384: How Toni Okamoto Runs Two Food Blogs and Grew Her Email List to Over 80,000 Subscribers

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Hands placing a bowl of figs on a cutting board and the title of Toni Okamoto's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Running Two Food Blogs.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 384 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Toni Okamoto from Plant-Based on a Budget about how she runs her two food blogs and how she’s grown her email list to over 80,000 subscribers.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Julie Tran Deily about how food creators can use Whisk when sharing videos on TikTok. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Running Two Food Blogs and Growing an Email List

Today, we’re really excited to share this conversation with Toni Okamoto! She’s the creator behind not one, but two, successful food blogs: Plant-Based on a Budget and Food Sharing Vegan.

In this episode, you’ll hear what she’s done to get both blogs accepted into Mediavine, why she decided to expand her team, how she’s grown her email list to over 80,000 subscribers, and more.

Toni’s passion for her work shines through in this interview, and we know you’ll have so many takeaways after learning her story and content creation strategy!

A quote from Toni Okamoto’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'If you're feeling a little bit overwhelmed by one thing and you feel like you're not getting growth, you might see it elsewhere.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Toni started sharing food content online
  • How she has strategically grown her two food blogs
  • Why she believes so strongly in investing in her business
  • Why she decided to expand her team
  • What tools she uses to stay in contact with her team
  • What the primary revenue sources are for her business
  • How she works with sponsors on her blog, social media, podcast, and email newsletter
  • How she has grown her email list to over 80,000 subscribers
  • Why she places so much emphasis on social media


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!

You can learn more and sign up here.

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

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

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti, C-L-A-R-I-T-I. Here’s the question, are you manually keeping track of your blog posts on a spreadsheet or a project management tool? Maybe it’s like Airtable or Asana. Or maybe you’re not even keeping track of anything at all. When it comes to optimizing and organizing your content, how do you know what to change and how do you know what you’re doing is actually moving the needle?

Bjork Ostrom: With Clariti, all of that stuff is easier. It’s easier to keep track of things. It’s easier to know if the changes you’re making are having an impact, and that’s why we built it. We realized that we were using spreadsheets and cobbling together a system, and we wanted to create something that did that for you.

Bjork Ostrom: And Clariti brings together WordPress data, Google data, like Google Search Console, and Google Analytics, and it brings all of that information into one place to allow you to make decisions and also inform you about the decisions that you’ve made and if they’re having an impact.

Bjork Ostrom: I could talk on and on about the features, but the best way to understand it is to get in and to work with the tool yourself. And the good news is Clariti’s offering 50% off of your first month if you sign up. And you can do that by going to clariti.com/food. Again, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food to check it out. Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hello. Hello. You’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. My name is Bjork. Today we’re having a conversation with Toni Okamoto and she has a blog called Plant-Based on a Budget and a following all around plant-based eating on a budget. And we’re going to be talking about the origin story of that. And we’re also going to be talking about her evolution and reinventing herself as not only a blogger, but really a business owner and thinking strategically about building a team.

Bjork Ostrom: She’s going to be talking about going back to school for management and how that informed her decisions as a business owner. And one of the favorite areas that we talk about, one of the favorite sections of the interview for me was when she talked about launching a second site and how she was able to scale that really quickly.

Bjork Ostrom: Within months, she was able to join Mediavine and create advertising revenue from that. She was also able to get up to 100,000 followers on Instagram. And it answered the question that we often ask, which is, if you were to go back in time and start today, what advice would you give yourself?

Bjork Ostrom: And she talks about how we as people who have been doing this for a while, some of us are newer, but for those of us who have been doing it for a while, can really do that, we can look and say, knowing what we know now, how do we start a site and start a second site? And she talks about what that’s been like and how she was able to quickly scale and grow that.

Bjork Ostrom: Before we jump into the interview though, I wanted to do a quick shout-out to our Facebook group. You can go to foodbloggerpro.com/facebook and join the podcast-specific group. If you are a podcast listener, that’s a great place for you to hang out. It’s a little community area, and it’s free to join. So you can check that out by going to foodbloggerpro.com/facebook.

Bjork Ostrom: Going to be a wonderful interview, lots of insights. Let’s go ahead and jump in. Toni, welcome to the interview.

Toni Okamoto: Thank you so, so much for having me. It’s such a huge honor. Like many, I have benefited so greatly from your resources, so thank you again.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, awesome. Well, it’s fun to have a conversation with anybody who knows what we’ve been doing, but also who will go out and learn and apply. And I think that’s what I’ve learned doing what we’ve done as long as we’ve done it, is the information is out there. Whether it’s from Food Blogger Pro or deep dive Google searches or reading books from the library, we all have access to this information. The differentiator between those who make progress a lot of times is actually taking action with that and moving forward and implementing it, and you’ve done that. And one of the things that I want to talk about, we’re going to talk about your main site, your main brand, but before that, you’ve taken action in a really significant way with another site that you’ve launched. And you were able to grow that relatively quickly, get onto Mediavine, and grow a big Instagram following, and did that in a relatively short amount of time. Tell us a little bit about that site and what the reason was for starting a second site.

