331: Building Community – How Abbey Rodriguez Founded and Grew Tastemaker Conference

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Several people talking to each other and the title of Abbey Rodriguez's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Building Community.'

Welcome to episode 331 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Abbey Rodriguez about how she founded and grew Tastemaker Conference.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Ana Zelić from Ana’s Baking Chronicles about how she strategically improved her food photography skills over time and got her first cookbook deal. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Building Community

From developing recipes to writing posts to creating content for social media, we can find ourselves spending a lot of time alone as food creators. So how can we foster community and build relationships with others in this industry?

Enter: Tastemaker Conference! It’s one of the most popular food blogger conferences, and it’s a great place to connect with fellow food creators and brands and learn from industry experts.

In this episode, you’ll hear why Abbey Rodriguez founded Tastemaker Conference, as well as what to expect at the 2022 Tastemaker Conference in Chicago. Plus, she even shares a limited-time offer on tickets for podcast listeners that you won’t want to miss, so be sure to check out the episode!

A quote from Abbey Rodriguez's appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'I've learned, at least in my own experience, that you can't fully shine and commit and grow something unless you give that 100% of your energy.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why Abbey founded Tastemaker Conference
  • How she has shifted her focus from blogging to event planning
  • How she funded the conference when launching
  • How the pandemic has affected her business
  • Why brands like to get involved with Tastemaker Conference
  • How the revenue streams for the conference change from year to year
  • Her advice for those who want to start hosting events
  • What tools she recommends using when planning events
  • What the marketing strategy looks like for Tastemaker Conference
  • Why they focus so much on retention rate
  • How they started hosting masterminds and workshops
  • What to expect at the 2022 Tastemaker Conference


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

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: Hello, hello, hello. This is Bjork. You’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. And today we are interviewing Abbey Rodriguez from the Tastemaker Conference. She’s going to be talking about the business of education, the business of a conference and her journey to go through the process of building that. One of the things that we want to do on the Food Blogger Prƒo Podcast is talk about things that aren’t just blogging related. Now, obviously, Tastemaker Conference is a conference for people who are in the space of creating content and building a business around that. And so there is that overlap there, but it’s also interesting to hear Abbey’s story around what it was like for her to go through the process of launching a conference and what that takes.

Bjork Ostrom: All of these are different journeys that people are going through in pursuit of a similar thing, which is building something that you have as your own. This is your creation that you’re putting into the world, and a lot of times the reason why we are doing that and why people are doing that, is because they also want that to in some way, be a career or a job or a source of income. And so we want to have as many conversations as we can with as many people who are doing that in different industries and different places. And this is a fun one because it overlaps in that Tastemaker Conference is for bloggers and creators in the food space, but it’s also a story of somebody starting their business and hearing how they went about doing that.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the great things that came out of this was a discount on the Tastemaker Conference for anybody who wants to attend. And as I’ve talked about before on this podcast, we often hear from people around how influential conferences are, in workshops and in-person experiences, how significant those are in shaping their path and their career. And for some reason, there’s just something about getting together in person and Abbey talks about that and actually uses a word specifically to kind of encapsulate that. So excited to share that part of the interview with you.

Bjork Ostrom: To get that discount, go to tastemakerconference.com/tickets and use the promo code FOODBLOGGERPRO50 for a $50 discount. Again, it’s tastemakerconference.com/tickets. And the promo code is FOODBLOGGERPRO50. It’s a $50 off discount code, but it’s only good for seven days, November 16th through November 23rd. So seven days after this podcast goes live. If you’re listening after the fact, bummer. I’m sorry, but that is a little encouragement to listen in real-time unless you’re binging and catching up on old episodes. So the conference is March 3rd through 4th, 2022 in Chicago. And you can check out more by going to tastemakerconference.com/tickets. All right, let’s go ahead and jump into the interview with Abbey. Abbey, welcome to the podcast.

Abbey Rodriguez: Hi, I’m so happy to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Excited to chat with you because you have done something and are doing something that not only do I have not any expertise in, I’m really curious in it. I’m also very intimidated by what you do, which is events, where either virtually in the last year and a half, especially, or in person, you gather a bunch of people. And to me that seems really stressful and hard.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Is it stressful? Is it hard? And then give us a little background about what it is that you do and what you’re up to.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes. Is it stressful? Is it hard? I would say yes. And it depends on your personality type, because I think there are two people in this world that are like, “Yes, I want to plan an event and bring people together. And this brings me so much joy,” and then there’s the other types that’s like you. Like, “No. No, no, no. Hard pass.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Abbey Rodriguez: There’s a lot of logistics which is the hard part.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. It seems like you have to be somebody who’s not only a people person. You love to be with people, hang out with people, gather people, but you also have to be somebody who’s really good at logistics or have somebody on your team that you work with who’s really good at logistics and planning. Did you know getting into it that those would be things that you’re good at or is there somebody on your team who’s good at it? What does that look like for you in terms of making a decision around building a business around events and bringing people together?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So I’m actually very lucky and privileged in the sense that I have a sister-in-law who was an event planner…

Bjork Ostrom: Perfect.

Abbey Rodriguez: …for Fortune 500 companies for two decades.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Great.

