The Business of Food Blogging with Jason Leake from 100 Days of Real Food – FBP005

For this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast, we’re taking with Jason Leake from 100 Days of Real Food.

On the last episode of the FBP podcast, Bjork interviewed Dr. David Darmanin, the founder and CEO of HotJar. Dr. David talked a lot about the things bloggers can do to improve their websites, and described how HotJar makes those things possible. From heatmaps to feedback loops to funnels, Dr. Darmanin covered it all. If you missed that episode, check it out here.

Jason Leake: The business of food blogging

For those outside the food blog world, blogging seems pretty simple – just make some food, take a few pictures, and put it up on the internet. For those of us inside the food blog world, the last sentence really just made you laugh. Well, Jason Leake is right there with you.

Jason went from supportive-but-not-interested husband to full-time behind the scenes blog manager in less than 2 years. He takes care of almost everything that goes on at 100 Days of Real Food that doesn’t involve cooking, photographing or writing posts.

What that means is that Jason knows a LOT about what it takes to make a food blog run beyond the cooking & photographing part – and this is where most of us get stuck. This interview is definitely not one to miss.

In this 64-minute episode, Jason reveals:

  • How 100 Days of Real Food got started, and how Jason felt about being involved
  • The techniques Lisa used to bring attention to her blog
  • What it means for your blog to publish a hard-copy book
  • How Jason handles doing "the books"
  • The resources Jason uses for managing 100 Days of Real Food on a day-to-day basis

This interview gives a real-life look into what it takes to run a food blog behind the scenes. Jason has a lot of information to share that can help bloggers like you and me up our blogging game.

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Transcript:

Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode five of The Food Blogger Pro podcast.

Bjork: In this episode we’re going to be talking to Jason Leake of 100 Days of Real Food. Jason and his wife Lisa have built 100 Days of Real Food into a really incredible business.

They’ve learned a lot of things along the way, and Jason was nice enough to come on to the podcast today, to talk about some of those things they’ve learned over the last few years, as they’ve build 100 Days of Real Food into a really incredible business.

I’m excited to have Jason on. He shares a lot of really insightful, awesome tools, tips, advice, behind the scenes info. You really get a lot out of it. I’m ready, if you’re ready, let’s jump into today’s interview, with Jason Leake of 100 Days of Real Food.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the food blogger pro podcast. I’m really excited, because today I have not only somebody who is really a smart at whole food blogging game this blogging game, but also somebody that I’m lucky enough to call my friend.

Jason Leake of 100 Days of Real Food, Jason welcome to the podcast.

Jason Leake: Thank you Bjork, you’re too kind. I’m going to say all of a sudden you have this awesome radio voice.

Bjork: Yeah, how about that? It’s like a switch that I turn on. This radio voice switch. I was doing some research for this podcast, and I was diving deep into my email, and I went back to September 12th, 2013.

I saw the first ever email from you, it says "Hey, my wife Lisa and I recently came across your site, and feel like we’re looking in the mirror. Lisa started 100 Days of Real Food over three years ago, and you are working as her business manager," you say.

That’s almost exactly the setup that we have with Lindsay and I on Pinch of Yum. First of all I want to say thanks for reaching out and connecting, because it’s been an awesome thing for me. Second thing, curious how did you come across Pinch of Yum?

Where is the first time you interacted with that? What spread you on to reach out?

Jason: Oh Gosh, I don’t even remember to be honest with you. I was probably searching for a blog income or something. I don’t remember the chronology there, but you got your income report once a month, and it’s really good information to me.

I don’t really follow other blogs that much, I’m noticing the grindstone. Every time I scan one of your blog posts, I’m like "I need to read this start to finish, and go back every month." You do a really good job at documenting.

Bjork: [2:32] I appreciate it. One of the things when I responded to you, every once I get emails from people, and maybe they want to connect to our chat or something like that. I’m sure that you get this too, it’s was a question of like how much time do we have in a day to connect with people.

And for some reason I thought. "OK, this make sense." Like you said we’re mirroring in what we’re doing so I responded, "Hey, I’d love to jump on a call."

When I connected with you the first time, I remember thinking, "This guy gets it. He’s really in it, and he understands it. They’re doing it at a really high level."

I’m honored to have you on the podcast today. People are going to get a lot out of it. Thanks for taking time to jump in and share some of the story of a 100 days of real food and what you guys are doing.

Jason: Thanks for having me on, and I am crazy, crazy busy right now, but I did want to dedicate the time. For that reason, I know there are listeners out there that they’re looking for that real world information. People are doing this professionally full-time.

There’s only so many of us out there, and people that are open to talking about it. I remember being in their shoes myself trying to scour the Internet for help, and going to conferences and what not, so happy to return the favor, so to speak.

Bjork: Speaking of getting started, being at the beginning, I pulled up 100 days of real food. I looked back in the archives. I went deep back. I went to the first post ever. The first post is it says, "Welcome to the food illusion." It starts off by saying, "What is the food illusion? First, let me define illusion."

It goes in to talk a little bit about that, and talks a little bit about real food. Obviously, this didn’t start as 100 days of real food. It started as the food illusion. What happened there with the switch, and what’s the back-story there with your site?

Jason: It’s interesting. The way the whole thing started was my wife Lisa watched an interview of Michael Pollan, the author of "In Defense of Food" talking about where our food comes from. It daunt on her that she didn’t know where the food came from.

It comes from the grocery store, and so she really started doing a lot of research and really wanted to change our family’s diet.

She started a blog called the foodillusion.com. The reason she started that was because we were changing our eating habits, trying to cut out processed foods. Her friends kept asking her, "What are you doing? What are you eating? You’re going to starve yourself, bla, bla, bla."

She was emailing so much that one of her friends finally suggested that she start a blog. That was the "Food Illusion." That was started March 22nd of 2010. Lisa was getting really passionate about it. We didn’t even know that blog was going to be a business. I want to clarify that.

That was the farthest thing from our minds or her mind at that time. She came up with this creative way. She thought, "I need to promote my blog "The Food Illusion." She had the idea of like, "When you do something that’s noteworthy that people will talk about, that might get media attention."

She decided our family would go on the 100 days real food pledge. That was intended to be a 100-day blog to point back to the food illusion, to market it so to speak to get the message out to other people.

It started taking off. So we decided, we’ll shut that one down [laughs] and continue 100 Days of Real Food.

