Welcome to episode 319 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Mike Johnson from Mike Bakes NYC about how he managed to transition to full-time blogging after running his successful Instagram account.
Last week on the podcast, we re-shared an episode about how food bloggers can make the most out of their Q4 traffic. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
From Attorney to Food Blogger
We’re so excited we had a chance to talk to Mike in today’s episode! He has a super interesting story; he went from attorney to full-time blogger after running an incredibly successful New York City food-focused Instagram account.
He’s on the show today to talk about what the process of transitioning to full-time blogger looked like, as well as how he runs his business and creates revenue for himself.
If you’re curious about what a day in the life of a full-time blogger looks like, or you’re interested in figuring out how to maximize your blog revenue, we know you’ll find some helpful nuggets of inspiration in this interview!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How Mike transitioned from attorney to online content creator
- What it was like to work with restaurants in New York City
- How he shifted the content focus on his blog and on social media
- When he knew he could create an income from his blog and social channels
- How he’s getting traffic to his blog
- How he shares his recipes on social media
- Why he’s happier working for himself and how his background has helped with his sponsor negotiations
- What his full-time blogging schedule looks like
- What it’s like working with an agency
- What roles Mike will hire for next
- What it’s like using Airsubs to host cooking classes to his audience
- How authenticity contributed to his growth
- Mike Bakes NYC
- Broma Bakery
- Mike’s cookbook, Even Better Brownies
- 308: Virtual Events – Earn an Income by Teaching Classes Online with Tomas Hoyos
- Smith and Saint
- Follow Mike on Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest
- Read Food Blogger Pro member stories!
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: Hello. Hello. Hello. You’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today, we are chatting with Mike Johnson from Mike Bakes NYC. Mike’s going to be talking about a few different things. He’s actually going to be talking about what it was like to live in New York in March of 2020 and to be working as an attorney and during that month, March 2020, you can only imagine. We all remember March 2020, but especially in New York. He’s going to be talking about what it was like transitioning from his dream job as an attorney to realistically another dream job of working on his Instagram and his blog full time, what those first few months were like.
Bjork Ostrom: He’s also going to be talking about what it looks like in terms of the behind the scenes business, how he goes about thinking about creating revenue, where that’s coming from. And we talking about the things that were most helpful in growing his Instagram following. He has 170,000 Instagram followers. We’re going to be talking about the idea of kind of Instagram first, using that as a platform, and then later on building a blog to support that and how you go about doing that strategies around how you can direct people from your different platforms to your blog.
Bjork Ostrom: And I’m going to be talking a little bit about kind of what that was like for Pinch of Yum. We actually started blog first, and then kind of pointed people to social. So, a lot of great conversations with Mike from Mike Bakes NYC talking about his journey jumping in full time as a creator, what that’s been like for him. So, let’s go ahead and jump into this interview with Mike from Mike Bakes NYC.
Bjork Ostrom: Mike, welcome to the podcast.
Mike Johnson: Thanks for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, we have the podcast the audio, and then we also do video, and you have a video where it’s like, “Ah, you know video.” Which is going to be really fun, because we’re going to be talking about your… Some of the things that you’ve done with Airsubs, and the work that you’ve done perfecting video and learning about video. But before we do that, I want to hear about your transition from an attorney, which is a successful career.
Bjork Ostrom: It feels like one of those career categories where parents are like, “I want my kids to be attorneys or doctors.” These are the career path that is aspirational. And you did that, you achieved that, and you’ve recently gone in a very different direction and have focused on building your brand, building your following online. So, when did that happen and what’s that transition been like for you?
Mike Johnson: Yeah. So, Mike Bakes NYC actually started when I was in law school. So, I’d always been interested in photography and obviously food and desserts. But I just pretty much started it, when I started I was basically just going to New York City restaurants and mainly dessert places and just taking pictures of my food. I had like pictures of New York City and stuff on my Instagram account.
Mike Johnson: It was just kind of like a general sort of photography-esque account basically, and I noticed that the pictures of the food that I was taking was doing much better. I was getting better engagement. People were sharing it, things like that. So it’s-
Bjork Ostrom: Better than what? Better than-
Mike Johnson: Cityscapes or the skyline and things of that nature. So, I was just like, “Well, maybe I’ll start doing all food and see what happens from this.” And so, I started only posting pictures of food and eventually restaurants would start to invite me in and things like that. And I did that for, I don’t know, maybe one or two, maybe even three years.
Mike Johnson: The bulk of my following, I guess at this point now because I’ve been doing it for a while. I’d say about half of my following came from doing New York City restaurants. And I’d say once I hit the 80,000 follower mark is when I was like, “Oh, I’m going to do… I’m going to start baking and doing my own stuff.” I was at a point in law school where I was, my schedule was just too busy and I couldn’t keep going out to restaurants and traveling around the city to get content. So, I started making content at home and that kind of led to people asking, “Oh, where’s the recipe for this?”
Mike Johnson: So, at first, I was sharing other people’s, the link to other people’s recipes. And then, eventually I was like, “Why don’t I look into…” I had friends that were food bloggers that do what I do from a bakery. I was aware of the community and what was possible and being a recipe developer and food photographer and everything. So, I was like, “You know what? Let me learn everything I can about this.”
Mike Johnson: So, I bought a bunch of culinary science textbooks and I enrolled in photography courses and watch a ton of YouTube videos, and basically just like my little hobby became a second business basically. So, I was in law school studying for the bar, all the stuff, and eventually working as an attorney. And then, also learning everything I could about blogging on the side.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a lot of learning.
