Next Steps in a Food Career

JL Fields - Go Vegan with JL!
Carrie Forrest - Carrie on Vegan
Jeannette Chen - Jeannette's Healthy Living
Meseidy Rivera - The Noshery

Panel Discussion: Next Steps in a Food Career

JL: My name is JL and I'm here to moderate the panel, Next steps to a food career. It all started with all of us when it came to blogging. There are hundreds of people here and hundreds of people are going to have different steps, just keep that in mind. We are going to start with each of us sharing our stories. We each started a blog, each took other steps, and we'll share that. We know when you come to a panel like this, you want to hear stories, but you may also have some questions. What will happen after, we'll have a conversation and then we'll take questions. Let me introduce you to the panel, to the left is Carrie Forrest, Carrie Forrest, Jeannette Chen, and Meseidy Rivera. So I'm going to get things going so we can pass it along to everyone else.

So this thing happened. I was 45 years old, I have a college degree and was working in higher education and non profit.. then I went vegan. That went with nothing that went on. My husband was the cook, I decided to go vegetarian and he cooked everything. Then I went vegan and he said I was on my own. So I went online, there were vegan blogs and people I followed but nobody was my age. So I decided to create more of a diary, JL goes vegan. I absolutely loved it. I'd go to work, come home and take really horrible pictures for my blog. I still take horrible photos, and I decided to go to my first conference. It was a vegan conference, I tweeted out and just reserved my hotel. This girl tweeted me back and said she wished she could go but couldn't afford it so I called the hotel and changed it to a 2 bed and told her to join me. A few months later she emailed me and said, "Write a cookbook with me." I told her but most of my recipes are simple, and she said "yeah, I know, we can show people how simple it is." So I took a few culinary classes because of a few mishaps in the kitchen. So then all this happened when the cookbook came up, and I thought about what my credits would be on the cookbook, I didn't want it to say JL Fields, blogger. I needed more street cred.

So around then an opportunity came up to be a vegan lifestyle coach and I signed up. Eventually I needed to come up with a plan to make this full time. I had a few people that brought me in as a consultant and my husband and I started slashing our budget and what we could afford living a lifestyle that was comfortable. I put a plan together and two years ago in March I started my business. I went to the training and took writing classes, I put myself out there and went to conferences. I went to my second vegan conference. A friend suggested I take a meeting that I thought was for a blog ambassadorship which I don't have time for. Lesson here, never say no to a meeting.

Turned out they didn't need ambassadors they already had them, they wanted someone to supervise the ambassadors and I had years of experience as a supervisor. So now I'm 49 and I work 18 hours a week doing consulting and I spend the rest of my time doing the following, I write cookbooks, teach cooking classes, write pieces on veganism, I do work for corporations and do work for brands, mostly as strategy. I do recipe development and career coaching. So that is kind of how my journey went. If someone says to me, what do you do? I say I don't know, what day is it?

Lateral freelancing is more of I'm good at a lot of things, I'd like to try to do all of them and earn some money doing them. It depends on what I'm doing what I'd charge. Lateral freelancing to me is based on what do I want to make, what goals do I want to make for the year. I'll hand it over to Carrie.

Carrie: Thank you, that was amazing. Do I really have to talk after JL? I'm Carrie of the blog Carrie on Vegan, I have an app named Vegan Delish. I get the impression a lot of you want to develop apps. I started around 2009, I wanted to be a registered dietician, that kind of changed. My blog is my passion, I love the blogging it keeps me going and it's kind of where I share more than I should like JL said. But the app came up because in 2012 the creator of Truffle head contacted me, I had about 200+ recipes on my site and it was sort of an index of recipes. Once you build up your content, you're kind of like what should I do now. A cookbook? This physician/business woman was licensing the software she'd developed for Truffle Head and she'd like to offer it to bloggers to create their own app. It took about 6 months to upload the recipes and come up with an icon for that app. That worked really well for me, I already had photos.

It took about 6 months to upload the recipes and then you have to submit to Apple, I launched the app in September of 2012 and because a Niche market is kind of simpler to market over just a healthy eating app. Because it is a competitive market, I think a really specialized app is kind of an untapped app.

