A look back at the biggest business lessons I’ve learned over the last ten years as a food blogger.
As you may have heard, last week I celebrated the 10th Anniversary of The Lemon Bowl. In case you missed it, be sure to check out my thank you letter to my readers. This week I wanted to share ten of the biggest business lessons I’ve learned since starting my blog back in 2010. Thank you for being here, friends. Enjoy!
Passion vs. Profit: One thing has remained consistent over the last 10 years: the amount of money I make from a project very rarely coincides with the amount of happiness and satisfaction it provides. In fact, some of my most fulfilling business partnerships and collaborations have also been my least profitable. My advice to others? Build a strong business foundation that includes a diverse revenue stream with a good chunk of passive income. Once you have this structure in place you will have the freedom to scratch your entrepreneurial itch and participate in passion projects that have nothing to do with profit.
Stay in Your Own Lane: With social media, industry Facebook groups, and blogging conferences, it can be easy to cloud your judgment and make business decisions based on what everyone else is doing. For example, in 2005 when I decided to completely outsource 100% of my photography, I only knew of two other bloggers doing the same. That meant that the hundreds of other bloggers I knew were all doing their own photographer. At first, I wondered if I was being lazy or making a big mistake. Surely everyone else would be doing it if it was such a great idea, right? Wrong. The fact is, I was ahead of the curve and was wasting my time worrying about what other people would think vs. focusing on what was best for my business. Putting up blinders and staying in my own lane is a lesson I’ve implemented ever since. (Spoiler Alert: Since 2005, countless bloggers have begun outsourcing not just photography but just about everything else including recipe development, video creation, copywriting, and more.)
Choose Temporary Discomfort Over Long Term Resentment: A few bloggers who started before me shared this tip in a Facebook group and it has stayed with me ever since. As an Enneagram 2, I always hate confrontation and prefer to keep the harmony. (Read: people pleaser.) The problem with this is that it has led me to saying yes when I meant no. In time, and with plenty of practice, I’ve learned that it is always better to say no an experience a little bit of temporary discomfort than to say yes and experience resentment for months and years to come. What I didn’t expect is that the more I say no, the more yes’s I have received. After all, every time you say no, you’re making space for the right yes to appear.
Relationships Over Everything: Hands down, the greatest gift of blogging has been the relationships I’ve formed as a result of starting The Lemon Bowl. Whether it’s my dear blogging friends around the world, followers who have become friends on social media or clients who have become my friends, nothing is more worthwhile or satisfying than the relationships I’ve gained. I also know it to be true that one of the biggest reasons I’ve achieved success is because I make forming genuine relationships a priority. Anyone that knows me personally knows that I’ve never been motivated by the money. My dad is a doctor and we never experienced scarcity growing up, only abundance. Today I express that same abundance every day and it shows in the authentic, long term relationships I’ve formed with my audience, my colleagues and my clients.
Social Media Trends – Nothing Is Permanent: Instagram didn’t exist when I started my blog, Pinterest was invite only and SnapChat and TikTok weren’t yet invented. In the beginning, I started my day leaving comments on other blogs and live Tweeting for hours. There was no such thing as social media schedulers so I would simply live-pin or publish my blog content right after writing it. When Instagram stories rolled out, everyone was nervous about SnapChat. Guess what? We now have Story Pins and LinkedIn is rolling out stories soon as well. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed trying to keep up with all-the-things, just know this: nothing is permanent. Focus your energy on what you’re best at and outsource the rest. Pay attention to metrics. If it’s not working, stop doing it. If it’s working, double down on it.
Invest in Offline Relationships: I’m not sure if it was in year 5 or 6 but once my business had started to take off and the “train was running,” I slowly started to reinvest my time back into offline relationships. My kids were starting to become a bit more self-sufficient and I had started to outsource a portion of my social media management. This allowed me the time and ability to begin fostering stronger relationships with people “in real life” as opposed to spending most of my days talking to “strangers on the internet.” This doesn’t mean that those relationships still aren’t valuable, I just wanted to have a more balanced sense of community that was based just as much offline as it was online. As much as I love my fellow food bloggers, I truly value having friends who have different careers, dreams and aspirations. It has widened my experience and has offered me a much more broader depth of knowledge that I’ve been able to implement into my business over the years.
