Welcome to episode 117 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Maria Lichty from Two Peas and Their Pod about how blogging has changed in the past 10 years.
Last week on the podcast, we shared the Q&A from the Sponsored Content Bootcamp. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
How to Sustain a Successful Blog for 10+ Years
When Maria started blogging at Two Peas and Their Pod, the food blogging industry looked quite different.
Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest weren’t around, videos weren’t as popular, and the industry as a whole was much smaller.
But Maria has learned to adapt to this quick-changing world and to work to her strengths while growing her blog. She has hired a team to help her manage her social media and video work while she focuses on the work she loves like recipe testing, photography, and more.
In this episode, Maria shares:
- How blogging has changed since she first started her blog
- How to work as a husband-wife team
- How she chooses the sponsored posts she does
- How she prioritizes her work
- What her typical day looks like
- How she likes to engage with her followers
- How she grew her Facebook following
- How she built a meal planning site
- Her advice for negotiations with brands
- Two Peas and Their Pod
- Kalyn’s Kitchen
- Simple Pin Media
- 026: How Pinterest Analytics can Boost your Blog with Kate Ahl from Simple Pin Media
- Sweet Peas Meals
- How Sweet It Is
- Check out Maria’s home posts – don’t miss her beautiful pantry!
- Follow Maria on Instagram or Facebook
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Be sure to review us on iTunes!
If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, we talk to Maria Lichty from Two Peas and Their Pod about staying motivated for the long term, tips and tricks for negotiating well, and what she does in an average day.
Hey there, folks. Bjork Ostrom here. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Really appreciate you tuning in. If you’re not a yet a subscriber to the Food Blogger Pro podcast, I would encourage you to do that. It’s super easy to do. All that you need to do is find the podcast app on your phone or download one, search for Food Blogger Pro and hit that subscribe button. That way, every time a new episode is released, you’ll be able to automatically download it to your phone and listen to it wherever you are.
I’m a huge fan of podcasts. I listen to them all the time, and that was one of the reasons why we created the podcast because we noticed this movement of people consuming content on demand, audio content on demand, kind of like Netflix for your ears where you can listen to it anywhere and everywhere you go.
If you haven’t yet subscribed, I’d encourage you to do that because each and every week, we are putting out episodes with a ton of awesome content including today’s episode with Maria from Two Peas and Their Pod. As I mentioned in the beginning, we’re going to be jumping into some really awesome pieces of content and some really awesome subjects.
Maria’s going to be talking about how she stayed motivated for a long period of time. She’s been blogging for almost 10 years, which as we talk about, 10 years is like 30 or 40 years in Internet years, and she’s not only done it consistently, but she’s done it at a high level, and she’s done it really well. We’re going to be talking about that.
We’re going to be talking about some of the tips and tricks and advice she has for negotiating well. I think it’s a really good piece of advice that she gives, and one that we normally don’t think about when we think about negotiating. Then we’re going to talk about something that I think a lot of people find interesting, what an average day looks like for somebody who’s been blogging for a long period of time, and Maria handles almost all of the content and interaction and communication on her own, so I think it’s especially interesting hear how somebody manages that.
Let’s go ahead and jump into the interview. Maria, welcome to the podcast.
Maria Lichty: Thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s going to be fun to chat here. One of the things I love to do when I am preparing for an interview with somebody that has a blog or a website or somewhere where they post content is I like to go way back, like I will go to the archives, and then I’ll just see how far back I can go, and so I was peeling back the layers going all the way back to 2008, and that was officially when Two Peas and Their Pod launched, is that right?
Maria Lichty: Yes, that’s a long time ago.
Bjork Ostrom: Isn’t that amazing? In blog years, that’s even longer. I’ve been trying to figure, so dogs years is like you times seven, so if you have a 10-year-old dog, they’re 70. I’m trying to figure out what that is for blog years, but I feel like you should at least times it by three or four, so you’re like-
Maria Lichty: Yeah, a lot.
Bjork Ostrom: … 30 years into your blog career, so-
Maria Lichty: I say I’m a grandma of blogging. I feel like-
Bjork Ostrom: For sure.
Maria Lichty: … I’ve been doing it forever.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. One of the things I’m interested to hear you talk about is, as you look back 10 years, knowing that you’ve been consistently doing this, what are some things right off the bat where you can say, “Here are some of the things that have changed drastically,” or, “I can remember back to when I first started, and here are some of the things that are very different today as a blogger.”
Maria Lichty: Oh, man. So much has changed. I mean, just social media in general. When I started, there wasn’t any of that. We didn’t have Pinterest and Instagram and Instagram Stories and Snapchat. I mean, it was very basic, and I started on Blogspot, so I wasn’t even on a WordPress site, so that was very different.
In the beginning, you’d get a lot more comments on the blog because the community was a lot smaller. You knew your groups a little better, and then now, video is huge, so everyone’s kind of going the video route, so everybody’s learning that. There’s just always more to do, more to learn, so it’s always changing.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s actually one of the things that, and we can jump into this right away, and maybe as we get into it, I can jump back again and hear a little bit about your story, but one of the things I wanted to talk to you about and hear you process a little bit is how you stay engaged as somebody that’s been doing it for 10 years because in a lot of ways, what you have to do is, even though it’s technically same job, blogger or content creator, whatever you want to call it, in a lot of ways, every year to two years, you’re having to relearn your job and do something new.
I’m curious what that’s like for you? How do you stay engaged, and how do you continually stay motivated to learn something completely new, especially after you master something else, so you start to understand Facebook, and then it switches into Pinterest, and you focus on Pinterest, and then it’s video. What is that like for you, and how do you do that?
