Welcome to episode 311 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Katie Olsen from Katiebird Bakes about how she has grown her blog by focusing on creating intentional content.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Candice Ward about pitching brands and monetizing food photography. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Finding Your Why
Katie is a full-time attorney and food blogger, and she’s here on the podcast today to talk about her blogging journey and philosophy when it comes to sharing content online.
She talks about how starting a blog is inherently vulnerable, why she likes balancing both her blog and her full-time job, and how she has shifted her content strategy over the years.
As her blog Katiebird Bakes has grown over time, Katie has found a sense of purpose and enjoyment in blogging as a creative outlet, and you’ll learn more about her mindset in this episode.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why she initially felt nervous to launch her blog
- How she deals with negative comments
- Why she enjoys having both her blog and a full-time job
- Why she’s really picky about the kind of content she shares
- How to adjust to the ever-changing environment of social media
- How to not fall into the comparison trap
- Why it’s so important to remember your ‘why’
- How leaning into her niche helped her find success
- What metrics she uses to track her growth
- What philosophy she follows when planning her content
- Katiebird Bakes
- The Oatmeal – What it’s like to make things for the web
- Jimmy Fallon explains the meaning of his life
- Follow Katie on Instagram and Facebook
- Check out the Food Blogger Pro YouTube channel (and subscribe while you’re there!)
About This Week’s Sponsor
We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!
With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.
Sign up for the Clariti waitlist today to receive:
- Early access to their $25/Month Forever pricing
- Optimization ideas for your site content
- An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
- And more!
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: Excited about this, it’s actually the first time that we’ve had a sponsor for the Food Blogger Pro podcast and funny enough, it’s actually our sister site Clariti. I’ve talked about it in the podcast before here but if you haven’t tuned in to one of those episodes, the background here is that Clariti is really built out of what we found as a need for Pinch of Yum. We had this huge spreadsheet, that we were using to organize, to optimize, to update the blog content on Pinch of Yum, all around this idea of growth and we said, you know what, anytime that you have a spreadsheet, it’s an opportunity to create software around that. So, we said, what would that look like and what do we hope comes from that.
Bjork Ostrom: We hope that people have clarity on what they need to do, what they’re working on, what they’re focusing on and that’s Clariti. It’s Clariti with an I, so C-L-A-R-I-T-I and what it allows you to do is not only to filter and to understand slice and dice your content, you’ll see what I mean, when you get in there but you can also create campaigns. So let’s say that a really simple first campaign that you could create would be, “Hey, I want to go through and optimize all of my images that old text.” Clariti is going to allow you to see that, really easily to go in, to slice and dice that and to create a campaign around that, or perhaps you have a few different post that you want to go and update the photography on those.
Bjork Ostrom: Clariti is going to allow you to create a campaign around that so you can track and organize it. You could even assign it to somebody on your team and say, “Hey, can you take a look at this campaign? Can you move forward on making these updates?” So if you have a team, you can work with them to work on those campaigns. So, another example, say you want to go into your old post and add some internal links to keep readers on your site. It’s kind of an SEO best practice and just usability best practice. You want to make sure that there’s links to helpful content, you can figure out which post don’t already have links and assign those post to a campaign, maybe you call the campaign, adding internal links, so you know which posts need to be updated and you can track your work within Clariti.
Bjork Ostrom: So Clariti users have direct insights that help them identify which posts to update, figure out what they should be updating and adding to the post and understanding the impact that their updates have with a direct integration into their Google Analytics account or actually as I’m recording this, this recording here for the ad, we’re going through the process of pushing this out as a new feature within Clariti. So, by the time that you hear this, by the time that you sign up, you’ll be able to have access to that Google Analytics integration so you can start to see, you can start to track with and say, “Okay, I made a note in Clariti, that I made this update.” You can go back and say, “Okay, what impact did that have on that piece of content.
Bjork Ostrom: If you’re interested in learning a little bit more and potentially becoming an early adopter, we’re still in the early stages, you can go to clariti.com/food, that’s the URL that we want you to go to. Again, clariti.com/food and it’s Clariti with an I, C-L-A-R-I-T-I dot com slash food. What we’re doing right now is for the first 500 users of Clariti, we’re doing what we’re calling a 25 forever plan. So, as you know, if you look around in the software world, especially SaaS apps, there’s all different varying price points that you might pay, $50 a month, $90 a month, $100 a month, maybe some are cheaper, they’re not super critical. What we’re doing is we’re saying, “Hey, we know that Clariti is going to be more expensive down the line,” but for anybody who’s an early adopter, we want to make sure that it’s affordable.
Bjork Ostrom: So we’re doing what we’re calling a 25 forever plan for the first 500 users who sign up for Clariti and you can go to clariti.com/food for that. We’ll include that in the show notes as well. As a little bonus, one of the things that you’ll be able to do, if you’re interested, is join a Slack community and we’ve never done that as kind of a one off thing. We have the Food Blogger Pro forum, where we have a lot of conversations and interactions, but for the Clariti Slack Community, essentially it’s people who are focusing on improving, optimizing and growing their site. The nice thing about Clariti is you don’t have to be a food blogger. Obviously, the people we are talking to on this podcast are food bloggers, but you don’t have to be a food blogger to join or to use the tool that works for any blogger or any content creator who is using WordPress.
Bjork Ostrom: So last time, it is clariti.com/food and thank you to Clariti for being our first ever Food Blogger Pro podcast sponsor. Hey everybody, its Bjork. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Thanks for tuning in. Today we are actually chatting with Food Blogger Pro podcast listener, Food Blogger Pro member, Katie Olsen from Katiebird Bakes. This is going to be a great interview because she’s going to be talking about what it’s like to run her site successfully, while also working a demanding full time job as an attorney, and actually talking about some of the benefits. A lot of times we talk about what it’s like to make the transition to working on something full time. I don’t think we give enough space to talk about the benefit of not working on your site full time, but having it be a compliment, having it be kind of a safety net.
