208: Success Story: Full-Time Blogging and Physical Products with Suzy Karadsheh | Food Blogger Pro

208: Success Story: Full-Time Blogging and Physical Products with Suzy Karadsheh

An image of Suzy Karadsheh and the title of her episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Success Story: Full-time Blogging & Physical Products.'

Welcome to episode 208 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Suzy Karadsheh about growing a blog to a full-time job and selling physical products online.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Melissa Coleman about designing your perfect workspace. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Full-Time Blogging and Physical Products 

Today we’re hearing from Suzy, the blogger behind the site, The Mediterranean Dish. Suzy’s story is really awesome because she found her niche and really leaned into that niche, and then her blog took off.

From running her own online store for her own products to bringing team members on to help with her business, Suzy is totally owning her space in the blogging world, and she’s here to tell you how she’s doing it.

You’ll learn about some of the tools and processes she relies on, how she sells physical products, how she finally decided to take blogging seriously, and so much more. Enjoy!

A quote from Suzy Karadsheh’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'There’s always something new in blogging.'

In this episode, Suzy shares:

  • How blogging has changed since she started
  • When she decided she would take blogging seriously
  • How she formed her niche
  • What the Mediterranean diet is
  • The decisions that helped her blog take off
  • How she sells physical products
  • How she wrote for a magazine

Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on iTunes, Google Play Music, or Spotify:

Resources:

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

Thanks to our Reviewer of the Week, Iva from Food by Iva! If you’d like to be featured, leave a review for us on iTunes and include your name and blog name in the review.

We’d like to thank our sponsors, WP Tasty! Check out wptasty.com to learn more about their handcrafted WordPress plugins specifically made for food bloggers.

If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.

Transcript:

Alexa Peduzzi: In this episode, I talk about how you can submit ideas for the Food Blogger Pro podcast and then Bjork interviews Suzy Karadsheh about growing a blog to a full-time job and selling physical products online.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hello wonderful listener. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast, how’s it going today? Things are great on our end. We are wrapping up for a brand new series on the podcast, more on that soon. We’re getting ready for our summer enrollment and we’re interviewing a past Food Blogger Pro member who has totally learned how to own her own niche. But before we get into the interview, we’d like to take a second to thank our sponsors, WP Tasty. If you’re a food blogger on WordPress, you know how important plugins are for running your food blog. If you think of your blog as a phone, plugins are like the apps, they give your phone additional capabilities.

Alexa Peduzzi: So, instead of an app allowing to pay CandyCrush on your phone, a plugin can allow you to display your recipes in a beautiful way that search engines like Google and Pinterest understand. If you want to learn more about the plugins that WP Tasty make, specifically for food bloggers, you can head on over to wptasty.com.

Alexa Peduzzi: And for today’s tasty tip, I want you to think about the most inspirational, the hardest working blogger or business owner or entrepreneur that you know. Wouldn’t it be awesome to hear an entire podcast interview with them? If your answer is yes then we would love to hear their story and to share it with all of our listeners. If you head on over to foodbloggerpro.com/submit/podcast, you can tell us their story and why you’d want to hear from them.

Alexa Peduzzi: Maybe it’s a blogger you’ve looked up to for years or maybe it’s you and you’ve learned something that you feel would be valuable for our listeners. We love sharing the stories of our fellow doers and we can’t wait to hear your suggestions. Again, if you have a podcast request, that URL is foodbloggerpro.com/submit/podcast.

Alexa Peduzzi: And now the interview. Today, we’re hearing from Suzy, the blogger behind the blog The Mediterranean Dish. Her story is just so awesome because she found her niche and really leaned into that niche and then her blog took off. From running her own online store for her own products to bringing team members to help with her business, Suzy is totally owning her space in the blogging world. And she’s here today to tell you how she did it.

Alexa Peduzzi: You’ll learn about some of the tools and processes she relies on, how she sells physical products and how she finally decided to take blogging seriously. It’s a great interview and we can’t wait to share it with you. So without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Suzy, welcome to the podcast.

Suzy Karadsheh: Hey, Bjork, super excited to be with you.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so I’m excited to have you on the podcast because this is one of those rare instances, and it’s becoming less rare now that we’ve been doing this for a long time, but what’s fun for me is to look back and to see a start point and to reference that and then to see where you are now. And, it’s really exciting to see that journey because, as you know, it takes a long time to get to a place, especially with building a blog or a content-based business to really pick up steam with it. But you’re at that point. And you referenced that in an email. You said, “I so vividly remember signing up to be part of Food Blogger Pro and how blogging seemed so out there for me.”

Bjork Ostrom: And now you say, “I’m super exited that the time has come where it’s turned into a full-time job.” And your husband, as well. And looking back, five years ago is when that kind of kicked off. So tell me what that was like when you first started and what you thought blogging was going to be. And then tell me what it’s like for you now. How is it different than what you thought it was going to be when you first started five years ago.

