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.
This episode is sponsored by Clariti.
Welcome to episode 360 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Eden Westbrook from Sweet Tea and Thyme about how she shifted her mindset and became a full-time food blogger.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Amy Katz from Veggies Save The Day about mistakes food creators make with email marketing. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Shifting Your Mindset
Today, we’re really excited to share this great conversation with Eden! She’s the recipe developer, photographer, and writer behind the blog, Sweet Tea and Thyme.
From joining the military to attending culinary school and working in the restaurant industry, Eden has had quite the journey, and she’s sharing it all in this episode.
You’ll hear why she decided to start her blog, where she found the motivation and drive to work towards her blogging goals, how she decided what kind of content to share with her readers, and more.
This is such an encouraging interview, and we know you’ll love hearing Eden’s story. Enjoy!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- What Eden’s career looked like in the military
- How she got into food blogging
- How she decided what niche to focus on
- How she identified what her ideal reader looks like
- How she shifted her mindset and went all in with her blog
- What she teaches in The Food Blogging Mastermind
- Sweet Tea and Thyme
- Pinch of Yum Income Reports
- Cookie and Kate
- The Food Blogging Mastermind
- Follow Eden on Instagram and Facebook
- Join the Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook Group
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!
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
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, then 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.
Bjork Ostrom: 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. 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.
Bjork Ostrom: So again, that’s Clariti.com/food, if you want to check that out. 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 using it and the questions that come up and offer any insight or feedback along the way. So thank you to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.
Bjork Ostrom: Hey there, this is Bjork, you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Today’s interview is going to be great. I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you, and I’m going to talk about it in a little bit, but before we do, I wanted to talk about an event that we have coming up for Food Blogger Pro members. If you are a food blogger pro member, we’re really excited about this. On June 9th, we’re having a live Q and A, all about TikTok. I know a lot of people are interested in TikTok. They want to figure out how to grow on TikTok, and we’re going to talk to somebody who knows how to do that. It’s Chelsea White from Chelsweets, and we’ve talked to her on the podcast before, she has over 2 million followers on TikTok. And so this is an exclusive interview, or live Q and A, for food blogger pro members who are interested in figuring out how to grow their TikTok following.
Bjork Ostrom: If you’re not a Food Blogger Pro member, you can check it out by going to foodbloggerpro.com, learning a little bit more by signing up for the email, or if you just want to join, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/join. Let’s talk about today’s interview. Today’s interview is with Eden Westbrook. She is somebody that I was actually on a panel with at Tastemaker Conference and was really inspired by her story. And I think you will be as well, and one of the things that’s most inspiring for me about her story is she persevered and continued to grind and hustle and work hard, in a season where she didn’t have resources at her disposal. And I think a lot of times we think about our situation and we think, if only I had this, or it’d be so much easier if whatever it might be, which is really true.
Bjork Ostrom: All of those situations are true, but it doesn’t mean that keeps you from working hard, from hustling, from learning and continuing to work towards your goal, and Eden’s going to share what that was like for her and her husband as they went forward and did that. So she’s going to be talking about what that was like. She’s going to be talking about her blog, sweet tea and time, and all of the things that she’s learned along the way. It’s really inspiring and I’m so excited to share it with you, so let’s jump in. Eden, welcome to the podcast.
Eden Westbrook: Hi Bjork.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’ll be fun to chat. We were able to hang out at a conference, Tastemaker Conference on a panel together. You told your story there. A little bit about your background, your journey, what you’re doing now and coming out of that, people were like, “Oh my gosh, would make so much sense to have her on the podcast to talk about that stuff.” So it’s one of the great things about conferences. We haven’t really been able to do that for two years, but it’s a great way to connect with people and kick off a conversation. So speaking of journey, want to rewind the tape as we often do with people that we’re having conversations with and from the outset you are now as blogging, I know that you have a military background, both you and your husband so was that kind of first career for you coming out of school? Or was there something before that?
Eden Westbrook: Yep, I actually joined the United States Navy at the age of 17 while I was still in high school, which is funny because I end up missing a lot of school for it and I had a top-secret security clearance. So what would happen is that government people would come, while I was away at boot camp and come knock on the classroom doors and come pluck my friends out of their classrooms. Hey, we have some questions.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And what were they questioning them about?
Eden Westbrook: Just my character, because with that kind of security clearance, you end up seeing things like medical backgrounds, you end up seeing things like top secret government stuff. So you don’t really want to have somebody that you can’t trust. Yeah and someone with a, I guess low quality character.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And so they were essentially interviewing your friends to say, “Hey, is this somebody you would trust with a secret?” Who knows what they would ask, but it was kind of like a background check that they were pulling out and asking. What led you to at 17 say, “Hey, this is something that I’m going to do.”
