365: How to Find Your Zone of Genius and Hire the Right People with Emily Perron

Listen to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast using the player above or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

People typing on laptops and the title of Emily Perron's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Hiring the Right People.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 365 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Emily Perron about the Zone of Genius and hiring.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Chelsea Cole from A Duck’s Oven about self-publishing a cookbook. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Finding Your Zone of Genius and Hiring the Right People

Have you ever heard of the Zone of Genius?

When working in this zone, you capitalize on your innate abilities and interests to do work that truly fulfills you. And a great way to do this is by delegating tasks and building a team!

In this episode, Emily explains how to find your Zone of Genius, how to decide what to outsource first, how to write a compelling job list, and more.

If you’ve been thinking about hiring out some tasks and potentially growing your team, you won’t want to miss this episode!

A quote from Emily Perron's appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'The more specific you can be in that job posting, the more likely you are to find the people that really, really fit.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Emily works with food bloggers
  • Why job listings should be as specific as possible
  • The difference between freelancers and employees
  • How to find your Zone of Genius
  • How to decide what to outsource first
  • How food bloggers should approach writing job listings
  • How to know how much to pay freelancers
  • Where to post your job listings
  • How to know when you’re ready to hire
  • How to avoid feelings of burnout


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 the Clariti waitlist today to receive:

  • Early access to their $25/Month Forever pricing
  • 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: A big thank you to Clariti for sponsoring the Food Blogger Pro podcast. You’ve heard me talk about Clariti before. It’s a tool that we’re building and using for Pinch of Yum, but also a really powerful tool for anybody who’s focusing on content as one of the main vehicles for growth or revenue for their site. And we’ve been working on Clariti for a couple years, but it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve started to bring other people in to sign up and become a part of it. We’re doing an offer right now that we’re calling 25 Forever. So the first 500 people who sign up for Clariti will get their account at $25 a month forever. We’re still in the early stages of offering this, but we’ll cap it at 500 people. So once we have 500 people who have signed up, then we’re going to cap that and we’re going to move to a different pricing for Clariti.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s still in the early stages. It’s not going to be the kind of thing at this point where we’d cap it and say, “Hey, you can’t sign up. You’ve missed your chance.” But slowly and surely, we’re moving to that 500 mark. So if you’re interested in joining and checking it out, now would be a good time to do that. There’s no commitment. There’s no plan that you have to join and can’t cancel. So you can check it out, you can see if it’s a good fit. And how do you know if you would even be interested in it? Well, Clariti’s for anybody who’s focusing on content and also starting to focus on optimization of their existing content. We have this belief that any and every site is going to be suboptimal right now.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s going to be broken images, broken links. There’s going to be posts that don’t have internal links that could, or don’t have external links to helpful resources. There’s going to be images with missing alt text. There’s going to be content that’s starting to perform worse that if you looked at and improved and enhanced, it would increase rank. We’re really just thinking about that for Pinch of Yum a lot. What are the ways that we could improve the content that’s currently on our site, as opposed to just creating new content. And we’re using Clariti as a tool where we track that and make those enhancements and improvements. One are the things that comes along with that is you can join the Slack community that we have of other content creators. And this just came up the other day, somebody posted and they said, “I had no idea that I had broken images on my site, but somehow those images broke. So I need to, number one, find out how they broke and then number two, fix them.”

Bjork Ostrom: But they were just saying that they noticed that because of Clariti and some of the filtering that they were able to do. So they created a project. They filtered first and said, “Show me all the broken images on my site.” And then it was like, “Oh, there’s some broken images.” Then they filtered. After filtering those, they created a project that was fix broken images. Now, you could then have somebody on your team go in, make those improvements, make those enhance enhancements. Or if you don’t have somebody on your team, that can be the type of stuff where maybe once a week, once a month, you have this maintenance or spring cleaning mindset where you go in, you block the day out to make improvements, make enhancements.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re not creating new content. You’re just going in and optimizing and improving and paying attention to older content and making sure that it’s at 100% as opposed to 70%, which if I were to guess, I would say all of our sites, Pinch of Yum included, would probably be operating at 70% of their true potential value. And we want to find ways that we can improve that and we’re using Clariti as the tool to not only discover those things, but also to organize the tasks and projects that go along with improving them. So we’re still in the early stages of it. We’re excited about what it’s going to be and what it’s going to grow into. And we’re also excited to learn from you in the process of what you would want it to be, which is why we have that Slack community that we will welcome you to, if you are interested in signing up. So you can go to clariti.com/food, C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food, if you’re interested in signing up. All right. That’s a wrap for this little ad read. Let’s go ahead and jump into today’s episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hello. Hello. This is the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Excited for you to be tuning into this episode where we have a conversation with Emily Perron. She’s going to be talking about some transitions that she’s had in her business. We’re going to talk about those a little bit. And for those of you who have listened to the Food Blogger Pro podcast for a long time, you know we had a conversation with Emily all around recruiting and building a team, and she’s still in that general sphere. It’s still what she’s focusing on. But she’s really focusing in on this idea of building a team structure for entrepreneurs and people like yourselves who are creators that really empowers them to do their best work. We talk about this idea of different zones and how do we as entrepreneurs get to our zone of genius and make sure that we work with people who can help us support our efforts to get to that place and allow other people to work in their zones of genius and really how you can go about structuring your team and building an organizational chart of different people who can support you as you continue to build your business.

