369: Developing Your Voice and Connecting With Your Readers When Writing with Jessica Holmes

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A person writing in a journal and the title of Jessica Holmes' episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Developing Your Voice.'

This episode is sponsored by TopHatContent.


Welcome to episode 369 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Jessica Holmes about how to develop your voice and connect with your readers through your writing.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Rosalynn Daniels about how she grew her brand and became a TV personality. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Developing Your Voice

From recipe testing to sharing content on social media, so much goes into being a food blogger. But without a doubt, one of the most important skills to focus on as a blogger is your writing, and that’s what we’re chatting about today with Jess!

Before becoming a full-time blogger, Jess worked as a copywriter, and she’s sharing all of her best writing advice in this episode. You’ll hear her tips on how to develop your voice as a writer, how to share your personality while also writing for SEO, and more.

If you’re looking to level up your writing and connect with your readers on a deeper level, you won’t want to miss this episode!

A quote from Jessica Holmes' appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'As food bloggers, we focus so much on photography, we focus so much of our time on recipe testing and being in the kitchen, and I often find that writing is really left as a low priority.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Jess became a food blogger
  • What she learned working as a copywriter
  • Why it’s important to be really clear when writing recipes
  • What readability is
  • How to develop your voice as a writer
  • How to share your personality while also writing for SEO
  • How to write eye-catching captions for social media
  • The biggest mistakes she sees bloggers make when writing

Resources:

About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at TopHatContent, the sister agency to TopHatRank!

We recently had an audit done by them for our own food blog, Pinch of Yum. By working with the TopHatContent team, we were able to make strategic content improvements that directly increased our search rankings!

You can take your content to the next level using their services like:

  • Content audits
  • Topic ideation
  • Keyword research
  • And more!

If you’re interested, you can book a free consultation with the TopHatContent team, and you’ll also get 10% off your first order of any of their content services.

Learn more and take advantage of this offer.

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

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

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by our friends at TopHatContent. We wanted to highlight three of their content services that help food bloggers maximize reach and traffic. Number one, content audits. TopHatContent offers three different kinds of audits, so this is the first category. There’s three kind of subcategories underneath this. One is a mini audit where they collect data for all your content on your website and provide recommendations on how to improve the content. Number two is a full content audit, which also includes in-depth competitor analysis and persona analysis. Number three is a forensic audit where they identify which of your posts used to bring in traffic and are no longer ranking like they did before and then provide page level recommendations. We actually recently used this service for Pinch of Yum and were able to make strategic content improvements to help optimize those posts that were identified.

Bjork Ostrom: The second category of service that we’d like to highlight that TopHatContent provides is topic ideation. This will give you 12 new topic ideas and a content calendar detailing things like the primary keywords, heading structure, internal linking suggestions and more. Number three for those of you who don’t like the process of writing is content development. It’s combining both SEO and content writing. TopHatContent takes your recipe and puts together an optimized blog post written in your style and tone ready to publish. For some of you love writing and for others you don’t, and we talk about on the podcast how it’s great to outsource the things that you don’t like doing so if you’re somebody who doesn’t like the process of content writing or is looking to partner with somebody to help with that, that’s a service that they offer. If you’re interested in booking a free consultation with the TopHatContent team, you can head to tophatcontent.com/fbp. You’ll also get 10% off your first order of any of their content services, so head to tophatcontent.com/fbp for that offer. Thanks to the TopHatContent team for sponsoring this episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hello, hello. This is Bjork. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast where we have conversations with publishers, creators, influencers, business owners all in the food and recipe category. Some of you I know aren’t food people, but you follow along with podcasts because you’re interested in best practices when it comes to building a business online, so whoever you are, wherever you are, we’re glad that you’re here and excited to share this conversation with you today with Jessica Holmes. She has a site called Sweetest Menu and her background was in copywriting so we’re going to be talking a lot about writing, we’re going to be talking about voice, why that’s important, and how Jessica was able to use that to grow her site to over a million monthly page use and was able then to take her site full-time.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that we talked a lot about on the podcast is looking at what skills you have and seeing how you can fold those into your pursuits, and a lot of times that might look like something like this, where Jessica said, “Hey, I have a really good experience, I have really good insights and expertise around copywriting and just in general how to write with voice.” So leaning on that as a skill to build a website and to build a following.” Some of you might have experiences in other areas. It might be video, it might be photography, maybe you’re really good at networking or project management. Whatever it is, you can use that experience and fold that into your journey as a creator, and that’s what Jessica did. Not only are we going to talk about her transition to working on her site full-time, but we’re also going to be talking about advice for people who want to develop a strong voice. Let’s go ahead and jump into this conversation with Jessica Holmes from the Sweetest Menu. Jessica, welcome to the podcast.

