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MBP #6: How Lindsay & Bjork Built a 6-Figure Food Blogging Empire

Lindsay & Bjork Ostrom, Pinch of Yum

Lindsay is on the left 🙂

You know how sometimes you just look at a site and just instantly fall in love? That was my reaction to Pinch of Yum the first time I saw it.

Everything about it is beautiful.

I swapped a few emails with Lindsay and Bjork in the past, Lindsay was kind enough to submit a tip for my Day One Advice, but this was the first time I talked to them and it was a blast.

They’re so nice!

While a the fanboy in my came out a little bit in the interview, we cover a lot of what has helped make Pinch of Yum such a success. In January of this year, they had over 2.2 million pageviews and over a million unique visitors to Pinch of Yum.

ONE MILLION UNIQUE VISITORS. (technically, 1,064,497)

Their unique visitors count in January is more than the estimated populations of Alaska, Delaware, Washington D.C., Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

What will you learn in this episode:

  • How culinary novices started a popular food blog (with 1mm visitors a month!!!)
  • How date nights keep them together, even though they’ve been doing it for four years.
  • How they used food sharing sites to jumpstart their blog (they started before Pinterest)
  • How she took a photography class, realized she knew a ton, and gave her confidence to write a 60-page ebook
  • The two things you should do with photography – side or back of food, learn aperture
  • Lessons they’ve learned selling their stuff through affiliates, many of which were buyers of the book
  • How Pinterest drives a ton of traffic to Pinch of Yum without them doing anything (they only started using it six months ago!!!)
  • How they use different social media networks for different purposes (Twitter being great for networking with other bloggers, for example)
  • When taking photos for Pinterest, make it professional so it reflects well on the person sharing it
  • How they came to create products that support the food blogger (Tasty Photography, Food Blogger Pro)
  • How their approach of “just do it now” has paid huge dividends over the years (also listen to the shock in my voice when I discover they still have full time jobs)
  • What 1% infinity means – “Increment attempts to always improve”

Many thanks to Lindsay and Bjork for taking time out of their super busy schedule to chat with me and share their experiences with you all. Please click to tweet @pinchofyum and tell him how much you loved hearing their story!

Resources and links mentioned in this chat:

Here’s a short trailer video they made about what their Tasty Food Photography Guide is all about, it’s well done. Worth studying to see what they did for this:

Tasty Food Photography from Pinch of Yum on Vimeo.

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Raw Transcript

Jim: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the “Microblogger” podcast. Today, I get a chance to talk to Lindsay and Bjork of Pinch of Yum. Pinch of Yum is a food blog that, in January of this past year, had over a million unique visitors. It’s absolutely amazing. I think the secret to their success is that it’s a two-person effort. And they play to one of those strengths, as you’ll probably be able to tell in the interview itself.

Lindsay is the cook and the photographer. Bjork is the guy that’s doing the affiliate, the ads, all of the sort of behind the scenes back-end stuff that puts money in their pocket. And, the most amazing part of all is they’ve been able to build this enormous business on the side. They both still have jobs. Anyway, I’ll be back at the end of “Filling in the Gaps.” I hope you enjoy the chat.

Hey, Bjork and Lindsay, how are you doing?

Bjork: Hey, we’re doing great. We are sharing a mic here, so we will pass on and off. So, this is Bjork, we’re happy to be here.

Lindsay: Yeah, and this is Lindsay. Sorry, it’s a little awkward first introduction, but thanks for having us.

Jim: Nah, it’s no problem. I like to think of these as like a casual chat, as much as a casual chat may include a microphone that gets passed back and forth. That’s fine, too.

Bjork: Yeah, right. We’re happy to be here.

Jim: Great. I’m excited to talk to you because I know a lot of bloggers that are in — they’re niches that don’t, as I was saying before, didn’t necessarily have a very good affiliate tie-in. So, it’s not easy as in the case of, say, personal finance to have, like, a bank, a credit card or whatever that you could promote and make money.

And you guys are, with “Pinch of Yum,” are in the food business, so to speak, recipes and all that. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into food blogging?

Lindsay: Yeah. Well, I mean, there’s not like a super-fancy start-up story. When we got married, I had always, like, all through college and even just growing up, I had been really interested in food. I don’t have any culinary training, necessarily. But just family recipes and cooking stuff that’s healthy and that tastes good.

So, anyways, when we got married, I was using the Internet a lot more for my recipes, using blogs and websites. And, then I would do a lot of sharing of recipes on Facebook or just kind of sharing around with friends and stuff.

One day, I said to Bjork “I’m doing this so much, maybe I should start a blog.” And, it was kind of a joke at the time and we kind of laughed about. But, then eventually Bjork said “Maybe you should and I think you should try it.”

And, so he set me up with a Tumblr account. So, I started my food blog on Tumblr. I mean, it was like so ridiculous in the beginning. I don’t think either of us knew what we were doing. But, it started out just pictures and really simple recipes.

And then, over the years, it’s been almost four years now. We’ve switched over to WordPress and kind of made it into a more “real” blog that has more of a format. And, like you said, been able to monetize it within the last couple of years. So, that’s kind of the general story. Nothing too out of the norm, I guess.

Jim: We’ve had a lot of blogging success stories. I consider you guys a success story. One, because you guys are able to earn income from it. But, also that you’re a couple that, after four years, are still a couple working together on a blog.

Bjork: Yeah, we talk about that a lot. I think, in a lot of ways, it’s a blessing and not a curse, but it’s a blessing and a challenge at times. I think that I’ve read a lot of stuff about successful marriages or relationships. And a lot of times, one of the things that they come back to is that there’s shared interest for those people.

And, for Lindsay and I, it’s been this really interesting way to kind of meet in the middle for some things that we’re really interested in. And, for Lindsay, that’s primarily food and cooking and recipes and everything that goes into that. And, then for me, it’s primarily kind of this nerdy stuff.

