354: Sharing Zambian Food and Growing a Freelance Photography Business with Clara Kapelembe Bwali

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A laptop showing Zambian food and the title of Clara Kapelembe Bwali's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Sharing Zambian Food.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 354 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Clara Kapelembe Bwali from Black Garlic about how she’s using her business to share Zambian food with the world.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Jane Ko from A Taste of Koko about her Pinterest strategy as a content creator. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Sharing Zambian Food

We’re really excited to share this episode with Clara from Black Garlic with you today! She’s a freelance food photographer, food stylist, and blogger based in Zambia.

Clara has built her business from the ground up, and in this episode, you’ll hear how she has grown her photography skills, booked her first clients, and used social media to share both her photography and Zambian food with the world.

Clara’s story is so inspiring, and her passion for her work really shines through in the interview. We hope you enjoy it!

A quote from Clara Kapelembe Bwali's appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'I want to be that person that pushes my country's cuisine to the world.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Clara started a catering business
  • Why she decided to rebrand and launch a freelance photography business
  • How she pitched herself to clients
  • How she grew her photography skills
  • How she is working to share Zambian food with the world
  • What business advice she has for food creators
  • How she has made friendships with other creators online


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!

With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.

Sign up for the Clariti waitlist today to receive:

  • Early access to their $25/Month Forever pricing
  • Optimization ideas for your site content
  • An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
  • And more!

You can learn more and sign up here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by our sister site Clariti, C-L-A-R-I-T-I is how you spell Clariti, all different iterations of how people say it, but it’s Clariti because it helps you to be clear on what it is that you need to be working on and really gives you direction around how you can go around improving and updating and tracking the content on your blog. We built it, because we had been managing everything in a spreadsheet. So, my guess is there’s two people listening to this podcast. One would be, you are people who track stuff and you probably track it in a spreadsheet, maybe Airtable, maybe Notion. And my guess is, it’s a lot of manual work. There’s another group of people who just aren’t tracking anything and that’s okay. You’ll get there eventually. But Clariti’s going to be the tool that’s going to allow you to do that more easily. It’s going to allow you to not spend as much manual time doing the tracking, updating, improving, and just generally understanding the lay of the land with your content.

Bjork Ostrom: And one of the things that I think is most important, a lot of times we talk about hiring on this podcast, but one of the things we don’t talk about enough, and I probably should talk about it more, is some of the first positions you should hire for are software. It’s not an actual person, you’re hiring software to come in and do a lot of the work that you are doing. And that’s what Clariti is for us as the Pinch of Yum team, Food Blogger Pro team. We use Clariti to take manual work away from our day-to-day tasks and we automate that. It’s one of the easiest ways to have your first hire.

Bjork Ostrom: So, if you’re thinking, “Oh, I hear people talk about hiring a lot. Who should my next hire be?” My encouragement for you would let your next hire be a tool like Clariti, where you’re going to spend 25 a month and you’re going to save an incredible amount of time. That’s what it’s all about. So, if you want to check it out, if you want to learn a little bit more about what it is and how it works, you can go to clariti.com/food, and you can deep dive into the ins and outs of Clariti just by signing up for that list. And that’s not going to sign you up for the app. It’s not going to sign you up and process any payments or anything like that. It’s just going to allow you to understand the tool better through some onboarding emails that give you a little bit of context around what Clariti does and why we built it. So, again, that’s clariti.com/food if you want to check that out.

Bjork Ostrom: And as a last note here, we’re halfway through this 25 forever deal. So, when I say you can think of hiring Clariti at $25 a month as a little team member, who’s in the background working for you, that deal’s not going to last forever. We’re just wanting to get to our first 500 users as we’re in the early stages with this, you’ll still get a lot of value out of it. But the great thing is, as the value within Clariti increases, as we build out more features, as we build out more functionality, you will be locked in at that $25 price as a thank you for signing up early, for being somebody who’s using the tool early on, giving us feedback, but also finding a lot of value out of it.

Bjork Ostrom: We’ve actually had two people this week, it was last week actually, that followed up and one person said, “I LOVE,” it was all L-O-V-E capital, “This service,” and somebody else said the same thing in the Slack channel, which you can join and be a part of that after you sign up for Clariti to see how other people are using it, and the questions that come up and offer any insider feedback along the way. So, thank you to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hello, hello. This is Bjork. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast and today’s interview is with Clara Kapelembe Bwali, and she has a company called Black Garlic. She’s going to be sharing her story, her entrepreneurial journey and things that she’s learned along the way. Specifically, she’s going to be talking about what it was like to open kind of a catering business, a food stand, essentially making food for people and selling that to them and having some success with that, but then moving and having to kind of uproot a business when she had to uproot her location and eventually stumbling into the world of photography and figuring out how to capture incredibly compelling pictures and product photos for companies, food companies. And she’s going to be talking about her passion for that, why that was something that she really was compelled to do and how she went about doing that and connecting with brands and building her business.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a really fun interview. And I think that it’ll take a lot out of it, not only the inspiration from Clara’s sharing her story, but also some tips and tricks along the way of things that she’s learned and some of the mindset components that she has as a business owner and somebody really pursuing not only the success of a business, which would be the financial side, but also pursuing impact and purpose and how that’s a major driver for what she does. So, it’s going to be a great interview. So, let’s go ahead and jump in. Clara, welcome to the podcast.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Hi, how are you?

