Hello, and welcome back to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week, Bjork is talking with veteran blogger, cookbook author, and YouTuber Kelly Senyei from Just a Taste.
Last week, Bjork interviewed Beth Moncel from the wallet-friendly food blog Budget Bytes. They talked a lot about how Beth made a slow transition from working her day job to making food blogging her full-time gig. To go back and listen to that great episode, click here.
Solopreneur Food Blogging
When I think of Kelly Senyei, I wonder how in the world one person has done everything she’s accomplished. From her degrees in Journalism and culinary school, to working at Food Network, to writing the book on food blogging (literally), Kelly seems to have done it all. Amazingly, she’s done all of this on her own, including the monetization, social media, and content management.
In this inspiring episode, Kelly reveals:
- Why she thinks consistency is so important
- The steps she went through to make sure she could be an authority in her market
- How she applied her various degrees to food blogging
- Why she went to culinary school and how it has helped her career
- How she found jobs in the food industry and how those experiences helped her build a successful blog
- Her favorite restaurants in CA and NY
- What the most difficult things were for her when deciding to pursue Just a Taste full-time
- Where her revenue comes from
- Why she takes the time and effort to make cooking videos
- The advice she would have given herself when she was just starting out
Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on iTunes:
- Just a Taste
- Food Blogging for Dummies
- Playground, Santa Ana, CA
- Tamarind, New York
- General Assembly
- Accounting for Dummies
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Be sure to review us on iTunes!
If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 12 of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. What’s up everybody? It is Bjork Ostrom. In this episode, we’re going to be chatting with Kelly Senyei, the blogger behind, “Just A Taste.” Not only has Kelly written the book on food blogging literally, she wrote the book, “Food Blogging For Dummies,” but she also walks the talk as she’s built her online presence, her blog and shooting recipe videos into her full-time job.
Here’s what we’re going to do for this episode, if you have one thing that you took away, one thing that you learned from this, we want you to go to foodbloggerpro.com/episode12 and leave a comment saying what that was.
Two weeks after the launch of this podcast, we’ll go in and pick five people and send them a copy of Food Blogging For Dummies as a little incentive to pay close attention and to take one thing away, and to put action behind that item. What we’re going to do right now though is welcome Kelly to the podcast. Hello, Kelly. Welcome to The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We’re so happy that you’re here.
Kelly Senyei: Thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, this is going to be great. Before we kickoff and really get in the stuff, take us back to October of 2008. Did you remember what was going through your mind when you decided to jump onto the internet and register justataste.com?
Kelly Senyei: Yes, I know. I can’t believe it’s been almost seven years. I feel like a grandma in the food blogging industry.
Bjork Ostrom: A wise grandma, which is why you’re in the podcast.
Kelly Senyei: Exactly. October 2008, I was actually in graduate school for broadcast television in New York at the Columbia Journalism School. I was doing a lot of political reporting, a lot of hard news. My beat was actually in Hunts Point in the South Bronx, so I was doing a lot about the marketplace there.
Basically, my mom is an unbelievable cook. Growing up, she was always cooking these incredible meals and my dad was the chief taste tester. People were always asking me for her recipes. Rather than continuously e-mail word documents around, which is so 2008, I decided that I’m just going to put them online so I can send people the link and it’ll be much easier that way.
One night at 2:00 in the morning, I was writing my thesis for grad school and I was like, “You know what, I’m just going to start a food blog,” because I love to cook, I love to eat, it’s a great way for me to decompress from doing all of these super hard news stories. Everybody can relate to food, everybody wants my mom’s recipes, so I published the first recipe on Just A Taste a couple days later, and here I am almost seven years later, I can’t believe it, I think there’s over 700 recipes on the site.
There’s videos, there’s step by step photographs for everything, and has just become a total dream come true to turn it from a hobby into a business and full-time career.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m excited to dig into that a little bit and talk about it. I know that for a lot of the people listening, that’s their hope and that’s their dream, and so I really appreciate you coming on and sharing some of your story and talking about that a little bit.
When you first started, did you know right away that it was something that you wanted to commit to? Were you posting full-time every week? What did that look like in the first year or two years when you’re first getting started?
Kelly Senyei: Definitely not. I had always thought that Just A Taste was going to be a hobby, something I would do on the weekends. It was just incredibly fun to me to cook and to take pictures of my food and to get to share that with people. It honestly all started just because I wanted to share my family’s recipes, never even doing recipe development or anything like that.
It was one of those things that it was just a hobby. It was something I did on the side for fun. I thought there’s no way I’m going to be able to make money doing this, there’s no way this could even be a full-time career. Little did I know, what would lie ahead seven years down the road.
Bjork Ostrom: Were you posting let’s say once a week in that first year or two years or were you posting twice a week? What did that consistency look like?
Kelly Senyei: Yes, and I’ve always been a huge stickler for consistency even way back when it was just a hobby, because I feel our entire lives are so scattered and can be so unscheduled that’s nice to have that regularity on the site where people know they can come every Monday morning or every Thursday morning and seeing new content.
Back then, I was posting about once a week and definitely obviously not as much now. Now, I post three times a week, sometimes four. Yeah, I started off at one time a week and it was just because it was fun and it was what I was eating for dinner that night and then just grew it from there.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s how a lot of people start is they know that they can’t necessarily commit to three or four times a week when they’re first getting started. If they make a meal that they really enjoy and they’re sharing it with their family, maybe they’ll set it aside real quick and take a few pictures and then apologize that it’s maybe a little cold when they bring it to the table.
Kelly Senyei: Exactly. That’s what I always tell people is don’t feel the need to start with a blog where you’re posting five times a week. It’s so much better to start with what you know you can maintain long-term, and then you can add to it gradually like start off at one post a week. There’s nothing that says you have to start off four posts a week and keep it that way for the next 10 years.
