Ashley Walterhouse: Yes. Definitely.
Bjork Ostrom: I think, almost always, the first few times, it’s like, “For what I got paid, this wasn’t worth it.” You naturally adjust that out. At least, that’s what it was for us, where …
Ashley Walterhouse: Yes. Definitely.
Bjork Ostrom: … it’s like we do … I’m thinking back to this time where Lindsay did … It was like 10 recipes and they had to do it over a weekend. It was super last-minute and she got like $75 per recipe. We had to pay for all the ingredients. But it was the first time and it was exciting. But then you fine-tune your radar for, “How much time will this take and will it be worth it?” And so, I think, for people that are getting into it, it’s taking the pressure off a little bit to say, “The first ones aren’t about getting the best deal, but more about fine-tuning the process and getting a feel for it. As you get into it, I think you’ll adjust that naturally, just from learning what it’s like to do that.” Yeah.
Ashley Walterhouse: Definitely. Yup. Just that experience. That just kind of builds. Sometimes, there’s brands that will reach out and they will share their own budget, and just say, “This is what we can pay you.” Sometimes it’s higher than what you normally charge, and you’re like, “Okay. Well, maybe that’s going to be my new rate,” and you just kind of see what other brands say. Every brand is different. Every brand, whether they’re big or small. Sometimes, the smaller ones seem to have a bigger budget than the larger brands. It’s confusing, but you just work with what you have and know your value.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. It’s a case-by-case basis for sure. Are you managing those relationships on your own or do you work with an agency for that?
Ashley Walterhouse: It’s a little bit of both. There’s a few different brands I work with through PR firms, and then there are some brands that I work with that are just to brand-to-blogger relationship.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. Got it. But you’re not working with an agency that manages that whole process? In terms of the PR company or the brand, you’re going direct to them, as opposed to working with an intermediary?
Ashley Walterhouse: Like Massive Sway or …
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yup.
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah. I have done a few campaigns with those types of agencies. But they’re just, personally, not my favorite way to do them now. I think when you start out, it’s a great way to get started and get that experience with brands. It’s easy and seamless. I still will take some of those partnerships on, because it is just … It’s a little bit less work for the blogger sometimes.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. Yup, because they’re managing some of that stuff.
Ashley Walterhouse: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: How do you handle the contract stuff? I know that’s always a big thing and it’s a lot of work. Are you reading through those and reviewing those? What does that look like?
Ashley Walterhouse: I do do those myself. I do have a simple contract, if brands aren’t sending me one, which a lot of brands don’t have their own contract. It is good to have one just handy that you can send them. Even if they don’t send one and don’t require one, you, as a blogger, should always be sending out a contract, because you want to make sure that brands aren’t taking your photos and are going to put them on billboards. You want to make sure you have different, separate clauses in for rights. So, yeah, I am looking at the contracts myself and reading them. Either I have one or the brand has one I sign.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. Was that something that you put together on your own, or used a template that you had worked off of, or worked with a lawyer? How did that work?
Ashley Walterhouse: I actually just worked off of a template that I found through … I don’t recall the website. There are a couple of different resources I share, that I know of, that do …
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’d be great.
Ashley Walterhouse: … have good contracts and a lot of blog business support. That’s Danielle Liss, I think, of Businessese.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. We interviewed her on the podcast.
Ashley Walterhouse: Okay.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. She’s actually been an expert for the Food Blogger Pro community, so she’s great.
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah. I know that she has a really great website with all those types of resources, as far as contract goes and legal work.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. We’ll link to that in the show notes as well. Question … This is going back a little bit, but you had mentioned being a part of some blogging business groups. If those are private, you don’t have to share what those are. But just curious. How did you come about finding those? It kind of goes back to that connection point again. Obviously, those are … It’s really beneficial to be part of those communities, whether it’s a business group or just like a general blogging support group, right?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yes. Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: It can be so overwhelming, to have people that understand it. But how did you go about connecting with those groups and what have those done for you?