Bjork Ostrom: Having it be kind of additional side hustle that you’re doing and the freedom a lot of times that comes with continuing to pursue that as something that you want to grow, something that you want to produce income, but also something that you really enjoy and I’m actually going to draw an analogy to my weekend of playing tennis against my friend, Kevin, and it was not a successful tennis outcome for me. He actually beat me handily but it was successful for me in reminding me, “Wait, this is something I actually really like,” and we’re going to be talking about how you can view your blog and the work that you’re doing with your site, kind of like playing tennis or trombone as Katie talks about.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s going to be a great interview. There’s a lot of little gems tucked away in here and I’m excited to share it with you, so let’s go ahead and jump in. This is Katie, from Katiebirdbakes.com, talking about her journey, working as an attorney and building her site as well. Katie, welcome to the podcast.
Katie Olsen: Thank you for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, you are a podcast listener so you know, kind of how we jump into things but you’ve never heard the little preamble part, which is always kind of fun for people to be able to … who know the podcast, who listened to it, to then see kind of the inner workings of it, which is like, it’s essentially just us jumping on a call and you’re like, I’m kind of surprised like, I didn’t have any questions to queue up. It really is just us getting on a call and pressing record. So was there any anticipation for you of like being on the podcast and not knowing what questions I was going to ask?
Katie Olsen: I will say I was a little nervous and surprised that there weren’t any pre-arranged questions but then, as I thought about it more, I thought, well, all of Bjork’s interviews just sound like a conversation he’s having with someone at a coffee shop.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally.
Katie Olsen: I guess there’s a reason why it sounds that way.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s why, for sure. It’s the first time we’ve talked about all these, different than like a nighttime, like a night show, like Fallon or Kimmel because you’re like, “Wait a minute, you’ve talked about this before and now, you’re like pretending to talk about it again,” but in this case, we’re actually talking about all this for the first time. So let’s rewind the tape a little bit and go back to first time that you press publish or launch on your site and we chatted a little bit. I know you’ve been listening to Food Blogger Pro podcast for a while, but what was that like for you when you actually launched your blog and what were you thinking about it when you’re getting into it?
Katie Olsen: In a word, it was terrifying.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: I had followed food blogs for many years before I ever decided to do one of my own and my first post I published was at the end of 2016. I kept my blog private for a few months before I actually made it public to the world. I know you guys don’t advocate for doing that, but I was one of those people who I didn’t want to have just like one post out there and make it public. I wanted it to look like I was a professional and had a bunch of them.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: So I probably had seven or eight posts live before I ever actually made it public, but it was terrifying. There’s something really vulnerable about putting yourself out there for other people to see what you’ve done, what you’ve created and comment upon it. It’s very different from when you … I started by just baking things for my friends and family, bringing stuff into college, law school, classes, into the office, whatever and people are always really nice when it’s someone they know, that made it-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: They’re like, “Oh, can I have the recipe?” Things like that. It’s different when you’re publishing something to the world, putting yourself out there as a quote, unquote, expert and having people comment on it. That was what was really terrifying, I think to start with.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure and how long was it terrifying? Do you still feel that or do you feel like exposure therapy of continuing to press publish has made it not quite as scary?
Katie Olsen: I think it’s a little bit less scary, because I’m a little bit more confident now, almost five years in, but it’s still scary because everyone has different tastes and people are not shy and tell you how they feel and sometimes, you try not to take it personally but sometimes there are comments that are pretty hurtful that people will say.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes.
Katie Olsen: So there’s a lot of that kind of fear that when you hit publish, even if you’ve done it a million times before, you’re like, “Well this is something that’s really precious to me, that I’ve worked really hard on and someone else can just like tear it down in a second.” At the same time someone else can come and totally make your day with it in a second and say, “Hey, I made this and gave it to all my friends and family and they loved it too.” So there’s a risk reward analysis there.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have any type of mental framework in how you deal with negative comments or just like not nice people, which a lot of those people exist on the internet?
Katie Olsen: Yeah, it’s pretty sad. You have to just try to think of yourself as any other online publisher, online place that people would go and comment and not take it as you are your blog. I know, you’ve discussed that with a number of people on the podcast before, of separating like a personal brand from you which is hard to do, because it is me, but you have to think of yourself as like, Bon Appetit or Allrecipes, or Food Network or one of those people and they have tons of negative comments on their websites too. People are Savage.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.
Katie Olsen: That’s okay, as long as they’re being honest. So It’s hard not to take it personally but I tried to just think of myself as any other publisher, basically.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, there’s something about … one of the things that I think is difficult in this world, specifically, is that we produce content and we’re kind of in our personal silo and people respond to that. There’s this universal reality that we are all getting some type of feedback like that, right? So positive feedback, negative feedback, mean comments, nice comments but if we worked at a restaurant, and there’s 50 of us, there’s kind of this shared experience of, hey, if you’re a server, you know that you’re going to have a terrible table occasionally, with really rude customers and your coworker is going to be able to be like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry.” For us, we kind of live in these silos and it feels not only very personal, but also potentially kind of lonely sometimes.
Bjork Ostrom: So I think one of the things that I like to do is think about the fact that it’s universal, everybody is experiencing it, if you are putting yourself out there and the only way not to experience it is if nobody sees your content, which is like the anti-goal, you want more people to see your content, but then the more people see it, the more you’re opening up to that equation of like, one out of a thousand, people who see it will maybe say something not very nice and you just kind of have to deal with it. There’s a great oatmeal, who’s a comic I’ve talked about it multiple times.
Katie Olsen: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Have you seen this? You know the one that I’m talking about?