Suzy Karadsheh: Sure. So I had no clue what a food blog was to begin with. But, I had been in a long career in fundraising and PR and we then had started moving for my husband’s career in insurance. So I had to quit what I was doing, what I loved so much. And then we started moving, we went from Iowa to Atlanta now, to Atlanta, Georgia. And I could not continue to work and I had a small baby at the time. And so it was Saba, actually, my husband, who stumbled upon Pat Flynn and had been listening to him and was so intrigued by the idea of an online business. But we hadn’t any idea about food blogging.

Suzy Karadsheh: And then he came across you and Lindsay. He said, “Hey, you like to cook, there might be something you can do with food.” And he happened to pop into Bjorn and an article that maybe you or Lindsay had written about how to start a food blog. And that’s actually how it all started.

Bjork Ostrom: Wow.

Suzy Karadsheh: Really, a God thing that we kind of just stumbled upon. And to be honest, I started doing the food blog thing just to keep my sanity because I had come from a very, very busy life in fundraising, marketing, traveling so much. And kind of came off a big campaign and so many long hours and just a lot of success and excitement to being a stay at home mom. And I kind of lost myself for a bit, I’ll be honest. I was very almost depressed, not quite, by God’s grace. I wasn’t to the point where I couldn’t pull myself out of it but I did need something.

Suzy Karadsheh: And then it was the article that my husband happened upon on Pinch of Yum about starting a food blog. And from there, we kind of got connected with Food Blogger Pro. And I just did it for very little. I would put something up on the blog, occasionally. This was the end of 2014, 2015. And I would just kind of do something once a month or whenever I felt like it. Just to kind of have that hobby going.

Suzy Karadsheh: And, so that’s really how it started. It just started more as a way to connect and I really got excited more and more about it as I was a part of the Food Blogger Pro community and kind of got to learn a lot from that. And decided, “Hey, you know what? I can probably do this for a living.”

Bjork Ostrom: So, as you were working on it, and I totally get and can understand what that period is where you’re interested in it, it’s kind of a creative hobby, it allows you to, in the margins, the few margins that you have as a stay at home parent, to maybe photograph a dish, put it up, some people comment, some people interact with it. But then you get to a point where you’re like, “Hey, I see some other people doing this, they’re building into something, maybe I’m going to level up the intent behind it and go, maybe it’s a little bit quicker, maybe work a little bit harder on it.” At what point did you shift into that space? Shift into that gear?

Suzy Karadsheh: I will say it wasn’t until fall 2016 that I actually took it seriously, I was going to actually sit down, have a calendar, an editorial calendar, blog consistently and implement what I’ve learned in the blogging community at Food Blogger Pro and such.

Suzy Karadsheh: So, it wasn’t until then because that was our second move to Atlanta. And I realized there is no way I am going to try and find a full-time job at this point, having stayed home and been kind of moved about too much. And so I decided then, fall 2016, that I would just do it full-time. And see where it led. And it took off pretty quickly once I decided to be consistent with it and to really hone that niche in the mediterranean food, mediterranean diet space.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think that’s such an important piece of your story is how intentionally you’ve been in crafting and owning a niche. So a couple of things within that. Number one, we’d love to hear you just talk about what your site is about. A little bit of your story is an important piece of that in terms of claiming Mediterranean dishes as what you’re focusing on. But talk about your site, what it is and why you’re focused on that as a niche.

Suzy Karadsheh: Sure. So themediterraneandish.com is the top resource for a Mediterranean diet and Mediterranean cooking and the Mediterranean lifestyle. The reason I selected Mediterranean as my niche, probably no surprise to you, I was born and raised on the shores of the Mediterranean in Egypt. That is what I grew up. My family lived in a port city, super close to Italy, Greece, Israel, Turkey, all of the Mediterranean basis, so to speak. And I was exposed to that food from day one, that’s what I ate, that’s what I lived on.

Suzy Karadsheh: And that’s what I feed my family today. So it made no sense for me to try and attack any other food but what I was born and raised with. And I understood the Mediterranean diet to be more of a lifestyle, to be more of a healthy, very well-balanced, just wholesome dishes with amazing flavors. And that’s what I really love. I’m really passionate about that. I’m really passionate about helping people experience the Mediterranean diet on a daily basis without so much effort.

Suzy Karadsheh: And so in 2016, I decided, “Hey, don’t even worry about creating taco dishes or casseroles because that’s not who you are.” I decided I was going to be authentic to who I was, I decided that I was going to help people really find their way into healthy eating without sacrificing taste and flavor. And that was the Mediterranean diet. And so I started then just kind of creating more consistently just Mediterranean food, I started talking more and more about the diet itself and creating guides and shopping lists for people.

Suzy Karadsheh: More recently, actually 2018, was more my focus on laying the basics for how to eat the Mediterranean diet in terms of resources that people can print out and use on a daily basis. But, the food is what we eat at home. And so I just kind of said, “Hey, I’m going to show people what I eat on a daily basis and how we stay healthy in this family.”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting, before were podcasts were cool, I listen to podcasts and this was maybe 10 years ago. And I would download … At this point, you had to download them on iTunes and then sync them to your iPod and then I would take my iPod with the … This is tacky but it had like a spinning hard drive, so it had the actual spinning components in it. And I would take it for a run which probably wasn’t good. But one of the podcasts I would listen to, it was a health and fitness podcast. And it was this Doctor on the East Coast.

