271: Serving Your Subscribers – Running a Subscription-Based Business in 2020 with Melissa Lanz

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An image of people talking and the title of Melissa Lanz's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Serving Your Subscribers.'

Welcome to episode 271 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Melissa Lanz from The Fresh 20 about running subscription businesses in 2020.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted about his must-have apps for a productive business and personal life. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Serving Your Subscribers 

Do you have a subscription-based business? If not, this episode may convince you to add one to your monetization strategy!

Melissa runs the subscription-based business, The Fresh 20, and she’s back here on the podcast this week to talk about how you can help your readers with a useful subscription service. She’ll help you understand the best way to find and serve “your people,” identify your audience’s problems, and offer solutions with the content you produce.

Subscription businesses can be a great way to create a sustainable income as an entrepreneur AND serve your audience along the way. You’ll learn how in this episode!

A quote from Melissa Lanz’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'Whatever new thing or new technology or new feature that you add to your business shouldn't steer you away from your core business principles.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How her business has changed in the past five years
  • How typical consumers use subscriptions
  • If we’re at risk for subscription fatigue
  • How to stay competitive with a subscription-based business
  • How to be a resource for your audience
  • How you transition to getting paid for your work


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

Transcript (click to expand):

Alexa Peduzzi: Welcome one and welcome all to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. My name is Alexa.

Alexa Peduzzi: We are so excited that you’re here today, that you decided to tune in. Today’s episode, we’re actually talking about subscription-based businesses. Whether you know it or not, I’m guessing that you use quite a few subscription-based businesses. For example, things like Hulu or Amazon Prime, Dollar Shave Club, or even Food Blogger Pro, they’re all subscription-based businesses and they can be a really great way to diversify your blogging income and get some recurring revenue from your business.

Alexa Peduzzi: That’s what we’re going to be talking about today with Melissa Lanz from The Fresh 20 and it is, as you may have guessed, a subscription-based business and she is back here on the podcast. We actually had her on the podcast way back in 2015 to talk about how you can help your readers with a useful subscription service. She’ll help you understand the best way to find and serve your people, identify your audience’s problems, and then offer solutions with the content that you produce. Subscription-based businesses can be a great way to create a sustainable income as an entrepreneur and serve your audience along the way. You’ll learn how to in this episode.

Alexa Peduzzi: Without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Melissa, welcome back to the podcast.

Melissa Lanz: Hey. Good to be here again.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s so fun to have these conversations where we check back in with people that we’ve interviewed years ago. It’s crazy that we’ve been doing this podcast for five years. You were one of the first guests that we had on or really early guests. It’s been great to check in with people to see what’s different, how things are evolving, and in this case, get a little industry update on the world of subscription businesses.

Bjork Ostrom: But before we do that, let’s have you look back a little bit and five years ago, let’s say it’s summer of 2015, I don’t remember exactly when the podcast was recorded, but we’ll use that as a rough estimate. What’s different now today than what things look like for you five years ago?

Melissa Lanz: One of the things that’s different is everybody’s on the internet. Ten years ago, there are certainly some early adopters in the space and now my mother-in-law is on the internet all the time looking for resources. The market itself has just opened up audience wise which also means that the market competition wise has opened up and exploded as well.

Melissa Lanz: Five to 10 years ago, our competition was limited and now, every day, I’m finding someone else out in this space which, to me, is encouraging because I’m one of those people that believes that there’re enough pieces of the pie to go around to everyone and it just shows me that there’s a constant need for consumption of information and resources and tools. The market has really, really changed from an audience perspective, from a competition perspective.

Melissa Lanz: The other thing that’s really changed is the big guys have gotten into the market. It’s really interesting to see the big corporations, the Fortune 500 companies in media and publishing and they’ve had to get in to the game not only in the food industry, but everything else from grooming to pet to apparel. It’s really telling because SUBTA, which is a subscription organization, just put out some numbers that by 2023 75% of companies that are selling direct to the consumer on the other end of their computer will offer subscriptions.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. I remember reading a book three, four years ago from John Warrillow. It’s essentially what you’re saying. If you are a business that sells to people, you should have a subscription component to it. I think it was called subscription… I won’t remember what it is. Automatic customer, that’s what it is.

Bjork Ostrom: In that book, he’s saying essentially what you’re saying which is like, “If you’re an HVAC company, you should have a subscription model. If you are a blog, you should have a subscription model somehow.” But just how important that is, from a business perspective, can you talk about why that’s important and why more businesses are starting to have at least as a portion of their revenue of subscription model?

Melissa Lanz: Think about it. We, as a society, has moved to online living. It’s really one of the only ways to… Gone are the days where I spend the majority of my day out in the world gathering things-

Bjork Ostrom: Running errands or shopping. And it’s different now.

Melissa Lanz: It looks completely different. If you think about it, if we break down an average day of a consumer, they wake up in the morning, they get on their Peloton, they did order whatever-

Bjork Ostrom: AppleOne subscription for fitness. You see that? Just released this week.

