421: Scaling Three Food Blogs and Tips for Hiring a Virtual Assistant with Cheryl Malik

Listen to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast using the player above or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

A photo of an open laptop with the title of Cheryl Malik's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Scaling Three Blogs and Tips for Hiring a Virtual Assistant.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 421 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Cheryl Malik from 40Aprons.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Dianne Jacob. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Scaling Three Food Blogs and Tips for Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Cheryl first started food blogging in 2009, and now runs three different food blogs, in addition to an agency that matches food bloggers with virtual assistants.

In this interview, Bjork and Cheryl chat about growing and diversifying her business over the years and how she manages her time efficiently while running all of her different businesses.

She also shares recommendations for hiring team members, and how to effectively onboard new team members. It’s a really practical episode that will give you lots of advice for thinking strategically about growing your team and your business.

A photograph of meatballs, rice, tomatoes, cucumbers, and dips in a grey bowl with a quote from Cheryl Malik's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, "My best piece of advice is to find someone who can help you manage hiring."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • More about Cheryl’s food blogging journey from 2009 to the present.
  • Why she decided to start three different food blogs.
  • How she has grown her team, and why she started a business to help match food bloggers with virtual assistants.
  • What the revenue streams look like amongst her different businesses.
  • Her recommendations for successfully adding someone to your team and the onboarding process.
  • What it’s like to work with Cheryl’s 40A agency to hire a virtual assistant.
  • The difference between hiring a team member or contractor and working with an agency to find a virtual assistant.
  • How she manages her time (and is more efficient) by batching her days.


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!

With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.

Sign up for Clariti today to receive:

  • Access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing
  • 50% off your first month
  • Optimization ideas for your site content
  • An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
  • And more!

You can learn more and sign up here.

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

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com. And I’m going to give you a really specific example of how you can use Clariti if you sign up today, and that is post or page specific tracking of changes that you’re making. And you can use the notes area within Clariti to make a note anytime that you make a change. An example of when you’d want to do this: let’s say that you’re switching over some of your YouTube videos to be AdThrive or Mediavine video players. You want to make sure that you’re tracking to see, when you look back three months later, the change or the impact that had. And personally, what we’ve noticed as we’ve worked on content is you forget. If you don’t have a system, if you’re not making a note of that somewhere, you’ll forget. And so within Clariti, there’s the ability to leave a note anytime that you’re making a change or improvement on a piece of content to allow you to go back and see how that change impacted things.

There’s lots of other ways that you can use Clariti, but I thought it’d be helpful just to give a really specific example. If you want to see what those other ways are, you can go to clariti.com/food to get 50% off your first month. Again, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food to get 50% off of your first month. You can start taking notes on the changes you’re making and explore all the other features. Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there, this is Emily and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Today on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Cheryl Malik from the blog 40 Aprons. Cheryl first started food blogging back in 2009, and she now runs three different food blogs in addition to an agency called 40A that matches food bloggers with virtual assistance.

In this podcast interview, Bjork and Cheryl chat about growing and diversifying her businesses over the years and how she manages her time to run all of these different businesses. Cheryl also shares lots of tips and recommendations for growing your team and how to find virtual assistants or other team members to add to your team. She also shares her recommendations for onboarding new team members and just other advice for managing a growing team. It’s a super interesting episode hearing all about how her food blogging journey has changed over the years from just managing 40 Aprons to also starting to blog Easy Healthy Recipes and her blog, Cheap Cheap Eats. She has a really interesting and fresh perspective on food blogging and we know you’ll get a lot out of it, so we’ll just let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Cheryl, welcome to the podcast.

Cheryl Malik: Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, we can talk about your story from multiple angles because you have not just one food site, you have multiple food sites, but you also have another business that you’re running connecting food creators, food bloggers with virtual assistants. So you have a lot of experience in the world of business building, site building, company building. Did you know when you first started this was going to be, you wanted to build a business, you wanted to create a business back in 2009 when you first launched?

Cheryl Malik: No, not at all. And I don’t think it really was. It didn’t feel like an option back then for me. I started my site as a creative outlet when I was going to law school, and I was a hundred percent planning on being an attorney. That didn’t last for long, but even after I left law school, food blogging wasn’t a career option for a little while after that. So no, it really just stemmed from a love of food and writing for me. And then the photography piece came later and it all really grew and developed from there. But for me, it was just I want to write about the food that I’m making, and for me to be here now is totally mind-blowing. There was no foresight back in 2009 that this would ever happen for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And the site that you started with, was it called 40 Aprons when you started it, and what was the idea behind that?

