073: How to Publish Consistent and Quality Content with Jessica Merchant from How Sweet It Is

Welcome to episode 73 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week, Bjork chats with Jessica Merchant from the blog How Sweet It Is about consistently creating great content.

Last week Bjork interviewed Sam from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken about . To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How to Publish Consistent and Quality Content

In blogging, content is huge. It’s not the only important thing, but it’s the foundation of your business. Creating great content is really important.

Just as important is creating content often. A blog needs fresh, exciting ideas to thrive. New content is what your existing readers want to see.

However, doing both those things – creating really great content on a consistent basis – can be really tough. It definitely involves dedication and skill to do right. Jessica Merchant from How Sweet It Is definitely has that dedication and skill, and today she’s here to tell us just how she manages to make consistent and quality content every single week.

In this episode, Jessica shares:

  • How she discovered blogging and decided to leave her job
  • What it took to build her blog before leaving her job
  • How she networked with other bloggers
  • Where she finds inspiration for her blog
  • How she manages raising her son and working full time on her blog
  • Why she does “batch cooking” days
  • Why she doesn’t do much sponsored content
  • What it takes to publish content all the time
  • How doing exactly what she wants has helped her find success

Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on iTunes or Google Play Music:


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

Be sure to review us on iTunes!

If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.


Bjork Ostrom: In this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, we are talking to Jessica Merchant from How Sweet It Is. All about consistently publishing content, mixing in some lifestyle content with recipes and food content and doing what you love.

Welcome to episode number 73 of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, my name is Bjork Ostrom, and really appreciate you tuning in to this episode to hear my conversation with Jessica Merchant from How Sweet It Is. We have followed along with Jessica for a really long time because she does really good work, which I talk about on the podcast. One of the reasons why I was excited to have her on is because she is somebody who has consistently, over a long period of time, continued to publish really high quality content. Not just sporadically, but she has done that consistently.

We talk about days where sometimes she’ll post every day of the week, five days a week, and that’s really an incredible thing to do. We talk about the process that she has for that, some of her reasoning for not doing as much sponsored content and why she decides to not focus on that as much. Even though, she probably could, and when she does do it, what type of sponsored posts she uses.

Life with the little one, Max, and what that’s been like, to continue consistently publishing content while also making time for family. Which is something that we all know is so important to do and so hard to do. Jessica does a really good job with that and she’s going to share some of her strategies for that, and how she goes about doing that.

Really excited to talk to Jessica Merchant today from How Sweet It Is. Without further ado, Jessica, welcome to the podcast.

Jessica Merchant: Thank you, I’m so excited to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. We have, and I say “we,” because Lindsey’s included in that, followed along with what you’ve been doing for a long time, and think you do incredible work. It’s about time we have you on the podcast.

Jessica Merchant: Thank you so much.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s been a long time coming. One of the things I love to do with the podcast is to rewind the story of your blog and your business a little bit to hear the origin story of where things started. Then, I know, for you, it goes back to April of 2009, is that right?

Jessica Merchant: A little bit later, like September.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Jessica Merchant: September 2009, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, great.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: 2009. Tell us what was going through your head in 2009 as you said “hey, I think I want to start this blog,” right? That was before blogging was blogging like it is today, so I’m very interested to hear what that was like.

Jessica Merchant: It was. I found myself stuck in a job that I just absolutely hated. From the time when I was very young, I think you can even find it written in my eighth grade yearbook. You know they ask you like “what do you want to do when you grow up? And where do you see yourself in 15 years?” I always said that I wanted to be a writer. Even though I wasn’t totally set on that, I knew that I never wanted to work in an office.

That was the line that I told everybody. Whatever I do, I don’t want to work in an office.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jessica Merchant: Like a corporate job, it just sounds horrible to me, I don’t know why. It just wasn’t anything that ever interested me. I found myself a job like that in September 2009. I had actually started it a few months prior. I think in May I started that job. It wasn’t exactly what I was told it would be, and I kind of ended up being a glorified secretary, which was not the job description whatsoever. I really did not have a lot to do, and I just found myself sitting, looking on the internet all day long, for eight hours a day.

Not only now was I stuck at a desk, stuck behind a computer, with nothing to do. I was discovering things online. I didn’t read blogs at the time, I didn’t know about blogs, I didn’t know about food blogs. I didn’t know anything. I thought blogs were things that people wrote online diaries that were crying. I don’t even know.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure.

Jessica Merchant: Like e-mail, I don’t even know.