So, like, the monetization, the Internet marketing, anything to do with a computer —

Jim: Numbers —

Bjork: — all of that stuff is stuff that I’m really interested in. And, so it’s kind of allowed us to meet in the middle. And then, as you note, the situations that we have to be careful to navigate is like, “How do we shut that off?” How do we get to a point where we’re not always talking about it and just hanging out as a married couple, as opposed to people that are working on a blog together?

So, we’re consistently trying to figure out what that is and we’re not necessarily awesome at it. But, it’s something that we enjoy and are thankful that we have to share together. But, good observation.

Jim: That’s great. I didn’t plan on asking you this, but is there something that you guys do to make sure that you shut it off?

Bjork: Linds —

Lindsay: Yeah, one of the things that really is helpful for us is just to leave home. When we’re at home, it’s just too easy. Our computers are there and my camera and then the phones and whatever. So, sometimes, even if it’s just a week-night and even if we don’t necessarily need to go out to dinner, it’s just helpful to get out of the house so that we’re not around our work stuff. That helps a lot.

Bjork: Yeah. And it’s especially hard because we’re in Minnesota and we have these frigid Minnesota winters. So, last night, as an example, it was 8:30 and we had kind of worked through the day. And, we were planning to go out and we’re like, “It’s kind of a lot of work. Maybe we shouldn’t.”

But, we just decided to pull the trigger and go out and get sushi. And, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh. We are so thankful that we did.” Because, otherwise we just work through the night.

So, for us, we do that by just leaving, disconnecting and going somewhere.

Jim: That’s great. One of the things that happens with people that work at home — I work from also — is that there is not divide. You can’t — it’s hard to leave home.

Bjork: Yeah, the office is the home.

Jim: Yeah, but no, that’s great. We always have date night, so that helps.

Bjork: That’s great. We need to get a date night planned [inaudible 00:06:16].

Jim: You need to find warmer food than sushi when it’s frigid outside. So, if we had to go all the way back to the beginning when you first were on Tumblr, how did you get visitors to come to your site?

Lindsay: I think one of the biggest things — you know, Pinterest, I guess I don’t know officially when Pinterest started. Do you know?

Bjork: I don’t know.

Lindsay: But, I can remember when I was starting my blog, hearing murmurings of this site called Pinterest and whatever. But, that really wasn’t a big player, as far as traffic goes, with the early version of the site.

But there were sites, like — we would call them food-sharing sites, like foodgawker or TasteSpotting would be some examples. And, it’s a similar — it’s sort of a similar idea to Pinterest where it’s just really image-based. And, so people, bloggers submit their photos and then a link to their recipe. And, then these websites kind of take all that information and publish, kind of, the latest. So, people can come to foodgawker and say, “This is the latest.”

And, because I was able to start to improve my food photography in those early years, I think I was able to get better exposure on those sites which led to more people coming, more people knowing about my blog. So, I would say that was a huge part of building blocks, in terms of traffic for the early “Pinch of Yum” days.

Jim: So, you would take all the learning that you did with photography and you actually produced the product. How soon after starting the site did you build the “Tasty Food Photography” e-Book, course?

Lindsay: Yeah, it’s an eBook. I think it was two years, maybe. So, about the halfway of where we are now. We’ve been doing it for four years. So, it was about two years after I started.

And, I can remember thinking about, Bjork and I talking about, “Let’s create a product for Pinch of Yum.” And I felt like, “No way. I can’t do food photography. I’m just self-taught. I don’t think that I can really teach people about it.”

Actually, I had planned to start with a cookbook or an e-Cookbook. But I ended up going to a photography class, like an in-person class, probably sometime during that process. And, I just remember thinking, “Wow, I really know a lot of this stuff.” But, I just didn’t know that this was the stuff that was taught at photography classes.

And, so I felt — I think that gave me a big confidence boost to feel like, “I can do this.” So, I created this e-Book. It’s now in its updated version. I think it’s like 60 pages or more of lots of picture examples and just a really easy entry point for people who maybe have a DSLR camera and want to take better food photos, but kind of don’t even know where to start.

So, I think that level of experience, like me not being a professional, was actually maybe a benefit in writing the e-Book, and that I was able to speak the language of people who were just beginners as well.

Jim: One of the nice things about photography is that you see the end-product. One thing that I’ve told a lot of people when they say, “Oh, I love food. What’s your favorite food blog?” I’m like, “Pinch of Yum, without a doubt.”

I was looking at the site at 2:00 in the afternoon today. No joke, I had just eaten. And, today I see a picture of the ramen. And, I love making ramen. I love adding all the stuff to it. I look and I’m like, “I’m hungry again.” Thanks a lot, I just ate.

Bjork: More food —

Jim: This has happened to be multiple times. This happened to me the last time when I was doing that post on Microblogger about photos and resizing. And again, I saw something about eggplants. I’m like, “Oh, I just ate.”

I’m getting away. This is off on a tangent. But, people can see that the photography is beautiful and that you know what you’re talking about.

Lindsay: Thank you.

Jim: So, I wanted to ask one tip. If I’m completely a novice, I know nothing about food photography, but I have a DSLR, what’s the one thing I should do to make sure my photos are better?

Lindsay: Okay, well I’m going to say two things, but it’s just really quick. The first thing would be, just really focus on the angle of the light. And, I think a lot of people think, “Put the light right in the front.” But, positioning the light to the side of the food or the back of the food is a huge thing in creating like texture and depth and natural highlights and shadows.

And, the second thing I would say would be to learn how to use the aperture. Even if you can’t learn any other manual settings, just focus on learning how to use the aperture and it just gives you a lot of manual control to make the photos look just how you want them. So, those are my two, kind of, quick tips.