Bjork Ostrom: And basically everything for him came back to the Mediterranean diet. He was just like, “This is the scientifically proven …” He would cite sources on how healthy it is and how balanced it is. But for those that aren’t familiar, can you explain what a Mediterranean diet is and why it’s considered a healthy diet?

Suzy Karadsheh: Yes. So the Mediterranean diet is basically the diet of the people of the Mediterranean. So, when you say diet, it’s kind of hard to frame that because the Mediterranean basin is so big and the food in Spain is not so much the same as the food in Egypt. But in general, it is the food of that part of the world. It is very heavy on vegetables and grains and olive oils and plant-based, mostly, plant-based. So we have a Mediterranean diet pyramid where the bottom of the pyramid or kind of the widest part from which you should be eating more are vegetables and fruits and grains.

Suzy Karadsheh: And then of course your olive oils. And then we move up the pyramid and we use a lot more in the lean protein, fish and seafood is a big deal in the Mediterranean diet. And then way at the top of the pyramid, we save the desserts for occasions. And heavy meats and such. But, there isn’t anything that you are forbidden from eating on the Mediterranean diet. We just focus more on the veges and fruits and the fish and beans and proteins, mostly, in the plant family and the seafood family. So a cool way to remember it, the Mediterranean diet is seafood and beans, nuts and greens, basically.

Bjork Ostrom: They sort of rhyme, to remember.

Suzy Karadsheh: A little rhyme to remember, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So I think that’s the first thing that’s important to point out is the fact that you started with and have stuck with a niche. And we talked about that before. We hit record and you said, our story is not super interesting, I just have stuck with this. And I said, “I think that is the key.” Is the monotony of showing up every day and owning a niche and sticking with it. So I think it’s important to point that out.

Bjork Ostrom: And important for our listeners to remember that it’s not just picking a niche but it’s also picking a niche that aligns well with how you view the world and who you are in your story.

Suzy Karadsheh: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: Those are so, so important to point out. The other thing that I wanted to take some time to talk about is some of the things that happened along that path that changed when you decided to go quote unquote “all in”. When you said, “Hey, I’m going to work on this full-time.” What were some of the decisions you made, you mentioned a few things, editorial calendar was one of them. You talked about creating resources. But what were some of the decisions that you made that helped you or that helped things take off, as you had said? Would you be able to correlate some of those things? Not necessarily it’s going to be for sure, this is exactly what I did that caused the growth to happen. But, talk about some of the things that you were doing as you saw growth happening.

Suzy Karadsheh: Yes, so I think the biggest thing, I think, a lot of us kind of go through a period of time when our mindset is not fully there. And I think in the fall of 2016, it was kind of just … The first decision I made was that my mind was going to be all in. So, a shift in just how I views the blog from, “Hey, this is just my hobby, I love to cook, look at me, look at my tasty food,” to, no, this is actually going to be my career. And I’m going to take it to that next level, whatever that may be.

Suzy Karadsheh: So the first decision I made was actually just to put my head in that mind frame of I own a business now. And I’ll come out and say I was not making a ton of money in the fall of 2016 at all. And I came at it saying, “You know what? Let me see what this year will bring.” And so that was the first decision I made. And then from there it was consistency. Showing up every day. It used to be like, “Hey, I don’t feel like it today.” But once I made the decision that this is my career, I stuck with it and I showed up every day. So consistency is a big deal to me.

Suzy Karadsheh: I did not blog one day. If I didn’t set up my computer, if I didn’t show up, I felt it. I knew that I needed to be there. So, that was kind of the second thing. Like I said, nothing exciting. Just showing up on a daily basis to tend to the tasks. A third thing was continuing to learn because before that point, it was like, “Hey, do what you felt like doing.” But, when I decided it was going to be my career and I was going to actually focus on helping people to understand the Mediterranean diet and I was going to focus on delivering that through the different blogging channels, so it wasn’t just the blog but social media, I actually then started to learn some more.

Suzy Karadsheh: So, I invested some time in learning the ropes of blogging and I was more in tunes through Food Blogger Pro as to what is blogging like today and what new things I needed to be learning. And then fourth, my husband and I just started looking at improving our website experience through having the right plugins and the right things in place. So we actually use the WP Tasty for our recipe plugin because it’s really an amazing plugin to use. And if anybody is listening, that’s through Food Blogger Pro. So WP Tasty for the recipe card. And then we enrolled when you had the Nutrifox. Because it was important for people to see the nutrition information.

Suzy Karadsheh: We then went ahead and also enrolled when we saw Food Blogger Pro is offering this as well. So, I think when you decide that this is going to be your business and you invest the time and you invest in learning and then you invest in the tools, having the right plugins in place and investing in the social media media aspect of it and kind of delivering the message, it really started to click when everything was consistently happening. So now, I have a format, I know what I’m using every day. And not to say that I don’t ever have a day where I don’t feel like blogging. That happens a lot.