Bjork Ostrom: The public version of e-mail.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, it was like “I don’t know.” I came across a few, and I don’t even remember what was the exact first one. I know eventually, I did find my way to Smitten Kitchen and the Pioneer Woman. I decided “I think I’m just going to do this.” I didn’t tell anybody, I didn’t intend to start it as a food blog, hence the name. I named it “How Sweet It Is” after my love of James Taylor and his music, which was a horrible business decision in the long-run, because everybody thinks I’m a huge dessert blog.

I just wanted to have a lifestyle blog. I didn’t know I wanted to have a lifestyle blog at the time, I just wanted to blog about my life, and I didn’t really have much of a life. I sat at this desk, I was pretty miserable, my husband worked a little bit longer than I did, so all I ended up blogging about was what I would make for dinner, or if I baked banana bread on the weekends. That’s the earliest food photo I can think of and remember on my blog was from the week that I started blogging. I took pictures of banana bread. They are blurry, they were in my yellow kitchen. The yellow-lit kitchen, it was horrible.

Bjork Ostrom: Classic first photos, right? I feel like everybody has to have those in order to truly get to a point where they’re successful with their blog. You have to have that point where it’s like you have those photos or you look back and cringe a little bit or hope that nobody every finds them.

Jessica Merchant: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: That was 2009, so you had started this job, you had some time, and so you’re looking at different things online. You came across this idea, you maybe didn’t necessarily know that it was blogs at the time, but kind of had this general interest in these sites that are publishing maybe food or lifestyle type content.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: You start How Sweet It Is inspired by the James Taylor song, right?

Jessica Merchant: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Now, did you start it with the URL HowSweetEats at that time as well?

Jessica Merchant: No, I just started the free WordPress blog, because I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t tech savvy, so it was HowSweet.Wordpress.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Jessica Merchant: I was unable to get How Sweet, so we didn’t even have “eats” or “food” in the title.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jessica Merchant: As soon as I started, I didn’t tell anyone in my family, not even my husband for a couple weeks. Within a month, since I was able to sit at this desk and research so much information about blogging, I learned that people were making a living and people were writing books and people were making this happen somehow. I think early on, like within 30 days, I learned that I really needed to have my own URL.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, got it.

Jessica Merchant: When I learned that, I guess I had befriended another blogger that was kind of tech savvy and he was helping me do some work on the back-end of my site. That was one of the options that we came up with, and I rolled with it, and 30 days later, it was like “HowSweetEats.com.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. One of the things that’s interesting is that at that point you had at least a little bit of understanding that it was going to be food-related.

Jessica Merchant: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: You started out and you had a strong lifestyle feeling, you still have a little bit of that, which I’m excited to talk to you about. What was it that you knew that you wanted to do something food related?

Jessica Merchant: I really loved cooking. My husband and I hadn’t even been married for one year yet. I think that I just really loved going home and making us dinner. I just love to be in the kitchen. I loved creating new dishes for he and I to share. I think that I just loved it. I don’t have any other reasoning that I thought “oh this is going to be super popular, or this is going to be how you make money at it.” I just did what I loved to do, and I’m just like “I’ll just write about this for now, you know? We’ll see where it goes.”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting to see on your FAQ page, that you said one of the frequently-asked questions that you have is like “how do I start a blog and be successful with it” or something like that. One of the thing that you say is, that I think is so important, is “do something that you’re truly passionate about.” Right?

Jessica Merchant: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: You weren’t doing food-related content because you thought “oh, this is going to be really great and I’ll be able to be really successful with it,” it’s almost the other way around.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the best ways to be successful is to do something you’re really passionate about. In your case, that was food-related content.

Jessica Merchant: Yes, absolutely. Even today, I still carry on that mindset about if I don’t want to post these many days a week, I’m not going to post that many days a week again. I still really have to be true to myself. I think it’s just my personality. I’m so passionate about what I do.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. I want to talk to you a little bit about that, because I think it’s an interesting thing that you just talked about where you had said that if you don’t want to post five days a week or whatever, then you won’t do it. Then, at the same time, I know there’s probably those days where you get up and you’re like “oh, I just don’t feel like doing it today,” and you have to push through and do it because you know it’s the best thing possible. How do you balance those two feelings? The feeling of doing the work when you’re passionate about it and know that you want to do it, and also knowing that in order to continue to build this thing you have that you have to keep working on it?

Jessica Merchant: Right, that’s a great question. I definitely think that there has to be a way for myself and anyone else to differentiate between the feelings of starting to dread your job, and dread what you’re doing every day, or did you just wake up and decide? Like you really don’t want to do it because it’s summer and you want to be out laying in that pool. I know that there’s going to be moments like that, but since I basically created this opportunity for myself. I worked so hard to create this opportunity that would give me the kind of life that I want and that I want to live.