Jim: That’s great. I can’t believe the book is only — what is it, like $19 to get it?

Lindsay: Yeah, it is. $19.

Jim: That’s amazing, that’s great. And so, I’m jumping a little ahead. I noticed that, and this is probably a Bjork question — you do a lot of the promotion with that product through affiliates? You sell it on the site, on “Pinch of Yum.” But, then also, you started partnering or have partnered with affiliates to help you promote it. You mind going to that whole process and the pluses, minuses, things you’ve learned?

Bjork: Yeah. So, affiliate marketing, in general, is just really interesting to me. And, I feel like it’s a space that — it’s kind of the Wild Wild West, in terms of rules that are established and where it is in regards to where other types of advertising and marketing are.

And, I think that’s really exciting to me because there’s so much room for people to really do it well. And, I’m by no means an expert at it. I’m just really interested in it. So, when we launched “Tasty Food Photography,” we knew that that was a component that we wanted to have, was this affiliate branch for it.

And the system that we have for it is really simple. And, it’s basically all self-promoted from people that buy the book. So, somebody will buy the book and they’ll read through “Tasty Food Photography” and hopefully, by the time they get to the end, they’ll have learned a lot about food photography and hopefully applied it and seen benefits in traffic or just improved food photography if they are just food photographers without a blog or a website.

So, once they get to the bottom, there’s literally just like a two-sentence snippet, and it’s the last thing in the book. And it says, “Hey, if you found this beneficial, you can go to this link here and you can talk about it. And, you get a 50 percent cut of that sale.”

And, as you know, it’s a digital product. It’s not like we have any type of real issue with a margin getting cut into. There’s obviously PayPal percentage fees and stuff like that. But, we found the affiliate program to be a really cool thing. Not necessarily because it’s making us thousands upon thousands of dollars. But, I think it adds a little bit.

And, I think that, and you probably know this as you’ve grown your different sites. But, it’s less about the home run and more about the continual singles that win you the virtual ballgame. And for us, that was just another single that we could add to our category of monetization.

And, every once in a while from that, there will be a home run. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I’m a Minnesota Twins fan. And, Joe Mauer is a Minnesota boy. And, what I love about him is that he hits singles and doubles all the time. But then, occasionally, he’ll hit a home run.

So, I feel like Joe Mauer is kind of like how affiliate marketing has been for us for this book where there will be consistent affiliates that get maybe one or two sales. But, every once in a while, there will be somebody that picks up the book and they really like it. And then, they have a huge blog and they dedicate an entire post to it.

And, because it’s photography, it’s a really easy thing for people to say, “Here’s the before and here’s the after.” An example would be January, 2014. We had an affiliate pick it up and she had a really huge cake blog. And, you would only think that a cake blog could get so big, but she had this giant following and then she did this post dedicated to “Tasty Food Photography” and sold, maybe, I’d have to check, but it was in the hundreds, I would guess, in terms of e-Books.

So, that would be an example of a situation where it was a home run for us. So, it’s been a good thing.

Jim: That’s awesome. I was looking through the income reports and they’re insanely detailed, which made my research a lot easier, so thank you for that.

So, I was going back to the first one you had was in August, 2011. And, I know it was after you guys had migrated to WordPress off of Tumblr. And back then, you made $22 off display ads, right?

Bjork: Yep.

Jim: As you’re talking about the whole analogy of singles and doubles and the occasional home run with “Tasty Food Photography” being — I don’t know how well we can keep stretching this analogy, but it’s a bunch of singles.

Bjork: The entire podcast, we will come back to baseball analogies.

Jim: That’s as close to a strikeout as you can get. And so, you start there with display ads. And now, you go to January, 2014 and the display ads — I don’t know what the CPMs are, I didn’t do the math. But we’re now looking at thousands of dollars.

How are you able to take something that was relatively small back then and make it so big and such a big part of what you’re doing?

Bjork: Sure. Let’s keep going with this baseball analogy, how about that? So, I think that, for us, this first income report, it definitely wasn’t a single. It wasn’t a home run and probably wasn’t even like a groundout. But it was the first time we ever swung.

Jim: It’s like an injury.

Bjork: Yeah, right. We were actually placed on the injured reserve. It was the first time I feel like we ever stepped up to the plate. And, I feel like that’s really important for people that are building something is continually stepping up. And even if it’s a situation that you’re not familiar with or that’s completely new, I think it’s really important to approach that and give it a shot.

Whether that’s starting a podcast or for the first time ever, trying display ads. Or eventually, what we did, as we continued to step up, is start to play around with the idea of “Okay, so we’ve done display advertising and we’ve gotten this result. Now, that we’re kind of in this world, we can look around and say, “What are other people doing and where are places that people are doing it more successfully”?

So, actually, in one of those income reports, I had posted about “Here’s how much we made from this.” And, somebody in the comments section said, “I think you could be making more using a different advertising network, like more of a premium advertising network.”

And for us, that’s BlogHer. But, there are lots of other premium networks out there. So, we looked into it and we made this switch. And, that wouldn’t have happened unless we stepped up and gave it a shot. And then, also, I think a testament to that is like the importance of shared knowledge in the group.

And, I feel like I can go back and say countless different points where because we’ve interacted with and communicated with people, we’ve been better because of it. Not just because it’s awesome to connect with people and it’s good to make relationships, but also, people share stuff and they say, “Hey, you could be making more if you switched to BlogHer.”

Or another example, I had a friend — not even a friend, but somebody I knew from” Food Blogger Pro” which is this community of bloggers that we started, and he e-mailed me and he said, “I see that you’re making a set commission with Bluehost,” which we can talk a little bit about later if you want and how we do that with a food blog.

And he said “I think you could be making more because of the number of sign-ups that you’re getting.” So, based on that knowledge, I followed up with Bluehost and they said, “Oh, yeah. We’d be willing to increase your commission percentage.” And, it wasn’t double, but it was near double.