Ashley Walterhouse: I didn’t mention one of my mentors, Nicole Culver. She has a granola company and she started her podcast. Our connection goes back as I was listening to one of her podcast episodes, and I won one of the episode giveaways. We had kind of just kept in touch. I was listening to her podcast frequently. I want to say she had started her own support group. Then, she kind of took on the role of coaching. That’s how we got started and as her business grew, she developed Instagram … Sorry. Not Instagram … a Facebook community called … Well, she’s got a Facebook page that’s open to anybody. I think you just have to request to be approved. It’s Blissful Bites community. Then, she does private coaching or group coaching, and so she has all those different types of services, where she has a private Facebook group for those people, and that’s Blogger to Business support group.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. That podcast … I just pulled it up … Blissful Bites?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yup.
Bjork Ostrom: We can link to that in the show notes as well. I’m guessing a lot of overlap for people that listen to this.
Ashley Walterhouse: Oh, for sure.
Bjork Ostrom: It sounds like it’d be another really good one for people to listen to. Cool. That’s awesome. It sounds like … I just pulled up Nicole’s site … it would be a good one to link to as well, because it looks like she has a lot of related content. Also, in the food space, is that right?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah. I would say she does specialize helping out food and health and wellness bloggers.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Ashley Walterhouse: She’s been a big part of my growth and just giving me the confidence honestly. When I started out, I … I don’t know. I mean, I felt like I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t really have that confidence to show it. She pretty much has been by my side throughout my whole journey, just saying, “You can charge this. You bring this value. You are worth it.” And so, she’s been a huge, huge help.
Bjork Ostrom: What do you feel like the biggest take-away for you was, personally? What was the biggest mental transition or hurdle that you had to jump?
Ashley Walterhouse: Honestly, probably the confidence part. Just putting myself out there and knowing that what I have to offer is valuable and worthy of being shared. I think it’s hard because there’s so many food bloggers out there, and it’s hard to feel like what you’re even talking about matters. But that comes with finding your voice, and finding the people that you connect with, and just knowing that you are offering something to those people and not being afraid to share.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. For sure. Cool. One of the questions that I like to hear people talk about is this what if question. What if you were to go back and you were to start again, two years ago? What would be the thing that you would recommend for people that are … Or recommend to yourself, if you were just getting started again?
Ashley Walterhouse: I mean, it’s hard, because you don’t want to say, “Don’t wait until things are perfect,” because I think a lot of us have this Type A, perfectionist mentality. But I think I probably would have tried to hone in on my photography skills a little bit more in the beginning, because I got some photos, in the first several months, that I’m just like, “Wow, those really need to be updated.” They matter. I mean, your photography is going to be … For food, especially, it’s going to be one of the biggest instrumental parts of your growth. So, I think just really nailing that down.
Bjork Ostrom: The photography piece, specifically.
Ashley Walterhouse: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. What do you feel like were the biggest things, that you’ve learned with photography, that have improved it?
Ashley Walterhouse: Understanding light, understanding the manual settings and how to change those … You know, the aperture and the shuttle speed and ISO … to what you’re working with in the time being, because it is really hard. I’ve shot in artificial light. I just don’t like to. And so, just having a better understanding of how to manipulate the light. If the light’s really harsh and you need to put … I just honestly use a white trash bag over the door to diffuse the light. So, just getting a better understanding of how the light works with your food setting.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure. I think that’s great and continues to be such an important thing, and I think always will be, the idea that we consume, first and foremost, through looking at something. And so, the photography and images that we create are so important. One of the questions that I have, maybe to kind of bring it full circle, is to go back and to process through that initial encouragement that you had when you were first getting started, where it was like, “Yeah. You can do this. You can jump in.” What are the things that you feel like, for you personally, are the things you didn’t expect, as you were getting into it, and you’ve had to work through? Then on the other side, do you feel like some of that has been confirmed, where you’ve said … Or looked back and you feel like, “Yes, this is possible. I can see how this can be something that I build into a career and a full-time job?” Obviously, it is something that you’re doing full-time. But curious to know what that has looked like as you’ve gotten into it.