Jessica Holmes: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This is… When we start out a podcast, I love to hear people’s story, a little bit of their background. A lot of times I’ll read through somebody’s about page, but assuming that I haven’t read your about page, give us a quick little background of who you are, what you’re about and catch us up to speed on kind of your journey as a blogger.

Jessica Holmes: Yes, for sure. I started Sweetest Menu back in 2014, which seems like an absolute lifetime ago now. I was in an interesting place in my life where I was working full-time as a writer but I was doing some graphic design classes in the evening, and my husband had just changed careers and he’d gone back to university to do law so I had a lot of time on my hands. My graphic design classes were finishing up and I thought, “What am I going to do after work in my spare time?” I just really wanted something creative so I decided just to start a food blog just for fun. It was right around the time when I was following all the bloggers that are huge now, like Pinch of Yum and Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah, I just thought, “I’ll just start it and have some fun with it.” And I did, that’s what I did. It was purely a hobby, very, very humble beginnings. I just did a free website on Blogger, I had no camera, I had barely any experience in the kitchen but I fell in love with it very, very quickly. I kept it as a hobby for a long time but it was about two years in I think my dad said to me, “You should put some ads on your website.” I was like, “No, no, Dad. I don’t want silly ads on my website.” But then he convinced me and I threw them up one month and I made $50 in my first month. I was super excited and I thought, “This is so cool. I’m getting paid to do something that’s super fun.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: Then it continued and grew from there, but it was a very slow and steady race for me. It took many years before I went full-time with it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When was it that you transitioned to doing it full-time?

Jessica Holmes: It was actually in March 2020, which was a really interesting time in the world to change career. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. Was that you… So March 2020, for a lot of people it was a change in their job around that time as well.

Jessica Holmes: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Was that you saying like, “Hey, there’s a change happening with my career. I’m just going to do this now.” Or was it you saying, “Hey, regardless of what’s happening in the world, I know that this is the time for me to make the transition into blogging full-time.”

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. It was probably more the latter. I actually really enjoyed my day job and I didn’t have an intention of becoming a blogger but then as time went on and the blog really turned into a business, it just became unsustainable to be working on it outside of work hours. But at the same time, my career was kind of… Not taking off, but I’d landed my dream corporate job so there was really this push and pull for probably a good year or two, but I knew sort of that’s where I was heading. Yeah, it just got to this point where my blog was making more money than my day job and I thought, “Now’s the time to make a switch.” It was purely coincidental that it turned out to be-

Bjork Ostrom: That’s when it was. Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Start of a three year global pandemic.

Jessica Holmes: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Tell me a little bit about what you were doing, your corporate job. You obviously loved it and it was something that you enjoyed doing. What was it that you were doing?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. I was a UX writer or a copywriter, so writing for… I worked for a number of big brands, but we’d do writing for their websites and digital products and platforms, apps, things like that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you say UX writer, can you talk about what that means? Does that… Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: Oh yeah. Yes. It’s talking about user experience, so it’s basically just using your words to make sure that people can navigate a platform or a website and get where they need to, you know…

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm.

Jessica Holmes: Where they need to go or do what they need to do and guide them through that process, and hopefully let them have a good experience on your website or platform or whatever it is. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It feels like that really closely correlates to what you’re doing when you’re developing a recipe, like you’re guiding somebody through the process of understanding how to do a thing.

Jessica Holmes: Yes. Yes, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Did that transfer over pretty directly to your recipe development process?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah, it really did, and to the whole blogging process as a whole. I mean, our website is our product.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: But yes, definitely our recipe writing as well. Yeah. It’s all interconnected. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Let’s talk about that because I think there’s so many different pieces of what it takes to be successful as a creator, as a publisher. I think what’s exciting is that you can lean into the strengths that you have and leverage those, so for some people they’re going to be really great on camera and they love the idea of turning the phone towards them and recording when they’re out and about without any script. For other people, it’s going to be photography, maybe it’s people who are really into telling the story of food and history. For you, you have this experience in writing and specifically writing in a way that helps people understand how to get from point A to point B or accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: You talked about it in two ways. One is the recipe itself but the other is your website. What are some ways that you feel like your decisions around your recipes or your website were informed based on your career as a UX writer? Are you doing things with a different mindset or just looking through a different filter, essentially, as you think about your website?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. Yeah. I love that you asked that because that is one of the things that I truly recommend for bloggers, is the mindset piece that you were just talking about there because I feel like especially as food bloggers we focus so much on photography and then we focus so much of our time on recipe testing and being in the kitchen and I often find that writing is really left as a low priority. Even for me that was the case for many years because writing was my job. It’s like when people say they married a chef and they say like, “Oh, you must eat amazing.” And they go, “No, they come home, they don’t want to cook.” It felt like that. It got the end of the week and I was like, “Oh, I have to sit down and write another thousand words. No way.” And…