Bjork Ostrom: Good. Doing great. This is our first-ever podcast with a Zambian guest. So, we should have shipped you out like a medallion or award, or kind of like the-

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: A T-shirt or something.

Bjork Ostrom: … Olympics, a T-shirt. Yeah, exactly. But it’s really fun. It’s one of the things about the internet that’s so awesome, that I can be sitting here in Minnesota, you can be sitting there in Zambia, and we can have a conversation in relatively real-time. There’s not much of a delay. It’s the internet. It’s awesome. And speaking of the internet, you have a business and you have built that business and you focus on food photography and food styling. So, tell me about your story. I know that when you first started, the business name has evolved a little bit as well, and I really love the heart of it from what I understand, which sounds like really giving an opportunity for Zambian brands to have good photography. Is that kind of the heart of what you’re doing? Tell us a little bit about it.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. Okay. So, my business, well, the hobby, I would like to call it a hobby, started in 2016. I really didn’t think much of it. I was just a new wife trying to do recipes. Then, I started a Facebook group where I could share some of my recipes on the internet. Then, fast forward from that, I started selling some of my food, people would come through because we were currently living in South Africa by then. So, our place was near my university. So, it was students and people from different countries. So, I started selling some of my foods like lunchbox weekly packages for students. So, I did that for a year and then come 2018, we moved back to Zambia. So, when I came to Zambia, it was a bit of a different environment, I had to readjust. So, I started selling cakes, catering for weddings and a bit of everything in food.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you say it was a different environment, was it like different food environment or just different in terms of like what you’re selling in the business? What was different about it?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Okay. Different in the sense that I had been away for school for maybe five years. So, it’s coming back and finding people that are already doing the business. I’m just trying to find my feet and readjust into the business world. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. My guess is, previously, when you’re at school, you had clients, people who would come, you started to develop a rhythm. You knew, “Hey, this week, I can expect to sell this much. This will be a slower week. This will be a faster week.” And when you change locations, suddenly clients are maybe different, maybe the foods you’re making are different. Holiday schedule maybe looks a little bit different. Is that kind of what you were adjusting to when you had to change locations?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. And also just finding new clientele. I mean, I was moving from one country to another country. The people here already had their people who they make cakes from, who they do catering with. So, I had to start finding new clientele from scratch.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. How did you do that?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Social media. So, I’ll just go out on Facebook, on my WhatsApp, on my Instagram, just advertise everything that I was selling or the menu for the week and slowly but surely I got my own clientele. So, fast forward to that, I think I did that for a year. And then I got bored.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. What about it was boring?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Because it felt like every next person was doing the same thing I was doing. Everyone was baking. Everyone was cooking for weddings. Then, it just got saturated. And I felt like I was moving in circles and not growing. So, I decided to sit and think, “What is it that I can do that’s different that everyone is not doing?” So, for the longest of time, I always had a thing for pretty pictures, well-presented food, just pretty food has always been my thing. So, I sat and thought, in Zambia, most businesses, most food businesses would either, A, hire a photographer from another country to take pictures of their food and style.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, so in that case, somebody’s flying in, they’re coming in for a day, they’re not Zambian. So, maybe they don’t know the aesthetics in the same way. Yeah.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. Or they’ll buy stock images and then just slot in their product. And for me, that really didn’t sit well with me because, A, that’s not their picture, two, they didn’t use their product. So, it felt fake for lack of a better word.

Bjork Ostrom: Either way probably, if you’re flying somebody in who they might do good photos and be able to capture what they have, but maybe not in the exact way that you’d want to, maybe stylistically things a little different, or if you’re doing stock photos, and Photoshopping in a picture of a sauce. It’s like, “Ah, the photo kind of looks good, but also it doesn’t, it’s not real technically.”

