I’m super excited to have my friend Erin Chase on the show today. Erin runs the popular blog 5DollarDinners.com where she teaches others how to eat well on a budget.
What’s cool about Erin is that her site gets the most traffic out of any webmaster that I know. And in this interview, she details how she created her blog from the ground up. Enjoy!
What You’ll Learn
- How Erin gets an insane amount of traffic to her website
- How Erin earns money from her website
- How Erin got 1000 visitors a day in her first month
- How Erin got a book deal within the first 3 months of starting her blog
- How Erin got 500K page views a month within 6 months
- How to use Twitter parties to expand your reach
- How to run giveaways to grow your blog
- How Erin gets posts to go crazy viral
- Why Erin thinks digital products is a more viable long term strategy than affiliate or advertising revenue
- What traffic sources are working the best for Erin today
- The secret to boosting your Pinterest account
- How to get on national television
- If you need a website logo or website design, make sure you check out 99Designs.com and enjoy $99 in savings by clicking on this link!
Other Resources And Books
Now, if you enjoy this podcast please leave me a review on iTunes, and enter my podcast contest where I am giving away free one on one business consultations every single month. For more information go to www.mywifequitherjob.com/contest and if you are interested in starting your own online business, be sure to sign up for my free six day mini course where I show you how my wife and I managed to make over 100k in profits in our first year of business. Go to www.mywifequitherjob.com for more information.
Now, before I begin, I just want to give a quick shout out to these episodes sponsor 99 designs. Now, originally I wasn’t going to take any sponsors at all, but 99 designs caught my eye because I suck at designs, and in fact when I first started my online store back in 2007, the design from my website was terrible and I had absolutely no idea who to turn to. Now first forward to today, 99 designs is a site where you can provide a description of anything that you want designed whether it be a logo, a webpage, a t-shirt, pretty much anything and have dozens of designers compete to deliver you the best design possible. And by best I mean that you get to choose your favorite design among dozens of submissions from a pool of over 315,000 designers.
So, if you are design challenged like I am, I highly recommend that you go over to 99designers.com/mywifequit and if you use that link and tell them that Steve of mywifequitherjob.com referred you, your design listing will be bolded, highlighted, given a prominent background and featured before all regular listings so that your request stands out among all of the designers. And in fact, this special offer is worth 99 dollars. So, if you need a logo, website, t-shirt, business card or anything designed, go to www.99designs.com/mywifequit. Now on to the show.
Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.
Welcome to the My wife quit her job podcast. Today I’m really happy to have my friend Erin Chase on the show today. Erin and I actually just met at the world domination summit in Portland, Oregon last month and I was thrilled to be able to spend some quality time hanging out with her at the conference. Now, Erin runs the very popular site 5dollardinners.com where she teaches others to how to dine in style on a very reasonable budget of five dollars.
And when I say that her site is popular, I mean that it’s crazy popular. She has over 120,000 Facebook fans, insane traffic to her site and she’s been on good morning America, The View and The Rachael Ray show. Now, I can totally relate to why her site is awesome. I have got two kids on my own, and now that they have kind of grown up a little bit, they are almost like real humans now and real humans actually eat a lot of food. And so, whenever we as a family go out, it costs us like 50 dollars a pop. So, naturally a site like Erin’s makes total sense to anyone that has a family. Now besides running her website, she’s also written several quick books which have sold over 150,000 copies.
Recently she started a new subscription base service called 5 Dollar Meal Plan which sends you daily recipes for meals that costs less than 5 dollars. And oh did I mention that she also has four kids as well, and she consults on the side and she also helps to run a conference called Digital Cool Lab [phonetic]. I have absolutely no idea how she gets everything done and still has time to attend conferences, but I know for a fact that you are going to find her story very inspirational and with that welcome to the show Erin. How are you doing today?
Erin: Wow! Thanks I’m doing awesome with that introduction [laughing]
Steve: You like that ha…
Erin: Yeah, yeah that’s pretty fantastic [laughing]
Steve: So, give us the quick background story and tell us how you came up with the idea for 5 Dollar Dinners in the first place. I kind of read your bio ahead of time and it’s a pretty interesting story actually.
Erin: Yeah, so back in 2008 I was this stay at home mom with two little boys and my husband is a teacher so everybody knows that teachers have you know lowlish salaries. And we were you know going into– going through the summer as everybody wants when all over sudden the gases prices spiked up. They went from what– I don’t know 229 a gallon to four dollars a gallon something crazy. My husband had a pretty decent commute at that time and so the gas– we were already spending quite a bit on gas and we were going– it basically doubled, and so we needed to notch. We were very– we’ve always been very smart with our money, but we didn’t want to run into the road every month because gas price had hiked. We were doing everything we could to save as much as we could at the time.
We had pay as you go cell phones and we had our mortgage, we had a small little ranch house. Our mortgage was finances at the lowest possible rate it could have been at the time. Anyway so we were being very smart but still we were feeling the pinch, you know like a lot of people were and so I challenged myself too since I wasn’t bringing home any money, to spend most of it at the grocery store because that was really the only line under our personal or family budget, that we had any real control over. And so, you know so a combination of meal planning and couponing and just really being smart with how– what I was purchasing, what we got less purchasing at you know things like stocking up on chicken breast, or pork chops or beef were our favorite types of meats when they were on sale, so I dint have to pay for prices in between.
