This episode is sponsored by Clariti.
Welcome to episode 411 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Shanika Graham-White and Darnell White from Orchids + Sweet Tea about how they work together to run two businesses, partner with brands, and create content with their audience in mind.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Paul Bannister from Raptive (formerly CafeMedia and AdThrive). To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Working with Brands and Knowing What Your Work is Worth
We’re really excited to share this week’s conversation with Shanika Graham-White and Darnell White. They’re the creators behind the food blog Orchids + Sweet Tea, and the production company, Brooklyn Sweet Tea Productions.
In this episode, you’ll hear all about the evolution of their businesses, how they negotiate with brands, what it’s like to be married and business partners, and more about their experience as black creators in the food blogging space.
It’s a really inspiring episode with tons of actionable takeaways, and we can’t wait for you to give it a listen!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How and why Shanika and Darnell started Orchids + Sweet Tea, and why they decided to start a production company, too.
- How they made the leap from food photography to videography.
- Shanika’s workflow and equipment set-up for photography and shooting video.
- What the division of labor looks like between Shanika and Darnell.
- How Darnell’s background in programming translated to videography, and how he got started filming recipe videos.
- How Shanika determines and structures pricing when working with brands for sponsored content and/or video production.
- How they divide their time between their different businesses and goals.
- What advice Shanika and Darnell have for food bloggers wanting to start working with brands.
- How they navigated and persevered through the early stages of blogging and found a balance between personalization and optimization.
- More about the experience of being black creators in the food and wellness space.
- How Shanika creates content with her audience in mind.
- What advice Shanika and Darnell would give to their past selves when they were just starting Orchids + Sweet Tea.
- Orchids + Sweet Tea
- Brooklyn Sweet Tea Productions
- Orchids & Sweet Tea: Plant-Forward Recipes with Jamaican Flavor & Southern Charm
- The Guardian: Hungry Planet: What the World Eats – in pictures
- Parker Walbeck Productions
- Follow Shanika and Darnell on Instagram, TikTok, 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, so 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.” And then I sort ordered that in reverse order by page use, so I was looking at pages that on Pinch of Yum in the last year, got zero page use, 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.
And it wasn’t until I was using Clariti that I realized 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, so 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 and 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-O-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: Hello. Hello, Emily here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We’re really excited to share today’s interview with you. Bjork is chatting with Shanika Graham White and Darnell White, the husband and wife team behind the Food Blog Orchids and Sweet Tea and the production company, Brooklyn Sweet Tea Productions. Over the course of the interview, they share more about the early stages of their blog and how they made the leap from just food photography to videography and then to opening their very own production company. They also chat about their workflow and equipment set up for shooting their recipes and what the division of labor looks like between them. Shanika and Darnell have had lots of success working with brands and they share really good advice for knowing your value and using that in negotiations with brands. I’ve just scratched the surface of everything that they cover in this interview. It’s a really motivational listen, and I hope you enjoy listening to the episode. Without further ado, Bjork, take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Darnell, Shanika, welcome to the podcast.
Darnell White: Thank you for having us.
Bjork Ostrom: This is going to be a fun story, not only because we’re going to be talking to two people, which is always fun. Not only because we’re going to be talking about two people who are working together, but also two people who are together in real life and working together, which I really appreciate because Lindsay and I have navigated that and have been in that world, but also because you have two different businesses that you’re running but are also interrelated. You have the publishing side, which is the blogs, social, the following, cookbooks, which we’ll talk about. You also have a production company or a studio where you do photography and video, so a lot of things going on, but which one came first? What did you start with? What led you on this journey to begin without of those two things? The blog or was it the studio you were doing photography and video?
Shanika Graham-White: It actually was a blog, Orchids and Sweet Tea, which I started in 2016, and we were doing that for a while. Back then I was just learning photography, and so as you know, you start off and it’s like, “Ugh, this is what my work looks like.” And then as you go on, in time it evolves and then you go back and you reshoot and revamp, so that’s what started first. Then I think it was around last year, early last year, we started the whole production company and it’s really because Darnell found his passion in editing and videography, so we decided to create that as-
Bjork Ostrom: What’s that?
Shanika Graham-White: We were hoping to have that into a studio and evolve that into hopefully a team and make it bigger.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that something you knew Darnell in 2016 that you were interested in photography and video?
