079: How Finding a Unique Niche Led to YouTube Success with Lauren Toyota from Hot For Food

Welcome to episode 79 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week, Bjork interviews Lauren Toyota from Hot for Food about how she grew her YouTube following.

Last week Bjork interviewed Chris Davis from Automation Bridge about using marketing automation and building a sales funnel. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How Finding a Unique Niche Led to YouTube Success

When starting (or running) a business, it can be tempting to look at what other successful people have done and try to do the same thing. If they were successful doing this, then you should be, too, right?

While that scenario sometimes plays out, oftentimes you just become another fish in a sea of fish that are all doing the same thing. Lauren Toyota from Hot for Food found her success by diving into a newer niche and producing content in a way that no one else had done before. And it worked – she amassed just about 200k followers in just one year on YouTube. Today she’s here to talk about how it all went down.

In this episode, Lauren shares:

  • How she was able to achieve her teenage career dream
  • What goals she had when starting her blog
  • What her typical day looks like
  • How she started doing YouTube videos
  • What inspired her popular Recipe? segment
  • How they set up their lighting & audio
  • How their social following helped grow their YouTube channel
  • How an MCN helped her monetize her channel
  • How brand partnerships work with Hot for Food

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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode we’re talking to Lauren Toyota from Hot For Food. She’s going to be sharing about what it was like to interview Justin Bieber, growing her YouTube subscriber base to over 200,000 in one year and one of the most important relationships she has when it comes to working with brands. Hello, hello everybody. This is Bjork Ostrom and coming to you today with a really fun interview with Lauren Toyota from Hot for Food.

Lauren has a background in TV and she used that background in TV to transition into building her own YouTube channel. A lot of people have this idea of building a YouTube channel, but few are able to do it as successfully as Lauren was able to do it. She’s going to be sharing about what it was like previously, how she used some of the skills and ability she has from the TV world, applied that to YouTube, some of the things that she had to learn that she didn’t know before and some tips and tricks for really leaning into building a YouTube channel and some of the things that she learned along the way, including how she was able to build up to 200,000 subscribers in just one year and one of the most important relationships she has when it comes to working with brands and creating an income. She’s going to share that at the end of the podcast interview. This is a really fun one. Let’s go ahead and jump in. Lauren, welcome to the podcast.

Lauren Toyota: Hello Bjork. How are you?

Bjork Ostrom: I’m doing great. Hey, thanks so much for coming on. I’m super excited to talk to you for a number of reasons. One of them is because I’m so curious to know, as I was looking through your different channels as well as researching your experience, one of the things that I saw was all of these interviews that you had done when you worked in traditional TV, it was celebrities. It was Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift and Drake and 50 Cent and all of these people. What was that like to do that? You did that for almost 10 years, is that right?

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. Well, I guess. I worked in television for about 10 years. I started interviewing artists maybe about eight months into my first TV job, so yeah, probably nine years I’ve been interviewing people. I’ve interviewed a lot of different people. It was what I always wanted to do. As a teenager, growing up, watching Much Music, that’s what I wanted to do for a job.

It’s pretty crazy that I actually made it happen. It was so fascinating to me to talk to these people because I was always such a big music fan and I remember going to meet and greets in stores and going to meet bands and wanting to meet my favorite artists and take pictures with them and stuff. I was such a fan. It was cool to then just be on the other side and get to talk to them about … I always wanted to talk to them about more than just the record, you know?

I tried to do that as much as I could, especially near the end. Sometimes it proved more difficult because people just don’t want to open up to the press, but I tried and I thought I was a pretty good interviewer. I really liked doing it. I felt like just being kind of a people person and somehow, I wasn’t like this before, but somehow being able to talk to people. When I was younger that wasn’t how I was. I was very shy.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things that you had said that I’m curious to know and I think this probably will tie into what you’re doing now because it’s a mindset kind of thing I would assume, but you said I’m really glad or I’m happy that I was able to make that happen. I’m curious to know specific to transitioning into this kind of first phase of your career, what did that look like? How did you make it happen? What were the steps that you took?

Lauren Toyota: How I made the blogging kind of thing happen?

Bjork Ostrom: No, I’m curious to know first your transition into doing TV and interviewing artists and being involved with music. I think that would probably, a similar mindset would apply as you transitioned into doing your blog and your YouTube channel. First curious to know specific to artists and interviewing and TV.

Lauren Toyota: Well, that mindset that you talk about really, and I only know this now with hindsight, like with having done it and realized kind of how I did make it happen, that mindset really is a visualization. Keeping what you want in the forefront of your mind as if it’s going to happen no matter what. That is actually what I did. As a teenager growing up I was very focused on being an adult. I wanted to be an adult and I wanted to have a job and be taken seriously. I didn’t know what that thing would be.

Then when I started watching Much Music it just sort of was in me. I didn’t tell anybody, but inside of me was like I want to do this. I can do this. I want to talk to people and I want to make people who feel kind of awkward and shy like me, I want to make them feel included or accepted or something like that. I thought there was an interesting community around just that relationship you had with an on-air person, more specifically a Much Music DJ because they were so real.

I wanted that and I just visualized it. I didn’t tell anyone. My parents had no clue this was what I wanted to do and only one of my friends knew. I just visualized it every single day. I envisioned myself doing the job, doing that job. That’s really the only way I could say it actually happened because I never gave up. I never said, like a lot of people said, “That’s impossible. Why would you get picked to be a VJ out of all the people in Canada?” I had a lot of people give you that kind of attitude of like, “That’s crazy.” I just didn’t believe them.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel like to transition that to building your YouTube channel, one of the stats that I looked at was you launched your blog Hot for Food in February 2014, is that right?