Mike Johnson: Yeah. It was.
Bjork Ostrom: Learning how to be an attorney I feel like is enough. Yeah. So, a couple things that would be interesting to talk about. One, when you’re first starting out there you said restaurants started to invite me in. I think a lot of people would be kind of curious, what does that look like and how did you make that connection? And then, are they just giving you free food in order for you to document and post about it? Were you reaching out to them? Were they reaching out to you? What did that look like?
Mike Johnson: So, New York City has a really big, I call it a foodie influencer scene. I’m sure there’s a lot of food Instagrams where it’s like there may be a person behind the account, but they’re only sharing New York City restaurants. It’s not like recipes or stuff that you’re cooking at home, but still food photography nonetheless. And so, restaurants will regularly sometimes they’ll even host influencer events.
Mike Johnson: So, they’ll invite 20 food influencers to come and it’s usually when they’re launching a new menu or they have a new item, and they offer you… I was doing more of the one-on-ones because I just wasn’t a fan of going in large groups. So, they would reach out to me on Instagram, be like, “Hey, we love your work. If you’re interested in coming in sometime.” And I would literally just schedule a date and a time whoever, whatever manager was on call or on duty that day like knew I was coming in, and they would just save me.
Mike Johnson: I would have a table near the window and they would just be like, “Order whatever you want.” And everything was comped, and I just took pictures and they would just ask… I never… So, when I was doing it I never at the time, like no one really asked like, “Oh, could you do this, this, and that?” So, it was never like, “You have to post this.”
Mike Johnson: I always posted on my stories and then feed at the time. And so, that’s pretty much what I did for… I don’t know. It was quite a few years. And that was basically a broke law school student. That’s how I was eating and feeding myself-
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Yeah. That’s a great.
Mike Johnson: … was by getting these free meals from restaurants in the city.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, were you nervous about transitioning your account from one that was documenting restaurants and different meals that they would offer, maybe it’s a new restaurant, trendy restaurant, and that they have a new menu item that they’re offering, you go document that, to doing your own recipes and kind of a shift in focus for the audience that you had built?
Bjork Ostrom: So, you have kind of 80,000 people. It’s a substantial amount of people who are expecting a certain type of content from you. Were you nervous to then switch and start publishing your own recipes and your own content that you might alienate those people?
Mike Johnson: Extremely. There was a solid month where I think every single week I posted a poll in my stories and was like, “What are you interested in seeing? You would you be interested in homemade recipes? And not necessarily New York City restaurant photography, what if I changed my name?” Because at the time I was Mike Eats NYC, not Mike Bakes NYC.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. I was going to ask about that, because I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting that you call it bakes when you started when it was actually just documenting-
Mike Johnson: Yes. But it used to be Mike Eats NYC, and so that’s why I changed it to bakes. So, it’s still close enough that if people see, maybe they’ll be like, “Oh, let’s check out and see what is the switch? What’s going on here?” And maybe I won’t lose that initial following. But, yeah, I was extremely worried at first, but I’d say over…
Mike Johnson: I mean I’m not going to lie. I did lose some followers, but overall I started gaining traction with a whole new audience. And so, I just started growing exponentially.
Bjork Ostrom: And part of it is what is going to be the best fit for you moving forward? And I would imagine one of the hard things is even in those early polls the people are following you because you had created certain type of content. So, it was like, to use a really extreme example. If you did nature photography, National Geographic type photography, and then somebody’s like, “I’m going to pivot super hard into muscle cars.”
Bjork Ostrom: And you’re like, “What kind of content do you want to see?” Everybody would be like, “Nature photography.” And nobody would say muscle cars. But there are still people who want to see pictures of muscle cars. They’re just not the people who are following you necessarily.
Bjork Ostrom: Now for your example the Venn diagram overlap, there’s more… It’s like food. You can stay in kind of the same category, but you still will lose people. Did you feel like any of that was true when you would do those polls? Whereas kind of slanted towards people who are just saying what you had always produced, but you… Was it that you knew that this would be a better fit of content for you moving forward and so you said, “This is what I’m going to do?”
Mike Johnson: Yeah. So, when I did the polls, I’d say the closest it ever was… At one point, towards the last week of me asking basically the same questions. It was around 50/50. I’d say 55 were keep it New York City restaurants, 45 were like, “Oh, we’re interested in developed recipes.” But in thinking about it, I knew that there would be more of an opportunity for me, I guess, if I did the, went the homemade recipe and learned how to develop things and went that route just because, at the end of the day my, when I was doing this Instagram as a hobby, not as a business.
Mike Johnson: I was doing it more so for the photography aspect. The food photography is what is interesting to me, not that I don’t like developing recipes, I do, but I’m just way more interested in the food photography side of things. So, I knew that there would be opportunities down the line if I had developed those skills and was able to build out that skill set, more so if I were to just continue doing New York City restaurant photography.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Like what? When you think of the opportunities, what would those be?
Mike Johnson: So, I knew like I mentioned earlier, my friend Sarah from Broma Bakery knew about sponsored opportunities and things like that. And so, I was like, “Oh, maybe one day if I learn the skill set, maybe I will have brands reaching out to me that’ll want to pay me.” Because obviously I had a lot of restaurants and stuff coming out, but for the most part, I wasn’t really making money despite my large following.
