This episode is sponsored by Simple Pin Media.
Welcome to episode 372 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Elena Davis from Cucina by Elena about how she grew her traffic and got accepted into Mediavine.
Last week on the podcast, we shared Bjork and Lindsay’s episode from the Simple Pin Podcast with Kate Ahl. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
From 20k to 100k+ Monthly Pageviews
Today, we’re really excited to share this inspiring conversation with Elena! Since launching her blog in 2020, she has grown her traffic to over 100k monthly pageviews, gotten accepted into Mediavine, and become a full-time content creator.
Aside from that, Elena’s also sharing how she found unique ways to earn an income while waiting to get accepted into Mediavine, such as running in-person cooking classes and selling physical products.
No matter where you are in your blogging journey, we know that you’ll find Elena’s story and insights encouraging. We hope you enjoy this episode!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why Elena decided to launch her blog
- Why she focused on building connections within the blogging community
- How she strategically optimized her site
- How she grew her traffic and got accepted into Mediavine
- Why she decided to rename her blog
- How she earns money as a content creator
- What her in-person cooking classes look like
- How she sells physical products on her blog
- Cucina by Elena
- MacBreak Weekly Podcast
- Tasty Recipes
- Elena’s Italian Stories
- Salt & Lavender
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- The Feast Plugin
- Cooking with Keywords
- Harmons Grocery
- Culinary Creator Business School
- The Happiness Lab Podcast
- Shop Elena’s products
- Follow Elena on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest
- 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 friends at Simple Pin Media!
The holiday season is quickly approaching, and as you know, it’s a busy time for shopping and cooking. Advertising this time of year requires a few different steps, and the Simple Pin Media ads team is here to help.
They’ve put together a fantastic Pinterest ads campaign checklist, designed specifically for advertising around the holiday season! Whether you want to promote your products or get more people to check out your recipes, this free holiday campaign checklist and training video will help get you prepped and ready for holiday campaigns on Pinterest.
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 friends at Simple Pin Media. In this ever-changing landscape of online advertising, one of the best places to get in front of your future recipe makers is Pinterest ads. But maybe you’ve been confused by Pinterest ads, or you’re wondering if they would work for your business. You probably know Pinterest is a popular place that people go to search for recipes, it’s a really important platform, but what happens when you put some money and intention behind an ad on Pinterest?
Bjork Ostrom: Simple Pin Media is the leading educator when it comes to Pinterest ads and they want to help Food Blogger Pro listeners learn about how this powerful ads platform can play a key role in your food blog’s growth. Go to simplepinmedia.com/pinads, P-I-N-A-D-S, to grab your free copy of their Pinterest ads campaign checklist today. It’s a great way to learn more about the Pinterest ads platform and to understand if it might be a fit for you. Again, you can go grab your own copy of their Pinterest ads campaign checklist for free, by going to simplepinmedia.com/pinads, P-I-N-A-D-S. Again, that’s simplepinmedia.com/pinads. Thanks to Simple Pin Media for sponsoring this episode.
Bjork Ostrom: Hello, this is Bjork. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. And today we are talking to Elena Davis. She has a site called Cucina by Elena, and she’s going to be talking about her journey into Mediavine, and she’s going to go through the process of what it was like for her to build her blog from kind of 20,000 pageview range when she really started to get serious to a 100,000 plus, which as you know, is a significant amount of traffic, which also results in a significant amount of income. As I talk about on the podcast, that gets to the point where depending on where you live and how big your house is, it has the potential to pay your rent or pay your mortgage and that is a life-changing amount of money. When you can get to that point where the thing you’ve built, the business you’ve built, the brand or the blog you’ve built is able to earn a substantial amount of money, it’s really incredible.
Bjork Ostrom: And she’s going to be talking about how she did that in an 18, 20-month process, and also along the way grew her Instagram following to 100,000. And one of the things that’s important about this podcast is sometimes on the podcast, we’ll interview people who have been doing it for 10 years, 11 years, 12 years, 8 years, whatever it is, a significant amount of time, and it can maybe be encouraging from a long term perspective, like, “hey, if I stick with this, I’ll be able to have something that I’ve built over time,” but it can maybe be discouraging from the perspective of like, “Wow, that’s a long time, 8, 9, 10 years.”
Bjork Ostrom: And what I love about this interview with Elena is she was able to do this in a relatively short amount of time. Now, as we talk about in the podcast, when you say relatively short amount, when you’re in it, when you’re in the middle of it, when you’re working hard, when you’re hustling, it seems like a really long time, but two years in the grand scheme of things really isn’t that long, and especially when you look at what it is that you’ve built, a really significant brand or business.