Lauren Toyota: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Then a year after that the YouTube channel?

Lauren Toyota: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Within a year grew it to over 200,000 people, which is a really short time period to build that up. It’s almost 1,000 people a day. At some points I’m sure that it was, that were coming on as subscribers. Did you apply that same type of mindset where you’re envisioning okay, now that I know that I’m doing this career shift I’m going to start to build a following in this niche? Did you envision that in the same way that you did becoming a VJ?

Lauren Toyota: I would say not as specifically. I specifically envisioned myself on television interviewing my favorite artists as a Much Music VJ. With this whole Hot for Food thing I didn’t really have a specific vision. I didn’t have the pre-vision of doing YouTube and being a YouTube creator or dare I say YouTube star. That wasn’t a vision. That wasn’t something I even wanted to do. I thought YouTube was not the platform for me having come from broadcast and network TV.

I envisioned a lot of different things, so it wasn’t so specific and it wasn’t so almost stubborn as it was when I was a kid. It was a lot more just kind of open to whatever it was going to be. I got rid of all the boundaries and I said, “Whatever this is going to be, I’m going with it. I want it to be successful, I envision myself being sort of a source of information or an inspiration or an aspirational person in the community, but I don’t know how I’m going to do that and I don’t know where it’s going to take me. It was more like that.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). When you say within the community, is that within the YouTube community or specific with vegan food or both?

Lauren Toyota: It was more the vegan community. I really wanted to make a difference in the vegan community in terms of bringing a different attitude toward it, bringing a different approachability, bringing a different look to the content that I had never really seen as someone who became vegan and thought it was kind of lame. I didn’t want to be lame.

That might be rude to say, but I just didn’t see it as very modern or progressive until more recently when I started doing my stuff and I started finding, as I started doing it I started finding more people who were on the same page as me kind of. Now you’re seeing a lot of really great, amazing plant-based or vegan food content out there. It’s so cool. I just feel like I am part of that now. That is what I wanted, I just didn’t really know how I was going to do it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things that you had said there and I’m curious to hear a little bit more about is you had said you didn’t think necessarily that YouTube was the best place for you to transition too, especially after being in a traditional TV setting. I’m curious to know, obviously your experience with TV is a huge skill that you’ve developed and taken over, but I’m guessing that there’s also a lot of things that you didn’t do before that now you had to do.

Before you were the personality so you’d show up, maybe you’d have questions and a little bit prepared, but it’s not like you were behind the camera or figuring out editing or something like that. I’m curious to know, two-part question, what are the things that you learned that have been most helpful as you’ve built your YouTube channel? Then what are the things that you had to learn that you didn’t have to do before?

Lauren Toyota: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s interesting because when I first got into television I thought I was being hired as a host or a personality and it ended up becoming a bit of a producer job as well. Everybody who worked on the first TV show I did had to host their own segments and produce their own segments.

I didn’t edit on Final Cut or Adobe physically, but I did have to paper editing. That’s like an old school thing. Well, maybe they still do that in news, but you take all your footage, you digitize it. It’s all time coded and then you put on paper every clip you want so you have a vision for an edit, but you don’t actually physically edit it.

I had that background and I learned that quite early on in my TV career. That of course is a skill that developed over the years working in television and became very helpful now, as I do edit my own content.

Bjork Ostrom: To interject there, how is that helpful? What are some of the things that you learned then that you’re applying now that make it maybe more efficient or help you to create a better end product?

Lauren Toyota: Well, it’s funny because editing I think can come with practice, but in terms of timing and putting bits of video footage together in a dynamic way, I think in some way that’s sort of an innate skill.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s an art in a lot of ways.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah, I mean I don’t want to call myself an artist. I’m not. Like an artist creating something where you just sort of let it sort of flow through you, but you have a sense of what looks good and what sounds good.

Bjork Ostrom: I want to say I think you are an artist. That’s a huge art. It’s pacing, it’s rhythm, it’s communication. I think that’s an art. Maybe not in like a painting sense, but …

Lauren Toyota: I always think an artist sounds so serious, but yeah. No, you’re right. That’s something I always had because I remember again, watching Much Music I used to think I wanted to direct or produce music videos because I just loved listening to music and then thinking of visuals to go with it. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed. Now I really like that aspect of putting together food content where I put together the food shots to go with music and I just love that timing of it all.

I did get to exercise that a bit at the beginning of my TV career and so it’s very helpful now. I had to learn how to use an actual editing program. I use Adobe Premiere. That has just been a bit of a learning curve over the last couple of years, learning how to use more of its capability. Because I think editing, sometimes you can show someone how to edit, but then it comes down to, like we said, that creative aspect or that vision that you have for something and kind of just knowing what works.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, there’s a technical side to it and then there’s also more of the look and feel side to it. You can show somebody how to split a clip, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to do it in the right spot.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. You can’t really teach that. Then again it’s also so subjective. Somebody might like a slower paced thing and someone else might like a faster paced thing. It is cool how you can just play around with that stuff. Yeah, I feel like I’m very fortunate because of how I sort of grew within broadcasting because I was kind of even forced to have to become more than just a host. I always had to produce on the fly. Everything was always very collaborative with the crew, the very small crews I would work with. It was just me and a camera guy so I was basically producing the segment at the same time along with the camera person.