So those kinds of things I started doing, and our grocery bill went from 500 dollars a month for the four of us to 250. So that whole like cut your grocery bill in half thing is totally possible. And so I started sharing just tips and recipes and ideas on my then family blog. And my sister said “Yeah I really could care less what you’re buying at the grocery store, I just going to see pictures of the kids at their swimming lessons, right.” So, I kind of had that at the back of my head and after dinner one night I had shared with Steve my husband that, you know I think I had made a pork chop meal and I cooked some rice to go with it and maybe we grilled it and you know the total of that meal was three dollars 95 cents, for the pork chops plus a little bit of rice, it’s good choice it’s very inexpensive and we probably had a block layer experience– something that would have been on sale. And so I was I doing the dishes after that meal, then this is one of my clearest memories of you know when you have children everything gets kind of fuzzy [laughing]
Steve: Yes, yes absolutely.
Erin: and you have more and it gets fuzzier and fuzzier, anyway another story for another day. And I so clearly remember doing the dishes and my– you know how like on the news sites or near scandal or ticker is running across the screen giving you all the latest updates of you know whatever has happened in the world. Well there was that, but the ticker in my brain was five dollar dinners. And then it was, stop the dishes go Google it and see if anyone else is doing it. Because I knew enough about blogging and websites and I had you know visited quite a few just in my own little personal family blog that we had, and so I knew enough to look around first before I did anything.
And so, there was cheapfamilydinners.blogs.com or something like that was the only thing that I could find in the array of keywords that I had searched, you know around this random subject. And so I started a blog spot and within– that was August 22nd 2008, so coming up on six years– that I think within a month we were seeing 1000 visitors a day and within two months I had earned enough in ad income after the first month I put ads on the site, thinking that I would earn about you know, 10 cents for the month [laughing]. Because you know I didn’t know very much at the time, I didn’t know you could monetize the website or how to do that.
And so, you know at the first month I had ads and the second month of the site I earned enough money to buy our groceries for that week. So, all that much, excuse me. So, it was very eye opening that oh my goodness! This is something here. I think I’ve hit something here, I don’t know what and I don’t know what I am doing [laughing], but I hit something. It’s clearly resonating with people and yeah, that’s how 5 dollar dinners came to be.
Steve: So, if we can go into a little bit more depth down on that first month, how the heck do you pull off 1000 visitors a day in just the first month? I know it took me a very long time with my own blog to achieve that number. Where was the traffic coming from and how did you get it? How did you get the word out?
Erin: I was a very strategic link party hopper [laughing]. I don’t do them anymore, I used to host one for a long time as well. I just was very strategic, I had the same content every week, I would post my meal plan on Sunday, I would post Monday through Friday, what we had for dinner that night. No matter how random it was [laughing] that’s what I would share. And I would share the price breakdown and I think people just thought it was really interesting that one I was doing something sort of crazy– not sort of crazy, it was, it is.
But it was a challenge at the same time, I think and people say “you know that’s actually doable.” So a story on that, I’ve been on The View twice. I was there in May of 2011, again in October 2011.When I went back the second time Elizabeth Hasselbeck when she was still a co-host on the show, walked out of her way to come to where I was and said I want you to know that my brother in-law saw you when you were here before and first of all I was like you remember “you remember that I was here before.”
Steve: Wow! That’s awesome.
Erin: And so she said he thought you were– started by saying crazy, he thought you were off your locker. Well then he started paying closer attention, I guess he was the grocery shopper in the family– paying closer attention to some of the things I had suggested on the show and some of the tips I had given, and then just general prices he was paying and watching sort of sales and cycles and things, and then he decided that I was the most genius person in Tailope [phonetic] to chase his luck. She came out of her way to do that and so I think that, that is you know, the combination of it being a dramatic number that doesn’t seem attainable but it really is if you’re just smart about how you shop and what you’re spending that I think it’s certainly not the recipes.
I didn’t even have photographs when I first started, I didn’t even know how to use my camera. So I think it was more of the oh my goodness, what is she was making, like what should I try to in just simple basics. From we have food allergies from scratch sort of cooking methods and concepts that I think just resonates with people especially when we were going through that. You know I heard word recessions in the news like two weeks after the site started, then everybody starts to panic and so I think just the combination of all those factors is what was driving people. I think I got a lot of word of mouths comments here and there. All my friends, all my cousins, and whoever told me about the site and that kind of thing.
Steve: So you mentioned the word link party, can you kind of describe how that works?
Erin: Yeah. So, a blog generally will host a link party a certain day of the week with a specific team and then you will take your blog posts and act as that name and link it up to it. And depending on the party and who is hosting it and the traffic coming from that website it would drive a lot to your own. So, the two that I participated in back then, I believe one of them is still going on– I don’t think the other one still is. One of them was ‘milk plan Monday’ which is perfect I would just “this is what is planning to make this week and this is what’s on sale this week” and that kind of thing. And then the other one was called ‘works for me Wednesday’ and that one was supposed to carry two different bloggers way back in 2008, 2009 you know John I haven’t seen that around lately. So it could still be going on, I’m not sure. And that one was just sort of tips and tricks on why use reusable dish towels instead of paper towels those kinds of things.
Steve: Okay. So you just basically made friends with these people and then started participating in link parties and that sort of thing and that gave your blog kind of an early jump in the very beginning.
