Welcome to episode 293 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Brett Lindenberg about growing his site, Food Truck Empire, alongside working a full-time job.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Adii Pienaar about his new book, “Life Profitability.” To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
A $100k Side Hustle
It can be tough building and growing a side hustle like a blog alongside working a 9–5 full-time job. So when we heard that Food Blogger Pro Member, Brett from the site Food Truck Empire, was making $100k a year with his blog while continuing to work at his full-time job, we knew we needed to invite him on the podcast to talk about how he did it.
This interview is jam-packed with keyword research guidance, tips about working with contractors, stories about buying other sites, and advice surrounding content creation. Enjoy!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- When he realized a website could make money
- How he decided to build a site around the topic of food trucks
- Why he works full-time and balances a blog
- What it looks like to work with contractors
- Why he bought other sites
- How switching ad companies helped his site’s bottom line
- The decisions that were most impactful to his blog’s income
- How he build and sold a course
- How he does keyword research and thinks in “content types”
- Food Truck Empire
- 053: Pat Flynn’s Tips for Building Online Businesses That Fly
- Food Truck Empire’s Marketplace
- WP Tasty
- 097: How to Create a Full-Time Income from Blogging Using The Egg Carton Method with Bjork Ostrom
- Mr. Beast
- Connect with Brett via email
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].Learn more about joining the Food Blogger Pro community!
Transcript (click to expand):
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there and welcome to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. My name is Alexa, and we’re so excited that you’re today because we have a really exciting episode. So, this episode actually came out of a live Q&A. So, on Food Blogger Pro, for our Food Blogger Pro members, we have a live Q&A every single month. In those, Bjork or sometimes we have a special guest will come on and answer our members’ questions live, and they’re so much fun, and sometimes they focus on a specific topic. A couple of months ago, we had a live Q&A that focused on blogging alongside a full-time job. So, how do you balance the two? How do you grow your blog and stay up-to-date with all of your full-time job commitments as well.
Alexa Peduzzi: In that live Q&A, our interviewee today, Brett, mentioned that he actually still works a full-time job and he makes over $100,000 a year on his side hustle on his food blog. So, we knew that this was going to be a great interview, and I feel like there are just a ton of great takeaways that Brett shares in this episode. I think, for example, I think one of the ways that he talks about viewing content creation is just really helpful and hopefully will give you some ideas to build out your content on your own site. So, I really love this episode. Excited to jump in. Without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Brett, welcome to the podcast.
Brett Linderberg: Thanks for having me, Bjork. Awesome to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: This will be a fun interview. We’ve already made the connection that you grew up in Minnesota. I feel like you talked about where you grew up. I didn’t know where it was. I feel like anytime that somebody is from the same state, you should know all the cities in the state, but I don’t. So, you’re small town USA Minnesota, then Twin Cities. You said California, Idaho, and all along the way, at least with some of those moves, you’ve been working a full-time job, and then also building a really successful side hustle, which is what we’re going to talk about today. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey? You can touch on what you do for work and then also talk about your blog and how it got started and the focus on food trucks?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah, I mean, I would say one of the things that led me down the path of even starting a blog, I’d have to say right after I graduated from college, University of North Dakota, baby.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice.
Brett Linderberg: I basically moved, essentially, because I didn’t really have any actual job prospects or anything like that. Moved out to the LA area, to Anaheim, actually, and ended up just getting a job out there. I just, by chance, ended up getting hired by an SEO company as a contract writer.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, interesting. Huh.
Brett Linderberg: So, that got me introduced to, “Oh, there’s websites and this is how they make money,” and that sort of things. That I would say was the beginning of just me being aware of it.
Bjork Ostrom: What did you study in school?
Brett Linderberg: Journalism.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. So, you were a writer. So, you’re familiar with that.
Brett Linderberg: So, I thought, “Oh, yeah, I’ll work in a newspaper or magazine or something like that.” Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: You connected with this company and they’re like, “Hey, you can write content,” but it wasn’t just writing content. It was writing content with a search angle to it. At that point, you’re like, “Wait a minute. There’s these websites who are trying to rank high in order to create an income and made the connection.” What year was that where you started to realize this is an industry that exists?
Brett Linderberg: I mean, I realized that it was an opportunity right away because I was … Even at high school, I made websites about stuff. I was just always interested in it, but I never made an actual connection that, “Oh, you could turn this into a business or anything like that.” So, it was almost like … I remember within two weeks of getting the job being like, “This is it to get on Google.” Obviously, it’s oversimplified, but you just write the word that you want to rank for and write a paper. You’ve got it and that’s it, right? It’s just mind-blowing, especially in 2007. It’s totally different.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Now, it’s not quite as easy as it was, yeah, 10 years ago.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. I think back to my relationship with tech and always been interested in tech. I remember my brother started a window washing business called We Wash Windows, and I was like, “Hey, I want to create the site for you.” I’d always been interested in it. At some point, you realize, “Oh, it’s not just tech and gadgets for the sake of tech and gadgets. It can be building an income or a career or a business. I would imagine at that point you’re like, ”Wait. So, you can create content that people find on Google, so you’re not paying for it,” and you’re seeing that happen. What were the type of companies that you’re working with? Was there a specific industry or was it a broad reach in terms of what these companies were?
Brett Linderberg: Anyone that could sign up. I mean, I was able to switch myself into an SEO guy position a few months after working there, but, I mean, I remember right away it was like, “Write these 10 articles about rain gutters,” and I just was being like, “Maybe this was not a good career decision after all.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Totally. Just like drinking so much coffee to try and get yourself-
Brett Linderberg: Yeah, yeah. I was so hopeful two months ago before I graduated.