Toni Okamoto: I have been active in a lot of Facebook groups learning as much as I can, soaking up all of the information from more experienced bloggers. And something that had come up a ton is starting a second site. And I thought, gosh, these people, how do they have time? I can hardly manage one. But the more I listened and the more I learned, the easier I thought it could be with taking all that I had, all the experience that I’ve gained and applying that to a new site. And the difference between Plant-Based on a Budget, which is my main site, and Food Sharing Vegan, which is my new site, is that Plant-Based on a Budget had always been a passion project for me. I do what I feel like doing, and I have had a lot of hiccups doing what I have felt like doing. Whereas with Food Sharing Vegan, I did things more formulaic and took what I was hearing from my blog audits and from webinars that I was taking and from your podcast and only doing those on my new website. So I started from scratch and did everything for my audience based on what I knew that they wanted, but also for SEO. I was doing keyword research off the bat. I signed up with BigScoots. I didn’t make all the same mistakes. I also started with building a newsletter really fast and started with social media again from zero, but doing what I knew the algorithm wanted, like Reels. I had never posted a photo, I still haven’t posted a photo on that account. And maybe every salad video started going viral during the summer. And so I started creating more salad videos and in about three months I had 100,000 followers and was able to be welcomed onto Mediavine in that same amount of time.

Bjork Ostrom: So 100,000 followers on your Instagram account, and then you started in May of 2022, is that right?

Toni Okamoto: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: And then after four months, three months was able to get-

Toni Okamoto: About three months.

Bjork Ostrom: And so, one of the things that I think is interesting with that is in this world, this world being people who are creating content online, one of the things that exists is our personality’s within the things that we are creating, and naturally then you are going to be a part of the business. Pinch of Yum is a great example of that, it’s a very personality-centric site. And there’s some real advantages with that I think, one of them being people want to follow people generally speaking, and like to have that connection to a person. But also on the other side of that, to contrast it a little bit, there’s something really nice about starting with a fresh, clean plate and saying, if I was going to build a business and it wasn’t going to be my considerations around the recipe I wanted to create or how I’m writing, or if it’s more business forward, then you start to make different decisions. And to your point, you also have all of these things that you’ve learned and can apply it in a new and fresh way, which I think there’s something really cool about that. And the other thing that feels like it might be nice is, and I would be interested to hear your opinion on this, but maybe you are less precious about it, meaning you’re able to make decisions around metrics more than you are, hey, this is me and my personal brand. Does that feel true? Or maybe a general question is how have the two sites been different in terms of what it looks like to run them and create content for them?

Toni Okamoto: I come from a place than I think a new blogger in that I have systems in place already. So I was able to utilize the systems that I had in place for Plant-Based on a Budget for Food Sharing Vegan. So that is an advantage that I had from the start. I had a photographer I worked with, I had copywriters in place. And so with that, I felt like I was able to just shoot off work in a way that I didn’t with Plant-Based on a Budget. Plant-Based on a Budget has always been what I’m eating, what I’m doing, instead of having someone do keyword research and find out what’s going to have the most potential to rank. And so with that, I think you’re right, I am less attached. I am not on the social media channels. I don’t go into the Instagram Stories like I do on Plant-Based on a Budget. And I have not noticed a difference in growth. In fact, I’m growing faster with Food Sharing Vegan than I did with Plant-Based on a Budget. And I have been really hard on myself thinking that I needed to be front and center of Plant-Based on a Budget and it’s frankly quite uncomfortable for me. It’s not something that’s natural. I am not extroverted. I don’t easily put myself out there. And so to dispel that myth that you have to be front and center was a little a bit-

Bjork Ostrom: Green.

Toni Okamoto: It took me aback and gave me some relief as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. One of the things that I think often happens, especially online for businesses and especially in spaces like this, is we see the way that people who are front and center, and not loud in an annoying way, but just loud in terms of a charismatic personality, you look at that and you’re like, oh my goodness, that person has reached this level of success. I aspire to that, whatever that might mean. It could be following. It could be what the business looks like, how it runs, whatever that looks like. But you look at them and you see them and you’re like, they’ve done this, and I also want to build a successful business. Maybe I need to be like that. But what we don’t see is the person that we don’t see. And that sounds a little bit weird, but there’s all of these different iterations of businesses that are doing really well, but we don’t notice them in the same way because they probably aren’t as personality forward, and the people aren’t as charismatic or as loud, but they’re building a quiet business behind the scenes, really successful, but we almost don’t notice it because we don’t see the person and we don’t see the story. Maybe there isn’t a lot of story behind it. And so I can see, to your point, how you’d think, I need to do this. This is what other people are doing. I see this happening. But then you try it out in a way where it’s not that and you’re like, wait, actually this works as well. And my encouragement to anybody listening is there’s a 100 different versions of really aligned, successful businesses that you could run and you don’t have to do it like you see other people doing it. So it’s cool to hear you share about that Toni, and having that realization and that being kind of a green thing to allow you to say, hey, I can work in a way that feels more aligned with who you are and how you operate. Does that feel true?