Darnell White: Honestly, no. Really, I had no inclination that this was the direction I was going to take. I think it just because I see the love that my wife was having for it and time I really thought blogging, you couldn’t really make any money from it, so I wasn’t really motivated like that. It was not until I think the pandemic happened, and Instagram pretty much was like, “We are moving into reels to promote your business.” So my wife was like, “You know what? This is going to be a game changer for us if we could learn this video thing.” I said, okay, let me give it a shot. Then as time went on, I started to develop more of a love for it.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. It’s one of the things that I’ve seen for as long as we’ve been doing this. One of the things that I’ve seen is a lot of times people will have an entry point. For you it’s Orchids and Sweet Tea, and maybe that is what it is that you love. Shanika maybe for you what you love doing, you love creating content, you love publishing content, but there’s so many connected things around that. There’s writing, there’s video, there’s photography, there’s the math of accounting and bookkeeping. There is operations, there’s website maintenance. As people know who get into this there’s so many of those things around it, and what we’ve often seen is people then use the entry point and then use that as a gateway into another thing and it sounds like Darnell for you, that was photography and video.
The other thing that was insightful and I think important to point out is I think there are these waves that happen. Anytime there’s a big change in industry, and the really obvious one is a social platform goes from primarily photo-based to now video. We think about that with Facebook, that was a huge one that we went through. It was just photos and photos could go viral and it was like, “Oh, videos. Videos go viral.” But now it’s just not videos. It’s reel based content that goes viral, so Shanika can you tell me a little bit about that time when you knew, “Hey, this could be a really big thing for us.”
And the last piece that I’ll share that’s interesting to think about with that is I think with each one of those waves, creators have the potential to be a better or not as good fit with each one of those. It’s really hard if you’re somebody who is great at photography and that was your sweet spot and you could stage a photo perfectly, it would be beautiful, and then suddenly it transitions into video or reel based content, which is a little bit more user forward. Maybe it’s talking to the camera a little bit more and it’s a new set of creators that are then unlocked in a way. Did you know that was true for you when that pivot was happening and how did you know that?
Shanika Graham-White: To be honest, when I first, I think it was in 2020, saw that reels were becoming a thing. I think really, especially I think 2021 towards the end of that, and last year I saw that this is really becoming a thing. At first I was a little hesitant, although I knew that it would be a game changer because I was just like you said, I was just getting my voice and my style in photography, and then I’m like, “Oh, man, to fully transition into videos seems hard.” We dabbled into it, and obviously you have partnerships and you do video, but to really dabble fully into it, I was just like, I found it hard to figure out how to transition.
And so Darnell was really one that was like, “No, we can do this. We have to do video, and you can do it. If you just create a system and you just realize a flow, you can actually get it done.” So we started, I don’t know if you saw way back into the beginning of 2022 we started reels and it was just playing around figuring it out, like you said. Back then, I don’t remember how many seconds reels had to be, but we were playing around with it and then trying to figure out how then do you cause retention? because like you said, with reels versus videos, reels are very user forward, but at the same time you have to capture people in the first two to three or four seconds, and so if you don’t get that point, your whole video dissipates almost.
And so I think after we’ve just practiced, practiced, practiced, I was just like, “Okay, we can definitely do this.” And we created this system where, all right, I can still do photography and do the reels at the same time, and which is what I really do, I shoot once. We just stop in between a take, do the photography for the blog because you have to do, you have to show the ingredients and you have to show step by step. We literally stop in between each take, take photography then hop back in the video. It’s like you have to work your brain in a mathematical way to have it all done.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk a little bit about what your system is for that? Because I know some people will do, they’ll do a shoot and they’ll say, “I’m just going to do photography because that’s them. I’m going to go on photography mindset and then I’m going to do another shoot of this exact same thing and I’m just going to do it with video.” How do you go through the process of getting both and just doing it once so you don’t have to go and repeat everything again?
Shanika Graham-White: I think it’s just really mapping it out. How I first start is that I make sure that I write down, if I’m doing two recipes today, I’ll write down those two recipes, the ideas, then I’ll write down the actual recipe that I’ve actually at this point either tested or I know that it’ll work because it’s maybe based off of a previous recipe. Then after that, how I always tell people is to have your ingredients organized, so I literally will put everything in individual bowls or rankings or whatever, have everything around me in my station.
We have a setup of a C stand that does all the overhead, and then we’ll have a tripod that does more forward or three forts and then we also have a gimbal which Darnell holds, so we literally have three different cameras to capture views. And so we have our board, our station, and we’ll just have all our foods and ingredients laid out. First things first, I always take pictures of the ingredients because that’s like get that out the way. Then we head into the video and let’s say I’m making a cake, I’ll probably get to the point where I mix the batter, then we stop, do the photography, then we continue. It’s stop and continue depending on the points that you want to do for the photography.
Bjork Ostrom: And then this is getting really into the weeds. When you do an import, then are you importing all the photographs into one bucket and then all the… Are you separating at that point?
Shanika Graham-White: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, and that’s where things are filtered out into different buckets. Got it. You’ve built a really incredible Instagram following. Has that been, because you’ve been video forward in the process of creating content and any tips that you’d give for other people who are looking to build a strong following on Instagram?
