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Welcome to episode 265 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Beth Moncel about adapting and growing her blog over the past five years.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Chelsea Lords about growing her website traffic and building her seven-figure blogging business. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Adapting and Adjusting
We’re so excited to welcome Beth Moncel from Budget Bytes back to the podcast today! She was our 11th guest on the podcast, so we’re excited to catch-up with her in this episode.
While we do talk about the things that successfully help her run her blog in this episode, we also talk about where she has struggled these past few years. Between hiring, listening to her readers, and adapting to drops in traffic, Beth has learned and grown, and we hope that this episode will teach you how you can adjust to changes in your own blogging journey.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How her blog has changed in the past five years
- Why she includes step-by-step photos in her blog posts
- Why her blog is a combination of her love of art and science
- How she dedicates time to learn
- How she grew her team and delegates her work
- How she adapted to her traffic dropping
- What E-A-T means in terms of blogging
- How she helps solve her readers’ problems
- The tools she uses with her team
- How she’s planning ahead to take some time off
- Where she sees herself and her business in the future
- Advice she’d give her past self
- Budget Bytes
- Pinch of Yum
- Pinch of Yum Income Reports
- More info about FIRE
- Mr. Money Mustache
- 011: Making the Leap to Full-Time Blogging with Beth Moncel from Budget Bytes
- Marie Haynes
- Budget Bytes’ About page
- Budget Bytes Meal Plans
- The Intentional Growth Podcast
- Follow Budget Bytes on Instagram
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Alexa Peduzzi: Hello hello and welcome to this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I’m Alexa, and we are so happy that you’ve decided to tune into the show today. Thank you so very much. So, today we’re actually revisiting an interview. It was our 11th interview ever on the Food Blogger Pro podcast with Beth from the very popular food blog, Budget Bytes.
Alexa Peduzzi: And if you’ve never spent any time on Budget Bytes, Beth creates budget friendly recipes on her site, and it’s just a very awesome resource. She has different meal plans, she has an app, she has a team working for her. She kind of does it all. And in this episode, she’ll talk about that, but she’ll also talk about some of the struggles that she’s been facing recently with hiring, with SEO and more.
Alexa Peduzzi: It’s just a really interesting and encouraging episode. Even these really giant bloggers who look like they have it all figured out still have things that they’re working on and still have things that they’re learning every single day. So, I think that’s really encouraging. We hope you find it encouraging as well. So, without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Beth, welcome back to the podcast.
Beth Moncel: Hey, thanks for having me again.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s going to be fun to chat. We’ve been doing a few of these conversations where we revisit old friends. Before we pressed record here I said, it’s like I think of snapshots of time as, I compare them against school. So like high school for us was freshman, sophomore, junior, senior year. And I think about how much changes in a person’s life when you go through high school and I feel like a lot probably also changes in a person’s life for their business.
Bjork Ostrom: And so, if you think back to 2015, September of 2015 was the last time that we chatted, and you were to do an overview, a recap of what life was like at that point, what would be the overview? What was going on there and what was your life like?
Beth Moncel: Well, so that was 2015. I had been blogging for six years at that point. And I had just gotten to the point where I was getting a lot of traffic. Like Google was finally picking me up, SEO was doing good. And it was about a year after I had discovered Pinch of Yum and your income reports, and so I had finally at that point realized how to fully monetize my website.
Beth Moncel: So, everything was going great, but I was at this what now phase of the blog. I’m like, “Do I just keep doing the same thing forever? Now I’ve got some financial freedom that I could expand. What do I do?” And I really didn’t know what to do. At that point it was just, it took everything I had to just keep up with what was happening anyway. So, I was just still figuring it out at that point. I mean, I guess to some degree I still am, but I think-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think everybody can relate to that. And I think it is one of the realities of us committing to being creators and business owners in the world is this need to in some ways consistently reinvent ourselves if we want to continue to evolve the work that we’re doing or the growth for the business or the impact that we’re making.
Bjork Ostrom: And it sounds like for you, you were in that phase. Like you had reached a certain level and had achieved a certain level of success, and then you said, “Okay, now what does it look like to reinvent myself again or not plateau and go to the next level?” Is that a fair assessment of what you were saying?
Beth Moncel: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s especially true in our industry because like you said, you compare to when you’re in school and it seems like so much happens over a three or four year time period. And in blogging it’s the same way because this industry changes so incredibly fast. It’s like every single day there’s something new to learn or some new platform where all of the eyes are going. So, it’s like you’re constantly having to change and adapt. And so, yeah, a lot has happened in the past five years, for sure.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you think of yourself as a creator, so obviously really good at what you do and you have this unique mix of art and science. And maybe as a quick interjection, can you explain a little bit about Budget Bytes and the theme behind it so people can understand what I’m referring to when I talk about that kind of mix between you as a creator, but also enjoying the numbers’ side of things in science and everything that goes into recipes from that angle.
Beth Moncel: Yeah, absolutely. So, I started Budget Bytes like a financial experiment of my own. I was trying to reduce my food costs without really sacrificing the satisfaction or the health element of the food I was eating. And like you said, I’m really into science, I’m really into numbers, but I also really love art and cooking has always been something I enjoy because it combines both of those things.