And so now, that’s a $1,000, $2,000 decision just from somebody coming to us and helping us out. So, that kind of ties in into the display advertising network.

Jim: You’re right. A lot of people are — they’d be scared to put on display ads — Make $22, think about what their readers are going to think. “They’re selling out” or whatever. And oftentimes, you just have to try it.

Bjork: Yep. And I think it’s important to try and I think that it’s a great way to monetize, especially if you have a good amount of traffic, if you have a decent amount of traffic.

The one thing that’s really difficult with display advertising is just how it affects your site performance. And, that’s the biggest issue for us. Not just with branding, but they take a long time to load sometimes.

And I think, I haven’t watched the video, but I think Matt Cutts, he’s the Google SEO web-stamp guy for those people that don’t know. And, he’s kind of like the go-to person for people that are interested in hearing from the source, which is Google about SEO stuff.

But, he’s recently talked about how site performance, or ads on a site will negatively affect your search rankings in Google. So, that’s the other negative side with it. But if you get a good amount of traffic, it can really be a decent income generator. And, it has been for us, especially in Quarter 4.

Jim: That’s great. I mean knowing that display ads — Google’s Matt Cutts has always said in those videos and whatnot, that site speed is a factor in ranking. They obviously don’t want something super slow, but a certain threshold is acceptable.

And, I think what you’re thinking of with respect to too many ads, is an algorithm adjustment or name called Top Heavy. That’s already happened. And, they’re always iterating on it and whatnot.

But, having a couple ads won’t hurt you. The people that I know that I’ve talked to that have been penalized by that, they had a lot of ads, where there was maybe the title and little content.

So, a little display doesn’t really hurt. It doesn’t seem like it’s hurt you guys too much. And again, your income reports have your traffic. You guys had a million unique visitors in January, that’s amazing. Congratulations.

Bjork: Thanks a lot. It was a really fun number to hit. And, I think what’s exciting about it is seeing the continued growth. So, as anybody that’s ever built a blog knows, it’s like you get 100 people and it’s like, “Yes.” You want to go and celebrate and it’s like, “Drinks on me, tonight.”

And then the next day, you get 90 and you’re like, “No, the world is coming to an end.” And there’s interesting psychological element to it. As you grow, those numbers just move along with your expectations. Which, is a beautiful thing, because then, you continually want to improve and get better.

And, it’s also difficult because at one point, we were really excited when we had 10,000 people in a month. And then, just as you continue to grow, that kind of shifts and adjusts. I guess it’s a good thing and a bad thing and maybe something to keep in perspective, I guess.

Jim: Yeah. It’s all relative. Even to yourself. But, 1 million is amazing. When you see it, you see it on a screen, so it doesn’t feel as real. But can you imagine a million coming to your house within the next month? It’d be insane.

Bjork: I can’t imagine ten people, because we have a really small house.

Jim: And, it’s freezing.

Bjork: Yeah, right. Every once in a while, we’ll be at some kind of event, a sporting event or something. And it will be like, “There were this many people that visited the blog today.” And, it’s kind of a cool representation of what that number looks like. So, it’s like, “There’s 20,000 people here” and that’s how many people–

Jim: That’s six hours on “Pinch of Yum.”

Bjork: Exactly, right.

Jim: I did want to ask. So, obviously, with photos and as Lindsay said earlier, with the food-sharing site, Pinterest is clearly a big traffic driver for you guys. How did you know to use that source so much?

Bjork: Do you want to talk about it, Linds?

Lindsay: I think one thing that is really interesting to know for listeners about our development with Pinterest over the years is that actually, I just personally and for “Pinch of Yum”, just created an account less than six months ago. And, our traffic has always been pretty heavily influenced by Pinterest.

So, the takeaway, I think, is that if you create good content and if you create powerful, attention-grabbing visuals for people that clearly communicate what you’re trying to say and trying to teach or whatever, I think that Pinterest is set up to help you out in that way.

It’s just so funny to me that all that traffic came from Pinterest. And, I wasn’t even active on the site. And whether or not that was a good idea on my part, I don’t know, it’s another topic of conversation.

But, I think it’s just interesting, maybe, for people to know that I wasn’t doing anything special to make that happen. I think it was just that people were coming, they were liking the content. And, I think, also liking the visuals with the content. And so, it was easy for them to Pin.

And Pinterest, I think the number one use of Pinterest is for recipes. So, we’re fortunate in that way that it’s such a beast of a website. And, to have recipes be such a big part of that is definitely to our benefit.

Jim: Have you guys played around with Facebook or Twitter or any other networks?

Lindsay: Yeah. I’ve been on Facebook the longest as “Pinch of Yum.” And, then Twitter, I was kind of late to the game, I don’t know. I kind of have this weird thing about social media where I’m like, “No, I’m not going to join.” And then, I just come way late and try to figure it out way later than everybody else. I always end up coming in the end.

But Twitter has grown on me, for sure. I feel like it’s been a really good way for me to connect with other bloggers. And, I don’t know, just see what people are up to. And also, Instagram, I really enjoy. Just personally, I enjoy photography. So, I like being there as well.

Jim: It’s interesting. So, you say you use Twitter to reach out to other photographers, food bloggers? And, I guess mostly Pinterest. So, you guys got a half a million people last month through Pinterest when I was looking at it, with what sounded like not a ton of work involved.

Lindsay: And even my “Pinch of Yum” Pinterest account, I only have maybe 17,000 followers.

Jim: Only?” That’s half a stadium of almost any–

Lindsay: I guess. I just feel like, compared to so many other bloggers who have been on it since the very beginning. I feel like I’m kind of still a baby with Pinterest.