Katie Olsen: The drawings, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah, so he does drawings and one of them is like … we’ll link to it in the show notes, but it’s like, as a creator, the impact of just one negative comment and it shows this character getting like a thousand positive comments, and there’s like, one … not nice one and then it just totally dismantles his life and it shows him just not being able to get up from the couch because of … but it’s like so relatable, so if nothing else, know that if you’re a podcast listener, listening and you and you feel that way, you’re not alone. It’s a shared experience but we don’t get to share with it in the way that we would, if we were working together. So the thought with this podcast interview, we’re wanting to have conversations with people who are having success, both in their career and with their site. For you, your career isn’t your site but you’re having success with your site.
Bjork Ostrom: You’re getting traffic, you’re getting social followers, monetary success. What does that look like for you to balance both of these things and how do you make decisions around your time versus career development, versus blog development? Maybe talk about what you do for your day job a little bit?
Katie Olsen: Sure. So my day job is I am general counsel for a small healthcare company in the senior living space and it is a very demanding job as you might imagine. I started out … as most lawyers do, I started out after law school working at a large law firm. I did commercial real estate transactions and found that it was an extremely stressful long hours kind of job, the thing you would expect from a big law firm. I felt like, I was becoming a one dimensional person. All I did was-
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?
Katie Olsen: All I did was work and all I was about was work, and all I would talk to my friends and family about was how stressful my job was and what was going on with it and going in every single weekend to the office to be working on deals and stuff like that, and I think a lot of lawyers can relate to that kind of stories. Most lawyers are extremely complex, interesting people when they go to law school but then I remember a professor at my law school saying, “Don’t lose those parts of yourself that are not about the law. If you’re a great trombone player, keep being a great trombone player. Don’t stop doing that.”
Bjork Ostrom: One good advice.
Katie Olsen: Yeah, it’s great advice, but nobody listens to it, because they have what lawyers called golden handcuffs, which is working at a big firm, you make a lot of money, you are seen as quote, successful. You do high profile deals or whatever, litigation, whatever you do and you get kind of locked into it and you become this person who is only about their job.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s all you that talk about. That’s all that you think about. You’re hanging out at Thanksgiving and suddenly you find yourself talking about commercial real estate deals with your cousin and they’re like, “What?” Yeah.
Katie Olsen: Or you leave Thanksgiving dinner to go work on one of those commercials estate deals.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Sure. Yeah, right.
Katie Olsen: Or you don’t go on vacation, because you’re sucked into one of those things.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: So that’s what my life sort of became and I was not happy about that. So I decided … one of the stress outlets that I had, that I’ve always had was to bake, just on the weekends or at night, whenever I had time, and I would bring it into the office and people would always enjoy it. So I decided that I was just … I had never done this in my life. I’m extremely type A perfectionist kind of person. I decided just to quit, because I could not see a way where I could be happy in this job.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and it seems like a kind of job where you can’t like transition out. Lindsay and I have talked about, she went like point seven time at school and I was working like two or three days at a nonprofit, and we did this like long transition, but it sounds like a job where you couldn’t have been like, “Hey, guys, I’m going to step back a little bit and take Friday’s off, just to balance things out and work on some things I’m excited about.” It’s all in, all out.
Katie Olsen: Yes, this is an all or nothing type of profession. So I consciously decided to take a step back for a few months, I did not work at all and I started my blog during that time, at the end of 2016. I went through all the Food Blogger Pro videos, and learned how to do all this stuff. So, I did it in a few months and then, I decided that I didn’t want to just be doing that full time because as you’ve talked about a number of times, it takes a long time to find traction with a food blog and I wanted to but I also wanted to have another stable career, as a backup. So I wound up going to work in house for one of the clients, I had worked with at this law firm. That has worked out much better for my mental health and my work life balance.
Katie Olsen: As an in house lawyer, it’s a very different thing from being a lawyer in a firm where your clients call you at any time of the day or night, you got to drop everything to do what they want.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: When you’re in house, you still have that responsibility to your one client, but you have a better idea of when things are going to be busy and what’s going on and what they need and it’s much more predictable in terms of the hours. So in that way, I was able to work on my blog at night, and on the weekends, and then still able to dedicate my focus to my job during the day.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting, you talk about your one client, I’m guessing what you’re talking about is you get hired by this company, you work in house, then they become the one client that you’re working for.
Katie Olsen: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: So maybe simplicity in that. The other thing that I think is interesting with your story, and I think it’s important for people to think about, I was listening to a podcast interview. It was Intercom, which is a customer support tool, like the little blue bubble on Food Blogger Pro where you chat and interact with people, that’s Intercom and they have a podcast and somebody was on the podcast talking about how she believes that doing your side thing that’s a compliment to your full time thing is actually one of the best safety nets that you can build in because at this point, it’s kind of like you have not two clients but you you have diversification of income where you have your full time gig, which is like that’s the full time thing, but then also you have this asset that you’ve built over the last five years which produces income and there’s diversification in that.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s a little bit of a safety net and if whatever happened, you totally burnt out again or you decided that you just didn’t want to work as much or job got cut, you have this kind of safety net fallback.
Katie Olsen: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s either way, where if maybe you didn’t want to work on your site for a few months, you have your job. Something happens with your job, you have your blog. Does that factor into how you think about kind of career, income stability, anything like that, as it relates to the balance between your full time job and your blog?
Katie Olsen: Yeah, absolutely. You really hit the nail on the head with that, because I feel like having my full time job makes me not as stressed about how well the blog is doing or what fluctuations there might be with it. For example, Instagram right now is just a total disaster for everyone.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: If that were my full time job, I would be very stressed out about that and I am a little bit stressed about it, but I’m not freaking out because I know that even if my impressions from Instagram are down, and it hits my revenue a little bit, it’s not the end of the world and on the same point, because my blog makes a decent amount of income per month, if I were to suddenly lose my job tomorrow, I would not be completely out of luck, I would have a side income that I could work on making into a more full income and kind of go from there. So it balances them both out and what’s also nice about it, is that I have something to be excited about. When I am like stressed out at work, I can say, “Oh, well, I have to get through this but tonight, I can go work on my blog.”