Bjork Ostrom: So, that’s probably to contrast, though, the site that you started because my guess is that’s an area of interest, started with food trucks and you shifted. So, at what point along the lines did you start that? Can you talk a little bit about what that is and did you start it with the intent of, “Hey, I want to make money from this”?
Brett Linderberg: It did. It was definitely always a goals to create a website that was profitable. I would say even before this one, just, like I said, being aware of it. I started three or four probably different websites across different topics that you look back and you’re like, “That was a really, really terrible idea,” but you learn how to make an email list and you start learning all these different steps, and building a blog and that sort of thing.
Brett Linderberg: So, I would say, eventually, I tried a few things. None of them really worked out or became successes, and I was just looking around for business ideas, in general, not even internet wise. It was just, “What’s something that I could start on the side and maybe work on the weekends and keep my job, but then start a business, too?” That’s when the food truck phrase was popping up.
Brett Linderberg: So, I was like, “Huh, this is an interesting business.” All the big events are on the weekends, so it’s logically when you make the most money. So, I was like, “Okay. Let’s look into this.”
Brett Linderberg: Obviously, everybody goes to Google and you start typing in stuff and learn about it. At the time, it was maybe a few general articles on entrepreneur.com.
Bjork Ostrom: There wasn’t really a specialty for it.
Brett Linderberg: It’s superficial, yeah. That’s all there was. So, I was just like, “Okay. This could be the opportunity to publish some content about it.” I was thinking, “Oh, maybe I could be the Pat Flynn guy for food trucks and document my journey,” and that sort of thing. So, that’s basically how the food truck site started.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. So, Pat, who’s been on the podcast before, we’ll link to at the show notes, I don’t know what episode it was, but talked about his journey building his businesses and was really transparent in it. Pinch of Yum, with our journey, we’re like, “Hey, this makes a lot of sense. Let’s talk about this as it relates for food blog, building that up.” Other businesses like in the SaaS world, software as a service, Baremetrics is an example of one on the business side who’s been really transparent on how they build … Buffer is another example.
Bjork Ostrom: So, these different companies and these different people who have said, “Hey, we’re going to transparently build a business.” ConvertKit email company talks about building the open or build transparently or something like that. So, you’re taking this concept and saying, “Hey, what does it look like to talk transparently about what it looks like to run a food truck?” and that would obviously be interesting to people who also have food trucks.
Bjork Ostrom: So, for you, was it like, “Hey, I know there’s this wave of food trucks and a lot of people are interested in it, and I’m going to see if I can ride that,” or was it more like, “Hey, I’m super passionate about this, so I’m going to create content about it,” or had you, after all your time writing rain gutter articles, been like, “Even if I just have a little bit of passion, I know how to get through this and write content”? Where did that land for you?
Brett Linderberg: For me, I would say I’m passionate about business and business topics. So, for me, it’s like I can be passionate about restaurant business to internet business, just any kind of learning in that area I’m really good about, but it didn’t feel like I want to … I never felt like I wanted to be a general business blogger just because there’s so many of those already. I mean, I would never attempt to start something like that. So, I guess I find passion from the business angle.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Yup.
Brett Linderberg: Same with talking with food truck owners, right? Most of them are really scrappy entrepreneurial type guys, bootstrapped. So, I really, really resonate with that, too.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally. That makes sense. So, the site is Food Truck Empire. You launched in 2014, and you’re like, “Hey, no. I’m actually going to stick with this.” You had a few other ideas that maybe you got into and fizzled on a little bit. How did you know that it was one that you’re going to stick with and that you … Was it attraction-related? Was it early successes or was it just like, “Hey, I’ve fizzled on these other ideas. I’m just going to stick with this until it works,” kind of just grit?
Brett Linderberg: I would say it’s much closer to the latter. Yeah. I would say, especially in the beginning, I just wanted to be like a website guy. You know what I mean?
Bjork Ostrom: Totally.
Brett Linderberg: I got into blog, and I just didn’t have any other ideas. So, it was just like I felt like if I quit trying, it would be really depressing, and I just keep sitting around working my job. So, it’s almost like, I don’t know, I’m just going to go ahead with this and we’ll just see what happens and, hopefully, the market is big enough and I can course correct and try some different things along the way and, hopefully, something will work out eventually. That’s really what it was, yeah, that early success having some big vision.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We buried the lead a little bit with it because it came up when we were having a conversation and you … It was in Food Blogger Pro. We had a live Q&A, and the focus was working on your site while having a full-time job. So, you have a full-time job, you’re working in building your site, but the thing is you’re making, last year, over $100,000 from your site, which you shared in the chat, and Alexa, who is a general manager of Food Blogger Pro, was like, “Wait a minute. That’s a great story. We got to tell that on the podcast.”
Bjork Ostrom: You continue to work your full-time job. We were chatting about the reason behind that before, but talk a little bit about that because that’s a very substantial income that you’re earning from your site while also working your full-time job balancing everything that comes along with it. What’s the reason for that, and do you think you’ll ever make the leaps focusing on the site full-time?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. That’s a good question. We talked about this a little bit pre-call, too. If I was 27 and fast forward now, I’m 38, I’ve got two kids, we’ve got a house, got a wife. My wife stays at home with the kids, all that sort of thing. 10 years ago, especially thinking about the jobs that I was working at the time, I absolutely would have put my job if I was in the position that I am now. No brainer, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, and I just would do this full-time.