Shanika Graham-White: Last year around the, I want to say I think my first reel went viral in April, and then after that, I think it was around May-ish that we really went hard on reels and did two a day, and I think that is what pushed the following because at that time reels were branching off to beyond your followers, so you’re actually gaining more people because it’s exposure, and I think that’s what we used as a way to build our following. Really my tip though for people I think is I know that now Instagram is so different, so it’s wonky now, but I think it’s just about going at your pace.
Now we’ve switched up for 2023. Last year we did two a day. Now we do maybe one and it just depends because now Instagram is pushing photos and the video, so we balance the two, but I think it’s just about finding your pace. I think it’s just about understanding what your audience wants and loves, which is super important and I think we know that for blogging in general. I think just creating your own style, because I know that it’s hard to stand out because there’s 1,000,001. Now influencers and bloggers are mixed in the same melting pot, and so I think just knowing your style and having your voice is just the only thing that’s going to make you stand out at this point, honestly.
Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. Darnell, along the way, you guys are doing a video, you’re figuring it out. What did the division of labor look like for you as you got into it and as a couple working together? And there’s going to be all sorts of people listening to this podcast. Some are in relationships, some aren’t. Some want their significant other to be involved, others don’t, but for those who have some type of partner that they’re working with, as you start to figure out division of labor, can you talk about what that looked like in the early stages and how did you go about saying, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to do this and help with this.” And to what degree are you working actually together throughout the day versus in your separate departments and coming together when you need to?
Darnell White: I would say because I’m more so the techie person. I love the camera equipment, the lighting, anything that’s tech related. I think it was naturally that gravitated towards the video production, so my wife was really more so into the creating aspect of it. She’s more of the creative mind, I’m more of the analytical mind. When it came to the video production, I had to somehow look at the photos that she did a whole production to make and say, “You know what, how can I bring this into video production and create a vibe so that people can understand that this photo can be brought to life?” After a while it was trial and error and I realized that I think I can go more into the video production because it’s not too far from programming because that’s my background where I came from.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Darnell White: That’s how it melded where it was like, “Okay, this is not too far off so I can do this.”
Bjork Ostrom: I feel like for somebody who’s outside of both of those worlds, they’d look at it and say, “Wait, those are two really different things.” How, in your mind, as you were processing it, how did those fit into similar categories and allow you to problem solve in the same way?
Darnell White: I think with the programming, what it taught me was you had to start with how you want to see it and then work your way up to that. When she does the photos, I see the end results already. Now I had to figure out a way to how can I shoot this in a particular way to bring it to life with the end result? Now when she’s mixing the batter, I’m looking at it from a perspective of, “I want to look at it where if I’m in the kitchen seeing my grandma or my mom cooking, how I want the viewer to see it.” And that’s how I build upon that and over time I just edited a certain ways to bring that to life.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s the piece there that’s really interesting and that we try and do as much as we can is to have a real life specific example of an individual that you are placing in the seat of user, because you could look at 240,000 Instagram followers or a million pages or whatever it is, but really those are all individuals and those are all people. One of the things that’s been such a great reminder for us is anytime somebody comes up and they’re like, “Hey, I made this thing.” That is almost more impactful than a thousand people viewing it, because you’re like, “Oh, you took the thing that I thought of and created and put into a digital format, and then you use that to make something in your home for people that were coming over.” And it’s like, “Oh yeah.” It’s really important that not only do you have the aesthetic, but you also have the instructions and information that gets people from point A to point B.
In taking the step forward, you have the site, you’re starting to get some traction with that, you published a cookbook in 2021, which is incredible. Talk to me about stepping into launching a new business with the production company, Darnell. What was that like? And how did you take the, I know it’s still early stages, but how did you take the first steps into moving forward with that?
Darnell White: Well, I think because we was already working for brands, and they ultimately was like, “We love your work and we want you to shoot for us.” And we’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes and it just felt natural because it was training us to do our own thing because we were already getting the traffic and the clientele for that. It just felt natural to say, “If we’re doing it for them on these one or two occasions, why not make it something where we can really cement ourselves in this field?” Because it’s not a lot of people in that video production, but they’re such big players and it’s like why can’t we come along and play as well. Our camera equipment is not too far off from them and our technology is not too different, so I think we can do the same thing. What helps is that we have such a big Instagram following at this point that can justify that so when it’s time to negotiate these things, it’s like, “Well, you see, the work is right here.”
Bjork Ostrom: You’re building a portfolio-
Darnell White: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Content that you can use to show brands that are interested in working with you. When you say you had already been working with brands, are you referring to sponsored content on Instagram or the blog they come to you?
Darnell White: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: And I think that’s one of the things that creators don’t give themselves enough credit for is we live in this world of, we collectively as creators I think publishers, influencers, whatever you want to call that type of work where we think we are going to get paid based on our following. Which I think to some degree, there’s truth to that. For the brand it’s like they’re paying to get some form of advertising, but oftentimes also what a brand is getting is media. They’re getting really great photos, they’re getting really great video. If they were to go to a studio and do that, it would be tens of thousands of dollars potentially for them to get a package of maybe even similar quality images and video.