Erin: Yeah, I would say that is what gave the blog that early jump is participating in those and just [Inaudible] [00:13:05] and instantly forming these little pocket of people.
Erin: That I still chat with regularly. Even this week, I was chatting with someone I hadn’t talked to in a little while and all over sudden we’re chatting again. You know just these pocket of people that we sort of all rose together I guess.
Steve: Yeah it’s really awesome how the friends you make blogging kind of become your real friends even if they do not live nearby. At least that’s been my experience.
Erin: Absolutely, I chat daily with several people.
Steve: You are like on fire, like I send email I get a response like that. It’s like you’re on your email like constantly.
Erin: Well I’m not on it constant, I will tell you though that that it’s my to do list, I plod my conscience as my to do list and at present it has 22 emails in it, and I’m sort of freaking out of all that because I like to keep it under ten. So, I just send very quick and going and I rely a lot on my calendar where I get encouraged to do stuff, but if there is something I need to do but I don’t want it in my inbox like linking lights at me– you need to do me– you need to take care of me now, then I’ll throw it over into my calendar and then I’ll get a reminder when it’s time to take care of it. So..
Steve: Yeah, so I heard that you got a book deal within– was it like three months after starting your blog? How does a mere model accomplish this?
Erin: Getting a book deal within three months of starting your blog?
Steve: Yeah did you plan and seek that or did someone just come to you?
Erin: Well, somebody came to me and again my sister, it was like about– I think it was about the same week my sister was like you really should turn this whole blog thing of yours into a book. And I’m like yeah I don’t know anything about that. So I– within that same week got an email from a very small publishing house that I did not end working with, basically saying we would be interested in publishing this cook book, and I’m like I don’t know what that means. The only person at that time that I knew had a cook book deal or knew anything about cook book publishing was Stephanie O’Dea from the “Year of Slow Cooking” website and she was doing her Year of Slow Cooking in 2008 which is the same year I started.
So I sent her an email, I remember I was in Texas visiting my family and I sent her an email and literally, basically saying hey I have all these questions, I know you have a book deal, I’d love to talk to you, choose my sample and if you have time– if not we can chat via email and like within two minutes– talk about writing an email, she calls me you know and I’m like oh hi, okay we can chat about this now.
Erin: So she gave me a rundown, like the whole rundown and she also connected me with her literary agent who obviously understood blogging and book deals and how that you know you have this on a platform and you have this book thing that publishers are happy because you already have some type of instant marketing you know two order here. And so yeah connected with her and she was able to land a book deal within like a week of signing on with her.
Steve: I’m sorry, how did you find this person again?
Erin: It was through– I was using the literary agent as another blogger friend.
Steve: Oh, okay got it, got it and then at that point your blog was nice, but it wasn’t like humongous like it is today, right, so…
Erin: Oh, I didn’t even have a Facebook page when I signed book deals. I think yeah, no.
Steve: But you had your blog, right?
Erin: I did, yeah.
Steve: Usually, traditionally the book publisher expects you to be able to be responsible for some of your sales, right? So how did you approach this when your audience wasn’t humongous or was it already pretty big at the time?
Erin: It was pretty big at the time. I mean I was seeing 400,000 to 500,000 page views a month.
Steve: Okay, yeah that’s pretty big.
Erin: Yeah, It was big enough and I did a fine job of selling them– still do so, it’s you know, it’s…
Steve: So within three months you were getting 500,000 page views.
Erin: No I didn’t sign, by the time I actually signed the book deal I was a pro so it had been about six months in this since then.
Steve: But still six months that is crazy. Okay so what was the– so you mentioned link parties, what were the some of your other early strategies to kind of obtain traffic.
Erin: You know honestly, I did a couple of guest posts for other people, but not very many. I did have a pretty decent twitter presence from the beginning back when people were actually using twitter and when twitter was actually growing traffic. So I participated in a lot of twitter parties, and yeah this was before Pinterest, and before my big Facebook page came about, I think it was just really a lot of word of mouth.
Steve: Was Google organic traffic as well or?
Erin: I do, I have always ranked very highly for a lot of search traffic, and the thing about 5 Dollar Dinners too was that it’s a very bouncy website, it always has been. I’ve actually had consultations with several people about why and how to fix it and I don’t think you can. I’ve tried all the right ways to fix it and people want a recipe, they want to know how to cut something, they want to watch a video and they’re gone which is totally fine with me, I am down with that concept. I’ve come to terms with it after six years of fiddling with helping make it stickier, but that is okay. I have an email list that is pretty big and other social media pages that are doing just fine so.
Steve: Yeah it sounds like you got a lot of different ways to get traffic to your site today, and I guess earlier on you focused on twitter link parties and regular link parties just kind of let nature take its course, right?
Erin: Yeah, I really do think the concept. I did work hard, I will not deny that. I did work my tail off getting great content out there, you know being very intentional with when the content went out and I did jump on Facebook page pretty early, and you know build that up through giveaways and other ways to drive traffic and making people engaged in your content…
Erin: I did a lot of those in the beginning, but I really do think that the concept did a lot for us– does a lot for us still today.
Steve: Sure, Sure yeah I can totally see that. So, what are some of the giveaways that you actually did, to kind of boost your thing, boost your traffic a little bit. What were you giving away?