Melissa Lanz: They get on. Exactly. Then they get ready and read their New York Times subscription or whatever news subscription they’re on and then they might shave with something that came in the mail from a previous subscription like $1 shaved. Then they go into their office or they do whatever and they’re listening to Spotify music or whatever music subscription they have, then they take a picture of their dog and it uploads to an iCloud drive which is another subscription for bandwidth.

Melissa Lanz: Then they go home. They have a package sitting there from Amazon Prime, which is another subscription, then they go home and they’re getting ready for dinner and hopefully, using The Fresh 20 for their meal planning, which is another option, and then they sit down and after dinner, they watch a little Netflix which is another subscription. There’s no way to get around your day in this new consumer age without having a subscription. If you’re a business and you’re not part of that mix, it doesn’t make sense.

Melissa Lanz: Just one other thing I’ll throw out there, traditional businesses are subscriptions started with the newspaper industry. In the 17th century in Europe, they’re the ones that started all with subscription madness and it’s come full circle now. But the New York Times gets 60 to 70% of their revenue from subscriptions now, digital subscriptions, not even mailing the newspapers to people anymore. The shift for digital subscriptions has really, really been massive and it’s so important for businesses of any type to consider it as part of their business offering.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it really makes sense. In one sense, the fatigue, which sounds a weird word to use when you think about buying stuff as if buying things is such a tiresome process, but the fatigue around decision making, when it comes to certain things, you mentioned Dollar Shave Club, like, “Wow, I can just have that solved for me by whatever it is every three months having one of these shipped,” or fatigue around needing to go to Redbox and picking out a DVD to rent and paying for it and deciding, “Am I going to pay for this?”

Bjork Ostrom: In some sense, I think subscription’s not only solved the decision, it also solves the need for you to remember.

Melissa Lanz: A hundred percent.

Bjork Ostrom: But on the other side, one of the things that I sometimes hear about is this idea of subscription fatigue. Suddenly, there’s Disney+ and Netflix and Hulu. Do you see any statistics or there’s an organization you mentioned that sounded like maybe a data company around subscriptions that there’s any level of subscription fatigue? Or do you think we still have a long ways to go until we hit that ceiling?

Melissa Lanz: I think we have a long ways to go before we hit that ceiling. I think subscription fatigue, of course, some people have it that are forced to move some of their decisions to digital online but the people that really embrace this idea of their lifestyle being around a subscription are literally the same person that go into Target to buy one thing of toothpaste and come out with an entire cartful.

Bjork Ostrom: A hundred dollars. It feels like that’s the minimum grocery cart checkout or cart checkout for Target is $65. It’s like, “I went in to get party hats for my daughter’s birthday from the dollar section and somehow bought a new pillow.”

Melissa Lanz: I think it’s the same thing with subscriptions and setting up your life, like how you were saying the decision fatigue, once you realize that something is a resource for you and can stop that choice of constantly having to think about something else. It’s addicting to then find the next thing that’s going to do it.

Melissa Lanz: In my house, certainly, a lot of subscription companies, they talk about retention and lifetime value of a subscriber. I think about it because I have two teenage boys now and I have been getting Dollar Shave for probably four years just for my own razors. I was going to cancel and then my 14-year-old picked up my razor one day and said, “Can I use this?” and I said, “No, you can’t use mine.”

Bjork Ostrom: You’re my baby. You’ll always be my baby.

Melissa Lanz: I know. Now, that lifetime value is now extended because my teenage boys are now using that subscription because they don’t have to go to Rite Aid or CVS and figure out which shaver to use. We just order two more handles and now the razors come every month into our house and it’s just something that is integrated into life.

Melissa Lanz: The lifetime value of a subscriber is even being as one person stops using something, another person starts using it, which is what Disney+ figured out, if you think about it, because Disney+ figured out that we’re going to lose these parents once their kids start to get older and don’t want to watch all these other things. When they launched their streaming service, they made sure to market in a way that it was not just for the toddler so that they could extend the lifetime value and offer streaming of amazing things that adults would want to watch, too.

Melissa Lanz: I don’t think it’s going away. I think the fatigue comes from when you get a bad resource or a bad service and it’s not giving you the needs that you need and then you get frustrated and then you start going out and trying to find an answer for that in the real world and then you’re like, “This is not great.”

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that’s interesting as it relates to… I’ll ask this question first, one of the things you had mentioned was this reality of competitors and as a market becomes larger, there is the potential for the people who enter that market early to make more. When somebody makes more, that means there’s room for competition so then more people come in.

Bjork Ostrom: What is your stance as a business owner when you think of The Fresh 20 and as more and more people are creating meal plans? Is your stance as it relates to competitors to say, “I know they are going to come, they’re going to be out there, I’m going to stay focused on what I do and what I do well and not get distracted?” Or are you trying to keep an eye on what competitors are doing and stay competitive as much as possible by seeing the offerings that they have? How do you balance that?