But as a creator, you might discredit it and say like, “Well, I only have X many followers, I’m going to charge $250.” But there’s a lot of value if a brand is going to take that and use it in other places. How did you learn how to structure contracts and agreements and what the norms were? Or was it like, “We’re going to learn as we go with this”? Because it seems like something that maybe not a lot of people would share. You’re not going to be able to reach out to another studio and be like, “Can you guys help us get started?” What was that like to learn as you got into it?
Shanika Graham-White: Honestly, I think this is where it was beneficial to have the blog, because being that I do that and have contracts and partnerships with brands. From the blogging side and had to learn that, like you said, a lot of people don’t share, and even if you reach out to a creator, a lot of people are not, they’re a little hesitant to even share numbers because it’s such a competitive space. I think just, I learned a lot through going through talent management and seeing how they structure their pricings and why they structured a certain way, and then also a lot of trial and error. You have to do a lot of negotiating with brands and partnership. I think I learned the space of, “Okay, how much is it great to charge? What is the ball point of for reel?” At my right now, I look and say, “for reel, I start at 5,500.” For some brands, that’s a lot.
And granted, with everything there’s negotiation because it depends on the brand and the size and all that stuff, but I feel like when you look at, like you said, what are the many hats that you have to wear in one role? Now for video it’s like, “Okay, one might say 5,500, that’s a lot.” But then when you look at it like, “But you’re getting stylists, food stylists in the midst of it. You’re getting equipment that most people would have to rent that we bought. You’re getting edits, which takes hours upon time.” We break it down.
And so I think after doing market research, especially like he said in the videography space of people that we love like Parker Walbeck and these folks that we actually love that are in the product for videography space. We figured it out these are the little pieces. How can we then put it to what we know is valuable? And then as you said, it’s still learning from here because there is no solidified price. I think, like you said, it’s all about value-based, and so that’s how we look at our content now, value based.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting if you break that down and you really look at it, and I have a friend who’s in the video world. He’s in, he’s all over the place. He’s in Miami shooting this crypto documentary, and we have this running joke where, so he used to send a picture of him in a Lamborghini, not driving it, but video and then he was in Canada while back shooting this documentary called Pez Outlaw, which is on Netflix. The running joke is, he’ll always send me these incredibly beautiful photos, and then I just respond with the same picture of my window at our office with a snowy parking lot. It’s just inevitably, he’s somewhere awesome and I’m just in the same seat.
But one of the things that he often talks about is how expensive some of those shoots can be, because you have the assistant and you have the person who holds the camera, and you have the person who is the DP. It’s a little bit different, but similar idea where if it was a traditional shoot, you’d have those seven or eight jobs. That just adds up so quickly and when you break that down and show a brand, “Hey, we’re absorbing a lot of this. We’re doing the styling, we’re doing the editing, that’s all rolled up into this.”
I think as much as possible to take away with that, that I hear is in those conversations, help a brand understand how you’re dividing that up and what it might look like if you go somewhere else to give some perspective on the cost associated with it, the cost savings in working with somebody who can do all of those different things.
Shanika Graham-White: All of those things.
Bjork Ostrom: When you think of the split in your day-to-day, the work that you’re doing, how much percentage wise of your time is, are you thinking now about the blog, the building a following, cookbooks, things like that versus the studio and building that up as the business focus? Or is it 50/50?
Darnell White: I would say right now the main driving force is the blog. Getting traffic to the blog is one of our number one goal right now and I think the video production is the underbelly that we are trying to build up to a point where it can pretty much pay for everything, but it still takes time for us to convince brands that they should work with us. They see Instagram and they’re like, they’re really excited like, “Oh, we want that. We want that.” So we’re like, “Okay, let’s go over into the production side and see what we can do.” And oftentimes they don’t really want to go down that route because there’s no following there. They want the following, they want the engagement, they want this, they want all of that. We had to find a balance where it’s like, “Okay, we can give you that, but we also offer this as well.” And that is where we’re at right now.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. It’s interesting. It’s almost like they come, I would imagine the idea is they come for the following, they come for the exposure, but then it’s almost like a secondary offer, it sounds like, where it’s like, “Hey, also if you want to continue to have really high quality content, we have this as a service.” It’s one of the things that you see really big businesses do and I think small businesses could think about that more often. Which is just yesterday, I don’t know, I think it was a radio ad or something, but it was for an Apple Card, and I was like, “Oh, weird. Apple is in the credit card business.”