Suzy Karadsheh: But, you pick yourself up and keep going on a daily basis. So I think from just the mindset to creating for yourself some sort of a routine to stick with, to going out and learning. Being in the blogging community. Food Blogger Pro is an amazing place for people to be if they’re just starting out, especially. And there are other places where you can plug in and learn. Attend conferences. I used to not care about that but now I show up and learn a thing or two because there’s always something new in blogging. There’s always something new. If you’re not plugged into a community like a Food Blogger Pro or otherwise, you aren’t in the know of what’s new now. So that’s really important.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And appreciate those little shout-outs, that means a lot. And I think the takeaway is, it’s a version of this thing that we talk about around continuing improvement, 1% infinity, showing up every day, getting a little bit better. And the thing that I think is really important to point out in what you had mentioned was, finding ways to build routine and systems around that. Because I think it’s one thing to say, “Hey, we got to show up every day and we have to improve a little bit.” Great. What does that actually look like tangibly?

Bjork Ostrom: For me, literally, a task that shows up in my morning routine is that I check off is read. And sometimes, it’s only, at this point in my life, five to 10 minutes of picking up a book and reading. And you know, a year ago, it would have been a little bit more before we had our daughter, Solvi. But that’s more important at this phase in the life.

Suzy Karadsheh: She’s adorable, by the way.

Bjork Ostrom: Thank you. But, building that learning in as a routine. And I think that’s awesome. And it could be a micro routine, like a daily thing. Or a macro routine like you talked about going to conferences. There’s a couple conferences that are part of my macro-routine. I go to those every year to learn. I think that’s great. The other thing that you mentioned that is really good is being synchronous with the products that you use or the tools that you use for your site.

Bjork Ostrom: And that’s something that we’ve also tried to do where we’re saying, both in our personal life and within our businesses, “Hey, if we’re going to use plugins for our blog, let’s try to have those from the same place.” For our personal life, it’s like if we’re going to have two cars, let’s have those be the same brand. So we know where to go when we’re going to get them fixed. Little things like that.

Suzy Karadsheh: That is so, so easy now because we know where to go, one place, hey guys. And there’s always somebody on the other end that is willing to step in and help.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And so for people that are listening, I think that’s a consideration that you can think about, both personal and for blogging is, how do you align the places that you go and the tools that you’re using and to try and, as much as possible, find the places that you can go.

Bjork Ostrom: Now, speaking outside of just WP Tasty, which is the plugins that you’d mentioned, there is lots of other ways that people can be thinking about that. And the benefits are clear, like you said, you know where to go, you know the people, you know the routines. We’ve tried to do that with products that we use as well. So I think that’s a really great takeaway.

Suzy Karadsheh: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: So, you’re at this point where you’re intentional, you’re showing up, you said, “I’m going to do this.” How do you break through the mental roadblock that is I’m not making much progress, I might never get there, I might be working on this really hard and it might never pay off. How did you get through that in the early stages?

Suzy Karadsheh: Oh, a ton of prayer. Honestly, I think for every person it’s different. For me, I just kind of remember reminding myself that this is where I am now. It’s just a season in life. And life is full of seasons. Some of them are longer than others, correct? So if you were in a season where you feel stuck, just remember, you’re not going to be here forever. And so I think that is a helpful thing to just remember, everything is changing every day. You’re not going to be in the same place tomorrow. And if you are here for just a little bit longer, I think grit is the biggest lesson I have learned in blogging because blogging is not as, as people outside might think, it is not a quick way to make money.

Suzy Karadsheh: So you’re going to want to kind of remind yourself that this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon situation. And then, again, and I don’t mean to kind of harp on this too much but if you are new in blogging, you’re likely not making money right away, you need to be in a community with other bloggers. You need to be a part of something like a Food Blogger Pro because that’s where you can go and get your questions answered. That’s where you can go and also see what’s happening around you and hear other people’s experiences. Because I remember reading something that Lindsay wrote on Pinch of Yum, actually, and I think it was something to do with blogger burnout, I think that’s it.

Suzy Karadsheh: And she even spoke to that point here on the podcast. There comes a point when you’re so burnt out and she outlines some helpful things that she has done. And I have followed some of that when I felt stuck and burnt out. So, I think it’s really important to be in a community and to reach out to those resources to you, like attending conferences, listening to the podcasts here. Because I think we encourage ourselves by hearing other people’s experiences. And my biggest hope that somebody listening today will know that it didn’t take off for me for a while. I did not really put my mind to it until 2016. And really, it didn’t start clicking until 2017.

Suzy Karadsheh: Here we are, a couple of years later and my husband quit his job. And he comes from insurance industry and he has had great success in his career. And he’s able to now be a part of the business. It wasn’t always this way. So I think community is important, I think reminding yourselves of the seasons of change that you go through is very important.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. I think it’s one of the recurring themes that is most obvious when I get to talk to people who are entrepreneurs and business builders and bloggers or whatever you’d want to consider the title to be is how important and necessary it is to remember that business is personal. Meaning, especially when you are building something that is so reliant on you being the creator and the person that is coming up with concepts and communicating. It’s really personal.

