469: How Erin Collins Went from 25,000 to 250,000 Instagram Followers While Self-Publishing a Cookbook

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A blue photograph of a woman reading a recipe with the title of Erin Collins's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'How Erin Collins Went from 25,000 to 250,000 Instagram Followers While Publishing a Cookbook.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.


Welcome to episode 469 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Erin Collins from Meaningful Eats. 

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

How Erin Collins Went from 25,000 to 250,000 Instagram Followers While Self-Publishing a Cookbook

Erin started her blog, Meaningful Eats, in 2012. Since then, she has self-published a cookbook (another one is coming out soon!), grown her site to 1 million monthly page views, and gained over 275,000 Instagram followers.

In this interview, Erin talks about how she achieves a work-life balance by delegating tasks and how being aware of her “zone of genius” allows her to focus on what she’s most passionate about. She also discusses how she committed to growing her Instagram following by honing in on her audience’s needs.

She self-published her cookbook “Gluten-Free Cookies, Brownies, and Bars” last fall and generated over $100,000 in revenue in the first nine months! It was great to hear about her process of self-publishing a cookbook. We can’t wait for you to dive in to hear more about her story!

A photograph of coffee cake with a quote from Erin's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast that reads: "With all of the changes coming down the pipeline with blogging, it's going to be more and more important to have a strong personal brand."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How she balances parenthood and blogging (hint: weekly family meetings are key!)
  • How she uses timed constrictions to be more intentional with her time
  • How she prioritizes her work during seasons of limited time
  • How outsourcing tasks allows her to achieve a work-life balance
  • How to leverage your zone of genius (and being aware of your zones of competence and incompetence) for your blog
  • How she grew her Instagram following from 25,000 to 250,000
  • How she decided to make the shift to quality over quantity
  • How incorporating various series (e.g.,12 Days of Gluten-Free Treats) into her Instagram strategy drove engagement
  • How she uses chat marketing tools like ManyChat to deliver content
  • Why she decided to self-publish her cookbook (which saw almost $100,000 in revenue in the first 9 months!) and how she went about it
  • The cost breakdown of self-publishing a cookbook: working with a printing company, shipping, etc.
  • How she’s looking to make the shift to connect with her audience and include more income streams
  • Her number one tip for food bloggers who are just starting out (spoiler: it’s to focus on one thing at a time)

Resources:

Thank you to our sponsors!

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

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Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode!

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

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti. Here’s the thing. We know that food blogging is a competitive industry, so anything you can do to level up your content can really give you an edge. By fixing content issues and filling content gaps, you can make your good content even better. And wouldn’t it be awesome if you could figure out how to optimize your existing blog posts without needing to comb through each and every post one by one? Or I know some of you have done this, create a mega Excel sheet with manually added details for each post that’s soon to be outdated anyway. That’s why we created Clariti to save you time, simplify the process and make it easy. So with a subscription to Clariti, you can clearly see where your content needs to be optimized. Like, which of your posts have broken links or missing alt text.

Maybe there’s no internal links or what needs to be updated seasonally. Plus, you can easily see the impact of your edits in the keyword dashboard for each post. Here’s a quick little testimonial from Laura and Sarah from Wandercooks. They said, with GA4 becoming increasingly difficult to use, Clariti has been a game changer for streamlining our data analytics and blog post performance process. That’s awesome. That’s why we built it, and it’s so fun to hear from users like Laura and Sarah. So as a listener of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, you can sign up and get 50% off your first month of Clariti. To set up your account, simply go to Clariti. That’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food. That’s clariti.com/food. Thanks again to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there. This is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. This week on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Erin Collins from the blog Meaningful Eats. In this interview, they chat more about how Erin prioritizes her work during seasons of limited time, including how she balances parenthood and blogging, and how she uses those timing constrictions to be more intentional with her time. She also shares more about how she has grown her Instagram following from 25,000 followers to over 250,000 followers, including some series that she’s done on Instagram and how making the shift to quality over quantity helped her. Erin also self-published a cookbook last year and she saw almost $100,000 in revenue in the first nine months of selling that cookbook. So she explains more how she went about marketing that cookbook, the details behind writing, publishing, printing, shipping the cookbook and everything you might need to know if you’re interested in pursuing that path as well. It’s really fun to hear more about Erin’s story. We know you’re going to love this episode.

Just a reminder, if you enjoy the episode, we really appreciate it if you would share the episode on social media or with your newsletter followings or leave a review on Apple or Spotify wherever you listen to podcast episodes. Without further ado, I’ll let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Erin, welcome to the podcast.

Erin Collins: Thank you for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, we’re going to be talking about… There’s a lot of things that we can cover today because you have a lot of exciting things that you’ve been doing. We’re going to be talking about growing your Instagram in a year from 25,000 to 250,000, something that I know a lot of people would hear about and be like, “That sounds like something I want to do.” 10 x your Instagram following. We’re also going to be talking about the success you’ve had, self-publishing a cookbook, the additional revenue that’s created for your business. The thing that I’m interested in and maybe the thing to lead off with, selfishly, I’m always interested in hearing from people who are parents. And parents who are working and building a successful business of which you’ve done that. But the additional thing that’s interesting with your story, it’s different than ours. Lindsay and I are parents now. But when we started, we weren’t parents. When you started your site, you were already in the throws of parenting. You have four kids now, but had at least one kid at that point?

Erin Collins: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Tell us about what that season was like, because it’s a hard thing to start a business and to build a business. It’s a hard thing to parent and to raise children in the world, but it’s especially hard to do both of those things at the same time.