Bjork Ostrom: Elena is going to be talking about the things that she did, the things that she learned, the idea of investing back into your business, which she was really intentional about and any tips and tricks that she has for other people who are looking to do a similar thing. And the great thing about that number that 50,000, 100,000, is that’s right where you start to unlock getting into ad networks that will manage your ads for you. And you can start doing that earlier if you want to self-manage, but really, if you’re looking at joining an ad network like Mediavine or AdThrive, you have to get to these numbers that you’ll even be able to apply to join the ad network, and she’s going to be talking about the significance of that and what that looked like for her within her business as well. It’s a great interview. I think you’ll get a lot out of it. Let’s jump in. Elena, welcome to the podcast.
Elena Davis: Thank you, so excited to be here. Like I was just saying, we were best friends. You didn’t know it, but listening to you every week, it’s so fun to actually be on, so the pleasure’s mine.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, great. There’s this tech podcast, I don’t listen to it as much anymore, it still is called MacBreak Weekly, and they have a panel of three to four guests and Lindsay and I were driving, we were doing a road trip in California, and I was like, “Can we drive by the studio where this is recorded?” And she’s like, “sure,” and then we drove by and one of the guys was standing outside of the studio and I went up and it was just this moment of like, “wait,” his name’s Alex Lindsay, and I talked to him for, I don’t know, 10 minutes. And Lindsay’s like, “you nerd,” but it’s this thing where you have this connection to people, you know people, but you don’t actually, you’ve heard a lot of the conversations, but you’ve never actually been able to have a conversation until today, and now we get to have a conversation.
Elena Davis: I know, here we are, it’s the best.
Bjork Ostrom: Here we are. One of the things that’s going to be fun to talk about with your story is sometimes we’ll talk to creators, publishers, bloggers who have been doing it for 10 years, 12 years, and we say, “Hey, what did you learn? What were the things that were most helpful?” And I think sometimes, what can happen is people can, especially in the early stages, it’s almost like de-motivating, not always, but sometimes because it’s like, “oh, they have the advantage of a lot of time,” and in your case, you’ve made some really great progress in a relatively short amount of time. It’s been a couple years now, when did you start your blog? And then we can dig into some of the progress you’ve made.
Elena Davis: I started in June 2020, it was in the middle of the pandemic and we were wrapping up some online teaching. I am a teacher by profession, 13 years as a reading specialist. And I’ve always wanted to start a food blog, somewhere in my head it’s been an idea that I’ve had, and I just thought, “Well, in the middle of a pandemic and teaching my own kids and then teaching online, this surely will be a great idea to figure this out.”
Bjork Ostrom: I have lots of free time between 10 and 12, midnight.
Elena Davis: Yeah, exactly. I thought this would be a great idea, and it all stemmed when in June it was really solidified that we couldn’t go to Italy. Little background, I was born in Italy, grew up mostly in the United States, but also grew up part-time in Italy, so Italian cooking and food is my passion and where my blog stems from, and we always go and live in Italy with my entire family the whole summer, every summer, except for 2020.
Bjork Ostrom: I would guess there felt like a gap there in your heart and soul.
Elena Davis: Oh yeah. There’s a hole in me because I have this memory, I’m thinking of it right now, just coming home a few weeks ago, we’re all around the table, not even a huge table, I’m talking 15, 20 people at all meals, it’ll be a three-hour thing. This just feeds my soul, my whole life, and it’s part of my reboot every year, is to have this community of my family, the language, food, everything, the culture means so much to me. Back two years ago, I thought, “Okay, I can’t bring people together physically through food. I can’t have them at my house.” We’ve lived in a whole bunch of different places. And food is how I made friends, honestly, when we moved all across Midwest and it was like, “Come over and make friends, I’ll feed you, I’ll bribe you, get in this.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Just out of curiosity with your story, one thing that would be with that, you moved when you were six, is that right?
Elena Davis: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: What was the reason for moving?
Elena Davis: Yeah, so my parents are geneticists, genetic researchers. They came to Utah to work on the Human Genome Project.
Bjork Ostrom: Ow wow, cool.
Elena Davis: Yeah, so cool. They were part of that in the nineties where they map the human genome.
Bjork Ostrom: They both did that, did they meet in school?
Elena Davis: Yeah, together. That was the reason why we came and it was supposed to be for two years, and it’s been a pretty long two years.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Your parents are still in the US, you said in Utah.