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Exactly. So, from there, that’s how Black Garlic was born. I said, “You know what, this whole using stock images and the internet must come to an end. We should be able to use Zambian photographers, Zambian food bloggers, and just use local people.” So, that’s how I started. I started pitching myself to companies, “Hey, listen, this is my idea. Can we try?” It was a bit hard, but when I got my first yes, the yeses started coming.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So often I feel like that’s what it takes. And I think so often people wait or people quit before that first yes. It’s hard, you’re grinding, you feel like it’s not working, nobody says yes. And it’s like, maybe this isn’t the right thing. But if you continue with it after you get that first yes. A lot of times it becomes easier. It sounds like that was the case for you. Why do you think it was easier after that first yes?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: I had something to show.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Because essentially you had your first-

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes, I had my first-

Bjork Ostrom: … portfolio feature. Yeah.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. So, my very first client was one of Zambia’s largest fish supplying companies. So, they supply bream fish from Lake Kariba countrywide. So, it’s a brand that’s in every province in Zambia. When you think of that name, it’s everywhere. So, at least it was a big name. So, at least people would take me seriously from working with that fish company. And then yes, I started pushing. In the beginning, obviously, you’d get clients that you would have to do a battle for products and you do the photography, but I kept building my portfolio just like that. Keep trying, keep pitching. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: What does that look like in those early stages? If you’re to look at it, let’s say, in that first stage, where you’re in the haven’t gotten to your first yes stage, can you talk about your mindset, how you were approaching brands, even how you were positioning yourself? Because it sounds like not only were you trying to sell yourself, but also you were trying to sell an idea that maybe wasn’t in place, which is you need to have somebody from Zambia capturing Zambian products. So, you’re selling on the idea of that as well. What was that like?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Okay. So, one thing I said to myself, I said, “Listen, Clara, you know what you want to do and only you can do it. So, sound like you know what you’re saying.” Even though I had no idea. I had no idea, but I had to write my proposals in such a way that I sounded like a professional, like I knew what I was talking about, even though I had zero idea, I just had a concept, but I had to lay down in such a way that when I present that proposal, when I walk into that meeting, I walk in with confidence and just sell my idea.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What was it that gave you confidence? If what you had to do in those meetings and in those interactions was to be confident in yourself, be confident in the idea, even though maybe internally, it sounds like internally, maybe not at 100% confidence, but externally you wanted to present that, that’s a hard thing to do. So, what would your advice be for people who maybe aren’t confident, but they need to inspire confidence within themselves or at the very least kind of fake it until you make it?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, for me, what really had me going is looking at all the food bloggers around the world, all the food photographers, and that kept me going. I said to myself, “I’m sure these people were at a place where I’m at now. And they’ve pushed and they’ve worked. And they are where they are now.” So, for me, just looking at work from good photographers all over the world, food bloggers, I said, “My idea, it’s not so farfetched. It’s something that has been done before. I’m not pitching an idea that’s totally new. All I have to do is be consistent. Pitch my idea, make it make sense. And just get that…” I was only praying for just that first yes. I knew once I got that first yes, it would open doors for me everywhere. Yeah. So, when I got the first yes, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you got the first yes, what was that last thought?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yeah. So, I was saying, when I got of the first yes, it was easier for me to talk to clients to pitch my idea, because at least now I had something to show for it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense. One of the things I love that you shared and I think is worth talking about and the pointing out is that you were able to see people who had done something comparable to what you wanted to do. Maybe they’re a food stylist or food photographer. And the point that they at one point were where you are now, I think that’s really important for people to remember and sometimes we lose that. It doesn’t mean they had all the same variables or all the considerations. We all have a different equation that makes up our life, but we all start at the same point, which is the beginning. And for some, it’s easier because you have, as an example, if you start a business, when you have kids, it’s probably going to feel different than if you start a business when you don’t have kids, that’s a variable. But those two people are starting the business at the same time.

Bjork Ostrom: And to know this has been done before and a huge part of it in what you said, which I love so much, is consistency and showing up and continuing to do the work. So, in that stage, what did the work look like for you? What were the things that you were doing on a day-to-day basis? Were you emailing brands? Were you crafting your pitch? Were you working on the proposal? Were you practicing your food photography? What did it look like kind of pre-revenue in your business?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Okay. So, remember I told you prior I had an existing business?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: I had a business name already. Yes. So, I had to clean up. By clean up I mean deleting all the pictures, rebranding myself, rebranding how I do things to look like the professional that I wanted to be considered as. So, all the not pretty looking pictures, I had to change my logo, I had to change the feel of my business. So, what I had to do pretty much was I ghosted myself from the business. So, there was no Clara… Some people didn’t even know who I was.

Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh (affirmative). Essentially you made yourself look like, and you were, you pivoted into kind of an agency.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: And the business before was the catering business, so you were making food, preparing food. That was a business that you had, you had some traction there. But you said, “You know what, I’m getting bored of this. I want to shift. It’s getting a little bit saturated. I see an area of opportunity within food photography and food styling for Zambian brands. I’m going to pivot into that.” And that’s when Black Garlic came about. Is that right? That general story.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, pretty much I was learning how to take pictures. I was learning how to write proposals. I was pretty much learning on the job. It was me and YouTube, me and videos online. Just practicing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What were the places you went that were most helpful? Were there she channels or accounts or videos or is it just like watching everything when you search food photography, and then watching all of that content?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: You know how sometimes when you go to YouTube, you watch one or two videos, but there’s that person that speaks to you that you feel very comfortable with? I think Bite Shot. She’s amazing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. I think we have an upcoming interview.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: She’s amazing.