It’s better, I always say, to start small and maintain that consistency than try and come running out of the gates posting four days a week, feeling frantic, feeling hectic. It’s no your best work. I’m much more of a fan of quality over quantity.
Bjork Ostrom: I think the other thing that can happen, and I’ve experienced this too with work that I’ve done is you can set this really ambitious goals and within the first month or two months, you can start to feel bad about it, because you don’t reach those.
I know what often happens is people do a comparison trap where they’ll maybe look at somebody like you Kelly, who’s doing this full-time, has done it for seven years, you’re smart about systems and you figured it out and say, “Why can’t I post four times a week?” It’s a comparison trap of start where you’re comfortable like you said and do high quality content, which I think is great advice.
Along the way, you’re posting a little bit and I’m guessing that you’re enjoying it. At what point do you say, “I wonder if this could be something.” Was there a point where you remember flipping the switch on it or was it a natural growth where you just slowly over time you started to realize that, “Hey, this might be able to be something.”
Kelly Senyei: There was definitely I think one or two turning points where the light bulb went off in my head and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I might actually be able to do this full-time.” It was a really interesting moment when that happened. I always tell people this is well, because I had been doing this for four years. I had been running Just A Taste as a hobby.
It was growing steadily, because again I was so consistent with posting and really trying to get big on social media so that I could help share across multiple platforms. I think one of the biggest turning points was actually when I got approached to author Food Blogging For Dummies. To me, that was such a crazy experience, because I thought, “Okay, there’s someone other than my mom and myself reading my site, ” that [crosstalk 00:07:16].
Bjork Ostrom: Right, which is a great moment for any blogger when [crosstalk 00:07:18] yeah.
Kelly Senyei: Exactly. It totally is. It takes a different amount of time for everyone. I know fellow bloggers that they’ve been approached within months of starting their blogs to do a book or something, but for everybody it’s a different pace.
Once I got that inquiry and I submitted the proposal then and realized that I had gotten it, that to me was the time where I realized, “Okay, the name Just A Taste is going to be on the cover of a book.” It really has become a go to guide in the food blogging industry, and that was the point when things really started to take off. I decided, “Okay, maybe there’s a chance I can do this full-time.”
I was working at Conde Nast at the time, so after grad school when I’d launched Just A Taste, I kept doing it as a hobby. Then I actually went and worked at foodnetwork.com just as an intern for a couple of months because I wanted to get my foot in the door. I would do anything there just to get a byline or have any experience where I could really learn how the major players in the game were setting up their sites and running their content schedules and all of that.
After a few months there, I decided to go to culinary school, because I thought if I really wanted to be a credible person in this field, I needed to know that if I was writing about Hollandaise sauce, I wanted to know how to go back in the kitchen and make it perfectly.
Going to culinary school, I went to the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. It was a fantastic experience. They actually didn’t have a blog or any social media presence back when I went. I was super bold, and I e-mailed the president of the school a proposal for a blog behind the scenes look, what it was like to be a culinary school student, I would do all of their social media, I would chronicle my entire journey for nine or ten months over long I was there.
I got a call within hours and he’s like, “This is … Are you serious?” I said, “Yes, I’m 100% serious.” I went and met with them and long story short, I started in school and I chronicled my entire experience through their blog which is called “Diced.” It’s the Institute of Culinary Education blog. Still up and running today. A bunch of other current students have taken it over at this point, but that was really the first time that I’d put the journalism school degree and the forthcoming culinary school degrees together.
It was just an awesome experience. I really got my chops in the kitchen. I learned the basics and I learned Asian cuisine, Italian cuisine, everything across the board. It was an amazing experience. I get a question often, “If you need to go to culinary school to be in the food industry …”
Bjork Ostrom: Right, I was going to ask, yeah.
Kelly Senyei: Yeah and I think it’s one of those things. Obviously there are so many fantastic self-taught cooks and I think that is definitely a way to go. I think there are different paths to success in any field. I felt that I needed to go to culinary school, because there was so much competition in the industry and I really wanted to be an expert and to have that stamp of credibility. For that reason, I really recommend to people that they go.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. I would imagine it’s similar to authoring a book where if you have Food Blogging For Dummies, people know that you have an expertise in food blogging, and if you have that stamp like you said, where you say, “I’ve been to culinary school,” people know that you have that experience and you have that knowledge, which I think is great.
I want to jump back a little bit. You had mentioned Food Network and you had interned there. At what point did you transition out of your current journalism job into more of the food space? What year was that?
Kelly Senyei: Yeah, so I was at Food Network I did … Sorry, I have to look back at my resume, I feel like it’s been so long. I jumped around.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s a pop quiz on your own history.
Kelly Senyei: I know. I can’t even remember. I was at ICE, I was at culinary school so 2010, so I would have been at Food Network in 2010 and I actually … I’m sorry I’m backtracking. I’m sorry, this is so confusing. I went there as an intern after grad school, then I went to culinary school, then I went back to Food Network and I did my stage which is an apprenticeship.
Basically, in order to graduate from culinary school, you need to do a certain number of hours within a kitchen. I knew that I didn’t necessarily want to be a restaurant chef, so Food Network would be a great place to do that apprenticeship.
I went there and I did the test and got the position. I was there for about four months, and I worked on everything I got to be a runner on Iron Chef America, I got to help out with Guy Fieri’s cookbook at the time they were shooting. I did [inaudible 00:11:48] for all of the amazing chefs that work in the kitchens there, who are developing recipes for the magazine, obviously for all of the shows. It was a fantastic experience. It was the cherry on top of the cake. I love food puns also.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah as many of you can use, you have just free rate of food puns.
Kelly Senyei: It’ll be a birthday cake. It’ll be like a dream to you, every time you hear a food fun you’re take the [cherry 00:12:10].