Toni Okamoto: Yes, it does. And another thing that really has brought that forward in my life is connecting with other food bloggers in my niche as well as others. In my head, I create a narrative of what the life is of someone who is extremely talented online. And you think you have it all figured out based on their stories and their highlights. And getting to humanize people and know what they’re like and who they are, and the struggles that they have and the fears that they’ve faced and the obstacles that they’re regularly overcoming is really beautiful. And it helps put things into perspective for me, thinking, okay, you know what? They’re human. They have the same fears that I have, and we can get through this together and support each other, and maybe they’ve already overcome something that I’m trying to deal with right now. And that has been really instrumental in my growth with Plant-Based on a Budget specifically, and also building my confidence as a creator.

Bjork Ostrom: I don’t think this is necessarily blanket statement a hundred percent true, but I feel like generally speaking, we probably give more credit to those that we don’t know that are these distant people that we’re watching. Credit’s maybe not the right word, but we assume things to be better for others. And I think also, just speak for myself for this, but also I’m harder on myself. And so it creates this two-part thing where you look at somebody else and you’re like, oh my gosh, they have it so great and they’re so successful, and that must mean life is so wonderful for them, and then would look inwardly and be like, oh, and I have these things and they’re kind of hard. And I feel like the more you can put those two things, I’m making a gesture with my hands, but the more you can align those two things in the middle. So it’s having this realization that for others there’s actually really hard stuff that you don’t know until you really know somebody. And once you get to know them, you realize even if somebody’s outwardly having success, that doesn’t mean that they’re not working through really hard things. And for yourself, you probably are doing better than you think you are. Working on things that are difficult, making progress. And humanizing, you said that word, I think that’s such a great word. But humanizing other people and also being gentle with yourself feels like it’s not business advice, but it kind of is. It makes a difference in your business and how you run things and your motivation and your willingness to show up.

Toni Okamoto: Agreed.

Bjork Ostrom: So let’s talk a little bit more about your story. So you’ve been at this for a while. Your site, Plant-Based on a Budget, talk to me about when that launched. And it was a little bit different, it was not just you, it was a group of people working on it. Is that right?

Toni Okamoto: That’s right. It was a different time and also a very different experience than a lot of others that I hear, where I did not ever think it was a job possibility for me. I was an activist. I wanted to help people eat plant-based. And over and over and over again, I heard, “Oh, it’s too expensive, I can’t do it.” But I myself was living under the poverty line. I was very hard up for cash and was making it work. And so I started sharing my experience specifically for my family who had all kinds of diet-related health issues. I wanted them to know that I was benefiting and they could too, and they could reclaim their health. And so I recruited some of my friends and we were posting every single day. Everyone had a day of the week that they posted. And that lasted for probably about a year before I started doing the content on my own. It became a burden for people to just volunteer their time and put forth new content every week, which I totally understand, and it became easier for me to run it on my own. Also, for anybody who has ever tried working and creating content with someone, sometimes visions don’t align. So what I feel would be budget conscious may not be what’s budget-conscious for someone else. And so that’s how it all started. And it wasn’t until 2016 that … Oh, okay, sorry, I started in 2012. In 2016, I lost my job and a friend of mine had just started doing her blog full-time one year prior and said, “You really need to try it. I think you could do it. Sign up for Amazon Associates. You’ll start making money.” And I started, and it was very tough in the beginning, but I had a couple breaks. I was in a documentary that brought me a lot of attention. I was in the documentary What the Health, and they were specifically highlighting my meal plans. And I had these $5 meal plans that showed you how to eat for $25 for a week. And it really changed my life. Having no money, negative money, and then having money pouring in to reinvest in my business, to help pay off the debt that I was in, really, really changed everything. And then another big thing that happened was in 2018, I went to an influencer retreat for a grocery store and I met a guest who had been on your podcast, Kate Kordsmeier. And I saw that she had income reports and I had never heard of such a thing before. And again, I still really didn’t understand what you could do with blogging full-time. And Kate had shared how she was making money. I then found your income reports. I listened to every single episode of Food Blogger Pro Podcast. And actually it was around that time that I had decided to go back to school. And there was something that you said in the first episode of your podcast that has stuck with me and shaped how I’ve been as an entrepreneur, as a manager, as a food blogger. And that is, I had heard that you are like the people you surround yourself with, but I hadn’t heard that you are the media that you consume. And so at that time, after listening to you, I started consuming all kinds of business media. I was listening to as many business podcasts as I could, and I went back to school for management. And that really shaped how I would be as a food blogger entrepreneur. And instead of thinking of myself as a creator long term, I thought, how can I build this into a business where I do create some, but I also have a lot of people who help me create a lot. And that’s the business model that I have taken.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And you hear that system that you’ve created working, when you talk about spinning up this new site, and now it’s like you have the assembly line, you have the system that works where you’re like, hey, let’s create this content. You have somebody who is a talented photographer, they can take pictures. You have somebody who loves writing and they can write and you’ve built this thing. It’s kind of like the E-Myth. Was that a book that you ever came in contact with?

