455: Creating Your Own Products and Adding a Revenue Stream with Barbara Hobart

Listen to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast using the player above or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

A blue photograph of someone standing at a desk on a laptop with the title of Barbara Hobart's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Creating Your Own Products and Adding a Revenue Stream.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

Welcome to episode 455 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Barbara Hobart.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Catherine Zhang. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Creating Your Own Products and Adding a Revenue Stream

Barbara Hobart is a television writer and producer who also happens to work with food bloggers and other entrepreneurs to identify, create, and manufacture custom products.

In this interview, Bjork and Barbara chat about why food creators might consider selling their own products to generate new revenue streams and increase brand awareness. They walk through all of Barbara’s recommendations for how to develop, manufacture, and distribute a product, and what kinds of products tend to perform well for food creators.

We always love to chat about diversifying income streams on the podcast, and this is a great episode to get you thinking about how you might do that! Don’t miss it.

A photograph of a stack of lemon poppyseed bread slices with this quote from Barbara Hobart's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast: "What sets people apart are the people who are tired of promoting somebody else's products."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • More about her background as a television writer and producer in Hollywood and how she (accidentally!) got started creating products.
  • The importance of diversifying income as a creator.
  • How to know if you’re ready to build a physical product and/or a brand that sells products as a digital creator.
  • Her recommendations for how to easily create, manufacture, and ship a product.
  • About products that food creators might consider selling (and how to get started).
  • The difference between white-labeling something and creating a custom product.
  • What to know about food safety, insurance, and the importance of due diligence when selling your own food products.
  • Why selling your own products can help you control your bottom line.


Thank you to our sponsors!

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

the Clariti logo

Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode!

Sign up for Clariti today to easily organize your blog content for maximum growth and receive access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing, 50% off your first month, optimization ideas for your site content, and more!

Interested in working with us too? Learn more about our sponsorship opportunities and how to get started here.

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

A blue graphic with the Food Blogger Pro logo that reads 'Join the Community!'

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti. You spend a lot of time on your blog content, from planning, to recipe testing, to writing, to promoting, but do you know if each of your posts are bringing you the most traffic they possibly can? With Clariti, you can see information about each and every post, which is automatically synced from WordPress, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console, so that you can make well-educated decisions about where your existing content may need a little attention. Think broken links or broken images, internal links or missing alt text. You can also use information that Clariti pulls about sessions, page views, and users to fuel the creation of new content, because you’ll be able to see which types of posts are performing best for you. Get access to keyword ranking, click-through rate, impressions, and optimization data for all of your posts today with Clariti. Listeners to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast get 50% off of their first month of Clariti after signing up. To sign up, simply go to clariti.com/food. That’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food. Thanks again to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. This week on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Barbara Hobart. Barbara is a television writer and producer who also happens to work with food bloggers and other entrepreneurs and businesses to help identify, create, and manufacture custom products. In this interview, Bjork and Barbara chat all about why food creators might consider selling their own products, and what kinds of products they might look into developing. Barbara chats more about the importance of selling your own products as a way to generate new revenue streams, and also to increase brand awareness amongst your readers.

They walk through all of Barbara’s recommendations and tips and tricks for how to develop, manufacture, and distribute a product, and what kinds of products tend to perform best for food creators. Barbara also started her own company, Best Ever Backdrops, to create backdrops for food photographers and videographers, and she chats a little bit more about how she fell into that line of work, and what it was like to develop her own product. We always love to talk about the importance of diversifying your income on this podcast, and this is an awesome interview to get you thinking about how you might do that. Without further ado, I’ll let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Barbara, welcome to the podcast.

Barbara Hobart: I’m thrilled to be here. It’s so good to meet you and be on. Thanks for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: We’re going to be talking about something that I try and bring up a decent amount on the podcast, which is thinking strategically around other ways that we, we being content creators, publishers, people who have a following, can create an income. And a lot of times, oftentimes what people are interested in is I want to build an audience, and a lot of people are thinking, “I want to build an audience and then get traffic and then monetize via ads,” which is great. Sometimes people are thinking, “I want to build a following, and I want to build it on social, and I’m going to work with brands to create income by getting paid to talk about a product or integrate it into a recipe.”

But today we’re going to be talking about creating a following, building traffic in order to then sell something that you own, it’s your own product. And I think it’s a great category to think about, because there’s a lot of different reasons, and we will talk about what those are, but what I want to know is, how did you get into this? How did you get to this place where you are coaching, advising, and working with people to create their own products?

Barbara Hobart: Well, I have a kind of crazy story, and we all came to this business, I think, in a very unique way. I don’t think we all said… One day we woke up and we were all food bloggers or something. For myself, just a very brief background is I’m actually a television writer and producer, and so I spent like 25 years in Los Angeles working in Hollywood, and I accidentally invented a product back in the 90s, and really quickly, I invented the very first decorative light switch plate cover that required no rewiring, and I launched my company in England. There’s a whole long story that goes on with that, and it was an accident, but today I helped my-

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean when you say it was an accident?

Barbara Hobart: Well, I’ll tell you the story.

Bjork Ostrom: Please do.

Barbara Hobart: No, I know, it’s crazy. So, I was working at the studio. I was on a show, and I was on a hiatus, and I just bought a new house, and so I’m in Encino and I just bought a new house and it was the ’90s and sponge painting was the thing.