Melissa Lanz: Great question. I think, for me, because I was one of the early on the scene and I innovated rather than imitated for the first five years of my business, I was very, very confident and then you start to go and you start looking around. I think the more that you look at the competition, the further away you get from your own business goals.

Melissa Lanz: Sometimes in my head, I get taken out and I go, “Oh, that’s really cool, what they’re doing.” But then I realized that my core audience and I think that gets to the thing about being a transactional company or being a relationship company, when I start to think about shifting towards the direction of one of my competitors, I have to go back to my core audience and the people and my fans and the people that have been with me seven and eight years and think to myself, “Is that a good shift for them?”

Melissa Lanz: You can always be taking it back to who you are trying to serve. We’ve had to make a lot of decisions at The Fresh 20 about what we were going to do and what we weren’t. I stay pretty close and pretty true to my original vision because I know that other people are out there in the market doing other things, and that’s fine. I’m happy for them. But I don’t think constantly shifting your business to the newest technology or the fanciest design or moving into an area.

Melissa Lanz: I’ll give you an example of that without outting anybody but there’re several meal planning services that got swept up in creating apps for their services, but it was just because there was this huge app boom, let’s say, three or four years ago. I think that some people looked at it and said, “Let me figure out how to do an app that is going to deliver on the original business promise I made.” And then some people just built an app to build an appropriate and now their app is gone and it didn’t serve their purpose and they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an app.

Melissa Lanz: I think that whatever new thing or new technology or new feature that you add to your business shouldn’t steer you away from your core business principles. If it does, I think that’s a mistake.

Bjork Ostrom: And the point being not that subscription service in a certain category would be wrong or an app would be wrong or a content type would be wrong. But it would be wrong, if the only reason you’re doing it is because you see somebody else doing it and then you’re like, “I’m going to do that, too,” without sitting and thinking, “How does this help the people that I’m serving? How is it going to be aligned with the goals that I have?” And using that as a starting place as opposed to seeing somebody else do something, scrambling to do it, and then realizing, “Wait. This isn’t the core, the heart of what I do. I was just chasing after something that I saw somebody else.”

Melissa Lanz: It happened to me. I’m going to be really transparent right now. It was a huge fail for us at The Fresh 20. We started on an app because I wanted to. I was like, “Oh, everyone needs to have an app.” And we spent about $100,000 and starting to develop an app and lay everything out and change some of our backend systems to make it work and all of that and about halfway through the process, I thought to myself, “This isn’t what my subscribers are really asking me for it.” I cut bait on it and I stopped and it was $100,000 loss which wasn’t easy to swallow.

Melissa Lanz: But I really realized that what they wanted was a way to shop. They have a shopping list inside of their phone. They didn’t necessarily want an app that they would have to then purchase my products through an app store or that the app would be mobile based and then when they got back to desktop, it would be difficult to link the two. They didn’t want that. What they wanted was, “I want to be able to access on my desktop your information, but when I go to the grocery store, I want to be able to carry that shopping list with me to the market.” That’s again getting back to who are you serving and with any innovation that you’re getting ready or imitation that you’re getting ready to do serve them best.

Melissa Lanz: Sometimes, as business owners, we jump at something because we’re excited about it, but then we always have to I think… In the end, it was a more successful decision to say, “Let’s cut bait on this because it’s taking us really far away from where we need to be.”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s such a relatable story in that you’re solving a problem that is a problem and that’s important, but doing it in a way where it doesn’t need to be as complex as how you’re doing it and I think as business owners, a lot of times we can look at a certain solution and build something really complex when in actuality what our readers or customers or users are looking for is not something fancy and cool, that helps, but it’s just something that solves the problem and sometimes the problem is really simple whether that be a PDF or the ability to log in on the website on their mobile phone. There’re different solutions to that problem.

Bjork Ostrom: How did you, in that situation, come to realize that was what it was? Are you having conversations with users and customers and asking those questions?

Melissa Lanz: I have a few very trusted users that have been with me for a long time. Sometimes I lean in into their experience with that company and to get some information and best serve them. But I think that I was having difficulty making decisions and it just became something where it was constantly a battle to get to the next phase of development. That’s when I just clued into my intuition that if it’s this complicated and I’m having this much of an issue just trying to develop it and it doesn’t seem clear to me as the owner of the company that my subscribers were going to be even more confused.

Melissa Lanz: I think that’s where that concept of decision fatigue or subscription fatigue comes in. The more we complicate things, the more tired it makes our audience.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s something to be said about that. I think about that with copywriting. I’ve heard it said that in relation to copywriting, the more words you have, the less people read. I would imagine that there’s parallels to that from a purchasing standpoint where the more options you have, the less people actually purchase. Or the more decisions that people have to make, the less they actually decide.