And they have been for a long time, but it wasn’t until I saw a formal commercial where I was like, “Oh, it’s an Apple.” And it’s obviously the big companies when you see that, but I think with small companies, and so far is you have the bandwidth to do it, to think strategically about, “Great, so we get this traffic in, we get these inquiries, that’s great. We can do a sponsor content deal, but what can we do in addition to that to potentially double our income?” Or it’s not really an upsell, but that kind of idea to have additional opportunities for them to work with you and to partner with you, which I think is just so smart.
I’d be interested to hear you talk a little bit about, for people who are wanting to break into that or get a little bit better, specifically with sponsor content, working with brands, what’s your advice to help them take the next few steps? Somebody who’s early stage, maybe they’ve done a little bit of it, maybe there’s a little bit of fear for them, and stepping into that world, what advice would you give somebody like that? Shanika you can start.
Shanika Graham-White: The advice I would give is to always go into anything. I know that usually we’re pitching to brands, we might DM to get an email or we might email them over always stating your value is my main biggest thing that I’ve learned along my journey. When I was reaching out to brand partnerships, I would just be like, “Oh, I so want to work with you and this is what I can do.” But now I’ve realized that brands don’t care. There are a ton of people that they can choose from, and so the whole point is to always reach out and stating automatically your value.
Like you said, now, it’s not just following, but it’s what do you bring to the table? And I think when I started seeing, I think after so many trial and errors and so many partnerships, when I realized that we actually have value. They actually come to influencers and bloggers because we connect with the community that we have, and so they can plaster that on a TV commercial, and maybe they’ll get millions of views, but how many people are going to stop and actually click over and say, “I’m going to buy that.”
Probably not that many, but if you have a community of, even if it’s 200,000 followers and you have a community where the moment you drop something, they’re like, “What is that? I want that because you have that, or I trust you because you have that.” That’s value, and so I think just going in, seeing your value, and also just correlating that and conveying that to the brand is my best advice, honestly.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. Darnell, anything you’d add to that?
Darnell White: Honestly, I think you just got to trust your work. Really trust your work, because today with social media, a lot of the brands get excited over the number of following and sometimes I’ve seen literally the same work that we’ve done at maybe like 30,000 followers, and we haven’t really changed anything much. At a hundred thousand followers we realize that many of them is superficial, because if we was looking at the 30,000 followers and saying, “Man, our work sucks. We should stop this.”
When we hit a hundred thousand now they’ve seen all these people saying, “Oh, let’s work together. Let’s partner, let’s this.” And so now you got to ask yourself, “Well, was your work not good at 30,000 as it is at a hundred thousand?” Now it really is about trusting your work and seeing it through, because in this social media realm, everything is so trendy or viral or what’s the next hottest thing and it can make you feel a little insecure of your own work, because I’ve seen a lot of people on social media do such dope work, don’t get in trouble. Sometimes it’s just a matter of exposure. It is. You know what I mean?
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. There’s a concept that I think a lot about, and I think it relates to this a little bit, which is who, not how many. As creators in the world, one of the things that’s really true is good work is good work, and it’s good work apart from the number of followers. Sometimes we don’t know why things get huge followings and other things, or why something goes viral, why something doesn’t, but if you focus on the thing that you’re creating, the work that you’re doing and producing as opposed to just the following, eventually, if you stick with it eventually, if it truly is good work, that will shine through.
I think what happens is there’s this spectrum, and there’s both sides are important. One side is the work, the creativity, and the other side is the distribution of the work. To understand how the distribution works is important. We talked about reels. Reels are going to be higher potential for that to go viral than a photo on Instagram as an example, so that’s the optimization of the distribution, but on the other side is the quality of the work itself. I think sometimes in conversations like this, podcasts like this or creators can sometimes get caught up in this idea of how do I figure out the platform? But they’re not really figuring out how to do good work and the good work is going to be the thing that perseveres.
But it’s also, it takes time. It’s low. I use the analogy often to music, but it’s like if I was starting to learn piano today, I wouldn’t expect to be a full-time pianist in a year and a half. I would say I might be able to get it if I try really hard and work on the craft every day in seven years. I think if we could have that same mindset, if we are just beginners with the creative work that we’re doing, I think it would serve us well. What was that like for you? And Shanika you can start, as you are learning a new thing, you’re in the early stages of it to persevere and continue on with it. Was that a hard thing to do?
Shanika Graham-White: Oh man. Yeah. I can’t say how many times I felt like quitting, how many times I probably had to stop and readjust, recalibrate, go back to the why center point and figuring out, like you said, getting back to focusing on the work. I think that’s just because there’s just always pressures on social media and this whole thing of virality and comparison, because I know a lot of people say you shouldn’t compare, but it’s hard when you’re scrolling on your screen and you’re constantly seeing so many different things. You end up comparing or you end up adapting to someone’s style because you’re like, “Oh man.” I either admire it or I see that it gets a lot of engagement. There’s plenty of times I’ve had to just stop for a moment and be like, “Let me get back to my why. Let me get back to the content.”