Abbey Rodriguez: And I said, “Hey Stephanie, how would you feel about teaching me how to throw a conference?” And she was like, “Yes.” Because I’ve always been a people person. I love that element. That is where I shine and light up, is bringing people together. I’m very much an extrovert that way. And so I didn’t have that specific skill set, but I’m very strategic and do like logistics and digging through things and processes. But through her guidance, we did that. And of course we have an amazing team. Leslie is our operations and logistics manager on the Tastemaker team. So she helps keep all that going.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. What were, when you sat down with your sister-in-law, what were the things that were eye-opening or interesting to you in terms of what it takes to pull off a event, like running an event-based business?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So the planning, the lead time that you need, I mean, I know a lot of bloggers, it differs depending on your work style, but lead time is generally anywhere from what, three to six months? But with an event you have to have a lead time of anywhere from one to two years. So we’ve been planning for … Well, the pandemic, notwithstanding has kind of messed things up, but we’ll be planning our events that are two years down the road. And so I think for me, because I’m very much like a fly by the seat of your pants, spontaneous type of person as well. So it was hard for me to commit to something so far in the future, but it definitely helps things not be as stressful when you have that game plan and you know exactly every step. I was surprised too, to see the event resume that one puts together. It’s every detail down by the minute at certain points. So it’s very, very detail-oriented.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I have a friend who’s a wedding videographer and he talks about what that reality is like to be booking his next summer a year before. But you really, I would assume you have to get into the rhythm of always thinking a year in advance. So even, while also thinking about six months from now or three months from now. There’s always those deadlines, things that you need to take care of along the way. When did you do your first event and when did you decide, “Hey, this is actually something that I want to do. I want to build around this and build the business around it.”

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. The genesis of Tastemaker. So our first event was actually in 2018, which is insane to think that it’s almost four years ago. I mean, because 2021’s almost over. And it started, actually I got this idea in 2017 because I have been blogging since 2010 and it started as a lifestyle blog. And then I niched into food blogging and food photography in 2015 and realized in 2017, you know what, I would love to have a conference that is a little more intimate, that hosts around 200, 250 people, that is this very experiential bespoke event that doesn’t exist for food bloggers. I did have Stephanie, my sister-in-law that I mentioned, as a resource. I’m like, “Yeah, this is the perfect opportunity.” And it was one of those just magical things. I remember reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert of this ideas, the idea of how things are waiting to be made manifest.

Abbey Rodriguez: And this was my thing and it kept coming back and it kept coming back and I just couldn’t ignore it any longer and then decided to go for it. And it was the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever taken in terms of business because A, I didn’t know how to do it. And B, it was just kind of a radical idea to think that I could do something and pull it off. But obviously there was a huge need for it. We were able to sell out the first year, we’ve been able to sell out every year since. We’ve been able to stay alive during a pandemic, by transitioning virtually. And it’s just something that’s really needed because as you know, it can be very alienating to be working by yourself all day from your computer as a lot of people now know working from home. And we just, we crave that in person connection so much, and it provides that opportunity.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I recently got back from the first like trip I’ve done in like two years. And it was a meetup. There was maybe 10 other people who run similar, but not exactly the same types of businesses. So somebody who focuses on book launches, and somebody else who has a technology website and got together to hang out and it was just kind of a chance to be together in person. And what’s interesting is people can say the same things that you maybe would read in a blog post or you’d hear in a podcast, but there’s something about being together with people. I think this applies virtually as well, but especially in person where, what people say and the information you get, you receive it in a different way where it seems more transformative. And I hear that a lot where people have gone to a conference and that’s kind of been the catalyst for something for them, like inspiration or an idea or a concept. When you’re in a space with people doing similar things, you’re inspired in a way that you can’t be, even if it’s the same information that you’re getting from somewhere else.

Bjork Ostrom: Talk a little bit about your site, what that is. And then have you shifted your focus now that you have traction in this new area and how do you balance a preexisting idea that you were focusing on and building with something else that’s new and exciting and that has a lot of traction.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So you’re talking about specifically The Butter Half, my food blogger website and transitioning to that. Yeah, so The Butter Half is something that I started as a kind of a passion project, but realizing, oh, I can make a lot of money by niching down in this blogging world. And that was its own journey in itself of, I started it as making family recipes and then through a series of health issues decided to really niche down into more gluten-free, health, nutrition focus. And I actually, my focus for the last year and a half, two years has been creating a cookbook called Root & Nourish that was published earlier this year in April of 2021. And so that really was my focus.

Abbey Rodriguez: I had these two buckets because I’m very big on boundaries and bandwidth and not doing all the things, which I know you talk about. And so I was focusing on that and then focusing on Tastemaker because those were the two income streams that just made the most sense for me for personal goals, professional goals and everything. And since then, since the pandemic happened, though, I really had to sit down and make a choice of, do I want to keep putting a bunch of time and energy into The Butter Half right now, or focus on Tastemaker? And I kind of hit that crossroad where I’m like, you know what, I’m going to choose the Tastemaker route because this just feels like the next logical step, because I’ve learned at least in my own experience that you can’t fully shine and commit and grow something unless you give that 100% of your energy. Where focus goes energy flows type of vibe.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep, totally.

Abbey Rodriguez: You know. And I could essentially hire a team to run out The Butter Half if I wanted to, but this is something I just wanted to step into fully. So for now The Butter Half has passive income that I still rely on, which I was able to set it up over the course of those years to do that. So it still exists. And it’s just not the season right now to be focusing on that, but it’s set up so that I can return to it whenever I’m ready to. And it still is very much a part of my history and brand and I keep up to date on what food bloggers are doing and the education they need, but it’s from the lens of, “Okay, how can we create a conference and create this educational platform where we bring experts together to teach people and connect them?”