Bjork Ostrom: Because if you’ve been doing this for any amount of time, you know there is a ton of work, there’s a ton of effort, and the list is endless. We could really be doing this work day in, day out, 24 hours a day. So what’s the anecdote to that? It’s figuring out what you’re really good at, what you’re uniquely skilled to be working on, and then working with others who are uniquely skilled in the areas that maybe you are competent at, maybe you can do, but aren’t the most important thing for you to be doing. So she’s going to be talking about not only the transition she had in her business towards that place and how that allowed her to work in her zone of genius, but also how you can be thinking about that for your business. If you want to join in on these conversations, you should join the Food Blogger Pro podcast Facebook group.

Bjork Ostrom: You can do that by going to foodbloggerpro.com/facebook. And we have a growing group of podcast listeners that are part of that group asking questions ahead of time for certain guests, and sometimes even engaging in some conversation after. So if you notice that you have questions coming out of podcasts, sometimes we’ll have follow-up conversations in that group for the guests that are a part of the Food Blogger Pro podcast that we interview. I’m excited to share the details, the specifics, the ins and outs all around building a team that allows you to do what you are uniquely skilled to do. So let’s go ahead and jump into this interview with Emily.

Bjork Ostrom: Emily, welcome back to the podcast.

Emily Perron: Thanks Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s going to be a fun conversation. We had chatted before. Before we pressed record we were just reflecting. Last time we chatted it was peak COVID, peak chaos in the world. I mean, it feels like it’s been years of that. It was election. It was our daughter had just been born. And here we are a couple years later having a conversation again. It’s so interesting to do a podcast or do any type of work for a long period of time and have relationships where you can look back and see timestamps along the way. And I feel like that’s true for the interviews that we do. But what’s great about it is we’re able to check in, have conversations with people. And inevitably what happens is people continually evolve, their businesses continually evolve, people level up their skills and understanding of their specialty. And that’s proven to be true for you as well. So for those who aren’t familiar with that interview that we did, it was released in January 2021, recorded in 2020. Can you give a little background of who you are and what you do and the work that you do on a day-to-day basis?

Emily Perron: Yeah. I’ve been working with bloggers and content creators over the last few years to help them build their teams. And it came out of a place of being a solo entrepreneur myself as a career coach and just really struggling to find good people. People just weren’t meeting my expectations. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. And so I really set out to understand the hiring process and to understand how it’s different. I had a corporate background and I thought that would prepare me. I had a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology. So I had all these things and I was struggling. And so I just figured out the process for myself and started sharing it with other people. It led me into working, particularly with food bloggers, where I was actually recruiting and building their teams. And since then, now I’ve really honed in on ways to empower them and teach them the methods rather than actually doing it for them. Because I found, yes, I could find a freelancer, but they didn’t always know what to do with that person or they were missing the skill gap of hiring. And for the longevity of their businesses, I found it’s just so much better when they can do it themselves. They feel-

Bjork Ostrom: It’s like fishing for them versus teaching somebody how to fish. That classic example. Yeah.

Emily Perron: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And so I found if I can just get the right roles and the right job posting put together for them, they can be so much more successful on their own.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you talk about process, you talked about method. What is that process and method? Not necessarily what is the process and the method itself, but start to finish, what are you helping, what is the transition or transformation that people are going through as they learn that process or that method?

Emily Perron: Yeah. Usually, people come in when they’re working with me one on one and we’re developing their organizational strategy, they come in with some ideas. They’ve got some things they want to outsource, they know what they want to get off their plate, but they’re not really sure who they should hire. Which roles should they get out of all of these things? Because none of it’s standardized. There’s no standard roadmap, like this is how you build your business and these are the jobs. It’s so individualized. And so then I come in and I learn more about who they are, their strengths, their personality, what their business looks like. Because even among food bloggers and bloggers, there’s so many different styles and mixes in terms of revenue and content and things like that. So that’s where I come in. So I really get the right roles set up and then I focus on getting the responsibilities and the qualifications for each of those roles outlined and written out so that the business owner, the blogger, can then just take that and run with it. They can run the hiring process. Because like I said, if you get those couple of things right, you’re so much more likely to be successful.

Bjork Ostrom: And those couple of things that you need to get right are what specifically?

Emily Perron: It’s the responsibilities and the qualifications.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So really clear-

Emily Perron: So what is this person going to do and who are they?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Really clearly outlining here’s what this person needs to do, the day-to-day activities that they’re going to do, here’s what they need to be good at. Like somebody who’s artistic versus really detail-oriented. Not that you can’t be both. But oftentimes you might find somebody who’s artistic, great photographer, really creative mind, might be less detail-oriented and not love project management in the same way that a videographer or photographer might. And explaining that really clearly. Because one thing I found, and I’d be curious if you find this to be true as well, the more vague you get, the more people think that position applies them. Like great, Pinch of Yum is hiring for a communications assistant and you need to be kind and you need to be good to work with. You need to understand email and know how to use Microsoft Word. And people are like, “Awesome. I love that. That’s for me.” Versus if you get really specific, and you would know better than I would what those would look like, you start to filter out people where they’re like, “Oh, actually, I don’t have a passion for project management and love creating lists. This maybe isn’t for me.” Is that what you’re doing is filtering out-

Emily Perron: Yeah. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: To get people who are a good fit?

