264: Persistence – Building a Seven-Figure Blogging Business with Chelsea Lords

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An image of a drop of water and the title of Chelsea Lord's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Persistence.'

Welcome to episode 264 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Chelsea Lords about growing her website traffic and building her seven-figure blogging business.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Tieghan Gerard about running her brand, growing her blog, and working with her family. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Persistence 

It’s time to welcome Chelsea Lords from Chelsea’s Messy Apron back to the podcast!

Her original episode on the FBP Podcast is one of our all-time most-downloaded episodes, and we’re so excited we had the chance to welcome her back to the show and catch up on how her blog has grown and evolved since we last talked to her.

You’ll hear how her social media and traffic strategies have shifted, how and why she strives to create the most helpful content she can for her readers, and how she managed to grow Chelsea’s Messy Apron into a seven-figure revenue business.

What was your biggest takeaway from this episode? Let us know in the comments below!

A quote from Chelsea Lords’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'How can I leverage what I have and improve it.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How she adjusts to the changing blogging landscape
  • How Facebook traffic changed
  • How she diversifies her income
  • How she creates valuable sponsored content
  • How she raised her sponsored content rates
  • How she’s making seven figures of revenue
  • Why it’s important to give up complete control
  • How she makes her content more helpful for her readers
  • Why it’s important to re-invest in your business
  • Why a support network is so important

Resources:

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

Transcript (click to expand):

Alexa Peduzzi: Welcome on and welcome all to this week’s episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. I’m Alexa and we are so excited that you’re here today, that you decided to tune into this episode because, oh boy howdy, is it a good one. Today we are revisiting a conversation that we had three, four years ago with Chelsea Lords from a Chelsea’s Messy Apron. And this is one of our most popular episodes ever. Well, I guess the last one was. The first time she was on the podcast, one of our most popular episodes. And this one I have a feeling is going to be a really popular one too, because she just talks about so many different things, so many different reasons why Chelsea’s Messy Apron is what it is today. And it’s just a really fascinating interview.

Alexa Peduzzi: She’ll talk about the importance of finding people, like a little support group of fellow bloggers who understand what you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish. She talks about creating content for her readers, first and foremost. And just putting that at the forefront of everything that she does, which I think is just so important. And she talks about how she’s making a seven-figure income, which is fantastic and just so exciting to see. I’m just loving this little series that we’re doing on the podcast right now, where we’re revisiting some conversations that we’ve had with bloggers in the past. And it’s just so much fun to see what they’re up to and how their blog has evolved and changed since we first talked to them. If you’ve never checked out our first interview with Chelsea, it’s linked in the show notes for this episode at foodbloggerpro.com/264. Otherwise, let’s jump into this revisit of our conversation with Chelsea right now. So without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Chelsea, welcome back to the podcast.

Chelsea Lords: Thanks so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here today.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Before we hit record, we were talking a little bit with any of these touch point podcasts where we’re revisiting some of the conversations we’ve had, I almost always remember exactly where I was sitting when we had the conversation. And inevitably it’s like, wait, that wasn’t that long ago that we chatted. And yet, so many things in life change, both personally and within business. And that’s what our hope is for these podcasts, is to touch on a few of those things. But I’d be curious to know for you, when you look back, if you can remember in that moment when we were having that conversation, what are some of the biggest things that are different in your life now compared to three years ago, more than three years ago when we had that conversation?

Chelsea Lords: Yeah. A lot has changed. And similarly to you, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but a lot’s changed just in my life personally and professionally, on the blog. I remember that conversations we were having, that Facebook was just booming for me and it was exploding and I was focusing on Facebook and now just the landscape, how much it’s changed in the what, three to four years.

Bjork Ostrom: Isn’t that crazy?

Chelsea Lords: It’s just crazy how much it’s always shifting, but Facebook’s still very big part of my business. It’s just not my primary focus today. I feel like back when we talked, that was like, I was putting everything into Facebook, it was driving me the most traffic. And now today it’s probably the second or third refer. Just kind of adjusting with the blogging landscape, which I feel like is kind of a continual process. Every few months, every six months, every year, it feels so different.

Bjork Ostrom: When you talk about the traffic referrals, and for anybody that wants to check out that other episode, we’ll link to that in the show notes and you can go back and check that out. Not that necessarily you go back and you get all these tips and tricks and advice that are relevant. Because three years, like we said, is a long time, a lot of things change. But I think it’s helpful context to frame some of these conversations when we talk to people more than once. But Facebook shifts, it becomes harder to drive traffic. What were the things that then took the place of Facebook? So if that was number one, when we last talked, what moved into spot one or two and moved Facebook down?

Chelsea Lords: Currently right now, my number one traffic driver is Google, and also flows up there is direct traffic. So people directly coming to my site, longtime readers. And then of course, just Google search engine, people searching for SPs and then coming to my site from that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about what it was like to see Facebook starting to shift and knowing that the work that you had done and the success that you had had there was starting to be … Over time it was trending down. Because I think that’s one of the things that, after doing this for 10 years, you for seven years, you start to realize like there are ebbs and flows where something works really well, you put time and energy into it, and then eventually it stops working. That can be kind of discouraging. What was that like for you, to see something that was working really well start to not work as well?