Bjork Ostrom: I remember at my house sponge painting our basement down the stairs.

Barbara Hobart: Yes, it was like a thing to do, so I had sponge painted literally every vertical surface there was. So anyway, I went into the blue bathroom that used to be yellow, and there was this plastic light switch plate cover on the wall. It was a little plastic thing, and I sponged over it and I ruined it. It was like, “Ugh.” And it was like this again, this 17 cent plastic switch, and so I ended up… Martha Stewart was really big at the time. This is Martha pre-prison, and I ended up… She was doing all this decoupage, and so she was putting these pictures on different things when she wasn’t rerouting her driveway or something. So anyway, I started putting these pictures on this light switch cover. Now, I know this is going to sound insane, but back then decorative light switch plate covers were not a thing.

It wasn’t a product, it didn’t really exist. So anyway, I did that and whatever, and I had some friends come over and they go, “Oh my God, that’s really cute. You should sell these.” I said, “Well, I’m working at the studio. I don’t really have time to make light switch covers.” But anyway, so I ended up hiring. They go, “Well, these are really cute,” and I’m like, “Oh, well, okay.” And so, I hired a bunch of stay-at-home moms that would handcraft these things. Now, what’s crazy about this is before Google and I had dial up.

I had this website that was the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen, but people had started to see them online and some people go, “Oh, I wanted to purchase them at some little craft stores.” I was like, “Oh, whatever.” And again, it wasn’t really a business that I was making money at, because I was working as a television writer. So anyway, I started doing that and the women that I had hired, they were doing craft shows, everybody was having fun, and I don’t know, it was just a weird thing.

So what happened was, this was like in 1994, and I ended up… It was like 2003, I was visiting friends in London and they had just redone their kitchen and they had just done their bathroom had this magnificent, gorgeous Italian stone tile, and they had this square light switch, which is what they have in England, sticking out like this. I said, “Oh my God, let me make you a light switch cover.” And my friend Jonathan goes, “Well, you can’t.” I said, “Well, what do you mean I can’t?” He goes, “Well, our switches are physically molded into the plastic and then wired into the wall.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, so it’s like the actual component part is different.

Barbara Hobart: Yes, and I said, “You mean the whole country’s like this?” He’s like, “Uh-huh.” And I was like, “Oh.” I said, “Well, that’s weird.” And so, I get back and two days later I said, “Well, I’m inventing a light switch cover for England.” Now, I don’t even know what the word injection mold is. Again, I’ve never done this before. So, I basically invented the very first decorative light switch plate cover that required no rewiring, and I launched my company in England nine months later, and my first client, oddly enough, I did a trade show, my first client was Laura Ashley, and they gave me all their wallpapers to match with their light switch cover, and I became their manufacturer. And from there, that’s how I ended up in manufacturing, which was weird. So, I’m a comedy writer/manufacturer.

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.

Barbara Hobart: It’s weird.

Bjork Ostrom: The only one.

Barbara Hobart: Yes, the only one, and it was too long, and it didn’t fit on my business card, and I just stopped telling people, but today, as I joke around, and I always say, but today I help my clients really create custom products on purpose. I don’t make light switch covers anymore, because there’s so many of them. And so, I really diversified and I ended up changing my company and I ended up really creating products for global brands, as well as entrepreneurs and startups and people that really want to create a brand awareness and control their own revenue.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting, we had a conversation with a founder I talked to. His name’s Nathan Barry, he has an email company called ConvertKit. A lot of creators, publishers, people use it.

Barbara Hobart: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: And he has this concept that he talks about called The Billion Dollar Creator, and the whole premise is that the least effective way for people who have a following to monetize is through ads and sponsored content, and the most effective way is to build a sister, brother, sibling brand that can be built alongside of it. He uses the example, like Kardashians would be an example, but there’s also in the food space, like Primal Kitchen is a really great brand that was bought for hundreds of millions of dollars, and the founder of that company had previously, Mark Sisson, had previously had a blog that he was running, and he used that blog to launch Primal Kitchen.

And so, you see a lot of these examples of people building these successful companies and leveraging their following to either get all of the majority of the sales or sometimes the initial traction to move things forward, and then eventually it maybe gets kind of enough momentum or it gets to a point where it can kind of sustain itself, but there’s a ton of opportunity there. And also it’s a little bit intimidating, the idea of creating a physical product for people who are used to creating content, publishing their Instagram and-

Barbara Hobart: Virtual content.

Bjork Ostrom: Virtual content. To think about having a product suddenly is like… Maybe that’s for a lot of people would be intimidating, because it’s kind of a different business division. So, how would somebody know if they’re ready to take time to invest in building an actual product or even more so a different brand that sells products?

Barbara Hobart: Absolutely. Well, the first thing is for people that have a really huge following and you’re making money with ads, that’s amazing, and you already have a built-in audience who’s going to buy from you, because they’re already buying from you. They want you what you have, they’re downloading your content. The thing I tell people is if you’re making a ton of money with ads, that’s great. I’ll tell a story later about how that… And everybody should keep that, but you’re really not in control because of the algorithm. And all of a sudden when an algorithm changes, you could lose a tremendous amount of your following and your ad revenue. So, I was going to tell the story about creating this cookbook, but we’ll get to that later.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, we can share it now as long as it’s relevant.