Emily Perron: Yeah. We’re getting the level of detail and vagueness right. And usually I’m encouraging them to get more detailed, get more specific and really making sure those specifics line up with the role. Because it’s so easy for people to throw in some extra things. You’re hiring a social media manager and then you want them to write your emails and schedule your blog posts. Those things don’t really go together. And that’s what I can bring in too is then that perspective, like you don’t have to know what all these roles do in the marketplace, but I can help you craft it so that it makes sense and so that people apply. Because like you said, if you go really vague, tons of people will resonate with that. And then it becomes even harder for you, the business owner to filter through all of that. Like who actually wants to do the specifics. So I think the more specific you can get in that job posting the better.

Bjork Ostrom: How about for somebody who’s early stages where, let’s say they have a few different things they need help with, social media, scheduling blog posts, and then let’s throw in a random one, updating WordPress and plugins. It’s a little bit more technical, outside of expertise. Personally, one of the things that we’ve navigated is the question of do you hire multiple people for specific roles in a part-time capacity, where suddenly you have maybe four or five people who are working part-time doing really specific things that they’re great at, but then there’s some complexity around how many people you’re managing and to what extent you’re actually managing them may be up in the air. Versus one person who’s maybe not as good at all the things, but it’s like one single touchpoint and communication is happening from one to one versus one to five and it gets complicated from that perspective. Do you have any insight or decision-making frameworks that you have around when to split a role?

Emily Perron: Yeah. That’s a great question. I think one thing I look at is some of the ease versus pain in this. So sometimes it’s easier to have those multiple people until it becomes painful. And then you have to start maybe looking at blending these roles together. And I think it also coordinates with the edge of contractor versus employee. Not that we have to go deep into that. I know we talked quite a bit about it in our last conversation. But just that employee, you have a lot more control over where a contractor is more of a specialist that is going to bring in a very special defined skillset. And so once you’re getting to five, it might make sense to get more of an employee in that can do more things.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense.

Emily Perron: I usually look at that ease and pain piece. Is it making you easier-

Bjork Ostrom: Can you explain a little bit more about that?

Emily Perron: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Point being, you think it’s actually helping but then it just creates more problems and that would be pain, whereas ease would be, hey, this is actually making things easier.

Emily Perron: Yeah, exactly. Well, and I think when you’re thinking about you don’t … When you’re just starting out with hiring, I always recommend picking the easier things to outsource. Like if it is easier for you to outsource the web plugins because you’re not good at it, then start there. But then there might come a point where the ease now has become the pain. You have 10 contractors. And I would say five’s not that bad, but once I see seven to 10 contractors reporting to one person, that’s when really I’ve noticed with bloggers that’s where it really becomes overwhelming and painful because they can’t handle all of those people coming to them. And then at that point then they can bring in a project manager or a business manager to help with that as well. So there are some specialized roles to help with that communication piece and you can change the reporting structure in your business as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. In that case, it would be somebody who has maybe all of those five, six, seven roles are important, but they’ve gotten to the point, the creator, the blogger, the publisher has gotten to the point where they’re starting to notice what their role is is actually manager, which doesn’t feel good. So then a hire could be somebody who comes in and oversees those roles, project manager, whatever you’d call it, operations focused. And that would allow then the blogger, creator, whoever it might be to work more in their zone of genius, which is a word that you have used before. So can you talk a little bit about that? Because I know one of the considerations within this as something grows is that somebody’s role changes. And I just had this conversation yesterday. We have somebody we work with who’s a personal finance person.

Bjork Ostrom: We had our biannual meeting and we were talking about business and what’s fun is that he owns his business. And so he was talking about a personal finance conference that he went to, and it was somebody who was talking about business growth in the personal finance world and the correlation to happiness. And what they found was that for personal finance professionals, people who own a personal finance business, their happiness went up in correlation to the increased revenue of the business until it got to a million dollars a year. And then it actually started going down. And so the more they made the less happy they were. And I asked did he talk about in this presentation why that was. And his understanding was that at that point it was kind of this tipping point for getting away from the thing that made them the most happy and the reason that they got into it in the first place, which was, my assumption, being able to work with clients, doing personal finance work.

Bjork Ostrom: And that million-dollar mark was apparently the tipping point where it became less about doing the work and more about managing a team or all of the things that come along with growth. So any context for that around like intentional decision making, as we think about who we are as business owners and potentially putting in some artificial constraints around our growth in order to keep us in our zone of genius. So can you talk about what zone of genius is, how we know what our zone of genius is, and then how we use that tool?

Emily Perron: Yeah. I know your question and I’m also like, but that study is so fascinating and I completely believe it. Because at about the million-dollar mark in blogging is also where I see people shifting into hiring employees and having more mix of freelancers and employees. And so it seems that it makes a lot of sense.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And for some people it might be a great fit. You might really like that role. But my guess is the reason people get to a point where they are is because they’re really good at a thing and it feels really good to be good at a thing. And then if you potentially stop doing that, it maybe doesn’t feel as enjoyable, the work that you’re doing, even though you might continue to grow. So anyways.

Emily Perron: Right. Yeah. Interesting. Thank you. Yeah. So back to Zone of genius. Zone of genius comes out of a framework called the four zones of work. It was developed by Gay Hendricks. He’s a psychologist and he wrote the book The Big Leap. That’s where I first read about it. And the way I’ve seen him usually depict it is that there’s these four zones of work and they’re depicted as a circle with four quadrants. So it’s broken into four equal parts. But that never really resonated with me and so I’ve been thinking about it more as a pyramid where each zone as you move up the pyramid gets smaller and more focused. So at the bottom of the pyramid is the zone of incompetence and that is everything you’re not good at doing. Then comes competence, which is everything you can do.

