This episode is sponsored by Clariti.
Welcome to episode 425 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Amy Palanjian.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Paul Bannister. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Thriving within a Niche and Creating Your Dream Job
Amy Palanjian first started her blog, Yummy Toddler Food, in 2014. Since then, she has been incredibly intentional about every aspect of her business, from her content strategy and becoming an authority in her niche, to diversifying income streams and email marketing.
In this interview, Bjork and Amy chat about all of these aspects of her business, and how she has worked to create a role for herself at Yummy Toddler Food that looks as close as possible to her dream job.
It’s a must-listen episode for anyone thinking about picking a niche, and how to grow your business within that niche.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- About Amy’s career journey, from working in magazines to starting Yummy Toddler Food in 2014.
- What skills and knowledge Amy uses towards food blogging from her decade in the magazine industry.
- How she has built her affiliate marketing strategy.
- What it’s like to blog within a narrow niche.
- How she strategized to diversify her income streams.
- Why she decided to transition from selling ebooks to selling a printed cookbook.
- How and why she outsourced certain tasks in her business.
- The process that she used to organize all of her business-related files.
- How she built her job description to reflect what she actually enjoys doing.
- Her approach to email marketing, and why she uses both Substack and ConvertKit.
- Her strategy for growing her email list.
- Why she chose to work with a manager for her sponsored content.
- Yummy Toddler Food
- Pinch of Yum
- Yummy Toddler Food eBooks and Cookbook
- Emily Perron
- The Food Blogger Pro Podcast #286: Build Your Team – How to Write an Eye-Catching Job Listing and Hire the Right People with Emily Perron
- The Food Blogger Pro Podcast #365: How to Find Your Zone of Genius and Hire the Right People with Emily Perron
- Google Workspace
- Email Crush by Matt Molen
- The Food Blogger Pro Podcast #201: Email Marketing for Bloggers with Matt Molen
- Cookit Media
- MealPro App
- Follow Amy on Instagram and Facebook
- Join the Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook Group
About This Week’s Sponsor
We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!
With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.
Sign up for Clariti today to receive:
- Access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing
- 50% off your first month
- Optimization ideas for your site content
- An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
- And more!
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti, C-L-A-R-I-T-I. I kid you not, I was going to record this half an hour ago, but I was in Clariti and realized there’s an opportunity for Pinch of Yum that is a project we should move forward with. I created a video, communicated it with the Pinch of Yum team and said, “Hey, we should move forward on this and really get to work cleaning this up.”
In our case, what I had done is I said, “Hey, show me all of the posts in the past year on Pinch of Yum.” Then I sort ordered that in reverse order by page use. I was looking at pages that on Pinch of Yum in the last year, got zero-page views and I realized we have a lot of really thin not valuable content, and it’s important to clean that up.
In our case, we’re going to delete a lot of that content and we should have done that a long time ago, but we just didn’t get around to it. It wasn’t until I was using Clariti that I realized that that was something that we should have done. I was able to see that. It’s a lot of old giveaway posts and things like that. We’re going to move forward with that and clean up Pinch of Yum.
That’s what Clariti is for. It’s to help you discover that actionable information to create a project around it, and either you can follow the project or you can assign it to somebody within your team. Then track the impact that that has by making notes or seeing when you made those changes over time. We bring all the information in from WordPress, Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
You hook it all up and then you can sort order and use Clariti like a Swiss Army knife for your content. If you’re interested in checking it out, go to Clariti.com/food, C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food, and that will get you 50% off your first month. Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.
Emily Walker: Hey there, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Amy Palanjian from Yummy Toddler Food. Amy worked in the magazine industry for many years before transitioning to starting her food blog. Since then, she has really leaned into the niche of Yummy Toddler Food and has grown an incredible resource for parents, and a super successful food blog.
Bjork and Amy chat a lot about all of her different strategies for running her blog because everything she does in her business is super intentional. She talks about how she built out her affiliate marketing strategy and how she’s worked to diversify her income streams. She also talks about why she decided to transition from selling e-books on her site, to selling her first printed cookbook, which is out now.
Amy talks a lot about being intentional about choosing the parts of her job that she loves doing and is good at, and outsourcing those that don’t bring her quite as much joy. She also talks about the nitty-gritty of outsourcing certain tasks, including how she manages all of her business-related files and how she communicates with her team.
Bjork and Amy also chat about email marketing and why she uses both Substack and ConvertKit in her email marketing strategy, and why she chose to work with a manager for her sponsored content. It’s a really interesting interview. Amy is full of great information, so I know you’ll enjoy this interview. I’m going to let Bjork take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Amy Palanjian: Thank you for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This is one of those interviews where as I’m looking into it and researching it, I can get lost and transition from a podcast host and interviewer, to consumer of content because we have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, almost three-year-old and five-year-old.
Your specialty, your focus is all about food for kids, toddlers, and that’s the world that we’re living in. Tell me about how you came into that and how you started back in 2014.
Amy Palanjian: Sure. I worked in magazines as an editor for about a decade, and during that time, all the magazine jobs I had kept going away.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Was that internet industry, things are changing, that general shift?