Maria Lichty: I really enjoy blogging, and I enjoy my job, and I think that’s the reason I’ve been able to do it for so long because things are constantly changing because I do tend to get bored with the same old thing, so I appreciate the changes that are happening with the blogging world. Sometimes, it’s frustrating because it’s like, “Oh, man. I gotta learn this,” but at the same time, it gives me a challenge and it gives me a different platform, a way to reach new readers and followers. Yeah, just try things out. It’s always trial and error and …
I mean, when I started my blog, I didn’t even know how to take a food photo. I was using a flash camera in the dark. When I look back, I’m like, “Oh, those are terrible.” You can’t even tell what the food is.
Bjork Ostrom: When you think-
Maria Lichty: It’s just-
Bjork Ostrom: When you think back-
Maria Lichty: … fun to try new things.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, for sure. That, I think is such an important takeaway because it’s viewing it not necessarily as a job, but doing something that you enjoy, and I think there are also, there’s I’m guessing, there are things that you’re doing that maybe aren’t as enjoyable. I’m interested for those things, whatever that might be for you.
Do you feel like that you lean into that and say, “Hey, I know this is something that I need to do,” or are you at the point now where you reach and you say, “Hey, I know that I don’t necessarily enjoy this … ” whatever that might be, “ … so I’m going to bring somebody else in that’s able to help with that,” or do you like to, as much as possible, keep everything where if it’s content that you’re creating, that content, or if it’s, has to do with the business that you’re managing that. How do you manage and potentially delegate or not?
Maria Lichty: When we started the blog, I told Josh, “I only want to do this if I’m enjoying it and I still have the passion,” which fortunately, I still do, but just like any job, of course there’s going to be things that you don’t enjoy and things you have to do that are work, and now, our business is at a point where we have the resources to hire out some things. We definitely take advantage of that.
Video, for being an example, I’m never going to learn how to shoot video and edit video, so that’s something that we hire out because my time is well spent in the kitchen. I can be creating recipes or taking food photos, doing all the other things instead of sitting at the computer being stressed out trying to figure out how to edit a video. I know that’s not my talent, so we’re all about hiring out things if it’s going to make the job easier. Again, just creating a better product. If I know that’s not my area of talent, I’d rather hire that out.
Bjork Ostrom: How did you find the video person that you’re working with?
Maria Lichty: Just random. I mean, asking around, and now we have all these Facebook communities and blogging friends. It’s always good just to reach out to other bloggers, people in the profession to find out who they’re using, if they have a recommendation. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the community and see if you can hire someone if you’re struggling in a certain area.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s just such a good reminder. I think sometimes we get caught up in the idea of using Google to figure things out, but so often, Google will have an answer, but not the specific answer that you need for your specific situation. I feel like finding a video person for food and recipe videos is a really good example where you might be able to Google that, but reaching out and just asking your community, even if it’s just a couple other bloggers that you’re connected with, can be really helpful.
One of things that you had said, you had said “we” a couple of times, and there’s, obviously Josh is a part of this, and when I was going back and-
Maria Lichty: Yes, there’s another pea.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, there is. When I was going back and looking at some of the earlier posts, it was interesting to see, at least the ones that were on your site now, those first posts were posted by Josh. I’m interested to hear you talk about the progression that the site has gone through in terms of are you still, do you still equally share posting content? I know sometimes you’ll do a post to where you do updates and this and that from the past week or month, and you’ll both contribute to that, but how has that evolved over the years?
Maria Lichty: Our blog actually started when we got married, we did all the food for our wedding because we couldn’t find a caterer we loved, and for me, I just wanted the food to be perfect. That was the focus of the wedding for me because I love food. We just went ahead and did all the food for our wedding. Of course, we had help from friends and family, but after that, everyone was like, “We want the recipes from your wedding,” and Josh already had a blog where he would blog about hiking and skiing and just his life to share with his family, and I’m like, “Can you show me how to do that?”
I mean, I didn’t even know about blogging, really. With the help of him, we started putting recipes up, and we were always cooking together, so I’m like, “Oh, this is kind fun. We’ll just keep posting the recipes,” and everyone, our friends and family loved it, so we just kept doing it. Soon, strangers were visiting, and we did some research and realized, “Oh, this is kind of a thing. We could turn this into something.”
We transformed to Two Peas and Their Pod. It was just Lichty Family Blog when we started. Then started attending conferences and learning about food photography and all the things you have to learn.
Josh and I have always done the recipes together. We’re always in the kitchen together. He cooks and bakes and does, really, whatever I tell him. I’m a vegetarian, and he eats meats, so all the meat recipes on our site, he creates those recipes, but we’re really in the kitchen every day together. I take all the food photos, and Josh does more of the business side of things, contracts, and he does all the grocery shopping, usually. I’ll send him the list, he goes to the store, he does the dishes, so I’m very thankful-
Bjork Ostrom: Nice, yeah.
Maria Lichty: … for that, but we’re really just a great team. He’s actually a better styler, food styler than I am, so sometimes I’ll have him come in and help me set the stage, and then I’ll take the pictures.
As far as writing for the blog goes, I write all the posts, even if it is his recipe. We just found that works easier because we keep the same format and flow, but we always tell little stories about us together, of the boys or whatever, about the recipe. It just works better that way for us, but we’re both really involved still altogether, so he kind of just does whatever I tell him, which is kind of nice.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you had mentioned when you were talking about your home update … You guys recently built your house and posted about that along the way. I would love to talk to you about that in a little but, but one of the things you said is your friends always would tell you, “If you want to get a divorce, build a house together,” and in the post, you talk about actually how fun it was to go through this process of building it together, and I hear that you say that a little bit with working together on the blog as well.
Do you feel like there’s things that you’ve had to work to and refine in terms of your partnership together because I’m sure there are a lot of people listening who are like, “It would be so nice if my husband or so nice if my wife would join me on this venture, and they just won’t do it.” Part of it is maybe personality differences, but also part of it is communication learnings, things that you’ve gone through and discovered. Do you have any tips or advice for people that are wanting to or currently working with their spouse or partner on their project?
Maria Lichty: Yeah, I mean, of course it always has its ups and downs, and we’ve had our good times and our bad times, but we learned how to work together and we really work together well, and that’s why we keep doing it.