Eden Westbrook: So I’m third-generation military. So my dad was in the Navy, my grandfathers, both of them were in the army and I have an aunt actually, who was in the air force. So basically grew up in the military. But at age 17, I didn’t really know what to do with my life honestly, and my dad was just like, “You don’t know what you’re going to do with your life, just join the military.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So you said, “Okay, dad I’ll do it.”
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, basically. They kind of raised me to just do whatever they said, so I was just like, “I guess I’m going to the military.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so it was heavy influence from your parents. And how long was that season for you, of being in the military? And also, how much are you able to share about like what you’re actually doing? I know it’s top-secret, but whenever somebody says top secret, the first thing people want to know is, tell me about it. So how much are you able to share what you were doing, and then how long was that season for you?
Eden Westbrook: It’s nothing too interesting. It’s just computer work. And learning things about like how helicopters work, the different types of aircraft, the different types of just things that go on. A lot of it is also, how do you say this? I don’t want to say you’re spying on people, because that’s…
Bjork Ostrom: But it’s like confidential information about people, yeah.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, so you make sure, hey, go check and make sure they’re not doing something they’re not supposed to be doing on this computer. So go ahead and look on Google and see what’s going on in there. But I was only in there for a couple years. I ended up actually fracturing my femur in multiple places. Yeah, and I wasn’t healing quick enough and they were just like, “You’ve got to go.” They’re like, “You’re way too slow of a healer.”
Bjork Ostrom: And, and so what does that look like? Straight out of high school, that’s what you’re doing for work. So it’s not like you’ve gone through college and have that kind of career path so that you were a military. And now you’re like, great, I can’t do this because of an injury, so what’s next?
Eden Westbrook: Oh, my husband came and swoop me up. We are high school sweethearts, we’ve been together since I was 16 and so he kind of followed me into the military. So he was away at surge tech school, just learning basically so he could be a hospital coroner. Then I basically called him up and I was like, “Look, I’m being sent home.” And what they do is send you to your home of record, which was my parents’ house. And my parents were like, “We’re not keeping you, unless you go ahead, you’re going to work for us.” And I’m like, “Going to be your slave.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, did work for you in what capacity?
Eden Westbrook: Oh, so my mother had always dreamed of having a food truck and she did make that dream come true, just without me.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, got it. And you knew that you didn’t want to work for your parents, so then what?
Eden Westbrook: I just called up, my husband was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” He’s like, “I’m going to come marry you.” I’ll marry you and we’re going to go live together. So that’s what happened. Basically I was a housewife. I was dabbling in blogging since 2012. Really just silly things, I wasn’t taking it too seriously. Mostly because I had friends who were like, “Hey, can you tell me about this recipe that you used to make?” Because when I was in high school, I used to go to all my friends’ houses to cook. So they were like, “Hey, we’re leaving home. Go ahead and show me the recipes that you would make while you were here. I don’t know how to cool.” So there was a lot of that and I was just like, “Let me post them out there because there’s way too many of y’all asking me these recipes.” So that was happening for a while and then my husband ended up injured and he ended up getting out of the military as well.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So at this point you’re both out of the military, you’re kind of dabbling with blogging. Was the blogging work that you’re doing then under Sweet Tea and Thyme?
Eden Westbrook: No, I don’t even remember the name. I think it was the Navy housewife, the Navy wife, something like that.
Bjork Ostrom: So it was kind of a different brand, different focus. At that point, was it like, hey, this could be a thing, or is it more of like, this is kind of a hobby?
Eden Westbrook: It was really mostly a hobby until he got out of the military, because at that point we were just like, what are we going to do? The military does not help you in terms of transitioning into civilian life. Military life’s totally different.
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?
Eden Westbrook: Oh God, it’s like being with mom and dad still, but living in your own home. They cover your household. They make sure that you have a home to live in, that you have your electricity on. You never have to worry about your electricity ever going off in the military. They cover your food, they cover everything. And you’re also getting paid. So basically… Sorry, we have a cat.
Bjork Ostrom: No, that’s great. Spec guest appearance cameo, cat cameo.
Eden Westbrook: Oh yeah, he’s massive. If he becomes a cameo, he’s just going to take up the whole screen.
Bjork Ostrom: The full screen.
Eden Westbrook: Oh
Eden Westbrook: Yeah. He’s a Norwegian Forest cat. Huge. So basically they take care of you and I lived on base housing. We lived on base housing and basically you’re surrounded by all of your… It’s like if food blogging had a neighborhood. So you know everybody, you all are working in the same place. You guys all you know each other and your kids play with each other. It’s very community-oriented. So then when you get out the military, it’s like, bye.
Bjork Ostrom: So at that point, you had already been out and your husband also transitions out. And at that point it’s like, oh, not only is it transitioning a job or a career, which is a pretty substantial big move like any career change, but it’s also changing and you’re moving away from all of these ways that you were being supported. Housing, electricity, food, community. All of that stuff was built in, so not only are you not having the career and the income that you had from that, but also all of these other things fall out. What was that like?