Bjork Ostrom: And you have to, as an individual, be healthy and in a healthy place, in order to approach that and to make it sustainable. So I think that’s great. So, we’ve gotten through a significant part of the podcast. And we haven’t even gotten to the thing that I’m most excited to talk about, yet. I’m excited about all of this but one of the things that I find most fascinating with your site is the approach that you’ve taken from a revenue perspective as it relates to the different categories where you’re creating income from your site.

Suzy Karadsheh: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: And specifically interested in hearing you talk about what it’s like to have your own product. So, talk to me about at what point did you say, “Hey, we’re talking about Mediterranean style food, we know that within this type of diet, within this category, that there’s going to be consistent ingredients, maybe we should pair a product with the things that we’re talking about.” When did that come about and when did you decide to do that?

Suzy Karadsheh: It was just before Q4 2017. We launched our products, we actually export Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oils from two olive groves in Greece and then we have an all natural and organic spice collection that we use in Mediterranean cooking. And we’re actually about to expand our product line pretty soon here which is why my husband had to join me at this point in time. But it was the fall 2017, and I’ll tell you the reason, number one reason, that we got into having our own food product is our readers.

Suzy Karadsheh: They would email me a lot, they would ask questions about this spice or that spice. And there was a lot of confusion about extra virgin olive oils, what is the best brand to use. And as you know, there is a ton of olive oil fraud out there, you have to read your label very carefully. So I, again, going back to that education piece, I then just kind of started to learn a ton more about these ingredients and about extra virgin olive oils. And I was familiar with what good extra virgin olive oil tasted like.

Suzy Karadsheh: So, we went out and sourced just a God thing. I happened upon a contact here in the US whose family owns two small olive groves in Greece. And so I’m like, “Hey, send me some samples. I’m accepting samples now from different places.” And so we started, my husband and I, kind of just looking at these different options. I decided to use them for myself for a bit and when I was very satisfied with the product, we entered into this agreement of, “Okay, how can the Mediterranean Dish import these olive oils and make them available to us.” So we have a co-packer here in the US, the olive oils come in barrels, huge, from Greece. And they take care of that. We don’t touch it ourselves, we’re not qualified to do that.

Suzy Karadsheh: But, there is a lot of regulations around it. But we’ve just been so fortunate to have that partnership where somebody else is in charge of that piece and we make it available through our online shop, right on themediterraneandish.com. So that was phase one from the fall of 2017. So we were ready for the holidays with our part. We kind of knew that we, if we were going to introduce something, we were going to do it during our most traffic-ed time. So during the busiest time of the year. So we introduced it during the holidays.

Suzy Karadsheh: And it just took off. We ran out of products pretty quickly and it’s a similar story with the spices. We went through samples from different places and we were happy with the one supplier and started private labeling that.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And so a couple of questions before you get too far ahead because I’m so fascinated by this. So, essentially, how it works is you have somebody who sources, you buy that in bulk, it literally comes over in barrels and then in the US, you have somebody who then takes that bulk and individually packages it, you label it. So you have your own product. And then you’re able to take that and then sell it through your site. So a couple of questions, operationally. I love operations and I’m so fascinated by it.

Bjork Ostrom: So, are you storing the product in a warehouse of your own or in your house? And are you shipping it yourself?

Suzy Karadsheh: So, funny that you should ask. So, when all this started, Bjork, we were, again, super scared. It’s super brand new territory, we have no idea if people really want to buy it. But we went with our gut feeling that, hey, people continue to ask about this so we really need to kind of meet that need. So that was the biggest step for us was to make sure that we met our readers’ needs. So we went out and did this, just as a trial thing. So we had been in beta for a good year now, more than a year, and we are about to get out of this beta situation that we’re in because things are flying off the shelves. So, we are actually fulfilling our sales, we have the items in our basement.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s how you should start, though. I think it’s so smart to start small to understand the process, to know what it’s like. Maybe to feel the burden of storing inventory so then when you can pass that off to somebody-

Suzy Karadsheh: Oh, we managed so many issues. We’ve got to expand here pretty quickly but we are following guidelines as far as the temperature and all that. So we’ve turned things upside down to make it happen for the time being. But, we are needing to expand pretty quickly. So we’ve been selling through our website but phase two for us now that we know that this is not going anywhere, and this is something that I’ve learned from you, one of the podcasts and I don’t remember who you were interviewing. But it’s something you had said about trying something. Just taking it as a trial. I’m not sure the exact words but kind of-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, viewing everything not as a permanent decision but we’re going to test this as the next step.