Bjork: You created in a different site to host this and it was called 100 days of real food. The idea at first as that was going to direct traffic to the blog, which was the Food Illusion. But after getting into it, you realized, this is the thing that sticky. That people are really coming back to.

Jason: Exactly. There’s a lesson in there. That is that you can’t succeed unless you try. So many people now that understand that blogs are popular and you make businesses from them and so forth. With social media being so prevalent. Is everybody going to be super successful?

No. But you have to incubate ideas and try things and put things out there. To see what hits.

Bjork: One thing is smart, as you guys were doing that you were paying close attention and you realized. "Hey, this is something we’re getting a lot of traction with." We interviewed the founder of Hot Jar, which is an analytics and feedback program, David.

David talked about this idea of a feedback loop. Where you look at what people are doing and you get feedback from them. You make a change and you continue to track. And I feel like, this is a great example of something where you are getting feedback, you made a change and good thing you did.

Because 100 Days of Real Food is a really successful business and really successful blog now. Along those lines, I’m curious to know at what stage did you realize this is something that has the potential to be our full-time job? Or be our full-time job at least for Lisa or for even both of us.

Jason: I will answer that. But I want to go back to that feedback loop, because you hit on a really insightful point. We are using Hot Jar too by the way. I’ve jumped around a lot in my professional career. I have a mechanical engineering background.

I have a mechanical engineering background, I did application engineering, technical sales, et cetera. All sorts of things. It never felt right. What the problem was, was that I felt like I didn’t want to commit to something. I didn’t want to be an engineer my life.

I change as a person, my environment changes. What I love about online business is the superfast feedback loop. We can focus on what’s working and drop what’s not. I love that. It’s one of the best things.

Bjork: It’s so rare to be able to make a change and to see something directly after that. I finishes reading a book called "The Year Without Pants". It was a book where the author worked at WordPress.com. The company is automatic for a year.

In the book he talked about how they would push out changes and right when they would push out a change to WordPress.com, they would be able to track it and make changes the very next day.

That is an example of what we can do when you have a site. You can make a change and really quickly, monitor and adjust that. You can improve on those improvements and continue to make those changes. That’s awesome.

Jason: Especially when you get a lot of traffic. You get instant feedback on a lot of things. You were asking about when we knew it could support us full-time? I guess there is a couple question out there. I’m looking at page views over time, so I’ve got some key events by months after the blog started.

Some of those would be good to go through.

Bjork: Would you be willing to share some of those numbers?

Jason: Sure. May 2010, page views 972. June, 3,000. [laughs] July, 53,000. Steady. January, we double our traffic in January. It was 108,000. Plinking along. Lisa went to the first conference BloggerFood in Atlanta back in 2011. She had been blogging for about a year.

That was really a turning point, because she met some of our professional peers. Other people that were staring out that we still have relationships with today. Some were our first sponsors, web developers. Angie Walter who blogged at Eating Rules and Blogtutor.com.

It really opened her eyes. I was out of the picture early on, I was supportive conceptually for a Lisa starting a blog. I said, that’s great if you want to do that with your time. But I was avoiding the slippery slope of, oh, well, can you help me with this. Can you help me with this.

Bjork: And you’re working a full-time job, which I’m sure it…

Jason: Exactly.

Bjork: …took up some of your time.

Jason: Right. That’s the thing. I was in a new sales position where it’s territory, blah, blah, blah, but once she got to the conference and realized, oh, you can put ads on your own blog and people make some money doing this and so forth.

And so we thought, we might as well if we’re starting to get some decent track, we’ll earn some money because over time as your traffic grows everything grows and you need to start hiring help.

So that’s one of the reasons people should monetize as early as makes sense. I mean you don’t want to get into it for the wrong reasons.

Again, to reiterate, Lisa was successful because she had a passion to share her message and help other people with resources to cut them off of processed food. It wasn’t business tripping and…

Bjork: That’s really important riff on that for a minute because sometimes I’ll hear from people that, and it’s hard to know people’s pure intentions, but will start something.

Because they say, "oh, I saw that you can create an income from a blog so it’s a food blog and we want to create an income from it." and it’s really hard because as you know and as Lindsay knows and as Lisa knows, there’s this long period of like the struggle.

But the struggle isn’t as much of a struggle if it’s something that you’re passionate about, so I’m glad that you make a point of pointing that out because it’s important for people to know. If it’s something you don’t enjoy at all, then it’s going to be like double, triple, quadruple as hard.

If it’s something that you do enjoy, it’s not that it’s easy. There’ll still be hard things about it, but it makes the content production stuff a little bit easier.

Jason: Right and consistency is key regularly posting. You’re going to get burnt out if you’re not into your subject or if you’re not passionate about it so there’s all sorts of things to talk about, about successes we’ve had in business on my end or in operations and monetizing.

But Lisa, she’s the one that turns the content out. Some people use blog editorial calendars and all that’s fine, but with her, she really is never at a lack for subject matter.

I mean sometimes we schedule stuff out like if we’re traveling, but she often wants to talk about whatever she wants to talk about. "Hey, it’s summertime. This feels like a natural thing to discuss or whatever."

Bjork: I want to come back to that. I want to go back to the conference. This is the first time you said that Lisa had really connected with peers. What did that mean in terms of the impact on the blog?

Jason: I’m looking at traffic. That was one year after she had started and she had 177,000 page views that month and then it was 210, then it was 205, and then we landed on the front page of Yahoo.com so then it went to 1.1 million in August…

Bjork: …little jump.

Jason: Yeah. That was not being on a very stable host, not designed to take that traffic, so I’m sure that number would have been way higher if the host wasn’t throttling us, but regardless we were able to retain some of that traffic.

So getting about half a million page views a month, month after month after that until January of 2012. Now we’re 20 months in and she hit a million and has been over a million every month since then. We’re at like three to five million page views a month now, but…

Bjork: That’s one thing that’s interesting to me, to go back to that, and one thing that we’ve noticed with traffic stats with Pinch of Yum. A lot of times there’ll be this plateau or maybe like a slow climb and then there’ll be a jump and then that creates this new plateau at a new level.

To look backwards, it’s figuring out, how do you get those jumps and specific to the Yahoo article that you guys had. I feel like that’s a great example of something that really quickly provides a jump. Maybe you get links from other blogs that then see that article, but to go back to that.