Mike Johnson: I think I did maybe two sponsored posts with Seamless and Grubhub, and in partnership with another restaurant, but outside of that, I wasn’t really making money. So, it truly was just a hobby or passion project. And I knew for the amount of time that I was putting into it, I was like, “Oh, it’d be nice if I could make a little bit of extra money and use that for, I don’t know, food or whatever I decide to use it for.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally. So, at what point in making that decision to switch did you realize like, “Oh, I can actually create an income from this?” Was there a point where you’re like, “I’m glad I made the switch because now these are, opportunities are starting to come about?”
Mike Johnson: Oh. So, I think there was a point where I had that thought, but it was honestly, maybe a solid 9 or 10 months after I made the switch that I was like, “Okay. This is actually, this was a good idea.” Because I was very slow in making my transition to being, to doing only my content essentially. I’d say I launched my website in May of 2018.
Mike Johnson: And so, I posted my first developed recipe May of 2018. The next recipe that I posted wasn’t until November of 2018. I was very slow in like, just very apprehensive I guess of like, “Am I making the right decision?” And so, it took me some time to fully lean into it, but I think once I did and I fully transitioned to I think towards the end of 2018 is when I was finally just like only posting photos of food that I had made. I wasn’t doing any more New York City stuff.
Mike Johnson: I think that’s when I was finally like, “Okay. I think this is going to be worth it.” I saw my follower count was starting to grow. And early that next year is when I started getting brands reaching out to me for a collab and offered payment off the bat so.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, which was probably a huge moment, really exciting. Is that Instagram then that those people would be reaching out? Is that a brand sending you a DM on Instagram and saying, “Hey, could we partner and work together?”
Mike Johnson: Yeah. When I was first starting out most of my, most of the brands that would contact me were through Instagram DMs or they would DM me and ask if I had an email address if they could contact me through it, because I just did not have a professional profile and didn’t have my email listed or anything. But once I added the whole how you can have a business account and have your email button and everything. Once I added that, brands consistently would email me rather than DM.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And one of the things that’s interesting is you see this starting to happen now. It’s different than when we started, which is we would start almost like blog first. So, we start a blog, and then everything that we have is kind of supporting the blog, Facebook, Instagram things like that.
Bjork Ostrom: What you see now is a lot of people will start on a platform, Instagram, TikTok now would be another example. They kind of validate some of the ideas they have. They are able to move forward with that, almost as a testing ground. “Hey, people are interested in… They want to do it.” And then, kind of building around that. Would you say that’s kind of been your journey is validating on Instagram, and then building off of that or is it the other way around?
Mike Johnson: Yeah. That’s exactly what I did and kind of how my journey or career path has been was Instagram was basically where the bulk of my following was at the time, and I was like, “Maybe I should expand and get other platforms and my own blog and have my own space?” And I think, for me, at least on my end, it’s almost felt like I’ve been trying to play catch up on the blog end, because I already had this significantly large following by the time I launched my blog and just trying to promote essentially and get the word out there.
Mike Johnson: Like, “Hey, I’m on other things now. This is what I’m offering. Go check it out.” And so, I guess all of the learning curve that is having your own self-hosted website. So, it has been quite the experience.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel like you’ve been able to kind of siphon off some of the success you’ve had with Instagram to the blog or have those been pretty separate? Obviously, the content can be used in multiple places, but can the audience transition over? Have you found success in getting people on Instagram to go to your site or is it kind of like you’re building this thing in one town, and then you’re building another thing in another town and people aren’t going to go unless they’re check it out unless they’re from the town that you’re building the thing in?
Mike Johnson: So, it feels like a little bit of both honestly. I would say when I first started my blog and had a total of five recipes, my web traffic was all coming from social media. It was either Pinterest or Instagram. And just from me sharing swipe up links and feed and putting the link is in my bio and all that stuff. And so, primarily when I was first starting out, I’d say honestly almost up for the first year of me starting out, because I also started off on Squarespace, so like SEO was not a really big thing.
Mike Johnson: I didn’t really know anything about it. So, all of my traffic primarily was coming from the audiences that I already had. At the time I had a very small email list, things of that nature. And now I would say it’s primarily… I mean I think my social media, all of social media. So, whether it’s TikTok, Pinterest, anything like that, I think only makes up 15%, maybe 20% of the traffic that I get. So, it’s primarily all coming from organic search and Google and stuff now, which is great and I’m happy. But it does feel almost I have a disconnect in audiences.
Mike Johnson: So, I find the blog posts, I regularly reference things that have happened on Instagram, are like, “Oh, I posted a poll on my stories,” or I’ll plug myself in my blog post, because I feel like I’m talking to two different audiences.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Like giving them the context around what’s been happening in other places. Is that what you mean? So, like, “Hey…” Yeah. And it’s also I feel like as content creators, one of the skills that you need to develop, which it sounds like you’re doing is the ability to say, “Hey, I’m going to create content unique for this platform, but I’m also going to mention while writing a blog post, Instagram, but not in a way where it’s like you have to go to Instagram in order to receive any benefit.
Bjork Ostrom: And in the same way on Instagram, not saying like, “Hey, you have to go to the blog to get any of the benefit.” But finding that right mix of like, “Hey, this thing’s over here and you can check it out.” And you probably should, but to not cut off all of the value in that place. Have you found when you’re publishing content on any social platforms, are you putting the entire recipe on there? Are you encouraging people to go to the blog and check it out? What are your thoughts around that?