Bjork Ostrom: It’s copy but the idea is the same, yeah.
Kelly Senyei: Exactly. I was in my last week at Iron Chef America and I got a call from Conde Nast that they had seen Just A Taste. Again, a light bulb went off at my head. I love LinkedIn. I’m a huge proponent of LinkedIn. I think it’s the professional Facebook. I have gotten so many opportunities just through LinkedIn. It’s a fantastic platform.
I was reached out too through LinkedIn and they had said they’d seen Just A Taste and they were bringing back Gourmet Magazine in digital form. Would I be interested? I said, “Absolutely.” I went and interviewed. Long story short, I started six days later. I was the first hire for Gourmet Live, which was an app, and we had a phenomenal two-year run.
I did recipe development, I did on camera hosting, and doing videos, photography, writing of course, and it was just an unbelievable experience at Conde Nast. Unfortunately, it closed two years after we launched, but I stayed on full-time with the Epicurious team and was a writer and did on-air work for them as well.
Then it was finally June 2013 that I decided, if I was ever really going to make a push to pursue Just A Taste full-time, that was the time to do it.
Bjork Ostrom: That you have such incredible experiences, and I think that one of the things I love, one of the things that I think is really important to communicate to people is how important all those experiences are in contributing to your blog. For you, there’s very obvious parallels that you’re working with food, and video, and things like that.
I think for other people that are listening, I talked about this with Lindsay, my wife Lindsay, Pinch Of Yum. She was a teacher before, but she uses some of those skills and applies those to what she’s doing on Pinch Of Yum. For those that are listening, I want to really encourage you to draw from Kelly’s story and knowing that even if you aren’t doing your blog full-time right now, think about the ways that you are working in the space that you are working in, how can you transfer that stuff over?
Kelly, for you it’s very obvious. For some people it’s a little bit more difficult to make that connection, but I think it’s an important point to make. One of the things I’m interested in, I want to go back, you had mentioned working for Food Network, and I would imagine that experience is different than what you thought it would be, and that the behind the scenes of a shoot is different than what people see to say the least when they press play.
What are the things that you learned from working at Food Network? How have you applied that to what you’re doing now?
Kelly Senyei: I didn’t ever really understand just how much front work went into shooting a show or even doing a cookbook or the catering events, literally everything, they are so well-organized. It is an unbelievable work environment. I have dear friends that I met there while I was an intern. It’s just the amount of detail and they are so crisp and clean and the work environment is just so invigorating and it’s such a creative place.
It was honestly, one of the best experiences just to see how the real professionals work, and dream up these new ideas for recipes and different culinary concepts, and what goes into choosing the ingredients for chopped, for the mystery basket for example. It was just awesome to be a part of those brainstorms, and to get to hear the biggest names in food and what their takes were and where they thought the industry was going.
Bjork Ostrom: Were you onset when they were recording?
Kelly Senyei: Yes. On Iron Chef, I was a runner. The interns stand in the back. I’m going to be their runner, so if anything was needed on set immediately or we did a rehearsal battle for Iron Chef America, they set up as a rehearsal just to test out the camera spots.
I was picked to cook in the rehearsal battle. I got tom make popcorn for one of the chefs there, because the secret ingredient was popcorn. That will go down as one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things I was curious just personally, how scripted are those shows? Is it essentially the talent is so talented that they’ll just press play or record, I guess and then they know what they’re going to say or is there a script that they follow with those?
Kelly Senyei: I don’t know if I can really answer exactly, because I think everybody is different there. Every one does their own thing, so I don’t want to say in the …
Bjork Ostrom: Right, because it depends.
Kelly Senyei: Exactly, depends on the show.
Bjork Ostrom: From that experience with Food Network and then Gourmet Live, is that right?
Kelly Senyei: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: You were working for both food media companies and then you transitioned into doing your own thing and you said, “2013, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do it full-time.” Is that correct?
Kelly Senyei: Yes. I was at Epicurious at the time and we had a great team there. Gourmet Live had just closed and so I had stayed on with the Epicurious team and was still working as an editor there, writing, doing videos for them and some photography. It just struck me that Just A Taste was getting bigger and bigger and that social media platforms were growing. I just thought, I’m one of those people that likes to live … I don’t want to have any regrets and look back and wish I had done something.”
We all have that mentality, but I wanted to know that if there was ever really a chance to do this, I needed to do it then. I needed to do it in that moment, when I felt I had the momentum going. I have learned so much from being at Conde Nast for three years everything from SEO, to how to run an editorial calendar to the most effective way to search for new trends in the food industry. It was the best education.
I felt to your point about applying those skills that you learned, I tried to translate then those skills that I’d learned to my site to grow it and to make it more thorough and to just really set it up as a business instead of a hobby.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you give an example? One of the things you had mentioned was searching through food trends. I’m curious to hear more about that. What were the things that you learned at Gourmet Live or Food Network that you now apply to what you’re doing?
Kelly Senyei: We would have these amazing brainstorms where we go through, and the biggest thing is, and a lot of people know this about me, I am always online. I read every online publication you can possibly imagine in the world of food.
Bjork Ostrom: It sounds exhausting.
Kelly Senyei: It is, but I love this. There’s nothing I would rather be doing. I read everything from the big guys, the eaters and Bon Appétit of the world, to this small little indie, everything. Then I paired that knowledge with, I like to dine out a lot because I feel that’s a really great way to get exposed to different chefs obviously, the ingredients that they’re using.
I also travel a ton. I live in LA but I’m in New York. Almost monthly I’m in Chicago, I’m in Austin, Nashville, and that’s an amazing way to really get a sense of trends and ingredients or preparations or techniques. I pair the knowledge of everything I’m reading online with what I’m seeing what’s happening in restaurants.