Katie Olsen: “I can go edit these photos and write up this recipe post and this weekend, I’m excited to make this brownie recipe,” and do all of those things, it gives you the anticipation and just something else to focus on, which was what I was completely lacking in my life before that made me so unhappy was when I felt like a one dimensional person.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Just this weekend, I played tennis for the first time in like … well, I’ve probably played like five times over the past. Lindsay was like, “Well, first time you’ve played in 20 years.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s almost true,” but it was … I’ve maybe played like five to 10 times over the past 10 years. In high school, that’s what I did. I was a tennis player and that’s what people knew me as and then, it just kind of faded away. Other things take priority and then, I played with a friend who just is really good and it wasn’t a fun match and that it was competitive.
Katie Olsen: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s fun for me, because I got out and I was like, “Gosh, this is really fun.” It’s kind of like my trombone, right? So it’s like, I have given up playing the trombone in service of other things and I got out, I was like, “Gosh, this is really fun, I should do this more.” The interesting thing is what you’re saying is it’s almost like, if I was able to play tennis but then there’s also some monetary connection to it and then, after a few years, if I got really good and then, I’m playing tournaments and get paid if I won, which probably exists in some way, but not in the same way that like a side hustle, like a blog that that can exist. It seems like that’s the sweet spot for … like the unlock of kind of tiny bit better every day, 1% affinity is, if you can truly show up and enjoy the thing that you’re doing over and over and over and there’s multiple types of income that come from it.
Bjork Ostrom: The types of income for me for tennis would be like physical income, right? So health income, friendship income but not monetary income. It sounds like for you, for your site and working on your brand and social and recipe development. It’s like monetary income that’s there. It’s not like the kind of thing where you could just flip the switch and just do this on your own, but you are creating an income from it. Then also, it sounds like it’s enjoyable, like it’s a stress relief for you and more so than if it was just the thing you’re doing. I think that’s the key takeaway is, if this is all you’re doing, suddenly, it might … I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this. It might go from, this is an escape for me and something I get to do versus this is something I need to do and if it doesn’t do well, I’m going to be stressed. Is that true?
Katie Olsen: That’s absolutely true and I just wanted to note that I always love your analogies.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. There’s times where I’ll be on a call with our team, and I’ll be trying to come up with one and they’re like, “That was like too far, you’re taking it too far,” so there is a line with them. Okay, good.
Katie Olsen: Yes, that’s exactly how it is because the times that I have not been inspired to work on my blog are the times when it feels like work, and the times when I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I have to do this.” That’s usually related to when I do sponsored blog posts or things like that, that I have to do it for this specific client, by this specific date, with these specific deliverables, versus a recipe I’m just creating on my own, where I do whatever I want to do with it on my own timeline. So I think, definitely, a lot of the joy is taken out of it when it feels like a job.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, when you don’t have autonomy and there’s not freedom, you’re kind of then working for somebody else.
Katie Olsen: Exactly. So, I’ve actually really cut back on doing sponsored posts for that reason, because I feel like I sound inauthentic and it makes it into that work kind of feeling for me, which does not inspire me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about that with their site where they’ll either just say, “Hey, this is something I don’t do because I just don’t enjoy it,” or they’ll say, “I’ll do it but I’ll …” like whenever anybody reaches out to say like, “Hey, would you work with us?” It’s a super high amount, so it’s justifiable. For Lindsay, Pinch of Yum Team, what they do is they kind of set a cap. So we want to make this amount from sponsored content every year and after that, we feel okay, saying no to deals just because it’s something that’s there, doesn’t mean that they would do it and continue to move forward on it. So they kind of have almost like not a budget, but it’s more of like in revenue goal.
Bjork Ostrom: Then once we get to that point, we kind of more easily say, “Hey, we’re kind of wrapping on sponsored content for the year or quarter,” or whatever it might be. So for you what are the things that fall into like, “Hey, I love doing this. I’m going to prioritize this versus this is not enjoyable? I’m not going to do it,” and how often do you have to do those unenjoyable things, because they’re just part of the job or because of the flexibility you have, are you able to just say, “I actually don’t need to do these, so as much as possible, I’m just going to do the fun stuff.”
Katie Olsen: I would say it tends toward the latter. I basically refuse to do anything I don’t feel comfortable or don’t want to do as it relates to my blog. So I mean, everybody has this happen, all sorts of companies reach out all the time saying, “Hey, we want you to try this product. We want you to be our brand ambassador,” et cetera and I am so picky about who I will actually agree to do that for because I have no reason to do it. I’m not trying to get sponsored content or anything like that because luckily, I’ve been able to build up enough traffic to qualify … I qualified for Mediavine a couple of years in and that brings in enough revenue every month, that it more than covers the expenses of my blog, and it brings in some side income.
Katie Olsen: So everything else is just kind of a cherry on top. So, I only accept … I would say sponsored content is a thing I don’t really enjoy doing and I feel nervous when I do it. So that I do very rarely as a result and the things that I do like to do are things like I did a partnership with Bake From Scratch Magazine, and that was last year and I really like them and their content and I was really excited about developing a recipe with them. So, that was kind of a unique sponsored content situation, but it was because I really respect them and their product and what they do. So, I was excited about doing that. The other things I get excited about are creating … just creating my own, new recipes and individual blog posts that I think people will identify with.
Katie Olsen: Until the last few months, Instagram was something I was excited about, because of that instant gratification you get of connecting with people directly and having them message you and comment on your photos and all of that. As I mentioned, Instagram has been rather weird recently, but-
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that? For those who aren’t familiar. I feel like I’m not on Instagram a lot. I’ll check, I have five friends and a couple of the brands I’ll check of ours but I don’t use it a lot but I know of kind of like, “Hey, these things are happening, these things are shifting. Wait a minute,” like Reels for Pinch of Yum, it’s like, we can get like barely an engagement on a photo and then like Reels will get like 5000 views. It’s like, what’s going on? Is that kind of what you’re getting at, like the shifting tides of what works and what doesn’t work on Instagram?