Barbara Hobart: It is. So, there’s a very large influencer and a baker. She’s in the baking space. She does savory baking stuff, but primarily cookies and sweets and things like that. And she made a tremendous amount of money with ad revenue. And then when COVID hit, things just stopped. And she’s like, “Oh my God, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do.” And she also wasn’t fond of having somebody else in control of her bottom line and how she generated revenue. And so people had said to her, “Well, have you ever thought of creating a cookbook?” And she says, “Well, yeah.” She had a digital, but she had all the recipes there, just as everybody does. There are hundreds of recipes ready, and so she set out with this goal, she goes, “Well, I don’t know, maybe I’ll sell 100.”

And so, she did a whole bunch of research on where to print it and how to print it and whatever, and she didn’t want to lay out any money upfront, so she did it all with pre-sales and within a matter of, I don’t know, 72 hours she had like 500 pre-sales. So she thought of like, “Oh, maybe I’ll sell 100,” and then she went to 500. Well, her second edition she sold over 4,000, and then last month she sold 12,000 and the profit margins on that… Now, everything that she’s making now since 2020, when decided to get into this, has far surpassed any ad revenue, and she’s not having to promote other people’s brands. She is in charge of promoting herself, and the profit margin is amazing. Everybody would have a different size book or whatever, but for instance, I work with a lot of people that publish cookbooks or any kind of book, because I work with a lot of different types of companies, and for instance, you could do print on demand, which there is really no profit margin to speak of-

Bjork Ostrom: Because the idea is you’re… In that, for people who aren’t familiar, people buy a copy, that starts the process of not only getting the book shipped to them, but also the book actually created and manufactured. So, it’s like on demand production of the product, which is really expensive from a manufacturing standpoint.

Barbara Hobart: Right, and I work with all different kinds of printers and publishers of all different levels. And so for instance, let’s say you wanted to print a small cookbook and you want it to be 60, 72 pages, somewhere in there, not a huge book. You want it to be a smaller size, maybe you wanted a perfect bound… You could do a hardcover, but let’s say you wanted a perfect bound, perfect bound I think is better because it costs less to ship.

So anyway, let’s say you’re printing the book for, I’m going to pick a number here, a 60-page book, a seven by nine. Let’s say it’s going to cost you $5, $6. Well, you could sell that book for 19.95 to 24.95, which several of my clients have. So, if you’re selling 10,000 of those, do the math. It’s a massive, massive profit margin that you control, and the one thing that I think that scares people the most is they don’t know where to begin, and they’re also afraid of turning… As I always say to people, they’re also quite afraid of turning their dining room table to a mailing facility. And I always tell people, there’s so many different options where you don’t have to do that. You can use Fulfilled by Amazon, which is my least favorite choice.

Bjork Ostrom: Why is that?

Barbara Hobart: The fees they take out.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, and Fulfilled by Amazon, meaning you have, let’s say a pallet of books, you send that pallet of books to Amazon and they take care of all of the shipping, manufacturing, or not manufacturing-

Barbara Hobart: They take a cut of the sale, and what I do and what I’ve told all my clients, and especially in the food blogging world, because I’m doing a lot of spices and baking goods for a lot of different clients right now, you use a private fulfillment center and they fulfilled at cheaper shipping rates, and their pick and pack rates are cheaper than Amazon, and they do not take a cut of your sale and the order comes in from your website and it goes directly to them and they ship it, and you don’t have to be bothered.

Bjork Ostrom: And in that case, the biggest consideration would be that your book wouldn’t be on Amazon?

Barbara Hobart: No, because you as a seller-

Bjork Ostrom: Can sell it, and then the third party… Got it.

Barbara Hobart: Right, but the thing since they’re not doing the Fulfilled by, you’re charging the shipping and it just goes straight out. So, if you have your own Amazon store, you could sell it there. You could also just sell it as your own product, and you could certainly sell on your own website, which actually three of my clients are doing, and none of them are doing it on Amazon, because they don’t want to pay the commission.

Bjork Ostrom: Are they doing that with a Shopify?

Barbara Hobart: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: So, they’ll create a Shopify store and they’ll list their products. The products could be actual food like spices, baking kit, things like that, or a cookbook, and people on that page, that Shopify site, which would be a different URL they could purchase and check out. And then my guess is what happens for those creators is primarily what they’re thinking about is not, how do I get people to my website, but how do I have a mention of my product within the content that I’m doing? So, suddenly they become content marketers and content creators with a strategic mindset around marketing their product. Is that the shift that you see happen?

Barbara Hobart: Well, yes, and a lot of things that are great. For instance, let’s say you have a recipe that has your number one recipe. Let’s say you use a specific spice. I help people create their own spice lines all the time. You don’t have to buy thousands of bottles. You could start very small minimums, which is fabulous for people that are just starting out, and so on that recipe, you have your product linked to that and they just hit the button and they just check out. And one of the things that’s so great about everybody in the food blogging world has their own blog. You don’t even need your own website specifically for Shopify. They have something called Shopify Lite where you just can sell, so it’s like $9 a month and you just use your URL and you promote it from within your site where your thousands of people are already going, which is your built-in audience, which everybody’s so envious of.