Erin: Any brands. I worked with different kind of brands and companies to give away their products. I did book giveaways for Christmas, I generally under my own pocket would do you know I’ve had many giveaways, and I did a series of a hundred cook book give away, and we’ve done blenders and kitchen aids and generally at the blog’s birthday and holidays I’ll do my own little thank you kind of thing. So that I think helps as well just bringing people to check out your contest and be enter to win, something that’s pretty valuable.
Steve: And they enter in by signing up your newsletter or Facebook like, how do you run the contest?
Erin: I generally offer a couple of options just because some people aren’t on Facebook, a lot of people aren’t on twitter. So I would generally say you can have up to five entries. One would be like the Facebook page, one follow me on Pinterest, another tweet about this give away, another one sign up for email updates. Just something that everybody can pick from.
Steve: Okay. And then do you use any tools to kind of keep track of these contests or you just kind of go through your list and just pick a winner arbitrarily.
Erin: I just do random.org in the comment numbers. I don’t use– I never used any numbers and widgets and different things that you can use, I never use those, I just didn’t know what the mistake.
Steve: Okay. And so, how does the blog actually make money? Like what is the business model and the strategy and how does everything work in terms of revenue?
Erin: So I’m actually in the middle of a big transition.
Erin: So up until now it has been a large portion is at network revenue. So, I work with a third party ad network that runs several ads apart from the site. So, their ads– it’s a premium ad network as far as I know, they’ve the highest payouts of all the ones I’ve researched in right here from online. So, I’m really fortunate to have gotten to work with them.
Steve: Which ad network is that?
Erin: It’s called Federated Media.
Steve: Okay, yeah, okay.
Erin: And, then I have a couple of other ad networks set up as a kind of hassle kind of thing. They don’t serve in adwords, they serve about 70% of the time which is pretty good for the higher CPM as I’ll take that as being pretty good sell rate. And it depends as the holidays get closer it get a lot higher, but at the beginning of the year and certain parts of December it’s a little bad, it’s about 70% range. So, that is probably– it fluctuates by month.
Steve: Are you allowed to reveal the CPM numbers that you are getting approximately for this network.
Erin: No, it varies by month even two.
Steve: Okay, okay.
Erin: It isn’t steady and the company can go up, it can double and then it can back to regular and then it can– it just depends on what ads are running. And then– so that’s probably about 35% of my revenue. Another– it varies by month. I’m just going to throw some awkward numbers.
Erin: Another 25% is probably with sponsored campaigns which is basically working directly with the company. I actually now I’m wrapped by an agency who does all of that for me which is fantastic.
Steve: Nice. I was about to say that can be a lot of work.
Erin: It is a lot of work. And so now they do all the heavy lifting and they just say here is the content, here is what we need for me to do. Here is where you put the photograph, and then we do it which is wonderful, and now actually they actually generally can get a higher payout for me which is also fantastic.
Steve: Did you start out doing it that way, or did you start out doing the sponsors yourself?
Erin: Oh, I did it for myself until last year.
Steve: Oh okay, okay.
Erin: Yeah, for a long time I did it myself. And, you know every sponsored campaign that I have done has been different even for the exact same brand it’s different campaign. So everybody is you know, everybody’s goals are different in what they are trying to achieve and I will you know if it makes sense for me to share, I’ve turned so many down if it’s just not the right fit, if it’s not the right time yeah, so.
Erin: We have, that’s a good chunk of what I need to quite transfer 25%. And then, I do some affiliate marketing with coupons and certain special offers, restaurant coupons and those types of things, which probably brings in– I don’t know 10%. It’s a smaller pack. But I also have mobile ads that are small little portions. You add up all these little pieces and it becomes this little bigger-bigger bubble, so yeah it’s hard to say. And then, so I mentioned we’re in sort of a transition mode. I earlier this year had a post go viral that…
Steve: Is it the Costco post?
Steve: Okay. Go ahead and talk about it.
Erin: Are you going to ask?
Steve: Well I was going to ask anyways, but yeah since you brought it up.
Erin: What I’ll do, I’ll tell the whole story. So the Costco, I am now famous in Costco and I should be in their magazine this coming month too. So in September of 2013, I posted these 20 meals from Costco that you can make for 150 dollars. So it has all the recipes, the Shopping list, how much I paid for everything, and it’s just this plan, you know bulk shopping, what to with all these chicken breasts and all this meat that you buy right, what do you do with all these? So I posted that and I guess it went viral the first week it had 100,000 shares on Facebook within seven days.
Steve: That’s the understatement of the century, go on. Sorry.
Erin: Is it not so but this is why I said that way. Because I went on with my married life, went with the holidays and oh my I should put together a second plan, I will get to it one day. They take a lot of time and energy to put together so I was like, I will get to it one day. So the first weekend of January this year the post saw1.5 million views in a weekend, okay.
Steve: It’s crazy, that is crazy.
Erin: So that’s why I say that 100,000 in a week is not that many, which I know sounds terrible but it’s all relative, right? So, because of that and the way that my hosting agreement– my site actually never went down during that time but I was going to owe them 1500 dollars for the extra traffic. And so, I’m like I can’t– like the ad revenue probably was pretty close to making up for that. It probably would have been if I checked it out, but I kind of went into this “Oh my goodness! How am I going to pay for this and like our personal since I’m bearing the chore with our business finances as well. Have everything planned out and this was not in the budget right, 1500 dollars is…
Erin: Not a small chunk of change. So I panicked and up until then had all of the printibles that came along with the Costco plan negotiation less fees as a free download, probably one of the reasons I went viral anyways. But, I switched them to cost a dollar 49, which I probably should have had them pay from the very beginning, giving me amount of time, the concept of these things.
