May 2, 2018
Today I'm speaking with Kevin Espiritu from the blog, Epic Gardening. Kevin and I discuss how to hire the right people to grow your business faster, the importance of SEO for bloggers, how to monetize your blog if your mission is to teach 10 million people how to grow their own food, and how you can really make a living as a poker player.
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Intro: [00:00:00] Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the show. Today, my guest is Kevin Espiritu from the blog Epic Gardening. Now, Kevin is a gardener, a website owner and a student of life. He is teaching 10 million people how to grow their own food. So welcome, Kevin.
Kevin: [00:00:22] Hey, welcome, Jillian. Thanks for having me on.
Jillian: Okay, I was reading up on you, and you have had a very interesting path, and I'd love you to share how you got into gardening and building online communities and an online business.
Kevin: [00:00:40] Sure, yeah. I guess it depends on how far we want to go back, but it is kind of a long story. I was in school. I went to University of California, Santa Barbara, and was kind of on the track to become an accountant out of all things. Yeah, I know that's the reaction I have now.
Jillian: [00:00:58] Well, just meeting you, I just don't see that.
Kevin: [00:01:01] Yeah. And I don't know why I ever saw it myself. I think it was one of those things where you're asked to choose what you want to do for your life when you're 18 and you just pick a generic major and sort of see where it goes.
Kevin: [00:01:14] I ended up playing actually online poker in school, and that started paying the bills. It got to the point where I was making more than I would make as an accountant so I said obviously the next question would be why would you be an accountant then.
Jillian: [00:01:28] So you were making real money playing poker.
Kevin: [00:01:31] Oh, yeah. Yeah, I was studying the game because it's unlike many other gambling games. There's actually an element of skill in it. You're playing against other players and not the house. You actually can win long term.
Jillian: [00:01:46] That's funny. I had just read that, that it's not exactly a game of chance.
Kevin: [00:01:51] It's a mix so everything else in the casino is going to be a pure game of chance. Obviously, like blackjack, there's a strategy but you still can't beat the house unless you're counting cards.
Kevin: [00:02:02] With poker, you're playing against other human beings. The House is making its money by taking a small percentage of the pot but if you're better by a significant margin than other people, you can actually win long term.
Kevin: [00:02:12] If you're good, you can actually do pretty well for yourself. Anyway, to get back to it, that sort of put me off the path of maybe what you might say is just a traditional career. And then, I got into building and designing websites but that sort of became a bit stale.
Kevin: [00:02:33] I wasn't really a designer at heart. It also was one of those things that you had to just keep selling websites month after month after month because once someone paid for a website, they were gone unless they needed some repairs or something like that.
Kevin: [00:02:44] So that got me into marketing online, which sort of put me on this hybrid path of doing some consulting for other people like small businesses in my area, which is San Diego.
Kevin: [00:02:55] At the same time, I realize maybe it makes sense to show these clients, "Hey, I actually know what I'm doing." I started a website myself, and it was right about the time I was getting into gardening. I just pick gardening as the test site to start.
Kevin: [00:03:11] At the time, it was called something completely different. I hadn't really thought about the branding of it at all. That began the journey. That was maybe, I want to say 2010, but really, I hadn't touched the site at all in any significant way. It's certainly not as a business until the summer of 2016. So that's the short abridged version, I guess, of how I got into the whole thing.
Jillian: [00:03:36] What made you want to turn it into a business?
Kevin: [00:03:40] Yes, so I had seen just in doing consulting work and marketing work. I tried my hand at a startup as well. I'd seen that I could reach a certain point in business stuff. I really was having a hard time cracking past that plateau. I was making money. I could pay my bills.
Kevin: [00:03:56] I wasn't really making what I would want to make to consider doing it full time. And so, I joined this publishing startup as a company called Book in a Box. The reason I joined, first of all, there are some cool people working there, but I also wanted to learn why can I not crack this plateau in business.
Kevin: [00:04:17] I can't really get past a certain point, and there must be something I don't know. I joined that company, spent a year and a half there, building that out. It was a rocket ship so I contributed in some small way to it just blowing up.
Kevin: [00:04:32] When I quit, I felt I had the tools to turn the gardening thing into a full time business. And that's what I did. And the reason why is just simply because I'm just not a good employee.
Kevin: [00:04:43] I'm good at doing things I'm really interested in. I'm very, very bad at doing things I'm uninterested in to the point where at the most extreme, I just won't do them. I wanted to just do something that was fun, interesting to me, was valuable to people. Gardening is definitely helping people around the world.
Kevin: [00:05:03] It could fund the lifestyle that I want to live, which is a relatively simple life. But I wanted it to throw off enough cash that I could invest it in gardening projects, different websites, or things like that just to kind of further the mission of the site.