Josh, he also is very passionate about food and cooking so it’s natural for him. If he didn’t have any interest in that at all, then I wouldn’t want to encourage him or force him to be involved in this, but he is very passionate about food as well, so it works for us. He knows I’m very passionate about this business, so he has been supportive from day one.
There have been things that I’ve told him to or would like to try out, so I’m like, “Oh, you could do this.” For example, like creating Pinterest collages. That did not go over well. For one, his collages were pretty ugly, and then I would have to say, “No, you need to fix this,” and there it a lot of back and forth. Again, he wasn’t enjoying that part of the business and the job, so we just decided, “Okay, you’re not good at this, I’m not good at this. This is something we can hire out.” Again, just working through that and finding what our strengths are, and that’s why I take the photos. Yes, he’s good at the styling so he’ll help with that, but I’ve kind of established the look for our photography so I take all the photos.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s great. Point being, what I hear you’re saying is don’t try and, whether to you or somebody you’re working with, pinhole them into something, even if it needs to get done that they’re not really excited or passionate about doing. It’s-
Maria Lichty: Exactly because at the end of the day, we want to be happy with what we’re doing. Again, I don’t, because it’s our marriage too and our business, at the end of the day, we need to have a happy marriage and a happy family. That’s our main priority, and if we’re not happy in our business, that transfers over, so we just need to make sure that, again, we’re both happy with what we’re doing and creating the same goal at the end of the day.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and I think prioritizing that is also so valuable to say, “Okay, we know that family comes first,” and if there’s things within the business or day to day that are causing the family element become disrupted, then it’s worth looking at and saying, “How can we adjust this within our business?” which I think is great.
Maria Lichty: Josh is also a super hands-on dad, so he’s like super dad. If I need to travel or go to events for the blog, it’s harder now that our boys are a little older, so he stays home with them and takes care of all the things that our family needs. He’s really good for that too.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Dad points for Josh.
Maria Lichty: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Ten gold stars. At what point … You had said that we had realized that this would be something that would, we had done some research and realized it might be possible to turn this into something. At what point was that, and how long had you created content consistently on the blog before it got to the point where you’re like, “Wait a minute. This could be something.”
Maria Lichty: Actually, before we got married, I lived next door to Kalyn from Kalyn’s Kitchen, and so I knew she had a food blog. She’d always show me her lovely garden and how she was taking pictures of food, so I knew it was a thing from her. Then as we started blogging and posting more recipes, I saw the growth and the popularity, even just from our friends and family, and then soon, the strangers coming in with all the comments, and then I researched and found out there are a lot of food blogs, so I just started reading them because I’m very passionate about. Then saw there was conferences so I went to a blogger food conference in San Francisco years and years ago, and then I got to meet other people in the community and just, I’m like, “Oh, this is it. I love this.” Again, I had that passionate, and I wanted to keep pursuing it and keep learning more.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel like the conference was pivotal in understanding that the potential of your blog?
Maria Lichty: Yeah, I think so. I think blogging’s hard because you work from home, you’re by yourself, you don’t have anyone to talk to, bounce ideas off of. I mean, luckily, I have Josh, but beyond that, it’s pretty lonely at times, and so getting out and meeting other people in the community and then just being able to ask questions and brainstorm and hear what other people doing, it was very motivating and just realizing, this is something that I can do. There’s potential here. Again, that was many, many years ago, so I feel like we got in at the right time and we’re able to really grow our site and our business from the beginning.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you ever feel like … You had mentioned Facebook Groups, obviously conferences, and just being a part of these communities. One of the things that I, I wouldn’t say struggle with, but I continually process through is this reality of being in these groups and how beneficial that is, and also the potential for that to make it seem like everybody is doing this, and then I need to do this, and just the impact of a group of people that are doing similar things making me feel like I need to do those similar things, and if I’m not, then I’m behind. Kind of that weird, I wouldn’t say it’s social pressure, but just-
Maria Lichty: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you know what I mean by, when I’m describing that and-
Maria Lichty: For sure. I think especially in the early days of blogging, I mean, our business was new and we were trying to grow, like yeah, you had to hustle, you had to get out there, try to introduce yourselves to brands and make connections and all those things. I feel like some bloggers maybe looked at it as competition, but I think one of the reasons we’ve been successful because I’ve never really had that view, one, I’m not a super competitive person. That’s not my nature, but I’ve already just really appreciated the blogging community and looked as people as co-workers and peers.
If someone was getting a book deal or getting a big deal with a brand, I felt, “That’s a possibility for me.” That’s growing the entire community as a whole, and so if I saw other people succeeding, I’m like that’s just going to open more doors for the entire food blogging community.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.
Maria Lichty: That’s kind of how I’ve always viewed it. Again, the foot blogging community is wonderful, so having, I mean, I’ve made a lot of great best friends and met a lot of wonderful people in this community. I feel like don’t ever be afraid to reach out and ask questions because that’s where I’ve learned the most is just from my blogging peers.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think that is so important in the mindset of not competition but of, I think I heard it somebody say on a podcast “coopertition” or something like that, like this idea of in the same space but cooperating.
It’s an interesting balance to have where you are helping people, but I think viewing it as a bigger network, and it’s not necessarily taking slices of the pie but just expanding the pie and how beneficial it is to have that mindset because you’re able to help people, and even before starting this podcast, you said that, you’re like, “I’m an open book so ask me whatever,” as opposed to being closed off to sharing certain things, which I think is so great.
Maria Lichty: Yeah, well, and I’ve also learned that you can’t do it all. I mean, yes, there’s always more to do, and there’s always more trips and brands to work with and books to write, but you can’t do it all, so learning to say no and being okay with that has really been helpful for me because sometimes you do get wrapped in, “Oh, well, so-and-so’s going on a trip, and I want to do that, but I have this event and that conference,” and it’s like, you are just going to burn yourself out, and so just learning to say no and being okay with that, I mean, so you’re comfortable because you can’t do it all.