Steve: Yeah, now I looked at it. It’s beautiful.
Erin: Yeah, it’s in text. So I quickly switched them to a paid model, which went over very well, I didn’t get any complains, and put out the second plan shortly thereafter, maybe within the month of that happening. And then just in June, we put up with the free version of the plan and then in August we put out the slow cooker freezer pack where you everything and then you can toss in the freezer and then drop it in slow cooker and make it. So that will come out in a couple of weeks, I’m actually shopping for that this weekend. So…
Steve: And you only charge us a couple of bucks? You are buck 50 for…
Erin: Mm-huh, Yes.
Steve: I’m being curious, I bet you can charge more and people won’t even think twice, I don’t know.
Erin: I have talked about that with actually a number of different people who are in the online digital products space and currently the concerns system we’ve come up with is that because everybody is looking for the budget, family meal in the deal and I get stories all the time “Oh your site has helped me so much, I just bought the mom food stamps because this-this-this and this and my kid has this” I mean it’s like they’ve had you know very tough situations, and so I feel like if I charge too much then I’m going to alienate– this is probably not the right word, but alienate the people who need it most. And you know people I think can afford a dollar 50. So, I have gone back and forth with on that several times in my own head and with other people and just decided this is the number we are going to stick with, and actually with the set next plan that’s coming out I’m going to have an additional assembling instructions and printable labels and videos and that would be an additional charge. So, that would probably be a total of five dollars for all of that.
Erin: So, I’m trying to mix it up, but since that experience I’ve been trying to be more strategic with digital products and increasing that revenue stream for the site because I think that’s sustainable long term process…
Erin: Verses affiliate marketing and some of those sponsored clause. And ad network has been pretty consistent, I’m not worried about that, but you know just to kind of help offset things like hosting costs that comes out of nowhere [laughing].
Steve: Yeah, so are you going to be keeping all the existing content on your site free or you kind of going to go through…
Erin: Oh yes, absolutely.
Erin: Yep. And then the other thing too is the cost of printables, it’s all there for you for free. You have to go popping around to get all the content, all you can pay a dollar 55 within one place. So it’s kind of this, it’s worked well for me so far, and so I am going to see how it works with these additional add-ons that will cost more and with this next plan that we are going to put out.
Steve: Okay, and you mentioned earlier that you know your traffic sources early on did not include Facebook and Pinterest and that sort of thing, but how’s that kind of changed over time. So what traffic sources actually work the best for you now and what are you putting into place to actually grow your traffic today?
Erin: So I think it’s the same rules and the same concepts of awesome content, now it’s awesome photography because of Pinterest and Facebook and some of our most popular shares on our Facebook page are just those solid photos you know and concept, and the concepts do make a difference as well. We had I think it was slow cooker baked potatoes, baked potatoes and slow cooker, I mean I’ve had this post on my site for years, we re-put it out there, regurgitated it and…
Steve: Sounds yummy regurgitated.
Erin: Regurgitated slow cooker baked potatoes, amazing you have to try them. So we– and it had like 2000 shares or something crazy and so you know it’s like it’s part content, it’s like a great photograph, its part content you know part photography. So now the traffic model or traffic sources are– Pinterest is actually number one over search.
Steve: I can see that.
Erin: I believe the reasons for that is because of the changes that Pinterest has made to its guided search, and the way that it serves searched posts. So that is one thing I think a lot of people now are using Pinterest as their search you know tool because they can see all the visuals instead of reading all the content on a search page. So I think that, that is probably the reasons that I’m seeing more Pinterest traffic than search traffic although that has been just in the last 6 months that that has switched…
Steve: Do you do anything special with Pinterest other than just putting a pin it button on top of all your photos?
Erin: I actually don’t have that on top of all my photos.
Steve: You don’t, okay.
Erin: Nope yeah I’m kind of a stickler for site load in times and whatnot and plug ins and such…
Erin: So I just have a Pinterest share button at the bottom of every post, if you get to the bottom of the post and you like it you’ll share it if you get to the bottom of the post, right? So…
Steve: Right, wow. Okay that’s incredible.
Erin: We had a pretty aggressive Pinterest strategy, I guess it’s what we could call it. By ‘we’ I mean my assistant because she manages all of it.
Erin: We purchase the page and a number of group boards, we reach out to other bloggers and say “hey this is one of our boards, would you like to join our board” you know “can we join yours” you know so were pretty strategic about the group board which is sufficient in pinning to those regularly and keeping our content in front of– some of these group boards have hundreds of thousands of followers so…
Erin: You know keeping your content out there where it’s going to be found, pinning often…
Steve: So you need kind of a strong account to reach out…
Erin: You do.
Erin: Yeah you have to kind of be– you probably need– I say get with people who are your same size basically.
Erin: So if you’re at 8000 or you are at 2000 find other people and like kind of like how we did it in the beginning where were in this together like you find this people and all of a sudden you’re just like woo and you’re just kind of your numbers are growing pretty quickly. We kind of audit other people’s content as well probably close to 50-50, so you know we’re spreading the Pinterest love at the same time we’re…
Steve: Got it.