Just to be able to work for myself, that when those days do come around, I’m like “the other option, this is still so much better than the other option.” This is still so much better than having to go sit at a desk which is what I don’t want to do, to having to go to a job that I don’t love. I’m grateful and thrilled and I feel very lucky that I get to do it, but it’s not like it just fell into my lap.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jessica Merchant: I had to create it and work really hard at it.

Bjork Ostrom: What I hear you saying, and I think it’s really wise, is to separate those feelings a little bit and look at it not as one general feeling of “I don’t feel like doing something today.”

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s kind of like we’re in Minnesota, so we get this analogy, but they talk about that Eskimos have nine different words to describe snow. I feel like the same idea could be applied to resistance in doing work, and there’s probably multiple different types of resistance that you feel. One could be not necessarily that you’re dreading the work overall, but maybe you want to do something else that day because you’re interested or inspired. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t do the work, but maybe you should push through and do it. Then you can go do the thing that you want to do.

Then there’s that bigger picture that you had talked about where maybe you’re just not enjoying it overall, and that’s probably a time when you should look at it and kind of do some self-reflection and say “is this truly a good fit for me?”

Jessica Merchant: Right, absolutely. I’m still of the mindset that if I ever get to that point, if I ever start to dread what I do, or just don’t love it, just based on my personality and how I’m wired, I’d have to explore other options or go in a different direction with my career. I just wouldn’t be able to do it.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a good reminder because sometimes I think we can get stuck in these patterns of thinking “this is exactly how it has to be,” even if I’m dreading doing it. It’s like “well, you can change and adjust and shift things.”

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Even if you have a normal nine to five job, maybe there’s little changes you can make within that, or bigger picture changes that you make transitioning out of a job that you don’t enjoy as much. I think that’s a really good reminder.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Speaking of that, I want to go back. You had said when you started the blog, you had done some research and you kind of figured out “there are people who are doing this and they’re doing it to make a living from it.” When you started right from the get-go in 2009, were you saying to yourself “this is what I want to do and I know that I want to do this as my career, as my job?”

Jessica Merchant: I didn’t know that. I didn’t know if it was possible, but I was so desperate to get out of the current situation that I was in, in that job where I was just so miserable. I pretty much would have done anything. I found myself absolutely loving putting the time into this website and being able to write and just talk freely and build a community with my readers. Within a couple months, I think I saw it. I can make this happen, and this is the only way, at the moment, that I’m going to be able to quit this job.

Bjork Ostrom: At that point, do you turn it up to 11? Are you saying “I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this so hard and so consistent that it’s, there is no choice but to make this work?”

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, that basically was my mindset. That’s what I’ve always told everybody over the years. I was not afraid. I was like “I love this so much. I’m, you know, doing it 110%, that there’s, like, absolutely no way this is going to fail.” Because I love it so much. There is no way. I’m putting everything that I have into it, and there’s just no way.

Bjork Ostrom: Tell me what that looked like, a little bit, in those early stages, and then we’re going to transition a little bit and talk about what that looks like today. When you were in the grind, when you were getting started, when it wasn’t yet the thing that you wanted it to be, and obviously, it’s always evolving and growing into something.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: You knew that you wanted to reach this certain point, how did that look, day-to-day for you, in terms of what you were working on, how you were working?

Jessica Merchant: Day-to-day, I was kind of fortunate because I didn’t tell my employer about my blog. I spent a lot of those hours doing whatever I could behind-the-scenes. I commented on a lot of blogs, I networked with other bloggers. I always say those blogs saved me from being so depressed and so sad and miserable over the situation I was in.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that just in terms of providing you something to do, and they’re interesting and content that you could consume when you’re in this job that was kind of dead-end boring?

Jessica Merchant: Yes, life-sucking.

Bjork Ostrom: Life-sucking, all of the above?

Jessica Merchant: Yes, just like having a conversation and reading these blogs and being inspired and building connections with other people. With day-to-day, I learned pretty quickly that I could not shoot the recipes when I came home from work at five-thirty or six o’clock at night.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jessica Merchant: I did experiment with the low-EGO lights for a while, but I mostly ended up shooting my recipes like all day Saturday and Sunday. That was the time when blogs absolutely were posting six or seven recipes a week. Food styling wasn’t anywhere near like it is today, so it didn’t take quite as long. It still took like eight hours on a Saturday to shoot seven recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you had mentioned was one of the things you’re focusing on was networking and building connections. I think that’s a really hard thing for some people, especially when they’re first getting started. Can you talk about what that was like? Was that connecting with people leaving comments, exchanging e-mails back and forth? How did that look when you were first getting started, to network and connect with other people?