Do you remember how you were able to get that placement on Yahoo and I’m guessing it was maybe like a front-page article. Had you connected with an author or was it a by-chance thing? What did that look like?

Jason: I’m trying to remember exactly. As I remember it, it was this upward media spiral. Early on in the pledge Lisa had reached out to local media trying to get them to cover the pledge because again, she wanted to get this message out and I remember our local newspaper.

The "Charlotte Observer." They’re like, yeah, this is intriguing. Let’s talk on day 50. In other words…

Bjork: Right. Let’s not talk…

Jason: …let’s see if you’re…

Bjork: …yeah…

Jason: …let’s, no, no, she was serious, but it was more like…

Bjork: Oh, I see, day 50 of the challenge.

Jason: Yeah, like, let’s see if you’re still around.

Bjork: I see. I see. Right, right.

Jason: And then there will be a good midway point. There will be more of a story to tell…

Bjork: Right.

Jason: …and so forth. Lisa, what was in the paper, but then she also blogged for a little while through the Charlotte Observer’s, they had the mom blog, or do, rather, so she was like a contributor on that.

She was starting to develop relationships and then she started doing a syndicated column that went out nationwide. I don’t know how many newspapers picked it up, maybe a dozen or, but some were like in Sacramento and Miami and so forth. That’s a chance for other people to see you. It’s more exposure.

She did some guest posts on other sites and whatnot, really trying to get her name out. She was in, there was like a Yahoo like sub-genre like a health section. I forget whatever it was, she was picked up there, but then that gave exposure to.

I don’t know how they decide what to show on their home page, but it was in the system so to speak so discoverable. There we were, 100 Days of Real Food, stuck right between President Obama and Justin Bieber.

Bjork: Yeah. Nice. It’s a good place to be.

Jason: We have the screenshot so it was crazy.

Bjork: One of the things that I appreciate about what you were saying there is pointing out the fact that it was a lot of little things. It wasn’t one big thing and to start small instead of trying to go for the biggest thing possible and for you guys that meant reaching out to Charlotte Observer.

And some of the more local newspapers and then eventually there’s the potential to do a syndicated column and like you said, that brings in other links. The other thing that’s awesome about placements like that is it also gives you a little SEO boost.

So Google sees these links pointing to 100 Days of Real Food and they say, "Hey, these are coming from legitimate authoritative sites like newspapers, so we trust this site a little bit more." That’s a really smart strategy, but not easy to do.

It takes a lot of time and it’s hard to create content that’s going to other places, not your blog, so kudos to you guys for doing that.

Jason: Thanks. We can talk more about SEO in a little bit, but I do have to wonder how much of that traffic, because we did get a spike and then the floor raised, as you mentioned, so I wonder how much of that is because of that strong back link.

Hut then also we try to make the site sticky from a standpoint of, hey, we work hard to get people there. Once they’re there, let’s grab their email address or impress them enough with the content that are there, that they want to come back.

Bjork: How do you guys do that?

Jason: The typical stuff. It’s typical, we’ve been in this long enough. We have an incentive for someone to subscribe to your email list, which is a free ebook.

We have some free meal plans, which are very difficult to create, very time consuming, the meal plans that adhere to the 100 Days of Real Food rules, and the shopping lists, and everything. Something of value for your readers.

Then, with the newsletter list, whenever someone posts on the blog, we send emails to those people. We’re up to about 215,000 people on the email list now.

Bjork: That’s awesome. It’s almost to the point where you can say, "A quarter of a million," which sounds really cool.

Jason: Yeah, we’re growing really quickly. We’re using a lot of the SumoMe tools, Noah Kagan, at SumoMe.com. There’s a lot of good, free tools there, good performance. Stuff like your hello bar.

We don’t like popups to interrupt you, but we have one that, I forget their terminology, but it’s essentially exit intent. As someone’s going to leave the website, they’ve finished consuming the content, you’re not interrupting them, the popup will come up with that offer.

We have a cookie set that only shows 30 days. We could probably get a lot more aggressive than that, but we really think a lot about the readers’ experience, and try to be conservative with that stuff. That’s one. Printable PDF lists are great, so they also have a little tool called "Lead Magnets."

Let’s say we have a Costco shopping list, or Whole Foods shopping list, or something, we’ll put stuff on the blog, and then people will be, "Oh, I wish I had a printable of that." We’ll have an assistant create a printable, and then if they sign up to an email list, they can access that.

Bjork: That would be the incentive for them to sign up, would be this printable that they would get?

Jason: Right. This shows you how much stuff there is to do, we haven’t even done this yet, but you should set up an auto-responder. Of course, there’s all the emails when you sign up that say, "Hey, you need to confirm." "Thank You." The "Start Here" page. "Here’s some useful links."

We have a welcome email that goes out, but then it’s honestly a little note from Lisa every time there’s another blog post, pointing back to the site. We need to set up an auto-responder that goes into more detail, so maybe they’re getting an additional email once a week for whatever.

A month or two, saying, "Hey, here’s a resource on the site. Let’s talk to you about that." "Here’s this," so they understand the value of the site. "Here’s how to use the recipe index," et cetera.

Bjork: That’s great. For those that are listening that aren’t familiar with what that is, an auto-responder essentially is an email that you write, and then you put it in a queue. Essentially, you can have it go out, let’s say one week after somebody signs up.

They call it auto-responder, because it responds automatically. For Pinch of Yum, it is a couple months after somebody signs up, there’s this email that is automatically sent, and it’s like an Instagram tip sheet that Lindsay talks about.

"Here’s how to take better photos with your camera, and then post them to Instagram, if it’s a food photo." That’s one thing that there’s a huge amount of potential for that.

Like you said, there’s always a demand for time in other places, but for those that are listening that have an email list, it would be something that you could do, think about building out that auto-responder.

A lot of times it’s smart to point back to pages on your blog, or your website, that are high revenue pages. Correct me if I am wrong here, but there’s a page where you have an Amazon store, or Amazon recommendations. Is that right, Jason?

Jason: Correct. We call it the "Shop Page," but it has a lot of products that we use, and recommend. It’s like a search. That would be a perfect example.

Lisa has a New York Times bestselling cookbook, so people can find that at 100daysofrealfood.com/cookbook. That’s an example. In fact, we’re like, "Oh my gosh, I need to add a little footer message in the email template that points to the cookbook page."