Melissa Lanz: I think there’s something to that. We’re both consumers and just think about how we make decisions and how we do things. We’re not so unlike our audiences or our clients. I need things to be clear, to the point, really tell me upfront, give me a really straightforward benefit analysis, let me know what features I can rely on to be helpful and solve my problems. If it doesn’t and it gets into a lot of complicated things, it’s really, really difficult.

Melissa Lanz: I’ve seen a couple of products out there lately in the food space that you go to their page and there’re tutorials on how to actually use their product and I think if someone needs a tutorial to use it, it might be a little bit more complicated than necessary.

Bjork Ostrom: I remember hearing that about Uber and how they tried to get… The only thing that you do on Uber down to just one thing which is pressing the request a ride button and simplifying it as much as possible. That’s so inspiring to think about and so hard to do in a really effective way but a good challenge for us to think about.

Bjork Ostrom: A way that translates for content creators is having really simple call to action. If you have an email, don’t include three different things like, “Follow me on Instagram, visit this blog post, and buy this ebook.” It’s one really simple call to action that you’re directing people to and maybe even mentioning it a few different times not to be unnecessarily redundant, but just to be really clear and explicit in what you’re trying to guide people towards. I think that makes a lot of sense.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you had talked about coming into this was, when we were chatting a little bit, this idea of starting to realize the importance of content. One of the things that I think is so interesting about that is I think there’s a lot of people who listen to this podcast who are really good at content, have thought a lot about content, but haven’t thought so much about building the business component whether that be subscription product, service, whatever it might be for their business.

Bjork Ostrom: But in your case, it sounds like it’s the opposite. You had built a pretty solid business. You had that engine and then later on decided, “You know what? I think content is important to support this.” Would that be an accurate statement?

Melissa Lanz: Yeah, that’s really accurate. When I first started the content and even to a largest extent today, the content that we deliver on a week to week basis with The Fresh 20 is all behind the paywall. We did that and we tried to make that as good as we could and as simple as we could for years and years and years. But with the opening up of market and with new competition and the advent of attention to SEO, I think that content becomes really important to create a hub and be a resource for people even if they’re not buying your products. That’s something that we’re adapting to even now that we didn’t really adapt to early on.

Melissa Lanz: I don’t know how I feel about it because I feel like if I had gone the content route first that I might have been to generalize and now when I think about developing content and resources, I think about being very focused and specific with that content, not just being a general recipe site. I don’t think I as The Fresh 20 need to be posting tons of recipes across the board on my blog. Because they’re everywhere, we’re shifting to it and what I realized is part of what makes us a resource is that we distill information down so that it’s usable and consumable.

Melissa Lanz: For me-

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have an example of that?

Melissa Lanz: Absolutely. For me, that means that if my primary product or information, let’s just say, if you have content right now that you’re distributing and if your primary content is in one area, all of my supplemental content to match my service or the blog that I have. For us, that means that we gear our content towards meal prep, towards planning, instead of just releasing more content that’s just recipes, really to give people a guide on stocking pantry, all of those things that make it so that it’s within the lifestyle of somebody that wants to cook healthy at home. I think if I had done the content first I would have just been publishing recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s one of the great freedoms in business and whether that be a content business or a product business or subscription business. One of the great freedoms is boundaries. I think one of the challenges as a creator, as a business owner is putting boundaries on yourself in order to create a focus even when you have great ideas or interests that land outside of those boundaries, knowing that that single piece of content or that new focus, it might be a good idea, but it’s going to potentially dilute the laser like focus that you have.

Bjork Ostrom: It sounds like a little bit of what you’re saying is because you started a subscription business where you had to have a focus, whether that be on the type of meal plan or just meal plans in general, then naturally, when you started creating content, it’s not like you would have these vast categories of recipes that you could post to. You had these boundaries are in a really positive way that allowed you to focus on the type of content. I think that whether you are just doing content or content to support a business is really helpful.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about your content process? My guess is you would also come at it a little bit different in regards to maybe a category people who listen to this podcast in that this is a business, it’s The Fresh 20, and you’re creating content to support that business. Are you creating all that content? Do you have a team who creates it in a process around that? I think one of the things that people sometimes potentially feel burdened by is the never satisfied content monster that just continually wants to be fed food and it can be exhausting if it’s just you that’s doing that. What does that look like for The Fresh 20 and for your content process?

Melissa Lanz: Before I answer that question, I want to give an example of what it looks like to go from a content-

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Thank you. For sure.

Melissa Lanz: … to a paid strategy.

Bjork Ostrom: I’ll hold on that rabbit trail that I just went on and we will go-

Melissa Lanz: No, I totally want to address that because I think it’s so important.

Bjork Ostrom: All the way to the end of that rabbit trail that we had started.

Melissa Lanz: A way that someone set up content in the beginning to be very specific is, one of my favorite sites, Sally’s Baking Addiction, I don’t know if you know it, but every time I go to bake something, I go to Sally’s Baking Addiction. There’s an example of someone that really set up a focused content and just delivers consistently on being the resource, providing quality content that is around a particular area. And then where I would take that is now monetizing that in a way. I don’t think she has and I don’t know her but I’m a fan. Sally, if you’re listening, I’ve got great ideas for you.