Every time I had to do any segment, whether it was an interview or anything, I always had to have an overall big picture vision for what the end result would be. I think that’s an important thing to either develop or exercise as someone who works in digital content. You have to have a vision for the end piece, you know? Because again, it’s that working towards something. You’re like, “I don’t really know how I’m going to do this, but this is what I want it to look like.”

Bjork Ostrom: In a sense starting with the end in mind.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah, always. That’s something I did before and I still have to do today with Hot for Food.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that something that you’re thinking about and visualizing and saying okay, in my mind I have this idea of what it will be or are you going through a formal process of writing down here are the three shots I want to make sure and get?

Lauren Toyota: Oh yeah, it’s never a formal process. It’s so cool because also working on my own and doing this Hot for Food thing has been the most creative I’ve ever gotten to be because I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do. I didn’t have anybody telling me what their vision was. It was always like in television it was like everyone always had different visions and then you had to compromise on the end result. With this it’s just whatever comes to my mind I have now the freedom to make.

It’s never formal. I always say I’m not much of a planner even though I kind of am. I know what the recipe is going to be and I kind of picture what I want the food to look like, but then I really just try to be in the moment when I’m making it and then styling it and then shooting it. I really just try to again, it is like I guess the same way an artist … Artists always say this. From my music experience, “I don’t know how the song got written. It writes itself.” Michael Jackson says that.

It’s a spiritual sort of thing. It’s weird when you’re being creative, if you just let it happen you’re like, “How did I do that?” You don’t really know. It’s sort of like that. That sounds weird, but …

Bjork Ostrom: No, I think that makes sense. I think part of what it is for those artists, I think probably earlier in their careers they would be able to say, “Here are the things that I do to get from point A to point B with a song,” because it has to be more intentional, but I think as you develop a skill or a craft or anything, as you put the time in, it absorbs into who you are a little bit more.

I think probably writing is the same way where when somebody sits down to write something, those that are really skilled at writing know that they have to be intentional, like sit down and do the work, but probably can’t explain, and here are the three things I do to get from point A to point B. There’s a little bit of ambiguity to it that’s hard to explain that I think comes from, I would assume, lots and lots of practice of doing it.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the questions that I had for you is about what does a typical shoot look like for you? I’ll even zoom back a little bit further, what does a typical day look like for you? I think that’s one of the things that people are so curious to know about for people that are doing work like this full-time, how do you manage your day and structure it knowing that there’s so many different things that you have to do?

Lauren Toyota: Yeah, it’s again, a little bit of planning ahead. I have this calendar that has all these little sticky notes that are color-coded on it. It’s just a visual for me to go okay, that’s due here, that’s due here, that’s due here or I have to go to this here. Why don’t you talk to this person here for a podcast, or whatever it might be. Everything is on this calendar.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s analog I’m guessing because you said sticky notes, so it’s like an actual, physical calendar? I like the idea of that. Everything I do is so digital, but I really like the idea of being able to look at something and seeing an overarching view of it, just having it present.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. It’s helped me a lot because I’ve tried doing it digitally, but I just found I wasn’t looking at it because you already have a bunch of windows open on your computer and the calendar just gets buried. I wasn’t looking at it and keeping track so I liked just to be able to glance over and see again, what am I working towards? Okay, got to edit that piece, I’ve got to edit that piece.

There are things that I know I have to do and there are a lot of things that just come up throughout the day. It’s never really the same. I would say the most popular of the days are the days when I’m just literally in my pajamas still the whole day and I’ve sent nine, 10 hours editing. I feel like that’s the most common day that occurs because shooting is great and shooting is fun, but I feel editing takes way longer. Then not only editing, but the uploading time of getting a video on YouTube and then making sure it’s tagged and written the description and everything is linked. That stuff is what takes the most time. I feel like on more days than not that’s what I’m doing. It’s not really that exciting when you say that out loud. It’s not the glamorous part, but that’s the part that gets it out there.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I remember somebody talking about the story of Facebook, so the movie The Social Network, and they were talking about how inaccurate it is because what it doesn’t show is the 10,000 hours that Mark Zuckerberg is sitting at his computer typing code. Which is so uninspiring and would never make it into a movie.

I think the same could be said for building something online, whether it’s a blog or a YouTube channel or a social media following, the daily grind. There’s so much of a grind. With video obviously it’s editing. There could be photographs and taking pictures, but I think that’s important for people to hear because that’s a reality. How many videos are you doing each week? I know that you have two channels, and so are you publishing to both of those? Is that like every day of the week on a certain day you’re publishing to those different channels? If so, what is the frequency?

Lauren Toyota: Yeah, so for Hot for Food it’s been weekly every Wednesday the whole time we’ve had that channel, which was manageable once a week. To do any more than that I think would just have been too much. We wouldn’t have been able to keep up. We would have had to cut back to one again.

Then with my channel, which I started last summer, I started off blogging six days a week and that became too much after three months. Then I reduced it to three days a week. For almost a year I’ve been three days a week on my channel and one a week on Hot for Food. Four a week. That’s a lot of editing.

Then on top of that I post one or two times on Instagram for Hot for Food. I’m able to schedule Twitter and Facebook which is great, although I try to be consistent with it, but I’m not because it’s just sort of like when I have a window of time I’m like, “Oh please schedule some posts.” Same with Pinterest. Actually scheduling Pinterest has been a lifesaver. I didn’t even know about this till this year and someone told me about Tailwind, so I started scheduling Pinterest posts to drive traffic to HotforFoodBlog.com. That was very helpful.