Jillian: [00:05:17] Now, what was the secret sauce that you were missing previously that you might have gained at this startup?
Kevin: [00:05:23] Sure, yes. I think I come from a little bit different background than the average, maybe, listener to the show, where I noticed in the blogging world, a lot of these bloggers are bloggers first. I kind of never was that.
Kevin: [00:05:37] And so I didn't have a good understanding of building communities and getting kind of people invested in what you're creating. I was always thinking of it from more of like a search and SEO perspective. That's a strength in itself because that's going to be free traffic forever and ever.
Jillian: [00:05:55] I almost feel like we met at a conference relatively recently, and I was doing the SEO track. I felt like as bloggers, it's not how we think first.
Kevin: [00:06:10] Right, exactly. So that is the biggest thing I noticed actually at that conference, and speaking with bloggers in general. Basically, my group of friends, who there are some bloggers, who are more I guess, in my way of the world.
Kevin: [00:06:25] But yeah, a lot of bloggers are so good at social media. They're so good at creating and building cool things that people sort of organically talk about. The danger, at least, that I saw, and I will get back to your initial question, of what was the secret sauce, the danger that I saw was a lot of these people are relying so much on a platform so let's say Pinterest or Facebook.
Kevin: [00:06:48] We've all seen before. I call it platform risk. If a significant amount of your traffic or revenue is coming from a certain platform, that's great because it's obviously working for you but it's extremely dangerous if that number is too high.
Kevin: [00:07:04] So let's say you're getting 80 percent of your traffic total from Pinterest, one or two algorithm changes can absolutely decimate your entire business.
Kevin: [00:07:12] And so that's why I focused on SEO at the start because as long as you're doing it with good practice, you're not sort of scamming, spamming or anything like that. That's essentially free traffic forever that only gets better and better over time.
Jillian: [00:07:24] Yep. I totally agree. Like I plan in this podcast to talk more about SEO because I think it is, it's not sexy.
Kevin: [00:07:34] No.
Jillian: [00:07:35] It's not really fun, not like posting on Instagram, especially if that's kind of how you got into the world of blogging, whereas SEO is like straight up. We will talk about it but it's just like learning how the process works.
Kevin: [00:07:55] Yeah, I agree. SEO has gone through a lot of different iterations and adjustments over time, as well as Google, and other search engines have gotten smarter. The best strategy fortunately these days is actually to just do what most bloggers are already doing which is create really good stuff.
Kevin: [00:08:14] The only difference is a lot of bloggers are really good at thinking about things from the lens of what their community will think about it, whereas you kind of have to put on a different shade of glass and kind of think about a piece of content the way a search engine might look at it, because they're not human beings. And so it's really simple. It just takes a different sort of hat that you wear.
Jillian: [00:08:39] You're so right. It's about how could people search and find my content, what questions are they asking instead of, "They already know me. They get my jokes." It's like what is the way into my content if I'm on Google.
Kevin: [00:08:59] Totally. Yeah. There's things that are very simple. I was just talking with a blogger. She had a post about birthday party ideas for kids. She had showed me the original post. Amazing ideas, great photos, great content for a human being. It could have been better for a search engine and also better for a human being.
Kevin: [00:09:22] So that's kind of the thing to think about. If you're going the SEO route and trying to improve your posts for SEO, it's really not going to degrade the experience for a human. It's actually going to improve it.
Kevin: [00:09:33] She did things like added headings for the different themes for kids, birthday party ideas. So maybe under 1 or 5- 7, things like that, just formatting the piece better. And remember, if you're formatting it, that's better for the human eye, because we were attention-starved people these days. But also when a spider is crawling that, now it actually knows the structure and the importance of different sections of the piece.
Jillian: [00:09:58] Absolutely.
Kevin: [00:09:59] Yeah. I have a couple different things that I've done to extend upon that. Headings obviously are a core part of any article, in my opinion. One thing I've done is since my SEO strategy sort of relies on really comprehensive post so let's say, I'm doing a piece on how to grow spinach, I need to talk about everything you could run into when you're growing spinach which is a lot of different things.
Kevin: [00:10:23] There's sort of a flow to that article, so there's how to plant it, what kind of light does it need, what kind of water does it need. What I'll do is install a table of contents at the top as well, so someone can just jump to whatever section they want by just clicking on that heading, kind of like how Wikipedia does it.
Kevin: [00:10:40] Yes. That's pretty helpful on mobile. I'll always, like you just mentioned, I'll add an FAQ section at the bottom. One helpful tip is actually Google already sort of tells you what people are asking.
Kevin: [00:10:52] Let's say you were to grow or you were to search how to grow spinach in Google, you scroll to the bottom. Usually, there are those question and answer boxes that they'll include there. Just answer those questions in the post. Very, very simple strategy that will pull in a little bit of extra traffic for you.