Erin: Big believer in you know giving back, so and helping. I’ve always been that way with five dollar dinners, any time someone or a blogger wants to guest post as long as it fits you know the content themes, bring it on, I’ll be happy to send as much traffic your way. I’ve always been you know generous in that sense as well too, so I think that helps.
Steve: Sure and your assistant takes care of all this?
Erin: My assistant does all of the Pinterest images, all over Pinterest yes.
Steve: Wow. And what is her name and email address?
Erin: She’s not, she’s not taking new clients yeah, right yeah right.
Steve: Let’s talk a bit about your media. So how does one get on Good Morning America, The View and Rachael Ray?
Erin: Okay you can’t just go do it unless something dramatic and crazy happens to you then you’ll just get thrown on there, right? So you have to practice a lot. I did local media in Dayton, Ohio for which is like you know probably 6000 people watching in the morning, it’s not a huge market.
Erin: So I did that, I did cooking segments for them weekly for a year probably. I just called the news room and said “hey this is what I’m doing, I’d love to come and do a cooking segment,” they’re like “can you be here next week?” I’m like “sure” so how…
Steve: This is a local station?
Erin: Yeah this is the ABC Fox Station in Dayton, Ohio. I had a great relationship with their news director, we’re in the process of planning a number of different things and unfortunately he ended up being sick and doesn’t work there anymore. So still to this day I have a great relationship with BS Dennis, the assistant news director who’s now in Dallas. So I chat with him here and there you know whenever I’m in town I let him know if I’m there, if there’s a spot for me I’ll hop in there. So then the next piece that worked for me was when I– when my books came out, I did several city tours I guess you could call them part for book signings, and part for media. So I did news segments on multiple stations in Atlanta and Minneapolis you know kind of all Chicago, so just practicing you know getting here little sound bites that you know say over and over and how you introduce yourself, and how you do that in two and a half minutes.
Steve: How did you secure those opportunities? Did you have an agent book those for you or did you get those yourself?
Erin: Yeah, so everything that came through the publishing house– everything that came on my book tour was through my publishing house publicist.
Erin: And then after my second book came out, I reached out to my publicist in the publishing house and just said “hey I would love to do more media outside of the books” like the book tours and the book media “do you know anybody who is you know could help me for a reasonable price?” Because PR agencies and publicists can be very expensive.
Steve: Very expensive, yes.
Erin: So I– she connected me with a woman who had just– she took a bi-op from, she was a food segment producer at Good Morning America. She took a biop to stay home with her kids, and went into freelance publicist mode. And so I’ve been working with her since probably 2011.
Erin: And she’s the one who has secured all of these other non-cook book related segments.
Steve: Okay, that’s amazing wow. I want to kind of unroll the onion, so we talked about your book, how did you– I imagine the press that you got from Good Morning America, The View, and Rachael Ray, did those help you sell your book? Was it– did that come first or the book come first?
Erin: The book came first.
Erin: The Good Morning America segment did wonders for the sales and just awareness. I was at– the first time I was on Rachael Ray came the same week that I signed my cook book contract, so that was very early on and that really just helped with audience growth you know hundreds of thousands of people hearing about me millions probably in that instant, right? So that experience…
Steve: So to get to Rachael Ray appearance did you or did the publicist get that too?
Erin: Oh actually I did that, so that’s a fun story. So I think it was within the first month of setting up the site yeah because it was September, so it would’ve been within the first month I heard about this segment with Whoopi Goldberg and Rachael Ray– the two of them talking about fat tax, where I think it was Arkansas or somewhere that was going to implement a tax, if you weighed so much and you didn’t lose so much within nine months– you lose so much weight you were going to get taxed for being fat.
Erin: Right, so they were arguing about whether or not it was more expensive to eat healthy. So this was the segment that the two of them had, I think it was on Rachael Ray’s show. So I went on her website, found her little contact form– like went through the whole toping of the topics list, went through found the one that was most appropriate, you know jumped in there in all caps– I was like I can’t believe this segment would be in Rachael, this is crazy, this is what I’m doing, this is what you need to know boom-boom-boom, and I just laid out like five tips basically. It was essentially a pitch of me not knowing how to write a pitch and I did it in all caps because I was like being dramatic about it because I thought it was the craziest thing that I’d ever seen on television.
And here’s how I can prove you wrong and March, so six months later– almost seven months later the producer calls me out of the blue, I must’ve left my phone number in there, calls me out of the blue, I’m in the kitchen, my heart like starts racing. I’m like “what is going on?” like I completely forgotten did I have even sent that on her website and so “they’re like yeah we’re going to send a crew to your house next week” and I’m like “a crew to my house, what?”
Steve: That’s awesome, that’s incredible.
Erin: That’s actually pretty that’s an amazing like I think part just getting lucky and that was them taking a chance on me. Yes, I had a lot of local media experience, but that was the first time that I had ever done anything at the national level in front of a live audience. That was a little bit more intimidating than I was expecting it to be.
Steve: This is just based on an email, you didn’t even send in like an audition video or anything.
Steve: They just came?
Steve: Wow, okay.
Erin: I think you know I chatted with the girl on the phone for 20 minutes probably, so she probably got a good sense of my energy and personality and you know she was asking pretty pointy questions you know, and I may or may not have jumped on the couch right after I got off the phone.
Steve: I can’t see you doing that.
Erin: No, maybe not.
