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Stay curious and be prepared to shift, advises Pinch of Yum co-founder Bjork Ostrom
The thinking behind the enormous success of this food blog, which has almost 4 million views per month.
Bjork Ostrom is a humble guy, intent on getting each of us to reach our potential. He seems to have found his. He and his wife Lindsay co-founded the Pinch of Yum food blog in 2010. It now boasts almost 4 million unique views per month.
As founder of Food Blogger Pro since 2013, he is part of a team that shows food bloggers how to start and grow food blogs, with easy-to-understand tutorials. Currently it has 1500 members.
One of his mantras is “Helping people and companies to get a tiny bit better,” hence the name TinyBit. He’s good at opening doors and seeing opportunities. These days he advises a handful of Internet companies, including Slickstream and Another Mind.
Bjork is all about discovering what he’s uniquely skilled at and interested in doing, and advises the rest of us to figure that out too. “Success depends on how long you’re able to do the work and not burn out,” he told me in this interview. He looks for “the things that give us the most energy when we do them.” Most of all, he wants to “show up and do good work.”
Isn’t that what we all want? For Bjork, “doing good work” has led to tremendous success, financial and otherwise.
Here are Bjork’s thoughts about food blogging and the nature of work:
Q. How are food bloggers doing these days? I bet some people think food blogging is so 10 years ago.
A. Like anything, it’s a matter of skill expertise and the market. Even if all the market conditions are in your favor, sub-par content won’t work, nor will good content that there’s no desire for. Food bloggers need the sweet spot of being skilled writers, photographers, and videographers. These are people who have deep skill and expertise.
The macro market for food blogging focuses on video. The thing food bloggers need to be really good at is short-form video. For the micro market, they need to deliver a conversation that people are interested in: Real food. Special diets. Eating with your family. Meal prep. Some are trends or fads or shifts.
The best food bloggers can align their skills. It’s not as easy to get traction now as it was 10 years ago, but if you have a good understanding of the need, you can still have a lot of success.
What’s different now from 10 to 15 years ago is that there’s more competition for attention on Tik-Tok, Instagram and YouTube.
Q. Are food bloggers mostly interested in making money?
A. I think so, at least for members of Food Blogger Pro. For the food bloggers publishing heirloom recipes to prioritize family history, the answer would be no.
Our members focus on business and income. They want autonomy, flexibility and doing work that they love. Income creation is the conduit for that.
We have intentionally placed ourselves in that room. Lindsay and I proved we could make money on Pinch of Yum.
Lindsay loves recipe development and responding to people about her recipes. I love business, finance and technology.
Q. What percentage of food bloggers make a 6-figure income, do you think?
A. We actually surveyed our members about that. About 12.5 percent said they made over $100,000.
Today there are many more companies that support food publishers with services and products that lead to success. Like our company; Andrew Wilder’s company, NerdPress; and conferences.
Q. You stopped doing Pinch of Yum income reports years ago. You were up to making around $25k in one month. Why did you stop?
A. Food blog money-making was an experiment at first. Then it played out, so we asked ourselves what the purpose was behind it. The reports were helpful and motivating. People didn’t know that it was possible to make so much money. But on the back side, it becomes weirder when you’re making more.
Q. Should people even be called food bloggers these days, since they are not just in charge of recipes and photos, but also SEO, marketing, social media and more, including managing staff?
A. We call them “creators.” It could mean producing online content on different platforms. We also say “food publishers.” It sounds more professional.
“Blogger,” as a word, has maybe lost some of its value. It sounds closer to “journal,” while “publisher” sounds closer to “magazine.”
Q. How many people do you and Lindsay have on the Pinch of Yum team?
Thirteen people. It’s a mix of part time and full-time employees and contractors.
Q. What does Lindsay’s Pinch of Yum team do?
Lindsay does almost all the content creation. She writes the posts, the newsletter, posts on Instagram, does all the recipe development, most of the photography, and picks the recipes. It’s 95 percent inspiration led, not SEO led.
A general manager oversees the daily operations. She reviews revenue and expenses, meets with the team, understands the site and history, and helps keep things running. We have a content growth specialist, who manages sponsored content. This person understands SEO tools, how content ranks, and which posts to update. She monitors whether other sites use Pinch of Yum content, and brand inquiries.
Some people show up often, and some show up as needed. There are lots of little rolls, such as day-to-day engineering development, designing, and design-related development with a database that’s more technical. Someone does the video, and shooting and editing recipes. Someone processes invoices. Someone is a fractional CFO. We have a book-keeping service.
Q. Is it essential for food bloggers to be good at social media and build a following? So many people don’t like it.
A. It’s different to be good at it than being smart about it.
It’s less about disliking it verses how the platform makes you feel. You can make a good living as a food blogger but have low metrics and people would never know you’re doing very well. You might do well with SEO, but not have a very engaged audience.
It depends on your goal. If you goal is to get a cookbook deal, you need a way to sell them. You could have no social media following but have a tour where 2000 fans show up in every city. So you have a way to connect and sell your book.
Social media is not the only way to distribute content, but it’s the most common way. You can create the content and hire someone to distribute it on social media. You don’t have to be on it yourself.
Q. Is it essential to focus on video, if you’re a food blogger?
A. The quick answer is that video’s super important. Humans want content that is the highest fidelity possible. Video is more engaging than photos, and photos are more engaging than text.
It’s easier to get traction, to build a following and create income, because of platforms and the way that advertising prioritizes video.
What’s most important is to understand what you’re uniquely equipped to create in the world. Your skills and your interests. Maybe you love writing but you hate the idea of being on video, or recording and editing it. The purpose is the journey. If you hear, “You’ve got to do video,” and you grind out videos for a year, what good is it if you focus on a craft that you don’t enjoy?
Q. Should food bloggers be concerned about AI software scraping their content without permission? Because a lot of content creators are suing now.
A. I think so. It’s a threat. Not a huge threat today, to have Bard or Chat GPT creating recipes better than what Lindsay could create, but every day they’re going to get better.
There’s no huge benefit to having your content scraped. But there will probably be tools to opt in or out to having your content included in these different AI models.
Q. What’s your advice for food bloggers trying to grow their blogs?
A. Set a goal or a vision of what it is that you’re after, and then commit to the work of doing that every day, along with finding ways to get better at it. It’s the name of our parent company, Tiny Bit.
Q. What are the three books every food blogger should read?
A. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. So much of it is relatable and shapes your understanding of being a creator.
Steal Like an Artist: Ten Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative. When you’re a creator or entrepreneur, it’s helpful to have simple frameworks to process situations, decisions or feelings.
Atomic Habits. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Habit stacking and making small changes. The psychology of habits.
Q. Any concluding thoughts?
A. As you do the work, figure out how to enjoy it as much as possible. A successful outcome for us as creators is that, even if we don’t get the result we want, we still benefit from the process. You might discover something that you love.
Stay curious about yourself and be willing to shift as you do the work, with the hope of aligning towards something exciting and life-giving, that also produces the result you want.
And be patient. It’s going to take a long time. Know that where you think you’re going isn’t where you always end up.
Get the Discount!
Need an incentive to join Bjork’s membership company, Food Blogger Pro? Paid subscribers of this newsletter get $50 off an annual membership.
For more interviews, see these these podcasts I did with Bjork over the years:
015: How to Find Your Voice and be Heard in a Noisy World with Dianne Jacob (October 15, 2015)
Sign up for This Talk on September 6, 2023
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Disclosures: I am an affiliate of Food Blogger Pro, Amazon and Bookshop.org.