Toni Okamoto: I didn’t. No.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. You don’t really need it because you’ve figured it out on your own, but for anybody else to make a little note of the E-Myth. And the basic premise and they tell it through a story, like a lot of business books do, but it’s this person who has a pie shop I think, if I remember right, and they’re super burned out. And the idea is you work on your business, not in your business. And I think what you had talked about as being a creator, it’s like for creators, a lot of times you’re working in the business. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not bad to work in the business, but it’s just going to be a very different business if that’s what you decide that you’re going to do. And in your case, it sounds like you made the decision, I’m going to work on my business and I’m going to think about it as a business and think about myself as a manager. And how do I go about strategically building this thing in a way where it maybe in some ways doesn’t need you like a normal creator-based business would. So I’d be curious to hear you talk a little bit about that. What are the parts that you’ve put into place that have been really important for your business?

Toni Okamoto: First, it’s the mindset of not needing to be the only person who can create, who will do it the best. And oftentimes I don’t do it the best. I do it the worst and someone else has come in and shown me what’s up and has made it infinity times better. So letting go that’s big. Spending money, that’s huge, especially when you’ve come from a place of without, it’s hard to know when to let go of some. And the first person I hired, I hired for four hours per week and it was huge. It was transformational. It helped relieve me of so many things that I did not want to do, even though it was only four hours a week and helped me understand what I could accomplish if I had more of my time back. And so that was the beginning of the growth for Plant-Based on a Budget and it continued with finding someone in house to run all of my sponsorships. So I still have someone who does that full-time for me. I have a full-time photographer, I have a full-time blog manager. I of course am full-time. And then I have two part-time people who run social media. And then I work with a lot of contractors, including a videographer who does my Reels, which I put all over social media and copywriters and blog helpers because there’s always stuff at the blog. So that’s where I invest back into the business in terms of fantastic people who make things better for me and for Plant-Based on a Budget.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s something that the way that you went into it feels like a really healthy way, which is slowly, I’m going to hire somebody for four hours a week, and you can start to test what is it like to have somebody. Even for me, I remember the first time we started working with people, it was a really strange feeling to have a piece of work, a project, and then to give it to somebody else and say, can you do this? I remember feeling how weird that was when it happened. Both in school, because you went to school for management, but also in the process of doing it, what have you learned about how to run your business, how to manage, how to think of your business as a business?

Toni Okamoto: That is a fantastic question. I would say that the thing that I focus on as a manager and also as a person who is caring about the people and my business is finding the right balance of setting high standards and also creating a compassionate environment for people to have lives outside of work and to support them when their lives are hard, but also still keep in mind that this is a business and we have goals that we’re striving towards. And finding that balance, making sure that the people who work with me are supported in every possible way, whether that’s they have the tools that they need, they feel comfortable coming to me with any concerns or suggestions or whatever, that I create a hospitable environment and that they feel valued. That is what I want to set forth is that everyone who I work with feels valued and supported.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. In going through school specific for management, I had a management minor so not to the same level, I’d be interested to hear you reflect on what you got out of that experience versus being in the trenches and doing it. Do you feel like going through school equipped you to have some of that stuff at the ready, the tools in your tool belt? And what were those tools that you used right away?

Toni Okamoto: I would say creating a professional boundary. I think it’s really easy when you’re working with someone closely to talk about very personal things and maybe share jokes, and there’s a fine line that is easy to cross when you don’t create a professional boundary. And so that’s something that I learned in school, you shouldn’t go out and drink with your people who work for you. You shouldn’t get drunk, you shouldn’t tell inappropriate jokes, you shouldn’t tell them your personal business about your marital issues or whatever. There should be a clear line. And I’ve seen a lot of my friends who haven’t been told that up front do something different, which of course that’s that’s their management style, that could be totally fine. But for me, I do appreciate the lines and I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable and I don’t want to put anyone in a position where they don’t feel like I’ve created this hospitable environment. And so that is something that I learned up front. I had to take a class called surviving toxic work environments where we go through what not to do and how to come in if anyone ever does feel uncomfortable and make sure you correct that damage.

Bjork Ostrom: What were some examples of those things not to do and then how to correct it?

Toni Okamoto: One of those is you got drunk in front of your colleagues who you work with on a regular basis, how do you go in? You have to apologize and you have to acknowledge it. You can’t really brush it under the rug. And a lot of it is for people who are coming into a manager position for the first time and maybe have an established team. You want to let people know that they can come to you upfront, and so they also talk about meeting one on one. So with my team, I meet quarterly one-on-one where I have an opportunity to give feedback and they also have an opportunity to give feedback. I always ask, what can I be doing better to support you? I check in all the time. We also communicate by Voxer. They know that at any time they can reach out to me and I’ll get back as soon as I can with feedback because even if I’m on vacation, they can’t really do their work if there’s something that’s super time-sensitive. And fortunately, they respect my time and I really super appreciate that. But creating a line of communication that I care about their work and don’t want to leave them hanging has been really beneficial.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about Voxer real quick? Because it’s such a cool tool and it doesn’t come up very often.

Toni Okamoto: Yes. I have been using Voxer for a long time and I love it. It is a walkie-talkie app and I am not a big texter. If you look at my text notifications, it’s like 1,000 unread text messages.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re one of those people. We all have those corners of our internet lives, it’s just like, where are we not drawn to.