Bjork Ostrom: She was actually just on the podcast. It was one of these exact same kind of recap episodes. Episode 269. If people want to check that out, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/269.

Melissa Lanz: For someone like me looking at that, I look at it and I say, “She has this amazing thing. Now, what are some additional products and services that she could charge for?” Maybe I’m holding an online class about how to make something that’s very difficult especially right now. People are looking for online courses. They’re looking for online entertainment.

Melissa Lanz: What if she hosted a Sunday brunch baking challenge and people opted in with payment to be able to come into her kitchen and do that on a Sunday morning where she was making something like croissants or something, which is I personally would absolutely pay for that, to have somebody guide me step by step in real time in a community-based situation.

Melissa Lanz: Another example of that would be something like The Blender Girl, Tess Masters, who I think you know as well. Tess has so much content on her site. It’s all around healthy, gluten-free, vegan. She wasn’t monetizing it in any products or service ways, but I’ve been working with her to try to say, “What are the products and services that can come out of that?” She has a monthly cooking club now which is growing. That is taking all of those things.

Melissa Lanz: Someone can come into her world and get access to her information. But there’s also an opportunity for that same person, whether it be Sally’s Baking Addiction or The Blender Girl to come up with a membership or subscription that people are having access to them live and being able to ask them questions live.

Melissa Lanz: That’s a way that it’s like flipping the model of content first and then going into some type of subscription. I just wanted to mention that because anybody that’s out there with really solid content, solid following, but they really haven’t figured out how to turn it into a business, I think you’ve done an amazing job at creating something focused with content and those people that are out there, your followers would love to join you in something that was a little bit more intimate and community based. I just wanted to mention that.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that? That last part. You say intimate and community based. I think one of the challenges, we hear this a lot, is people get really good at content, they get good at Instagram, they get good at creating content for their blog and maybe get some traction. One of the things you hear over and over a few different mantra is content is king. You got to deliver, you got to have incredible content. And you also hear the importance of email, “I got to get people to sign up for email.”

Bjork Ostrom: I think it sometimes breaks down or becomes difficult to understand at what point does content become content is king and that’s how you market by creating really good content. But then what’s above that? If you’re creating really good tutorial videos, at what point do you say, “I’m going to transition this into something that’s paid?”

Bjork Ostrom: For a content creator, where is the top of really good content that is free and at what point does it tip into content that somebody actually has to pay for? And then my followup question for that is going to be around email.

Melissa Lanz: For someone that started out as their content being paid, I think there is no tipping point. It’s just a decision that you make. If you are producing great content and you have that feedback and you have an audience, then what I would say it’s just a decision of how you can serve that audience with a product or a service. There is no tipping point. At any time, someone could decide that all the recipes on their site were going to be free, but their tutorials were going to be in a library that somebody paid $25 a year to be a part of that library and get any tutorial that they wanted. There’s no like, “Oh, I’m going to wait until this happens,” to be able to do that.

Melissa Lanz: I think content is king. But I think the way that people imagined it to be is a little bit problematic if you’re starting out or trying to decide what to do best because content does not just mean a blog post. I know that there’re many bloggers that have gone away from three posts a week to one post a week, but they’re showing up in other areas. They might be showing up in Instagram Live and doing a live cooking there. That’s content.

Melissa Lanz: I think the idea of content creation can be more in real time, it can be more organic which might take people out of the dread of, “I have to produce so many blog posts.” I don’t think that is the model anymore. I think that people are moving. I know a lot of people in the fitness and wellness industry, especially yoga instructors and fitness trainers. They don’t have time to produce online blog posts, video content. They’re just taking it to a live model and being able to share what they know and share their resources. That works for them because they couldn’t back into the model of having a website doing blog posts three times a week, managing an Instagram.

Melissa Lanz: I think the idea of content creation is really a personal choice. I just want people to know that content creation can mean wherever you feel best and the best way that you feel presenting it. Some people have YouTube channels only and they don’t even have a website. If that fits for you because you love to do videos but you don’t want to manage a website, manage comments, and build a community on a website, then by all means, produce content firstly where it’s most comfortable for you to produce it and what naturally fits your personality and your product. And then secondly, produce content where your audiences is.

Melissa Lanz: People in the wellness industry, their audience aren’t necessarily blog followers. That’s a mass generalization, of course, but-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, YouTube or Instagram or…

Melissa Lanz: You’re right. They’re following in a different way. If I was a wellness person, I might have a landing page but I wouldn’t be producing content to be read and consumed by my audience because they’re up and active. They’re not sitting down. They want content that they can have while they’re walking.

Melissa Lanz: I think the idea of creating content, my biggest thing that I tell people, is make your content consumable to that one audience member that you’re trying to reach. Consumable, it can mean anything across any platform, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, blog posts. That would be my content spiel.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I think that what it comes down to is communicating on the best platform for your audience and also the best platform for you. I think sometimes people can get pinned down into thinking the best way to do it is a way that they’ve seen somebody else do it really well. But the thing is, chances are very high that that person is doing it really well because it’s a platform that’s really good for them.