Brett Linderberg: Just do the life, I guess time with my life that I’m in right now. It’s like, I don’t know, I’ve got to be a bit responsible, keep the bills paid. COVID happened last year, there’s a big dip just for a couple of months in ad spend and things like that, but it definitely makes it easier when you’ve got a job, obviously, to give you that consistent income.
Brett Linderberg: Also, too, I would say for me right now, I have three full-time contractors that work in the Philippines for me. I’ve got another guy in the United States that writes part-time for me, and I don’t do any technical WordPress stuff. I’m not really super technical or anything like that. So, I guess for me right now, I’d rather just invest in the things that I don’t want to do and pay other people to do it versus quit my job and then be like, “Oh.”
Bjork Ostrom: Do all those things.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I don’t have the money now to, yeah, hire the WordPress guy to redo my site or something like that. So, that’s the main reason why, I guess. Then last year, too, I bought two different websites also. One of them, I think, that will help me a lot this year, too, just build up a larger audience and grow, too. So, I mean, if I didn’t keep my job, I just wouldn’t be able to do all that stuff, too.
Brett Linderberg: So, for right now, that’s where it’s at. Obviously, I would say it feels good just from even a working standpoint to be like, “Oh, if I get laid off,” which we’re in a time period where anybody can get laid off almost anytime, “just I know what I would do.” You know what I mean?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally.
Brett Linderberg: The next day, it would be like, “Okay. This sucks, but I know what I’m doing.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally.
Brett Linderberg: I’m not wandering around. So, that’s why I’ve made that decision for right now. In the future, I do, long-term, see myself as owning a business and being more independent.
Bjork Ostrom: I love that. I think what I really like about that is it just seems really methodical, smart, well-thought out. I think sometimes what can happen is I think we equate business to burn all the bridges, take all the risks, business is risk. So often, I don’t see that happening, and I think having calm mind, not having stress allows you to be better at businessing. If you’re not stressed about whatever it might be, paying the mortgage, a dip because of a global pandemic, that allows you to have a more stable, successful business, which I think in the long run is a better thing.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s a couple different things that I want to pull out from there that I thought were really interesting, and I’m guessing other folks would be interested in now or as well. One of the things I’m just curious about real quick is, are you still doing journalism writing type work for your full-time gig? What is your focus right now in terms of day job?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. It’s actually interesting. I reposition myself early in my career as an SEO guy. So, that’s, honestly, what I do in my day job is pretty much what I do for my blogs. I do online marketing strategy, actually, for a company in the Twin Cities.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, nice. Can you share the name of the company or would you not want to share?
Brett Linderberg: I mean, you could look at my LinkedIn.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ll say that. We’ll say that. That would be the easiest way to do it. Got it. That’s awesome. So, there’s some overlap there, too, which I think is a really important takeaway. One of the ways that I first cut my teeth with web design strategy, email marketing was at the nonprofit that I was at. One of the things I talk about occasionally on the podcast is, “Hey, if you’re in the position to get a position in your area of interest, do whatever you can do to that because not only are you going to be able to have the stability of your job, but it’s like on-the-job training.” So, you’re staying sharp, you’re getting knowledge in an area that you’re interested, that maybe you want to apply with the stuff that you’re working on and focusing on.
Bjork Ostrom: It looks like that really exists for you where the stuff that you’re doing for your day job you’re able to apply for your site as you’re building it. I think, I don’t know, do we say foodtruckempire.com is the name of the site? I don’t remember if we said that or not. So, you’re able to apply that to Food Truck Empire as you’re working on these other businesses, so I think that’s great.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things you mentioned was working with contractors in the Philippines. Can you talk about what they’re doing for the site and how you found those people to partner with?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I mean, the ones I’ve found are from … It’s called an onlinejobs.ph. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that site or not, but-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I’ve heard of it. I’ve heard some people. We’ve never used it, but-
Brett Linderberg: So, basically, the nice thing about it is I think you can pay 75 bucks a month and then you can put out your job applications, and then once that … You can put it up for literally one month and then you can cancel if you don’t need to hire anyone or you filled the position. So, basically, what I have them doing is on the site there is a, I guess, it’s mostly all around content. So, they’ll start out some content types. There’s some that they’ll do, and then there’s some that either all write or the guy that works for me part-time in the US will write, but essentially, they’ll do that, and then I’ve also got some things like there’s a marketplace on the food truck site where people can list their units for sale.
Brett Linderberg: So, they do that stuff, too, because listing a unit for sale, for example, you got to get pictures, you got get a description, you got to get your telephone numbers there, that sort of thing. So, I would say to sum it up, it’s time-consuming routine tasks.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. You have a process for it and the process can be followed.
Brett Linderberg: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: It can’t be automated entirely, but you can teach it to somebody, and they can go in and they can say, “Okay. There’s a new truck.” So, this is a truck that needs to be listed, somebody selling it, maybe they’re winding down the business. You have a marketplace like eBay for food trucks. You can’t eBay a food truck, so then where do you go? You go to your site to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that, well, before I get to that, the other thing you had said, before we get too far away from it, is you bought a couple other sites. Can you talk about what that process was like and your thinking behind that?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. The way I bought them was weird. One was actually the main competitor, I would say, of mine when I started out. It was a website called mobile-cuisine.com. They were also in the food truck space. There’s a few … So, I just had noticed later in the last year that he hadn’t posted for a while. I was like, “Hey, you want to sell your site?” A few days later, he comes back like, “Yup.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a great negotiation.