Ashley Walterhouse: What did I have to …
Bjork Ostrom: It was two ambiguous questions.
Ashley Walterhouse: I know. It was very long.
Bjork Ostrom: I’ll ask it again …
Ashley Walterhouse: First part.
Bjork Ostrom: … with some more clarity and I’ll divide it up. I’m trying to get better at not asking nine questions in one …
Ashley Walterhouse: That’s okay.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, so number one. The question is this: What are the things that have surprised you or been difficult as you’ve built your blog and worked on it full-time?
Ashley Walterhouse: Honestly, I mean, it’s a couple of different things. The time for the promotional part of, you know, going back and using that older content and actually getting it out there, because just that time it takes to schedule out your social media posts on Facebook. If you’re going to plan what recipes you want to share on Instagram, if you’re kind of recycling those, that takes a lot of time and thought, and the captions, that you are putting in those social media posts, take a lot of time. That whole part of the process is actually a lot of more time-consuming than, I think, people realize.
Then, also just … Probably the whole process from the recipe development all the way through to when the blog post goes live, because I think, “Oh, this is going to take me two hours, and this is going to take me two hours, and this is going to take me an hour,” and then … Nine hours later, sometimes. I mean, it’s not always that long, but it’s just different parts. If you have to redo the recipe, or you shot the whole recipe and, as you’re editing the photo, you’re like, “Wow, I don’t like these and I don’t want them to be on my blog.” And then so, you pull back and you re-shoot them. So, building in testing days, for sure, and even a day, or a few hours, for redoes.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. For sure. The amount of time involved, I think, is always more than people think it is. There’s people, I think, that kind of know what we do. But then, they’re like, “Oh, that must be really nice. You publish two, maybe three times a week, and then, what do you do with all that other time?” It’s like, “Oh, you have no idea.”
Ashley Walterhouse: Dishes.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Dishes.
Ashley Walterhouse: Breaking down boxes.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We were talking about that. Amazon … You can order anything on Amazon Prime, but the penalty … It’s like a box penalty, right?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: So, the more you order on Amazon, the more boxes you have to break down and put into the recycling.
Ashley Walterhouse: Right. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: The second part of that originally very ambiguous set of questions that I asked was: Are you encouraged, a little bit over two years in, with the potential of saying, “This will be, or this can be, or maybe it’s there already, something that is strictly my full-time job?” Where’s that at for you? Are you encouraged by the work that you’ve done, seeing results from that, and knowing that it will be maybe something that can continue to snowball and build?
Ashley Walterhouse: Yeah, I think so. It all depends on how much energy and effort you want to put into it, because there’s a lot of people that have the time to put that much extra time into their blog, to really get it going. There’s other people that kind of have to do that slow growth. But I think it’s still possible now. I mean, I think if you were to start a blog right now and as long as you had the quality content, you were building a loyal and engaged audience, I think brands are going to notice that. If they do work with influencers, then I think they’re going to want to start reaching out to those types of people.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great, and I think an awesome note to end on. But there is one more thing that I would love to hear from you, and that is where people can follow along with what you’re doing?
Ashley Walterhouse: I’m just @FitMittenKitchen on Instagram, Fit Mitten Kitchen on Facebook, and then it’s just www.fitmittenkitchen.com.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Ashley, thanks so much for coming on the podcast.
Ashley Walterhouse: Thank you so very much for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks. One more big thank-you to Ashley for coming on the podcast and sharing all about growing Fit Mitten Kitchen through the years, and really pointing out to me just exactly how that mitten analogy works for finding places in Michigan. I feel like I don’t need Google Maps now. I can just point and I would know if I ever wanted to visit Ashley. I would just go to that middle spot of my hand and hold it over the state of Michigan and then drive there. Maybe not. Hey, really appreciate you guys listening to this podcast. It’s a fun thing that we get to do each and every week, and would love to hear from you. If you ever have any feedback, if you have any insight, if you have any guests that you feel like would be really good to have on the podcast, you can just drop us a line at Podcast at foodbloggerpro.com and we will follow up with you. Make your great week. Thanks, guys.