The email list, again, we’re up to about 215,000 now, but I finally flipped the switch in MailChimp to track it, so it can show us in Google Analytics, every campaign, how much traffic we’re getting. As a result of seeing that, I’m like, "Wow, we are getting a good amount of traffic back on the site."

In fact, we had to call our host, because…We switched hosts, that’s another story. Anyway, we were having trouble, because we had sent so much traffic to the site from the email that it was slow to respond. It’s definitely a good thing to do, to really focus on building your list.

Other people talk about social media, and we owe a lot to Facebook, but you own your own email list. You’re not building a house on rented land, so to speak.

Bjork: I want to come back to that. Before I do, I want to hear the two important points…There’s many important points, I’m sure, but the two I’m interested in hearing…When did Lisa declare herself fulltime as working on the blog?

Maybe that’s hard, because I know she’s working on it fulltime, all the time, but there was a point where you realized, "Hey, this is essentially a fulltime salary for Lisa?" Then at what point did you also come on board, and leave your job?

Jason: 15 minutes later, I’m going to answer your question that you asked.

Bjork: It’s all good things. It’s all good rabbit trails.

Jason: There’s so much to talk about with this stuff. When was it? I started helping part-time, this was January of 2012. This was 20 months in, over a year and a half in. The traffic…That’s really what happened.

She had a couple of hundred thousand page views, had the spike from the [inaudible 0:25:05] home page, and then was at 500,000 a month, until that January, and then traffic doubled. That’s when she came to me, and was like, "I’m ] , I’m treading water here. I need some help."

I started helping her January, part-time, and then I was starting to see, "OK, this is worth my time," from a business standpoint, to really try to help her out with this. She’s brought the traffic. She’s getting a million page views a month, and because she went to the conference.

We understood, "Oh, there are ways to monetize it." Not that I understood anything about those things at the time, other than it was a possibility. Then fast forward a couple of months to March of 2012, and that’s when I discovered Pat Flynn, of SmartPassiveIncome.com.

A neighbor told me about him, when he heard that we had this blog, or Lisa had this blog. When I looked at his income reports, and that’s why I so wish Lisa would let me do income reports, but she won’t.

Once I saw what was possible, I was like, "Oh, wow! OK, this…" Not that I expect to make a Pat Flynn income every month. He was making, I don’t know, maybe $50,000 a month, then. Making more, now.

I remember, of course Lisa’s parents are in another generation, so somewhat conservative, and we were telling them about all of this. When you start to throw those numbers around, they start to pay attention a little more, and think, "Oh, this isn’t some crazy thing you’re talking about."

I started helping part-time, and there are a lot of comments when you have that level of traffic. Lisa hired a comment moderator, her name was Jill, at month 24. We also hired a sales manager then, because we wanted her to start to have some sponsors, for sponsored posts.

And ads that we sell direct, and whatnot. Lisa didn’t have time for that. I didn’t have time for that. We hired Kiran, and she’s still with us, and she’s a really important part of the team. We paid her a straight commission.

Then I quit my corporate job month 26. Started helping part-time in January, quit my fulltime job in July. In order to do that…I was mentioning Lisa’s parents, not that we have to ask them permission for anything, but of course you want your parents to look fondly on what you’re doing.

We got real nervous when we were like, "Yeah, Jason might quit his job."

Bjork: To work on the blog, which is like… [laughter]

Jason: We started putting my paychecks straight in the bank. For months, we were living off the blog income, literally. That made it much easier for both of us, for all of us really, to understand the possibilities.

Bjork That’s a smart point for people that are thinking about making the jump, whether they are on the fence, to essentially prove to yourself that it’s something you can do, while at the same time building up a little bit of a safety net for when you do make the switch to working on your website.

Whether it’s your food blog, or your online business, or nonprofit, or whatever it is, to prove to yourself that you can sustain yourself from it, because it’s a scary thing to make the leap when you haven’t established that that’s something possible, and you don’t have a safety net.

That’s coming from somebody who’s usually risk-adverse, but it’s good practice to do, and kudos to you guys for doing that.

At this point, you guys are both working on it full time. Do you have general numbers you can share? You talked a little bit about traffic earlier. I know that you’re not doing income reports, or totally disclosing that, but what does that look like to you now, from the month to month, or year to year, perspective?

Is it about what you were earning before, from your fulltime career? More, or less? Somewhere in between?

Jason: We’ve far eclipsed our previous combined professional salaries. This really has amazed me, how much we’ve earned. The reason Lisa doesn’t want to disclose income numbers is, because really she started this to help people.

No matter what we say, people will misconstrue the fact that we’re making a lot of money from the blog (she also has a book now that’s a bestseller), and think, "Oh, they’re in it." No. I love my job. It’s amazing.

We get to work from home. We get to travel in the summer. Last summer, we spent five weeks in an RV out west, and the year before that we took the kids to Europe for a month. The freedom…

We work really, really hard, and we could make a lot more money, if we didn’t value our reader experience. We could make $60,000 grand a year more, easily, by running processed food ads, but we don’t do that.

That’s very difficult to filter out.

Bjork: I remember talking to you about that, and how difficult it is to really hook into the different ad networks, and filter out any of the processed food stuff. That’s an awesome thing that you guys do.

I’m sure it’s not as easy as it sounds, and you’re leaving a lot of money on the table, which is cool, and commendable. Kudos to you.

Jason: I could go countless examples. We say no to a lot of things, because we’re, "Eh, doesn’t feel right." Luckily, we have enough income where we can just not give it a second thought. It’s like, "This is how we operate, it’s who we are."

Income is great. We’re five figures every month, some months really deep. We’ve had a few Pat Flynn months, which is really cool. That’s about as far as I can say on that.

Bjork: Most people will probably be familiar, but for those that aren’t, Pat has a site called Smart Passive Income, and I don’t know if he’s the person who started the income report stuff, or if he was one of the people that’s most well-known for it.

But a really, genuine good guy, and somebody that gives good advice. You guys were on the Smart Passive Income Podcast, is that right?

Jason: Yes, we were. That was a really cool experience. He interviewed both of us. Lisa doesn’t do interviews like this, but that was one I was like, "Lisa, you have to. This is the man that inspired me to quit my job." I twisted her arm, so she did that one business interview.

Bjork: For those that aren’t familiar, it’d be a great one to check out. We’ll include that in the show notes, as well. One thing that I wanted to ask you about is, right now, as things stand, 100 Days of Real Food, it’s a legitimate business.