Mike Johnson: So, I’d say 9 times out of 10, I primarily is I’ll say for my own recipes. Don’t ever put the entire recipe on, I guess that’s not completely true. I’d say 98% of the time, I’m not putting the full recipe on like Instagram or TikTok or anything. I will just lik… I do a lot of behind the scenes, step by step videos of me making recipes. So, I will just… Like an edited video of me making the recipe start to finish. And then, at the end I’ll do a swipe up link to the full recipe, the blog posts.
Mike Johnson: There are some, I think there are total of maybe three or four recipes that only live on Instagram and it’s either they were adapted from a friend from a cookbook or it was a sponsored post that I did with the brand where it was only for Instagram or to live stories and not to go on the blog. So, that’s just where the recipe lived. So, I primarily do, I do try to encourage people from Instagram to go to the blog to get the full recipe.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. At what point did you go full time? When was that?
Mike Johnson: It was March 2020.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Wow.
Mike Johnson: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Was that like in New York too?
Mike Johnson: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Was it like beginning of March, end of March? I feel like March 2020 is one of the fastest changing from beginning to end months-
Mike Johnson: Yeah. It was end of March. I was working as an attorney. Initially, I was working for the city/state as a prosecutor, and November of 2019, I left that job and went to a private law firm. I figured if I was going to work long hours, I wanted to make more money, honestly, that’s what it was.
Mike Johnson: So, I went to a private firm and I was there from November to March and three weeks. So, New York City are like stay at home orders. The house went into effect in March. So, when we were working from home, it was the third week of March. The managing partner of the law firm I was at sent out an email to all of us and was like, basically, it said that one of the attorneys that was working for, that was in charge of the finance for the firm had been stealing money from the firm for years, 20 plus years.
Bjork Ostrom: No. No.
Mike Johnson: And so, the combination of this attorney stealing money and-
Bjork Ostrom: Oh my gosh.
Mike Johnson: … COVID and everything, we just couldn’t afford to keep operating. So, the firm itself actually filed for bankruptcy and they were like, “You guys are out of the job in a week and a half.” So, I was frantically applying for jobs in the city, which was… I was getting interviews but basically it was like we don’t know what’s going on.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, it’s such a bizarre time. Yeah. Totally.
Mike Johnson: … new people on, whatever. So, I was just like, “This is the… It’s a now or never.” I was like, “This is the perfect time for me to try.” I’m very risk averse, and obviously, I went to law school and got my… I’ll say dream job of when I was growing up. So, I always have excuses for not taking Mike Bakes NYC full time.
Mike Johnson: And so, this was kind of when I was just like, “All right-”
Bjork Ostrom: So, it may be the only way that it would have happened?
Mike Johnson: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Global pandemic. The company you’re working for are going bankrupt. It’s really every door shutting in order for you to be-
Mike Johnson: Exactly. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: … and then like your brand and food work is like, “We’re still open.”
Mike Johnson: Yeah. Exactly. That’s exactly what happened. I honestly, I think I might have taken the leap myself had none of that happened, but I honestly probably would have been two or three years down the line. I don’t think I would have done it as soon as I did. So, I just told myself, March hit, end of March rolled around and I was like, “All right. Let’s try this out for two or three months, and then if it’s not working out, let’s… We’ll figure out something else.”
Bjork Ostrom: What were those first… Yeah. Go ahead and finish that thought.
Mike Johnson: I’ve always kept my law license valid. So, it’s still my fallback option as a worst case scenario, but it’s been… I haven’t looked back since March. I’m definitely happier and enjoying what I do now.
Bjork Ostrom: Why do you think that is? Why do you think you’re happier and…
Mike Johnson: Honestly, I’ve always been someone that’s been… I’ll say like a creative person. So, in middle school and high school, I did all of my electives were art classes. I did like photography. I was in yearbook. Just everything art related essentially I’ve always been interested in. And I think just the nature of how I was raised. It was always like, “Oh, those are nice to have as a hobby, but let’s get something more secure as a job.”
Mike Johnson: So, those are just, that’s kind of how I grew up looking at everything that I was doing. It’s like, “Oh, these are fun hobbies, probably can’t make a career out of it.” And I think once I got old older and I guess wiser in a sense, and knew that it was possible to actually make a career out of it is when, I was, “All right, let’s work for what I’m actually interested in.”
Mike Johnson: I’m not saying I’m not interested in law. Obviously, I have all this money and all these years studying and going to school, but it’s what started as a creative outlet for me became what I found myself… It’s like, “Wow. I really enjoy what I’m doing more so when I was working as an attorney.” So, having the opportunity to kind of pursue that and go forward with it has been amazing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Knowing what now, would you have still gone to law school?
Mike Johnson: Yes. Only because, so now I have a manager that handles all of my brand sponsorships and everything like that, but when I was first starting out and brands are reaching out to me. The fact that I went to law school and knew everything about crafting contracts-
Bjork Ostrom: Really. Reading contracts. Yeah.
Mike Johnson: … I had that background knowledge. I was definitely I’d say more ahead of the curve than the average food influencer, food blogger that’s just starting out. I just had that kind of legal knowledge that really helped me and helped with negotiations, in getting more, paid money than I’d say most people that were just starting out.
Bjork Ostrom: What did you know about, what did your experience as an attorney help you with and with negotiations? What did that look like?
Mike Johnson: I think, honestly, it was just more of it helped I guess in the way that I would phrase what I was trying, the point that I was trying to get across. So, I felt that they were asking for a lot and not paying what I thought that they should be. Basically, having a intelligent way of saying that without being like, “Hey, I think you should pay me more.” Being able to structure like, “All right. I’m going to be offering XYZ.” And giving them some sort of data or something to back everything up to kind of be like, “Hey, this should be more or if you’re not willing to pay more, then maybe let’s negotiate down some of the deliverables I’m going to be providing to you.” Whereas I don’t think a lot of beginner food bloggers are necessarily confident in doing that.