Bjork Ostrom: And have had some conversations as well on the podcast. So, that was a channel that you liked and appreciated?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Was there anything that was… And that’s Joanie Simon. She has a book out as well that’s really good.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. Joanie Simon. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Was there anything that you felt like was an unlock? I use that term a decent amount on the podcast, but just this idea of like, I think in life or in business or in skills, you’re at a plateau for a little bit, and then you kind of unlock a new thing, something you learn. Maybe it’s a mindset. Maybe it’s a opportunity. Were there any unlocks along the way from an education perspective around learning food photography and food styling?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, obviously, in the beginning, when you watch all these videos, they have gear, they have all these expensive cameras, they have props. In the beginning, I wanted to be exactly like them. But when I sat and said, “Madam, listen, you are a beginner. You need to start from somewhere. And you can use what you have in the house. You don’t need an expensive camera. You don’t need a million and one plates. You just need to work with what you have.”

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: The moment I changed my mindset, I didn’t have expensive lighting, all I had was natural lighting and a phone. And I started.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, that’s awesome.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: The moment I said, “Start and you grow as you go.” Everything changed.

Bjork Ostrom: This is going to be worth the price of admission for some people listening. And it’s that concept right there that you shared. And I think about this a lot, there’s maybe a tweet from somebody that I saw really similar to what you were saying, which is, and there’s going to be some people who need to hear this, listening to the podcast. It’s, “Do then learn, not learn then do.” And obviously there’s some industries where that doesn’t apply. Surgery, flying an airplane. Right?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Obviously.

Bjork Ostrom: But in our world… Yeah. In our world, in the creative world, people can get stuck in learn and they don’t do. But what the key and what I hear you hinting at a little bit is the best way to learn is to actually do it. And the best way to do it is to start today. And for you, you were starting with the phone, the camera you had on your phone, and the light from the sun. Everybody, almost everybody, my guess is everybody listening to this, because it’s got to be on a phone or a computer, has the ability to do that.

Bjork Ostrom: So, you start with what you have, and they talk about that with photography all the time, how that’s so important. What did the next step out of that look like? As you continue to unlock certain things, do you say, “Great, I’m going to now book a… When I get my first yes, when I book a deal, I’m going to use some of that revenue to buy artificial lighting.” Or what did the early stages of business growth start to look like once you committed to moving forward with what you have?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, I think the biggest step was when I landed a deal with a chicken company. So, they wanted me to do content for their calendar, like a whole calendar. Can you imagine?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So, they’re releasing a printed calendar and they want you to document the photography for it. Got it.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. With their products. And then they also needed me to do videos, like short two-minute videos of food. So, at least, I got a good pay from that. So, I said, “With this money, I’m going to buy some lighting, some props, some backgrounds and some…” Yeah, just little things to make my work more from basic to the next level. So, I’ve always been that person that, at the beginning of the year, whether big or small, I write down my goals. So, by the end of the year, I want to buy a new phone, I want to buy a camera. I want to buy this brand of toaster, for example, I just write it down. So, as a year goes by and as the revenue comes in, I make sure I’m ticking off the boxes to help my business grow.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about with the work that we do in our businesses is just being strategic about investing back into the business. And I don’t know Zambian tax law. And I barely know US tax law. But have people who do. But my assumption, I think, tax law kind of works like this in general, or does Zambia work in a way where you have a business expense and that goes against business revenue. So, you can be strategic in a way that if you didn’t have a business, you buy a phone and it’s like you’re buying a phone. But when you have a business, it’s a business expense. My guess is that generally how it works within Zambia? I would guess.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, idea being that you kind of have this separate category. So, when they talk about investing back into your business, one of the things that’s kind of strategic about it, and for anybody listening you can think about this is like you have these expenses for you, you talk about the phone and that can become an expense within the business. So, you’re not paying taxes on that. So, that’s a strategic thing to say, “I think this money is better spent within the business.” And obviously it depends on if you… For some people, might not have the ability you need to say like, “Hey, I have this revenue. I’m going to use that for, whatever, mortgage payment or car payment or whatever it is.” But if it’s disposable income and you’re putting that back into the business and you can grow the business faster and be more strategic about how you’re growing and scaling that.