You have people that are working for you, you guys are working on it full time, as a business, where the majority of your income coming from site? If you could pie chart it out, what would that look like?

Jason: Diversification is very important and so we have a pretty even income from ad networks and our sponsorships. Sponsorships being we have packages.

You may see a sponsor in some of the ad units on the side of the blog, they can mention in say newsletter or a blog post and it’s always disclose saying, "Hey, this is brought to you by our sponsor." Or social media mentions that type of thing. You’ve got sponsor and also some affiliate programs.

If your listeners aren’t familiar an affiliate program. Amazon is our main one, is you can sell a product like I can talk about a set of messengers, the kind that we use, and I can link to Amazon and then if someone clicks on that and goes on to make a purchase, we can get a small percentage of that.

Amazon is recurring four to five digits a month with Amazon. That’s a really important one, but also sales manager would manage specific affiliate programs. You may have an eBook, sometimes you may get up to 50 percent commission on these digital products.

It’s pretty even between the ad networks sponsorship and affiliate programs. Now, a fourth one that we are working on…now, this is putting the book aside, because I track that in our accounting software…

Bjork: Now, you say "the book," you mean the Cookbook.

Jason: Yes, so Lisa came out with the "100 Days of Real Food" cookbook last August. It hit the "New York Times Best Seller" list number one, so she put on a ton of work into that. We didn’t do a lot of digital products because she really wanted to get that book out there.

Then she sold her advance on five months, so we are on royalties right now which is awesome.

Bjork: Awesome.

Jason: We are in contract negotiations for book number two. We are excited about that.

Bjork: That’s awesome. Congratulations.

Jason: Thanks. A book is a ton of work. Not to get to far a tangent on that. It is an income source but the book helps to elevate the brand, I believe and they feed each other. What she able to reach out to a major publisher, we had our pick of agents.

It was because she built a strong platform with the blog traffic and with social media. It really enabled that. Anyways, those are four income streams. But the fifth, something we are going to do more of and how they recommend for people.

Because it’s effective with lower traffic too is creating ground digital products or training programs or what not. We have a contract with the publisher of the hard copy book.

You can think of certain things as a competitors, so you are going to have to be careful about what digital products we release, being we can have like an eBook Cookbook.

Bjork: Right, "100 Days of Real Food eBook Cookbook."

Jason: [laughs] Right, we couldn’t do our own things like that. We did get special permission to school launch our book, it was produced by our sales manager Karen, called "Real Launch is Real Easy." We sold up for us to two weeks and sales were strong in those two weeks.

We got permission to do Real launch is really Easy too and Karen is working on that is going to come out on August.

Bjork: Awesome.

Jason: Another two week period.

Bjork: What did you use to create that, to distribute it?

Jason: Well, I wouldn’t necessary recommend what we did first time around, but it was quick and dirty, we had no idea is it was going to happen. In fact, we renegotiated our commission split up for that. [laughter]

Jason: We all did well on that. It was nice but she whatever, a word processor but she had a designer friend who then took the basic information and put it into a nice template and then created a PDF, and then we used e-junkie to deliver that and accept payments.

Then we also experimented with an affiliate program. While we were promoting that heavily during those two weeks, we also had about 30 other bloggers that were pushing that.

But in all honesty, we sold maybe 93 or 95 percent of all the products ourselves and then out of that 30, there was one heavy hitter. Then most of the others were very small.

Bjork: What did you sell it for, how much?

Jason: It was nine dollars.

Bjork: It was a PDF that people would get and it would have all that content in PDF, no videos or anything like that?

Jason: Right, it was a school launch new plan and how to use the program, shopping list, that thing.

Bjork: We use E-junkie for Pinch of Yum, we have a couple of different digital products similar except they focus more on the business of blogging or photography. The most popular one that we have is "Tessie Food Photography." It’s the same thing where it’s a PDF.

We have some videos that we also store online that people can access. Essentially, it’s a really hands-off process once it’s up and running because e-junkie will run the payment through PayPal.

And then we will also send the PDF to people and it will have their download link. It really is, I feel like the ultimate of setting up a business that runs in the background.

Obviously there’s a lot of stuff that you need to do to maintain and keep it up, but it’s a really smart move for people that are getting started to create some type of digital products like that. That’s a great recommendation.

Jason: Even before you start your product, if there are other products out there that you would want to sell, say there’s legal guide for bloggers, Chris has as an example.

The product is already there, you can make 50 percent in some cases off the product to your feet wet with that really easy to start. But then on E-junkie, it goes for about $5 a month…

Bjork: Yeah, and they don’t take any cut from the sales or anything. It’s a great way to go.

Jason: Right, it’s a comfortable user inter-phase but it works.

Bjork: One of the things that I wanted to ask about along those lines, you talked about the different sources of income and setup, so we got into talking about digital products, E-junkie, which leads me into this question of tools.

I’m interested in what tools do you use to run your blog knowing that you have a ton of content your producing, you are writing cookbooks, you interacting with employees or people that are contractors and they are not on site.

What are the different things that you guys use to keep "100 Days of Real Food running"?

Jason: Sure. The blog is on WordPress.com, so it’s a content management system and we have all sorts of plugins and what no. I don’t want to get into the weed and all that but a really big thing that makes running the business possible is Xero.com.

That’s X-E-R-O.com. That’s an online accounting package. I cannot stand the accounting but we are…

Bjork: Given…

Jason: [laughs] We were on the spread sheet first and then I tried QuickBooks, because you hear about QuickBooks. I hate it with the intensity of 1,000 suns.

Bjork: [laughs] It’s funny.

Jason: Got off of there, and stated using Xero. Xero is online. It’s 30 bucks a month. It’s awesome because it pulls in, so we have a business checking account, we have a business credit card that we pay off each month and then we have a business PayPal account.

Then it’s really important to keep your stuff separate even when you are starting out, start a different one. It pulls the transactions in day-by-day.

We don’t really use invoicing with our sales manager, but she to log in, so she can invoice things and once reconciled them, she can pay and all of that stuff.

That allows you to look at the business pull reports, keep everything straight obviously with 1099 contractors. We’ve got all the information in there, what we pay them et cetera.

Bjork: Can you talk a little bit about what that means. That’s important when you say "1099 contractor." What does that mean?

Jason: We have seven part time people working for us. But Lisa and I are the only quote unquote employees. We are organized as an LLC, Limited Liability Company. You don’t have to do this but we are taxed as ex-corps to save a little money on the self-employment taxes so to speak.