Emily Perron: This is the one that trips up a lot of entrepreneurs, especially bloggers, because you’re creative, you’re resourceful, you can do a lot of things and so if your mindset is I can do this, you are going to eventually burn out. Yes, you can do a lot of things. There’s a lot of things you can do. And so that’s also where this is the hardest area to outsource as well. So when I talk about pain and ease, sometimes it’s not the easiest place to start with things you can do to hand off, because you can do them. It’s a hard one.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Versus incompetence where you know you’re not good at it. Like I would be incompetent if I was doing our end-of-year tax returns. I just wouldn’t be able to do it. The complexity. And even if I did figure it out, really, I wouldn’t enjoy it. But right now I wouldn’t be able to do that. So it’s like, oh, obvious, we’re going to hire a CPA to help with that. Bookkeeping would be another example for us. But when you say zone of competence, that moves into, hey, I can actually do this and I trust myself to do it. My guess is that’s part of it too. And what you’re saying is sometimes that can be an issue because we get stuck there. Is that right?

Emily Perron: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Because we’re competent, because we can do it, we think we’re going to continue to do it, even though we don’t love it. Is that the key differentiator between the other zones is our enjoyment with it? Or is it just even like … Because I see the next one is zone of excellence. It’s like we’re kind of good at it, but we don’t love it. Is that essentially what zone of competence is?

Emily Perron: Yeah. Yeah, you can do it. You don’t love it. Usually there’s a lot of procrastination involved. Because you don’t really want to do it. Yeah. I think of it like enjoyment versus skill level. If you make a math chart … I’m kind of nerdy like that. You know? The math chart?

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Emily Perron: Yeah. So if your enjoyment and even if the skill level’s medium, if your enjoyment is pretty low, that’s more competence.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Emily Perron: Yeah. And then-

Bjork Ostrom: So zone of incompetence and then that’s the bottom of the period. Zone of competence. Like I can do this, I maybe procrastinate on it. I don’t necessarily love it, but I can do it. I get it done. So those are the first base and then the second layer. What’s the third layer?

Emily Perron: Yeah. Then the third layer, zone of excellence. And I think this is another tricky layer because this is like you’re better than most people at it, but it’s draining it, it doesn’t energize you. And so again, if you’re spending all your time there, it can be just burnout, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Emily Perron: Because you’re not refueling yourself with your work. You’re only depleting yourself. And we only have so much time and so it can be hard to have enough time outside of work to refuel yourself. And so that’s the challenge with excellence.

Bjork Ostrom: So this would almost be … I think of Andre Agassi. I haven’t read his autobiography. I think it’s called Open. But I talked to my father-in-law who read it and just said it was the best book ever. And in it, he talks about how much … I don’t know how long the season was for him. And maybe it was in general, his tennis career. But he talked about how much he hated tennis for a while. And it was just top 10 or number one player in the world, but just had this weird relationship with it where I think it probably was a version of burnout. But then you’re also one of the best in the world so you continue to do it. Obviously great example of zone of excellence. He’s awesome. He’s so good. But doesn’t have a good relationship with the work.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s not energy-giving. It’s not like he was excited for matches that he had coming up, even if he won, even if he was at the top of his game. So I can see that in the creative world too. I’d imagine for some people it might be writing. Some people are really good at writing, but it drains them. Every time they get to the point where they have to write, they know they’re good, they know they’re going to connect with the audience. Or photography. Somebody’s really good at photography and they’ve tried to have somebody else help with it, but it’s not quite as good and so they continue to do it even though it’s draining for them. What do you do if you’re in this zone? Is that something that you outsource or hire for later on? Is part of the zones you think incompetence first, then competence and then excellence? Is that how it goes?

Emily Perron: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Because that’s also how the easiness goes too. It’s going to be a lot harder to outsource your zone of excellence if you’re trying to start there. Especially if you are so good at it, it can be hard to stop doing that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And as you’re thinking … Well, let’s talk about that last zone. So zone of genius, my guess is the top. It’s really focused. My guess is it’s the thing that you are really good at and really love doing. When you look at your day and you have this activity, it’s like, “Yes. This is the thing I get to do today.” Is that zone of genius?

Emily Perron: Yes. Yes, exactly. That is zone of genius. It lights you up. It makes you come alive. You’re excited about it. It’s what you get out of bed for. And I’ve been experimenting in my own life with this. What’s the right ratio? I would say corporate Emily was maybe 10% to 20% in my zone of genius. And so that wasn’t right so I left that. And then even as a career coach, I was hitting about 50% and I was experimenting with outsourcing. But lately, in the last year or two, I’ve been closer to 80%. It’s unbelievable. I am so much more productive. I feel fantastic. I have more energy for my family and my life outside of work. I get goosebumps when I talk about it because-

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome.

Emily Perron: It’s been such an incredible shift to me and I had no idea the potential of it. And that’s why I’m almost an evangelist now for zone of genius because there’s not a lot of help out there around this. I mean, in Gay Hendrick’s original book, his advice, his story is that he reflected for a week. That was it. He reflected for a week and knew his zone of genius. And it made me so mad. So he was probably like 55 at that time. I was 32 trying to do the same thing and it did not work. And I was like, “Well, no wonder. You had decades more of life than I did. So of course your process didn’t work for me.”