Brett Linderberg: So good deal. We just worked out the deal. Yeah. We found out how much it was making and we just came to an agreement and did it that way. So, that was the first site. So, he was actually the guy that was the author of the Food Truck for Dummies book-
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, interesting.
Brett Linderberg: … that own that blog. So, I mean, I knew about the blog for a long time. I knew it had good contents. I knew it had good links, that sort of thing. So, I wasn’t worried or concerned about anything like that. So, that made it, I don’t know, a pretty easy purchase for me versus buying something that we hadn’t a big history with.
Brett Linderberg: Also, obviously, too, I’ve already got an email list set up on the topic of food trucks, so I can just plug it into this one. So, just, yeah, it just made a lot of sense. Then I got another one, too. It’s the same deal. It was a smaller site, but it’s called gredio.com. I’m not really, mainly, I just used it to pull content from because the writer was really good, but he also had built a food business, but more of a … He built a mustard business, and he did a really good job documenting the process. He wrote a few books on the subject that all came with the website site, too.
Bjork Ostrom: Mustard business like literally selling mustard?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. That’s literally what it was, yeah, jarring mustards, selling it online and in farmers’ markets and all over the place. So, he knew about co-packing and he had all these different guides that were, I guess, behind a paywall. So, he had hundreds and hundreds of pages of really good content, but he never really pushed it forward into the world. So, I basically just bought that from him as well. That, obviously, helped with the content, too, on the side as well.
Bjork Ostrom: So, with that, you’re taking that content and bringing it into Food Truck Empire?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah, updating it.
Bjork Ostrom: Then doing a redirect from the previous page to now Food Truck Empire. Got it. So, it was probably beneficial from a revenue perspective because there’s traffic. Traffic can equate to revenue. How do you go about … You don’t have to share what those acquisition prices were, but how do you go about valuing a company in that regard? If somebody is interested in buying a site, do you have any advice for negotiating what advice to come up with?
Brett Linderberg: Not really. I mean, the only thing just reading online and seeing, “Oh, an average website value is 25 to 30 times monthly earnings,” and just going with the ballpark from there. I did, like with the Mobile Cuisine site, I definitely overpaid from-
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, because you knew it was going to be … It’s almost like a strategic acquisition.
Brett Linderberg: Exactly. I mean, you know how it is, too, with if you have a site on AdSense and then you move it to AdThrive. It’s just going to be a difference. You know what I mean?
Bjork Ostrom: Advertising arbitrage. You’re able to three to four x your earnings, yeah.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: In some circles that I’m connected with, there’s people who that’s all that they’re doing is they’re going out and looking for relatively high traffic sites who are running ad sense, Google AdSense, which is they know that they can purchase that site and maybe pay market rate based on … This is going to get complicated for anybody listening, but market rate based on IBITDA, which is a complicated word for a section like-
Brett Linderberg: I don’t even understand it either, by the way.
Bjork Ostrom: … which is a complicated word for how much money you have after you pay your expenses, essentially. So, if a site is making $1,000 and let’s say they pay $200 a month for hosting an email, you’d make 800, but to your point, these people and you knew that, “Hey, if it’s making, simple math, $100 from AdSense, you pay,” like you said, “30x based on that.” So, essentially, it’s two to three years of earnings. So, let’s say you pay $3,000 for a site that’s earning $100 a month. You know that you can turn AdThrive on and then suddenly with AdThrive on, you’re able to or MediaVine or whatever the ad optimization company might be, you’re able to multiply that earning in a pretty substantial way just through the fact that you’ve switched out to a more optimized type of ad network, at least for a food type of content.
Bjork Ostrom: So, love that as a strategy and love that idea of advertising arbitrage and going after it in that way, and a super, super smart thing that I see people doing. So, a lot of cool things along the way. Before we hit record, you said you actually pulled out the earnings of the site through the years and you actually notated it and said, “Here are the times along the way that I introduced something new,” maybe it was a new product or a marketplace or maybe it’s acquiring these sites, whatever it might be, that had a significant boost in your revenue. I think this is going to be really eyeopening for people to hear that, and to talk through the things that were most impactful along the way. So, can you break that down for us?
Brett Linderberg: Yup. Yeah. Totally. So, yeah, I’ll go through, again, started in 2014 and now we’re in 2021, I guess, just early ’21. So, in 2014, zero dollars.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice.
Brett Linderberg: Actually, I don’t know what the expenses were for then, but-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, negative dollars.
Brett Linderberg: … for whatever the hosting and the domain fee was and that sort of thing. So, 2014, nothing happened. I would say if you are just starting a new blog, too, that’s probably … You might beat me your first year, but probably not by too many thousand dollars. It would be my guess and that’s okay.
Brett Linderberg: So, 2015, 2015, this is the case study when you say you’re like, whatever, 1,000x to your first revenue.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right, right. 10,000% growth.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. So, 2015, I made $2,300 for a full year.
Bjork Ostrom: For a perspective, in 2014, it was the beginning of the year that you started.
Brett Linderberg: So, yeah. That’s a good point. I didn’t start at the beginning of the year in 2014, but I would say it was definitely a solid half year of having it up. So, 2015, through the entire year, $2,300, and that was made up with a combination of AdSense, the revenue, clicks from that, and then also I had put out … So, I’d say it was half AdSense and then the other half was I put out this premium listing that you could buy from me.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Brett Linderberg: So, I made a food truck builder, basically, page. I said, “Hey, if you want to be listed as a premium vendor, it’s 297.” I think four people signed up over the course of the year. So, that’s how that came about.