Katie Olsen: Yeah, just like Google, they’re constantly changing their algorithm and sometimes that’s to creators’ benefit and sometimes it’s not and I think a lot of people have seen … and myself included, have seen a struggle with static posts on Instagram, meaning just photos that you would post in the feed on Instagram, not getting really any engagement at all, no matter what hashtags you try to use or no matter what time of day you’re posting, it doesn’t really seem to matter, the likes, comments, et cetera have just taken a plunge and just the reach overall, just if you look at your analytics, maybe a quarter of the people that had previously been seeing your posts aren’t seeing them now.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: The same thing with Stories, I see many … a huge drop in the number of people who are watching my Stories, because I think that so many people are doing Stories that maybe they get buried and then, Reels, Instagram is trying to compete with TikTok, obviously and Reels is kind of their answer to it. So they’re pushing that to the top of the feed. The people who are really good at making Reels. I mean, it’s a skill for sure.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah.
Katie Olsen: The people who are good at doing that are seeing a lot of success with that, but the people who were relying on the strategies that worked for them for years are just posting beautiful photos of brownies or whatever, are not seeing as much success because that’s not what Instagram is prioritizing anymore.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s one of the hard things with the work that you do, or the work that we do. Not so much me, but some of the … Lindsay and some of the team members of Pinch of Yum, like it’s constantly evolving. What worked three years ago suddenly doesn’t work. What worked three months ago, sometimes doesn’t work. So much of it has to do with like shifting attention and suddenly, it’s like, “Oh, wait a minute, we’ve figured out this thing that is like stickier. People watch it longer. So then we’re going to prioritize that.” Even on YouTube, I saw that they shifted and they used to have … like in the YouTube app, it was like home, which would be like algorithm based recommendations.
Bjork Ostrom: Then it would be … I think it was the equivalent of discover but it was essentially like the top videos of that day but they just replaced that with shorts, like, okay, so it’s like exactly the same as TikTok, Reels but you can see, obviously, people are discovering that something is working here, that it’s more of a stickier type of content and so, we’re going to prioritize that but then that means, essentially, as a creator, you’re going to have to learn this entirely new medium to publish your content on, that can get kind of exhausting. How do you approach that? You’ve been doing it for five years, do you say like, “Hey, I’m going to give this a shot,” see what it looks like or stick to your guns and say, “I’m going to kind of continue with what I know I have time for and what I can do,” versus folding in a new type of medium or content.
Katie Olsen: I have tried to embrace Reels. I feel like a dinosaur sometimes because the first time I went to do it, I was like, “Oh my god, I don’t know. I don’t know how to do this,” but you do figure it out, eventually and what I realized was like video has been something that people have been prioritizing for a few years now and I kind of resisted that, because it was hard enough for me to learn photography in the first place, which I had no experience in before I started my blog.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Katie Olsen: Then, there’s all this equipment that’s involved in making a video like a professional video with the tripods and the cameras and the tether, and all this stuff and I was like, I just can’t do that, I can’t do it and what I eventually decided was, what if I just take the tripod I have, I put my phone on two rubber bands crisscrossing each other on the tripod, so the camera is over my scene and then I just take the food videos and make them into Reels. That’s what I did because I was like, I cannot learn another professional form of media-
Bjork Ostrom: Like DSLR video shooting, editing and Premiere Pro.
Katie Olsen: I can’t do it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.
Katie Olsen: God bless everyone who can but I can’t. So, that’s what I did and that’s what I am still doing. It’s just my phone with two rubber bands on it and it’s been working for me. I think, it’s kind of fun to have something like these Reels like TikTok that is less formal. Instagram used to be extremely formal I feel and having the real function makes … I think it makes Instagram more accessible and makes people more vulnerable and able to just share real … no pun intended real content from their life.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: And not be as curated, which I think was a common criticism of Instagram before.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah. It’s like highlight Reel to the max, where people have these extremely perfected kind of perfect scenes and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, your life is awesome,” and like, I have dirty clothes in my closet everywhere. I got to improve my life. Why is my life so bad? To your point, one of the things that we had talked about before, a little bit was this idea … some of the things that you wanted to point out or make sure that we talked about, one of them was comparison and this idea of, when you’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to look at what somebody else is doing, whether on Instagram, on a blog, in a podcast interview and be like, “Oh, they’re here, I’m here. I’m going to compare myself against them,” which can get super discouraging?
Bjork Ostrom: What was that like for you to try and separate yourself from those feelings, in order to continue to love the work that you’re doing and not feel like, either I’m behind or I should be doing something different? I should be learning DSLR videography, to do whatever. I should be doing TikTok, I should be doing all these things. How do you deal with the kind of comparison trap?
Katie Olsen: It’s hard. It’s one of the things I’ve struggled with the most in this whole time that I’ve been having this blog and working on these projects. I think that the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” is something that I’ve thought about a lot, because so many people are in this food blogging world, are on so many different paths and they’re in so many different places in their journey. I am doing this as a side hustle. However, someone who might have the same kind of content and aesthetic as me, might be working on it full time and have a whole bunch of resources that I don’t have, and to kind of compare my number of followers or my page views or something to theirs, doesn’t even make sense.
Katie Olsen: It’s like apples to oranges. It’s a totally different set of circumstances, and it’s hard to remind yourself of that, but I think it’s really important because yes, you can learn from what other people are doing and you can learn from their successes, and there is a certain amount of … a lot of people are willing to dispense advice about how they have gotten their followers on Instagram or how they’ve gotten their page views to what they are, but everyone’s content is different and everyone’s approach is different, and what you have to offer the world is extremely unique and comes from your own lived experience of whatever your life has been so far, and I think just because someone else has made a small batch brownie recipe doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make a small brownie recipe, and you get the way that you want to and take the photos you want to and talk about it the way that you want to.