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. One of the things that I love about the pursuit of an area of interest or passion, in your case, your blogger website, because a lot of times that will evolve into a new thing. And sometimes that means it’s a new thing within the thing you’re doing. You get into it and you realize, “Wow, I really love photography.” And so instead of pursuing a business with display ads, from a bunch of traffic to recipes, somebody says, “I’m actually going to pursue photography as what I do or videography or web development.” In your case, it feels like the evolution is, “Hey, I really like this thing. And there’s a community around thing that needs education and resources. That feels like a really good fit for me. So I’m going to evolve into the next thing.” And some people will sit in the same place forever, and it’s a good fit where they started, but other people, they involve evolve into a new thing. I’m curious to know what that looked like from a business decision perspective.

Bjork Ostrom: So a lot of times you’ll hear people talk about conferences are really hard and it’s really hard to make money within conferences. And my guess is it’s not like a blog, in that with a blog, you can start and you’re like, “Okay, I can maybe pull this off for $100 a month,” but with a conference you’re like signing contracts and you have people who are going to pay you a certain amount and do pay you that amount. And you don’t know … The stakes are a little bit higher.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: What did that look like for you to get started with that? And what did you learn about running a conference business? Because it kind of fits in this space of events. We talked to Liz from The Lemon Bowl, how she does events and how she fits that into her business. But what did you learn about the business of events as you’ve gotten into it over the past few years?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So when you mentioned the stakes are high. 100%, that’s where that faith was involved of I have to have a really solid business strategy for that. And so I am very much a fan of you got to spend money to make money. I think that is an old cliche adage that we all live by. And it’s this notion of, are we putting it into practice or just saying that?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Abbey Rodriguez: And so I took, honestly, I took a big risk. Which when you start a business outside of blogging, because it is such low stakes and the overhead is so low, you can start with minimal overhead costs. But I had to put on my real business hat of how you would get funding. How do startups function? It was very much a university of Google situation too, where I had to learn a lot of things that I didn’t know. And so I took a lot of the profit that I was making from The Butter Half, and I put it into the conference. And so I had to make that choice.

Abbey Rodriguez: And I recognize I’m in a position that allows me to, because I have a partner who works full time and can provide for our family and not everybody has that. And so I 100% recognized that and acknowledge that. Sure. But it was a risk that I was willing to take because I think there’s a lot of value in those in-person connections, because there already are a lot of food blogger educational platforms, obviously, The Food Blogger Pro community, but that in-person connection was the one gap that I wanted to fill.

Abbey Rodriguez: And so in terms of revenue of how that all works is I took my strength in wheelhouse of brand partnerships, which I feel like is always been something that is easy for me because I love people and I’m so extroverted. And so we built it off the model off of ticket sales and sponsorships. And so that is a really big part of our revenue. And having those existing relationships was able, we were able to set a framework for creating it so it would be profitable. And we have fortunately been profitable with the exception of the pandemic. But that was just a weird thing where we just had to roll everything over.

Bjork Ostrom: I have some friends who have related kind of conference businesses or in-person event businesses. And if there’s one business, it’s like literally the main purpose is to gather large groups of people together in person.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So I mean that honestly, full transparency, has been super hard, but again, I’ve been able to weather that just through smart business planning and having things saved and having resources. And that’s the importance of saving for a rainy day when you are running a business when there’s hiccups.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that? It’s one of the things that we’ve been, the saving for a rainy day specifically. I think it would be a good thing to talk about. It’s kind of a little subcategory, but one of the things that we’ve just established, well, it’s not just, but we’ve been working on is what is our system for saving and what’s too much and what’s too little. And at first started out and I said we’re working with the fractional CFO, started to do bookkeeping with a company called Pilot. So we hired them and they do all the bookkeeping for different businesses. I said, “Hey, I want to have one year of previous expenses saved within the business.” And then it was like, “Ah, actually that feels like if we have a business, that has a lot of expenses that ends up being a lot of money, just sitting in a bank account.”

Bjork Ostrom: So then we kind of shifted and we said, “How about six months?” We didn’t get to that one-year mark. But we said, “How about six months?” That feels like a pretty good spot for us to be in. But the interesting thing is as expenses go up, then the amount of savings go up. So if we get a business where it gets super expensive, we don’t have any at this point yet, but let’s say it’s spending $100,000 a month. It’s like, do we then still have 600,000 saved in a savings account? But my guess is you were really glad that you had had that savings, that rainy day fund for when a global pandemic came. So was that just a mindset you had going into it? Was it just by chance that you had some of this money set away? What did that look like for you? Because it was a smart decision.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. I mean, I think it was a little bit of the mindset and it just happened to work out with just the cash flow of where we were when all of it happened, just because the interesting thing about your cash flow and an in-person conference type of business model is very seasonal. And so we will receive a lot of revenue and just be sitting on it. And then when we are running the conference, the three months leading up to or whatever and about a month after, that’s when we’re seeing a lot of those transactions. So it was that situation where we had it, we had this pile we were sitting on and didn’t fortunately have to make a bunch of payments that we didn’t lose out on, which I know a lot of other event planners who had lost out on massive deposits and things, and we definitely did, but not to that extreme amount.

Abbey Rodriguez: And so our sponsors and the people and our attendees, who are absolutely amazing, were very understanding in us saying, “You know what, we are not going anywhere. We are going to have grit and keep through this and transition it and roll it over to the next time we can gather.” And so that was how we were able to really weather this storm. But also I like to keep anywhere from like three to six months in terms of just overall, just monthly expenses, which aren’t incredibly high for us in terms of our everyday logistics, just it’s our payroll on our team.