Bjork Ostrom: To have an audience to be able to sell. A lot of times it’s one of the hardest things to do is to have an audience. That’s why you so often see brands reaching out to creators to do branded content or sponsor content. The other thing that I feel like it opens up is the opportunity for you then to go to other creators and say, “Hey, I have this thing. What would it look like to pay you to talk about it?” You can start to think strategically and think different about how you’re promoting your own products in a way where we can’t really do that when the product we’re selling is content and the content is monetized via ads or sponsorships. So, what would your recommendation be for somebody who’s interested in thinking about or interested in taking the next step with selling a product? And you’ve talked about cookbooks, but also spice lines. My guess is you could also look at doing things like kitchen utensils.

Barbara Hobart: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: How do you approach that world?

Barbara Hobart: People do subscription boxes or monthly boxes or welcome kits or the baking essentials. One of the things that I tell my clients is to think about what they use every single day, what are they recommending, what’s in every recipe? What are they known for? What will help their followers? What will their audience love? And it could be a line of, like you said, cooking utensils, or it could be a special spice that you have, it could be digital scales. If there’s something that you use every single day, you can have that branded with your logo. There is not a product that you cannot brand with your logo. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and these are also great giveaways just to create brand awareness. You can use them in both ways. So I ask people, do you have a specific hot sauce or a spice or let’s say you do cupcakes like baking tins or the silicone baking mats for macaroons with little circles.

Again, I don’t bake. I can’t even get cookie dough out of a tube, so I’m not the person to ask about that, but I certainly have made enough of it for different clients. So people, they may want to do something where you just want to keep top of mind. And for instance, here’s something that people don’t really think about, everybody loves something that’s echo friendly and I always say this, you want to keep your brand in their hands, and there’s this product. My number one selling product for just everybody, it doesn’t almost matter what industry they’re in, are custom printed Swedish dishcloths.

And one of the things that’s kind of cool about them is you could put a recipe on them, you can put your logo, and people are washing up… And a Swedish dishcloth, most people don’t really know this, is that it’s eco-friendly, it’s compostable, it’s biodegradable, and one Swedish dishcloth replaces 15 rolls of paper towels and sponges, and it’s such a great way, for instance, it’s easy to ship them, it weighs like an ounce, and it’s something that is a great gift, and if you want to give away, for instance, holiday gifts. So, you might want to put together essential things for your kitchen and put together the top three items that may be something that you know your audience is going to use and love.

Bjork Ostrom: So in the realm of product creation, can you talk about the difference between white labeling something and creating a custom product that is a little bit more involved?

Barbara Hobart: Sure. Let’s do this with spices, because that’s the easiest way to distinguish. You can do your own custom blend. So, you give a co-packer, if you don’t know a co-packer, I work with them, or you can google a co-packer that you want to work with, and what you do is you will give them your custom blended recipe. And one of the things that’s interesting about this and why I encourage people to do this, so when you think about a recipe, let’s say your blend has seven different spices, and let’s say that person, your home cook does not have those seven spices. Seven spices also can be really expensive when you think about it, and maybe they don’t want to measure it out and they don’t want to do a teaspoon of this, whatever, so that’s another great reason is you love the spice that I’m using for my Indian cooking. Here it is in one jar, you don’t have to measure anything out. So, what you do is you give a co-packer your recipe and you sign a non-disclosed agreement and they will blend it up for you.

Bjork Ostrom: And can you talk about the non-disclosure agreement to make sure that they don’t share that recipe with somebody else?

Barbara Hobart: Right, because it’s not their business. Nobody wants your blend. People say, “Would you sign an NDA?” And I’m like, “Yeah, we don’t want you to go out and sell it.” I said, “Trust me, I’m not going out and selling it.” First of all, I don’t sell people’s products.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s not your business.

Barbara Hobart: It’s not my business, but yes, I’m happy to sign it for you, and all legitimate companies do this. There’s always your recipe is secure. Now, here is something that is like a white label. You know how you go to the grocery store and now you go to every grocery store from Kroger to Trader Joe’s to anywhere you could think of, how many times will you see everything bagel?

Well, every co-packer on the planet could put your label on that. Now, that’s saturating the market a bit, and you could certainly come up with your own everything bagel, but that’s like the thing where co-packers will have… Let’s say you don’t have your own famous blend ready to go, but they have blends that are proven like a hamburger spice or poultry blend or fish seasoning or jalapeno hot sauce spices, or jambalaya spices or whatever, they have tried and true blends that are on the shelves that are really, if you go to the supermarket and you see a famous name, sometimes it’s not necessarily their blend.

If it’s Emeril, it probably is his, and what you do is they have a list of all the blends that are ready to go, and what they’ll do is they’ll have usually, because it’s like an in-house, and they’ll put your label on that, and you might only have to buy like 48 jars, as opposed to what you’re investing in your own custom blend, what there is usually with that is there’s a development fee, and it’s not usually, oh my God, it’s like several hundred dollars. It’s not like anything… But you might have to start with two, 300 jars. Now, for bloggers that have a following, that’s not difficult to sell. If you’re just starting out, it may be a great way to build your brand, because people go, “Well, I don’t have a big following.” I say, “Well, you could think about it in two different ways.”