Cheryl Malik: No, it was called Legally Eating.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Law student.

Cheryl Malik: After We left the legally part behind, I had to change the name, and then it became the stylist quo because I wanted to do more lifestyle content, and then I started a second site called The Laid Back. It was just a whole lot. So eventually I decided I need to rebrand into something that is versatile enough to last me for however long wherever I’m going, and that’s where 40 Aprons came from. Sort of the idea of wearing multiple hats, which is something I was doing back then as well as I’m just doing now, and kind of a riff on the idea that when you love to cook and people know you love to cook… I at least used to get aprons as gifts all the time. Now everyone is like, “She has 40, so we don’t need to give her any more aprons.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, yeah.

Cheryl Malik: Back in the day, that was the gift that I was getting. Now I guess it’s spatulas.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So the idea being you had multiple kind of iterations, finally landed on 40 Aprons, but from that, you’ve also branched out into other areas. So two questions that I have. First one is, at what point did you know, “Hey, this can be a thing. I’m going to be able to build this into a business.” Like you started in 2009, when did it was going to be a thing? And then at what point along the journey did you create the other sites as well as the agency where you’re connecting food bloggers or food creators with assistants?

Cheryl Malik: So not to fan girl too much, but I was following you and Lindsay when I think you started some series like, “Can a Food Blog Make money?” And I was like, “Hmm, wouldn’t it be crazy if it could?”

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.

Cheryl Malik: And so I started getting the income reports and seeing how y’all were monetizing, and I would forward them to my husband and be like, “This would be nuts. Whoa.” I was like dare to dream. And then didn’t really have too much of a strategy with how I was running the site still at that point, but I was like, “This is amazing.” It really started shifting at that point, I think. And my site grew when I unintentionally sort of niched down and I did a Whole30 and started sharing my Whole30 recipes that I was making, and it really blew up then. And that was around 2016. So at that point, it felt like this can be my full-time job. Up until then, I’d had solid traffic, but it certainly wasn’t enough to replace my full-time job. But around then when the traffic started growing, I realized I can really focus on this the way that I’m focusing on my clients.

Because at that point, I was working at a marketing agency, spending all of my time building other people’s businesses, helping them strategize and develop it and market themselves. So I said to myself, “What would happen if I did that to myself?” And really from there, that’s when it became a full-time, full-time job. And along the way right about when that happened and things became full-time level basically, I hired my first assistant, but I was a little terrified. This person is relying on me entirely, and it was my first payroll expense. So she was part-time for me, and she was local to me as well. And so I said, “What if I try to get some of my food blogger friends to hire you as well? And I’ll teach you everything and we’ll work on things together. We’ll look at their sites and we’ll say, ‘Okay, here’s what I think needs to happen today. Let’s try this next week, whatever,’ and let’s see if we can bolster your income that way because I can’t afford to hire you full-time right now.”

That changed eventually and she became my full-time business partner. But she started taking on so many clients, it became clear to me that this was needed. Because I had virtual assistants, and it was for me so much work to train them and to keep training them and to review the work that was being done, and then if it wasn’t right, it wasn’t good enough, then you have to go through that process again and find someone else. And it is such a whole process. And food blogging in and of itself is a whole process, there’s so many things we have to do.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that when you say it’s a whole process?

Cheryl Malik: So we are photographers and we’re writers, and we’re SEOs, and we’re social media managers: there’s just so much that goes into it. Then you add that management, the training, your HR, there’s just a lot. So what I wanted to do was allow the food bloggers to focus on the content creation and management and marketing and leave all of the administration of hiring and managing behind. I would say, I think, maybe a couple of years after that, that’s when I decided I had a team of my own then and I decided to start a second site. I wanted something that I could kind of pass on to them that wouldn’t just be me writing and shooting and developing all of the time. And at that point, 40 Aprons still had a very specific niche. It was like, “This is a 40 Aprons recipe and this is not,” and I wanted to be able to fill in that content that we were missing. So we started easyhealthyrecipes.com. I think that was around 2019. And then recently just started our third site within the last 12 months, I believe.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk a little bit… You shared a little bit as we were doing the show notes, but I think it’s helpful context. Cumulatively those sites are doing really well, producing really good revenue. Can you talk about what that looks like and then even the shape of that pie? Is it ad-based sponsor content? What does that look like?