And actually, I think I’m trying to take a traditional, non-traditional route of blogging, because like you said, people like Pinch of Yum and Minimalist Baker and Deliciously Ella that I started in the game and those were the pinnacles of, “Wow, those were the bloggers that I wanted to attain to be where blogging was about you.” It wasn’t about keywords, it wasn’t about all the things that we do now. It was about, “Oh, maybe I can’t consume dairy, or I’m a vegan, and so I’m going to create a blog for people like me who want to figure out how to consume this lifestyle, or who wants to figure out how to make recipes for their family that are dealing with that.”
Now. I think it’s come to be this, it’s a business and it’s supposed to be, but I think it’s taken on more of a business aspect than back then when it used to be really about, “I want to help and build a community of people that are dealing with what I’m dealing with.” A lot of the times those bloggers would share health conditions or whatever they had, and they were like, “I just want to create for people who wanted something I needed.” I think I try to keep it that traditional. That’s what keeps me persevering. I still to this day look at them and say, “I still want my blog to be that, but I know that I have to make it a little bit more modernized to media and all the other things that it is now.”
Bjork Ostrom: The balance between personalization and optimization.
Shanika Graham-White: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: That world is always, there’s always such a push and pull there, and no easy answer to figure out what the balance is with that. Darnell, how about for you with photography and video? What was it like in those early stages as you were getting started to know you were in the early stages, you probably knew where you wanted to be, but there’s maybe a little bit of a gap there. What did you do to help close that gap?
Darnell White: I think what helped close the gap is when people on social media started to respond and say that they made the recipe and they would actually DM Shanika videos of their children enjoying. I think for me, I’m a sucker for the children. For me, to see these round cheeks eating, but in a squash pasta like, “Yum, yum, yum.” Oh my God, this is really going into people’s houses and people are creating this and feeding their families. I think that’s our secret sauce is to empower families to get back into the kitchen, because we live in today Uber society where you can Uber everything. DoorDash, you can do all these things. They come at your door. In some way, shape or form, it dumbs us down a little bit, because when you got to ask yourself, when was the last time, for example, you remember somebody’s phone number out your cell phone? You see a person’s name?
It’s those little small things that we can’t stray away too quickly from to say, everybody to some degree should learn how to cook something that’s whether it be a grilled cheese, whether it be rices and peas, whether it be whatever, but to see when we create the recipe and it goes into somebody’s house and they create it, and then they show Shanika a video, it’s a beautiful thing. I think that is what pushes me to say, “We got to keep going.” Because this is much bigger than us.
And some of them come back and say, “Our kids wasn’t able to eat any food, and we try this recipe and this one was a hit.” So our child is a picky eater, so we know where that comes from. To know that from one picky eater to another, they can understand it. Although they’re on a smaller level, we understand food can be increasingly intimidating and complicated, but if you can keep it simple with the flavors, just the moment you eat it or they smell it in the house, that’s enough for them to even want to buy. That right there is like, “Nah, keep going. You got to keep going.”
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. There’s so many things about work, how we work, how create that are not the logistical functional parts of it, so much of it is, you get a note from somebody and it’s encouraging or it’s a video of a kid eating and you’d think it’s numbers and it’s metrics, but a lot of times it’s those soft things that are encouraging and helpful. It’s also some of the non-metric based things that can be part of the challenge piece with it too, and can keep you from going forward. I’d be interested to hear your reflections, and we chat about this a little bit before, as you entered into the space as Black creators in the healthy food world, was that something that you knew getting into it? There’s going to be some things we might run into that are difficult here? What did that look like going into that and did you have any ideas around what it might look like?
Shanika Graham-White: Yeah, so I think for me, because I grew up in Florida and I didn’t know anything about healthy eating, so literally I was introduced to it because my mom’s a nurse, and so I think in my later years, probably late teens or early adulthood, I started really taking care of what I ate, or just my health in general. I think it was just this new concept that I didn’t really see, especially in the Black community. I think the hardest part for me now, even as a creator, is introducing really healthy foods to Black people. I know that I have such a mixed audience and I love it, and sometimes I will make a recipe and it doesn’t translate in the Black community because it’s like, “We are not used to this or maybe-”
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have an example of what that would be?
Shanika Graham-White: Gosh.
Darnell White: Overnight oats or something like that.
Shanika Graham-White: Oh yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Totally.
Shanika Graham-White: Right. Which is-
Bjork Ostrom: In the shore, in the suburbs of Minnesota, everybody’s like, “Overnight oats.”
Shanika Graham-White: Right, but then if I make it hot and I make it actual oatmeal, it’s received. I’m learning now in the space that I’m in a health space feeding the balance because I have two different audiences that follow me, so I’m always trying to figure out a creative way to be in the middle. Even with that example, like I said, now I’m like, “Okay, you might not understand overnight oats, but if I do it hot and everyone understands it, then I can give you the option of overnight oats.” And so maybe you quiet, maybe not. I’m trying to learn how to balance the two and that’s one of the hardest things-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, interesting.