Not that I can make any of these in predictions with a crystal ball or anything, but you can slowly view do this long enough. You start to see certain ingredients like amaranth for example starting to come out more popular little while ago. What’s the next kale or the next coconut water? How do these key buzzwords become so mainstream and so viral.
Bjork Ostrom: If you had to, out of all of the online publications if you had to read just one, which one would be?
Kelly Senyei: Oh my gosh, that is tough. First, [inaudible 00:20:04] obviously the big one like Eater I read multiple times a day, just because Eater has become so great as a national publication that used to be there in New York Centric. They just cover anything and everything from restaurants, chefs, ingredients, trends, techniques. That’s the first stop in the morning. I like to start there and then work my way down.
Bjork Ostrom: Is it just homepage and then you go from there? Is there a place on Eater that you like to go first?
Kelly Senyei: I start obviously on the homepage, but then they have this hot maps, which are the trending restaurants across the country and they pick these various restaurants. I think it’s monthly and so I try and go through and look at the restaurants, see if I’m going to be in any of those cities and try and snag reservations as soon as possible. I’m a total restaurant enthusiast.
I cook seven days a week for the site, but I love going out to a meal because there’s so much inspiration in dining out and getting to eat someone else’s food for a rare treat.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. I know that when Lindsay and I go out to eat. It’s a funny world that we live in because I’m a terrible chef, but I’m really interested in this online space. She’s obviously very talented. When we go out to eat, they’ll run through the specials for the night and then the waiter would just leave and then Lindsay essentially has to interpret for me what they were … It’s fun to see when she’s processing that.
It’s just so fun for her because there’s this, like you said, different ingredients that they’re using. Are they using it in a certain way in a way that describe that. I know that she gets a lot of inspiration from that. This is a non-food blogger that have question, but what are some of your favorite restaurants right now in some of those cities that you had mentioned? I’d be curious to know.
Kelly Senyei: There’s a phenomenal restaurant called, “Playground,” which is in Santa Ana California. That’s become one of our go-to’s now that I’m out on the West Coast. Maybe people have not heard of it before, but it’s just unbelievable. The chef, I think he did one of the Food Network reality shows. I’m not sure if it was for the food trucks or something, but I think he ended up winning and then he used the money that he’d won to open his restaurant. It is just spectacular. It’s a very small restaurant. It’s pretty hard to get reservations, but it’s in Santa Ana California. It’s amazing. It’s called, “Playground.” That’s one of my tops.
Then in New York, I lived in New York for six years before I moved back to the West Coast, which is where all my family is. I had a Google spreadsheet of over a 150 restaurants in New York and the executive chef, the dishes they were known for when I eat in there. I turned it into a Google map that’s actually on Just A Taste now.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.
Kelly Senyei: Yeah, so people can go on there just search New York City restaurant and they could see all of those fix. There’s amazing food in New York obviously. One of my tops is I absolutely love Indian food. There’s an Indian restaurant in New York called, “Tamarind.” It is the best Indian food I have ever had. Hands down. Any time I’m in New York, I have to be at Tamarind. They have amazing food there.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ll link those in the show now. Thanks for sharing. I want to go back to, we’re jumping around but I want to make sure to hit some of the stuff. When you made the decision to work on Just A Taste full-time, do you remember how you processed through that decision? What were the questions that you had to answer in order to say, “I know that I want to do this full-time.”
Kelly Senyei: Yes, without a doubt. When I was starting to realize I wanted to be a little bit more serious about potentially pursuing Just A Taste as a full-time career. Obviously the number one question I needed to answer was, how am I going to make money off this? I think that’s the question everybody wants to find an answer to.
Because in the blogging space, there’s so much competition, there’s so much saturation. How are you going to standout in the crowd and either attract advertisers or sponsorships or whatever, a book deal, whatever it may be, as your income source.
I enrolled in a 10-week program through General Assembly, which is an entrepreneur society in New York and it was run by McKenzie, that consulting firm. I took a 10-week program with McKenzie, where I learned everything from financial modeling to how to write a business plan, to how to project profit loss and everything on the hardcore business side, because that was a skill I was definitely lacking.
I think that’s been one of the biggest realizations having done this now full-time for two years is, while it is so much fun to be in the kitchen cooking and doing videos and photographs and everything, probably 60% of my time is just spent on pure business, non-sexy stuff, which I’m sure you guys realize. So much of this doing it full-time is looking at expenses and looking at ad revenue, and how is everything performing, and why did I spend this much on that? When am I getting an answer? All of those financial questions.
I felt really good once I had done that program. I felt like, “Okay, I have a little bit more knowledge in this.” The first thing I did was make a business plan and really try and lay out the costs and what my savings were, everything across the board. Once I felt semi-financially secure, because honestly, when you make the jump into that entrepreneurial world, you can never feel totally secure. I think that’s why I did it, I wanted that challenge to see if I could make it work.
Once I felt good, I had a really good plan, I’m a big planner, I just decided, “All right, this is it. I’m going to do it now or I’m going to do it never.” There I was.
Bjork Ostrom: Good for you. With General Assembly, do you remember, could you walkthrough two or three things that were the biggest takeaways from that experience?
Kelly Senyei: Yes, okay. It was a quick 10-week program but it was based on the case study principle, obviously the McKenzie Consulting, so we would study cases and then go through and problem solve for them. Some of the biggest takeaways from that were is, I had to realize that I am a one woman band when it comes to Just A Taste. I have no one working for me. I do all of the social media myself, all of the content creation, photography.
I do have a production team that does the videos for me, because that just became a little bit too much to tackle. The biggest takeaway I had from the program at General Assembly was, okay there are all of these skills and there are all of these elements to running a business, things I do not even know, like the whole financial side of things. How am I going to take on all of these rules and wear all of these hats as a single individual?