Bjork Ostrom: Premium vendor, meaning like somebody who makes a heating unit for a food truck or something like that, anybody who has a business in the food truck world?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. Basically, the guys that make the food trucks and install the equipment and things like that. Yup. That’s what it was built around. So, yeah, that was 2,300. That was 2015. So, 2016, had another leap to … That one went up to 15,400. So, a little over 10,000 bucks between 2015 and 2016.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s the point where you’re starting to think, “Okay. This is a mortgage payment. This is significant,” and for you, you’re probably starting to think, “This is something that I can … If I can go from 2,000 to 15,000 and then if I can go from 15,000, if I double that …” you can start to play the math game a little bit at that point.
Brett Linderberg: Yup. Yeah. Absolutely.
Bjork Ostrom: That was made up of what then at that point?
Brett Linderberg: So, what got that up really was I worked out a deal with one of the food truck vendors directly that had been one of these premium suppliers, and I said, “Hey, I’m starting to get some leads to the site. Can I refer people over to you? I’ll add a banner ad.” It was like a custom advertising deal for this company. They were just like, “Yeah, sure. Let’s give it a shot,” sort of thing.
Brett Linderberg: So, that was a big chunk of the improvement, and then I also launched, which isn’t a huge deal on a monthly basis, but I launched a food truck ebook, too, for $14 a piece. So, it’s a very low-ticket item thing. So, that snowballed on the previous year, right? So, AdSense revenue goes up a little bit. Get this advertiser that you’re working with and then you add on a product, just a low little product, and that was it.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s something where, in terms of the, it’s different than ads where if you get one visit and the average impression you get a cent from that or whatever it might be. Suddenly, if you get somebody who lands on the sales page for that and it converts at 1% to 2%, you can start to play the number game a little bit and think like, “Okay. This can add up if we can get enough quality leads,” meaning, people who are interested at visiting this page, and suddenly, it becomes more valuable than just the ad impression that you’d get. So, that was 2016.
Brett Linderberg: Totally. So, yeah, 2016, moving on to 2017. That was another big leap, too, actually. So, 2016 to 2017, $32,400.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice.
Brett Linderberg: So, basically, double between 2016 and 2017, but the reason and I think this is an important one, the reason wasn’t really because of traffic, and it wasn’t because of the ebook or more AdSense clicks or anything like that. Basically, that was the year that I launched a food truck course for the first time.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Brett Linderberg: So, basically, it was an eight-week course and I’m not a food truck owner, so I partnered up with somebody that actually operates a food truck, who owns a food truck, that sort of thing. I acted as the organizer slash emcee of the class, and then the expert taught everybody. So, that was a $297 course. So, obviously, you get a lot more results that way with financial income versus a $14 product. So, that really was that thing that made the difference in revenue.
Bjork Ostrom: If you didn’t have that, it would have been the same as the year before, but you added another product and, yeah. With that, did you do a big launch or was it marketing to people as they signed up for the email list? What was your strategy with the course and does that look the same now?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I mean, it is almost essentially the same. One thing that’s … So, I guess the main way to market at email, which most courses that’s pretty much how you market it, and then the way we did it was live on YouTube Live. It might have been called something different at the time, but, basically, YouTube Live. So, it’s almost just running a college class, PowerPoint, face-to-face just like we’re doing now. Then we take people through our curriculum, each week discuss a different topic, and then at the end, basically, the goal is for folks to complete a business plan for their food truck, submit it, and then have it reviewed by a food truck owner, and then you get feedback on that during the last class.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, awesome, yeah, which is really valuable.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally. We run that class one time per year. Next month, we’ll actually run it again. So, it’s been just a good consistent thing that we always do.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Is there a reason you wouldn’t do it four times a year?
Brett Linderberg: Just yeah. There wouldn’t be enough interest. That’s the main reason.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally.
Brett Linderberg: I mean-
Bjork Ostrom: You have people who signed up, email list, you know that. If you’re doing it every month, there’s going to be a limited number of people who’s going to be new for it. So, yeah, that rhythm makes sense.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. Totally. For a while, I was doing it twice per year, and that was okay. I think I could make a little bit more by doing it twice a year, but just have other things to do now.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally.
Brett Linderberg: Also, too, I know another thing, too, is people have always said, “Oh, you should do it, record everything, and just have it all pre-recorded.” I do agree that that would be easier, but I think for whatever reason, people just get more out of-
Bjork Ostrom: It’s different.
Brett Linderberg: … yeah, more out of the live, and mixing the events, and then, yeah, the feedback part, too, is important to me-
Bjork Ostrom: 100%.
Brett Linderberg: … that people, the feedback on it.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.
Brett Linderberg: So, anyway-
Bjork Ostrom: Good for you. Good for you for doing that because I feel like it would be easier. It feels like the consideration is impact and making sure that people are actually doing it and getting a result from it, which is awesome.
Brett Linderberg: Totally. No, I completely agree. Okay. 2018. So, it was 32,400, 2017. 2018 is 54,300.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.
Brett Linderberg: So, basically, not quite double, but another 20,000. 2018, again, it’s like one thing was added. Basically, that was the year that I switched from AdSense to AdThrive. Actually, it was because of your guys’ website and Food Blogger Pro that I found out about it.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks. Oh, good, good, good.