Chelsea Lords: I mean, you summed it up perfectly. There’s so many ebbs and flows and it was a really hard time for me when my Facebook basically went from just driving tons and tons of traffic and obviously money. And it almost overnight, Bjork, it almost just died completely. I got hit by some kind of algorithm. Us bloggers, we called it the kiss of death. I was suddenly reaching zero people. And it was really, really hard. It was a very, very discouraging time. And like you said, it’s hard to see something you’ve poured in all this passion and this work. And obviously, I’m putting the work on the website, but I was really strategizing my content to create Facebook videos, those quick hands and hands. And I kind of found my niche, I guess, I was making like four in one videos. And those took so much time, but they were driving so much traffic and just every one of them was exploding on Facebook.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you explain what do you mean by that, four in one video?

Chelsea Lords: Oh, sure. Sorry. So like four recipes in one video. So kind of like having a theme. I did a lot around the holidays. So I had like for Halloween Oreo balls decorated like Halloween or like for quick crock pot meals, four chicken marinades, kind of just having four recipes in one really short video. For some reason that just really hit it with my audience. We linked it on Facebook. And pretty much every single one of those I did just brought me in tons of traffic and just didn’t feel like well. But those were taking me a lot of time, a lot of time brainstorming, a lot of time creating those recipes and then filming. And then I’d share them all of a sudden and it would reach like two people is what my-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it is the worst. Can you explain this, so you kind of called it the kiss of death. I mean, for people who are like, “Wait, what? That can happen?” We don’t really know exactly what’s happening behind the scenes, but from like our best guests is what? When one day you were able to do that, the next day you weren’t, is there any idea of what’s going on behind the scenes to make that happen? Any hypothesis that you have around what Facebook is doing?

Chelsea Lords: I mean, a lot of us, us bloggers and friends that weren’t having this happen, we all kind of like dug in and were trying to find what was similar on our page. And like you said, you just never know. Social media, and I think even Google, they give and they can take and they can do whatever they want. But I think it was just a really hard algorithm shift. It was when they were trying to introduce having these pages and they were just trying to go to long form video. I think for some, for whatever reason, Facebook wasn’t liking that I was sharing other content. And so it was just a lot of trial and error. By other content I mean like I was sharing like other blogger’s posts or just other viral like memes I found, I guess. And for some reason, every time I did that, it was like giving me notices, like, “Hey, this was copyrighted content. You can’t share this.” Things that weren’t actually correct, but for whatever reason, Facebook was flagging my page as that.

Chelsea Lords: Today, I really miss sharing other people’s content, but whenever I do, it kind of takes down my reach. So it’s kind of, I think, personal, depending on your page and what works, but as I’ve worked in problem solved and like tried to figure out the algorithm, for my page … And I’m not saying this works for everyone, but what I was finding was I just needed to share my content. I needed to share less often. I was sharing too frequently. They wanted longer form videos. And it kind of is always shifting. I mean, it’s not like one way or another. Sometimes links do really well. Sometimes just photos do really well. Sometimes just videos. It’s just constantly a lot of trial and error and that’s never been discovered-

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. One of the things I’ve heard people talk about as they are, whether it’s a podcast or an interview or people from some of these companies are used to be there. It’s interesting because a lot of times, I think like, oh, somebody there at Facebook or at Google and they know exactly what the different pieces of the algorithm is. But I think it’s so big and complex and there’s so many pieces to it, that even people within an organization don’t have total clarity on exactly how it works. And obviously, that depends on the position and where you work and how close you are to some of those decisions. But these things are so vast and there’s so many levers that go into it that it’s something that not everybody has a totally clear understanding of.

Bjork Ostrom: When that process happened, when there was like, oh, suddenly this thing that worked really well, that drove a lot of traffic, granted, you put a lot of time and energy into it, but it paid off because you were able to create four recipe videos, put them into one, that drove a lot of traffic. Now, suddenly it doesn’t. So very quickly you’re like, “Well, this isn’t worth it for me to put all my time and energy into doing these.” What do you shift to and does that feel like starting from zero in a new area? And how do you then learn about getting traction in a new space?

Chelsea Lords: Right. That’s a great question. And honestly, it’s something that I contemplate a lot. I just think as the blog world and the internet just shifts, it’s something we have to, as content creators, keep on top of mind always, constantly. Because I think anytime we put all of our eggs in one basket, it’s just a very poorly thought out strategy. I think that was how I used to think like, oh, whatever’s bringing me the most traffic, I am going to do everything to optimize on that. And now I feel that my thinking is more, how can I get traffic from all different sources? How can I make sure I’m never limiting myself? How can I work smarter, not harder? How can I leverage what I have and improve it, while not putting everything into one basket?

Chelsea Lords: When I got hit hard with Facebook, it was okay, how do I pick myself up again? And how do I get this traffic back in a different way? And the answer at the time for me was actually Google, because it was something I had never focused on. I felt like I’m killed it on Pinterest, was obviously killing it on Facebook, which were driving tons of traffic. I was slowly, gradually growing direct hits, have just gradually grown that all of my years of blogging. And so Google was the one thing I had never truly focused on. So I started diving deep into learning SEO and learning how to better optimize my posts, how to make my website a little bit cleaner and fix errors on the backend.