Jessica Merchant: Oh, it was definitely difficult. There were bloggers that you would go to their website and leave a comment every day for six or seven months straight and never get any sort of reply or engagement back. I hate to even say that because I’m sure that somebody out there has felt the same way about my site. Something has somehow slipped through the cracks.

I just think that not only just commenting on popular bloggers’ websites, trying to network with people that are like you, but also different, but inspire you, you know? I’m not vegan, but I found some incredible vegan or plant-based blogs that I love, and I love their food styling and it just seems like I really mesh with the writer. Just finding a diverse group, and a large group, of people that you authentically and genuinely like their work.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think there’s something to be said about connecting with people outside of your niche, even if it’s the niche of what food it is. I think of this group of friends here that I have in the Twin Cities that we get together with maybe once every six weeks or something. It’s a guy that does website brokering, so he buys and sells websites. It’s a guy who has a DIY blog.

Jessica Merchant: Oh my gosh.

Bjork Ostrom: Then a guy who has a men’s dress that’s called Gentleman’s Gazette, it’s like super fancy.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, oh cool.

Bjork Ostrom: They’re all in these different niches and it’s so inspiring because we can help and we understand each other, but it’s not like there’s such a big overlap where it feels like we’re in the same groups. It’s nice to have that variety, so I think there’s something to be said about that. I think it makes a lot of sense to reach out into the other niches to be inspired by other people that do other work.

Jessica Merchant: Absolutely. Especially, because today, I think so many food bloggers try to create the wildest, most insane recipe, to get the feedback or approval from other food bloggers.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jessica Merchant: That’s not necessarily the base of your readership. I think that it’s great to connect with people outside of that, of exactly who other bloggers that do the same thing to get more of an idea. Like “what are they looking for?” You know, what are you looking for, you’re my demographic, what do you want when you come to a website, or a food blog?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s really interesting to have those conversations. We even do it when we have family get-togethers, and Lindsey, she just loves talking about food, so if my aunt, for instance, I think of this conversation she had with her. Where she asks “what is it like to purchase groceries in North Branch, Minnesota?” Right? Because it’s different in a small town Minnesota to get groceries than it is in Saint Paul, which is a little bit of a bigger city.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: To get that perspective, it’s so important, especially when usually the people that are leaving comments are people that have some type of content on their site, or they have a blog.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: It starts to feel like “oh, these are the only people that are reading the site.”

Jessica Merchant: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: But, in reality, probably the majority of people that are making it aren’t necessarily the people that are commenting. I think that’s really smart and insightful.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: You had talked about in the early stages, posting frequently. You would post almost every day, post a recipe. I just pulled up your site before we did the interview, and I looked and the dates on your previous posts. It was the fifth, the fourth, the third, the second, the first, the 31st. You’re still doing that today, and you recently had the addition of a little one, Max, to your family, so congratulations.

Jessica Merchant: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you tell me a little bit about how you’ve continued to do that? Not only through the years to stay inspired, but, also, now that it looks a little bit different, your day looks a little bit different, I’m guessing, now that you’re taking care of Max as well.

Jessica Merchant: Yes, so I feel like that example of this weekend was kind of crazy. Right now, I tend to post four recipes a week. Which, still, I do think is a lot and still does take a lot of work.

Bjork Ostrom: Absolutely.

Jessica Merchant: Occasionally, I might throw something out on a Sunday, but I try to stick with, right now, about four recipes a week. One of those recipes, I started this year doing a thirsty Thursday, some sort of drink every Thursday. It’s definitely been a challenge with Max. When I had him, everybody told me that “oh, this is the easy part, and this is the easiest time, he’s just going to lay there and sleep.” I’m thinking “you are insane, I don’t know how I’m going to keep this newborn alive, I’m scared to death, he’s so fragile.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: It truly, it does get more difficult, because he’s so active now. I think I started this when I wrote my first cookbook in 2013. I started doing batch work of all of my blog recipes in one day. I wanted to keep content fresh on my blog while I was working on my cookbook. I started developing and recipes and testing and photography. One day per week. I really kind of maintained that, ever since that time. Now, with Max, it’s obviously a little bit unpredictable, and that is difficult for me, because I thrive on a schedule and I work well on a schedule. Maybe not a strict schedule, but I want to know, okay, every Monday or every Tuesday is set aside to develop and shoot recipes for the blog.

It’s really unpredictable. My mom watches him one day a week for me, so at this point, he’s out of the house, so I can do recipes without him climbing on the kitchen table.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that the day that you will do the recipe development is the days that- … You have that day clear?