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. A lot of times if our job is one thing, we don’t want to do that at night even if we’re good at it, right?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. Totally. It was my least favorite part of the whole process, but actually I felt like there was a bit of a shift for me when I was at work and… Yeah. I was doing… This is when I was in specifically a UX role and I’d be sitting in a room and there’d be like five writers and we would spend… I’m not even joking, we would spend like an hour debating two words that were going to be on a button.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. Totally. Totally. Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: I would be like… I’d sitting there going lik, “Does the company know that we’re all sitting… This is how we’re spending our time. Is this okay?” I thought to myself, “If these businesses can see the value in words and invest in their teams and invest in their copywriters and things like that…” I thought… Also, then we would do focus groups and you would see how different words… How people responded to different wording and things like that. It made me sort of realize the value and the power of words and I sort of took that mindset over into my blog.

Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh. Yeah. Do you have an example, like with the focus group… If you think that we’re to do… If you were to do a focus group on a blog post, let’s say, something you’re writing or social media, whatever’s easiest to think about, what would that look like and how would people respond differently to different words? Do you even have an example of one of those focus groups and what you learned from that?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. I’m trying to think back now. A lot of it was when we would do a guide through something, so if people were… It might be a payment, you know?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jessica Holmes: If you were going to pay or something and the flow that people would go through. I could never get over the fact that something that seemed so logical to you… But often that was because you were working on it and you were in it and you were in it every day. People wouldn’t necessarily understand where to go next or which button to press or why something wasn’t working how they thought it was, and it was really quite shocking sometimes. It really just made you think how you need to come back to not assuming anything and to really… Looking at things with fresh eyes. That is so true with recipe writing because I think as our skills improve in the kitchen, it can be really easy to brush over techniques and things like that in the recipe and assume knowledge, but you really… I have to go back to 10 years ago and go back when I was first in the kitchen and I didn’t know what any of these words meant and kind of write to that person, if that makes. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. How do you do that? I think conceptually people understand the idea of simplicity being extremely clear, but how do you know if you are doing that? How do you know if you need to change? Do you have any kind of tools in your tool belt to help people who are interested in writing better, writing more clearly? How do you go about doing that?

Jessica Holmes: Totally. One way is to look at your readability, so that’s something that we would look at professionally is… That’s how we would check if something’s written well, is your readability score. There’s tools you can use online. I think the Hemingway App is one where you can just literally cut and paste your paragraph or your whole blog post and it’ll give you a readability score. That’s like you’re saying… That’s looking at writing to a fourth or fifth grade level so making… Yeah. That’s actually a tangible way of checking, “Is this easy to understand? Is this written well?” That’ll be looking at things like sentence length, making sure your sentences are really short, if you used a word that was too long when you could use a simpler word or things like that. It tests that all for you which is wonderful.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Interesting. Readability is essentially this idea of how easy is it going to be for the average person to read and understand this.

Jessica Holmes: Yes. Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s probably pretty surprising when you look at your own writing when you realize like, “Oh, actually I’m not writing in a way that’s very readable because of a sentence that’s really long or like I’m including a bunch of commas or words that maybe I think are good to include but actually are confusing.”

Jessica Holmes: Yes. Exactly, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you write with an app? I have Grammarly connected in and it’s amazing how often it’s like, “I’ve typed the twice or don’t put a comma there.”

Jessica Holmes: I use Grammarly too. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. The other app that you mentioned was Hemingway.

Jessica Holmes: Yes. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. And that is essentially just an editor app that you can use when you’re writing, similar to Grammarly?

Jessica Holmes: Yes, but it focuses on readability.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Got it.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, but you can use… There’s a free version online where you can literally just go to the website and just cut and paste as well. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Cool. That’s great. I think a lot of what people think about when they think of writing is obviously the instructions, making sure that it’s clear, making sure that people understand that they have success in the thing that they’re trying to do, which in our world is create a recipe and have that turn out well, but you could go way to one side which is like instruction manual. It’s like people don’t want that, they want to make sure that you have personality and voice, but they also want to have success with the thing that they’re trying to do, which in this case is usually create a recipe. Do you have any advice for people who are looking to not only have success in communicating a thing, but also doing that in a way where people want to read it? A lot of times we talk about voice in the written word. How do you develop that?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a really good question because I think you’re absolutely right. I think as bloggers we’ve kind of veered away from… Because back in the day we used to just write whatever and we used to write long stories and then we all got blasted on the internet.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.