Beth Moncel: So, this project combined my love for art and creativity of cooking with science and numbers and data. So what I do on the website is I break down the cost of all the recipes and I show how much it costs me so people can see how much different ingredients can really affect the overall cost of the recipe or the cost per serving. And then I also do a step-by-step photos for all of the recipes to help people who have never cooked before so they can get their feet wet without being too intimidated.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s awesome. I feel like it ties into, and I’m scrolling through your website here and I see slow cooker wiping soup, 56 cents per serving. And it’s like, oh my gosh, I’m never going to eat out again.
Beth Moncel: I know. When you realize how cheap it is.
Bjork Ostrom: When you realize how affordable-
Beth Moncel: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: … good food can be. This is maybe a little bit of a weird question, but are you familiar with the FIRE movement, Financial Independence, Retire Early?
Beth Moncel: Oh yeah, totally.
Bjork Ostrom: You do? Okay. Are there some like FIRE people, and to fill that out a little bit, these are people who are very budget conscious and save money as strategically as possible so they can retire in their thirties or forties before you normally would. I feel like they would love a site like yours. Have you noticed any users who fall into that category?
Beth Moncel: You know what, now that you mentioned it, I have not seen anyone mention FIRE in my comments or on social media at all, which does surprise me because it’s totally in line with what I’m doing. I mean, I like the idea of FIRE. There might be more comments on it on someplace like Reddit, which I don’t really hang out there. So maybe people are talking about it there, but not on my website. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, a site that I occasionally will read and not a follower of, but it’s a site called Mr. Money Mustache and he’s one of the thought leaders in that category. And one of the things he often talks about is how you can make great food that’s not expensive. And I feel like Budget Bytes is the ultimate case study of that, where it’s like, “Hey, you can have homemade baked chicken nuggets and it’s 90 cents per serving.” That’s incredible.
Beth Moncel: I do get some referral traffic from that website, now that you mention that.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, do you?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh fine. Okay. Yep. So, here’s a forum and I’m sure that people who are posting-
Beth Moncel: That’s probably where. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: … to that forum will refer to different recipes, so that makes sense. So, you have this mix, the art and science. Do you feel like that also crosses over into the business category? Do you find yourself enjoying the pursuit and learning about these things that in some ways are a requirement or do you feel like it’s a “necessary evil”, so to speak, in order for you to do the thing that you truly love?
Beth Moncel: I think that is probably one of the only things that has kept me doing this for almost 12 years now, is that I have to constantly learn something. Before the blog, the longest I had ever had a job was three years because I would get bored. So, I would just constantly move on to something new because I’m like, “I just have to keep learning.” And having a blog does that. Like I said, every single day, there’s something brand new that you have to dive in to learn about. Even if you don’t become an expert in it, you have to at least know the basics so that you can hire someone who’s an expert in it. So, I love that part of it.
Bjork Ostrom: And that’s actually one of the things that we’re going to touch on or I’d be curious to know is, for you as a creator but also as a business owner, once you did get to that point where you were doing this full-time, you knew that you wanted to continue to grow it, you wanted to invest into it, what did that look like for you to figure out how to not only sustainably create content, but also sustainably carve out time to learn and to make sure that you’re staying on top of trends and things that were changing? How do you balance that from a day-to-day perspective? What does your schedule look like and what advice would you give to people who are also trying to figure that out?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. I think I’m still trying to figure that out and I’m not sure if I’ll ever really be on top of that aspect of it. I will say that learning to delegate pass off some of those responsibilities to other people has definitely been the hardest thing for me in this business. And it’s still something I struggle with, but it’s absolutely important because you cannot do everything. You can’t be an expert in everything. And if you’re going to grow, you have to have people in place that know how to do things that you don’t.
Beth Moncel: So, yeah, that was probably the most important step. And it’s something I’m still really trying to figure out. But that’s what business is. Every day is a different day and you just figure it out as you go.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, five years ago we had a podcast interview and we’ll link to that in the show notes if you want to check that out. At that point, did you have anybody that you’d consider as a part of your team or that was working with you? Or at that point was it really just you showing up every day, producing content and doing everything that went along with that?
Beth Moncel: I’m not sure the exact timeline, but I think at that point I had one person, my social media manager, who I still use today. And I just had her basically just scheduling out things, because you know like Pinterest wants you to pin like 500 times a day, like inhumane amounts of work for different social media platforms. So, she schedules things out for me and stays on top of the best practices and the rules. Because just knowing that stuff is a job in its own. So, she does all that for me.
Beth Moncel: And then I still respond to comments and everything on most of the platforms, because I feel like that’s the only way I stay in touch with my audience to know what they need and want. And it helps me creatively too because I get ideas from them. So, I still do that part myself.
Bjork Ostrom: I’d be interested to hear you talk a little bit about the idea of delegating and building a team. And I think one of the things that happens on the growth trajectory of publishers, especially publishers who they themselves are the content creators. So it’s not like a site that’s spun up that has 10 contributors. This is like you producing content, building a business around that.
Bjork Ostrom: Inevitably what will happen if you have success, you get to this point where early on you’ll have time to dedicate to what you’re doing and you can work to build up the income. As the income builds up, the time and responsibilities don’t go away. So then you have to be strategic about how do you get some of that time back by bringing other people in to help out.