Bjork Ostrom: I don’t post many blog posts personally, but I do a podcast every week and I’ve done it for five years that being a great example of a platform that looks a little bit different. It’s a medium and a way to deliver content that is consumable for people who have food recipe sites. They’re able to listen as they’re working out or maybe preparing a recipe or whatever it might be, they can listen to the background. It works out really well.

Melissa Lanz: I think it’s really important. It’s really important to not overwhelm yourself with trying to be everywhere all at once. That’s the part about looking around at up and comers and competition or perceived competition, whatever, you’re thinking in your head about what’s going on in the marketplace. It’s really hard to look at people that are on day 2005 and you’re on day one. You look at them and you go, “I ought to have this and this and this and this.” No. The way that they did it-

Bjork Ostrom: Overwhelming.

Melissa Lanz: It’s overwhelming. The way that they did it was to do it really well in one format before they moved on to the next.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, 100%. We see that all the time both in hearing from people saying, “I’m overwhelmed. I can’t do it all.” In seeing x-ray into other businesses and knowing that usually people are good at one vertical and then the others draft off of that. Really good at Instagram and then the others support Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, whatever it might be. Really good at YouTube and then the other places draft off of that. Really, really common.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I want to get back to, before I get too far away from it, is this idea of email and calling out that one of the hard things if you are just content is you can build an email list, you can get a lot of people subscribing, but if you don’t have anything to offer those people, there’s this question mark around, “Why am I doing this?” I think one of the great things about a subscription or a product or something that you’re able to offer your audience is that it then offers you a really clear thing that you can leverage email for.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about some of the ways that you used to market The Fresh 20 and what you’re doing now and maybe advice for people who are curious around how they can market something that they are building other than just producing a lot of content?

Melissa Lanz: I used to only speak to my audience and my subscribers when it was like, “Here’s an offer.” “Here’s a sale.” “Here’s a code for a sale.” I didn’t really talk to them in a way of being resourceful every single week and being like, “You’re struggling with getting dinner on the table this week. Here’s what’s happening in my week and where I’m struggling.” I’m moving away from that idea. I really want to move our content into a thing where every single week is something that somebody can open up and get a takeaway from.

Melissa Lanz: That work in that transition right now. We haven’t quite gotten there but it involves being more personally invested in the messages and the content that you’re putting out in your email.

Melissa Lanz: I just got one this morning that was amazing from a marketer. It was really interesting because I was like, “I would open this every single week because she just gave me information, she gave me additional resources, she didn’t ask me for anything.” It was just such a well written email that had so many resources for my lifestyle that I was really, really impressed.

Melissa Lanz: I hope that to get The Fresh 20 to that place in content creation where we’re just complementing someone’s lifestyle in a way that’s valuable and useful so that when it comes down to email, again, one of the failures that happened in our company, we were just using email to push information. Now, I would like to utilize email to support the lifestyle of my audience and subscribers which means probably linking out to lots of other different resources as well.

Melissa Lanz: I still believe that email is the best way to build a business. I think I have been one of the last people to adopt this social media. I’m not that great at it. I’m trying to be a little bit better. I’ve hired people to try to teach me about it. But email, I’m still collecting emails, thousands every month. Because to me, I own the email and I think I said this before five years ago and nobody can shut me down or take it away or anything.

Melissa Lanz: But the way that I’m using email is now it’s less about a promotional tool and more about like, “What’s up in my community this week? How can I serve them this week? What can I tell them that’s going to make their week better even if it doesn’t loop directly back to my product?”

Bjork Ostrom: I heard you mentioned that idea of transactional versus relational. Is that getting at what you’re referring to when you say that?

Melissa Lanz: Absolutely. I think five, 10 years ago as businesses started online and there was less distraction and less choices, it was easier to be a transactional company. I have this, you pay this, you get a welcome email and your login and best of luck. Then I think that company’s overall, and certainly The Fresh 20 realized, “Oh, wow, to really have retention, we need to build relationships and not be so transactional but really invite our subscriber into this world of healthy living and planning ahead and how can you do these things better so that you’re thriving in the kitchen.” Because there’re so many ways to do that just outside of just our subscription that now I want to invite them and I want to find out from them like, “What is going on?”

Melissa Lanz: It’s interesting when I first started the business, maybe the first year, every single person that bought from me, I Googled them to find out.

Bjork Ostrom: Who are you? Are you a friend of a friend? My mom’s alter ego.

Melissa Lanz: Exactly. And then you start picking up steam and then you have tens of thousands of people and you can’t do that anymore. But somewhere along the way, I feel like I lost that connection of like, “Oh, who is this? What are they doing? What’s their biggest problem? What are they challenged with? How can I help them? Why did they raise their hand to have ours?” I feel like from a content perspective and from a relationship perspective, I’m going back in that direction of like, “Shoot, who is following me?” I didn’t know.