Abbey Rodriguez: So yeah, our situation is a little bit different in the cyclical nature of the business, which is a little bit different from yours. But I also have a hard time like, “Oh yeah, I’m just going to let $600,000 sit in the bank.” Because then you’re going to be paying taxes on that. And all those other things, that’s like, “Ugh,” and I would just talk to my CPA and financial manager for that to be like, “Do we invest this now?” Which I think is a really interesting conversation that I would love to start having with bloggers of like, “What are you doing with all this cash that you’re making? Are you investing it?” I think that’s a whole other separate fascinating area.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It would be a great conversation to have with somebody. We’ve kind of had versions of that on the podcast, but it would be an interesting one to have with … There’s just somebody who released a book that I paid for, it was almost like a Kickstarter book. And it was like two years ago and it just came out, kind of one of those, but it was like Personal Investing for Founders and just how that’s different because you have the variable of your business and within your business, you can be strategic about expenses and like what that looks like. Obviously, a really good problem to have. When you’re just starting out that’s not the problem you’re trying to solve. But for a lot of people, it is something that they need to be strategic about Noted for podcast guests, conversation piece.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: So you talk about obviously there’s ticket sales that go into a conference, that’s a piece of it. Obviously, people buy a ticket to attend, easy to understand. What about on the brand side? When there’s a brand coming to a conference, what are they looking to achieve? And what is their hope in terms of sponsoring, or maybe having a booth at a conference, because that’s an area where I think, conceptually I kind of understand it, but I’d be curious to know from your inside understanding what is a brand looking to get out of when they attend a conference.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So that is a great question. And I think, again, the answer is always, well, it depends. Overall what we offer though is experiential marketing, which is its own form of marketing, where you get to showcase your product in person and create an activation, is what it’s called, where you can engage with that product. So for example, say if we had somebody with a blender come and a blender brand or a brand that has a blender that they offer, they could have presence inside of our snack bar. They could be blending the smoothies, right there, in the middle of the conference, people can be engaging with it, they can be interacting, they can see how it works, and they’re able to see the functionality of that, which you wouldn’t otherwise be able to really convey. There’s only so much you can do through video and photos, where that hands on experience is so incredibly important.

Abbey Rodriguez: And so it provides that, but also because our conference is different in that we gather influencers, there’s a lot of social reach and ability to have a lot of social media visibility inside of a vacuum for these two days where people are posting because they’re really inspired. And there is a word for what you were talking about earlier of that feeling that you have, it’s called effervescence. It’s a sociological term. It’s called that. If you want to get nerdy and go read about effervescence.

Bjork Ostrom: I love that. I will.

Abbey Rodriguez: There’s lots of academic literature out there on that. But you know, people, I think there’s something to be said to, to interact with that. And then in terms of how else can a brand get an ROI, because that is another important aspect, I think, of when we’re recruiting brands or brands are thinking about coming is “Okay, what is this going to do for me there?” And so I think just making those in-person connections with influencers, for those brands who are wanting to do influencer marketing, or they already are, and they want to meet people in because as you know, it’s so different when you meet somebody in person, even just over a Zoom call, as great as it is, it would be very different if you and I were sitting down in person having a coffee, tea, whatever, and talking face to face.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What do you see … So two parts of this question, the brand side, and then the influencer, blogger, creator side. For somebody who’s a publisher will use that as a broad term, who’s coming to an event like this, obviously, there’s learning, that’s a huge piece of it. How do you get to know new things that are happening, trends, and you are sitting down and like watching it in a way that you wouldn’t if you’re watching a YouTube video. But then there’s also the piece where there’s a networking element, maybe it’s with other creators and publishers, but also with brands. Do you see that as a reason for somebody who is a creator to attend a conference, or would you say that’s kind of secondary, or maybe a third-tier type focus? Where do you see connections coming out of this? Where, hey, you have a partnership with a brand who’s also attending the conference.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So our brand values are built on this very concept of community, number one, education and experience. And so I think the most important thing is that community aspect where you’re getting to go meet other like-minded people who do the same thing you do, because it’s not every day you meet a food blogger. I mean, when people ask me, “Oh, what do you do for a living?” I’m like, “I throw events and teach people about food blogging and content creation.”

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, that’s a niche.

Abbey Rodriguez: They’re like, “Wow, wow. I’ll never meet anybody ever again that does that.” And so it’s just, you know how refreshing it is when you meet something you’re like, “Oh, you’re a food photographer. You’re a food blogger. Me too.” You get it. And so being able to facilitate that because we have a lot of great testimonials and just personal stories that attendees who have now become personal friends of mine have told me that they’re like, “I would not be at the point that I am with my blog if I had never gone to Tastemaker, if I had never gone to this event,” because you meet people who get you, who are in a similar phase of your business that you’re you’re currently struggling through, or you’re trying to achieve a certain goal, you can find accountability buddies. And again, effervescence. It’s a very real thing that we need as social being.

Abbey Rodriguez: And then in terms of the brand partnerships, do we see people having success with those, this is more of an opportunity to get that face to face interaction so that when you follow up and you send somebody an email and you’re like, “Hey, remember we met at this event. I’d love to work with you somehow.” I think that goes so much further in getting your foot in the door when they’re receiving thousands of emails, it just puts you on top of the stack versus being like in the slush pile. And so I think there is a lot of value in that. Or if you already work with a brand and they’re going to be at the event you’re going to, what a great way to meet somebody in person and have that face-to-face interaction.