Chelsea Lords: So that’s kind of where I focused, but I didn’t put everything into that. I kept trying to figure out Facebook. It was tons of trial and error to get my reach back up that … Today it’s actually doing really well. I get a lot of traffic again. I was trying to figure out Pinterest, just trial and error again, trying to figure out what to drive traffic and working on really everything. I was making sure to keep good relationships with brands that I was working with and just make sure that my income was very diversified and that my website traffic is very diversified.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about that on the income side? How did you diversify the income sources you had? Because I think a lot of people, especially in this niche, but in publishers, in general, who have the high traffic sites or sites with potential for high traffic, advertising is kind of the classic way to do that. But it sounds like you were intentional to look at other ways so as not to be completely siloed in one industry for income. How did you go about doing that?

Chelsea Lords: Right. Obviously, my ebook was a big way for me to diversify income. That was my product that I could sell, which just felt safe. No one can take that away from me. And then obviously, you mentioned website traffic. That’s still my number one source of income, but something I focused a lot on and worked hard on is just keeping really good relationships with brands. And brands that I’ve worked with for years, like pitching them different ideas. Like, “Hey, I know we did a blog post. What if we did an Instagram video?” Or, “I think this is doing really well on Pinterest right now. What if we do this campaign?” Just pitching these brands that I’d worked with and keeping these relationships. I have worked with some brands for five years now and I’ll even reach out to them like, “Hey, the holidays are coming. My traffic goes to this in the holidays and I feel like a targeted Facebook video of your product in this recipe would kill it. Let’s work on this together.”

Chelsea Lords: And along with that, I really raised my rates a lot. I feel like I made sure that I could create the best sponsored content possible that was worth it to these brands. That alone makes that basket of income a lot higher. You’re making a lot more for one sponsored posts, which obviously is a great sum of money at one point, whereas website traffic is, it’s gradual and slower and you don’t get one big check for one post.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. A lot of really cool stuff to pull out there. And we’ve been having some conversations over the last few months about brands and working with brands and doing sponsored content. Can you talk about, maybe just highlight a few of the things that have been most important for you to continue to have successful relationships with other brands? What is it about those relationships that have allowed you to maintain them and for you to have revenue from them, but for the brand to say, “Hey, this is worth it for us.”

Chelsea Lords: Right. That’s a great question. I think one of the biggest things is just remembering, like, they are people too. It’s not just a brand. You’re working with a PR agency or someone from this brand. And at the end of the day, just being a decent, kind person, I think. And brands have told me, they’re like, “A lot of influencers are kind of divas or they’re my way or the highway.” And it’s disheartening to hear that because I want us to continue to get work and I want us to be realized for the potential we have for brands. So I think the number one thing is I want to create an actual relationship. I want to be friends with this PR rep or with this actual person that’s running this company. I want to create a relationship and I love getting on the phone or my husband will get on a phone call and just talk and just like create a base relationship, be an actual like kind person, I guess. And that sounds like it’s an obvious, but-

Bjork Ostrom: Well, no, it’s interesting. We did this event with my friend, Bruno, who has a company called InfluenceKit, focused on calendars, content calendars and reporting and things like that. And he had a DIY kind of home improvement site called Curbly And that’s like the number one thing he said, was being somebody who is trustworthy, honest, hardworking, is enjoyable to be around and to work with. And it’s kind of like any other thing in life, like your friends, your co-workers. If you’re building a team, it’s the people you hire. If you’re joining a team, it’s the person you’re working for. You want to find people that you enjoy working alongside and working for. And that’s true for a brand because that’s going to make their life so much easier and their jobs so much more enjoyable. If you distill that down to what that looks like, would you say it’s … Could you say, “Here’s what that looks like. It’s being nice, it’s being kind, showing up on time, delivering stuff on time.” Other things that you would add to that, that you would say have been helpful?

Chelsea Lords: Right. Even just small asks. I think a lot of times brands will just want like changes made or things that you’re like, okay, well that takes me extra time. And a lot of people will be like, “Well, I’m going to charge for that.” Or, “I’m going to stick it to them.” Or, “I’m going to tell them why this can’t happen.” And a lot of times, I mean, if it’s really, truly needing to be charged more, I will do that, but I feel like my rates are high enough that it’s like, okay, I want you to be just as happy with it what you’re getting as I am trying to create something really great for you. So a lot of times, I’ll go the extra mile, I’ll do things that maybe wasn’t necessarily spelled out in a contract just because I want them to be happy. I want them to remember working with me and enjoying that process.

Chelsea Lords: And there’s been times and learning experiences for me where I’ve been like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not going to change that. You’re going to have to pay me extra to change that.” And it just doesn’t go over well. Yeah, it took me extra time, but maybe it was something I should have specified. And I just think not having this attitude where, “Oh, any brand wants to work with me.” Or, “I make so much money. It’s fine.” Like, whatever. It’s just a terrible attitude to have and I think that can’t do anything for future relationships. And all my traffic could go away, I don’t know. And I couldn’t be real with brands. And I think just keeping that in the forefront of my mind, like go the extra mile, make them happy with what they’re getting.