Cheryl Malik: Yeah, so in terms of the pie, I wish I could say it’s highly diversified and if ad revenue dropped then we’d still be fine. But it’s largely ad revenue, and that’s partially because ad revenue is so good. So Easy Healthy Recipes has really grown in the last year. We’re seeing currently the average monthly is maybe half a million, it’s growing rapidly right now, but we are monetizing-

Bjork Ostrom: When did you launch that, did you say?

Cheryl Malik: I believe that was 2019, and we went through a lot of… This was my first site that I was really outsourcing a lot of the content creation and management, and we had some hiccups figuring out what worked. And since we smoothed those out, the third site that we launched has been much, much smoother, has grown much faster. But we learned a lot, I’ll say we learned a lot along the way with Easy Healthy Recipes, but it took a little while for it to get going, but now it’s growing pretty well and we’re seeing about a hundred thousand a year in ad revenue with Easy Healthy Recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s incredible. And the thing that’s interesting for… And it’s cool to see you kind of touching on each of these things. But it’s like you go through the process, you learn how to do it, you’ve built your own site: you’re the content creator, you’re the photographer, you’re the writer. And then you kind of start to experiment and say, “Hey, you know what? There’s some other things that people can help out with where for everybody, it looks a little bit different?” Photography… It might be somebody doesn’t like writing, so they bring somebody in to do the writing. And you put the pieces together, and then you’re still a piece of it, you’re still a part of the brand.

But then you can launch another brand that you’re not a part of. And correct me if this isn’t correct, but it feels like the approach to that is like, “I’m going to create an almost like a product that is the brand.” So if it’s not me, who’s the audience? Who am I creating it for? And you’re able to create something that is completely apart from you, and that’s where it feels like you’re not creating a job, you’re creating a business. And the business runs without you being a part of it, and that feels very different. Have you felt that each step along the way with each of the sites that you’ve launched from the original, what is now 40 Aprons, to the most recent iteration where you said it kind of clicked a little bit more?

Cheryl Malik: Absolutely. And partially what I wanted to do. My vision was… 40 Aprons is me. I mean, I’ve been doing this since 2009. This is all I’ve really been doing pretty much my entire life that I’ve been working or producing anything. And the idea of selling something like that is very personal to me. And whenever I consider it, I’m like, “What would I do without my little baby 48 brands?” But Easy Healthy Recipes was sort of designed for that purpose. The idea was, “Let’s grow this, and eventually we could sell it.” And I wouldn’t feel like I was losing a part of myself, and at the same time, it would be easier for if we did sell it, whoever was buying it. It’s a seamless transition because they’re not changing my face, they’re not taking my little headshot off the profile or anything like that. It’s just new people doing the keyword research essentially.

So it definitely does feel different. And with the third site that we launched, it’s completely different from the sort of content that we’re producing on 40 Aprons, which tends to be in the healthier spectrum of recipes. And it’s really budget friendly recipes that… During Covid, we started thinking about recession possibly coming up. And when Covid was at its peak, people weren’t making healthy recipes, they were making recipes that they could source the ingredients that they could afford. And it really opened my eyes that these healthy recipes are honestly somewhat of a luxury. And there’s this entire market that can be addressed and supported by producing recipes that are very budget friendly in case that there was a recession at any time or anything like that. So we produce recipes with ingredients that would just never be on 40 Aprons. And in that way, it feels like the brand, the avatar for that brand is just something totally separate from me.

Bjork Ostrom: And that you’re not as personally connected to it. Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but it feels like it would allow it to be more of a playground, like, “Okay, we’re going to experiment with this brand.” It maybe doesn’t have to be as precious because it’s not as closely tied to who you are. And so you’re able to look at it and say like, “Apart from you, what’s the best way that you can build this brand?” And I don’t think either way is right or wrong, it’s just a different way to build a business. It’s not as much of a personal brand, it’s more of a brand that stands alone.

And I think one of the things that’s nice about a personal brand is connection, it’s trust. You can establish a rapport with somebody, they maybe follow you, so there’s maybe an advantage there. And how have you navigated that? Have you felt like that you’re having to craft a brand voice as you create those other sites? Or is it more of just delivering a really good product and making sure the recipes are tested well? What does that look like?