Suzy Karadsheh: Exactly, exactly. So we had been, quite honestly, testing this thing but we continued to run out of the olive oils. We continued to run out of the spices and our suppliers are like, “Well, we have to wait for the olive harvest.” That’s something we had to learn. We can’t just ship you olive oil.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s not like a rigid factory where you can just-

Suzy Karadsheh: Yeah, that’s not happening. We don’t just blend olive oils for you, we have to actually harvest, we handpick, we cold press, we do all this stuff which is part of the story. And so we started telling people, “Sorry, we ran out and this is why.” And that’s part of why they keep coming back. So we kind of know what to order, how much to order in advance before the harvest takes place and that kind of thing. And now we know that we need to do something more professional with storing our inventory and the shipping and fulfillment piece as well.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s such an interesting business because now, suddenly, you’re starting to have to invest large dollar amounts upfront. And then make that back slowly over time. And it’s like, that’s leveling up the business. So it’s not like a blog where you’d earn money from ads where more traffic comes in, then you get a check maybe 30, 60 days after. It’s really having to be strategic about saying, “How do much do we think that we’re going to sell and what does that look like?”

Suzy Karadsheh: And the pricing experience is interesting as well. How much do you sell this olive oil? There’s all sorts of stuff out there from $5 bottles to 50, $100 bottle. Where do you land? And so that had been a great experience as well. My husband does the pricing because that’s his background, pricing in insurance. So, he kind of just hit it right on where it needed to be. And the stuff is flying. So, it’s a big learning curve. And it didn’t happen 100% by accident but it happened via listening to what our readers needed and kind of continuing to niche, niche, niche, niche, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, there’s something so smart about being present to the things that people are saying. And thinking about how you can solve that problem. And it’s so obvious that that was something that you were doing with this product category in that you continually heard people say or ask questions about the quality of something or maybe, “Hey, how do I find this spice but organic?” And when you hear that enough, that is an indicator that there is a problem and people don’t know where to go for the answer. And you, potentially, could be that answer. And in this case you are.

Bjork Ostrom: So, a couple other questions about the logistics of it. So I can understand the front half. You found a supplier, you found somebody to help with packaging. And there’s tons of tiny little things that go into that, like branding and labeling and we won’t get super deep into that. But, on the side of your site, what does that look like? You have a shop page, how is that run? Is there a certain plugin you use for that and then you get an email that comes in?

Suzy Karadsheh: Yes, so we use WooCommerce.

Bjork Ostrom: How do you then fulfill the order?

Suzy Karadsheh: So, there are so many different ways that you can do this. You can host your products elsewhere, like a Shopify or we opted to actually keep our products on our own site, we wanted a little bit more control. And we wanted people to stay around on our site and we wanted to be able to answer their questions right there. We wanted to be able to monitor a number of things. So we are using WooCommerce which is a plugin that’s … Like, if you go to themediterraneandish.com and you click on the word shop, that is WooCommerce plugin.

Suzy Karadsheh: And so it comes through that plugin and we work with Go Shippo from that point on. Their order comes through our website and then we fulfill, print the label and so forth via Go Shippo and we just kind of bring it to where it needs to be next. So if that’s the UPS store or USPS, just drop it off, it’s already labeled and that’s that. So, we employ a very young woman who is 17 who is my daughter.

Bjork Ostrom: Nice. It’s the ultimate job for her, that’s great.

Suzy Karadsheh: So, she fulfills the orders for right now. It’s a couple clicks of a button. Really, the work is in setting up the plugin and putting all your products in the grid and kind of allowing people to … So we watched the shopping experience and we alter how it looks, depending on if people are frustrated, not finding something or whatever issues we run into. We’re able then to just kind of on the spot, my husband goes in, Saba goes in and he fixes whatever it is that’s not working. So we’ve opted to host it on our site so that we have a little bit more control.

Suzy Karadsheh: We don’t know if this will be the setup forever. We’re also considering, as we grow our product line, the whole Amazon idea of making that available via Amazon. And so it might evolve. This is just what the setup looks like for us today. And we have a magazine that I was a part of last spring that we’re able to sell, we’re able to add as many products as we want to what we have right now.

Bjork Ostrom: When you say a magazine, what do you mean by that?

Suzy Karadsheh: So, last year, I wrote a magazine with Mother Earth News. We kind of came out with a Mediterranean diet, an actual magazine that you could buy at the bookstore. So, I actually have that here, I have copies of it. And so I don’t have a cookbook yet but that’s kind of what people are buying, again, on the site. So, we have the food, we have the magazine, we have a couple other small trinkets and we continue to explore what else we could add to the product line to help people live and eat the Mediterranean diet.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Okay, that’s interesting. That’s something that I didn’t know. So essentially, it’s a magazine that you were publishing, focusing on the Mediterranean diet. Is it called The Mediterranean Dish or what is it called?

Suzy Karadsheh: It’s called Mediterranean eating and it was just a special issue that Mother Earth News came to me and said, “Hey, we need an expert that can provide the recipes and that can speak to the Mediterranean diet.” And so this was just last year, last summer it came out. And I happened to just be the fortunate person they called up on to do this and it was kind of … My thought process was, “Hey, this is kind of like a mini cookbook.” Not quite. So it’s just a magazine that people were buying and it was kind of fun to see it at Barnes and Nobles.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely.