Toni Okamoto: That’s me in a few places. Sorry everybody who tries to reach out to me. But Voxer is a place that I know that only people I work with communicate with me there. So I’m always responsive and people can leave a voice message. So instead of typing up a five-minute summary of what they’re experiencing, they can quickly say, “Hey Toni, I made this recipe of yours and it’s not coming out. It does not look appetizing. I don’t know what to do with it. Help.” And I can go in and either say, scrap it or put some garnish on it or whatever. We can quickly iron out the details instead of typing back and forth.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s cool. I know a lot of people who use it for that exact type of communication back and forth with the team or with family even. And it just allows you to communicate in a different way than you would via text. And similarly to whether people are drawn towards messages or emails or whatever it might be, I think certain people are also drawn towards certain types of communication and especially if you’re working with a team to understand what is that way that you like to communicate and to prioritize that. I know that you had mentioned the meal plans that you had and that being a catalyst for the growth and validation of this and the importance of this idea that you’re working on. I’d be interested to hear the makeup of your business because you have meal plans, you have the blog, you have social, you have sponsors it sounds like, you have a podcast. So if you were to break it down or sort order the most important parts of your business, what would those be? It could be from a revenue perspective or just from your perspective. What are the most important pieces of your overall business?

Toni Okamoto: Those are going to be two totally different … What I want?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Toni Okamoto: What’s my ideal versus what is my reality?

Bjork Ostrom: Let’s do reality and then let’s do ideal.

Toni Okamoto: Okay. My reality is that sponsorships fund a lot of the goings on of Plant-Based on a Budget and Food Sharing Vegan. It allows me to have a staff and pay benefits and all the things. And ideally, that would be ad revenue. I work really super hard on my blog and I desperately want to one day have that be the primary income source. But I’ve had to do a lot of corrections from starting a blog so long ago and doing everything wrong, like every possible thing wrong. So I’m still-

Bjork Ostrom: Wrong meaning in terms of how you structured content?

Toni Okamoto: I’m sorry. Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: For search optimization specifically?

Toni Okamoto: Well, it all started because I had purchased a theme where you input the information to recipes directly into the theme. So that was the worst of it all. I couldn’t just swap out any of the-

Bjork Ostrom: A recipe plugin.

Toni Okamoto: Any recipe plugin.

Bjork Ostrom: It didn’t live within the recipe plugin. It lived within the theme.

Toni Okamoto: Correct. And so I was stuck to the theme and that was it. That has been a real hardship in my website journey. Okay, so back to your original question. My current reality is the way I make money is through sponsorships. I have sponsorships. I have two businesses. I have Plant-Based on a Budget LLC. And then I have a shared LLC with my friend Michelle, who runs a website called World of Vegan. And through that we share a podcast, The Plant-Powered People Podcast. And then we share the Plant-Based on a Budget Meal Plan. And we have a cookbook called the Friendly Being Cookbook. And all those income streams live there and they’re split 50–50. Then with a Plant-Based on a Budget, I have sponsorships, I have ad revenue, I have some digital products that are not a lot of money, but I value every dollar, every 50 cents, every penny that comes in. So I have that and oh, I have books, and the books are a remarkable income stream.

Bjork Ostrom: And that’s within Plant-Based-

Toni Okamoto: On a Budget.

Bjork Ostrom: … on a Budget?

Toni Okamoto: Mm-hmm.

Bjork Ostrom: When you have the sponsorships, how are you getting those? How are you making those connections and what does that look like?

Toni Okamoto: So as I mentioned earlier that one of the very first full-time employee was someone who came in house. There are a lot of ways to do sponsored content or to do outreach for sponsored content these days. I know a lot of people who have an agency they work with, but for me, it made sense to have someone work with me very closely. And she works full-time reaching out to brands I like and use, and also negotiating, writing up contracts, making sure that I do what I’m supposed to do, giving me deadlines so that I can deliver the content to her. And then working with my social media manager to make sure everything’s posted. So I don’t do any of the posting anymore on social media, including sponsored content. She makes sure that everything is up when it’s supposed to be up, and then writes up a summary for the brand on how it performed.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. So a lot of it is outreach. You have these companies, maybe the ideal companies you’d want to work with. She’s going and reaching out to those companies if they’re interested, going through the process of negotiating, saying, here’s a package, here’s what it could look like to work together. And is the primary place for those to live on social Instagram?

Toni Okamoto: Social, blog, and podcast. So our podcast is sponsored by two brands per episode. And then I would say Instagram is the biggest, but also our E-newsletter and our blogs.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about the newsletter? So that would be a brand that would sponsor and they would just have a little snippet at the top that says, this is sponsored by kind of thing?

Toni Okamoto: At the bottom, yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Toni Okamoto: So I put out a couple newsletters per week. I put one out on Wednesday, which is mostly recipes in a theme, so fall desserts or healthy smoothies for January or something like that. So that could be sponsored or our Friday newsletter, which is just words. So it’s four paragraphs usually, and the last paragraph would be the sponsor. And it would say something like, thank you so much to our sponsor, blah, blah, blah for blah, blah, blah. And we have a coupon code. Check them out here. It’s very short, but because it’s such a short E-newsletter, it’s a fourth of the newsletter.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. One of the things that you’ve done really well is diversified into different places. Not only do you have a second site, but you have your newsletter, you’re able to create an income from that. Instagram, you’re able to create an income from that. You have books, you’re able to create an income from that. You have meal plans. So number one, just pointing that out. That’s really awesome. Good job. That’s cool to see.