Erin Collins: Yeah, I agree. It’s something that’s like, every phase feels different, but it’s been something that’s been there the whole time that I’ve been blogging. So I started my food blog back in 2012 when I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which is actually triggered by my pregnancy with my oldest. So he was one-year-old when I was diagnosed with that, and I just started the blog for fun. I think that a lot of people started blogs for fun back then to talk about gluten-free, what I was making, what I was cooking. I’ve always really been interested in food. I studied food science undergraduate in nutrition and master’s degree and that I just have always really liked to cook. So I was like, “I have to eat gluten-free now and I’m trying to blog about it.” But it was very much like a jobby as I like to say, like a job hobby for the first, I’d say, four years doing it.

And I’d say 2016 was a turning point for me because that’s when my second son was born in 2015, so I had two little boys and I was like, “This is too much work to do just as a hobby. I either need to stop doing this or I need to treat this like a business and have this be what I’m doing for a job.” And so my husband was really the one who was like, “I think that you really actually find a lot of joy doing it. So I was grateful because I feel like he encouraged, saw what I couldn’t see that I think this is something he really liked doing. And so, that’s when I invested in a nicer camera and back then hands-in-hands videos were very on trend, and so I learned about videography. 2016 was the clear beginning of, ”Okay, I am treating this like a job and doing this alongside having a young growing family.” And so over the years that’s looked a little bit different for each chapter, but I feel like I’ve always…

When I’ve been working on my blog, I’ve always… I don’t know if this is a healthy mindset, I don’t know if I recommend this to people, but I’ve always felt this pressure of, I am choosing… And this is true for I think a lot of entrepreneurs, I’m choosing to trade my time with my kids to work on this right now.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Yeah. It’s totally relatable.

Erin Collins: And whereas a 9:00 to 5:00 job, you’re like, “Oh, I’m being paid to be here. I have to be here anyway.” Whereas it…

Bjork Ostrom: You have the choice in a way that’s different.

Erin Collins: Have a choice. Yeah. So wanting to be really intentional about the times that I am working, I am working is how I’ve always been just over the last decade with it, and it looks different. Through different seasons, I’d say.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting when you do have that mindset. Suddenly there’s a value placed on your time. And for a lot of people it could be, you have kids. For other people it might be, you have a hobby that you really want to prioritize, or maybe you don’t have kids and you have a parent who’s sick, and all of these are considerations that we have that put this time pressure on, the one that’s very relatable for me is kids. So especially when your kids are younger, depending on how your algorithm has been optimized on Instagram, you might get a stream of content around these years being fleeting, as if we need reminders of this.

Erin Collins: So stressful. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: But you just get inundated with this. But the reality is, it’s true. These are fleeting years and obviously there’s a wide spectrum of how people feel like they are best in terms of, “Hey, what does it look like to be at home as much as possible with your kids?” Or for some people it’s like, “I actually need to have this 9:00 to 5:00 ish routine.” But the point that I hear you saying is, you knew that it’s not a regular job where you’re getting paid to show up. You’re deciding and if you’re going to work on the extreme end, let’s say you work a 12-hour day and you don’t really get to see your kids, that’s not because somebody was saying, “You have to do this.” That’s because you decided to do it. And so, suddenly you look at your time a little bit different, and my guess is, from that, you prioritize differently or even figure out how to be more creative in terms of how you find time to work on things.

So what did that look like for you? What did you prioritize that allowed you to get to this point where you have this successful business without feeling like you sacrificed the growing up years with your kids?

Erin Collins: Yeah, that’s a great question. I feel like it’s always looking to what is actually moving the needle. And one thing I like an analogy I think of often is the Great British Baking show, they have four hours to make this amazing cake. That’s their showstopper or whatever. And when those four hours are done, it’s done. Their showstopper cake is done and they fit it in and whatever it is, it’s what it’s done. And so I feel like that’s how it is with me with blogging projects where it’s like, “Okay, I have five hours to work today and these are the most important things to get done.” And so, this is the time that I’ve given myself to do that. And I actually actually feel… I used to feel like, “Oh wow, I’m actually really unwilling to work over a certain number of hours because I have always wanted to be there. I am choosing to have this job and I’m lucky to have this job, and so I’m going to make this time count when I’m doing it.”

But I actually feel like it’s an advantage sometimes to have time constrictions on things, because I’ve even found now as my kids have gotten a little older, my oldest is 13, and then we have a nine-year-old, a six-year-old and a four-year-old. So we’re still very busy by all means. And my four-year-old is the only one who’s not in full day school. But I find myself, I have more time because he goes to farm preschool Monday through Thursday. And I’m like, “Oh, it’s funny because I have actually more time now, but I feel like I’m getting the same amount of work done that I have when I’ve had less time in the past.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. Totally. Or similarly, maybe there’s a season, I think Lindsay and I can both relate to this where we had more time and then you have less time, you’re restricted in that time and you still find time to get 80% of what you’d need to get done. And it’s almost like, let’s say you have… This isn’t the exact analogy for it or exact numbers, but let’s say you’d normally have eight hours in a day and you could get a 100% of what you need to get done. Let’s say that was halved and you only have four hours, you might be able to get 80% of the most important things that you need to get done done. And similarly, if you get that time back, maybe you can then get a 100% of what you want to get done, but it’s not that most critical additional work. But what that requires is for you to have a good understanding of what is important and what is critical. What have you found to be the most important things to be working on when you do have seasons of limited time?