Bjork Ostrom: And on the brand side of things there’s most people who listen to the podcast are going to be in the category of creators, publishers, influencers, but there’s also people who listen who would be in the category of the brand side of things. What do you see as the brands? Or what do you see with brands and brands who, or companies, whatever you want to call them, how would you consider when you’re having those, what do you call them within your…

Abbey Rodriguez: We call them brand partners or sponsors.

Bjork Ostrom: Brand partners. Okay. So who are the brand partners that are having the most success, doing things like conferences, what are their mindsets and how are they approaching it?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So I will say we have two types that we typically see, which are food and beverage brands who are looking to work with content creators, bloggers, influencers, publishers. What are we calling everyone these days? I usually refer to it as content creator. There’s so many names.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Creators, I think would be all-encompassing.

Abbey Rodriguez: Creators. Yes. Creators. So who are looking to meet those creators and build relationships so that they can create content for them. So we have half of our sponsors are usually within that bucket category and then the other half are those who, whose audience that they would like to be serving are creators and food bloggers. And so having people on like Nerd Press or Top Hat Rank or anybody, or Google Web Creators is one of our sponsors this year, which is huge because they’re wanting to get access and feedback and information from this very hyper-targeted group of people. And so for them it’s useful in that they have a product that they’re selling and they get to have that face time in Chicago in March, which is when the next conference is we will have a tech hall.

Abbey Rodriguez: So for those brands who help bloggers in that way, they will be able to have people come sit down and do like live site auditing and working through a lot of those issues that are really hard to do when you’re, again, just Zooming or emailing back and forth. You can sit down and take a look at your website and get everything in order. And so it cuts out a lot of that back and forth and just excess time. And it’s an opportunity to enroll people for your services and, or just learn more about it. And I think there’s a really powerful ROI there for brands in that perspective too.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s essentially brands who want to connect with creators to help them sell their thing, or brands who are selling their thing to creators. Is that broadly speaking?

Abbey Rodriguez: That’s a great way to summarize that. Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: And within that, that obviously is an important piece of the puzzle for your business. If you were to say pie chart, like here’s percentage-wise, ticket fees versus brand sponsorships, partnerships, what would that look like from a business perspective? And does that change over time? Over time, does it become more brand partners that are supporting the conference, versus ticket sales? I’m curious to know how that all plays out.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. It depends on the location and the year because we travel around each year to a new destination and some cities are way more expensive than others. And so there will be years where we rely more heavily on brand partnerships and the sponsorship revenue, and then ticket revenue is a little bit less than that because there is this delicate balance too, of wanting to put on a really amazing high-quality event. But those are very expensive. As you pointed out earlier, our conference is profitable. And so in order to make them profitable, there is a cap, I think, for a ticket. It’s not like we’re going to charge … I will never personally ethically feel good about charging somebody $2,000, you know?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. And those conferences are out there. There are tickets where…

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. And for me, I’m like, “No thank you.” I don’t care about that. I care about the people over profits first and foremost. And so realizing that there is a certain cap within that and that after you run the budgets and the cash flow analysis and everything that if we were to just do this selling tickets, it isn’t going to be profitable. And so that is where the sponsorships come in and we are able to work with them in a way that it pads that and provides us a stable business model where it is profitable and we’re able to customize it to what they’re wanting too. And that’s the great thing about having your own event is you can make it fit for what they’re looking for as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense. So how about for people who hear this? And they’re like, “You know what, I would be interested in doing some type of … Not a, maybe not a conference necessarily, but I would love to explore the idea of doing education as a part of my business,” right? Food Blogger Pro, you pointed that out is a version of us doing that. It’s helpful when you look at the lay of the land for Pinch of Yum, which is a food site, food and recipe blog that we have. Food Blogger Pro education, we also have kind of a software component. The purpose of that is all kind of in the name of diversification.

Bjork Ostrom: And some people might say, “Hey, you know what? That kind of sounds interesting to me.” Obviously there’s a scale. You could do a smaller event. It’s maybe leaning more towards a meetup. The friend that I was with earlier this week had talked about doing that, potentially doing like 5, 7, 10 people gathering in a place. Maybe you have a brand partnership who’s a part of that, people pay a ticket cost of that, and you could go scale all the way up. You could do a huge event. 1,000 people, whatever it might be. Do you think it’s feasible for a creator to pull off events like this, probably on the smaller scale and what are the tools that they need to have as a part of their, in a tool belt in order to be equipped to pull that off, if they do want to do that?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes. Great question. So, yes, I do think it is feasible and I encourage it because obviously I love the element of bringing people together. I would say start very small. And so starting with a group of five, I found is great number. In addition to us hosting the conference, as we have scaled our business, we host smaller masterminds and workshops. Again, same model, but just a way smaller scale. And so we are currently in the middle of one and it’s five people and it’s perfect because what you want to do is deliver a lot of value and provide information that you wouldn’t be able to communicate otherwise, which is going through the whole workflow process and walking them through step by step and essentially holding their hand and doing actionable work together. And talking about bandwidth, there aren’t enough hours in the day to give people your time and energy, you are having a bigger, larger event that way.

Abbey Rodriguez: So yeah, picking what you’re good at, picking a focus of education that you’ve developed and expertise in, whether that’s food photography, or bookkeeping, or content planning, right. There’s so many different ways you can niche down and just go look at the list of Food Blogger Pro episodes. I mean, we could turn events into each episode alone or even the tracks that we have in our classes that we offer at Tastemaker and providing a class specifically on that is a great way to do that.