Cheryl Malik: I think it’s really the latter. To me, we haven’t changed the voice or the tone too much. What we’re really doing is just shifting the content focus. I mean, very honestly, when I started what became 40 Aprons many years ago, there was much more personality involved in the actual writing of the blog posts and things like that. And that has been taken out of the copywriting element of running a site and running a blog for a while anyway. So we’ve developed a brand, and the way that we write is it really addresses people in a way that we feel like works for us, works for our writers. And so we’ve kind of just copied and pasted that approach to producing content into writing, but changed up the parameters within which the recipes are developed.

So it is much more impersonal in terms of my face isn’t there, I’m not speaking in the first person as Cheryl. But I only really know how to run a site and lead a brand as me anyway, so we just decided, “Let sort of shift where we’re going with this,” but the sort of brand standards have been the same.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense. And the interesting piece I was talking about before as you’re kind of triangulating around all of this is, it feels like the first iteration for all of us as entrepreneurs is you’re the head chef, you’re the dishwasher, you’re the photographer, you’re the writer. As you start to find some success, or as you decide to use some of your own disposable income to invest in the business, you start to outsource some of those things and you get a feel for working with a team.

You have somebody who helps you with something, it’s like, “Oh, that feels really good to not do the thing that I don’t want to do that somebody else really wants to do,” and develop processes around that. And in your case, then duplicating those processes and applying it against a separate brand. And that feels really different then because it’s not personally, you can kind of craft this entirely different thing, and that’s really awesome. But you’ve also then created kind of an agency. Or maybe you have a better word for it, but you’re connecting people who have food sites to virtual assistants. Can you talk about why you saw the need for that and what that looks like from a business perspective?

Cheryl Malik: Yeah, absolutely. So I love a system. It is really the only way that I feel like I can manage all of the things, just all of the things for one individual site, all of the things for having multiple ventures that are going on and then being able to pass that on when it’s time to pass it along. So back to that idea of before I hired my own personal assistant, I had had those VAs who…

You’re starting fresh with someone every time when you do have to hire. And I realized that this was a pain point for my friends personally. They would complain to me about, “I don’t know if she’s doing this right, but I don’t really know how to approach her. I don’t want this confrontation, but I’m not sure the trainings…” There’s all of this chatter of, “I don’t really know if I’m doing this right,” or “It’s taking up a lot of my time. I’m spending all this time and investing and training this person, and then it’s not going well, so I have to reinvest that time. I’m taking this time away from really where I am of value, which is the content creation.”

So after we saw the system and the process that I had implemented with my own assistant working for my friends, we started to think, my assistant and I, maybe we can do this again and maybe we can train people from a food blogger’s perspective. Which when something changes, I go to my business partner and I say, “I think we need to do it this way now. Maybe we trim down our copy. Maybe we invest in this area of Pinterest. Web stories are a thing.” A few years ago we were like, “We’ve got to do web stories.” Now it’s like, “We’ve got to do short films.” So basically I like to think I’m standing in for the client in keeping a virtual assistant up to speed on the industry and where it’s going, and take that part out of the job for the blogger.

What we also like to do is we hire majority food bloggers. So we have people who they get it, they are experienced in this way. And so it’s really a matter of just learning a new brand, learning a new voice, but keeping it all within the industry. Instead of sourcing someone at Upwork, and you have to explain all of the details of food blogging and then hope that it goes well. So we try to remove that hurdle.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting when any industry you get into, you realize there’s all these little nuances, all of these ways that you approach best practices. And so a huge headstart on that is somebody who is in that world themselves, and then also to train them on that, to have a system to say, “Okay, here’s what it looks like to work with somebody,” is great.

What is your advice for somebody who’s never gone through that process of working with somebody, or who has gone through the process and is kind of clunky it didn’t work? How do you work well? How do you bring somebody on to your team, probably in a contracted relationship? And my guess is when you’re working with people, it’s a contracted relationship or they’re just paying you and then your company, and then your company pays the contractor. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit, but how do you work well with somebody? How do you bring somebody on and have it be successful?

Cheryl Malik: So I think expectations are a huge part of that relationship and communicating them well. Setting expectations so that both sides know what is going on and where you want to go, that is just such a critical part of how an employee relationship, a contractor relationship, anything like that will function well. And then of course, communication in general is just key. So we’ve been through with my own team so many approaches to project management software, communication software, and we’ve found what works for us. But really making sure that there’s a system in place for everyone having what they need and knowing what you need to do a good job and being able to communicate that regularly will eliminate so many of the issues that arise.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that? Maybe what that looks like when it’s not done right, and then what it looks like when it is done right, just to paint a picture.