Amy Palanjian: Yep. The magazine industry has consolidated so much, and so a company would buy magazines and then they would hire and staff and we would give it a go, and then they would give it two years and then the magazine would be shut down. That was happening, and then that was the heyday of the original style of blogs. It coincided with having my first daughter. I had worked as a food editor and a recipe developer and also a lifestyle editor.
I knew how to create content for an audience. I didn’t know how to put it on the internet, but I came into it with that audience angle. I started just on Squarespace posting recipes that I was making in real life, and solving the things that were coming up for me with my daughter who was then one. At that time, there was no content for this in-between stage. There was baby food stuff and there was kid food, but there was nothing in the middle.
It’s such a particular, as you know, phase of independence and voicing opinions. Then also just still learning the logistics of eating and having slightly different nutritional needs. It started as a hobby, so I was doing it alongside of my other jobs. Then there was a point, I think it was in 2017, where I knew the magazine job I had was going to go away. I could read the signs. I knew it was going to be shut down.
I just had to make a decision that I had to turn the website into my actual job, because I was spending so much time on it or I had to stop doing it and do something else. I learned how to be a food blogger. It took me about a year to figure out how to use a camera, how to properly format a recipe so that Google could read it. I had my website moved to WordPress and learned how to do SEO, and formatted every post I had correctly.
Then within six months of doing that, it was my full-time job because all of the URLs had history on them. Then they were suddenly formatted correctly, and then my traffic traffic just jumped.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s really cool. That must’ve been a cool moment. So much I think of what happens in this world, is the culmination of a lot of effort over time and then occasional unlocks. It’s like something gets unlocked and you get similar to like in North Dakota. We’re in Minnesota, so we hear about people who go in North Dakota and they drill for oil. You drill and you drill, and you drill and you drill, and then eventually you get to oil.
But I think a lot of that is the same in this world, where you work on something for a long period of time, you try and figure it out, and then occasionally you get an unlock. Obviously, there’s always those incremental things along the lines. But I think another point with your story that’s important to point out and for all of us to think about, is it wasn’t even just the three years that you had between 2014 and 2017 where you were producing content and learning how to do good content.
It was also the 10 years before that where you were learning editorial process, recipe development, how to craft consumer-first content. What would you say were the biggest things from that decade of work in the magazine world that you took with you, that were helpful for you to have a leg up and to have a little bit of an unfair advantage? To use a term you hear occasionally in the world of publishing, but just digital publishing versus traditional publishing.
Amy Palanjian: I think one thing was understanding the goal of solving problems, so that when just in the way that I talk about the process of cooking something or even when explaining the difference between two products that I might like, intuiting what the pain points are going to be for the audience. Really putting your mindset with the person that you’re trying to reach.
Since I was in that phase with my daughter when I started, I knew it, but I also knew just from cooking, like a cooking standpoint, where the pain points might be. Then another thing that I did differently, which was directly out of magazines, is that I started doing product recommendations really early on.
Because I knew that if I was showing something or I was trying to give the easiest way to pack a lunch or the easiest way to cut something for a child, that I needed to give people the information on the things I was using. That over time has also built up into a very strong affiliate presence. Also, just building trust with my audience because they know that I actually use these things.
I think all of us who do this job, have our favorite things and we have the things that we use all the time, but there can be this reluctance to talk about them because it can sometimes feel salesy. But I just embraced that this is a service, this will potentially make someone’s life easier. I’m going to always tell you the thing that I’m using.
I packaged the content from an early point, as you would do if you were flipping through a magazine story.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. In a magazine story, you would have things like here’s this tool, here’s this product. You have these different kinds of categories of content. You’d have recipes, but you’d also have recommendations for travel. You’re traveling with your kid, here’s some great products that will help make that easier. I think one of the great things about having a niche and a focus, is that you’re maybe able to identify a problem set in a different way.
I think of Pinch of Yum as a pretty broad site in terms of who could potentially go there, but as you start to get more focused, you also can get more focused on what the problem is. I think things seem less salesy the more connected they are to a specific problem. In the case of food for toddlers, yummytoddlerfood.com, it’s like, “Okay, people know what it is when they go there.” You also know that they’re going to have these problems.
If you create an affiliate post with like here are the after six years, seven years of producing content, the products that I feel like are the 10 best food-related products for you as a family with toddlers in your house. That’s incredibly valuable and it’s a really great overlap with your audience. I think it becomes so much less, it feels less like a sales pitch, the more connected it is to the problem set, which you talked about, and the greater the need there is for that.
People are looking for it and they want it, as opposed to let’s say on Pinch of Yum, we were like, “Well, same thing. Here are the top toddler food-related items you should get.” It feels like, “Wait, it’s going to be a match for some people, maybe 10% of our audience, 15% of our audience.” But for the others it’s going to be like, “This isn’t super helpful.” I think it’s one of the things that you have going for you with a niche.
Can you talk more about what that has been like to create content in a narrow path? Because it’s an incredible advantage in that it provides boundaries, “Hey, it’s going to look like this.” But my guess is there’s also some challenges where you maybe are like, “There’s this really cool thing that I want to talk about, but it doesn’t make sense for me to talk about it here, because it’s going to going to be outside of the boundaries of my focus or my niche.” Is that true?
Amy Palanjian: It’s interesting because when I started the site, I didn’t know anything about how to choose your topic. I just chose the thing…
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, like all of us.