You Must Relinquish Control in Order to Grow: One of the best decisions I made as a business owner was to delegate aspects of the business that don’t require my unique talents. In other words, if the task isn’t in my “creative genius zone,” I’m going to outsource it to someone who is an expert in that area. For example, in year 5 I began working with professional photographers to help improve the photography you see here on The Lemon Bowl. Photography has always been a pain point for me and has never brought me passion or happiness. Let’s be real, I’m not a photographer, friends. An incredible cook? Yes. An excellent writer? Correct. A great marketer? You bet. A professional photographer? I am not. Well guess what? Once I began outsourcing my photography my business doubled in just two years. Not only did this eliminate a huge stress in my work week but it allowed me to showcase myself in a way I hadn’t been able to before. Instead of always being behind the camera, I was able to be in front of the camera and bring my personality and brand to life. I just wish I had done it sooner!
Just Because No One Else Has Done It Yet Doesn’t Mean It’s a Bad Idea: As humans, we naturally follow the herd. Herd mentality is a real thing both personally and professionally. When taking calculated risks, I often look to see if others have done it and if they’ve had success with it. The problem with this is that just because no one else has done it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Additionally, even if someone else has done it before, they haven’t done it the way I would do it. For example, I don’t know of any other food bloggers hosting hip hop dance parties with local DJ’s. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. It just means I’ll use any excuse to go out and dance to Drake. Don’t @ me. Likewise, I don’t know any other 30-something food bloggers hosting podcasts with 20-something Jamaican chefs. Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. In fact, I’d like to suggest that the more you can stand out from the crowd the more success you’ll achieve. There are now hundreds of thousands of food bloggers. How are you going to set yourself apart from the crowd? Hint: it won’t be by doing what everyone else is doing.
The Value of My Local Community: It wasn’t until year 8 or so that I began investing more time in my local community and building relationships with other bloggers, influencers and creatives right here in West Michigan. The truth is, after years of being home raising my babies and then toddlers, I spent most of my day-to-day talking with clients and other bloggers based all over the US. Since only 7% of my audience lives here in Michigan, I wasn’t sure it would be very valuable for me to attend every local store or restaurant opening since most of my followers live in California, New York, Florida and Texas. Once my kids were old enough to go to school, I found myself with a bit more free time to be able to attend local influencer events. In time, I have had the gift of being able to get to know so many of my colleagues right here in my own backyard, even starting unique business partnerships such as The Menu dance party with a local DJ and the Irie Lemon podcast with Vince, a local chef and restaurant owner. Expanding my relationships and growing my business in unique ways with other creatives and entrepreneurs has been immensely fulfilling.
Being Nervous is a Sign of Growth: Not knowing the outcome doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. I’ll admit, as an ESFJ, I love to research ideas, gather stats and examine past examples that prove it will work before jumping into any new business venture. For whatever reason, I’m more likely to jump if you present me with some sort of solid, tangible “proof” that XYZ idea will work. With that said, I’ve learned over the years that some of the best decisions I’ve made were those that didn’t come with a fool-proof, money-back guarantee. For example, when Vince first proposed the idea of starting the Irie Lemon Podcast, it took me five months to say yes. In hindsight, looking back, I was just afraid to fail. Once I realized I was getting in my own way, it was an immediate yes. Fast forward 9 months later, every time we release another episode I’m reminded of how much joy, value and happiness the podcast brings me, Vince and our listeners. Moving forward, I plan to lean in to that nervous feeling a bit more and not resist it. Afterall, being nervous is a sign of growth.
Thank you all for being here on this journey with me over the last ten years. The best is yet to come.