Jessica Merchant: Yes, that day, that’s one full day of work that really, I’ll just make and shoot the recipes. If those recipes need testing or something, or I’m not going to do any photography. I don’t care if he’s here for that. I don’t have out photography equipment or stuff that he can swipe off a table.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: I don’t mind doing other things when he is running around. I just have to be, I guess, more efficient with my time.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. I’m interested to hear about how you approach those days where you’re batching the content. I think that’s such an important take-away for people. This idea of not doing the same thing over seven different days sporadically, but saying I’m going to do this one thing, and that’s going to be my focus for the day. Can you talk about the details of what that looks like? Are you building out a big grocery list, and then you use that, go buy everything, bring that home, and then just dive in and do the recipes?

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, that is really important to me. Even though I love to cook, I don’t want to be standing in my kitchen for 10 hours every single day. I think one reason that this works for me, because I get a lot of people that are like “how can you do that? That just seems so intense?” I’ve pretty much done it from the beginning because I was working a nine to five job. Like we spoke about a couple minutes ago. I would always do those batch days of recipes on Saturdays and Sundays, when I was able to leave my job and blog full-time, I became a little bit more lenient on that. I’m sure I had weeks where I was doing it every day, and I was like “this is not work for me.”

By the time I got the cookbook, I transitioned to pretty much just doing it one day, maybe two. I do make a huge grocery list, do all the shopping before. I try, the night before, to have absolutely everything prepped. When I say prepped, like maybe certain plates or props out that I want, I know where all of my ingredients are, the kitchen is totally clean, the dishwasher is empty. Just things to make it easier. Then, that first thing in the morning, it’s like “go-go-go.”

Bjork Ostrom: That’s not an easy thing to do, because I feel like the night before, it’s so easy to go into “wind-down” mode at like 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m., be like “oh, you’ve had a long day, you’ve had a hard day, um and just to kind of wind down, maybe watch something on Netflix.” To go into the kitchen and prep things and get things ready isn’t an easy thing to do. I can imagine that it would give you such a head start that you’re not doing that right away in the morning.

Jessica Merchant: Correct.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m guessing you know how valuable that time is. It’s like “I’m going to try and get as much as I can done with this.”

Jessica Merchant: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: I was talking to Lindsey a little bit before we were doing this podcast interview, and she’s connected with you before, and you guys have chatted about some things. She was like “oh, you have to ask her about this, this, this,” and so, I have these list of things that I’m excited to talk to you about.

Jessica Merchant: Okay.

Bjork Ostrom: Vicariously, through Lindsey, she’s asking these questions as well.

Jessica Merchant: Thanks, Lindsey.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that she said was so interesting to hear you talk about was the way that you do videos. I would be interested to hear. I’ve watched them on your Instagram, on your Facebook page, interested to hear you talk about your process for shooting videos of the recipes that you’re doing. Are you doing those on the days that you’re prepping and developing the recipe?

Jessica Merchant: That’s like a whole new ball game. I have found that about this time last year is when I first started doing some videos, I was not shooting them myself, I hired someone on a recommendation from someone else. We were shooting, not by any means, lifestyle videos, it wasn’t me cooking in the kitchen, but it wasn’t the Tasty style videos at the time.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: It was more head-on, watching me stir.

Bjork Ostrom: You had a mic that you would use, or not necessarily that?

Jessica Merchant: No, it was still to music.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Jessica Merchant: It wasn’t any speaking or anything, and I just used those and I posed them on my blog, or posted them on Facebook, and then at that time is when the other style of videos more, over top, overhead came about. I just recently started trying to do some of those on my own. I actually really love it, but I just do not have the time for it. I’m probably going to be looking for more help with that.

It’s different, creatively, though, so I really enjoy it. I found that what works best for me is doing a recipe that is already on my blog, that I’m very familiar with. I can’t do it by creating a new recipe, that’s just too much work in my brain. To make sure is everything right, does it look right, you know? I usually do it with recipes that are well-tested. I really like it, it just has added a whole other element.

My husband and I were actually just talking about it last night, and I said “you know, it’s not like, I haven’t given up anything else.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right, it’s just on top of everything else you’re doing.

Jessica Merchant: Yes, it’s on top of everything else, and it is just so time-consuming.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and it’s hard, when you hear people talking about it and you see potentially, videos being successful, but then it’s like man, to add that on top of what you’re already doing when you’re already stretched for time and be able to consistently produce content, it just doesn’t make sense.

You said you’re in the process of looking to bring somebody on to help with those? Like a video assistant or something like that.