Elena Davis: Yeah, my parents are here, in Salt Lake City, and they’re kind of transitioning out of work now, but have been doing that. They worked a lot, which also has a part to do with my blog, is still getting meals on the table with parents who work full time, and that’s a very big part of creating these recipes, and my mom always did that. She worked full time, she worked really, really hard. My dad did as well, but we always ate dinner together, in the beginning. It was one of those very unpopular things where you’re like, “I have to be home for dinner,” and your friends are like, “Are you serious?” And it’s like, “Yeah.”
Bjork Ostrom: And then now, however many years later, it’s like, “What a gift.” So much of parenting, I feel like, is that.
Elena Davis: Yeah. And then pretty soon your friends start to get that it’s kind of cool to have a really good dinner on the table and they start to come.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And there’s so much research about that, even for our girls. Sylvie is almost four, Lena, our daughter, is almost two, but there’s so much research just around the significance of a meal, and I think for us in this world, in this industry, I think it’s one of the things that is good to remind ourselves of is the meaning behind the work that we do, it’s not as tangible. And I know Lindsay’s talked about this where teaching is so tangible, you have your classroom, especially reading specialists. We went to this show in Vegas, out of all places, we’re not Vegas people, but we somehow ended up in Vegas with our friends and at this show, they brought some people up to interview them about what their jobs are, and one of them was a reading specialist and everybody just applauded.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of those jobs where it’s so meaningful and so impactful, and I think the work that we do is as well, the hard part is we just don’t see it. And I think one of the ways that it is impactful is, it’s encouraging people to make a meal, to share with their family or friends, to sit around the table and to share that, and the impact of that is significant in a scientific way, they can study that and see that. When you were doing this, when you decided to jump in and actually start to publish content, did you have an intent behind it? Did you know, “I want to build this into a thing,” or was it more around wanting to fill the gap of not being able to be in Italy with your family?
Elena Davis: I think that’s where it started is, “okay, now I’m ready, because this is something that’s kind of somehow still been in the back of my mind for about 10 years,” maybe I should have started then, but I didn’t, so finally I’m doing that. And so when I started, I had the intention and I’m one of those people where when I start something and I’m ready, I’m going for it, I’m doing it, and so it was a little bit of both. I had no idea, and I hadn’t done research on things like SEO, keyword research, recipe card on your website, just anything. I just made my own website on a Wix website, which I quickly transferred to WordPress, then I got actually the Food Blogger Pro, your recipe card insert, so I just started learning. Yeah, Tasty Recipes. So no, at the beginning, I just thought, “let’s just see where this goes, but I’m going to give it my all with purpose.”
Elena Davis: So I’m giving purpose, I also really wanted to add that sense that you said it’s hard for it to be tangible, so I started writing stories. So on my food blog, and they say don’t mix recipes with personal stories, well, my stories are a separate part of the blog and they tell things like, how food, family and culture are important, why are these recipes here, and how food really is a thread to bond past generations, future generations, just through recipes, bringing people to the table with these recipes. So I really wanted a meaning for what I was doing because in education I find that purpose, I don’t want to just make these recipes, I want to be fulfilled in them, and I started teaching cooking classes also for that reason, to bring that element into the food blog. And then the more I learned, the more I got into it the more things escalated in ways I didn’t foresee.
Bjork Ostrom: I love the idea of, and I want to point that out, the idea of story. And I think sometimes we can feel like we’re discouraged to tell stories, but I think there’s the art and science of anything, and I think the science side of it is like, “hey, you want to optimize or SEO and you want to get information as clear as possible and display that,” and I think that’s really good in a lot of instances for people who are looking to create a recipe and have success with it, to make that as clear as possible and to be as intentional as possible, structuring that content. But I also think it’s important to remember that for the most part, people follow people, and so you can get somebody there, and I think you can rank well for certain recipes and whatnot, but I think what keeps people coming is a connection or feeling like they know who it is behind the content creation, whether it’s a group of people, an individual, but having some type of connection there.
Bjork Ostrom: And so I think it’s really wise to do that. And it sounds like you’ve had some success with it, which we can talk about. One of the things that I’d be interested to hear is your brand, what that is now, and then what it started as, cause I know that you talked about starting on a Wix page and then eventually updating to WordPress, but you also started with a different brand that you changed a little bit later on.