Bjork Ostrom: Have there been things that you have learned along the way in terms of what it looks like to delegate, to bring in a team? I saw that on your about page you have some people who are helping out operations manager, nutritional consultant. Can you talk about the journey in terms of bringing people in to work with you and to work on Budget Bytes?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. First I’m going to say it’s scary. It really is. So, if you are at that point where you need to hire people and it’s scary to you, don’t worry, it’s scary to everybody. Because you’re trusting your baby with somebody. This is your project that you’ve built from the ground up and you have to put it in somebody else’s hands and that can be terrifying. But if you find the right person-
Bjork Ostrom: To dive into that, what were you scared about? Because I can relate to that. And you said, “Oh yeah, right there with you.” For you specifically, what were the elements that were scary about it?
Beth Moncel: It’s just that if someone does something wrong, it can break your entire website and that can make things crash. And as a website owner, you probably know there’s nothing scarier than when your website crashes, which every website crashes at some point. Or when you hire someone to help you out with comments or something, which is a huge time suck and anyone who’s growing a website will probably at some point have to delegate comments to a team member.
Beth Moncel: It’s scary having someone be the voice for you. Unless you know that person really well, you don’t really know what they’re going to say. And I’m sure that’s the same thing with physical businesses. You have a customer service person in a store or a waitress in a restaurant and they’re representing your company. So, it’s just scary knowing if the person you’re hiring is going to be a good representative of you and your company.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And what have you learned about that that has helped you to not be as scared to do that or for that to happen or what has made that not as scary, the things that you’ve learned that have made that not as scary?
Beth Moncel: That when it works out, it’s such a relief. So, you just have to keep that in mind that it’s going to be worth a little bit of work, that it takes to train somebody because once it’s off your plate, you have so much more time either to yourself, if you need that work life balance or to dedicate to another project.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And so, as it stands right now, what are some of the roles that you have on the team that people have taken on and are helping out with?
Beth Moncel: Sure. So, I still have that same social media manager and she schedules everything out for me, lets me know about trends and best practices, all of that. And then my operations manager, Kelly, she helps me with all sorts of customer service things. She helps me answer the comments on the blog, which was just a huge job because we get a lot of traffic, so we get a lot of comments.
Beth Moncel: And then she helps me out the private Facebook group that we have for our meal plan customers. And then just everything in between. Basically anything that I don’t have time for, I can hand off to her as a task. And she’s really familiar with my content, which is so invaluable. And then I… did that we are using part time to help us calculate nutrition data for the website. And then she’s also going to help us create some dietary-specific meal plans in the future.
Beth Moncel: And then I have a marketing director, she’s not on that about page. But she has helped me launch the eCommerce site for our meal plans and helps me get our email marketing situated and optimized and just everything marketing-related. She’s amazing. So, she’s really helped grow the business.
Bjork Ostrom: What was that like to find people to come in and be a part of your team? I think it’s one thing like this hurdle of giving up some of the voice and giving up some of the ability to speak directly to your customers and only you being the person to do that. But then it’s another thing to actually find people who you trust and know that understand what you’re doing and how to speak to people and finding those people who are going to be a good fit. So, how did you go about doing that?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. I just got really lucky. These people just fell into my lap. And I think it’s so important that you find people that you really click with on a personality level, because if you don’t have that, I think you’re going to have a hard time communicating with them or just really working towards the same goals.
Beth Moncel: So, Kelly, how did I find her? I think I had posted a question in a blogging Facebook group about, has anyone ever hired an operations manager, someone just a general manager for your blog. And I wasn’t even really looking at that point. I was just inquiring to see if anyone had someone in that position and how it worked out. And someone sent me a private message and said, “Hey, my friend Kelly used to manage this other really big blog and she’s looking for work.”
Beth Moncel: And so, I contacted her, we had a Skype call or something as an interview and we clicked right away. So, that was really great. And then my marketing director, I think I saw someone recommend her in a Facebook group for something else. I went to her website and like, “Wow, she looks awesome.” And again, we had a little Zoom meeting or something and I’m like, “Yes, I want her to work for me. She’s amazing.”
Bjork Ostrom: Huh. Yeah, that’s awesome.
Beth Moncel: So, I just got really lucky both times for sure.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And obviously there’s something to be said about not only connecting with great people, but I’m assuming another part of it is just being a great business and person to work with and to work for which goes into it. So, yeah, you talked about a few different things. You talked about this idea of a marketing role and then also mentioned meal plans.
Bjork Ostrom: I know you’ve also, since we’ve last talked, have launched an app. What does it look like from a business perspective as you’ve started to think about diversifying the different revenue sources for Budget Bytes and have you learned anything in that process and along the way?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. I actually had to learn that lesson the hard way about diversifying. So, I had been using ads as my sole source of revenue for the life of my blog, up to the point where we had our last podcast interview. It was just like a steady upward track from the time I started my blog, Google was just loving me, loving me, loving me, loving me. I’m like, “Great. This is fantastic. I don’t have anything to worry about.”
Beth Moncel: And then 2018 came along and I get hit with two Google algorithm updates really hard. So, after the two updates, I had lost two thirds of my organic traffic and it was devastating. So, that dropped my-
Bjork Ostrom: Oh my gosh.
Beth Moncel: … Yeah, it dropped my revenue by, at least, half. And so I’m like, “Okay, well now I have to take this seriously. I have to look for other ways to make sure my income is diversified. So, I started thinking about other things and really went from there. I started exploring doing sponsored content a little more because that’s not something I had ever really done. But we’re still trying to find the best path for this business and our audience in particular. Because I think every audience is different, so you really have to feel it out and see what’s going to work best for your business.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Take me back to the Google algorithm update. Another one of the super early conversations that I had was with Elise from Simply Recipes.