Katie Olsen: Your path forward with that recipe is going to be different from someone else’s and it’s one of the things that I just have to keep reminding myself over and over and over again, when I get frustrated and I see someone else who I know has been working on their blog less time than I have or who seems to just effortlessly see a lot of success, is the reminder that no one’s success is effortless. You just don’t always see what’s been going on in the background.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s one of the things that I’ve realized in multiple conversations with friends, business owners creators is man, there’s always something that people are grinding on behind the scenes and not grinding on and like, I’m hustling and working hard but grinding on and kind of struggling with, like, “Hey, this is having the success but I actually feel trapped by it.” I can’t have flexibility and freedom, flex them is the new word.
Katie Olsen: Flex them.
Bjork Ostrom: Freedom and flexibility but … or sometimes I think success can be a symptom of somebody feeling … it’s a little bit of a reverse way of thinking about that, but I think some people reach a certain level of success, because they can’t not work on something, it’s almost like a certain type of addiction, like an addiction to work and then the tension that creates with like, family and time with kids or loved ones. For some people, they just are super successful and balanced and happy. I think that also exists too, it’s not like everybody who has a certain level of success, whatever that looks like is secretly, kind of tormented behind the scenes, but I think what is true is you usually don’t see what it is that people are struggling through and everybody … what I’ve learned, whether entrepreneurs, business owners, bloggers, everybody has something that’s hard in their life to some degree.
Bjork Ostrom: We just don’t see that. So I think, to your point, it’s important to recognize, it’s not always what you see kind of behind the scenes. Do you do anything intentional in terms of like, trying to adjust for what you know would be … would exist with comparison, and for me, there’s probably like 10 reasons, I’m not super active on social. One of them is, it’s so easy for me to go to somebody’s account and be like, “Gosh, that’s awesome, you do travel blogging and you’ve been to 9000 places, and I just kind of go back and forth between my house and my office, that are three minutes apart and I kind of live in those places.” So that’s one of the reasons why I’m not as active on social but what is it for you? How do you … especially when you can’t not necessarily be active on social, how do you protect yourself from the comparison stuff?
Katie Olsen: I just tried to remember why I wanted to do this in the first place and that was to share … I guess I haven’t even talked about what kind of content I share. I share smaller batch baking recipes that I usually have tweaked in some way to make easier and more streamlined to make quickly so that you can make them on a weeknight. So for example, like one of my most popular recipes is the easiest chocolate chip cookies, which involves just using melted butter and storing all the ingredients together with no mixer, and they’re ready in like 20 minutes and they still taste just as good as your traditional chocolate chip cookie, and I had to do a lot of testing and editing and constant iteration to make them that way.
Katie Olsen: So that’s kind of a typical recipe, or I do a lot of single layer cakes, not multi-layer cakes, just one so that you can make them quickly and also that it’s a good size for two or four people. So that’s the kind of content that I make and the reason that I wanted to do that is because I saw a gap in what was available online in terms of recipes. Most recipes will make like four dozen cookies or a three tiered layer cake, or a sheet cake or something like that and I don’t want that many cookies, sort of that thingamajig and I think a lot of people don’t want that. So what I wanted to do was address the need for smaller batch and faster recipes. So sort of the why, behind why I do that is to help people like me who want to make things from scratch, who want to impress and make their friends and family happy with baked goods but don’t necessarily have a ton of time to do it.
Katie Olsen: I’ve found that there’s an audience for people who want that and so many people have messaged me and said, “I’ve made this recipe so many times for this party and for these people and everybody loves it,” and that is why I’m doing it is to … it’s the same reason I became a lawyer is, I want to help people and make people’s lives better. So, I tried to come back to that, it’s difficult when you see someone else doing so well seemingly for no reason but then, I come back and say they don’t have the same why as you. They have their own why and they are on their path, you are on yours and just remember who it is that you’re showing up for?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think that’s so great. I’ve talked about that with Lindsay, one of the big shifts that we’ve had in the last year and a half for me, is kind of switching to this parent company tiny bit. We have companies underneath and the question is why, we’ve talked a lot about that same thing and the more that I can remind myself like, we are here to help people and companies get a tiny bit better every day forever, it kind of allows some of the other stuff to fade a little bit. It’s not that it goes away, but the numbers, the growth, the revenue, followers, whatever it might be, that’s still important but not important if you lose the why behind it. There’s something like missional, almost about having a really clear why to come back to and to say, “Hey, even if I don’t grow at all, if I’m still helping people do the thing that I want to do, there is success in that.”
Katie Olsen: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s been super helpful, kind of almost a mirror what you’ve said for us, as we’ve thought about why do we show up and do this every day and Lindsay talked about that with a Pinch of Yum. I’ve talked, I think before on the podcast about when Jimmy Fallon tripped. I don’t know if you remember this, but I’ve used two night host show references on this podcast, which we don’t like watch a lot of that, but he tripped and he caught his wedding ring on like a table and like his finger … do you remember this at all?
Katie Olsen: No.
Bjork Ostrom: His finger got ripped off, like not all the way. It sounded terrible but he got like stitched back on, he had to take this long break and he came back, and this was … we watched this monologue and he’s like, “I realized, this is what I do. I show up and I want to make people’s day a little bit better, and I want to give people the opportunity to laugh and to be entertained.” Lindsay talked about that and we’ve come back to that as like, for Pinch of Yum, we want to show up and make people’s day a little bit better and maybe to entertain them or to give them a little chance to escape from something. That’s been helpful as we’ve thought about, why are we doing this? What is the purpose of just like continually trying to grow something? Is it just for us? If it does, that kind of becomes anti-motivating at some point.
Katie Olsen: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: So I really love the thoughts that you have around that and can really resonate with a lot of what you’ve said there. How about this, if you were to go back and you were to … if you press the reset button, what are the things that you’ve learned over the past five years, as you’ve been working on your site that have been most important for the success of it, it’s almost like a little bit of a switch away from the why to the concrete, like, “Hey, you’ve been able to grow traffic to a point where you can get accepted by an ad network. You’ve been able to have like sponsored content opportunities, even if you’re not interested in them. You’re able to create enough income from your site, for like, hey, this would be a thing.”