There’s plenty of room out there for everyone to be working with brands and doing trips and signing book deals and everything, so just realizing that you don’t have to it all or you are going to burn yourself out. You’re going to lose that passion. Your followers are going to see that. Again, at the end of the day, you’re not going to love what you’re doing, and yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel like, or I’ll say this. What do you feel like are some of the mental models that you have for saying no? Do you have a process or even a very basic filter system where you’re like yes, no? I’ve heard some people say that their filter is either hell yes or no.
Maria Lichty: Yeah, I mean, that’s really, I mean I go with my gut. If I get a email about something and it’s something that I’m already like … Like, yes we could do this, but I don’t know, it’s kind of a stretch, or I’ve already got a million things going on that month. Is it going to take away from my family? If I just get that initial gut reaction, like this isn’t right, then I usually just flat out say no because usually when I have said yes to those things in the past, then I’ve dreaded it. It’s been not a good partnership or the trip has been super stressful and just taken way too much time from other things. Again, yeah, go with your gut.
Bjork Ostrom: I think you develop that after having those interactions and those relationships and those trips or experiences where you get to the end and you’re like, “This probably wasn’t something that was worth the extra stress that it created or the time that it took away,” and as you get into it, you can refine your gut and your understanding of it.
Maria Lichty: Yeah, and you need to ask yourself, if pursuing this and doing this isn’t going to make me happy, isn’t going to grow our business, go back to your initial goals and see if that’s going to help fulfill those goals, and if not, then you can pass and be content, and you won’t have to worry about it or think about it again.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have specifically written goals or is that something that you have in your head where you’re like, “Hey, this is what I hope to accomplish through our business.”
Maria Lichty: We used to at the beginning have more specific laid-out goals. Now that we’ve been doing it for so long, we kind of are riding the wave I guess and just keeping up with the trends and where things are going, but also trying to take a step back too because our site’s been up for so long, it kind of runs itself.
Of course, we still have to create quality content every week and engage with our readers and all that stuff, but again, just trying to ride the wave and again, not stress ourselves out too much because yeah, I know there’s a million things I could and should be doing, but at the same time, I want to enjoy the business.
Also, now that we have two little boys, our focus has shifted more towards family, so trying to think of ways, like you mentioned, hiring things out that we can do that frees up our time so that we can go on a family picnic or go on a family trip and do other things and still have the business running.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a, interesting decision for people that are entering into this world, that this world being content creation or building a blog or really a business in general where I feel like you really have to pay your dues early on in the first year or two years, three years, four years. Then what we’ve seen is that if you do that around five, six, seven years out, there becomes a shift where the snowball has picked up enough momentum that you’re able to not continually have to push it and build it on your own.
You can do that, if you want to, you continually build it and push it, or you can shift a little bit and say, “Okay, I want to gain back some of that time that I put in in the earlier stages so as not to do this for the rest of my life.”
Maria Lichty: Yeah, I mean, and there’s always hard work to be again. I mean, and again, that’s why I feel like we’ve been successful is because we’ve put in all those grunt hours at the beginning and have worked seven days a week for many, many, years. I mean, there’s still weeks where we’re working seven days a week. It’s kind of hard to really shut it off, but again, if you’re loving what you’re doing, sometimes it doesn’t feel is work, so it’s like, “Oh. We’re cooking and baking and taking pictures,” like that’s just fun too, so just making sure that we enjoy it still.
Bjork Ostrom: What does, speaking about a seven-day week, what does a typical day and then a typical week look like for you? I know there technically probably isn’t one, but that’s one of the things I know people always like to hear. What do you focus on in a typical day?
Maria Lichty: Usually, when we do recipes, we’ll try to make three to five in one day, so we usually have recipe days where we’re cooking and baking and shooting and then just go from one recipe to the next because we found it easier, with both of us in the kitchen, we can tackle a lot of recipes together and just move from one to the next. Then the next day, we won’t do any recipes, and I’ll just edit photos and write and get things scheduled out and respond to comments, so I have kitchen days and then work days, office days.
Then we have two boys. They’re in kindergarten and preschool now, so my mornings are a little more free, and then we have a nanny that comes in that helps out in the mornings that they’re not in school. The mornings are my work time where I can get stuff done from 9:00 to noon. That’s really my office hours, and then I feed the boys lunch, and then one of them takes a nap, and then I try to get a few other things done in the afternoon, but again, with our family, we just have to see where things are.
Some days, I don’t get as much done as I would like to, but that’s okay. Some nights, I’m checking emails in bed at night or writing a post still, but I try to really shut off around 4:00 every day just so then our family can have dinner together, and then we can have those evening hours, but then when the boys go to bed, sometimes I will do a few more work-related things, but it’s nice when it’s dark out. It’s like, “Oh, well, I can’t cook or take pictures. It’s dark, so I guess I better watch a Netflix show instead.”
Bjork Ostrom: “Instead, I will watch The Office.” That’s what it is for us.
Maria Lichty: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ll go and watch The Office again this season.
In the earlier stages, did that look different? Were the days longer or has that been pretty consistent for how you’ve operated as you’ve done the blog?
Maria Lichty: Well, in the early days, Josh and I both had full-time jobs. I mean, because again, we didn’t intend this to be our career, so we were both working 40 hour week jobs, so a lot of it took place on the weekends, starting Sunday we would cook and bake and take pictures, or when you get home at night, trying to beat the light, like, “Hurry, let’s make recipe before it’s too dark.”
But then as it transitioned into full time when we both quit and we didn’t have kids, then it was just a lot easier, the two us. We had our own schedules, but now with a family, it makes it a little different.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, yeah. One of the things I noticed was you have … One of the things I do is I always look through social media followings and noticed that you have 1.3 million followers on Facebook, which is incredible. I would love to hear you talk about, number one, the different social media platforms and what you like, and then after that, hear you talk about Facebook and how you’re able to grow that following over the years.