Toni Okamoto: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: And for anybody listening, I think it’s a reminder for us to not get too locked into any single platform, because we can sometimes start to, much like you are message averse, other people love messaging and they’re in messages all the time. They never have any unread messages. I think we have the same thing for mediums or platforms. Some people think a lot about Instagram and growing their Instagram. And I think for a season, especially if you’re doing this part-time, you have to focus in on one thing. But as you start to get more time, you can expand out. And one of the nice things about expanding out is you’re not creating everything from scratch. It’s repurposing, it’s repackaging, it’s bending something for that medium. And then you have a new channel that has new attention and you can either monetize via meal plans or sponsorships, whatever it might be. I know with your story you weren’t always doing e-newsletters and email. There was a season where you weren’t doing that and you had a friend who came to you and was like, “What? You’re not doing email?” Talk about what that was like and the change that you made.

Toni Okamoto: I lived in the social media world. Before working for Plant-Based on a Budget, I ran social media for other organizations and companies and I was very stuck on Facebook, MySpace for a while.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, love it.

Toni Okamoto: I know. And Instagram and the others that always come around and sometimes go away. But I had a friend who is from the corporate world who was like, “What do you mean you don’t have a newsletter?” Because in other industries the newsletter is the bread and butter.

Bjork Ostrom: Everything.

Toni Okamoto: Yes, exactly. And so I took his advice, I started it. And I have since worked with Matt Molen, I’ve worked creating a lot of different funnels and really get my money’s worth by continuing to create different ways that people can sign up, bonuses that people can receive when they sign up, and ways to utilize it to either bring people back to my website or sell them something that I have.

Bjork Ostrom: We have a interview we did with Matt, we’ll link to that in the show notes, and he helps creators and bloggers and publishers with email. So a little shout-out to him, the work that he does. So when you say you get your money’s worth, one of the ways you talked about was the opportunity to point people back to content, which is what we normally think of, but more so the sponsorship piece I think is a really important one. Or if you have product, which in your case you do, making sure that people who sign up, whether through an autoresponder series, they get that information like, hey, I have books and here’s where they are and here’s where we can buy them. Or this meal plan, here’s where you can pick that up. We’ll start at the top of the funnel. What has been the most effective for you with email in terms of getting people to sign up? Because I know you have tens of thousands of people on your email list. Maybe you mentioned it, I missed it. How many?

Toni Okamoto: I started in 2018 with none.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, zero.

Toni Okamoto: Now I have 80,000.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is incredible. That’s a really powerful list to have. What have been the things that have been most impactful in terms of getting people to sign up?

Toni Okamoto: I have really had luck with seasonal newsletters. Right now, I’ve got a Thanksgiving one going, but I will have a Christmas one and then of course when January comes around, because I’m a vegan blogger, I will have, let me help you with vegan tips. And so addressing a struggle that I believe that my audience is having and creating a newsletter series that helps them overcome those obstacles. So that’s one. Before I worked with Matt and had those in place, I had one that was a meal plan for people who came to my free meal plan. So that’s huge. They had to put in their email address if they wanted to receive the digital download of my meal plan, and that was big. Then having something at the top, on the sidebar, just everywhere to make it easier for them. Having it on my Facebook. People still today sign up on my Facebook. Having it on my Instagram in my Linktree. Pretty much anywhere I can put it, I have put it. And you’d be surprised how often people sign up in unexpected places. And then another one that’s huge is the Mediavine Spotlight that I recently did. And I cannot believe how many signups I had after inserting that into both my blogs.

Bjork Ostrom: And for those who aren’t familiar, Mediavine has this functionality is probably the best way to describe it, where if you’re scrolling through a site and then you have a little opt-in, it’ll grayscale everything around it and it shines a spotlight. This is a not often-used feature of messages with iPhone, but you can do the screen effects. I don’t know if you have an iPhone or if you’ve never seen this because you never check your messages, but you can do a full screen effect. Sometimes I’ll send an emoji to a friend and then it will do the screen effect of spotlight on it, like dancing man and then the spotlight on him. But it’s kind of like that where it draws your attention to it in a way where you probably wouldn’t see it unless you were really looking for it or you maybe quickly scrolled by it. And so it really places an emphasis on that email sign up. So we’d consider that top of funnel, so that’s getting people to actually sign up. And I think one of the things that you said that’s important for us to remember is not just your blog, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, you can put in a link that links directly to a signup for your email. There’s all of these different places that we can, if we really wanted to juice the orange so to speak, we could dive pretty deep on all of the different places where our content is being seen and making sure that we have some call to action within those. But all of that’s not super helpful unless you then take that and email people. And you talked about some of these different series that you have and we talk about a welcome series or an autoresponder series. So just at a high level, can you talk about what happens once somebody signs up and how you’re thinking strategically about that?