Erin Collins: And I feel like there’s seasons of blogging where it’s been different things at different times. So maybe I’ll speak to right now, what are the things I’m prioritizing when I have time right now. And it’s like, I think that I’ve always had the idea like, when I go into a work day, I’m like, “Okay, I need to get that reel up, this blog post updated and this done.” But I do drop the ball with other things over the years. I have answering blog comments on my thing. I just hired somebody to help with that a year ago, and I’m like, “I should have hired someone to help with that far sooner”, because that’s something where I feel like that’s work with a lowercase W is answering blog comments, answering tons of emails. Whereas work with a capital W is, publishing the real, sharing the content, updating the post. So for me, it’s always the content first is what matters.

And over the years, there’s just things that I have full-on did not do web stories. I was like, “I don’t like these and I’m not going to do them just because I don’t have time to do those two.” So I usually go into my week/day knowing, I try to share two reels a week on Instagram, I try to update three blog posts. There’s some weeks where I’m shooting reels or I’ve been working on these specific tasks for the cookbook, but it’s usually on Sunday night, my husband and I will sit down and have a family planning meeting, and then I’ll also have a work planning meeting. I’ll be like, “These are the top tasks that have to be done this week,” and just knowing that. So that when I have that chunk of time to work, I can just hop right in.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I think of the analogy of drilling, and I think sometimes, what we do as business owners, creators, whatever you want to label it, is we have figured out something that works. In your case, you talk about Instagram Reels, I heard you talking about… And we’ve had success drilling in that area. Sometimes at least for me, what can happen is, I can see somebody else doing something else like web stories in your example, and you can be like, “oh, I’m going to hold the drill up and I’m going to go over there and see if I can drill here and maybe get oil.” But I think for a lot of us, especially if you have limited resources, in this case being time, you should just keep drilling where you’re actually getting oil as opposed to being like, “Oh, web stories. I’m going to use some of my limited resources and time to go over there and experiment with that thing.”

It’s not that you should never do it, but if you’re in a season where you only have so much time, which most of us are, to just continue to do the thing that is working. If you see a reason to go and drill in another area, because somebody’s proven it or you’re seeing traction, do it, but to hold off on things that would maybe be considered experimental or new, if you’re in a season where you’re restricted on your time. But you can always, with your comments you talked about, have somebody else come in to help with that. I think that’s the other angle with it, and it sounds like you’ve made some decisions around saying, “Hey, this is important. It’s not important enough for me to do it, but it is important enough for it to get done as long as somebody else is doing it.” Do you have other examples of the types of lowercase W work that’s happening with the business?

Erin Collins: I have a virtual assistant who… I’m trying to always examine that in my life like, what are the things that I need to be doing or that I want to be doing too? What are the things that don’t matter necessarily if I’m the one doing them? And I think that as entrepreneurs, a lot of us feel relate to that. What are the things. And I am definitely guilty of feeling like, “I need to be doing all of the things.” And it’s like, I’ve realized that over the years, “No, I really don’t.”

Two years ago I hired a photographer to help take photos for my blog because I feel like that was… I went to a Tastemaker Conference and heard Emily Perron… What was her name? I think she was on the podcast before. She talked about the zone of genius and how you have your zone of genius, your zone of competence, your zone of incompetence, and how even though something is in your zone of competence and you can do it, should you be doing that? And that was a big aha moment for me because I’m like, “Photography is not my zone of genius. It’s my zone of competence.” And so hiring someone where that is their zone of genius, gave me back 10 to 15 hours every week. And between the grocery shopping, that’s photographing, editing the photos. So that for me was a big one. Same with a lot of the virtual assistant type tasks.

I have someone who helps me with Instagram where I share the reel and then she takes that same video. I upload it to Dropbox, so she takes that reel, shares it to TikTok, because TikTok still feels scary to me as a millennial woman. She handles it there and then she does it to Pinterest and to YouTube shorts, and she’ll make some Instagram stories too. So some of those tasks that are repetitive, and answering blog comments, it’s important to me for my readers to feel acknowledged and for things to be helpful too, getting responses to comments. But you can definitely find people to fill some of those roles.

Bjork Ostrom: And it feels like the two-part equation with that is, for all of us, there’ll be a season where, or for most of us, we might not have the resources from a financial perspective to do that. And so the question is, in that stage, do you just not do it or is it important enough that you do it and grind, because it’s maybe not the thing that you love doing, even though you can do it, to the point where you might have then resources in from a financial perspective to bring somebody in to do it. But at that point, it switches over to then become the ability to let go of a thing. And you’re changing and evolving your skill set, whereas before the skill set was grinding, get it done, you’re evolving into a new skill set, which is, define what it is and delegate and constantly be getting towards what you call the zone of genius.

Can you talk more about even just what is that for you… And the podcast with Emily was a great one. People could go back and listen to that. But what is that for you and then what does it feel like when you are working within that, just to inspire people who maybe don’t feel like they’re in their zone of genius?

Erin Collins: And I love that it can be so different for everyone, and I love talking to people about what is the thing that lights them up that they enjoy doing? It’s just funny how it’s so different for so many people.

Bjork Ostrom: So different.

Erin Collins: Some people photography, that is what their thing is. Or some people really love being a business manager and managing people and creating systems that way. For me, I really, really love the recipe development. That will always be what brings my heart and soul back into blogging and what keeps me enjoying it, wanting to do it. I get really excited when I think about creating a gluten-free cream puff recipe with dairy-free vanilla pudding. That makes me feel excited. And so I will always want to do my own recipe development. And then lately, over the past five years I’d say, I have come to really enjoy the business development part of it too. Trying to think strategically about which people do I hire to put in what places in my business or the things that I want to be doing.