Jessica Merchant: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, obviously, it’s one of those things where, for people that are listening, they might not be at the point where they can do that. It makes so much sense, if possible, at a certain point, to bring other people on to help with what you’re doing, we found that to be such a huge thing. Because like you said, there’s this point where you realize “okay, I just can’t do it all.”

Jessica Merchant: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: The nice thing about the videos is that it can be somebody else, potentially, that’s doing them, especially if it’s that certain style, or it’s an overhead video and it’s not necessarily- … People are going to be like “hey, that’s not you, it’s the recipe and that’s the helpful thing.”

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Another thing that I’m interested to hear you talk about that Lindsey brought up, and that you’ve mentioned a few times before is this idea of it’s not necessarily just food that you’re blogging about. There’s also a lifestyle element to that. Can you talk about why that’s important to you, and then also what that’s meant for your readership and your followers?

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, I think that I started that pretty quickly after I began my blog. It’s the crumbs section on my site, it’s completely different content. Just more like lifestyle related. I probably started it within six months of starting my blog, so it has been around at least since early 2010. I just wanted another place to write about other things. I think, since the blog, I didn’t ever have an intention of becoming a food blog. Again, it’s kind of how I’m wired. I just want to do what I want to do.

It’s like my biggest flaw. If I don’t want to do something, I am not going to do it. I just wanted a place to write about other things or talk about other things. People really seem to like it. I don’t know, it’s gone over really well and it gives me a place to share more personal photos and stories. I love doing it.

Bjork Ostrom: We’ve talked about this a few times on the podcast before, but I really feel like willingness to share a little bit of your personal life or personality can be- … Maybe this isn’t the best word for it, but this is what I think of right away, an advantage in the sense that people like to connect with other people, right?

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s recipes, people use that as maybe kind of a one-off thing where they’re searching through Google and they find a recipe. If that is a place like AllRecipes, then they’re going to go and they’re going to print it off. Maybe they’ll bookmark it and come back to it. If it’s a blog like How Sweet It Is, they’re going to come and they’re going to see that. Maybe they then become engaged and interested in your story, which wouldn’t happen, unless you were willing to put a little bit of that content out and to kind of open the door into your life a little bit.

Jessica Merchant: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s maybe not always an easy thing to do, but I think it can be a really important element of building a blog or a website is sharing your personal story.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, it definitely makes you more relatable. Because I know that I have bloggers that I feel like “oh, I know them.” You know, I’m in a conversation with somebody and I’m like “oh, my friend does this,” then I’m like “it’s not your friend.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right.

Jessica Merchant: On the internet, that you don’t know.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, you say friend, and then they say “so, how do you know them?” You say “well, we’ve never actually met before.”

Jessica Merchant: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: I read a blog post they published.

Jessica Merchant: Like “they don’t know me, but we’re friends in real life.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right, so is that the kind of thing where- … Do you ever get feedback from people where they say “hey, I just want recipes,” every once and a while on Pinch of Yum if somebody subscribed to an RSS feed where they get the posts e-mailed to them, they’ll respond back and say “oh, is there any way just to get the recipes.” Do you ever feel like people push back against that, or not so much?

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, I don’t get that much, but I do get comments here and there, more on the posts that are like “stop rambling, I just want the recipe, oh my gosh, I had to read so much just to get to the recipe.” You know I’m like “it’s a blog, it’s not a food website, it’s a blog.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right, right. Cool. One of the things, as Lindsey and I were chatting, she had mentioned that one of the things you don’t do a lot of is sponsored content. Pinch of Yum, at this point, we’ll do maybe anywhere from one every week or one every two weeks, we’ll have a sponsored content post.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Where we work with the brand. I’m curious to know, what is your reason for not doing that? As I know, from doing it and hearing Lindsey talk about it, there’s positives and negatives. I’m so curious to know, does that come back to the “if I don’t want to do it, I’m not going to do it” kind of mindset?

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, yeah, basically does. I think that way back in the day, when it was more so just product review, I had just started blogging, nobody would send me anything because I wasn’t big enough and I didn’t have the numbers. I’m just like “you know what, I’m not going to do that at all, then, for anyone.” When the time came, and I did get offered to do a sponsored post, I did it, and I just felt so uneasy about it the entire time. I was so anxious.

The entire weeks leading up to having to do it and having to write it, it just felt so inauthentic. Of course, I said “well, I’m not going to do them unless it is something that is authentic to me.” It’s not something that I love. Which, I feel like most people try to do anyway. I thought this first post was something that I loved, but it just didn’t feel right.

At that time, blogs were really starting to get into sponsored content. It wasn’t like how it is now. I feel like it’s very normal and a regular part of content today. I didn’t have a bad experience with the company or the contacts or anything, I just felt so uneasy. I just want to write about what I want to write about. I just want to do my own thing. I don’t want anybody telling me what to do.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jessica Merchant: It’s horrible.