Chelsea Lords: And sometimes there are brands that are difficult to work with, but if you just really try to make it a pleasurable, enjoyable experience, I think it ends well for everyone. And at the end of the day, they’re going to come back and be like, “Hey, we really need enjoyed working with you. We want to do something else with you.” Even with your rates being higher, they’re okay with different timelines because they enjoy you and they know that you’re going to work with them.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. Can you talk about how you went about raising rates? I think that’s something that people are always a little bit scared to do or hesitant or they don’t know if they should do it, they don’t know what their rates should be. How did you go about approaching that? And any advice that you’d give for people who are trying to figure that out.

Chelsea Lords: Yeah, this is a tricky question. But I think it’s just, at the end of the day, like what am I willing to do this work for? And what I mean by that is sponsored work takes a lot of time, whether it’s the back and forth working with a brand, whether it’s the approvals or just phone calls with them or discussing and negotiating. At the end of the day, it takes a lot of time. So it’s like in that time, what kind of content could I create for my site that could boost my traffic more? Or what could I do for my social media channels? What is worth it?

Chelsea Lords: I feel like I’ve always been super transparent. I wrote this book like what I’m making now on my website traffic. I’m making seven-figures just traffic that it’s like, what is that it’s worth taking time away from building that traffic, cleaning up posts, working to create new content versus taking time out and doing something for a brand that might not necessarily explode on social media, that’s more salient, what is that worth it to me? And I think the question I continually come back to, and at the end of the day, a lot of brands will be like, “I’m sorry. We can’t make that work.” And that’s okay. You have to be okay with that.

Chelsea Lords: And another thing that I’ve found is really helpful is I’ll go back to the brand and be like, “Yeah, I get that. My blog post rate is really high. Would you like to just partner in an Instagram story? Would you like to just partner in a video? Would you like to just partner creating a recipe for you?” And it always, almost always ends that they’ll want something in a package deal. So I’m not spending tons and tons of time doing this post that’s not worth it. And instead I can still make some income from it, but it’s doing smaller tasks that my team can help with or things that don’t require as much of my time and it’s still good money. I don’t know if that’s answering your question, but it’s basically wasn’t worth it.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Yeah. For sure. And I think that changes. There’s variables that exist within that. One might be, how much you feel aligned with the brand. One might be how much time you have. One might be how much you actually enjoy doing sponsored content. So all of those kind of factor into it. So it’s hard to this blanket answer of like, “Here’s exactly how much it should be.” And part of it too is like time value of your money. And that’s very different if you’re running a business that has seven-figures of revenue versus in the early stages when you’re trying to figure it out. I think that makes a lot of sense, yeah, for sure.

Chelsea Lords: You’re willing to turn things down when you’re making … I don’t want to drop that income basket, but it’s like, I’m willing to do less of it if I am making such a high income in this other basket.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense.

Chelsea Lords: But not to contradict myself, I still keep these relationships alive, but I’m not willing to do a lot of work for a little bit of money, I guess, is kind of where I’m at.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So when we first did that interview, it’s one of the most popular interviews that we’ve done on the podcast. And I think a huge part of that was this conversation that we had around the title of your book, which was making the first 40,000 in your first year of blogging. Making 40,000 in your first year of blogging, And I think that concept is really appealing for people, because they can say like, “Okay, this is something that it’s not this unachievable thing. It’s going to meet me where I’m at and help me get started.” So we want to make sure to shine a light on that. We’ll link to that in the show notes. We talk a lot about that in the first interview you did, but a lot has changed since then. You share some of the kind of high level details of what the business is doing in terms of numbers right now.

Bjork Ostrom: What did it take to get from that point to where you are now? It’s a big question and there’s a lot involved with that, but how did you make that transition from starting out with what is a solid salary, $40,000 from creating content, to now having a site that’s producing seven-figures of revenue and providing for your family and employing, I would guess, or paying certain people in certain areas. This is now a very legitimate business. How did you make that happen? And that is the million dollar question that a lot of people want to know.

Chelsea Lords: I love that question and thank you very much. That was a kind of way to introduce that. I want to say a few different things. The one thing that I always share with people is it take so much hard work and grit. And I know I shared this in my first one, in my first episode with you, but just a lot, a lot of hard work and a lot of giving up fun nights for work nights and especially balancing a family with children. It is just a lot of planning. It’s a lot, a lot of hard work and grit. Beyond just that hard work, I think, more than anything, it’s just having this mindset of persistence. And I am, if you ask my friends or family or anyone, I’m an extremely like stubborn person. I’m very, very persistent. And I think it’s just continually not taking no for an answer.

Chelsea Lords: We’ve talked a little bit about Facebook being a huge failure for me at the time and basically just having grit against failure. You look at the site and you can say, “Oh wow. Look at how it’s grown and look at the income and look at who you’ve employed.” But what you don’t see are the long, hard nights just trying to brainstorm how to fix different things on my site. What you don’t see are the tears of discouragement when things don’t work out and what you don’t see is those hours and those days and just that hard work and that persistence and that getting back up after I’ve fallen down 100 different times and watching these recipes that I’ve put my heart and soul into just fall flat and the hateful comments that people will send. And just you don’t see all those small day-to-day things, but it’s just really like this refusal to take no for an answer, this refusal to allow failure to define the site and just this grit and this hard work and just consistency, doing that day in and day out.