Abbey Rodriguez: In terms of tools that people need to plan events. That’s a very large question. I will try to condense this as best as I can. I would say having a management system of that holds a task in timeline is your biggest thing, because you are going to need to have a very strategic timeline for launching, for the marketing of it, for creating your event resumes, for how the actual day’s going to go, for creating all of your programming and scheduling. If you are going to have speakers involved at your event, you’re going to have to create time for that. And if you’re having a brand partnership, then you have to think about pitching brands and what that wholesales process looks like, having a sales pipeline for that. There are so many moving pieces for that. So get a good content management system. I personally, we use Asana at Tastemaker just because we’re able to, to communicate as a team and keep everything going.

Abbey Rodriguez: But if you’re just starting off and you’re like, “I don’t know, maybe I just want to dip my toes into this and go for it.” You can use something as simple as a Google spreadsheet and create all of your plans there and your vision there. And then use something like Eventbrite to host your ticket sales or Attendify. We use Attendify because they have an app for events that makes it easy to communicate with people and keeping it all in one place. But yeah, I would just say, start there, make a plan and make sure that you have a good launch too, in terms of finding people who are interested in it. So use your email list to do that.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that? Because I think it’s one thing to pull off the logistics of it, which is a huge thing. It’s another thing to market it and to do that well. How did you market the first few events and what does that look like now? What have you found works well for marketing?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah, so the conference is essentially a user community-generated content, if you want to think of it that way. We purposely bring in experts on each, each topic and within that they help promote the conference to their audience, which are typically the same sort of audience that we’re targeting to sell tickets to. And so through word of mouth and people, speaker sharing and using their clout and influence within their circles is a great way to sell tickets, number one, and number two, our email list. I mean, we did not have a huge email list. I think it was like 900 people in 2018 when we started, but we were able to sell 200 tickets that first year, just because it is something that’s really unique and individual too. And I think that obviously makes it easier to sell something when there’s not a lot of competition in the market for it. So I will say that there is an advantage, but find ways to find gaps in the market would be my suggestion there too, so that you can work off of a smaller email list for marketing and word of mouth and your networks who can help you promote it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the great things about an in-person event is from marketing perspective, you have a natural cap and there’s a period of time where Lindsay was doing in food photography classes and had an email list with Pinch of Yum. I don’t know how big it was at that point. Not all of those people obviously were food photographers, but if I’m remembering back. I think what we did was we emailed the list and said, “Hey, we’re going to be doing this thing if you’re interested, sign up here.” So we had kind of a waiting list. And then maybe like a day before, we’d send out a email to say, “Hey, we’re going to open this up for fall. Registration’s tomorrow at this time. If you’re interested you can sign up and we have 100 spots” for the whatever four or five classes it was, but it’s great because it’s like, then you have a cap.

Bjork Ostrom: And a lot of times with digital marketing, you have to create artificial scarcity, but it’s not artificial scarcity. It’s just-

Abbey Rodriguez: It’s real.

Bjork Ostrom: … here’s the amount that we have and when it’s done, it’s done. And the other piece that I would imagine is similar to stick with me on this one, a friend who has a cabin that they just remodeled and it’s beautiful. It’s called The Minne Stuga. I’ll do a little shout-out to them and it’s in Grand Marais, Minnesota, and they just finished remodeling it. And now they’re booking guests for it. And what’s happened is people go, they stay, they have a great time. And then they want to come next year. And I would imagine for a conference, there’s something similar where you have repeat customers. So like the first time you had to sell 200, but if you capped it at 200 the next year, you’d maybe only have to sell 30 or whatever that number would be where, because you have additional people coming again, you have people interested in it. Has that proven to be true where it’s a little bit weird because you did 2018, 2019 global pandemic. But have you seen that to be kind of a trend in terms of involvement with the conference and it almost becomes kind of a community for people?

Abbey Rodriguez: Absolutely. And that’s why we focus so heavily on that community element is we want people to feel like they’re almost a part of this bigger Tastemaker family. And the retention rate that you’re talking about is a really important metric that we have to think about. And so I’ve had to put on my business hat for that in terms of thinking that that’s an important metric that maybe food publishers don’t have to think about. And so we have been able to do that and a strategy and tactic that we like to use is at the end of each conference, we announce where the next year’s going to be. And we launch limited ticket sales for a certain amount at a really, really amazing Tastemaker, attendee-only rate. And so we’re able to leverage the scarcity that you mentioned because it exists and it’s real and psychologically that will always work for any human for anything. And so being able to implement those strategies there and then have all of those other elements definitely makes that work.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about the smaller groups that you are doing? You’d kind of talked about masterminds. I know people love the idea of kind of the accountability that comes with that learning that comes with that. What does that look like and how have you been able to do that? Any learnings along the way in terms of adding that on as a component of Tastemaker?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah, I will say it’s definitely been easier for us to transition into smaller because usually most people follow the business model of start small, scale larger, and we did the inverse of let’s start with this big, crazy idea and scale it smaller. And it’s actually been very successful because people already have a lot of trust in our brand and what we offer. And so they know what they’re going to get with that. And so in terms of that, we host masterminds. In the last few years before the pandemic happened, we were hosting one a year. We just have another workshop now that is smaller. So the workshops are smaller, more hands-on, with about five to seven people. The masterminds can be anywhere up to 15, but again, I think with those smaller events, you lose out on that one on one interaction. And so it’s a delicate balance of being able to price your product appropriately for the ticket sales while you’re still able to make a reasonable profit off of that in terms of the business perspective of that.