Amy Palanjian: Yeah, yeah. I chose the thing and the name that fit at the time, and it definitely has been beneficial. I think the thing that has surprised me, because everybody thinks what you just said about it being limiting.
But the thing that has happened over time, is that I’ve been very deliberate in covering making a really comprehensive website that works for families with kids in this age group, so baby food to three, four or five years old.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep.
Amy Palanjian: But once I did that, the flexibility that I now have to post recipes that are more generally for families with kids of any age, has increased in a way that I couldn’t really have predicted. The ability that I have to rank for, I’m never going to compete with a giant food site, but I hold my own pretty well with general recipes that appeal to both the younger age group and an adult.
My goal is really to make most of the food appropriate for an entire family, so that you’re not needing to cook more than once. But it’s been really satisfying to be able to have my core content and then to be able to post more general recipes that are the ones that I want to do. I feel like I have two things going on at the same time.
I’m always posting and updating my core stuff. Then if I want to do vegan chocolate mousse or some sort of popsicle or a pasta recipe, it’s I think showing people that they can make the same food for their family with very small adjustments, has been really helpful for my audience.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s almost like you focus on that narrow, and I think this is one of the best approaches to any niche or genre or focus area, you do complete coverage of that. What does it look like to holistically cover all the different angles that you could look at this piece of content or this content category from? Then you can build around it with content adjacent things.
Maybe it’s something that’s not like a lunch for toddlers, which as just a curiosity, I Googled as we were talking here and you’re number one result for that. It’s like it’s such a great example of what it’s like to own a category, but then you can start to do a banana bread and it might not be like, “That’s something you’ll always make for lunch for toddlers,” but it’s something that you could make.
We’re entering into this stage with our four, almost five-year-old, where Solby is starting to help make meals now. It’s like what does it look like to work on that together? Or what would this look like to make something that’s not like a kid meal necessarily, but something that everybody would like and enjoy and you can expand out from that?
That makes sense when you think about the approach for covering the category and then expanding beyond that as well. What does it look like for you as you’ve built it up? You’ve talked about the different focus areas, the different buckets that you think of. You’ve talked about affiliate, you talked about building the traffic, which would be ad related.
Are there other buckets that are unique to the niche or even within a niche to focus on? I know that email’s another important one for you. I’d be curious from a business perspective.
Amy Palanjian: I don’t know that they’re specific to my content type, but I did, I think it was about three years ago, I paid a lot of attention to diversifying where my income was coming from, because every six months there’s some Google scare where everyone thinks they’re going to lose all of their organic traffic. I have the ad revenue and then I have affiliate income. Then I do a fair amount of sponsored work with brands, and then I sell e-books, which are embedded on my website.
They just sell themselves. I push them maybe four times a year on Instagram and in my newsletter, but they are mostly like there’s a Yummy Toddler Snacks. There’s a Yummy Baby Food, there’s Yummy Toddler Lunches. It’s like all of the core areas of my niche, have a corresponding e-book so that if someone wants all of the content together, they have an opportunity to get that. They’re really low-priced, so that’s a volume thing.
Then I don’t really do this anymore, but I did do freelance writing for a while. I have a cookbook coming out and then the newsletter.
Bjork Ostrom: Could you talk about the cookbook? It sounds like that’s a more traditional cookbook. What was the thought process with doing e-books first, and then what was your thought with going into the more and more traditional cookbook?
Amy Palanjian: I went back and forth for a long time about whether it made sense from a business perspective, because financially the income that you can make online from ad revenue, is more than I could make from a cookbook advance. I think that’s quite common depending on how your traffic is and all of that. But I felt like I was getting so many requests for a printed book.
While my e-books have the option of printing them, I knew it wasn’t the same. There just came a point where I was like, “I think I just want to do it and see if it does anything for my brand.” I don’t know, it was like, “I’m curious to see if this makes any sort of a difference.” It has been the longest process.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. It’s so hard and it’s such a different way to produce content. We just hear that over and over, that it’s just a really difficult process. In our world, we have such a short feedback loop.
You have an idea, you develop the idea. It’s different for everybody, but you could go from idea to development, to publishing within three to four days potentially. Whereas a book, it’s like a year or longer depending.
Amy Palanjian: My son I think was six months old, he’s four and a half now. I think also one of the things that I love about my job, is that I have that direct connection with my audience. I can make adjustments to things. I can go into a post and edit it. That was like I will not look at the book because I’m convinced that there’s going to be something wrong.
But I do think the book, which is called Dinnertime SOS, has all of my tips for simplifying that time of the day. It’s like how to reduce food waste, what to do when you get to the table and the kids don’t want to eat. How do you cook a meal for everyone? It’s like all of the context. Then there’s the stable of recipes that are really easy, really doable. There’s no blenders, there’s no food processors.
There’s minimal chopping. I try to use frozen vegetables or jarred sauces, or kits or things that a parent with a two-year-old on their leg would just be able to put into a pot.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.
Amy Palanjian: But it is true that it would be, if I wrote this book now, it would be different. I have lived a lot of life since I wrote that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. In three years, four years, what you go in the perspective, like any of us, it changes over time. It’s also one of the hard things when we’re used to chronicling our journey as people, as business owners, parents, like content creators in real time. It’s like you pick a time and you develop it, you document it, you ship it, but then by the time it’s getting in front of people, it’s maybe two years after you were in that same headspace.