But, yeah. Definitely, I don’t feel like there’s anything I’ve done other than just trying to…I’m constantly thinking about, “How can we make the site Pin-friendly and make it easier for people to pin stuff?” We’ve played around a lot with text in the photos and whether or not that helps engage people on Pinterest.

And, I guess my finding with that has just been that I like the way the photos look better without. But every once in a while, put some text on. Just trying to make it work for people so that they feel compelled to Pin the content.

Jim: Have you discovered anything that surprised you, with respect to Pinterest?

Lindsay: I think, no. I think maybe I’ve been surprised at just how big of a player it is without much work on our end. I don’t know. It’s a powerful social hub. It’s really powerful.

So, it’s something not to take lightly, I guess.

Jim: Definitely. So, when you decided not to put text in when you were Pinning stuff, you just didn’t notice any sort of difference? Because, everyone says, if you put text in it, you can usually get a little more engagement. I guess with 17,000 followers and beautiful photos, it doesn’t really matter if there are words.

Lindsay: Yeah. Bjork did a couple — did you do that? Didn’t we do some analysis kind of thing where we looked at the difference? I don’t —

Bjork: Part of it was it’s so hard, it’s not like a split test or an AB test and be like “This gets more and this doesn’t.” So, it’s really hard to come back and really have hard numbers on that.

I did just kind of general observation. So, with Pinterest, you can go and you can see, specific to your URL, what’s being pinned and what’s not. So, there was a point when Lindsay was kind of going back and forth with using text or not.

And so, I was just kind of observing that and seeing how much of those were text-based and how much of those weren’t. But, I think a lot of it comes back to just trying to produce an image that people really like.

And also, that people would feel like it positively affects their brand. Because, I think, in a subtle way, we’re all trying to project what we want ourselves to be. And, I think sometimes with text, it can be difficult because if it’s not done right, it can seem cheap.

And, I think that if something seems cheap, people don’t want to be associated with it. So, not that text-based stuff can’t be done well. But I think it’s harder to do well than just a really clean image.

Jim: That’s a good insight that people want to share stuff that reflects well on them. And, imagine if you open up paint, it looks terrible. So, people are less likely to share that.

Bjork: Yep. And, if I had a workout board and it was sharing pictures of guys with their shirts off that look like me. I feel like if you have a food board, if you have a recipe board or you have a workout board, you’re going to be Pinning stuff that looks good and is things that you want to move towards, you know.

Jim: The little aspirational aspect of it.

Bjork: Yep. So, in the finance world, that might be some type of slogan or phrase about getting out of debt. Or with a recipe, it’s just an image of a food that looks really good and is really well done.

Jim: Okay. The thing that surprised me when I looked at the traffic report was BuzzFeed. And being such a big part. Where did that come from?

Lindsay: Did you see that just on January, or did you see that consistently?

Jim: I only saw it in January.

Lindsay: Okay. I don’t ever remember having seen BuzzFeed as a major player for traffic in the past. But I think when we looked a little bit into that, it was just a feature of one of my recipes. It was like a “Quick Weeknight Dinner” kind of post.

So, I guess it’s kind of fun. I feel like it’s kind of exposure to the BuzzFeed circles. Which I love BuzzFeed, it’s kind of fun to be there. But I don’t really know that much about it other than just it was a feature and we got a little boost in traffic from it. And it’s always nice when that happens.

Jim: Yeah. Especially when you don’t have to do any extra work, which is always nice.

Bjork: One thing that’s interesting about that, that I feel like is worth talking about, is the idea of distributed content. And, I think it’s really important for people that are producing content to decide where they stand on it.

So, I think some people would see a BuzzFeed article or a BuzzFeed post. And, it wouldn’t, in this instance, it has a picture that Lindsay took and a recipe that she probably spent five hours fine-tuning and making.

And, then BuzzFeed just like literally takes it from our site and then uploads it to theirs and then publishes this post that’s “Seven Quick and Easy Dinners.” And, it probably takes them, I don’t know, probably longer than you think, two hours.

And it feels a little bit like, “Oh, come on. Are you seriously coming and taking all of my hard work and then just using it for your own benefit?” But I think, realistically, it’s a win-win, though it feels like you’re being taken advantage of.

And, I think that’s a great example. Is that they published this and they have a huge following and a huge voice. And it’s a benefit for “Pinch of Yum” and it’s also a benefit for them because I’m sure they’re getting people that are Pinning that and then coming back to that page.

But, that’s kind of a stance that Lindsay and I have taken with content. Is that, “Hey, we’re going to be okay with people using the stuff that Lindsay is creating or that we’re creating. As long as they include a link back to the blog.” But sometimes, that’s kind of hard.

An example is with this BuzzFeed article, it’s kind of like, “Oh, shoot, they have our stuff.” But I think, realistically, it’s a win-win.

Jim: And, they only did the one article? Did they ask for permission first?

Bjork: I don’t know.

Lindsay: Honestly, I can’t remember. I know Huffington Post often does roundups like that and I get e-mails from them always when they feature my photos. But, I don’t remember on BuzzFeed if there was an e-mail or not. I can’t remember.

Jim: It’s really interesting. On the whole, it sounds like it’s a positive thing. As long as they give you attribution, don’t take too much.

Lindsay: Yeah, I think so. And one thing with the content, too, it’s a lot different. To me, it’s a lot different when people just use a photo. Because if people like the way it looks, they’re going to click and come to “Pinch of Yum”, which is a good thing for us.

But, it’s more of a big deal to me if people take the photo and the recipe. There are places that do that. Just copy and paste photos and recipes, just basically duplicate the blog in another place. And, I don’t really like that and that’s a problem.

But yeah, the photos. It’s fun. And I feel like it’s one of the fun things about being interested in photography and constantly improving your photography. It’s just a quick way to snatch people in. “Snatch” is a bad word, but just grab people–

Jim: You know, like kidnap them.