Cheryl Malik: Yeah. I mean, to me, it really depends on the issue at hand. A lot of times we’ve been… I don’t know if this is the same for other brands, but we’ve been through so many iterations of, “We’re using this software, please everybody actually use it. Make sure you’re checking off your things.” And having to go in and be like, “Are you actually using this? Are you not getting things done?” Trying to force people to use a software to-

Bjork Ostrom: Asana or ClickUp, like a project management software.

Cheryl Malik: We have done all of those, all those and many more. So we’ve been through that process of feeling like we were having to micromanage our team to make sure that they were using the software. That was huge struggle for us. And then eventually we just decided, “Let’s do what works.” And we sort of shifted gears and made things a little more just casual for our team so that we know there’s no sort of artificial system in the way of things, being like, “Make sure you go back to Asana, make sure you update your status, blah, blah, blah.”

So we just keep it very, very just native to our team. But the sort of angst that can arise around either too much communication, which can overload someone and take up all of the time that they should be working on a project, or the total opposite, which is a lack of communication where you’re not even sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing or you don’t have what you need. That can be an issue that a lot of contractors run into is, “I’m supposed to be writing, but I don’t have the information.” So finding that happy medium of just enough, not too much, not overwhelming, and not feeling like you’re untethered like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, the balance between giving somebody clear directive, knowing they know what success looks like, they know what a deliverable is for them, but also not looking over their shoulder at every word they’re writing and finding that sweet spot.

Part of it is it feels like people probably have a different level of where they’d feel most comfortable. Does that feel accurate?

Cheryl Malik: Yeah, I think so. And a lot of it is. Like you said, most of us started from this chief everything officer place. I think almost by design, we all did. And at some point you have to relinquish control a little bit, you have to trust, but it can be very hard because it’s personal. It’s your baby, your face is on it, and you want to deliver what you’ve been delivering: high quality product. You want your followers to trust you, to continue to trust you. And it can definitely be hard to give some of that up, but of course it is… As you grow, it can be necessary. It is hard, but it is necessary. So it’s a completely understandable place to come from.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that idea of giving up control, feeling a little bit weird. But it’s almost like any skill you have to practice what does that feel like, how does that work.

So do you call it an agency, 40A?

Cheryl Malik: We do.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. So the agency’s 40A, you can get there by going to foodblogvirtualassistant.com.

What does it look like if somebody were to go through the process of working with you? Do they say how many hours they need or what the specific job is that they need?

Cheryl Malik: Definitely. So we have an onboarding sort of questionnaire where we identify the strengths of that individual person as well as how many hours they could reasonably take on per week so that we’re not overwhelming anyone and we’re not holding them back from what they need to support their family and to really fill out their financial needs.

So we get to know that individual person very well. And my business partner knows every person who works for us so well. She has all of their profiles just in her head all the time. So from that point, we can pair the virtual assistant with the client based on their needs, their niche, just what focus we have for them. And it’s really the sort of beautiful matchmaking process where when we match well, it works out long term; each side getting what they need and what they want.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So somebody comes in and they’re like, “I really don’t like writing. I want to find somebody that can help me with writing.” You know you have this database of people who are interviewed, go through process, and they’re like, “I love writing. I want to do more writing,” matching those people up.

What does it look like on the onboarding side of things, specifically with 48, but also how do you successfully onboard somebody to work with? Do you need to have those processes ready beforehand? One of the things we talk about is occasionally, even if you aren’t hiring anybody, it’s really great to document your processes. So if a time ever does come when you are working with somebody, you have these documented and you can be like, “Here’s how we do things.” Or is it more like, “Hey, let’s bring somebody on and we can work on the processes together as a team.” Do you have any recommendations just for onboarding a new team member?

Cheryl Malik: Yeah, I definitely think that having those documents, those standards in place is so helpful. And when you asked me about, “Did you develop an entirely new voice for your brands?” Honestly, I’m like, “No, we already had those brand standards. It seemed easier to just copy and paste that.” So we had that existing, and that was because we had been onboarding people in the past. When we would even hire new photographers, freelance photographers, no matter how beautiful their portfolio, we would say to them, “Look, these images represent our style really well, so this is what we would like you to focus on.”

It’s just so helpful not only in bringing someone on, but in clarifying your voice and your style for your own self so that you have a vision when you do create your own content. So I love the idea of having that detailed, and that makes our job so much easier when we are partnering a VA and a client. What can sometimes be the issue is if a client… It’s almost like an I’ll know it when I see it sort of situation. I know that’s not my voice because I realized that when I saw your Facebook post today. But having more information allows our discovery process to go by so much more easily, allows us to learn that client and their content just without any issue at all.