People go, “Well, it’s in my five-year plan.” And I always say to people, “Well, why do you want to build somebody else’s brand for five years? Start now.” One of the things that I’ve always heard, it’s also not the size of your following, it’s how engaged they are. Now, you can have 1,000 engaged followers and make $1 million depending on what you’re selling. You don’t need 350,000 followers to make a nice six figure income.

Bjork Ostrom: So in that world, and it’s interesting, we had some friends who are developing or thinking about developing a non-alcoholic alcohol. I don’t know what the category was.

Barbara Hobart: Beverage.

Bjork Ostrom: I don’t remember. Yeah, non-alcoholic beverage, thank you. I don’t remember the specifics of what it was, but one of the things that was interesting is just learning about, oh, there are companies who do this. They go through the process of helping you pick out what needs to be included, and they give you samples and you go through the product development stage, but then there’s also companies, like you said, and a lot of times what’s interesting is it feels like companies like Target will sell, let’s say a flour, but that flour is actually the same as the branded flour, but it’s just Target is buying it-

Barbara Hobart: It’s under their label.

Bjork Ostrom: … And then rebranding it. And so even the biggest, most established companies are doing this where they’re relabeling a product that is essentially the same, maybe cereals would be another example of where that potentially happens.

Barbara Hobart: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, as a creator who’s interested in selling a thing, it sounds like the question then is, do you want to create something that is custom and unique to yourself, or do you want to maybe fast track that a little bit and say, “I believe in my brand enough and I think people will want to buy from my brand, and I’m going to use something that already exists in the world of spices,” it’s like a spice that’s already been developed by a co-packer, “And label that under my own name and sell it.” And my guess is there’s an appeal to create something custom. I think people probably like the idea of something that’s unique to them.

Barbara Hobart: Absolutely. However, if there’s a poultry blend out there, a seasoning mix for chicken and your label is on that, they’re not going to know you didn’t create that. If it’s a fabulous spice that you love that it’s got oregano and garlic and onion and tarragon or whatever is in there and your name is on that and you’re standing behind it, they don’t know that you didn’t create that, because they haven’t tasted… Look, if you slap your name on everything bagel, everybody knows what everything bagel tastes like right now, because it’s whatever, but there’s so many blends out there right now. If you look in the store for poultry blend, you don’t know how different they all are, but if your name is on it and you’re standing by it, that is your blend.

Bjork Ostrom: And part of it, too, is let’s say there are 100 different poultry blends, your job then as a brand builder is to make sure that you are picking one out that works really well for the context in which you’re going to advertise it and market it, and I think it all comes down to trust. And if you are picking something out and kind of curating that and then selling it to your audience and they get it and they’re like, “Hey, this is exactly like you described it to be, it’s helpful, it tastes good,” that is a win for your brand. If you’re just kind of getting whatever you can and trying to sell it, and you can also dilute your brand potentially by not doing that work. So, it all comes down to you as a curator, as somebody who knows your audience, knows what they would find helpful. Before we continue, let’s take a moment to hear from our sponsors.

This episode is sponsored by CultivateWP, specifically a new offering they have called Cultivate Go. So CultivateWP, the agency or the company, focuses on designing and developing food blogs, and it was founded by Bill Erickson who’s this incredible WordPress developer. We know him, because as I’ll share, we’ve worked with him, and Duane Smith, who’s this incredible designer. And Bill developed a version of Pinch of Yum before we had our own internal team, and it was one of the fastest growing versions of the site that we’ve had. So as you know in this industry, word spreads quickly about people who do good work, and Bill and Duane have really filled their calendar over the past few years with doing these custom websites for some of the biggest food sites on the web. You can see the list on their website, and they would create these fully custom designs, but they would cost literally multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

And that makes a lot of sense if you’re a site that gets multiple millions of page views, but what they realized is there’s a lot of really successful sites who need the best technology in the world to power them, but can’t justify spending multiple tens of thousands of dollars. So, that’s why they launched Cultivate Go. It’s a semi-custom theme design and white glove site setup. So, you choose one of the core themes, they have multiple options, and then their team customizes the logo, the brand colors, the topography, so it matches your brand exactly.

And then they set it up on a staging environment where you can test it out, get a feel for it, and can launch your site within just one week, and the cost is only $5,000. And here’s the thing, you have the exact same features, functionality, and support as the themes that cost up to 10 times as much as a Cultivate Go theme. So, that means your Cultivate Go site can compete on an even technological playing field with the biggest food sites in the world. If you’re interested in checking it out, go to foodbloggerpro.com/go or you could just search Cultivate Go in Google. Thanks so much to CultivateWP for sponsoring this episode.

How about from a distribution standpoint with that, let’s say you do decide to go the route of getting a certain blend of a spice, then do you have that shipped to… Just logistically, does that go to somebody who would it be considered a 3PL and then they would, can you talk about what that process looks like?

Barbara Hobart: It’s the shipping. Again, you can have it fulfilled. You could fulfill it yourself if you’re starting out and do it at home and print out your own labels or what have you, or you can use a fulfillment center. As I said, there’s Fulfilled by Amazon, which is obviously huge or across the country there are so many fulfillment centers that really fill your product and they’ll package it in a nice box or a bag or however you want it done.