Bjork Ostrom: So, when you look ahead, what are some of those, you mentioned some of them, some of the goals that you have, but I’d be curious also to know, now that you’re at a point where you do have that portfolio, you go to Black Garlic, blackgarlic.digital, and you can see some of those clients, you have that portfolio, you’re building that out. What do you see as you think about the future of the business? And I talk a lot about hopes and dreams, but what are your hopes and dreams for Black Garlic as you look a year or two, three years out as you continue to build this?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Honestly, looking forward, I want Black Garlic to be a household name. So, a household name in Zambia and internationally, when somebody thinks of a Zambian recipe, they think of Black Garlic. I want to be that person that pushes my country’s cuisine to the world. Because I’m sure, before me, did you know about Zambia?

Bjork Ostrom: No. I mean, from the research for the podcast, yeah.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yeah. So, you pretty much didn’t know, but you probably heard about Nigeria. Yeah?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Jollof rice.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, I knew about Zambia the country, but didn’t know about Zambia in terms of like if you were to quiz me on facts about Zambia, I’d be like, I wouldn’t any of them. Familiar with it as a country. But especially from a cuisine. I was like, “Oh, I wonder if there’s any Zambian restaurants in Minneapolis, St. Paul area.” That to me was kind of a new thought, it’s not something that I’d ever thought of or looked up or whatever it might be. So, what does that look like? How do you do that? What does that look like? How do you move that forward? I mean, it seems like first step is helping the existing brands solidify their brand and their voice and helping them do better. But what does it look like for the actual brand of Black Garlic to develop and to become a known entity?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: I would like to… It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of hard work. But I’m not giving up. So, I share my recipes with magazines that are not only from Zambia, American ones, from the UK. Just name it. So, the more recipes are out there or the more people talk about me or the more interviews I get, the more the recipes or the more Zambia is known. So, like I was saying, I think we probably just, as a country, haven’t been as loud about our food. I know Nigerians. Nigeria, for example, they’ll go to the UK and they’ll open a Nigerian restaurant, for example. I’m sure you’ve heard of jollof rice, and everything else, because they are loud about their cuisine.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, for me, I want to be loud about our Zambian food. So, it starts by recipes, by interviews, by proudly sharing Zambian content, so that the more people see it, the more aware they are of Zambia, because they’re sitting at home and saying, “Oh, we have nice food.” Oh yeah. And then what? So, for me, I know I have a lot of work and I’m not giving up, I’ll push, push and push.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. This podcast can be an opportunity for that. I’m curious to know, for anybody who’s like, “Cool, love that idea. Where did they start?” What would be some, for the Ostrom family, Lindsay and Bjork and their kids, hanging out in the suburbs of Minnesota, where Zambian some recipes that you’d say, “Hey, check these out. Look at these three as a good place to start.”

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Okay. So, you know how we share cuisines among countries? But one thing that’s really unique to Zambia, we call it African polony. It’s called chikanda. It’s from where? It’s from a tuber, I think, is it an… I don’t know how to pronounce that? Is it an Orchid? O-R-C-H-I-D, how do you say that?

Bjork Ostrom: Orchid?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. That.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. So, it’s a type of tuber that you pound and you mix with groundnuts, and then when you’re done, it has a consistency of polony. Do you know polony?

Bjork Ostrom: I don’t, but most food people probably do.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Like a salami of some sort.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, sure.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Like a thick salami, like sausage of some sort.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s great. And I pulled up, there’s actually a Zambiankitchen.com and there’s a recipe here for that. So, that would be uniquely Zambian.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. And then we also have lumanda, you can search for lumanda, L-U-M-A-N-D-A. lumanda.

Bjork Ostrom: And those would be two good starting points for anybody who’s like, “Hey, I would be interested.” And then Zambian Kitchen comes up again. So, whoever this person is, they have the corner on all Zambian recipes. Looks like her name is Lydia. So, from an ingredients perspective, you maybe wouldn’t know, but I’d be curious to… If the ingredients of chikanda would be available, that would maybe be one, I’m sure online too, you could find it.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. I’m sure you’d find some online. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And buy it online. So, we’ll link to those in the show notes for anybody who would want to venture out and they can take you, if they attempt-

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: They try.

Bjork Ostrom: … to make some of that. So, yeah, if they try, they’ll document it. You can give them some feedback on the photography. So, what I see you talking about, it’s kind of twofold. One is, you have your business and you’re growing this business and, businesses, in order to be foundationally strong, have to be revenue-producing. In order for it to be not a hobby, but a career, you are making money from it. But it’s also, in some ways, it sounds like a campaign for the country of Zambia. You want Zambian food to be known and to share that. And I think it’s business at its best, where you have a really strong mission and a vision. And along the way, you have the ability to support that through revenue and dollars coming in.