Abbey Rodriguez: But yeah, so we actually have a space too, that we just opened up. It’s a little coworking space, which is where I am right now. And so for us to be able to think about that for those who are very seriously considering running smaller events and you have the resources to do so, is getting your own venue. And so for us getting our own huge conference venue is not something I’m personally ever interested in doing, it’s definitely an option, but then it would be going into real estate. And that whole side of a business, which I feel like is another thing that I just don’t have the bandwidth to do, but being able to lease a smaller space, that is our own where we have our small group workshops and masterminds is something that is affordable. And it also functions as like a studio space as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Abbey Rodriguez: So, I mean, there’s an office over here. I have all my lighting and all my camera gear if I wanted to do a shoot for anybody and just thinking of it in terms of, is this a good business expense and how can I use this as a space to keep scaling the business.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s really cool. So super fascinated about that. Real estate is another area that I just love and it kind of is for me, it’s the thing that I can distract myself with, that’s not social media. So can I go and look through Zillow and LoopNet at the end of the day, instead of scrolling through Instagram.

Abbey Rodriguez: I love Redfin. Oh my gosh, I get it.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s this great Zillow spoof on SNL that they did for like…

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes, oh my gosh. I felt that…

Bjork Ostrom: So relatable.

Abbey Rodriguez: …so deeply. I know what you’re talking about.

Bjork Ostrom: But can you talk about how you are using that space? So my guess is you have your recording area kind of like for here we have an office to come in record the podcast work from here, but it sounds like you’re also doing meetups there. Do you use it as a place for people to rent out as well? Do other companies come and rent the space on a fractional basis if they need to do something, what is your vision for the space?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah, so it is new. So this is our first event we’re hosting in this location, but it’s a small space. I live in the DC area. So this is out in a town called Middleburg and it’s very much a retreat type of location. And so using it as a retreat venue for if other bloggers or publishers creators wanted to use it, they could definitely rent it out. It’s also going to function as a coworking space. So for people who live locally in the area, if they want to pay a monthly fee or even drop in to just have a workspace paying a nominal fee for the day, also for fellow creators or photographers who need a studio space with some lighting setups and backdrops, they can rent it for a fee too.

Abbey Rodriguez: So really it’s a full functioning space because I’ve been able to see, I love, I feel like I’m kind of a serial entrepreneur and just geek out overseeing how people run their businesses and different models. And so seeing venues when we’re paying all this money to these people, I’m like, “I should get into the venue business because this is amazing.” And so it’s kind of dabbling into that, but just another income stream is thinking like, “Oh, I could have a venue.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right. And during, in ways that you could use it, which is, I think a lot of times, the best way that I found to get into something is if the first user is you, then it’s…. really makes it a lot easier.

Abbey Rodriguez: Correct. It’s an automatic write-off. It’s already an expense. So why not?

Bjork Ostrom: Right. And then looking for other people who might use it in the same way that you do seems like a really cool win. So super fascinated by that in an area that we’ve kind of been interested in, but haven’t looked into it and haven’t pulled the trigger on it. So cool to see you actually doing Matt and pulling it off. What I want to make sure that we get at the end here is a chance to talk about the upcoming conference. So you’re putting together the pieces for it. It’s happening in March, Midwest, shout out to Chicago. It’s very rare that we have a conference that we could drive to in a day here in the twin cities and just love the city of Chicago, obviously an awesome food city as well. Talk about what people can expect for that. And I know that you have a discount for podcast listeners, want to make sure that you can shout out that as well. So just give us a little preview of what’s to come in March.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. So the upcoming conference is on March 3rd and 4th in Chicago. It’ll be at the historic Rebel Motor Row and we’re actually hosting it in partnership with the Inspired Home Show, which is the world’s largest home and housewares appliance trade show. And I’ve been working with them over the past years. They had some influencer conferences and creator pieces and we decided, “Hey, why don’t we just do a B2B thing and come together?” And so with that, you get access to the conference, which is on a Thursday and Friday. There are 30 classes, there’s breakout sessions. We have keynotes, panels, lots of great content. We have brands coming that’ll be exhibiting that you can network with, speed networking elements there. We’ll have that tech hall for anybody who needs help with their SEO or the tech side of things. So a lot of good hands on opportunities.

Abbey Rodriguez: We also have a pop, shop up swag, or I’m saying that incorrectly. Pop up shoppable swag. There we go.

Bjork Ostrom: Say it five times fast.

Abbey Rodriguez: Tongue twister of the day. So a good way to get your hands onto current new products, and then in addition to that, the next day you get access to the show. And so that is a wonderful opportunity in its own right, and we actually have a special speed networking session with some brands that are exhibiting at the trade show who want to work with creators in general. And so really it’s really a great place to come meet brands, meet your fellow food bloggers creators, and to be able to see people in person. And to your point of like the food element, we also have excursions that we do, they’re a separate ticket on Saturday. So we get to go to restaurants and hang out and see the city and the cool architecture. So it’s just going to be a really cool, fun event.

Bjork Ostrom: So when you say partnering with this other show that’s happening, can you explain how that works? So it’s happening at the same time or happening before that event is happening? Or what does that look like?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yep. So we are two separate events, just to make that clear, but it is a business-to-business type of partnership where we have our conference on Thursday and Friday, and then as a Tastemaker Conference ticket holder, you get media access to the show. Because usually you have to go buy your own ticket to that and there’s a whole registration process to be able to have access to the show floor. And so be by coming as a Tastemaker attendee, you get to circumvent all of that red tape there and you get access to it. And they are offering this special speed networking session, which is on Friday night after the conference, our conference concludes. So you get that little bonus element to it and there’s a little media room and everything that you have access to during the show day.