Yeah, that’s mainly all I’m kind of outputting. Other than knowing I have to get those edits out, everything else sort of flows around that. I find posting to Instagram is not too time consuming. It’s just I find it easy. I do it in the moment. I don’t over think it. I’m just like this is what I need to post today. Oh, it’s National Taco Day? Okay. Quick, download a taco photo. Post it. I find that comes very naturally to me. It’s not a lot of work.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. When you’re doing that content specific on the video side, are you doing that in real time where maybe you’ll shoot on a Sunday and then post on a Wednesday? Or do you have a decent queue where you say I have one month of content and I’m going to finish the edit that I need to do in three or four weeks and publish it then?

Lauren Toyota: Well, shooting Hot for Food videos, the recipe content, I’m usually three weeks ahead on shooting, but I don’t necessarily edit it until about three days before posting. I have to shoot ahead because John, my partner, John Deemer, he shoots those recipe videos for me. We’re trying to shoot and get ahead as often as we can. He owns his own business and is very busy so whenever he has a day off we’re like, “Shoot a video.”

Like yesterday we shot a video, but it won’t be posted until October 19th. I have to keep ahead on Hot for Food a bit, especially with seasonal and holidays and stuff like that, like knowing what I need to create. Whereas my other channel is very free flowing. Sometimes two days or one day before I’m like, “What’s my blog going to be? I don’t know.” Then I just show what I ate.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so need a little bit more lead time on the food side whereas more of the lifestyle, day to day it can be a little bit more spontaneous.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. I’ve needed to keep that spontaneous so that it can just be, I guess so that it can just come off as realistic. I don’t really want to do, I don’t know, a lot of planned content for that channel. I would find that too stressful as well anyways. Some of it has to be. I’ve done some more planned things, but I try to keep it very immediate.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. When you’re doing a shoot, so with Hot for Food it’s usually you and John. What does the setup look like? Are you using artificial lights? Do you have one camera, multiple cameras that you use? Curious to know and I think the listeners would be curious to know as well in terms of what that actually looks like, the nitty gritty of a shoot.

Lauren Toyota: Yes. When we first started we didn’t want to be in the videos. We wanted to just do those hands dump and stir style videos, which is what we did. That was one camera. We still have one camera, but we have a Cannon 70D and a tripod. We have a road mic that goes on top. That was all we did with a tile or a wood backdrop on the floor. I would make everything on the floor or with a hotplate or whatever in the middle of the living room with natural light.

Natural light coming from one direction because I like that. It’s the same as our photos. We just did that. Those were actually quite easy. Once we got the hang of it those were really quite easy to create.

Bjork Ostrom: What was the reason for making the switch? I think it makes sense. Those are a little bit easier. You’re not in it. You don’t maybe have to get ready in the same way. You could even potentially stay in your pajamas if you’re in pajamas. What was the reason for wanting to switch from doing those hand type recipe videos to really placing an emphasis on the two of you as personalities and characters in the video?

Lauren Toyota: Well, at the beginning I didn’t want to be on camera because I didn’t like what I had seen on YouTube when people host things and do cooking videos. I just found it very … I thought you have to be so templated on YouTube. I thought there was a format or I had started to start seeing a bit of a format to YouTube videos and I was like, “I don’t like these. I don’t want to make those.”

I hadn’t quite wrapped my head around how I would do my own if I was going to be on camera. Then one day I just tried it. I just turned the camera on. John wasn’t even around. I started making up a recipe on camera with all the leftovers in my fridge. I just started mouthing off and kind of just being a lot more crass than I would have been on TV, a little bit more sarcastic and just really being more myself, and it was terrible, but it was the first time I ever did a cooking video hosted.

I put it up and it was really well received. Then everyone started saying, other people who were encouraging us to keep doing YouTube, they were like, “Everyone just wants personality on YouTube. That’s what it’s all about.” I was like, “Yeah, I know, but I just don’t know if that’s what I want to show.” I don’t know. I was a bit hesitant.

Then I just realized who cares what everyone else is doing. I’m just going to say what I want to say and do what I want to do. I quickly just sort of found my way back as an on camera person, but talking about something else. Getting to actually say a lot more than I ever did on television because of the time constraint you have with network TV and also just if I wanted to change the way people perceived vegan, then I needed to talk about those exact things directly.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. I think that people have a really good authenticity meter and if they can sense that you’re being authentic which like when I watch videos of you processing through stuff whether it’s on your Learn in Real Life channel or the Hot for Food channel, it feels very authentic and I think people connect with that. What I hear you saying is in some ways it’s releasing a little bit of this thought that it has to be this certain type thing and moving into this authenticity in the type of content that you’re creating. That feeling pretty good for you and then publishing that and then realizing oh, it feels good to other people as well and they engage in it and are interested in it.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. I think there was also just a bit of fear about how I would be perceived on that platform. I guess because I was only used to putting myself out there on social media, which still is a little bit of distance and then having people … I really though well, no one’s going to watch this. Anyone who knows me from television isn’t going to watch this, so what am I going to be perceived as just as this new person talking about vegan food?

I think there was a bit of fear of putting myself out there for that. Anyways, after the first time I did it, then that became kind of a segment we added to, so we had our hands sort of dump and stir videos. I did this thing I call Recipe which was me being kind of a brat to people who always ask me for recipes on the internet. I was like, “There’s no recipe for this. I just made it.” Or “I’m at a restaurant, I don’t know what the recipe is.” Everyone writes “Recipe?!” in the comments of my Instagram.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, which then is a new segment.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah, it became a segment and actually is one of our more popular things now because people like seeing how I make stuff from scratch and they feel encouraged to cook which is what I always actually wanted to do and what I wrote on our blog all the time was, “I want people to learn how to cook.” Whether it’s something basic like a soup, like you need to have a few recipes that you know how to make. I think cooking is so empowering because you have to feed yourself. That’s the perfect outlet for which to inspire people to cook and figure things out on their own.