Bjork Ostrom: And with all of this, I want to queue it up by saying, I forget who it was I was interviewing, but they talked about this Amy Porterfield quote, where action creates clarity. And I think sometimes people think, “I’ll get clarity and then I’ll take action,” but I think your story is a really great example of action creates clarity where, you start and it’s a Wix page and you’re like, as you learn about it, “Oh, that’s not the place that I need to be, I’m going to change it.” You start with the brand, you launch it, as you learn you get clear on the idea this isn’t what the brand should be, you change it. And I think that’s a really good reminder, and your story’s a good one that taking action and moving forward will almost always be better than taking a bunch of time to just gather information and ponder and think. Talk a little bit about your brand.
Elena Davis: Yep. That’s crazy. So I actually have this written down in my notes, a difference in telling yourself, “This is the goal I want.” For example, I want to hit 50K monthly page use, I want to qualify for Mediavine, like yes, I’m telling myself, this is what I want to do. There’s difference in daily action steps, writing down daily action steps, to what you are going to do to get to that goal, like you’re saying, it needs to be daily, and you need to educate yourself, which a lot of people are, I think a lot of people are in corporate America who have these blogs who are trying to make it right, and I think the smartest way also is making connections with people who are doing well in the blogging community, such as social media, it’s so easy to reach out to people and say, “hey,” and I did that as well from the beginning.
Elena Davis: Natasha Bull has been such a great, amazing example from Salt & Lavender, just kind of a mentor, and in teaching, I believe in mentorship. So if you’re someone out there who’s very new, reach out to someone and see some things. She was the one that told me early on, she’s like, “you’ve got to get on keyword research, got to get on SEO,” and I’m like, “What is that?” Listen to these podcasts, here we go, one thing at a time. Action steps.
Elena Davis: So it seems so overwhelming, like you’re never going to get there, and trust me, I was one of those people who would listen to even people on your podcast, who were two years in, or three years in who all of a sudden had these great fast growth things like you even said, “in a relatively quick amount of time, you’ve done this,” and I’m like, “oh my gosh, sometimes it feels like I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” because every day I’ve been working in some aspect at educating myself on how to make my written goal, that I write down, whatever it is, into the action that I need to get to where I want to go.
Bjork Ostrom: I think Stephen Covey talks about start with the end in mind in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and it’s like a goal, but basically you start with that and then you work backwards from it, so what was that for you? Did you have a really clear goal? Like, “here’s what I wanted to be,” and then do you have some examples of what those daily steps were?
Elena Davis: So once I started to figure out one really good way to receive revenue is through advertisement through either Mediavine or AdThrive, here’s what you have to do to qualify. Okay, that’s my motivator then, that’s my first thing, is I need to reach that, goal, to number, to how I can qualify. Okay, how do you qualify for that? It’s called backwards design, here’s my goal, how am I going to get there? Well, I have to have really good SEO, I have to write in a way that Google will recognize my recipes and I have to make sure that I have, I used… Is it the feast? The theme and working with, why am I blanking on their name? To redo the theme on your website?
Bjork Ostrom: Oh sure, like a design company?
Elena Davis: Yes, but gosh.
Bjork Ostrom: You don’t remember who it is?
Elena Davis: I’ll remember, but that kind of thing is very important. All of the backend things to your website are your core web vitals. I started working with NerdPress who went in and just destroyed my website and was like, “Oh, okay, wow.”
Bjork Ostrom: To be clear, in a good way.
Elena Davis: In a good way, sorry.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like construction where it’s, go in and remodel in a sense, like, “Hey, make these improvements.”
Elena Davis: So in January it was like this light went off. So the very first year I was teaching and doing this and raising three kids and whatnot.
Bjork Ostrom: This was 2020, when you started?
Elena Davis: 2021. Yeah, 2021, so last year, and then in January I was feeling burnt out. I wasn’t really getting anywhere, I was still at the 20K views and I was just thinking, okay, that’s when I took my revenue-
Bjork Ostrom: 20,000 page views?
Elena Davis: A month.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. A month.
Elena Davis: That’s when I said, okay, I’m either doing this, figuring out the right way, I’m going to take Cooking with Keywords, which is a course which I highly recommend, I’m going to figure out all of the things, signing up with NerdPress, having them help me with the back end. Just really getting serious. Kind of like if you are going to remodel your house, like you said, there’s ways you can do it, like fix a broken sink yourself and look it up on YouTube and then whatever, or you’re going to start from the inside, really get to the root of the problems and start investing in yourself is another thing. So I mentioned I taught cooking classes and I have a small product line, any kind of revenue that I would make, I would kind of put back in into the blog, which I think is backwards for a lot of people because you think, “When I start making this much, then I will reach out to TopHatRank and do a little audit and see what’s wrong with my website.”