Let’s start first with that social media question. What are your favorite social media platforms, and where do you find yourself spending the most time?
Maria Lichty: Well, I love Instagram, I think most people love Instagram just because it allows people a little glimpse of your life more visually, and I think we’re a visual society most of the time. I really enjoy the Instagram Stories since they added that. First, I thought, “Oh man, one more thing we have to do,” but it’s been really nice to be able to connect with our followers in that way because it is a little bit more behind-the-stage, real life, like what’s really going on. We share more of our boys and the ugly photos, the day-to-day stuff that I feel like helps really with us creating a loyal following and people that really can get to know us better. I’ve really enjoyed that part of Instagram.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you allow direct messages? That was something Lindsay just recently turned on so people can message her. Is that-
Maria Lichty: Yeah, we do.
Bjork Ostrom: … something that you do, and do you try and respond to those?
Maria Lichty: Yeah, we do because again, I love hearing from our followers. That’s, again, one of the things I really love. What we’ve tried to establish all those years is a loyal following because that’s the part I love is connecting with people, and because blogging is such a lonely job at times, it’s nice to be able to have that relationship on the other end and hear from your followers, like, “Oh, they did make this for dinner. Their family loved it,” and-
Bjork Ostrom: People are actually reading this, yeah.
Maria Lichty: … and just being able to answer their questions. If they have a recipe question or if they want to know where my shirt is from or what the boys ate for dinner or whatever it is, just having that extra connection is really nice.
Bjork Ostrom: Are you, between your social media platforms and email and blog comments, are you doing all of that all on your own?
Maria Lichty: Yeah, I do that all on my own because I want it to be genuine. I don’t want someone else answering my comments and questions readers have. I feel like they come to our site and email us for a reason. They want to hear from us, so I don’t want to give that to someone else. That’s definitely something I will always have control over.
Bjork Ostrom: How, because for somebody that’s at your level that’s been doing it for that long, how, I feel like it could be a full-time job-
Maria Lichty: Yes, it definitely-
Bjork Ostrom: … like it’s so much, so I’m curious to know how, like the tips and tricks you have for people for managing the interactions and email and staying organized. Is it something that you try and do every day for a couple of hours or do you block-
Maria Lichty: Oh, definitely.
Bjork Ostrom: … out time once a week and just go through everything, or what does that look like?
Maria Lichty: No, I try to answer right away because if I don’t then things tend to get buried, and then things pile up, and then it’s just a big mess, so I check my email and Instagram different times throughout the day, pretty much on and off all day long just because I can just, I’d rather see the email, respond real quick, and then not have to think about it, but if I walk into my office and see 30 emails piling up, then it’s like, oh no.
Even on the days we’re in the kitchen, I’ll say, “Josh, hold on. I’m going to go check my email,” and then I come back five minutes later just to kind of stay on top of things. Also, just because, personally, I love it when I hear back from someone quickly in a timely manner, so I want to do that to someone else just because maybe it is they’re making the recipe right now or if it’s a brand that wants to work with us and they need to know by a certain time. Just being able to get back to people right away, I feel like is a big strength and I want to keep that going, so I’ll always make time just to check in and out during the day.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think it makes such a big difference when you hear back from somebody and when it’s a genuine response as well and you know that it’s somebody that’s, that it’s the person that you reached out to. It makes a big difference. It’s especially difficult and kudos to you for doing it when it’s across the board, so when it’s an all the social media platforms as well as email and comments. I saw that you’re-
Maria Lichty: I mean, and sometimes, it’s just the thumbs up or a smiley face or you know-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, but it’s acknowledgement, yeah.
Maria Lichty: Yeah, but at least it’s something. Just, again, creating that community and-
Bjork Ostrom: Yup, and the connection, for sure.
Maria Lichty: Yeah, the connection with your followers.
Bjork Ostrom: Speaking of followers, you have 1.3 million followers on Facebook. How were you able to grow such a strong Facebook following? Where there certain tactics that you used at a certain point that helped to do that or is it the slow and steady over a long period of time?
Maria Lichty: Ours was slow and steady. I mean, we’ve been doing Facebook from the beginning, obviously, everyone’s on Facebook, so we just started and kept posting. Things have obviously changed drastically throughout the years, so first you’d post once a day and ignore it, and now, it’s like you’ve gotta be posting constantly and posting videos. Videos have really helped our Facebook Page grow, and now there’s Facebook sharing groups and all the things to do, but ours never really had like, it wasn’t like overnight we had 1.3 million. It was, again, we’ve been doing it for a long time now, so they’ve just grown with us over the years.
Bjork Ostrom: Are you posting multiple times a day, then, to Facebook, and do you have-
Maria Lichty: Yeah, I post-
Bjork Ostrom: … a set number that you try and do?
Maria Lichty: I post probably 8 to 10 times a day starting in the morning ending the night, and I share content from our site and then also content from other blogger sites.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Are you scheduling that within Facebook?
Maria Lichty: Yes, I just use a Facebook scheduler.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, and then doing that once a week, or do you do that, like at the beginning of the day, you’ll schedule that out? How do you?
Maria Lichty: I used to schedule it out by the week, but I realized that I hated that so much, and it took so much time doing it a week at a time, I’m like, “I cannot do this because I absolutely hate it,” so I just do everything in the morning. Every morning, I wake up, get the boys ready, get their breakfast, and then while I’m eating my breakfast, I sit down, schedule Facebook, and then it only takes me about 30 minutes every day, and then it’s done, but I just realized for myself, scheduling it too far out was taking too much time in one day and was making me bitter at Facebook.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure.
Maria Lichty: I’m like, “I better just do 30 minutes a day.”
Bjork Ostrom: Is that how you operate with the other social media platforms as well? Are you doing that on a daily basis?