It really helped me to just understand the very basics of an expense report. Just knowing exactly top line what the financial situation was. From there, I knew it was all on me, and I loved that challenge.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have any recommendations for people that are just getting started, where they could go for that or what they should focus on if they want to start the process of getting a little more educated with accounting or bookkeeping or anything like that?
Kelly Senyei: Sure. I think the big thing is too, everybody starts from a different point. I was starting at the very bottom when it came to the whole expenses, financial situation. I felt really great about the culinary side, the journalism side, but the whole business side, I thought, “Oh my gosh, do I need to go get an MBA?” Then I realized, enough with the school. We need to start working. It’s time to start working more.
There are honestly so many resources. The General Assembly was amazing for me. I know that there are also online programs, and obviously there’s food, not food blogging, but there’s accounting for dummies. There are so many resources. I think that if you can do it in a real person, person to person setting, I would greatly encourage that just because there’s obviously no comparison to being able to learn from people when you’re actually face to face with them. That was a huge part of it too.
It’s build a great network for me as well and I’m very big on staying in touch with people. You never know when your halves may cross again.
Bjork Ostrom: With those, you talked about expense reports and things like that, are there key reports that you look at for your business that are the trackers for you where you keep a close eye on them? For us, I always go into profit and loss and see how much did we spend and how much did we get an income. It’s interesting, because there are months with Food Blogger Pros, Food Blogger Pros our membership site, and we have this podcast which goes out to everybody but then we have the business side.
There are months where if we have a lot of development or we’re working on a tool, it’ll be total profit of -$2,000. I don’t know if I would know that if I wasn’t in it and really looking at it. Do you have reports like that from each profit and loss? What are the ones for you that you keep a close eye on?
Kelly Senyei: Yes, P&L obviously is the biggest one and at the end of every month, I take a look at my expenses, because to your point exactly, it varies so much month to month. If I’m doing video, I know I’m going to have a lot more expenses than if I’m just shooting recipes and then it’s me just in the kitchen, buying groceries, and there is very little overhead in that sense.
Then just from a traffic standpoint to, obviously I rely very heavily on Google Analytics for better or for worse, I downloaded the Google Analytics app. Now, you too at 2:00 in the morning can be in bed, looking at [inaudible 00:29:42].
Bjork Ostrom: That’s so funny, yeah.
Kelly Senyei: I know. It’s good and it’s bad. I’m a total numbers nerd. I love the number side of it. I think when you decide you do want to go from a hubby to a business, you have to pay attention to that stuff and that was a major realization for me too. I wasn’t just doing this for fun, I was doing this because I wanted to build a brand and a business out of it.
Bjork Ostrom: With building the brand, I know that things have changed a lot from 2008 to where they are now. Lindsay and I were just talking about the other day, I have these old clothes that I still wear from high school and she’s like, “That was 15 years ago and that was before cellphones really.”
To think for 2008 to 2015, that’s a huge amount of time and we’ve seen a ton of changes. I’m interested to hear from you, knowing that you’ve been doing this a long time, that you have a lot of experience. What are the biggest changes that you’ve seen and the biggest shifts that you’ve seen and how have you adjusted your business because of those?
Kelly Senyei: One word I can answer this question, Pinterest. If you think about it back in 2008, Pinterest didn’t exist. That was life before Pinterest. Can you imagine? I think Pinterest was founded I think it was March 2010 and it was just a total game changer for obvious reasons. Food became at the forefront of it, because food is such a visual medium.
Traffic suddenly skyrocketed and it was both exciting and terrifying because it’s the whole mentality of putting all your eggs in one basket. That’s why I’ve tried as big of the alert as Pinterest is and as great of a traffic refer as it is. I’d really try to diversify across social media and stay really invested in Facebook and even Instagram.
I’m not as big on Twitter, because there are only so many hours in the day and I try the ones where I see the best in return on my time. That to me was just a total game changer. Imagine if Pinterest didn’t exist. It’s just completely shifted the entire industry.
Bjork Ostrom: With Facebook, one of the things that I noticed is that you have a really strong following around 350,000 I think? Then you also get a decent amount of engagement. I notice a lot of people share your posts and things like that. What is your strategy with Facebook and how do you justify continuous spending time on it when I know a lot of people will say, “Facebook is dead or as a brand or a page.” You can’t get organic reach anymore, but what I hear you saying is, “I still want to be there. I still want to grow that presence.” What is your thought process behind that?
Kelly Senyei: I’m a huge proponent of being as diverse as possible in the social media space, it’s looking at sources of income. You don’t want to put all of your stock, only a non-revenue because what happens if suddenly you have a bad month or whatever that may be. I’m a huge proponent of diversifying and that was something that I learned in the business program I took as well.
Just diversification across the board, not just when it comes to source of income, but with social, any given day, they’re all third party sites, right? You don’t really have total control over when and how your message is given out. Another really big tip I try and tell people is to grow your e-mail list, because that is something that you inherently own.
Nobody can say to you, “All right, we’re shutting down Facebook or we’re shutting down Pinterest you can’t post to your audience anymore. You can’t communicate with them.” If you have an e-mail list, you have a direct line of communication to those people. I really spend a lot of time not only on Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram, but with cultivating them.
I send out a weekly e-mail newsletter. It goes out every Friday morning at 6:00 Pacific Standard Time. It’s basically a recap of the week’s content. It also gives a sneak peek at what’s coming up next week which people really like. Then it shows the top pinned recipe for the week and the two most popular Instagram posts.
If nobody gets a chance to get to the site during the week, they’ll at least have the newsletter where it will show the most popular recipes, what’s trending. I found that that’s been really successful in growing that list, because I have a direct line of communication to the readers then, and I answer every e-mail, every question to your point about Facebook. I respond to every single comment, every question I possibly can.