Lindsay: Just get their attention and stand out a little bit in that way.

Jim: That’s awesome. Great. So, we’re now going to bring it back to the sports analogy of the singles. And, I wanted to ask about “Food Blogger Pro.” How did you guys think to start that?

Bjork: Sure. I think with everything that we’ve done in terms of products, which is really, only three things. Tasty Food Photography, an e-Cookbook that Lindsay did and then “Food Blogger Pro.” It comes back to responding to what we see people asking or positively responding to.

So, “Food Blogger Pro” came out of e-mail after e-mail from people that said, basically, “How do you start and grow a food blog?” And, Lindsay and I have this interesting situation where we’re coming to the table with the two different ends that you need. Which is, the understanding of developing, photographing and publishing recipe posts. And then, the back-end side of setting up WordPress and installing plugins and doing food blog-specific SEO work and things like that.

So, we had a ton of people that were e-mailing us about it and asking, “How do you do it?” And, especially as we started to grow the blog, we got more of those. And, we really try hard to respond to e-mails when you get to them. But there’s a certain point where it’s like you can’t explain over e-mail over how to start and grow a food blog.

And so, we decided to start this site and there’s a couple different ways that you can go about doing something like that. You can have a site like that be free and then monetize off of things like affiliate marketing and things like that. Or, you can do a paid course take on it.

And that’s what we decided to do. So, “Food Blogger Pro.” It’s a membership site. So, people sign up and they pay $25 a month. And they have access to over 300 videos from everything from food photography to installing an SEO plugin for WordPress and how to tweak and customize that.

And then, we also cover stuff like monetization and what it looks like to do affiliate marketing and advertising and all of that stuff that you learn that you have to learn once you start.

So, I think from the outside, it’s like, “Oh, you just start a blog on WordPress.com and then you post the recipe that you had tonight and then you make money.” Some people maybe start like that. I know that we probably did or just didn’t even have the money aspect.

Or we’re like, “Let’s start a blog.” But as you get into it, you learn there’s so much more. It’s not necessarily like revolutionary content that’s in “Food Blogger Pro.” But, it’s all in one place. And our hope is that it’s high-quality content that’s really easy to get a hold of and to work through.

And, then it’s also a community. So, there’s over 400 people that are part of this community and there’s a forum where people can ask questions. So, for us, it was a sustainable way to help people do some of the similar stuff that we were doing as a membership site.

Jim: It reduces the amount of e-mail that you would get about people wanting to know, “How do I install this plugin?” [Inaudible at 00:36:53].

Bjork: Right now, we’re not experimenting. But what we settled on is this first month for $1. It’s a really easy suggestion for us to make to people. Where the other day, somebody came to me and they’re like, “I’m getting completely inundated with spam. I have these requests for Michael Jordan shoes. And, that’s the only thing on my blog, is all of these Michael Jordan shoe ads. How do I get rid of it?” And I was like, “Well, there’s this plugin called [inaudible at 00:37:26] that you can install. We have a course on it with ten different videos that talk about what spam is and why it happens. And, if you want to, you can just signup and its $1 and then you can cancel.”

It’s a really natural sales process for us in that it’s helping people. It’s reducing a little bit of the explanation that we have to go through in that process. But then, if people like it–

Jim: They stay on.

Bjork: Yeah, they just stick around and they go through the other courses and engage in the community. So, it’s been a lot of work, but it’s been a really good thing for us to work on together and a great sister site to “Pinch of Yum.”

Jim: Before this or at least all throughout all this, you’ve been doing a lot of Bluehosting affiliate work. Did this sort of come out of that also? Because, people were coming in and said, “Oh, I want to start a food blog.”

Bjork: Yeah. You know, that was a really interesting case study in the mindset of, like, “Just do it now.” So, I think for Lindsay and I both, a lot of the growth of the things that we’ve done online come from this idea of like, “Okay, just do it now.” And a lot of times, that means, “I don’t really feel like a publishing a post.”

And, for Lindsay, she’s a teacher right now. So, it’s like she has to get up and go to school and doesn’t really feel like staying up late and finishing it. But, then, it’s like, “Just do it now.”

And so, for that Bluehost example, that was an example of like I was traveling for work and I had to be somewhere. And I had this task that I wanted to do, which was create a page on “Pinch of Yum” that showed people the really basic process for starting a food blog.

And, it was like you’ve got to pick a domain name, you’ve got to sign up for Bluehost and then you’ve got to install WordPress and add a theme. So, really high-level basic stuff. And, I wanted to do that and I didn’t really feel like it. But I was like, “Just do it now.”

So, I got up early and I went to a coffee shop. And for two and a half hours before work started, I put together this page. And, that’s been the primary driver of what is now like $2,000 to $3,000 of income a month.

So, there’s nothing really super magical that we did or any type of like really intentional process that we had for deciding to recommend a hosting company. But, it was just of an example of, like, it worked really well to say, “You want to start a food blog? Here’s how you do it. When we first started, we used Bluehost and then, here’s how to do it.”

That page just proved to be really successful and lucrative. And it continually drives me mad because there are things that I spend a lot more time doing that yield $2,000 a month. And, I always come back to this idea of that page taking me three hours and making $30,000 a year. And it feels like, “I will never have something where I earn so much money with so little time.”

Jim: You never can tell. You don’t know if it’s going to end up being the $22 because it’s a display ad or it’s going to be something even bigger, but that’s an awesome story. I love it.

Bjork: Thanks.

Jim: So, you have Food Blogger Pro, you have Tasty Food Photography. Now, is “Creamy Cauliflower Sauce” eCookbook like a newer product?

Lindsay: Yes it is. This was late summer, so August or September, I think. I self-published my first eCookbook and it’s all about the creamy cauliflower sauce. Which is kind of funny, it just makes me laugh.