Anyway, the 1099 subcontractors, they don’t work for you full time. You get a 1099 from them with their tax ID and information, so you have to report to the government how much you pay them each month. You don’t have pay a lot of taxes or provide benefits for them.

But you can’t call somebody a contractor. There are certain requirements that you talk to a CPA about, which I have. I do our operation accounting. I’m a book keeper now [laughs] it’s my mother-in-law deposits checks and I consult them.

Then we have our tax returns prepared by a professional, because I would totally mess that up. I run the operational day-to-day accounting. Anyway, with the contractor, I forget all the tasks, but essentially if they work for other people, they do project work, those type of requirements.

Then they can be a contractor and save some money. We’ve found, we like to hire people that have 10, 15 hours they can work and they have one primary job.

Some of the people are stay-at-home moms so they don’t have 48 hours a week to give us. They need that flexibility but they love working with us because of that. We try to be nice normal people [laughs] to work for…

Bjork: Yeah.

Jason: …so to speak.

Bjork: That’s good. It’s something that I’ve learned within this past year-the distinction between contractor and employee and the idea that with a contractor, it can’t be somebody that works 40 hours a week for you, for instance.

They have to be able to work when they want, where they want, and you can provide some guidance, maybe. But an employee is really somebody you can have more of a relationship with.

They’re probably the only person you’re working for, they’re probably working a little bit longer each week, and like you said, it’s something that people should look up. But it’s an important distinction for people to know about.

And the other important thing that people should know is that at the end of the year when you are doing your accounting, you have to send out these 10-99s. Essentially you’re telling the government we paid these people over $600. The mark, is that right, 600?

Jason: Yeah, that’s right.

Bjork: If you pay somebody more than 600, you have to go through the process of reporting that. Point being that government wants to be able to keep track…this is in the US obviously, for people that are listening outside the US, it’s a little bit different.

Government wants to keep track of where money is flowing, and who’s getting paid what. It’s all of this [laughs] stuff, like you said, it’s deep in the weeds. But it’s important business stuff and whether you like it or not, it’s something that you have to commit to if you’re looking to grow your blog.

One other point that I want to make or reiterate was the idea of separating your finances. If you are building a blog as a business or website as a business, as soon as possible set up that business checking account, that business saving account, and separate those two areas.

You had talked about working with your mother-in-law, for us we have a CPA and a bookkeeper that we work with. Essentially what we do is give them read-only access to our checking account, that’s Wells Fargo business checking account.

They can go in and they can do all of our book keeping and keep track of stuff without us having to hold their hand for it. Maybe a little snippet for somebody that’s trying to figure out that book keeping stuff, that’s really important.

I’m going…so that was xero.com, is that right? I’m going to jump…

Jason: Right, yeah, so I mentioned WordPress…

Bjork: Yep.

Jason: There is Xero. For Bank of America, I still do our payroll but I don’t use any fancy payroll system. I literally go into Bank of America Online Banking. I go to Bill Pay, and this people that I have to pay, I set them up.

Then all initiated payments addressed straight from our business checking account, Bank of America takes care of printing the check and mailing it. I don’t have to pay even for stamp, it’s super-fast and easy.

We do that…then for project management, we really like Trello. Asana is another option but Trello is essentially like…it’s almost like stacking some index cards in a pile…

Bjork: Mm-hmm.

Jason: …right? I’ll have what’s called a board or like a pin-up board or something. I’ll have a board for each one of my employees that I need, I have a virtual assistant, her name is Corey. This is the trick, the way you set it up.

I’ll have a stack on the left called Backlog, a stack called To-Do, a stack called Doing and then a stack called Done. So that you move from left to right. The Backlog is…oh I need…I have this idea…let’s not forget to try this targeted Facebook ad or whatever.

Throw it on the Backlog. But then when you go through and decide, I’m going to assign this to the person…and the card literally is like the title and you can have comments…

Bjork: Mm-hmm.

Jason: …Links and attachments and stuff like that, labels, for basic stuff. Once that goes to her To-Do pile…she subscribes to that board, so she gets an email. Or there’s also…it’s all free by the way…or there’s an app. And she’s notified, hey, I have some things in my to-do list here.

And we can communicate back and forth and all that communication is kept right there in Trello, so it’s really easy. You don’t have to go sorting through emails and whatnot.

Then as she…I can see what she’s working on, I can drag…I can reprioritize on the fly and be like, whoa now this is more important, so I’m going to put it at the top of the stack. Then when it’s done, it goes over to the done pile. So I recommend that.

Bjork: And that was…

Jason: I use…

Bjork: Trello.

Jason: Trello, yes, t-r-e-l-l-o.com. The last thing I want to mention in terms of how we run the business…I’m talking about core things here…is operations manuals. It’s painful to listen to the whole thing but the "E-Myth" by Michael Gerber…

He’s a highly successful business consultant and had multiple books and whatnot…he might even came out in the 80s. But long story short is you have all these technically minded people that think they have a business but they created a job for themselves.

Like the pie baker that opens the bakery, she loves baking but she doesn’t know how to run this business.

Bjork: And is stressed and is baking pies and then starts to hate pies [laughs] .

Jason: Right, right [laughs] . The idea there is that as the business owner you have to think of each one of the hats that you wear and create an operations manual.

Right now you’ve got all the hats, then as soon as you…it can be like the clerk, the cash register, or whatever…you have to document how to do that job.

I started doing that on internal WordPress pages that were password-protected and no index. I didn’t have any special system, but anyway, now I’ve got some tech guys that are creating an operations subdomain. So it’s like our own internal website.

Bjork: Oh cool.

Jason: Separate from food and so can be like accounting and editing and all these different roles.

Bjork: Right.

Jason: Write all your best practices down, your procedures, and then… [laughs] . I know this stuff doesn’t sound like much fun, but it’s critical stuff if you’re running a business.

Bjork: It’s the things that take a lot of time initially that build the margins into your day long-term. We’re starting to get into this with…some of the things with Food Blogger Pro and Pinch of Yum.

Do you have any example of…a basic example of something where you created an operations manual for it.

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. Once I started using xero.com, I was the person doing everything in Xero. I don’t like accounting and I would… [mumbles] I’d do something and want to do it the next month, and be like, how did I do that, what did I click.