Yes, it takes a lot of time, but I’m not doing this just to hangout with myself. It’s that whole interaction that I love, and it’s awesome to have that communication whether it’s on Facebook or via the newsletter or wherever it may be.
Bjork Ostrom: What do you use for e-mail for your?
Kelly Senyei: I use MailChimp. I love MailChimp. It’s fantastic. I’ve been using it for a couple of years now, and I finally got to the point once a feed burner went away, the dinosaurs I got my [inaudible 00:34:30] all looped into MailChimps. Now, everything’s one, neat, tidy place. I highly recommend it. They have fantastic newsletter templates and every week I just make that a priority, it’s got to go out every Friday.
It’s great. It’s just another way to communicate and another way to reach your audience and to really have that direct line of communication. I have my e-mail address in the e-mail newsletter and I get tons of e-mails every Friday, question to all of that. I just like to have a very open line of communication.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ve talked about that in previous episodes. Lindsay for the first episodes, I interviewed Lindsay and then Lindsay interviewed me, so we started off really easy. One of the things that Lindsay talked about is just being intentional about being yourself and being personal and acting, and how that is so important when you talked about it being a really saturated market with blogs and websites or food content.
One of the advantages you can have is being yourself, and I think you do a great job at that and obviously showcased in your interactions on social media and e-mail and all of that as well. One of the things I’m curious about, and I think that is smart that we do not do that you do is you have a newsletter and a blog RSS subscription.
Do people usually opt in to both or just the newsletter or is it different people going to each one? I’d be curious to know what that’s like.
Kelly Senyei: The great thing about MailChimp is it has amazing analytics. Again, numbers nerd. I’m able to very easily see exactly who’s opting in where. On my site in the right side bar, there’s a big, old subscribe box right below my photo. You can subscribe to new posts, newsletter, you could do both, you could do none, you can do one. There’s just that optionality, so I’m able to track exactly who subscribed to which lists.
I will see that it’s about the newsletter was served sizes about four times that of the new posts. I think that’s just a result of the fact that I started the newsletter a long time ago and I just recently integrated the RSS, it’s been so much easier getting that all in the same place. Those numbers have grown increasingly since I made that switch.
It’s very nice to have that all in one spot and be able to get the message out to the right people when you need to.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s something that we need to do. It’s a good motivation for us to get that up and running. One of the things I’m curious about you had talked before about diversification and how your intention about doing that. If you’d feel comfortable, could you give a general breakdown as a business? Are you working most with ad revenue or do you focus on ads with videos or sponsorships? What does that look like for you from the business standpoint right now?
Kelly Senyei: I have three main areas. Ad revenue is one, sponsors, sponsorships are two, and then I also do on camera hosting. That’s a third portion of it. In terms of the split, it’s almost pretty even to be honest across the board, a third. Again, I’m very big in keeping those buckets as evenly waited as possible. Just so you don’t feel like, “Okay, if one goes away, I’m going to be totally devastated.”
I tried to keep that pretty even and always trying it’s a total strategy that’d balance those buckets. Because ad revenue, so much of it is out of our control so how do you guarantee that.
Bjork Ostrom: With sponsorships, do you reach out to brands? Do brands reach out to you? Do you work with somebody a little bit of everything? What does that look like for you?
Kelly Senyei: Yeah, all of the above. It goes both ways. I get inquiries from brands and then I also, if there’s a brand that I absolutely love and that’s something that I’ve been very careful about, I’ve had a wonderful relationship with Kitchen Aid. I absolutely adore the entire team there. The reason that entire relationship started is I loved their products. I use their appliances all of the time, everyday when I’m cooking. It was just such a natural partnership.
I really try to make sure that that sponsored work is only very natural to what I’m already using in my everyday life. It makes us so much easier to develop content and to really be an advocate when it’s just something you love, that you’re not forcing it at all.
Bjork Ostrom: When you don’t have to walk the line between maybe not entirely being behind it, but then you have the sponsored content you have to do, I think that’s really good feedback for people, especially when you’re starting out, it can be easy to take whatever comes along.
Kelly Senyei: Absolutely. I think too, yeah and for everybody it’s different and by all means you should do whatever you need to do to get that company up and running. If your strategy is to work with every brand that comes your way, then do the absolute best you can at that. I think everybody has a different approach and I’ve known bloggers that have done that and have been tremendously successful. That’s the cool thing I think about this whole industry is you can go any way and still be successful.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things I’m interested to hear a little bit about Kelly, is I know that you have experience with a video and that you’re also implementing it on your site and you do a great job with it. We know because we’ve experimented with it and we’ve done video here and there. It’s really hard. It’s really hard to be in front of the camera, but it’s also really hard to get good video that you feel excited posting on your blog, and that matches the brand.
Can you talk a little bit about video and your process with video and why you do something that’s so hard?
Kelly Senyei: Absolutely. Video is incredibly hard to do and it’s hard to do well. I think to my point about Pinterest images I don’t think video has taken off on Pinterest to the degree that it probably will going forward. I have just had such a love for videos since day one of starting this process. When I launched Just A Taste when I was in grad school, I was in the broadcast television program.
My entire life, I had known that I’d wanted to do some on camera hosting in some capacity whether that was to go into politics or whatever field that was going to be in. It just so happened to be food, and cooking on camera is even harder that just talking on camera.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh my gosh I can imagine. Cooking just in general for me is a struggle so I can imagine doing it on a camera.
Kelly Senyei: I started awhile ago when I moved to New York, one of my best friends from Columbia, she is an unbelievable videographer and editor. The two of us would go into my kitchen, we would do five-day shoots. Her name is Hannah, she’s spectacularly talented and she would do all of the videography and then we would edit them the same day right then and there and I would produce them right on the spot.