Jillian: [00:11:09] Absolutely. Okay, so let's go back though. You were talking about the special sauce.
Kevin: [00:11:15] Special sauce for me, that I learned at that company, Book in a Box publishing company, among many other things was that I was not building the right systems. I was thinking of my website as a one man operation. I wasn't thinking of it as a little mini business.
Kevin: [00:11:34] It's a very common problem, I think, that most entrepreneurs would have is where you're working in the business and not on the business. I'm sure you've heard that phrase, right?
Jillian: [00:11:42] No, I haven't. Explain.
Kevin: [00:11:44] There's a book called The eMyth Revisited, I think. That particular book is mostly about people who run a small business like an actual brick and mortar, let's say a pie shop or something like that. But the idea is that you get into pie making because you like making pies.
Kevin: [00:12:04] This would be the same for bloggers. You get into craft blogging because you really like making crafts. However, you quickly find that making the crafts is not really most of what you do. Most of what you do is everything else.
Kevin: [00:12:19] The joy of making the craft actually starts to diminish a bit or making the pie. So you're working in your business, right? You're an employee for yourself which is not bad. And I think that's you. You absolutely have to start there.
Kevin: [00:12:31] But what I wasn't realizing is like after let's say, I've written 300 articles on my website. Maybe I kind of know how those need to look from now on. I'm not saying you have to do this, but maybe I could use some help on that part of the business especially for me.
Kevin: [00:12:50] I went into podcasts. I went into videos. I went into doing some live stuff in person. I can't be writing all the articles, doing 100 percent of the social media, all the podcasts, all of that. I would literally be working 100 hours a week. It's impossible.
Kevin: [00:13:06] And so as the site grew, I started to dedicate at least a little bit of that money towards an assistant, and not just getting a VA and telling them, "go do this," but really thinking about the processes and saying, "Okay, here's what I like to do on Instagram. Here's what's working. Write it out step by step."
Kevin: [00:13:25] Train someone on how to help me out with that. Have checks and balances in there so they're not just posting willy-nilly, and you can make corrections here and there, but just really building up processes and then training people to help, that was the biggest thing for me. That's what really let me scale the site up to the point that it's at today. I just wouldn't be able to do it otherwise.
Jillian: [00:13:46] So how many people do you have helping you?
Kevin: [00:13:49] So right now, I have one writer. I found this wonderful woman who lives up in Northern California. She loves gardening, loves writing about it. She helps me out with a lot of the written content on the site these days.
Kevin: [00:14:02] We kind of team write on that. She does a lot of the writing. I do a lot of the researching, editing, formatting, and a lot of like, "Here's what kind of needs to be covered in this piece. Here's what people have been wanting to learn about."
Kevin: [00:14:12] We'll do the back and forth on that. And so I kind of consider her my editor in chief. And then, I have a researcher who will do a lot of like data processing type of task so if I need research done on particular keywords, if I need a bunch of images downloaded or something like that.
Kevin: [00:14:33] I have a graphic designer that'll do some Pinterest images for me since I obviously realized a little too late to the game, that Pinterest was important.
Kevin: [00:14:42] About last year this time, I actually realized, "Maybe I should think about Pinterest." Now, Pinterest is my biggest social driver of traffic. So yeah, I have someone who helps me out with that.
Kevin: [00:14:53] I do all my video filming myself but I realized very, very quickly that the editing part of the videos was going to kill me. It's a thing that I could get obsessed with because that's just my personality.
Kevin: [00:15:06] I realized that if I was to allow myself to get obsessed with that, it would detract from the mission of the site which is just teaching as many people as I can on how to grow. And so, I have a video editor who will put together those clips for me and make them look really sleek for my YouTube, for Facebook or whatever.
Jillian: [00:15:24] That's terrific. Now, did you find it difficult in the beginning when you brought these people on to let go?
Kevin: [00:15:31] Yeah, for sure. And so for me, the written part of the site was very hard to let go of. I've talked to other bloggers too, who just can't even imagine doing that because that is their voice. It's them. This is me. If I were to outsource that or have help on that, I feel like it would be disingenuous.
Kevin: [00:15:52] And so I did definitely feel that. And the way I think about it now is that I'm kind of building a small little company. It's not going to be something crazy, something huge, but the voice is becoming a bit of a hybrid between both of us, my writer and myself, and the podcasts, obviously, that's my voice.
Kevin: [00:16:13] I'm coming off the top of my head with all those topics. The videos I'm on it, I'm talking and so I've given up a little bit of control over some of the written tone and content, provided that I still make sure that's the absolute best quality information I can get out there. Yeah, it took a little bit of time but once I reframed it, it was a lot easier for me.