Elena Davis: But if you are going to start a bakery from scratch, you’re going to need to take out a little loan to invest in yourself, which later you will get back. And so I started having that mentality, and so from January to the spring and then qualifying for Mediavine at the end of May, that just kind of happened, so I’ve been doing it for almost two years, but then right before that two years, few months in, it was like, “okay, you’re qualifying,” and then I just kept doing more and more of what I was doing, and growth kind of takes off exponentially, and I think another message to bloggers who are maybe a little bit newer, you think, “It’s so saturated, there’s 2 million food blogs. There’s this, that and the other, how am I ever going to make it? Who’s ever going to look at my blog?”
Elena Davis: These are kinds of things that you’re thinking, at least I was. And I think right now there is no better time, and here’s why. I think that right now, there’s so much information and so much education and such a security, not always, but in saying, “you can make a living doing this because these people are, and they have been for 10 years,” like Pinch of Yum, maybe when you guys took that first leap, and I remember your story, you’re doing it, and you’re hoping, and you’re crossing your fingers along the way, and it’s like, “okay, we make this step,” but it wasn’t such a huge industry which has advantages and disadvantages. And right now, SEO, oh my gosh, people are overwhelmed. I think make SEO your best friend, because that’s what’s going to get you from A to Z in a relatively quick amount of time, I think, and the fastest way is to get into that Google search engine in the right way and get recognized that way.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. So to recap, if I understand your story right, in January is really when you took a step back, you kind of looked at things a little bit and said, “I’m kind of burnt out, I’m doing a ton of work for my blog and publishing online, doing a ton of work as a mom, as a parent, doing a ton of work as a reading specialist.” Did you step back from your role as a reading specialist at that point and said, “I’m going to actually focus on this”?
Elena Davis: So it was in the fall, that was my first year in 13 years I didn’t step back into the classroom. So through the fall, until January, I’m plugging along, I’m listening to podcasts, I’m still doing action things, I’m kind of knowing what I need to do, but then it was in January where it was that turning point where, I need to get serious now, I need to find out how to make this happen or else it’s just getting to be a little bit draining.
Bjork Ostrom: And so that was fall of 2021, and then January 2022 is when you did an analysis, you looked at the landscape and said, “I need to figure out some things.” So I’m curious to know what was that change like for you? I’m always curious when anybody has a significant change, you said you’d been doing it for 13 years, was that a difficult thing? Was it a really freeing thing? A little bit of both? What was that like for you?
Elena Davis: A little bit of both. So I’ve always taught at inner-city schools, which has been extremely hard and extremely rewarding. I still have kids who I keep in contact with, who kind of become they oftentimes don’t have…
Bjork Ostrom: You become a positive adult figure.
Elena Davis: Become a positive adult figure in their life, and I still have those, and so it was really hard to step away from those students. And as I mentioned, I have three kids that are only getting busier and they’re still relatively small, so I couldn’t do everything, and this opportunity to really dive into my food blog would be a way to also, in a way, be home more, do what I am already doing which is cooking a lot, enjoying it and sharing it with the world and connecting with people on a different level than teaching, but still, that’s why I do my teaching classes once a month, to keep in tune with that, the fall was hard. It was kind of hard to switch such gears.
Bjork Ostrom: And you realize, I would assume, how deeply embedded some of the routines are, even summers, I know Lindsay talks a lot about that. She was a fourth-grade teacher and the idea of summers, and summer looks different when you are running your own business than when you’re in a school season, and some people do summer school and whatnot. So I’m curious to know, at what point you did the brand name change, cause that was a part of your story. When did you decide to do that, and was that a difficult decision?
Elena Davis: So I did that about eight months, nine months in. Yep.
Bjork Ostrom: And what was it and what did you change it to?
Elena Davis: Yeah, so it was Mama Mia Mangia. Mangia means eat, or Mangia as we say in Italian, means eat. And it’s kind of a saying we say, and it’s very familiar, it’s very homey. I like that there was so many ends and I kind of liked it. And there was the point I also had someone that took a very similar name as me in the same town as me.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is always awesome.
Elena Davis: Not a great idea. And so that person wasn’t going to budge. And so it was a kind of big leap because also when you do that, I didn’t realize also how back that sets you on your website and your URL, you’re starting all over again.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. There’s some benefit that can come from an aged known URL. And when you do that change, as smart as Google is, there’s still some inevitable impact that comes from the potential of that falling out of certain positions.