Eden Westbrook: Terrifying, because think of it like this. You lose your home, you don’t get to live there anymore. So it’s like, where do we go now? You go to your home of residence. And I was like, “I’m not going back to my parents. He can’t go back to his parents.” We ended up staying with his grandmother while he was fighting for his veteran benefits. It was a lot. And basically it was just in the midst of that, he was like, “I have no idea what I’m going to do.” And I’m like, “I have no idea what I’m I’m going to do.” We get out of this. So he was focusing on that and I was like, “You know what, why don’t I go ahead?” Because he had to go back and forth a lot between Maryland, where he was originally based and then from his grandmother’s house in Atlanta, and I was like, “I’m going to take our son down to my parents’ house, because it’s a lot more stable.”
Eden Westbrook: And my parents at the time seemed very genuine about, oh yeah, we’ll help you and this and that and the other. I went to culinary school during that time for a while, and then I also worked a job at Macy’s and a job at a restaurant, while also taking care of my son.
Bjork Ostrom: And this was at the same time, you’re doing all of those things at the same time. So working two, three jobs, trying to be present at home, juggling all of that. And what was that like?
Eden Westbrook: Hell.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it was exhausting I would imagine.
Eden Westbrook: I wouldn’t come home until like two in the morning from the restaurant and I was exhausted. Trying to make sure that I would take care of my son and I’m being paid these little scraps. I would make $500 a month. And I was like, “What am I supposed to do with this? How am I supposed to help us get back on our feet, if this is all I’m getting?” And I’m working jobs.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and so this for you is a season of, for both of you, it sounds like kind of searching. Where are we going to land? What are we going to do? What are the next steps?
Eden Westbrook: Because honestly, our families were not helpful in that way. They were just kind like, “I don’t know what you’re going to do. You should have stayed in the military.” And it’s like, we were injured, there’s no staying. There’s no staying when you’re injured, they do not care.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, a pretty hard line. It’s like, hey, if this happens, it’s not like we’re going to be like, we’ll find another spot for you or it’s like, nope, this no longer works. So at what point did you say, “You know what? Maybe I should start focusing on my blog a little bit more.” And did that seem like kind of the most ridiculous idea to you at the time? Or was it like, wait, you saw this kind of light shine through the clouds and be like, here’s my calling.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, actually that’s kind of it because I’ve always loved food. I’ve always loved cooking. That’s where my soul sits. I love feeding people, I love food, I love just teaching. Teaching, I think is the most important thing here, is I love teaching. So I knew I didn’t want to work in restaurants, the back of the house is not for me and my feet. It is not, and it’s very loud. You work very long hours for very little pay and you’re not really being creative unless you’re at a really fancy restaurant. And you get to be the chef de cuisine or something like that, then you get to go ahead and be creative and stuff, otherwise you’re just following orders. And I was just like, “I hate it here.” I was like, “Oh, this sucks.”
Eden Westbrook: And I was like, “I’m not doing this, I’m not going to go back to a restaurant.” So food blogging, I was like, “Okay, there has to be a way for me to go ahead and figure out how to do this.” I wasn’t taking it seriously until I really saw income reports, which became really popular back in 2000, like 15.
Eden Westbrook: And I was just like, okay, I’m looking through income reports, I saw your income report and I was just like you know what? I can make that work, I can do this. This sounds great. I get to stay home and raise my son and my husband at the time he was working two jobs, he was working, what was it? You were working construction with your father?
Speaker 3: No, security.
Eden Westbrook: Security, and you were building stuff.
Speaker 3: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: This is nice because you can kind of do like a producer question. You can call out to him when he is in the same room, that’s awesome.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, my husband and I are just always worked together. Yeah, when people said, “Oh the pandemic, my spouse.” I was like, “This is us all the time. We like this.”
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. It sounds like you’re in this season of kind of circling a little bit. I know what I’m doing isn’t what I always want to do. I feel like I’m working a lot, I’m getting burnt out. I’m not getting the benefit of what I should be getting for how hard I’m working, and you kind of look at this option and say, “Wait, this might be a thing that works out.” Then what? I think a lot of people see that, they see the potential of it, and then they kind of are like, maybe they don’t fully get after it, they don’t know what to do. What did it look like to say, “You know what? I am going to do this.” And to be at the point now where it’s a really successful site that you’re running. I don’t know how much you share around metrics or anything like that, but it provides an income for your family and then some, so how did you get after it, in the early days?
Eden Westbrook: So the first thing I did was I had to convince my husband. Because at the time, we were broke. By this time we ended up getting our own home, we had moved away from his grandmother’s and we were in our apartment at the time. Was it the apartment or did we end up in the Atlanta house by then? I think it was the Atlanta house, yeah. Basically so we’re scraping up, basically struggling and trying to survive and I was just like, “Oh my God. These people are actually making all this money.” And so I was just like, okay, let me actually put in some research. I had printed out what Huffington post did some articles on food blogging. You guys were talking about food blogging, you and your wife, and so many other people, I think Cookie and Kate and a couple of other people. So I was printing out of these articles and stuff, and I hand him basically this thick little dossier.