Jillian: [00:16:35] I have found the same thing when I have brought on somebody to help me. Also, they might not do it my way. They might not sound like me and so I feel like the way that I've been able to do it is to hiring the right person who I think of as a thought partner.
Kevin: [00:16:56] 100 percent. Yeah, exactly. And so the thing that was really the golden goose for me as far as the writing goes is she is a mom. She is a homemaker, I believe, and she loves gardening. And so in many areas, she's actually got more experience than me, let's say for a particular plant.
Kevin: [00:17:19] She's grown more tomatoes than I have, for example, or different varieties. She's grown them more years. She's older than me. She's actually gardened, just mathematically, longer than I have. Even if I garden from age zero, I don't think I could have had more experience.
Kevin: [00:17:34] There are certain areas where she is adding. That's just one of the principal rules of hiring. You want to hire people who are better than you at the job you're hiring for. Why would I bemoan the fact that she does it a little differently? Maybe her different is actually better.
Jillian: [00:17:50] Yes. I think that there is that mind shift of, I don't have to be in charge of everything, meaning I can work with this person together, come up with a solution.
Kevin: [00:18:08] Totally. I'll find a lot of the times that my direction will be overruled. So I'll say, "I think we need a piece on this. I'd like to cover this sort of stuff."
Kevin: [00:18:18] She'll say, "You know what? I'm actually going to add in an extra section on this particular pest because this particular pest specifically attacks this plant a lot. It seems like a lot of people are asking about it. I'm going to cover that."
Kevin: [00:18:32] It's something I maybe wouldn't have thought of because maybe I have less experience than her growing that particular plant or that pest isn't in my region. There's a lot of tiny little things that hiring someone better than you is going to help you out at. You really can't know until you do it
Jillian: [00:18:46] I totally agree. And you have to be willing to. Again, it's that entrepreneurial spirit of you experiment, and you fail often and fail fast. If in fact, I've hired somebody and it hasn't worked out, I always try to make it that it's not personal but this isn't working out. I let that person go very quickly so that I can go find the right person.
Kevin: [00:19:10] Totally, yeah. I agree with you. So what that's sort of a key thing for me is I'd like to do test projects.
Jillian: [00:19:17] Yes, I do too.
Kevin: [00:19:18] So with this particular writer, I did a test project but I kind of knew right away it was going to be a fit, and that was rare for hiring like an assistant type of role. I find that the test projects are really valuable.
Kevin: [00:19:32] Sometimes, you even want to have multiple test projects just to make sure that it's going to be a fit. But for the particular skill of like let's say a writer, an editor or something like that, I think it's something I don't see a lot of people talk about is obviously, you want to hire for someone who knows what they're doing, but you kind of want to think about like extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.
Kevin: [00:19:52] An extrinsic motivator is they get money. Money, I got paid. However, if you only hire someone who is extrinsically motivated, then there's sort of a mercenary. They don't really care about anything except for that money.
Kevin: [00:20:07] They'll do a good job, sure, but only if they're getting that money, whereas if you hire someone who has a bit of a hybrid of the two, for example, my writer really loves gardening, loves writing, and loves to synthesize and share. That's within her DNA, so she's willing to go the extra mile because she actually gets intrinsic joy out of it.
Kevin: [00:20:32] That's something I really haven't seen a lot of people talk about when it comes to hiring. They get a lot of bang for your buck that way.
Jillian: [00:20:38] I think that's so true because I do think if you're hiring somebody who is doing it for the money, over time, it becomes less interesting for them. And if you can find somebody who gets excited about what you get excited about, what your business is about, you both can nerd out about it.
Kevin: [00:20:59] Exactly, yeah. In our Slack channel, we do this. We do that. We'll talk about the tomatoes we want to grow. We'll talk about the seeds that we just bought, all sorts of stuff like this, that. It really wouldn't happen if I just hired a mercenary-type person.
Jillian: [00:21:13] Exactly, so our assistant - we have a business called Catch my Party. We're the largest party ideas site on the web. I have an assistant, and she lives in Portugal. I love her. She's a designer so she has this really beautiful eye.
Jillian: [00:21:27] So we will totally nerd out. We have a Slack channel. She'll say "You're not going to believe this party that somebody uploaded to our site," and then, we'll go through the photos and we'll be like, "Oh my God. That's so beautiful."
Jillian: [00:21:43] She is special because, this is funny like, we'll do something design related on our blog. She won't like the font, and she'll be like, "It's hurting my design eyes," and I'm like "I totally get it." But she sees it. She sees the world in beautiful ways. So therefore, she brings that aesthetic. She can't help it because she loves beautiful things.