Jessica Holmes: Now we write more for SEO. I think we’ve moved into that robotic land, like you said, and also that’s one of the mistakes that I see. Well, it’s not necessarily a mistake, but maybe somewhere we can improve is a lot of blogs when you go to a recipe, they’re all the same. There’s nothing, like you said, connecting people necessarily to you and to your recipe. But I think that’s our biggest strength or something that we can use to our advantage and a way that we can differentiate ourselves from big food media sites, is that we do have a personality and there is the person behind it. I think we have to be not afraid to actually weave in our personality a little bit, even if that’s just one or two sentences here and there. Yeah. It can come down to also thinking about who your brand is, which can often as a blogger be an extension of your personality, but even writing it down to kind of help you get into the mindset when you sit down at your computer, like is your brand playful and fun?

Jessica Holmes: Do you want it to be joyful or are you a bit witty and sarcastic? What are the kind of feelings and emotions and personality do you want to get across in your writing and to have a little bit of fun with it? Even for me, I know for mine it can be as simple as I often have something I can put in about the origins of the recipes. It’s often inspired by my travels so I’ll just be like… It’ll just be a couple sentences like, “This cookie is inspired because I went to Italy a few years ago and I had this at this amazing cafe.” It’s just something really small but automatically someone on the other end might go like, “Oh, cool. Oh, I’ve been to Italy or I tried something like that once, or…” It gives something rather than, like you said, that empty kind of like, “Here is the cookie. Here’s how you make it.” You know?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. I think it’s not being afraid to like weave in a little bit of your personality and talk about why you are inspired, or it could be something like you saw something on TV or this is your favorite TV show or you grew up… This is your childhood memory. All these little pieces, you’re leaving little pieces throughout your blog and people put it together and they create a picture of who you are and the person behind it. That’s how they kind of connect to you.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. Yeah. It’s so true. The connection piece especially I think is important to point out. We live in this world where we’re constantly balancing all of these different variables. One of them is, “How is the content that I’m writing going to be discovered on a search engine?” That’s really important because a lot of people search for recipes, we can get traffic from that, that traffic can result in money through ads so you can see how that plays out. But another consideration is, “What does it look like for connection? How connected are people to me and how well do people feel like they know me or like me or trust me, whatever it is?”

Jessica Holmes: Exactly. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: So much of that comes from us sharing stories and sharing about ourselves. As a super extreme example, if this podcast was… The transcript was taken and redone in us not telling stories, but just actionable information, “First do this,” and it’s like this robot voice, we wouldn’t have people following because it might be good information that actually is helpful and impactful but what people are looking for is to be a part of a story. For us as creators, we’re constantly balancing the strategy, the execution, along with the art of connection in what we’re doing. I think at the core there isn’t an answer and it probably depends on who you are.

Jessica Holmes: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: I’d be curious to hear from you, Jessica, where do you feel like you land as you think about interjecting your voice, your personality, but also being strategic about optimization for search? I know you shared this, which is really incredible that you’re at this point where you can get a million page views to your site and so what you’re doing is working, and what is that for you? How do you strike that balance?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. I think for me, I think the connection point or sort of writing more from the heart per se comes more naturally to me and it’s actually the strategic kind of SEO side is probably what I have to work harder at, which is interesting because I know some people would be the other way around. I think that might be because of how my blog started because it really did just start as the hobby and the outlet so that’s sort of how it grew. It was just all about me. It’s not all about me, it’s all about the reader, but it just comes from my mind.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. It wasn’t contributors, it wasn’t you trying to rank for a certain piece of content.

Jessica Holmes: Yes. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: It was you sharing recipes that you’ve made. Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: Yes. And something I’m genuinely excited about, genuinely passionate about that I wake up in the morning and I cannot wait to share with you because I want someone else to experience the joy of this cookie or this cake or whatever it is. Yeah. It’s definitely a balancing act, and I think as time goes on you kind of find your own rhythm in that. It just takes time. It’s the same as the voice piece that we were talking about before. I think when people are looking at photography, it takes time to find your own photography style and you look around and might mimic others or you try different things and then eventually you find what you like, what suits you, what suits your brand, what you can create, what you’re good at creating. Yeah, I feel like the same thing happens with your brand voice and writing, is it takes time to find that. You eventually find what works for you personally and then what works for your readers by the sort of the feedback that you get and the success that you have. You can kind of learn from it, but it is a bit hard because it’s not a 100% tangible really.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right. And you never arrive. You’re always-

Jessica Holmes: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re always on the journey of trying to find that balance.