Bjork Ostrom: Read this.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah. I was like, look, I know we’re broke but… our last hundred something dollars. It was what? In March, so tax season was approaching and we were like, “Look, we get our tax income next month.”
Speaker 3: We’re just going to go full book now.
Eden Westbrook: Okay look, just let’s do this. And then it’ll work out. I’m going to make this work out and give me a few years and I will make this work.
Bjork Ostrom: And so that last amount you’re signing up for, getting a theme and setting up your site essentially.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah. So I signed up on a host, got a theme and I was just like, “Okay, I’m doing this.” I think also we got a camera from a pawn shop, a DSLR, a T3.
Bjork Ostrom: The next step for you then is recipe development, photography, writing posts, and rinse and repeat.
Eden Westbrook: Oh, so I was so excited. I treated it almost like a journey mostly. Almost as if I was just like, hey, I’m just going to wing it like a blog. Like a blog, instead of a recipe website. But that was the thing back then, that was the thing, and so I would put it up-
Bjork Ostrom: Meaning more lifestyle, just here’s an update. Here’s something I’m doing, here’s what I had for dinner yesterday.
Eden Westbrook: Well no, more like a, I failed at making dole whip, but this came out pretty good. Stuff like that. So it was like, it’s not dole whip, but it’s really good and it kind of looks like dole whip, so here’s the recipe and stuff like that. And then a lot of recipes from my childhood, I have a lot of recipes from just culinary school too. So basically it was a lot of just figuring things out. Trying to figure out what I’m creating basically, and then-
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?
Eden Westbrook: I was like, “Okay, I want this to be a recipe website, but what does that mean?” And so I’m like, “What are people looking for here?” And kind of digging more into that and kind of understanding what people are looking for and then trying to figure out. First, it was just mostly a very vague kind of thought process of, oh, this is where I cook. I cook global food and I’m a Southern bell, so this is what it is about. And that sounds cute, and it sounds like a niche, but it’s really not.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, sure. And so essentially what you’re doing at that point is looking for, what is my focus? What is my niche? And how did you do that? How do you actively discover what your niche is?
Eden Westbrook: So I feel like it was an ongoing kind of journey for quite a few years where I was just like, I want to cook things I like, but I also want to cook things that people are searching for, are interested in, and I need to know who I’m talking to, because that could really mean so many things. So you could really love chocolate cake and then you could really love grilling and then you could really love tofu. And it’s just all of these things. Who is this person that you’re reaching out to? So I think back in 2019 or so is when it really just. It was like, I know what I need to do, and so I created the ideal reader kind of working of, who am I talking to? Who is this person? And what am I serving them? And not just food-wise, but who are they? Who is this person, in the flesh?
Bjork Ostrom: And do you imagine that being the person, if you’re creating a recipe, if you’re writing a blog post, are you imagining that person as the person you’re writing to?
Eden Westbrook: Oh yeah, every time. My exact person.
Bjork Ostrom: How would you describe that person for your site right now? So for Sweet Tea and Thyme, who is that?
Eden Westbrook: Okay, so her name is Chloe Brown Mueller. I do this for all my students. I make sure she has a name or he has a name, make sure they have a name, so that they’re person. And so she is in her early to mid-thirties. She has multiple kids, probably about four under the age of eight. Her and her husband live on the east coast, so anywhere from, I would say Vermont to North Carolina and basically what she likes… Oh, thank you honey. Sorry.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that mid podcast delivery? Water. Yeah, tea. That’s awesome.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, he’s so helpful. He really is.
Bjork Ostrom: Best business partner ever.
Eden Westbrook: Yes, he really is. He is just so wonderful. And thank you honey, I love you too. But yeah, so Chloe Brown Mueller is this woman. She isn’t struggling with money, her and her husband make around mid-six figures, and they live in a single-family home with a large backyard. So this specifically tells me what I can cook for her, what grocery store she’s going to, who she’s cooking for, and then I even dabble into things like, what does she like to do? What are her hobbies? What is her favorite thing to order from a restaurant? Stuff like that.
Bjork Ostrom: And how does that help you as a creator? What does that framework or that persona do for you when you’re in the process of creating?