And the one thing I always tell my clients is when I lived in Los Angeles and I still had the switch plate company, I actually used a fulfillment center on the West Coast, and I’ll never do that again, because one of the things that was so awful about that was if I had to ship product to somebody in New York, that’s a five day ship. And so, I happen to be based in the Midwest right now, but even if I were not based in the Midwest, I love having a fulfillment center because then if you’re shipping from the middle of the country, like I ship out of Illinois, it’s two days to New York or it’s three days to Los Angeles, so it cuts down on that.

Bjork Ostrom: Kansas City being kind of that example of right in the middle.

Barbara Hobart: Right in the middle, and I think that’s really important. I have been working with developing a couple of different spice blends with a couple of different clients and they’re very, very different types of brands and one went with her own custom mix, because she just loved it better. What she did is a taste test. She paid for them to do her own custom blend and then blind tasted it against the co-packers’ similar flavor profile, and she didn’t tell anybody it was, she had her family, she has a huge family, and the kids were whatever, and her kids, grown kids and everybody tasted this and hands down hers won and they had no idea what they were tasting or whatever.

So, it really depends on if you come upon a blend that you love, that if you loved it, go with it. If you want to do your own custom blend of Indian spice or a Mexican spice or you have something that’s going to make your vegan soup taste better, go with that. The investment might be several hundred dollars and you have to get maybe 200–300 bottles, but it’s not that huge.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. One of the things that when I think about the world of actual food product that I get nervous about is you ship something out and then it has peanuts in it and then somebody has an allergic reaction and they die. Worst case scenario, because it’s so different than putting a recipe on Instagram and somebody makes that recipe and they have success or they don’t have success, but suddenly when you’re creating a food product, it feels like you’re entering into a different category where the stakes are a little bit higher in terms of quality product and making sure that it’s…

My guess is there’s all different types of co-packers as well, some that have… And I was talking to a friend actually who sold his company to Land O’ Lakes and he talked about all of those considerations that go into it, and if you pick the wrong company to produce your product, it can result in an inferior product.

Barbara Hobart: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: What are the considerations that a business builder needs to be aware of when starting to create food products and you have expiration dates and you have customer support that looks different, storage, things like that?

Barbara Hobart: I’m doing a line of chocolate for a baker right now, and the main thing is where are those chocolate bits being stored, at what temperature?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, exactly.

Barbara Hobart: And that’s all built in. Really, what you need to do is when you find the co-packer you want to work with, and I work with tons of them of all different kinds, some do just confections, some do soup, it’s everything, it’s a whole world of co-packers out there and suppliers and vendors, and really it’s doing your due diligence to make sure you’re working with a factory that is certified and that has all the proper FDA requirements, because you are handling food. So, that’s the first thing, and so you know you’re getting that and then you have your own business insurance and liability insurance. And just like anything else, if you were not selling food, let’s say you’re selling digital scales or you’re selling, I don’t know, like a chef knife, and somebody could cut themselves –

Bjork Ostrom: Or the blade could break.

Barbara Hobart: A blade could break or whatever, so you have your insurance liability.

Bjork Ostrom: We’ve actually been looking to get somebody who’s an expert on business insurance on the podcast, because I think we don’t think about that or talk about that a lot, but making sure you have liability insurance and umbrella policy above your current insurance that you have and all of that stuff. We do real estate, obviously in real estate, you think about that, but I think it kind of gets forgotten in our world and just how important it is to actually have some insurance, even more so than when you actually are creating products. Is there a way to understand how the level of quality for a co-packer, co-manufacturer, like somebody who’s creating these products, is there any database of ranking for the quality of these different companies?

Barbara Hobart: I think it’s a question of doing your research, just like as you would to pick any manufacturer.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Barbara Hobart: For instance, as I said, I work with a lot of different suppliers across many different products, because I create hundreds of different types of products, and for instance, one of the spice companies that I was working with claim to have the best spices. I was like, “Okay,” and I’d worked with them before and I wasn’t that happy with the service. So in other words, it’s who you feel comfortable working with. So anyway, I wasn’t sure about how I felt about continuing to work with them. And I had another spice co-packer that I wanted to work with, and I said, “I’ve got this blend.” And I said, “I want you to do this recipe and I want you to blend it.” It came out two completely different ways.

People are also buying spices from different places. For instance, as we say, garbage in, garbage out. The end result is going to be as good as the ingredients that you put into it. If you’re doing something with Hershey’s chocolate versus Callebaut or Guittard versus Wilbur, whatever, there’s so many different things. So, it’s really up to your taste palette and your judgment as to which supplier and which spice that you go with. You might say, I really don’t want… If you laid out all these different chocolates next to each other and you did a taste test, it’s like kind of the Coke and the Pepsi taste. Some people are going to go, “I want Coke,” and other people, “No, I like Pepsi better.” So, it’s really going to be up to you, and all the co-packers are all FDA certified and all the labeling is all done accordingly with the right labeling that you need for food. It’s not done in somebody’s kitchen.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, so you obviously have worked with many different companies that are doing this, creators, publishers, brands who are creating their own product and selling it. Are you able to pinpoint any kind of commonalities or similar traits with people who have success creating a product, whether it be cookbook, chocolate, a spice, a physical product, who are able to successfully build that into either a revenue stream within their current company or a separate company that in and of itself becomes successful? What do you see as kind the common traits with people who find success selling a product?