Steve: Wow, okay that’s pretty amazing, so that probably propelled your first book to do really well and then things probably just kind of snowballed after that, right? You got follow on book deals after that and…
Erin: Yep, I had follow and book deals, I had another kids and then I wasn’t in the news very much because when you’re big and pregnant and fat, you don’t want to be on TV. So I had to go– I went through that twice. I think the most pregnant I ever was on the news was seven months, I was like, okay I can’t do this anymore. I was yeah anything, I’m wearing all black, facing directly straight to the cameras, so you can’t see the fat belly– not that it really matters, but pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but when you’re on television it just makes you more self conscious but…
Steve: Sure, I can see that.
Erin: So yeah I kind of went– I’d gone– my media you can actually see like I did a bunch in 2011 because that’s when I was between you know between kids or whatever and then I did some video work for a brand, and then found out I was pregnant with number four and then I did the Ray Ozman show when I was five months pregnant, but I was– I’m really tall, so I can hide a belly for a long time when I’m pregnant. So I was able to hide it pretty well for that segment. So then and then after that I didn’t do any, they wanted me to come back on the show but I was like “I’m sorry I can’t, I’m going to be too pregnant.” So then just in this last year– just this January we did, we started pitching again pretty aggressively and I was on Rachael Ray again this February and then did an island segment in May, so…
Steve: That’s incredible. So let me ask you this Erin, if someone listening to this show wanted to kind of start a site, publish a book or get on TV today, and if you had to start all over again, what advice would you give them and how would you have proceeded if you were to start all over?
Erin: I would not have proceeded any differently, the path that I’ve been on is he path that I’m supposed to be on and the things that happened, happened as they were supposed to and me writing into all caps was you know me writing in all caps to get into the show page or whatever I think that when…
Steve: Let me give an example of what I mean by that question. So for example, link parties today might not be as effective anymore because Google was devaluing those type of link carnival type of things, right? So if you were to start all over today you know how would you have achieved the same viral nature that your blog experienced?
Erin: I think one is going to be the concept.
Erin: You know that we’ve seen blogs in the recent past do crazy things, 100 days of real food with Jason, those like went crazy because It’s 100 days of real food, it’s a very similar challenge you know, seems unattainable but really is attainable. And they break it down for you very similar kind of nature concept at five dollar dinners.
Another one is Simple Green Smoothies, those guys or those girls just blew it out of the water by creating awesome content, beautiful pictures, simple design and they were very strategic with working on instagram. So I think it partly depends on the niche and what your site, your concept is but if you can pick out— there is a girl named Val Warner I think how you say her last name, and she has a fantastic instagram polling. Also she sells these beautiful little journals that she creates and she just has this little heard of people over on instagram.
Erin: And so I think maybe it’s tumbler, maybe you are really clever and comedic and you can do those little mean photos and sayings and what not and you just have this crazy tumbler presence that you can turn into products or whatever. So I think it partly depends on the niche. For me it was recipes every night of the week and that’s best in a blog format. Obviously that was before all the social networks were really popular. But some people’s Facebook pages like Taylor who is in our community of bloggers and her Facebook page this year I think is close to half a million already and it’s just…
Erin: Going crazy. And she`s been strategic about it and she is being – if you talk to her she is very you know, analytical about it and she is very strategic for what she is doing and keeping the growth as rapid as it is. She is doing a great job with that, but you know she’s also got a very focused content and theme and niche. So I think a lot of it depends on what your topic is, how you are resonating with people, and how if that makes sense how you connect with them and how you are helping them you know. I think a lot of these sites and using the examples in the more recent past, it’s you know– and me too with five dollar dinners is I`m here to help people.
I would still be doing this if I wasn’t making any more. Maybe not to the same extreme, but I would still be putting out ideas and content as you know as I was able to if I wasn’t doing it as a business you know. But you know at least NJ [phonetic] said they are helping people with eating, making smarter choices with what they are eating. Eating more real food and you know the girls Jadah and Jen from Simple Green Smoothies– they are helping people, they are passionate and want people to be smarter about what they are eating as well. So I think some of these newer sites that have you know– I say newer but they have been around for long too, but the Simple Green Smoothie site is very new, two years. So they you know they just being– and that’s green smoothies– that is all.
Erin: So it’s just, it`s – but it resonates with people, it`s like I should be making a green smoothie for breakfast. I`m going to make that one that they just put on instagram right now. I`m going to my kitchen right now and I`m doing it right now and then you feel better about yourself. So they come back because they want more recipes for the smoothies. So it’s – yeah I thinks it’s a really roundabout way of answering your question.
Steve: Yeah, I think I can just summarize basically what you are saying is you know if you going to start something you want to start something unique that has a very unique message that actually helps people right?
Erin: Yeah exactly, and you guys are a prime example of that as well. Both with e commerce and you know my wife quit her job site.
Steve: Yeah I think yeah. I didn’t think about it that way, but yeah now that you have said it that way yeah. We were trying to help people you know start their own businesses and kind of get out of some sort of rut that they are in financially. So hey Erin we have been talking believe it or not for quite a while now. I did want you to kind of talk a little bit about your latest project which is kind of five dollar meal plan because I think it’s pretty cool. We are signed up right now, so if you want to kind of just describe what that’s all about and what your future plans are for that, that would be great.