Beth Moncel: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: And she talks about going through that process and just what a bummer it is. You do all of this work, at that point for you it’s nine years of content creation, you’re doing everything right. And then there’s this algorithm change. It’s like a switch is flipped and it impacts things so directly. How did you get through that? We’ll talk about the business side, but how did you get through it from the psychological, mental, emotional side?
Beth Moncel: Yeah, it was definitely a ride, let me tell you. But I think the only thing that got me through was having a gratitude mindset. So, every day I’m feeling despair and frustration, but I had to remember that what I was doing is actually helping people. I get the most amazing thank you emails and messages every single day. And just the fact that I get to do something for a living that is impacting people so directly in a positive way is so much more than I could have ever expected my life to be. And that alone is just amazing.
Beth Moncel: So, I can’t be upset because of that. And then even with 50% drop in revenue, I was still comfortable. So I’m like, “Okay, this is fine. I’m thankful for what I have, whether it’s this amount or that amount.” And that’s the only thing that got me through. But it’s frustrating because you don’t know what’s wrong. Google doesn’t tell you. And that was the hardest part for me emotionally was just not knowing.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like tell me and then I’ll fix it.
Beth Moncel: Right. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: This can be really easy, but that doesn’t happen. And a lot of times what will happen with those updates and what’s so scary is there’ll be an update and it’s meant to fix a general issue that is happening, but then it will catch some of these other sites, because it’s an algorithm, it’s not necessarily people that aren’t necessarily supposed to be included in that.
Bjork Ostrom: And you see that happening in countless different examples. So then from a business perspective, obviously it’s like, like you said, it’s not like suddenly you can’t make payments or something because you have this successful side and I’m assuming millions of page views that you’re getting on a monthly basis. So, at that point it’s a question not of like, it’s how many millions of page views versus am I going to be able to make payroll? But still a bummer to process through.
Bjork Ostrom: So then you have to rise up, you have this gratitude mindset. You’re like, “You know what, I still have the successful business. I still have millions of people who are coming and consuming this content and it’s making an impact. And also I want to be strategic and I want to continue to play the game as a business owner. And I want to start adding in, layering in some of these diversification methods to think more strategically, not just about it being ad revenue, which is so directly correlated to traffic.”
Bjork Ostrom: And also probably in terms of the amount that you’re able to get per visit, one of the on the lower end of the spectrum to start to think more strategically and say, “Okay, what would it look like to introduce some other revenue producing streams from the blog like meal plans or an app?” How did you know what to focus on? And if you were to go back and do it again, what are the things that you might do differently?
Beth Moncel: Well, the first thing I had to do was admit to myself that I had to pay attention to SEO.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Beth Moncel: Because until 2018, I had always just been reader first, I’m going to do what the readers are telling me they want. I’m not doing what Google tells me they want, it’s what the readers are telling me they want. And up until that point it had worked great. And then Google was like, “No, we don’t like that.” And so then I had to start considering Google in how I do things with the business.
Bjork Ostrom: And was there something you were able to pinpoint coming out of that that you did change?
Beth Moncel: Yeah, we haven’t recovered fully and I actually have another audit starting this week with Marie Haynes. I’m excited about working with them. But anyway, we haven’t really fully recovered. Maybe only like a third of the way, but one thing that I did do that I think had a huge impact was just before, I think, the second update that hit, I had changed my about page to be more of like a landing, sales page type thing to get subscribers.
Beth Moncel: Because I was doing a blogging mastermind course and they suggested this different format. So, it wasn’t really information about me anymore. It was more just about the website in general and what you can get out of it. And after that second update, I realized that I probably totally squashed my EAT. So, I changed it back to an about page about me with my credentials and my immediate mentions and things like that. And I think that’s where we saw some of the recovery.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that for those who aren’t familiar with that idea of EAT and why it’s important for you as the main voice and creator behind Budget Bytes to have… I look at your featured in section it’s like, oh, all of these different publications you’ve been featured in and where you’ve contributed. What is EAT, and then why did you make that change on your about page?
Beth Moncel: Sure. I’m going to, hopefully I can remember what EAT stands for. I know it’s expertise. A is, what is A? Do you know what A is?
Bjork Ostrom: I’m looking it up right now.
Beth Moncel: And T is Trustworthy.
Bjork Ostrom: Authority, yeah.
Beth Moncel: Authority. Okay. So Expertise Authority and Trustworthy. That’s the T, correct?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Beth Moncel: Okay.
Bjork Ostrom: Trustworthiness, correct.
Beth Moncel: Yeah. So, basically you just need to have your website communicate to the reader that you’re somebody that is giving information that can be trusted. Like you’re an expert in this field, which I hope I am, and that you have authority. And it’s really most important for websites that fall into the your money, your life categories, which are going to be things that deal with your health or your money.