Suzy Karadsheh: And it’s my picture on here and my recipes. And this is my story and so I just happened to have now a few of whatever is left over. And I’m able to sell those in the shop. And again, going back to what you said about testing something out and it’s not permanent, if you have the opportunity to contribute to a magazine or do something of that nature, it’s your test to whether you want to do a cookbook or whether you want to do something in print. And that had been a great experience for me to do that and not be tied to a whole big book type idea.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s kind of like a beta cookbook. It allows you to do it without the pressure of what a cookbook would be.

Suzy Karadsheh: Right. And so now that it’s on my site, I can see that people are interested in it and it gives me, again, I’m reading what they’re needing. And now, I think, “Okay, maybe a cookbook will be feasible soon.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. So, a couple other questions that I have and I would assume other people would have too as it relates to selling your own product. One of the things that you talked about was, when you have a big barrel of olive oil coming over and then somebody takes that and puts it into individual containers that you can sell, there is a lot of regulations that go into the packaging part of that. I think that’s one of the things that’s scary with any food item is regulations. So, are there considerations that you’ve had to make? You talked about temperature, storing, do you have expiration dates? How does all of that stuff work as it relates to food product?

Suzy Karadsheh: So, you’re right. It is kind of a scary thing. The lucky thing for us is our contact is an expert in all of that. And we don’t at all see the oil ourselves. When it comes, they receive it and they follow, they’re qualified, they’re certified, the place where this all takes place, they follow particular temperatures, the bottling itself. I’m not as familiar with all of the details on the regulations. But, that’s kind of what you would need to do is you would need to partner with somebody who is absolutely certified and qualified to do this part for you.

Suzy Karadsheh: There are, as far as expiration dates, when it comes to olive oil, luckily, once it’s bottled, it can be stored for up to two years and it will still be as fresh as the moment it was bottled. The lucky part for us is, Bjork, honestly, we don’t keep the olive oils more than a couple months at a time.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it sounds like they sell pretty quick which is nice.

Suzy Karadsheh: They sell very quickly. And what we had opted to do, with the olive oil and the spices, so even though it comes in barrels or whatever, we only bottle so much at a time. So our co-packers know that we like to sell very fresh extra virgin olive oil and we pack as needed of that so that we don’t keep it very long on the shelves.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So how do you find that person? If somebody says, “Hey, I’m kind of interested in doing maybe flour,” I don’t know what it would be.

Suzy Karadsheh: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: How do you go about sourcing people that are going to be experts in co-packing and suppliers and what advice would you have for people?

Suzy Karadsheh: So the olive oil thing is kind of an odd situation because this person came to me because she was one of the readers of the blog and her husband’s family is in Greece, she owns her own … A similar story. She sells some olive oil that we have sampled and so when she came to me, I was in search. She didn’t come searching for me doing a private label with her necessarily. But, she had posted some of my recipes and I happened upon her that way. So it was a completely God thing that it happened at the same time that I was actually going out and searching online for any place possible where I can get my hands on really good extra virgin olive oil. And she says, “Hey, my husband’s family, that’s what they’ve done for 100 years, they’re in Greece, we go often. This is our story.” And so I said, “Let me try that.”

Suzy Karadsheh: And then can you help me with the private label, are you familiar with the regulations? And so they do this. This is their business, they’ve been in the olive oil business for a long time, that family. So, the olive oil is different but as far as our spices go, our natural and organic spice line, the supplier is here in the US and you go about it … We’ve done some simple research to find out suppliers who do private label for these particular spices that we are looking into. So we have some very specific Mediterranean spices that aren’t available at your average grocery store like Za’atar, Sumac, Ras el Hanout which is a Moroccan spice.

Suzy Karadsheh: So we went about just searching for a supplier who does private label who has these products and from there, we started sampling all sorts of them. And we were very strict on it had to be all natural or organic, it had to be this or that. I’m very familiar with these spices so I knew immediately when I tasted something that didn’t taste authentic to me. And then you plug into where they actually source them from. We have an Aleppo Pepper. Aleppo is now going through a really tough time in Syria. Our Aleppo Pepper actually comes from Turkey through this supplier. But it’s very, very close to what the real deal is.

Suzy Karadsheh: So, I will say start by looking online for whatever product that you are wanting to private label, grab as many samples, talk to as many people as possible and make sure that they know what they’re doing. I tested my products for six months to a year myself. So before that 2017 date that I shared with you, I had been using these in my own cooking for a long time. And could attest to the quality of everything. So, it’s a scary deal. You don’t want to just work with anybody but there are some that are highly qualified out there.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And I think it’s important to point out because sometimes, what can happen when people hear, “Hey, you can sell stuff on your site.” It’s like, “Oh, cool, I’m going to find the easiest way to get stuff and then I’m going to sell it on my site.” But just like content, product has to be really good in order for it to be successful. And people are going to know good olive oil. Not everybody, some people just won’t know what good olive oil is. But, there is a really good chance that if these are people who are seeking out olive oil that you just wouldn’t pick up randomly at the grocery store that they’re going to be people who would consider what is a good olive oil. And they would know that.