Anyways, it became a series and then we also added this challenge series. I don’t know how we decided one day John and I were going to make two different things and do this competition. I literally don’t even know where that idea started to come from other than the fact that I think we were kind of like that already in the kitchen. Like when we go to make dinner together he would always be like, “I want to do it this way,” and I’d be like, “No, I want to do it this way.” I think that’s where that came from.

Bjork Ostrom: To go back to, just to make sure because I’m curious about this and I know other people will be as well, you had these kind of dump and stir videos as you describe. I think people get that. You had the tripod, the camera, natural light. Eventually you evolve into these videos that are a little bit more involved, right? It’s the two of you, you probably have some mics that you need or you need some type of audio.

Then you’re getting multiple shots of the food as well. What did that look like as you kind of evolved? Did you start to use more equipment? Did that make the editing more involved as well? What did that look like?

Lauren Toyota: Yeah, so that first video I posted the recipe, that was just me with the road mic again. No lap mic, no lighting, natural light. We used to just keep the natural light even when the two of us were on camera. Looking back now it’s so dark. You can’t see anything, but we made it work. Then it evolved. We got just two LED panels, 1 x 1 LED panels on stands. We bought a bit of a lighting kit. That made a world of difference. We were like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe we were ever shooting with natural light.”

Bjork Ostrom: I can see the food now. I can actually see what it is.

Lauren Toyota: It’s so funny because in our old space the window was super far away from the kitchen so we’re just trying to get the, we’d be like “Okay, we have three hours to shoot when the daylight’s really good.” Other than that it would mess us up. Okay, so John is an audio engineer. His business is he does post and field audio in TV and film, so he has all great audio equipment. He actually labs us up and has the whole kit for that.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. When you say labs you up, for those who aren’t familiar, one of the little clip on mics that you gave that gives you the close audio.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. This is the other funny thing because John, this is his profession so he’s really good at hiding the mics as well. You’ll always see people with their clip on mic and it hangs off their shirt. It drives him insane because on TV …

Bjork Ostrom: That would be me for sure. Whenever we do one it’s always like, “Oh, just clip it there.” Yeah.

Lauren Toyota: It’s anybody. We used to even do that on television too. We’d never hide the mics, but when you come from that world of working on TV film where you have to hide the microphones, on a movie you don’t see people with clips. John’s really good at hiding the microphones. It’s not a lot of setup. He just uses medical tape and he tapes it to us and puts it under my bra and whatever. People don’t think we’re using mics because they don’t see them. They’re like, “Where do you get this great audio?” It’s because John is using his really expensive equipment for that.

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting. Even a little tip that I had never thought of, I had always thought oh, you need to clip it onto something, but the idea that no, you don’t necessarily need to clip it. You could also tape it onto something. It’s like oh, of course.

Lauren Toyota: I’m giving away all the secrets. He has instead of a clip, you run the little mic, the little tiny microphone through a flat piece that’s almost like a piece of rubber and it sits in there. Then that piece of rubber gets taped to snot tape and that snot tape gets taped to medical tape on my skin.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh sure. That is essentially it’s like the really strong tape is attached to the rubber, which is then attached to medical tape so then it doesn’t hurt when you take it off.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. The strong tape is called snot tape. It’s almost like sticky tack. It’s like really sticky gluey stuff, so that’s what you uses to stick it under any type of garment or even a think silk top or anything that someone might be wearing on a TV show he’s working on. He can hide it that way. We’ve been doing that since the beginning once the two of us ended up on camera. We’ve been using this rod mics.

Then because sound is so important to John, that’s why we got the road mic which is what attaches to the top of Cannon camera. It’s very, I don’t know, it’s a really good directional mic so it would pick up all the great sound effects when we did those dump and stir videos. We’d keep that ambient sound in there. We’d make sure we weren’t talking. We’d make sure the air conditioning was turned off so it could pick up all the little stirs and the swishes of the liquid or whatever. I really liked adding that into the videos because I felt like no one had really done that. There’s all the Buzzfeed videos and stuff like that, but they were just silent with super loud music.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so I think that’s helpful. The audio too is so important especially if you’re going to be in the video, but even to think about the ambient noise like you talked about being an important thing, it’s like all of those little things add up to having a high quality video, which I think is a really good reminder for people that are getting into it. It’s not just the video, but it’s the audio. Which is part of the reason why video is so hard, right? There’s so many different components that go into it.

One of the things, I was kind of looking around here and I pulled up some other interviews that you had done and one of the interviews was just kind of a Q&A blog post. You had talked about when you first started Hot for Food that you were just kind of processing through changing over to a vegan diet, new recipes and things.

Then you said eventually you rebranded and relaunched with the intention of it becoming a full-time job or a business for yourself. I’m curious to know when you went through that rebrand and you relaunched, did you know at that point hey, I can build this into something that can be my full-time job? How did you find the inspiration for that and know that that could be something that you could do?