Bjork Ostrom: No, I think that makes sense. I know that that’s one of the common themes, when we talk to people, or even for us, is we process through doing sponsored content is it is maybe most relatable to working in a contractor to freelance role where in some ways, you have the flexibility to do work when you want and where you want and there’s still that freedom, but there’s ultimately somebody that’s connected to the content and doesn’t have complete control over it, but can weigh in it and has an opinion on the content itself.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s so interesting, as the industry deals with this, to watch how different sites are doing it. Whether it’s news sites like Huffington Post or Mashable where they have content that’s produced by a sponsored content division within the company.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: BuzzFeed obviously is a great example of that. I’m always interested to hear from people what that looks like. For you, in terms of looking at your website or your blog as a business, do you really lean into the cookbook side of things and say “I want to make sure people are aware of this because I have this product that I can represent.” Obviously, there’s advertising as well and affiliate marketing. Are those kind of the areas that you focus in on?

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, those are the most. I will say, though, I do still do sponsored content, but the way that I try to do it is like three to four larger-scale products, or larger-scale projects a year.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: You know, I try to work with the company for maybe three or four blog posts over the course of a year. Sometimes it’s even over the course of one quarter or two quarters, which I don’t completely love, because I feel like it kind of crams it all in.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jessica Merchant: I do still make an income from sponsored content that way.

Bjork Ostrom: Just not as much.

Jessica Merchant: Correct.

Bjork Ostrom: As you could be doing.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Jessica Merchant: The majority of things I do turn down, then I do just focus on those other aspects.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Jessica Merchant: The cookbook, the ads, yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, the brands that you are working with, are you reaching out to them knowing that “hey, this is going to potentially be a really good fit,” or is it filtering the people that are coming in and saying “is this going to be a good fit and something that I would enjoy doing?”

Jessica Merchant: At this point, it’s really coming in and me filtering it out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: A couple years ago, I was going to companies, but, I really haven’t had to do that, recently.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, there’s not a need to reach out because you have, probably the relationships with the people you want, and kind of work with those moving forward.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. One of the questions that I always like to ask people is, or I’m starting to a little bit more on the podcast, because I’m fascinated by it, what are the things that are working really well for you? What are the things that you’ve started to do recently where you feel like “oh this is, it really feels like the things are aligned and maybe the cylinders are all firing.” I don’t even know what that means because I’m a terrible car guy.

Things that you feel like are working well for you, within the context of your blog and your business?

Jessica Merchant: Oh man, that’s tricky. I would definitely say, even though it’s taking all of my time, essentially, is doing some of the video content. Which, I do like from a creative standpoint, but I never want that to become a focus of my blog, because right now, the kind that I’m doing is rather impersonal and I do write a more personal blog. I will say that that has increased engagement on all social media, like ten-fold. It doesn’t so much increase engagement on my actual blog and the posts.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jessica Merchant: I get some nice engagement on the posts themselves.

Bjork Ostrom: When you say engagement, do you mean comments or sharing or things like that?

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, comments and shares, or links.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: Getting featured somewhere. I would say, though, to kind of piggyback off of the engagement from video, the second biggest thing that is really working for me right now and it’s not necessarily something I ever stopped doing, was just engaging back with my community and my readers more than I ever have before. In those early days, I did so much because I had that scheduled time of sitting at that desk from eight to five.

Then, when I left that job, and kind of started making my own schedule, it just became a little more difficult and I do believe that I don’t think it’s necessarily to respond to absolutely everything and it’s not possible because I’d rather spend the time creating content for the readers of my site. I do think trying to respond and engage and talk to and comment and talk to other bloggers and network and connect is a huge part of this community. Because there are so many food bloggers and amazing food photographers and food stylists out there that it’s just really hard to feel like your people are loving what you do.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: Trying to make an impact.

Bjork Ostrom: For you, you said staying connected with those people that are following along with you. I know that Lindsey talks about that every once in a while is how connected she feels to readers and that kind of ebbs and flows. Is that kind of what it is for you? Is saying “man I want to get back to connecting with people?”

Jessica Merchant: Yes, because that’s really what made me love blogging so much. I love the writing and sharing aspect of it, but I love connecting with other people, and I’m also incredible grateful to my readers because they are the reason that I get to do what I do.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jessica Merchant: You know, every day.

Bjork Ostrom: There is not only staying connected but there’s also a little bit of ping-back, this gratitude piece of saying “oh, thank you for following along.”

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: “I want to do whatever I can to connect with you and show you that I’m thankful.”