Jessica Holmes: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s not in a perfect calculation or it’s not a formula that you follow, it’s always kind of ebbing and flowing as well.

Jessica Holmes: Exactly. I think everyone’s readership is different, that’s the other thing. Obviously everyone’s brand is different even though we’re all doing very similar things, but your readership is different so it’s not necessarily your voice but it might be how you talk to them could be different because you’re talking to a different set of people and what they get from you can be different.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah, totally. I think about that with… When you think of the spectrum and some people could land on the side of, “Hey, I really want to be strategic about getting a lot of people here for search traffic and I want to optimize for SEO.” That would be one end of the spectrum. The other end of the spectrum could be, “I want to focus on connecting with my readers. Maybe I’ll show up in search, maybe I won’t, but what I’m going to position myself as is somebody on social media, on my blog, potentially a newsletter, which I think a lot of people are starting to look at doing… My strength isn’t going to be SEO optimization. My strength is going to be connecting with my readers around a certain subject.”

Bjork Ostrom: I think there’s real value in that where search a lot of times can be transactional, “I need this apple pie recipe. Where’s the best place to get it? I’m going to get it and give it to me as quickly as possible. I don’t want to hear your story, cut it out of there, just give me the apple pie recipe.” Whereas other people are going to be on the side of, “I have been baking pies for 20 years and come along with me on my journey as we learn how to really do this craft well.” You might have a newsletter, people subscribe to it, they pay to it, they want to follow you, they want to come alongside you as opposed to just check in real quick to get a thing and leave. Neither one of those is right or wrong but I think we need to remember there’s lots of options as creators for us to play the game in different ways.

Jessica Holmes: I 100% agree with that. The left… I was going to say left or right side. The group that you were just facing…

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.

Jessica Holmes: The group that you were talking about with a smaller, more connected group is definitely more valuable and you kind of… For me personally in my business, I do need some of the other to kind of, like you said, keep it going and bring in more of probably the traffic and more revenue generating instantly. But this core group, that’s who I do it for, that’s who I love to connect with and that’s where you can kind of create… I don’t mean to say this arrogantly, but that’s where you can create like super fans, people who love you and love your brand and love what you do. They’re the people that if you ever put out a product, I assume that they’re the people that are probably going to buy it, like if you ever do a cookbook or something like that. It’s not going to be, like you said, those transactional people that are like, “Hi and bye,” and off they go. I think that’s often how people come to your website and you kind of hope that they can transition and come into your core group, but not everyone will, obviously, but that’s sort of the dream.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yah. It’s a great time to mention Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans. I’ve mentioned it before on the podcast. He’s this tech writer, I think, and now it’s kind of become this famous post, but this idea of as a creator in the world if you can get 1000 true fans you can support yourself. If you’re a musician, you have 1000 true fans and they’ll buy tickets and they’ll buy your music and you can get to the point where maybe they each pay like 50 to a $100 a year for your things, you have your 1000 true fans. I think that doesn’t come if not for feeling connected, so my follow up question is how do you connect with readers through your words? What are the things that you can do to actually connect with people well?

Jessica Holmes: Yes. I do think it takes time, but social media is a great way to connect with readers. One thing I think we have, a tool in our tool belt at the moment, is you can literally talk to these people, or your newsletter or however it is, but you can talk to these people instantly. That’s the great thing about social media question boxes or polls or however it is, you can ask for their opinions instantly. I love to do that. I love to invite my readers on my recipe testing journey, and sometimes I just ask them things like… Even last week I was making a cookie and it turned out a bit more cake-y than I was expecting and I thought, “Oh, do I…” But it was really delicious and I was like… I was torn because I was like, “D I retest it and make it more like how I sort of pictured it in my mind or should I just go with this kind of new version?” I just throw up a picture and I say like, “Hey, guys. What do you think? Do you want this more cake-y? Do you want it more crispy?” You’d be surprised how many people would love to share their opinion.

Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. There’s just small examples, but… And another one, the other week I was doing a sponge cake recipe and sponge cakes are known for being a bit tricky and I’ve had problems with them in the past, but I just immediately asked my readers like, “If you’ve made a sponge, what problems have you had?” You get hundreds of responses of people saying, “Oh, it’s flat or it tastes egg-y or I could never get mine to rise.” That’s great because you can use all that information to then write troubleshooting tips in your post. It’s super helpful for you, but then you’re also providing a great service to people who want answers to their questions.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It seems like at its core it’s being able to have a conversation with people.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: I think of… Lindsay shared this thing the other day. It was kind of a random… We were sitting on our back deck with our friends.

Jessica Holmes: I saw that, with the wine glass. Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Did you see this? It was crazy. She was… We have a bunch of trees in our backyard and it was windy, and she was sitting holding a wine glass and this branch fell straight down and exploded the wine glass.