Bjork Ostrom: You were frustrated because it felt like he was able to be like, “And then I wanted to do this thing so I took a week and then I did it. And I made the changes and la di dah, there I was.” Versus you, you’re saying your story was a little bit more drawn out to make that transition from 80/20 to 20/80 to 80/20. 80% of your time now, zone of genius. But that took you a few years to get there. Is that what you’re saying?

Emily Perron: Yeah, exactly. And that’s why I want to share more about it.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. And I think when people hear that, especially if they’re in that place of 20% zone of genius or less, 10%, and they hear you saying, “Man, 80% of the time I feel like I am doing the work I want to be doing and feel really great about it.” How did you do that? How did you make that transition? And were there tools that you used along the way like journaling and reflecting? Or even, how do you go about … You have these zones, incompetence, competence, excellence, genius. Is there a process for looking at your day and saying, “Hey, when I do this meeting, I love it. And it’s a 10 out of 10. And when I do this meeting or this work, it’s a one out of 10 so therefore it goes in this zone.” I guess how do you filter your activities and even understand where things go within the different zones?

Emily Perron: Yeah. Yeah. These are great questions. I think for me, when I was at the 20% zone of genius in the corporate world, it really started with more of a vision. I hadn’t even heard of zone of genius yet, but I did have this vision that I could work differently. Things could be different. It didn’t have to be this way. And so I think that’s an important … That’s the call. Are you familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

Bjork Ostrom: Just in concept at a super high level, but can you explain it for me and the audience?

Emily Perron: I’m not super deep on it either, but it starts with this call and then that brings you out to your journey, the story, and then you come back a different person. I am not explaining that well at all, but-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. We can link to the Wikipedia page in the show notes.

Emily Perron: Yeah. Perfect. Yeah. But it’s what all movies are basically based off of, especially Star Wars is the really classic example of it that there’s this call to action. And anyway, that was me. Because even hearing you talk about Andre Agassi, I really feel the depression in that. And maybe not a clinical depression and a mental health sense, but it still feels very depressive that he had to endure that. And so I think noticing those things. So for me, it did start with a lot of journaling and addressing the feelings piece and starting to clarify what I wanted. And then we get into more of the actual tools. So I did use time tracking and I loved time tracking and I used it with my clients as well. If they aren’t clear, if they come to me and they don’t have a solid idea, just tracking what you do for a week for work and then taking those four zones of genius and labeling everything you did with one of those labels. Because then you can start to see the-

Bjork Ostrom: What did you use for that? For time tracking? It’s really specific, but could be anything.

Emily Perron: It could be anything. I used a piece of paper. I don’t even have a download or anything.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Analog.

Emily Perron: Truly, just a piece of paper every day. And I think as detailed as you can get is better because instead of just saying developed a recipe, really start lining out what were the steps in that recipe development that day. Like did you have to get groceries? Really tiny and detailed. Because that’s where then you can see … Because even recipe development, a lot of people I work with say that is their zone of genius, but I still wonder, okay, but there’s still a lot that goes into that so which specific elements really light you up? Is it doing the dishes at the end? I mean, I don’t see a lot of bloggers posting about that part.

Bjork Ostrom: But it’s part of the recipe development process so point being, get specific because if you’re just like recipe development, and then it’s like, oh actually, and there’s recipe prep and grocery shopping and dishes and cleaning and all of the different elements that go into it. It’s important to point that out. And my guess is because if it’s dishes or grocery shopping, that might go in zone of competence. You can do it. Great. Most people can wash the dishes. But it’s not something where you’re like, “And now I get to wash the dishes. And if there’s more dishes in the world to wash, I would be even happier.”

Emily Perron: Right. Exactly. Because then you would probably be a dishwasher. And on the other side of that too, I have clients who have hired kitchen assistants who come in, they do the grocery shopping, they do the prep. And so then these kind of bloggers have really zoned in on which parts of recipe development they really love.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And so for you, as you think about your story as you’ve flipped that, and I think it’s inspiring for people to hear that, part of it was time tracking and saying, “Great. What am I actually doing in a day?” Then it’s categorizing those and saying, “In a week, here’s what I did.” And would you say a week is enough to give you an accurate read on what you do?

Emily Perron: Yeah, I’d say a week to two weeks.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Emily Perron: I wouldn’t go longer than that. Personally, I don’t love time tracking, so if you’re not really into it, a week is enough. Just to give you a sense so you can start categorizing things.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. And then once you categorize those things, my guess is then you … And you said this before. You start to focus in on zone of incompetence. And then does that … Well, I guess for your story, as you tagged those zone of incompetence things, or zone of competence, it’s probably a little bit of both, then what? What did that look like for you and what were some of those things that you started to shift and change?

Emily Perron: Yeah. That’s where outsourcing came in for me was to hire some help. And I hired pretty early because of my corporate background. So I left my corporate job in 2015 and I hired my first contractor in 2016, which is fairly unusual. Most people don’t hire that fast in their business. But I was also hiring a virtual assistant for about three to five hours a week. And so it cost me $100, roughly, and it was worth every penny because I was able to outsource some social media captions. I was able to out also outsource editing. In hindsight, I should have hired a writer and not a virtual assistant, but she also should have been a writer and not a virtual assistant. So somehow in this weird world we found each other.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. She kind of was a writer. You did hire a writer just under the title of virtual assistant.