Eden Westbrook: So it helps me be like, I know that spring is coming, so miss Chloe Brown Mueller has a backyard where she can go grilling. All right, what kind of grilling recipes will she like? What would she be doing? Would she be dining Alfresco? So what kind of Alfresco recipes can I make? What are we drinking with that? Are the kids outside? What are we making for them? Stuff like that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so it’s kind of a thought framework, in order to guide content decisions, and it’s one of the ways that you can help stay in a lane. So if you’re like, great, I’m going to do trying to think of an example, chili cheese fries, might be like, maybe not. Maybe, I don’t know. You would know better than I would, but versus coconut shrimp, like I see on your site right now where it’s like, yeah, that might be a little bit more aligned. So at what point did you launch your new site? Was that around the same time where you’re like, “Hey, I’m going to do this new thing, I’m going to really focus.” And then did you just do away with your old site or did you migrate it and rebrand? What did that process look like?
Eden Westbrook: So my old site was on wordpress.com. Yeah, and so the new site was more so for me to be like, yeah, this is my brand. This is my focus. Even the name. People are like, “Why Sweet Tea and Thyme?” And I was just like, “Because the Southern bell part of me.” Sweet tea, we always have literal, just sweet tea. We have sweet tea all the time. Yeah, it’s always in the fridge. Southern bell always has fridge full of sweet tea and lemonade. So Sweet Tea and Thyme was that, plus my love of the herb thyme when I first started cooking. I would just put it on everything because I really didn’t know. I was 12, 13. I was just like, “This is good, I’m going to put it on everything.” And so I really felt like, yeah, this kind of invokes who I am. I love that fresh citrusy lemony smell of thyme that’s herbaceous and then of course, sweet tea from the Southern bell aspect, without being, what’s the word I’m looking for? Stereotypical.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. And so you said, “Hey, I’m just going to start this fresh. I’m going to do a new thing, new focus. I have my persona, that’s where I’m going to start.” My guess that there is a season of really grinding, when you had to get it up and running. How long were you in this, in between of juggling the blog with your day-to-day job and figuring out how to balance that? And at what point did you know, okay, now I can actually leave my job and focus on this full time?
Eden Westbrook: So I actually left my job at Macy’s and at the brewhouse I was working at. So they made their own beer and everything else, pretty cool. So basically I left that right before I decided to start Sweet Tea and Thyme. My husband was working two jobs and he was like, “Look, I’ll be able to support us if you go ahead and do this.” And I don’t do anything impulsively. I’m very meticulous. I look at every minute detail, I’m very focused and I’m also very ambitious.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and so you knew you’re going to go heads down on this, this is going to happen.
Eden Westbrook: Nose to the groundstone. One of the biggest things I actually learned in the beginning was that most people that you know will not support you. When I told my parents, they mocked me. They literally laughed at me and ridiculed me. They were not nice.
Bjork Ostrom: How did you process through that? That’s a pretty heavy thing to sort through.
Eden Westbrook: Oh, goodness. So a thing that my students know about me is I live through petty and spiteness all day. Pettiness and spite all day, every day. Oh yeah, it gets me up in the morning, it makes me happy.
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that? It drives you?
Eden Westbrook: Oh gosh, yes.
Bjork Ostrom: So it was like fuel almost?
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, so literally his parents told me, “This will never work. It’s just an expensive hobby for people who have the money to do it. You should go back to Macy’s. Instead of doing this, in three years, you could be a manager.” And I was just like, “Gee, thanks.” And was it 2020? 2020 was the first time I made the annual amount that a Macy’s manager makes, in three months.
Bjork Ostrom: Wow. And at that moment you’re like, “I made the right decision.”
Eden Westbrook: I was like, yeah, “I should have took that job at Macy’s, huh?”
Bjork Ostrom: Was it hard for you not to be like, told you so, or did you?
Eden Westbrook: Oh God, they know.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, that makes sense. You didn’t have to say anything, but something was still said.
Eden Westbrook: Oh yeah, that was basically right there.
Bjork Ostrom: At what point along the way did you know? Obviously that moment was a really clear one, but I think one of the things that a lot of people struggle with in the journey is, especially in the world of content, and a lot of people we speak to are in the world of content, it’s not like you’re selling a widget on Amazon where you buy a thousand and then if you sell a thousand in a month, then you have kind of validated the idea. But with content, it can take a really long time to build up momentum, to the point where you can run ads and make income or somebody would pay you to do sponsor content. So how did you know, in the early stages, to keep going and that you would get there? Or did you know that, or were there early signs that kind of validated you were heading in the right direction?
Eden Westbrook: So, what was it? It was the fact that I saw a lot of growth in my traffic. I was broke at the time, so I would just sit in food blogging groups and just watch and listen. If an expert was like, “Hey, you need to do this. Hey, there’s a change coming.” I was like, “I’m going to get on it.”
Bjork Ostrom: You were learning essentially. It was like continual education.