Bjork Ostrom: And the Inspired Home Show is essentially a … I don’t know, I’m guessing a bunch of brands coming together to showcase … like I’m trying to think of in Minnesota, they have, it’s basically the, I don’t know what the name of it is, but it’s like a home show. And it’s all this stuff for your home. Is it essentially the same thing?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. It’s housewares and appliances and it’s the largest one in the world. I mean, so it’s in McCormick Place, which is if you’ve been to Chicago, they’re a massive convention center. And so they have thousands and thousands of brands. So usually in the past it was for buyers to come sure with their products. But because direct to consumer is the world we live in, they’re branching out and wanting to scale in their own ways of bringing influencer marketing, social media marketing into it. And so that’s the piece that we fill there is by bringing creators and publishers to the show so that you can get access as a creator to what’s trending in terms of housewares appliances and things that you can be using for your site so that you’re staying on top of those trends. Because I remember a couple years ago I was there with air fryers and air fryers obviously are all the rage now. So being able to understand trends and have a pulse on that is I think really relevant as a content creator.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. We’ll link to that in the show notes. The best way for people to take advantage of that is what? I just want one more chance to talk through, go to the website, use the discount code. What does that look like?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yes. So you can go to tastemakerconference.com. That’s where we sell our tickets and then listeners get a $50 off discount code, which will be good for one week. We are setting a time limit on that, just because as you mentioned, they are capped tickets. So as soon as they sell, they sell and we can’t offer more. So yeah, definitely check out our website. You can also follow us at tastemakerconference.com. We’re on Instagram. That’s where we hang out mostly. If you want to connect socially, you can sign up for our email list too, to get updates in your inbox.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. And we’ll do, to define it, one week from the day the podcast goes live. Does that work?

Abbey Rodriguez: That is correct, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. So if somebody’s listening to this eight days after, bummer. You need to download the podcast in real-time. And then the discount code, should we include it? What’s the best way to include that or let people know about it. Do you want to, we can send it an email. We can put it in the blog post. You can say it right now. What would be the best?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah, let’s do FOODBLOGGERPRO50.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. So we have that. Anybody who’s listening in real time, you get the bonus of getting that discount code. Abbey, anything else that you’d like to say as we wrap up here? Words of inspiration or from somebody who has started something, built something had success with something for other people who are in the middle of doing a similar thing. What are your words of wisdom or advice for fellow creators in their own right?

Abbey Rodriguez: Yeah. Yeah. You know what? I feel like this is a great way to end it because I’ve been thinking about this all day before this conversation was happening about in 2017, when I had the idea to start Tastemaker I remember running along the pathway in my house when I lived in California and I was listening to Food Blogger Pro.

Bjork Ostrom: There you go.

Abbey Rodriguez: All the way back then.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s full circle. It’s full circle.

Abbey Rodriguez: It’s full circle. And I was like, “Oh, they’re so inspiring. I need to do something.” And I honestly attribute Food Blogger Pro as part of the journey to starting this and us sitting here and talking about it.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.

Abbey Rodriguez: So it is full circle. And so my advice would be to just keep going, have a vision for something, write it out, put it on a sticky note, put it on your mirror on a wall and keep looking at it until you hit that. Because I think when we say things out loud, we put them out there, we hold ourselves accountable and you really can make things happen. So don’t give up, keep going. You’re amazing.

Bjork Ostrom: I love that. That’s awesome. Something that you had mentioned that I had made note of and, and kind of was nodding my head, which most people wouldn’t see unless they watch a video, but you talked about grit and it’s grit in general, but especially with the conference business in the middle of a global pandemic, to have the grit, to be able to get through that. I think that was the word that you used.

Abbey Rodriguez: Yep.

Bjork Ostrom: But so often I think the work doesn’t look like what it is when you get up on stage and welcome everybody under the lights of the stage and everybody applauding. It’s the grit of showing up every day and kind of grinding away and you’ve done that. So want to commend you on that and…

Abbey Rodriguez: Oh, thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: …glad that the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, could be a very small part of it and excited to follow you with your journey, Abbey. So thanks for coming on.

Abbey Rodriguez: Thanks for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks again to Abbey for coming on and sharing her story, sharing a little bit about Tastemaker Conference and what it’s like to run a conference business and some of the considerations around just this idea of business building through education or events. And as we think about ways that we can be building the things that we are building as creators, that is one avenue that you can use, whether it’s small in-person events, whether it’s kind of masterminds, for lack of a better word, or all out conferences like Abbey’s doing,

Bjork Ostrom: Just want to remind you one more time of that offer, it’s $50 off a ticket. You can go to tastemakerconference.com/tickets and use FOODBLOGGERPRO50 to get that discount and it’s valid for seven days from the launch date of the podcast, which is November 16th through November 23rd. Thanks to Abbey for coming on. Thanks to you, listener, for tracking along with this podcast, we really appreciate it. Our hope and our mission, our goal is to help people get a tiny bit better every day forever. That’s why we show up here and that’s why the team does the work that we do. And we will continue to do that each and every day. And whether that be through courses within Food Blogger Pro, whether that be through the podcast, whether it be through blog posts, you’ll see us in lots of different places. So I appreciate you tuning in, make it a great week. Thanks.

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  1. Hello!
    The $50 discount code is not working on Nov 20, 2021. Can you please check it. I finally was able to have the website accept it, but the payment price did not change. Thanks for your help.

    Blessings and Joy,
    PS I left this comment because I cannot find an email address on your website.