We would shoot a five, six, sometimes seven videos in a day and that’s what they found most success with is you’re already paying for the equipment and the time and everything. You might as well just squeeze out as many as you can. Since we’ve been to the LA area, I now have a production team that I work with and they shoot all of the videos while I’m on camera. Then I shoot anything where it’s just [inaudible 00:41:54] to anything. I’ve used that background from journalism school to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: With video, I’m interested to hear your process with it. I’d be interested to hear what it’s like for you when you shoot with a team and then what it’s like for you when you shoot on your own and how you decide when to do which one. Does that make sense?
Kelly Senyei: Yes, absolutely. Any of the videos that I’m shooting on camera, I have an awesome team based in LA and it’s a director, and a sound person, and an editor, and it’s actually a pretty big team. Because I have found that in order to do a video well, it really is a major investment. It was my number one priority for 2015.
I actually shot 24 videos first couple months of the year. It was two, let’s see how many I did, five a day. It was two, three-day shoots or two two-day shoots I think something like that and we cranked out 24 of them. It’s fantastic because I then have all of these just sitting and waiting and I just publish one a week. That to me has been the biggest time saver when it comes to doing videos.
If you’re going to do a video, do as many as you can in one day, because financially it makes the most sense. It’s also just a major logistical production. When I shoot a video, I throw my schedule for the week because I’m the food stylist on the video, as I don’t ever have a stylist. For the ones that I’ve done for Just A Taste, only because it’s my recipe so I know that they need to look a certain way.
I think that’s been the set up for those. I shot 24 for the year and I release them one a week on YouTube and then promote them on the site. Then when I shoot video myself, I have amazing natural light luckily in my kitchen and I know that is such a huge player in the game. I only shoot with natural light for my photos or my videos that I do.
I just setup my camera and even if it’s just something quick for Snapchat, whatever it may be, I try and incorporate as much video as possible. Obviously Snapchat is the major force right now. Video can be done so easily through Snapchat and that’s what I always tell people, it doesn’t have to look perfect. You can just hit record. That’s the whole premise behind Snapchat, you’re in the moment, you’re raw, you’re right there. It doesn’t have to look perfect. It can just get your face out there, get your recipes out there, do that platforms.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I know that Lindsay has really enjoyed Snapchat.
Kelly Senyei: Yeah, it’s so much fun.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah and part of the reason is because as you said, like you said, there is this rawness of it and the vibe of the community isn’t polished. If you were to come on to Snapchat and have this really polished video, people would be like, “Wait, this doesn’t fit in with this community,: which is nice, because it allows you to create some freedom.
Kelly Senyei: Exactly. I think that’s the whole idea is it’s very much in the moment. I don’t even think you can upload or that you record a video to Snapchat or if you can then …
Bjork Ostrom: Right, I don’t think so.
Kelly Senyei: You have to be right then and there and I love that aspect of Snapchat. I’d try to get a lot more in the Snapchat recently just because of my love of video.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you view that as a way to connect with people? That’s not a traffic driver necessarily, right?
Kelly Senyei: Exactly. No, and it’s funny, it’s along the same lines of what I think about Instagram. I’m on Instagram because I love Instagram. It is so much fun to me. It is by far one of my favorite social platforms, because it’s real and it’s right then and there. I interact with so many people and it is not a major traffic driver for me by any means, but at the same time it’s great to have a presence there and brands look at that thing.
Are they on Instagram and Snapchat I think it’s even harder to track if you’re getting traction from it. Again, it’s just so important to stay diversified.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s been interesting I followed along with a few companies that are working with Vine and Snapchat. I don’t know if you call them celebrities, I guess they are in that field. They partner with brands and they do branded content and sponsored content within Snapchat and within Vine or within Instagram.
It’s interesting to see brands and companies and content producers as they figure out this new world that we live in where it’s following attention, right? If attention is in Snapchat, how do you become a part of that? Kudos to you for jumping in and doing that. I think that’s awesome.
You’re spending a lot of time and you have a budget for video obviously, you’re bringing a team in and you’re focusing on that. I’m interested to hear from a business standpoint how you justify that. Are you working with brands or is it video advertising? Do you know that eventually video is going to be big, so you want to start building that up now and get a YouTube following. What is your thought process with investing so much in the video?
Kelly Senyei: Video I think is already huge and it’s such a great addition to any site. Obviously food is very photo driven, but if you can actually watch someone who makes something and not just follow on with photos, it’s much easier to follow along.
I’m actually partnered with Taste Made, which is based out here in Santa Monica California, and they are a great online video community. Huge YouTube following. I shot an online class for them which is an entertaining class that’s going to be on Apple TV. That’s the current big thing.
I partnered with Taste Made and I just decided I’ve always loved a video, I wanted video to be a huge part of my site. They’re fantastic in providing opportunities for that like the entertaining class that I shot and also just helping promote any videos that I shoot as well.
Obviously when you upload them to Facebook, you’re uploading the raw video and those posts tend to do much better. It’s a whole circle, connecting social media with video to find out the best way to really mark it, those things you create.
Bjork Ostrom: Could you talk a little bit more about Taste Made? That’s a brand that I know and I feel I should be more familiar with it, but I just haven’t had time to look into it. What is the story behind Taste Made?
Kelly Senyei: Taste Made is one of the biggest, if not the biggest online food video communities. They have a great app and they have a wonderful YouTube page. Joe Perez is one of the co-founders there. I met Joe a little while ago and he was on a panel that I recently hosted at south by Southwest in Austin. We just connected and I ended up shooting this entertaining class for them. They have a ton of great, original content that they are producing, some sponsored, some not sponsored, travel shows, everything obviously coming back to food is the main focal point.
It’s just been a great community to join and talk and interact with other video creators. They’re also West Coast based so it makes a little bit easier for me being out in the LA area. Yeah, it’s fantastic and their Facebook page has grown exponentially in the last six months or so as well as video I think continues to become a driving force in the space.