Erin: Yeah, so about four years ago I looked into having a meal plan subscription service built. Like a database centre you know this whole beautiful thing, built by a development company and it was going to cost a lot of money, more capital than I had at the time. And so I kind of put it on the back burner, but it was always– it’s always has been part of the website and always has been a – you know something that I want to help people with and will continue to help people with and decided earlier this year was approached by Jim Weng, who I know you know and he said, I think there is an opportunity here to take your current meal plans and make them better. But we have to do it in a subscription service form, and I`m like funny you should say that because I used to think that and then I looked into it then it was so expensive.
He goes no-no-no, we would do it like this. And then I`m like that’s totally doable yes we should do that. So here is how it looks, we send you an email with your meal plan, you go about your week making all the meals and you are happy because you don’t have to think about the meal planning piece that is – can be very stressful and take a lot of time and energy and focus that you don’t have on a weekend when you maybe should be meal planning or the middle of the week when your dog is vomiting all over your carpet [laugher].
Steve: I saw that posting.
Erin: Which is what happened to me early this week, right? So that is legit true story. So yeah right, it happens, vomit happens.
Steve: I like how you like bring out these disgusting stories when you talk about the food.
Erin: I`m so sorry, on the first interview ever regurgitating spells of sweet potato. No, stop but seriously life happens like kids get sick but how much money does it cost–how much does it cost you to order a pizza?
Steve: Are you asking me that question?
Erin: Well like hypothetically. Like 25 bucks up to the delivery guy, right. So 25 bucks, so my whole thing is that you can you know– the five dollar meal plan is a subscription service that does cost just five dollars a month. It’s really inexpensive, less than any other meal plan subscription service you are going to find out there, and you know that the recipes in there are all done by me. So they are all going to have like my stamp of approval on them which means they are all going to be budget friendly.
Steve: Yes. That is key.
Erin: Yes, which a lot claim to be and actually I spoke with some women this morning or this – at lunch today, and one of them asked me are these like normal recipes like normal stuff? I’m like yes, I don’t buy stuff from– like I don’t buy that. This all like pretty normal pantry staple you know meats, fruits, vegetables, pretty basic easy to make. I have four children. Like I don’t have– I`m not in the kitchen for four hours preparing these meals every day, because who has time for that? So yeah, they have this kind of the five dollar dinner mom’s stamp of approval on them, so you know they are going to be budget friendly.
One of the interesting things that we found in talking to people who were part of our pre launch group was that you know we talked a little bit about, well would you want something that where you build it yourself like you can go in and I want to make this plus this plus this and then it populates a shopping list basically. Which is not out of the realm of possibility, it’s something we could develop in future. But most people said no, I just want it sent to me.
Steve: I hear you, and you know you mentioned that when you first pitched this idea it was too expensive right, but then Jim came along and presumably he pitched a much more economical solution. So what’s that– what’s the platform that you are using for that service?
Erin: We are using email.
Steve: Email? Okay.
Erin: Yes so I had originally kind of had this in my head where you would come in and to this dash board and you would pick categories and build things and it would be very sleek and pretty and easy to use. But again we– but I did not do any testing, I did not do any surveys, I didn’t ask user anything, what they would want to see and I think that’s where in launching a separate product that we’re consulting for and with Jim’s experience in business and online– being an online entrepreneur he understands product launches. We both have the same understanding of a product launch. So we’ve been much more strategic about how we’ve gone about setting it up, and so getting the feedback of no I would just– the majority of it. There were some people that would want to do this one way or the other, but the majority of it was no we just want it sent to us.
Steve: Right, okay.
Erin: We want you to do it all for us, it was were pretty much like okay we are just going to go with a simple email system, and we also have a dashboard where you can download the plans from the website and your dashboard as well.
Steve: Right. Yeah, it’s funny how sometimes the simplest solution ends up working out, you don’t need to pay the big bucks, right?
Erin: Exactly so that’s – you know and at that time when I had first looked into it, it didn’t even occur to me to just set up kind of this like automated email system you know. That wasn’t even like an option, so I think this is a fantastic compromise of you know kind my original idea which wasn’t going to work without money you know investment…
Erin: To what users are wanting you know these days. We – it’s a fast paced society we are living in and people want quick and easy and a meal plan delivered to your inbox is pretty quick and easy.
Steve: Yeah, I’ll be sure to link up that service in the show notes and..
Erin: Thank you.
Steve: Erin if anyone has any questions for you, where can they find you online?
Erin: So you can find me at fivedollardinners.com like I said my inbox is nearly empty all the time, so I will get back to you pretty quickly. I have a contact form on the site, my email is also email@example.com which is pretty generic and easy to find as well – I`m easy to find that way too.
Steve: Awesome Erin, hey well, thanks a lot for coming on the show. I learned a lot and your story is just incredible. So thanks a lot for coming on.
Erin: Yeah thank you so much for having me, it’s fun to get to share it and kind of walk that down memory lane.
Steve: Yeah, totally awesome story. Well take care Erin, I will catch you later.
Erin: Thanks, you too.
Steve: I hope you enjoyed that episode. I liked Erin the minute that I met her at the world domination summit because she is so down to earth. And even though her website is crazy successful and she is practically a TV star, she is really easy to talk to and extremely humble. For more information about this episode, go to mywifequitherjob.com/episode37 and once again I just want to thank 99 designs for sponsoring this episode. I know a lot of you listening out there are waiting on the sidelines and trying to get the courage to start your own online business. I also know that a lot of you out there run your businesses already, and know that your website design could be better.
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