Bjork Ostrom: So, kind of a one-two combination, it’s both campaign around a specific thing, mission, vision, and revenue to support that. Simon Sinek says, “Money is the gas that,” he says it better than this, but it’s like, “The gas for the business vehicle. And the purpose of a business is to get somewhere.” And what I think is really cool with what you’re sharing is you’re talking about trying to get somewhere. It’s not like you’re just trying to accumulate a bunch of gas. But you’re using gas to power this vehicle. So, what does that look like to balance those two things for you? Because you need to be focused on thinking about, “Hey, how do I make money from a business perspective?” But also you are thinking about the mission and the vision. And what does it look like for you as you overlap those and trying to do both of those things at the same time?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: I think one thing is certain, when you can’t draw a line between your mission… When you have a general passion for both, it kind of helps you do two things at the same time.

Bjork Ostrom: For both revenue and mission, vision, like business-

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: And passion.

Bjork Ostrom: … Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, I’ll give you an example. So, let’s say, for instance, in a month I would probably have two clients, but I don’t only post content when I’m getting paid for it. Trust me, I will show up every week, at least three or four times, whether the content is paid for or not.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, when I put out content for a business and I’m obviously getting paid, I also take time to just create recipes. I share the recipes for free. So, I get people in my inbox asking me how to make this and just pretty much connecting and have no problem with that, because I really, really love what I do. So, I’m getting paid, but I’m also helping and growing at the same time. Yeah. So, I don’t only put out content if it’s paid for, I also put out content to teach, to share with other people. So, that helps me move at the same pace the business and the passion.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. Idea being that even in the season, let’s say you have a week or two weeks, where you’re not doing a shoot where you’re paid for it, or it’s sponsored or where a brand is hiring you to come and document stuff. You’re still publishing content around Zambian food and recipes with the mission of that getting exposure, not with the mission necessarily of add revenue or increasing followers for sponsor content. It’s like, “Hey, the reason I’m doing this is because I want people to know about this and I can be supported along the way by the fact that I get revenue from these businesses when I’m working with them to document their brands and to work with them.” Which is really cool and inspiring.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think your point about both and is such an important thing to point out. And what I’ve seen within this world is sometimes people can get into it and the only thing they want to do is make money. And they’re like, “Oh, cool. I heard somebody started a food photography business and they made a bunch of money doing it. I want to do that.” Or, “I heard somebody started a food blog and you can create passive income from it. I want to do that.” And then you’re like, “Wow, this is a lot of work and I don’t like it.” And then you burn out. Or on the other side, somebody’s like, “I love doing this. It’s perfect. It’s awesome. It’s a great fit for what I do, but there isn’t the opportunity to create revenue from it.” And in that case, it’s in the category of hobby.

Bjork Ostrom: And to your point, there’s a season for that, where it is considered a hobby. You talked about that earlier. When you are building it and getting traction in the early stages. And sometimes it might stay that way, it might always be a hobby. But a lot of times people want to switch that over into something that is revenue-producing. That is more of a business. And like you said, the ideal is when those overlap. It’s your passion, it’s your interest. It’s your mission. It’s your vision. And you’re able to figure out a way to create income from that, which is cool to hear you doing that.

Bjork Ostrom: So, how about for people who they would look at you and they’d say, “I want to start doing that. I want to do a similar thing to what Clara is doing.” And you had said this earlier, the great thing is everybody starts in the same place. So, if you were to go back and you were to start over, what would you say to somebody who’s at that stage to maybe accelerate, to make traction faster? What would your advice be for somebody who’s in the beginning stages?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: I think after the two years, one thing I would say for sure is think like a professional. One thing, I think there’s this… Listen, businesses are different, but if I was a business and I was trying to hire out somebody to do work for me, I’d expect them to be professional as they could be. So, on your page, for example, if it’s strictly a food blog, I don’t expect you mixing it with a night at the club. You know what I mean?

Bjork Ostrom: Not compatible, right.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. So, sometimes you need to carry yourself a certain way to be taken seriously, for lack of a better word. And then, there’s also this, I used to call it this insanity that happens when you’re starting. So, the picture is not so great. The lighting is off. It’s messy. But you feel like if I don’t post, I won’t grow. Think through your content. You’re better off posting once a week. The picture is amazing. People will see it for a week and they’ll talk about it. Don’t feel the need to constantly post below par. So, when you post, this might sound like draining or toxic, but you should always aim that your next post should be better than the previous post.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Not so much, but you know what I mean? Like you kind of need to maintain a standard. I can’t post a great photo today. And then the next one is dark and people can hardly see, and then they’re asking, “Is it chicken? Is it fish?” People should look and they know, “Okay, this is chicken.” You know what I mean?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, finish that thought and then I had a follow-up on it. Was there something else?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yeah. So, I just wanted to say, from the beginning, I know everyone is a beginner, but carry yourself like a professional.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: That makes sense.