Jessica Holmes: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: She just continued to sit there because it didn’t hit her anywhere else. She was like, “What…” I don’t know what the question was. She was like, “What does this mean?” It was super fun to like read through everybody’s comments of-

Jessica Holmes: Responses, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure, and the different things that people said and just how creative people are.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah, they really are.

Bjork Ostrom: But it allows for a conversation and interaction which is connection, I think, which is what so much of us are after. How about on the writing side for people who kind of struggle with, “How do I craft a… I’m posting something on Instagram. It’s easier if I have a video, I can do a poll, I can do a question.” But maybe people who struggle to know how to write a caption or what to include in a post. Do you have any advice for people who maybe don’t love writing but know that they need to continue to write in service of social media?

Jessica Holmes: Yes. I think just trying to think of it like you’re just talking to your friends how you would talk in daily life, how you would have this conversation with a friend. But I think try not to overthink it, to just be a normal person and ask some normal questions. I think sometimes we can really overcomplicate things or try and be super creative, but it’s like the example that you just gave there. That’s something, if Lindsay rocks up on Monday to work and she would just say to a colleague like, “Oh my gosh, look what just happened to me. It was so crazy. I was just sitting on my…” That’s exactly how she talks in her stories. She’s just talking to a normal person, having a normal conversation.

Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. I think sometimes you’ve just got to take the pressure off and realize you can be a little bit more casual and have a little bit more fun with these social platforms and how you engage. It’s just trial and error as well to see what resonates with your audience, and if you don’t get much response to something that’s fine, just try something else. There’s no harm in it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think one thing I need to constantly remind myself of is this reality that the things we do in our personal lives that are really great are also the things that we can do in our professional lives that are really great. For example, to your point, a good story that you tell your friends, saying that same story on social is a good story. Sharing that in both places makes sense, or how you would talk to your friends is probably a good way for how you could talk to people that you’re interacting with online, that it doesn’t need to be… There doesn’t need to be a change with those. But at the same time, I think one of the things that I’ve found to be true is for people who have a personal brand, a lot of times they’re maybe 1.5x of who they are in their normal day. It’s just the dial is turned up a little bit. Do you feel like that’s true? Does that need to happen or can you be like the… If I write an email to my friend and then I’m writing email to Food Blogger Pro people, those look the same or does it need to be kind of amped up a little bit in order to really come across and cut through?

Jessica Holmes: I think it really just depends on your brand and who you want to be. I know what you’re saying. It definitely can be. I think because there’s a fine line between trying to cut through, right? Sometimes you’re trying to… You might be a bit quirky or bit creative or you’re trying to, like you were saying, kind of come on a little bit stronger because you’re trying to get cut through, you’re trying to really create your brand and your brand personality, but that’s not for everybody. Some people are very chill, very quiet and I feel like people should have the freedom to be able to create whatever brand they like. If their brand isn’t as in your face as other brands, that can definitely be your strength rather than a weakness, I feel like.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, sure. Yeah. That makes sense. How about on the side of mistakes? We’ve talked a lot about things that people can be doing, things that are smart to do. What are some writing mistakes that you see people making when they’re publishing blog posts?

Jessica Holmes: Yes. I think the biggest one is being a little boring, to be honest. That sounds a little brutal but I think it’s what we were talking about before about standing out from the crowd, that it’s good to get a little creative with it. When I say boring, I mean I think we’ve gone down the path of creating, “This is the recipe, this is how you make it, this is what you do.” All that information is wonderful and really helpful for the reader but you can get a little bit creative even with your descriptions. I find bloggers, and myself included, we can get really lost in using the same descriptions, “This is amazing. This is delicious.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those words but I do encourage people to just try and get a little creative and get out the thesaurus, try something a little bit different.

Jessica Holmes: It’s even thinking about going a little deeper and looking at textures and flavors and smells and all the visuals to whatever it is that you’re cooking and is it soft? Is it spy? Does it crackle? Does it have an aroma? Just going a little bit deeper than, “This is a great cake. Here’s how you make it.” I encourage people actually to start a spreadsheet and just keep an eye out for some really interesting words and descriptions and the way people phrase things in your daily life. It can come from anything, like you’re watching a TV show or you read a book and you think, “Oh, that’s a cool word or I love how they described that,” or an ad you might see or a billboard or something. Just keep a list so that when you’re sitting at your desk and you’re writing your hundredth blog post about a piece of cake and you think, “Oh my gosh, how can I describe this any different?” Grab out your sheet and have a read through and kind of just get inspired to get a little bit more creative. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. I love the idea of monitoring kind of while you’re out in the world, looking for inspiration, phrases that you hear people say, words that stick out.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: In that way, too, I think part of our job as creators is not just creating but also strategically consuming. Who are the people that we look to that are really good writers in this case or people that we find inspiring, and then how can we spend time with the things that we’re inspired by to then take that inspiration to inform our own work? I love that, and I love the idea of the intentional added effort of keeping track of it, like you have a note or a spreadsheet or whatever it is that you can refer back to and kind of collect those things along the way, which I think is great.