Beth Moncel: And I think I got lumped into that category because I have so much about costs on my page. So, that’s my suspicion. And so I just really needed to communicate like, “Here. This is what I’m doing. I’ve been doing it forever. This is why I calculate my costs this way.” And all these people look to me as an expert in the field. So, that’s what I was trying to do with the about page.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. So the idea of being one of the ways that Google is analyzing whether they should show you a high in search results or not is if you have a certain level of expertise, a certain level of authority and a certain level of trustworthiness. And one of the ideas behind that is on your about page that’s one of the best ways to validate your level of expertise, your level of authority and the fact that you’re a trustworthy source.
Bjork Ostrom: And so, the updates that you made when I look here, guessing the quick info snapshot, who I am, what I’m about, here’s my education, here’s my story of when I started the site, here’s all the different places I’ve been published. Money Magazine, Financial Diet Podcast, The Kitchen, Feedfeed, all of these different examples where you’ve contributed.
Bjork Ostrom: And so, essentially it’s a recap of saying like, “Here’s why I’m an expert and I have authority and you can trust me.”
Beth Moncel: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: And the other interesting thing that you pointed out that’s worth mentioning is this category of your money or your life. And that being a category where it’s like Google wants to make sure that a post that they show high for like, in these examples is a medical-related issue, is from a publication or an author who has high expertise, authority, or trustworthiness. So, somebody isn’t just publishing something so they can show up high in Google, but somebody who actually has that expertise.
Beth Moncel: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: And that’s the interesting thing with looking at your story. It’s like, “Well, obviously you have that. You’ve been doing this for 10 years. Multiple, thousands of hours of time spent into that.” But this one change potentially could have been something that played into that. So, as you’re starting to recover from some of the traffic, one of the things that you’re learning is like, “Hey, I’m going to treat SEO differently and I’m going to be more intentional about this. I’m going to continue to learn about it.”
Beth Moncel: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Is there anything else that you took away from that just from a search and traffic perspective that was important or worth mentioning?
Beth Moncel: No. I think the SEO thing was just so big. I had to learn how to do keyword research. I had never done that a single time in my life. Suddenly I’m like, “Oh, I guess it is important what I title my recipes.” Things like that. So, it’s been a long learning process and I still have a lot to learn, but I realized now it’s important and I can’t just ignore Google, especially since my income depends-
Bjork Ostrom: It also is, when you talk about switching jobs, it is a new job and it’s like suddenly within the same business, you have a new job. And for somebody who has a personality like yours that appreciates that, it allows you to essentially have a new job every couple of years.
Beth Moncel: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: So, as you’re thinking about not only recovering the traffic, thinking about being strategic about looking, analyzing other places to focus on for revenue opportunities, how did you decide like, “Hey, I want to do experiment with an app or meal plans?” Or were there other things that you looked at and decided maybe I’ll pass on that?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. So, most of it is really based on the feedback I get from my readers. So, I mean, people have been asking for an app forever. I’m not sure why, it’s free on the internet, but people like the app format, I guess. So, when the opportunity came along, I decided to jump on it and just test it out.
Beth Moncel: And then the same thing with the meal plans, people have been asking me for meal plans for years. So, I had to start listening to my audience a little bit more and not just doing what I enjoy doing, but I needed to give them the content that they need. So, I had over a thousand recipes on the website, but I realized I needed to start putting these recipes together in a way that made them usable to people. So, that’s how we came up with the meal plans. And we’re going to be doing some other things, hopefully soon, that will just make it easier for people to make use of the content basically.
Beth Moncel: Because, I mean, no one wants to sit on the internet for an hour every night searching for recipes to make. They’re all out there, but it’s like information overwhelmed. So, we have to start organizing and condensing the information into more digestible chunks for people.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it really is. I think that point is an important takeaway just with content in general, but also with things that people would purchase, whether that be a meal plan or something else where I think sometimes we think what our job is, and this is speaking specifically to people who have a food blog or a recipe site of some sorts is like, I just pump out content. My job is continually to find new or trending recipes and publish those.
Bjork Ostrom: But one of the things I’m continually learning and realizing is that our job is also to organize that in a way that makes it as easy as possible to either discover or in a way that solves a certain problem that people might have. And I feel like meal plans does a good job of that, where somebody might have, let’s say, a specific diet that they follow, or maybe it’s, in your case, a certain budget that they’re trying to follow.
Bjork Ostrom: And they would be willing to pay for you to do the work of doing that for them so then they don’t have to go through the process of, like you said, spending three, four hours, but instead paying a certain amount to have somebody else who’s already done that and to do that in a really effective way. What was that like for you to balance the free content that you publish on your blog on a continual basis with the new offerings that you had? Were you publishing less? Were you working more? What was that like?
Beth Moncel: I was definitely working more, which is probably not the right answer. But it was easy for the meal plans because we were actually using content that’s already on the website. We were just offering it in a curated package basically, and in a downloadable form so they didn’t have to see ads to use it.
Beth Moncel: And I think there’s value in that alone. So, all we really had to do was, well, first I had to curate the meal plans, which is utilizing my expertise. I didn’t want to delegate that task to somebody on my team because I wanted to have my stamp, my personality on it because I think that’s what people are going to pay for. And then we had to build out the grocery lists and there’s a whole lot of proofreading putting it into a PDF format and stuff.
Beth Moncel: But since it’s a project that we’re doing on our own and I’m not answering to a publisher or something, I can take as much time as I need. So, if I wanted to really hustle and just put my head down and work non-stop till I got it done, I could do that. Or I could stretch it out if something like a pandemic happens.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Just a for instance.