Emily Perron: Exactly. Exactly. And she is a writer now. After working with me, she realized she really was a writer-editor and has been, I mean, what, for the last six or seven years now. And so yeah, once you start to see those things that are in, especially incompetence and competence, usually you can blend them together into a role. So a lot of the social media stuff would come into this. Admin. It is a blend of those two layers.

Bjork Ostrom: For you, this is what you’re saying?

Emily Perron: Yeah. For me. For me. And I think for other people too. I think it’s for everyone, especially these initial roles as you’re just starting to hire your first few contractors. It’s kind of universal.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. And so you identified a few of these things, social media-related things, some admin stuff that needed to be taken care of that were either hey, this isn’t stuff I’m great at or I can do it, but it’s not like I look at doing it and I’m like, “Great.” It’s like, I look at doing it and I’m like, “Ugh, okay.” Maybe I can eat a piece of candy to make this more enjoyable. Let’s find somebody to help with that instead who’s going to be like, “Great. I look forward to this.” And that’s one of the things personally I’ve learned since we’ve worked with more people is there are people out there who love the things that I don’t love and part of the psyche that I had to break is giving somebody something that I don’t love.

Bjork Ostrom: It feels like me getting a gift and being like, “I actually don’t like this. I’m going to give this to somebody else.” So it’s like I get a whiffle ball and let’s say that I don’t like whiffle ball and I give it to somebody and I’m like, “I don’t really like this.” But they love whiffle ball. They’ll be like, “Awesome. I love whiffle ball.” And so there are people out there who love the things that you don’t love, but the hard part, or it seems like the hard part, is finding those people who love those things and then also making sure that those people are a good fit and that gets into … My guess is where it gets into crafting a job description. So once you get to this point, you’ve identified, hey, I’m not good at these things or I’m good at these things, but I don’t like doing them. How do you move through that? What does that look like to then take the next steps and actually find those people?

Emily Perron: Yeah. I mean, it does come into making the job posting. I tend to go very specific and I get a lot of feedback in my positions as well as the ones that I have helped other people. I mean, in my recruiting days as well, I’d get a lot of feedback from freelancers that they really appreciate how clear it is. And so the more specific you can be in that job posting, the more likely you are to find the people that really, really fit. Because it’s kind of like a lighthouse or a beacon or a magnet. You can think like it’s going to attract or repel people based on what you put in that job posting. And so those are a couple flags to be watching for. Making sure that the role is aligning with the responsibilities. That you’ve got the right job title, because these job titles do mean things and the freelancers know what they mean. And so if you’re not clear on that … And that’s the gap. I’ve found a lot of business owners don’t know what the freelance roles are. Because it’s so different. If you’ve had a job, you know about employment and maybe even what corporate roles are, but it’s just totally different. It doesn’t translate at all.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?

Emily Perron: I just mean we have to think really differently when we’re hiring freelancers or contractors, because they’re looking for very different things than employees are. Employees are looking for … I mean, both want a long term relationship, but employees want more than that. Right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Emily Perron: Freelancers are more like, “I want freedom and flexibility.” And so sometimes that can be hard if you’ve got more of an employee mindset. You want things on certain timelines or done a very specific way. You don’t have that same control with freelancers and sometimes that can be difficult to grow into.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. And the reason that you say that is because oftentimes these early hires, much like yours, would be a contractor or freelancer. It’s not somebody who you’re hiring under a W2 role. They’re sending you an invoice. You’re paying that invoice. They have flexibility around when they work and how they work. Maybe with some soft guidelines. When the deliverable is due.

Emily Perron: And mutually agreed-upon deadlines.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Emily Perron: Right. It’s not like they don’t have to abide by that.

Bjork Ostrom: And your point is that-

Emily Perron: I think the bigger thing is …

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, go ahead.

Emily Perron: Oh, I was going to say the bigger thing that I found is that we all know what big companies do to hire. They post their job, they conduct interviews and they make a hire. And so I think that’s the path I was trying to use originally to find freelancers. But even if you look at their job postings, that’s where I was starting. Look at Amazon, look at Target, look at Walmart. Any big company, they lead with who they are. Because they are attractive. Everyone knows who they are. They know what they do. And us solopreneurs … I mean, even, I think of Pinch of Yum. Even Pinch of Yum, as amazing and incredible as it is and I love it as a resource myself personally, it’s still not Amazon. So, I mean, Amazon posts an administrative assistant position, they could have 2000 applications, easy.

Emily Perron: I mean, just depending how it’s structured, they get hundreds and thousands of applications for their roles. And so we can’t just do the same thing. Our job postings have to look different and they need to be just more specific. They can’t have as much jargon. I’ve seen some job postings in the blogging space that I don’t know what they mean because there’s so many big words. And they’re doing their best. They’re looking at the New York Times or they’re looking at their favorite publications of what are they putting in a social media listing. But I don’t know what any of this means. And a freelancer’s like … They’re just scanning and moving on. So they’re not going to take the time to figure it out.

Bjork Ostrom: What I hear you saying is, hiring, it’s competitive and we’re competing in the marketplace. And one of the ways that we can be competitive is by being simple in our description of what it is, being specific, here’s what it is that we actually need, and making sure that we’re viewing it, not as like, hey, everybody wants to work here, but we’re trying to be competitive out in the market and make something look really attractive. And one of the ways to make it look attractive is make sure that people understand it, make sure that they know what it is that they’re going to be doing. And if it is a good fit, then they’ll say, “Great. Five hours a week. I’m doing social media, specifically Instagram. And I’m editing Instagram stories and publishing those. I know really specifically what it is. I feel like I would really enjoy doing that. And I know that there’s going to be flexibility and autonomy within it.” Because if somebody is contracting or a freelancer, using those words synonymously, that’s oftentimes what they’re looking for is autonomy and flexibility within their work. Is that getting at what you’re saying?