Bjork Ostrom: What about different ways to work with team… I’m calling them team members. People probably have different ways to frame it up or words to use for that. Can you talk about the difference between W2, hiring an employee and bringing them, contractor freelance, working with somebody, and then working with an agency? It feels like those are all kind of three different buckets, and can you help people understand the difference between those?

Cheryl Malik: Yeah, so I actually have all three working for me. I have several employees, and these are people who… I mean, they are my team. These are the people who get maternity leave and Christmas presents and they’re just part of our little family. And when a new brand comes up, sometimes I may say, “Hey, I’m going to divert you from Easy Healthy Recipes. You’re going to produce some content for the new site for a little while.” It’s easy to just… It really feels like all hands on deck kind of situation where we are all working towards one general goal.

We also use contractors to do more specific work or one off work. And I don’t personally have any longstanding contracts with anyone, but my accountant and my bookkeeper, they just work on an hourly rate. And we have photographers who sometimes if we’re building a new site, I’ll invest for a few months in several rounds of photography with a freelance photographer, and then we may be able to take it over from there. And then I also use 40A to handle quite a lot of our social media, so they handle all of our Pinterest. And I let my business partner and our director of Pinterest handle that completely. I don’t want anything to do with it. I’m like, “You know what’s going on, you stay on top of it and let us know what we need to do.” And that balance is what works for me. It may look different for anyone else, but I feel like I have a need for every approach to someone working on the site.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that difference that you talk about like maternity leave or Christmas presents as an example, it’s a job for somebody. It’s not like they’re viewing it as one of their clients and they have multiple clients. As maybe a contractor or with an agency, it’s like, “This is what somebody’s focused on usually, unless it’s maybe part-time and somebody has some other stuff that they’re working on.” But can you speak to what comes along with that? Because suddenly now there’s additional considerations. You talked about the benefit side of it, which is a really important piece, but there’s also the legal side of it in terms of what it means to hire an employee, and if they’re remote, you’re setting up workers’ comp and taxes and all of that. So how do you handle that, and at what point would you say you tip over from doing agency contractor work into hiring full-time?

Cheryl Malik: Right. So it is just so much more, so much more. And the benefit to me is that sort of like you alluded to. There is this feeling of ownership with an employee. They feel like we want to see this succeed because it’s us, it’s our thing, and we’re all working on it together. But there are so many more taxes that are required and time off that we pay for, and we have workers’ comp and we have all kinds of insurance and taxes that we’re paying on a monthly basis. And that good old contractor that I mentioned that handles our taxes, she helps me with all of that. This is the side of the business that when I got into this, I was like, “This is one of the things I want to outsource as quickly as possible.” And luckily, I married an attorney. I didn’t actually go through law school, but-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. You got one in law school.

Cheryl Malik: That’s right. So he helps out with so much of that. But it can be so overwhelming, making sure you’re doing everything right, making sure that your employee has the equipment and the gear that they need to do their job. There’s just so much of it. So my best piece of advice is to find someone who can help you manage hiring and help you make sure that based on your state… And we have employees all over the country and they all have different taxes and laws that we have to abide by, and it really can be this massive undertaking. And I always ask myself, “When do I decide that it’s time to take on another employee?” There’s just this shift in my mindset, I think I’m like, “We need someone else on the team who’s there all the time.” But it’s a big deal. But it also has that benefit, that ownership and that feeling of being truly bought in, but it’s also a huge responsibility,

I would say the almost lowest sort of sense of responsibility is my relationship with the agency in terms of a Blogger and a VA. So the person who was working on our Pinterest a few months ago, she had a baby, she decided she wanted to be a full-time mom. I didn’t handle that at all. My business partner reassigned us, had that person trained and onboarded with our site. It was completely hands-off for me. But one of my employees is actually on maternity leave currently, so I am producing the content to fill that in. So completely different approach. And I like having both, but they are just so totally different.