Kevin: [00:22:08] That's a good way to put it is she can't help it. I have a story similar. I was actually just on Slack, right before this interview, talking about - I have an article on the Staghorn Fern which is a really popular both indoor and outdoor houseplant. But a lot of like millennials are growing it these days.
Kevin: [00:22:23] It's just a really cool looking plant. Someone had commented about this very obscure pest that's like only in Australia. There wasn't a lot of research on it, and so I said, "Hey, do you know anything about this particular pest because I don't know a whole lot."
Kevin: [00:00:00] She didn't say anything for like 10 minutes and then, she came back with this entire tome of knowledge about it, and then updated the piece, responded to the guy. If I told her about it, it was going to bug her until it was done. It's a similar type of thing that you're talking about.
Jillian: [00:23:01] Totally. Now, what is it like because you have this mission of wanting people to grow their own food, right? And it seems like it's coming from a deep place inside you.
Kevin: [00:23:14] Yeah, I think to me, the reason I got into the gardening thing is because I had been in marketing for so long, and I'd marketed all sorts of products, services, etcetera.
Kevin: [00:23:26] I would say very few of them actually felt like they did any real difference in the world. Not to say they didn't. It's just more of a surface level of things. If you're helping a lawyer out, great. He has some more clients, and those clients got some help.
Kevin: [00:23:43] Let's say I had some earlier website projects that didn't have the most grandiose goals. It was just kind of to make money. But once you kind of get past that point, let's say you're making okay money, it really does become about, "Why do I actually want to do with my days? And what is the effect of what I do on the world itself?" I kind of went down. You're familiar with like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, right?
Jillian: [00:24:09] Yes.
Kevin: [00:24:09] Right. I kind of went down the chain, back down.
Jillian: [00:24:14] Not up the chain?
Kevin: [00:24:15] Yeah, because once you kind of get up the chain, maybe you want to help other people get up the chain. Not to say I'm at the top of the hierarchy or whatever but going back down.
Kevin: [00:24:25] So for me, gardening, the mission kind of came from the audience. I'd get emails. Early on it was a lot of hydroponics, contents, growing without soil. A lot of areas, soil's terrible. You can't grow in the soil.
Kevin: [00:24:38] A lot of people would be writing into me from Africa, the Ivory Coast or Chile, all these different places that really, I had no idea I was affecting or I was touching, saying like, "Hey, I'm using your guide right now to grow basil, mint, and cucumbers for my mom who is like 78, and she needs something to do. She's getting a lot of joy out of it. She's going to eat some of this food."
Kevin: [00:25:02] And so then I really started thinking. You really can't know the people that you're affecting because the people who email you are only a small segment of the people that are reading your stuff. I kind of felt as your site gets bigger, your responsibility kind of grows to be putting out the best stuff you can, stuff that's actually helpful. It's not sort of destroying the world in a way. And that's where that kind of came from for me.
Jillian: [00:25:28] Interesting. Yeah, because I can feel your mission. My next question is how do you monetize that mission? Because you also have to eat, live.
Kevin: [00:25:39] Totally. I'm, again, kind of different from probably many of the bloggers who are either listening, or you've had on the show in the past. My background was SEO like I said. Ads, for me, doing the whole AdThrive or display ad thing, that was always a throw away source of revenue for me.
Kevin: [00:26:02] Until recently it was a throwaway source of revenue for me. It was easily the lowest amount of revenue I made based on. It just wasn't a lot. Early on, I was running Google Ad Sense. Ads just degrade the quality of a site in my opinion. It's hard to argue around that.
Kevin: [00:26:20] But for many of us, it's a necessary evil. And for me, it actually wasn't a necessary evil for a while because it wasn't making that much. And so I didn't have the money.
Kevin: [00:26:30] Only until recently have I started adding ads. Ads, of course, are there. I would like to decrease the amount of ads that I have on the site as the site scales up, and I get revenue from other places. Amazon affiliates is pretty good for me. That's one area I've seen a lot of bloggers kind of struggle with, is making some affiliate revenue via Amazon or other channels.
Jillian: [00:26:52] Why do you think it's good for you?
Kevin: [00:26:54] Well, it's good for me because I have approached it from an SEO perspective on the Amazon stuff. And so for me, there's a wealth of tools and products in the gardening space that I can talk about because I've used them.
Kevin: [00:27:08] If I'm talking about, let's say pruning shears, I actually have a real opinion on what the best ones are and why or what the best ones are for a particular scenario, like if you're elderly or if you need a longer reach.
Kevin: [00:27:23] I'll do review sort of posts on those types of products that are not really social media type of posts. In fact, I often don't even post them to my social channels, but I know that they'll do well in search.