I would literally…you could create a video using Jing, jing.com. They’ll host five-minute videos for free. It’s like taking a screen share, and so I’ll create a little training video. It’s way faster than my typing stuff up, and you can drop that link in on your page.

I have little sections…we pay ourselves a salary each month…I have the procedure, so every month, this is exactly what I do. For the VA, she has things she needs to do, like check, on a daily basis, weekly basis, monthly, quarterly, whatever.

And that list of tasks, you click on it and it jumps down to a procedure that has exactly how she does that.

Bjork: That’s awesome. And the video thing is really important, Jing is a great example. If you have QuickTime, if you use Apple computer, there’s a screen recording capability in there. The nice thing about Jing is that it’s hosted, is that right? They’ll be available online after you record it.

Jason: Yeah, and it’s nice. I use screenshots like crazy. I have an app for using the standard Command shift three or four or whatever. But I’ve started using Skype a lot to communicate with…right now I’m working with an ad network optimization company.

It’s so easy that I am with …and when you’re trying to attach screenshots, it’s clunky. But you can drop that link right in your instant message and it’s virtually clean.

Bjork: That’s awesome. Any other tool that you’d recommend for people to start out with and start using right away? Those are all really great recommendations.

Jason: Those are the core ones. There’s other…more in general…is definitely listen to the E-Myth that I mentioned. Another book is…what’s the name of it…trying to think of the… Greg McKeown, he wrote the book "Essentialism"…

Bjork: Right, right.

Jason: …The disciplined pursuit of less, that’s one of his things. If you get in that mind-set early on, your road will be much easier. I tend…what the book’s about is, there’s this picture, this illustration in there, and it shows a circle with…picture a bunch of arrows pointing at the sun.

And it’s saying we’re getting stretched in all these different directions, with so many things that we ought to do or that we could do or we need to check out or whatever. But if you’re going to focus on what is truly essential, now look at that circle with…and add up all the lengths of those little rays into one…

Bjork: Mm-hmm.

Jason: …In one direction. You could [laughs] go much farther and accomplish something.

Bjork: Right.

Jason: But it’s…you have to be disciplined, you have to say no to things a lot. I’ve got a little sticky note on my notepad…because I have children…and it says ‘heck yeah, or no…’

Bjork: Yeah.

Jason: …I could be a little more graphic…

Bjork: Right, right. [laughter]

Bjork: Yeah…

Bjork: …It’s a hockey sticks that’s…so we can keep the clean podcast label

Jason: …And it’s so important because there’s so much opportunity once you get in the throes of things. Beginning at that fast feedback loop, you get excited about things, doors open up, people start contacting you all the time. You have to be like no, no, no, no. [laughs]

Then Jason, they emailed you, and you’ve got to listen.

Bjork: Yeah, right, exactly. That’s what I learned. Thank goodness. This has been all really, really valuable stuff, and that it’s really going to be helpful to people.

One of the things that you said at the beginning that is really is cool is that you were once at a place where you were trying to figure this all out and that there’s so much information, and there’s so much content.

There’s so much potential, and you wanted to come on and share some of the knowledge that you guys have picked up in order to make that path quicker, which is really awesome, that you’re not holding that close to the vest. I appreciate that.

Before we wrap up, I would be interested to hear if you were to talk to somebody today. Let’s say somebody, instead of talking to me, you were talking to somebody that’s starting out with their blog, and they’re maybe three months in.

What would you say to them if they’re trying to figure out how to do this blog thing or even in general business online. Maybe they are trying to do that at a high caliber. What would your advice to them be?

Jason: The main thing is would say, "go to some blogging conferences and start networking with other professionals." That is like the biggest level. Magnifier I could think of. Then following up like I wanted to create a mastermind group then I was aiming higher but…how I do that.

I had to figure out what the process id blah blah blah. Finally I started at secret group Facebook group and I started adding other professional bloggers that I saw and you are in the group and it’s a huge resource.

But you can join other Facebook groups. You know can go under Facebook and search whatever it is that you are blogging about. Look for private groups and start to be active. You start to…here to talk a lot of job. You have to, the people that are legitimate.

Bjork: Yeah.

Bjork: Did you say, you are correct did you say you have to find people that are legitimate. Is that?

Bjork: Yeah, am [inaudible 0:55:07] to filter through

Bjork: Yeah

Jason: There is a lot of noise out there. People that blog about making money online, getting money from the blog about making money a lot.

Bjork: Yeah

Jason: Their classified Ad. [laughter]

Jason: You have to look for people who are doing it for real. The whole profession that works conversate your eyes are going to be like opened up so much when you get to conference and you will be inspired number one, but then number two you have pines of professional friends.

You are going to be out going and strike a conversation with people and you don’t ask why you are there like after you had a good conversation with someone and you might say wow! Use the ten first tactic, now that you know, what about me, who else here should I talk to.

And then you can start to develop this web, this network. So those are the biggest things, but then the others that we touched on earlier, you have to be passionate about what you are doing, so that from a business standpoint, if it does not take off, like you are still enjoying yourself.

And also, you don’t compare someone else’s end because it is a journey; you have to be happy the whole way. I have been having an insane week but I will collapse on the Porche and feel ah! Like this is a zillion times better than professional career and Mike, there is always going to be more work tomorrow.

Jason: I went through periods where I was so desperate to quit my corporate job where I was working at three in the mornings trying to figure out network things and it was all Greek to me and pushing through a brute-force to make it happen.

And I am happy that I put all that time in, but now you have to be like ‘alright, there is tomorrow’, you have to have balance in your life, that’s key, you don’t want to live a stressful life.

Bjork: That is a good note to wrap up on here. A few things towards the end here that I want to point out. Number one, a huge thank you to Lisa too, for both of us we are living in this interesting world where we are doing this blog thing and doing this online business thing.

And a huge part of the credit and I consider it for me, I don’t want to say it for you, but I always say like a pinch of yam and everything that has grown is like 98 percent Linzie and then I like come along for the ride.

And I am so thankful for her and I know that Lisa was not able to make it on the Podcast today and she is a huge part needless to say of 100 Days of Real Food.

So I would like to acknowledge her and all the insane amount of work that she does and the good work that she does, so be sure to pass along thank you, and credos and congratulations to her for all that you guys have done.

And then last I wanted to ask was there anything that you feel like we did not hit, that you want to talk about or anything that you want to mention?