Bjork Ostrom: What were the things that were most helpful along the way as you were growing and building your site to get you to that point and if you’re going to try and replicate that as quickly as possible, if everything else went away, what would you do?
Katie Olsen: Yeah, So I think, what helped me grow to the point where I could qualify for Mediavine, which I think that the threshold is different now from what it was when I qualified, but it’s the same idea, is that I focused on … I mean, it’s similar, I focused on the kind of recipes that I wanted to create, which was these sort of smaller batch and streamlined recipes, that I wanted to see, that I didn’t see anyone else creating like a brownie recipe that tasted just as good as the box mix, but that you could make in a half hour with some simple ingredients. I didn’t see that anywhere. I saw a bunch of really complicated like Dominique Ansel brownies, but I didn’t see like a very simple, excellent brownie recipe that was created quickly.
Katie Olsen: So I created that, and I just continued doing that in a bunch of different categories of baking, just things that inspired me, recipes that I wanted to see like all these single layer cake recipes, I have a ton of different flavor varieties of it, because that is what I noticed was resonating with people. I would create … like the first one I did was like a single layer chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and that one, like people really responded to it. So then I said, “Okay, well, people seem to like this. I like it too. I’m going to create more single layer cake recipes because I have a birthday coming up. My friend has a birthday coming up. I’ll create it a new one for that occasion, and then I’ll post it on the blog.” I just lived my life and made the recipes that fit into that, and that I saw, were starting to resonate with people.
Katie Olsen: Then it grew even further, and I guess you could call that niching down. It’s not exactly a niche but it became a focus. At the very beginning of my blog, I didn’t really have a focus like that, because I didn’t realize that that’s exactly what I was doing.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Katie Olsen: It’s sort of like when … like, in high school, when you were writing like a five paragraph essay, and you had to have a thesis statement, I would always write the thesis statement last because it helped me writing the whole essay before I would realize what the thesis was. So I didn’t realize until a couple of years in at least, that my thesis for my blog is small batch, simple yet sophisticated recipes.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: That sort of became kind of the guidepost of how I create all of my new content, once I realized that that’s what the thesis was. I had some other things like I created some dinner recipes, and some brunch recipes and things that didn’t fit into that thesis and those didn’t do as well. They did okay, but like they didn’t do as well. So, I really had to figure out and hone the message, that that is the common thread running through all of these recipes. That was what … once I finally leaned into that, that is what really drove the growth because people know what to expect from you and they know that there is a common thread among all of those recipes.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, it’s like they know what to expect from you. You know what content you can and can’t do. I think it also simplifies the content creation process, even though the focus is more narrow, I think decisions become easier because you know this … even though I love a huge deep dish pizza, that’s not what I’m going to do and maybe you’ll do like a smaller version of that or adjust to fit it within your focus, but you know where the boundaries are. The other thing that you said that I think is really wise, is you’re aware of what was working, and you kind of double down on that. So, you have this success with a cheap cake and you do that again but a variation of it, and I have a follow up question on that.
Bjork Ostrom: The third thing that I want to point out that I think is a good takeaway with what you’re talking about is, because you’re not doing this full time, you’re thinking strategically, how do I build this into what is already happening in my life, so you have like a friend’s birthday coming up, you’re probably going to make a cake for them anyways. Bonus, if you can then make it, document it, bring it to this party, it’s a strategy around how the life puzzle and side hustle puzzle and work puzzle all fit together, because I think that’s another piece of that, is people feeling overwhelmed. How do I do all of this stuff and make time for it and one of the ways is trying to double up on the purpose of something.
Bjork Ostrom: So it’s a cake for your friend’s birthday and it’s a cake for the blog as well, which is awesome. To go back to doubling down on something that was working, how are you tracking with that? Were you looking in Google Analytics? Was it like just positive comments on the blog, kind of a gut feel or is it more like metrics based around what was working and what wasn’t?
Katie Olsen: It was based on Google Analytics, just seeing what posts did the best in any given month and then, also, Instagram was a big part of it because Instagram had been part of my strategy from the beginning. That was what I created before I even had the website. So, seeing what performed well on Instagram, and what people were excited about was a lot of what drove my decisions for making future content.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Yeah, I think that’s so smart. There’s a couple times … I think it was like a sweet potato skin recipe or something like that and then, Lindsay was like, “Oh, this is like 2012, super early. This works. We should do this again. What are the different variations of it? Can we make a version with different topping or whatever,” which just as of today, published kind of a similar baked potato recipe on Pinch of Yum. So, it comes back around, eight years, nine years later, we’re still kind of impacted by that.
Katie Olsen: You know what else on pinch of yum that I make all the time that like, I don’t think anyone would ever think is a runaway success, but it’s so good is that detox lentil soup you guys have?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Katie Olsen: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve made that and it’s such like a simple, maybe you would think a boring thing, but that was one of the best things I’ve ever had in my life and I make it all the time.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s so great, all credit due to Lindsay. Sometimes I get roped into like these recipes that are awesome. People are like, “You guys have this awesome recipe.” I’m like, “I have nothing to do enjoy with it. I only get to enjoy it-”
Katie Olsen: I’m just the eater of these things.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, exactly. Chief Tasting Officer. So what’s next, when you look ahead for your site, the things that you’re kind of excited about or maybe you want to focus on, opportunities that you think might exist, do you have any thoughts around that?
Katie Olsen: Yeah, I think, continuing to follow, what it seems like people are looking for and gravitating towards is a big thing, because I think a lot of food bloggers do create recipes that they think are really unique, and that no one has ever done before, but sometimes that winds up being really esoteric and-
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, strange. Yeah.