Eden Westbrook: Absolutely, constant education. And not only that, but I felt like the people that I was talking to and writing these recipes for, I would get a great amount of feedback. A lot of, oh my God, I made this and it made my husband cry, or my family wants this for every holiday now. Or, this is my wife’s favorite meal, and it’s just like, yay, this is great. Because yeah, sure. I really wanted to get into ad networks and stuff. And in the beginning, I was with an ad network that wasn’t good at all. They were paying me like $15 every three months, it was awful. It was so awful and they slowed down my site so bad. I was like, no. Oh yeah, inappropriate ads, man. Let me tell you, I think that was-
Bjork Ostrom: Sounds not ideal.
Eden Westbrook: Oh my God, no. Literally I got two emails on the same day saying, they saw adult things on the website, and I was like, that’s not normal.
Bjork Ostrom: People also don’t understand that it’s not you doing deals with these ad companies. People assume you’ve approved it. Why would you approve this ad? And you’re like, “I didn’t.”
Eden Westbrook: I didn’t even know what that was there, that’s not for me. I didn’t know. So I was like, no ad. I’m going to get to the big ad companies. I’m just going to grind it out. And for me, I think… Oh goodness, was it once we found out you were really sick? Yeah. So my husband has a chronic illness and at the time, when he was in the military, it wasn’t as bad, but with stress, it gets worse. How long did you work two jobs? Many years?
Speaker 3: At least the four beginning years.
Eden Westbrook: At least four years, so at least until 2019. He was working these two jobs, I’m at home taking care of our son because daycare of Florida, so expensive. And I’m working on the blog and the blog is what? I think this was right before I joined Mediavine. And so my husband’s working, he’s getting really sick and our son was at home with me, but we really couldn’t go anywhere. And Florida, it gets so hot, you really can’t walk around.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s like Minnesota in the winter, except just the opposite extreme.
Eden Westbrook: Oh yeah. Some days it’s like 105 degrees and it’s humid.
Bjork Ostrom: Stay inside.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah. So my son is lonely, he wants to play with friends and he can’t. We lived in a not so nice neighborhood and it was just rough, and I was just sitting here and I was frustrated and crying and I was like, “There’s no way that this is it. There’s no way I’m living like this for the rest of my life.” We did everything we were told. We went to college, we would join the military, we are working these jobs and trying to find where we belong and nothing. My husband’s over here working these jobs. Yeah, they require expertise in this and that, but they barely pay anything, rent is expensive. Just living is so expensive, and so it’s just like, I’m going to make this work, no matter what period. Point blank, fight me on this. I’m going to do this.
Bjork Ostrom: And that was when? At what point? What year was that?
Eden Westbrook: That was 2018. Then I joined Mediavine that summer. And then that winter, my husband ended up… So the illness got, it’s worse in 2019, around my birthday. And he ended up hospitalized for quite a while. And so Mediavine, I didn’t have the money numbers, the numbers that I’m having now. Right now, I believe my session RPMs are like 80. We’re Q1 one right now, so we’ve got to blow up.
Bjork Ostrom: So by that you mean that when somebody RPMs for instance, or to explore that a little bit. RPMs for those who aren’t familiar, 1000 page views and it’s on average, how much revenue per mill, which is essentially a word, the M stands for mill, a thousand, but the RPM you have is at 80?
Eden Westbrook: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is super high, that’s insane.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, And so basically back then what I was making, I was able to pay some of our bills, and then VA benefits was able to pay rent at the time. So basically ends up hospitalized, and you’re in there for like a month. He was in there for a month and he’s getting these calls from his jobs, basically threatening him and saying, you’re going to lose your home, you’re going to lose everything. You’re going to be homeless, if you don’t get your butt in here, and literally sick with an unknown illness, they’re running all kinds of tests on him, trying to figure out what’s wrong.
Bjork Ostrom: He on the other end, it’s job being like, you got to come in and it’s like, oh my gosh, this is not what we want.
Eden Westbrook: Exactly. And I’m like, “You’re stressing us out more.” And I was so mad because it was like, you guys have no compassion for us, like there. And I was like, there’s no way, I’m going to retire him, I’m not going to let him work for these people don’t like him and treat him like crap. He’s going to come work for me, if anything. I put it in my head. It was hook or crook, no other way.
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean hook or crook? I’ve never heard that.
Eden Westbrook: Oh goodness, hook or crook. That’s just what I was saying. I’m going to do whatever it takes basically.
Bjork Ostrom: By any means necessary essentially, yeah.
Eden Westbrook: Yes, exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: I love that. And you did it. And you talk about that moment in 2020, where you’re able to step back and say, in a quarter I was able to make as much as I would’ve, if I worked a full-time job that not that what you’re doing now isn’t stressful, but you have more control over it than you would another job. So when you look back on it for your journey, what are the things that were most important along the way, that you’d say for other people who are interested in following a similar path of making it work by any means necessary, hook or crook? What was it that was most influential in that mindset? Something you actually did.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, changing my mindset. Changing it. And I know it sounds like everybody’s talking about mindset now, but no. I-
Bjork Ostrom: From what, to what?