Lauren Toyota: I think it was just I saw other examples of people doing it. I knew, maybe not even specific examples, or yeah, even in entertainment I knew lifestyle bloggers. I knew people who are making money as bloggers. I was like, “Well, it seems a little late for that.” Part of me thought that. It seems a little late for that, but maybe I can figure it out quickly and maybe it can become …

I knew I could use my media background as sort of an additional thing. I was like, “Oh, I can go on talk shows and do cooking demos.” That actually is what I thought I could also do from the blog. I just had to get the blog to a really professional looking place and get it known and get people talking about it through social media in order for people to start taking me seriously as a vegan food expert.

The blog was a WordPress blog that looked terrible and I didn’t even touch for it a few years while I was working at Much Music. No one was looking at it. It wasn’t even a blog, but I had the domain name and that’s what I mean by that rebrand in February 2014 is I actually figured out how to make a nicer looking website. I got SquareSpace to do it. That was also when John and I had had a discussion after we had been dating for a little while and he became vegan right away, where I was like, “I think it would be really cute if it was Hot for Food and us together like a couple. We’re a vegan couple. We cook together in the kitchen. It’s just this cute image or whatever.”

He was like, “Yup.” Then that’s just how I relaunched it, like it’s Lauren and John together. I thought people would resonate it, plus I wanted the male perspective of eating vegan because there’s such a taboo around men and eating meat and stuff like that.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. One of the things that I think is interesting is you had the blog and then and you kind of transitioned and said a year later we’re going to kind of focus and lean into the YouTube channel and then really grew that. Curious for people that are looking to grow their YouTube or even their video following, wherever that might be, what were the things that you did in that first year that helped you to grow so quickly?

Lauren Toyota: Well, okay so the blog was doing okay and I also had an Instagram page. I felt like Instagram for me was easier to create than a blog. I didn’t want to put my recipes on Instagram because it seemed very fleeting, it seemed very impermanent. I didn’t just want to give away all my content on Instagram. I also thought well, Instagram is not monetizable going forward as its own thing, so I can’t just focus on Instagram. That’s why I also need to make a nice looking blog.

Then blogging was frustrating to me because I didn’t understand SEO. I only started putting ads on my site more recently, like within the last year because I didn’t understand any of the technical stuff for blogging. It kind of frustrated me. Plus I was like, “I don’t think people are looking at blogs as much,” so I was also like, “I need Instagram. I need the blog.” Because I put so much effort into building out that social platform, to building out Instagram, I think that helped when we launched our YouTube channel because we already had people following us.

I think it started to bring some traffic there, but at the same time I also know for a fact that our YouTube channel started growing, getting organic traffic, people who didn’t know us from Instagram or HotforFood.com. They were just on YouTube because that’s the only platform they really pay attention to.

I think our key thing for us was always we want high quality looking videos because we don’t think that really exists in the vegan space on YouTube, so we really want to hit people over the head with good looking food. For us it was just about this quality aspect and then I feel like that’s what brought people. They saw something different as well. They saw what I was trying to convey and they latched on.

I don’t know how people found our videos. I made sure I tagged everything the way they say, put all the keyword sin the tags and be consistent, post every week at the same time. That was something I thought was BS at the beginning, but it actually is not. You should do that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Lauren Toyota: I learned quickly, post every week at the same time. Now Wednesday people are excited about Wednesday. They know they’re getting Hot for Food content.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, much like a TV show, right?

Lauren Toyota: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: We have a channel and here’s when the TV show comes out. You know that you can sit down at 6PM and watch This Is Us or whatever. One of the things that I think is an important takeaway from that is that the content was foundational for you and I think so often what can happen is people can get caught up in tips or tactics or tricks and then forget about the actual content. It’s like the tips and the tricks and the advice is the frosting on the foundation of the cake, which is the content itself.

What I hear you saying is man, content was really important, to have that be really high quality, to do the things that people suggest like tagging and appropriate title tags and things like that and suggesting follows or whatever, but if it’s not good content then none of that stuff really matters.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, you put that a lot more succinctly than I did. I just cared about taking good photos and making the food look really food porny. On the blog too I just did what I would want to see. On blogs I don’t particularly like reading through a bunch of story before getting to a recipe, so I never did that. I just like photo, recipe, get in for what you came for.

I just always followed what I wanted to do. You’re right, I paid less attention to the best practices or all the how-to YouTube videos. I watched some of those and I was always like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” I would just ignore it. Even with thumbnails, that’s what I mean about YouTube started to feel very templated to me because everyone started doing the same things. You see those popular tag videos or everyone …

It’s fine. Certain people do the same videos. What’s a good example? The boyfriend tag or I don’t know, the similar templated type segments across all channels that you see and then very similar looking thumbnails across all channels. I was like, because I’m stubborn and I’m just like this, I’m always like, “I’m not going to do what everyone tells me to do or what I’m supposed to do. I’m just going to do what I want.”

I just made the thumbnails the way I wanted to make them. I was like I’m going to use the same font from our blog. I like branding. I like things to look nice and so, I don’t know, I just followed my heart on that stuff and it works out in your favor.

Bjork Ostrom: I think so. I think that it comes back to the authenticity piece. I think doing those best practice things doesn’t feel authentic, then that’s like well, questions about it. I think basic, like you said, is sticking true to who you are. Maybe you can do some of those best practice stuff if it feels appropriate, but those aren’t necessarily going to be the things that allow you to build this really strong foundation. It’s that high quality content itself.

Lauren Toyota: Yeah, and even things like, I mean we love the people that leave feedback on our recipes and stuff and on our videos. We do look at everything, but at the same time I could very well listen to every single thing someone says and change my content based on that. I just don’t do that. That’s not my number one decision on what I’m going to make that week. You’ll never please everybody. People are like, “Could you use less oil? Could you use less sugar? Could you use less vegan products?