Jessica Holmes: Totally. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: As we close out some of the conversations around writing, I want to go back to your story as a creator, as a publisher, blogger, whatever we want to call it, and hear a little bit about what you’ve learned along the way because I think anytime that we’re talking to somebody who’s working on this as their full-time career it’s always interesting for people to hear what they’ve learned. When you look back at your eight years working on your blog in different forms, what are the things that you’ve done along the way that have been most impactful for you and your business?

Jessica Holmes: Okay. I think… My story is very slow and steady. I feel like many people seem to have a real turning point where they either had a really quick spurt of growth or they were able to be like, “Okay, I’m taking this amount of time and I’m turning this around to a business.” But mine was very slow and steady so I think the key things for me were… SEO obviously is a big one, and I know everyone talks about that but for me it wasn’t… I knew what SEO was from my day job but it took a long time for the penny to actually drop in my mind, which sounds really weird but-

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. Yeah. When you say that, what is that phrase, penny to drop in your mind?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. It’s probably not even actually a saying. My husband says I make sayings up all the time, but what I mean is… So I knew the rules, I knew a lot of… SEO is a lot about rules and guidelines that you need to follow but I didn’t understand sort of why. Once that really dropped in my mind about how we’re writing for the readers and you’re not just following these rules to make Google happy, which I feel a lot of people still are, but when you realize you’re following these rules because that’s easy for your reader to understand and it’s providing a lot of value to your reader and it’s showcasing, obviously, your expertise and things like that… But when it came down and came back to the reader for me, I felt like there was this ease in creating because that I could really get around. Following rules and having this more structured approach I found probably a bit constricting, but when I realized I could do that for the reader and keep the reader at the forefront of my mind I felt like there was a bit of freedom that came with that. That sort of helped me balance the creativity and the strategy. Yeah, but so one of the… Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. At that point it’s less about, “What are the rules, is this right or wrong?” It’s more about… The general rule is, “How do you create something that is helpful for people?” Some potential ways that that might be true is you divide it up with headers, like you use an H2 to make it easier to browse, you include bullet points for steps of a certain thing that you want to walk people through, there’s photos that help people understand each step, whatever it might be. It’s not because Google’s like, “Here’s the rule.” A search engine is saying, “What’s most helpful for people, and then how do we help creators by saying these are some generally helpful things you can do?” I think that’s a great thing to point out.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. I think it can take a little bit of time because I think at the start, just… Yeah. As I was saying, you can get that bunch of rules and I think if a blogger comes in and goes, “Oh, I need to learn SEO,” and they’re like, “Oh, okay. This is how I have to structure my post. This is how I have to do it. This is all the rules I have to follow.” You kind of go like, “There is that, but then you can kind of have a little bit of a play with it. You can kind of relax a little bit. You don’t need to panic if you didn’t include one heading section. It’s not going to be the end of the world.” You know what I mean?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: And kind of releasing yourself from that stress of how you need to create it. I think that also helps in, like we were saying before, in creating something that’s unique to you because you’re not following necessarily the exact outline as everyone else. You might want to explain your recipe slightly differently and that’s okay.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great, and I think a really good reminder for people, especially as we get into it. I think sometimes what can happen is you learn these “rules” and if you haven’t been with it long enough or haven’t been learning it long enough, you can think those rules are the end all be all and if you do break them, everything’s going to break. It’s kind of like these guidelines to help you get to the destination of success for your reader, framing things up for the reader but it all coming back to the reader. That’s great. Another question that I’m always interested in hearing from people who are doing this full-time, digital creators, what are some of your favorite tools, apps that you really like to use? Is there a process that you use for jotting down notes as you’re developing a recipe? But it’s just kind of a fun question that I think people like to hear about from other creators, anything that they use that’s a beneficial tool or app or software or anything like that.

Jessica Holmes: Yes. I’m a pen and paper girl.

Bjork Ostrom: Love it.

Jessica Holmes: When I’m in the kitchen, I write… I do all my recipe testing by hand so I have notepads and notepads full of all my recipes, but then it’s for writing things we were just talking about before, like Grammarly, the Hemingway App and a thesaurus and a dictionary.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have a physical one? Is it an actual thesaurus?