Mike Johnson: They’re like, “Oh, Bjork wants to work with me. Let me just say yes to everything and I’m excited for this opportunity.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think some people are like you said so excited about the potential. It’s like, “Yes. Let’s do it.” Not knowing to your point that you can actually come back and say, “Hey, super excited about this.” It’s not like you have to pretend not to be excited. But, and what I heard you saying was list out what you’re providing him and here’s what it would look like when I provide this for you. These photographs, I would be developing the recipe. I would be communicating with you back and forth, two rounds of revisions. And usually, I would charge this amount, you came in at this amount. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Mike Johnson: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s kind of breaking it out a little bit, providing some context. It’s not just a post on Instagram. There’s a lot that goes into it, calling that out, and then saying, “With this in mind, here’s what I would expect to get paid for that…”
Mike Johnson: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Got it. What were those first two to three months like for you when you got, when you’re like, “I’m no longer an attorney…” You’re still technically an attorney, but working as an attorney and I’m doing this very different thing of building a food brand online?
Mike Johnson: So, it was very stressful because I was actually working on finishing up my first cookbook at the time. My first cookbook was completely written and photographed while I was still working as an attorney. So, the month of March, the end of March is actually… Into April is when all of my photos were due. I’d sent the manuscript off at the end of February.
Mike Johnson: So. I was working as an attorney, working from home, and then in between Zoom calls, I would be in the kitchen preparing something for me to photograph after the Zoom call. So, it was a lot of back and forth, the balancing act. I didn’t sleep much. Then, obviously, the stay at home orders hit and people went crazy. So, there was a whole ingredient shortage. I was working on a cookbook, but I had to plan out in my head.
Mike Johnson: All right. This is what I need to get these cookbook photos done. And then, this is how much flour or sugar I have left for any recipe testing and new recipes. So, that’s when I started doing small batch desserts and things like that. And so, for the month of March and April, everything that I put out was small batch recipes, because I had figured if I had trouble getting flour.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally.
Mike Johnson: … else was in the same boat.
Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.
Mike Johnson: It was definitely an interesting time for the first two months. I’d say it wasn’t until summer time. So, I say end of March is when I went full time. I’d say June, July is when I finally got into the groove of waking up and, “All right, this is what I’m doing today.” And kind of getting some sort of schedule figured out.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What does that look like? At a high level, what is your day-to-day, week-to-week schedule?
Mike Johnson: So, it is constantly changing. I don’t know if it’s I haven’t found what worked for me or if I just find something that works, and then get bored with it. When I initially started out, I was doing kind of an hourly type thing. So, I would wake up, I would do computer, check on emails and anything I might have missed, catch up on social media, reply to comments for the first hour of the day essentially.
Mike Johnson: And then, I would go straight to the kitchen and do any recipe testing that I had or preparing if I was doing a shoot that day, preparing whatever it was that I was planning on shooting. If I had a shoot, then afternoon would be the shoot and sometimes I would start editing. If there was no shoot, if I just recipe tested, then I would do back end blog stuff, working on blog posts things like that. And night time was…
Mike Johnson: The one thing I’ve tried to hold on to is not working all hours into the night, because as you know food blogger-
Bjork Ostrom: You’ve done that for-
Mike Johnson: Yeah. Anyone that owns a business, there’s always something you could be doing. So, it’s hard to separate, you give yourself-
Bjork Ostrom: You’re never done. Totally.
Mike Johnson: But I have tried to hold on to not working too late. I’m not going to say that’s always what happens, but now I’d say I do. I try to do daily tasks. I break up what I’m doing for the week by day. So, I have one day where it’s only computer stuff, one day where if I’m in the kitchen, I’m only in the kitchen for that day, whether I’ll do recipe testing and shoot days on the same days, but I try to computer work separate from creative work, because I just find it’s, my brain processes it better.
Mike Johnson: And I’d go into shoots feeling better when I’m just like, “Oh, I’ve only been in the kitchen today. I haven’t been staring at a computer screen.” So, I’d say now and for the past, honestly, probably the past four or five months that’s been my sort of schedule. I would say it changes from week to week. So, I don’t always do, not every Monday is a computer day. It just depends on what I’m working on. If I have deadlines that are approaching, things like that.
Mike Johnson: I basically have a calendar that’s a bunch of sticky notes on it that are color coordinated with this is what I’m doing for today. If people have OCD, it’s their best friend honestly. It’s very, very neat and organized but-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. And then, in terms of if you’re to look at all the different components of what you do as a business and pie chart it out, I know there’s a lot of different things you’re doing, you’re working with brands and sponsors, you’re doing… I think you work with Mediavine, do Airsubs, we interviewed the founder of Airsubs which will link to that podcast in the show notes. What does that look like in terms of the pie chart? And curious kind of what your thoughts are as a business owner of how you want to adjust those, more sponsored content, less sponsored content, more around classes, less around classes? What are your thoughts around that?