So if I was listing through things, recipe development, business development. And then randomly, I really do making reels. I like making short form videos, I think they’re fun. And so I enjoy doing that. That rejuvenates me creatively, because there was actually a period where I’d outsource the photography. I had a writer. I was doing the recipe development, but I feel like I was at the computer all day. And so when I added the Instagram Reels back into it, I actually was like, “I feel like I’m creating again in a different way that I was missing”, because I outsourced so much of that creative part. So yeah, those are the things that I’d say.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s this book that I read a few years ago, Designing Your Life, I think Stanford Professors who had this class and then they wrote a book on it. I think they also have one called Designing Your Work Life. But one of the things that I think about as an analogy or as a visual is, they talked about documenting your day and then it was a little gas meter empty to full and how full does this make you feel versus how empty and you would almost audit your day. And one of the things that I’ve tried to do is, expand that even just beyond work, but just personal as well. And there’s a lot of things in my personal life that are like that lowercase w, that made sense to have somebody… If I view it all as resources, which is time, and that being limited, to think about, “Okay, there are these recurring things in my life that have to get done that are really important.”

And if I collectively added all that up, it might be 10, 15, 20 hours a week of just these things that have to happen both within personal life and work life. That when you can, from a financial perspective, either from taking money that you’ve saved up and viewing it as investment into your business, or taking money from your business and then putting it back into the business, upgrading not only your business by bringing somebody in, but also it feels like probably upgrading your life, in that the work that you’re doing is more enjoyable. Have you felt that as you’ve gone through the process of strategically partnering with and working with people on your team?

Erin Collins: Yes. And I think it’s like, if there’s any new bloggers listening to this, I know it can feel overwhelming like, “Oh, these bloggers that have been around for 10 years have all these resources to outsource all these things.” But I started really small. I started in 2017. It was actually our babysitter. I was like, “Would you like to help me with social media?” And she’s like, “Sure.” And so she’s actually been with me ever since 2017 and her role has changed a little bit within it, but she still works part-time for me. Then I added on a writer and then I added on a photographer, and then I added on another person who helps with email, answering blog comments. And so, I feel like there was a period where it was all me and then just giving away little pieces of it at a time. But I like your idea about too with making sure that you look at your personal life as well.

And I feel like that’s something that my husband and I have been doing more intentionally the last year or so, because our kids are getting a little older, they’re really involved in sports. My kids are swim team swimmers, and so that’s a big part of our life. We’re always driving to swim practice. I’m the stroke and turn judge for the team.

Bjork Ostrom: I was going to ask, were you swimmer?

Erin Collins: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that part of where it comes from? Okay. Lindsay was a swimmer too.

Erin Collins: Oh, nice.

Bjork Ostrom: I went to the same high school, and so that was my introduction to swimming was going to swim meets and cheering around.

Erin Collins: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, I love swimming. We want to have time. I don’t know. And it’s like, we love to have that time driving our kids in the car, we get to talk to them or on the weekends as family. As a family, we like to go cheer on whoever’s swimming that weekend. And so we’ve actually looked at our chores and things we do at home too, and tried to be like, “Okay, what can we get more help with?” So we hired someone to come over for four hours a week to help us with laundry and straightening around the house. And I’m like, that actually puts so much time back into our week too, which is not a business expense and we’re very fortunate to be able to do that. But that is times then when it’s that Saturday rather than, I can maybe take my son to the park or something or just have those hours back to do something that fills our cup more.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And I think it all comes back to this idea of levers and variables in our life. And we have all of these different things that we can slide up and down. Some of those are set, some of those you can’t change, and we have things in our life that come up that are inevitable, medical expense or whatever. But, expenses generally in our life can be adjusted up or down. Expenses within our businesses can be adjusted up or down. Our time in any given day or week can maybe be adjusted up or down. And again, there’s going to be some things that can’t be. But generally speaking, we have the ability to shift, change, adjust, tweak, and we’re never going to get to our perfect outcome, but there’s always going to be the ability to think strategically. I think that’s what it comes back to, and almost have a design mindset in approaching your work and your life and looking at it as one holistic picture and saying, “What’s the game that we’re trying to play?”

And I’m reading this book right now called The Psychology of Money, and it just talks about this mix that we have with the decisions that we make within our life around money, but also so much of it just really comes down to our life and how we are approaching our life and being strategic about that. And when you introduce business into it, building a business, running a business or a career could also fit within that, you start to have a lot of optionality for how you change and adjust that. So I think it’s important to point out and important to talk about. It’s one of the great benefits that you have when you’re building a thing is the ability to shift and adjust. One last question I wanted to ask related to that is your Sunday meeting. Tell me about that, what does that look like and how’s that evolved through the years?

Erin Collins: So I think it came out of necessity of, we have kids that have all these places they need to be, let’s moving parts of their schedules get busier as they got older. And then also I have days where I needed the kitchen, so it’s more helpful if my husband goes to work at the office that day or things like that. So just out of necessity, we’re like, “We need to be fully on the same page starting each week on Sundays.” And so we will just sit down with our calendars and just talk through the week. Just like this person needs to be here at this time, this person needs to be here at that time. And now that my oldest is 13 too, we’ll have him come and be responsible for his schedule and his calendar too like, “Okay, we’re going to be with this one. This is going to be picking you up.” And then alongside that, we’ll usually do a meal plan for the week too. “Okay, who’s making dinner this night?” Or we usually rotate who’s making dinner based on who’s driving, whoever where…

Bjork Ostrom: Basic idea is, it’s a time for you, is it like a half hour, hour, where you sit down and you just talk through the week, get on the same page, and it’s a logistical planning session for your family.0