But to your point, and I think there’s something really true about that that’s hard to identify, is there’s something about a traditional book that shows up in Barnes & Noble and on Amazon and is a physical book that you can buy, that lifts your brand in some way. I don’t know what that is or how that works or what all of the different indicators are. I think there’s just that perception in general from people, but I think there’s also something around your authority as a published author that changes.
I don’t know if that ties into search at all if you are a published author in the E-E-A-T world of Google, but all of that stuff I think adds up and makes a difference. I do think that there’s something there and something valuable, and it’s a gift to your followers and your readers. It’s something they want and it’s something that, I would assume, part of it is a labor of love as well.
Amy Palanjian: Yeah, yeah. I do think that it is going to be useful. I hope it is as useful as I intended it to be when I put the whole thing together.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. One of the things that is really impressive about what you’ve built, is your presence on all the different platforms. Obviously, we’re all kind of always trying to think about building out a following in different places, but on Instagram as an example, almost at a million followers.
How do you view the different areas where you’re showing up online? How do you prioritize those, knowing that for some people they have a million followers on Instagram and that’s all they do? They just are on Instagram as an influencer. But for us, we have these different places we can show up.
The site’s really important, an email list is really important. How do you view and prioritize the different places that you show up?
Amy Palanjian: My website is always my first focus. That is the thing that is the most planned. I am usually six weeks out scheduled, and I feel like I have a very good handle on that schedule. Because of holidays and seasonal things with back to school, I know when to put everything on the calendar. I have a good system with my VA, who she formats posts for me and puts in the images, and then I write the bulk of the content.
Then from there, I think Instagram is next because that is where my sponsored content primarily shows up. I post everything on TikTok, but TikTok, I waited. Now I post the same things to TikTok, and then it’s interesting to see what happens to it. I think website and then Instagram, and then everything else comes after that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, all the other stuff.
Amy Palanjian: Yeah. Keeping up with the video production for Instagram, for sure is the thing that is a constant struggle because just volume-wise, it’s so much content. Figuring out when to do it, just the logistics of producing all of these different things. But one thing that for sure helped was so I moved to a different state about a year and a half ago.
I was like, “I have to figure out a better system for the way that I am working throughout my week.” I found a local food photographer, who comes to my house on Wednesday mornings, and we usually shoot four recipes. He brings his camera, he does all of the lighting and everything. Then he edits all of the images and drops them in a folder. I used to do all of that.
Taking that off my plate and making it just this regular thing that we do, has completely changed the way that I work.
Bjork Ostrom: Previously, that was you doing it?
Amy Palanjian: It was me doing it, and it took me three times as long and then I had to edit everything and upload everything. It just was like it was more than I could do. It’s a really cost-effective way to have professional photos done.
Because I’m making the food and styling the food, and then he’s here for a certain amount of time. That totally changed things for me and then gave me a little bit more time to work on making videos.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I know one of the things that you’ve intentionally done, is protected the stuff that you enjoy the most about how you work and what you work on. It sounds like also thinking strategically about what are the things that you don’t want to work on?
What are the things that you can have somebody else help with? Can you talk about how that’s changed over the last few years, as you’ve started to reflect on preserving the things you want to do while passing off the things you don’t want to do?
Amy Palanjian: Yeah. I get a lot of people asking me, “What do you want to do next?” I’m like, “Well, I like my job a lot.”
Bjork Ostrom: I’m there. I don’t want to do anything different. Yeah.
Amy Palanjian: I made this job and I want to do. I want to be the content creator. I don’t want to turn my job into managing other people, because that’s not what I enjoy most. I keep the content development with me. I come up with what the recipe is going to be. I develop the recipe, I test the recipe, I make it when we’re shooting it. Then I have surrounded myself with three people who do all of the other stuff.
I have my photographer and then I have an assistant who is behind the scenes doing like she makes sure my e-book shop is working properly. She formats my newsletters, she formats the blog posts, she does a lot of things. She’s amazing. She posts my Reels to Pinterest, she posts them to YouTube Shorts. I took myself out of anything I could think of that was not about making the content. Then I also have a copy editor.
I did work with someone to help me figure out what I could take off of my own plate. That was a very helpful process because I didn’t really realize all the ways I could take myself out.
Bjork Ostrom: When you say you worked with somebody, what do you mean by that? Was it a coach?
Amy Palanjian: Yeah, I forget what she calls herself. Her name is Emily Perron or Perron. She helps people do a job flow situation for business, so you can see who you need to hire or who’s doing what or where you can streamline your own work.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Yeah. We interviewed Emily, I think maybe has been on a couple times on the podcast. She’s a great resource and somebody who it’s really helpful to have somebody like that. Let me know if this is what it felt like for you, who can come in and look from the outside and observe you as you work. I think about that with myself sometimes.
If I can float outside of my body and then look down on myself as I’m working, I’ve had the thought multiple times. I bet there’d be somebody who would have some feedback for me, much like if I was a tennis player or soccer player. The two sports I played growing up, always had a coach being like, “Hey, just so you know next time, here’s how you can do that a little bit differently.”