Bjork Ostrom: And so your point about testing it, being an expert, not just in the recipe you’re creating but also the ingredients that go along with it, especially if you’re selling them, I think, is so valuable.

Suzy Karadsheh: Yeah, absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: So, we’re coming to the end here and we’ve covered a lot but I want to know, what would your advice be, you’re at that point where you’re been doing this in some way, shape or form for five years. And you’ve found some success with it. And I think that’s really inspiring for people to hear that. If you were to look back and say, “Along the way, here are the things that I would consider to be most important or make sure that you do this as early as possible, whatever it might be.” What would your advice be for people that want to be in a similar place to you, working on your site full-time, maybe having a significant other or a team that they’re working with to build a brand.

Suzy Karadsheh: Sure. So, I think I’ve already mentioned this and I’m a big believer in it, find your community early on because that’s where you’re going to learn the most. And, you know, follow the experts in the fields, learn as much as possible early on about it. It took me a long time to learn and I’m continuing to learn and it’s because of these people, these experts. So, the community piece is important.

Suzy Karadsheh: I would say get on the SEO wagon as quickly as you can. Learn all about Google, learn how you can position yourself in whatever niche. And again, find something that you can … Find your own niche, find your own focus. The one thing that you can speak to with expertise and authenticity more than anyone else in the blogging industry. What is that thing? What is that thing? Find that one thing and speak to it because for me, even though my blog was called The Mediterranean Dish and the vision was eventually to get to the point that it is The Mediterranean Dish, the biggest source for Mediterranean recipes online, before that point, I was dabbling into I don’t know, crockpot roast from Iowa.

Suzy Karadsheh: You know? And I shouldn’t have been doing that. I should not have been posting pork butt on the Mediterranean Dish because that’s not what people are looking for. Pick your niche and speak to it from day one. It will pay off. Maybe not everybody is going to eat the Mediterranean diet, I had this conversation with a younger blogger. And she was kind of worried. She had a specific background, a specific cultural background and I said, “Why don’t you make the food of your own culture? Why are you trying to cook all the American casseroles that are out there? There is plenty of that out there.” Wherever you come from, what is that particular cuisine, speak to that a little bit more.

Suzy Karadsheh: And I think a lot of people are afraid to niche so narrowly because they feel like, I’m not going to get that traffic because who is looking for a Mediterranean food or who is looking for whatever? But believe me, you probably don’t need as many people, these people will come back over and over if they want your food. So, if you want to make your mark, find your niche. And then people will come if you stick with it.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Yeah, I really appreciate that, Suzy. And you had mentioned community, you’d mentioned experts. I want to do a little shout-out to Casey Markee who I know that you worked with recently to do an SEO on your site and he said, “Hey, you should follow up with Bjork to do an interview on the podcast.”

Suzy Karadsheh: He did, yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Because of your unique story and the way that you’re building your business. So shout-out to Casey at Media Wyse who is a Food Blogger Pro expert for making an introduction.

Suzy Karadsheh: Yeah, SEO is a big deal. Honestly, people should learn as much as they need to from people like Casey and there is others like him, too.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Cool. Suzy, thanks so much for coming on the podcast, really fun to connect and talk in person. Whenever I see an email or a message come through from somebody that I know and is a familiar face over the years, I always get excited. So you are one of those people-

Suzy Karadsheh: Thank you, Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: And it’s been so fun to talk to you and to hear a little bit about your story.

Suzy Karadsheh: Thank you so much, Bjork. I’m so honored and I hope that this conversation will help make somebody else’s path a little bit easier.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Thanks, Suzy.

Suzy Karadsheh: All right.

Alexa Peduzzi: And that is that, my friend. Thank you so much for tuning into at the Food Blogger Pro podcast this week. Before we wrap up, we’d like to thank this week’s reviewer of the week, Iva from foodbyiva.com. Her review on iTunes says, “I am very new to food blogging and blogging as a whole. I started as an Instagram and now, I am diving into a full-blown blog. I have already learned so much from your podcast. I listen to it when I go for walks with my 18 month old daughter and when I finish an episode, I feel so much more knowledgeable than I was before. My blog is Food by Iva, a stay at home, sharing a smorgasbord of food, nutrition, health and wellness. I love how you ask the guests the exact questions I would want to know. Thank you so much for this amazing resource.”

Alexa Peduzzi: Well, thank you so much, Iva, and I hope I’m pronouncing that right. And we so appreciate you for listening and applying what you’ve heard on the podcast to your blog. Good luck with your blog, we’re so excited for you and so thankful for you. And we’re thankful for you, dear listener, for making the Food Blogger Pro podcast a part of your day today. So, we’ll see you next time but until then, make it a great week.

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  1. This was a great report! I follow Susie on her blog and Facebook, yes, I bought the magazine for her recipes and also sent that magazine to my sisters ! The magazine is great and recipes are wonderful! Susie’s seasonings are delicious! Thanks so much!