Jessica Merchant: Right, like “thank you for being here, when there’s like 80,000 other food blogs on the internet.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. One of the things that you had mentioned was that you’re interested in moving a little bit more towards personal videos as opposed to videos that aren’t quite as personal. Can you talk a little bit about why you’re going to do that and kind of what you envision that being?

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, I do want to do more vlog-type videos on my website, even if they’re not food-centric, even on the lifestyle crumb section of my blog.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: It’s just really difficult because my husband doesn’t work with me or anything. He’s starting to get into some photography because he loves to take pictures of Max and he’s starting to shoot some good video when he’s home. He has a completely different career.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jessica Merchant: It’s just us and we’re like “oh, let’s take a video of what we’re doing this weekend, and we have this great day planned,” and we’ll talk about things we love to do in Pittsburgh. It’s just the three of us, it’s like holding Max’s hand. It’s so difficult.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s so different than photography, yeah.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, it’s like somebody has to have their eyes on him at all times. Eddie’s not quite as familiar with the camera as I am right now.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jessica Merchant: It’s kind of a work in progress.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jessica Merchant: It’s definitely something that I want to incorporate more of.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that doubles down on the personal connection element that you were talking about. It’s one thing to share personal things, write about those, share pictures of them. Then it’s a whole new level when you’re able to actually see somebody and hear somebody. I think the same is true for podcasts.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m sure some of the people that are listening to this will hear you for the first time, maybe me for the first time and there will be a connection that exists that didn’t exist before. I think that’s one of the great things about podcasting, but also video as well. Which is kind of fun.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Last question that I want to ask you is one that I always like to end with is if you were to go back, and to have a conversation with yourself, in 2009, when you were starting this. What are some of the advice that you would give yourself?

Jessica Merchant: Wow, to make my text left-aligned.

Bjork Ostrom: Centered, was it?

Jessica Merchant: I used to write my blog posts with the text centered.

Bjork Ostrom: Wow.

Jessica Merchant: I got the most hateful, horrible comments. It’s horrible, some of it is still centered. I’m just thinking. That’s just like a silly one.

Bjork Ostrom: Little tip, yeah, for sure.

Jessica Merchant: Yeah, I think that it would just be to really stay true to myself and do what I want to do, because I think that it’s so easy to get caught up and see what everybody else is doing. For instance, when I did that first sponsored post so many years ago and felt uneasy about it. Sometimes I would come across a blog that was doing something totally different, but see the type of engagement they were getting and feel like I had to do that instead. Thankfully, I never did that. I really did try to stay the course.

I had anxiety about it, you know? I was anxious about it and would worry about it a lot and just was really hard on myself about it. I think that just telling myself that I was on the right track as long as I was being authentic and doing what I love to do that it would all work out.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s really hard to do, especially when you see other people doing different things and finding success with that.

Jessica Merchant: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I keep coming back to, as I see other people being successful is, I think, oftentimes, one of the reasons why, and this is maybe a good note to end on, but one of the reasons they find success in it is because, like you had said earlier, they’re doing something that they’re really passionate about, and that is a natural thing for them to do.

Jessica Merchant: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: That might be a good fit for you, and something that you can take on, or maybe it’s not. Even though from the outside, it looks really interesting and fun and like “oh my gosh, they’re getting a ton of engagement, maybe I should try that.” If it’s not a good fit, like you said, then it’s probably not something that you should pursue.

Jessica Merchant: I completely agree.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Tell me this, Jessica, we have talked a little bit here and there where people can find you online, but can you tell us a quick overview of where people can follow along with what you’re doing?

Jessica Merchant: Yes, I am HowSweetEats on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, and I’m HowSweetBlog on Twitter.

Bjork Ostrom: Great, awesome, then your site as well?

Jessica Merchant: Yep, HowSweetEats.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Great, awesome. Jessica, thanks so much for coming on the podcast, really appreciate it and so fun to finally connect with you.

Jessica Merchant: Thank you so much, it was great.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks a lot.

That’s a wrap for episode number 73. As always, thank you so much for listening. We really appreciate you tuning in to this, it’s been really fun for us to be 73 episodes in and to see this little community build up around this podcast. Thank you to the people that we have on today. Jessica, thank you so much for coming on to the podcast, and thank you to you, people that are listening, because if we didn’t have you, we wouldn’t do this podcast.

We will be back here, same time, same place, next week, until then, make it a great week, thanks guys.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


    1. Hi Kathleen – it looks like it’s there now. Google Play receives it through RSS, so it probably just took a little longer than usual for them to crawl the feed. Hopefully it’s quicker in the future!