Shanika Graham-White: To the Black community because when you look on social media, a lot of Black influencers, a lot of them are the ones that are really with large followings and stuff. They make the typical extremely cheesy mac and cheese and a super fried fried chicken, the things that we’re used to seeing. I think when, like you said, when people are being introduced to new things, sometimes it’s a challenge for change and not everyone is willing to evolve into that change. Some people are like, “I’m rejecting it because I don’t understand it.” Like I said, I’ve just been trying to figure out the balance and having a creative way of translating both.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. A lot of times people think about the intent of the content that they’re producing, and if you do affiliate content, they often talk about buyer intent, Best Shoes or whatever. In the recipe world, a lot of times what we’re doing is we’re thinking about intent. Overnight oats, I’m going to create a recipe because I know somebody’s searching for overnight oats. One of the interesting challenges that you’re talking about, and I’ve never thought about this before, but it’s almost like it’s maybe taking somebody’s intent, but introducing a new thing that is adjacent to that.
Shanika Graham-White: Yeah.
Darnell White: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost like education in a way to say, “Here’s another opportunity. Here’s a thing that you.” I’m going through this right now. I’m working with a coach, and every I’m doing… Every time I eat something I take a picture of it, and then at the end of the day, I send it to him, and then he gives me feedback on it. It’s been super educational for me to… And we live in the world of food. I’m not as much in it as Lindsay is, but to go through that process of food education or just another viewpoint on something like, “Oh, you could add cinnamon to this and it would be a good addition and it would be helpful.”
Has that framed up the decision making around what content you will do, what you won’t do? If you are planning out your content calendar do you have ways that you view certain types of content? Like, “Hey, we’re going to try and do this piece of content because it will rank well and we’ll get as many people as possible, versus I’m going to do this piece of content because it’s near and dear to my heart, and I feel like I love this recipe and I want to share it with people that follow me.” how do you approach decisions around content knowing the complexity of the dynamic of the audience that follows you?
Shanika Graham-White: That’s the craziest thing, because it’s twofold, because then there’s also the whole thing of what performs well on social media versus what’s Google search.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Shanika Graham-White: There’s also that too that you’re also balancing, but I think for me, I try to balance between the two of what’s near and dear to me, and then also realizing I have to also figure out what resonates, and so I think that’s been my approach lately. I think about it, “Okay, what did I like in my childhood? All right, right? Is that something that a lot more people probably could relate to?” So now Biscoff cookies are a thing, so I’m thinking, “Okay, how can I transform a childhood nostalgia and put that into maybe something that’s of today and fusing the two?” That’s where I’ve learned to have my most creative point is figuring out if I know that people love pizza, what can I use that’s nostalgic that I can add to pizza?
Because I’m more willing and open to trying new things and testing out combos that might necessarily not be thought of and I think that’s just because I grew up an extreme picky eater, so my mindset is of a picky eater, so I think I’m constantly thinking of, with a picky eater, you need options, and so I think that’s why that translates into my content, because I’m always giving people options. I would make, for instance, I have a recipe that’s coming out that’s shrimp, fried rice. I use farro instead of rice, but I always give people the option, “You can use rice or you can use quinoa, or you can use, but these are things that I also know would work.” I love giving people that option, and I think that’s the creative point that I use now.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. It’s almost like not only is it decisions around what people would be, if you’re a picky eater, what would you like or not? But it’s also decisions around what would somebody have in their cupboards? Would somebody have rice? Would they have-
Shanika Graham-White: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: What’s a normal thing? There’s a, gosh, I wish I remember what it was. We could maybe look it up and put it in the show notes, but it was photojournalist piece around food around the world. Maybe it was in the US as well, and just people would empty their cupboards and they would do a picture of it. It was so fascinating to see in all of the different places around the world and in the US if I’m remembering it right, here’s what somebody’s cupboard looks like.It was like, “Oh, there’s so much variety and there’s so many different opportunities for people to create incredible things from that.”
But as people who are putting together a recipe, part of what you’re thinking is like, “Is this person going to have rice or not? What are they going to have this unique ingredient or not?” Or not even are they going to have it, but we grew up in a small town, both Lindsay and I, are they going to be able to get it? Is it even available at the grocery store if they did want to get it? And those are the things that I think are so helpful to wrap your head around as you’re going through the creating process for recipe development and whatever it might be.