Bjork Ostrom: I heard an investor talk about this and he was talking about how he was an angel investor, so early-stage companies, companies that haven’t had any investment yet. So, he kind of has to have… There isn’t a lot of traction, there isn’t a lot of revenue he can look at. So, you kind of have to develop almost like poker instincts around if somebody’s going to be successful or not. And one of the things that he talked about was, he didn’t use these words, but it was kind of this idea of how you do anything is how you do everything. And he talked about it specifically in terms of how somebody would email him. What did it look like if somebody was… How did they craft their email? Was it formatted? Did they have any spelling errors in it? Did they follow up?

Bjork Ostrom: So, what I hear you saying is like, you need to be professional in what you’re doing, because that makes an impact and that can come across in emails. It can come across in how you’re showing up to the meeting that you have, what it looks like when you jump on the Zoom call. And when we’re interacting with the brand, everything that we do in that interaction is a clue to them in regards to how professional we’ll be. How quickly do we respond? How much detail do we have in it? How helpful are we? I think sometimes people think of the pitch as the only thing that matters, but it really is a small slice of the pie, which is the cumulative interaction that you’re having with an individual.

Bjork Ostrom: I see that as really true, I was emailing, just today, the COO of a company, he’s since left the company. But it was maybe like a $25 million company. This really big, in my world, a really big company. The email that he crafted was like really well-written. It had bullet points in it. It was really thoughtful. And I was like, “Oh, this is just how you operate in the world.” And that’s what I hear you saying. The other thing that I think is awesome, and it reflects something that we talk a lot about, it’s actually the name of our parent company, which is TinyBit, and it’s all about showing up and getting a tiny bit better every day forever.

Bjork Ostrom: What you said is a reflection of that, where it’s not how do you get up and ship a piece of content every day, regardless of the quality, it’s no, how do you get up and try and make things a little bit better than it was the day before. And don’t feel like you just need to push stuff out into the world if it’s not awesome and if it’s not helpful. I think that’s a really important reminder for us, where sometimes we are like, “It’s Tuesday, I got to release a video,” or whatever it might be. But to think really strategically about the quality of the content, I think it’s just a really great reminder as well. So, what do you find to be most helpful to continually improve? How do you do that and where do you go to help yourself continually get better?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, I have an amazing support system. My husband, my mom, my friends, and then through Black Garlic, I have met some amazing people. I’ve built a tribe of people. I think after me, you need to interview them.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Please check for Wood Kitchen.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Wood Kitchen. Yes. It’s a husband and wife duo. They’re also food bloggers and amazing. They got interviewed by Facebook even.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Wood like W-O-O-D.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: And Kitchen Zambia.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool. Yeah. And I see some videos here right at the top that pulled up. So what is that? How have you done that? Because I think some people are like, “Gosh, I would really love to have like people who get it, friends.” Even just this morning, I was at a local meetup here and it was called women’s… It was like a women’s business circle, I think, is what the name was. And it was like, “Oh my gosh, awesome, super helpful for me.” I learned a ton of stuff. They’re like, “Hey, can you come and talk about, they asked about Clariti specifically, which is a tool that we’ve been working on within TinyBit.

Bjork Ostrom: But I came and I was like, “Whoa, I have some things that I need to take action on.” And even though the idea was like, “Hey, Bjork, can you come and talk about this thing?” From that group, I learned a lot in the hour that I was hanging out with them. So, there’s real value in that, but I think sometimes people struggle to figure out, “How do I make those connections and how do I get those people in my life?” Obviously, your family is your family, but outside of that, how did you make those connections?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: It’s important, if you want people to love you or if you want genuine people, I think it’s important that you’re also a genuine human being, if that makes sense. So, let’s say, for instance, a person like Bite Shot, right? She’s amazing. And if it had to be a situation that I want to connect with her, it would be unfair on my part where I just want to take, take, take, take from her. So, let’s say, for instance, I don’t know, she posts that she’s not feeling well, for example. I should at least be able to ask, “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” Rather than, “Which camera should I buy?” Just taking, taking, taking. Yes.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, when you’re a genuine person, I think you can build genuine relationships with other people. But the mistake we make, most of us, when we find people that are successful or they’ve been ahead before us, I think we tend to believe, or we tend to act like they’re not human, if that makes sense.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: So, we always want to take, take, take without actually trying to build a relationship with them. So, I think build a relationship, then everything else you then partner, you then collaborate. Like for The Wood Kitchen, we had one of Zambia’s very first cooking master classes. So, we had 20 people, it was sponsored. We had goody bags. It was at amazing. Unbelievable. So, through the internet, we’ve been able to build a friendship and now we are partnering in these cooking classes, for example. So, I think it’s very important as you try to build internet friendships, internet collaborations, be a nice person. Be a nice person.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a really good reminder.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: I can’t stress this enough. Oh yes. Just be a nice person. You can’t expect to be giving all the time, giving your own away… Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: I think sometimes we forget. It’s like we throw out these things that we’ve learned on the school playground growing up, like how to be a good friend. Then, when you introduce the internet, we sometimes can forget about that and it’s like, hey, the best way to be a good friend is to not be a friend who’s always asking for stuff. But to be a friend who reaches out when it’s your friend’s birthday, or like you said, if somebody’s not feeling well, to ask how they’re doing, to check in on them.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. Ask, “How you’re doing?”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. To be a friend to give and to not even necessarily have expectations from that. When I think of the groups that I’ve been a part of, of creators or people doing similar things, a lot of times it comes from me saying like, “Hey, can we all gather around and do lunch together once every couple months?” Pre-COVID, I had a group of three friends who kind of had similar businesses, online businesses, and we’d meet up. The ask from it wasn’t like, “Will you do this thing?” But it was more like, “Hey, can we hang out?” And essentially be friends who are doing similar things together and facilitating that. That’s the other piece. I think sometimes people think about, “How do I get to be a part of this group?”