But the work that I do every day, I don’t really have a coach like that sitting and observing and saying, “Here’s some things that you could do differently. Or I’ve done this with 30 other people, here’s a change that they’ve made that’s been really helpful.” I think that’s really cool to go through that process.
Like you said, probably freeing in a lot of ways. What did you learn and what did you do in that process that was helpful?
Amy Palanjian: I think it was easier for me to identify what was more administrative task and what was more the stuff I actually needed to be doing. For example, in a blog post, I write the introduction like two paragraphs at the top. I write the meta description. I write the words that is going to sell someone on the recipe, because I know it best, and then my assistant does the rest of it.
That was a very important distinction because that’s a lot of time. The other thing that she did that was hugely helpful, is she recommended a project manager who worked with me for maybe a month, and she set up a shared server. She organized all of the things that I use to run the business, so we have shared folders. I didn’t need her after that, but I couldn’t visualize it beforehand.
Bjork Ostrom: It set up a system. Yeah.
Amy Palanjian: Yeah. Now I’m like, “How did I live without all of this stuff this way?”
Bjork Ostrom: Was it emailing files back and forth? What was it before and what was it after?
Amy Palanjian: It was a mess of the Google Drive before that and she just put everything in its proper place, so that somebody else could easily find it.
Bjork Ostrom: Could you describe for somebody who wants to try and get something organized on a server, what does that look like? It’s hard on a podcast.
Amy Palanjian: Yeah, it’s like there’s a folder for Reels. There’s a folder for sponsored work. Then in the sponsored work, every campaign that I do is labeled in a certain way with the month, the year, the name of the brand. There’s a folder for blog posts, and so every blog post is named with the recipe name.
Then there are the various formats of photos each have their own folders. If we need a vertical version of something, we know exactly where to go to find it. It’s very basic, but it is really helpful. My e-book files are all in one place versus being on my desktop.
Bjork Ostrom: Scattered around, documents folder. Yeah, right. It’s interesting, I’ve been thinking a lot about this as it relates to AI, but I think there are starting to be some of these tools and we’re testing these, but essentially what it is, the importance of information retrieval. What we can do right now is, like you said, have this really organized system where the folder’s in a certain place. This becomes increasingly more important as you start to work with other people.
It’s less important for myself, if I have a chaotic desktop, chaotic documents’ folder, but I know where everything is, where I can just search it easily. But once you start to work with other people, needing to have that central place where somebody can go and where they don’t have to ask you. You’re working on something and they’re like, “Hey, where’s the e-book file?” They just know where it is.
Setting up those types of systems, like you said, you can do it in a month, work with somebody who’s organized and specializes in that. Then the system is there. This is a side note, but I’m excited about and have tested some of the tools to allow it to get even easier to do document querying. For our team, when did we publish the recipe on dah, dah, dah, dah, dah? Or even for our internal team, what’s the policy for PTO for somebody within the first year?
I think what we’ll be able to do is start to get these, ingest all of these documents and then start to search through them. Anyways, that’s like a nerding out side note. But one of the biggest things that we did was we switched over to have all of our files hosted on we use Google Workspace, which is the premium version of Gmail. Then within there, they have what’s called a shared vault. We have all of our files in this shared vault.
Anytime somebody gets an @foodbloggerpro.com handle, they get added to that vault. That vault has all the files. The podcast, as an example, has for every podcast episode we do, is organized in the same way. What do you use for your shared server?
Amy Palanjian: The same thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Yeah, Google Workspace.
Amy Palanjian: Yeah. The thing that what you were saying about how everyone can find everything, I send my assistant one email a week on Mondays.
I don’t have to tell her, she just knows. I just send her the list of what she needs to work on, and she knows exactly where to go.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.
Amy Palanjian: My photographer knows where to put his stuff. I don’t ever have to be on the phone. It’s really simplified.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. In the email, are you essentially saying, “Here’s what we need to do this week and here are the places”?
You probably don’t even need to say, “Here are the places to go.” It’s just like this recipe, this recipe, this recipe.
Amy Palanjian: Here are the blog posts to work on this week.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.
Amy Palanjian: If something is unusual or not what she would expect, I explain it, but usually it’s just a list. Then we have a shared spreadsheet that we use for newsletter tracking and stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, that’s awesome.
Amy Palanjian: Very straightforward.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. As knowledge workers, so much of our time is spent looking for stuff and it’s not value-add. What I hear you saying is you’re trying to figure out how do you get to the things that are two-pronged? Number one, the things that you enjoy the most, and number two, the things that matter the most that you’re doing them.
If the majority of your work is work that matters if you do it and you enjoy doing it, that can be a really enjoyable workday. That can be a really enjoyable job. To your point, when people are like, “So what’s next?” You’re like, “This is it.” I love it. You’ve crafted a job that is a dream job, but you’ve had to be intentional to do that along the way.
For somebody who’s on the other side wanting to get there, what do you feel like were the steps that you took to allow you to get to the point where you were spending the majority of your time on things that you enjoyed?
Amy Palanjian: I think really thinking through what I wanted my role to be. A lot of people that I know who have similar websites, manage people and they love doing that. I think those are two very different paths. Working with Emily, that was one of the main things that she had me do. She was like, “What do you like? What are the areas that you want to be spending your time?”