But people really responded well to that post that I did. And so, that’s kind of why I chose to go that route. I just felt like it was a natural inroad to something that people were interested in.

It’s actually kind of nice because I done a few recipes with that sauce on my blog. And then, on all of those posts, including the sauce itself, which has a ton of Pins and comments and stuff. Then, we can just put a little link right in there so people know, “Hey, if you like this, check out ‘The Creamy Cauliflower Sauce’ eCookbook.”

So, yeah. It was a fun process and also definitely a learning process. I don’t feel like it’s I’m going to, in five years, be like, “Yeah, I’m so proud of that eCookbook.” I’m proud of it in that I did it and it’s done. But I feel like it was really just a learning process. How do you self-publish an eCookbook? How do you just self-publish in general and in a short amount of time? So, yeah, it was a good process to go through.

Jim: Was there anything about that process that surprised you?

Lindsay: I think just how difficult it is. I mean, that’s not really a specific thing. But, man. There’s a lot that goes into creating a product. And I don’t know why I didn’t feel that as much with Tasty Food Photography. Maybe it’s because I decided to get a semi-custom template made.

So, I didn’t pay for somebody to do the whole template for me, the whole PDF document. But I just had one, kind of, templated where I could, in theory, copy and paste my recipes and photos in.

But, I spent so much time trying to learn InDesign. And that’s a completely different skill set than the cooking and the photography. So, it just takes a lot of different skills to put together a product.

And now, I’m actually working on my second eCookbook will which hopefully be coming out in a couple of weeks here. But I’m definitely learning from that first process that it’s better for me to build a team that has more of those skills so that I can stick to the cooking and kind of leave the design and some of that other stuff to the experts.

Jim: A lot goes into it. It’s admirable to try it out. That way, you know what’s involved and you feel confident saying, “All right, I’m going to stick to the stuff that no one else can do. And, I’m going to find someone who’s really good at the other thing and have them do that.”

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Jim: And, you don’t know that until you try it, so that’s great. You guys have been doing Pinch of Yum for four years?

Lindsay: Yep. Just coming up on four years in April, I think.

Jim: How do you think your approach to the blog has changed in the last four years?

Lindsay: I felt like it was so different when it started. For me, anyways. Maybe Bjork has always been kind of smart about it.

Jim: You guys don’t give yourselves enough credit. You’re like, “I didn’t do anything special with Pinterest.” I’m like, “You take amazing photos.” Bjork is talking about, “You don’t want to see me without my shirt.” I’m like, “I’m sure you’re awesome. You guys are both awesome.”

Lindsay: I don’t know. When we first started, it was just completely like a love hobby. I just loved it and I just kind of did it when I wanted. And I kind of really didn’t care about it that much. It was really fun, but I didn’t care about quality. I just kind of did it for fun.

And now, it’s in such a different place. Where we’re thinking about transitioning out of our regular jobs to do this full time. And there’s more self-accountability for quality and I think a little more pressure.

But, it’s interesting because I still feel like it’s fun. And even though it’s work, it’s like fun work and it doesn’t really feel like work. But, the pressure has changed and I don’t know if that makes sense. But just, kind of, the accountability that the standards that we hold ourselves to is totally different and a lot higher.

Jim: Bjork said you’re still a teacher. Do you guys do this on the side?

Lindsay: For me, I’m like…

Jim: You guys are amazing.

Lindsay: I’m 0.75. So, I work regular daytime hours, I’m done at 2:30. And then I do nights and weekends. And that’s how it’s always been for me with Pinch of Yum. Bjork’s schedule is kind of, a little flexible, too.

Bjork: I am still plugged in. Out of college, I started working at a non-profit. And, that’s kind of where I cut my teeth on a lot of the Web design stuff. So, I’m still there two days out of the week. So, I just do two long days there and then I do essentially three days for this stuff and then weekends, obviously.

We’re not full-time by any means, but we’re still plugged in with that other stuff. I think for us, a lot of what it comes back to is that this is definitely financial income. And, Pinch of Yum, Food Blogger Pro — these things are financial income. I think there’s also relational income and then emotional income.

And, I think that our primary source of those two things are the work that we’re doing outside of the blog. So, there’s definitely an incentive for us. It’s not necessarily a financial incentive. Although we do get paid, it’s not similar to what you’d get paid growing a blog.

Jim: You get the fulfillment aspect of it.

Bjork: Yep, for sure.

Jim: I just think it’s crazy that you guys are basically working other full-time jobs. And you’ve built Pinch of Yum, this site that gets 2.2 million page views a month. And you’re like, “It’s a fun little hobby that we have on the side.”

Bjork: And we don’t want to trick anybody into thinking that we don’t spend a ton of time on it, because we do. We don’t have kids, which is a huge part where we can work late into the evening. So, we spent a ton of time on it, but we also have other work that we’re doing as well.

Jim: That’s great. Very happy. Now, one thing that you talked about and you sort of alluded to this throughout this entire conversation. And I saw it in the January 2014 income report at the bottom. So, you have the whole ten blogging tips, all of which are great.

The bottom one, the 1 percent infinity. That idea, I absolutely loved because I believe it wholeheartedly. Do you want to talk a little bit about what that means?

Bjork: Sure. So, I think one thing that’s hard when you’re first getting started with anything, really, is the idea that you have to get to some place immediately. For somebody that’s maybe listening to this podcast for the first time and they hear that we have a blog and it’s any given month, it can earn $15,000.

It seems like, “Oh, my gosh. How do you get to that point? How do I jump to that point in a year?” It might seem like this huge jump to make from zero to that. But really, if you look back on the steps that we took to get here, it was just like these really small incremental attempts to always improve and do a little bit better.