Elena Davis: And when I did the switch, I was not with NerdPress. The switch was not done well, if any of you are thinking about doing a brand name change, I highly recommend having a really good backbone of support in people that know how to do it correctly. So that would be a big advice for anybody who’s thinking about changing.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a big deal. It’s kind of like changing the foundation of a house or something. It can have really big impact, and you want to make sure that somebody who’s, like you said, doing it right, everything’s redirected properly.
Elena Davis: Yes. And mine was not, and so that was another kind of thing. So NerdPress came in and helped with that.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. So January was kind of the turning point, and when you decided to double down, and to be clear, at the point where you are now, you did reach that goal of 50,000, applied to Mediavine, and that’s really where it starts to become substantial, this can pay some significant bills. Not for everybody and not in every month, but it can start to be mortgage payment type income that you start to get close to.
Bjork Ostrom: So it sounds like the most significant things in that time period was really understanding keyword research, working with companies like NerdPress. You talked about TopHatRank, they’ve been on the podcast as well, doing an audit, reinvesting back into the business. If you are at a point where you can do that and justify it, from an investment standpoint, when you think of all the different places you could put your money, you could put it in a bank account, you could put it in the stock market, you could put it in real estate, for business owners sometimes the best use of money that we’re getting is to put it back into the business. You won’t get taxed on it, but also that can spur future growth, which creates a more valuable business. So was there anything else along the way that you found to be really valuable from an investment standpoint, things that you were investing in, whether time that you were investing or financial investment?
Elena Davis: Time, and also one thing is photography, which you’ve had a lot of people talk about that and I won’t get too much into it, but photos are important. While they’ve hopefully all been redone, but since the beginning to now, those are huge to update and invest, whether that means equipment or having somebody else do it. But that is another huge thing, meeting with your eyes, people will always say.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. That’s great. And so, one thing too, that I may want to make sure we don’t get too far away from it, so you had your old blog, you rebranded, I don’t know if we said you rebranded into what?
Elena Davis: So Cucina, means kitchen, by Elena. After doing some research, I just felt really good about having my name in there. Cucina, kitchen, is just such a broad term for you’re cooking in your kitchen, you’re gathering people in your kitchen, no matter where we were, what house we lived in, how small it was, how cramped it was, the kitchen was always the hotspot gathering area. And so that word just means a lot to me. So Cucina by Elena.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. That’s great. And there’s a couple things that you had mentioned, you’re thinking about not only the growth of your blog, which you said had a hundred thousand page views, which is awesome, a huge milestone, also a hundred thousand followers on Instagram, which is also really incredible. It’s a platform that’s hard to grow followers on, at least that’s my perception. I think TikTok can potentially be a faster growth platform, at least right now, and Instagram, I think can sometimes seem like a slower growth platform. So that’s really incredible within two years.
Bjork Ostrom: And then you also talked about a few different revenue sources. You talked about advertising in ad revenue, we think of that often, before we pressed record you talked a little bit about sponsor content and how that plays into Instagram it sounds like, product line, and then also doing teaching classes. So can you maybe rank order within your business, which one of those are most significant in terms of earning and then, you don’t have to share numbers, but then maybe do a little bit of an explanation of each one of those. Advertising, I think we get, but the other ones I think would be interesting to hear you reflect on a little bit.
Elena Davis: Yes. So advertising right now is by far number one, just taking off more as page views increased, and that’s pretty self-explanatory with Mediavine. Number two coming in is classes, my cooking classes, so those are super fun, they’re in person. I am maybe thinking of now doing online content, which is huge and scalable because it lives there, it’s there forever, which would be classes that just live on your website and our online, so that would be second. Third is brand deals with national brands, and that can be either on Instagram or on my blog, or even local grocery stores, and any brand I’ve ever worked with has always accepted my rates and been very respectful of that. I’ve also written some content.
Bjork Ostrom: Are you reaching out to those brands or are they reaching out to you? How does that work?
Elena Davis: Okay, so I’ve been lucky in a way where some of these opportunities came to me. The grocery store, I work with the local grocery store, Harmons, they’re awesome, I remember I reached out to them, and they were like, “sure,” the other ones, I should be better at reaching out to brands, I think there’s huge potential there. I’m not an expert on that, I know a lot of people who are that. So another thing is not just doing sponsored content for yourself, but brands can hire you to write articles on their blog, using their products, which I’ve done before, so kind of pasta Italian food brand that’s mainly American but that’s very established that I love asked me to write some articles for them that would live on their blog, and create recipes for them, but they would give me credit and backlinks so that’s another. Products would be next.