Vegan Delish was one of the highest selling apps, and then I had a bug and I got some bad reviews which took a while to overcome. You don't have access to the people who do the reviews so You have to fix the bugs. Now the app is doing better and it has over 175 recipes. I ended up contacting some of my vegan blogging friends and other food bloggers friends and developed contributors so now it has a lot more recipes. The app is doing well, it's an emerging market so I have to market it every day. When I post it to Pinterest or Facebook I see the results the next day. Most of my revenue comes from my app which is 2.99, my licensor takes 10% and apple takes 30%. JL wants to talk about how I started blogging. I'm boring so that's why I wanted to talk about my app. Recently I've kind of trended away from just focusing on recipes, I feel like there's so many great bloggers out there so I use my blog to share my innermost thoughts, not so much recipes but about myself. I blogged about everything from thyroid cancer to PCOS and eating disorders.My blog is really my passion and I love my app too and it's a way to make revenue.

JL: How we started blogging is a lot different from how we blog now.

Carrie: Yeah, my blog has changed. In the beginning I was interested in more of the clinical route. But after a certain point I wasn't interested in promoting myself as a clinician so that's why I've gone more to lifestyle and creating side projects to earn an income.

We have all these photos and recipes that we put out there and once you put them on your site they're kind of just lost so I think it's great to put it in a book or an app.

Jeannette: Hi my name is Jeannette I have a master's in business administration. I have 4 boys including twin boys that are graduating. I started blogging about 4 years ago and I'd cook for people that had cancer and I started thinking of sharing my recipes. I wrote recipes that were flavorful and had nutrition information. I cooked for my boys and got them to change their diets and making the foods healthier and they were sick a lot less. I'd see the difference it made in people that had cancer and also in my kids. A few years back one of my sons developed food allergies, I researched a lot and came up with my own plan and was able to get him healthy in 6 months and I shared it. I'd get a lot of feedback from other moms whose kids were sick as well as people who were sick and looking for ways to eat healthier. SO basically what I've been doing since is reassessing what I can do with what I've learned.

There was a course I took that was pretty intensive and at the end we were supposed to come up with a business plan. We had to come up with things we wanted to do and figuring out what the market place was for that so we could segment out if things we wanted to do made sense. I had it all figured out I'd do an e-book and cooking classes but by the end I was surprised that some of the things I wanted to do to turn a profit I didn't have time for many of these things. So I discovered doing corporate consulting I'd be able to earn what I wanted and there's still things I'd like to pursue if I have time to like ebooks but it has to be something you have time for and something worthwhile to you. We added up how much time I was spending and it was something like 55 hours a week. How much I was making off of these things and when I calculated it out I was only earning $5 an hour for some of these things. SO with sponsored posts think abotu how long it takes to do that project. For me I'm kind of anal so I put a lot into it, probably more than I need to. That's been something I've looked at to decide what to take on and what not to. I worked with a nutritionist, I don't have a degree I just have a strong interest in that area. Another project I worked on was a culinary inspiration workshop at the CIA graystone. It was a cool experience they brought together a bunch of chefs and I was the only one that wasn't a chef. That was an interesting experience and I learned a lot from the technique's the chefs used to create the recipes.

Some other things I've done is take food writing courses and attended conferences such as this to also learn social media and photography. I use my blog as a safe place to practice like videos and e-newsletter. You develop a lot of skills that you never know where it can take you. I also volunteered to teach some cooking classes. I like to volunteer because it's like an internship. For me this is a great way to get the experience, who knows it may be a way to get an opportunity. I'm working on my Master's now and I came up with this particular program because it's flexible. My career is still evolving, I think the thing is it changes based on what stage of life you are in. Think about your opportunities and think about what you like to do.

Keep your toes in different places. I still do compensated posts, not a lot and I also have the ads but I think thiking of other things you know how to do is a great way to monetize your blog.

Meseidy: Hi, my name is Meseidy and I'm a food blogger. I'm also the black sheep on the panel because I consume butter and bacon. You won't believe this when I tell you, I'm Puerto Rican. I'm the whitest Puerto Rican. I'm also a military brat. From all the places I've been I've had the opportunity to experience different culinary foods. You get a little of everything growing up a military brat. I took the safe way out because my mom said to and I became a legal assistant. Until I decided I don't like attorney's.

Then I met my husband and he said I didn't have to work for the attorney I didn't like. So I stayed home while planning a wedding and I cooked a little bit. I taught myself how to cook and I taught myself how to take pictures because my husband bought me a new camera. I taught myself how to develop a website. Everyone always told me I was an awesome cook, but who's going to tell you
that you suck to your face? I decided to go to culinary school, and I had some amazing opportunities there. The instructors had connections, ran their own restaurants and by them having their own connections it inspired me do more. In culinary school I was in my 30's and other students were in their late teens and 20s, so it was odd. But I was willing to do the grunt work. I took the grunt pay, and by doing that there was a small blogger in Oklahoma that has her own tv show and Ree Drummond had a show and needed an assistant and I got my first big gig catering to the crew on her show, and I've worked with land o' lakes and I got to meet some really interesting people. I offered my services to chefs and caterers in the area.