Bjork Ostrom: Taste Made is essentially, you could view it almost as a channel, an online video channel on food, almost like the next version of Food Network, and that they’re producing food content, video primarily but using all of these different platforms to distribute it.
Kelly Senyei: Yes, exactly. Right now, their latest push is into Apple TV as well. I think that it’s just going to keep growing.
Bjork Ostrom: We’re coming to the end here. Few questions that I want to make sure to hit as we’re wrapping up. One of them is if you were to go back and it was back to October 2008 and you were to sit down and have a cup of coffee with yourself, what advice would you give to yourself just starting out, knowing that this is something that you want to pursue and do full-time?
Kelly Senyei: There is a whole lot of advice I would have given myself.
Bjork Ostrom: It would be a long conversation.
Kelly Senyei: It’d be a large cup of coffee. I think the biggest thing is, with going from a hobby to a business, there are going to be moments when you feel like, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore. I’m either burned out or things aren’t working. I need a creative refresh or something, especially when you’re doing it alone.”
People always joke with me that I spend a lot of time alone, because I’m running this company by myself. I would love to have a partner to do this with, but it’s so important to know that sometimes you just need to have a little bit of restart or a refresh, whatever it is, what that means going out for a meal and so you get a little bit more inspiration or taking vacation or just taking a day off.
There are so many moments when you just need to take a breath and I wish I could tell myself that there will be highs, there will be lows, but everything works out and the biggest thing is this is my passion. There is nothing I would rather do. Nobody is forcing me to run my own company. This is something I chose to do and I could not be happier that I’ve done it.
Bjork Ostrom: I think the idea of taking moments and time away is so important because it’s such a long-term thing. You’ve had it for seven years and there’s a lot of time and energy and a day or so every once in a while, just taking a day off isn’t that big a deal in the scheme of a seven year span, but when you’re in that little menusha of it, it feels like, “I can’t take a day off. I need to work another 10, or 12-hour a day, but to give yourself the freedom to take care of yourself and to step back and do something not blog related, I think all of that stuff is so important.
Kelly Senyei: The best part is you come back twice as energized and even more inspired. I have taken a day off and come back and just feel totally reinvigorated and ready to go and inspired again.
Bjork Ostrom: The last official question that I want to ask is, for somebody that’s getting started in 2015, they’re just getting into this, they’re saying, “I think I want to in some way, shape or form, create something of my own around food and publish that online.” What advice would you give that person that’s listening to this podcast?
Kelly Senyei: First and foremost, I would say, “Awesome idea. Welcome to the space. Yes, you should totally do it.” I think people get intimidated that there are tens of thousands of food blogs and you can’t even keep track of how many there are because so many aren’t updated regularly you just don’t know. There are a lot of people in this space, but I always tell people to look at that as a positive thing, because you had even more of an opportunity to carve out your niche and to really do something, make an authentic and to really become part of that community and have great conversations with people.
I have some of my best friends in the food blogging space now, just a result of being in the space or in the industry for so long. I would say, don’t be intimidated by the number of people that are in the space. Look at that as a total positive and an advantage.
You control how often you post, what you post, when you post and that is the beauty of launching a blog, it is all yours.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s an awesome note to end on. Before we wrap up, Kelly, can you give people the rundown of where they can find you online?
Kelly Senyei: Absolutely. I am the founder of Just A Taste, which is justataste.com and I can be found on any in every social media platform you can think of. On Facebook, it’s Just A Taste Blog, /justatasteblog, on Pinterest Just A Taste, on Instagram @justataste and on Snapchat, Just A Taste Blog.
Bjork Ostrom: I’d really encourage everybody that’s listening to follow along with what you’re doing. As I’ve said a few times you do a great job with it and I think people can learn a lot from you just by following along and seeing how you do and what you do.
Kelly Senyei: Thank you so much. This has been awesome and I love the chance to chat with you.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks, Kelly. Yeah it’s been great. Have a great one.
Kelly Senyei: Thanks. You too. Bye-bye.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks, bye. All right, one more big thank you to Kelly Senyei from Just A Taste and the author behind Food Blogging For Dummies. Really appreciate you coming on and sharing your expertise, Kelly. It means a lot to us.
A few things before we wrap up. Number one, just a reminder, if you have something that you learned from this podcast that one takeaway, we want you to go to foodbloggerpro.com/episode12. Leave a comment. We’re going to be giving away five copies of Food Blogging For Dummies, so be sure to do that right after you hear this so you can get your entry in for that give away.
Second, we’d like to thank our show sponsor, Food Blogger Pro, hey that’s us. Food Blogger Pro for those of you that don’t know, it’s a community of food bloggers, people that are either starting, building, or growing their food blog, looking for advice around different tools to use to make that more efficient, different ways to monetize, things like that.
We have everything from a community forum to training tutorials, really snippet short videos that walk you through the different tools. We also have tools of our own that we’re starting to build in and something that we just recently launched, a deals and discounts page where there’s offers for different tools and services where you can get a discount on those exclusive to Food Blogger Pro members.
As a thank you to Kelly for coming on the podcast today, we want to use an affiliate link for her which is foodbloggerpro.com/kelly, K-E-L-L-Y. If you want to check that out, be sure to use that link. Kelly, we really appreciate you coming on again today.
Third, if you have a minute, we would really appreciate it if you jump onto iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you listen to this podcast and leave a review or rating for this podcast that really helps to add fuel to the fire for us, keep things going.
Lastly, we want to say thanks. We really appreciate you checking out this podcast, taking time to tune in and following along with what we’re doing. It really means a lot to us. We’ll be back next week same time, same place. Until then, this is Bjork Ostrom signing off for the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Thanks, guys.