Bjork Ostrom: Those are the primary ones. And as we’re talking about this, I remember now, action creates clarity, Amy Porterfield, that quote came from Cynthia, I don’t know if that podcast will be published by the time that this one is, but she has a business called Culinary Creator B School, and it’s all about doing online classes for food professionals, chefs or bloggers. Side note, it kind of reminds me, have you ever watched The Office where there’s that Michael Scott, where he quotes Wayne Gretzky, like “you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take,” Wayne Gretzky, and then it’s a quote, and then it’s Michael Scott. This was me doing that. It was like me quoting Cynthia, quoting Amy Porterfield, and then each one it gives credit to whoever said it. But I’m curious about the cooking classes, are you mentioning those on Instagram? Do you have a special email list for those? Do you use Eventbrite for tickets, and then where do you host them? A lot of questions in there, just curious.
Elena Davis: So you can’t have them too large, 25 is kind of a max with the space that we have, so I advertise mainly through Instagram and DM, that kind of a thing, and then I message them, get an email list. Also I’ve worked with Allie from Duet, she’s really great, starting to do some stuff from there, that’s a little side note, hoping that email will bring even more traffic which is a huge thing right now.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. And then how do you charge for the cooking classes?
Elena Davis: The cooking classes? Just like payment?
Bjork Ostrom: Do you do that online, or when people show up?
Elena Davis: Yes, it is prepaid before the class, and then there’s a cancellation policy just because it takes a lot of prep time, and so there has to be a policy involved where if you don’t show up, and I’m always willing and working with people if there’s an emergency or something, but cost of food and time, and you’re taking somebody else’s spot kind of a thing. So I usually cap them between 20 and 25, depending on the class, if they’re hands-on or if it’s a demonstration class, I hold them in bountiful Utah, and so that’s what we’ve done. And again, that’s not for everyone, but it creates a great community and also brand awareness and connection to the brand because it makes people really feel like they know you.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Have you experimented with pricing for that? How much do you think people could charge if they do a cooking class?
Elena Davis: Anywhere from 80 to a hundred dollars.
Bjork Ostrom: And I think of the classes that Lindsay and I have gone to, and that always feels like where they land.
Elena Davis: When I started, I started out on a really low price. One lady even, she’s like, “You really should charge a little more for these classes.”
Bjork Ostrom: That was helpful to have people attending being like, “You need to have us pay you more.” Yeah.
Elena Davis: I’m like, “OK, let’s think about this.”
Bjork Ostrom: But again, that comes back to that action creates clarity idea where you wouldn’t know that unless you do it, you optimize pricing as you go, but you can start to see how, with all of those different elements, you have advertising, you have cooking classes, you have product that you’re doing, sponsor content, these different pieces that you’re able to plug in, and I think sometimes we get trapped, we get tunnel vision around one thing, “I want to do advertising, income, and I want to increase page views.” But I think what people don’t realize is, or maybe sometimes we forget, is that you can capture value in different places. I think cooking classes is a really great example of that, where it’s not necessarily an online thing, but it’s using the brand that you’ve built to-
Elena Davis: Demonstrate.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, there’s connection, it’s revenue producing. It might not have to be local either, my guess is that there’s been some instances where people would travel in and it’s a nice excuse for people to be like, “Hey, this is something for us to do and spend a weekend in a new place and then do a cooking class as an excuse to travel.”
Elena Davis: And I say, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. The skills that you learn, take them home and do them with your family, have a party and you teach the same thing. That’s what I want, I want it to be this gift, like the ripple effect, you’re coming here to learn something and then you take something out of it, and then you go spread it in your circles and do different things, I’m all about that, and I think cooking classes are a great way to do that. And then the products, too, can be passive, and I think the one thing if anybody’s thinking about it is, make sure they’re very brand specific. The thing that is the most popular is my pasta server.
Bjork Ostrom: This is physical product you’re talking about.
Elena Davis: Physical product, and it’s designed after my Nonna’s pasta stirring spoon, it measures spaghetti, and it also stirs the spaghetti with fork-like prongs. It’s a wood product that a woodworker that I know manufacturers here in Salt Lake City, so we work together, so I’m supporting a small business, I’m a small business, and we’re working together to provide a really good quality product, so that was very thoughtful in the way that I did that. Same with our two-in-one charcuterie cutting board kind of thing. And then I do have an apron and a tote bag, which might be more of your hat and your t-shirt, you know what I mean? But I like the more meaningful things to your brand, like a pasta utensil that goes with half my recipes, as an example of how that ties into another revenue stream, but also creating meaning for the consumer.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s not just a random product, there’s a connection to it.