Erin Collins: It is. And it’s like a nice check-in, relationship-wise too, just to be like, “Okay, what are your top tasks that you have on your plate this week and what are the top things that you need my help with this week?” Just making sure we have time to account for that too. My husband is a software developer, but he sometimes likes to work on a project here or there. And so having a few hours for him to do that too and then he knows, “Oh, if I have this big cookbook manuscript deadline, just getting on the same page with both of our works and where the kids need to be”, and all that.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I love that. Before we continue, let’s take a moment to hear from our sponsors. So here’s a funny thing. On the Food Blogger Pro podcast, I don’t often talk about Food Blogger Pro membership. It’s a huge part of what we do and the reality is the majority of our time as a team is spent thinking about and working with the Food Blogger Pro members. So we wanted to take some time to remind people that if you want to take the next step, go beyond just this podcast, you can join Food Blogger Pro. If you’re interested, all you need to do is go to foodbloggerpro.com. We’re going to tell you more about what a membership entails. And if you’re interested in signing up, you can just hit the join now button. What does that mean? Well, we have a community forum where there’s the Food Blogger Pro industry experts, many names from which you probably recognize from this podcast.

We also have deals and discounts on some of the most popular and important tools for food creators and food bloggers. We have courses that dive deep on photography and video and social media applications. We do live Q&As with industry experts. Recently we had a conversation with an SEO expert named Eddie from Raptive, where he talked about republishing and how to be strategic with your approach to republishing and why that’s important. We do these coaching calls where I jump on with a creator and we talk about how we can look at their business and grow their business. And the cool thing is, for those of you who listen to this podcast, we actually have a members only podcast called FBP On The Go. Where we take some of these video lessons that we’re doing, like these coaching calls or these live Q&A with experts, and we roll those up into a podcast. So if you don’t have time to sit down and watch those, you can actually just listen to them like you do this podcast, but it’s a members only podcast.

So if you’re interested, again, you can go to FoodBloggerPro.com and check it out. It’s a great next step for anybody who’s been listening to the podcast for a long time and wants to dive deeper into growing and building and scaling their business.

So let’s talk about Meaningful Eats some more. One of the things that’s so great that you had highlighted as we were talking through, we could talk about here is Instagram growth. So you went from 25,000 to 250,000 followers on Instagram. You also referenced really enjoying creating Instagram content and reels. When you look back at that period of growth, what contributed to that growth the most? How were you able to do that?

Erin Collins: So it was last spring, I decided, I really want to focus on Instagram. I feel like I always just had my virtual assistant who’s worked with me since 2017, just take the image from the blog posts I published and just she would put it up there, and I never even really did much over there. But I feel like, which is all the changes coming down the pipeline with blogging, it’s going to be more and more important to just have a strong personal brand and to be connecting personally with people in my community and also just creating helpful content for them too over there. And so I was like, “I’m just going to make this my goal for the rest of this year to really figure out what’s going to work for me on Instagram.”

So I listened to all kinds of podcasts about different people sharing different strategies and what was working for them. And I really feel like, every account is so different. Because, I think I listened to an episode, a podcast episode where someone, a food creator shared that she’d grown her Instagram account to beyond a 100K just by sharing hero shots of a cookie. Just three second close ups of a cookie. And I was like, “Oh, wow.” And so I tried that with my audience and it did not work at all. I went through a little period where I tried this Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Meal Monday series where I was like, “I don’t like creating this kind of content”, because I’m more of a baking desserts person and I didn’t want to have to come up with a savory recipe every Monday.

So I went through a bunch of trials and errors and just saw what resonated most with people. And for me, what I landed on with my audience is, that it’s the 30 to 60 second long reels that are very instructional and helpful and really nailing down what is my account about on Instagram? And I’m like, “We’re about easy, approachable, gluten-free baking.” I’m not defining what I’m not doing there too. I’m not sharing my grocery hauls, I’m not sharing restaurant reviews, I’m not sharing my this… And for me, that personally, it’s been so great to just pare down like, “This is what I’m doing.” I’m sharing how to make gluten-free baked goods in these reels.

So, I found that the 32 seconds with a voiceover with 0.8 to one second clips, lots of hero shots, those do really, really well for me. And it against a lot of the things that I’ve heard out there, where you need to share a reel every day if you’re going to grow. I actually just started to focus more on quality over quantity. And I think about some of the DIY interior design accounts I like to follow, and they don’t share stuff every day. But when they do share something, it’s like this really amazing mudroom makeover and it’s like a whole reel that’s dedicated to this one project that’s really high quality. And so, taking a page from that, I was like, I’m going to do less and just share two really high quality reels a week and see how that does.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.

Erin Collins: And that’s been worked really well.

Bjork Ostrom: I think the thing that I take away from it when I hear you telling your story of growing, it’s like, you made the decision. Number one, I feel like that’s such an important piece. It’s like, “Okay, this is going to be something that I’m going to do. I’m going to set out to grow my Instagram account.” Number two, you then consumed a bunch of content from people who were talking about how to grow your Instagram account. My guess is a lot of that is not applicable. You learn it, you maybe try it out, it doesn’t work. Maybe you don’t even try it out because it feels weird, but you just have this influx of information that then you parse through, you decide what to do. And with some of it, you do it and it’s like, “That did work.” And with other strategies, you do it and it doesn’t work. But the point is, it was those three things.