Toni Okamoto: A long time ago, I created a welcome series, and that is where you want to put all your good stuff. I have not touched it too many times since then. So really you only have to invest a few hours into crafting it and then you’re good to go for years. And my welcome series addresses issues that my audience has. I’m a budget blogger, who is Vegan, and the first one says, hey, this is who I am. These are struggles that I have had. It establishes credibility. It says I totally from a firsthand experience understand what you may be facing right now. Then I say, these are my favorite resources that you’ll find in my wheelhouse of resources, that you can listen to my podcast, you can buy my book, you can check out my free meal plans and you’ll hear from me tomorrow addressing another issue. The next day I say money is a huge problem, here are some of the top ways. And in those ways I include affiliate links. The next day I talk about time-saving tips. I talk about how if you can afford a crock pot or an instant pot, these really help save time. These are my favorite knives that make cutting easier, all affiliate links. The next day I offer a free webinar, a cooking course that I did that sells my book in the cooking class. And then the next day I say, hope you’ve enjoyed the series. Here are my books. I’ve worked so hard on them. I think they’re the most comprehensive resources that I have. And if you would like, you can purchase them here. And then it kicks them off into my Meatless Mondays series that every Monday I just toss in a new recipe and it’s a forever series. So I have that for I think maybe four years of content. So it runs through four years of content. And in there I also have a recipe, but also affiliate links and links back to my resources. And then I have my Friday newsletter and my Wednesday E-newsletter, which I recycle every year.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, that’s awesome. So you can start to see how it becomes a flywheel of sorts where at the top you’re thinking about, hey, how do I build a system that helps me grow traffic? And you are working with a photographer and a copywriter. You’re thinking about the different places that you want to put an email opt in, strategizing top-level. But then once the more effective that becomes, then you have this system underneath that is pointing people towards your books. It’s pointing people towards product, it’s pointing people back to the site. And so that builds on itself, which is a really cool thing to think about because a lot of us, we go and we create a piece of content, we’re like, I really hope people come and see it. And then I’m going to work really hard to try and get some other random person to come and see this thing that I’m building. But if you can get people to start to follow along, get invested in what you’re doing, and really help people get a clear idea, and you talked about that. It’s people who want to eat plant-based on a budget, and everything that you do is focused around helping those people. Once you show them how you can help them, they’re going to be there and they’re going to want to get more help and potentially pay for that in some ways. So it’s cool to see that system working. I’d be curious to know as a last question with the email specifically, what does it look like for you to have conversations with brands about sponsoring the emails? Is that always part of a package that they’re getting when they work with you? Or do some of them just know, hey, I want to sponsor emails and that’s just what I’m going to focus on?

Toni Okamoto: It’s a lower-cost option. Because I have a larger social media platform it can be pricier for brands to sponsor content on Instagram. But for E-newsletter, it’s a much cheaper option that has more guaranteed metrics, I know that this is how many people open my newsletter, this is how many people click on my newsletter. You’re one of five other links. So the chances are higher that your link would be clicked. And I think that brands really appreciate those kinds of analytics.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Toni Okamoto: I did want to continue really quickly-

Bjork Ostrom: Please.

Toni Okamoto: … on the last thought that we were having was that, you’ve mentioned this a couple times throughout our conversation, it’s very easy to get locked into one thing. And right now I hear a lot of people talking about building their blog, working on SEO and keyword research, and that is a lot of work. And I think that that is really important and it’s something that I’m focusing on too, but try not to dismiss everything else. Some people get really disenchanted by social media, and I totally understand why, but it can really be an amazing resource to people to find your content and also push people back to your blog. And I have not had the kind of amazing success with SEO that other bloggers who are long established have had, and I have relied on social media to get people back to my website. Social media, an E-newsletter and pretty much everything else is still greater than SEO for me and Google traffic. And so if you’re struggling or you feel a lot of pressure that you’re not ranking fast enough, maybe take a break from that and also incorporate some social media pushbacks back to your blog. Go on Facebook. Facebook is huge for me. It’s where I get the most of my traffic right now. I get tens of thousands per day from Facebook. And so it’s a lot, there are so many things to do, but if you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed by one thing and you feel like you’re not getting growth, you might see it elsewhere.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I love that. And part of that has to do with where you naturally see yourself going and to not feel like you have to go somewhere else. And it’s almost like permission, giving yourself permission to do these other things and focus on these other areas and to not have to feel like you follow the pack with what everybody else is doing. What is it on Facebook that’s working well for you right now?

Toni Okamoto: I think it’s consistency. I post 12 times per day, and if someone is considering hiring, I really, really, really recommend a social media manager. It has been the most time-saving and also the most beneficial to my business to make sure that people are responded to, to get the same piece of content that I worked so hard on creating shared across all platforms. So we take the same Reel, the same photos that I’ve taken for the blog and we put those in a newsletter. We put it on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram Stories. It just goes everywhere. And not just one time, but many times, so that you really maximize the visibility of the piece of content that you worked really, really, really super hard to create.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that? When you say, not just one time, but many times, what do you mean?