Elena Davis: It makes a special gift, it’s unique.
Bjork Ostrom: So you’re selling those through your site, are you packaging those as well? Do you have a bunch of those in your garage?
Elena Davis: Oh, so I actually do, but I bring those to my cooking classes. There’s just a small kind of storage facility center business that will hold them for you, and package them, and you work things out with them, and then they do the shipping and it’s not a huge source of revenue, again, for me, it’s also a way for marketing in a way, brand awareness and a thing like that.
Bjork Ostrom: And I think what happens is over time as you get more of those, those add up. And those are now in place as a multiplier as your business grows. When you are at 200,000 page views, that revenue source, highly likely that will double. So it’s nice, if you can, to introduce those kind of multipliers within your business, so they’re there along the journey as you grow your following in your traffic.
Elena Davis: Just like with cooking classes or with online cooking classes, “Well, who’s going to buy it. Nobody knows about me, whatever.” Well, as you’re building your brand, as you’re waiting to get into Mediavine, or as you’re waiting for this, think of all the things that you can create and you can do in the meantime to create value for people. I think for me, there was a time where I loved following people on Instagram as a big foodie, but there was a time where I was just tired of consuming and I wanted to contribute and I wanted to create. And once you really get that in your mind about how your product, what you do can serve others, that’s where it all really takes meaning and starts to make sense, and that’s also where you start to see people investing in you because of what you do for them.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s this podcast, I think it’s called The Happiness Lab, and they were doing a episode on social media and just the impact on happiness, and they talk about the correlation between consuming versus creating, and overall happiness with social media use. And just the point being the more that you create and interact, the happier you are, generally speaking, and there’s a lot of probably disclaimers that go along with that, but versus just consuming and the correlation there is generally people are less happy using social media if you just consume. So it’s a great motivator to create, I think we all have some creator in us, especially people who listen to this podcast, and I think it impacts our wellbeing as well, if we can create and interact more and just consume less, I think we’ll probably be better off.
Elena Davis: People create community. People create people.
Bjork Ostrom: So if you were to look back at your last two years or even really the last year where you’ve experienced a lot of the growth that you’ve had, what would you say would be the most significant component of that? Was it a mindset? Was it specific action that you took? What was the biggest contributor to the traction that you’ve had?
Elena Davis: Consistency over time will give you results, it’s something that everybody knows, but it’s so hard to do. There was a few times where I thought, “I tried this, maybe it’s just not for me, but what if I just keep going one more day? What if I just keep contributing one more day, just going one more day staying consistent, posting consistently, finding that consistent balance for you, whether it’s once a week or five times a week, whatever it is, find how you can be consistent,” that looks different for everybody, but be consistent and invest in yourself, and believe in yourself that this can and will work, and create an action plan for yourself, I think is something that is so simple and yet overlooked.
Elena Davis: What do you want? What is your end goal? Work backwards to how you can get there, and there’s so many tools and people that can help you get there. Reach out to me, reach out to somebody you admire that has accomplished what you have, with how DMs work and things like that, you think, “oh, she’ll never reply to me,” well, she did. And she became a great mentor to me, as I spoke about Natasha through this whole process of things that I didn’t know, and she was willing to help. Not everybody’s like that, but consistency is huge.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. And we’ll give Natasha… We’ll be sure to link to her. Not so everybody DMs her, but just as a shout-out.
Elena Davis: No, I know. Oh my gosh, I didn’t even ask her.
Bjork Ostrom: As a karma piece, want to make sure to give her some love and appreciation for being a good person in the world. Speaking of connecting, where can people do that, Elena, where can people DM you if that’s okay?
Elena Davis: Yes. Cucina by Elena on Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, maybe don’t reach out to me on TikTok.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Elena Davis: I have a TikTok, I kind of post and ghost on there just to do what I need to do, but I found my real connection and community on Instagram, so that’s where I’m most active. So reach out to me on Cucina by Elena and cucinabyelena.com, you’ll find my recipes, products, and everything that you want and more. If you’re local, take a cooking class, I’d love to meet you, but yes, please reach out. Let’s do this together.
Bjork Ostrom: Let’s do it together. Love that. Elena, thanks so much for coming on the podcast.
Elena Davis: You’re so welcome, my pleasure.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there, Alexa here, and thanks for tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast, we really appreciate you being here, and if you really like this episode, we would so appreciate you leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts. It helps the show get in front of new listeners and it just makes us really happy, we read each and everyone, and it’s just so great to hear from you what you’re liking and what you would like us to improve or change in upcoming episodes.
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