Bjork Ostrom: Could you include meat on this? Would this recipe work with pork?

Lauren Toyota: Yeah. I just don’t listen, I mean we listen to the audience to a degree, but I’m not going to not do what’s true to me to please you I guess is the answer to that.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. Last thing I wanted to talk about is this is kind of a fun connection. I saw that you work with Kin Community and we did way back in episode 10 of the podcast we interviewed Beth from Entertaining With Beth.

Lauren Toyota: Oh yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: She also works for Kin Community, but I’m curious to know for those that didn’t listen to that episode, what does Kin Community do and how does that play into the business structure of your YouTube channel?

Lauren Toyota: Yes. Also love Beth. She’s the sweetest.

Bjork Ostrom: She’s awesome.

Lauren Toyota: She’s so good at what she does. She does YouTube and works at Kin. I don’t know how she has any time.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, she’s incredible.

Lauren Toyota: We talk to her quite a lot. The funny thing about starting YouTube was when we played around with those videos and we kind of liked it and of course it was a natural thing for me to progress to. Once I did it I was like, “Oh, this makes sense. Of course. I have a production background. I love video. I’m going to try this.”

In my head, and again, the vision was, and people have just started talking to me about MCNs or multi-channel networks or multi-channel platform companies. I had just started wrapping my head around what that was. I didn’t know anything about that. In the kind of media community everyone was like, “Oh, MCN, there’s Collective and Maker and all these different MCNs.” I was like, “What are you talking about?”

We had been contributing content to a website here in Canada that was owned by Chorus Entertainment. They’re a really big media company. They had just announced they were going to bring Kin Community to Canada. We had a connection at Chorus who said, “We’re going to introduce you to the guy who’s running Kin in Canada and you’re going to talk to him and you’re going to do YouTube. This is what you should do.”

I was like, “Okay, I guess so.” We had released four or five videos at that point. Once I really understood, I looked up what Kin Community was and I started understanding how in order to monetize YouTube you’re not going to make enough revenue from your adds that are on your videos unless you have millions and millions of views. You can partner with brands and start integrating brands into your content, similar to stuff I used to do at Much Music. We had a whole brand partnerships division at Much Music and I would have to often do on-air spots promoting blah blah brand, right?

I had a general understanding of this integration and how everything was moving towards that. I had said to John, “If we’re going to do YouTube we need someone backing us. We need an MCN, but we don’t just want to be signed to any MCN that’s just going to take our money and not help us.” I was like, “I really want someone that’s going to help us and support us and see the quality that we’re creating and sell it for us.”

Then that ended up being Kin Community and it all happened very quickly where we heard they were coming to Canada. We got introduced to Rick Matthews here and we started talking to him about the whole thing. It just made so much sense. In my gut I was like this is it. We’re going to work with Kin, we’re going to be one of the first people in Canada to work with them. This is how we’re going to take off on YouTube. I just saw all the pieces lining up, again, more of a vision. Not being told any promises by Rick. Just having a conversation about the whole structure and he was just sort of like, he advised us to just start posting once a week, which we hadn’t been at that point.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it was more sporadic at that point.

Lauren Toyota: It was sporadic, whenever we had time to make a video, whenever we felt like doing it. Rick was just like start posting every week and see what happens over the next couple of months. That was all the motivation in needed, was somebody who I could tell believed in what we were doing said, “Post every week.” I said, “Fine, done.”

I just needed to know someone else believed in it because it can feel very … What’s the word? You’re just out there in the middle of this big world, this big digital world. You’re like, “I’m just a little spec of nothing and how is anyone going to find what we’re doing?”

Bjork Ostrom: It feels like that scene, what’s that movie where George Clooney is in space with Julia Roberts?

Lauren Toyota: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, they get disconnected and then it’s just like floating. I feel like that’s the equivalent of the internet, especially when you’re first starting is like you’re out there and you’re like, “Where is everybody?”

Lauren Toyota: Yes. That’s how it felt. I was like I just need one person to pull me in, to pull me into the pulse of something, you know? I knew how much experience Kin Community had had. They had been doing this since YouTube started with their US basis. They were based in Santa Monica where Beth works.

It just all made sense. I was like, this is what we have to do. In a way I did have a moment where I was like, this is the ticket. This is the thing I need to motivate me, but also this is the thing I need to elevate and monetize the brand. I was being somewhat strategic. I mean when you provide me with, you give me all the pieces, I can put it together. I felt like that was what was happening there.

Bjork Ostrom: In a lot of ways it was somebody coming to you saying, “Here’s what it looks like. We’ve worked with people previously. We know that you have this vision and typically here’s what it takes to put it together.” I’m curious to know, and I think people that are listening would be as well, what does a typical brand relationship look like? How does that work? Does Kin come to you and say, “Hey, this brand wants to work with you.” Then you integrate that into a video and say, “Hey, we’re working with this company today to produce this recipe,”?

Lauren Toyota: Yeah, so quite early on into our relationship … The other thing I liked about the pitch from Rick and they didn’t sound like they were selling me anything. They were just like, “Look, we’re starting this in Canada. We’re building relationships here. It’s this whole space is really new to Canada, which it is. Let’s kind of figure this out together and work together.”

I knew they could bring the resources to the table and so very early on into our relationship we did get a brand partnership deal. How this worked is the brand’s agency, like their ad agency, put out kind of call to the whole Canadian media industry. All the PR companies, I guess the MCNs like Kin and then it’s called an RFP. It’s a request for proposal or something like that. Something like that, request for pitch, I don’t even know.