Emily Perron: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. A follow-up question that I know people would have is you go through this process, you’ve identified your first hire, maybe it’s somebody three to five hours a week, contract or freelance, you’ve built out the job description. It’s simple, easy to understand. It’s specific. How do you know how much to pay? You’re in that stage of hiring your first person and maybe you come from a corporate background and you’re used to these exorbitant salaries, or maybe you come from a nonprofit background or something like that and that’s not the world that you live in. How do you know where things land from a salary perspective?

Emily Perron: Yeah. I think more hourly typically because it’s an easier place to start.

Bjork Ostrom: And usually that’s how freelancers and contractors would talk about their pay.

Emily Perron: Yeah. Exactly. And so I can just speak of what I’ve seen in the marketplace and what I see people paying in general right now. But it seems like the more general roles like virtual assistant tend to be more in the $20 to $30, especially in US dollars. So for American-based contractors. And then more specialized positions like social media manager is closer to 25 to 35. Honestly, the high end of that. I consistently see them more like 30 to 35 gets you a good social media manager. And then if you want more specifically more of a project manager, they run in more of the $35 to $45 range. And I think in terms of how specific the skill needs. A lot of people can be a virtual assistant, but fewer people have the skills and experience to be a project manager.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense.

Emily Perron: So the fees go up. And you could pay 75 an hour if you want. People also get to set their rates and so it depends on fit. Writers, I tend to go pretty heavy on those so I look more in the 50 to 75 an hour range. You can find people around 35, but they usually don’t have as much experience and so just depending on the level of writing skill you need.

Bjork Ostrom: When you’re hiring writers, are you ever paying per word versus hour? I’ve seen that before. It’s not something we’ve done.

Emily Perron: It’s not something I’ve seen a lot of people … I’ve seen bloggers pay by post and I’ve done that too. That’s what I’m on right now. I’m on a per post editing writing package. And so that’s a little easier. And then we usually have a range, so it’ll be like 1200 to 1500 words per post.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. That makes sense. Yep.

Emily Perron: I don’t know. I feel like we’ve gotten away from it. That used to be the old … I mean, not that we’re old, but kind of the old way was to pay by word and I don’t know that most people are running their fees that way anymore.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. And then the follow-up question after that would be, where do you post it? Is it in Indeed.com? Or for us, one of the things that’s nice, and for a lot of publishers is you have a following. So you can post it on your own social or own email and people know the brand and potentially would be excited about it and that’s been helpful for us. But what have you seen in terms of the most effective ways to actually find people?

Emily Perron: Yeah. I think what I’ve seen … In terms of sharing it with your own following, there’s pros and cons to it. From what I’ve seen, it seems like you need 100,000 to 200,000 followers to really have the scale to catch a bunch of people that would have experience with that. I just did recruit a social media manager for a blogger with close to half a million followers. And we really only had a very small handful, maybe three or four who were even actually social media managers. We got like 30 applications. But it was a lot of people that were just loved this blogger and loved the brand and wanted to help, but they didn’t actually have the experience that we were looking for. But it was so sweet.

Emily Perron: So keep that in mind with your community as well that there’s that as well. There’s some risk there as well, especially if you’re not really familiar with the hiring process. It’s easy to make mistakes and I wouldn’t want anyone to alienate their community over it either.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense.

Emily Perron: So just a word of caution depending on your comfort level. I still really like Upwork. I find of all the freelancing platforms, I think they have the highest quality freelancers on it, in comparison to some of their competitors. And then also Facebook groups. I see that is still another great place, particularly there’s a lot of Facebook groups that are geared toward freelancers or some of the large food blogging ones as well can be helpful because there’s a lot of bloggers out there who are freelancing on the side while they are building their blog as well. And that can be a good place to source from as well. I tend to steer away from Indeed and LinkedIn because they tend to be more employee-centric. And so freelancers aren’t spending that much time looking for jobs over there and it’s harder to find them.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Yep. That makes sense. So at what point do you know when you’re ready to hire? Some people I’m sure would say maybe I could, maybe I shouldn’t. Should I? Should I not? And is there any way to reflect on that and to know if you’re ready?

Emily Perron: Yeah. I think about the five hours a week. Five hours a week at $25 an hour is $125 a week. And so will those few hours really have an impact on you? Because sometimes it’s like, yeah, that 100 bucks, I would rather spend $100 than do those 10 things. Then you’re ready. I think another big sign is burnout. If you cannot continue. There’s always this risk. If you don’t outsource, if you hold it all to yourself and try to do all the things forever, you’re at a risk of burnout and then not being able to do all those things. And so that’s another one to watch for, if you’re getting to that edge of just that permanent exhaustion, depressive state, but not really clinical depression. Feeling-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Uninspired.

Emily Perron: About the work. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re showing up and it’s work that you don’t want to do. Previously, you did want to do it. And now you’re in a state of like, “Gosh, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Yeah. Do you have, on that specifically … My guess is you’ve connected with enough people to have some patterns of knowing what that looks like. But any tips for recognizing burnout when somebody’s at that point? Are there internal signals that you could be aware of or monitoring for?