Jessica Holmes: I don’t.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Jessica Holmes: I don’t, I just use the one online, but I should get one actually. But yeah, but they’re the main tools I use. I don’t use a lot of fancy things, and I use a lot of spreadsheets like Google Sheets and things like that. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. This is a question because I actually just bought a new notebook, and this is a Baron Fig. I don’t know if you know the company Baron Fig, but do you have a… To speak analog, do you have a favorite notebook or is it just kind of like spiral bound, random notebook that you grab?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah, they’re totally random. They’re all different, all different kinds.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Okay. Whatever’s available.

Jessica Holmes: Can you show me your notebook?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s… I’ll describe it for people who are listening to the podcast. It has the dotted lines and a couple of things. This is not a Baron Fig promo but they have one of the most beautiful designed e-commerce sites that I’ve ever seen. It’s just really inspiring, but a couple of things that I really like about this is it lays flat. A lot of notebooks, you can’t use like 20% of it because there’s this little fold in the middle and it’s really annoying when you’re using it so I really like that.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. That’s so true.

Bjork Ostrom: It also has some perforated pages at the end so if you do want to rip something out, you don’t have to have the awkward rip that you have in the middle of the notebook that you don’t really like. But Baron Fig’s this incredible company. I don’t have much of their stuff but I have the notebook and then their pen I use as well.

Jessica Holmes: I’ll have to check that. That looks amazing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s not sponsored content but it could… I’d happily do Baron Fig sponcon. Last question for you, Jessica, as we round it out, if you were to go back in time, have a conversation with yourself as you’re just starting out, what would you tell yourself in those early years, 2014?

Jessica Holmes: That’s a good question. What would I tell little Jess? I would probably tell myself… Yeah. I feel like I could have done things better but I don’t mind that I was slow off and that it’s taken me a long time to get here, it’s all part of the journey, but I would tell myself… Oh, I know what I would tell myself. I would tell myself to get better at photography faster because it is so painful to see all those horrible, horrible images that seem to just live forever on your website.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Everybody can relate. Right.

Jessica Holmes: Even though you try to reshoot them and repost them, it’s like you’re never going to catch up, you know?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Holmes: They’re just there. They haunt me. I go to bed, they haunt me, those pictures.

Bjork Ostrom: Keep you up at night.

Jessica Holmes: They really do, they really do, so yes, that’s what I would tell Jess. I’d say, “Get your photography sorted sooner.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. One of the things that I think about when you talk about taking a long time or slower than you had hoped or whatever, there was a… I had a geography teacher in high school, Mr. Salo. He was awesome. One of the things that he had written on his board was like a quote. Maybe it was just up somewhere but he would always say, “It’s not that far once you get there.” I think about that in the context of these journeys that we’re on. We’re all on our respective journeys, we’re kind of hoping to get somewhere, wherever that might be, and when we look back it’s not that far once we get there, but it can… When we start it looks like it’s really far, like three years, five years, seven years, whatever it is. It seems like, “Man, this is going to be forever. I don’t know if I want to sign up for that.” But the time passes anyways and we will get there eventually. I think when you are there it feels like it’s not that far once you get there, but I think about that in the context of these journeys that we’re on.

Jessica Holmes: Yeah, that’s so true.

Bjork Ostrom: Jessica, really great to connect. I think anytime we can talk about writing and the craft of writing is important to shine a light on that because it’s so much of what we do. But where can people follow along with you and what you’re up to, social, your website, all of that?

Jessica Holmes: Yeah. You can find me at sweetestmenu.com and come join me on Instagram at sweetestmenu. I’m over there every day and love to chat.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Jessica, thanks for coming on.

Jessica Holmes: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there, Alexa here. Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. If you are sitting there thinking, “Man, someday I’m going to start my own food blog,” or maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “I just started my food blog and I have no idea what to do next,” don’t worry, we’ve all been there and we actually have a free ebook just for you. It’s called the Food Blogger Starter Kit and it’s full of different resources just to help you along the journey as you’re getting up and running with your very own food blog.

Alexa Peduzzi: You’ll get access to our free course all about setting up your food blog, some of our favorite podcast episode recommendations, some tips about plug-ins and photography, and then just some other ways to continuously learn and get a tiny bit better every day. If you’re interested in downloading that ebook for free, just go to foodbloggerpro.com/podcast-start and you can download it right there for free. We’ll have a link to it in the show notes as well so you can easily click on that there. Otherwise you can just go to that URL, foodbloggerpro.com/podcast-start, to download that Food Blogger Starter Kit PDF for free. We’ll see you next time. Thanks for tuning in again, and until then make it a great week.

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