Kevin: [00:27:37] The people who are looking to have that problem solved for them, there you go. It's the most comprehensive guide you're going to find on that particular product. And so Amazon will do pretty well. I've done a few different brand deals. I'm kind of recently exploring that.
Kevin: [00:27:53] Just after meeting a bunch of bloggers at this conference, I realized kind of how little I knew about the brand deal world, which is so funny because a lot of those bloggers are making all their money on ads and brand deals. They're shocked when they hear about what I was charging. I think I did one with WD-40 and charged $150 bucks or something like that.
Jillian: [00:28:13] Yes, you are undercharging.
Kevin: [00:28:15] I mean, to be fair, that is the first one I ever did. I was just kind of stoked that they even wanted to work with me. That was a different story. I've since increase my prices. Not waiting for the brands to come to me, for example, going to them, pitching them ideas and saying, "Here's what I've got."
Kevin: [00:28:32] Podcast sponsorship is one that I've only recently started to explore so I had a sponsor for the first quarter of this year on the podcast. That was a nice chunk of change. It's kind of just one of four or five different sources of revenue that all add up to enough that I can fund the company and fund myself.
Jillian: [00:28:50] And then what about YouTube?
Kevin: [00:28:52] Oh, that's true. Yes. YouTube, I monetize my videos. Unless you get to significant scale, it's very difficult to support yourself on YouTube alone. I would say, after you get to around 100,000 subscribers, provided your videos get decent viewership, you can make enough to like bare bones live off of.
Kevin: [00:29:14] I would never, ever rely on YouTube as a core strategy unless you have a product or service that you're also selling via that channel. So if you have like books, courses, physical products etc., then that can be a definite source of revenue. Actually, it's something I'm exploring. It's doing the courses or physical products next.
Jillian: [00:29:35] Got it. Now, I would think that brands would want you to be doing video.
Kevin: [00:29:39] Yes, so that's sort of what I was going with the the brand deal stuff I learned. I actually learned a lot from the food bloggers about brand deals because a lot of their stuff is just so highly visual.
Kevin: [00:29:50] Most of them are really big on YouTube. And so I learned doing like one a month videos. They'll do these videos anyway. The beauty of food bloggers is they have a recipe. Recipes contain many ingredients of which there are many brands that sell those ingredients so you can have a soy sauce sponsor.
Kevin: [00:30:09] If you're making Asian cuisine, chances are you using soy sauce in every video so you can say, "Hey, we do a video a week. We use soy sauce in almost all the videos. If we do a minimum of one or two videos per week for you for a year, pay us two grand a month or whatever it is.
Kevin: [00:30:27] You can think about it from that perspective, and for me, I kind of think about it like this might not really relate to many people in the audience,
Kevin: [00:30:35] But for me, I grew up skateboarding and sponsored pro skateboarders were very similar where they have their sponsor, their grip tape sponsor, their wheel sponsor. But for us, it's the same thing. Just think about your niche, think about sort of the categories of your products in your niche, and then, go talk to the people who sell those who have a reasonable shot of landing as a sponsor.
Jillian: [00:30:55] Absolutely. And I always say reach out to those brands on Twitter.
Kevin: [00:31:00] Okay, Twitter has been working the best for for you?
Jillian: [00:31:02] Yeah because they're listening. The brands are listening. I have found Twitter to be the best way to get to the kind of the right people at the company.
Kevin: [00:31:16] So for you, for your party business at least, are brand deals are pretty significant part of your revenue?
Jillian: [00:31:22] They are. And again, they have been for the last couple of years. I would say we were making most. The largest contributor would be brands. And because we're parties, we can be anything from like work with Bounty or Party City or those kinds of companies.
Jillian: [00:31:45] The one thing though about working with brands that I have found, unless you have that deal where you get the soil company to sponsor your content working with brands, creating content for a brand, it's hard to scale that.
Kevin: [00:32:02] Yeah, for sure.
Jillian: [00:32:03] So it's like you building websites. So every single time you're starting at zero, "What am I going to create, and how am I going to create it?" And so I tend to overthink a lot of times, like the projects that I'm working on with brands. It might take me longer than I think it's going to.
Kevin: [00:32:22] True. So for you, does a brand deal kind of look like you incorporating their product into a party planning idea?
Jillian: [00:32:29] It's typically like a recipe like Nabisco or something. We've been doing a lot of work with SweeTarts for holidays. Hey, create a craft or an Easter basket. Here's our candy, and use our candy in the post. So then a huge big box of candy shows up at my house, and my daughter is delighted that I have to kind of hide it from her, that kind of thing. Those are much more of how we work with brands.
Kevin: [00:33:02] Gotcha. And that's something that, I guess, at your scale you probably get a bunch of inquiries. But are you also reaching out to those brands and saying, "Here's who I am. Here's what we can do"?