It’s making the decision, it’s consuming the content that you need to essentially give you the ability to pick and choose from what you want to try, and then you actually go out and execute and do it. And from there you developed a little bit of a sixth sense around, “Hey, this is something that’s going to work for my audience.” Once you do that, then you rinse and repeat. Is that more or less kind of…

Erin Collins: Yeah, that’s a great way to summarize it. Yeah, that’s exactly, it took a while and that’s what you always hear people saying like, “Oh, you just got to get in there and try stuff. ”And I feel like an overarching thing through my blogging career has been to be impatient with action, to take action quickly. We’re going to make this through, we’re going to try it. But then patient with results, watching what’s working. That’s awesome. What’s doing it. And another thing that’s actually I think really been good too is doing series where it’s like the 12 days of gluten-free Christmas treats or a series on the top 10 gluten-free cookie recipes. Right now I’m doing a series on gluten-free baking 101. Those series, I’ve noticed I have a lot more follows when I have, even if they don’t even get as viral as others, because people are like, “Oh, I want to know what number three, four, and five are of this 10 part series that I saw video number seven for.” And so, I’ve noticed having little mini episodes, series of things on Instagram, people follow from that.

Bjork Ostrom: It gives people a reason to follow. One reason is because people just are interested in what you’re doing and they’re like, “Hey, I want to follow this person. But it’s additionally beneficial if you can also then create some stronger call to action around a follow. Like a series where people are like, ”Oh, I’m interested in, like you said, what the other five are.“ If you’ve released most of them, but not all of them in this 12 part series and people will follow so they can see what’s coming down the line. I love that. Anything else that from almost like a tips or tricks or tactical standpoint that’s been helpful? I even think of things like, are you including… When you create a piece of content, are you prompting people to follow, like, ”Hey, make sure to follow along here”, or anything like that where you’re trying to intentionally build in some mechanisms around following or growth?

Erin Collins: This is one that I think a lot of people probably have heard of but maybe some listeners have not, is about ManyChat. I have used that and I feel like that is very helpful for, like, “At the end of video you say comment recipe and I’ll send you the recipe.” And it’s amazing to me just how unwilling people are to go to look up your blog and look for the recipe. Even if you give them in the caption four ways to find it, it’s like they just want you to…

Bjork Ostrom: Easy as possible.

Erin Collins: As easy as possible. And also what that does too is, all those people commenting recipe, I obviously don’t know all the secrets of the Instagram algorithm, but I feel like them commenting that does help to get the video going too, where it starts getting that engagement and then ManyChat I think is a great tool. I’ve also found ManyChat to be really effective for selling cookbooks too. So if people are not trying ManyChat and they want to find a way to increase the engagement on their reels, that’s a great tool.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So can you talk about functionally how that works? So you say, are going through the process, you create this video, it’s a recipe. And you say, “Hey, comment recipe to get this sent to you.” Somebody comments recipes, is it sending them a DM? What does that look like? And you have that set up within ManyChat as a workflow.

Erin Collins: Yeah, ManyChat, they have an app on the phone, so as soon as I publish the reel, I will go to ManyChat and you create an automation. And so it’s like you select the reel, and it’s like when someone comments and you can say, if you can make the choice be any comment, or you could be when they comment with a specific word, I usually do the specific word when they comment recipe just because I don’t want… If somebody says, “Can I make this egg free?” That you’re like, “Send the recipe,”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a recipe. Yeah.

Erin Collins: That’s like a robot. So, you can choose what triggers it, sending the recipe, and then you also hook up the response that you want to give. And I believe there’s a little text blurb followed by the option to include three links. And so, sometimes I’ll include a link to the recipe and a link to my cookbook or a link to a roundup for Memorial Day recipes as well as the dessert. And then it sends it right to their inbox. And I myself really enjoy it when there’s fashion or home influencers that I’m like, “Oh, I want that Amazon Kitchen Gadget.” I just love it when I have the link just right there in my inbox. So I think that the same goes for recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And like you said, I think it’s one of the tools that you can use. Anytime that you can shorten the… Or make it easier, more frictionless for somebody to take an action is a beneficial thing. And you talked about the cookbook and that being a really beneficial thing, if you mention the cookbook, or even if you just have a recipe, you can say, “Hey, check out my cookbook here. I know you went through the process of self-publishing that cookbook and have also had success in launching building and scaling that as a product that you have within your business. Talk about the decision to self-publish and then we’ll talk about some of the things that you’ve learned from marketing that.

Erin Collins: Yeah, I think that having been blogging as long as I have, years ago I was like, “Oh, I’ll probably never do a cookbook unless it’s some kind of legacy project that I just wanted to do for fun to have this, catalog of my recipes. I never thought that a cookbook could make money. I thought that it was something where you did it just to say you did a cookbook. And that could not be further from the truth, why do you self-publish a book? I think when you go to traditional publishing route, you’re optimizing for other things like Reach or maybe you’re a speaker and you want that credibility to show that you’re in Barnes and Noble at Target and Amazon. But if you’re optimizing for profit and also to just provide something really great for your community specifically, there’s so many benefits to self-publishing.

I have a few notes right here. I realized with the self-publishing that my ability to reach my audience and to know what they want is actually higher than it is for a traditional publisher. I think that as creators, we have a larger cultural reach at this point that a lot of traditional publishers do. And so that need where when you used to publish a book maybe 20 years ago or something, and we didn’t have the kinds of audiences and social media that we do now, there is more of a need for being able to get that distribution.

But nowadays, us as creators, we can use that attention that we work so hard to get A lot of big companies, their number one expenses, customer acquisition, and it’s like we have so many eyes on us already. So using that attention to put towards a product, which I think specifically as food bloggers, sometimes we forget about that because we’re so focused on Ad revenue and Google search results on that. So there’s a whole world of digital marketing out there that I sometimes remind myself exists. I’m like, “Oh, there’s people whose whole businesses are doing this.” And I just am like, “Oh, what about if I have made a product and had people look at that instead of just getting a click through?”