As we come to a close here, I’d be interested to hear you reflect on a question that I’d like to ask occasionally. Darnell, I’ll start with you and then Shanika. If you were to go back and start over again, or if you were to go back and have a conversation with yourselves as you’re about to begin on this journey, what would that conversation be? Darnell, let’s say you meet yourself at a Brooklyn coffee shop, some trendy coffee shop on a corner street, and you’re like, “Hey, it’s me from seven years ago.” What would you tell yourself when it comes to building a business, building a following, creating?
Darnell White: I would say go easy on yourself because you’re going to get there anyway. At first it was man, the stress of it all. It was managing the business, managing accounting, managing household, day-to-day living, managing conflicts, managing social media and comments where they’re like, “Oh, I don’t like this.” It’s all those different things that chip away at you, and sometimes it does get you feeling a little down about your work and feel like it’s not enough or it’s not resonating, but I would definitely tell myself, just keep going and take it easy on yourself because you’ll get there eventually. Which is what is happening now.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s so great. Lindsay often talks about this idea of radical acceptance of yourself. How do you be accepting of yourself in all circumstances and gentle with yourself? That’s so great. How about you, Shanika, you go and run into yourself as you walk into the grocery store?
Shanika Graham-White: I think I would have told myself to be myself. I think when I look back, especially now that I’ve been focusing on SEL and revamping old posts, just seeing when in 2017 or 2018 when I created a recipe, sometimes I think to myself, what was my thought process? I wasn’t even as advanced to even have A tracks in those things. I think it’s probably finding inspiration from Pinterest, but I look and I say now, when I revamp it today, the way that it gets so much traction, I just think to myself, was it… I think it back then when I had less, I was able to be more authentic, but I think sometimes when you get to a point of options or you get to a point of growth, you then again, the pressures of what it is to be at the top or to stay at the top yet-
Bjork Ostrom: The stake are higher.
Shanika Graham-White: Yeah, so I think just be yourself from the beginning all the way until the end. Would be my thing.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I have a friend that works in the same building as we do, and his son was in the other day and he was leaving to go to, he’s on the golf team, and as he’s leaving, my friend who’s, his dad said, “Be yourself. Isaiah, be yourself.” And it was that same thing. He’s like, “Don’t try and emulate the other players. Play your game.” And I think it’s a good reminder for all of us. You got to be yourself. Love that.
Really great conversation. I think for me, what’s inspiring about it is people who are in it, showing up every day, doing creative work, creating new things. Excited for you guys and what you have ahead the studio, and a lot that we didn’t get to talk about, so maybe I’ll have to jump on another time, cookbook and all the other great stuff that you guys have going on. We’ll link to everything in the show notes, but can you just do a quick shout out to your site, where people can find you on social? And then also we have some brands that listen to the podcast as well, if they’ve ever been interested in reaching out for photography or video work with the production company, so just chance to do a quick shout out for those.
Darnell White: Okay.
Shanika Graham-White: Are you going to do the production company?
Darnell White: Okay, so for the production company is, it’s going to be BrooklynSweetTeaProductions.com. We’ll take care of all your needs. Anything regarding photography, videography, if you need evidence to see what it’s all about, head over to Orchids and Sweet Tea on IG. I’ll take it to you.
Shanika Graham-White: Yep. On IG, I’m Orchids the letter N Sweet Tea underscore, and then my main blog site is orchidsandsweettea.com.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Shanika, Darnell, thanks so much for coming on.
Darnell White: Thank you so much.
Shanika Graham-White: Bjork, thanks for having us.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey. Hey, Alexa here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We really appreciate you tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I’m here with a special announcement. Are you ready for this? Because I’m hoping you’re sitting down. It’s a big one. One of the things that we pride ourselves here at Food Blogger Pro on is the fact that we always are contributing content to the membership, so our members memberships are always growing in value because we’re adding new courses, we’re doing new events, we’re adding new deals. It’s just a constantly changing and evolving membership in a good way because things change very often and new strategies need to be talked about, et cetera.
One of the new pieces of content that we’re really excited about for 2023, they’re called Coaching Calls. We’ve been asked for coaching calls are one-on-one calls with Bjork or with the team just so many times over the past few years and we’re finally doing it for our membership, so you can work through your specific blogging and business questions with the one, the only Bjork in these calls. You and Bjork will discuss your blog and your business, and we’ll record each conversation and add it to the membership so the greater Food Blogger Pro community can learn from the advice shared there.
Any active Food Blogger Pro member has the opportunity to take part in one of these coaching calls. We actually have an application that members can submit, and you can find that over on foodbloggerpro.com/live. If you’re an active member, be sure to go there and you can submit an application, but essentially we’ll go through the applications and reach out to you if we think there would be a good time for you to come on and have a coaching call with Bjork. We are just so excited about this, and if you’re not a member and really excited about the opportunity, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/join to learn more about the membership and get signed up right there. Otherwise, we’re really excited. We’re just so excited about this new content idea and we hope you are too, so that does it for us this week. We’ll see you next time and until then, make it a great week.