Mike Johnson: So, right now my focus has been trying to do less sponsored content and bring in more passive income with Mediavine through ads and SEO. So, I have been for the past, I will say part of this has been I lost the first 25 recipes that I posted on my blog randomly, WordPress. We don’t know what happened, but my photos are gone. So, the blog post is still there but all of the photos are gone. So, I’ve been using this as a, a lot of them I have the shoots for it. So, just re-editing the photos, but I’ve been reshooting old recipes, revamping old recipes, reworking them, and really going through and optimizing the post, because before it was just like, “This is the recipe. That’s really good, and here’s the recipe.”
Mike Johnson: So, now I’ve been going through and actually, now I know about SEO and everything. Optimizing those blog post. So, my focus has been on getting my blog to a healthy position essentially to where I don’t need to necessarily rely on sponsored posts or anything like that. I’d say that’s primarily where most of my income is coming from right now. I should say it’s sponsored posts, and then a tie between the baking classes that I’m offering and ad income.
Mike Johnson: So, I’m trying to get that ad income a little bit larger on the pie chart so I can… I’m already picky with the brands I work with, but in a sense I think having that increased traffic would allow me to, I guess I could say be even more picky, which would be nice and I could do that without putting out recipes that I only want to do and not really have to think about like, “Oh, how can I incorporate this product that I might…” I’m probably already using anyways, but in a way that makes the product shine.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And there’s just additional considerations when it’s not just you thinking of something you want to do, but it’s you thinking of something you want to do that will also work for the goal of the brand, which might be different than what your goal would be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just creates complexity in content creation.
Bjork Ostrom: I see that you work with an agency. Can you tell me about what that has been like? And knowing that you technically can review contracts and a lot of times that’s why somebody would work with the agencies, review contracts, do negotiations, all things that you can do, what was your thinking with working with an agency and what has that been like?
Mike Johnson: Yeah. So I am with Smith and Saint. I think I signed with them probably September of last year, maybe October. And it’s been great. I was a little apprehensive at first only because, not because of them, but just I had the mindset and I had actually talked to a friend maybe a week before Smith and Saint reached out and we were just like, “Oh, I don’t think we’ll ever get an agent. I like the negotiation side and I can handle XYZ.”
Mike Johnson: And then, maybe literally a week later both of us signed with the same agency. But it has been great. I will say I… So, it’s primarily run… It’s two sisters that started it and why I really liked them when I first met them was because they’re kind of the same story as me. They are both attorneys that have now left kind of the practice of law… kind of the same boat that I was in. I was still using what I learned in law school for contracts, negotiations, and stuff. But I was getting up, when they had reached out, it was started, quarter three, getting ready for quarter four, and I was starting to spend more time on the computer answering emails, back and forth more than I was in the kitchen or getting to do anything that I enjoyed doing.
Mike Johnson: I wasn’t taking photos or anything like that. I just felt I was on the computer three out of the five days of the week working. So, I was like, “You know what? Let’s try this out and see what happens.” And it’s been great. I wish I would have done it sooner. They handled all of that for me.
Mike Johnson: So, now I’d say traditionally now brands are reaching out to them directly. Any brands that I might have worked with in the past or that contact me directly, I just loop in my manager and we kind of tag team and do everything together. But we’re in constant contacts through text and everything. And she just kind of handles literally everything dealing with, working with brands like she has. She’ll do all of the Google Calendar invites and the deadlines, all of the negotiations. She handles all the contract stuff.
Mike Johnson: I basically don’t get involved with a brand until the contract is signed and I’m pitching recipe ideas and we’re going over that stuff. So, it’s given me a lot of time to focus on other things, because running a business or many things to focus on. So, it’s truly freed up a lot of my time and I could not be happier.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We’ve been using this kind of business framework called EOS and they have all of these different kind of tools so to speak, but one of them is called GWC. And it’s kind of a analysis that you do for any of the functions of your role. So, a function of your role in this example would be negotiation and brand relationship.
Bjork Ostrom: And GWC stands for gets it, wants it, capacity to do it. And so, in that exercise, you would get it, right? You’re an attorney, you can do negotiations, you know it, wants to do it, maybe. It sounds like you’re like, “Hey, this is kind of fun. I like doing it. It’s something I enjoy.” Capacity to do it. No. You just don’t have the time to do it.
Bjork Ostrom: So, in the GWC test, you’d say, “Well, I just don’t have the capacity to do this. So, then what?” Well, you delegate that to somebody else and find somebody who can do that really well.
Mike Johnson: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: And it’s such a freeing moment. I remember this feeling when I was processing all of the invoices that would come in. So, any contractor, vendor that we would work with, they would just email me. And then, I’d go and I’d process that invoice. And I was like, “It only takes five minutes for me to do that.” But I remember when we hired somebody and one of the roles that we assigned to them was processing invoices.
Bjork Ostrom: I trained her in on it. And it’s a really freeing moment when you can get an inbox, a message in your inbox, an email in your inbox or a message, that’s a DM, and you can just forward that. It’s like that’s the amount of work that you need to do is route it to the person who needs to see it. And I think the more that your responsibilities increase, the more that you’re having to figure out who you’re going to route stuff to within your team. And it sounds like that was a big win for you.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have other thoughts on what those roles will be in the future? Are you thinking about working with other people? What’s the next area that you’re going to look to bring somebody in to help with? Whether kind of an agency and like this, or a team member, any thoughts around that?
Mike Johnson: Yeah. Two positions immediately at the top of my head. One is I am going to eventually hire someone out to do everything relating to Facebook and Pinterest, because I just hate spending time on those two platforms. And I just feel as though, especially with Pinterest that it’s just so viable for my business, and it does, out of all of the social media platforms I would say, at least for me it is. Pinterest is the highest traffic driver.