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. And I feel like it also creates a different incentive for your Instagram following, when suddenly the purpose isn’t to get people over to your blog. It’s great if they do that, but also it’s like you have a product to sell and let’s say the blog goes away, you’d still have a great business in that you have the attention of an audience that’s ever increasing and the ability to talk to that audience about a product that you have. I know that you shared before in the first nine months, the cookbook sold almost a 100,000 or around a $100,000 in total revenue, which is incredible. What does that look like from a launch versus ongoing? How has that looked month to month as you’ve gone through the process with the cookbook?

Erin Collins: So I just decided to just go for it and just make a smaller little book just to see if I even liked having a physical product. So I just put together, it was gluten-free cookies, brownies and bars, 41 recipes there were. Most of them are already on my site and just hired a graphic designer to put together a book. I printed it with a company called Mixam and where you can just upload it and order however many quantity you want. That’s a really great way to just get started with it. Got some envelopes from a company called Sticker Mule to package them with. My husband helped me set up a shop using an app called Ecwid for the background, and we were just like, “We’re just going to see how it goes.” We just ordered a 1000 copies and we’re like, “We’ll just see.” And the feedback I got from my audience was so positive.

People were like, I love having… There’s something to be said for. I felt like, “Oh, these recipes are already on my website.” It’s not even anything really new and fully transparent about that with the book too. But people want a physical cookbook. They like to not have to scroll through Ads or to have a book that they have in their kitchen. It’s just a totally different experience than going to a website to get a recipe. And it makes a great gift. It makes a great… Everybody knows someone who’s gluten-free and so it’s great. People love to buy a gift for people. And so, I sold through a 1000 copies within… I think it was three months. And my Instagram audience was much smaller than two, because I think I then had been… I was 45,000. And then I had a bunch of reels go really viral during Christmas time, and I had mentioned to the book in that.

And so, then I sold through… Just in the month of December, I sold through almost a 1000 more with that. So we ordered more. And I keep being like, “We should have ordered more than a 1000 at a time.” Because there was discount pricing if you order more. But we just were risk averse at first doing it. And so, the feedback I got from my audience though after doing that smaller little cookies book, which we’re still selling. We actually just had another shipment of books come in last week because we sold out again during Mother’s Day. But the feedback I got is that, a lot of my audience wants a more comprehensive gluten-free baking book. And so, I have another cookbook that I just submitted the files for last week that is being printed with a different publisher… Not publisher, but printer that it’s going to be a hardcover, linen-bound, flat lay, like nicer coffee table-esque book that’s going to have 60 of basic.

If you’re new to gluten-free, these are the recipes you need to have. And that one we placed a significantly larger order of, and I think launching it to this larger Instagram following, also a larger email list, all of that, I think it’s going to be… I found that the best way to market the book is through Instagram and email. And so those are two really powerful tools.

Bjork Ostrom: It justifies number one, if you have an email list and you’ve been building that, but also the work that you do in building an Instagram following. And that with Instagram, like we said, you can direct people to your site. You could do affiliate or sponsored deals, which is great. But if you can start to figure out how to have your own products that you integrate in, maybe it’s a part of your autoresponder series when people sign up on your email list, all of that stuff can compound in a really compelling way. What’s it look like on the publishing side, the numbers? Is it $20 to get a book published if you’re doing a run of a 1000, or how much has that actually cost to the degree that you’re comfortable talking about those numbers?

Erin Collins: I’m happy to share. And I know that prices fluctuate too. So if you upload a five by nine book, I’m mixing minutes different than I’m telling you, then just know that it changes months to month. But when I printed it, it was between five to $7 a copy. I think that we ended up placing an order for 2000, and that was closer to… It was the high-fives a book, but then there’s the free shipping too. So if you calculate that into the cost of it, it ends up being six to $7 a book. And then we ship our books via USPS media mail. And so that ends up costing less than $5 usually per label, depends on where it’s going. And we’re actually like, we decided to fulfill the books ourselves because it gives our kids a job too with business.

Bjork Ostrom: I was going to say, it’s a perfect job for kids.

Erin Collins: Yeah. It’s a great job for kids. My kids, my nine-year-old especially is on it. He loves helping pack them up. And kids are just funny because my husband’s a software developer, I’m a food blogger, but our jobs are on the computers and they’re very vague to them, but they’re cookbooks. It was for the Mother’s Day thing at school. My son was like, “My mom sells cookbooks.” It’s a real tangible thing that kids are like, “This is what we’re doing.”

Bjork Ostrom: We asked our daughter once, she was like, “What does dad do for work?” And she was like, “Email.” I think that’s basically what you do is send emails, which is kind of true.

Erin Collins: I know. My daughter’s always like, “It looks boring to be a dad, because he’s on the computer all the time.”

Bjork Ostrom: With the cookbook all in, it sounds like 10 to $12 for that. Again, there’s a lot of variables within that that go into it. And then can sell it for 25, $30 on your site. It looks like it’s listed right now for $27.99.

Erin Collins: $27.99. And then I wanted to leave enough buffer there to allow for a sale too. And then, so it’s like $5 shipping. So then I only put it on sale twice for Black Friday and then Mother’s Day, and then I offer free shipping then and 25% off. And so that the margins are less than, but still enough that it’s worth it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. And I think, again, if we can layer in different ways to create an income, and for you, it’s like you have your site, you have Ad revenue that you can earn from that if you want to, or you have 250, 300,000 followers, you could do sponsored content. But to have a product is a really valuable thing because you just have complete control over it. You can run a sale when you want to run a sale. You can promote it when you want to promote it, and you have these different channels then, which you can be strategic about. So I just really love that as an option for people. And it also creates a level of security as a business. You just are diversifying the sources of revenue you have and Ad revenue, let’s say it goes down, everybody’s talking about Google algorithm updates and Generative AI.