Chelsea Lords: And it’s been seven years. It’s not been a small journey and I am so, so grateful. And it’s not just been me alone. I have a team now. And it’s so many people to bring this business to where it is, but at the end of the day, it’s just a whole lot of just hard work and grit.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It seems like a through line, that whether it be in the genre of publishing or as specific as food and recipe content, or just building a business, or it could even be to go so far as to say like a nonprofit. The amount of effort it takes to get something off the ground and flying and not only that, but like pointed in the right direction, is incredible. And my guess is that even, whether aware of it or not, you’ve developed some mindsets, some frameworks, some ways that you work along the way. And a few of those things you’ve kind of pointed out and I’d be interested to hear a little bit more about that. One is, you talked about working smarter, not harder, which I think is a concept that a lot of us understand, but what does that look like for you in your day-to-day, to work smarter, as opposed to just harder?

Chelsea Lords: For me, a big thing was giving up control and that’s in the form of hiring employees for other people to do things that I am not as talented at, I’m not as naturally inept. Things that I was spending more time trying to figure out that someone is smarter than me and just quicker than me, them doing that task.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Do you have an example?

Chelsea Lords: We have a full-time editor. I would say I am not a very good writer and a terrible editor. I’m just not a strong point for me. So hiring an editor has just taken off a huge load from my chest. And she’s amazing, just such a great worker. And I feel like I’ll send in a post to her and it comes back to me and I’m like, “Oh, this makes so much more sense than when I wrote it first.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah.

Chelsea Lords: And my husband, same thing. When we were writing the book, he helped me a lot with that process of writing. I just, I’m so painstakingly slow and just my thoughts don’t translate to words as well as I’d like them to.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Chelsea Lords: So that was a huge time saving thing for me, where I could just kind of bust out a draft that’s not super great, but she can tweak it and make it sound really good and make it make sense.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think for a lot of people, they can relate to that because writing for somebody who has a blog is such a big part of it, but there’s also recipe development and there’s photography or there’s video, these other things that people might love to do, but then they feel like there’s this necessary evil. Some people love reading. Bur for some people they feel like it’s this necessary evil, that’s just a total drag.

Chelsea Lords: It’s daunting to the whole creation process. For me, at least.

Bjork Ostrom: Say that again. That last part.

Chelsea Lords: It’s just like a daunting process. It makes the creative part and the part that I love less enjoyable because I know, “Oh no, it’s coming after.” Right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that there’s … Everybody listening to this can probably identify something that they feel that way about. Can you talk about, at what point did you start to identify those areas and bring people in to help with them? And did you do that once the blog was profitable enough? Did you do that before? How did you slowly start to build a team and start to task people with the things that were the biggest bottleneck for you?

Chelsea Lords: Right. So it’s really hard because when you first start a blog or a business, you don’t really have the means to bring on team members and you really do have to do everything and you have to wear all these different hats. And that’s what I think is just such a hard … It’s really hard to start a business and to start it because you really do have to do all of these things. So I think for me, it was gradually as the business grew and started making more money that I felt that I could spend that money, reinvest it into the blog, I guess. Probably around year three is when we, three or four, whenever I talked to you, I had hired my first virtual assistant and that made such a huge difference that I think as soon as I saw what that did for the blog and even just for my peace of mind and my own sanity.

Chelsea Lords: I’ve constantly been kind of looking, okay, what else do I not enjoy and what do I enjoy? And even making lists and like writing down what are the things that I really enjoy doing? What are the things that I feel like I’m really good at doing? And what are the things that I don’t love doing? What are the things that keep getting put off? Actually writing it down and really digging deep, like what are you not good at? And that’s kind of a hard thing to look at. Like, Oh, you know what? If I’m honest with myself, I’m really not the best writer. And that’s kind of like a hard pill to swallow because you’re like, I’m a blogger. I should be good at writing.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. Sure. Yeah. Yeah.

Chelsea Lords: But when I’m honest with myself, it isn’t one of my strong suits. I feel like I’m really good at recipe developing. I feel like I’m really good at that photography. And I love those things. Those are my favorites. So as I really thought about it, it’s like, okay, well, let’s get someone that is better than me that can help out. And like you said, it was as the income increased, just being able to spend that income and basically reinvest it into the business. And every time I feel like it’s been a payoff with every single employee, because I feel like the business grows more. It makes more money because it’s a better site. It’s better than just what I could do because now we have lots of people doing what they’re best at and making it just a better site as a whole.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Are there a couple other ways that people are helping out with the site that you’d be able to highlight that have kind of those different stages of unlocking growth or areas that you’ve outsourced or brought in people to help with, that have been helpful along the way?