It was very, very clear that it was the content creation and it was not all of the surrounding stuff. I do not ever want to touch a camera. That always feels like a foreign language to me. I made myself do it when it was the budget constraints, but I am not confident and it’s not fun for me. I would rather be making the food.
I think just thinking through where are the areas that I want to spend my time? What can somebody else do better than me or what can I give to someone with autonomy? I think one of the reasons that my relationship with Madison, my assistant, works so well is she can do her work whenever she wants to, and she has full autonomy to do it.
She’s never waiting, except for Mondays, she’s never waiting for me to give her anything because she always knows what it is.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. One of the things that I’ve been doing, it’s not like this rigid routine, but it almost comes from this activity that we’ve had when we sit down for dinner, it’s not like we do it every time. But now our oldest daughter recommends, she’s like, “Can we do sunny and stormy?” What we do is what’s a sunny part of your day and what’s a stormy part of your day?
We just reflect on what was something that was really good, and what was something that was really bad? What was the worst part of your day? For me, one of the things I’ve been doing, part of it is an effort not to stare at my phone as I’m going to bed. I’ve been trying to not have my phone in bed, so then I’m like, “What do I do with my brain in this moment?”
One of the things I’ve been thinking about is in my workday, what was the sunny part of my day and what was the stormy part of my day? Part of it is just self-reflection and self-awareness to say like yesterday was a day where I had four different meetings. I had this car appointment that I had to drop off the car in the morning. Then I went home early because Lindsay was staying a little bit later.
I was reflecting, I was like, “Gosh, that didn’t feel great. I wasn’t able to get to any emails. I didn’t really follow up on Slack.” But it informs and makes these micro adjustments, which for those of us who are building our job description, I think sometimes we forget we can do that. We can go through the process of building something that is a good fit for us.
Probably to some degree, even for anybody who’s working in any job to think how do I shift and change this to be a good fit for me and communicate with somebody I’m working with, to say, “Maybe this isn’t a good fit, maybe somebody else could take it on”? I think we can all do a better job of reflecting on our work and how we can see if we can make micro adjustments to get it to a point where it overlaps well, so we can have majority sunny days and less stormy days.
Amy Palanjian: I was thinking about that lately because this is the time of year when I do a lot of sponsored work tied to lunches. I work with a manager and I emailed them three days ago. I was like, “We have to do something different next year because this is making me hate everything.”
I think it’s demands of I love working with brands except when there’s 12 at the same time. Then it’s just so I was like, “What are the options that we could narrow the amount of things I’m doing?” I think it’s speaking up and just noticing when that happens, so that you can make adjustments for the next time.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, totally. Just essentially always monitoring and being like, “Okay, that didn’t feel good. Why was that? That day felt like a drag. Why was it?” This was really a sunny day. This was a stormy day. Our daughter, Lena, her default answer is to the stormy, her stormy part of the day is always the storm. There was a storm once and it really bummed her out.
She’s like, “The stormy part of my day was the storm,” which is I think for a lot of us, it’s true. You have a storm in your day and that’s the low part of the day. One of the things that you talked about as we were connecting here and thinking through the interview, was growing your email list. I know that you’ve had some success with that and you’ve approached it maybe a little bit differently than people normally approach it.
Can you talk about number one, why your email list is important? Then number two, some of the things that you’ve done to help increase the growth there?
Amy Palanjian: Sure. I try to think of my email as a direct way to communicate with people where they can respond to me and I won’t lose it, versus my Instagram DMs, you will never find it. If someone responds to me on email, I will always see it and I will always be able to respond to it, so that connection is very important to me. It is a place where I share a little bit more longer form writing sometimes, because that’s my background.
I like writing and giving more context to the idea of feeding families. I have a lot of friends who had moved to Substack, and I know you’ve had some people on who have talked about this. I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve moved to Substack, and watching them build community there has been really inspiring. The way that people can talk to each other, is totally different than a traditional email marketing service.
You can like posts, you can comment, people see the comments and people can respond to each other. I really wanted my newsletter to feel like a safe place that people would know that I was monitoring the comments, because the internet can be a little crazy. That if there was anything inappropriate, they knew it would be taken care of. I can manage it better than I could manage some posts on Instagram.
I currently have both Substack and ConvertKit running at the same time, which is not something I’ve ever heard anyone else do. I use ConvertKit for opt-ins and landing pages, and all of the traditional email marketing. Then I’m using Substack to send my newsletters each week with the community element. That does mean that I have to manually import new subscribers from ConvertKit over to Substack.
But other than that, it has been I love it. My open rate has been trending upward as I’ve moved it. I feel like I have options for the future if I want to turn on a paid segment, if I want to do a podcast. There are all of these tools that are in Substack, that I feel like are things I might want to explore. Then I worked with Matt Molen, as most bloggers do at some point, to really commit to a strategy for sharing my newsletter on my social accounts.
Once a week I do something free. I either share a guide or a free PDF, or something that is enticing to people. For a long time, he was recommending doing a five-day series like a miniguide. I have learned that one email, literally one email with five to 10 links on one subject is really effective. It’s like I did one that was a kids’ summer lunch guide. It was five links to posts with camp lunches, cold lunches, really easy lunches.