Beth Moncel: Right. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that’s one of the great benefits of the independence that comes with building your own thing, whether it’s independently producing and publishing a cookbook, or doing meal plans, or on a broader scale, having a business that you bootstrap versus taking investment is you have that freedom and that flexibility to move forward at your own pace. But then also one of the things you lose is somebody setting a deadline and saying, “You need to deliver and ship this.”
Beth Moncel: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: So, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on how you as a business owner, in general, you could use maybe the meal plans as an example, how do you keep yourself accountable to continually showing up every day and doing what you do?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. I do have to set deadlines for myself, otherwise I will just procrastinate and just do the stuff that I enjoy, which is recipe development and photography, and then just slack off on the other stuff. So, I do have a set deadlines and for the last round of meal plans that we launched, I not only set a deadline for myself, but I scheduled a vacation right afterwards-
Bjork Ostrom: Nice. Oh, that’s an interesting little hack.
Beth Moncel: … that I could not, yeah, I couldn’t push it off, right.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, interesting.
Beth Moncel: So, it had to be done. It had to be launched by this date so that I could take a vacation afterwards. And I knew I was going to need it because I was working extra hard while I was finishing up. So, I thought that was a really helpful technique. And I’ll probably use that again in the future.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, I love that. Had you thought of that on your own or had you heard somebody talk about that in terms of a motivator?
Beth Moncel: Yeah, no, I thought of it on my own or it might have been born out of the discussion between me and my therapist.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Beth Moncel: We talk about work-life balance a lot.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. I talk about this with Lindsay, but I feel like people who are, like therapists, as an example, counselors, people who are professionals in helping you understand yourself. I feel like give you incredible tools like that. Tools in your tool belt to help you in a situation where you normally wouldn’t have a tool. And one of the great benefits of having somebody weigh in and say, “I understand what you’re saying, here’s a tool that could potentially help you.” That feels like a really great tool that you’re able to implement. So did it work? Were you able to hit the deadline?
Beth Moncel: Yeah, it did. And it got really close. Because I’m also depending on my team to hit deadlines for things like proofreading and stuff because a lot of times I can’t move on to my next step until they finish their steps. So, it does take some organization and we use Asana to keep on top of tasks. And I really think if you do have a team, even if it’s just one other person, a tool like that is so invaluable.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It was actually going to be one of the questions that I was going to ask you when we were chatting about team. I saw that you’re not a local, so the team’s not all in Nashville.
Beth Moncel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bjork Ostrom: What does that look like in terms of communication and broadly speaking, both for your team and you individually, are there tools and software services that you use that make your work easier to do or that you really rely on and appreciate?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. So, definitely Asana. I love that we can keep track of all of our conversations. And any time we share a link or something, I can always find it again. We tried using, oh, what’s the name of that one service where it’s like chat rooms? Do you know?
Bjork Ostrom: Slack?
Beth Moncel: Yeah, we tried using Slack and I was not digging it. It wasn’t working for my personality, so.
Bjork Ostrom: What didn’t you like about it?
Beth Moncel: I guess I didn’t like the user interface or how things were organized. So the conversation is always there, but I didn’t feel like I could find things as easily as I can in Asana.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s like one giant stream of text versus blocks of texts.
Beth Moncel: Yeah, exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Beth Moncel: Yeah. Organized by task and project, so I need that higher level organization. And then I recently started using Airtable for my production schedule because for the first time in my life, I am working ahead. So I have a month of-
Bjork Ostrom: Nice.
Beth Moncel: … content, which is amazing. And it’s so funny because I think I heard Lindsay say that just before the pandemic. That was the first time she had ever gotten that too.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Beth Moncel: Which is funny. I’m like, “Oh no, I don’t feel so bad for never have done that.”
Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s one of those things where you look at other people and assume, “Oh, everybody has this three month calendar of what they’re doing and producing it two months ahead of time.” Can you talk about what Airtable is?
Beth Moncel: Yes. Okay. So, I’m really loving it because I am a very visual person. So, it’s like a spreadsheet, but more visual. So you can assign things, colors and you can look at things in different views. So like for my production schedule, I can look at my recipes in a list view. I can look at them in a Kanban view. I’m not sure if that’s how you pronounce it, where it’s like stacks of cards that go in different columns.
Beth Moncel: I can look at it in calendar view and you can use all sorts of different types of fields, like a check box selecting an item from a list or a date. So, it’s just so flexible. I absolutely love it. And you can share that with your teams so that everybody can see it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s like a spreadsheet on steroids. It can just do so much and there’s the… I haven’t used it a lot, but I know a lot of people who really like it. So, do you have a goal for how far out you want to be scheduled?
Beth Moncel: So, last year, okay. It’s a little back story. I have really bad seasonal affective disorder. For anybody that doesn’t know what that is, it’s like in the winter time when it’s really dark, my brain just shuts off. Some people get really depressed, but I just get where I zone out. I can’t focus. I can’t work or anything.
Beth Moncel: So last year when I went through it yet again, I was like, “You know what? Next year I’m taking the entire month of November and December off. I’m just going to do it.” So, I’m starting to work ahead now and I’m going to work ahead as much as I can until I get to the end of the year, which will probably take a few months to actually get that much content out. But then once I have it scheduled to the end of the year, I’m going to stop and then pick it back up in January.