And I think that’s true in all of the different areas. So, it’s true in the areas of like, “How do we do a better job of connecting with people and establishing genuine relationships with other bloggers?” Or Lindsay, “How do I get a little bit better every day at learning how to use my camera?” Or, “How do we get a little bit better about perfecting the ads that we have or the different types of affiliate marketing we do?”

So, this idea of 1 percent infinity is this idea that you are constantly improving forever. And, if you were to crunch those numbers math-wise, if it was 1 percent every month, over time, that really adds up and it becomes significant.

And, I think that so many people, myself included sometimes, don’t improve. We just churn out what we’re used to doing. And it doesn’t have to be a huge improvement. But I think that if you can break out of that monotony of doing the same thing over and over and think about, “What are the things that I can do to do this a little bit better,” That can have a huge, long-term impact. So, that’s the idea behind 1 percent infinity.

Jim: I love it. And you’re living proof, right? Because August, 2011, you made $22. And you kept at it and kept at it. And, it’s not even three years later. So, it shows you won’t get there in six months, but you’ll get there in three.

Bjork: Yep. And you’ve got to stick with it and you’ve got to continually improve and learn. And, you’ll get there. And, work hard.

Jim: If I was an aspiring food blogger and you wanted to impart one more last bit of wisdom and advice, other than the sign up for Food Blogger Pro, what would that be?

Bjork: What if that was my signoff? Like “Sign up for foodbloggerpro.com.”

Jim: Besides that —

Bjork: Maybe we’ll each do one. Do you have one, Linds?

Lindsay: Well, obviously, my passion in what I do is the photography. So, I would just say pay attention to photography and don’t underestimate the power of really good photos that really communicate your food to your readers.

Jim: They only have to look at your traffic stats and Pinterest to see that that’s very true.

Bjork: I think for me, maybe this a little bit more — it’s not very concrete. But I think one thing that’s really important with starting anything. We could say for a food blog, but I think it applies to anybody. Is just the long-term mentality. And the need to lean into the stuff that you really love about it.

Because, I think if you get started with something in order just to have, whether it’s financial payoff or fame payoff, it’s just going to fizzle. Because, it’s so much work to get to a point where you have a financial payoff or you are well-known.

So, for anybody that’s looking to start something, I would really lean into this stuff that you enjoy about it and make sure that you’re okay doing it, even if there’s no real tangible reward, other than the pure gut feeling of like, “I’m doing good work and I’m consistently doing it and I’m consistently delivering.”

Because, if you don’t have that, it’s just going to fizzle in a year or six months or three months or three days.

Jim: I’ve always told people that if you’re going to do something, start a blog about anything, pick something you really enjoy, something you love. Because if in a year, it doesn’t work out financially, at least you had fun doing it. And that, in of itself, is kind of a reward.

Bjork: For sure. Yep, exactly.

Jim: If you pick something you hate, then you will have just spent a year of misery and it would’ve not panned out. And it’s like, “Why bother?”

Bjork: A real quick story. I have an example of one of those where I thought I had this great idea of a site that I was going to start. And, I was going to call it PhotoshopMom.com. And, my idea was to teach aspiring Photoshop moms aspiring to learn Photoshop how to use it.

And I got about two weeks in. I was like, “What am I doing?” So, I’ve definitely been there and I think I’ve learned my lesson with that.

Jim: I was going to say, you don’t look like a mom.

Bjork: Right, exactly. I would not understand my target market.

Jim: You gave it a shot. You tried and it didn’t work out. Guys, thank you, this was great.

Bjork: Really appreciate it. Thanks for having us on. It was fun to talk to you.

Jim: Of course. If people want to find you, where do they go?

Lindsay: Well, it’s like one of the pass off stories. “Who’s going to answer this?”

Jim: Don’t give us your actual home address.

Lindsay: Obviously, the blog. So, Pinchofyum.com. And then, just for social media, Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest — we talked a lot about Pinterest and Twitter.

Bjork: And, those are all /Pinchofyum addresses. And I’m on Twitter and I’ll occasionally tweet @BjorkOstrom. And, then I also do all the Food Blogger Pro tweets at Food Blogger Pro. And then, obviously, Foodbloggerpro.com if anybody is interested and starting and growing a food blog.

Jim: Great. Thanks again.

Bjork: Thanks a lot.

Jim: Take care. Wasn’t that fun? I had a blast talking to them. Lindsay and Bjork are such humble people. And, it’s always good to see good people doing great work and being compensated for it, so they can keep doing it.

If you want to find the show notes, they’re available at microblogger.com/6. You’ll find links, some takeaways. All that good stuff, some graphics that I put together. You can let me know what you think of it.

Finally, before you go, if you love the show and you haven’t yet left a review or rating on iTunes, it would help me out a lot if you did right now. If you didn’t like it, or there are things you thought I could improve, please let me know. I’m new at it, I’m always trying to learn. Hit me up at Jim@Microblogger.com so I can try to make it better next time, thanks a lot.

And if you’re the tweeting type, you can find me on Twitter @wangarific. And I’ll see you next time. Thanks for listening.

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Jim

In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog (Bargaineering.com) that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

6 responses to “MBP #6: How Lindsay & Bjork Built a 6-Figure Food Blogging Empire”

  1. Meg Sylvia says:

    So cool to see you on here, Lindsay!! Will definitely be listening to this, Jim. Can’t wait to here the full story!

  2. Long says:

    Hey Jim,

    Thanks for creating these podcasts. I’m really getting a lot of value from them.

    Lindsay & Bjork recommend using a CPM advertising network because they know most visitors just read for the recipe and don’t end up exploring the site. They use BlogHer, but is there a CPM network you recommend for finance related blogs that are run by a guy? :p

    • Jim says:

      Good question, I don’t know too many CPM advertising networks for finance related blogs but I will keep an eye out.

  3. Lindsay & Bjork are really smart about how to market their knowledge and talents.
    J+C

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