Then my go-to lunchboxes and ice packs and things. Everything was together, people really liked that they didn’t have to go hunting around, they didn’t have to wait for anything. It’s just a a filtered way to get to the website content. Those convert, when I share those in my Instagram stories, it could be like two to 5,000 people are signing up from that. That’s once a week, so that’s a huge way to grow the list. It’s been fun to see what’s working really well there and just to play around.
Bjork Ostrom: What do you think psychologically, because I think that’s so much of it is user behavior, what’s the difference in the user behavior?
With something like that, what’s happening that’s different than the normal path that people are taking to try and get email signups?
Amy Palanjian: Well, I think it feels faster because a lot of the signups are, like I said, you have to wait for the content. Then I think there’s something about doing it in Instagram stories versus doing it as a popup, because I am directly explaining why this thing is valuable.
I know that everyone is struggling to continue to come up with lunches this summer. Here are 27 no-cook lunch ideas. I’m going to send you the PDF. You can save it to your phone screen and open it like an app. You don’t have to do anything except put your email in this thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s keeping people in the place where they are, where they know they’re comfortable. It’s not trying to bend somebody’s behavior to get somewhere else.
Amy Palanjian: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s just a natural way to engage with people where they are.
Amy Palanjian: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. You view ConvertKit as the platform for opt-ins, getting people on the list, bringing them over. Once they’re on there, your preference in terms of communicating is Substack.
Do you take the people off of ConvertKit and bring them on to Substack, and is that manual or is that automated?
Amy Palanjian: The only way to do it is manual, so every few days I just export. I try to keep track. It’s not a clean process. It works best if I just do it every morning. I just export the new subscribers and then put them in my Substack list.
I’m leaving my ConvertKit list alone because I’m not sending to it. I’m just using it as a collection spot, and then I’m just moving them over so that they get the two emails a week.
Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s an interesting observation and you alluded to this, every platform, every place you’re communicating is like a party, and every party has a different vibe where different things are okay, has a different feel for how people are communicating. We are the same everywhere, like we as the creator, we as the person. Part of what we’re trying to do is figure out what party is best for us to hang out at. For some people, it might be a rave where you’re up all night and you’re partying.
For other people, it might be a book club, and for some people it might be hanging out with your best friend. All of those analogies could apply to different social media platforms. Or even to your point, a traditional one-to-many communication with a ConvertKit type interaction, or MailChimp or whatever the email service provider is, is different than a platform like Substack. Substack, where the culture’s different and it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just different.
There’s interaction in a different way. You can have comments like you said. Maybe what’s different with the Substack is the element of community, in regards to some of the functionality of community built into that email platform. Like you said, it opens up then the opportunity to have a paid subscription, maybe you have a premium subscription that comes later on. Just do a quick reference here to interview that we had with Matt.
This was years ago, 2019, but he talked about email marketing. He’s been on the podcast before. He has a site called Email Crush, is that right? We’re talking about the same Matt? Okay, great. One of the things that I hear in your story, and tell me if this is true, is you are intentional to know what you want to do, what you want to focus on. Then you’re bringing in experts to accelerate an area that you want to accelerate in email or outsourcing, working with the team. Does that feel true?
Has that resulted in recognizable growth for you when you do take those steps to bring in the outside expert to help?
Amy Palanjian: I think so. There was a point, I think it was two years ago where I was doing regular sponsored work, and it became clear to me that I didn’t understand the contracts at all. I went out and found a management company because I was like, “That income has significantly increased since I took myself out of the negotiation process.” Also, just to have someone pitching me that I’m not involved in.
I would say it’s true with that, it’s true with email. I check in with Matt once a year, and just make sure that things are running properly and he’ll just look over things and give me fresh perspective on stuff. I think it’s very helpful, especially when if you primarily work alone, you can just lose perspective on what other people are doing or even how you can just make things easier.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Can you talk about what it was like to work with the management company? What was the before, what did that look like? Then what did it look like after?
Amy Palanjian: The before was brands would email me asking for my media kit that I put together on Canva. I made up rates because nothing is standard. It’s like who knows? Now I’m with Cookit Media, I’ve been with them for about two years, and I’ve made the choice to stay with them because I feel like they know my brand really well. I’m very comfortable with them pitching me to people, but they’re great.
The only time I am in communication with a brand, is when I am delivering ideas or I’m delivering actual content. All of the back and forth about things I don’t understand like whitelisting or exclusivity, I am not the one who is dealing with that. They’ve been able to pitch me to clients that I wouldn’t have even known were options for myself, because they’re in the industry seeing all of these things happen in a way that I just don’t have access to.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Part of it is the difference between reactive, which that would be true for us. Stuff comes in, we’re like, “Hey, let’s take a look at this.”
And proactive, actually reaching out and saying, “Hey, we know these brands. We’re going to reach out to these brands. We’re going to pitch you to work with these brands.”
It sounds like would be brands that you maybe wouldn’t normally look at and be like, “This would be an ideal brand.” You weren’t even aware of them or didn’t know that they worked with creators.
Amy Palanjian: Or sometimes they’ll just know that there is somebody who has a campaign coming up. Even with holidays coming up, they’ll start pitching four months ahead in a way that I just would not have the bandwidth to do it by myself.
Bjork Ostrom: Whenever I have friends who work at Target Corporate and they’re like, “Yeah, we’re putting together the Halloween stuff for next year.” It’s like, “Wait, 2024 Halloween, not that extreme.”