Bjork Ostrom: Good for you for doing that. That’s incredible. And I feel extremely self-aware to be able to say this is something that I know historically will have high probability of happening and how do I set myself up for success both within the business and then personally for that as well. Does that correlate to weather, and is it have to do with… Because I think of that as a very common, like in Minnesota especially, it’s like in the dead of winter, you’ll hear a lot of people process through that. Lindsay got one of those artificial lights, not photography artificial lights, but like-
Beth Moncel: Yeah, I got one too.
Bjork Ostrom: … because it’s just so dark all the time.
Beth Moncel: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Does that correlate for you with weather and sun? I’m curious to know what that, just personally, if you’re willing to talk about it.
Beth Moncel: Sure. Yeah, no, I have no problem talking about it. For me it’s a hundred percent the sun. I feel like the sun is what energizes me and just gives me life. So in the winter, not only is it overcast all the time, but it gets dark at 4:00 PM. And when it gets dark out, I’m like, “Okay, I’m ready to be in my pajamas. I’m going to bed.”
Bjork Ostrom: Would you do any type of trip at that time? Like go somewhere else where there would be more sun? And the reason that I ask is because we’ve talked about like, “Hey, what would it be like in January or February for us to be in Austin for a month just to-”
Beth Moncel: Yeah, totally.
Bjork Ostrom: “… escape the Minnesota cold?” Is that something you think you would do?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. If COVID’s gone by then I will totally do that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I suppose.
Beth Moncel: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: I forgot about that. I forgot about the global pandemic.
Beth Moncel: I know. It’s easy to forget about it, isn’t it? Especially when your life is already like social isolation.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. Cool. So, when you think about, we had a conversation five years ago and you had made this big transition continuing to build on that, building a team, you’re diversifying, you’re also, I feel like, along the way, not only thinking about how do I set this business up for success, how do I set myself up for success? I feel like that last story you shared is a great example of that.
Bjork Ostrom: This is a big question but when you think about, let’s say we do another podcast episode in five years, do you have thoughts on where you are hoping to be and build the things towards or would it be helpful to bring that question back like two years from now or one year from now? How far out can you see and what do you envision that being, I guess is maybe the question?
Beth Moncel: The honest answer I think would disappoint a lot of people, but it’s, I hope to be retired by that point.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You’re FIRE. That’s FIRE.
Beth Moncel: Yeah, it is. And yeah, even before that acronym came along, I knew I wanted to be retired. I want to have the freedom to live my life without being in front of an audience. I love what I do, but I never wanted to be a social media influencer or famous in any sort of way. It’s just not my personality. I’m extremely private and introverted. So, that part of the job really, really taxes me. And I don’t think it’s good for my mental health. So, I hope that at some point I can retire and just have my life back to myself.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think there’s so many people who will hear that and be like, “Oh my gosh, I get it.”
Beth Moncel: I hope so.
Bjork Ostrom: And if not all of it, maybe just a sliver of it. And to understand there is an inherent pressure and weight and difficulty that comes with doing what you do. And it’s even different than I do this podcast, but Food Blogger Pro and the things that I do is very different than what Lindsay does or what you do. And the volume at which you’re speaking to people it’s hard.
Bjork Ostrom: And especially for somebody as you’re saying, would trend towards being somebody who wouldn’t naturally want to do that. I feel like it’s super interesting for me to explore that. Can you talk more about what that looks like?
Beth Moncel: Sure.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you imagine at some point taking Budget Bytes and bringing in somebody who would manage it, you’d still own it or do you imagine building it into an asset that someday you’d be able to sell and to exit and then to live off of that money? Or what does that look like? I’m curious to know.
Beth Moncel: So, yeah. So, maybe a year ago I was just so exhausted from it all that I was just like, “I’m just going to let this slide and shrink into oblivion because I just can’t handle it anymore.”
Bjork Ostrom: Totally.
Beth Moncel: I’m just overwhelmed. I’m going to just ride out on the residual income until it disappears. And I was like, “well, wait a second. If I’m just going to stop paying attention to this and stop putting effort in, I might as well hire somebody who will put effort into it. Right? And manage it,” kind of like you’re saying. So my short term goal is to move into a role that’s like a newspaper or magazine editor where I have people doing the work but I’m directing them. So, I’m like the creative director, it’s still going to have my voice, my stamp of approval, but they will be doing work for me so I can relax a little bit and I don’t have to deal with hundreds of thousands of personalities on a daily basis on social media. And then long term, I would like to sell the brand.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yep. And I think some of the things that you are doing right now set you up for that, like diversifying the income and building a team who understands that. One of my good friends here in the Twin Cities has a podcast that used to be called Life After Business. And he did the podcast for five years and he just rebranded it to call it the Intentional Growth podcast.
Bjork Ostrom: But it’s one of the things that he, I would say, every third episode, he would talk about this idea of entrepreneurial burnout and people who’d get to a point where they just are so burnt out that they… It was like exactly what you have just said. And he said it’s so hard to hear because the business itself has this inherent value. And I think what you’re doing is so smart because recognizing that, capturing that, building a little system around that at a point where you still do have some energy, some excitement, some interest in it and knowing that that time might come.