Barbara Hobart: I think what sets people apart are the people that are tired of promoting somebody else’s products. On this one video I share, “Coke doesn’t promote Pepsi. Adidas does not promote Nike.” And when I got into the food blogging world, I was very new to it and I really didn’t understand how anybody in a food blogger made money. They go, “Well, if your brand collaborations…” And there’s nothing wrong with it or ads or promoting other… And I said, “You’re building somebody else’s brand.” And I think that the difference is that people want to control their bottom line, and now with algorithms and with the way everything is changing these days, for instance, you want your clients to be your clients, and for instance, let’s say people are successful with affiliate links, let’s say, on an affiliate link, you’re making only say between four and 8%, which is set by Amazon. You are not controlling how much you’re making, just like you don’t have control of your ads.

Bjork Ostrom: They can lower it if they want.

Barbara Hobart: So, really what’s happening here is that people that… Most people never thought they would build their brand or their blog to where it is today. They didn’t start out with 300,000 followers. They didn’t know what they knew 10 years ago or four years ago, what they know today. So, it’s a learning curve, and you have to really ask yourself, what kind of brand do I want to be? And the thing is, a lot of people don’t even realize how important they are to their followers, because people are coming to them for advice. People are seeing them already as an expert.

And so, one of the things is I think that in this day and age, people need to be in control of a new revenue stream, and we’ve got AI taking a huge chunk of authority, and AI can’t create their own spice line, thank God. Maybe they can in five years, but I hope I won’t be here for that, but the thing is, when you have your own brand, you can set your own profit margins. So in other words, you can set something between 30, 40, 50 or more than 100% markup, which is certainly better than a four to 8% margin, and you are in control of your bottom line. And you don’t have to guess, “Am I going to lose traffic and not be able to make what I’m making a month because somebody else is controlling it?” I think it’s the mindset of each individual of where they really want to be.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. Even Amazon will send a recap email and say, “Hey, you sold this much in product on Amazon.” And for a site like Pinch of Yum, which is the one that we run, it’ll be multiple tens of thousands of dollars every month, and we don’t really even do a ton of affiliate stuff. We’ll have links here and there, but it’s not a super strategic approach for us as affiliate. But it’s like, oh, you think about number one, if it was something that we had created and we were selling directly, and number two, if we were then strategic with it, obviously there’s a ton of considerations that go along with it. It’s a new business unit, and it’s more consideration and work and effort to get that additional profit margin, but it’s also, like you said, controllable and it’s building a brand that in and of itself is also valuable.

In building businesses, part of what we’re doing is building something that in and of itself is inherently valuable, and if you think of creating an associated brand similar to Primal Kitchen, I don’t know the exact story, but I think in that conversation with Nathan, he said it was something like it was under 10 years. I don’t know if it was like five, six, seven years after he had started the brand it was sold, and it was sold for a lot of money.

Barbara Hobart: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: If he would’ve been an affiliate or a different brand, it still would’ve been valuable money that he would’ve been able to quantify in some way in terms of business value, but it would’ve been very different in terms of the multiple, the value for another acquiring company. And so, that’s part of it too. When you think about what we’re doing, and one of the fun things, especially for a personal brand is if you can have an associated brand that isn’t necessarily under the umbrella, it could be, but it’s an associated brand that you could promote, that can be where you can start to depersonalize some of your brand as well.

Barbara Hobart: Two of the bloggers that I’m working with now have their name of their blog and how they’re known, and their product brand is a different name, which they’re promoting, and it’s separate. And for instance, I don’t work with them, but for instance, I know Nom Nom Paleo, she came out with a line of spices. She has cookbooks and all these different things, and I think they’re in Whole Foods now. I was walking in Whole Foods the other day and I said, “Oh.”

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, cool.

Barbara Hobart: So, there’s so many opportunities, because once also you create your own brand, you could also wholesale it, you could sell it into stores, large stores or specialty stores, and so there’s a really lot of opportunity to make quite a nice amount of money.

Bjork Ostrom: So, what is that first step? Somebody says, “Hey, I want to explore this. I want to look into it.” A lot of what you’re doing now is working with these companies and working with publishers and creators. Let’s say that they want to work with somebody like you and go through that process, can you talk through how you go from somebody being like, “I’m kind of interested in maybe doing this,” to-

Barbara Hobart: Let’s go.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re selling a product at a high level. What does that look like?

Barbara Hobart: Well, what that looks like if somebody wants to work with me, for me, it’s not about slapping a logo on a water bottle. It’s like I really work with my clients to figure out what product is going to best represent their brand. And sometimes they have this idea of this product that they want to create and they’re obsessed with it, and by the time we get done talking, it’s not even what they’re creating. So, what would happen would be I’m over at barbarahobart.com and in other words, people could take my course, they could book a discovery call with me. And what I do is I walk people through the process of what it is that they want to achieve and why do they want to achieve it, and how much budget do they have and what is it and what’s their following. And so, I kind of go through an R&D on your own company to determine where to position yourself.

Are you going to be a premium brand? Are you going to be a high… Are you vegan? How do you want to be perceived? Do you want to be a luxury brand? And once we kind of determine that, then we look at what it is that you’re an expert in and helping your audience in, and then we kind of delve into what types of products that you use every day or that you’re recommending your clients use every day, or like you were talking about affiliate sales, what is your number one affiliate sales product?