Maria Lichty: Instagram, I just do live, like I don’t schedule anything. It’s just all realtime. Pinterest, I actually hire Simple Pin Media. They manage our Pinterest account, which has been so nice so I don’t … I still go in, and I pin things that I like and pin things from the community and things like that, but they pin all of our content.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Maria Lichty: That’s nice not to worry about that.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about how that works? We did an interview, I’m trying to think of the episode number that we can link to, with Kate from Simple Pin Media, and she’s one of the Food Blogger Pro experts, but can you talk just at a high level of how that works and what they do?
Maria Lichty: I actually met Kate at a conference, and she’s wonderful, and so we got to talking with her. I’m like, “Man, that sounds like what I need,” because, and again, I like Pinterest but I don’t have the time to invest in pinning all day now, and I would go days and even weeks without pinning. It’s a huge traffic driver to our site, and so I was like, “I should be focusing on this more,” and since I don’t have anymore hours in the day to give to Pinterest, I hired Simple Pin, and they’ve been great.
They manage our account. You can choose how many pins a day you want them to do. I’m very involved, still. I still say, “Hey this pin is going viral,” or we’ve been collages for them to be pinning because I know which ones are going to do well as far as our recipes go. I’m still very involved with my Pinterest manager, but it’s just nice not have to think about it every single day.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely, and that’s an example of you can’t do it all, and so bringing people in to help with that.
You have somebody that helps with Pinterest, have somebody that helps with video, do you have other people on your team or that you contract with that help out with your site and your business?
Maria Lichty: Not really. Video and Pinterest is about it. We started a new business this year, which has kind of been fun. It’s a meal planning subscription site called Sweet Peas Meals, and I-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, can you talk about that a little bit.
Maria Lichty: Yeah, I actually teamed up with Jessica from How Sweet Eats on this new business. We’ve been blogging friends for years and years. We’re very passionate about eating at home, especially now, we both have young families, and getting people to cook together, enjoy meals together at the dinner table instead of eating out.
We decided to create this new site, Sweet Peas Meals where people can come and subscribe and sign up, and then every week, they’ll get the recipes given to them, and then the shopping list, detailed shopping list so they know, like if they’re not going to use an avocado until Wednesday, they’ll know to buy an unripe avocado and, just, it’s all organized by the grocery store so they can get in and out and it has six dinner recipes a week.
Plus, we include breakfast and lunch ideas and entertaining guides if there’s a holiday that month and seasonal guides. We give them Snack Attack Sheet so they have healthy snack options. I love to bake, so we do baking recipes on the weekends and cocktails, so it’s a little bit of everything, but just making it easier for people because our followers come to our site, and they’ll say, “I know I can go to your site and get the recipes, but when dinnertime comes at 5:00, I still don’t know what to make,” or, “I wasn’t organized enough to have the groceries on hand, so we end up eating out and … ”
This way, we’re just kind of basically hand-holding people. “These are the recipes you’ll make this week. Here is your shopping list. Go to the store. Get in and out. You’re stocked/ You’re ready to go. You can succeed at this. You can do it.”
We have a Facebook Group so if people have questions or need adaptations, we answer their questions. We’re back to hiring someone. We hired a manager to help us manage this new website, and she’s been amazing because there’s no way we could take on a new business without hiring someone else, so she’s the full-time employee for Sweet Peas Meals.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. How did you know that this is something that would be successful or that it was worth putting the time into? I saw that, for a long time, you did over 70 weekly meal plans, so for over a year, you were doing free weekly meal plans. Was it from that on your site that you started to notice, “Hey, people are interested in this. There’s some traction here,” because I think that’s one of the hardest things for people that are looking to create a product or another business is figuring out what is that going to be and how do I know if it’s, makes sense to put the time and energy into something if it maybe won’t work out. What was that like for you guys as you process through that?
Maria Lichty: I was doing the meal plans on our site, and they were super popular, and everyone wanted more meal plans and more meal plans, but again, I just lost all the time in the day to keep doing them. I didn’t really go into detail with them. I never did the shopping list and all the meal prep tips and extras the Sweet Peas Meals offers because I knew it could be so much more. I’m like just giving them the basic meal plan. I felt like that wasn’t enough because again, they didn’t know what to get at the grocery store, and they didn’t really have that support, so I kind of knew, yes, there’s interest here, but we need to just make it separate and create something totally different where people can sign up and have the support that they need to succeed.
I knew it was a need because when I would go to activities in my neighborhood and listen to my friends that are moms that are just busy, that’s the thing, they struggle with getting dinner on the table every night, and they know I have a recipe website, so they say, “Maria, help us.” Again, “We know we can go to your site, but I’m just still not organized, and I end up buying way too much food at the grocery store, and then I end up throwing away all the produce. It just goes bad because I never got around to cooking because I didn’t have a plan,” so this really helps people make it happen, get that dinner on the table every night.
As a family, again, that’s what we’re passionate about. We eat out probably once a month at the most, unless we’re traveling, of course, but we just believe in eating at home. We like cooking so it’s easy for us, but even for those that don’t, there’s just so much value in eating dinner at home with your family. I mean, saving money, it’s better for your health, creating those memories with your family, and just having those conversations at the dinner table, even if it’s quick. That’s the thing, we want to make it quick and easy for everyone because we know everyone is busy. We’re there. We’re right there with you.
Bjork Ostrom: It seems like a lot of it is this idea of ear to the ground, and so you’re aware of and listening to and attentive to the people that are in your community, a lot of that having to do with responding to those emails, having those conversations, engaging on social media, and seeing this trend of people saying this consistently over a long period of time, and it’s like, “Okay, there’s something here.”
For us, it was similar with Food Blogger Pro is hearing people ask these similar questions and saying, “Okay, I see that there’s something here,” so I think that’s a good takeaway for people that are listening that are processing through what is that thing that I want to create, that product that I want to make.
Congratulations on launching that. The site looks great.
Maria Lichty: Oh, thanks.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, looks cool.