Jillian: [00:33:12] I've done both. Typically though, right now, we work with some companies like TapInfluence. It's a company that connects bloggers to brands. And right now because I'm split between Catch My Party, MiloTree, and this podcast, I haven't been reaching out to brands as much. I'm really jazzed about doing these interviews. And so I notice that this is where my attention is , where I want to be spending all the time.
Kevin: [00:33:44] It's where you're naturally focused on.
Jillian: [00:33:46] Yeah. So I feel like I don't need to be right now working, reaching out to brands. But there are times where I'm like, "Hey, guys. We'd love to do some sponsored content with you. Do you have any opportunities?"
Kevin: [00:34:00] Totally. Yeah, I think it'll probably follow a similar trajectory for me where I don't really want to, I guess, buy myself a job by taking on so much brand work that that's kind of all I'm doing.
Kevin: [00:34:13] But at the same time, I was talking about with that whole platform risk idea, or maybe you might call it revenue risk, if all your money is coming from one thing, and that thing gets hurt, you're in a bad spot. So definitely learning how to do the brand stuff is on the docket for this year.
Jillian: [00:34:28] Yeah, and I would say like the soy sauce model could really work for you. These longer term sponsors where you don't have to necessarily create different stuff for them, but it naturally fits in with what you're creating.
Kevin: [00:34:44] Yeah, my dream scenario for that would be thinking about a garden at least you've got soil and fertilizer. You've got maybe garden beds or something like that. You've got tools, lots of different categories of products and since gardening is such a seasonal over time industry, you're growing tomatoes, it's four months.
Kevin: [00:35:03] So taking those types of deals where its like, "Hey, I'm doing this right now this year so this is what's coming out this year." For example, for me this year, I'm working on a book. The book is going to be focused on how to grow as much food as you can in a small space no matter what type of small space you live in.
Kevin: [00:35:22] And so I'm taking an extreme case. I live on a relatively large urban home. I'm going to go extreme. I'm going to grow as much as I can with as many different methods as I can. That's the goal for this year.
Kevin: [00:35:31] Obviously, that's going to be coming out on the YouTube channel, on the podcast and the website. And so if a brand wants to work with me, they can work with me over the course of that year. I'm not going to say, "I'm going to guarantee you get 25 posts" this and that. I'll just say like, "Look, anytime your product is in the video, in the post or in the picture, you're getting a mention." And so it's going to be a little less quantifiable but totally totally workable because I'm doing that work anyways.
Jillian: [00:35:58] So our first sponsor for Catch my Party, we give away a lot of free party printables. I did this weird thing where I said to my husband, "I'm going to reach out to HP because HP makes printers."
Jillian: [00:36:12] What I did was I went to the HP website. I reached out to customer service. My husband is like, "This is never going to work." I go, "Just wait." Because I saw that HP at the time was giving away some printables, I said, "Hey, is there any way you could connect me to the people at HP who are working on the printables?"
Jillian: [00:36:41] And I went through a chain of, I don't know, 15 people. "I'm not the right person but maybe you should try this person." I just kept at it.
Jillian: [00:36:51] Ultimately, I got to the right people, and it turned out it was an agency that was working with HP that was creating this content. I said, "Hey, what if you guys sponsor our printables?" So we were still creating them, and they were just paying us a monthly fee to get HP featured on these blog posts.
Kevin: [00:37:13] And on the printables themselves, I would imagine, right?
Jillian: [00:37:18] I think what we did was we added a pdf. Because the goal is to always provide value, I put together like a sheet, a PDF, that would go in front of our PDFs that would say, "If you're going to print out these printables, here's what you need: scissors, tape, glue dots and here's some HP paper that we recommend." And the truth is I did recommend the HP paper. That was authentic.
Kevin: [00:37:47] Yeah, exactly. And that's really the crux of influencer marketing. It's the fact that you can influence. And the only reason that you can influence is if you believe in the things that you're doing over time because your audience trust you.
Kevin: [00:38:00] So for me, when I worked with WD-40 and drastically undercharged, which we will never speak about again, I did a video. They sent over some of their pumice soap, and they sent over some oil. It's like lubricating oil.
Kevin: [00:38:14] I said "How do I actually use this in a way that's relevant to gardeners?" I had some pruning shears that were relatively expensive pruning shears that I kind of neglected. They had a bunch of rust on them so I showed people how to rust the tool. I used the lubricating oil to coat it afterwards so it won't get rusty in the future. And it worked wonderfully. In the post and in the video, there is their mention, the 3-in-1 oil from WD-40.
Jillian: [00:38:40] Totally. And I think that is a win-win. Everybody's winning.