Katie Olsen: No one’s ever actually going to make that and that’s not the kind of stuff I want to create. I want to create real recipes that people are actually going to make this weekend for their friends and family. There’s something kind of intangible about that. It’s hard to predict what people are going to love and what they’re not, but there’s something really visceral, that happens when people connect with the idea of a recipe and it’s hard to capture that every time, but that’s what I tried to do is think about what is my favorite cookie? Okay, it’s like a peanut butter cookie. How can I create the best and easiest possible peanut butter cookie ever? I have a feeling that other people are going to want to try that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Katie Olsen: I’m not trying to make the best, organic, super healthy peanut butter cookie ever because some people might want to make that but what’s going to have appeal to more people and what’s going to appeal to their kind of … the nostalgic feeling that they wanted. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah.
Katie Olsen: That’s what I’ve found has connected best with people and they can use organic peanut butter and flour, whatever, if they want to but they don’t have to and trying to be approachable, basically and I think … Go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, I think one of the things that we think about with Pinch of Yum is like, where are people grocery shopping and what’s going to be available where they go somewhere?
Katie Olsen: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: We grew up in a small town in Northern Minnesota. If people go to Super Target, are they going to have this? Maybe, maybe not. We kind of use that as a filtering mechanism and I kind of hear you saying similar things with that.
Katie Olsen: That’s exactly right. I’m not trying to use like Valrhona chocolate and like Maldon sea salts, and no offense to the people who do but not everybody has that and not everybody is going to want to buy that. I want my recipes to be accessible to everyone and the old kind of byline I used to use on my blog was if you can read, you can bake, which was something that was an adaptation of what my grandma always used to say, was if you can read and cook and I think that it’s really true, and that’s what I tried to guide my new content based on, is what would someone who has very little experience with baking, how would they approach this recipe and what questions would they have, and how can I kind of word my content so that they will understand what they need to do.
Katie Olsen: That also helps with SEO and Google and things is … one of the big shifts is going towards answering questions that people might have, before they even ask them and that helps you in the search results and it also just helps you create really helpful content, which is what Google is trying to get.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Right. One of the things I love about what you just said was the fact that its content focused. It’s not like, I’m going to try this little trendy hack or this thing that’s changing. It’s like, “Hey, here’s the content that I’m focusing on.” That’s the main thing and the main driver behind all of it and I think it’s an important reminder, like that’s … in the publishing world, it’s all about content. All of those other things are great, they’re multipliers, but if you don’t have that core content and kind of excellence, and being excellence minded around that, then none of the tips or tricks around it are going to matter.
Katie Olsen: Yeah, we can talk about tips and tricks all we want but the truth is, and as we’re seeing right now, we don’t own Instagram, that’s not a platform that we own. All we own is our website and that’s all we can really control is the content that we create, and how that goes out into the world and you can try to cross promote it on Instagram or TikTok or Pinterest, but you don’t actually have control over how those platforms then use it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, yeah, and such a great reminder, part of it is diversification. Hey, Not a bad thing to use those platforms because they just don’t come to rely on them too much. They can change it anytime, right? So you get good at photos and it changes to video, you get good a video and it changes to Reels on Instagram. Pinterest algorithm changes, they go public. Suddenly they want to make more money. All of these different things change and shift, so the skill almost becomes how do you become an expert in creating in good engaging content and then being aware of the shifts on the different platforms, insofar as you can use your ability to create good content in the form factor that works or in the form factor that you’re just going to continue to do but on your own space.
Bjork Ostrom: On your site or maybe email? In the space, it’s a little bit more controlled, not completely controlled because there’s Google algorithms, there’s even like email filters and different labels and things like that, but all of this is insightful, actionable and inspiring. I know people are going to have potentially follow up questions. They’re going to follow along, want to follow along with what you’re up to. We’ll talk about … I don’t think we actually named your site at the beginning. I’ll talk about it in the intro, but can you talk about your site and where people can follow you online?
Katie Olsen: Yes. So my website is Katiebirdbakes.com and I’m Katiebird Bakes on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, all of those things.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome and the name comes from?
Katie Olsen: It’s actually … so my name is Katie Olsen but my friends in college, my nickname, they called me Katie Bird.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice.
Katie Olsen: That nickname has kind of stuck around ever since then. So that’s where it came from.
Bjork Ostrom: Good. People just call you bird.
Katie Olsen: Yeah, they do.
Bjork Ostrom: Have we connected long enough where I could next time I see you, I would be like “Bird.”
Katie Olsen: Yeah, absolutely. My husband calls me that all the time and so with all my friends. So I answer to it.
Bjork Ostrom: Perfect. Sounds good. Katie, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. It’s really fun to chat.
Katie Olsen: Thank you. It’s been great.
Bjork Ostrom: Another big thank you to Katie for coming on and sharing her story. I hope that you were able to take away some actionable items or even some inspiration from hearing Katie talk about how she views working on her blog and the different types of income that can come from that, it’s not just financial. There’s lots of other benefits that can come from doing this creative work and a lot of times people find it to be an outlet. Something that helps them do their normal full time job and enjoy that more, because they also have this creative outlet that they’re able to come back to and bonus, if it’s able to also produce some income on top of that. So thanks for tuning in. If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to this podcast in whatever podcast app you listen to these. Maybe some of you even listen on the website.
Bjork Ostrom: We embed this in the show notes. If that’s you, you can jump over to Spotify or the Mac or Apple podcast app, and you can subscribe there. So you get notified every time we push a new episode out. We also have the video for these that are edited and published to the Food Blogger Pro YouTube channel. So you can check that out, Youtube.com/foodbloggerpro and subscribe there. More than anything, just want to let you know that we really appreciate you tuning in each and every week. It makes a difference and like Katie talked about, the why behind this is so important and we want to do this in order to help you get a tiny bit better every day forever. That’s why we exist. Until next week. Hope you have a great week and we’ll check you later. Thanks.