Or you can either A, manufacture one yourself and make it better, or you can create a complementary product if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel if that market is already saturated. So, we look at that and then if something is not something like being designed from scratch, that takes an amount of time, but what most people don’t realize is you can create a custom product in a couple of weeks. People think that, “Oh my God, this could take me five years.” No, when you work with me, it’s like you want to do spices, let’s get going, or do you want to do a digital scale and a bunch of fabulous baking utensils? You find the ones you want to do, we get your logo on it, we figure out whatever, then you decide the price point based on what your manufacturing costs are, and you have a product ready to go in a month.

Bjork Ostrom: So it’s doable, especially if you’re going the route of, my guess is the more custom you get, the more product development stage there is, the more you go the white label route that you’re using a preexisting either scale as an example, or spice blend, you’d be able to move a little bit quicker with that, but it’s like you said, it’s not something that’s going to take three years or six years. It’s not like you’re developing an Apple Vision Pro and going to be in the lab for five years. So, that’s great, and I think one of the things that I’ve found in the work that we’ve done is the best way to fast track progress is to work with somebody who’s done something multiple times. And so, you being somebody who has been through this and experienced it with multiple people you’ve seen inside of the inside the day-to-day, just as a last opportunity for you, you also have in the food world a product that you’re going to be launching and releasing for focused on photography backdrops. Do you want to talk about that quick?

Barbara Hobart: Well, thank you. When I got into the food blogging world, which as I said, I was in it for like an hour.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, as a creator.

Barbara Hobart: As a creator, because of the Instant Pot. Anyway, I ended up having to hire… This is about four years ago, I ended up having to hire food photographers to photograph my recipes, because that’s just a skill I don’t have, and it’s just not pretty when I have a camera in my hand and I don’t have the time. And so, what I did is I invented Best Ever Backdrops, and the reason I did that, and this is something also about how I think about what I tell my clients, is I was watching my food photographer friends and also the people that I had hired to do my food photography as they were lifting slabs of marble and chunks of wood. And I’m like, “Are you insane?” It was like crazy. I’ve never seen it and I had never been around… I didn’t even know what a backdrop was.

And so, what it was is they needed to be waterproof, they needed to be stain resistant, they needed to be lightweight. And so, I launched a few years ago Best Ever Backdrops, and now we have a new line of vinyl, and we also create… The thing that I focus on, because I do everything custom also is we have over 250 surfaces and we have wonderful brands of backdrops created by Nate Crawford, Skyler Burt, and Chrissy Olroy who have created exclusive lines for us, but one of the things that is really important now for brands, your own brand or you’re working with brands, is that we will create any custom color backdrop to go with your brand to really make your shots stand out. And so, we’re relaunching my company in about two weeks. It’s online right now, but we’re having a refresh and a rebrand.

Bjork Ostrom: And the thing that I love about that is any time who’s coaching around a thing and then also doing the thing, and we do that with Pinch of Yum. It’s our primary thing that we’re doing. It’s publishing to Instagram, it’s publishing to a blog, it’s understanding SEO, and secondarily, we have this community where we’re teaching and a part of that. And for you, kind of a similar thing. You’re in the world of product creation and working with customers and then also teaching people how to do it, which I think is so great. We’ll link to both of those in the show notes. Barbara, thanks so much for coming on, sharing your story. I think it’s super important for us as business builders to be thinking about what are the different ways that we can diversify the income that we have? And it’s also fun. It’s fun to think about creating stuff in the world and people using it, and it can be a really wonderful thing. So thanks for coming on, really appreciate it.

Barbara Hobart: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Emily Walker: Hey there, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the podcast. We really hope you enjoyed it. Since we just entered a new month, we always like to kick off the month by highlighting everything new that will be coming in the Food Blogger Pro membership this month, and we have a really big month of awesome content coming up. If you are listening to this podcast super early on April 2nd, then we recommend tuning into our live Q&A with Kate Ahl, our Pinterest expert. We’ll be going through all sorts of Pinterest strategy with her this afternoon. And if you can’t tune in live, remember that you can always watch our live Q&A replays on the Food Blogger Pro site after the live call. Next up on April 4th, we’ll be publishing our coaching call with Cheryl Norris from the food blog Bakes by Brown Sugar.

In this coaching call, Bjork and Cheryl talk about hiring and the best way to go about assessing the skill level of a potential hire. They also talk about pricing for smaller brands if you’re doing sponsored content or brand work for a business that isn’t able to pay quite as much as some other brands, and talk about incorporating video into your current photo and recipe process, so it’s just not quite so time-consuming.

It’s a really great coaching call, so definitely make sure to tune into that. Next step, we have another live Q&A. This one is all about AI and food blogging, and we’ll be joined by Paul Bannister from Raptive to talk about all of your questions about AI and how it might affect SEO and food blogging in the future. Last but not least, we’ll be releasing a brand new course all about iPhone photography and editing, and that will be going live on April 18th. So like I said, a super busy month. We’re really looking forward to all of this new content, and if you aren’t yet a Food Blogger Pro member, you can join by going to foodbloggerpro.com/membership, and you can learn more about the membership there and join us in the membership. We’d love to have you. Thanks again for listening. Make it a great April.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.