Chelsea Lords: Yes. So I have a full-time employee now that comes in and it actually helps me prep and photograph and edit the photos. So we do creation, like content creation. And during that time, I also have someone come in and help with my kids in the morning, just so they’re having fun, they’re being entertained and I can just really focus on doing that content in the morning. That’s when I create all of my content. And then outsource a lot of video creation just to third parties and recently just hired part-time to like create videos in-house for the site. That’s something I’m kind of working. I want to start getting into maybe some YouTube style video. And anyways, we’re brainstorming about video right now. So where that’s moving.

Chelsea Lords: And then my husband, who’s been a big part of the site, he still does all the accounting. He does a lot of brand partnerships and reaching out and keeping those partnerships, keeping them going or negotiating different contracts with them. We do a lot of that together, but he kind of keeps it all organized, has reminders to follow up and that’s really, really nice. He’s very organized. That’s definitely something he’s very skilled at.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a great skill to have. Yeah, for sure.

Chelsea Lords: And I’m a hot mess. Yeah. So he’s great. And then I said, you know, we have an editor. And then just other small things that are, I guess, outsourced obviously, like website development or all the different things that are keeping your website running.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Yep. That sounds for sure. If you look back, now that you’ve been doing this for seven years, would you be able to highlight things that … Two parts of the question. I wish I would have done that sooner, a lot of times people say, bring a team, hire people. That could definitely be part of that. But other thoughts that you have around things that you wish you would have done sooner or known about sooner. And then, as you look back, things that you would have said, “Ah, if I were to go back, I probably wouldn’t do this again.” Maybe it would fall in that camp of, hey, this is what you would consider a failure, is one of the things you had said was like, “Hey, I’ve seen failure a lot. And I’ve worked through that.” If you could go back, what were some of those things that you worked through? So we can start with the things that … Maybe let’s start there. And then we can end with the positive. So are there things you’d go back and you’d be like, “Gosh, I don’t know, do that again. It wasn’t worth it.” And if I would give myself advice, I would say, “Don’t do that.”

Chelsea Lords: Aha. I mean, this is probably a bad answer, but I am like so grateful for every failure because I feel like it’s led me to where I am and it’s taught me those lessons that I’ve needed to learn. So I think it’s an essential part of the business. But I mean, that’s like a really high level answer, I guess, digging in I think the biggest thing I wish I hadn’t done was … And this is hard because when I started blogging, it was kind of like, tell a personal story or tell about your day or … I wish from day one that I had just read content that was really helpful, like content that helps readers make that recipe better or helps people understand how to cook or bake better. That’s my biggest thing from day one, because as I’m slowly going back and updating content, it’s just, first of all, it’s cringy. And second of all, it’s not helpful.

Chelsea Lords: I wish that I just kind of had more of the mindset of like, let’s make every post something that is very helpful, high level, to someone that’s never cooked or someone that’s somewhat familiar with cooking or even to an expert that somewhere this post is helpful. And I think that’s been the biggest, like, “Oh, I wish I had written like that from day one.”

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And I think the idea of having a really clear understanding of who’s coming there and what their problem is and doing whatever you can to help them solve that. And a lot of times, for people who are publishing recipes, the problem is they need to find something that they can understand how to make it and have success with that. And if you can do the best job of that, you’ll get traction in your area of focus. And if that’s recipes, it’s being as clear and concise and as helpful as possible, which I think is great advice. How about things that you would have done sooner?

Chelsea Lords: I mean, definitely I’d done that sooner too, because I’m slowly going back and rewriting posts. I wish, like you said, just to have had that clear mindset of how can each post be super helpful instead of like, how can each post be like clever and funny and tell like a cute anecdote or whatever. So that I wish I’d done sooner. I also wish I would have hired sooner. I’m kind of like a really cheap person and like, oh, how much money can I personally make from this? That was what was kind of a driving force. I wish I had just hired people sooner and kind of given away some of those tasks that honestly, just kind of led to some burnout through the years and it wouldn’t have happened as much if I had already had more of a team.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I have a friend in the Twin City series. His name is Ryan and he had IT, outsourced IT company that he took over for his dad. They eventually sold. And there’s this whole story around it. He now has a podcast called Intentional Growth. Before that it was called Life After Business. But he interviewed people who had gone through the process of exiting a business, kind of in a similar way that he did. But one of the things that he talks a lot about, not even necessarily relating to exiting a business, but he talks about switching the mindset from income growth to value growth. And I think it’s one of the things that as solopreneurs. We don’t think about that a lot because it’s not something that is in our industry talked about a lot. It’s not just how much income can the thing you’re working on create for you. It’s like how valuable of a thing can you create as the game.

Bjork Ostrom: Not even with everything that we do, we’re not building with an exit in mind, but we are building with value in mind and it sounds like you’ve taken kind of a similar approach where you’ve said, “Hey, what would it look like to not make as much, but create something that is more valuable because it’s more sustainable, I can work on it longer, I can have a better relationship with it.” The things that people are working on are creating value. So if you were to do that sooner, how much sooner and what are those positions that you would have hired sooner?

Chelsea Lords: Honestly, I probably would have done it the second year I was blogging and probably would have just gotten the virtual assistant, just to help out with all the different online tasks, creating pins, sharing on social media, editing images, just all the tiny little details that go into it that end up taking up so much time. And something that actually really helped me shift my mindset, I don’t know if you’ve read it. It’s called The E-Myth: Revisited.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Yep. It’s great.