Jason: No I could talk for about three more hours about all different things that we have not really not touched on like SEO, we have all these things we are trying.

I could go down a list of projects that we are working on, each one might be about ten minutes worth of discussion, so we will leave it at that for now.

Bjork: I would love to have you on another time so we can chat about this stuff and people will find it really valuable. So before we head out, where can people find you? I would love if you could share the different places where you are and people can stay in touch.

Jason: I started a blog problogschool.com and your guess post entry was October. I wanted it to be a place where again I was so desperate for the information and now I am on the inside looking out, and so I wanted to be able to chart quick bits of information, blog about what’s going on.

But I got hung up in wanting every post to be like "stand on its own" great how-to content, and that takes a long, long time to write. I might spend eight hours writing a post, you know? And I don’t have that time right now.

So, long story short, I will be doing some things with Pro Blog School. I’m on a break right now. But if you go sign up for my email list, then I will email you when I have some cool things coming out.

I would go to problogschool.com/subscribe and then get on the list there. And of course Lisa can be found at 100daysofrealfood.com. Check out our cookbook at /cookbook and there’s plenty of places there to subscribe to that email list, if you want to check out the blog.

The cookbook page…that’s a…we put that up as a sales landing page. We created it, but now I’ve hired a consultant to help out. We’re going to be going through and optimizing that and testing. You might take a peek at it.

By the time this airs, it may have already been fixed, so to speak. [laughs] I was going to say, you can track the progress, you know?

Bjork: Nonetheless, something to check in on for people.

Jason: But those are the main places, and yes I do want to reiterate your point from earlier. Lisa worked so hard and created this business. I’m super lucky. It’s like I have this…she’s handing me this amazing opportunity and I get to go then and extract income out of it.

And grow myself professionally, and meet all these interesting people, like you and Lindsey. So those are the two places. And you and I both, or all of us, are going to be at Food Blog University down in Cancun in October.

That was announced, so I don’t have a website for that yet. But maybe you could put it in the show notes at that point?

Bjork: For sure.

Jason: And then Lisa and I will be speaking at the ShiftCon conference in LA. I’ll be leading a talk called "Profit and The Passion", and that I believe is September 25th of this year? Those are two places that you might go to connect with us in person. And the conferences are huge.

I mean for someone starting out, it’s such an eye-opener.

Bjork: Yes, that’s great. It reminds me a little bit of thinking back to the four-minute mile, and once somebody ran the four-minute mile, they realized that it’s something possible. It was like a month later, somebody else did.

At conferences, we’ve always found that to be true where we see people that are doing stuff at another caliber, and it’s like, "Oh, this can be done!" That conference recommendation is a good one.

Jason: Yes, for sure.

Bjork: Hey, Jason thanks so much for jumping on the podcast. I really appreciate it. Like you said, we could talk for hours and hours and hours, so maybe I’ll have to have you on again sometime in the near future. But until then, best of luck with "100 Days of Real Food", and we’ll catch you around!

Jason: All right. Thanks!

Bjork: Thanks, Jason.

Jason: Bye.

Bjork: One more big thank you to Jason for coming on the podcast today. Obviously some really helpful content that he shared, and some helpful tips and tricks. And a huge congratulations to both Jason and Lisa for all that they’ve done, and continue to do with 100 Days of Real Food.

And ProBlogSchool.com, where you can find Jason over there, once he frees up some time to be able to blog over on ProBlogSchool. So be sure to check that out. A few things before we wrap up today’s podcast. First, we want to thank our show sponsor, "Food Blogger Pro." Hey, that’s us!

What is Food Blogger Pro? We like to think of it as a community over a website. And there’s different parts of Food Blogger Pro, and I’m going to touch on each one of those really quickly.

The first part, usually people know this part the best, is the video library. Where we teach about all things from WordPress SEO to food photography. All those classes right now are taught by Lindsay and I, so we focus on a certain subject, and it’s usually 10 to 20 videos, and they’re usually 5 to 10 minutes long.

They help teach you about different things related to photography, or tech stuff, or anything related to publishing food-related stuff online.

There’s also a community forum where people ask questions, and give answers, and that’s a really thriving community of really, really incredible people. We’re so humbled and honored to be a part of that community.

And then lastly, there’s some tools that we have. So we have a page for deals and discounts for different software tools that we recommend. We also have a nutrition label generator.

If you have a blog where you want to share nutrition information, we have a tool there that makes it super easy to get that information, from a list of ingredients. So that’s Food Blogger Pro. We don’t have official sponsors, we self-sponsor ourselves. [jokingly]

Second one thing that I’d like to ask. If you have a minute, we’d really appreciate it if you jump into iTunes and leave a review or a rating for the podcast.

Bjork: And then lastly, I want to say thanks! Thanks for tuning in to the podcast today. I really, really appreciate you, wherever you are, whether you’re tuning in on your commute or maybe going for a run. We really appreciate the fact that you take time out of your day to tune in to the podcast.

I hope that you got something out of it. I hope that you found motivation, or inspiration, or insight. I know that I did after talking with Jason today, so Jason we really appreciate you coming on. And to you listening, we really appreciate you tuning in!

Make it a great day. Thanks, guys.

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13 Comments

  1. Wow…this was one intense podcast! So much insight and so many tools and resources to look into now. Thanks for this awesome interview Bjork. Definitely made late night photo editing more interesting and educational 🙂

  2. I just want to say that I absolutely love the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I first heard about Pinch of Yum and Food Blogger Pro on the Smart Passive Income Podcast less than a month ago. You offer so many great resources for new bloggers (many of them free!) and I can’t get enough. Thank you!

  3. LOVED this episode Bjork! One of my favorite things is to learn from other blogging couples so this was perfect. You and Lindsay as well as Jason and Lisa are business role models to Abby and I. You guys are blazing a trail that makes it possible for others to follow in your footsteps.

    1. Thanks Donnie. Congrats on your continued success with all that you guys are doing. Good stuff brotha! Keep it up!

  4. Catching up on the podcast! Great episode… wondering if anybody knows what Jason is using to run the 100 Days of Real Food Shop (http://www.100daysofrealfoo… . I was expecting the standard Amazon widgets but it’s completely amazing and filters in products from a bunch of different places really seamlessly. I’m not sure I’ve seen a shop that robust and amazing on any other site… curious if it’s custom or a plugin of some sort? I can see why that brings in a lot of $$ for them. SLICK.