Brett Linderberg: It’s so funny because I’m not in the food … I’m in a different part of the food blog-
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. You’re not doing recipes, yeah.
Brett Linderberg: Exactly. So, I had this preconceived notion like ads are a waste of time.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup, which is very common in the online business world, where it’s like, “Hey, don’t do ads. You’re not going to be able to earn enough. You got to do product,” which I think is generally a good advice, but one of the unique things about this world is there’s the potential to drive a decent amount of traffic, especially with the recipes, but even not. If you have a high-traffic site, it should be a consideration, especially if the purpose isn’t solely to be a product or a service that you’re selling. So, WP Tasty, which is WordPress plugins or Food Blogger Pro itself, ads probably don’t make sense because the negative impact they would have on the conversion or the site speed would be worth it, but in your case, it’s probably a good decent amount of traffic. You have a product. So, you can layer it in as a diversification. In this case, you did, and it sounds like that was a pretty quick jump compared to AdSense.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah, for sure. Those things that you’re saying, too, was my big worry. I was even delaying the application process and not responding to them because I was like, “Do what? Are people going to bounce? Is nobody going to sign up for my email list anymore because they’re mad at me?” Then, of course, that go on and it’s like, “Oh, there’s pretty much no difference in anything.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally. Totally. Yeah, yeah.
Brett Linderberg: So, yeah, it’s funny these things you’re going to have in your head.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. I think as an owner for anybody listening can be strategic about, “Hey, maybe there are pages of your site that are really important,” so you’re not running ads on those. My guess would be or would be curious to know on the landing page or a conversion page for the course, you probably don’t have a bunch of ads on it because that’s not going to be important for you to get ad impressions. It’s important for that site to be fast and for people to be able to load and to purchase the course. So, you can be strategic about it.
Brett Linderberg: Exactly, and that’s 100% the case. Yeah. I don’t put the ads on the course page or even some of the email opt in pages either. I don’t have them on there.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. So, AdThrive was layered in 2017. That obviously is a big win, and something that just carries forward. Anything else on 2017 before going to 2018?
Brett Linderberg: No. Yeah, that was literally it. Let’s see. 2019 is literally just more of the same. So, 2019 is $80,000.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice. Was that traffic then because there’s 2018 you did AdThrive, and then 2019 was a pretty significant increase?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I mean, it was basically just more traffic year over year, and then, also, I didn’t get on to AdThrive until I want to say like April-ish in 2018. You know how it’s like. It’s a little slow at the beginning and then it ramps up. So, yeah, I didn’t add really anything aside from just content and stuff like that in 2019. Then yeah, and then that brings us up to 2020, which is 102,000 or, yeah, 102,000, and, I mean, it’s really more of the exact same stuff. Just growing the site traffic. Focusing on that sort of thing. I did launch based on that website purchase another ebook and just a couple other little things that incrementally helped, but last year, I would say the split up is 50% AdThrive, essentially, courses and ebooks, another 25%, and then direct stuff.
Brett Linderberg: I’m actually still working with that same food truck manufacturer that we talked about years ago. We’re still going strong.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s an awesome testament to that relationship.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I’ve actually visited them before a few times. It’s really cool. So, yeah. There’s direct things, and I would say in there, too, I know I’ve expressed the wins through each one of these years, but, I mean, I’ve tried getting newsletter, doing the newsletter thing. You know what I mean? All these different trends that you see come up, I’ve tried having a paid subscription newsletter, which has not worked out. I’ve tried doing like you guys do with Food Blogger Pro, a monthly type thing. That doesn’t work out enough to the level, at least, that I need it to to make it worthwhile.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally.
Brett Linderberg: Podcast sponsorships, I’ve literally tried tons of different things along the way and most of them don’t pan out and I think that’s totally normal.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What I love about that is one of the things that we’ve shared in the podcast before a long time, I wrote a blog post about it, is this idea of the egg carton method, but this conceptually, you think of an egg carton and we think, when we’re starting something we think, “Oh, I need to start a website and I need to make enough money to replace my income from ads.” You can do that and it’s possible, but I love to visualize it as an egg carton sale like, “Okay. If I’m trying to get to,” pick a number, “$60,000 a year to replace my salary and I’m going to try and do $5,000 a year,” you don’t have to get $5,000 of ads. You can get $1,000 from an ad network, you can do a product, you can layer in affiliate. You can layer in these things.
Bjork Ostrom: What I love about your story is you have done that and it’s not like everything you try is going to work, but some things will, and then you keep them there. You improve them. You tweak them. You start to learn, “Hey, once a year is better than four times a year for the course. We can do direct relationships with people to sponsor certain things. Hey, a podcast might be great, but not sponsorships.” You start to tweak and adjust. You fill out that egg carton, and before you know it, you get to a point where you’re making over $100,000 a year from your site, but it comes from small improvements, right? On the podcast, we talk about this idea of tiny bit better everyday and sticking with it, which I think is another huge part of the process.
Bjork Ostrom: So, as it relates to sticking with it, was there ever a point where you’re like, “Gosh! I’m burnt out. I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” or do you feel like the small incremental winds were enough to keep you going throughout the process?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I definitely would say around, let’s see, the 2017-ish time period to 2018.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup, three, four years in, yeah.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I was definitely, and I would say I can’t remember what year exactly it was, but I didn’t add that much content to it. In retrospect, I wish I would have gone harder because then it would be much better now.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, snowball like you just started adding that earlier, so then it compounds earlier.