Eden Westbrook: I had a really victimized mindset. I’m an adult, but I expected my family to come help. We were literally homeless in 2016, we were sleeping in the Everglades because in Florida, if they catch you sleeping in your car, you get arrested and go to jail. So it’s like, we were hiding in the Everglades, sleeping in our car, and our car was busted. It was so broken, because what something happened. It was a very old car, it was a very old SUV and basically something happened where the frame, something had happened to the framework previously, and the hood bust open and smashed into windshield. Yeah, so we had to ratchet strap the hood onto the frame of the grill. It was a mess. And we had this broken windshield, it’s like $300.
Bjork Ostrom: And that’s where you were living out of for a season?
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, for literally four months, until we were able to find a place that we could afford to live and it was awful, and literally our parents lived in the same county, they knew. Our parents aren’t poor and live in the hood or anything like that. Our parents are very comfortable.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, which is another dynamic that’s really hard about that situation, is the family dynamic of maybe in a way could have helped and weren’t, which is hard.
Bjork Ostrom: But it also, I would guess breeds within you, this certain level of determination.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Talk about that. What did that experience do? How did that inform how you operate as an entrepreneur?
Eden Westbrook: So I just saw a video. It was saying, “The difference between a hero and a villain is they both received pain in their lives.” The villain takes that pain and was like, “The world hurt me and I’m going to hurt it back.” The villain does that. The hero says, “I got hurt and instead of hurting the world back, I am going to use this as fuel to do something positive.”
Bjork Ostrom: Gosh, that’s awesome. I’ve never heard that explanation before, but that’s really cool.
Eden Westbrook: I’m not saying I’m a hero, if that’s what you’re doing. But-
Bjork Ostrom: No, I think what you’re saying is, it’s your mindset about how you respond to pain or suffering and there’s probably a lot of things that somebody who understands that better than I do could say about it, in regards to processing through that healing. But apart from that, it’s like, are you responding in a way that is positive and makes the world better, so other people don’t have to feel that, or in the villain perspective, do you kind of carry that with you and make other people feel that out of spite or whatever it might be? That’s powerful.
Eden Westbrook: When I say, “Oh, I work out a pettiness in spite.” People, when they know me, they’re like, “Yeah, I totally get it.” It’s never in that villainous, the negative way. It’s in the, Ooh, I’m going to make people who wish for my downfall so mad today. I’m going to be so great today. They won’t be so mad seeing me on TV or hearing my voice or wherever I am. They’re going to be mad about it. And I’m just like, “Yes, let me go ahead and make them mad. That makes me happy.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, sure. So I know that speaking of mindset and even this idea of kind of being intentional with finding your niche and genre that you’re going to focus on, you have your blog, but then you also have kind of a mastermind with other creators, food bloggers, recipe creators that you work with. Are these the kind of things that you work with, with that group? And for those who might be interested in, can you talk a little bit about what that looks like and even what a mastermind even is?
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, so basically the Mastermind is a really small intimate group. And I want to say like intimate as in, it is a very small group, no more than 10 people. And basically we sit together, we talk together, we grow together. I learned so much from my own students. I’m just like, I never know all the answers. I may be an expert, but I don’t know all the answers. And I have people from all walks of different areas of this industry. The last cycle, we had a girl who actually worked on the brand side of things, before becoming a food blogger, and so she was able to give us a lot of insight on how brands see media kits and how they think of influencers versus bloggers and things like that.
Eden Westbrook: So she was able to give a whole lot of insight and I was just like, “Yes, this is stuff that I’m talking about.” And so there’s just this group of us and I go over things like mindset. I’ve been in masterminds and courses and things like that, where they’re like, “Stay positive, be positive. Don’t think in the negative, be positive.” And I’m like, “Use whatever motivation it takes to get you out of bed and do your work.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s going to be different for everybody.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, I have a thing called the difference between motivation and your why. My why of course is taking care of my family and creating a safe space for transitioning veterans from being military to civilian and helping people with little resources and girls of color and things like that. Yes, that’s my why. But the thing that makes me get up every day, get super pumped, is something that people would consider negative.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, yeah. It’s these past experiences that you’ve had that fuel you to do the work that makes this positive impact in the world.
Eden Westbrook: Exactly. When I see that I’ve grown, my photography is better, my videography is better. I shot a really hard recipe and I got it down and I’m like, yeah, everything’s great. That kind of goes into that, and goodness, long-distance wives, they’re goals. But you need something every day, besides your goal to get you up. What’s going to make you get up today? Most recently it was our never say no Disney World trip. We want to go to Disney World and not say no.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, just say yes to everything. Like cotton candy, yes. We took our daughter Sylvie who’s three and a half to Disney On Ice. It wasn’t exactly that mindset, but it was kind of like, hey, this will be fun. We just got a splurge. And so they had these Disney On Ice light up wands. And she’s like, “Dad, can I get one of those?” And usually we’d be like, “No, you don’t need another toy, we don’t need something else.” But it was just like, “Yeah, sure. Let’s get one.” And he was like, $35. I was like, okay. But it’s such a Disney thing where it’s like, if you’re going to say yes, you better be ready for it. You have to have the resources for it.