One of the things I wanted to talk about was your house. You recently went through this process of building a beautiful home, and I was looking through some of the posts you did for that, and one of the things I notice is for a lot of the parts of the house throughout the house that you’re able to work with brands.
I know that’s something that people are so interested in both from a sponsored content standpoint, but also whenever it works out to work with a brand, in your case, to do maybe a product or to have appliances or things like that. Can you talk to people who don’t have any experience with this and give them some advice on how they can start to do that and how they can have a strong and beneficial relationship both for them and their business and their blog and also for the brand?
Maria Lichty: We, again, we’ve been blogging for a long time, so we’ve worked with brands throughout the years. That’s one thing I’ve always really enjoyed just because it gives me a challenge with new content to create with a certain product, and of course, we always make sure we work with brands that we love and would use anyways. I feel like that’s number one thing you need to do is you need to be authentic and real, and even if money’s involved, if someone’s going to pay you a lot of money, if you wouldn’t use that product anyway, it’s best just to say no because then you’re not going to be authentic to your readers. They’ll see right through that, so we’ve just always been super careful with what brands we have worked with, making sure it’s a good fit for us and for them and just making sure everything’s mutually beneficial.
Establishing those partnerships have been great, especially the long-term ones. Some brands, we’ve been working for for three-plus years or more, so it’s been really great just on the food side, but then as we decided to build our home … We write a post every week, this and that, I think you’ve mentioned where it’s more of a lifestyle and Josh, it’s a his and hers, so Josh will write stuff, and I’ll write stuff, and it’s just kind of a great post that we’ve done to get to know our readers more and just share things beyond food, making that connection.
As we were going to build our house, we, like, “Do we share this on the blog? I don’t know. Is this something people would be interesting?” We put a little bit of feelers out there and this and that, like on Instagram, we shared a few photos. The response was great, like yes, everyone wanted to know about the house and the process and what we’d be doing and what it looked like and everything. We started putting a little bit more out there and brands saw it and started reaching out, and we’re like, “Oh, this will be fun.” Again, this was our dream house, so we made sure we only worked with brands that we’ve put in our home anyway so that was a good fit for us just to make sure it was seamless and a good fit.
Bjork Ostrom: These were brands, for the most part, that would be, like as you were posting about it on social media, on your blog, that they would reach out to you, so maybe somebody from a couch company or a furniture company would reach out and say, “Hey, I saw that you posted this. We’d be interested in working with you.” Is that generally how it worked, or were you having to do any cold-
Maria Lichty: It wasn’t-
Bjork Ostrom: Well, not necessarily cold, but just emailing and recruiting, so to speak.
Maria Lichty: A few reached out, and then once I saw the potential, I’m like, “Oh, well maybe, we’re going to use this product anyway, so I guess it doesn’t hurt to send a email.” I did do a few of those and so, just because I’m like, well, it makes sense just to see if they’re interesting. It was probably like half and half.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup, and so there’s some people that reached out to you that follow along, maybe at somebody at the company, and they said, “Hey, we would love to work with you on this,” and then there’s the other people that you’d reach out to, maybe you have an idea for something you’d want to include, and so you’d reach out to them and say, “Hey, we’re going to posting about this. We would include links to your site in a blog post, mention you on social media, things like that-”
Maria Lichty: Exactly. Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: “ … in exchange or in a partnership for … ” whatever it would be that they provide.
Maria Lichty: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, okay. That, in and of itself takes a decent amount of work. That’s one of the things that we found where we did something similar when we did a remodel for the studio for Pinch of Yum, and then also upstairs, we recently did a remodel, but that, I think it’s important to factor in, it doesn’t take a, it’s not like a full-time job, but it does take a decent amount of time to organize and maintain those relationships. Is that something that with all of your sponsored content, working with brands and things like that that you’re doing in house and are managing that?
Maria Lichty: Yes, we don’t, we’ve never worked with an agency. We’ve always just done it ourselves. Again, because we’ve been doing it for so long, we feel like we know our brand the best and can represent ourselves the best.
Luckily, I have Josh on my site. He’s great at business. He’s a great negotiator, and I learned from him from the beginning just to treat every email, every contract as a business. Yeah, we haven’t felt the need to hire it out. Luckily, we’ve always been super busy, and we’ve had enough brands to work with, enough contracts to keep us busy, so I haven’t felt the need to reach out and try to find more because again, you gotta find that line that works for you, and …
I mean, we don’t need more because we’re trying to say no. That’s kind of been our goal this past year is say no more and just be content with where we’re at, but I mean, I know other bloggers work with agents, and that’s been really helpful for them as far as reaching out to brands and getting those contracts and partnerships, but for us, we just like to manage it ourselves.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have any advice for people in regards to negotiation? I know it’s kind of a scary thing for a lot of people. How have you learned to do that while with brands?
Maria Lichty: I guess first of all, just be nice. We learned that … I mean, because sometimes PR people or brands, they don’t really understand, if it’s their first time working with bloggers or whatever, so they might just ask you to work for a free product. You don’t need to yell at them. You can be nice. Maybe you don’t want to work for a free product, but there’s a nice way to respond and say, “Oh, yes. We do love your product. Unfortunately, we have a rate, this is our business. If you’d like to talk more, here’s our media kit,” whatever, but you can always be nice and respond and see where things can go because maybe they’re asking you to work for a free product, but if you can just respond and give them the time of day, things can evolve.
I feel like just responding and being nice and talking about things from the beginning like expectations because sometimes, contracts can get lengthy and wordy, and they can hide things in there, so we always try to through email or even just hop on a phone conversation and talk about what the expectations are, like what is the goal of the campaign, what are you wanting from us, exactly how many posts, how many Instagrams, how many social shares, whatever it is, knowing that up front, like do you want a product photo in the blog post?
You want to know all those things right from the beginning so you know what to charge, and then also so you’re not having to redo things like if you send them something, they’re not happy with it, it’s like, “Oh, well, we wanted the product in there.” “Well, you didn’t tell me that,” so just having all those expectations-
Bjork Ostrom: For sure.