Brett Linderberg: Exactly. I think one year I was maybe doing maybe three posts per year or, sorry, per month, which is okay if you’re starting out and just getting a feel for it, I think, but it’s not enough to really move the needle, in my opinion, anyways, at least based on my experience. So, yeah, it definitely, looking back, it’s like, “Oh, there’s this predetermined path that you’re going to get there,” but when you’re sitting in it, there’s definitely not a predetermined … It doesn’t feel like there’s any predetermined path.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I absolutely I would say until I got on AdThrive and figured out that part, it was finally almost like, “Oh, cool. I can just focus on the traffic part,” and just focus on contents and that sort of thing because, otherwise, I was definitely I feel like I’ve tested everything that I think could work well.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup, and this seems to be, that seems to be an area where the equation is really simple. It’s like, “I know I’m going to be able to make generally this much, and if I can increase this variable, traffic, I know that that can go up,” which is always so helpful to see that correlation. So, are you doing with the work that you’re doing on the site content creation, are you doing a lot of keyword research or is it more like, “Hey, I know I’m going to be interested in writing this”? I’m thinking about your SEO background. What does that look like as you fold that into the content strategy for the site?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I mean, I definitely do keyword research, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m not like one of those guys that some people would go into Ahrefs and try to figure out the perfect keyword difficulty for stuff and work on a spreadsheet the whole time. I don’t really get to that level. I don’t see the point of that, personally, but I guess for me it’s more like, at least right now, what are the main buckets that I want to go after. So, one area, for example, that I’m looking at is bakeries, right? There’s a lot of baking business. There’s a lot of baking courses and things like that. So, that’s one area that I would like to look in to.
Brett Linderberg: Another one that we have covered is coffee shops, especially with mine, my market, it’s like all food businesses are the same in a certain way.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s similar concepts, different niche.
Brett Linderberg: That is exactly it. It’s like, okay, so you’re starting a coffee shop, so what are the questions that you ask. How much is a coffee shop going to be? How do you market a coffee shop? How much does it cost to start a food truck? How do you market a food truck? You know what I mean? There’s very similar concepts.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. How much is your inventory? How much is it to build a team? What are you going to do about taxes? All of those questions still apply no matter if it’s a bakery or a pizza shop.
Brett Linderberg: Business plan for a coffee shop, business plan for a food truck, yeah, all sorts of things like that, but, yeah. I mean, I definitely after, I look at that as the first lens and then do keyword research after that to find what are actually people looking up.
Bjork Ostrom: Give an example. If you’re not using Ahrefs, Ahrefs, Ahrefs, whatever you call it, spell it. For those who are curious, keyword research tool, A-H-R-E-F-S. It’s the HTML for a link, but for those who aren’t familiar, it’s something you can check out. We use it for Pinch of Yum but more of tracking the performance of a keyword as opposed to keyword research, but what does that look like for you? Is it Googling around and seeing what the popular phrases are? Are you using a tool? Is there one that you especially like?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I guess what I always try to think about, I mean, you guys probably do the same thing. I try to think in terms of content types. So, what are similar types of content that I can understand and then build a lot of content around. So, I’ll just use from my site is marketing ideas is a content type. So, coffee shop marketing ideas, food truck marketing ideas, restaurant marketing ideas. There’s a hundred of them, right?
Brett Linderberg: So, that’s what I try to identify is what are those content types that have a lot of search volume around them. I mean, I do use SEMrush to identify them. That’s my personal favorite, but I mean, really, where I find a lot of good ideas is just going in to the auto suggest in Google and just-
Bjork Ostrom: Starting to type bakery.
Brett Linderberg: Just exploring. Yeah. So, I’d be like, “Marketing ideas I,” and just see what pops up, “Marketing ideas D,” what pops up. So, if I was a keto blogger, I would definitely be like, “27 hotpot keto recipes.” Well, it’s not hotpot. What is it called?
Bjork Ostrom: Instant pot?
Brett Linderberg: Instant pot, there we go, not hotpot.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, hot pockets, 27 hot pocket recipes, that would be my post. That’s what I would post. Yeah. It’s interesting the auto suggest. Even if I go in there and search bakery business, then you can see the auto suggest options are cards, plans, names.
Brett Linderberg: Every single thing that just pop up is a great place to start for that content pieces.
Bjork Ostrom: So, for you, it would be like if you’re focusing on bakery businesses, then you can say, “Hey, best places to get your bakery business cards,” and that could be the cue and then you build out around that. That’s a cool thing to think about. If you’re a keto blog, you could say, “Keto recipes.” I’m typing this in now and first out of suggest is just keto recipes, and then it’s keto recipes with ground beef. So, it’s like, “Okay.” You can start to see Google surfacing these as ones that they think people are going to look for, keto recipes for beginners, things like that. So, that’s really cool. Yeah. It makes a lot of sense.
Bjork Ostrom: I hear people talk about that idea of hub-and-spoke, and you see that within the recipe category a lot, where people are creating a hub of blender recipes, and a lot of times, it’s just a really well-built out category page, where they categorize stuff into recipes that are blender recipes, and then you branch off of that by having all of these different blender recipes. So, I think the thinking behind it, let me know if you’re attracting with this in the same ways, you can be viewed as an authority on a certain topic and then part of that is the spokes, if you think of a bike wheel, a hub and a spoke, the spokes are the actual pieces of content and the hub is where all of that is rounded up. Is that the thinking behind it when you think about it from your content creation?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I think of it that way, too. I guess, for me, I just think of it like, “How do I make this a comprehensive resource on this topic?” You know what I mean? What are all the main … If I was starting this donut shop business, what are all the subtopics that you want to learn about, yeah, what are the things that I’d want know.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah. So, let’s say you hit the reset button, it all went away, and you got to start again today, what are the first two things that you would do in order to try and get to that place because my guess is 2014 to 2020, there’s six years to get to a place where you’re making a substantial income from your site. If everything reset and you had to start over, it would probably take a lot less time because now you’ve seen the path, you’ve seen the journey that it takes to get there. So, what would you do if it all went away? Let’s say this, if you couldn’t do it in the same niche.