Eden Westbrook: Exactly. A big thing about us, we don’t do credit, stuff like that, unless it’s important. You need credit because you need this. We have that, but we don’t put things on credit cards.
Bjork Ostrom: Don’t carry significant debt.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, we don’t do debt. We learned that really hard in the beginning.
Bjork Ostrom: And so, obviously there’s a lot that people can take out of this. Your story is super inspiring, both you and your husband. Especially as you think about what you’ve been through, where you are and also your attitude as it relates to all of that. I know that you do the Mastermind. Would be interested for you to share that, where people can connect and sign up for that. And also as we kind of close out, where can people follow you just in general? Online, best place to connect with you, because I’m sure that people want to stay in touch with you and follow along.
Eden Westbrook: Hey, if they want to, yeah. So they can follow me on Instagram. It’s sweet, underscore T-E-A, underscore Thyme, T-H-Y-M-E, like the herb. Not like on the watch. And so the Mastermind, you can actually go into my menu on www.sweeteaandthyme.com. And basically you’ll see right there, the Mastermind, and it’ll take you to my courses page, where it has all the info on the different things we talk about. We talk about branding, pitching, your ideal reader, your nicheing, working on SEO, working on the perfect recipe post, things like that. Things that you need, I believe. How many hours do I spend FaceTime with those people? 60 hours on average with each student.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.
Eden Westbrook: Yeah, it’s four months. Basically it’s just four months of us getting together and going through your individual blog, because I’ve been number 812 in a 815-person course, where the instructor has been like, “Yeah, we’re in it together. One on one, you and me we’re going to…” And I’m like, “I didn’t get anything.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a mastermind, which is a small group of people working through something together, which is awesome. I know that when we sat on that panel together, you shared your story, it was really moving and today, same thing. Really inspiring and I know for other people it will as well. Last question as we close out. Let’s say you were to go back and you’re in Everglades and you hear a knock on your window and it’s your future self and you’re there to have a conversation and you have just a minute or two, what do you say to yourself in that moment, knowing what you know now?
Eden Westbrook: I would say, don’t succumb to the feeling of, you’re not good enough. You are good enough. You are so great at what you do, what you love, and don’t let anybody stop you. Don’t let anybody veer you off focus.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome, and it reflects in what you do. And I know that people will hear that and it will be moving for them, so thanks for sharing your story. Really good to connect again, and thanks for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate it.
Eden Westbrook: Thanks Bjork, it’s been so awesome.
Leslie Jeon: Hello, hello, Leslie here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We really hope that you enjoyed this episode of the podcast. Before we sign off, I just wanted to quickly let you know about a couple exciting things that we have coming to Food Blogger Pro in the month of June.
Leslie Jeon: The first of which is a Live Q&A this Thursday, June 9th with Chelsey White from Chelsweets. So she’ll be joining Bjork to answer all of your questions about TikTok, and she has over 2 million followers on TikTok, so she has lots of knowledge and insight to share with our community.
Leslie Jeon: If you’re already a Food Blogger Pro member, you can get registered to join by heading over to the Live tab on the site, and if you want to join Food Blogger Pro to get access to the Q&A, you can join by going to foodbloggerpro.com/join.
Leslie Jeon: And speaking of TikTok, next week on June 16th, we’re actually going to be completely updating our TikTok course. It’s going to have all new lessons, and at the end, it’s going to have a strategy Q&A with Brita Britnell, our Social Media Video Expert. We’re so excited to share this course update with you — we’ve been working on it for months now, and it’s just really, really going to be one that I know you’ll love.
Leslie Jeon: Finally, the last thing I wanted to mention is that on June 23rd, we’re going to be sharing a Quick Win with you all about five tips for making great Instagram Reels. So if you’re looking to level up your game on Instagram and start sharing more Reels, this Quick Win is for you. It’s going to go over lots of really specific tips and tricks that you can implement to take your Reels to the next level.
Leslie Jeon: So stay tuned for all of that. If you’re already a Food Blogger Pro member, you’ll get access to all of it as soon as it goes live. But if you want to join Food Blogger Pro, you can easily do that by going to foodbloggerpro.com/join. We’d love to have you be part of our community.
Leslie Jeon: Alright, I think that’s it for today. We hope you enjoyed this episode and hearing about what’s coming next on Food Blogger Pro, and as always, until next time, make it a great week.
This was such a great interview. Eden’s transparency was truly inspiring. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
We’re so glad you enjoyed the episode, Shannon! Eden’s story is just truly inspirational, and we’re so happy she came on the show to tell it. 😊