As much as I like cooking I didn't like being on the line. So what I started to do was make connections with the chefs in the area in a more administrative form. I had a fee, the food community is a tight community. If you're doing what you need to do they will start talking and I started getting calls all over the place. Recently, we relocated to Dallas/Fort Worth area. It's a bit more challenging because it's a bigger city. I've done demos and classes and I'm hoping to do more demos in people's homes. Right now I'm more focused on my blog just because I've relocated to a new city and I'm having to make those connections again. What I would say to you, when you're planning this career move or what to do next. You have to make the plan, don't just jump out.

A lot of us when we start new things we're counting it out and we don't think of these little incidentals. When I started doing the caterings I figured out what my time was worth, PLUS the food costs and taking a deposit.

The other thing is if you're making this change the biggest difference is that you have to ask yourself are you willing to start over. If you want to do catering or open a restaurant. It's easier if you have connections and work through your connections to continue. I went to culinary school for the feedback. It just depends on the avenue you want to take and how much time you want to dedicate.

It just depends what you want to do. A lot of us have a dream of having the most amazing restaurant, it's a really challenging experience to start a restaurant. I worked with chefs in the starting process and it's very challenging and takes a lot of time. When you're doing this type of work make sure you can take that step and make that change. When you're passionate about something, there's nothing worse than getting stressed out and then it becomes a job. Don't be afraid to ask for help. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have known otherwise.

JL: So I'm going to ask some questions and I understand we're looking at more of a freelancing perspective. If you're ever your own boss and you come home saying you hate your job, you're not doing it right. I know Carrie and Jeannette I know you had some alternate ideas on how to develop revenue.

Carrie: Take a look at what you wanna do, if something your passionate about doesn't make much money, still continue to do it if you love it. Look at a product mix, and how much you can make on each. Do the numbers work? Do you like doing it? Just because you're not making money on it doesn't mean you can't do it.

JL: A big part of what everyone mentioned is networking. I can tell you everything I've done has come from networking. Don't underestimate the power of networking.

Meseidy: For me, like I mentioned before, the networking part was pivotal. Networking is building a relationship. Asking the person what they do and building. At these conventions there's so much to do, so much talking and meeting but networking is creating a relationship. If someone remembers you for what you do, who you are a person they will think of you when an opportunity arises. As a culinary student I'd jump at the opportunity to hel and that's how my instructors remembered me and share who you are.

Jeannette: I'm probably the worst person at networking but my husband is really good at it. Whether it's just grabbing a cup of coffee and you never know. Something could come up a year from now.

Meseidy: I know for me, in the beginning, I felt like you have to pick a niche and stick with it. When you're moving on in a food career it's about thinking about what your next steps are. If someone approaches you and you don't know where that fits in with what you're doing, keep an open mind because you never know.

JL: If you want to network with someone it means you want something from them. If it's a good networking relationship you want something from each other. You learn something from them they learn something from them. The networking piece is really important. I kept hearing everyone talk about passion. Any thoughts or strategies.

Carrie: When I started I just thought about what do I really love to do, and even after 4 years I just love it. Earlier this year I had to decide am I going to go with this full time or go the safe route. I did some soul searching and decided I was DONE with school. It's challenging to make a living out of.

Jeannette: We're all pretty passionate about what we do on our blog. If you find something you're passionate about and you want to delve deeper do something to enhance your skills. There's ways to enhance the areas you're passionate in. I decided I wanted to go and study more about nutrition, I chose a program that I really wanted to learn about. I've done some posts recently where I'm sharing what I'm learning along the way.

JL: Speaking of fun, it all goes back to our blogs because that's where it all started.

Meseidy: For me it's a way to put feelers out about the food I make. I have a tendency to get really experimental with my foods. A lot of blogs like to do simple recipes to get on the table and the blog is a way to feel if it's too crazy and I keep the recipes in my back pocket for catering. I like to keep it as a diary and also a testing ground.

JL: Writer's Market gives a list of all of the trade magazines, what they're paying, who does freelance, and shows where they're hiring and what they're paying.

JL: Well, we came in about 5 minutes under and if there aren't any questions we'd like to say good luck on wherever your career takes you.

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