Bjork Ostrom: And so, if there’s a takeaway for people who are listening, even if you’re in the middle of your journey and you’re thinking, “I can’t ever imagine burning out, or getting to the end, or not enjoying what I’m doing.” I think there is deep wisdom in building a system in a way that allows you to, whether it be, be involved but in a sustainable way for a long period of time, or if the right opportunity comes to have somebody that comes and says, “Hey, I would love to purchase this valuable thing that you’ve built to have it be set up in a way that allows you to do that.”
Bjork Ostrom: Which I think is so wise that you’re thinking of doing that. So, Beth, let’s ask this question as we’re coming to the end. Let’s say you go back and instead of me interviewing you five years ago, September, 2015, it’s actually future you. Let’s say we have a time machine. You get on that call and you’re like, “Hey Bjork.” And then instead of somebody saying, “Hey Beth, it’s Bjork,” it’s actually you saying, “Hey Beth, it’s Beth from the future.”
Bjork Ostrom: We have five minutes. What advice do you give your past self from five years ago in that little block of time?
Beth Moncel: Oh man, but I don’t have the wisdom that I’m going to have in the future.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, assuming you do. That’s a very good question. So, assuming you know what you know now, what advice would you give?
Beth Moncel: Oh, wait. What advice would I give my five years ago self now or?
Bjork Ostrom: Yes.
Beth Moncel: Oh, I’m so confused.
Bjork Ostrom: It was a super weird way to set up that question. Most simply put, here’s what I was asking. In my mind, I just loved the idea of you getting on a call and then it being you from the future on the other end.
Beth Moncel: Yeah, I love that too.
Bjork Ostrom: Here’s essentially what I’m asking. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your past self from five years ago?
Beth Moncel: Oh, okay. Okay. That’s what I thought. All right. So, pay less attention to what you want to do, pay more attention to what your readers want and be less fearful and take more risks. And especially in the area of hiring people. I think that just really held me back.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. So essentially building a team and thinking about how to bring people around you sooner and not waiting as long around that. And then what was the first part that you said? Oh, pay attention to what your readers want versus just what you want.
Beth Moncel: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: You had touched on that earlier talking about being involved with the comments and interacting with people. Can you share just briefly about what that looks like and how you integrate that into your content creation process? How do you source that information from readers?
Beth Moncel: Yeah. Well, I mean, you get so much feedback and comments. Like what ingredients people are not enjoying or are hard to find so you know not to use those in future recipes. People constantly ask for substitution ideas. Like I already know at this point when I’m writing a recipe what substitutions people are going to ask for. So, I can just include that in the content already.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s right.
Beth Moncel: And then people, I mean, it’s like a hive mind. People have the greatest ideas for ways to change recipes or ways to serve recipes that I would never have thought of. So, it’s a great just creative cauldron.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. That’s great. Beth, it’s been so great to connect and we just have so much respect for what you’ve done through the years and continue to do. And it’s really hard to show up every day and you’ve done it for 11 years. And it’s always fun for me to talk to people who have been blogging and creating content for longer than Pinch of Yum. And it feels like that… 2006, I just talked to my friend Bruno, who has a site called Curbly. He started it in 2006.
Beth Moncel: Wow.
Bjork Ostrom: 2006 to 2010 range was really, really early blogging.
Beth Moncel: Yeah, we’re the OGs.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. And I just have so much respect for people who have continued to do that for a long period of time. And I appreciate you sharing your wisdom and insight, both personally, and the things you’ve learned both personally and within your business as well.
Beth Moncel: Thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: So, if people want to follow along, if they want to see what you’re up to, follow you on social media, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Beth Moncel: Instagram is probably the best. It’s just @BudgetBytes. That’s where I spend most of my time on social media, although lately I’m trying to really limit that to once a day. Or just go to the blog and sign up for our newsletter. We send out a newsletter every week with the newest content and stuff that’s trending, so that’s a great way as well.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. That’s so great. And if anybody is a part of the FIRE movement trying to retire early, there’s some great recipes that you can use that are healthy, tasty, and very affordable. You’ve done a great job building what you’ve built, Beth, and it’s been fun for us to watch along the way. So, thanks for coming on the podcast.
Beth Moncel: Thank you so much for having me and I really love watching what you guys have done over the years too. So, it’s good to talk to you.
Alexa Peduzzi: And that’s a wrap on this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Thanks for tuning in today. If you have any thoughts or takeaways from this episode, we would love to hear them in the comment section of the show notes of this episode. You can find them at foodbloggerpro.com/265.
Alexa Peduzzi: And we would just love to hear from you. There were also a lot of resources mentioned in this episode. So, if you want to find the full list of them, you can find them again on our show notes at foodbloggerpro.com/265.
Alexa Peduzzi: We appreciate you being here so much. This podcast is constantly one of the biggest sources of joy for us here on the Food Blogger Pro team. And we’re just so thrilled and honored that you decided to tune in today. So, thank you so very much, and we’ll see you next time. Make it a great week.
This was just so wonderfully reassuring to read! I look at sites like Pinch of Yum and Budget Bytes and think, if only I had their level of traffic and didn’t have to always be worrying about drops – but of course it happens to everyone, and hearing how Beth went through it and persevered is really inspirational. So, thank you! 🙂
So so happy to hear that, Kate! It was so awesome to hear more of Beth’s story. 😊
This was such a great episode – appreciated the honesty around the time it can take to build something so impactful. Super interesting and helpful conversation. Thank you!
So glad to hear this episode resonated with you, April!