Chelsea Lords: That was like a big wake up call for me. I think my husband suggested it and it was just like a really good, like really you have to spend money to make money. And what you’re saying, you have to invest to create that value in the company. And I just wish I had understood that sooner.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that book and specifically what you took away from it? And maybe talk a little bit about the, if you remember like the store owner that they use as the example.

Chelsea Lords: Yes. Yeah. It’s been a couple of years. It’s a really great book though. I’d recommend it to anyone, blogging or any online business.

Bjork Ostrom: Otherwise.

Chelsea Lords: It’s so good. But I think it was a pie shop owner, right? She was-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’ve read it like years and years and years ago, but as I remember, that’s right. Yeah.

Chelsea Lords: She was just trying to do everything and eventually you just burn out. You can have such a great work ethic and have everything in place, but you just at the end of the day, you cannot keep doing it and scaling it. I think that’s a big part of it, is if you want to scale, if you want to grow the business, if you want to change it into adding value to the world and to other people’s lives, you just, you do need help. The whole book is shifting your mindset from, this is my business and I have to do everything to, how can I grow an actual company? And that was like my biggest mind shift, was I’m such a control freak and I know what works, but it’s not like it can’t be reproduced. It’s not like it’s only me that can blog on Chelsea’s Messy Apron. It’s not like I’m the only one with these talents and these skills. There are people that can help it grow and can help it grow better than me because they have better skillsets. They have better talents.

Chelsea Lords: And put that together and you’ve got, such a better company and so much more value. And I would say every single one of my employees is better than me at that task that they’re doing. And it’s just, it’s wonderful because I feel like I just grow and learn so much from them. And we’re all working together to create something better for users. And I think that’s the biggest takeaway from that book, is it’s like you’re going to burnout. You’re not going to be able to scale. You’re not going to be able to do what you want with this business if you insist on doing it by yourself.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You had mentioned that a couple of periods where maybe you kind of brushed shoulders with burnout. What did that look like and how did you come out of that?

Chelsea Lords: Oh, again, just kind of like I’m a really stubborn person and I don’t think burnout’s lasted long. It’s probably like out a month, out of time where I’m just not working to full capacity. My heart’s not in it. And I think trips help a whole lot, like just going on a vacation, which is hard now, but even just a weekend away camping is like a huge, like fills my bucket. Just spending time with the people that I love, like my kids, my husband. They just fill my bucket. And I think just taking a step away. And another huge thing, I would say, are just my friends that are in the blogging community. I have like a tight knit group of bloggers, like all food bloggers. And they are just like, just mean so much to me. They’re just so refreshing to talk to them and understand they’re going through the same things, that they’re struggling with the same things, people are sending them mean messages as well. It’s just like having this group of clos-knit friends that are just there for you and so encouraging and helpful.

Chelsea Lords: And I have one friend that she’s just, will dig into any problem ever and just like try and help solve it. And she’s just such like light in the blogging community. And I think that’s a huge … Surrounding yourself with people like that, that just want to see you succeed and want to commiserate when you do. And it’s just really, it’s beautiful.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think it’s one of the hard things about what we do, is that it’s all online and a lot of times we’re doing it on our own or siloed. And that can be so isolating, especially when you have something that is like a negative experience or you are having a hard time. And to have that group to reach out to is so helpful. Would you have any advice for people who want that and how do they go about creating something similar, as kind of a support network or a group of people they can go to that get it?

Chelsea Lords: Yeah. I think it’s taken some years to kind of find my people. So cheesy, but like just finding people that are kind of in the same boat as you, people that want to have community and a friendship and a support group with you. I just think people that are like blogging, maybe … I don’t even think we’re in the same niches. We all do different kind of food on our blogs, but more just kind of like how long we’ve been blogging or we just have connected over different things. I think a huge helpful way to find these friends is to like go blogging retreats. That’s hard right now, I know, but that’s kind of how I’ve created my group, it was through retreats or through conferences, through chatting online. We have a Facebook chat kind of always going and we’re always sharing things or things we saw or things we learned. That’s so helpful. That’s gold, getting a piece of advice from another blogger similar to your size. It just kind of helps you grow along with them and grow along with that … I don’t know if I’m explaining this very well.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, no, that makes sense. I think it’s that right mix. And I think a couple of pieces to pull out from that, that are helpful. It’s people who get what you’re doing, but aren’t necessarily doing the exact same thing. And I think that’s helpful to have. So it’s not like you’re both publishing the exact same type of recipe on the same day. But as people who still really get the nuances and intricacies of what you’re doing. And I think the other piece that’s helpful is, I think, in a group like that, it’s helpful to have people who are maybe a little bit ahead of where you are and potentially have people who are a little bit behind where you are in terms of the growth of the business, the site, whatever it is. So not only can you help, but there are people who can also help you.

Bjork Ostrom: And there’s lots of different categories where people could be in different places, whether that be on certain social platforms, traffic that they have, skills and ability in managing a team or producing video, whatever it might be. So it’s not just one category that people could be ahead or behind in, but it’s helpful to have that good mix. Yeah.