They’re just looking for different ideas from people on how they can … Like they might have an ad campaign in mind, like this is the thing we’re pushing. What can we do together with your creators or with your influencers because there’s influencer agencies and stuff. They look at all this and they kind of assess how they’re going to budget it and what they’re going to do and what’s going to be most effective in terms of engagement and reach.

That’s what Kin does for us is they receive those requests and sometimes we do cold pitching as well where they just reach out direct to a brand you might want to work with, but they put together all that material that I would have a hard time doing on my own. Sales decks, a media kit essentially. Selling Hot for Food, saying Hot for Food has this amount of reach, this is all their following, this is their story and their relationship, this is the quality of content they can produce and this is how we could integrate your brand into this.

I’ll work with Kin on coming up with the creative idea, the brand will give a launching point and Kin will kind of be like, “Are you interested in this brand?” I’ll say yes or no. If it’s yes then we brainstorm a couple of ideas and then they basically go into a pitch meeting with that brand and say, “Here’s what we can offer.” That has just been extremely helpful because I wouldn’t be able to do that on my own. I don’t A, have the connections, B have, I guess the fortitude you need to be able to sell myself that way.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, and I think there’s something really nice about somebody else selling you as opposed to you having to sell yourself. It just doesn’t feel as natural to do that.

Lauren Toyota: Well, yeah that idea of desperate, I need to make money as a blogger, that goes away and they really, having that representation almost elevates you. It almost makes you, well, they’re selling you, so not better than we are, but it really is a good sell. This is why you need to work with Hot for Food.

Of course early on when nobody knew who we were, that extremely helpful. Then we got this big brand deal right out of the gate. Then that helped us get more traffic as well to the channel. It was with a really mainstream brand and it was really for me like, “Oh cool, this is kind of what I wanted. This is how I wanted to position Hot for Food.” Not as this niche little small kind of hippie little vegan thing, but this mainstream, accessible, like just the same as regular food thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and in a lot of ways was a huge piece of the puzzle that you, to go full circle here, had kind of envisioned at the beginning was saying, “I know I want to build this thing. I don’t know exactly what I want it took like, but I want it to number one, be something that I’m working on as my full-time job and then number two, wanted to make vegan food accessible to people in a way that it isn’t right now.

I’ll say this real quick, if people are interested, the episode number was 10, so you can go back to that interview with Beth. It’s called Working With Brands on YouTube with Beth from Entertaining With Beth. You can go FoodBloggerPro.com/ten and that should redirect you to that episode. Lauren, we’re coming to the end here of the podcast and there’s been so much awesome, insightful content that you shared. Really appreciate you coming on, but one of the last things that I want to make sure that we get time for is for you to say where people can follow along with what you’re doing, whether it’s the blog or YouTube channels. We’ll link to these in the show notes, but can you let people know that are listening where they can find you online?

Lauren Toyota: Yes, and thank you for doing this because I think we need to talk about all of these things more and put this information out there more because when you are starting to do this there’s so much information out there, but at the same time there’s not. There’s lots of blogs on how to blog and how to do this, but I think a podcast is a great thing to hear it right from people’s mouths how they operate, you know?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think it’s been a fun way for people to consume content. For people like me it’s a lot easier that sitting down and digesting a bunch of written content. Appreciate you saying that and also appreciate you coming on.

Lauren Toyota: So great. Thank you. Okay, so you can find us at YouTube.com/HotforFoodBlog and then at HotforFood at every other social. We’re on everything, SnapChat, Instagram. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest. I also have a personal YouTube channel which if you just put Lauren Toyota into YouTube or go it will come up.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Great. Lauren, thanks so much for coming on. Really appreciate you sharing everything you did and excited to continue watching you grow Hot for Food.

Lauren Toyota: Thank you. This was so great.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks.

Lauren Toyota: Bye.

Bjork Ostrom: One more big thank you to Lauren for coming on the podcast today. If you want to check out any of the resources that we mentioned you can go to FoodBloggerPro/79 for all of the show notes as well as the transcript from this interview if you want to read instead of listen to this podcast interview. Speaking of thank yous, a big thank you to anybody that has left a review or rating for the podcast. That is the number one thing that we look for in terms of building the awareness for this podcast is being able to have reviews and ratings. iTunes and other podcast apps, they kind of use that as a way to gauge how high up they should show a podcast when people do search results and things like that. That’s a really important thing for us. So appreciate if you’ve been able to jump on and do that.

Every once in a while we like to highlight people that have left a review, and the one I’m going to highlight today is from Briana 904. She said, “So thank goodness I found this. I’m just getting a food blog going. So grateful I found Food Blogger Pro and this podcast. Bjork does a great job asking compelling questions and has great guests that have so much information.” I would agree, our guests are awesome. That’s me jumping in there. Then Briana says, “I’m learning a ton and feel way more equipped to build my blog after listening to several of these. Thank you.”

Thank you Briana 904 wherever you are for leaving that review. If you have a minute we’d appreciate you jumping on and leaving a review for the podcast as well. Thanks so much for tuning in. That is a wrap for this episode. We will be back here in seven days exactly. Until then, make it a great week. Thanks guys.

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  1. I just listened to the podcast! So inspiring for me as I’m working on building my food blog and would love to create @SimplyCrudelicious youtube channel. Thanks Indeed Bjork and FBP team! love you guys!