Emily Perron: Yeah. I think for me, I can speak a little bit to my own story of burnout where I started taking depression indexes online. But then I would never test depressed. And so I’d be like, well I must be fine. I think honestly, another one is if you’re saying I’m not burned out because I love the work or denying it, I think is a big one. If you’re denying that you’re burned out. Because again, my personal story, but also I’ve seen it in some bloggers that I’ve worked with who insisted they were not burned out because they loved the work. And I was like that’s not how it works. That’s exactly why I think you’re burned out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah.

Emily Perron: It’s not about that, right?

Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost like a deep level of self-reflection around how you’re interacting with and feeling about showing up and doing the work. And part of it is sometimes the work is just hard to do. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about that. This idea of the resistance. And it’s hard to know, what is the resistance? Something that’s really hard that I should be doing that’s going to like help me break through. I don’t want to write, but I know it’s important. Versus, what is burnout or just something that’s not my zone of genius. I feel like that’s really hard to know how to navigate those things. Do you have any thoughts on that? And the idea of zone of genius, zone of genius is like, I love this work. It feels good. I sit down, I show up, I do it. Versus there are hard things that you have to do within a business and that might just be a truth to business is having to do hard things. Do you run into that yourself and just say like, “Hey, you know what, 20% of the time I’m just going to accept I’m not going to love what it is and it has to get done.”?

Emily Perron: Yeah. I think it’s that. I mean, I really see zone of genius as the antidote to burnout itself because as you can start taking steps … Because it’s not like you’re going to go from 20% zone of genius to 80% in a day or a week. But could you do 5% more zone of genius next week? First we have to be aware of what the zone of genius is. But you don’t only have to delegate. Delegate isn’t the only solution here. Outsourcing isn’t the only way. You can also stop doing some things or you can put some things off. And I don’t think delaying is procrastination. I think it’s strategic. If you are consciously choosing, you know what I mean? I think procrastination is more unconscious. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. But if I am delaying a project or something, I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s a good thing if it means you’re spending more time in your zone of genius, because then you’re going to be focusing more on the areas that are really going to make an impact.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. My guess is people will hear this and they’ll be excited about the potential of making that shift in their life to start to move more. And I think we could all do it. Nobody’s at 100%, right? We all have the opportunity to do more of our zone of genius type work. And I know that’s a lot of what you’re focusing on right now is helping people make that transition. So can you talk a little bit, Emily, about how people could work with you and the different ways that people could reach out and not only follow you and what you’re up to, but connect with you to work together if they’re interested in working towards that?

Emily Perron: Yeah. If you are really interested, for people that are really interested in figuring this out, getting more clear on your zone of genius, I do work one on one with bloggers to develop their organizational strategy session. And through that, it’s a three-step process where we have a meeting for an hour and I go deep into understanding who you are and what kind of team you have in place right now, or what you’ve tried in the past and how it’s worked. Then I go away and build the organizational strategy based on what we’ve talked about. And then we come back for a second one-hour meeting, so that’s step three. And we refine it. And so then at the end of this process, you are ready to go. You’ve got the bulk of the job posting is written. You just need to run with it. Post it, add some application instructions, tell people the deadline and how to apply.

Emily Perron: And then you can jump right into hiring from there. And I’m really focused on, okay, what are the next couple roles for the next couple years? Because as you grow and change, things are going to evolve and so I can’t write your whole organizational strategy for the next 10 years.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Emily Perron: Yeah. So all the details on that are at emilyperron.com/strategysession. And if you’re listening and you’re like, “Oh, I’m not quite at that level.”, I did put together a zone of genius workbook that has all of my favorite reflection questions in it for getting started on figuring out these zones. And so that’s at emilyperron.com/zog.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Zone of genius.

Emily Perron: And then beyond that, I’m on Instagram, Emily.Perron.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.

Emily Perron: I just love it. It’s simple. And I love connecting in messages. So even if you just listen to the episode and want to say hi, I’d love to hear from you.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Emily, really great to connect and to chat again. It’s been fun to hear your story and your transition as you’ve continued to apply your own methodology to your own work and cool to see how that continually allows you to be in your zone a genius more so it’s inspiring for me and I know it will be for listeners as well. So thanks for coming on.

Emily Perron: Wow. Thanks, Bjork. It was great to be with you today.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there. It’s Alexa, and thanks for tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. We hope you enjoyed this episode and we hope you got something out of it. Some nice little nugget that you can take and apply to your own blog or business. I wanted to let you know that we actually have a free download. It’s a PDF all about monetization. One of the main reasons why people want to grow their food blogs, grow their online businesses is to make an income, is to make money from doing what they love to do. And we actually have this ebook. It’s 100% free to download. Speaking of monetization, it’s free. So it talks you through 16 different ways that you can monetize a food blog. And we’re very familiar with things like display ads or sponsored content or affiliate marketing, but there are so many other ways to monetize a food blog and in this ebook, you’ll learn about 16 of those ways.

Alexa Peduzzi: It’s a great ebook. One of our favorites and one of our most popular. And like I mentioned, it’s free for you to download. So if you’re interested in downloading this ebook, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/podcast-guide. And you can just put in your name, your email address, and you will get that ebook for free. Again, that URL is foodbloggerpro.com/podcast-guide. And you can download it right there for free. All right. Thanks for tuning in again. We will see you next time, next Tuesday. And until then, make it a great week.

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