Kevin: [00:38:45] Exactly, yeah. I actually would go one step further and say it's a win-win-win where the audience is the third winner.
Jillian: [00:38:51] Yes. And I would say that's the most important win.
Kevin: [00:38:54] That's the most important win because without that, then no one else is coming to the table. The brands that want to work with you if your audience doesn't care about you and you aren't supporting yourself if your audience doesn't care about you.
Jillian: [00:39:05] Totally. So what is your favorite thing to grow and eat?
Kevin: [00:39:13] Oh, man. That's a good one. I'm kind of weird in that. Like if someone asked me my favorite movie or my favorite book, I really don't have any.
Kevin: [00:39:22] I just have what I like at the time, so what I like at the time right now is I'm growing this pea. It's a purple dwarf pea variety called a dwarf. I think Desiree Dwarf Dessiree dwarf [00:39:37] Blauwschokkers [0.6] Pea. Very interesting name.
Kevin: [00:39:40] I probably didn't say it correctly but it's delicious. This is really dark purple pea. You can just pick it right off of the vine and just pop it in your mouth so every time I go out. .
Kevin: [00:39:49] Yeah, it's really sweet actually. It's very tasty. Pop those in my mouth as I'm out in the garden just kind of tending to it. Not many of them actually make it to the plate. They just want to be eaten out there.
Kevin: [00:40:01] Yeah, I really like growing weird stuff so a pea. It's a purple or have a bean variety that kind of looks like white and red speckles. Sometimes, I'll sacrifice the taste of something just because I like the look of it, which is who knows if that's the right idea. I definitely like some weird looking stuff.
Jillian: [00:40:20] Well, they say the more colorful, the better.
Kevin: [00:40:24] Yeah. Usually in the more colorful and the more dark, the better because of the compounds that are used in a plant to create the dark color typically are also good for health.
Jillian: [00:40:34] Wow. Yeah. We live in California, and we just try to eat lots of different colors.
Kevin: [00:40:41] Yeah. I think there's probably some diet book out there actually about that, the Color Diet. Eat the rainbow or something like that. It's a good heuristic for sure.
Jillian: [00:40:51] Yes, Kevin. I have to say I have so enjoyed, first of all, meeting you and talking to you. I recommend people check you out because when I first met you, you feel like a gardener to me. You feel like a salt of the earth.
Kevin: [00:41:11] Yeah. I'm glad to hear that.
Jillian: [00:41:13] I could tell you like to put your hands in the dirt.
Kevin: [00:41:16] Definitely. Yeah. I mean sometimes, if you're running an online business, sometimes, it feels like you don't get a lot of work done at the end of the day because you're just clicking buttons. So if I'm out in the garden, it definitely feels like I did something even if I did even more work online.
Jillian: [00:41:31] I get that. So how can people reach out to you, find you?
Kevin: [00:41:34] Yeah, sure. I don't use Twitter a whole lot to be honest. So you can find me on Facebook if you just Google my name or search my name.
Jillian: [00:41:44] How do you spell your last name? So it's Kevin.
Kevin: [00:41:45] Yeah, the best way to spell it is just think of it like this: You have the letter E, then the word "spirit" and then, the letter U. So E-spirit-U.
Jillian: [00:41:54] I love it.
Kevin: [00:41:55] Yeah, I say that because I have like little participation trophies from like soccer with every possible vowel at the end of my last name, so I've had to figure out the best way to describe how to spell it.
Jillian: [00:42:06] It kind of fits with your vibe.
Kevin: [00:42:08] E-spirit-U?
Jillian: [00:42:08] Yeah.
Kevin: [00:42:10] I'll take it. I'll take it.
Jillian: [00:42:12] Yes, because "spirit" is in the middle of your name.
Kevin: [00:42:14] There we go. Yeah, Facebook is probably the best way. If anyone who's listening wants to talk, I'm happy to give you guys some pointers on that. And then if anyone is actually into gardening themselves, you can always go to epicgardening.com.
Kevin: [00:42:29] And that book that's coming out, if you just go epic gardening.com/book, you can kind of sign up for the early release list where I'm kind of sending out like little DIY plans, chapters and updates and stuff like that .
Jillian: [00:42:41] I just want to say if you are a gardener, definitely check out your podcast.
Kevin: [00:42:45] Oh, right. Yeah.
Jillian: [00:42:46] Because you give lots of pieces of good, good information.
Kevin: [00:42:53] Yeah, daily podcasts. Any podcast player you guys use, just search Epic Gardening, and it'll be there. It's like three to five minutes a day. One topic. Keep it really simple.
Jillian: [00:43:03] I love that. Well, Kevin, thank you so much for being on the show
Kevin: [00:43:07] Thank you. Yeah, I had a blast. It was great talking to you, Jillian.
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