Erin Collins: It’s nice to have something to focus on that’s not SEO and algorithm updates too. It’s really fun to create a physical product. And not only that too, I recommend it to any food bloggers who are thinking of doing it. I highly recommend it. Because also, your audience will like it too. If they love your recipes and the work that you’re creating, they will welcome an opportunity to have a physical copy of that in their kitchen.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think a lot of times want to support you as a creator. These are people who have a connection to you and potentially have followed along with what you’ve been doing for years, definitely months, and want to support people who have helped them. And so, I think if nothing else, it’s like a gift to followers as well when you go through the process of creating something like that. So I’m curious to know, as you look out, you’ve been at this for a decade plus. When you look out a decade, what do you see ahead for yourself as a creator? Where would you imagine yourself going? How would you imagine potentially your work evolving to the degree that you can look ahead? What do you think that looks like?

Erin Collins: I have really been just loving creating products actually. I think my ideal would be to get to a place where I’ve hired the right people and have the right systems in place with my blog and my website, that that can be run on autopilot with people updating posts or helping with publishing a few new recipes a month there. But, I really do want to focus my business more so going forward on connecting with my audience, attracting the right people on Instagram to serve really well, and then creating products for them. I can already think of the title of my new book coming out is called Let’s Bake Gluten-Free. I already have all the recipes written down for Let’s Bake Gluten-Free volume two. I have two more cookbooks. I have four cookbooks that I’d love to do already off the top, and I can see the vision too with, for so many years I’ve been focused on traffic, and that’s still very important. That will never go away with my business. But I think shifting over to being a more well-rounded business as a whole with more income streams.

Bjork Ostrom: I talk about this post a lot. It’s like this ancient post on the internet called a 1,000 True Fans. Kevin Kelly, who is a tech writer, but he talks about this idea of creator economy that can be sustained through all of us having a 1,000 true fans. And I feel like this is a great example of that, where in your case, it’s starting to prove to be 5,000, 6,000, 7,000, probably 10,000 true fans. But you go through this process and it is probably ever-growing, as you grow your reach and your connection when you have these true fans. But then much like an artist who creates an album, you release a new album and those fans purchase that new album. And I think for us as publishers, creators, artists, when we create a work, then our true fans then are excited about purchasing that. And in your world, Cookbooks is a great example of that. So it’s cool to hear.

Erin Collins: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: How about, one more question for anybody who’s starting today, you talked about this idea of, sometimes you can hear from people who have been doing it 10, 11, 12 years. It can be like, “Oh, it’s like a different scene, or things are different now.” What would your advice be for somebody who is in their early stages of building their career? They’re a creator, they want to get started, they want to get traction, they want to do what you’ve done, which is build a business, be an entrepreneur. Maybe have some of the benefit of that time flexibility, what would your advice be to them?

Erin Collins: I would say, pick a platform that excites you to create on whether it’s starting… I was just talking with one of my neighbors about this week, and she’s wanted to start a podcast for a business that she’s pursuing, and I’m like, “That’s a great way to start.” Just go all in with one thing and go all in with a podcast or maybe go all in with Instagram and get really good at that one thing before you feel like you have to add all these other parts into it. And so I feel like you don’t even have to say, “I’m passionate about this”, because I feel like that puts a lot of pressure on people sometimes, but just think about what you have an inclination or an interest for maybe you naturally gravitate towards. Maybe you enjoy having conversations with people, maybe you enjoy creating in this way and just pay attention to what you like. And then I would say, stay focused on one area until you master that.

Bjork Ostrom:That’s great. I love that. And I think you referenced this a little bit, but this idea of zone of genius, part of the benefit of that is that not only are you working on the things that you are uniquely skilled at, but you’re also working in the arena where you’re especially skilled. And for some people it’s podcasting, for other people it’s writing, and they do substack. For some people it’s Instagram and it’s reels. For other people, it’s SEO. We clump all of these things together, but they’re all really different in terms of the skills that they require, and I think it’s such good advice to pick one of those and go really deep on that, become an expert on that, as opposed to thinking, you have to be everything everywhere, to just pick one of those and go deep is such great advice. So Erin, it’s been great to talk to you. I’m sure people are going to want to connect with you and follow along. Where can they do that?

Erin Collins: Yeah, I’m just @meaningfuleats on all the places, even TikTok and meaningfuleats.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Erin, thanks so much for coming on.

Erin Collins: Thank you.

Emily Walker: Hey there. This is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team. Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. We really hope you enjoyed this episode. If you want to go even deeper into learning how to grow and monetize your food blog or food business, or you’re interested in starting a food blog, we definitely recommend that you check out the Food Blogger Pro membership at foodbloggerpro.com/membership. In the membership, we share all of our course content about topics like monetizing, photography, essential tools and plugins, building traffic, and so much more. We also host monthly live Q&A’s and coaching calls to dive deeper into the topics that food creators need to know about, and have a forum where all of our members can ask questions and get feedback from each other, from the Food Blogger Pro team and all of our incredible experts. We have received lots of amazing testimonials over the years from Food Blogger Pro members.

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If you are interested in becoming a Food Blogger Pro member and getting access to all of the content we have for our members, head to foodbloggerpro.com/membership to learn more. Thanks again for listening to the podcast. We really appreciate you and we will see you back here next week.

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