Maria Lichty: … out there from the beginning is important.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have, then, a contract that you have internally that you send as well, or are you working off of their-
Maria Lichty: No, I wish it was that easy, but unfortunately, a lot of brands-
Bjork Ostrom: Have their own.
Maria Lichty: … some of them are big companies, and so they have set contracts that we have to read through, and luckily, Josh does that, but again, he’s very particular. He takes his red pen and he marks things, so just making sure you read through all the lines of the contract because sometimes they throw some things in there that aren’t okay.
Sometimes it’s not their fault. They don’t know. And they have that language in there, so you just need to be careful. If you don’t have a Josh on your side, don’t be afraid to ask a lawyer. Again, ask around in the community. There’s a lot of lawyers that work with bloggers that can read through those contracts for you.
Bjork Ostrom: I recently did that with a lease agreement that we have, and I’ve realized that my level of enjoyment for reading contracts is the same as poking my eye with a stick, so-
Maria Lichty: Yes, mine too.
Bjork Ostrom: … so we’ve brought somebody in to help with that, and obviously, it’s not something that you can do right off the bat, but if you’re at the point where you’re working with somebody and you’re getting paid for that, then you can maybe allocate some of that to have somebody that plays that role for you. Do you have an example of ways that, things that might be included in the contract that people should be aware of?
Maria Lichty: Just exclusivity for one. Sometimes you’re signing on for a one-time sponsored post, and then they want exclusivity for the entire year, which in the end will maybe hinder you from working with other brands in the same genre, and so making sure it’s like 30-day exclusivity or whatever, but just being aware of that because sometimes you might sign it and then, say it’s a milk company, and then three months later, another milk company comes up to you and wants to work with you, and you realized you signed exclusivity for a year for the other one, so you have to say no, so just being careful of that.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s a good example. Two final questions here to end, kind of big-picture questions. The first one that I’d enjoy hearing you talk about, and I know that people that are listening would as well is what are some of the things that you feel like are working really well for your business and for your blog right now?
Maria Lichty: I feel like we finally gotten in a groove of just our day-to-day life, our schedule. I used to post three recipes a week, but this summer, I actually scaled it down to two, and I was really nervous because I’ve always been a consistent poster of Monday, Wednesday, Friday are recipes, and then Thursdays are this and that.
Before I did it, I, of course, asked them or this and that, like, “How do you guys feel about this, scaling back to two recipes a week?” Our readers were so great, so nice, like, “We understand you’re busy, everyone’s busy. You have those two cute boys. Take the time you need. Of course, we would love as many recipes as you can post, but if you want to do two, that’s fine.”
I just went for it and scaled back to two, and it’s been so nice. I’m like, “Why didn’t I do this years ago?” I mean, our traffic hasn’t gone down. It’s actually gone a little up, so I feel like that’s been a great shift for us, just in being able to control everything and make time for other things.
Bjork Ostrom: I’ve heard other people say that as well that they’ve shifted the amount of contented they’ve created, and that’s been a beneficial thing, both for them personally, but also that they haven’t seen a huge detrimental impact to their blog.
Maria Lichty: Well, and I just realized that our readers are busy, everyone’s busy, so no one has time to make all three recipes a week or even read all the blog posts every week, so I feel like just focus on creating that quality content and then leaving it up there for longer, and then again, focusing more energy on your SEO and your photos or whatever it may be that you need to work on to keep that traffic up, but scaling back to two times, I mean, it’s not going to hurt you, or it shouldn’t.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s something to be said about focusing on content creation but then also focusing on the promotion and enhancement of the content that you already have. Exactly like you said, I think that’s really valuable.
Second question, then. If somebody was just starting out, let’s say they’re in their first year, and they’re getting into the world of blogging and content creation and social media. What would your advice be for someone who’s in that early stage?
Maria Lichty: Yeah, man. Just, again, have that passion. Just give yourself a little pep talk, a little question and answer. Do I want to do this? Is this for me? Is this what I want to be doing? Look around, talk to people in the community, find out if it’s for you, and if it is, go for it. There is plenty of room out there for new blogs, new content creators, new influencers. Just be passionate about what you do, find what you’re good at, what your strengths are, and ask your readers, ask your followers what they want to see more of. Don’t be afraid to do a survey or ask questions because you may think your blog should be one thing, but your readers are wanting more of something else. Don’t be afraid to shift. Even if you’ve been blogging for a long time and something’s not working for you, it’s okay to change the way you do things on your site.
Again, I think you should focus on your site because, yes, there’s all that social media out there, but no one can control Facebook or Pinterest. They’re always changing their algorithms, and people are always upset about the way things are going there, but you can control your website. You can control the content there, what you do, and who you work with. Just focusing on that, I feel like is the most important thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. That’s great, and good note to end on, but before we do, I guess this is officially the last question. Maria, where can people find you and follow along with what you’re doing?
Maria Lichty: It feels like we’re everywhere, but twopeasandtheirpod.com is our website, and then we’re twopeasandpod on Instagram, and then again, if you want to check out Sweet Peas Meals, if you’re interested in meal planning, you can go to sweetpeasmeals.com and see what we’re up to there.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Maria. We really appreciate it, and fun to chat.
Maria Lichty: Yeah, thanks Bjork. This was great.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s a wrap for this week’s episode. Thanks for tuning in. Thanks for listening. Thanks for following along. It’s so fun for me to hear from people that listen to this podcast whether it’s via email or social media or in Instagram. You can follow along with Food Blogger Pro on Instagram. We post about the podcast there occasionally, and that’s just @foodbloggerpro.
Wherever it is, really appreciate your feedback and your insight. Some people leave reviews, which we really appreciate, and all that stuff really means a lot, so thanks for tuning in. thanks for letting us know that you’re tuning in, and thanks for being a part of this community.
We’re going to have another awesome episode coming out in just seven days. Until then, make it a great week.