Melissa Lanz: It was really interesting. About a year ago, I posted something and there was this whole conversation going on one of our Facebook groups and one of the customer service gals said, “You have to get in here. This is really hot.” What I realized was I had people that had been following me for eight years and I didn’t even know that. I’ve felt like, “Wow.” I thought my lifetime value of someone was a maximum two years and then after three years of getting 150 meal plans of why would they ever continue to get them. That was a really “aha” moment for me that my so much of my business was transactional and not founded in relationship.

Melissa Lanz: A year ago is when it clicked for me and I was like, “Oh, okay.” This is not okay that I’m this far away removed from what’s happening with my community. I made that switch and I’m going back towards that relationship factor and really understanding.

Bjork Ostrom: In doing that, are you thinking of a personal brand? Or would you say a brand that is personal because I think that’s a really big consideration for a lot of creators Pinch of Yum included. Right now, Pinch of Yum is a personal brand. It is Lindsay’s posting content to the blog.

Bjork Ostrom: But the hard thing about a personal brand is it doesn’t scale. There is a really clear ceiling and it has to do with the amount of time that the person who is behind the brand has to dedicate to the things that are clearly attributed to that person.

Bjork Ostrom: For Lindsay, it’s writing. It’s probably recipe development, it’s probably photography. But those are all the things that we’re trying to figure out right now to see how personal can we continue to make it while also not having Lindsay get crushed under the weight of her being the brand. What is your take on that for The Fresh 20?

Melissa Lanz: For me, it’s a brand that’s personal. When I think about building to scale, for me, it’s also building for eventual acquisition into I would love to be absorbed by a healthcare provider or something like that where my reach could be really massive and help more people adopt a healthy lifestyle. I can’t be the person. While I can be the leader of the brand and I can inspire the brand as much as I want with my personal experiences, I have to remove myself from being the only force of nature that moves forward.

Melissa Lanz: To me that looks like how you bring others into the team, into the fold, and invite them to have the conversations with your clients or subscribers, how you really tap into what the needs are of your people, how you spend the first 90 days onboarding somebody into your environment. That can be work that can be done on upfront, create a campaign, if you will, of how you’re going to tap in and give them resources and ask for their feedback during those first 90 days while being the same for everyone. It can definitely bring that personalized edge into their experience.

Melissa Lanz: And then I think you just you have to think about, “What aspects?” I don’t mind getting on Facebook and seeing what’s happening in our group of subscribers and things like that. I just can’t be the person that… I like to go in and talk to people but I don’t want to be the person that is, “We have to post seven things in this group today. We have to write stories around it,” And I have to do that. That’s just not organic enough for me. Off the cuff, the way that I participate socially is very organic.

Melissa Lanz: Knowing that I’d have to bring in team members that are a little bit more than the nuts and bolts in there of doing things and then I think it allows me the freedom to do what I’m doing is trying to build the business but then also come in and look around.

Melissa Lanz: Somebody that does this really, really well is Marcia, and I might pronounce her name wrong, Kilgore. She is the CEO and founder of Beauty Pie. It’s a massive, massive company. But the way that she does it is by monthly check in with Marcia and she’s constantly giving advice. Even though from afar, it’s very much vetted in helping her customer.

Melissa Lanz: She’s very aware of who our customer is and what their needs are so she can come in and check in and write pieces of content very sporadically. But her whole team is trained to have relationships with the customers and even in her Facebook groups, she has three or four advocates that are answering questions on behalf.

Melissa Lanz: When you have really great fans that have been with you for a long time that there’s a way to invite them into the fold and have them start being community leaders.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. One of my favorite books around this topic is called Delivering Happiness. Tony Hsieh started Zappos. He talks a lot about just how important customer service is and tell stories of people asking customer support at Zappos for help ordering a pizza and then doing it and these funny, quirky stories but how that was the competitive advantage that they had being a shoe store at the time. You’re selling shoes. It’s a transaction.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting to hear you say, “Starting to realize The Fresh 20 maybe was trending towards transactional,” and quickly correcting that towards relational knowing that there’s a competitive advantage there. Amazon acquired Zappos for a billion dollars or something like that and they talk about that being their competitive moat, for lack of a better word, being that they had such a strong culture and such strong customer support and therefore such strong retention for people who use Zappos because it was such a good experience. I think it’s a really important concept and takeaway for people who are building something.

Melissa Lanz: I think staying the visionary. Lindsay’s the visionary and she started it, and she shepherd it, but there’s a way for her to stay the visionary, but then invite other people in to participate. I think that that once you got to a certain audience or you get to a certain level, it moves away from you being the front man and then just becoming the visionary. That’s the transition that people can make and still stay really, really strong to the core values and business mission.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. Last question that I like to ask in these revisiting interviews that we’re doing is, what if it all went away? I know it sounds overwhelming and maybe a little bit sad, but also maybe a little bit exciting. You wake up tomorrow and you still have your knowledge, expertise, insight, and the wisdom that you’ve gained from running a business for the past 10 plus years, but you didn’t have any of the actual assets, website, team? What would it look like for you at a really high level to start? And in what direction would you go?