Mike Johnson: I know it’s something that I should put more effort into it than I do and I just don’t have the capacity to do it. That is a big one. And then, the other one and this was a plan that I was wanting to do even while I was, before I was taking Mike Eats NYC full time, and then COVID hit. And I could not, it was impossible at that point. But I do want to bring on a second person, in-person. So, someone that’s in New York City to help when I have heavy shoot days.
Mike Johnson: So, this week, for instance, I have I think five deadlines this week. So, I have five photo shoots that I have to do. And it’s just to have an extra set of hands, whether it’s helping with hands in the video, helping with something in the kitchen, preparing stuff, things of that nature. I know it’ll help me, because, obviously, I guess the photography side of things, it would make things my process so much, so much easier.
Bjork Ostrom: And there’s something to be said about really looking hard at what are the things that don’t matter if I do them? And one of those is scheduling stuff on Pinterest. Does it matter if you do the photography? Probably. People can probably get to know your style, your feel. Does it matter if you do the writing? Probably. At this point if it’s you and it’s a personal brand. Does it matter if you are prepping the recipe and measuring stuff out? Probably not.
Bjork Ostrom: And it’s interesting to think about what are the things that are most cost effective to hire, and also least impactful for what you’re doing in terms of you being the one to do it? Which is always kind of a fun game to play to kind of analyze that, which it sounds like you’ve kind of pinpointed those two.
Bjork Ostrom: Last thing I’m curious to hear you talk a little bit about is Airsubs. So, we touched on that briefly, but what is that like to do an Airsubs class? How do you get people to sign up? Is it primarily your blog? Is it Instagram? Is it email? And then, what are just logistically, how do you pull it off?
Mike Johnson: Yes. Airsubs has been, it’s been very interesting. I am enjoying it. I was a little unsure of how it was going to go, but I’ve been offering three classes a month and they’ve traditionally been on weekends. I’m moving away from that starting next month. So, I’ve had people reach out asking for like, “Oh, can we do a Friday night class?” Or something like that.
Mike Johnson: But, yeah, I do three classes a month and it’s varied between recipes that are on my blog, recipes that are not on my blog that were in my first cookbook or just recipes that there’s been I think two classes where it’s a recipe that it was only available for that class. It’s not anywhere.
Mike Johnson: And I’ve been promoting it on Instagram primarily. And then, also my email list. I am ashamed to say that I’ve been offering classes for probably five months now and still don’t have any information about it on my website. There’s a page in the works that’s just interactive. I just haven’t published it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. There’s always something.
Mike Johnson: Yeah. I’m just like, people DM me and I’m like, “I need to work on this page so I could just send them the link that will have all the information.” It’s just one of those things that it’s on the list. I just haven’t finished or gotten to it. But, yeah, so primarily my email list. Every time I offer, every time next month’s classes are open for registration, I will post on Instagram a carousel post with the three images of what we’re making. And then, I’ll send out to my email list as well with links to sign up for each class. But, yeah, it’s been great. Airsubs handles everything essentially. I just, on my end I input the class information, the price of the class, the time, things like that.
Mike Johnson: And then, I upload a PDF that I create that has an equipment list, the ingredient list, and then the full recipe. And then, when people sign up, Airsubs handles sending out all that information. They send out the Zoom link. And so, really all I have to do is once I pick the date and time, on that date and time just remember to start the Zoom meeting on my laptop and everyone is there. And I have it set up to where Airsubs will automatically upload the recording.
Mike Johnson: So, I record all the classes and save them to my cloud and Airsubs will automatically upload it to their website, so people, if they can’t make it to class can watch the replay. If you did make it to class, they can watch the replay as well. And then, those classes are also available for on-demand purchase. So, all the past classes that I’ve done, people could purchase it and watch it right then and there. So, they’re not interacting in real time. They can’t really ask the questions like you could if you were there, but they at least get, I guess the nature of being in class and hear the questions other people ask and things of that nature, and I kind of walk through everything the recipe has to offer and the technical sides of things like that.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Yeah. And just one more plug for that interview we did on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We’ll link to that if you want to hear more about Airsubs for any listeners. Great way to monetize for somebody who focuses on a specific type of content from Instagram, because it’s a really clear call to action. You know that people are really interested in what you’re doing.
Bjork Ostrom: And this is maybe kind of burying the lead a little bit, but you’ve had this success growing your Instagram account, would you be able to pinpoint that to something? Obviously, incredible content, a really important piece, most important piece. Are there other things where you’d say, “Hey, as a creator these are the things that I think maybe helped with the growth of my account.” Because you’ve been able to achieve something that not a lot of people have but a lot of people want to achieve, which is significant growth.
Bjork Ostrom: I think you have 170,000 followers now and continuing to grow. How have you done that? What does that look like and what’s your advice?
Mike Johnson: Yeah. So, I feel like people ask all the time and I’m just like, “I wish that there was a magic formula I could provide.” Honestly, for me, it was focusing on, like you said, content was number one and I think always will be number one. And for me, especially when I was starting out, and then when I made, even after I had grown this following and was doing Mike Bakes NYC on the side.
Mike Johnson: I think it hit me again once I started to go full time was not falling into the comparison trap and looking at either friends that I’m, people I’m friends with that are bloggers or people that I, other bloggers that maybe they don’t know who I am or I haven’t spoken to them, but also admire their work. It was just trying to not fall into, “Oh, my god. My photos will never look like that or I wouldn’t have this amount of followers or whatever it was.” And just kind of focusing on what I was doing and finding my own photography style and all of those things.