Bjork Ostrom: And as a business owner, as you think about switching from being a solopreneur, doing everything on your own, which has its positives and its negatives, one of the evolutions that you’ll step into is thinking more about what does it mean to be a business owner, and those trade-offs and considerations. And it’s something that for anybody who continues to work on a thing and grow it and find success, inevitably we’ll get to that point where some of those are the decisions that you’re going to have to make. But the great thing is you don’t have to make those right away, you can dip your toe into it. And I feel like working with somebody on a contracted freelancer, an agency type relationship is a great way to do that. So for the solopreneur who’s like, “I do want to step into this a little bit, I want to figure it out.” Would you say there’s like a minimum with time or responsibilities that you could step into it? Is it like five hours a week would be a good stepping stone for somebody to have some help?

Cheryl Malik: We like to work with bloggers on sort of project basis. So we do a lot of Pinterest management, and we have post writing packages that we offer. So it’s not so much that you have to commit to five hours a week or anything like that. It really is scalable. So coming from the perspective of being a blogger who could hire an assistant, but only for a little bit, because I was terrified that it wouldn’t work or that the site would suddenly just backtrack or whatever. I’ve been there and I wanted to make this doable for people. I wanted to make it affordable and manageable. So we made it pretty flexible. There’s not just this like, you have now reached the threshold where you have earned help. We have several clients who have full-time jobs and they simply can’t do all of the things. It’s not so much that they’re at this point where they’re overloaded by their traffic and the creation that’s required, but it’s just how can we support each individual person without it being this threshold you have to sort of meet.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. So I’d be curious for you, as somebody who operates multiple businesses, how do you split your time? What does your day look like? How do you divide your time? Because inevitably there’s a group of people who listen to this podcast, they’re entrepreneurial. Most of the people who listen to this are entrepreneurial, ambitious, excited about multiple different things, they see opportunities. What have you learned about having multiple businesses? Maybe it all rolls up into one business, but you’re operating multiple things. What have you learned as you’ve gone through that process?

Cheryl Malik: So I have developed a sort of routine lately that I absolutely love and has helped increase my efficiency so much. And that is for me, batching my days. So on Monday, I catch up with all my emails from the weekend, I do all of my ingredient shopping. I sort of just get the week ready. Then on Tuesday, my assistant and I are in the kitchen all day. I mean, we just buckle down. I’ve put on my Crocs, I put on my apron, we got our Spotify going, and we’re like, “All right, let’s do this. Let’s get seven recipes done.” And then on Wednesday, I edit five to seven batches of recipes, photos, and then it just… Every day has a theme. And I’m actually developing a business with my husband that’s completely unrelated to food blogging, totally not a digital business at all. And I have a part of my week that I devote to new business ventures.

So I don’t feel like I’m trying to stuff it in around, “Well, this post needs to go up, so I’m going to just edit this real quick and then I’m going to get through this other.” I feel like when I was working that way, I was always pushing those non-urgent tasks off. But now I get into the flow with any given task and I’m able to just really settle in and just blow through it. It’s amazing how much time it took me to edit before, and now that I’m doing five photo sets in one little portion of my day, I can get through it at half the time minimum. So that’s been huge for me and it really allows me to put on that hat. Now it’s my recipe developer hat, instead of, “I’m going to do this one recipe and then I’m going to go check on those emails. I’m going to try and get that webinar in.” It really has allowed my focus to sharpen so much. So I highly recommend that.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Can you talk about the new business venture unrelated to… What is it?

Cheryl Malik: Yeah, totally. So my husband is a real estate attorney, and we have recently been investing in properties. So we actually bought an office in February 2020, and we decided we are just going to work remotely. So we ended up renting that out to a business. And from there we started developing other property businesses. And we are developing a property management company where we have our beach house. So we’re hoping to be able to do the same kind of thing and manage for other people as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, short-term rental management?

Cheryl Malik: Exactly. And I want him to not have to be an attorney anymore. I want him to maybe do the law things, that’s good. But I would like him to be able to just live a little more flexibly like I’m able to.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so then you can match your schedules, like you both have the flexibility and autonomy. That’s really cool.

And I think one of the things that we found is in doing these things, meaning business building, you learn how to apply that in other areas, like processes as an example. “Okay, we need to have processes for these things.” Or even some of the relationships you have might transfer over and work really well in other places. And so I think it’s important to point out for anybody going through the process of trying to figure all of this out, it feels like it can be kind of exhausting and there’s so much that you’re doing and so much that you’re trying to figure out, but what you’re doing is you’re training on skills that are transferable. And I think we forget that sometimes. It works really well in a certain category and it also might work well in another category, so it’s cool to hear you guys developing that. And bonus if it’s a beach house, short-term rental. Like what a great upside to be able to have access to that, which is really cool.