But it’s just such a different way of operating. Even if you’re planning ahead four weeks, eight weeks, it is just so different when you get into those big corporate budgets.
Amy Palanjian: Yeah. The other thing I will say is it’s been really great to have backup when I want to say no to something.
I will regularly email them and remind them to tell me to not accept something if it’s below a rate that I want to work at, because my inclination would be to say yes to everything.
Bjork Ostrom: Initially, and then once it comes around, you say, “Curse my past self.”
Amy Palanjian: Exactly. It’s nice to have them be able to take that and just remind me of what I want to do.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. What do you feel like in this current state of things? It feels like for a lot of people who are looking at what you’re doing, they’d say, “That’s awesome.” You’ve created this dream job, have found success in a lot of ways. If you were to distill down the variables that existed for you in your story that allowed you to get to where you are, what were the most important ones?
If somebody wants to look to your story as inspiration and try and not replicate it in the exact same way, but replicate it in terms of areas of focus or things that you did that were important, would you be able to distill that down to a few different variables or even one?
Amy Palanjian: This question is so hard because I don’t think I could have done it had I intentionally set out to do it, but I do think the covering the content in your niche has been incredibly important for the foundation of my site online. I don’t remember who it was, but I read some book that was like or maybe it was on your podcast, I don’t know.
An expert was talking about make a website as if it is the book you want on this topic and continually add to it. I had a spreadsheet where I was like, “This is every single keyword I can find on baby and toddler food, and I am going to do all of them.” It sounds crazy, but I think that is a hugely helpful thing as the starting point. Then I think I’ve done a good job of listening to my audience when if someone is…
After I did that, I then made a list of all of the questions that people ask me all the time. I made blog posts that corresponded with each of them so that someone DMs me on Instagram, I have a saved autoresponder that I can start typing website and it fills it in and it sends someone to my website.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Amy Palanjian: Listening to what people are asking for has been really helpful. Then I think the part about just looking at what I was doing in my workweek, and taking out the parts that I didn’t want to be doing or that I didn’t have to be doing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. I just wrapped up an interview with Liam from MealPro App. I’m not sure when it’s coming out, maybe before or after this interview. But one of the things we talked a lot about on that interview, in that interview was the idea of product development or customer development. In the context of the software world, it’s like making sure you understand what the problem is so you’re building the correct software.
But in our world, it’s making sure you understand what the problem is, so you’re building the right content. It’s cool to hear you reflect on that and how that’s been impactful for you having come out of that interview with him, where he reflects on how important that is in the software world. It’s kind of all of us, we’re building partly for ourselves, but really we’re building for an audience who has problems that we’re trying to solve, we’re trying to help with.
The more you can understand that, the more beneficial it’s going to be for both you and your growth, but also for the audience. For those who…
Amy Palanjian: Yeah. I was just going to say, people are always asking, “What are you going to do with your site now that your kids are getting older?” I’m like, “Well, the site’s not about me anymore.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You can stay in that and be an expert in that in a pretty significant way, even if you’re not in that stage still.
But for those who are in that stage, want to follow along with what you’re up to or maybe just keep in touch with you, what’s the best way to get ahold of you or follow along with what you’re up to?
Amy Palanjian: The website is yummytoddlerfood.com, and it’s @YummyToddlerFood on all of the social everything. Then the book is Dinnertime SOS, and it’s in all bookstores or online.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. When did that come out?
Amy Palanjian: It’s coming out on the 22nd.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. It’s coming down the line, so by the time the podcast comes out, it’ll be out so people can check that out. Awesome, Amy. Thanks so much for coming on.
Amy Palanjian: You’re welcome.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there. Alexa here, and thanks for tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We hope you enjoyed it, and we just so appreciate you being here. I actually wanted to give you a little bit of a sneak peek into what we have going on on Food Blogger Pro in September. If you’re unaware of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, the podcast that you’re listening to right now, it’s only one part of what Food Blogger Pro is.
The other part is a membership, so you can learn more about it by going to foodbloggerpro.com/join. You can learn about all that’s included within the membership, but we add new content to the site for our members each and every month. We’d like to say that your membership will look different at the end of each month, because we’re always adding new value to it. On the seventh, we have a coaching call going live between Naomi from a lifedelicious.com and Bjork.
In that call, they talk about positioning yourself as a resource and incorporating your story into your blog. They answer questions like how to deal with older content that doesn’t currently match your niche, a glaring issue with user experience and more. It’s a great call and all members will get access to it on September 7th. On the 14th, we have our member only live Q&A and it is with, drum roll please, Bjork and Lindsay.
They’ll be talking all about content. That is such an important topic for food bloggers because it’s the “product” ’re selling as food bloggers. In this Q&A, all members will be able to ask any questions for Bjork and/or Lindsay, and it’s just going to be a great, great call. That’ll be on the 14th. Then on the 21st, we are re-releasing a course that we have updated all about understanding recipe plugins.
We will talk about the ins and outs of using recipe plugins, which recipe plugins we recommend, how to use those recipe plugins to set up a recipe on your site and more. It’s a great course and we’re really excited to release it to you all on the 21st. That does it for us this week. Thanks again for being here. You’ll see us next time, next Tuesday, and until then, make it a great week.