Mike Johnson: I think once I kind of really leaned into that and just kind of focused on, I guess it sounds so corny to say and I hate that I’m about to say this. But being my true authentic self, as far as the food blogger world goes, that’s when I noticed that I was growing. So, I’m someone I would say if anyone who scrolled through my Instagram, my captions are very I’d say witty, kind of a sarcastic person and I make sure that that shows on social media and in my blog posts and people have responded well to that.
Mike Johnson: I’m just kind of a casual blogger I would say. The way that I speak to my audience. And that has worked out well for me. But, yeah, I think just trying to show my audience who I am. I think when I first started out I was so focused on the food that I didn’t really show too much of myself. And I think that’s what made it easier maybe for me to transition from New York City restaurants to my food blogging. When I did that, that’s when I started showing my face more and being on stories personally more, whereas before it would just be like, “Here’s the restaurant I’m at for the day.” And I would talk, but I wasn’t showing myself or interacting with the camera or anything. So, that’s been I think a big thing for me as well.
Bjork Ostrom: I was just having this conversation with Lindsay the other night and was talking about the significance of the person in social, Instagram in this case, not all social. I think Instagram. And I was thinking, I was kind of debating myself. And I was like, “Well, there are these accounts that do really well that don’t have a person behind them.”
Bjork Ostrom: And the example I used was a sports account, like Bleacher Report. But I think what’s different with that is what they are publishing content about is people-oriented content. It’s athletes or you could use it in the food world too. There might not be a food account that’s super popular, but is publishing content that maybe showcases people. And the significance of both, the quality, the content, the recipe, but also that being attached to a person seems like there’s something to that.
Bjork Ostrom: I think people want to follow people, people want to be connected to people. But they also want to follow people who are producing really good things in the world. But if it’s just really good things in the world without a person behind it, there’s some type of intrigue that’s lost. It’s the difference between going to a restaurant, having an amazing meal, and watching, sitting at the bar and watching a robot make it.
Bjork Ostrom: You could have the same thing, and if you have this chef who is maybe interacting with you and talking with you, they can make the same meal and it feels different. Which sounds obvious to state that, but that’s a little bit of what I hear you saying and there’s a nuance to it. But I can track with what you’re saying and it makes sense. For those who want to follow along, as we’re coming to the end here, Mike, can you talk a little bit about… You’ve mentioned your brand name, but where can people find you? Where can people follow along? And maybe as a last thought, for those who are in the thick of it, as a fellow creator, what would your encouragement be to them as fellow creators and developers, photographers, whatever it might be?
Mike Johnson: Yeah. So, I am Mike Bakes NYC on literally every social media platform-
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.
Mike Johnson: … TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, everything, and my website is mikebakesnyc.com. But for people that are, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been doing this for a while, honestly, I think my number one advice and I think it almost sounds like a no-brainer, but just focus on the content you’re producing. I believe heavily that if you are interested and you enjoy what you’re doing and you enjoy the content that you’re putting out, it’s work that you’re proud of, other people are going to pick up on that, whether it’s your audience, whether it’s a brand and they’re going to want to interact with you, whether that’s following you, engaging with the content, wanting to work with you if it’s a brand.
Mike Johnson: That’s essentially when I really sit to think back and look at what I’ve done. That’s essentially what has happened. I say this, people ask all the time like, “How do I pitch brands?” And I tell them, “I’m not the right person to ask because I foolishly did not pitch brands really when I was starting out.” I’ve pitched a total of two brands in my entire blogging career.
Mike Johnson: Now, that I have a manager, she pitches me to brands and now get way more stuff from, not just waiting on brands to contact me, but primarily up until I went full time on only focusing on content and waiting for brands to essentially notice me, that sometimes I would tag them on stuff or whatever. But essentially just working on what I was producing and putting out there and kind of going from there. So, it’s my number one.
Bjork Ostrom: Yah. That’s awesome. And I feel like if we mentioned it at the beginning and the end of every episode, it still wouldn’t be enough. I think you have to come back to it all the time that this is the craft, this is what we’re creating, and that should be the focus. So, I think a great note to end on. Mike, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Really fun to talk with you.
Mike Johnson: Thank you for having me. (music)
Bjork Ostrom: That’s a wrap for this episode. Thanks for tuning in. As a reminder, if you haven’t yet subscribed to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, you can do that. I think they actually now call it follow, because there’s people who are confused and thought if you’re subscribing you have to pay. You don’t have to pay for the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. You can just follow along and get these episodes every week. If you are looking for a paid option, Food Blogger Pro membership is the place that you can go.
Bjork Ostrom: You can check that out at foodbloggerpro.com/membership. It’s a premium level of information and classes and courses and a forum for food bloggers. We have thousands of people who have been through the Food Blogger Pro courses or maybe to the point where it’s been 10,000 plus people, who at some point have been a member and gone through the courses and classes. You can sign up at any point. You can cancel at any point. You don’t have to sign up for a certain period of time and we’ve found that people have had huge success with their membership if they get in, they go through the content and engage with the community.
Bjork Ostrom: And you can find out more about other people have been through by going to foodbloggerpro.com/testimonials. You can see some of the folks that have gone through Food Blogger Pro and some of the things that they have said about it. So, be sure to check that out if you’re interested in joining. Thanks for listening. Hope you enjoyed the episode. We’ll be back again next Tuesday with another episode, until then, hope you can get a tiny bit better every day forever. Make it a great week. Thanks.