Chelsea Lords: You summed that up so much better.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Well, it’s easy for me because I can sit back and listen.

Chelsea Lords: But even in my group, there’s one friend that she’s doing a food network show. She’s so freaking awesome. And that’s something I don’t even have on my radar, but it’s so fun to see her grow and diversify her income that way and just become this awesome food network star, but it’s not even like really something I’m like wanting to do. So just different fields, but same field, different things they’re doing, skills. It’s so helpful and enlightening. You just learn so much from these people.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And I think that’s helpful for people to think about what does that look like for them. Because that can be one of the most beneficial things that you can do, is connect with a group like that. Not only for support, but for advice, insight as you look to grow. So one of the questions that I love to ask for people who have been doing this for a while. Last time we talked was three, four years ago, we’ll use four as the marker, even though it wasn’t quite four years ago. But if you look four years from now, 2024, what would you hope, for your business, for your site? Do you have an idea of what that could look like and what you’re working towards? Or is it kind of a question mark at this point?

Chelsea Lords: It’s kind of a question mark, to be honest. I think, more than anything, I just want to, as I think about the future of my website, the constant is always I want a really high quality, helpful website. I want it bring people joy. I want it to be as concise and helpful as possible. I want people to enjoy the recipes. I want people to love it. So I think that’s not really a numbers goal or anything like that. But at the end of the day, it’s I guess, you mentioned like a value goal, I just want it to be a really well loved website that people use the recipes frequently, they’re saving the recipes, they’re enjoying the recipes and enjoying the content. And that’s kind of like every day when I think like, what am I doing? It’s for the readers. It’s for people that have supported me through these years. I truly have this love for them, even though I don’t know them. And it’s kind of, that’s always my driving force and like where I want it.

Chelsea Lords: And I also think, as I think about that, I just always feel like the money and the growth will follow. I think if the readers are first and my focus is always on giving them the best possible content and just realizing how great they are, that they’re reading my website, that they’re trying my recipes and just how much I love them, just keeping that in my forefront, that I feel like the company will always grow. And I feel like it’ll always be well. That’s kind of like my focus always.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And I think helpful to focus on that first, because that is the engine that drives the site. It’s the success of the stuff that you’re creating, the content. And if you lose focus of that, it might not happen right away, but the most important part, which is the success that people have with your content, recipes in your case, that will be impacted and you’ll see that. So what a great way to think about it. If you think out in the future, hey, would love to continue to have the ability to create content that is helpful to people. And that’s kind of the heart of what you do and you do a great job with that.

Bjork Ostrom: Chelsea, for those who aren’t familiar with, obviously, we’ve talked about your site, where people can find it, but for those who want to follow along, if they’re not familiar with what you’re up to yet, obviously after this podcast I know that people will be interested in learning more. Where can people connect with you, maybe check out some of your recipes, a recipe that you would highlight that people should go and try, if they haven’t tried any of your recipes before. Can you do a quick recap of where people can find you online?

Chelsea Lords: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that’s the hardest question you’ve asked me. I can’t pick one recipe. I love them all. I know that’s so dumb to say, but gosh, I love food. I love the recipes on my site. So my website’s chelseassmessyapron.com. And I think all my social channels are the same. I am a huge vegetable lover. So probably like the most made recipe in my house, they’re called sweet potato burrito bowls.

Bjork Ostrom: Nice.

Chelsea Lords: Having made that, they’re my favorite. Sorry, did you have another question in there that I didn’t answer?

Bjork Ostrom: No. That’s great. Highlighting the best recipe and then where people can find you. And we’ll be sure to link to all of that in the show notes as well if people want to just click on the link to make it easy. Chelsea, so great to check in again. Really appreciate your insight, your advice. I know that you focus on helping people with recipes, but in this interview, I know that you’ll help a lot of other business owners, bloggers, and creators along their journey. So really appreciate you coming on.

Chelsea Lords: Oh, well, thank you so, so much for having me. Bjork, you’re like the best. You make my words actually makes sense. So thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, thanks for coming on and sharing. Really appreciate it. And looking forward to another podcast episode in the future.

Chelsea Lords: Awesome. Will do. Okay. Thank you.

Alexa Peduzzi: And that’s a wrap on this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Thanks for tuning in today. We hope you enjoyed this conversation with Chelsea. I just think there were so many awesome takeaways. My favorite, like I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, was that she just puts the creation of her content for her readers at the forefront of everything she does. And I think that was really prevalent in this whole episode. And I just think it’s a great reminder, especially when it feels like you have to do all the things.

Alexa Peduzzi: Sometimes blogging is just one of those things where you just keep tacking on things to your day do list, Oh, I have to do this. Oh, I have to make video. Oh, I have to share content to Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest, but the content is actually the product that you are producing. So your recipes are the product. And that’s just a really important thing to remember. So I think this was a great episode. And if you have any takeaways or feedback about this episode, we’d love to hear from you in the show notes, in the comments section for the show notes of this episode at foodbloggerpro.com/264. And we’d just love to hear from you. We hope you enjoyed this episode and we will see you next Tuesday. And until then, make it a great week.

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