Toni Okamoto: Yes. Because I’m promoting content seasonally in a newsletter, I would say that, right, we’ll say for fall, I will post the same recipes in my Wednesday newsletter for fall desserts, fall favorites, fall five-star recipes. Every Wednesday I’m creating fall-themed e-newsletters that have the same recipes in them. And every week they’re sending a lot of people back to my website. Because I’m posting 12 times a day on Facebook, I have the same fall recipes going up sometimes every day. During Thanksgiving week, I will post the same recipes multiple times per day because one, I’m posting the ones that have the highest RPMs so that I can earn the most on my blog, but two, some of those are my favorite, best recipes that are the highest rated. So I want people to make those and find out about my blog, really have a good experience and come back for more.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about the idea of posting twice in a day? So would it be literally the exact same copy and same link, and the idea being that it just might get seen in a way that the other one didn’t?

Toni Okamoto: Yes. I have this one recipe that has gone viral a couple times over the past, maybe two weeks. Maybe it’s gone viral three times and each time … Right now it’s actually going viral and it’s … Yesterday, I think it brought 7,000 or 8,000 people to my website and I’ve posted the same photo every few days and every few days it gets a ton of traffic. And I don’t know what about the photo it is, but it is bringing new eyeballs because maybe they didn’t see it and the algorithm didn’t push it to them beforehand. And someone new is sharing and someone new from their audience is sharing and sharing and sharing and sharing and introducing new people to my content. So just because you’ve posted it, at least on Facebook, I’m not like this on Instagram, I’m more selective about how often and what I’m posting. But on Facebook, I feel like I can post something twice a day or every day. And some people might not see it and would share it and their audience could see it too.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Even when I think about what we’re doing, it’s like, oh yeah, I’m scrolling through our Pinch of Yum Facebook and it’s October 17th, October 23rd, October 24th, and it’s just a different platform. It’s different than an Instagram like you talked about where frequency is more okay. Higher frequency I guess is a better way to say that, is more acceptable than it would be on a platform like Instagram. So that’s a great little tip. Toni, this is awesome. We could talk for hours about all the things that you’re doing, and I know that it would be super helpful for anybody listening. But my last question for you would be, and you’ve done this with your site a little bit, but I’d like to hear. If you were to go back in time, you were to have a conversation with yourself from years past, other than giving yourself the advice to not have the theme where you put the recipe in the theme, what would be the general advice that you’d give to yourself when you were starting out?

Toni Okamoto: After all this time being on social media, I would say don’t care too much about the negative comments. It’s so easy to have those weigh on you, but there are 20 more positive comments that you can be focusing on than that one. And at this point, I block anybody. I remove them as a follower. And if you have something negative to say to me, you’re out of my space, you’re booted and you’re forever gone. So try not to focus on those mean comments on your recipes, on your emails, if you have too many ads or whatever, and focus on the positivity. And even if that means having to start downloading a gratitude app, because there are so many beautiful things about blogging. Even getting the flexibility and creating your own schedule and changing lives every day, it’s such a beautiful thing. So focus on that.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Toni, if people want to connect with you, follow along with what you’re up to, what’s the best way to do that?

Toni Okamoto: You can find me at plantbasedonabudget.com and Plant-Based on a Budget across social media platforms.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Toni. It was really fun to chat.

Toni Okamoto: Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s been a real honor. I’m so serious. Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, for me, I said this at the beginning and I feel like I need to say it at the end again, one of my great joys is anytime that we’re able to connect with somebody who knows the podcast, has followed with it and has taken the things that we’ve talked about that the people we’ve interviewed have talked about as advice and insights and applied them. And it’s cool to see that, to have those conversations where you can come back now and say, look at these things that I’ve done and the progress that I’ve made by taking action. So kudos to you and thanks for sharing, Toni.

Toni Okamoto: Thank you.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey. Hi. Hello. It’s Alexa, and thanks for tuning in to this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We just really appreciate you tuning in every week, or maybe this is your first time or maybe you check in sporadically. Regardless, we’re just so happy you’re here. I wanted to let you know that next week, starting on Monday, we’ll actually be having a Cyber Monday sale, and it’s the best sale we offer all year.

Alexa Peduzzi: So it’s going to be starting at 8:00 AM Eastern on the 28th, and it’ll get you an annual Food Blogger Pro membership for a $100 off. So you can save a $100 on a annual Food Blogger Pro membership, and that price will actually recur each year. So if you keep your membership for a couple of years, you’ll have the same price. You’ll be grandfathered into that same price. So the price of an annual membership is $350 typically, but you can get this membership for just 250 with this sale.

Alexa Peduzzi: So the sale will be going on from Monday to Wednesday, so you have a little bit of time. But if you want to jump on the waitlist and be notified as soon as the sale is live, it’s a no-commitment waitlist, you can decide later, but just get the information in your inbox whenever we’re live, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/cyber, as in Cyber Monday, and you can just jump on the wait list right there.

Alexa Peduzzi: That’ll just put you on our list, and we’ll just email you whenever the sale is live. So again, go to foodbloggerpro.com/cyber to learn a little bit more and sign up for our waiting list. All right, we will see you next time. Appreciate you tuning in and make it a great week.

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