Melissa Lanz: I think the choices are really… There’re so many multiples now. You’ve got subscription boxes. You’ve got media streaming, digital subscriptions, membership. I think that I would go back to using one social media tool, picking one, and really building an audience and I would go out and I would tap into the conversations that were happening around my industry, in my field, in my particular area of focus.

Melissa Lanz: I’ll give you an example that is happening for me right now. I really decided that as a coach that I wanted to focus on wellness entrepreneurs. That wasn’t a focus before. I do have to build that from scratch even though I know that I’m a strong coach and teaching passive and recurring income. But now I have a focus of, well, I really just want to help wellness entrepreneurs get to a passive recurring income because there’s typically such an offline thing and I do have to start from scratch.

Melissa Lanz: I’m going in to groups, I’m having conversations with people about how is it hard to transition, especially, during current circumstances, how is it hard for you to be a physical therapist and have to figure out how to move online and really tapping into the conversations and trying to identify the biggest problems that they’re having because if you can come up to solutions with those problems, you can scale very quickly.

Melissa Lanz: That’s how I would do it. Tap it. That’s how I’m currently working on it. I’m tapping into those problems and really talking to people and getting in that conversation about the struggles that they’re having and I’m building solutions for them. That, I think, is the beginning of any good business.

Bjork Ostrom: Man, I think that concept of really understanding a problem from a specific group of people and then doing whatever you can to help them solve that is such an important nugget for listeners to tuck away in a pocket and to keep with them because that’s what we do and at its best, I think, that’s what business is, is helping people solve problems in the most effective, efficient, and hopefully enjoyable way.

Bjork Ostrom: You actually referenced that in that last little section. We talked a lot about The Fresh 20 and people can obviously Google that and follow along on the website or check that out as a service. But you’re also doing coaching and have programs for people who are interested in starting to build out subscription elements for what they’re doing. You mentioned it in passing, but can you talk a little bit more in depth about how people can connect with you? And who might be a good fit for you if they’re interested in working with you?

Melissa Lanz: Yeah, absolutely. You can always reach me at melissalanz.com. I’m trying to make that very current, in real time. There’s been years. I didn’t update it but now I’m like, “Okay, Melissa, get with it.”

Melissa Lanz: And then also, I am doing something called The Subscription Lab. It’s a three-day workshop and it’s really getting all of these questions answered and working on things like really identifying the problems that people solve and trying to get people to come in from an offline environment where they might have built up a business either offline or through a blog and really teach them how to make that a recurring revenue stream. Because, like I said, I really feel like that is a most direct path to creating financial stability is to have something that’s passive income that’s recurring.

Melissa Lanz: The Subscription Lab, really, we walk through all of those things so that by the time they leave at the end of those three days, they have their avatar mapped out, they have their offer mapped out, they have their marketing strategy mapped out, and their technology stack like how are they actually going to present this to their audience and I think that’s one of the things that mainly a lot of coaches leave out is they teach the sales and the strategy and they don’t teach the actual technical implementation of how to do it. That’s also something that we do in The Subscription Lab. I’m doing that. The next lab is October 22nd, 23rd, 24th. But I’ll continue to have them as long as people continue to be interested in building recurring revenue businesses.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. We’ll be sure to link to any of those in the show notes so people can check those out really quickly.

Bjork Ostrom: Melissa, so great to connect with you again. I always learn a lot and I know our audience well. Thanks for sharing everything that you’ve picked up for the first part of your business and then again, over these last five years and hopefully, we can do it again a little bit sooner than five years from now. Thanks.

Melissa Lanz: Would love to. Thank you.

Alexa Peduzzi: And that’s a wrap on this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Thanks again for tuning in today. We hope you enjoyed this episode with Melissa, hearing from her again after five years.

Alexa Peduzzi: It’s pretty interesting just how subscription focused society is right now. There are a lot of subscriptions. While she was going through the types of subscriptions that a typical consumer or some consumers have, I just thought that was really interesting because it opened my eyes to how many subscription services that I use and how it could be a really great opportunity for business, Food Blogger Pro included, WP Tasty, and Nutrifox were all included in that subscription bubble. If you find a way where you can help solve your readers’ problems with a subscription-based business, it could be a great way to monetize.

Alexa Peduzzi: I just loved that episode. A really great reminder. We hope you got a lot out of it. If you did and you want to leave us a comment, you could either leave us a review on Apple podcasts. It really helps the show get in front of more people. Or you could leave us a comment at the show notes for this episode at foodbloggerpro.com/271.

Alexa Peduzzi: Thanks again for tuning in this week. We’ll see you next time and until then, make it a great week.

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