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I actually wouldn’t be too worried if I wasn’t in the same niche. I feel like I could, at this point, pick something that was pretty good, at least I’d feel pretty confident about it. Let’s see. What would I do? I mean, I guess, ideally, I’d buy something, another website, just because you know how it is. Starting out right away is just so hard. You got to build a blog. You got to build a bunch of content.
Brett Linderberg: So, I would say even if it’s not like anything super great, but if it gets a couple thousand visitors a month and it’s in a market that you like and you can get behind and get excited about, I think that would be much better than starting from scratch.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s an interesting point just while you’re on that. I have a, I would call him a friend, but he’d be like, “Wait a minute. I’m not your friend. We’ve talked a few times, but we’re not friends,” but his name is Walker Deibel, and he has a book called Buy Then Build. The phrase, the tagline is How Acquisition Entrepreneurs Outsmart the Startup Game. So, it’s exactly what you’re saying. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in looking at something that’s preexisting, already has a little bit of revenue.
Bjork Ostrom: Maybe you’ve saved up and have some capital or maybe there’s a loan that you could get or some way putting together the capital in order to acquire something that has traction I think is a pretty cool strategy, a pretty cool shortcut for getting that.
Brett Linderberg: Well, it makes things so much exciting. It makes them exciting faster because the beginning is not that exciting because you start from might give you one of that income, whatever it’s mentioning. Yeah. No, I agree.
Bjork Ostrom: It would be acquiring something and then building like, “Hey, how can I improve on it? How can I tweak it? How can I introduce other revenue streams as opposed to starting from scratch?”
Brett Linderberg: I would say that or I think, too, this isn’t like blog, but I would probably start on YouTube. If I was a kid or in my 20s, I would probably start on YouTube now just I know my brother-in-law’s brother did a van build and he recorded it. He had no audience, nothing. Put this video up, ended up getting over a million views, and then he basically created, and he’s a single guy or whatever, but he basically made a career. He’s turned that one video into a career about van builds.
Bjork Ostrom: You see the formula and then you can juice it, and then there’s all these companies that-
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. I mean, I think, too, I don’t think, I can’t see that ever happening to a blog post right now in Google, right? You hit one and then it just go to the moon. That’s a lot of reading or something. I don’t know. So, I feel like on YouTube there’s the opportunity still. It’s maybe a little bit more Wild Wild West where you could really get a hit and then build off that. So, I think that would be my other thing that I would think of.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Yeah. It’s interesting. I’ve watched a couple of YouTubers who talk about their business and it’s like, “Oh, there’s definitely a formula not in a, ”Hey, this is really easy,” kind of way, but you see something like Mr. Beast is really good at this. I don’t know if you know Mr. Beast, but-
Brett Linderberg: I’ve heard of him, but, yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. He does a lot of the last one off the island wins the island, and it’s a million dollar island. I think he just essentially makes millions of dollars and then just reinvest it and giving it away in certain ways, but he’s figured out a formula of the type of content to produce. You see that with millions and millions of use on that content, and you see other YouTubers. I think of there’s this guy named Rob Built, who has a smaller site, which I bet in three years would be a bigger site or a bigger following, and he talks all about tiny home Airbnbs. He does a tour of an Airbnb that he’s built, then it gets a lot of traction, a lot of followers.
Bjork Ostrom: So, it’s a really interesting platform. I love that idea of looking at that as a place to launch. So, we have gone over time. I want to be respectful of your time, but I know that people are going to be interested in checking out what you’re doing. I know that people will be interested in learning more about your space, whether observing what you’re doing or maybe even interested in food trucks, but how can people connect with you and follow up and follow along, Brett, with what you’re up to?
Brett Linderberg: Yeah. If you’d like to shoot me an email, head on over to foodtruckempire.com. There’s a contact form there. Just send an email to [email protected] It will get to me. Yeah. Happy to answer any questions you have. I mean, I tell you what, I’ll jump in to the Food Blogger Pro forum, too, if you happen to be a member-
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.
Brett Linderberg: … and answer any questions to the followup from the group as well. That would be really cool.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Hey, that’s awesome. Brett, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate it.
Brett Linderberg: Cool. Thanks, Bjork.
Alexa Peduzzi: That’s a wrap on this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Thank you so much again for tuning in today. We hope you enjoyed this interview with Food Blogger Pro member Brett and if you want to check out any of the links mentioned in this episode, you can go on to foodbloggerpro.com/293. You can get all of the resources that Brett and/or Bjork mentioned. Again, if you are a Food Blogger Pro member, be sure to check out or keep an eye out for Brett in the Food Blogger Pro forums. He can answer any questions that you have about this episode. Yeah. We just really appreciate you tuning in. We’re getting close to 300 episodes here on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. So, whether this is your first episode or your 293rd episode, we just so appreciate you being here, and we’ll see you next time, next Tuesday. Until then, make it a great week.