So what would your advice be for somebody who wants to take that next step? They’re listening to this. We have this all the time where people are like, “I want to work with somebody, I want to connect with somebody to help me.” But they’re maybe anxious about it, they’re nervous about it, they don’t know what to do. What would your advice be for somebody who wants to take that next step, and how do they break through some of that fear or hesitation to bring on a team member?

Cheryl Malik: Yeah. I think, honestly, I say lean into the anxiety and know that that’s part of the growth. So I heard this story years ago and it reminds me whenever I feel a little anxious about where the business is going and taking on a new responsibility, like when I brought on my first assistant. I was so nervous about it, but it reminded me of the story that they said there’s this moment with a lobster before… Maybe it’s a snail, I don’t know, some sort of crustacean where they’re too big for their current shell and they only know that they need a bigger shell because they’re uncomfortable. And I started thinking, “Okay, I just need a bigger shell.”

I started leaning into this idea that discomfort and that sort of anxiety or nervousness, that is part of it. And that’s okay. And it’s okay to trust as well and to lay out those processes that will help that transition happens sort of seamlessly, which as we discussed is always good to have just for clarity of vision anyway. So I like to lean into whatever feeling I’m having, but then buckle down and do the work, let it fuel me a little bit. So it’s normal to feel that way totally, but it can also lead to the best things.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. So much of what we do is coming up against something that’s uncomfortable and then figuring out how to work our way through that, just in life in general. Could be business related, it could be in our personal life, like navigating those situations is a skill. And the best way to get better at it is to go through it, whether in business or personal life or whatever it might be.

You’ve done such a great job of that. It’s really fun to see all the different places that you’re building, that you’re creating, that you’re helping people. For those who want to follow along Cheryl with you, and then also if you could do a shout-out to the agency if they’re interested in working with your team, can you do a little quick recap of where you can be found online?

Cheryl Malik: Yeah. So 40 Aprons is 40 Aprons everywhere, 4–0-Aprons. If you want to check out easyhealthyrecipes.com, the social for that on Instagram is easyhealthyrecipesblog. And then we have cheapcheapeats.com, which is Cheap Cheap Eats on social. And then if you want to check out the agency, head to foodblogvirtualassistant.com and we would love to chat with you. And if you’re having some anxiety, we’ll do our best to assuage that.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Cheryl, thanks so much for coming on. Really appreciate you sharing your insights.

Cheryl Malik: Thanks so much for having me. It was so much fun.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there, Alexa here from the Food Blogger Pro team. Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I wanted to take a quick second to make sure you are aware of the Food Blogger Pro membership. So the Food Blogger Pro membership, Food Blogger Pro in general was started when Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom. Lindsay is the content creator over at Pinch of Yum. When they started getting a ton of questions about starting and growing and monetizing food blogs, so people would come to them and say, “Hey, I see what you’re doing. I love what you’re doing. How can I do the same thing?” So they just started Food Blogger Pro to be the place where food bloggers, food content creators can go to learn how to start, grow, and monetize their own food blogs.

So we have different courses, we have different events, we have different tools and deals for our community. We have a community forum where members can connect, collaborate, and troubleshoot with industry experts and their fellow Food Blogger Pro members. And it’s just a really active place. I always like to say that your Food Blogger Pro membership won’t look the same the next week after you join because we’re constantly adding new content, new value to your membership.

I wanted to read this testimonial from Food Blogger Pro member Alistair from The Pesky Vegan, and he says, “Starting a food blog can feel pretty daunting more often than not, it’s probably something you’re trying to do on your own without much prior experience. Signing up to Food Blogger Pro was one of the single best things I could have done as it removed a lot of the worries I had and provided me with a supportive community and a wealth of invaluable information. When I think about the journey I’ve been on, I simply can’t imagine getting to where I am without this membership.”

Thank you. It’s so cool to see so many different experiences with Food Blogger Pro. We have tons of testimonials on our site if you’re interested in learning more. If you’re interested in learning more about the membership, what that looks like, what you get when you sign up as a member, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/join. You get access to everything we have the moment you sign up. So no content is dripped, you can kind of just create your own journey through our content and access what is most meaningful and beneficial for you. So again, that URL is foodbloggerpro.com/join if you’re interested in learning more. Otherwise, we’ll see you here on the podcast next week. And until then, make it a great week.

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  1. Another great topic. Can’t wait to learn more about Cheryl and her offerings. I’m inspired! And Bjork, you always ask the best questions. Thank you for doing this!