Bjork Ostrom: And I think oftentimes it’s you facilitate it. That’s the best way to create one of those groups is for you to create it as opposed to try to break into one of them. And pulled up Wood Kitchen here, we’ll link to them as well in the show notes. Cool to hear that you did a collaboration with them. So, as we wind down the interview, obviously, people can follow along with you, blackgarlic.digital, and there’s some links to social there as well on the site. But I’m curious to know, if you had a conversation with yourself, if you sat down in 2016, as you’re winding down your first business and starting this one up, what would be the advice that you’d give to yourself if you were able to go back in time and have a conversation with yourself?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: I think the mistake that I made in the beginning was trying to be everything. So, I wanted to be a baker. I wanted to be a cook. I wanted to be a food blogger. I wanted to be a food stylist. I wanted to be so many things. So, I didn’t mention, even as I rebranded Black Garlic, I was still taking some orders, like a bit of catering. So, I think a year ago I made a decision to stop completely, because it was taking too much of me. Catering is different. And then food photography and blogging is also different. So, if I could advise myself, do one thing and be good at it. You can’t be everything.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. And I think it’s hard, because a lot of times we think that other people are everything. We look at somebody else and what they’re doing, and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, they’re doing it all.” And so often they’re not. Sometimes I think about that even with like… So, our site, Pinch of Yum, a food and recipe website, Lindsay does a lot of the content for that. But I think sometimes people look at that, they think, “Oh, you guys are doing all of these different things.” But it’s comparing somebody who’s just starting with us and we’ve been doing it for 11 years. So, it’s like, we have a team and the reason we can do video with every post is because we have a full-time videographer, Emily, who’s awesome and does videos for us.

Bjork Ostrom: So, I hear people talk about that too, with somebody just out of college, graduating university and saying like, “Hey, I want to be where my parents are.” And it’s like, “Well, they’ve been doing this for 30 years and they’re in different place.”

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: I think sometimes we can do that in this world as well. And focus being such an important thing, love that. I think that’s really important and a great takeaway. So, blackgarlic.digital, where are the other places that people can follow along with you, Clara, and stay in the loop, not only on your photography and the things that you’re doing, but also to spread the good word about Zambia and all the good things that it has to offer for the world?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Okay. They can follow me on Instagram. My Instagram is BlackGarlicZambia. My Facebook is Black Garlic and my Twitter is also Black Garlic. And my TikTok is Black Garlic Zambia. I think I started TikTok a month ago. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Do you have a favorite platform?

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Instagram.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, good. Yeah, Pinch of Yum is just starting to get into TikTok. And I sent my friends, who are heavy TikTok users, the other day. I was like, “This is a very strange place. And I don’t know. I feel like it’s walking into a party and I feel like I’m wearing a panda suit.” Everybody’s like, “What are you doing here? You don’t fit in.” I don’t know how to act.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: One thing I love about TikTok is the fact that you can be yourself. You don’t have to be too serious on TikTok. That’s why I love it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. It’s not-

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Especially Instagram of three, four, five years ago, super polished, beautiful images, which is a good thing. But yeah, TikTok feels a little bit more of you put on your comfortable pants after you get home from work kind of feel.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Yes. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is great. Yeah. I love that. Clara, thanks so much for coming on the podcast, it was really great to talk to you and so fun to learn more about your story and shine a light not only on your story, but also the wonderful country and people of Zambia. Thanks.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been amazing.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hi, hi, Alexa here, from the Food Blogger Pro team. We hope you enjoyed this episode of the podcast, and if you want to go even deeper into learning how to monetize, grow your food blog, your food business, we highly suggest you check out our Food Blogger Pro membership at foodbloggerpro.com/join. It’s there that we share all of our course content about monetizing, photography, video and everything that food creators need to know in order to move the needle on their business.

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